I sit at a table; my stomach is ready to partake of a mouth-watering soup. But suddenly a figure looms over me. There’s an awkward pause: me, bowl in hand, tilted at a perfect forty-five degree angle; she, black bangs, brown skin, blue eyes, cake of makeup, salmon cardigan, short black skirt and pair of green Converses. To avert another second of uncomfortableness, I abort my immediate mission.
Once the bowl is set down, I become professional and initiate conversation with the obviously exchange student.
“Hello, please sit down and join me. I’m Olive,” I introduce myself good-naturedly, “and you are?”
“That’s a weird name,” retorts she, bluntly, with an accent; “I’m Miso.”
“Oh, like the soup? Ha ha,” and I point at my soup for effect.
She gives me an annoyed glance. I make a mental note not to repeat said joke ever again – in her presence.
“What do you think of Australia?” I ask, all interestedness.
After some serious pondering, she answers:
“I like it, but I don’t think Canberra represents the Australian characteristics well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bitches, you know?”
“Do you mean ‘beaches’ by any chance?”
She gives me a flat stare with her fake-blue-eyes, unblinking.
“That is what I said.”
Of course. Moving on.
“Have you visited any beaches since you’ve been here?” I ask; smooth move, I am thinking.
Her eyebrows knit into a concentrated frown.
“I went to Bondi bitch in Sydney; lots of crabs.”
“Oh? How were they? Fresh?”
She rolls her eyes in the manner of a bored and sarcastic teenager.
“I said, abs.”
Ah! A great improviser, I blunder on with the conversation.
“Hmm…yes, abs are yummy too.”
At this comment she bites her lower lip and gives me a suggestive wink.
I blink a few times.
“Do you find your friends here very different from back home?” I ask, innocently, steering the conversation towards more comfortable grounds.
The bait seems to be working, as her fake-blue-eyes take another stroll around the park.
“All my new friends are Asian.”
“That’s nice,” is all I know what to say.
She looks at me significantly. I press on with the tête-à-tête.
“Any cultural shocks since you’ve been here?” I pose, importantly.
“So many,” she sighs. “Sex.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“So much of it,” she states with conviction; “I hear it like, at least twice a night.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” is my stupid response.
“Do you think I’m fat?” and she looks at me accusingly.
“I’ve eaten so many Tim Tams since I’ve been here. I’m so fat. I wish I was as thin as Nicole Hitman.”
“Stop repeating what I say!” she retorts, becoming angry.
Unfortunately for me, we are carrying out this conversation in the student hall’s very large and currently packed communal kitchen. Many heads are turned in our direction; invited to do so by Miso’s sudden outburst.
A senior resident walks towards our table. He’s no crab, he’s walking abs! I feel small as he stands between the two of us, arms folded into a ‘I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if necessary’ stance.
“What’s going on here?” he asks in a voice as bulky as himself.
“Nothing!” I squeak.
He looks at me without interest and turns to speak to my new friend(?) Miso.
“Is he bothering you?”
Miso gives Abs an appraising look. Yes, just how she likes it – is what I sum up from the softening of her expression and the glitter in her blue eyes.
“He doesn’t understand what I say,” she explains to Abs.
“I understand you fine,” observes Abs, exuding confidence.
They both turn to give me an accusing stare.
“I think it’s the kitchen fans,” I improvise; “It’s so loud in here. I can’t even hear my own voice sometimes. Ha ha.”
Miso and Abs look at each other, and there passes a mutual understanding; a bond has been made, one based on the shared view that I am an idiot.
“Come sit with us,” he says to her, jerking his head towards the table whence he came from.
Miso gets up readily.
“Bye Miso,” I say with an apologetic smile, as she happily embarks towards third-base with Abs.
Surprisingly, she returns the smile and even gives me a wink.
“What a peculiar young lady,” I conclude; “She must be very happy to be on exchange.”