The Shared House
The observable Universe is 13.8 billion years old. If we condense down this amount of time into a single year - the Big Bang is the first moment of this year and now is the New Years Eve - the human being came to Earth two seconds ago.
We are too young and we know nothing about sharing a place.
There is an ‘of belonging’ syndrome that affects cosmonauts in space when they look at the Earth and feel part of it. There are many reports of this behaviour: they are in a trance looking at our planet for hours. They can see Earth as it is: a blue dot. Our home.
Here below, we are struggling with frontiers, terrorism, refugees, hunger in Africa, war in the Middle East, global warming, political and social problems everywhere, overcrowding, pollution, chauvinism, racism, and innumerable miseries.
We are struggling with our careers, life choices, stress, and meaningless.
Nobody is really happy on Earth.
London has 9 million inhabitants. This number goes up to 12 million during the day. Is the most visited city in the world. People come for opportunities, freedom, fun, beauty, pints, pounds. London is a multicultural-old-grey-huge city with glamour, mystery, parties, fashion, money, but not for immigrants.
Immigrants settle down happy to be near to the tube in the suburbs. So they can go everywhere in this city. To work.
Willesden Green has mainly Brazilians, Indians, Lebanese, Italians, Portuguese and a few British. From Ireland. Northers.
It also has a great Library, two Sainsburys, two parks and the houses are much more beautiful than houses where all those people came from. Here is NW25LH and if you know something about postcodes in London you will notice that these numbers and letters do not correspond to a nice spot.
London has tremendous palaces. The Queen herself has seven or eight houses to live in. I don’t blame her. My Kingdom for one of her bedrooms. Just one.
I have a Queen’s name: Victoria, and I am living in a shared house with twenty people, at least. It is as if I am living in Downtown Abbey, where the employees live.
But I am not here to work. I am here to live. And apparently these two concepts are completely separate. I quit my job in Brazil - a successful career in Advertising Agencies - and I am in that sabbatical period that all stressed people will need someday. I was in my deadline for that: therapist, pills, nightmares, insomnia, migraine, alcohol, cigarettes, sex and all the escapes from sadness. Denial and the weight of whole Universe on my insignificant existence.
This house came to me like the beach in that Leonardo diCaprio’s movie. I was complaining about my miserable life in some bar and a complete stranger gave me this address.
- Go to London.
- Why not? - I was drunk enough, I was sad enough, I was ready to go.
I just looked to the London A to Z and Tube Map to get to my treasure. In two months I changed my life and came to this door. If you open 127 Chapter Road’s door, you will condense all the Universe in a single house.
When the landlord opened the door I loved at first. I thought ‘Huge house. This place is perfect. Oh, my bedroom is amazing, I have an entire wardrobe and two drawers. Wi-fi, yes! I have my own frigobar and my own cupboard. Italians - what a beautiful men. This smell of curry is so eccentric, so exotic. I can choose the temperature of the shower. I have a place to smoke. I can wash my clothes in home not at some laundry, great.’
- Thank you, this house is amazing - I said to landlord
- Hmm. Here, your keys, and if you lose it, I am on 69.
I was in London, I was travelling, I was free, I was wrong.
The only common area in the house has one table, one sofa, one telly, the same TV show on loop, one washing machine, one lopsided painting on the yellowish wall and twenty cupboards and ten refrigerators. It is not a kitchen and it is not a living room either. But we cook and met there.
Food and people from Brazil, France, Italy, Sweden and Uganda sharing the same spot on Earth. English and silence are the universal languages.
I have to wash dishes after and before I cook. The dish towel have been used as a doormat and when Italians are cooking is like a Pablo Escobar’s refinery cocaine on the table.
It is a place to love and leave. When you are feeling alone you go there, cook your meal, try to have a conversation about the cold whether in London and run as fast as you can to your bedroom.
We have bedroom keys and it is suppose to be a private world, but is not. I am sharing a bunk-bed in a bedroom with three others girls. I am fighting to learn meditation and English here. In the rare times when I am alone I dance to Britpop and talk to myself. It is freedom.
- Life can be so simple, Victoria.
- Oh I know, I am quite sure right now.
- The more you have. The more you need.
- But sometimes life sucks.
- Only when you are doing something that you don’t want to.
- But I have to do things that I don’t want to survive.
- Like what?
- Like make money.
- A society that needs money to survive can only be wrong.
- Loneliness can take your sanity. You are talking to yourself in third person.
- No, just other’s opinion can drive you crazy.
- Yeah you’re right. Shall we dance?
My real private place is my headphones. And sometimes bathroom. The bathroom is a terrible private place because it is shared. Shared toilet, shared sink and the towel just centimetres above the shared litter. I take a shower in flip-flops and I can never use a bar of soap. It tends to fall. I really miss bars of soaps.
Sometimes when I need space I like to go to the backyard to see the Autumn leaves falling, smoke my cigarette and drink my Brazilian coffee. The backyard is like a particular jungle: wild animals, giants trees, strange noises (specially the tube that passes there screaming 5 in 5 minutes) and some kind of peace you only find in nature.
When I saw this backyard first I was quite sure that it was a place to party. I always thought crazy and naughty things about shared houses. But expectations can make your reality even worse. The backyard is a just a sad, cold and wet place where only a few smokers go to kill themselves slowly.
A wall separating the neighbour’s garden from ours and it has a mirror. So I spend much time facing that mirror. One day I was in the garden and some work was happening in the neighbour’s property and they destroyed the wall and the mirror. I found some Polish friends the other side of the wall, the bricklayers.
- Do you smoke weed? - One of those guys said
- Oh no thank you.
- Have you ever tried cider?
- Oh no
- Do you want to?
- Oh no thank you
- Here, for you. Drink.
- Oh okay
I didn’t understand his English so I accepted much more than I wanted just because I had no idea what he was saying. But they are my only friends here. I am afraid of them.
If you have friends when you are travelling you will get hurt. Everybody goes quickly. Since I am here already 75% of people changed, including the bricklayers. 30% came back after two weeks. It is a terrible emotional roller coaster.
- Did you ever see the mouse? - Iacoppo said, an Italian guy who is a chef in some posh restaurant somewhere in London. I like him and I like to improve my English with him but he talks too much. I am improving my listening skills.
- OH NO I didn’t.
- Ah, you will see. Another day you were cooking and one second after you left the mouse came to your place.
- Really? I never saw. - I was scared
But I knew at time: now I know about the mouse and I will see mice everywhere. I unlocked that mouse hole.
Two days and a half and I saw the little one.
After I’ve been seeing so many, I like them, I name them, I talk to them. They are my friends. I am afraid of them.
A shared house has rules: wash your dishes, put your rent in the safe upstairs, smoke outside, not at the door, outside, keep your bedroom clean, put the litter outside, recycle, and try not to fight. Apparently those rules are very difficult to follow.
Actually we have only one important rule: don’t be a jerk.
I remember when that guy came. He is a jerk. I don’t know his name and I don’t want to know. His first look to me was so scary that I just ran to my bedroom and stayed there for 5 hours. I could not avoid him anymore, I had to pee, to cook, to live.
- Do you wanna see a film with me tonight? - He said, at our first meeting at the kitchen
- Oh no thank you. - You learn say no when you share a house.
- Do you wanna drink a pint some day? I don’t drink, because I am taking Lithium so I can’t.
I just want disappear, my friend. Lithium, lithium, I searched in my memory for Lithium. Schizophrenia. Nice.
- Oh ok, I see. Don’t drink mate. Please.
The house is not the same anymore since he came. I can not say it used to be nice, but it is really worse now.
How can one guy change all the mood?
I really don’t know if I am more scare of him or the mouse. Anyway, the mouse doesn’t walk around with a Swiss Army knife.
So I started to face fear.
And fear brings sadness. Sadness brings madness. Madness bring badness.
I started to face my own mind, my own crazy mind. My own loneliness. My own reality.
Have you ever thought about that comfortable or uncomfortable feeling that some people (or animals) cause you? Instant happiness, fear, attraction, peace, anxiety? It is energy and everybody has an energy field. So I have to walk in my pijamas on my bad hair day in my own house dodging all those fields in this battlefield. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But I will never surrender.
Another day the french girl lost her bedroom keys.
- I lost my keys, and now the landlords has to come here and save me. I am so stupid.
- Oh, don’t blame yourself, it happens, it’s nothing. - I said
We waited in silence until the landlord came with a ladder ready to climb the window.
And then she hugged me. She hugged me.
There is only one feeling able to overcome fear: love. Love is as potent an energy field as fear is.
Share a house with completely strangers, share your life with unfriendly friends, and you learn how to love people that you barely know. You learn to love people you hate. When you are alone in the crowd you learn to love yourself. Sharing a house is to share love in such a particular way. And love gives you courage.
He was singing so aloud at the backyard that I can hear from the street. I have been smoking outside, because I don’t want be at the backyard with this crazy guy. I miss the backyard but I don’t want get a cancer. Actually I am trying to quit smoke because of him.
I got into the kitchen and saw him outside, singing on the table. On top of the table. On- top-of. I looked to him, to his dirty dishes on the sink, that fried chicken, that stupid fried chicken, oil everywhere, that smell, that disgust smell. Smells like him. His computer was on the kitchen’s table, his jacket on the chair, his bottle of milk out of the refrigerator, his tobacco spread on the table, his shoes on the floor and I could not bear anymore. You can be crazy, but you can not be a jerk. I opened the back garden’s door with a fierce determination to resolve all the house’s problems. I screamed with him so aloud. I have no ideia where it came from.
I used to be those kind of person who is aways running away from conflict. But, since I moved I changed.
- We live in a group here, in case that you didn’t notice. Could you get out of the table, turn down your voice, wash your dishes and collect your shits please?
He didn’t make any movement. I was shaking.
But he wasn’t listening, he was with headphones. I said all those thing for nothing. For the first time in my life I had courage to do something like this, totally in vain.
But you know, I didn’t say in vain. I didn’t say to him. I said to me.
Silvia is the only person that I can call something like a friend. She shares the other top of the other bunk-bed in our bedroom. We are friends just because a friend is a person who can keep quite when you just need company. We did this all our time here. She is going back to Brazil in silence in the middle of the night. It is her style. We are both night people and I’m awake. I don’t know what she was looking for here. I don’t know if she found it.
I help her to carry her bags.
- Thank you.
- Thank you.
- For everything
- Yes, for everything.
- Good luck. Will you be fine?
- Of course. You too.
When you are thankful for all sorts of bad situations in your life you are on the right way to be thankful for all sorts of good things.
It is home, after all. A shared one. An individual one.
To share home is to share yourself. To share home is to share a Universe.
We are too young, but we are growing.
And this growth takes time. Not even the biggest and most punctual clock in the world couldn’t rush or stop this. Time is relative for each of us.
- Take care of your inner house and take your time, Victoria. - I said to myself.
I left without any feelings. I closed the door behind me. I was carrying my backpack with only a few belongs like a tortoise. I have been walking very slowly but I am on my way.
I am going to share another house in Berlin. Now I know where I really live. My current address is myself. There are crazy guests, wild animals, fear, dirt and no crown jewels. But there’s love and freedom if you face the dark side with guts.
And If I get lost I always can remember this address. It is a safe and beautiful spot with a nice view anywhere I go.