I arrived in the Capital during early evening. From the airport, it was two trains to reach the city’s eastern district, the location of my old colleague’s apartment. He had written down the address and the buzzer’s name for me and I double-checked these as I lugged my rucksack through pavement drinkers. I arrived at the likely building and rang the appropriate buzzer. To my surprise, it was a woman’s voice that answered. I gave my name and she buzzed me inside.
She was waiting for me upstairs. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘come in please.’ I guessed she was a neighbour or building superintendent.
I squeezed past her, into my colleague’s hallway, still expecting him to pop his head through one of the doorways. It had a smell of detergent—this sort of lemon.
‘You’ve been before?’ the woman asked me.
I explained that this was my first visit, that my colleague had moved here after he left my department.
‘OK,’ she said, before giving me a hurried tour of the facilities. She showed me the series of dials and hanging strings that made the shower function, showed where the coffee pot was stored, how to use the door keys properly.
‘Thanks very much,’ I said, in her language, ‘but my colleague will no doubt talk me through all this when he arrives.’
I was assuming then that my colleague, held up at his department, had called ahead so that this neighbour or superintendent could let me in safely. There seemed little point in having her waste her time with the full tour though.
She looked at me like I was subnormal. ‘He isn’t here,’ she said. ‘He isn’t coming now.’
I realised I was still carrying my rucksack, so I took it off. ‘If he’s not coming then where is he?’ In my confusion, I spoke a little quickly and had to repeat: where is he?
The superintendent gave a mighty shrug, a hefty eye-roll. ‘It’s not my business.’
‘I mean, shall I expect him tonight?’
‘Tonight, tomorrow, it’s not my business.’
I nodded. I looked around the living area, which was swiftly growing dark. It was airy and high-ceilinged with long windows, a kitchenette in an alcove.
The superintendent asked me if I would be comfortable and I said yes, in her language. I felt like I should ask her more questions but nothing occurred to me, so I said yes again. She gave me the basic idea of a smile and let herself out—you could hear her whistling all the way up the staircase.
I went back into the hallway and found the door leading to the bedroom—singular. There was no second sleeping area. I assumed my colleague was planning to relegate me to the sofa but I decided to set up camp in his room for now. There were a couple of Pils in the fridge but not much else, so I helped myself to those. I went out onto the shallow balcony and watched the street to see if he would arrive.