A Christmas Miracle
As far as “living situations” go, I have drawn the short straw. [Well.. the shorter straw, atleast – next to homeless people. People who live in low-income housings and those whose room houses an in-law]. I pay 588 dollars a month, plus utilities, for a room the size of a sardine-can. Only, u can’t fit more than one fish in this one. I hate my roommate; and he hates my guts the morning after I had guys over. He bangs drawers, slams doors shut, leaves the toilet un-flushed – just to make a point. It’s a sharp contrast to the way he tip-toes around when the men are actually there and laughing, or coughing, or making noises as befits a man and a woman [unrelated, of reproductive age, maybe even attracted to one another] make when closeted in a room the size of, as I said, a sardine-can.
Next to his ability to get a “wot finitaQi” to a part of the kitchen cabinet that would hard-press a contortionist to reach; this is what amazes me most about him: his cunning ability to tell the days in which I needed to unwind and run around naked [which I never do – for obvious reasons] or watch the occasional sitcom, undisturbed by the creeping sounds next door. He walks in proudly, as if he is one of the Magis and bearing me a gift, and hustles and bustles around in the living room – one of the three common areas which – as is custom with living rooms – situated between my tiny room and his slightly bigger one. So I stay put; brimming with anger and resentment, wishing there was somewhere to go, someone to go to, something to do; while he either talks on the phone for two hours, in a voice that resembles a teacher scratching a blackboard with a “teMeNe” [politics.. other colleagues.. the hardship of this American life]. Cooks something that stinks to high heavens. Or listens to Amharic music from the “anchi lij, anchi lij” era, wearing a sweat suit made of the national flag [soccer-player style], as if being Ethiopian was the only achievement in his meager existence.
So, to save your sanity, and pass the time, you start fantasizing about – say – stabbing him. Or spraying the kitchen floor with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and have him take a toss across and hit his front teeth on the cutting board. Atleast slipping something into his drink that would render him unable to communicate, save using his eyelids (one squeeze for “yes”, two for “no”).
And the thought almost gives you an orgasm.
Leaving has never been an option! My roommate, although the lowest form of human after what Gregor Samsa metamorphosed into; is actually Ethiopian. Thus little chance of him cutting yours truly into pieces and stuffing arms and legs down the drain; while putting the skull aside for a trophy. The apartment also happens to be located about 9 minutes’ walk away from my two weeks a midnight work, away from the infamous Seattle commute and close to the best the city has to offer [the water front, Pike Place market, downtown Seattle]. Plus.. he’s ugly as shit [short, thick around the middle and balding heavily]. So the chance of a woman coming into the abode and trying to show who was the “lady” of the house by throwing my hard-earned plastic bags with my garbage is almost negligible.
I have decided I was “in it” for the long haul. And have held that against my roommate.
Until the call came.
[Insert the suspense music of your choice]
This was a call a colleague promised I would get before he moved into his girlfriend’s house; and out of a studio apartment which went for 600 dollar a month in the same part of town I live and work at. I never felt I stood a chance [by virtue of being black and having a bad credit]. So when I get the call from the Owner of the building; and he told me I’ve been recommended to him as a potential tenant; I was excited. When, by the end of our conversation, [after he mentioned he’s never come across a name like mine, asked what it meant; and then my country of origin, and then who colonized us/who didn’t, and then what school I went to; and then what I studied, and then what I felt about America in general and Seattle in particular; etcetera.. a bunch of “Qededa” more or less] he claimed to have liked me, that he’d give me the apartment if it was in his power to give; that I can call to chit-chat with him whenever I want; I was seeing a spot of hope.
A manager, he said, would give me a call. “I know it’s strange, my saying I will give him your number for a building I own. But I don’t like to tell him what to do. Plus I only pay him part time. But, don’t worry, he’s a gentleman. You will see that when you meet him. He’ll show you around. Whether you get the apartment or not, however, is his decision”.
“The Manager” called the next day. He wasn’t a gentleman. Infact, he wasn’t even that Managerial. He kept telling me he’d arrange for me to see the apartment; and never get back to me with time and place. He never returned my calls, or even picked them up at the hours he is supposed to be open for business. By the time I was finally able to see the place, I’ve talked to this guy more than I have talked to my mother in a year.
The real disappointment, however, was the actual place. “This isn’t right”, I remember thinking. If I came highly recommended to the owner by a colleague who barely knew me, this place has been more so by those who have been there and seen it. Through words of mouth, the fact that I was looking for an apartment near work has gotten around. And I have been offered goodlucks and I’llprayforyous, and the occasional back rub from nearly everybody aware of my existential dilemma. So come Thursday last and I got faced with a building that looks more or less like a run-down motel; with smelly carpet and no secure entrance; I was more than a tad confused.
“This is the kind of place where hookers come to get killed”, were the words I used to describe it to a friend later, “or fucked. Whichever comes first”. But, I reasoned, Paul earns about 250 dollars a day (not a week! Not a two week! But a day!!). And Paul, as well has his 1 percenter friends, have assured me this place was the way to go. “If it’s good for Paul”, I said to myself, while Mansur labored under a couch to help two young men who were moving out, “then it’s good for me”. So despite my instinct coughing blood at the prospect of moving into that place, and despite the unprofessional Manager and despite the smell that was stinging my nose like a bee; I said “I do”. Forked the 35 bucks processing fee [and my social security number, and my birthdate].
Calls came. Calls went. I was legit, the man who runs the background-check [another shady member of the staff that can’t keep his promise] told me the next day. Meet “Manzuur” and put your deposit. Only.. “Manzuur” was nowhere to be found. It was already the 10th of November and I had to give my [present] apartment a 20 day prior-to-end-of-month notice were I to leave without a stain on my character – or that of my credit history. More importantly, I wanted to give my roommate a Christmas present of my own; a little fuck-you for all the crap I’ve been putting up with for the last year or so and weren’t willing to delay the gratification for another month.
That afternoon, I called Mansur from a different phone and appealed to his finer senses. “I gotta make sure I got the apartment before giving notice; and today is the final day.”, I whined “Tell me where to come, and I will do it. Even if you aren’t in Seattle, I’d get a taxi, pay whatever it takes, and come. I can’t lose this chance and I don’t wanna be homeless by January 1st”.
The appeal didn’t fall on deaf ears. He softened and promised to meet me the next morning. Even threw a sweet deal on the charmed conversation by saying he would come so early I won’t even have to miss more than an hr.’s work. “He has said you can, so you can”, he grudgingly admitted in his thick Egyptian accent – referring to the Accountant, “Come tomorrow. And bring the deposit. We will clean up the apartment before January 1st. If not, we will note it down when you sign your lease.” etc etc.
It was a bad deal, even I was ready to admit that! The toilet may not be fixed, nor that gash on the roof made whole by the time I move in. I would have to pay a deposit, first and last month rent as well [and, from the way Mansur has been behaving, I know I would not see a buck of that; God-willing I’ve lived to see anything a year down the line]. “However”, I resolutely chanted, “if it was good enough for Paul; it should be good enough for me”.
I got the money order made, leaving a blank for name of apartment [for I have forgotten to ask Mansur what it went by; or it was impossible to tell from his accent. Building names are one of those things one assumes one would see before one comes into the building.. somewhere outside the door. Except this one didn’t have a door; the outside was the world around; the asphalt, the traffic, the biting Seattle weather]. And came home feeling excited at the prospect of having not to do this for long.
Here is when the plot gets twisted.
That night, at around 7:40 pm I got a call . I wasn’t there to take the call. I was doing my laundry at the basement, and making tea in the breaks in between [which had the kettle whistling, making my roommate leap into action; a typical passive aggressive action common to Seattleites and Ethiopians, of turning up the volume of his TV in protest]. And when I got the message, I almost didn’t call back. If its Mansur or one of his buds, I thought, and they are cancelling on me, I am gonne call the owner and tell on them, I swear!
But something, my guardian angel perhaps, must have nudged me. I called back, stated who it was and asked why I was needed. The man at the other end said he was SoAndSo from SuchAndSuch building. Said he understood from [mentioned owner’s name] that I was interested in an apartment he was managing that just got vacated. If I were still interested, he added, he can show it to me at my earliest convenience. Then ensued the longest, most confused, conversation of my life. Me trying to explain to the man that I have already made arrangements with Mansur to put the deposit on apartment No. 103 tomorrow morning; and him denying knowing a Mansur or having an apartment 103 free.
“The only room available.. and the one SoAndSo [again owner’s name] told me you’d be interested in is apartment No. ThisAndThat”, he repeated, “The one Paul used to live in. Behind Starbucks. Next to SuchAndSuch building. I don’t know who you have been talking to but I am its Manager and…”
By the time the dust has settled, he was convinced I was being scammed by some amateurs and I was convinced my troubles of late were giving me really bad nightmares.
It was still with the nightmarish feeling that I got up at 8 a.m. the next morning and walked to the said apartment building which was actually behind the building Paul mentioned it was located. When I met Mansur in a building about 2 blocks down from there a few days ago, I’ve wondered about this “minor” conflict. Have even mentioned the owner’s name for special treatment, drawing nothing but blank look and the continuing of shitty attitude. But like all warning flags, have chosen to ignore it; secure in my knowledge that I have got the right man and I need to find a new place before the year was over.
The building I’m about to see, needless to say; was the next best thing to my Escondido apartment [which I had when I could afford a husband; who could afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment for fifteen hundred dollars in a posh Escondido neighborhood]. This was a clean apartment. It was a secure building. The manager was soft-spoken and respectful. More importantly, he was white (thus able to keep his black-biases to himself and act professionally). I was shown a total of three separate rooms; a kitchen, beautifully remodeled and fully-furnished with brand new electrical appliances and hard-wood fixtures. A toilet/bathroom; with half its installation done, but some remaining. And a bedroom, with a shag-carpet and an actual window I can look out of. Plenty of room in between, atleast three closets and no smell whatsoever.
If this was The Simpsons and I was Homer, I would have started going: “ohmyGodohmyGodohmyGod” at this juncture. But I didn’t. I only asked one question: “What are my chances of getting this apartment?”
“Oh, it’s yours”, the man said, casually, “SoandSo has told me you can have it if you want to. He thought you were a very pleasant person and I see nothing to the contrary..”
The rest, as they say, is history.
[If you must know: I said I’d move in that very afternoon if they want me to. He said they need to make sure everything was fixed and in working order before I did. I said “Zare endet negtolign?”; or atleast the English – approximate – version of it. He said “bring the deposit whenever you can and you can have it”. He sweetened the deal by adding that I would only be charged for the month of January, plus the one year lease, were I to decide to move in earlier – and everything was fixed as planned. I was almost walking out of there when I remembered a money order I have had already made: to deposit on an apartment I hated everything about. And how it didn’t have a name on it. I took it out, “Will this do?” I asked, although not as dramatically. He said it would, but it would feel less of a burden to him if I could write my name, the apartment’s number and what it was for on it. I walked out of there, 10 minutes later, a changed man.
Or woman, anyway.]
So.. in the tradition of lame sitcoms that come to an end with an “educational” bit, let me finish this by noting what I learned.
Here is what I learned:
That you can make the worst decisions in your life, when you are being motivated and rushed by hate.
That you should never turn your back on your instincts, however badly you want to.
And that there is such a thing as an 11th hour miracle. And it may around to visit you when it feels like you got nowhere to go, no one turn to. It may even hit around Christmas time. [Or a week or so before the world comes to end – for Mayan Calendar Sellers!]
And … oh yeah… Psalms 23… totally rocks.
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