Back at the hostel, Joanna put her plan into action, cajoling, deceiving and finally outright shoving Sila off his bunk and into the bar on the second floor.
It was instantly pastiche,
posters of Scarface and Run Lola Run and Carlito’s Way and Miami Vice and Manhunter on the walls
music via Kraftwerk covers in the air
no visible cabinets.
Around a hundred hostel guests provided vague dancing, none of them over 25, so Sila stayed put in the corner, let Joanna manage the supply line of alcohol, and drank and drank and drank, and the drunker he got, the more unguarded he got, but also the angrier he got and
by two in the morning he was at last balanced enough to open up yet
despite Joanna being the only person in the bar he knew
the Slovene nut managed to open up the wrong way
to the wrong person,
a Danish guy, not Joanna and
for some reason he talked about Danish people he liked and 60’s hammer movies and representation of Danes in Hollywood and how tall and strong Danish men were and then
about the girl they’d rescued from the wooden box
how she was shivering
and face down and
how he was willing to adopt her but this one, Joanna, was too heartless to do it so they’d left her in the hospital, alone, possibly face down again, and the Danish guy laughed, saying, ‘now she will never leave you alone, my friend.’
Sila was too busy glaring at his glass to notice the line, but Joanna did. She leaned in from the bar stool on the other side, with Kiss of the Spider Woman as her background, and asked the Danish guy what he meant by that.
‘I’m sorry, who are you?’
‘Why won’t the girl leave us alone?’
‘Were you always on that stool? Are you his girlfriend?’
‘I’ve been sitting here all night. No, not girlfriend. We’re…travel partners.’
The Danish guy looked back at Sila and asked if the Japanese girl was his girlfriend.
‘Her? Not really. She tried to have me killed.’
‘Up on the hill, by the castle. The creepy looking tree.’ Sila pointed at the scar on his neck. ‘See this? This was her doing.’
‘She cut your neck?’
‘No, not her. The kurslik.’
‘Krsnik…’ Joanna corrected, keeping an eye on the other guy’s hands.
‘This is strange. I thought you were joking.’
‘I don’t know. About everything. Actually, I’m still confused. Is she your girlfriend?’
‘Neither girl nor friend.’
‘Sorry, I don’t know what that means.’
‘I’m not his girlfriend,’ said Joanna, drinking some of her green tea. ‘He was attacked by a monster in Ljubljana. He blames me because I set him up and didn’t intervene. He complains about it a lot. Why won’t this little box girl leave us alone?’
‘What does travel partner mean?’
‘Man, I’m bored,’ said Sila, stretching his arms out and squinting at what he thought was a girl fingering herself in one of the darker booths then saying ‘fuck’ when he poked further and realised it was just someone’s jacket. ‘Is there any other place round here we can go? This place is too blue. The lighting bits. Too many blue tubes running along the wall. Radium blue tubes.
‘Well, there is a library…’
‘That a bar?’
‘It is a kind of bar. Most of it is closed now, but there is a secret door, it is near the back. There is an interesting method to get into this place. What you need to do is knock five times on the door then quote a line from Blue Velvet, and they will let you in.’
‘Sounds like hipster wank. You got any circle k or 7-11’s?’
‘I don’t know about circle k, but there is a late night supermarket nearby.’
‘Anywhere to drink?’
‘You mean outside?’
‘River, park, youth centre, place like that.’
‘There is the river, you can walk there in about 20 minutes. Or there is the…’
‘What about the girl,’ said Joanna, butting in and almost spilling some of her green tea on the guy’s jacket. ‘Why won’t she leave us alone?’
‘Ignore her’ said Sila, nudging the Danish guy in the arm, ‘she gets one track sometimes. What about this river, is it cold?’
‘If we swim, sure, like ice.’
‘I don’t wanna swim.’
‘I know, I was joking. You’d probably drown if you-…’
‘What I wanna do is get out of here.’ Sila slipped off his bar stool and put on his jacket. ‘Come on, travel partner, you too. This place is teenage shit.’
Thirty five minutes later, they were sitting by the river with their hands up the sleeves of their jackets, wondering if the unbearable blue lighting in the bar they’d been warm in half an hour earlier was really that blue after all.
‘Man, I’m not saying I told you so, but we never should’ve left that place,’ said Sila. ‘It’s like the capital of Greenland out here.’
‘Nuuk,’ muttered the Danish guy.
‘Not that one.’
‘It’s the capital.’
‘Nope. Nuuk’s in Iceland.’
‘Uhura. I’ve been there. The cabinets are shit.’
‘What is the capital of Greenland then?’
‘I know it is the town with the very colourful houses, but if it is not called Nuuk then I don’t know the name.’
‘Nuuk?’ asked Sila, confused.
‘Shit, I thought you said Rekjavik.’
‘I said Nuuk, two times now.’
‘I read that Greenland was part of Denmark,’ said Joanna, the only one of the three not drinking anything.
‘That’s not true,’ replied the Dane quickly.
‘Are you sure?’
‘I am very sure. Before, it is true, we were joined, but not now. We don’t have enough money. We are a tiny place, like Ecuador.’
‘Like Sierra Leone,’ added Sila. ‘Man, I wonder if they have any cabinets…’
Joanna coughed, then put both hands on the side of her neck. ‘I’m sure I read that Greenland wanted to be independent from Denmark.’
‘I’m sorry, that is wrong.’
‘It’s what I read.’
‘Was it in Danish or Chinese?’ asked Sila. ‘Cos if it was Danish then there’s a good chance you’re wrong. Because you can’t read Danish. Can you?’
‘I don’t really care. I’m only talking to stop myself feeling cold.’
‘Can you read this plaque?’ Sila pointed to the silver plate on the bench they were sitting on. ‘No looking at your phone either.’
‘I said I don’t care. Can we go back now?’ asked Joanna, pulling her jacket another inch higher towards her face.
‘Try the first word…’
‘My feet are turning green.’
‘She is right, it is quite cold,’ said the Danish guy. ‘Maybe we should go back to your room to warm up a little.’
‘Yes, the hostel room. Are you in a dorm or private?’
‘8 bed dorm,’ said Sila before Joanna could get a word out.
‘Damn, that is not so good. Who are you bunking with?’
‘Bunking with? Man, your vocab’s pretty good.’ Sila put his hand on the Danish guy’s shoulder and patted him like a dog. ‘What is it, the Danish education system? Language exchange?’
‘Can we talk about this on the way back?’ asked Joanna, standing up.
‘What do you mean? We’re walking already…’
‘We’re sitting on a bench.’
‘I thought the bench was walking already. Floating…’
‘The bench is not walking. You’re drunk.’
‘It could be. We just can’t see it cos we’re on it. That makes sense. Fuck off, I’m not drunk. It’s like lightspeed, you can’t see the planets fly by cos you’re on the ship and the time dilation factor doesn’t…time doesn’t move for you cos the ship time is different…so the bench people don’t know we’ve moved until we’re back at the hostel and…’
‘Let’s go back,’ said the Danish guy, guiding his hand onto Sila’s waist. ‘Before your little demon girl turns up and skewers me.’
‘Man, you even know skewer…’
‘Demon girl,’ said Joanna, standing up and pulling Sila to his feet [and manoeuvring the guy’s hand away]. ‘You mean the girl you said wouldn’t leave us alone?’
‘Are you okay there? Can you carry him?’
‘No,’ replied Sila, sharply.
‘Let me help you.’ The guy put Sila’s left arm around his shoulder and positioned him so he was standing up straight. ‘Okay now?’
‘Ja, ja, ja…not rule of three…ja.’
The guy let go and somehow Sila was good, good enough to walk in a wavy line, which would get him back to the hostel as long as they didn’t bump into any police. Even then, he was drunk, not violent, so nothing would happen.
As they walked back, Joanna prompted the guy four times to explain the demon girl comment and after three tangents, one of which went into the dangers of 8 bed dorms, especially since all the Italians had started coming to Copenhagen, looking for work, the guy finally told the story behind his demon remark and
there were two versions of the story, the modern one and the older one, and
in the modern one
there is a human-looking demon in a wooden box, naked, face down, resembling either a young girl or young boy, and
the demon is found by a woman who cannot have children and she takes pity on what she thinks is a poor child and takes her home and feeds her and showers her with love and care, and the demon follows her everywhere, around her house and outside to the market and, when the woman’s husband returns from sea
he is a fisherman, by the way,
he is sceptical at first, of course, but the demon child soon wins him over and both the husband and the wife decide that they will keep the girl as their own. Even if someone comes to claim her, they will deny the truth of her discovery and say she is from the wife’s own womb.
Fortunately, their resolve is never tested as no one comes to claim the child, but the wife is still anxious that someone will come and take their child away so, to make sure of it, the couple moves to another village, where no one knows their background, and the wife soon relaxes when their new neighbours say how pretty their daughter is.
But, as the years pass, and despite their happiness, the girl never ages beyond 6 years old, the same age she was when the wife found her, and the demon girl never stops following them everywhere, and soon enough, the wife and the husband start to argue and the arguments become so bad that the husband leaves and the wife is heartbroken.
And to make it all worse, the child still does not say a word, it just stares at the wife, wait, did I say she never speaks? No, okay, well, the demon girl never speaks, not in the modern version, and the wife gets so depressed and resentful that she leaves the house in the middle of the night and goes to another village, but the girl follows her, so she moves again and again and again, until she ends up in a different country, where she doesn’t speak the language, and life is tough, and finally, she ends up cleaning dishes in a local tavern and every night, as she cleans dishes, the little girl appears outside the window and stares at her and
it is kind of creepy, but the other version, that is even worse, even creepier, and it runs pretty much the same way as the modern version
they find the girl, they adopt her, move village etc.
but instead of leaving the house,
the husband is murdered by the demon girl
with an axe
and instead of not speaking, the demon girl speaks in some kind of old Danish language, which the wife does not understand, and the demon girl keeps following her for the rest of her life
murdering anyone she gets close to
anyone who tries to help her
and instead of cleaning dishes, the woman becomes a prostitute, and the child is always at the end of the bed as she fucks the customers, but
for some reason,
I don’t know why,
the demon never kills those guys
maybe to prolong the wife’s misery or some kind of sex curiosity
but, sure, it does sound kind of similar to the story you told me, not that I believe in demons or things like that, but
when you think about it, they have to be based on something, some kind of real event in the past, otherwise
where the hell did they come from?
After the Danish guy had finished his story, he went back into a monologue on 8 bed dorms and how some people did very risky things there, sordid things like how it was possible to have sex without waking anyone up if both guys held the teeth of the other guy and, it was actually kind of exciting, the idea that 7 other strangers were in there too, possibly holding their breath so the two sex guys wouldn’t know they were listening in
that is something you do not get in a normal hotel room, unless you believe those stories about the secret cameras they install in some places, just so they can sell the videos to porn sites, or not even sell the videos, just upload them and take a cut from the clicks and advertising.
‘But in dorms, it would not work, there are too many beds and the cameras could never get a clear view, so in that way it is private, I think.’
Joanna nodded and said, ‘okay, we’re going up to our room now, goodnight,’ but the guy insisted on taking the elevator with them and making sure Sila got back to his bed safely. Joanna said okay again and pressed the button that would take them to the reception area, so security could get rid of the guy, but when the doors opened, the reception desk was empty.
‘This is reception,’ the guy said, pressing the close doors button. ‘Which floor are you guys staying on?’
‘Four,’ Joanna said.
He pressed the 4 button and asked Sila if he was still conscious.
‘Are we walking yet?’
‘The walking part has finished now. We are at the hostel, going to your room.’
‘I miss the bench.’
‘Sure, me too. It was a good bench.’
Joanna remained silent, running through all the options in her head. One, she could just open the door to their room and tell him to go away.
Two, she could let him come in then lie down with Sila on her bed.
Three, she could tell the Italians there was a strange guy following them.
Was he a strange guy? Maybe he was just being polite, maybe at worst, hopeful that Sila would invite him in and stay conscious long enough to suck him off or whatever it was the guy was expecting.
No, that was still strange.
Normal people weren’t this aggressive, nor were any of the gay guys she’d met. Her ex flatmate never brought back anyone this bad, except maybe that one guy who didn’t speak, even when they sat around the table and had dah bin lo together. That guy didn’t say a word and it turned out, after four months, he’d been going to saunas and hooking up with other guys behind her flatmate’s back, but he still wasn’t the same as this guy.
And another thing,
why was a Danish man drinking at a hostel bar in his own country, a hostel he wasn’t even staying at?
Was that normal here?
The elevator stopped and the doors opened.
Before Joanna could grab hold of him herself, the Danish guy had already manoeuvred his arm around Sila’s waist and asked if he needed the toilet before going back to the room.
‘The toilet’s in our room,’ said Sila, opening his eyes large and seeming to realise where he was. ‘I know how to get there.’
‘Sure, but there is a communal one down here too,’ said the guy, pointing at a sign on the wall. ‘I think it might be easier.’
‘He’s fine,’ said Joanna.
‘Sure, okay, travel partner.’
‘We’re gonna head back to our room.’
‘No problem. You go there first, me and Sila will join you soon.’
‘He doesn’t need a guide.’ Joanna grabbed Sila’s jacket and tried to pull him her way, but he resisted. ‘What are you doing? The room’s this way.’
‘Stop pulling at me.’
‘Yes, stop pulling him.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘What did you say?’
‘It’s Chinese,’ said Sila. ‘She uses it when she’s mad.’
‘… … … … … … …’ said the Danish guy, glaring at Joanna.
‘Was that Danish?’ asked Sila.
‘What did you say?’
‘I said we were going to the toilet, so she can go back to the room.’
‘That’s quite polite.’
‘It is true, I am a polite person.’
Sila laughed and detached himself from the guy, saying the two of them could stay there and trade polite insults they didn’t understand while he went to the toilet.
The Danish guy nodded and let Sila walk off down the corridor alone, waiting until he was in the toilets before telling Joanna she might as well go wait in the room as Sila was not interested in her.
‘Now, sure, but not before.’
‘That doesn’t mean anything. He’s friendly to everyone.’
Joanna breathed out, Krsnik style. ‘I think you should leave.’
‘Do you? Well, I think I need the toilet.’
‘He’s not interested.’
‘I’m going to the toilet, what has interested got to do with it?’
‘He’s drunk, he doesn’t even know where he is.’
‘Then I will tell him. Goodnight, China.’
The guy saluted for some reason and started walking down the corridor, almost skipping a little.
Joanna turned as soon as the guy started walking, pulled the door key out of her pocket, mis-swiped three times then opened the door and hurried inside the 8 bed dorm.
The two Italian guys on the bunk opposite were still awake, and both of them nodded when she came in.
She ignored them and went straight to the bathroom, stared at a shampoo bottle, picked it up, dropped it on the floor, wrapped some toilet paper round her right hand and then punched the door.
‘… … … … … … …’
When she came back out, the Italian guy on the top bunk asked her in fairly decent English if she was okay.
‘You speak English?’
The one on the top bunk said, ‘sure, I lived in Newcastle for five years. Where’s your friend?’
‘You mean Sila?’
‘I don’t know his name. The man you talk to before.’
Joanna nodded and told them that her boyfriend was drunk and hanging out in the toilets with a random Danish guy.
‘He is your boyfriend?’
‘And he is in the toilets with a Danish guy now?’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘He’s drunk, not gay. It’s the other guy who’s gay, the Danish guy in the toilets. I think he’s gonna try something. ‘
‘You sure it is like this?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Sorry, I’m just saying this cos I think before, maybe your boyfriend is gay.’
‘I don’t say it is a bad thing, I just get this feeling. Okay, sometimes, I am not right, maybe he is bisexual, maybe not gay one hundred per cent but…’
‘He is not gay.’
‘Okay, I am wrong, I’m sorry.’
‘He’s my boyfriend, we’ve been together for…’ She stopped and mentally counted the time since the hill incident. ‘…three months.’
‘I’m sorry, I just think…like I say, I am wrong sometimes, it happens.’
‘You don’t need to be sorry.’
The Italian said he did, he was sorry, two of his friends were gay, and Sila seemed similar to one of them, that’s why he thought what he did, but it was still a bad thing to say to someone’s girlfriend and if she wanted him to go and check the toilets then he would.
‘I’ll go myself,’ she said, back turned, already at the door, and when she was out in the corridor she walked all the way down to the far end and stood outside the male toilets. There were voices inside, but nothing sexual, not that she could pick up, so she walked back down the corridor and stood outside the dorm door for five, ten, fifteen minutes until the elevator pinged and she was forced back inside.
The Italians were seemingly both asleep now, their bed lights off, their phones unlit.
Joanna removed most of her clothes and changed into shorts and a t-shirt that said fun-glasses on it then lay down on her bed, wondering if she should take her knife and go into the male toilets, but it wasn’t a strong thought as she continued to lie there, staring at the end of the bed. When she got bored of the end of her bed, she turned on the pillow light and picked up the German book.
Better times, better people…
She opened it up to a random page and tried a line somewhere in the middle.
‘Meine augen tout mir vey…’
She knew Meine was my, augen was eyes, and that was it. Nothing else. Not that it mattered much. It was a gift, not a hobby. German was not a shared experience they’d had, it was his, something he’d done in high school, seven and a half years before they’d met.
She closed the book and put it under the pillow.
About five minutes later, the door opened and the swaying figure of Sila walked in.
He slalomed over to the bed and said something to her, something in Slovene that she couldn’t understand, so she asked him if he was okay.
‘He was working for him.’
‘The Danish guy?’
‘He didn’t say it, but…he was, he was working for him, spy work.’
‘Where is he now?’
Sila said, ‘yeah, if he comes back,’ stared at her face then disappeared into the bathroom.
When he came out again, he didn’t speak and she didn’t ask him anything because, despite having had time to clean up, he still had the green knife in his left hand, blood dripping off the tip.
She waited until he was on the bed then got up and walked to the door.
‘Where you going?’
It was a strange question, so she just said ‘coffee’ and walked out, heading down the empty corridor to the male toilet and walking straight in without knocking.
There were either men in there or there weren’t, no other way to find out except enter and see.
Luckily, there was no one
no drunk tourists and no dead Danish rapist
or attempted rapist
or sleazy asshole
whatever he was.
She checked the cubicles, not that there was much need as she could see all the doors were open. There was blood on the floor near the sink, about a finger’s worth, and none in the corridor, which meant the guy probably hadn’t been stabbed anywhere vital.
What had happened here then?
The Danish guy tried it on, Sila stabbed him?
There were noises from the corridor so she hurried back out before they could see which toilet she was exiting and walked, fake yawning, past the two drunks and back into the dorm.
It was dark, but as she got close to the bed she could see that Sila was staring up at her.
‘Anything?’ he asked.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Deserves got nothing to do with it.’
‘… … … … …’
‘What happened to the guy?’
‘The one in the toilets, the one who followed you.’
‘What happened before he flew away?’
Sila turned and buried his face in the pillow, saying something too muffled to hear.
Doesn’t really matter, she thought, climbing up to her own bunk, whatever happened in there, serious or not, it’s probably for the best if we leave early tomorrow, get out of town before anything else weird or predatory crops up.
Five kilometres away, outside the hospital that looked like a red brick library in Liverpool, a little blonde girl in a hospital gown and a bubble jacket walked out of a side door and into an alley where a tired-looking medic was smoking a cigarette.
‘You okay?’ he asked, blowing out smoke into the icy air.
The girl didn’t answer.
‘Hey, little one…where you going?’
The medic stubbed out his cigarette and ran after the girl, reaching out a hand to grab her jacket and spin her around then stopping with a fuck in Danish when she turned round herself.
‘… … … … … … … … …’ she said, breath coming out with the words.
‘Sorry, I don’t-…was that Danish?’
‘… … … … …’
‘You need to find who?’
‘… … … …’
‘Sorry, little one, can you slow down? I can’t understand everything you’re saying.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘Are your parents nearby?’
‘… … … … … … …’
‘… … … … … … … … … … …’
‘Okay, I don’t know what textbook you’ve been using, but it’s about five hundred years out of date. Can you speak English? German?’
The girl turned and tried to continue walking, but the medic got a little braver and seized hold of her jacket sleeve.
‘I can’t let you just walk off, it’s freezing.’ He looked down at her feet, two inches away from a puddle. ‘Jesus, you’re not even wearing shoes.’
The girl didn’t push him off, she just moved forward and put her hand forward, touching his crotch, trying to pull down the zip.
The medic pushed her off, shouting, ‘what the fuck?’ in Danish, but she came right back and touched it again, this time rubbing up and down.
He grabbed her hand and said, ‘no.’
The little girl bobbed up and down on invisible waves for a few seconds then moved her head forward. The medic tried to gently push her back, but her head wouldn’t budge, it was like a truck, so he pushed harder, but it was too late, her teeth were already on the skin of his waist, pressing down and
it was a good job he was next to a hospital
cos the little girl had already taken a chunk out of him and was moving again, teeth dripping blood, past the back of his hand, his arm, his neck and onto his face.