This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
In the Brazilian film Bruna Surfistinha there is a scene when the young, naive Raquel walks into her new home for the first time. An educated girl from a middle-class background, she trades in her comforts for a new profession: prostitution. She moves into an apartment above the rooms where they serve clients. There, six other coworkers await her.
She opens the door, and the room falls silent. Curly-haired, thong wearing mulattas stop their swaying hips and stare at her. Eyebrows raising and chins lifting, they give her an judgmental up and down like they’re deciding which part of her to break first.
When last week I walked into my new hostel room at Home at the Mansion in Melbourne, I felt like Bruna. Except, instead of six Brazilian coworkers, we had one French roommate. She turned out to be one of five other French we would be living with for the next week.
She was wearing a New York Yankees cap, leggings, sneakers and a tank top. And she wasn’t dancing. She was texting, lying face up on her bed. Her bed was the only non-bunk bed in the room. Her eyes lifted away from her phone for a moment to see what the disturbance was.
“Hey!” I said. It’s usually in these first moments that set the tone for the rest of your stay. It’s like the time I laid my eyes on the creepy paintings at my hostel in Vang Vieng, and for the rest of my time I thought someone was watching me on the toilet. What I expected was for our new French roommate to smile back and greet us. What I didn’t expect was to hear her huff and turn away from us to face the wall, her keys on her lanyard jingling as she put her back to us. Consider the tone set. Unamused and uninterested.
The rest of our time as her roommates was marked by analyzing her body language, questioning her daily responsibilities and wondering what the hell she kept in her locker. She was such a mysterious creature, a fast-walking question mark of confusion. In the time I wrote this, she has flung open the door, walked to her locker, busted it open, slammed it shut and ran out the door. Three times.
She made her fuming annoyance at all disturbances to her texting or loud French rap music visible by eye-rolling, tossing and turning on her bed and removing herself from our vicinity. If she had to walk through the pigsty that was our seven-person room (with five people living there long term, you can imagine the quantity of junk everywhere) to reach her locker, she left nothing in her wake, including humans. On multiple occasions she hit my behind, slapped my arm, or simply body slammed me. She grunted and moaned loudly. She appeared to be practicing for the speed walking Olympics.
Through intense ease-dropping and a desire to make my one year of French instruction worth something, I deciphered that last Friday night a boy at a club confessed his love to her. How do I know such intimate details of her romantic life? While I was trying to take a nap, she was screaming across the room to her man-bunned pal with a constantly blaring portable speaker set in French, only switching to English for the good parts: “Ay lob yooo, ay lob yoo, Ay wan tu beee wid yoo” (translation: “I love you, I love you, I ant to be with you”).
Continued attempts at breaking down those barriers and building a lasting friendship were met with her blank stares. Sometimes she just pretended not to hear. Erin once asked her a a question – did the hostel have locks for us to borrow? – and when we heard the rustle of her lanyard, we knew our efforts had tanked.
For the first few days it was assumed her only passions in life were rolling cigarettes, grinding weed and texting. We later figured out she worked part time at the hostel. It wasn’t by her informing us, nor at first did we see her on the job, per se. It became apparent when she aggressively shoved our belongings under the beds and threw things wherever they clearly didn’t belong so she could drag the vacuum cleaner around the room and feign a dedication to cleanliness. Couldn’t have fooled me.
I’ve since stopped living in the bunk diagonal to her. It was a week of little sleep, deep house music surrounded guttural phonetics. If I’d stayed longer, I might have began to bruise from slamming into me so many times. I might have lost more than just my water bottle in her determination to have space to flail around the vacuum.
But the saddest part of all, is that I might have been able to tear down that tough girl facade and figured out her joys, concerns and favorite way to cook that pasta she was always making in the kitchen at 10:00pm. I might have known if she too loved that man and wanted to be with him. Worst of all is, I’ll never really know what was kept so tightly guarded in that locker of hers.
Featured image: street art in Melbourne, Australia.