I spent two and a half days in Belfast as part of my 2 week Christmas market extravaganza before I went home in 2011. It definitely had a different vibe than the cities I’ve been to in the Republic of Ireland, but I liked Belfast’s gritty exterior: the bullet holes in the buildings, intimidating street art, and of course the massive gate that had separated the neighbourhoods during the Belfast troubles. It was all a reminder of what the city had gone through not that long ago, but I felt perfectly safe walking through the streets on my own.
I was staying in a hostel near the university. It wasn’t amazing, but there was a good group there my first night. We stayed up for hours drinking beer while a friendly Aussie boy taught me how to (properly) play pool in the common room. It was the typical hostel life, and as usual, I quickly made friends. Sadly they were all scheduled to leave the next day, and as we said our goodbyes my dorm emptied out, and I had the room to myself. It was nice, but I hoped a new group would move in soon so I could make some new friends.
The next day I heard the new group before I saw them. It was pouring rain so I had taken a nap after going to bed so late the night before. I heard a guitar, some really awful singing, and headed down to see who was making all the noise. As I walked in the common room I realized I was the only girl, the rest of the room was filled with loud and enthusiastic Scotsmen. I introduced myself and joined the group, where I was handed a beer, and quickly fell into conversation. It turns out this was a Christmas party of sorts for the group who were co-workers from Glasgow, and they were only here for the night. While most of them were my age there were two older men in the group as well, both in their 40’s with children who they were more than happy to talk about. As the hours passed we made dinner, drank some more, and then decided to go out.
Our first stop was a club. An incredibly empty club. But we didn’t care and the DJ played great music that kept us on the dance floor. One of the guys danced me across the floor in some weird Polish waltz that didn’t come close to matching the beat of the music. But we didn’t care and laughed the whole time. After an hour or so we left, heading for a pub instead. We choose an outdoor booth, complete with a fire pit and ordered our drinks.
Tradition in Ireland and Scotland is that everyone buys a round, and in our large group I got beer after beer after beer, all of them refusing to let me ‘the girl’ pay. After all, they said, they were celebrating and I was good enough to join them and keep them company.
As we hopped from pub to pub I seemed to always have a full drink in my hand; a pint of cider, a shot, and towards the end my Canadian staple: a bottle of Coors Light. As I felt my head feeling fuzzier and fuzzier I decided to cut myself off; I had a tour of the Antrim Coast and the Giant’s Causeway the next day, and didn’t want to be hungover on a day-long bus trip. But the buyers; most commonly one of the older men, wouldn’t take no for an answer and continued buying me drinks, no matter my protests. Feeling guilty I carried my beers with me to the washroom, dumping them down the sink to avoid drinking them, but every time I came back with an empty, a full one was put in my hands by the smiling man the younger guys called Uncle.
Although we left and travelled around as a group, we separated at the pub. The teenagers found some younger girls to flirt with while I danced and laughed with the 20 year olds. The two older men laughed with us but mainly sat by the bar watching our fun. Thinking nothing of it I continued to laugh and dance, getting pulled into some crazy jig that soon had the whole pub on their feet much to the delight of the musicians. Sure I had drank too much, but I was okay and I was having an absolute blast.
But as time wore on I realized how late I was getting, and knew that in only a few hours I had a bus tour. “I’m going to head back” I told the guys. “Nooo!” they yelled, dragging me back on the floor for another crazy dance. At that point one of the older guys, the one that kept buying the drinks, came to dance too. “Heyyy Uncle!” I said, laughingly, calling him the same nickname that the others had. “You don’t call me that.” He told me seriously, “In fact I think you should give me a kiss.” He said, smiling, but seemingly not joking.
Suddenly things went from being fun to uncomfortable. It felt wrong and there was something creepy in the way he smiled at me. It was definitely time for me to leave. Breaking away, I left the dance floor and grabbed my coat. “Say goodbye to the others for me?” I asked one of the guys my age at the bar, “I’m heading back.”
“I’ll come with you.” Said a voice behind me. I turned around to see that Uncle had followed me off the dance floor and also had his coat in his hand. Startled I looked to the other guy, and, not wanting to be alone with Uncle I asked him to walk me home. “You’ll be fine. He promised, giving me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. “Uncle’s good, he’s got a little girl, you’ll be safe with him.” Nodding in assent I waved goodbye and headed out the door with Uncle on my heels.
We weren’t two minutes gone before he grabbed for my hand, trying to hold it as we walked. Unsure of what to do I pulled away and put them in my pockets. “Aww c’mon girlie” he slurred, a lot more drunk that I had realized earlier. He tried again to tug my hand out of my pocket.
Uncomfortable, I pulled away and changed the conversation, asking if he knew which direction we were going in because, to be honest, I had no clue where we were. But, offended by my obvious rejection, he quickly snapped.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You don’t know where we’re going? Jesus fucking Christ, what good are you? Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!”
I was completely shocked. Turning around I walked away towards a man further down the street. Walking as fast as I could I approached the man and asked for directions. He was kind enough to pull out his phone and find it for me on a map, giving Uncle enough time to catch up. Telling me where to go he looked at me, and at Uncle, before asking if he wanted me to walk him there. I debated saying yes, but it wasn’t too far and there were other people around. Deciding I was safe I declined the offer, thanked him, and headed for the hostel.
“I need to piss” Uncle said, behind me, as I walked away. Ignoring him I kept going, knowing he would stop behind me to find a bush or a wall. I picked up my pace and ran up the hostel stairs, closing the door behind me and rushed up to my dorm. Thankfully it was a female only dorm, but unfortunately, no one else had moved in and I had the room to myself. I waited awhile before I grabbed my toiletries and walked back downstairs to the washrooms. Creeping quietly past the other dorms I got to the bottom level where, to my surprise I found Uncle passed out on the common room table. As quietly as possible I snuck around him to the communal bathroom where I brushed my teeth before rushing back upstairs- not even bothering to wash the makeup off my face.
As I got ready for bed I shoved my backpack, and a chair, up against the door, barricading myself inside. Check in time was long over, so there was no need to worry about someone coming in later than I did. Satisfied that I was safe I fell asleep, only to wake up a few hours later with an incredibly full bladder. But going downstairs meant going past Uncle, and at nearly 4am there was no staff at the desk if there was a problem. That thought gave me chills.
So in the end I did the only thing I could think of. I peed in a lined garbage can, and dumped it out the window in the rain. Shoving the garbage liner in an extra plastic bag I knotted it up to be thrown in the garbage in the morning, and just in case, washed out the garbage pail with some water from my bottle. It was gross, embarrassing, and even humiliating. But I didn’t care, because in my mind all of that was better than risking going downstairs.
Was it overboard? Maybe. Looking back, it’s more than likely that I overreacted. But, in that moment, I didn’t care. After a year as a victim’s worker I’d hear my share of horror stories from female travellers assaulted on the road, and although they weren’t common, I’d heard enough to know that they happened. I was 22 years old and alone on the road, I needed to do what made me feel safe.
Thankfully, by the time I got up for my tour, the Scotsmen were gone. They had an early flight back to Glasgow so I was able to get ready no problem. Relieved, I grabbed my coat and waved to the girl at the front desk before I left for my tour.
“Wait a sec” she called me back.
Stepping back inside I asked her what was up.
“The Scottish guys wanted me to say bye to you this morning, I guess you went out with them last night?
I nodded, and she handed me a piece of paper.
“One of them left his number, he said you should call him when you go to Scotland.”
Putting on a fake smile I took it from her and left. Without looking at the writing I threw the slip of paper in the nearest garbage as I walked down the street. It might not have been Uncle’s but it didn’t matter; there was no freaking way.