A new day, a new destination, a new dormitory. I still get a nervous rush of energy every time I arrive at a new backpackers – you never know who is going to be behind the door when you unlock it. For me, getting through the door is always a problem, I haven’t yet been able to get into any hostel bedroom without having to go back to reception because the key or card doesn’t work.
This time it took three attempts with a very stiff key before I was successfully able to enter the room. As usual the first thing to hit me was the smell, the second thing was the joyous observation that there were no bunk beds and the third was the guy sitting on the bed in the far corner wearing only his boxers. As I’ve said before, whenever I arrive in a new dorm, there’s always someone lying on the bed plugged into technology and on this occasion it was Callum.
He probably isn’t called Callum, I knew him for a week and never learnt his name, but he looks like someone I used to know called Callum. Given my tendency to be a bit face-blind, this Callum probably looks nothing like that Callum, but in my head at least he is Callum.
Callum fled Scotland and came to Australia after upsetting all his nearest and dearest. He’s not speaking to his Mum, and his Grandmother isn’t speaking to him. His sister isn’t speaking to any of them. He got dumped by his girlfriend after he slept with her best friend, now both of them are pregnant and neither of them are speaking to each other or to him. Not that Callum actually speaks to me – I have gleaned all this information through all of the Facetime chats that Callum has with the people in Scotland who are still speaking to him – mainly his Grandad and a bloke called Scotty Boy. Callum Facetimes from his bed in his boxers, and doesn’t bother to tone down the language, the volume or any of the gory details just because his room mates are in earshot.
Callum is a veteran at being a backpacker. He has got everything sussed. His bed is at the far end of the ten bed dormitory but nobody has chosen a bed near him, because when a new person enters the room and says hello, Callum ignores them, so everyone thinks he is unfriendly and gives him a wide berth. Consequently the rest of us have set ourselves up at the other end of the room, and Callum has a barrier of three empty beds between himself and his nearest sleeping neighbour.
Because I’m still a novice when it comes to backpacking, when I first entered Callum’s room, I instinctively chose the worst bed in the dormitory. I made the bed, put my pajamas under the pillow, set out a few essential things beside the bed and then realised I was nowhere near any plug sockets. I scouted around the room, discovered a much better bed with 4 sockets and a bit of extra storage space and busily started unmaking the bed I’d just made and transferring everything over to the better bed. Callum studiously ignored me throughout.
Ten minutes later, a new room mate arrived, and you would think he had studied my recent arrival on CCTV and wanted to be my understudy, because he copied my movements exactly. He struggled with the key, got ignored by Callum, chose the worst bed in the room, made the bed, set his things up, looked around to plug his phone in, realised there were no sockets and swiftly moved to a different bed. Although he did his best to hide it, I’m sure I saw a brief flicker of amusement pass over Callum’s face.
Another ten minutes passed, and along came another room mate, who copied the same steps. I wondered how many times Callum had observed the same bed being made and rejected, and if anyone ever actually slept in it. When yet another guy came in and made a beeline for the bad bed, I pointed out the lack of sockets to him, and Callum shot me a look as if I was trying to spoil the fun.
It was a mixed dorm – or rather there were six boys and me, and we were all new that night, apart from Callum. The new boys and I sat on our beds and exchanged our stories, the same stories we all tell every time – where we’re from, where we’ve been, where we’re going. Callum remained on his bed in his boxers staring at his screen, far away from our conversation. Then he started Facetiming his Grandad, and as the two of them played expletive table tennis across the world, dredging up as many offensive words as they possibly could to describe Callum’s grandmother, so we took that as our cue to leave, and all went off in different directions, exploring the local area.
It was the height of summer, and the hostel was by the sea. Obviously it was, otherwise I wouldn’t have been staying there. I spent my days in the sea and on the beach and then I’d catch up with the boys in the evening because apparently not everyone comes to Australia to swim in the sea all day, they were finding other ways to spend their days. The boys came and went, staying for just one or two nights, but more boys replaced them and one even spent a night in the bad bed before switching to a different one the next day. Callum remained a constant – sitting in his boxers on his bed, not speaking to anyone else, but nevertheless sharing intimate facts of his life with us as he Facetimed his Grandad and Scotty boy.
Then it was my turn to leave, although only for a night. I was picked up outside the hostel at 5:30am and dropped back there at 8pm the following day. I had been on an amazing tour of Kangaroo Island where the guide showed us more in two days than I would have seen in a week independently. I had seen and done so much that it felt like I had been away for an eternity, not just one night. I was given the same room as I’d had before and after the obligatory fight with the key in the lock, I was delighted to find that my bed was still available. I quickly reclaimed it and as I was busy putting the sheets on it, I heard someone else fumbling with the lock and in came Callum.
“Hi,” I said enthusiastically, greeting him as if he was an old friend. “How are you?”
Callum looked non-plussed at my delight to see him.
“Has much happened since I’ve been gone?” I asked, realising as I spoke the words that Callum wouldn’t have even noticed my brief disappearance so I elaborated “Have we got any new room mates or is everyone still the same?”
“Er, well there’s these two girls,” Callum said and nodded at the beds that presumably belonged to the girls. “They’re noisy as.” He shook his head. “Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night to be honest.”
“Great,” I said sarcastically. Callum nodded and retreated to his bed. It was the longest conversation we’d ever had. Just as I was finishing my bed making, we heard another key fumbling in the lock and then a girl stropped in. She glared at me, glared at Callum, went over to her bed, fumbled in her giant suitcase for a bottle of vodka and then sauntered out of the room like some sort of angry horse.
“Told you,” Callum said.
The night was fairly uneventful. The noisy girls staggered in drunkenly and woke us all up at about 4am, but then they staggered out again and we heard no more from them.
I woke up late the next morning, my body demanding a sleep-in after the two early starts I’d had on my Kangaroo Island trip. I peeled off my sleeping mask to find bright daylight shining into the room. It was empty. And from the looks of things everyone else had checked out. The noisy girls, the smiley guys. They’d all left.
Then I realised that Callum had gone too. He was such a fixture of the room that it hadn’t even occured to me that one day he might leave it. I wondered where he’d gone and also why – Callum wasn’t really seeing Australia, his travel plans never took him further than the kitchen as far as I could tell, but clearly he had decided the time had come for him to go and find a different bed where he could spend his days wearing his boxers and Facetiming Scotty Boy and his Grandad. I wondered how Callum would fare going into a new room – would he make the rooky error of choosing the bed with no sockets, and how quickly would he be able to ensure there was a barrier of at least three beds between himself and his fellow room mates?
That night – my last night in the room – there was a complete cast change. Three Dutch guys, one German guy, a guy from Colombia and me, then at the other end of the room, Callum’s bed and the three empty beds that had separated him from the rest of us had been taken over by four chatty girls from France who giggled a lot. Nobody sat in their boxers, badmouthing their grandmothers on Facetime. Everyone smiled at each other and raced to open the door every time they heard someone else struggling with the lock. It was nice. The whole atmosphere had changed. We even cracked open a couple of packets of Tim Tams to share as we sat on our beds exchanging stories. I wondered if the Tim Tams and the giggly French girls would have been enough to crack Callum if he’d stayed for one more night.
When one of my friends heard I was going to Australia, he told me that whatever I was running away from would still be there when I got back. I was a bit perplexed by this, because I considered myself to be running towards a great adventure, not running away from the life I currently had. Callum however clearly has run away from a messy life in Scotland, here’s hoping he gets out of bed long enough to have some fun in Australia before he goes home to face it all again.