Evi unpacked her worn travel bag for the tenth time. Her head throbbed, she’d stayed back to drink with the staff after work and was suffering the consequences. Her phone was with her when she got home the night before. She checked under her bed again, it still wasn’t there, only some food and an abandoned sock. Her roommates had searched their luggage. Evi didn’t think any of them had taken it but appreciated the gesture. Lucy had called but it went to voicemail. Maybe she left it at the bar. She would go and check, but didn’t feel like getting roped into an early shift.
Giving up, Evi laid on her bed and opened her book. At least with her phone gone she would be able to read without distraction. Halfway into the first page her stomach growled. She checked under the bed for snacks. Nothing, some potatoes and mouldy bread. She sighed, she had put off grocery shopping for too long. If she started eating out again that was a quick path to being broke.
The elevator screeched and clanged as it took her three storeys to the lobby. She doubted it’s last service was recent, that fit with the theme of this hostel. She had taken the stairs at first but she could only keep that up so long. She walked out through the waft of smoke from backpackers hanging at the entrance. All tattoos and out there hairstyles. She didn’t recognise them, no long-termers.
It was busy out, cars banked up and people walking everywhere. For all the downsides of the hostel, living in the city made up for it. She did a double take, a beat-up white station wagon was parked opposite the hostel entrance. There was a sinking feeling in her stomach. The car door opened and a blonde man started to get out. She turned and walked as fast as she could, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. She used the reflective shop fronts, they gave her a view of the street behind. He wasn’t there. Maybe he didn’t follow her.
She used a group of people as cover and ducked into the supermarket. She lost herself amongst the crowded supermarket. She wasn’t sure it was even Craig’s car, she might have freaked herself out over nothing. She turned into an aisle and saw Bill. He studied an empty shelf then walked down the aisle. She had been so distracted she hadn’t seen how many of the shelves were empty.
Evi caught up and tapped him on the shoulder. “What are you doing here? You got the lunch shift?”
Bill turned. “Hey Evi,” he said with a big goofy smile, “nah, I’m off today, I live near here.”
“In the CBD? How much is Gav paying you?” Evi grabbed two bags of sour cream and chives chips, doing her best to act normal. They weren’t as good as the ones back in Denmark but they were close.
“My friend’s uncle owns an apartment. He doesn’t charge us much, so it’s not too bad once we split it.” He picked up a pack of biscuits, looked at them and put them back.
“That’s pretty cool,” Evi said. A man coughed into his elbow and people moved back from him. She looked around, people we’re keeping their distance from one another. A lot of them wore face masks. “Is it me or are people acting weird as s***?”
“You haven’t kept up with the news then?”
“I think I left my phone at work last night.” There was a possibility that Craig stole it. She felt gross. He might have been in her room, but she doubted he could have got past the hostel staff.
“There’s been breakouts of that virus all across Europe and it’s getting worse in Asia. The media are downplaying it, but people aren’t stupid.”
A middle-aged woman bent to pick up the last bag of rice. Her trolley already full of rice.
“Hey, save some for everyone else,” a young woman said putting her hand on the same bag.
“It’s mine, I got it first.”
The women argued, neither letting go. They pulled at the bag as their voices raised.
Evi looked around, a small crowd of onlookers had formed around the women.
The bag split and rice scattered across the floor.
Why had no one stopped them.
“You stupid bitch,” the younger woman said and picked up a bag out of the other woman’s trolley.
Evi took a step forward. “Hey stop it.”
“Put that back,” the middle-aged woman yelled and grabbed the other woman by the hair. The other woman screamed and slapped at her wildly.
“I said f****** stop it.” Evi got between them and pushed the fighting women apart.
Then she wasn’t alone. “Come on, don’t be stupid,” a man said as he pulled the middle-aged women back.
She got loose and pushed him right towards Evi. The man tripped and bumped into Evi. She lost her balance and crashed into a shelf, bringing bags and cans to the ground with her.
“Hey, hey, stop that,” a man in a store uniform said. He spoke into the little radio. “Security to isle five.” More people stepped in to pull the women apart. She pushed herself back sliding out of the way of the milling crowd. Then Bill was there.
“Are you alright?” he said and pulled her to her feet, “that was wild.”
“You mind walking me back?” She didn’t want to face the walk home alone.
“Yeah sure,” Bill said.
She scanned the street when they left but she didn’t see Craig anywhere. Her nerves on edge again.
“You alright?” Bill asked.
“There was a guy who made my life hell back in Sydney,” she said, there was no point dancing around it.
“That sucks,” he said.
“I think he’s followed me to Melbourne.” She held back the tears that wanted to come.
“Rough,” he said, “you call the cops?”
“I’ve tried that before. They’ll talk to him,” she said, “but he won’t stop, they’ll tell me I can get a restraining order but how long will that take. My VISA is about to run out anyway, I just have to avoid him till then.” She hadn’t told anyone about Craig since her big move. Best to forget he had ever happened, but as she talked a burden she didn’t know she was carried, lifted.
They stopped in front of the hostel. She wiped her face with her sleeve. Bill picked out a brochure from the front window and wrote on it. “Here’s my number. Call me if you need anything yeah? I’m just up the road.”
None of her room mates were in. For once she would have rathered they all be here. She packed the groceries into their spot under the bed. There was something neatly placed in the centre of her bed. A small brown package. She was certain it wasn’t there before she left. It had started again. Tear blurred her vison. She picked up the package and removed the brown wrapping paper. Her phone, that bastard had taken it. Her hand trembled and tears dropped on the phone. It slid open without a pass code. A notes app was open on the screen. “I’m sorry I took your phone, I won’t do it again. I’m really sorry for how things turned out but we can’t let that get in the way. We’re perfect for each other, just give me another chance.”
She couldn’t stay here, not if he could get into her room. Evi went to the window, she looked for him or his car. Neither were there, it didn’t make her feel any better. She dialed Bill’s number. “That creep got into my room, you got a couch I can crash on?”
“That’s f*****, you want me to come there?” he said.
“Nah, I’ll get a taxi and there’s a security guy at the desk.” She doubted he’d be brave enough to do anything with people around.
“I’ll text you my address.” Bill said.
Her phone beeped, she opened the message.
“Who’s your new boyfriend?” the message read, “didn’t take you long. I didn’t realise you were such a whore. I love you so much and all you do is hurt me. You deserve what’s coming.”
Her phone beeped again. It had to be Bill this time.
An image, dark and grainy, hard to make out. She turned up the brightness of her screen. It was her in her bed asleep.