The hostel kitchen was small and smelt of garbage. All the cups and plates were chipped and some of the saucepans didn’t have handles, but it was a kitchen, and having access to a kitchen meant having a hot meal but not at restaurant prices.
I was boiling pasta and avoiding the stares of the Italian boy sitting at the table in the corner. If I’d learnt anything in the past four weeks of travel it’s that Italian boys are trouble. Beautiful, but trouble. This one was in the kitchen smoking but not actually cooking or eating which was a warning sign. I made a mental note to remember to take the rest of my pasta back to my room.
“Where are you from?” he finally asks me, the most unoriginal line from anyone in a traveller’s hostel anywhere.
“Australia.” One word answers are best, try to keep the conversation shut down.
“Oh, I have some cousins living in Melbourne.”
I just nodded. I’m not from Melbourne, and I don’t know his cousins. He frowns at my lack of response.
“What are you cooking?” Also an unoriginal line considering the only ingredients I have nearby are a tin of tuna and a packet of pasta. I hold them up to show him rather than answer.
“What you should add are some olives and some fresh tomatoes.”
I shrug at that suggestion, because I don’t have the pack space or budget to be carrying around premium ingredients. I’m travelling for four months with a very small food budget. This is survival eating.
I stir the pasta as it boils and wonder what his spiel will be. Is he going to take the ‘You’re very beautiful’ line and try to woo his way into my pants? Does he have a sob story about how he has no money in an attempt to get a loan or some food off me? From experience, Italian boys travel with not much more than cigarettes and sunglasses and rely on being charming and Italian to get anything else they need.
“It looks like you’re cooking a lot, will you be able to eat all that?” Ah, it’s dinner he’s after.
“Yes,” I reply, maintaining eye contact with the pot, “I’m very hungry.”
“I didn’t eat today,” he continues. “I have no money. Someone stole my wallet and I am waiting for my parents to send some money.” I see out of the corner of my eye he is doing his best sad eyes routine at me. He doesn’t know I’ve been hardened to sob stories by ten months of serving beers in London pubs.
“That’s too bad,” I say. I check the pasta, it’s just about cooked but I can’t take any more of Mr Sad Eyes so I drain it, and tip it into a bowl with my tin of tuna.
His eyes follow me as I leave the kitchen and walk through to the dining room, only to light up at the sight of the chirpy blonde Australian girl from my dorm coming down to the kitchen. She looks like a much better target for his bullshit than I am and sure enough he is straight up to her and chatting as soon as she starts cooking.
As I eat my tuna pasta, trying to eat slowly despite being hungry, I hear Chirpy Blonde exclaim “Oh no that’s terrible. You must have some of my food. I’ve got plenty.” Sucker. Oh well. Better her than me.
I remembered the crying Spanish girl in the hostel in Amsterdam. She’d hooked up with an Italian boy while she was working in London and they’d travelled together to Amsterdam to get high. He knew someone who would buy passports, he said, they could sell their passports in Amsterdam and they could use the money to buy more drugs. It wasn’t a hassle, he said, you could report the passport stolen and the embassy would give you a new one. So she’d handed her passport over to him to take to his friend. And then she’d never seen him again.
So she did have to report her passport stolen, but not quite how she expected. Her sexy Italian boy was gone and she had to lie to the embassy to avoid criminal charges. I hope those few drug fuelled days in bed with him were worth the tears she was facing now.
I was supposed to take a train down to Italy in the next few days. I really wanted to see Rome but the thought of wandering around on my own in an Italian city full of Italian boys was daunting. But maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe all the Italian boys are in hostels in other parts of Europe, hitting on all the girls. Maybe there are no boys left in Italy.
I finished my pasta and went back to the kitchen to wash my bowl, just as Sad Eyes and Chirpy Blonde came out together with two plates of food. She was asking him how long it would take for his parents to send money. I could see she was under his spell already.
I saw him glance my way with a small smile of triumph but I avoided making eye contact. Italian boys are trouble.