Mary Schneider continues her saga of being locked out of her Rome apartment in the wee hours of the morning.
AS I sat there shivering outside the locked apartment door, I decided that I would wait until eight o’clock (almost four hours away), then knock on a neighbour’s door and ask, in my hugely inefficient Italian, if I could use their telephone to call the housing agent. However, it did occur to me that they might mistake me for a deranged vagrant, what with my pyjamas and dishevelled appearance, and shoo me away like a stray dog.
In the meantime, I needed to keep warm. I went back down to the ground floor and opened the door to a large walk-in broom cupboard. I clicked on the light switch and a welcoming yellow glow emanated from the wall. Just the perfect spot away from the chill November air.
After more than two mind-and body-numbing hours cupping my freezing hands around that light, I heard a sound coming from the ground floor apartment.
I emerged from the broom cupboard, tiptoed down the corridor and stopped outside the apartment door. I heard the sound of a zipper being closed. Possibly a jacket, I thought. Then another zipper. Possibly a backpack. Then another much longer zipper. Possibly a body bag. Then there was silence.
I took a step back from the door, just as it was being flung open. A wiry man in a leather jacket and a cap, looking like someone from a French cigarette advertisement, looked at me somewhat taken aback.
Words came pouring out of my mouth in a torrent as I told this complete stranger why I was standing outside his front door in my pyjamas. Then huge tears of relief and self-pity began rolling down my face. He smiled kindly and invited me into his apartment to use his telephone.
I could have been another candidate for a body bag, but the fact that he didn’t close the door properly behind me was a little reassuring. Then he dialled the number of the housing agent scribbled on my key ring. I exhaled deeply. It wouldn’t be long until I was back in my warm apartment again.
“We will send someone around as soon as possible,” said the agent, after I’d repeated my story to him.
“As soon as possible?” I wanted to shout, but didn’t. “What does as soon as possible mean? Another hour? Another day? Another week?”
It would have been foolish to shout at the agent, a man wielding all the power. One little irritated comment from me and I might as well have crawled back into the broom cupboard for a week.
Instead, I said: “Thank you. That would be great. But please hurry. I’m just so incredibly cold because I’m only wearing thin pyjamas.”
I then thanked Mr Zipper profusely and reluctantly removed myself from his warm apartment.
I was about to walk back into the broom cupboard, but realised how ridiculous this would appear to him, so I trudged back up to my apartment, sat on the cold stairs and waited.
To pass the time and keep my mind off the cold, I tried to remember the names of all the people in my class at high school and what they are doing now. One got pregnant at 16, went to work in a factory, and spends all her spare time drinking; another worked hard, invested his savings in property at the right time, retired young and is happily married with two children; and yet another went from one deadend job to another, lost his hair and some of his teeth and gained about 50kg; then there’s me, the woman who ...
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone frantically ringing the doorbell and calling my name. Half an hour had barely passed since my telephone call and help had already arrived.
I rushed downstairs and opened the street door. The man standing on the cobblestones outside had a crazed look: wild staring eyes and unkempt hair. He pushed past me and bounded up the stairs two at a time.
Outside my apartment door, he removed an X-ray sheet from a bag.
My life had taken a surreal turn. What was he going to do? Show me the fracture on his skull that made him behave inappropriately at times?
I watched as he manipulated the X-ray sheet between the door and the doorframe. Then, in one swift moment, he pulled it down past the spot where the lock was housed, pressing his knee on the door as he did so. The door opened and swung inwards. It had taken him all of 10 seconds.
“X-rays are very good!” he said, as he tucked it back into his bag. Then he was gone.
I shivered, both with cold and from the shock of discovering how easy it was for someone to get into the apartment.
It took me a hot shower and half a day to warm up after that experience. And every time I heard the slightest creak in that apartment, the hair on the back of my neck would stand on end.
See last week’s column: http:// thestar.com.my/ lifestyle/story. asp?file=/2010/11/22/lifefocus/ 7455608&sec=lifefocus