“Caroline of Brunswick. She was German,” he said.
“What,” I asked.
“That’s who North Carolina is named after.”
“Oh, that’s good to know,” I said with a smile.
“It’s not funny, Its Not funny! You don’t know why Carolina is named Carolina,” he asked.
“Well, I know now.”
“It’s named after uhm, uhm, Caroline of…” he trailed off and started to mumble.
“Brunswick,” I prompted.
“Caroline… Germany…Caroline of- I know it I just have to find it,” he said as he tapped the side of his head with both hands.
“Take your time.”
There was a short pause as the man put his bottle to his mouth and tipped it up. It didn’t look like there was anything left in it. Then, he scratched his cheek and chin. I could see dust and dirt rain down from his cheek onto his denim collar and canvas brown jacket.
“Caroline of Brunswick! She was German,” he repeated.
“Oh, I see,” I said.
The barmaid walked by and picked up his empty bottle. He asked for another drink. Her eyes rolled in a quick circle and then stopped, set towards the man.
“What would you like,” she asked as she leaned her right arm against the bar.
“That will be two pound twenty,” she said as she set a pint glass of cider in front of him.
He handed her a five-pound note. She gave him back a handful of coins. He laid them on the opposite side of the bar after she walked away.
“I’m gonna go take a piss,” he said.
After he walked away, I grabbed the change he left on the bar, finished my pint, and walked out.
I liked him all right. Only Welshman I’ve met so far. Didn’t really fit the idea that the guys in Liverpool gave me of the Welsh, but that’s fine with me. He was the only person in the pub that talked to me. The barmaid gave me a nod as I ordered a drink. But, she didn’t say anything. I like talking more. There’s less commitment.
The man in there understood. We just shot the shit about Caroline and Germany. I didn’t really care much about what he was saying. I don’t think he cared either. I just wanted someone to listen to and he wanted someone to talk to. That’s friendship. Best Welshman I’ve met yet.
I got to the hostel around 11:30. The two old guys who have apparently been living there for three months were still up sitting on the couch. Only the three of us were sleeping there that night. There were more than enough rooms in the hostel for us to all have our own. But, the owner decided to put me in the same room as one of them. I was excited to figure out whose room I was placed in.
“Which one of you is in room three,” I asked.
“I’m in room 5,” said the man watching the T.V.
He had wiry grey hair. It was tied back in a ponytail that hung to about the middle of his back. He had a middle part that matched the huge gap between his two front teeth. Made his face seem abnormally symmetrical.
“Well,” I said, turning to whom I assumed was my roommate for the night, “Do you mind if I set an alarm for around 9 in the morning?”
He didn’t respond. He was on his laptop. I doubted he heard me. He didn’t look like a guy that would purposely ignore someone. I don’t think his eyes even moved, but I couldn’t tell. The light from his laptop reflected off his glasses so all I saw was a backwards-double image of his screen. He had that backlight on so high it even reflected off the bald part of his head. I think his neck will be stuck at that arch forever.
“Hey, Mike, you don’t mind if this fella set’s an alarm for 9 right?”
He was too focused on whatever he was doing on his laptop to hear either of us. So, I guess it didn’t really matter when I woke up.
“He won’t mind. Wake up when ya need to mate,” said the symmetrical faced man.
I walked into the kitchen and opened up the refrigerator. These two guys really were here to stay. The thing was packed full. They had everything from sausage and eggs to beer and strawberry jam.
I grabbed a beer and stepped out the back door. I walked up the steps to the balcony and lit a cigarette.
The balcony had a door to the upstairs. It also had windows that showed the inside of the hostel owner’s room. His name is Chris. Nice guy. He talked to me a lot when I got here this afternoon. I like him. They’ve got those 2-inch slat blinds that go vertically. One of the slats was missing.
He and his girlfriend were lying on the bed watching T.V. I couldn’t see what they were watching, but I think it was something funny. They kept laughing. Eventually, Chris grabbed the remote off of the nightstand. The blue, cold light that stuck to their white sheets and faces went out. Everything in their room, or everything in my view rather, transformed from differing shades of blue to a gray that darkened with distance. He set the remote down as he leaned in towards her face.
I finished my beer and walked back down the steps. I couldn’t find the recycling, so I just threw the can in the trash bin. Then, I walked back into the common room.
Mike and the grey haired guy were still there. Mike had closed his laptop and was watching T.V.
“What are you two watching,” I asked.
“Just some Movie Chris has got on VhS. Mike and I decided we’d just start from the first one in the box and see how far we got. We don’t bother looking at the titles. This one’s shit, but we’ve got to finish it.”
It didn’t really make much sense to me, but I guess that’s what you do when you’re over 50 and end up living in a youth hostel for months.
“So, where are you from lad,” Mike asked.
“I’m from the states.”
“Ah, and how’d you end up in Chester of all places?”
“Well, I’m in England studying on exchange at the moment. But, my school isn’t very close to here.”
“Ah, I see. Well why aren’t you out on the town with your mates at University?”
“I just didn’t really feel like it this weekend. Thought I’d get a look at somewhere else.”
“Yes, yes, I see. So, did you know Chester has some very interesting historical landmarks,” Mike asked.
“Yea, actually. I saw it on a list of most historic cities in the United Kingdom. It wasn’t at the top of the list. But, it was the least expensive for me to get to.”
“Hm interesting. Well, if you’d like, I could impart to you some of my knowledge on the city.”
Mike pulled out a map of the city and pointed out a few of the places I should see before I leave. I don’t remember everything we talked about after he put the map away. But, I enjoyed myself and it seemed like they did as well. I learned the man with the matching hair and teeth was named Francis. Eventually they started asking me about my family and what I did in America.
“Well, my dad’s a business man. Takes his work very seriously and all. He’s gone quite a bit, but always says he does it for us. You know, he’s got to bring home the bacon so we can be comfortable. Whatever it takes, he says.”
“Ah, rightly said. And what about your mum,” Francis asked.
“She works during the day. I don’t really know what to call what she does. But, she does it. She usually gets home before my dad and cooks dinner and stuff. She somehow always has it done before he gets home from work.”
“Sounds like a proper wife to me,” Francis said.
“Yea, I guess so,” I said.
“Well, maybe she sounds like a proper wife to you, Francis,” Mike said. “But I bet she’s got other ideas of what she wants. She seems like a selfless woman to me. Probably got much more responsibility than your Da, and deals with it better too.”
“Yea, I can see that. I’ve never thought about it that way,” I said.
“Listen lad,” Mike said, “You’ll almost always benefit from trying to look through the eyes of others. If you do it right, you’ll probably benefit those whose eyes you look through too.”
“Mike, he’s only been here for a few hours and you’re already givin’ him an earful. I bet he gets enough lecturin’ at University,” Francis laughed.
“Fair enough. I’m sorry lad. I tend to start moralizing towards the end of the night. I ought to go to sleep. Good night mates, see you in the morning.”
Mike put his laptop in a case, put the case in a backpack, and walked down the hall. I could hear him put the pack in one of the lockers. After he closed the locker door, I could hear the latch of a padlock click, and then the sound of feet walking up steps. A few minutes later, Francis stood up.
“I think it’s probably time for me to pack it in for the night too mate.”
“Yea, me too,” I said.
We walked up the stairs. Francis went into his room as I walked further down the hall to my room. Mike was already fast asleep when I got into the room. I brushed my teeth, flossed, and got in bed.
The wind blew hard that night. I could hear it rip through the street and beat against the apartments and shops that lined the street. It tossed the large wooden sign for the hostel around freely. The metal chains that connected the sign to the post creaked incessantly through the night. I woke up multiple times. It woke me up for the third time at around 5 in the morning. I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I went down to the kitchen.
I found some bread and put it in the toaster. Thankfully they had some jam in the fridge.
As I ate, I noticed my beer can in the trash bin. I pulled it out. Using a pairing knife, I cut a triangle out of the can.
Once I was finished with my toast, I walked to the lockers with the tin triangle. Two of them were locked. One was a new, fancy U-bolt. The other one was an old classic. A medium sized bolt on top of a metal cylinder with a black plastic rotating circle in the middle. It was perfect. I like people who use those. It’s a great padlock.
I took the tin triangle I cut from the beer can and slipped it down into the cylinder through the space left by the loosely fitting bolt. I heard a click and pulled down on the cylinder. Inside the locker was a medium sized messenger bag. I started sifting through the contents.
You can learn a lot about someone by what they have in their bag. You can learn even more about someone by seeing what they lock away. This was mike’s bag. I could tell because of the laptop inside. He had a lot of paper inside there. Some was blank while other pages were written on. He also had pages he must have printed somewhere. He had them in folders, but they didn’t seem very organized to me. At the bottom of the bag were a bundle of wooden pencils held together by a rubber band. I also found a pencil sharpener and an eraser.
I grabbed the laptop and went back upstairs. After I slipped it in the empty laptop sleeve of my backpack, I went to sleep.
I woke up around 8:00. The chains from the sign didn’t wake me up at all after I went back to sleep. The wind didn’t wake me up either. Mike was still asleep. I went to the kitchen and found some eggs in the refrigerator and cooked two up. While I ate, I found some granola bars in the pantry and put a few in my pockets. I figured I’d probably get hungry on the train.
After I finished eating the eggs and cleaning the silverware, Mike came in.
“Mornin, Lad,” he said.
“Good morning, how’d you sleep,” I asked.
“I slept great. Did the sign keep you up?”
“It made it hard for me to fall asleep, but once I was out I was out for good.”
“Ah, that’s good to hear. It took me a while to get used to the row it caused. Hey, I’m about to make some breakfast. Have you had a full English breakfast here in the U.K yet?”
“No I haven’t,” I responded.
“Ah, well I’d be happy to cook you up one along with my own,” he said
“That would be great.”
Mike was a nice guy. I liked him a lot. He cooked the best full English breakfast I had had in the U.K. up to that point.
After we ate, I started my walk down to the train station. I wanted to see some of the places Mike had shown me the night before, but I didn’t have much time. As I walked, I passed a pawnshop. I walked in and asked if they bought laptops. They did. I pulled the laptop out of my pack and the man behind the counter looked at it.
“Ill give ya 300 quid,” he said.
“Oh, come on. I haven’t even had this for very long. I bought it for at least twice that price.”
“We don’t get many people buyin’ laptops here mate.”
“How about 375?”