In my London days, (sad that I’ve been reduced to reminiscing), I moved house quite a bit. For those who’ve never been…try and picture dragging around suitcases on wheels, and huge black plastic dustbin bags filled with pots, cutlery, hangers and other pieces of shit one accumulates over time; on red Double-Decker buses and on the underground tube with a couple of friends, laughing and giggling at the absurdity of it all, wishing that you just hired a cab or one of those dodgy overpriced taxi’s to heave all your crap around instead.
It was my third or fourth time heaving and dragging and lugging shit around London that I met Donovan, a Chartered Accountant originally from New Zealand. I was trying to escape a dragon of a Landlady and responded to his Ad on the Gumtree…”Flat owner seeking live-in caretaker in Maida Vale” and I ended up renting a room from him at £70.00 a week. I hit the Jackpot. It was one of the best bargains I’ve ever came across in my life considering that I rented a room and got an entire flat in one of the poshest neighbourhoods in London, fully furnished complete with lounge, additional bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and garden to use at my disposal, while Donovan temporarily moved in with his British-born Sri Lankan Lawyer vegetarian girlfriend, Anushka, across town.
In our initial tenancy agreement, it was stipulated that I could basically use the place as my own, provided that I took care of it i.e. cleaned it on a regular basis. Of course that was no problem and before I knew it, I entered a phase that I still call one of the best phases of my life.
So in the spaces between going to work and going out with my friends, I not only cleaned and looked after Donovan’s place, I used his VCR, DVD, TV and Hi-Fi. I read all his books because he was an avid reader with an enormous collection and I watched all his DVD’s and I entertained my friends Angie, Joanita, Sylvia and Bea to regular sleep-overs in the additional room (originally his bedroom) and the sleeper couch in the lounge. I ate all his Belgian chocolates that Pierre used to bring on a regular basis from Belgium and whatever edible/Halaal grocery supplies he kept. He even acquiesced to my sister staying with me while she holidayed for 6 weeks under the British sun (and clouds) at no charge. It was a year of heaven.
He was an excellent Landlord, very clued up on Islam and always accommodating my needs as a Muslim. He used to check up on me once or twice a week, to see that everything was ok and would on rare occasion pop around to sleep in his bed whenever he was at odds with Anushka and she kicked him out. He loved to cook even though his meals were mediocre at best and would book his kitchen on some weekends to host garden parties for his friends, because Anushka would have rather died then let him near her kitchen. Once, he made one of his famous vegetarian dishes for us and invited Tom, his childhood/varsity friend along for the meal. I could barely keep the mashed potatoes down from laughing as Tom lambasted his cooking and demanded to know why Donovan insisted on honing his culinary skills when he was clearly horrendous in the kitchen.
I eventually became acquainted with everyone in Donovan’s circle including all his married and single friends, his mom and dad as well as his brother and sister as they would stay in his room whenever they came to visit for a few days from New Zealand. I got to know Anushka and her siblings pretty well too. I occasionally baby sat nine-month old Sharona for his friends Laura the Nurse and Tim the Engineer for some extra money, and was usually invited to most of the Kiwi-hosted events in London.
I traveled a lot in that time too…and it was always comforting to know that I could return to a place that I called home. After I moved back to South Africa, he decided to take the plunge, married Anushka and sent me 50 photos of the wedding which jammed my Hotmail account. We have been in contact ever since.
I received the phone call last week after several hours of trying to decipher a very obscure email from Donovan…something about visiting Cape Town, requiring information and leaving on a long-haul flight from Fiji rendering him unavailable for a couple of days. So back in London, he called to apologise for his crappy typing skills and told me that Cape Town was a blast.
I was confused, thinking that he had wanted to come to CT and being told that he had already visited. He told me it was totally unscheduled and spontaneous, that they didn’t want to bother me for some catch-up meeting considering how far CT is from JHB and that they were very impressed with what SA had to offer and look forward to visiting again soon.
We got chatting about my up-coming trip as well and he insisted on coming to pick me up from the airport. I told him he needn’t bother since I have done it like 6 times before and that I’ll be fine. He was also a little disappointed that we couldn’t stay with him and Anushka when I told him that we’ve already accepted Bea’s offer to stay at her place.
It got me thinking about all the lovely people in my life. The ones who are there no matter what…the ones who really care and extend their friendships generously…with no expectations or requirements from me. The ones who will be there when I need them to be, even though we have no blood ties that bind us…no obligations to each other…no real reason to be committed to the friendship. Those are the people that count to me. They are the ones that keep hope alive for human kind, the ones that make me believe that the world is not all bad.
In retrospect, I was the one who signed up to take care of Donovan’s flat, but in reality he is the one who took care of me…the quintessential big brother-type who was always too cautious and wary for my liking…analyzing everything to death and having a million “contingency plans”…he would drive me insane sometimes, but he always looked out for me, even when I didn’t need him too. I was, and still am, truly blessed.
Heres to all the lovely people out there.