Ep. 23 ‘Yellow North Face jacket’

This is a piece of autobiographical fiction. Space and time have been rearranged to suit the convenience of the book, and with the exception of public figures, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with the author’s.

This story is written as an example to anyone who wants to believe that we are more than the patriarchy deems us to be, more than our limitations, and more than our fears.

26th of February 2020

I’ve taken a bus to Prague – one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

It’s still winter and really really cold so I pull the hat over my head a little tighter. Before leaving Boise, Gideon had taken me shopping to get some winter clothing. He felt bad because Marianne had found my things in his apartment and shipped them back to Singapore. I didn’t understand why she didn’t to do that but in a conversation we have much later in the year, she apologizes to me for it. He bought me a woolen hat – white and blue, a pair of black gloves and a red scarf.

I’ve decided to stay in this hostel in the middle of town. It costs double than the ones back in Mexico, but I’m only in Prague for 3 nights and it does say that breakfast is included, so I book it anyway.

There are two hostels of the same name and I pick the one with a higher rating. I was lazy to read the reviews so I go with the more higher-rated one.

I arrived and was greeted by a friendly receptionist. It immediately brings back memories of when I worked in Adler’s hostel back in Singapore. It was yet another part-time job I picked up after leaving the insurance industry. I worked there for a year, often picking the early morning or late night graveyard shifts. Partly because I enjoyed the company of the early risers, partly because it was quieter to work the graveyard shifts. I could sleep for a few hours if there weren’t any guests around.

I did however, also not want to stay home at night so much. I was definitely avoiding having to spend nights with Gideon.

The receptionist hands me the key to my locker and I assess the room. There are 10 beds and only 5 of them are occupied. It’s going to be a good night’s sleep hopefully. I’m tired from the bus ride that brought me from Berlin to Prague.

I enter the kitchen to get some water and get a little startled at what I see. The kitchen is packed with people, at least 15 people are sitting around the dining table. 3 of them look like they’re volunteers because they’re organizing for people to gather round and start some sort of ice breaking game.

“Hey! You’re new right? Join us!” one of them beckons me to the table.

I feel tired but it’s only 9pm so I decide to join in. I grab a beer from the fridge even though I don’t drink beer and sit down in between two people. The one on my left is extremely attractive. I spotted him the minute I came into the room. He’s bald, has a beard and has the most alluring eyes. He’s wearing a loose tank top and jeans and I perhaps accidentally brush my knee against his when I take the only empty seat at the table beside him.

We’re playing a game to break the ice between everyone before all of them go out to party. I haven’t decided if I want to go, but I play along with the games for now.

“Okay, pick the person you think looks the youngest! If you’re wrong, you drink, if you’re right, everyone else drinks!!!” says the game master for the night. I later find out that they do this every week on Fridays and Saturdays.

The person who’s playing his turn thinks for a second before pointing at ME.

Suddenly, 15 pairs of eyes are on me. Suddenly, I feel extra aware that I’m the only girl in the room with 0 make up on.

“So?? Tell us how old you are!”

Fuck. Everyone in the room is going to know I’m almost 28 this year. Ugggghhhhh. Should I lie?

“I’m….28?” I say with a sheepish grin.

“28?! Omg girl, I thought you were at most 21 or something. I was about to ask if you were an ERASMUS student!!” someone said.

In the end, it turns out that I’m the oldest in the crowd. Everyone is between 21 to 24, save for the 4 of us who are 27 and 28. Very coincidentally, the 4 of us who are the oldest are sitting side by side together, including the very handsome man – Lucas, who is the same age as me, only a few months younger.

For a moment, I start missing the friends that I met in Mexico. I had met 3 of them, all of whom were older than I am. One was 40, one 38 and the other 33.

No matter, I decide to prove myself wrong by NOT staying in on a Friday night and head out to party with this whole gang of people.

During that night, we all did shots of tequila and it surprised no one that we got drunk. I ended up making out with Lucas big time and eating late-night gyros with him.

It was 2.a.m by then and we started talking about our lives from wherever we came from.

“I’m a neuroscience student. I did my masters 2 years ago, then went to work for a corporate company doing sales but didn’t like it. So I started growing weed and selling them. I ended up earning around $10,000 usd in 2 months. Once I had that money, I sold everything I had, bought a one way ticket, and now I’m here in Europe on a one-year working visa.” Lucas told me.

I would never have guessed that he studied neuroscience. But then again, who could have guessed just by looking at me that I studied political science?

When has it actually been possible to put people in boxes accurately and why do we do it anyway??? Why do we have this need to categorize people into boxes?

As we walk back to the hostel, Lucas notices that I’m cold and removes his yellow North Face jacket and puts it around me. He’s only wearing a t-shirt beneath the jacket. A grey one with a pictures of mountains on it.

“Aren’t you cold?”

“Nope, I love the cold”

“It’s a really comfortable jacket, thank you.”

“I remember buying that jacket for a hiking trip I went on 3 years ago. I was working for the corporate company back then, and even with a Masters degree, I was only earning 1000usd a month. Many of my friends from the neighborhood I grew up in don’t even earn half of what I did. Yet, my rent for a room was 500usd a month, leaving me only 500usd to spend and save. I saved for 13 months before I bought this jacket.”

It felt really refreshing for someone to open up to me like that, to be so carefree in sharing about his life.

“How much was the jacket?”

“I don’t remember anymore. Maybe 100usd? Maybe 200? I don’t know. It’s all in the past.”

I think about all the times I spent 200usd just on a whim in a mall buying shoes and I feel embarrassed for myself. I think about all the times my friends and I spend 100usd each just on Friday night dinners.

Have I ever saved up money for 13 months to buy anything? I don’t remember the last time I even felt like I had to save money just to buy something I really wanted.

Of course, this is also because I have never liked expensive things. I don’t own many branded bags or things and the most expensive bag I ever bought myself was from an outlet stall in the U.S. I have however, bought many pairs of inexpensive shoes that I never even wore. I had more than 30 pairs of shoes. Even though they weren’t expensive, they were a waste of materials. They were a waste of money. And most importantly, they were part of the waste that would overwhelm our landfills and be burnt into the sky as toxic gases.

I think about this a little more and before long, we arrive back at our hostel.

Before we opened the main door, I give Lucas back his yellow North Face jacket. He leans in and I know what’s about to happen – I lean in closer and let him kiss me. It was a soft and warm kiss, one that sent me to sleep sweetly.

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