I was 19. After a pleasant gap-year of working and wasting money, I moved to the big city of Toronto to go to college. I had to live off a government loan and a line of credit, so I needed to find a place with cheap rent that was not-too-far from school, and I found it. Saint Martha, we’ll call her, (#2), was willing to rent out one of two bedrooms in a basement apartment for $300/month each.
When I moved in that Labour Day weekend, I met the guy who had rented the other bedroom. He was a balding 30-year-old Russian guy, training to be a medical doctor. I knew right off the bat that hygiene was not his forte as he had that musty smell that deodorantless men carry with them, but the apartment was basically clean, so I contentedly unloaded my stuff with the help of my parents, and after they left, I chatted with my new roommate as I cooked supper on my new electric grill.
Now, in the first week that new roomies live together, they tend to be on their best behaviour; it’s afterwards that their true colours (and aromas) come out to play. After a week, Boris’ hygiene declined further. It started with leaving crumbs and bread tags lying around, but soon progressed to horking up phlegm into the kitchen sink, and he would leave his semi-solid treats behind for me to find while doing the dishes. He asked, before he got too dirty, if he could use my grill, I said of course! only to find it later clogged with congealed fat, with more fat solidifying all over the kitchen counter around it.
And then there were the mysterious, weekly digestive issues. Every Friday, I’d walk into the bathroom and find brown splatter up the back of the toilet, and sometimes even on the wall beside the toilet. What was he eating every Thursday that caused this? Once, I even noticed a spot of brown on the ceiling of the shower. How is that even possible? When he feels the brown train coming, does he do a handstand under the sprinkling shower head? If so, that would explain how he came to smell so bad.
I worked hard to clean up after Boris because he couldn’t seem to comprehend what cleaning was about. He didn’t even use soap on his body, never mind cleaning products around the home. Fortunately, in my first job, I had been a janitor at a nursing home, so I was used to scraping up the most unimaginable messes.
Although I had a heavy course load, I made it a priority to keep the place as clean as possible, because my college buddies would come over to study a lot, and I needed a clean space for them.
Saint Martha continued to be as sweet and gregarious as always. She would often come downstairs to say hello when she was feeling social (there was no separate entrance for the apartment, so she came and went at will), but unfortunately, her husband, Billy Bad Business (#3) would also come down, and in the absence of his wife, he could be quite cantankerous.
He would come down to tell me that the rules were changing. For example, I would not be allowed to have guests anymore, even though there was a policy about guest stays in the contract. When I would respond, saying that any change in the rules would have to be agreed on by his wife, he and myself, he would back down. There was something fishy going on. He was a very different man when his wife wasn’t around.
He would get angry at me for things Boris was doing. He was uncomfortable with Boris, and, being a coward, he would take out all of his frustration on me, because I was a nice, approachable guy. Things got progressively weirder before I realized what was going on: He never wanted tenants. His home, in his mind, was for Martha and him alone, and any tenant on the property was seen as an intruder. Martha, on the other hand, felt that offering cheap rent was a good deed, a way of investing in the lives of young college students, and in her selflessness, she considered this a ministry. What a dear soul. Unfortunately, she knew nothing of the character of her husband.
As the months wore on, her husband got more and more desperate to get rid of us, and one morning came down to announce that my rent cheque had bounced and that I had to go. I called the bank- the cheque had never been cashed. He lied to his wife because he wanted to get rid of the tenants once and for all. Little did he know that he would have a harder time getting rid of Boris, and without me there to clean up there would be hell to pay.
Martha came downstairs with weepy eyes saying, “You should have told us! You should have told us! [that you’re leaving]”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her husband was a bastard and was kicking me out. I did not want to get involved in their marriage, so I apologized and searched for a new home.
After asking around, I learned from a friend named Bob that his eccentric, neat-freak landlady had a room in her house for rent, so I called her right away for a tour. “It is not very nice”, she told me as she showed me around, and the house was just a touch run down, but everything was spotless and odourless, and I only had 3 days left in my old place, so my inner monologue was saying, “well it’s this place or the street, honey!” and I gratefully wrote her a cheque for first and last.
Dad came to the rescue with his truck, and helped me move for the second time that year. It was such a relief to live with someone who would yell at me for leaving a dish on the counter, because I knew everything was sterile. My lifestyle had been substantially upgraded, and although I lived too far from any reasonable bus route to get to school, I was able to buy a bike and pack on some leg muscle during my morning commutes. What a relief. This was heaven. This was… what the heck? Oh no. THAT requires its own story.