I think shes Norwegian, Colin whispered as Brian and himself stumbled out of the three-bunk hostel room they had just checked into in rue La Fayette. It was called Peace & Love, but the hallway was hardly peaceful. It was evident that Brian hadnt heard him.
Now she probably thinks were gay, he said. When did blokes start going to the bathroom together? Couldnt you have said Were going to jog up and down the stairs for a bit instead?"
Because were normal, Colin retorted. Besides, shed notice thered be no sweat on us when we returned.
Well, there better not be, now, Brian snapped.
Colin ignored him. Did you hear me just now, though? he asked, telling him about the flag.
Crikey, thats fantastic! Brian exclaimed, overenthusiastically. Colin failed to catch the sarcasm, and asked what was fantastic about it.
Its not, moron, was the answer. I have absolutely no idea what this piece of information is supposed to mean to us.
Colin began, but he wasnt sure what to say. In truth he had been so excited to find a clue on who she was, that he hadnt thought about what it meant. Or if it meant anything at all. Brian was right; it didnt actually make a much of a difference to them.
Do you think we can return to the room now? he asked, deliberately changing the subject. He had only dragged Brian out in the hallway to talk to him in private, but the conversation hadnt turned out the way he wanted. Brian was evidently less interested in talking about Red than himself.
The sooner the better, if you ask me, Brian said, looking relieved. There was a click as he inserted the key card into the slot, and he opened the door.
A strong, wooden scent of incense met them, and the little room was dark except for a handful of candles placed in a circle in the middle of the floor. In the centre of it, Red sat motionlessly, her legs crossed, and her hands resting in her lap, palms open. Her lips were moving, but not a sound escaped them. At first, Colin thought her eyes were shut, but as he moved closer he noticed the light from the flickering candles reflecting in them, and he realised she was staring down at a bowl shaped incense burner in front of her.
How long were we gone exactly? he heard Brian mumble behind him. Shell set the fire alarm off like this.
The windows open, Colin said, without actually looking up to check. There was something hypnotic in the way the smoke moved, ghostly, bluish white, towards the ceiling, the draft changing its direction unpredictably. With his eyes he followed it downwards again, to the bowl from which it emerged. In it, amid the incense, lay what looked like a small piece of fresh wood, with black letters on it, forming a word of a foreign language.
He heard Brian hiss Ah, fuck this! behind him, followed by the low sound of a click, and the room became light as day.
In a second, Red was on her feet, a knife, like a small sword, in her hand. The guys jumped back, but she only stared at them, none of them daring to blink. The look of fear on her face was unlike anything they had ever seen before.
Colin swallowed heavily as she apparently recognised them, and the hand holding the knife began to shake. Her breath trembled audibly, and tears started streaming down her face. She sank to her knees, and Colin made to move towards her, but stopped. Something told him not to cross the circle of candles, and he kept his distance.
All three of them jumped again when someone knocked loudly on the door. An American accent shouted in to them, What the fuck are you smokin in there? More knocking, followed by Dont be so fuckin cheap, man. Share it, will you?
A group of people laughed loudly, and more people started knocking and kicking at the door. Eventually they gave up with a Fuckin Europeans, Im tellin you, man
The silence that followed was uncomfortable. Red got up on her knees again, her head bowed, so that her hair covered her face. Her knife stretched out in front of her, she turned anti-clockwise around, before she stepped out of the circle and started blowing out the candles.
Freak, Brian muttered under his breath as he pushed past them and climbed to the top bunk, where he had possessively tossed his Neil Young biography earlier.
Colin, now left alone on the floor with Red, suddenly wasnt sure what to say or where to put his hands, a situation unfamiliar to him. In the end he stuffed them into his pockets, cleared his throat and asked if she was okay. She nodded, still not showing him her face, and he didnt feel like pushing the matter further. They could always talk later. He asked what bunk she wanted, and looking at the middle one, she shrugged. Colin smiled, now knowing at least one thing he could do to help.
I prefer the bottom, myself, he said. Bunk, I mean, he added quickly. I usually prefer the bottom bunk.
He felt his face grew hot, and turned around pretending to look for something in his backpack. Behind him he heard the creaking of the ladder, as Red climbed into the middle bunk with her things. As Brian started coughing from his position just below ceiling, where the smoke from the incense hung like a thick cloud, clearly trying to muffle the sound by pressing his face into his pillow, Colin had to smile despite himself. Knowing that his friend would rather choke to death up there than admit to being bothered, he felt a surge of affection towards his stubbornness. He sat down on his bed, and waited, knowing what would come.
He didnt have to wait long.
Anyone up for dinner? Brian asked, in a casual voice.