At first glance the place didn’t look too bad at all. ‘In fact,’ Helen thought to herself, ‘It actually looks pretty nice.” It was a red brick building, with long thin white framed windows that looked as though were iced onto gingerbread.
Ignoring the piles of binbags stacked like mounds of dirty washing by the giant wheelie bins, Helen climbed the steps up to the heavy close door and pushed the buzzer. Someone had stuck a piece of chewing gum right next to the silver button, and it had hardened into a greyish pink disk.
The door intercom crackled unintelligibly and Helen heard the deep buzz that signified that it would open. She grabbed the handle and pulled, before unexpectedly stepping backwards – it hadn’t been locked anyway.
Climbing the stairs to the second floor Helen took surreptitious glances along the landings. Some of the flats had bikes outside, others brightly coloured washing and plants. She reached the door of the place she was coming to view and took a deep breath. She was meeting the landlord but had no idea what to expect. This was the first time she’d ever even considered moving away from home, and even now she wasn’t sure it was what she wanted. The places in her price range had so far been pretty horrendous: sharing with tons of other people, too poky or just way too far out of London.
Helen knocked nervously. The paint was peeling and a flake splintered off under her knuckles. The door opened promptly and a small man let Helen in to a gloomy hall. The flat was also small. As she moved inside, Helen realised that she could see the entire place without taking another step. Suppressing a sigh, she smiled timidly at the man. He merely blinked, twitched his moustache and said: “£375 a month for the room. Bills not included. You’ll live with two others, that’s their room, this is yours.”
It contained a single bed, greying curtains at the window, a grimy desk and a flimsy material wardrobe with an empty silver rail. The bottom half of the walls were painted a strange brownish red which put Helen in mind of dried blood. The top boasted wallpaper – but not just one design. Instead, each strip was different, creating a dizzying effect.
She glanced up at the ceiling, noting the creeping black speckles in the corner.
“Um, that looks like mould,” she ventured, pointing at the ceiling. The man glanced up, and as though he hadn’t heard, said to Helen. “We can only take you if you have proof of employment. No benefits, I’m afraid.”
Helen felt her cheeks flush as she drew herself up, replying: “I have a job. I’m a chef’s assistant on Mayfair. I’ll be looking after a family there. I’m sure they’ll give me a reference. About the mould….”
“No trouble. I’ll give it a fresh coat of paint, it’ll be good as new, you’ll never even know it was there.”