The split second I saw her, I knew she was either going to be incredibly annoying or literally the best accommodation experience, I ever had. Like many things in life, including predicting the US election, I was completely wrong. I started off OK, then a bit weird, then went completely crazy before slowly coming to an abrupt meaningless end. The entire 14 days was like a typical story I would write. Truthful, yet surreal with a crazy character and a trail of events that ultimately signifies absolutely nothing.
Lets start from the beginning
(On the phone)
Xena – I is not there. Am here. Not here. There.
Me – Erm, ok. That’s lovely. So I’m at the train station.
Xena – Yes. It is train. Ok.
Me – Ok?
Xena – Ok.
Xena – Where is you now?
Fuck me, I’m going to punch a hole in this woman’s boob when I get a hold of her.
Me – At the train station. I am at the train station.
Xena – What is train station?
Me – Your train station. I can’t pronounce it. It’s not written in the Latin alphabet, it’s got different characters.
Shane, you twat, if she can’t understand train station, she probably has absolutely no idea what you just said.
Xena – Ah yes, it is Serbian language. It contain different characters than English. It is hard.
Wrong again. She got that perfectly fine. Where did this woman learn English?
Me – Erm, the first letter is C and it’s about 10 minutes outside of the castle.
Xena – Yes. Castle.
Me – Just like you told me, in your email.
Xena – Yes. Castle.
Me – Yes Castle.
Xena – Ok. See you soon. Goodbye.
Me – Ok. Great/ Goodbye.
Within about 5 seconds of hanging up, I quickly realise, that by saying “Ok”, she didn’t actually confirm that she would pick me up. She agreed it in her email, but I’m not sure, she gets it now. Maybe “see you soon” means, “can’t wait till you get here”.BOLLOX. WHAT DO I DO? I should phone her back. But I don’t want it to see like I’m being pushy. If she’s on her way another phone call will just be annoying and expensive. It’s better to wait a bit. But wait for how long. Where is she coming from. You have low battery. Better to call her back now and confirm. Who cares if you are a bit annoying, isn’t it better than being stuck in the middle of a random, remote Serbian village train station. Yes it is.
I call her back. No answer. Battery dies. I panic. An hour goes by. Then another 50 minutes and just as the sun is about to set, a car pulls up.
How it legally is allowed on the road is beyond me and frankly says a lot about Serbia. I had the loudest engine in the world. I actually thought that a Boeing 747 was about to land. The faint patch of blue on the bumper told me that that was once the original colour of the car. Now it just looked like a grey rusted R2D2 plodding along the road in a massive cloud of what I suspect was carbon monoxide. The window rolled down and out popped a dogs head.
Xena – Sean you is. Yes?
I tried to imagine that it was dog talking but I was too tired.
Me – Yes.
The driver door opens and there she is. Xena. A first glance, she kinda looked a badly made rag doll. Her clothes looked like she had escaped from a circus bin and on top of her head it looked as if someone had carelessly super-glued an enormous messy mop of fiery red hair.
Xena -I am Xena and and it pleasure honour having you.
Me – Oh thank you. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Shane.
I really wanted to tell her off for shite directions and a keeping we waiting an inexcusable length of time. But she looked like the type of person that could bake the best cookies you ever had in your life but then also stab you to death with the mixing spoon. In essence, I regarded her as an unpredictable mess that I was mesmerised by.
Xena – I take bag and you sit in car with Freddie.
Me -Ah ok. Thank you. Freddie is the dogs name ?
I get into the car. She doesn’t lift my bag. She just circles the car and gets back into the car. I also get into car and close the door and then observe that my suitcase is just sitting there in the middle of road.
Me – Eh, my suitcase.!!
Xena -Yes. It’s very heavy.
She never even tried to lift it. I open the door, get out, pick it up and put it into the back seat. Then I sit in the passenger seat and Xena drives off. All the while, Freddie is jumping around and barking like a mad bitch.
Xena – Dog is Freddie. He likes you. I can tell. He talks to me.
Of course, he fucking does. I bet the fucking wallpaper talks to her as well. Now I’m imagining her house covered in crystals and rosemary to ward off evil bullshit.
Xena -I call him Freddie from Freddie Mercury.
Me – I love Queen. That’s awesome. My Dad is a big fan as well.
Xena -He die of aids. Very sad.
Me – Oh yeah it is.
Xena -It kill so many artist. In the village, my second husband had brother who had the aids.
What on earth does any normal-being say in response to a sentence like that. I mean that was just a feckin slam dunk of awkwardness.
Me – Oh no. That’s very sad and how old is Freddie? He has so much energy.
Xena -6 But in dog yeard this is 36. Every one year for people is 7 for dog.
Me – Yeah. I know. They age so much faster than us.
Brilliant, diversion Shane. You are a genius.
Xena -I often wish I was like a dog. You know.
Me – Oh yes. Me too.
What !!! Who the fuck wishes to be like a dog.
Xena -You are from English.
Me – Ireland. I’m Irish.
Xena -Ah ok. You no have Brexit.
Me – No no. That’s not us. That’s the UK
Xena -We want so bad to be in Union of the…. of the..
Me – The EU
Xena -Yes, Exact the UE. And they don’t want. Why? It’s a great thing.
Me – I know. It’s so complicated.
Xena -I read a lot Sean. I read all the newpaper every day. It is very important. I know a lot about politic and money. Business you know. I have good brain for business.
Me – Oh, well then you are a lot better than me, I’m useless at business. I have no head for numbers.
Xena -It’s important to know politic.
Me – Oh yeah. Of course. Very important.
We drove along slowly. It must be said, the landscape was stunning. Small, jagged and steep mountains lined with think tall pine trees. It was summer time, but as dusk set in and it began to get a little foggy, it reminded me of Christmas. Xena continues to regale me with how intelligent she was. She had basically read everything and knew everything and was a general legend at everything..according to herself.
While I accept there are some language and cultural barriers, I’ve never met an nationality ( apart from Americans) where it is socially acceptable to just start talking about how great you are. Needless to say, I grew very tired of our conversation, very quickly and looked forward to when she would show me the apartment I would be staying in for the next 14 days and I could smile and close the door behind me and curl up with a good book.
Xena -You are hungry now.
Me – Oh no. I’m fine. I had a sandwich on the train.
That was a lie. But I didn’t want her to cook for me. I wanted my book. My own bed. My wifi internet connection and to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. I wasn’t in a socialising mood. But in truth, I was hungry. Absolutely starving, now that she had mentioned it.
Xena -Are you sure?
Me – Well, I am a little hungry. Is there a supermarket nearby?
Xena -We go here.
The car stops beside a restaurant. It was just beside a small wooden bridge that marked the entrance to the village. The restaurant was tiny but it look so charming.
Xena -We go here. Restaurant.
Me – Ok.
Xena -I pay you.
Me – Oh, no no. I couldn’t do that.
Xena -I increase.
Me – What?
Xena -I increase I pay.
Judging by her body language and facial expression, I gathered that she had confused the word increase with insist. But I still can’t be sure if that’s what she meant.
We went in. No one was there. We sat near the door. Waitress came. Xena said something and two beers arrived.
Me – Oh cheers
Fuck I feel l’m on a date.
Xena -You have the whatapp?
Me – Yes. On the number I called you on.
Xena -I add you. And send message.
Me – Ok. I need Wifi to answer.
Xena -We take a selfie .
She knows what a selfie is but it took her like 5 minutes to understand train station. Urgh.
Me – I hate pictures.
Xena -But why. You have beautiful eyes. There are so blue. They are like sea.
Me – Oh tha…
Xena -No no. We no have sea here. They are like lake. Like big blue lake.
She positions her head right beside mine. I fake a smile, she takes a selfie.
Xena -I hope you have wonderful time here.
Me – Thank you.
Xena -I paint these.
Me – What?
I look around and I can see loads of painting on the wall and there it is, loads of little Xena signatures scribbled in the bottom right hand corner.
Me – Oh wow. They’re, they’re, they’re beautiful.
They were not beautiful. They were the kind of generic paintings of bridges and flowers that you would find in any cheap Italian restaurant ( operated an owned by people, who have no fucking clue about Italy). Boring use of colour and no imagination. One of them was so shit it made me physically sick.
Me – I love the colour and they’re so, so,
Me – Creative
Xena -Yes they are. They are very good.
Me – So, is this your restaurant?
Xena -My ex-husband own with his wife.
She is uploading the picture of us as her WhatsApp profile picture. This woman is mad. No. Maybe not mad. Maybe that’s just Serbian etiquette. Like a polite way of saying hello. Maybe they change their profile pictures like I change my socks. I’m sure its fine.
No. It’s not fine. What the fuck. Is she using me as a bait? Is she trying to make her ex-husband jealous by coming into his restaurant and flaunting a sexy, young, blue eyed Irish boy. Humm. No. Wait. Hang on. For feck sake Shane, with your disproportionately large nose, who the hell would be jealous of you. How would you make anyone jealous? She probably is uploading the picture because she wants people to think she was at the feckin circus. You ugly, self loathing carrot. You giant piece of
Xena -They make pizza here. You want?
Me – Oh sure.
Xena -It’s pizza but it’s not good. His wife, she is a….. she is.. how you say….
Me – Bad cook
Xena -No no. She is……
Me – A good cook.
Xena -A whore. She is whore.
Me – Right.
Ok. At this point, I feel I can drop the polite tourist act. This is a bit too overly-friendly. Who knows where this is gonna go.
Me – Sorry, why exactly are we here?
Xena -You don’t like?
Me – You said the food was not good and you don’t like the person that cooks it. Why would you bring me or anyone here?
Xena -You don’t like
Me – It doesn’t matter if I like. You don’t like. If you think someone is a whore. Why on earth would you bring a guest to their restaurant.
Me – Sorry but for me, its very strange.
Xena -Ok. You finish beer and bring you to house.
Me – Ok.
I can see, I have kind of offended her in a way. But after several months wandering around India, my tolerance level for bullshit or bizarre characters is very limited. I am no longer going to be put into awkward situations where people in a strong position and on cultural home turf can just behave and say whatever they want with absolutely no filter. It’s annoying as fuck. I don’t care if she hates me or leaves me a bad review on Airbnb.
True to form, she pays. I say thank you and get into the car. Freddie looks like he’s thirsty because he’d been locked in the car. But I wasn’t about to bring that up. We travelled across the bridge and then everything changed when I saw her place.
Me – Oh my god. Is that where you live?
Xena -Yes, you like?
Me – Xena it’s amazing. The Airbnb pictures only show the inside. You should take some from outside.
Xena -Yes, maybe it’s good. But I need to fix the garden.
Me – But the building. Wow. How old is it?
Xena -The people make it in…. not people … the, I don’t the word. Old religion man, with long brown dress.
Me – Monks.
Interesting description. But it worked.
Me – It’s amazing. I really didn’t expect that.
This would be the perfect opportunity in the blog post to attach an image of what the place looked like. Wouldn’t it? Well, I’m not going to. Use your imagination. Ok, so it was basically a majestic 12th century clock tower. It was made of granite stone at the bottom. There was a clock but you could tell it was only put in a few years ago. It’s was kind of modern. There were no numbers on the clock just two black hands. It was more than three stories high.
Me – You actually live here.
Xena -I live in the part that is cloister. Ancient prayer room
Xena has the oddest command vocabulary ever. I bet she can’t even say orange but she could properly perfectly explain solipsism.
Xena – They use in the war for storage. It has very interesting history. Many people die here.
Marvellous. I guess the Serbs were never very good at marketing. But that certainly takes the biscuit for first impressions. “People have died here”. And on that note, you should be well able to predict the direction this story is going to go in…. right?