“Welcome to The Cross”
Day time Kings Cross is not a place you go purely for the sake of a friendly visit.
Slick, stone-faced business men in navy suits, sunglasses and shiny brown shoes brush past the scaly, withered forms of old prostitutes in ragged clothes. The beautiful (or, at the least, passable) girls sucked into Sydney’s proverbial Pleasure Island work their trade from the safety of the innumerable titty bars lining the strip.
Homeless crackies and smackies, robbed long ago of their desire for even a direction to walk in, wander like ghouls driven by one aim alone. Vacant eyes don’t read the token quotes about finding merit in the muck the government, in some vain attempt at creating culture, has facetiously etched into the pavement.
Except under threat of the law the poor never leave and the rich only pass through, strolling hurriedly through the succession of discount gift shops, money exchanges, kebab stores, pawn brokers, brothels, bars, burger joints, curry houses and tobacconists that constitute Kings Cross.
It is between these last two establishments that the hostel is situated – a slim wooden door creating an unremarkable break in the shop fronts sits underneath a tall, cracked, cream-coloured facade.
As a general rule the hostel only accepted foreign guests. The locals, being junkies, prostitutes, or both, could not be trusted. But as luck would have it the clerk was still quite drunk from the night before when I arrived at midday to check in and, after looking me over and no doubt deciding that attractiveness somehow equates to honesty, he made me an exception.
He was a tall, pale man (British, of course) with a hideously unkempt ginger beard, which, combined with a large yellow patch of plaque on his left incisor rendered his otherwise pleasant face utterly unattractive. He was friendly, but he had the miserable quality of becoming quite easily aggravated by the mere prospect of having to do any more than the bare minimum required of him.
As he found me a key I told him about how my handbag had been pickpocketed the previous day whilst I waited in the local Centrelink queue. Glancing up, he handed me my key, two worn sets of sheets and a pillow case. “Welcome to The Cross” he said with a sardonic half smile..
My room was on the top floor, four flights of stairs up from the reception and six from the front door. The hostel walls had been painted with colourful graffiti-style murals of beach scenes and Australian wildlife. The intention was twofold: to greet incoming guests with a “fun” contemporary atmosphere, and to mask the layers of filth which had accumulated over the years to the extent that the walls were now smeared from top to bottom with stains of unknown origins.
“Free breakfast” (read: two pieces of home brand bread and a bowl of cereal – if there was any of either left), fast wifi, and the invitation to use two hard drives containing six hundred pirated movies could only get this place so far.
You only had to see once the pockets of dirt and dust grease had glued to every crevice of the garishly painted purple skirting boards and banisters, to observe the ancient cigarette butts nestled indefinitely in the astroturfed stairs, to breathe in one whiff of the maggoted death emerging from the doors of the communal refrigerator, to recoil from the various gobs of phlegm and unidentifiable brown matter making their slow descent down every surface of the shower to cling to the hairs in the drain, to notice that one large piece of hardened grey snot permanently adorning the top left corner of the toilet door, to unwittingly reach your hand into the sea of crumbs, hair and plastic captured in the foam abyss between the couch cushions (all of the seams having split long ago), to hear the rustle and hushed whispers of street rats raiding the fridges in the early hours of the morning, to spy the long red list of tenants more than a week behind in their rent plastered on the reception wall, to read the words “fuck off” scrawled onto a white board glued to the safe chained to the kitchen wall, to know what kind of place this was.
It was a place of last resort.
Not having hit rock bottom in my life, I only lasted a week.
The all-encompassing grime was one thing, but when my mie goreng noodles were stolen from the back pack under my bed, and whole Aldi bag of groceries (including my prized salami) disappeared from the fridge (nothing was sacred to the junkies who raided the hostel’s fridge whilst its occupants slept) I could take it no longer.
Seven nights and six days into my stay I slipped quietly out of that crack in a wall, never to return again and forever suspicious of the pack of gypsies on the second floor and the intolerable German couple who had bunked across from me.