We had lived together before; a couple of times, but both times turned out to be short term because of money. Always money. Marco and I had met in Paris. I had arrived at the hostel on Marco’s last day. He managed to find a place to live on the French economy, meaning he wasn’t relying on U.S. dollars, and for reasons I’ll never know, after a few bottles of wine out in a courtyard looking up at the illuminated Eiffel tower, he invited me to move in. I said yes because living on “the economy” was more than backpacking it meant that you were going to stay, and though I hadn’t intended on it, I wanted to stay. Immediately after I had moved into Marco’s flat in Paris, a tiny five-room shotgun apartment that he shared with multiple people from all over, he introduced me to a couple of friends he called kids. One was a 45-year-old Parisian man and his 17-year-old sidekick, a kid from Somalia who had immigrated to France when he was 14. They had been living on the streets in Paris, and Marco befriended them one evening along the Seine. Marco let them move in and stay with us, but eventually he had to ask them to leave since they weren’t paying any rent, and he was basically supporting them. They had worn out their welcome, and as a result so had Marco and I for bringing them home with us. The household had asked us to leave too.
We were both broke, and neither of us had a job. I was in a panic.I had worked for four months in the states working two jobs to save up enough money to get to France. I would go to work at nine in the morning at a tiny little co-op and work till five p.m. then ride my bike to my friend’s house where I was staying rent free, sleep for five hours, wake up to make dinner and then go to my job at a bakery where I worked the graveyard shift loading bread trucks with meth addicts. Then I would ride home at five in the morning and sleep till I had to go back to the co-op. I did this everyday only having an evening or morning off. My life consisted of sleeping, eating, and working. It was the only way I could save enough money and make my dream of visiting France a reality. In less than a month I had gone through all my money and barely had enough to afford to change my return flight to an earlier date. I was devastated. I would have rather jumped into the Seine then go back to the U.S.. Marco said we needed American dollars, and he knew exactly how to get them. He convinced me to use the last of my money for a train ticket to Stuttgart, Germany where he had a friend that could get us jobs on the military base. I didn’t really plan to stay in Europe as long as I had, but I think in my dreams I had hoped I could stay. Only, in my dreams I was supposed to meet a Parisian artist or musician who would fall in love with me, make me his muse, and move me into his chateau. Instead I met Marco.
“This is Francisco’s room, but we hang out in here sometimes,” Marco said, leading me into a room. “It’s kinda like the equivalent of a family room.”
“Francisco? Is he Spanish?”
“Ukrainian. Him and Sebby. You should hear those muthufuckers talk in their own language. It sounds like two devils swallowing glass.”
“I never would have thought of ‘Francisco’ as a Ukrainian name,” I said.
“He named himself that because he says he’s a Latin lover.”
“I don’t know about love, but he sure gets some.”
I stepped into Francisco’s spacious room, which contained a twin-sized futon shoved in the far corner next to a large window with no curtains. This allowed an unobstructed view into the neighbor’s place across the street. On the floor beside the bed was a tall metal lamp that sat atop a small wooden crate. The crate doubled as a bookend for a long row of books, at least fifty books if not more, that lined the entire wall. A large wardrobe armoire was pushed against a wall. Beside the door were two couches, a coffee table, and a rocking chair.
“You can set your bag down anywhere in here,” Marco said.
I dropped my bag and rubbed my shoulders, following Marco through the rest of the apartment. We stepped back into the foyer and Marco opened another door that was beside the front door. I peered in expecting to see a small linen closet but instead stared at a single toilet, a roll of toilet paper and a small window that opened into a ventilation shaft. I looked back questioningly to Marco. He shrugged.
“I know. It’s gross. I think they forgot to build the shitter so last minute they put one in the air duct. Pigeons hang out in there, too.”
He shut the door to the toilet- a true example of the European term “water closet”. He opened another door.
“This place has a lot of doors,” I said.
It led into a small kitchen space. There was a tiny single metal sink filled with a short stack of dishes. Under the sink cleaning supplies and pots and pans shared a small shelf. Mismatched dishes packed the three cupboard spaces, none of which had any doors. The dish rack covered the minuscule counter space. There wasn’t even enough space to set a glass. The other side of the sink had a double-burner stove and a miniature oven. A small Formica table was pushed up against the wall and on one side was a mustard-colored fabric recliner, and two wooden folding chairs both facing out as if people had just been sitting in them. On the floor at the foot of the recliner were piles of CDs and a CD player. The room was a combination kitchen/ living room/dining room, which was tiny, but comfortable enough. A single window was at the back of the kitchen, which shared the dark view with the balcony we had just been standing on. Nestled below the window was a mini fridge. Across from the fridge was another door. Marco opened it with a flourish.
“The shower room,” he said.
It was a shower room unlike any I had ever seen. There wasn’t a toilet, confirming Marco’s theory that they forgot to build one. There wasn’t room for a toilet anyway. There was barely any room to move. When the door was opened it touched the edge of the shower allowing just one person at a time to stand in front of the small porcelain sink and brush their teeth in the small mirror. On the sink was an orange can of pomade, a dirty bar of soap, a rolled up tube of toothpaste, and two toothbrushes in a short glass. Towels hung limp from the single towel rack. The shower confused me. It was at least two feet off the ground built up on a tiled base, and hanging from a rickety metal pipe was a clear and shredded plastic curtain. The nozzle, which was the plastic hand-held type that attached to a faucet, was lying on the bottom of the shower. It wasn’t that the shower-head was broken — a shower-head was never built. The base of the shower was higher than a deep claw-foot tub, but it wasn’t a tub — just tiles like you see in a high school gym and enough lip to keep the water from spilling over. Judging from the towels strewn and clumped in damp piles on the floor, the water spilled over often. There were two faucet handles, the cold, which was intact, and the hot, which only had a bolt sticking out of the tile. I was perplexed just looking at it.
“How the hell are you supposed to get into this thing?” I asked peering over Marco’s shoulder. “Do you use a step ladder?”
Marco picked up a rusty crescent wrench that was on the shower floor next to the limp and forlorn shower-head.
“Okay this is how you turn on the hot water,” he said shaking the wrench at me, “actually lemme tell you how to take a shower. Turn the cold water on first because the hot water comes out hotter than a mutha fucker. I’m talking like a ‘boiled chicken peel your flesh down to the bones’ kinda hot. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard people screaming from this bathroom – myself included. Now, once you turn on the cold water, get down real low and use the pliers to turn the hot water on. But be careful, because it drips out hot water from the opening there.” He pointed to the broken tile in the wall.
“Why do I need to get down real low?” I asked.
“Because that there,” he said, pointing to a large water heater attached to the wall beside the shower, “blows up every fuckin’ time you turn the hot water on.”
I looked with disbelief from his face to the small square water heater. It was painted the same white color as the walls, but the paint was beginning to chip and expose the rusted metal underneath. The front panel was closed, but not tightly, and there was a slight warble of the metal where the lock and key used to be.
“I’m not fuckin’ witchoo. It’s crazy as shit. Just fuckin’ explodes — this huge boom! Scares the shit out of me every time. I swear to god one of these days my black ass is gonna get shot out of this fuckin’ room like a bullet all chard and naked an’ shit, and out into the next building where they’re doin’ all the construction. I just know it’s gonna be lunchtime. That’s embarrassing.”
“Really?” I could not fathom taking a shower. It was not what I wanted my obituary to say: “Charred American woman found dead hanging naked from power lines after being catapulted from a Czech bathroom.”
“Sometimes, it blows up on its own — blows the fuckin’ door open. Okay out.” He pointed over my head, and I backed up to get out of the room. Marco walked to a final door closest to the kitchen table and the CD player.
“This is my room,” he said.
The room was smaller than Francisco’s but still spacious. In the far corner was a box overflowing with laundry onto the wood floor. He had a single bed next to the door, and another single bed under the window. In front of the bed near the window sat a trunk that doubled as a coffee table, covered with books, papers, candles and melted wax. The window had a thin white lace curtain.
I looked around the room and examined what would be my new or temporary home. There weren’t any decorations or things up on the walls, giving the space a lonely feeling. There was an unsettled air, and I felt that I would be moving again. I shook away the sensation. I wanted to believe this was a home. If only there was at least one picture up on the wall, a poster or a photograph.