The German Housemate
A Short Story
Copyright © 2015 by Roji Abraham
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The German Housemate
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For a post-graduate student who was on the verge of completing his thesis, shifting rooms is a wearisome task. In addition to the effort and time involved in physically moving every piece of clothing, books, baggage and trinkets one owned, time and effort is also required in getting adjusted to the new premises. And change is something most of us hate.
I had moved into a little room located close to the city centre and in the vicinity of a popular university. After having lived for a year in the extraordinarily beautiful campus of a very lively university, it seemed unlikely that I would grow to like my new dwelling– a row house (as most homes in that region of England were) in a very plain neighbourhood.
Before moving in, I had only had a brief glimpse of the single room that I had taken on a four month lease. And now, as I moved into my new room, I realised that it looked much smaller than what I had thought previously. However, at seventy five pounds a week, living in that room in Coventry was far less expensive than living in a similar sized room in London. And every pound saved was valuable to a student of limited means, who had spent most of his life’s savings on his postgraduate degree and was thus in dire need of a befitting job.
The house had a spacious living room and a kitchen with rather old, but ostensibly functioning equipment. In addition to these two common rooms, there were four other rooms in the house, of which one was now being let out to me. The second room was used by the landlord for keeping his personal belongings (though he lived in a different house that was two streets away), and the third and fourth rooms were occupied by the two students. The structure of the house was such that when one entered through the main door, he would have to walk through a short corridor that led to a second door, which in turn opened into the living room.
While the door to one of the four independent rooms was situated in this very short corridor, the other three rooms were on the floor above and the access to them was via the stairwell in the living room.
After I shook my landlord’s hand and pocketed my room key, I stood in the common hall alone. I was pondering over how to carry my heavy luggage through the narrow stairwell into my pint-sized room on the floor above, when I heard a door being slammed shut.
My landlord, who was an Ethiopian immigrant with a very pleasing demeanour, had told me that there were two other occupants in the house; an Arab student from Libya and a German student.
The slam came from the room situated in the corridor near the entrance. Somebody had just come out of the room and was about to enter the living room.
The man who entered the living room door looked nothing like the image of the student housemate I had my mind.
He was a tall, stooping, middle-aged white man with a shiny-white bald pate (that reminded me of Bruce Willis, minus the charm and good looks). He wore a pair of blue jeans and black boots and had a towel wrapped around his bare shoulders. He was carrying a roll of toilet paper in one hand and a soap dish in the other.
The man stared at me through a pair of eyes that seemed to have been used excessively for forming frowns on his face.
A few seconds lapsed, during which time the man seemed to be pondering whether or not to exchange pleasantries with the rather small, brown man who was staring at him bewildered.
While the first awkward minute melted into an even more awkward second one, the brown man moved forward with a big smile and held out his palm for a handshake.
“I just moved in a few minutes ago,” I said, after saying hello and introducing myself.
“Ha!” he exclaimed as realisation hit him.
“I am Andreas! Welcome to the madhouse!” he told me as he gripped my palm and squeezed it with an iron grip for half a second. Had he held that grip for a few seconds more, he would have probably cracked a bone or two of mine.
He then turned around and trudged noisily up the wooden stairs to go the common washroom, while I stood there in the living room, dazed at the rather queer introduction we had.
The madhouse didn’t turn out to be a complete misnomer after all.
The microwave oven was more fickle than an unruly child and functioned only when it pleased. The fridge leaked enough water to spoil a good amount of food inside every week, and then to add to it all, we had boiler issues.
Now for an average British home, it is the use of the boiler (primarily for heating rooms) that makes the largest contribution to the energy bill at the end of the month.
Given that England has a temperature that hovers around zero degrees centigrade for a good part of the year, this comes as no surprise.
That particular year, however, the English winter was harsher than usual, which meant that the boiler had to run for a longer period of time to keep the house warm – a possibility that my landlord had not prepared for when he had drawn up the rental agreements with his tenants. He was charging us all a fixed rent, inclusive of energy and other utility bills.
As it so happened, in the two months prior to my arrival, the energy bills had been on the rise, and this had caused periodic spikes in the landlord’s heart rate. Therefore, in order to ensure that the boiler wasn’t overused, he would come to the house almost every day to inspect the boiler, and to turn it off when it was running beyond its scheduled seven hours at night.
“So, Mr Solomon Boiler was here.”
Andreas had just popped out of nowhere and made the abrupt statement.
It was my third day.
I was sitting in the living room drinking a cup of hot tea (my consumption of tea had increased exponentially in the past few days), and ignoring the brain-freeze that was triggered by the intense cold as I browsed the internet, looking for a job.
“Was he?” I asked, smiling at the nickname.
“Ha!” Andreas snickered before adding: “He came to check the boiler”.
“And what did he say?”
“Ha! He just kept complaining about somebody changing the boiler setting.”
Andreas then went into the kitchen where the boiler was installed and changed the boiler dial so that the boiler ran manually; over-riding the timer setting that was set by the landlord.
After coming out from the kitchen, he stopped and thought for a second. He then looked at me in a funny way and said: “So, have a good day. Yeah?”
While I was still pondering whether that was just a courtesy greeting or a question, he walked away, slammed the living room door shut and left the house (I was getting used to the slamming of doors by now).
And that was the second conversation I had with my German housemate after my arrival.
Thump. Thump. Thump!
Thump. Thump. Thump!
Thump. Thump. Thump!
“Jesus Fucking Christ! This piece of fucking shit!”
I jumped up from my bed, startled by the volley of abuse that came from the common bathroom just outside my room.
I had grown up in an orthodox Christian household and in my childhood, I had been accustomed to waking up to my grandmother’s early morning prayers along with the sound of her radio, which would be tuned to the daily morning gospel message from a preacher of repute. The name of Jesus, undoubtedly, was held in utmost respect in my household.
And here I was, violently being woken up from my sleep by loud thumping noises and a volley of curses that liberally used the name of Jesus in conjunction!
The occupant was repeatedly thrashing the toilet flush handle in an attempt to make it work.
I was getting used to my new housemates by now. The Arab student, despite his limited knowledge of the English language, could muster the colloquial greeting: “You alright?” with a nearly perfect West Midlands accent. The German, on the other hand (who spoke perfect English), laced every conversation with the choicest expletives English could offer.
Now if there is one thing I have learned about Germans, it is that they are meticulous when it comes to keeping to a schedule and they always work according to plan. My three exceptional German classmates from college were testimony to this, and my cranky roommate was no exception.
The first time our man asked me if I wanted to grab a beer, the conversation went like this (note that this was on a Monday morning):
“So, how about a beer on Friday evening at 4.00 pm?”
Now, while I consider myself fairly on top of things when it comes to planning, I usually don’t put a fixed time as to when I should go out for a drink, four days before hand!
“Let me see if I can join you. I think 4.00 pm is a little too early for me. How about 6.00 pm instead?”
“Huh. But what is there to see? You either come or you don’t.”
“Well, I am not certain that I can come, and I might have some friends coming over. If that happens, I might not go out at all.”
“Six pm is too late,” was his retort.
Andreas then looked up thoughtfully for a brief second before stomping away. Sometimes it was hard to guess what went on inside that shiny head of his.
And this went on for the next three Mondays. Every time Andreas opened his mouth, I would get a sense of déjà vu.
“Friday evening at four?”
“Why can’t you just plan earlier and do it?”
“Cos, it’s hardly a priority for me.”
And it was not just the beer drinking that followed a schedule.
The thrashing of the toilet flush and the accompanying curses came at 7.00 pm every morning (until the day I fixed the flush myself ); the loud metallic clanging of the kitchen utensil happened at 6.30 pm daily (cooking for dinner); and the grocery shopping happened twice a week after his classes at 5.00 pm.
I’m not a perfect human being myself, which is probably why I did not have much empathy for Andreas at first. I found him extremely annoying, yet he was oblivious to his mannerisms.
It was rather unfortunate that I had a very small bedroom, because of this I had to spend most of my time in the common living room when I wanted to do any kind of work.
That meant that every little action of mine was subject to scrutiny.
When I sat on the couch and wrote emails or sent messages on Facebook, Andreas would peep from behind me, glare at my computer screen through his vintage spectacles and exclaim: “Aha!”
Sometimes, he’d pass his judgement after these uninvited peeks at my screen.
“Facebook… it’s all crap, eh?”
If I was having a video chat session with a friend, his head would pop up between my head and the computer screen to try to see who was on the screen. And then he’d say hi to whoever was there!
He would then laugh in his characteristically queer manner – a single long ‘Ha!’ that lasted a full two seconds!
Sometimes he told jokes that only he found funny, and would laugh in his queer way.
A few times, when I played my guitar in my bedroom (which was directly above the kitchen), Andreas would use the kitchen mop to bang the kitchen ceiling. Then it would be my turn to stomp down the staircase into the kitchen, and ask him: “What are you doing, man?”
I’d see that look of amusement on his face, and it would be followed by the same queer laugh.
Three weeks after my arrival, two Italian youngsters moved into our house and occupied the fourth room, which was by then unoccupied (the landlord had moved his things out and put up that room for rent as well).
The fun loving, energetic Italians were a complete contrast to my surly German pal, and needless to say, they really didn’t get along well (though I don’t blame them).
The Italian guys and their girlfriends often hung out and talked and joked in the drawing room for hours at a time.
Sometimes I joined them too, but since a middle-aged German didn’t fit into the scheme of things, Andreas was seldom asked to join. Our man would just stomp into the kitchen, get his dinner and stomp out with equal fervour (he always wore black boots, irrespective of whether he was indoors or outdoors).
He kept mumbling curses without directing them at anybody. From the time he entered the living room, until the time he left, no one sitting there would utter a word.
Andreas ate the same dinner every night – boiled potatoes and boiled green vegetables, accompanied by eggs fried in margarine and some sausages.
As the weeks passed, the annoyance grew into indifference. The Italians and I decided that Andreas was a serious nutcase and it was better just to steer clear of him.
Meanwhile, I bonded well with the Italians (the Arab had left by then) and their friends who came over. We sometimes cooked food or went out to a pub or restaurant together. We played music and sang, and often had long, animated conversations. Often my closest friends (who lived not too far away) joined our little group.
Nobody wanted the German near them, and they were tired of his antics.
Andreas practically became an outcast in the house that he lived in, but the funny thing was he didn’t care.
He stayed the same, irrespective of what our attitude was towards him. He still cursed, he still stomped, he still followed his routines and he still joked and said the two second long ‘Ha!’ when he was amused.
He still peered into my screen (or the computer screen of my best friend, who often came for a chat) when he felt like it; and he still clanged the cooking vessel like it was a church bell every evening when he cooked dinner!
Things changed a few months later.
The Italians had to move out because of a tiff with the landlord, and my closest friends returned to their respective countries in the mainland of Europe.
It was just me, Andreas, and a very quiet working couple from Poland now.
The evenings had become rather quiet, and I spent most of my time writing job applications or reading something.
One day I was feeling particularly exasperated. Despite having a fancy degree from a highly acclaimed university and enviable qualifications, I wasn’t able to find a job.
Andreas came and asked in a sombre tone: “Any luck?”
“No, it didn’t go through,” I said. He was aware of a particular job opening that looked promising to me.
He then gave me the names of some job consultants in the city, and offered to go with me if I wanted him to.
The relationship I had with Andreas had changed in the past few weeks. Annoyance had given way to indifference and at some point empathy crept in, and I started to see the man beyond his personal quirks.
I saw before me, an ageing bachelor who had travelled across countries to come and join an undergraduate college program, where he sat and studied with students who were young enough to be his children. He was certainly somebody different.
I never got him to tell me all about himself, but I picked up bits and pieces whenever I could.
“I could never afford to go to college but I always wanted to.”
“I love maths.”
“Science is what matters. Sociology is bullshit.”
“Religion is bullshit. We are better off without any.” I heard that line come from his mouth many times. He was a staunch atheist.
He spent twenty years of his life working small jobs in the construction industry and for over ten years, worked as a supervisor who fixed window panes on houses. He obviously wasn’t a rich man.
He had had one long relationship with a woman, but it never culminated in marriage. The separation had made him cynical about relationships as well.
He didn’t notice the years go by, and then the day came when he decided he had worked enough.
He gathered his life’s savings and came to England from Germany (his choice was influenced by the number of years he had already worked in England).
At the age of fifty three, he defied social convention and entered a college for the first time in his life. He became a first year undergraduate student at the local university, and took up residence in a cheap house.
His memory wasn’t as sharp and his body wasn’t as strong as his young seventeen year old classmates. He didn’t seem to mind though.
His classmates partied till dawn on Fridays, and they celebrated life. He just found solace in the library instead.
He was a loner and he didn’t think anything was amiss.
He despised the youngsters who despite having a chance to go to college, seldom attended classes and didn’t care about graduating. He was opinionated, but then one couldn’t blame him seeing where he came from.
I realised that the quirks in Andreas’s behaviour came from social isolation. He had learned to live without society for too long, and when he finally tried to break in, he didn’t realise that he just did not know how to.
Winter came and I graduated at a gala ceremony at my university.
My feelings were mixed. I had achieved a dream and graduated with a master’s degree from a university of repute, but it was my last week in the country that I had grown to love. Without a visa, I had no choice but to leave England for good.
Most of my friends had already left.
I started packing my bags a couple of days before leaving. There were things I really didn’t need, and taking them back to India was pointless. I had a nice, big, warm jacket with a detachable hood, a brand new umbrella that I never got to use, and a fancy alarm clock.
I gave them all to Andreas.
He tried on the jacket and beamed. It was a little too large for me, but it fit him just fine.
I knew that I had to say goodbye to him in a couple of days and asked him how I could keep in touch.
Andreas despised all forms of social media which meant that Facebook was out of the question. He told me that he had an email address that he might check once in a month – I didn’t bother asking for it because it would have been useless anyway.
I kept his mobile number, which he promised he would use for as long as he lived in England.
I woke up at 4.30 am on the day I was to leave. The temperature was probably zero degrees Celsius that morning.
I had booked a taxi to drop me to the bus station at 6.00 am, and it had arrived fifteen minutes early.
I did not plan to wake up my housemates. I had already informed the Polish couple and bid them goodbye the previous night, and had done the same with Andreas too.
Andreas was a creature of habit and woke up just before 7.00 am every day. I didn’t expect that day to be any different.
Sometimes people can surprise you when you least expect it.
He woke up that day at 5.30 am without me asking him to, defying the effects of his sleep medication.
He then proceeded to help me carry my heavy boxes into the taxi without saying a word.
And as I stood on the pavement with my suitcases in the cab, ready to leave, I turned around to face Andreas for one last goodbye.
“So Mr India (that was one of his favourite nicknames for me)… err… all the best… see you someday.”
The balding man in blue jeans, black boots and a red sweater – which I am sure couldn’t keep out the morning cold, wasn’t used to saying goodbyes.
I smiled and wished him all the best, and held out my hand for a handshake. He stepped forward and gave me the most awkward hug I had ever experienced.
I had never seen him hug anybody before.
As I was leaving I waved to him from the taxi. He waved, went back inside and slammed the door shut.
I remember the last words I said to him; “Goodbye, my friend.”
I had never called him my friend until then.
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‘The German Housemate’ is one of the stories from the author Roji Abraham’s recently published debut book titled ‘Kaleidoscopic Lives – Ensemble narratives of the common man.’
Kaleidoscopic Lives is a strikingly simple, yet memorable collection of eleven short stories exploring the various facets of the lives of ordinary people. This ensemble collection is bound to take you on one emotional roller-coaster ride – a ride that will make you laugh, smile, introspect or even cry. If you have enjoyed reading this story, you will undoubtedly enjoy reading Kaleidoscopic Lives.
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Roji Abraham is a writer, blogger, music enthusiast and an M.B.A graduate from Warwick Business School, UK. He also works for a leading Information Technology Organisation from India.
As somebody who has been through a tumultuous childhood and as a traveller who had the opportunity to live and experience life in many culturally diverse places, Roji, often draws inspiration for his writing from the people and situations he has come across in life.
You can follow Roji Abraham on following websites:
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‘Shahab’ is one of the author’s most popular stories and you can download a free copy of this story by signing up on . Just go to the website’s home page, scroll down and look for the Shakespir widget on the right pane and enter your details.
Have you ever met somebody who left a profound impact on your life when you least expected it? If yes, this story is for you.
Reuben is a twenty-two year old Indian software engineer who has been sent by his employer to carry out an assignment in a client company in Bangladesh. His only friend in the foreign country is Abbas, a young database administrator, who also works in the same office.
Despite the chaos, deadlines and drudgery associated with their corporate lives, the young men often make time to enjoy each other’s company during lunch or dinner.
One day after work hours, when the two friends dine at an old and popular restaurant, they come across an eleven year old waiter boy – Shahab, whose enthusiasm and mannerisms instantly endear him to them.
An unlikely friendship is forged between the child and his customers, and before long, Reuben and Abbas learn that Shahab has a rare gift… a gift that makes them see the child in a new light.
[* Select Reader Reviews *]
“The story Shahab is the celebration of Love and kindness that we worry, is disappearing from the world at an accelerated pace. It is the story of the strong bond between two geographically and sociologically distant hearts. We often meet Shahabs in our day-to-day life but we either don’t pay attention or pretend to ignore their existence. The story reminds that we can make big changes by our small steps. I will strongly recommend not only reading the story but also taking a bit of its message along with, to make this world a better place.” - Reader (on Amazon.co.uk)
“If you like reading narratives that help you strengthen your belief in the goodness that is left in humanity, then Shahab is for you. Roji takes you to Bangladesh and in his unique style narrates an incident that took place there. He makes sure that those who read this are hooked till the end and crave for more of his writing. A perfect read over a cup of your favourite drink on a quiet evening and be prepared to be transported.” _][_– Reader (on [_Amazon.com) _]
Copyright © 2015 by Roji Abraham.
An Indian college student moves into a rented house in a suburban town in England. The shared house, which he starts living in, has other foreign boarders too, including an overage German student - a social misfit who has this uncanny talent to vex even the mildest of men. The Indian graduate notices that the Germanâ€™s boorish behaviour and queer mannerisms had isolated the latter from everybody around. But over a period of time, the newcomer starts seeing a different side to the uncouth, middle-aged, lonely man. Perhaps, all that man deserved was a second chanceâ€¦ A chance to be understoodâ€¦