“Another game of Uno? You want to play another game of Uno?”
“Yeah… why not?”
Francois flicked the cards out two at a time, the red cards scattering to the players hunched around the table. It had been a long journey here sitting with three Frenchmen and one Belgian, a curious intersection of paths, of journeys.
After several hours hunkered on a bus from Auckland next to a girl who obviously would have rather had a sack of potatoes for a seatmate than me and a trudging walk through deserted streets, I had arrived at the front door of the hostel.
The door opened to reveal an older man with white hair combed to the side, a groomed beard, and piercing black eyes. He stood there, staring at me in silence.
A bit put off, I stammered something to the effect of:
“Is this… is this a hostel?”
“Do you have a reservation?”
“Uhhh… yep. I’m Ben.”
He was silent.
“Or… Benjamin if you like.”
“Reception closes at eight,” he said and stepped aside to let me enter. He closed the door behind me and turned to look me in the eyes.
“Sorry about that.”
“No, you’re not.”
I was caught off guard and suddenly angry.
Look buddy, I wanted to reply, you don’t know what I’ve been through today. First off, I drove an hour on mountainous roads that were way too curvy for my stomach’s liking. Then I waited for four hours, I would say a bit louder, because I possess the instinctive urge, developed by my lovely parents, to arrive far too early for any flight added to the fact that my flight was delayed. After that I had to catch a bus, wander around in a frigid Auckland for another five hours before finally catching another bus here. And finally, my voice would rise to a quivering pitch, I had to walk thirty minutes to this craphole, where you are now accosting me about arriving late. And when I say I’m sorry for being late, I MEAN THAT I AM SORRY FOR BEING LATE.
I would then proceed to haul the door off its hinges, fling it into the garden, and stamp off under the moonlight. Fortunately, my tongue/brain connection wasn’t exactly up to snuff after all my traveling, and it was only much later that I managed to solidify my tumultuous thoughts.
After my chastisement, the man escorted me through the old Victorian house’s corridors (which was nice despite me calling it a craphole). The tattered wallpaper and worn wood moulding suggested a house falling slowly into disrepair, battered from many a foreigner, but it still bore old house charm so typical of that marvelous age.
As I was admiring the house, the man told me everything I needed to know about checkout times, bed linen, kitchens, showers, bathrooms, and laundry. It’s much the same with every hostel, and every time I have the same problem paying attention. It’s like the classroom or church pew; if I don’t write something down, I will be left with vague recollections of uncomfortable chairs, how funny the teacher/preacher looks, sleepiness, dim lighting, and the desire to be anywhere else. It’s something I’ve tried to change… not very hard, but I’ve certainly had admirable intentions.
The practical conclusion of such ineptitude is that I have to figure out everything I’ve been told by wandering around or interrogating other hostel patrons. Usually it works out well, although occasionally I never find the laundry and have to stretch out the last pair of clean socks for several days.
After guiding me back through the corridors, he gave me a form to fill out, which I lamely realized I had little of the information for. I couldn’t even recall the date. I scribbled my name, left it on the table, and scurried off to my room where I dropped my things and went to catch up with a friend who was also staying in the hostel. That’s when we started playing Uno.
As far as addictions go, Uno seems relatively innocuous but is in fact another covert outlet for humanity’s sinful nature—an excuse, really, for people to assert their dominance over others. The addicts consist of those who receive a sick exhilaration at skipping other players and forcing people to draw card… after card… after card while they issue a wan, gloating smile.
“Oh I am so sorry,” their voice drips with venomous pleasure. “But I have another draw-four for you. I have to play them, you know.”
They’re deranged people, really. And there was no doubt I was in the midst of addicts, what with their feverish eyes and card-calloused hands. Who knows how long they had been playing cards before I arrived? Days? Months? I had played five hands, and there was no sign of stopping.
It’s something where you have to go out with a winning hand but find yourself losing beyond all hope of redemption. By the end, I had to get out, or I was going to keel over from Uno-induced asphyxiation. I said my goodnights and stumbled off down the corridor, ending up in the opposite lounge and kitchen before finally finding my room (and the laundry).
I stripped off my shirt and donned gym shorts before crumpling into the lower bunk bed where I maneuvered the coverlet and pillow into a comfortable position. I stared up at the bunk, editing and deleting sections of my powerful tirade against Peter, and then threw it in my mental trashcan. What’s the use anyway? It doesn’t help to finely tune our anger.
My mind drifted away, back to Colorado, back to Wanaka, to all the places and people I’d seen. It’s strange how one night you can be home, curled in the midst of five pillows and three duvets, and the next you can be hundreds or thousands of miles away with people you’ve never met before and will never see again—playing Uno, no less.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/