One night in the summer of 1994, around 3 AM, I woke up to the sound of a key in the lock of the door of my room.
This was when I was working for a Public Sector Organisation. It was headquartered in a town that had a Budapest-like divide between the wealthier and poorer sections. My main concern at the time was rent, so naturally I was living in the latter. But I also wasn’t unaware of the risks that would come with that.
However, there was also a nursing college in that part of town. Which had a residence, and which also happily rented out rooms to non-nurses if they had some available. A friend who also worked for Public Sector Organisation had stayed there the previous summer, so it came recommended. It seemed like the perfect solution: community, solidarity in numbers, the presence of other people working in the Public Sector who were new in town. And a security guard on reception.
Who didn’t work nights.
So I sat up in bed saying something that probably sounded like “whazzafluck?” Heart pounding, trying to cope with the fact that, despite all my security precautions, someone, someone who was not authorised to do so, was not even breaking into my room, but was actually. Coming. In. With. A. Key.
The door swung open, to reveal, not burglars, rapists or emergency services personnel, but two girls in their late teens.
The first one looked me straight in the bleary eyes and said, cheerfully, “Oh, hello. I didn’t realised they’d rented the room out again. Mind if I show my friend around?”
And then, while I sat there in bed trying to figure it out, she literally gave her friend a tour. It wasn’t a big room, so the tour was along the lines of, “this is the bed, and this is the cupboard, and this is the bookshelf, and this is the window and this is the desk…”
She then smiled, said goodbye, and walked out, closing the door behind her.
The next day the security guard was very apologetic, swearing blind that he hadn’t know she’d kept a copy of the key (I believed him, but not so sure I believed the building manager’s similar denial), and agreeing both to move me to a different room as soon as possible, and to keep my laptop in the combination-locked secure room until that could happen (1990s laptops being expensive and huge).
The story, as much as I could tell, was that she was a local girl who had run away from a bad home situation and used the nursing residence as a sort of halfway stop between getting away from her family and actually getting out of town. She’d just moved out one day, presumably having found a way to do just that.
So that explained the surreal reunion tour. With a biography like that one, the desk, the cupboard, and the bookshelf– your own desk, cupboard and bookshelf– do rather become very significant things.
And if somebody who’d lived in my house back in the day came by and wanted to visit, I’d be happy to let them in to relive the old memories.
Not, however, normally at 3 AM!