Relocating to another city is a precarious time for tenants. When I was last in that tricky situation, I alternated between sofa-surfing and staying in a friend’s vacant flat, which gave me time to view homes at my leisure, no pressure to accept a place, any place. Occasionally though, my tenuous chain of accommodation broke and I moved to a hostel.
I’d rather have been snug in my temporary flat, but the hostel was cheap and less awkward than sofa surfing. In the common-room, an American tourist, who pronounced Cardiff as “Carr-deef,” announced: “You must hate us, but I’m a Democrat.”
“What is this, please?” wondered a Slovakian guest, bemused by The Chuckle Brothers, as are we all.
Other residents were self-employed business travellers. They paid their own expenses - aloof but not too proud to book what was a step down from a budget hotel.
Eventually I found a flat. My references were great and I was ready to move with a deposit and rent in advance. I called, arranging to collect the keys.
The landlord said: “…um, yeah. Sorry. A different girl moved in this morning. I think my other flat’s more you.”
I asked why.
“It’s by the river – it’s quite…plush.”
But it’s too dear, I said.
“Oh come on - you can afford it. I can tell.”
I was supposed to be moving in next morning, so I was homeless. Frantically I phoned around, but everywhere was full or else people were away. In desperation, I found a rundown back-packers’ hostel, which was better than the pavement.
The owner said: “Towel hire is 50p.”
The other guests were four uncharacteristically snotty Aussie backpackers, and a group from Bangladesh, attending a student conference. In the morning, the queue for the shower was ridiculous. I waited my turn tutting grumpily because two people were hogging the bathroom.
I went for a brew. When I returned they were still showering. Their fellow delegate said: “I am so very sorry; please to take my place in the line.”
His companions continued their seemingly endless shower. Every now and again they both turned off the water, standing in silence before restarting the weak spray. Judging by some clothes left on the floor, one was male, while the owner of the electric blue salwar kameez was female. It was cold outside, and both owned several layers of shrunken grey wool.
We were all going to be late. An irate Aussie rattled the thin partition. I asked their friend: “Can you make them hurry up?”
He smiled awkwardly, explaining. “They are in love, you see.”
The couple showered on, whispering softly, and affectionately.
I realised what was happening. The showering lovers were devout Muslims, and had never been alone together. Back home, even sitting next to each other was forbidden.
So in a frosty, foreign bathroom, an adoring couple lingered beneath a gentle cascade of warm water, naked but separated by opaque plastic shower cubicles, passing scented soap through a narrow gap below the screens, fingers brushing, close for the first time, oblivious to the strangers hammering on the door.