Jake of Hearts
Ah, the Backpacker life! Sleeping with all your worldly possessions strapped to your body, keeping a machete under ones pillow, having to listen to skinheads masturbating through the night,arm wrestling Dutch guys in order to watch your favourite TV show (One Tree Hill. How do they keep the stories so fresh?). Wonderful.
Currently my roommates are J.P. the Canadian (the French kind) who makes his living by selling...things, a 40-year old Japanese guy who has decided after four decades to see what the rest of the world looks like, Pablo the tattooist who kind of looks like he's stumbled out of a heavy metal concert and wants to bite the heads off nuns (though after 3 seconds of talking to him you realise that he's quite friendly, more like a Buddhist than a mass murderer) and Jake.
Roommates in Backpackers tend to exist solely as a pair of legs jutting out from a bed who steal your shampoo and pornos when you are at work. For me anyway. As much as I enjoy interacting with other human beings, after weeks of meeting Germans who stay for a single night you stop asking people their stories, interesting as they might actually be. The only reason I know J.P. is because he's been there for as long as I have, maybe longer, and Pablo is a living, breathing work of art.
I wake up one day to find that there now resides a person called Jake in our humble room. He and Pablo were having a discussion about the new tattoo on the small of his (Jake's) back earlier that day. It was strange and intricate with all kinds of crazy symbols hidden within. Unfortunately it was stretching his skin in new and painful ways and so Pablo went off to find some cream (Pegapanthenol) for it. 'Give me a look,' I say to inspect it properly. Jake turns and shows me. 'Interesting.'
'Yeah man, I got it last night.'
'Cool,' I yawn, 'where?'
'Here man. In this room.'
I put two and two together. 'Oh, Pablo gave you the tattoo?'
'Pablo. The only guy in this hostel who is a tattoo artist.'
'Yeah. Him. Pablo.'
We lapse into silence. He then says, 'I got something for you.' What the...? This from a guy I have barely spoken to. Is it drugs?
'It's not drugs,' says Jake as he rummages through his belongings. Eventually he locates it in the pocket of his jacket- a playing card. A Queen of Hearts.
'What's this?' I ask, genuinely baffled.
'Queen of Hearts man. May you find her one day.'
My mind is not used to this kind of behaviour. I'm used to encounters where two men will argue about rugby and one of them will end up dead in a ditch somewhere.
'...er...thanks.' I look at the card. Its a standard, shitty playing card that costs about two dollars for a deck that you can buy from a service station. I wonder if I struck him as someone who looks especially like a side show reject who can only find girlfriends who charge by the hour or if he keeps a whole deck of these and gives them to everyone he meets. Either answer wouldn't have surprised me.
'Funny,' I muse as I wave the card about, 'but this is kind of the reason I'm here.'
'In this Backpackers?'
'In this Backpackers. In this country.'
'Where were you before that?'
'In Estonia. Specifically an Estonian Backpackers. I'd just finished my Trans-Siberian Railway journey and sort of gravitated towards there, by way of Frank Zappa's head in Lithuania.'
'Ah, Estonia! Estonian women are the most beautiful in the world.'
'Hm. And what brings you here?'
Jake recounts his story in bits and pieces. I gather he was living happily in a forest for seven years with his fiancee at the time. They break up. He makes the mistake of looking at Russian dating sites ('Russian women! They are the most beautiful in the world.') where he finds his soul-mate who asked for a measly $1,500 so that she can find passage across the seas to his arms. Needless to say, he writes the cheque, she cashes it and is never heard from again. He makes his way back into civilisation where he eventually met a German lass. Two days ago.
'...and over here,' he continues as he arches his back, exposing his fresh tattoo 'is her initials. Underneath the infinity symbol.'
'That's quite a story dude.'
'Yeah. Anyway, I'm going to study German and find this chick. She lives in Stuttgart.'
'I hear their Porches are lovely at this time of the year.'
'Has she left already?'
He shakes his head, 'Nah, leaves on Wednesday. I'd call her but I think she stole my mobile.'
'The...love of your life steals your heart and your mobile and you're going to frickin' Stuttgart to find her?'
'I know. Crazy huh?'
I shrug my shoulders. 'Cherchez la femme. They make us all do crazy shit through no fault of their own. All I can say is: To thine own self be true.'