I’m a few minutes early to meet Susan, so I decide to walk around Balham to get myself acclimated (see the Times
, British people can use Americanisms too you know) which for some reason feels very grown up. I mentally note the shops I might need in the future. Supermarket. Check. Cheaper supermarket for the end of the month. Check. Marks and Spencer’s, which I’ll walk by because the foods so nice, but will decide against because it’s so hideously overpriced even if it does come beautifully presented and the potato and swede mash is a dream. Check.
I get to the point I consider to be “of no return” and turn to retrace my steps back to the station to meet Susan.
“It has a nice vibe” I say to her as we walk to the house, her smile broadening, her long brown hair framing her pale, elfin face. She munches on Pringles but my mouth is too dry.
“This place… I can imagine us living there,” she replies, “I want you to make up your own mind so I won’t say too much about it. But it has potential.” She moves a strand of stray hair back behind her ear.
We cross over the road and walk a few houses down. There are two people already waiting outside. We say hello. I presume they’re together. After learning that Susan has already viewed the place they start to ask her questions.
“Does it have a dining table?” asks the girl, a little brashly.
Susan tries to sound optimistic.
“No, there’s no dining room, but the rooms are big.”
“I’m out of here then. That’s my one requisite,” She says, as way of explanation, before picking up her three shopping bags and rushing off, leaving Susan and I with a man looking slightly uncomfortable in a pinstripe suit.
A few minutes later the landlord, Jude, arrives. He’s amiable - Pakistani or Indian - with a pleasant face. We all shake hands and he repeats our names back to us as we say them.
The light in the hallways isn’t working so we walk into the house blindly, up the stairs and into the first bedroom. We each find something to focus on: the man in the suit touches the curtains. We drift through the house silently, mentally noting things to ask the landlord later when we’ve made up our minds.
Three bedrooms in and I’m not sure if I like it. The kitchen is tiny. The carpet is stained.
We climb to the top of the house. The bedrooms are much bigger and lighter here. Still very scruffy but Jude explains that they’ve not cleaned up the place properly. The second bedroom is large. These are proper sized rooms, enough space for a double bed and a couch and a desk.
“Could we paint the room?” I ask.
A crease forms in Jude’s brow.
“Green,” and then to placate him I add, “a nice green. I promise not to paint it black.”
Outside it’s getting dark. Jude has let us alone so we can have the talk
but before we begin Susan looks up and points at a lone star that’s broken through the London smog. It’s one of the things I miss so much about New Zealand; the night sky here offers no release, no lights from other places.
“Make a wish,” smiles Susan.
And we move into the flat on the first of next month.