Say what you will about personal space and privacy in the modern age or whatever, but one thing is true: your bed is obviously yours. Private, personal, whatever you want to call it: it’s where you lie in the dark, willing your waking self to sleep among the strangers sharing the hostel, it’s where you wake, eyes flying open, from a nightmare, it’s where you roll over to find your alarm in the morning and pull yourself up, limbs heavy with sleep. A hostel bed isn’t your bed in the same way – you occupy it for a couple of nights at the most, in a room with six other girls, but it’s still your bed, with sheets that hold your imprint and occasionally an eye mask or discarded t-shirt lying in the folds of the comforter. You are vulnerable and trusting when you sleep.
Alexandra and I were on our second full day in Florence, planning to spend one more night before visiting Milan and then Prague. Our beds, reserved for three nights, had the appearance of someone living in them. Sheets crumpled and twisted (but not discarded in a heap on the floor), books next to the pillow that was still damp from the night before when you came in, hair dripping from the shower. Occupied beds.
Except that when we returned to the hostel that afternoon for a quick episode of Grey’s Anatomy and to stay out of the stifling Italian summer heat, Alexandra’s bed was no longer her own. A Red Sox t-shirt, an eye mask, and an extra blanket – all Alexandra’s own and all tucked into the corners of her crumpled bedclothes – were folded on top of the lockers and the bed made up with new sheets, for someone new. Incensed, we speculated as to who the absent intruders were and proceeded to return her belongings to her bed, declaring that if they were in her bed when we returned from dinner later that night, we would just wake them and ask them to move.
The Australian women in her forties who had become the self-appointed mother of our room in the hostel returned when we were in the middle of watching trauma surgeon Owen Hunt try to keep his feelings for Cristina Yang under wraps as they moved through the same hallways, but she could tell our hearts weren’t really in it. Finally, we asked her who had moved into the room and taken Alexandra’s bed. Judith, who had weathered cancer and divorce with an unfailing “buck up” attitude, regarded us with indignation spreading across her tanned face.
“Cheeky buggers!” she exclaimed. We tried to keep straight faces. “Well, I’ll watch your beds and if anyone tries to take them, I’ll handle it.” How would she handle it? We didn’t want to know, and, uttering quiet and profuse thank-yous, made our way backwards out the door to check our email downstairs.
Whatever Judith said worked. When we returned from our afternoon activities to regroup before dinner, we found the two new girls sitting on totally new beds – neither of them ours. A false smile and apology (from them) later, we escaped to the full streets of Florence and the Manchester-Barcelona Championship game, to our first try at telling someone we were twins, to the heady sunshiny taste of mango gelato and the lemony, muggy Tuscan night.