My First Night Shift
The Backpackers is run by mostly volunteers so there are no strict rules that are enforced. Things need to be done, someone will do it. Karma. Night shifts are determined by rock-scissor-papers or assigned to people who have lost bets. If you are hungover enough you might raise your hand to do a night shift so you can stay indoors and give your liver a rest. John tends to do the shifts when he can sense trouble since he is used to dealing with obnoxious, incoherent, drunk people. Part of being Irish I suppose.
'Who wants to do the night shift today?' he asks a bunch of us sitting around the reception area. The other staff members scurry away like roaches scuttling away from a flashlight beam. 'Guess I'll have to do it.' I mutter as I curse my slow reflexes.
The truth is night shifts aren't usually a bad thing. It just detracts from your drinking time. A bunch of guys will inevitably come back with injuries and say, 'We were running down Pikk street naked and then Bob fell down and split his head open. It was so fun!' and you can't help but feel a touch of envy towards Bob. About the only thing you need to do is check-in late arrivals and let in guests who have forgotten their keys. The rest of the time is spent on the computer looking up Youtube to find the latest Christina Aguilera film clips and blooper reels for amature snuff films.
The first three hours was relatively uneventful. For some reason the reception area was filled with guests wanting to hear me tell jokes. These people need to get out more. Usually if I want to tell a joke to someone I have to tie the them up to a chair, cut one of their feet off with an axe and cauterise their injuries with a blowtorch. If they don't laugh convincingly enough I start amputating fingers. But for some reason the guests kept popping up in front of me, like Nigerian email scams that clog up your inbox.
One German guy kept coming in for a while then leaving to get more beer. He was a little bit annoying to tell you the truth. He seemed like a nice enough guy and maybe it was the language barrier, coupled with my desire to see Christina Aguilera's bosoms, that made me want him to leave the room. He eventually went to the lounge room to check his emails.
About an hour later he came in to the reception area. I was alone, going through the bookshelf where backpackers swap their paperbacks for others. The quality of these books were frankly quite crappy (Do I attempt to read John Grisham's The Broker or a Jeffery Archer novel? Which would suck less?) and I was not concentrating on the German guest's deathly pallor. 'I....I sink I need a cigarette.' he mumbled, as if to himself. He wore this expression like an albatross around his neck.
'Uh-huh,' I mutter.
'My...friend is a wrestler. Greek style wrestling.' he continued.
Now I'm looking at him. What the hell do I care?
'He....was in an accident.'
'Was he hurt badly?'
He nods, an automation. His eyes were coridoors. 'He..damaged his spine. The doctors say that he is para..para...what is this word?'
He nods again. 'Something like that. He will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His life...ruined now. Why? He was...he is so young. My other friends did not tell me this,' he turns to me, eyes misty with tears, 'Why would they not tell me this? It happened a week ago and I'm finding out today on email.'
I don't know how to reply. My tongue feels like it is cement. I can usually just find something to say in most situations. There is a cupboard where I keep standard responses in cans and I will generally find something appropriate to say. Deep inside the cupboard, past the 'Condolences for your dead cat' and 'Don't worry. She never understood you anyway', I find a few hollow words. 'I'm so sorry.' And I throw in some utterly useless sentiments to the pot. 'Are you going to be OK?'
He shrugged and went outside to smoke his cigarette.