You’re Not Allowed to Sub-Let!
Last week a complete stranger moved into my house while I was out at work.
It was the last thing I needed that day. Work had been terrible – a written warning this time, instead of the usual barrage of verbal abuse from my boss about not hitting targets. As he was talking at me I could feel a stress rash creeping across my chest. I couldn’t say a word, just nodded compliantly and went back to sit at my desk until it felt appropriately late enough to slink off home.
I lost my key and had to beg a spare off the neighbour. And then I opened the front door onto an unexpected and wildly inconvenient pile of boxes. I live alone and I love it. That’s what I tell everyone who asks why I’m not already married or, in lieu of that golden ambition, sharing my sacred, private living space with a flatmate. I was supposed to get my own place, I had the mortgage lined up, but then I got made redundant so it all fell through and now I’m renting. But renting on my own, I was very clear with the landlord on that point and I cover the rent so…what were these boxes and half a dozen splitting carrier bags doing in the hall?
I wasn’t scared, no burglar actually contributes pieces of furniture and boxes of tut after all. But I couldn’t believe the landlord was breaking contract and squeaking in another tenant without even notifying me, let alone reducing my rent.
I stormed upstairs and saw the spare room door, which I keep shut so it doesn’t trigger my agoraphobic issues around too much gaping space, wide open and giving a view onto a once blissfully empty spare room now stacked with boxes and strewn with odd socks and IKEA ‘how to assemble’ guides.
I found a young guy, a good few years younger than me, a student I’d say, with abundant hair and ridiculously healthy looking teeth, tinkering about on a guitar. Made me shudder.
I confronted him, of course – I mean, what the hell was he doing here? Probably not his fault, some mix-up with the landlord, but that didn’t mean I had to be civil. Any encouragement on my part could end up with him staying on indefinitely while the landlord sorted his act out which, going by previous performance, was likely to be some considerable time.
So we struck a balance. He couldn’t touch my food – boy, he got a bollocking if he did (even SuperNoodles cost money) – and I didn’t moan about the guitar playing, even though I’m convinced there’s only a finite number of acoustic versions of ‘Hallelujah’ the human ear can tolerate and, at most, that total is one.
I kept phoning the landlord about reducing my rent but he just left me voicemails saying it was all agreed on and I’d signed the contract. If I didn’t like it I could…
It’s not like my flatmate was a nuisance. To be honest, I hardly ever saw him. When I got back from work there’d be the tiniest whiff of candle smoke, a dropped receipt in the hallway, a scribbled message by the phone – always from my Dad. I just got used to him being there I suppose and I started to relax again.
But then the music started to really annoy me. It wasn’t just his guitar playing anymore. He started singing along, playing drum n bass tracks he liked, everything ramped up to maximum volume. It got so that I didn’t have any peace.
I stayed out of the house more, just walking the streets, staring at the river from the bridge. But then my flatmate started to follow me when I went out, I’d catch the shadow of him lurking around the corner, hear the front door close again softly after I’d just locked it behind me, his footsteps tracing my own out onto the road.
I’d stopped answering the phone at this point. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I just wanted some peace. And that’s when my Dad called round. I didn’t answer the door but he just let himself in with the spare key I’d forgotten he had. “What’s going on, love?” When I saw his kindly face, I couldn’t hold it in anymore and everything came out, tears, the whole story about my flatmate, all the noise. Dad said he wasn’t having this anymore, I wasn’t to be upset by this new flatmate who didn’t have a right to be here. And he knocked on the spare room door.
“I don’t think he’s in,” I told Dad who raised an eyebrow and opened the door.
“There’s nothing here.” I peered over Dad’s shoulder into the room, at the messy unmade bed, the stacks of books over the floor, the guitar propped against the windowsill. “Darling, there’s nothing here. It’s an empty room.” And to prove it Dad walked right through all the boxes, the bed, everything, just like a ghost. And then he turned and looked at me. “Oh God, sweetheart, not this – not again.”