In the summer of 2015 I volunteered at a hostel in Kiev, Ukraine. Most guests arrived in groups so I was happy when Benny showed up alone. That night we went out for beer and hookah. I liked Benny, he was interesting. He was also the first Dutch person I’d ever met and his English confused me. Did he grow up in America? Are his parents English? How the fuck does he know that word?
The next night Benny went out alone. This wasn’t strange, but it got strange when he hadn’t returned by 10 am. The hostel owner, an easygoing Brazilian, scolded him.
Sometimes these guys come here for a day or two and take off without paying. You find their backpack in the room with some worthless clothing.
On his bed I found the backpack with said worthless clothing, but then I struck gold: a brand new copy of The Fountainhead! What luck I thought, until I looked under the book and saw the red cover of a Dutch passport. Benny might not be valedictorian but nobody fleas the country without their passport. We should be expecting him back.
An hour later I turned a corner into a zombie movie. There was Benny, or what was left of him. His shirt was torn and smeared with what was optimistically dirt. The face was puffy around the eyes and I could see traces of blood highlighting his nose and mouth. The smell suggested he slept in a dumpster.
The hostel owner helped drag him inside and we threw him on the couch. He passed into a deep stupor and missed his flight. 19 hours later, still hungover, he narrated an incoherent story about drinking vodka with homeless Ukrainians, smashing his phone before someone could steal it and returning to the hostel with the police.
I’ve seen drunk people come and go, but I remember Benny because of his English. It was the first time I’d ever met a European who could pass as a native speaker. It was freaky.