by Uday Mukerji
My landlady knocked on my door on a Sunday morning and gave me the final notice. She said, “Michael, I can’t wait anymore. You gotta pay me now … you’re two weeks late.”
“Give me one more week, Mrs. Smith.” I pleaded.
“That’s it, Michael. You have exactly one week,” and she walked away, but she certainly didn’t look happy. And that was my second reminder in one week.
I closed the door behind her and kicked the beanbag on the floor in my living room. I knew she had every right to demand her rent on time. Am I that worthless? Did I study creative writing for nothing? I couldn’t think of anything more humiliating than that. I failed my parents, my landlord … and more importantly, I failed myself.
Since I had moved to New Your City seven months before, although I had been cautious about my spending, with every passing month, my savings were fast depleting. The small freelance jobs weren’t enough to cover my expenses. I had applied for over thirty jobs but still got nothing. Doesn’t anyone need a copywriter anymore? Maybe moving to New York wasn’t such a good idea after all.
I pulled out my coat and walked out of my apartment, thinking the fresh air might help clear my head. I walked around aimlessly for about an hour and ended up on a bench in the park – opposite my apartment building.
I could ask my friends – Megan, Peter, or James – for a loan. But I doubted they had the money. I knew they would do anything for me, but I also knew they had just started their careers, and none of them were sitting on a secret stash. And they might even feel bad for not being able to help.
I had a full view of my apartment building from the bench. I lived on the fourth floor of an old, six-story building opposite the park. The hanging ivy and the string of hearts, the rubber plants, and the palm trees in my bedroom balcony looked pretty from the park. It reminded me why I had rented this place in the first place. I had fallen in love with that balcony since the first day I saw it.
However, one look at the second balcony attached to my guest room put me to shame. The plants were dying. How did that happen?
I was so preoccupied with job hunting that I hardly ever went to that room anymore. But that gave me an idea. Why don’t I sublet it until I find a steady job? I wasn’t using the room, anyway.
I rushed back home, opened my laptop, and jumped to the classified section. I had no idea that scores of people were looking for sublets in my neighborhood. Why didn’t I think of it earlier? Temporary life support: that’s all I needed.
One particular ad under ‘Temporary Accommodation Wanted’ drew my attention. It read ‘Sublet wanted for six months. Call Alison.’
Six months sounded reasonably good to me—not too short and not too long, either. I didn’t want to drag this sublet thing any longer than it was needed. I loved my privacy. And if can’t find a job within the next six months, then I should pull the plug off my big city dream, anyway.
I quickly grabbed my cell phone and called that number. I didn’t even give myself enough time to think about how the new arrangement or a lady in the house could affect my daily lifestyle.
“Hello!” A girl answered the phone.
“Hi, I’m Michael. I’m calling regarding the sublet you’re looking for. I have a spare room opposite Columbus Park.”
“That sounds great. When can I see it? …You know what, I’m in the neighborhood now,” replied the girl.
“Well, now is good too. Gimme ten minutes.” And I texted her the address.
Our first meeting didn’t last more than ten minutes. At the first look, I knew she wasn’t the kind of roommate I wanted. But I told myself, this was only temporary. First of all, I had never wanted to share my apartment with another person, let alone a total stranger like Alison. But I was desperate, and I was running out of choices.
Two days later, Alison moved in with her two bags and three carton boxes. She paid me her share of the current month’s rent and one month’s advance. I topped it up with another forty dollars, and when I walked over to Mrs. Smith’s apartment to pay her the overdue rent, I felt good.
But unfortunately, the good feeling didn’t last long. By the time I came back to my apartment, she had already started re-arranging the furniture in my living room. Alison asked, “What do you think? Looks more spacious, right?”
“Sure,” and I walked away, thinking sharing an apartment with someone you love and sharing it with a stranger were two different things. But I also had no choice. I must get used to it.
That evening, once again, as I was removing the last few pictures of Kate from the living room, Alison asked from behind, “She is pretty. Is that your girlfriend?”
“Yes, she was,” I replied curtly.
“We broke up about six months ago after I decided to move here.”
“That sucks. Are you on Tinder now?” asked Alison
“Sorry, I’m not looking for any hook-up or relationship right now.”
“I didn’t see you on Facebook or Snapchat either. Why?”
“No reason. It’s just that I’m not much into social media.”
Alison looked shocked. “How you can live without social media today? I have more than eight hundred friends on Facebook alone.”
“Eight hundred?” I repeated after her in disbelieve.
“Oh, that’s nothing compared to my friend, Jeff’s two thousand odd friends.”
“What do you guys talk about? I wouldn’t know how to even touch base with all of them.”
“We don’t talk much. But keeping in touch with Facebook is easy. I can show you if you like.”
I said, “Don’t worry, I have only three friends here. I can manage without any help from social media.”
I knew living with a stranger in the same house would be difficult, but living with Alison proved to be unbearable within a very few days – even under my desperate circumstances. But I kept quiet.
I never understood why Alison took pictures of a bowl of cereal or a Chinese takeaway and shared those images with her friends. Do they care?
But what really pissed me off was the dirty dishes and frying pans she left behind in the kitchen sink. I politely brought it up a couple of times, still with no results.
But two weeks later, one evening, finally, all hell broke loose. I heard the phone ringing in my apartment from outside in the hallway. I quickly unlocked the door and ran to the phone. “Hello!”
But the sound of the music was so loud from behind Alison’s door, I could hardly hear anything.
“How was your first day at work?” asked my mother from the other side of the phone.
“It was great, Mom” I screamed at the top of my voice.
“Why’re you shouting? What’s going on there?”
“Sorry, Mom, let me call you back. I need to take care of something first.” And I hung up.
Although I liked Meghan Trainor and most of her songs, I was curious to know why Alison was playing it so loud. Is she having a party or what? How many of her eight-hundred friends are in there? I was going to barge in, but the thought of embarrassing her in front of her friends pulled me back.
Besides, I didn’t want anything unpleasant to take away the good feeling I had been having the whole day after finding a job after seven months. I wanted to take a long bath and bask in that triumphant mood for the rest of the evening. The job surely hadn’t come easy.
I had sent lots of applications and had been to more than a dozen interviews. But nothing had happened except for some occasional regret messages. The bad economy, budget cuts, and hiring freezes; I had heard it all. So, I wasn’t willing to let that happy feeling go just yet.
The next morning, when I woke up, I wanted to have a chat with Alison before I left for the office. Although I didn’t want to kick her out just because I had found a job, I wanted to remind her of the terms of the sublet – no loud noises or parties in the apartment. My neighbors wouldn’t tolerate that nuisance, anyway.
I had no idea what time she had gone to bed after the party. But I also had no choice; I only had a half-an-hour window in the morning. I didn’t want a repeat of the same thing in the evening.
I knocked on her door, but no one answered. I knocked again.
“Come in.” I heard a faint voice from the other side of the door.
Alison was still lying on her bed. She made an effort to sit up. Her eyes and face were all puffy and swollen; her eyeliners were running all over the face. Was she crying? I asked, “What happened? Are you sick or what? What time did you finish the party?”
“The loud music? What was that for?”
Allison burst into tears and hid her face under the pillows.
I had no idea what was going on. I ran to her side of the bed. She mumbled, “My mother passed away yesterday.”
“What? … How? … I’m so sorry, Alison. Silly me, I heard the loud music and thought you were having a party”
“Hey, sorry about that. I wanted to cry out loud, but I didn’t want anyone to hear me. After all, the sound of tears is never music to anybody’s ears.”
I didn’t know what else to say. “What can I do to help? Do you want me to call any of your friends?”
She looked me in the eye and said, “Define friends, Michael … and no, thank you, I don’t want a sad face emoji on my phone. … That’s all they are good for. They’re just Facebook friends, recommended randomly. There’s no friendship between us.”
I hugged her, and she burst into tears again.
About the author
More at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15253718.Uday_Mukerji