Ro­man-tic ren­dezvous

Mary Schneider con­tin­ues her saga of be­ing locked out of her Rome apart­ment in the wee hours of the morn­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TRENDS - MARY SCHNEIDER startwo@thes­tar.com.my

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

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