One of the best things about the house we were in was the bathrooms.  First of all, we each had one.  Mine was smaller but had a lovely large bath in it, which as a taller (I guess) than average person, I really appreciated.  In a standard size bath, I have to choose between my chest and my knees.  One or the other can be immersed in the water.  In the bath at the old house, I could do both.  I am not normally someone who takes baths, more of a shower person really, but this bathtub changed my mind.  I could fill it two thirds full, nice and hot and read in there for half an hour, with both chest and knees warm.  Bliss.  

D’s bathroom, we affectionately called the sex bathroom.  It was the size of our current living room.  There was a huge jacuzzi tub against one wall, two sinks, a large cupboard, a loo and a double shower.  It is the shower that I am missing most of all. At first I thought it was a bit OTT.  I mean, showering together is fun when the shower is small, otherwise you may as well be in a locker room.  But having used that shower almost every day for four years, I have become extremely spoilt and now extol the virtue of the double shower at every opportunity.  I never actually showered with anyone else in it.  I never missed the other person.  All that space, all for me, luxurious luxury, I’ll take it thanks very much.

It wasn’t so much that I need to twirl or dance in the shower, or that I need to be able to do push ups in there or anything, it was just not having to think about spreading your arms out, or where to put the shampoo etc.  There was space for everything, even twirling if one was so inclined.  I never fully appreciated it, but now, when I am taking a shower in the new flat, with a handheld shower with no pressure set up over a standard size bathtub, in a bathroom the size of the shower stall in D’s sex bathroom, I appreciate it a whole lot more.  The saying about not knowing what you’ve lost until it’s gone is in full effect here.  When I shower here, I don’t have the freedom to contort my body the way I want to so the shower spray hits my shoulders just right.  If I reach for the soap or shampoo, I either have a face full of tile, or I am wearing the shower curtain like a toga.  Two things make it worse though.  One: there is no water pressure here.  Although we have plenty of hot water, it trickles out of the tap slowly and rinsing my hair is a 10-15 minute operation.  Secondly, the shower has mirrors on two sides. It’s fantastically awkward looking at yourself in the shower. Mirrors!  Who does that?  The answer is the lady in her late 60s I bought the flat from.  There are mirrors everywhere.  In the hallway, the bedrooms, the lounge.  I have had some of them removed but they’re still everywhere.  When I bought the flat, the lady, E, used it as a selling point:

“You work with children don’t you?” she asked.  When I told her that I did, she went on:

“The mirrors will be handy, you can keep an eye on them from the sofa” she said.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had missed the point of my job a  little.

This lady was a fascinating woman.  She was downsizing, and obviously very upset about it.  Not upset as in being forced out, logically she was all about the practicality of the move.  I think she was more upset by the fact that she had clearly worked hard and spent years and money getting the flat exactly how she wanted it, and now she was having to try and do the same thing somewhere else.  She tried to sell me so much of her stuff as not included in the sale (blinds fitted to the windows, the toilet roll holder and door handles.)  After a while I reached the end of my rope and told her to take all of it with her.  Needless to say, she couldn’t use any of it, and left it all here.  I just didn’t have to pay extra for it.  This woman made me and my family look like minimalists.  I mean, I have already spoken about my cluttering tendencies.  All of the places we have ever lived in have had lots and lots of (sometimes, nay often, useless) things on every available surface.  E however, was in a class of her own.  She had so much furniture and belongings stuffed into the apartment, my brother thought I was crazy to buy it.  He told me that it was tiny, and what was I thinking.  You’ll see said I, when she leaves and takes her stuff, the place will seem huge.  He was sceptical.  But when I bought it and she moved out, it was one of the few times in history anyone has ever moved into a house and said, “It’s bigger than I remembered.”

She had filing cabinets lining the corridor to the bedroom which meant that in order to reach the bedroom, you had to turn sideways and shuffle along.  Once in the bedroom, she had a double bed, three tables and a sofa in there, and three of the walls are mirrored so as to give the illusion of space.  It didn’t so much give the illusion of space as make it look like there were rows and rows of furniture like an army barracks or something.  I am in the process of putting photos up onto said mirrors to stop the 240 degree view I have of myself every morning.  It is disconcerting to say the least.

For all her quirks, and she had plenty, E turned out to be an honest woman who had the opportunity to shaft me at the last minute and didn’t take it, for which I am eternally grateful.  Even when the deal on her own flat fell through, she went ahead with the sale and took herself off to a friend’s while she tried to find somewhere new.  I remember her as a slightly batty old lady who had a lot of stuff and a predilection for mirrors and portraits of herself in soft focus dating from the seventies to the present day.

I can only imagine what she must have thought of me.  I came to see the flat on my own the first time, and then wanted my parents to see it too.  We couldn’t find a mutually convenient date to turn up all together.  My parents came without me.  She sat Dad down in the front room, and took down about 30 years of paperwork to show him the costs of running the flat.  It was love at first file.  My Dad still gets misty-eyed at the mention of her name, and I am sure she reciprocates.  The next time I went, my sisters wanted to come too.  And since they were coming, my brother said he would join them.  So we turned up, 4 adults and my nephew L, aged a few months.  At this point she felt we were a little bit mad, but in that way you put up with cultural idiosyncrasies.  In a ‘those crazy Greeks’ kind of way.  We were however only destined to become weirder.  As the completion date approached, she realised that a) she was actually going to have to move out, and b) she had more stuff than she thought she did (I can relate).  We had set the date for Monday January 31st.  I remember it well because my Dad had been adamant that we not complete on a Tuesday.  So Monday 31st was approaching and she called me frantically on the Saturday and said, she wasn’t sure if she would be ready.  I was prepared to be magnanimous.  After all, I had been wanting to buy a place of my own since I was 18, and at 35 felt that an extra few weeks was not going to kill me.  Also I was living at my parents’ extremely comfortable home, and so had the advantage that I wouldn’t be on the street if for some reason she couldn’t be out of the flat on time.  I told her not to worry, I was sure it would be fine, and that she should call me if there was a problem.  Monday at midday we completed.  I felt elated that I finally had a foot on this mythical ladder that we were all supposed to be on. I was a Homeowner!!  My phone rang.

“Hello Maria, this is E.”

” Hi E!  I just bought your flat!” I said excitedly.

“Yes, about that, I am not quite finished packing yet.”

“OK, said I we’ll come this afternoon with the keys.”  I didn’t mention it to her, but I had something very specific in mind I wanted to do  – a religious ritual that had to happen on the first day I owned the flat.

“I’ll do my best,” she said.  Not quite the response I was looking for, but I assumed it would be fine.  At 6ish, I gave her a courtesy call to make sure she wasn’t still there. My parents, uncle and aunt, sisters and I were on our way to the flat.

She was still there.  “How long do you need?”  I asked.  “Are we talking another hour or so?”

“Not quite,” she said.  “The movers have left and they won’t come back til tomorrow, and I still have a lot of stuff here and I am so sorry and would you mind awfully if I stayed until tomorrow?”

In truth, I didn’t mind.  I wasn’t moving in immediately and she was obviously harassed, distressed and anxious.  But I did have to do this thing.  I told her it was ok and that she should take all the time she needed.

“There’s just one small thing E,” I paused trying to find the words. “Would it be alright if I came by with a few members of my family? We need to say this prayer, and it has to be today, otherwise we have to wait til Wednesday.”

To her credit, she didn’t bat an eyelid.  We went to the flat, I lit the charcoal  incense burner, put the sweet-smeling livani incense on top and wafted it around the whole flat filling it with smoke while Dad chanted the prayer (I suppose I should be grateful that we didn’t have a priest in tow).  My Mum planted an icon in every room.  I know that E didn’t have a leg to stand on or anything and I was doing her the favour, but what she must have been thinking, I don’t even want to imagine.  I mean, here we were, seven of us, wandering around the flat filling it with smoke with Dad chanting and Mum leaving religious paraphernalia everywhere.  I am sure that when I said I needed to get over there on Monday specifically, she didn’t anticipate us lighting a small fire.  As we were leaving that evening, and she was surreptitiously opening all the windows, she paused at the door and said:  “Why specifically today?”

I was hoping she wouldn’t ask.  After all, I am not that superstitious, but there are certain things in our family that are adhered to whether we believe them or not.  Tuesdays are unlucky and that is all we ever needed to know.

“Er, it’s because Tuesdays are unlucky in Greece,” I said trying not to elaborate. This much is true.  Tuesday 13th is the unlucky day in the Greek calendar, Fridays we aren’t so fussed about.

“Really?  I had no idea.  Why?”

Shit.  Nothing for it.  I had to explain.

“It’s because Constantinople fell on a Tuesday” I mumbled.

She kept a straight face, and we said goodbye, my first house guest as it were.

On the Tuesday night when I went back to the flat to open a bottle of champagne with my sisters, she was still there.  She eventually left on Thursday morning.  On Saturday afternoon, my brother, sister-in-law and their son L came over.  L was crawling around getting the lay of the land when he opened some drawers and cupboards in the big wooden unit in the front room.  They were full to overflowing.  I spent the whole weekend packing up her stuff for her to collect at some point.  Only I could buy a property, let the person who sold it to me stay in it for the first 4 days I own it, and then pack 15 boxes & lug them downstairs for her because she was too busy/old to do it.

Sometimes this stuff just comes to find you.  I tend to attract it.  I haven’t heard of anyone else having the same experiences, but maybe there are others out there, who knows?  If there are, Greetings Comrades, I am so glad not to be alone.  We few, we happy few, we band of suckers, to whom these unbelievable things happen every time…

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