Just before arriving in Djenne Antonio proclaimed the four of us simply had to spend the night together, as though our taxi ride had somehow bonded us as family. Sure, these people are annoying and don’t show any signs of liking each other, but it’s New Year’s Eve, I thought, so why not? We climbed out of the taxi and began the task of finding somewhere to stay.
Walking through the town, Antonio was like a character from a movie. Dressed in traditional African bou-bou (bought at great expense, but much to the delight of the Malians), he strutted the streets picking up children and putting them on his shoulders, hugging women, laughing and making merry with men, goats and donkeys. He was a whirlwind full of ideas and we others could only follow in his wake.
A small hotel told us they had a four person room at a cheap price. I waited in the courtyard with the bags while the others went to look at the room. Two minutes later Antonio came to fetch me, and showed me into a small but comfortable room with a double bed off to one side and two singles up the other end.
He said “Steve we’ve discussed the bed situation and” he glanced at Alicia “think it’s best if we take the double bed.”
“Of course” I said, having thought it obvious.
“So it’s settled then. We’ll take the room!” he proclaimed with his right hand raised in the air, index finger extended, to signify the sealing of the deal.
We then went out to collect our bags. Betty struggled in with her gigantic backpack and dropped it on one of the beds, Antonio came in and flopped down on the double bed and then Alicia came in and put her bag down on the other single bed. She sat on the bed and started sorting her stuff out, making herself at home.
Nobody else seemed to think this was strange. Wasn’t that my bed?
As my mind worked through the scenario, it dawned on me that when Antonio said we’ll take the double bed, he might have been referring to he and I. I didn’t understand, but guessed that maybe in their culture it wouldn’t be right to share a bed with his wife when other people were in the room. But to share it with a stranger?
So this is how I was to see in the new year, cuddled up to this hairy, larger than life Italian man. It wasn’t even a real double bed, more like one and a bit singles. And with the mosquito net hanging over the sides, the space was further constricted.
I put my bag on the floor in the centre of the room and thought about this.
“Um, I might go get a drink somewhere” I said.
“Not me”, said Betty ‘I’m going to rest here a little while.”
“We’ll joining you” Antonio said, “It is the new year’s eve is it not?”