DJ Smoggy in Scotland

She sat gazing out of the train window as it moved peacefully through the north east English countryside. The sky was one solid piece of steel grey, while white sheep pin pricked the otherwise hunter green open country side. Intermittently, the train passed through creepy thick woodlands and over stone lined rivers, reminding her of the settings to dark fairy tales she was told as a child.

After the train passed through beautiful old towns like Durham and York the only signs of human life were either the remnants of old cottages and castles in the form of mounds of rubble next to the tracks, or the smattering of chimney smoke along the horizon.

As she reached Scotland, the surroundings became more severe. At one point the train had to veer around a mountain by passing onto a cliff top next to the North Sea. She imagined one strong gust of wind pushing her carriage over the edge and plummeting a hundred and fifty metres into the rocks and waves below.

The dark thought was fleeting though, as she was actually in a joyous mood. She had moved to London four days earlier and in that short amount of time had managed to somehow land both a job and a place to live. She was on her way to Edinburgh to let her hair down before the daily grind began again.

As the train began to slow, about ten minutes out from her final destination, she caught her first glimpse of the city. From a distance it looked a tad depressing. If the city had been a colouring in picture, then an artist had shaded in the skyline by using only the “ugly” colours in the pencil box. However, as she was drawn closer, she found herself charmed by the Scottish baronial architecture and the obvious history attached to almost every building. She loved European history and was convinced even the foot path she stood on outside Edinburgh Waverley train station was older than the white Australia she grew up in.

Her bearings were awry, so she hailed a taxi to take her to Grassmarket in the Old Town. The cabbie sensed her naiveté and drove her the long way around. What should have been a four minute drive and an eight pound fare was twice the time and price. She was then dropped off at the lower end of the street and had to hike up a steep cobble stone footpath, lugging a twenty five kilo bag on her back until she found the hostel she had been recommended to by an ex.

She was checked in by an Englishman and after successfully navigating the labyrinth of hallways was shown to her mixed dormitory. Before he left her alone in the room he informed her the hostel held walking pub crawls every week night, and that he was in charge of the one being held that night. She agreed to go along, so after a quick kip and a shower she made her way down to the hostel bar and communal games room.

All she could remember from that night was being charged five pounds for a long island ice tea, which was served in a pint glass and was nine tenths spirits to one tenth mixer. She had also met a group of Australian guys, but she never made it out to the first bar. It was an embarrassingly poor performance on her first night in Scotland.

The next morning she awoke to familiar voices in her dorm room. The Australian guys from the previous night were staying in the same room as her and were dressing to go for a hike. Somehow, they convinced her to join them. She met them fifteen minutes later downstairs and they lined their stomachs with a full Scottish breakfast; the tweaked version on an English breakfast, but with the disgusting addition of haggis. Half of her hangover instantly disappeared and once they had all finished, they zipped up their jackets, donned their beanies and began their trek to Arthur’s Seat.

In total, there were four Aussies. She learnt three were friends from Sydney, who were in the middle of a five month long world trip, while the other was a random from Melbourne they had befriended a few days earlier, who was in Scotland purely “to get fucked up”.

She quickly learnt she was not in the right state of mind or shape to be climbing steep hills. They had completed approximately one third of their ascent when she stopped and decided to quit. After a momentary meltdown her motivation to move again returned when she saw a dog, which had clearly reached the summit and was then happily running down the narrow dirt path back to sanity. Stupid fucking show off dog she thought to herself as it whizzed past her. If the mutt was able to do it, then she had to too, so she pushed on. Puffing and cursing under their breath, they finally made it to the peak, where they had to immediately brace themselves; not only for the spectacular view of the city and surrounding hills, but because it was windier than a lactose intolerant great uncle, post cheese board. They literally had to hold on to the side of boulders so they wouldn’t blow away. After inhaling the scenery for a few minutes they began their descent, which was much more enjoyable. On a couple of occasions she almost lost her footing from how fast she was running down, nearly wiping out other hikers as if they were bowling pins.

Later that evening she found herself at the hostel bar again. She had recovered from the previous night’s one drink knockout and was ready for her second bout. The Australians joined her on the pub crawl and they quickly bonded with some new faces. First, was a hot Spaniard with dark hair, who had a penchant for chequered scarves. Then there were the four extremely tall, polite, ice hockey obsessed Canadian men; high school friends doing a stint in Europe before heading their separate ways back to University. Then came the crazy Scotsman. He was the type of guy who would always be the center of attention in any social setting, but for the life of him, just couldn’t seem to get his shit together. He was living at the hostel between jobs and a permanent roof over his head. She was the only girl in the group of eleven, but the tomboy in her was completely comfortable with it.

She managed to last four stops on the bar hop before calling it a night. One pound shots served in coloured science beakers were her end game.

The following morning she found herself playing table tennis in the common room with one of the Australians from Sydney. Somehow, she had pulled up completely fine and found herself in a highly competitive mood. In the midst of smacking the shit out of the ball towards each other they discovered they were both often mistaken for people from other cultures. Due to her light hair and eye colouring people usually assumed she was Scandinavian, while he was constantly asked if he was from South or Central America when his heritage was in fact, Iranian. They thought it’d be fun to take on new identities that night at the next pub crawl, so they made a pact to support each other’s back stories. The conversation concluded when the crazy Scotsman entered the room dramatically booming lines from Titanic, with his one night stand from the night before in tow and clearly mortified.

That afternoon she found herself circumnavigating the grounds of the eleven hundred year old Edinburgh Castle, the crown jewel in the city’s landscape and the country’s most visited tourist attraction. It wasn’t even 5pm yet, but it was dusk and the place was already lit up like Christmas. She got the impression it was well and truly haunted. On her short walk back to the hostel she bumped into the Canadians, who had also just visited the castle. As they chatted she found herself particularly attracted to the one with glasses. They had received wind of her persona for that night and were happy to also play along with her. It was gearing up to be an interesting night.

When she made her way to the hostel bar a short time later, she noticed there were more people than usual and they were all dressed in absurd costumes. The staff had decided to throw themselves a party, but had clearly failed to select one particular theme, unless it was called ‘what you can find and afford with no notice’.

Slowly the visitors trickled down from upstairs, including her male posse. She saw the Australian she had made the identity deal with and with a silent nod the game of being a completely fictitious person for the rest of the night begun. She was a Swedish DJ in town for a gig. Her name was DJ Smoggy (a homage to her beloved football team Middlesbrough) and she was supposed to be the next Avicii. The hot Spaniard was her boyfriend and muscle and some of the Canadians were her roadies. Unless someone put her behind a set of decks, pointed a gun to her head and forced her to play them, her story was fairly fail proof. The Australian with Iranian heritage took it to the next level. He pretended to be not only Cuban, but the nephew of Fidel Castro. He was also a world champion Jenga player and was on a holiday, which was paid for by the winnings from the last competition he entered. He convinced some unsuspecting German girls early on by challenging them to a Jenga game and was telling them wild stories about his “uncle” throughout.

By the second bar, word had begun to slowly spread about the Swedish DJ that had decided to join the pub crawl while in town for a show. One man in particular, who could only be described as having Mongolian facial features, with a Polynesian body frame and afro could not stop following her around. He was lovely and harmless, but exhausting. Luckily, her Spanish “boyfriend” helped her escape him.

The next stop was a medieval themed pub. She was told to sit and wait alone at a table while everyone else lined up at the bar. She was minding her own business, studying what she hoped were fake furs on the walls when suddenly the crazy Scotsman approached her. Just as the song that was playing ended he said loudly for all to hear “Hey! Aren’t you that Swedish DJ?” As she nodded suspiciously he turned to the bar and shouted “OI, It’s her!” Suddenly, there was a rush towards her and she was surrounded by her hostel friends, temporarily blinded by the flashing of their cameras. It was in that moment when she felt what it was like to be a celebrity in front of the paparazzi. The stunt had worked, with the entire room whispering and looking at her for the remainder of their stay. A few strangers even plucked up the courage to ask her for an autograph despite not having any clue as to who she was.

They moved on to a night club which had a live DJ. She suddenly felt like her cover was going to be blown any moment.  Her “Cuban, Jenga playing” friend, who had been making out with one of the German girls for most of the night walked straight up to the DJ and exchanged words with him before they both looked in her direction. She was ushered over and allowed into the DJ booth. He knew she was a fraud, but was happy to play their game, so instructed her as to which buttons to press before announcing her over a microphone. The crowd was a combination of the last three venues they had visited, so they all cheered when they saw her behind the decks. She pressed the right things and pulled some fake moves which more resembled aggressively mazzing an invisible man off than impersonating a DJ. Fortunately, everyone was too trashed to notice her skills, or lack of.

After ten minutes in the booth she handed the reins back to the professional with a high five. She jumped down into the crowd and bumped straight into the Mongolian Polynesian who had been following her around earlier in the night. He sung her praises and genuinely asked to join her tour as a roadie. She politely declined his request and ran away from him, through the mass of sweaty bodies, into the arms of her fake Spanish boyfriend. She spontaneously took her act to the next level by grabbing his face and sucking it. He hadn’t expected it, but embraced the moment. She thought it was a great way to end her night, so she said thank you and left him shell shocked for the street.

As she was leaving she glimpsed the crazy Scotsman on the dance floor, flashing what was underneath his kilt to all around him. It had a blinding effect stronger than the strobe lights flashing above them.

It wasn’t until she was on the cobble stone in the fresh air she had no fucking clue as to where she was. Luckily, as she was looking around bewildered she spotted the cute Canadian with glasses talking to some randoms. He happily escorted her back to the hostel and when they reached the front door of the hostel she decided to have one more moment of rock and roll and also kissed him. If they had lived in the same city he was the type of guy she would have taken home to introduce to her mum and dad; a perfect gentleman. But, he didn’t live in the same city as her, so, like the Spaniard, she said good night to him, leaving him speechless and for the comfort of her bed with no one (and no complications) in it.

The next morning, before she was due to head back to London she decided to avoid both the Spaniard and Canadian by tagging along on a walking tour of the city, which was also run by the hostel. After all she had hardly done any sightseeing. The tour was led by a young English woman who had the monster of all hangovers, courtesy of the staff party from the night before. The tour began with a visit to the local cemetery, where the woman pointed to a tomb stone and said “This guy was famous for doing fuck all”. It ended with their guide throwing up loudly behind a bush on Calton Hill as they watched on. Is was the most interesting and memorable tour she had ever been on.

DJ Smoggy’s stint in Scotland was officially over.

 

Tonight I Have To Leave It

She stood at a sink, washing her hands in the upstairs women’s bathroom at a pub in Islington, London. She was tipsy and merry; her body and soul warmed by the alcohol she had consumed. Momentarily, she glanced up at the mirror in front of her, and in the reflection she saw a familiar looking person standing next to her.

“You guys were fantastic tonight” she blurted like word vomit.

“Thank you so much” came the poised, pleased reply with a Scandinavian accent.

The woman was tall and slender, dressed in a black shift dress with a white collar, opaque tights and chunky heeled black ankle boots. Her platinum blonde hair was tied in a ponytail, held together by a thick black satin ribbon. She sported a blunt fringe, her eye makeup was smoky and her lipstick was taffy in colour.

It was the keyboardist from one of her favourite bands, an indie pop group from Sweden and twenty minutes prior had been the second time she had seen them live; the first being seven years earlier and more than fourteen thousand kilometres away.

They chatted animatedly about the show for a few minutes before parting ways.

She exited the bathroom elated and found her mischievous female English friend waiting for her at the bar with whiskey shots. She relayed the encounter she had just had. Her friend was also blonde and gorgeous, but half the height of the Swede, and only the fourth person she had ever met that had heard of the band.

Whenever they went out together it was guaranteed to be a good time, and that night was no exception. They had found out about the show only three days beforehand and managed to snag two of the last twenty tickets available. They had skipped a bus from Kings Cross station to walk to the pub instead, swigging Jamieson from a hip flask and giggling all the way.

“I want a friend in the band too” her friend whined playfully before scanning the room for the other band members.

She watched as her friend locked eyes on someone in the crowd. She followed her gaze and saw the bass player at the end of it. “Here we go” she thought to herself as she watched her friend sink her shot of whiskey, slam the glass on the bar counter and make a beeline for him. She stayed at the bar and watched on in equal awe and terror, downing her shot to help deal with the situation unfolding before her.

While her friend worked her charm, she stood at the bar, lost in drunken hazy thoughts.  When she looked back over a couple of minutes later both her friend and the bass player were gesturing for her to come to them. He appeared highly amused.

There was something Pippin like about him. His hair was light brown and scruffy and his nose was pinched. He didn’t look like a stereotypical Swede. They were introduced by her friend and he offered to buy them a beer. She accepted without hesitation.

He was a highly intelligent and creative human, almost to the point of intimidating, but yet, at the same time he seemed completely humble and down to earth. They chatted about his relatives in her home city, his filming credentials and their mutual love of Stockholm. It was a relief to meet someone she had been a fan of for a while who didn’t disappoint her in person.

The next thing she knew, she and her friend were at the downstairs bar with every member of the band and their entourage, knocking back more whiskey shots. The enigmatic lead singer hovered near them and was like a puzzle to solve. She was highly skilled at reading people, and yet she couldn’t read him. He politely introduced himself and then that was all she got out of him before he disappeared back into the sea of Vikings.

The bass player never left her side however, and made sure she was introduced to anyone he knew that entered the vicinity. There was an ambiguous flirtation between them, which grew as the night went on.

Lord Huron’s ‘I will be back one day’ began playing. He took her hand, walked her to the centre of the room where there was a small clearing, placed one hand firmly on her waist, the other in her right hand, and in front of everyone led her in a slow, but casual dance. Every time he stretched her out away from him like a Yo-yo and brought her back in with a twirl she burst out laughing. She briefly felt like Baby from Dirty Dancing. They continued for two more songs she didn’t know the names of.

She was loving every second of the moment she was living in.

After more shots, beers and conversations she checked the time and discovered it was a lot later than she had thought it was. She had to be up for work in six hours, so regrettably said goodbye to the bass player with a kiss on the cheek and left him with her friend.

She was sitting alone at the bus stop outside the pub, waiting for the 73 to arrive and was reminiscing about the night she had just had when the lead singer and a couple of roadies stumbled out. He looked at her, shuffled towards her, kissed her on the mouth and thanked her for coming to her show before heading to the kebab shop next door. Clearly, a few drinks had coaxed him out of his shell.

She sat smugly until she abruptly threw up in the bin next to the bus stop. All the whiskey shots mixed with English ales had finally caught up to her.

It was definitely the right time to call it a night.

 

Eighteen Hours in Paris

The sharp sound of the alarm on her phone startled her awake. She immediately sat up in bed and hit her head on the wooden bunk above her, producing a dull thump noise and a small egg shaped lump near her left temple. She silently mouthed every expletive she could think of. There wasn’t any need to splash cold water on her face after that; she was wide awake.

Grimacing, she swiftly turned the alarm off so not to disturb the others around her. She silently stood up, grabbed the clothes she had folded at the end of her bed the night before and tip toed past the snoring bodies of strangers to make her way out of the room and to the communal bathroom where she got dressed.

She’d been given a hot tip and was up early to investigate.

It was just past 8am when she exited the Hostel on Rue de Dunkerque, which was situated in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris and was a stone’s throw away from Gare du Nord, the city’s main train station.

She made her way over to Rue de Rochechouart and followed it south until she hit Rue la Fayette where she took a right. For the next ten minutes she enjoyed absorbing the sight of the Parisian apartment buildings that lined either side of her as she leisurely walked. They were almost identical to each other; six stories tall, cream or beige in colour, had dark tiled roofs and matching black iron wrought balconies. The only things that distinguished them from one another were the different shop fronts on the ground floors and the occasional scatter of greenery on the balconies above.

For a Friday, the streets were peculiarly quiet. However, when she finally arrived at the front of the clothing store she discovered eighty people already camped out, eagerly awaiting the chance to see just a glimpse of one of the world’s most famous people.

She wasn’t really into the whole celebrity spotting thing, but a friend from back home who knew where she was had alerted her about the potential sighting. It was something different, she was a bit of a sports nut and he was a big name, so she decided to scope it out.

As she waited, the skies grew ominous, the wind picked up and she became impatient. He was running late and the heavens were going to open up at any moment. She was just about to leave when a black SUV pulled up and everyone started losing their minds.

The car door opened.

Not a strand of his perfectly coiffed hair was moved by the wind. His red cashmere sweater clung tightly to his lean, but muscular physique, with the sleeves rolled up exposing his body art. He was smaller in real life than she had imagined, but he was also much more attractive than on TV.

When the crowd began shouting his name in high pitched unison he flashed them his million dollar pearly whites and started greeting everyone individually, stopping every once in a while to take photos, all the while six burly, intimidating men, dressed in black suits lurked in the background.

Amidst the screaming she became increasingly uncomfortable with the situation she had placed herself in. By the second she felt like she was contributing to the idolisation of celebrities. She couldn’t stand it any longer, so she turned and left, just as quickly as he arrived and just as the sky started spitting down on her.

Caffeine and shelter became her next priority.

On her brisk walk back towards the direction of the Hostel she stopped at an empty café where she was received by a beautiful French man. He looked around her age, had short curly light brown hair and sported thick, black, round rimmed glasses. He was wearing black pants, a plain white t- shirt and a denim apron over it. He was very hospitable towards her and had the rare ability to smile with his eyes.

She had studied French in primary school for a few years and she had actually been really good at it for a time, but unfortunately growing up in Australia there was no one to practice it with and most of her knowledge of the beautiful language had faded away.

“Bonjour! Un s’il vous plait!” she said with zero confidence and holding up a single finger.

“American?” he asked in perfect English, but still tinted in a mild sexy French accent.

“No, Australian. Sorry, my French is terrible” she scrunched up her face in embarrassment as her cheeks flushed pink.

“That’s ok” he smiled cordially and sat her at the corner table next to the window.

She ordered a cappuccino and an omelette and pulled out a copy of The Silmarillion from her handbag.

By then the rain had started coming down hard, so she made herself cosy in the corner of the quaint cafe. She was too engrossed in the history of Tolkien’s Elves and the best omelette of her life to notice the elderly couple being seated two tables down from her. That was, until she heard them speak. Her head in one swift movement turned like a laughing clown’s head at a carnival, mouth gaping open and all. Not only were they Australian, but she could hear they were Perthians just like herself.

She politely interrupted them when there was a break in their playful bickering over whose turn it was to smuggle the flask out of their bag and pour the whiskey into their pending coffee. They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary by endeavoring on a Contiki tour of Europe for seniors. She didn’t even know that was such a thing. She couldn’t begin to imagine what kinds of debauchery elderly people got up to on a tour like that.

Lots of lube she thought to herself with a sly.

They were officially her idols. She slid over to the table between her and them and they chatted for almost two hours about home, how great French food was, their travels across the continent and the football team they all supported back home, which of course took up most of the conversation. The couple even shouted her a nip of their whiskey in her second cappuccino, all the while the cute waiter with glasses looked on amused and polishing cutlery.

She said goodbye to her newly adopted grandparents and the waiter and headed towards the metro where she thought she had stumbled into a 1980’s film noir set and was in the very least going to be stabbed. How could something so beautiful like the city of Paris, harbour something so dark and sinister beneath it. After riding the train for thirty minutes, constantly looking over her shoulder it suddenly emerged from underground and she was momentarily blinded by the daylight. It had briefly stopped raining and she nudged closer to a happier place.

On one hand, it was a good thing Disney Land had been rained out because it made the queues for attractions significantly shorter, however, on the other, it had also quite literally dampened the vibe of the theme park.

She lined up with a school group to ride Crush’s Coaster, braved Phantom Manor alone, took a SFX train tour and cried during a screening on the creation of Disney animation when it showed famous dying scenes. Nearly twenty years had passed, but she was still unable to get over the death of Mufasa.

Unfortunately, due to the earlier rain, most rides were shut, so her visit was shorter than she had liked and she traveled back to the hostel.

She changed her attire, freshened up, switched from flats to heels and went back to a small hidden bar she had stumbled across and had lunch at in Montmartre the day before. She had met the owner; a young hip Parisian who spruiked the fact it was a busy watering hole for locals on Friday nights and she should come back to experience it.

The diminutive bar, with a legal capacity for probably only thirty people was absolutely heaving. She had to physically squeeze inside and rub shoulders with eight different people just to get to the bar counter. There she saw the owner working again and he beamed at the sight of her return. He shouted her a Picon Bière; a super alcoholic pint of beer with a shot of orange bitters in it to get her started.

By her second pint a stool magically became free at the end of the bar, so in a flash she perched herself on it and from there, people watched. She noticed there was nothing particularly unique about the interior or drink specials or music, but she could see people flocked to the hole in the wall for the service. Everyone including the staff seemed to know everyone else and before long she had made friends with half the room as well. It felt more like a house party than a bar.

As the evening went on the owner discovered she was also a bartender, so dragged her around the counter and made her pour vodka shots for every single person. The music was shut off for a moment and the entire bar was ordered to raise their glass to the tourist getting them drunk. By then, she too was wasted, and thought it would be entertaining if she also performed some flaring for her new friends with a bottle of Grey Goose. The problem was she didn’t actually know how to. Luckily, before the bottle hit the floor, shattering into a million pieces, one of the staff was sober, nearby and had the reflexes of former Australian cricket wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist.

She had unknowingly made an impression on a French Fabio clearly going through a mid-life crisis. He invited her to replace the sulky young woman standing next to him and accompany him to the Moulin Rouge the following night. She politely declined his offer before ducking into the crowd to escape him.

All of a sudden a French song everybody seemed to know began to play, prompting the room to sing in tenacious unison. A brunette woman with a pixie haircut led the singing after climbing on top of a table with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, a wine bottle in one hand and an actual baguette in the other. Where the fuck she got it from she had no idea. When the song was over the same woman began chanting “Viva La France” and fist pumping the baguette in the air.

She didn’t know the words or meaning of the song, or the chant for that matter, but she got the distinct feeling it was the French version of Khe Sahn and the woman she watched was very excited about it.

It was around 2am when she trekked back to the hostel bare foot. By that stage she was so drunk she felt like she was walking on a slant most of the way.  The same unfamiliar bodies were once again asleep, as if they never woke or left the room for the entire day. It was pitch dark so she felt her way to her bed by running her hands along the furniture. She stubbed her toe on a bed post in the process and once again had to suppress her pain and verbal response. She threw herself into bed and was out cold in an instant.

Paris was equally beautiful and exhausting, but one thing was undeniable; she had fallen a little bit in love with the city of love.

Resfeber

She stood ankle deep in pure white sand, alone on a perfect beach. Between her toes the warm granules of sand gently exfoliated her skin. The summer sun kissed her forehead while the afternoon sea breeze tickled her cheeks. Between salted lips she breathed deep breaths, her eyes watering as she gazed out at the Indian Ocean before her.

For months her stomach had churned, her intestines felt like they were knotted and she constantly felt anxious. She knew what the diagnosis was; she was suffocating from her surroundings and needed to escape. Staring at what seemed like an endless, gleaming blue, she imagined what it would be like on the other side of the world, anywhere else but where she was.

She’d grown up in one of the most isolated cities in the world and had never travelled. She loved her friends and family but felt like a spectator on the side, watching them live out their lives while her very own was stagnate. Every day felt banal; she wasn’t meeting anyone new and she wasn’t learning anything about the world.

She had been born and raised in that city, but it never truly felt like home. She didn’t like who she was in it; she didn’t really know who she was in it. What she did know was it was a place where she had been heartbroken too many times and a place where she had made foolish mistakes. Something needed to change. She needed to get out. Leaving was a great opportunity to heal, to find herself, and in a way, to start fresh.

In her final year of university she began to plan. She had to see the world before starting her career otherwise she would end up tied down, miserable, and most likely burning a few employment bridges. She booked a round the world ticket with stops in Tokyo, New York and London. She organised a visa for the UK and would cancel the return flight once there.

Originally, she had wanted to live in Portugal as she had been taking Portuguese language lessons every Saturday for a year and thought it would be a great opportunity to become fluent, but as it would be her first time both living and travelling overseas, she instead decided on residing in an English speaking country which would be an easier transition for her. The UK was only a hop, skip and a jump to the rest of Europe anyway.

She scrimped and saved, and bit by bit the date of her departure edged nearer. Anxiety slowly began to fade and in its place anticipation grew. The closer she got to leaving, the surer she became in her decision to leave. Selling her belongings and fitting her life into a backpack was a truly liberating experience.

When she said goodbye to her parents at the airport, she didn’t cry. She could tell by their expressions that they had been waiting for her to, and they seemed surprised by her lack of emotion at such a moment. Of course she was going to miss them, but she was more than ready to leave her current world behind. She walked through the gates, not once looking back.

In the departure lounge she stood at the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the main runway, both hands delicately pressed on the glass in front of her chest. Below, a Boeing 747 was being prepared. It was nearly midnight and she realised she wouldn’t see another Australian sunset for a long time.

The P.A rang out and her flight number was called for boarding. This was it she thought, it was actually happening.  She smiled at the thought and the journey ahead, and in an instant, everything she had been feeling for a long time finally vanished.

Copenhagen and the Vikings

In three weeks it was going to be her birthday. It would be her first one spent in Europe and she was determined to celebrate by going on holiday. She already had the time booked off work; she just needed a destination.

It had been several weeks since she and the Viking had parted ways in Berlin. Though she was back in London and he in Copenhagen, they were emailing and texting almost daily.  Despite the distance, she was still enraptured by him.

She messaged him for advice knowing he was well travelled. The man had backpacked across Australia, gone on Safari in Africa, taken boys trips to the United States and for fun, was a ski instructor in Austria. The Danes notoriously loved their holidays and he was no exception.

She had narrowed down her list of choices to Lisbon, Paris and Reykjavik when she cheekily suggested he should accompany her. When he explained he couldn’t get the time off work as he had a month long trip to Brazil already booked in the near future, he surprised her by suggesting she should visit him in Copenhagen instead. She hadn’t even thought of that.

At first she was hesitant. While it felt like she had known him forever, in reality she had known him for just a few weeks. For all she knew he was trying to lure her to a strange country and her impending death, something mother and father would certainly frown upon. Then she thought; what if he didn’t kill her and they had an amazing time just like their one night together in Berlin? The thought of regret was greater than the fear. Plus she knew it would make a good story so long as she lived to tell the tale.

“What’s in Copenhagen?” she wrote to him.

“Me and a warm bed” he replied.

She booked her flights right then and there.

Later that night she was at work cocktail waitressing for an upmarket steak restaurant in the heart of the city. It was the kind of establishment where the guests were an eclectic mixture of suits, celebrities and tourists.

She had gone to fetch a bottle of wine from the store room only to return to the cocktail lounge and find three young men had sat in her section. There was something about the way they looked and their accents that reminded her of the Viking.

As she approached the table to introduce herself as their waitress she discovered they were not only Danish, but they were also from Copenhagen. They were living in London for a semester studying as part of their Business Master’s degrees. All three were tall, blonde and handsome. Bloody Scandinavian genetics she thought.

She was enjoying their drunken banter and dirty jokes when they asked if she’d been to Denmark before. She told them she had literally just booked flights to Copenhagen that morning to visit a man she had recently met, and that it would be her first time to the Nordic country.

“You know it’s just fucking right?” the drunkest one blurted, triggering the second one to chortle.

“Excuse me?” she replied, half shocked and half amused by his bluntness.

The third and more sober of the three interjected.

“Excuse my friend, he just meant dating is super casual in CPH. You might start sleeping together quickly, but you’re usually not exclusive until after a very long time”.

“Well been there, done that” she said with a wink.

“Girls make most of the moves as well”

While she wasn’t sure what it was that she had with the Viking, she didn’t like the thought of beautiful Danish women pursuing him while she was stuck in London.

“If he’s invited you to Copenhagen then I’m sure he must really like you” the third said kindly, almost as if he had read her mind.

There was something about this particular Viking that she liked in a platonic way. He was warm and well-mannered and she felt immediately at ease around him. The company he kept however, now that was slightly questionable.

She thanked them for the advice and walked back to the bar to organise their drinks. They stayed for only one round before saying goodbye and moving on to the nightclub next door. Though only sitting there for a short time, they had planted a tiny seed of doubt in her brain.

A few weeks later, she was working her final shift before her holiday when the same three Vikings reappeared.

“Oh no! Not you guys again!” she joked and feigned concern.

“Have you been to Copenhagen yet?” the previously drunk-now-sober one asked.

“The day after tomorrow!” she replied excitedly.

“We need to teach you a few words for your trip” the second exclaimed.

“Tak! Means thank you” the third advised.

“But the one thing you really need to know is how to say “Cheers!” which is…”

Skål!” they all yelled in unison and clinked their beers together.

“Ok! Tak!” she responded, and they all laughed with approval.

She left them alone and continued serving other tables only to be waved back over a short time later. They were going to a house party later that night and invited her to join them after she finished work. She was interested but didn’t know what time she was finishing. She exchanged phone numbers with the third Viking and promised to message him when she was done.

“I don’t even know your name sorry” she said.

“I’m Jacob” he replied and they left.

By the time she finished work it was 1am and she was exhausted. She messaged her new friend to let him know she wouldn’t be making it to the party. He responded it was ok and to have a great time in his home city and that they should go for a beer when she was back so she could tell him about her trip. She agreed about the drink, thanked him and told him to have a good night.

The day finally came for her to see her Viking. It was 4am, she was packed and patiently waited outside her Stoke-Newington flat to be picked up by the private car she had booked to take her to the airport. She was so nervous with anticipation she peed nearly ten times in the space of an hour. When there was no sign of the car she started to feel sick in the pit of her stomach with anxiety. She called the car company barely containing her frustration when the man down the other end of the line informed her that daylight savings had ended overnight. She was ready an hour early and wasn’t going to miss her flight. She felt like an asshole and an idiot.

As promised the car arrived on time and delivered her to Stansted Airport. After a one hour and fifty minute flight she arrived in Copenhagen. She loved the proximity of everything in Europe, especially compared to back home where one can fly for two hours and still be in the state of Western Australia. It was still morning, but the sunlight somehow made everything look like it was 5pm as if the sun was just about to set rather than rise. It was the end of October and she was in Scandinavia. Apparently daylight was a scarce commodity in that part of the world at that time of year. She couldn’t imagine what it’d be like in January. Vampire country maybe she thought. The Viking had told her to bring gloves and she was grateful for the recommendation. It was also so cold her nose was burning.

He couldn’t meet her at the airport because of a party at his apartment the night before and he wanted it clean in time for her arrival. She followed his instructions and caught a train from the airport to the suburb of Svanemøllen where he promised he would meet her outside the station.

As soon as she arrived at the final station she was overcome with nerves. What if he’s nothing like the man I met in Berlin? What if it’s really awkward for the entirety of the next two days? What if he doesn’t show up and this is all a sick joke? On top of the legion of possibilities that plagued her, her phone had refused to pick up any signal. She had no way of calling him or even checking maps for his address. She was about to have her very first panic attack when she heard a beeping noise coming from her bag. Her phone had finally connected to the country’s communication service and she had received a message. It was from him; Look up.

When she did she saw him across the road walking towards her. Everything she had been feeling just moments before faded away.

She met him half way at the median strip in the middle of the road. He was just as attractive as she remembered him, even rugged up in a not so flattering navy duffel coat. They exchanged hello’s and kissed for a solid minute in the middle of the road. He took her luggage in one hand and her hand in the other and walked her to the other side of the road. She was telling him about her flight when he stopped her in front of a bakery.

“Have you had breakfast?” he asked with a grin.

“No I haven’t actually” she replied.

“Well, seeing as you’re in Denmark now you should start with a Danish pastry, or as we say here “Wienerbrød”, although they’re maybe not as popular here as overseas” he said with a wink.

He began conversing in Danish with an elderly lady behind the counter and as she watched she found herself immediately turned on by him speaking his native tongue. Accents had long been her kryptonite. She watched as four different types of pastries were placed into a brown paper bag whilst he paid the lady. Having purchased the pastries they continued down Østerbrogade towards his apartment.

When they reached his building, they went up to the top floor in potentially the world’s smallest elevator. What’s this, an elevator for ants? She mused to herself. It was so tiny they were squished against each other, not that she was complaining. She made a joke about getting to know the neighbours well in it and he admitted to her he had to carry all his furniture up the stairs when he first moved in because it was too small to use. She was impressed since he lived on the fourteenth floor and also glad she wasn’t around for move in day. He was inclined to not move again for quite some time.

His apartment was delightful and the definition of Danish Design. The space was bright thanks to large windows, natural lighting and plain white walls. The furnishings were minimal but modern and appeared to be hand crafted with great attention to detail. The appliances in his kitchen were in various pops of colour and the shelves in the living room weren’t cluttered. He seemed to have only the things he needed and she liked that. She was drawn to a peculiar 3D box shape mounted on the wall. It was a Snellen eye chart that also doubled as a wall lamp. He noticed her looking at it and explained his father, who was a Doctor, had given it to him.

He ushered her out onto his balcony while he made her a coffee. The view was breath taking. In front of her was a sea of red, brown, orange and charcoal coloured roof tops and just beyond, the autumn trees marked the beginning of Fælledparken. It was a Sunday, so the streets below were extremely quiet. Only the occasional ring of a bicycle bell, the chirping of birds and the laughter of children broke the silence.

The Viking joined her and they sat eating pastries and drinking coffee, catching up on each other’s lives. She learnt he lived with a police officer who she would meet sooner or later and by all accounts was a little crazy, especially when he drank. What was it about Danes and Alcohol she wondered, although being Australian she was the pot calling the kettle black.

She was please to find he was just as kind, witty and intelligent as he was the first time she met him in Berlin. Her stomach couldn’t stop doing somersaults.

After an hour of settling in and several make out sessions like they were teenagers again, he decided to give her a tour of the city. They visited the Little Mermaid statue based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale which she found to be sad and lonely, followed by a walk of the grounds of the 17th century star-shaped fortress Kastellet, where he gave her a Danish military history lesson.

From there he took her to see Frederik’s Church, a beautiful 18th century Evangelical Lutheran structure which happened to be the oldest in Scandanavia. They walked down the street away from the church and its near Tiffany-blue dome and past the various embassy’s until they came to Amalienborg. It was known as the Four Palaces and the home of the Danish Royal family including Australian born Princess Mary. She was surprised by how open to the public it was and how few guards there were. She took the opportunity to document the moment with her camera, asking a passer-by to take a photo of her and the Viking.

The final stop on the personalised tour was Christiania, the former military barracks turned self-proclaimed autonomous hippie commune in the heart of the city. It was started in the 1970’s by artists and squatters and she had never seen anything like it before. The buildings were coated with different styles of art, the air smelled of marijuana, and tiny DIY homes surrounded a lake which was sat so still it reflected the sky. At one point a Rastafarian on a bike cycled past them with a heart shaped rainbow speaker blasting reggae. It was one of the more surreal moments in her life.

He took her home and cooked her dinner. While he cooked she drank red wine and curled up on the lounge to watch a Premier League game. He was impressed she liked to watch sport. The rest of the evening was spent getting to know each other further; verbally, as well as in the bedroom. At some point late in the night she awoke to hear his housemate come home but immediately fell back asleep.

The next time her eyes opened she was officially twenty five and she couldn’t think of a better way to start it; in bed with a handsome Scandinavian. It was 7am on a Monday and the Viking had work. He didn’t have curtains so the sunlight pierced through the window like a sword through flesh. As he got dressed, she hid herself in the darkness and warmth of his covers.

He wished her a happy birthday, told her to make herself at home, wrote down the address of his work for her to meet him at later and left. His elusive housemate had already snuck out before meeting her, allowing her to potter about alone to check her emails and Facebook. Australia was six hours ahead so she had already received a few birthday messages.

After a few hours she gained the courage to leave the apartment and walk solo around the city. The weather wasn’t as pleasant as the day before. The morning had started sunny but the day gradually progressed into wet, grey and gusty weather. The artic winds were excruciatingly cold when they found their way to her. She managed to locate Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world. It was way too dangerous to go on any of the rides so she just wandered about the park and people watched.

She stumbled across Strøget, a pedestrian shopping strip where she fell in love and wanted to buy almost every item on display in the windows. She loved the fashion in Copenhagen. Everyone looked effortlessly stylish using a predominant combination of black, white and grey. Flattering and hardly ever out of fashion she thought to herself. She had always preferred winter clothes to summer so she thoroughly enjoyed seeing the array of scarves, boots, coats and hats worn by the gorgeous Danish women walking or cycling past.

She was nearly struck down by a young woman on a pale blue bicycle, after accidentally walking across a bike path. She knew Amsterdam was famous for being the biking capital of the world without having been there, but Copenhagen must have been a close second. Cyclists reminded her of bee’s buzzing about a hive, which was the city. If she wasn’t careful she was going to be stung by one.

She found it was a pleasure to see a city so “green” and environmentally conscious which helped her understand the Viking’s thinking a little better. After all, he was an Environmental Planner.

After a quick bite to eat in an empty restaurant she found Nyhavn, the picturesque port with blue, green, yellow, red and white house’s lining each side. It was probably the most photographed part of the city. The sight of the coloured houses contrasting with the grey sky was astounding. She was interested to see what it would look like in summer with tourists spilling out of the bars and restaurants as well.

She headed towards where the Viking worked which was opposite three large rectangular lakes. By the time she got to his office she looked like someone who had been standing in front of a wind machine after a bucket of water had thrown over their head. She was extremely embarrassed to meet him in front of his colleagues who stared at her from their desks. They all wore matching expressions on their faces as if to say who is this Australian mess? The Viking didn’t seem to care though, scooping her up and kissing her for all to see.

They said good bye to his co-workers and walked for twenty minutes down Fredensgade, past the hospital and across Fælledparken until they reached his local supermarket to buy groceries for dinner. Even though it was her birthday she decided to cook dinner for him to say thank you for having her. Luckily the weather was perfect for her signature dish; lamb stew with mashed potato. The saying ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ was not wasted on her.

Once home they jumped immediately into the shower together to warm up. It was like Berlin all over again. Once they were finished she began preparing dinner. As she busied about the kitchen, he answered work emails at the dining table, all the while explaining how he was going to save the world one environmental policy at a time.

He introduced her to the Danish artist Agnes Obel who played on loop in the background, setting an equally romantic and melancholic mood. The fact she had to fly back to London in less than twenty four hours was already on her mind. If she could of, she would have stayed with him in that apartment forever.

She had her back to him and hadn’t realised he had temporarily snuck away from the table. As she was stirring the stew he surprised her from behind, placing his left hand on her hip and dangling a gift in front of her with his right. He kissed her neck and whispered Happy Birthday into her ear.  She hadn’t expected anything from him and it was the first time she had ever received a present from a man.

It was a Danish designed fish mobile. The wire was gold and the four fish, each varying in size were made of differing coloured cardboard. It was simple and delicate and she loved it. He told her it was identical to the one he had bought for his soon to be born first nephew.

“It’s for above your bed, so you’ll always think of me while you’re lying in it” he added.

“Tak!” she said, followed by a kiss.

Two minutes after they had sat down for dinner his housemate came home. He had just finished a shift and asked to join them, bottle of wine in hand and looking ready to party. She remembered the Vikings warning. They had thrown a party for his birthday the night before she had arrived, but his birthday was actually the day after hers, so they decided to celebrate both with red wine, white Russian cocktails and anecdotes.

“Skål!” she said as she initiated a clinking of drinks. They seemed impressed with the few Danish words she knew.

The stew was a hit and both men helped themselves for seconds. When their bellies were full and the apartment ran dry of alcohol they decided to don their coats. They walked down to a pub two blocks over where they taught her Danish Billiards and she played ACDC songs on the jukebox.

It was around 2.30am when they called it a night as the Viking had to work again in the morning.

Along with the sunlight came the ringing of his alarm and the reality of her impending departure that day. Both of them were a little sombre, though neither tried to show it. The night before she recalled how they had talked about when they were going to see each other again. In a week and a half he was off to Brazil for a month. By the time he’d get back it’d be nearly Christmas and there was no way she’d be able to get work off again until after New Year since December was a ridiculously busy month for the hospitality industry in London. They toyed with the idea of him visiting her in January, or meeting on mutual territory somewhere else, but nothing was set in stone.

He went to work and she spent the morning on the balcony drinking coffee. The weather had improved from the day before and was once again sunny and cold. She was impressed with what she saw of the city and Danish people but wished she had more time to explore it further.

His housemate didn’t wake until close to midday, but offered to drop her off at the Carlsberg Brewery on his way to work. She took him up on his offer and spent the first half of the afternoon there before meeting the Viking in the city centre.

He took her on a romantic stroll through Kongens Have, also known as The King’s Garden, which would become her favourite place and memory of the city. It was enchanting in the autumn. They went back to his and spent one last time together in his bedroom before he drove her to the airport.

It took at least ten minutes for her to leave the car and for him to allow it to happen. They were both a mess. Finally, she confessed to him she had left a present for him in the apartment, but didn’t tell him what it was or where he would find it. She kissed him one last time, thanked him for letting her stay, got out of the car and walked into the airport without a glance behind.

On the return flight to London she fought back tears the entire way. She had a gut feeling she wouldn’t be seeing him again.

She was on a transfer bus home from the airport when she received a text message from him

‘I miss you already too’

Before she had left his apartment to head to the brewery she had placed a pocket sized Portuguese dictionary on his kitchen window sill. She had studied it for fun a few years earlier and thought he’d get some use out of it in Brazil. On the inside cover she had written ‘Eu sinto falta de voce’ which translated to “I miss you”. He had found it.

Over the next few weeks they talked, even while he was on holiday in South America. He asked her to fly down and join him and as much as she wanted to, she didn’t have the funds or time off work to do it. As the weeks passed communication between them slowly faded. Christmas and New Years went by. She booked flights to Prague and Stockholm in January while he went to Austria.

By the end of February he admitted he had started dating someone else in Copenhagen. What could she do? Damn those beautiful Danish women she thought when she learnt of the revelation. A year and a half later she would hear he had become a father. She knew he’d make an incredible parent.

She concluded she wasn’t in love with the Viking; she just loved the way he had made her feel. She had been broken for a long time before she had met him in Berlin. He had somehow not only healed her, but also brought her back to life just by showing her kindness and respect, giving her the knowledge that there were decent men still out there. He was a brilliant, sexy, smart and funny man in a different stage of his life compared to her which she happily acknowledged and accepted. She knew deep down even if they had seen each other again she could never make him happy long term and only hoped he had finally found it with the other woman.

From there on, her standards in men would always be higher because of him and the way he had treated her. She would always remember turning twenty five as her favourite birthday.

Though the Viking was never truly hers, he had done something for her that no man in her life had ever done before; he had given her hope. He enabled an ever growing chain of events to unfold before her and brought about the endless bound of opportunities she would soon experience. No matter where she was in the world, she would be forever grateful for meeting him.

A few days after her trip to Copenhagen she walked into a bar in Soho. At a high table with a pint in hand Jacob was patiently waiting for her. He had messaged her to see how her holiday was and if she had liked his home city and she agreed to discuss it over beer. He would become one her dearest friends and the reason she’d go back to Copenhagen over and over again until she eventually fell in love with the city and its people.

Endings and Beginnings

She had always tried to fix the broken ones but in the end they’d always broken her a little instead.

They met at a mutual friend’s boat party. All the girls had noticed him except for the laughing, carefree girl who had jumped off the bow of the boat with a beer in hand. Her lack of attention had fascinated him and he was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. He went straight for her as she grabbed another drink from the esky and introduced himself with a cocky pick-up line. Once he was on her radar she saw he had a bad boy vibe and a hint of sadness to him, which she quickly discovered she couldn’t resist.

He was the stereotypical Aussie footballer type; athletic, light brown hair, blue eyes and tattoos. He was private school educated, raised with money and had that slight sense of entitlement one sees in a person when everything is handed to them on a silver platter. He worked in the family business with his father who cheated on his mother most of his life. To him it was natural behaviour and he emerged emotionally stunted.

She was raised with laughter and two loving parents but not a lot of money. She moved out of home at seventeen and worked two jobs to put herself through university. She refused to get any Government assistance. If she wanted something she worked for it. Nothing in her life came for free. When it came to men she was an optimist, always wore her heart on her sleeve and always thought things would work out in the end.

They started sleeping together the night of the boat party with neither of them interested in a ‘relationship’. She had an indefinite trip organised long before they met so there was always an expiration date on whatever they were from day one. It was the first time in a while she wasn’t looking for something serious so her emotional walls were up. Despite their different personalities, social backgrounds and the warnings from various people, the arrangement suited them both.

Within weeks she was acquainted with his friends and family and when they were out he insisted on paying for everything. To everyone who knew of their arrangement they were carefree friends. At night however, behind closed doors, he slowly revealed to her his soul. She was surprised by his words and trust as it made her question the casualness of the situation. At the same time she was unsure of their status, she felt like she was a positive influence on him.

One night he picked her up from her bar job and took her back to his house. She hadn’t been feeling well all day so he offered her some pain relief. Whatever he gave her was strong, prompting her to ask what it was. He revealed he had spent some time in hospital for a bone eating tumour in his skull and the medicine was from that time. It had affected his blossoming football career and she could tell he didn’t divulge that information to many people. She was touched he had opened up to her about something so significant to him.

Later that night, unable to sleep from the humidity and feeling ill from the strong medicine, she lay awake next to him thinking he was sound asleep. She moved and he nervously asked if she was awake.

“Yes” she replied

“I love you” he whispered. Was she hallucinating? She wasn’t sure. An awkward amount of time passed before she spoke.

“Can you say what you said again to me?” He was silent. She rolled over, placed her chin on his bare chest and looked at him. “I’m not sure if I heard what you said correctly, you need to say it again”.

He spoke again repeating the same words which left her speechless. Because she had kept her guard up she hadn’t allowed herself to have feelings for him.

She didn’t know what to say so she kissed him and he kissed her back. After a while he realised it was a distraction and stopped to go use the bathroom. For twenty solid minutes there was silence. No flush of a toilet. No running of a tap. Nothing. He had gone in there to escape. When he finally returned he ignored her, got into bed, rolled on his side so his back was facing her and went to sleep.

The next morning he was brushing his teeth and walked out of the ensuite to find her sitting on the edge of the bed. She looked at him still confused and unsure if it had all been a dream.

“You said something to me last night and I don’t know if it was real or not” she said.

“Was it something good?” he responded

“I think so”

“Then it probably wasn’t a dream” he said before walking back into the bathroom. That was the last time it was mentioned. From that point on he pretended like it had never happened and she was too embarrassed to raise it again.

It took her a long time to pin point the very moment he went cold on her. Later she realised that the night he said those few words, the night she said nothing back, that was it. That was the moment. He had opened up to her and without realising it she had hurt him. When she had hurt him, he began to withdraw like a tortoise in its shell.  To make things worse, the moment he began to build his walls, she saw it as the moment to finally let hers down.

For the next few months she battled with him to show his emotions again. She felt he ignored her unless he was drunk or it was late at night; usually both. He also liked to flaunt other women in front of her. After all they weren’t exclusive.

Every time she was on the verge of giving up he would somehow reel her back in with words or an act of kindness. Sometimes it was a display of jealousy or a drunken deep-and-meaningful conversation. He’d show the old him and her hope would go on. She would always ask him how he felt and about their situation to which he would always respond with “this is what you wanted”. She was a fool.

Any sane woman would have walked away but she felt too invested. She saw moments of greatness in him and held on tight to them when he was cruel to her. She thought he was punishing her and eventually it would end. It wouldn’t, because she couldn’t fix something that was unfixable.

The one great thing that came of it all was that it made it easier for her to leave when the time came. One night as they were walking through a car park with friends the subject of her trip came up. He said something about when she was back and when she told him she didn’t know if she’d even be coming back the look he gave her was forever burned into her memory. She saw then and there the realisation that crossed his face. He finally understood she wasn’t going on a holiday, she was moving countries.

On her last night in Australia she spent it with him. He even offered to take her to the airport. Towards the end he became kinder but at times was still distant, like he was phasing her out. Despite all that had happened she completely understood why. When she left she thought things had ended on good terms and they would at the very least remain friends. As she boarded her flight she sent one final text to him. It was her goodbye.

– SIX MONTHS LATER –

She was curled in a ball on the bed in her dank London basement flat. Her eyes were swollen and red from crying and the bed sheets were soaked in patches from where her tears had fallen. She had received an email earlier that morning which had devastated her. Though thousands of kilometres away, part of her was still in love with him. When he had reached out to him he had told her to move on and to forget they had ever happened. Despite being on a different continent on the other side of the world he had managed to once again hurt her.

He was in a relationship with a ‘friend’ of hers. She had found out thanks to photos of the two being posted on social media and not from the friends who knew of its beginning merely weeks after her leaving. She felt betrayed by many people despite them telling her it was withheld to spare her feelings. He had stated time and again he didn’t want a relationship but it turned out it he just didn’t want one with her. She felt like damaged goods.

When she found out she emailed them both to ask what was going on. He couldn’t have been nastier and her so-called friend declared “I have no loyalty to you”. Well that was that then she thought.

It was already going to be a long day before she had received the news. She worked as a bartender in Broadgate near Liverpool Street Station. There was an exhibition of expensive cars outside her bar that day which she knew would draw people in for lunch. Her clientele were mainly bankers and half of them were truly wankers; funny how they rhymed. She wasn’t in the mood for their shit.

In the middle of a busy lunch service she dropped an unopened bottle of red wine which shattered at her feet. A cut in her hand began to bleed from where the bottle sliced her and matched the shade of her now soaked socks. Her day was going from bad to worse and she was on a double shift. She still had to work the night shift which turned out to be equally as busy as the day.

Three guys had come in early in the evening and tried to lift her mood throughout the night. The first was obviously keen on her, the second was too good looking to be real and last seemed a little crazy. The one keen on her was a music executive for an international label. He was nice and attentive but she just wasn’t interested or attracted. The good looking guy was a personal trainer and the slightly crazy one worked high up for an airlines company. They were all English and friends from school, and all determined for her to have a good night.

When she finally knocked off the trio asked her to join them for a drink. It had been a long day and she needed one, so she agreed. They invited her to get a taxi with them to Shoreditch, the hipster, happening suburb of east London. Usually she didn’t accept or share rides with strangers, let alone three men, but this time she didn’t care; she needed the distraction. They ended up at a seedy nightclub which was open until 3am. All of her drinks were bought for her but she kept a close eye on them to make sure they weren’t being ‘roofied’.

The music executive kept making unwanted moves on her on the dance floor so she ran away to the bar. She was in line when the personal trainer popped up next to her. They began chatting and she discovered the slab of muscle was also heartbroken. The next thing she knew he was kissing her and she was allowing him to. When they came up for air she saw the music executive was watching them before storming off. She grabbed the personal trainer’s hand and led him out of the club.

In the cab on the way to her flat they established it was just sex. It was what they both needed despite being emotionally attached to other people. She went into stealth ‘Seth Cohen’ mode to sneak him in. Unfortunately for her, not only were her two Scottish housemates wide awake at that hour ever for the first time ever, they also had all their male friends over. The personal trainer received an absolute grilling.

When she got him to her bedroom he was so drunk he couldn’t get it up. They tried countless things before he pretended to fall asleep. No way in hell are you staying here mate. She knew he was faking sleeping because he lived on the other side of London. After ‘waking him’ she eventually convinced him to leave, booked him a taxi and walked him outside. It was eerily quiet.

I don’t know where I am” he said. A three legged albino fox ran past.

“You’ll be ok” she said turning away to go back inside. “We all will be”.

The next morning she pulled out her laptop searching for a much needed holiday and to get away from everything. She couldn’t go immediately, but at least by booking something then and there she could have something to look forward to. She clicked confirm and it was official.

She was going to Berlin.

 

Welcome to New York

A direct flight from Tokyo to New York on average takes twelve hours and forty-five minutes. Thanks to an industrial strength sleeping tablet she was awake for only two of those hours and apart from a stiff neck, it was the best sleep she’d had on a plane.

The elderly man seated next to her wasn’t impressed though. Her snoring, drooling and sudden jolt awake after her seemingly comatose state frustrated him. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if the air hostess placed a sheet over her halfway over the Pacific; she was that out of it. She supposed he was just grateful he had the aisle seat and not the window so he didn’t have to climb over her to empty his bladder.

She had boarded her flight at Narita Airport on a Thursday at 5.30pm and arrived at JFK Airport at the exact same time on the exact same day. She had time travelled and it was to the only city in the world where she found her expectations met reality.

She reached Border Control and saw the Immigration Officer eyeing people off with equal suspicion and contempt. When it was her turn to approach him, she was feeling wide awake and flashed him her biggest smile. She handed over her passport which he peered down at, looked back up at her and then surveyed it once more. She saw his grey moustache twitch like a rodent as he tried to find something wrong with it. She had prepared everything well and knew her visa was correct. He looked up again and finally cracked a smile.

“First time in the States?” he asked and she nodded. He asked about her plans and she was brutally honest; she was there to get drunk and see a Rangers game. He seemed to approve of her answer, stamped her passport and waved her through.

She found a transfers counter and booked the cheapest option to get her to her hostel on the Upper West Side. After waiting inside the airport for over thirty minutes her driver, who wasn’t much of a talker, arrived. With two fingers he gestured to the exit, grabbed her luggage and walked with such speed it gave her anxiety. Though she followed him with haste through the airport, the moment she stepped through the sliding glass doors to walk outside, she stopped dead in her tracks as she heard the city for the first time.

The shouts between drivers, the sound of cars honking and planes taking off all combined with the chatter of millions of people meshed together to make a continuous hum. She loved it.

The driver pulled back the van door to expose the other backpackers he had already picked up from other terminals who for some reason looked panic stricken. She quickly learnt the man in charge of delivering them all to their hostels alive was the most reckless driver in existence. He made speeding, weaving through heavy traffic, slamming on his brakes and near-misses look like an Olympic sport; and he was going for gold. While she absolutely hated rollercoasters, she had never felt so close to her impending death on one like she did during that ride. To be fair though, he did get her to her accommodation in a decent amount of time.

The hostel was wedged between residential buildings on a street two blocks away from Central Park. She stepped out of the van and as she turned to say good bye (and good luck) to the remaining backpackers, her feet flew out from under her like she was running on the spot. After what felt like forever, she fell backwards and landed on her tail bone. The sidewalk was still icy from snow that had fallen the day before causing her to perform her best Road Runner impersonation unwillingly to strangers. She was more annoyed at the fact she had missed the snow.

With red cheeks from the cold and embarrassment she got up from the ground as awkwardly as possible and waddled to the door.  A condemned notice was pinned to the front explaining it would shut and be demolished in two months to make way for apartments. She walked inside and was greeted by a friendly receptionist who was proudly from Queens. While he checked her in, she asked where she could go for a drink nearby and he recommended a jazz bar six blocks up towards Harlem. She went upstairs to her dorm room, dumped her back pack and showered quickly to freshen up from her flight.

When she came back down she could hear a commotion coming from the games room. Peeking around the corner she saw a room full of people playing beer pong beneath a ceiling covered by red love heart shaped balloons. In her travel from one time zone to another she had completely forgotten it was Valentine’s Day. Everyone in the room however appeared single and their sole mission was to get roaring drunk. To hell with love. A Brazilian man converged on her with a ping pong ball in hand and convinced her to play a round against him. It wasn’t her first rodeo and she was competitive and in need of a drink. She destroyed him.

After three games, all of which she won against three different Brasileiros, she decided to break their hearts and make her way alone to the jazz bar.

Upon entry the doorman greeted her and informed her she had to sit at the bar and order a minimum of two drinks because she didn’t have a dinner reservation. She told him the two drinks policy wasn’t going to be a problem.

Once inside, she saw a mahogany bar, dark red velvet curtains and white walls covered with monchrome portraits of various jazz musicians. The space was made up of tables of two or leather booths all full with patrons and all complete with red rose and candle centre pieces.

The stage was set at the back of the room where an African American jazz band was in the middle of a set. All the band members were in black tuxedos and bow ties and had the most incredible stage presence she had ever seen. She sat down on a high wooden stool at the bar, took her coat off and hung it over the back. A female bartender acknowledged her with a hello and slid a drinks menu in front her. They shared the same name and immediately bonded. She ordered a glass of red wine and scanned the room, noting it was mainly full of couples. She wondered if any of them had noticed her and wondered if they felt sorry for her for being alone.

When the band finished its set two songs later a man in his 50s sitting next to her at the bar introduced himself. He was polite and asked her about her plans in New York and her previous travels. He was in the middle of telling her about his adult children, divorce and job as an investment banker when two frat boys interrupted. Never in her life had she encountered such arrogance. She knew American guys were forward, but this was too much for her to deal with. Their attention was only directed at her and they were aggressive in their approach. When they repeatedly cut the man off from trying to speak to her and physically tried to edge him out of the conversation by getting between them, she put her foot down.  She told them there was no way in hell she was interested in speaking to such a pair of backwards-hat-wearing-small-dicked-douchebags. They had asked her to join them at another bar around the corner and she suggested they head there immediately without her. When they realised she was dead serious they backed off. She looked innocent, but when she was really angry she could scare a 120 kilogram bikie into submission.

The man in his 50s was in shock and awe and thanked her for choosing his company over the younger men. Apparently seeing this as an opening for a new avenue of discussion, he then asked her if she would like to be his mistress for the week while she was in town. ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ she thought. What was with these men? She politely declined his offer and began a conversation with the bartender. After a few minutes the man sheepishly stood up and left. She told herself he was just lonely because it was Valentine’s Day.

By this stage the band had begun another set. She became too enthralled by them to notice a new guy was sitting next to her until he leant over and asked what she thought of the music.

“They’re amazing aren’t they?” she gushed and he agreed. He was in his 30s told her how he was trying to make it on Broadway.

Yet another set ended and the lead singer, with the charisma of Sammy Davis Junior, walked straight up to them. It turned out he and the guy sitting next to her knew each other and she was introduced. The singer was ecstatic she had chosen to visit that particular bar and catch their performance on her first night in the Big Apple. As he was talking, a woman with a familiar looking face crept up behind him and slid an arm around his waist. It took her awhile, but she later realised the wife of the singer was an actress in a prominent TV show set in New York which she had grown up watching. She came across as polite but aloof. Could this night get anymore surreal?

The singer grabbed a drink from the bar and went back to the stage. When the audience went quiet he announced there was a special guest in the house. It was her. He told the crowd it was her first time in New York and wanted to dedicate the following song to her. It was Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind. Yes, it could get more surreal.

The rest of the night became a drunken blur as she was invited to stay for a lock in with the staff and band. She discovered two distinct correlations. One was between the consumption of free alcohol and increased memory loss. The second was between Americans and drinking games. The last thing she remembered was checking the time to see it was past 4am.

She abruptly woke up later in the morning in the girl’s dorm at her hostel and raced to the toilet to throw up the previous night’s regrets. There was nothing quite like having to puke in a dirty communal toilet shared by over a dozen men and women. She had a flash back of doing cheap tequila shots with the bass player. How the hell did she get back to the hostel in one piece? She couldn’t remember. When her head stopped spinning she managed to dress herself and stumble out of the hostel and into the corner store at the end of her street.

When she walked into the shop the Hispanic father and son who ran the store began laughing at her. Offended and not in the mood she skulked to the back corner of the store to gather supplies like Gatorade and Panadol. When she reached the counter the son waved her passport in her face and smirked.

“You left this here this morning”. Ho-ly-shit. She’d lost her passport on her first night in New York and managed to somehow get it back. What were the odds? The travel gods were clearly smiling down on her. She thanked the men profusely and headed to Central Park still processing what had just happened.

While walking through the park she couldn’t think of a more perfect introduction to the city. She stopped a dog walker to point her in the direction of the nearest McDonalds.

The sound of an ambulance screeching past was like a knife to her brain.

She was definitely going to need a supersize.