Sleeping Beauty of Melbourne

This piece was first published in Lot’s Wife Edition 3, 2021.

I spent the first 18 hours in Melbourne immersed in the deepest sleep I’ve ever had in my life. Sharing a room of 10 reeking bunk beds at the cheapest hostel I could afford didn’t even matter: this jetlag was all-consuming. 

The days flew by as I remained in bed watching movies on my laptop, sheltered under the humid fort of towels that hung from the bed above my own. It is a popular belief that you make tons of friends staying at a hostel. But I had been there for a week and people didn’t strike me as very interested in making new friends at all. There were a few instances of “Crazy weather, huh?” or “Sorry, did you finish with the microwave?” and some other polite one-liners, but that was about it. At times, the kitchen was packed with guests cooking their solo meals or washing dishes and – disregarding the big sign asking us to “please take off your headphones” – everybody was connected to their own Bluetooth universe. 

No one looked so interesting anyways. On a typical morning you could easily spot all the microcultures populating the breakfast lounge. The group of 20-somethings was the most notorious of them all: it was a group of tired-looking, cracked-voice, mascara-shadowed-eyelids people who were slowly sipping coffee to gain their energy back for yet another epic night. 

Then, there was the small gang that was usually chatting over laptop computers on one of the ends of the table. A line of hungry guests holding empty plates was forming in front of the guy in charge of cooking pancakes. And then there was Luis, an old Spanish man and a never-leaving guest of the hostel. The distant shuffling of his slippers approached down the hallway every morning at exactly quarter past seven. 

I was the one with the book and the oatmeal bowl sitting alone in a secluded corner, my heart soundlessly yelling for company.

But there was this guy, the one on the bunk bed just next to mine. I often found myself going through the little pile of books and festival flyers he kept on his bedside table, discreetly enough to not be discovered snooping. There was a keychain from São Paulo, a postcard from Vienna, a water bottle with a small engraved Opera House. “He’s a globetrotter,” I thought. “I need to meet him.” 

The problem was: he was always asleep or gone. Never ever – not even once – did I see him arriving or leaving the room. I tried to wait up at night until he came back from whatever he’d been doing, but my jet-lagged, exhausted body would give up every single time.

After a week and a half had passed and I had done nothing but sleep, stroll the nearby streets, and lament over being lonely in a new city, I decided that enough was enough. So, I took my rainbow scarf, marched to the tram stop and I took the first tram that came my way. “St. Kilda Beach” was showing on the top of tram 96 in yellow lights. 

As the tram started to travel further and further south, the fancy houses of sleepy neighborhoods flashed by my window. Traffic-free streets and cherry blossom trees. 

“This is the kind of neighborhood where kids play ball outside, ride bikes and go on exciting adventures,” I thought.

I got off at Luna Park. There was a massive sun-clown face sitting there with its mouth wide open. “Come on in, friends, my guts are a lot of fun,” he seemed to be saying. I got on top of one of the concrete cubes at the front and I tried to take a decent picture of myself, but the wind kept swooshing my hair at my face. 

“I wish I had a friend to take my picture for me,” I thought, “so I could hold my hair and do a funny pose.” 

I looked around and everybody was already engaged in their own look-how-much-fun-I’m–having photo sessions, so I didn’t dare to ask.

When I finally hopped off the concrete block and walked away, it hit me that the charm of the neighbourhood didn’t end at the amusement park: every corner of that mysterious place was filled with the most marvelous little details. It was like a patchwork quilt, really, made out of fairy tales and Tim Burton’s imagination. Green hills and palm trees covered the whole area, and then some random pathway would come out of nowhere and lead to a hidden castle-like house with a view of the ocean, and the people walking across the sand, and the sun-clown guy – an enticing carousel melody always slipping from its mouth.

As I walked around, I was constantly checking my phone, hoping for some response to the lovely – slightly desperate, but not too on-the-nose – post-it note I had stuck on my bed neighbour’s water bottle before leaving the hostel that morning. I couldn’t help but wonder: does he have a charming personality and an unnameable eye colour? I took the phone out of my pocket… nothing.

The wind started to pick up. I took a deep sniff of the salty air and tasted it on my cracked lips. A couple came running after a dog carrying a stick, a whippet with its paws and muzzle full of sand. “I wish I had a partner to run with at the beach. We, too, could have a dog and name it Cucaracha. It would have to be a small dog.” As my daydream went on, a sudden whoosh brought me back to reality: it was the dog, now hurtling after a seagull. I checked my phone again, nada.

The far-away stormy sky was growling and so were the waves, but what was rumbling the loudest was my hungry stomach begging for a little lunch. I ran my way down to a little fish and chip restaurant I could see in the distance, but when I was close enough, I saw the sign that read “closed for the winter season.” 

I pressed my nose to the glass door and cupped my temples to see inside. There was no way I was going to find a more perfect spot for my lunch. It had tables made of wooden barrels where you could sit in the shade of a palm tree with your toes on the sand and your eyes on the sea. Maybe, if you were really lucky, you would even have a crowd of angry seagulls wrestling over a chip for your amusement. 

I stubbornly triple-checked that the door was indeed closed and there were no lights inside. 

“You can only get fish and chips at Acland Street, lady,” yelled a man sitting nearby.

So I went to Acland Street. I was on a mission to get my fish and chips, come back to the perfect beach restaurant, and watch the storm while sitting at one of the barrel tables out the front. The mission was a success: I got my meal, went back to the spot of my dreams, and ate the fish with my bare fingers. 

A warm, beautiful rain started pouring down. Half the sky was pitch-dark and terrifying, and the other half gifted me a rainbow that matched my scarf. I felt thankful to have myself to appreciate that moment – no plus-one required.

The sun was sliding down, brushing pink, yellow and orange tints onto the sky by the time I started back to the tram stop – head down, gaze fixed on my steps. Suddenly, I saw an arrow chalked on the pavement. Then another. Then another, then another. I followed them obediently until I reached a full chalked message: “Garage sale. Come, we have snacks!” I lifted my head to find two little girls giggling behind a stand, displaying a variety of baby electronic toys, some books and old rag dolls. They had a jar of lemonade, cookies and a zinc pot with a dollar sign on it. 

The one that seemed like the eldest looked at me and said, “Are you interested in any of our things?”

“Sure!” I said, “these are quality rag-dolls from the good old days. Why are you selling them?”

“Well…” she hesitated. “I guess we’re too big now for rag-dolls.” She looked at her younger sister, seeking agreement.

“Look,” the youngest sister said, and showed me how she could place her tongue through the little window formed by two missing teeth.

I left them a couple of dollars in exchange for a cookie, waving them goodbye as I resumed my walk home. I thought, “I wish I had a sister with whom” 

My phone buzzed inside my pocket. I took it out and read: “Hey, Sleeping Beauty. I found your post-it. I would love to go out for a coffee sometime. I meant to ask you before, but every time I see you at the hostel you’re always asleep or gone!”


Photo by Reki woo on Unsplash.

Tags : creativeFictionMelbourne
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