The other day I got into the lift at my flat laden with bags.  A man came into the lift just before the doors were closing.  He was over 6 feet tall and built like a brick shithouse.  I mean huge.  Obviously some kind of athlete, judging by the shiny track suit, expensive trainers and general muscliness (I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean).   I was already taking up more space than usual because of all the bags I was holding, and he was also carrying stuff so let’s just say there was just enough room for a sweetie wrapper in the lift with us. 


“What floor?” I asked as I was nearer to the button and if he had reached out to push the button, he would have had to buy me dinner. 


“Seventh please.”  He replied.  I was going to the seventh too, so we stood there waiting for the doors to close.  Unfortunately, the doors don’t close if there is something blocking the sensors. If it had been me on the outside, I would have backed out of the lift, embarrassed, and waited for the lift to come back down.  But he didn’t do that.  He pushed a little bit further into the lift and tugged his bags further in. Sweetie wrapper had to go, now we really were intimate. 


We both stared at the fixed point on the floor in all British lifts which may as well have a sign on it saying LOOK HERE.


Finally the doors closed, and we started making our way upstairs.  Slowly.  The lift on our side of the building travels at such a slow speed that one imagines the mice from Bagpuss heaving you up inch by inch.  Suddenly, I felt something move against me, just under my chest.  I looked down and saw something twitching inside the man’s shiny track suit top.  I must be imagining things, I thought to myself.  That can’t be what I felt.  I looked at his jacket.  There it was.  Movement.  In his jacket.  A jerking quick movement from a small lump inside his clothes. It was like Alien.  I looked up at him.  He continued to stare at the floor as if there was nothing strange going on.  But my tummy was being pressed and tickled by – well whatever was living inside his jacket.  My guess was a ferret or some other small furry creature.  We arrived at the seventh floor and got out, he without batting an eyelid. 


“Have a good day.” he said as he disappeared into a neighbouring flat.


I walked slowly into my flat.  D & R were there.


“What happened? You look weird.” said R.


“I think I just got on the lift with a guy who had a ferret in his jacket.  It was moving against my tummy because we were squeezed so tightly in the lift.” 


R started laughing.  “That probably wasn’t a ferret!” he said suggestively.


“Ewww! No it definitely wasn’t what you’re thinking.  It was really high up on my body!” I squealed.


R raised his eyebrow. “I don’t think so.”


I felt even weirder than before.  I am sure that I am right and that it was a furry creature of some sort.  I mean this guy didn’t even blink.  I do avoid him though.  If I see him coming up the road, I either run to the lift, press the buttons quickly to make sure he doesn’t get in the lift with me, or if I think it’s too close, I drop to one knee outside the building and pretend to mess around with my shoelaces until he walks past.  I am in favour of pets in general I suppose, but to carry one inside your jacket well- it seems a bit strange to me. 


Actually, the whole concept of pets is a little strange to me.  I mean, I like animals well enough, it’s not that I don’t, but I know people for whom animals are more precious than people and I find that quite hard to swallow. 


I guess growing up in the UK you come to appreciate the relationships people have with animals.  British people feel very strongly about animals and in particular they get hysterical at the thought of animal cruelty.  I am also not in favour of animal cruelty or testing or anything like that (although I do draw the line at becoming a vegetarian), but in Greece, people don’t seem to get as worked up about it.  It is one of the many differences between our cultures, and many Greeks struggle to understand the British adoration of all things animal.  I get that pets feel like members of the family, and although I have never had a pet, I have always been very sympathetic to people who have lost their pets, or have had to look after a sick pet.  We weren’t allowed to have pets when I was growing up.  My dad doesn’t believe in animals in the house, although I am sure my Mum would have loved a dog.  The closest we ever came was a succession of goldfish that my sister D had.  There were maybe 4 or 5 and she felt the loss of each one extremely keenly.  My favourite one was the last – Horatio (and several other names which I don’t remember) who had some sort of disorder which made him swim upside down almost the whole time we had him.  The previous few had actually jumped out of the bowl.  Suicide is so hard to come to terms with. The thing about fish is that they don’t really interact with you, and so I always found it hard to get attached to them. 


I am not going to even start on people who keep huge snakes or tarantulas.  My cousin used to have a couple of piranhas.  I mean seriously, how much excitement do you need in your life that you have a potentially deadly animal in your bedroom with you?  The minute you have to buy dead animals and store them in your freezer (with food. That you eat.) to feed your pets, you have crossed a line. It’s just not normal I tell you.


I have had a difficult relationship with dogs since I was bitten quite badly as a child.  All through my childhood, I used to avoid them, even stepping into traffic to avoid large dogs on the pavement.  Going to friends’ houses who had dogs was always frightening even when they would assure me that


“She doesn’t bite.”


“She’s gentle as anything”


“Don’t worry, Rambo wouldn’t hurt a fly.”


My favourite of all comments however is when I was accosted at our downstairs neighbour’s house by a Great Dane towering over me with her paws on my shoulders.  I was frozen in terror, and the comment from the neighbour was:


“Awww she likes you! Don’t worry, she’s only a puppy!”


A puppy?  I thought you were going to say pony for goodness’ sake.  This dog was the size of a small horse.  I had to overcome my fear of dogs however.  Firstly because I have lots of friends who have dogs, but mainly because for some inexplicable reason, dogs bloody love me, and being terrified while they jump up and lick me and rub against me and (why why why) bury their noses into my crotch would have been very tiring indeed.  When I let go of the fear, I found most dogs to be lovely except for- well – they smell, and anyone who says they don’t is a liar.


If I had to choose, I would say that I am more of a cat person.  Not an 8-10 cats roaming all over the house person, nor a feed all the neighbourhood cats in the world person. I would enjoy having  a cat, I think.  My brother and one of my sisters are actually allergic to cats, so I probably never will, but I always enjoy other people’s cats when I go over to theirs.  Once I went to stay with a friend P in New York. He had a beautiful Persian mix cat called Agapi.  I used to spend hours sitting on the couch with her in my lap, petting her.  On my last day there, he asked if I would wait in for the cable guy. Sure enough, the cable guy, a Hispanic man called Pablo, arrived at the agreed time.  He started moving furniture and setting stuff up.  At one point, he went outside to sort out some cabling, leaving the front door open.  About 15 minutes later, I noticed that I hadn’t seen Agapi for ages.  I started to call out for her.  A thorough inspection of the flat yielded no results.  Shit, I’ve lost the cat I thought.  I asked Pablo:


“Have you seen the cat?  She was here earlier.  Did you see her leave?”


“I didn’t notice, sorry.”


I started to panic. 


“P is going to kill me.  He leaves me for one day, and I lose his cat.  I can’t believe this.” I was really concerned.  I must have been babbling and looked really worried because Pablo assumed that P was an abusive boyfriend, and started to help me look.


We looked on every floor, on the roof of the building, in the courtyard outside.  I was hoarse from calling out her name in the most soothing voice I could muster given my panicked state.  At some point, I told Pablo I was going to call P to tell him. 


“Don’t choo worry.” He said, taking my hand. “I stay here with you. I esplain.”


“Oh, no it’s ok, I said, realising that he thought I was going to get beaten.  “It’s ok, he won’t hurt me or anything, I just want to let him know, maybe he can think where she has gone.”


“It’s ok to leave then?”


“Sure Pablo, thanks for all your help.”  He lingered.  Shoot, I forgot, in the States you have to tip everyone.  I handed over what I hope was an acceptable note.


“Any problems, I will esplain to him” he said. 


“Thanks Pablo, take care.”


I called P at work.  He answered the phone,


“What’s up?  Is there a problem with the cable guy?”


“Er, no, that’s all sorted,” I said, still wondering through the corridors looking left and right. “It’s just… It’s Agapi.  She’s gone, and I think she left the apartment while the cable guy was there; he kept going in and out and he left the door open.  I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to lose her, I feel terrible.”


There was a silence.  Maybe 3 seconds.  It felt like an hour.


P cracked up.  I was gobsmacked.


“Er what’s so funny?” I asked.  “Aren’t you worried about her?  I have been all over the building including the roof, and I can’t find her anywhere.  I am really sorry.”


P was still laughing but collected himself enough to say:


“There’s no way she left the apartment.  Where are you now? Did you look everywhere?”


“Yes, of course,” I said.  “I looked in all the rooms, in the closets, behind the radiators everywhere. We both did. The cable guy offered to stay with me until you came home in case you actually murdered me for goodness sake! I am in the corridor looking for her right now.”


“Go back to the apartment.  She’ll show up when she’s good and ready.  She hates strange men.”  Still laughing, he hung up and got back to work. 


Uttering a few last Agapis in what I hoped was a welcoming and soothing tone, I let myself into the flat.


There she was sitting in the centre of the room waiting for me.


I have never felt so relieved and so pissed off simultaneously. I went from a soothing “Where are you Agapi darling?” to a furious “Come here and I’ll strangle you, you stupid animal” in under a second. I sat down on the couch heavily feeling the last two hours catch up with me.  She jumped up into my lap and waited to be stroked.  I petted her for a while.  After about 15 minutes, she bit me, gave me a look as if to say ‘gotcha you fool’ and sauntered off to get something to eat.  I guess I haven’t really felt competent enough to own a pet since then….