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Natalia’s two hands rest like a V on her cheeks cupping her depleted, worried face. Simon, the brawny shouldered man with a shaved head in the chair beside her, laughs heavily from crossed arms. He amusingly opens his hands as he speaks to Natalia.
They stop talking.
Natalia runs her hands up to her temples, widening her eyes against her pinkies.
I ask, “Y tu, no habla Ingles?”
“Si, no Ingles,” she says, fragmenting a smile together, “I no speak English.”
Sat soundless around the kitchen table like lifeless decoration, we all burst into one communal flare of ironic laughter.
On Natalia’s Couchsurfing profile she listed that she speaks English and all of our messaging correspondence was in English, but now as the raindrops restson the window looking like misty outlines of a spiderweb before the pastoral green hills of Chiloé island, I have no idea how to communicate anything with my host.
“And how much days here?” Natalia asks with guessing affectionate tone.
“En tu casa?”
“Tres, cuatro, es possible?”
She looks to Simon with apprehension and surprise vivid on her face as she contemplates letting this scraggly bearded, long haired, Charles Manson look-a-like stranger who she can’t speak a single sentence stay in her home for three to four days.
Out the window, the ocean sways in the half-circled bay before Natalia’s window as her black lab rests his head on my thigh. He wags his tail out from under the table.
“Bueno, ” she says rising from the table reaching into the refrigerator. “Todo esta tambien.”
She hands me a beer and the mood brightens.
We spend the next hour like three mimes playing a horrible game of charades. We talk to each other like antiquated television portrayals of New World Indians attempting foreign languages.
“You, how long travel for?”
“I dog like.”
“Thank you, food good.”
Then, after literally saying no two following lines of thought on topics no one beyond the age of five would hold an interest in, her friends enter kissing me on the cheek for a greeting.
The sky turns purple blue and the afternoon fades into night, but still the damp clouded mass hangs along the horizon of Chiloé. It adds to the island’s charm of warm, wooden fires and quiet, blanketed homes. I’ve become the mute stranger on the couch hastily drinking pisco-sprites looking like a smiling, dressed, and drunk version of Chewbacca, but just when I think things can’t get more uncomfortable, Natalia looks up at me with a lit joint in her hand.
“Ya, no I actually don’t like to.”
“You, no smoke?”
“Ya, I don’t because…”
And I start to give her a long-winded, polite answer, but she doesn’t understand that I’m trying to tell her no, and she keeps pushing the joint toward me, and in defeat the smoke enters my lungs, and I immediately enter a state of mind I had no interest in entering.
Then I’m high, like too high, like paranoid high convinced all death is going back to sleep, and I’m wondering how my friends in elementary school are doing, and either this couch just got strangely uncomfortable or am I twitching? I’m unsure. Hey, are my pants wet? Are their pants wet? Why would their pants be wet?
I catch myself and tell myself to calm the fuck down and stay cool, and although I have no idea what anyone is saying, I should probably at least try to follow the conversation. But as I attempt to do this, I’m too high to avert my gaze at socially appropriate measures, and instead I must look like a red-eyed Muppet with a staring problem.
For some reason, I begin mimicking their mannerisms to fit in better because that obviously makes sense. So when they are serious, I’m serious, and when they all begin talking at once and arguing, I start to mumble incoherent words under my breath while I nod.
I find myself pointing at the people talking as if to say, “good point, good point.” But I soon notice how dumb that is and begin changing my points into the start of long arm stretches.
I catch myself and again try to calm down because I probably look like a nervous teenage girl with a chronic leg twitching issue who’s trying too hard to fit in.
But the worst is when the room simultaneously erupts into laughter because I can’t just be the wide eyed, hairy trash bag on the couch with a cold, straight face staring in silence at everyone laughing together. So instead, when they begin to laugh, I laugh my ass off too with my head high in the air and my jaw clicking up and down like a nut cracker.
“You understand?” Natalia asks, noticing my behavior, turning the whole room noiseless with their eyes on me.
Immediately, I think of an exit strategy as I lower my head down from my tilted roar. I decide to go with the approach of inspecting the couch nodding my head like an agreeable carpenter at its stitching acting as if I didn’t hear her question.
The room’s quiet for a minute waiting for my response, and I stay silent running my hand along the couch, testing it’s texture and buoyancy, nodding matter-of-factly.
They let this pass, and the night kicks up as they all start playing music together, Chilean music, the happy, upbeat, rhythmic mosaic of flutes, guitars, and handclaps.
I drink more and spend the next hour rolling on the ground with the dog till Natalia moves above me holding out a guitar.
And again my pleas of, “No, please, I can’t,” somehow turns into me with the guitar in my hands, while I clear my throat, telling them, “Alright, this is a new one.”
The room’s freezes as I start to play, and it turns out, after following up a room full of collaborative Chilean musicians playing energized Chilean music, my song sounds a lot like an acoustic mix of My Chemical Romance and Dido.
I finish and one guy in the corner claps as no one moves. In the passing discomfort, Natalia’s quick to hand the guitar back to Alexi who immediately becomes Paul McCartney again uplifting the mood as everyone joyously sings along, and I fade back into the couch inspecting its stitching once more.
At a point unbeknownst to me, the night fizzles away, and I wake up on the couch to room full of goodbyes and everyone leaving.
When Natalia returns, I apologize to her in broken Spanish.
“Natalia, lo siento para esta noche.”
“No, no, no! Tonight fun.” She smiles back at me turning into her room. She returns throwing me a blanket and says, “Todo esta tambien.”
I suppose it was.
David Hargreaves is homeless. He currently spends his time travelling South America asking strangers online if he can sleep on their couches. He writes, plays music, wanders, gets groceries, drinks, sleeps, and wakes up to do it again, hopefully in a different place, hopefully on a different couch, hoping a good story comes from it. You can tell him what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.