When we are children, we hear strange tales of sneaky and dangerous wolves, climbing into beds and fooling others. Sometimes the young are scared of these stories; but as children, many of us laughed. We laughed because we thought that they were ridiculous. Strange. Even comical. After all, it was fiction, right? Odd things from woods and distant lands happening to others so different from us.
Do these stories really prepare us for what to do if we come across a wolf in real life?
What happens when we find ourselves in far distant lands (and sometimes even at home) and we stumble across a strange wolf? Is it so comical in reality, 20 years later, when we find the wolf in our bed?
You hear stories about hostels all the time. Modern-day tales of travelling. You read others’ Facebook posts about bizarre stories and things going bump in the night. You may laugh. You may read some other stories that are devoid of comedy and gasp. You may think ‘it won’t happen to me’.
Then one day it does.
I had been travelling for a few months, staying in hostels,’ Couchsurfing’ and volunteering. 90-something-percent of these experiences were remarkable … or at least satisfactory. The rest weren’t complete nightmares. A small part of me could feel the likelihood of the flipside increasing; I thought that something odd may happen at some point, but I wasn’t completely expecting it.
Then it did.
One winter night, in a city in Poland, I found myself in a freezing-cold hostel. I was still wearing my coat indoors. Not-so-little Green Riding Hood had finally stopped chatting to some nice people in the kitchen, and made her way to her room.
I opened the door. (If I had been carrying a basket, I would have dropped it).
Lying in my bed, half under the covers, was the wolf. He seemed to be naked and I could smell him from several feet away. The wolf had his hand deep inside my travel bag. It was like he was looking for something valuable.
I had met the wolf before. . He walked in a few hours before the incident. He was in his sixties and I didn’t get great vibes from him. His supposed son came in with him and they introduced themselves. I can remember that the wolf’s hand felt rough as he shook mine. He looked deep into my eyes as he shook my hand; perhaps he was also trying to dig around to steal something from my soul. He then went to his bed, on the opposite side of the room to mine, seemingly in some kind of alcohol-induced stupor. The wolf seemed to be no fool and he knew which bed was his.
Going back to when the wolf was in my bed – it’s hard to describe the exact feeling when you come across something of this nature. I think that I handled it the right way. I kept my cool. I surprised myself and didn’t freak out too much (externally). Yet I made sure that this behaviour wasn’t okay and that something had to be done about it. (Not so easy when you’re dealing with a drunk person in denial of whom can’t speak the same language other than a few shared words of Polish).
Even the least judgemental of people may struggle to not negatively-judge someone too much in that kind of situation. I had to fight any judgement that popped up.
The truth is, there are ‘wolves’ everywhere. And the worst of them dress up like sweethearts, just like the wolf did in the story. Yet, there are wonderful people everywhere too. And often we cannot definitively separate people into good and bad, wonderful and wolfish, friend and foe, mates and t***pots. Stories, fairytales, the media, society … All of these things have played their part in creating a cognitive and psychological way of categorising people. Most of us do it without realising.
My ‘wolf’ seemed to be intoxicated. Perhaps he was trying to fill a void or drown his sorrows about something. He was almost completely naked, in a young woman’s bed, in a public room. It’s likely that he had lost his self-respect and dignity somewhere along the road and that he moral compass had gone a bit off-piste. We don’t know what had happened to him to find himself in that position. He tried to steal from someone so he must have been truly desperate.
If we spend our lives judging and characterising others without at least trying to comprehend their situations, the more likely it is that our (often false) imaginary versions of them attach onto their very true persona and they become what we see.
We I eventually managed to bring this man down to the reception area, he was shouting (in another language) ‘I’m not a thief! I’m not a thief!’.
Maybe he had been called this word many times before and it eventually contributed to his behaviour in that moment.
As my Polish wasn’t fantastic, I asked the receptionist to translate ‘I am not calling you a thief. I am not. I do not want trouble’. Suddenly, his appearance totally changed and anything one could call ‘wolfish’ faded. There were tears in his eyes and he started to apologise profusely. I then said ‘Don’t do it again. Ever’.
I really hope that he doesn’t.
He is not a wolf. I forgive this man. This human being. I hope that somewhere along the line, this middle-aged man with a family manages to replace desperation with peace. I really hope so.
What do you think about this? Does categorising people just make things worse? Or is it useful? Do stories and fairy tales help or hinder our view of the world as we grow up?
How can we help to file down the claws of ‘wolves’ and help them trim their fur?
What do you think?
One comment: Most hostels are fantastic and travelling is one of the best things I have done in my entire life. Please don’t let this blog put you off travelling! Just remember to stay safe and to research hostels before you enter. Read reviews. Check out their security system e.g. if they have CCTVs and if they work etc. On most occasions I did. I guess this one time I wasn’t thorough enough and I learnt my lesson…