I’ve lived with a lot of mental people over the years. When I travelled round the world teaching English there were three people who really stuck out as being slightly different from the norm.
First was Mamamaria, mother of the family I stayed with in Quito, Ecuador. She was a lovely, kind, frail old lady. Her two daughters were in the flat, but her son worked in the South of Ecuador. I think she often saw me as his replacement, mainly because of how she was around me. She used to sit and watch me cook and eat my meals, would always stand at the top of the stairs in her pink dressing gown and wave me goodbye in the morning, and at night would check that I’d cleaned my teeth and washed behind my ears.
The weirdest thing about her was that she used to sit next to me on the sofa and occasionally sip through a long tube which slyly curved round the back of the sofa under a table, covered with a mauve blanket. I assumed Mammaria was slurping drips of medicine as it usually relaxed her jaw and sent her to sleep, but towards the end of my stay there I found out it was beer.
King Murphy, the Nigerian English teacher I lived with in Salvador, Brazil, was also bonkers. He was a decent man and helped me a lot while I shared a house with twelve others, mainly because he was the only one to speak English. He was a nymphomanic though. He would often boast about the stunning Brazilian woman he’d spent the night with (to put it politely). He’d stagger back to his room in the mornings, giving me a sweaty high-five, knackered after marathon banging sessions. I lost count of how many times he asked me whether I’d slept with a Brazilian woman; he just couldn’t understand that I had a girlfriend at the time.
Finally was Franco, the Chinese art student I lived with in Sydney. I actually shared a room with him, a room big enough for only one of us to be able to stand up at the same time. Franco was shyer than a squirrel stripped of all its bodily hair with only a tiny napkin to hide its private bits. I got on with Franco, even if he knew nothing about football, or women (yes I know, shallow, but I’m that kind of guy). I could tell when he was coming back to the room because his little bell, which was attached to his key ring, on his yellow teddy bear, would jingle.
Despite their weird customs, I lived in harmony with all those people, plus a lot more as I travelled the world, and rarely had major problems. So why did I have so many issues with the Spanish blokes I lived with in my first two years? Was it just bad luck? Did I choose the four mentalist people to live with in Seville? I sometimes wonder whether my wife secretly arranged my new housemates so that I’d agree to move in with her.
First was David, an Engineer student from Burgos. David was a pasty white skinny lad, and seemed harmless. But his appearance was definitely deceitful, I mean deceiving. He had similar traits to Mamamaria, not because he wore a pink dressing gown (although it would have suited him), but because he was rather motherly. He had this weird way of treating me like a little kid.
He used to bang on about the state of the kitchen, complain about the hours I worked, and even questioned why I went running.
“Because I like it.”
“Yeaaasssss? You like the run? But why? Is a silly.”
My level of Spanish was atrocious, so we often spoke in English, which was confusing at times.
“Why don’t you clean your shits?” he said to me one afternoon as I lay on my bed reading.
“What?” I said, frowning, convinced that I’d just pulled the chain correctly.
“Your shits, why don’t you clean?”
“But I do, I always flush the chain.”
“Flush the chain?” he said in his condescending way, as if I’d just made up the phrase.
“Yeah,” I said, standing up and marching into the bathroom. “This,” I said, grabbing in the chain, “is a chain.”
“Oh,” he said, still not sure if I was inventing the language. “Not that shits, this shits,” he said, walking back into my room and pointing to my bed sheets, which, admittedly, were slightly grimy on the edges because they had been brushing on the floor. My housemates at Uni wouldn’t have battered an eyelid if my bedshits had been a tad grubby, but that was David, always on the lookout for something to piss me off.
It got worse. As time went on he began to question everything I did. Why I was a teacher? How had I travelled the world on my own? Why did I like eating rice with a spoon? To cut a long, nine-month, agonising story, short, David was a bit of a twat, and I was glad when I changed flats and moved to the Alemeda, for a brief moment anyway.
Manuel seemed like a decent bloke initially. The flat was completely filthy, at least to David’s standards, but at least he didn’t seem as if he was going to be on my case. His English was non-existent, so we could chat in Spanish too. Manuel loved basketball, which was probably why he was so tall. I think he actually admitted sleeping with his feet attached to the ceiling so he could grow longer, but that might have been my poor Spanish.
I only saw Manuel in the evenings during the week, which was probably just as well because he could talk he hind legs off a bull, or at least send one to sleep with his long rants about politics. Manuel was a journalist for ABC, a popular newspaper in Sevilla. Every night when I got in from work, usually at about midnight, he would download. He’d bleat on about how corrupt Spanish politicians were and how he was going to become a hotshot journalist and send them all to the cleaners. It was great for practising how to translate fifty-two words a second, but I’d often get frustrated as I rarely had a response to his opinions, not only because I couldn’t care less about Spanish politicians, but because my vocabulary had only reached colours and household objects.
When I bumped into him at the weekends it was usually around lunch time, so chatting was more relaxed. So were his bum cheeks though. He had this nasty habit of farting straight after a meal. His gas seeping mechanism was like clockwork. I could predict when it was coming, as soon as he placed his fork next to his licked knife. I didn’t mind so much, being a bloke and all, but my girlfriend did.
“He is so dirty,” she said one afternoon as we left Manuel in a haze of lethal nitrogen.
“I know, but he’s a laugh.”
“But he stinks. He’s hairy too; there are hairs all over the bathroom, even on the mirror.”
“He’s all right,” I said.
“He looks at me strange too.”
“What do you mean strange?”
“What like ‘I want to kill you strange’ or ‘I ‘m imagining you naked strange.’”
So when he announced he was moving to Madrid because he’d landed a job with one of the big newspapers to continue his dream of bringing down the Spanish government we were all relieved, in a way.
Continued next week.