I used to have strong feelings about people who can't go anywhere without asking for the WiFi password but after the “internet hive mind” had my back in a very scary situation, I'm a little more reserving in judgement...
I'd been testing the waters with a bartender I met in Utrecht. As he was working, we spent about ten minutes together in total and snatched in thirty second bursts but it had been such a good ten minutes that we kept in contact. When I next crossed the Channel, I planned a trip to see him- his spare bedroom was, he said, comfy though I think the two of us knew there was a chance I wouldn't be sleeping there.
All was going well until two days before I left the UK when he casually mentioned that he had family visiting for one of the three nights we'd set aside... but he'd already asked his friend Jess to host me for a night. Sorted! I was excited to meet a friend of his. Somebody from whom I could surreptitiously find out a little more about my mystery man. It had been a fraught few weeks and I was mentally, physically and spiritually weary. I was ready to turn my internet off, make a new friend-of-my-friend then meet up with Mr Mystery and give the month at least one high point.
I arrived that night on the beautiful street on which I would be staying, juggling my dodgy-wheeled suitcase and the little bunch of flowers I had bought Jess, and paused to appreciate that it was a nice out-of-the-way place in the suburbs. What a quiet, peaceful place to live... I knocked on the door, which was opened by a man who ushered me upstairs onto the cosiest sofa I had ever seen. I was sleepy but had woken up a little- enough to realise that this didn't look like a sofa ready to be made up for a guest despite the very late hour and that this man didn't look like a “Jess”. He misunderstood my confusion and offered his hand.
“Hi, I'm Jess”, said the man called Jess.
Ah... I stuck on a smile and shook his hand, thanking him profusely for the use of his sofa.
“Oh, my bed is really comfy” said Jess.
“Um... I don't share beds with people I don't know” I said clumsily.
“Don't worry, it's huge. Look” The man called Jess proudly flung open the door to his bedroom to reveal an admittedly giant bed. Still...
Nervous, freaked out, aware that I was in an unfamiliar city at midnight, aware that I had just seven hours until I could make my “early morning appointment” excuses and leave, aware that I was larger and possibly stronger than him and aware more than anything else that I had not consumed so much as a drop of water since arriving and was therefore unlikely to be drugged, I decided to give a friend of a friend the benefit of the doubt. This could be innocent- a cultural thing... I'd sleep in the same bed as a female Jess... Perhaps he was gay or asexual... Still, I asked for the WiFi password so I could “check my emails”.
Putting on my 'sleeping clothes'- a pair of yoga pants and a leotard that I swear appeared in my suitcase by magic as I don't remember packing or even owning one, taking a pack of plastic utensils I'd saved and snapping the edges off to leave me with jagged emergency weapons, and pleading “needing to stretch my bad back”, I left the man called Jess getting ready for bed and left the room. Connecting to the WiFi, I opened my satnav app and took a screenshot of my co-ordinates, then logged onto facebook. I belong to several travel groups with worldwide followings- somebody, somewhere must be awake.
Three different groups got my 'amber alert'- I told them where I was. I told them I was 85% sure I was in no danger but that I would appreciate somebody having my back. I told them that if I did not reply to my post after six hours, here are my co-ordinates- call the police.
I went back into the room and took up the “in my coffin” sleeping position popular among young goths and Wednesday Addams. Fully clothed, with my phone under my pillow and makeshift weapons clutched to my chest under the duvet, I prepared to lie still for six hours, pretending to sleep.
Of course nothing happened. In the majority of “stuck sharing a bed with a stranger” situations with varying degrees of weirdness, nothing happens. But sometimes it does and for me, knowing there were people waiting to hear from me, who knew exactly where I was and who would have my back made the difference between a battle plan and blind panic. I have heard self-proclaimed optimists say that the best course through life is to expect the best but prepare for the worst. It's good advice to live by.
The advice I live by is to never leave an experience empty handed, and some of the worst encounters in my previous travelling experience had prepared me for this one:
Always make sure you can connect to the WiFi if you aren't sure about the situation. Make sure your phone is working. Make sure that somebody, somewhere, has your back- even a facebook page strictly for cat lovers is unlikely to ignore a genuine SOS call- even if it is off-topic!
And lastly, if you were wondering about Mystery Man... nothing happened.