There was something brand new and intriguing and even scary, I realized, about the fact that I was finally going to live in New York City. New York had, after all, been a dream I had been working towards, for years. Surprisingly, finding an apartment was relatively easy, and my new flatmate and I toasted to our cohabitation status by eating thinly sliced apples. Mom came to help with the move, and a distant cousin loaded my heavy suitcases and drove us down to the Bronx, where we spent the night eating savoury fish in baby tomato curry in their house, contemplating the new house.
Everything was looking rosy- I had just won an award for my research on the school system in Bangladesh, and in the meantime, there were a number of employers I had scheduled interviews with in the city. Within a couple of days, a friend’s sister sold me her spare bed and some lamps, and so I was set- a big girl, a recent graduate, and with the opportunities and skills required to start my own life in the motherland for all dreamers.
Unfortunately, the minute I started dragging my suitcase into the new apartment, everything started to appear wrong. The courtyard leading to the house was covered in pigeon excrements. The apartment never got air and my room on the ground floor faced the courtyard, complete with its netted roof which prevented the pigeons from flying away. Even though Central Park was a block away, the road to the entrance on 96th was littered with crack addicts, asking me for spare change every day. In fact, everything that had immediately seemed exciting turned out to be a little bit less so, but I took it in stride, thinking that this reality check is what the big city life was all about.
The roommate, who I shall call M, promised me she and her boyfriend T were occupying the living room because she was shuttling between London and New York to finish her Masters degree, but would soon be done and then we could have a living room space. Taking this into account, I started to set up my room, decorating it with a Klimt poster and juxtaposing it with Munch’s “Scream.”
After a couple of months, there was still no word of M and T moving out of the living room. One day, when quizzed about it, M told me I was welcome to hang out in their room and use it like a living room during the day. A strange case of homesickness suddenly fell over me, and I began to miss the living room, not even in my own house, but in the dormitory of my boarding school, where the amount of wood in the old heaters determined our comfort levels for the night.
I went back to my room when she told me this, and thought back to the night I had moved in to the apartment, at a loss for what to do about this strange roommate situation I had found myself in. That first night, after Ma and I had assembled my bed, we both went to sleep, tossing and turning in the sweltering humidity of the night. All of a sudden, we were woken up from our sleep by a crashing sound, and the flapping of wings. A pigeon had flown into the room, and in fact had shat on my new lamp.
Ma and I had been terrified of what was present in the room until we turned on the lights and saw the pigeon fly straight back out of the grilled windows which had no netting. As I lay on my bed, I recalled how, the very next day, we discovered a subway sign which warned pedestrians to stay away from pigeons because their shit contained over two hundred different kinds of diseases.
Outside my room, there was a commotion. Apparently M had just been discovered having a clandestine affair with our third roommate C. T was enraged, and was trying to choke C, whilst M screamed in the background and asked me to call 911. I looked at my watch. It was just 8 AM on a Saturday. I walked back to my computer, and started typing an email to M. “I’m moving out,” the email said. “This is my one month notice.”
T was not homicidal, even for M, of that I was aware because while she was away, he could only talk about peace rallies in connection with the war against terror. With this scant knowledge of his prior disposition, I let the shouting and accusations outside continue. Unfortunately, I did not even have a lock on my door, and for the first time since moving into this ridiculous situation, I thought of myself critically. Who was I, that I had allowed myself, in my initial euphoria of living in the city, sign onto a situation where I didn’t have a key to lock myself in from these predatory sex maniacs who constituted at least 50% of my roommate situation? By the time I was finished composing my email, T was gone, C was massaging his smarting neck, and M was casually throwing out all the belongings of her old lover into the hallway.
I smiled at them and walked out, through the courtyard of pigeon shit, to get a cup of coffee at the bodega around the corner at Manhattan Avenue. The late autumn air was crisp, and the leaves on the trees in Central Park were yellowing as I walked into the park, about ten minutes later. I grinned as I sat down on my favourite bench, under the weeping willow, overlooking the tiny lake on 100th.
Three swans swam across the shallow waters of the lake. Two swallows started chirping in the trees. It was going to be the best day since I had moved into Manhattan.