It wasn’t easy to understand what she was saying because she had a way of omitting half the syllables from many of her words – as if speaking a kind of slang. But I picked it up after a while and then countered with clear enunciation in order to make a point - although she probably just wondered why someone speaking posh was looking at properties in that area.
She was showing me round a couple of flats, something she did most days and, judging by her lack of enthusiasm, didn’t find rewarding. I sympathised: all that flustered fumbling with unfamiliar keys, shoulder-shoving at reluctant doors and hesitant heaving at sticking windows can only be embarrassing when you’re trying to sell a property. Perhaps she had imagined it would be a more glamorous job: she would open elegant doors into impressive hallways revealing beautiful interiors to expectant customers while she, smiling contentedly, would relish their delighted responses.
I could tell from the outside that I wouldn’t like this flat. All the buildings in the landscaped scheme were designed to look like a village but the ‘houses’ were really flats in disguise - and there were no shops, schools, churches or pubs. It was a fraud. I hope I did a fair impression of open-mindedness as she led me up the toy-town staircase to the second floor. I hope I didn’t betray my dismay as she opened the door into the series of small rooms which had been described in the advert as a spacious, 3-bedroomed flat. I hope so because I felt it wasn’t her intention to mislead customers. She didn’t seem to like it either. Maybe years of opening doors onto cramped and dismal interiors had diminished her expectations of the job.
The flat was uninhabited, empty of furniture but full with the smell of paint. My instinct had proved accurate but I couldn’t say so for fear of implying that she was responsible: instead I feigned interest. She wasn’t able to answer any questions - her knowledge-base was fixed at the level of price and availability – so it wasn’t long before our conversation ran out. I thought for a moment of asking her about her job and whether she was comfortable about being alone with strangers in empty flats. I had remembered a case, years ago, in which a woman in the same situation had disappeared never to be seen again. But we had another flat to see and I didn’t want to disconcert her.
At the next place the owner was at home (which relieved any tension that might have been building between us) having taken time off work to come and sell his flat. Evidently unaware that flats sell themselves he enthused about features that were unimpressive. He had lived there so long that he had convinced himself it was a great place. He told me what he liked about the neighbourhood (and what I would like about it) and why he wanted to sell and move on. At his bidding I stepped into a bedroom and the smell of a stranger’s sleep wafted over me; the malodorous bathroom looked dingy; the open-plan kitchen appeared cluttered and disorganised and the lounge really was dominated by the TV. I found myself evaluating not living spaces but lifestyles and I was unable to separate one from the other.
She said nothing during this visit. Even as we shook hands she did not enquire of my opinions or intentions (perhaps they were easily read). I excused her lack of interest on the grounds that she might be pressed to meet another appointment - but perhaps she was just glad to be rid of me.
It was a warm, sunny day - perfect for the short, contemplative walk back to my place. By the time I entered my own, familiar threshold, I had already concluded that the grass is certainly not always greener.