‘Hi! I’m Terry, please, come in.’
The young woman’s hand shakes a little as she holds the door open for me. Her melancholic eyes are already apologising to me as she ushers me in, onto a suspiciously damp carpet. The framed glass door closes behind me.
‘You must be Andre. Looking to rent the spare room? Yeah, it’s just upstairs. I’ll give you a tour.’
Terry walks slightly ahead of me. The first door in the hallway is flaking. Years of service have ravaged its russet paint, to reveal shitty MDF cowering in the light. Terry knocks, then enters.
‘David? Just popping in,’ She says, entirely too late.
David’s room is dark. He sits on a stiff chair by a small window. In his hand is a small, red book. His face is drawn, but the curtains aren’t. His dark skin melts into the shadow, leaving two bright eyes staring at me. In the corner, an IKEA desk strains under the weight of books. I tilt my head to read the titles.
Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity.
A Discourse on Modern Immigration Policies.
‘Light reading,’ I say with a smile. David doesn’t reply. Terry’s hand twitches. She smiles apologetically to him, then we continue our tour.
The kitchen is cramped. The fridge hides beneath magnets from every corner of England, chronicling someone’s pilgrimage. The smell of linoleum sticks itself to the top of my mouth. We move on.
The staircase is too steep. It’s the kind that curves around a central pillar, the kind that smells of rot and sags under your feet.
‘Your room is just next to mine. It’s nothing fancy, but, it’s a roof over my head,’ Terry opens a door. A wave of incense rolls out. Her small room is made smaller by a pile of clothes on the floor, and a broken bicycle leaning on the wall. A hole splinters the wall by her bed. She notices me staring.
‘I have Tourette’s,’ She says, smiling with her mouth but not her eyes. ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing big.’
‘Right, OK.’ I don’t know how to respond, so we move on.
The door next to hers is slightly open.
‘This has all been short notice, so I’m afraid we haven’t moved all of the, um, old stuff out yet.’
The room is dark. An open window struggles to expunge the scent of recent death from the brown-stained carpet. Traces of someone else’s life are still there – a KISS poster on the wall, a pen abandoned on the floor. It’s damp in here. If I breathe too deeply, the spores pervading the air will latch onto my lungs, and my ribs will become scaffolding for fly agaric.
‘How much was it, weekly?’
‘I’ll take it.’