SylviaP

Non-Fiction by Chris Dowding
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from Chapter Two: Welcome to Ireland


No one was at the Immigration desk at the airport when we arrived. Kerryn was concerned we’d be thrown out of the country if our passports were left unstamped. So we hunted around and finally found an airport official. He didn’t seem too worried about illegal immigrants. He didn’t even want to see our passports until Kerryn demanded he put arrival stamps in our documents.

She was still frowning as we walked out.

I grinned at her. ‘Told you, Kez. This is Ireland, not Australia. I knew they wouldn’t be worried.’

We walked under a huge advertisement for an Irish boy band: “Westlife—a world of our [their] own”. Clearly we had arrived in Europe.

The double-decker bus lurched around a corner. The driver tramped briefly on the brakes and we were thrown headfirst towards the seat in front of us. The driver pressed on the accelerator just in time and our heads rolled backwards, just before our teeth collided with the seat.

I clutched Kerryn’s hand and jammed my feet tightly against the floor. Was the driver training for some kind of Bus Grand Prix event? He tested the entire power range of the engine as he raced towards the city. He also changed gears and floored the engine every time he hit a bump in the road, which made the bus leap spectacularly into the air.

I looked out the window through the softly falling rain with interest. There were a lot of grey coloured buildings. There were also a surprising number of people walking around, considering it was midnight. Masses of small cars and scooters jockeyed with the bus for position on the busy road. I’d finally made it to Ireland for real!

I’d wanted to come here since one of my primary school teachers had told my class about it: Ireland is split into two separate countries. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and is home to around two million people. The Republic of Ireland [or “The South” as it is known] is an independent country with no ties to Britain. It has a population of about four million people. The physical partitioning of the land is a symptom of the religious and political divisions of its population. I hadn’t really understood, at seven years old. Ireland sounded like an odd place, a place where the people were all Christians, but fought about which name the church should hang over the door. I’d wanted to know more.

After an hour of jolts and bumps, our bus screeched to a halt.

‘Lower Gardiner Street!’ shouted the driver.

This was the stop for our hostel. Kerryn and I swung on our packs, grabbed our suitcases and stepped down into the rain. After two days of travelling, I felt exhausted. I rubbed the dark circles under my eyes and stumbled up to the hostel door. It seemed to be locked. I pushed again.

I groaned.

‘I’m sure we’ll be able to get in,’ said Kerryn. ‘Look, there’s a light on.’

(I guess I should mention that I was a bit neurotic back then. I’d grown to expect the worst in life. If things went right, I’d be pleasantly surprised. This attitude came in handy as an engineer, as my job was to think of all the things that could go wrong and find ways to prevent most of them from happening.)

Suddenly I heard a buzzing noise and a man gestured behind through the hostel window next to me. I pushed at the door and fell into the hallway on top of my suitcase.

‘We’d like to check in please,’ I said, from the floor.

The desk attendant had untidy clothes, messy hair and unshaved stubble. He consulted a list and did not meet my eyes. He seemed a bit shifty to me. A doorbell rang; two girls in skimpy tops waved at him through the window. He pressed a button to unlock the door for them.

‘Hi girls how are you?’ asked the desk attendant. ‘Where have you been? Did you have a good time? Got any plans for tomorrow? Did you see the football? Did you go shopping?’

He continued on for some time. I sighed loudly. The attendant waved to the girls and turned to face us.

‘Can I have your credit card, please?’ he asked.

I passed over my card and he swiped it through the scanner. It made a sad beep and spat out some paper.

‘I’m sorry, it’s not working,’ informed the desk attendant.

‘Could you try it again?’ I asked.

The phone rang. The desk attendant picked it up and talked for about five minutes. He swiped my card again and looked up. ‘This card is not working.’

‘Try typing in the number manually,’ I said, grinding my teeth.

The phone rang again. With phone cradled between shoulder and ear, the desk attendant typed in my credit card number. The scanner gave another sad beep and spat out a little roll of paper.

I had flown on three aeroplanes, waited around in four airports and been on one hell of a scary bus ride during the last two days. I’d barely had a wink of sleep and I was feeling seriously cranky. To top it all off, I had used this card yesterday in Singapore and it had worked fine. I clenched my fists and moved towards the desk attendant, but Kerryn grabbed my arm and passed over her own credit card, smiling sweetly.

‘He’s just doing his job,’ whispered Kerryn, as we walked away with the room key. I grimaced.

This was only the second time I had stayed in a hostel. My first stay had been in a little YHA hostel in Canterbury, England, one year earlier. Friends of mine had taken me on a weekend trip to Kent and Sussex. I’d had visions of a run down building with carpet reeking of cigarette smoke and windowpanes replaced with plywood. I’d fully expected the other guests to be thieves and drug addicts (Neurotic nature combined with overly active imagination). I’d been happy when we’d parked in a white gravelled car park next to a lovely well-kept English garden. The beautiful little three-storey brick building would have been world heritage listed if it had been in Australia.

Unfortunately, my approach of expecting the worst but hoping for better didn’t work for our Dublin hostel. Kerryn and I entered the hallway across carpet that smelled of alcohol and cigarette smoke. The walls were painted in a sort of grime-yellow colour, with stains everywhere. The stairs creaked alarmingly.

On the positive side, it was warm, all the windowpanes still had glass in them, and any place to sleep was welcome at this stage.

I put the key into the door of our room and tried to turn the handle. It didn’t move. I turned the key back to its original position. The handle still didn’t move. I turned the lock back and forth—10 degrees left, 5 degrees right, 30 degrees left and about 10 or 20 other positions. The lock emitted an annoying shriek with every movement.

‘OK. That’s it!’ I shouted.

I shook the door, kicked it and twisted the key simultaneously. At least if I didn’t beat the door into submission, I’d scare the heck out of that attendant out on the front desk! Finally the door opened, content with its victory.

‘Thank goodness,’ we said in unison and walked in. A tousle haired figure dragged himself sleepily back towards bed.

‘Oh shit, there’s someone in here,’ I whispered.

‘You can turn on the light if you want,’ said our roommate. ‘I’m already awake!’

Rather than embarrass ourselves further by floodlighting the room on the poor guy, we unpacked, made our beds and chain-locked our suitcases to a bed in near total darkness. I wasn’t sure if our unfortunate roommate got back to sleep because I couldn’t see and I couldn’t hear for the noise of Kerryn or myself falling over the suitcases. Eventually we got to bed, Kerryn on the top level of one bunk and myself on the other. I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

Thirty minutes later I was awake again. I had been dreaming of a jet engine roaring beside my right ear.

Our tousle haired roommate snored on the bunk below me. I found it hard to believe a sleeping human could make such a racket. The saying “a sound that could awaken the dead” seemed pretty accurate. He could have been used as a “control” for the upper limit of human noise tolerance experiments. I waited for about half an hour, hoping the noise would die down.

The snoring continued: ‘Hrrrrghh… Hrrrrghhh… HRRRRRGGGHHH!’

I squeezed my eyes shut and groaned. Either I could be nice about this, or I could be sneaky.

Being sneaky and crafty had been my usual approach when I was younger, along with my brothers, Lachlan and Andrew. We’d grown up on a farm on the east coast of Australia and the nearest town of any significance was ten kilometres away.

Our neighbours were a family of farmers who grew citrus fruit. Unfortunately, they also liked to race around on motorbikes and shoot at the migratory magpie geese that nested every year in the wetlands at the bottom of our farms; magpie geese eat wetlands grasses and sedges, they do not eat fruit. We discouraged them from shooting at the birds by throwing rocks at them as they were aiming their rifles. I remember one occasion vividly, when we hassled the fruit [cake] growers with stones from the safety of a corrugated iron shed.

‘Where are those f***ing rocks coming from?’ one of them yelled. ‘Some kids must be throwing them!’

‘Let’s get ‘em!’ yelled the rest of them.

They fanned out and moved towards the shed. We made a run for it and disappeared like shadows, shit-scared, into our uncle’s banana plantation. At least we temporarily stopped them shooting at the birds.

Back in the Dublin hostel, it was time to be sneaky again: I shook the bunk back and forth violently. The frame squeaked and groaned. After about five minutes of rocking, our roommate leapt off his shaking mattress; I stopped moving and closed my eyes. He groaned and lay down again, unaware of my efforts as snore saboteur. I don’t know if he got back to sleep or not, but I slept beautifully.


 

 
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