There is a place in the hipster-infested suburb of Fitzroy called The Birmingham Hotel. It is a pub-cum-hostel, renown as a temporary residence for the cash-strapped and backpackers alike. From the outside, it resembles the sort of lopsided, looming structure you'd expect to see on the poster of a Stephen King novel. From the inside, it brings to mind a Nepalese spice house run by Nepalese men clad in Nepalese animal skins.
Anyway, this is where The Boyfriend and I found ourselves unpacking all our belongings three months before Christmas. Our visa application was still processing and we remained clueless - albeit naively optimistic - as to what direction our future would take. It took us several hours to unload The Boyfriend's truck of our various hoarded possessions, and after the deed was done, we stood in the middle of a room eight feet wide by ten long and stared at our lives, momentarily filed in cardboard boxes.
We sorted the room as best we could, even managing to divide part of the room into a semblance of a living room, complete with TV, sofa and kettle. We surveyed our work, mentally clapping ourselves on our aching backs. We were convinced this was a provisional arrangement, that we would be renting our long-awaited unit-by-the-beach in no time, that we could happily turn our backs on the shoddy, short-term accommodations available to people on an interim stay, that we could finally rid ourselves of the shackles that restrain any Working Holiday Visa holder. It was the only thing that motivated me to haul my arse to work in the mornings and endure the endless stream of snobbery from the apparently cultured clientele that frequented the cafe.
Life in The Birmy was not one I'll remember fondly. Our room was cramped and yet worth over 200 dollars a week. We were situated a floor up from the bar itself and various lives shows featuring faulty amps and badly tuned instruments kept us awake most nights. Sleep was unattainable on a street where revelers, trams and strobe-like street lights habituated.
A walk to work or to the Woolworths at the end of the street was inevitably coupled with a tirade of abuse from the various drunken and drugged-up.
The Birmy's other occupants were largely lovely, most notably one of the girls I met while working alongside Boss and Sappy, and her boyfriend - possibly the world's most likable couple. But even their presence was dimmed by the constant companionship of the strange older man who lived upstairs and spent most of his time staring into a computer screen at the top of the fire escape, watching everyone's every move out of the corner of his eye, and the floating fecal matter the Nepalese boys liked to leave as tokens of their existence in the only toilet I was ever brave to chance using.
The bar downstairs probably didn't help matters, because it became way to easy to get drunk and inform the landlord - who was always keeping a stool warm in front of the taps - that he probably was a bit old for his much better-looking significant other.
However, dreams of our sponsorship kept The Boyfriend and I going. We'd check out real estate websites on our days off, paupering ourselves week in and out to ensure we would have the money necessary for a deposit for a nice place when the time eventually came. We would keep tabs on the job websites, keeping track of any opportunity that might garner me stable employment once my eligibility improved. I kept a watchful eye on rescue centers, reminding The Boyfriend daily that he had promised we could get a dog once we had sorted ourselves out in Australia.
When summer set in, it was almost impossible for me to keep living. I arrived at work with sweat dripping from my armpits, regularly mopping my forehead with my apron, immediately volunteering for any fridge-cleaning work available.
One evening, as the temperatures touched 33°C and my body physically gave up its fight to stay alert, I fell asleep amid the sounds of my Norwegian neighbors' violent love-making to his most recent conquest. I woke up what seemed like hours later and found The Boyfriend sitting at the end of the bed. His head hung downwards, his shoulders were slouched. It was a most un-Boyfriend-like posture and I said as much.
He wordlessly handed me the piece of paper he'd been clutching and all I remember reading were the words "has been rejected".
In one sentence, our plans had fallen apart. We now had to decide on another course of action, one without a nice house, or a dog, or security. They sound like small inconveniences to the regular reader but to an Irish couple like The Boyfriend and I, who had their useless degrees under their belts and a lifetime of part-time positions in front of them, it felt like the whole world had banded together to sample the Nepalese boys' dinner and shat on us.
Sighing, we decided not to make any decisions at that very moment. We refused to dwell on whether we would stay another year in Australia and try again, or whether we would apply for a visa to work in Canada, or whether The Boyfriend would work with his father for the rest of his life, or whether I would go back to college to get my teaching diploma, or whether we would start applying for jobs in Ireland. We simply bought alcoholic beverages from the handy pub downstairs and got a bit drunk by ourselves in the beer garden, with the creepy older guy tutting unabashedly from the top of the fire escape.