It’s dark by the time I arrive at my hotel in Munich. Inside, the warm air greets me like a blanket from the dryer against the bitter January frost. I stamp out snow from my boots and look around the empty bar, which seems to double as a front desk.
“Hello?” My voice bounces off the gray walls and white granite countertop. “Anyone he –”
“Hi hi hi hi.” A middle-aged dark-skinned man with spiked green hair hurries out from around the corner, his hand waving frantically over his head. “A drink?”
“Can I check in?”
“No drink?” He says as if I’d insulted his grandma. “Maybe a beer?”
I’m exhausted and grouchy, having spent almost the entire day traveling from Austria on half a night’s sleep. All I want is a hot shower and a cushy bed piled with soft pillows and blankets. I’m ready to decline when he fills a mug with beer from the tap and then sets it down in front of me. “On the house.” He motions for me to sit.
I don’t feel like drinking, but I hate to be wasteful, so I settle onto a barstool, place my backpack on the ground, and lift the mug. “Thanks. Cheers.”
He fills a glass with a clear bubbly liquid and then clinks my mug. “Prost!”
We lapse into a comfortable silence. The beer is delicious and refreshing. It quenches a thirst I didn’t realize existed and I find myself sucking it down like water.
“Where are you from?” he asks in an accent I can’t place.
“Hawaii?” He bends his arms and lifts them to shoulder height, then undulates his fingers and hips in synchrony. “Ula. Ula.”
Had I been sober, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes at his antics. But as a lightweight who hasn’t eaten for over eight hours, I stifle a laugh.
“Who-la,” I correct him.
He rounds his lips into a perfect O. “Who-la.”
The effects of the alcohol kick in and I find his charisma infectious. I try to think of something to say – anything, to keep this conversation going when he leans over the bar and stops a foot from my face.
“There is bambooza in Hawaii, yes?”
I rein in my chin. “Bambooza?”
“You know, bambooza,” he repeats, as if it clarifies anything, then grabs a paper from the copy machine beside him and slaps it on the counter. A cartoon beach scene fills the page: sand, sun, and a dark-skinned man on a lounge chair with spiky green hair and a beer in his hand. At the top, large green letters read: BAMBOOZA.
I want to tell him there’s no such thing as a bambooza in Hawaii. That it isn’t a word locals use in their vernacular. But as I exchange glances between the paper and his chestnut eyes, something clicks into place. A moment of understanding between two wandering souls trying to connect on foreign land, both of us holding opposite ends of the same piece of rope, hoping to meet somewhere in the middle.
So I say, “Oh, of course. Bambooza.”
Jennifer Lai was born and raised in Hawaii, but now resides in Washington state. Her work can be found forthcoming in Flash Flood Journal, Versification, Five Minutes, and elsewhere.