Sydney, Australia 11/6/12
The plane landed, I mazed through customs and jumped on a train. I bumbled through train stations and got off at Ashfield station. I grabbed my backpacks and began searching for my home for the evening. #3 Knox St. I was almost two hours later than I told my hostess I would be. There was nothing I could do about it. There was no speeding up anything. Everything was out of my control, but I moved as fast as I could through the unforeseen roadblocks placed in front of me.
I walked in the wrong direction on three to four different occasions during the three-kilometer journey from the train station to the home. That was only after changing trains twice and scaling stairs with my life in two backpacks slung awkwardly around my neck. Other commuters were free and light, drinking beers and hanging out with friends. I was a pack mule.
When I finally found the place on Knox St. I couldn't find any numerical indication that it was in fact #3, so I hesitantly knocked on the door. There was no reply. There was a kebab joint still open down the street that I had passed while walking in. I set my backpack on the front porch of the home that I thought was mine then walked over to grab something delicious. The wrinkled and scarf-shrouded Turkish lady behind the counter talked me into buying two huge vegetable patties for five dollars. She grilled them real quick and then slopped a spoonful of garlic yoghurt sauce on top. The square bits tasted like cardboard that had been slightly seasoned. The texture was terrible, but my appetite was ravenous, and so, like a dog, I ate all that cardboard up.
I returned back to my backpack lying on the veranda of what I was still hoping to be #3 Knox St.. Knocked again, expecting no reply. I contemplated making a bed for myself on the porch there. Any porch at this late hour would be a good porch for sleeping on. Another part of me thought about taking a train back to the airport and looking for a flight to Thailand. Why did I come to Australia again? Oh yeah, because I have free accommodations and I need to chill out for a month. But Asia's just right above me, hanging out, so close.
I knocked again, and this time a tall, pale, skinny young woman answered the door. She said that I must be Dane. I said that she must be Natalie. We'd corresponded via email after I'd replied to a posting she placed on a website that allows travelers to work in exchange for accommodations. It gave me a fright that she answered the door. I was starting to get used to the idea of flying to Thailand. It wouldn't have been strange to have walked back to the train through the maze of streets, sweating as I lugged my bags back onto the train and zagged through a couple stops en route to the International Terminal at the Sydney Airport. It was suddenly strange to me that I was there on the doorstep of a stranger who was going to let me stay in this old brick house in some suburb of a place outside of Sydney.
Nothing was normal, but something in me told me to start getting used to strange being normal around this place. Even the doorstep had a vibe to it that some might call haunted. It probably is haunted by something. It is very old, after all, and I think old souls like old places because it feels more like home there for them. At least that's what I reckon.
I apologized for being so late and told her about having to maze around lots of different places. She said she totally understood, but her expression was flat and her face was plain. Maybe she wasn't really understanding. I nervously smiled.
Finally, she motioned me into a spacious dark home. The floors creaked as we walked. She started speaking softly and I replied at a normal volume. She told me to quiet down because others were sleeping. I had no idea others would be here. Who are they? What are they doing here? Are they going to be kind to me? I apologized for speaking loudly and nervously smiled, making sure to show my teeth so that it appeared more genuine and less creeped out.
She said that my bedding was still dirty from the British couple who had been sleeping in it the night before. They had just left today. She began to scale some stairs and said she would change them for me. I stood at the bottom of the stairwell in the entryway not sure if I were to follow her.
"Do you want me to come up?" I asked.
"Yeah, of course." She replied.
I didn't want to crowd her.
More stairs, but nearly there. Part of me felt like it wasn't too late to run for the station, but I knew that every step I took was taking me closer to a point of no return.
The room was spacious, bare, and needed to be vacuumed. She said I could vacuum it tomorrow. The bed was well slept-in and blankets were in tumbled piles on the mattress. She pushed them aside and sat down on the bed. She asked me my plans for staying and then told me take a seat by her on the bed. "here on the dirty sheets," she said as she patted.
I suddenly didn't know my plans. I wanted to grab my backpacks and say that my plans changed immediately and that I was needing to go directly back to the airport to catch a flight. That strange vibe just wouldn't leave.
I told her that I might go to Thailand, making up a plan on the spot, and said that the idea was still in the infant stages.
She asked when I'd go. I said that it could be really soon.
She told me that she requires a minimum stay of one month. I smiled from a legitimate place of amusement and then it turned into an awkward one once I realized that she wasn't kidding.
It was like I had become a prisoner guest.
"Oh ok," I said. "Well…."
She sat there silently on the bed next to me. I wanted to run. Her expression was as distant as ever. Maybe she was always that far-gone, but the light in the room made it evident to me for the first time.
I told her that I didn't know what to tell her because nothing had been set in stone, but that if it was possible to change one of my flights around that I'd like to go visit Asia.
She said nothing and expressed nothing.
I told her that I hadn't intended on wasting her time and that if she wanted me to leave I could. We were still sitting on the dirty sheets on this queen-sized bed in this old brick house in a room with really high ceilings that had cracks which made designs through the plaster.
She said she would require me to stay at least until December 2nd. It was November 5th.
I shuffled on the mattress and thought about grabbing my bags to go.
She stared at me, and then when I'd look back at her she would pick a spot on the wall and stare coldly at that.
I told her that I understood her requirements, but that I wasn't sure about how long I'd be staying because of the possibility of plans being changed. However, I told her that there was a good chance that I may not be going anywhere if I couldn't change one of my flights.
She seemed to be thinking for a while, but didn't give me any indication on what she was thinking about.
Finally, she said that I could stay for the week, and to let her know as soon as I knew about any changes that would be happening on my end.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief, but tried not let her see it.
"Well, I'll leave you to it," she said.
Once she left the room I tore all those dirty sheets off the bed and put on some clean ones. I closed the door and would have turned the lock, but there wasn't one.
I immediately got online and started checking out flights to Thailand. I was so tired and fuzzy that I told myself not to purchase anything in a hasty way. I was going to sleep on it.
Now I'm awake. I'm still lying in this bed, wrapped inside of my cocoon, trying to avoid touching the clean-ish sheets that have been provided for me.
I don't know what I'm going to do.