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Thursday, 14 March 2013

My Face is One Big Ear

Call and entry system
This morning I had an appointment with a man who was coming to value my flat. When the entry phone rang, dead on ten, I heard a softly spoken polite man introduce himself. I wondered if he would be gay. There would be something nice about that, being able to chat away in my own home and it might somehow work in my favour. A gay man producing a good valuation (or was he doing a survey?) on my property for the bank makes me think that everything will turn out alright. I start to believe, if the man is gay then it is a lucky sign, though I tell myself I do not believe in signs.

First error: making a presumption from a voice.
Second error: thinking a gay man would of course be a nice person.

My mother brought me up to offer a drink to anyone that sets foot over my threshold within the first few minutes of their arrival. Remembering this rule, I grind some coffee beans while he travels up the seven floors in the slow lift and quickly make the flat smell of Continental coffee beans.
He arrives with a silver machine, a bit like a defibrillator. He looks gay, his face matches his voice - slight and precise, soft blue eyes, not exactly handsome, but not exactly ugly. His short neat hair is newly trimmed, graduated at the side and clean round the neck with a pleasing line which suggests sharp scissors. I offer him a coffee, finding pleasure in the way I can say 'I've just made some' as if I'm the type of girl who just makes fresh coffee, which I suppose I am. I present him the cafetière on the work top as if I am rich, which I also suppose I am, but only if in contrast this man is from the slums of Johannesburg. His eyes light up and I know I've taken him away from forming an all too speedy judgement about the state of my kitchen ceiling.
Not a moving photo
'How do you take it?' I say.
'Black, no sugar.'
'Snap!' I say, wanting him to see that we have something in common apart from the homosexuality.

Third error: looking to bond too quickly with the surveyor.

He asks me if it has two bedrooms, my flat.
'I know,' I think. 'This is where I mention the one bedroom with the one bed, but the absence of my partner today because she is at work. I'll use the word partner and slip in 'she' shortly after (long gone are the days where 'partner' was short-hand for gay. Though I've never liked the word partner, as it makes me think of cow-boys, but still, I use it.)
When I've said the two clues, he doesn't react but looks at his silver machine and draw on it with a blunt stick. Then he moves, and thinks out loud, saying something about a square?
'You live in a cube!' He declares finally, all pleased with himself when he takes out a remote control.
I never knew I lived in a cube, but now it's obvious. We stand near the kitchen window. Like most people he is excited that he can see Canary Wharf out of it, that there is city life somewhere not too far away. He unzips open the top of his jacket.
'I expect you get a lot of coffee,' I say, wanting a comment on it.
'You're the first today. Four appointments and you're the first one.'
'The problem is, they're not been brought up proper,' I say in an old lady cockney accent and look for a laugh, but one doesn't happen. This is the fourth error.
He goes into the hallway and measures a wall with the remote control. Then he comes back, presses a button and feeds the data into the silver machine. He picks up his coffee.

Twins - not lesbian mugs
'Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?' He puts down his mug, and I can feel the weight of something coming. He has not noticed that I gave him the good mug that my artist friend designed that matches the one in my hand (although it feels a betrayal to my girlfriend as they are officially our joint coffee mugs) I'm sure she wouldn't mind.
'No,' I say, sounding like I know I will at some point in the near future.
'Have you always known if you are, you know, like you are? I mean, when did you find out?'
This is twice this week I have been asked the same question. I know it is not because people are interested in me, it is because they are trying to work out something for themselves.
I think maybe I should show him the bathroom or the garden in an official capacity.
'I think I knew a long time ago.' I said.
'Do you think people can be bi-sexual?' he says.
'Yes,' the coffee has kicked in and I am enjoying myself. 'Of course, but it's vilified by lots of people and unspoken about by most. I think it should all be about who you find attractive anyway.'
'I used to be gay,' he said. 'I was abused when I was young and I was attracted to other boys. Then I hit puberty and I thought girls were more interesting, more beautiful. I saw a psychiatrist and she couldn't work me out. She said people didn't grow that way, that children couldn't be sexual before they had puberty, but I think that's wrong, because I was.' I think about telling him about the time I was in the Wendy House, but decide he has my girlfriend's mug, so I've already shared quite enough.

A Man enjoying a Lap
He talks and he wants to talk more than he will ever need me to respond. I can't quite remember how I find out in ten minutes that his girlfriend was abused, first by her father, then by her girlfriend who got her into lap-dancing and he thinks that's a type of abuse too, so she was abused twice. It was kind of like piercing a very large boil. Then when he says he met her in the lap-dancing club he tells me he was dragged along there ('dragged along' with all the other men who get 'dragged along' to lap-dancing clubs) but he is trying to tell me, he not a typical male, he's an atypical man, that he was only interested in speaking to the lap-dancers to make sure they were alright. One caught his eye, 'the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.'
Pre-Christian Fun
He tells me he read a survey of people who lived in Pre-Christian times. Ten percent were gay, fifty percent were bi-sexual and thirty percent hetero. I suggested the remaining ten percent were like my old Aunty Vera who had no interest in anything at all, but he hadn't got that his sum hadn't added up to one hundred.
He asks me what I do, why I need the desk and I say I'm a writer, of fiction, mainly. He says I'll download your book on my Kindle. 'Susan isn't it?'
'Karen,' I say.
Then before he goes I know he hasn't seen all of the flat. I am unsure what type of valuation he's going to give, but he looks down at my rug and looks sheepish. It is not a sheep-skin rug.
'You know my story would make a good book,' he says. 'I'm doing it in May. I'm going to write it all down, how I met the beautiful lap-dancer years later, when she happened to start working at the Bank of Ireland where I was working. I didn't recognise her at first, because she had been wearing a wig and didn't have many clothes on. There are so many coincidences that have brought us together. It'll make a great love story.'
'You must write things down,' I say. 'It's important.'

We go down in the lift and I show him the gardens and the BBQ area, not sure whether he wants to see this for his survey, but it's good to see the garden through fresh eyes.
He says, 'from the outside the building is so ugly, but now we're inside it's really lovely. How much are you going to charge to rent out your flat? Because, you see, I'll be looking for one in about a week.'
Then he is gone. I have his business card and have promised him I'll let him know when we are ready to rent out the flat. On the card is a drawing of a house with a roof made out the top of a giant mushroom. Because the drawing is slightly smudged it looks like it is falling through the sky.