The landlady opened the door of our fourth-floor apartment and we followed her inside, Vinny carrying the two battered suitcases that held all our belongings. She led us through a dark, narrow corridor to a larger room. It was pitch black, the only light came from the entrance door which had been left open, and we stood dead still, afraid of bumping into something. There was a sudden clattering noise that made us both jump, then daylight shone hazily in through the curtainless window.
“Roller blinds,” the landlady said unnecessarily, her false teeth clacking as she spoke. “You pull on this cord to open them, feed it back down to close. Easy.”
I put down my handbag and looked around at our new home. The walls were grimy and peeling, the window was filthy, our feet stuck to the marble floor as we walked across it and bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling. The room was sparsely furnished - an ancient double bed took up most of the space and there was a small chest of drawers pushed back against the opposite wall. The bed was covered with a stained bedspread of an indeterminate colour, dotted with cigarette burns and some suspicious-looking stains. I made a mental note to get rid of it as soon as the landlady left.
“The kitchen’s through here,” she announced, taking us back along the corridor to a tiny room that I had noticed on the way in. I’d thought it was a larder. There was a small table with two chairs against one wall, with some cupboards hanging above it, and a cooker, sink and fridge on the other. In between was a gap just wide enough for one person to pass, sideways. Here too filth reigned supreme.
“And here’s the bathroom,” she said proudly. “Not all the apartments here are so large, you know. You’re very lucky.”
I smiled, hoping to seem grateful. The bathroom was exactly the same as the kitchen: tiny and dirty, and somehow squeezed inside was the toilet, a basin, a half-bath (a full-sized one would never have fitted) and a… “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the thing complete with taps, next to the toilet.
The landlady looked embarrassed. “Why, that’s a bidet, dear. Surely you know what that is?”
I shook my head. “I’ve never seen one before,” I said. The landlady snorted and muttered something under her breath. I couldn’t be sure but it sounded like, “Bloody southerners.”
“I’m sorry?” I said, shocked.
“Nothing dear, just a cough. You use the bidet for washing, understand?”
“Of course,” I replied, wondering why she was smirking.
“Oh, and it’s definitely not for growing tomatoes in, or any other vegetables either. The earth tends to clog up the pipes.”
“All right,” I said, not really sure why she should have said that. Who would grow vegetables in the bathroom?
“Well, that’s about everything,” she said briskly, going to the door. “I’ll let you get settled in. Give me a shout if you need anything, I’m on the ground floor.”
She closed the door behind her and Vincenzo and I looked at each other.
“Welcome to our new home,” he said.
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