"Okay, let's go over the ad one more time", Charles said and pressed the Ctrl button and the plus sign in his keyboard in order to enlarge the web form. Erik leaned closer to the screen and started reading the words out loud over his friend's shoulder.
Room Location: Cowley
Price: £600 pcm
Availability: 1st of September onwards
Room Description: 15sq meter room facing the quiet back garden of a 5-storey building. The apartment has 2 other bedrooms, a kitchen, and a spacious living room. There's a lot of gaming equipment in the common room and we enjoy the odd Mario Kart racing duel after work. We also sometimes go running together.
The room is furnished from the previous occupant, but new flatmate can bring own furniture if they want to.
Currently has a desk, a wardrobe, a bed, a chair and carpeting all in various shades of blue (see attached photos).
The apartment is conveniently located 15 minutes by public transport to Oxford campus.
What we're looking for: Somebody neat and uncomplicated, preferably also a student of some kind.
Who we are: Erik (26), a Ph.D student in Materials Engineering and Charles (23), MSc student in Biology. The room is free because our current flatmate is leaving to work in a lab abroad.
Erik rubbed his eyes and frowned at the screen, then at Charles.
"This all sounds rather generic and safe to me", he said. "It doesn't really deter anybody from applying, nor does it say anything about who we are as people to potential flatmates."
"Well, it does imply that we are the sort of easy going folks who have no problem with blue, furry furniture and are fun enough to play video games with. And also, it does say we prefer a person who is in Academia like we are. We're going to filter the applicants out better when we meet them in person."
"We're going to filter them out by what they say in their application first and foremost!" Erik said in a way that made his existing frown morph seamlessly into its angrier cousin, the scowl, which in turn made Charles flinch.
"Of course, Erik, of course", he said, making appeasing hand motions and pointing at the screen. "Here, see? I put your e-mail as the recipient of all applications and you can let me know who to invite over."
"No, no. Put both of our e-mails there, that way there's less back and forth and we can select who to invite together", Erik said. "That's how we did it when I was living in WGs in Germany, anyway".
"Sorry, a what? What is a Ve-Guest? I thought you were also living with flatmates in Aachen during your Masters?
"That's what I meant - WG stands for Wohngemeinschaft in German. It's similar to a shared student flat here, only over there it's not uncommon that older professionals also do it."
"Oh, I see... Can't really imagine that I would want to... When I'm older...Anyhow, at any case, I think the ad posting is as ready as it will ever be right now. Shall I hit 'Submit'? "
"Sure, go ahead." Erik gave a short nod. "I just hope this flatmate finding process doesn't waste a lot of our time."
Three hours and fifteen eager but misguided e-mails later, Erik was feeling more irritated than hopeful.
"It's like those people cannot even read what's in front of them", he said, glaring at the newest clueless e-mail that was asking if the room was furnished and if it would be available in July. “Everything this person asks about is already spelled out in the ad. Everything!”
"I suppose they might be sending the same generic e-mail to everyone through the website?" Charles said and let Erik click on the next e-mail.
"This one asks if we want to welcome her and her pet snake in the apartment. It even has a picture of her terrarium attached", Erik said thoughtfully, as he opened the picture file. "This is such a magnificent creature, Charles, look at those scales, they appear almost metallic in the photo."
"The landlord does not allow cats or dogs in the apartment, I doubt they would allow venomous animals", Charles said, quietly.
Erik's face fell for all of two seconds before it lit up again. "That might not be true actually, because a snake would be confined to its terrarium! So it wouldn't annoy the neighbours or scratch the floors. We should take a look at the rental contract again."
"Erik, we are not getting the girl with the snake, please. I am afraid of them."
"Girls or snakes?"
"Ha ha very funny, okay”, Charles cringed. “Let's just look at the next one".
My name is Sean, I am 25 years old, I come from Scotland and study Sound Engineering. I have been sub renting a room for the past 3 months, but need to find new accomodation starting from September. I am a laid back and easy going person. Totally down for Mario Kart and hanging out chilling in the house or outside or whatever. I generally don't do sports, but when I do, I like paragliding.
Will be happy to hear back from you!
"He spelled accommodation wrong", Erik said. "But he's not bad otherwise."
"Come on Erik, you can't be nitpicking people's spelling when you are the sort of person who confuses 'lend' and 'borrow'."
"I do ?"
"Yes, you do", Charles said. "I think it's probably because you think of it in German. At any case, I also think he sounds nice. Let's put him on the list of the people we want to meet in person."
"You don't know Wohngemeinschaft but you know all the different meanings of leihen ? I thought you didn't know any German. And yes, put him on the list."
"I really don't. I just sometimes get a sense of what people mean to say anyway and why", Charles said, simply. "And, oh, here's another e-mail."
Dear Erik, Dear Charles,
I am an older gentleman working as a nuclear physicist, recently divorced and looking for temporary accommodation while the proceedings are finalized and I get my affairs in order (minimum three months). I would be interested in becoming part of your arrangement and would like to schedule a visitation as soon as possible.
For a few beats, nobody spoke.
"Is it just me or there's something vaguely creepy about this application?" Charles wondered, voice so low as if he was speaking only to himself.
Erik let out the breath he had been holding and shrugged. "I think it's not just you. Something about it is rubbing me the wrong way, too. And anyway, we want somebody for more than three months. How about we trash this one and call it a day? We'll look at more tomorrow."
"Sounds good, I will just e-mail Sean the sound engineer to set something up and then log off", Charles said.
The last e-mail being dragged into the recycling bin made a pleasant sound exactly like actual paper being trashed. Erik looked at his friend, face lit from the monitor, hands busy typing something cheerful back to that Sean guy, hair sticking out in places and he felt something odd flutter in his chest; something close to relief. They had one decent prospect just hours after putting up the ad. Erik went to bed later feeling content. Maybe they would find a suitable person quickly and be done with it after all.
Erik arrived home late the next day with a mind to go straight to his room. Maybe a few hours of tending to his chili garden would make his brain stop thinking about the properties of metal alloys and how to modify them. The computer at the uni was dutifully running the simulations Erik had coded, after all, so he didn't have to think about them, he'd get the results the day after, he could just relax and unwind for a bit alone. However, it was not to be.
There was a flame-haired stranger in the living room, drinking a beer (one of his, in fact), and Charles was talking to him animatedly with a mug of tea in his hands. Black tea. How Charles managed to fall asleep at all was a mystery, because it seemed rare to see him out and about without a caffeinated drink. He'd built tolerance over the years, Erik supposed.
“You must be Sean”, he said. “I am Erik, it's nice to meet you.”
“Sean was just telling me which concert venues in Oxford have the best and the worst acoustics”, Charles said.
“Oh yeah, man, there's some places, you don't even wanna know. Take the Rodeo Club for example. Someone had the genius idea to put, like, a pillar in the middle of the hall and everything. Not only does it block the view, but it also like, totally kills the sound if you're sitting close.”
“Well at least it doesn't have glass walls like that Red Lion pub over at New Headington”, Erik said, smiling for once. “They sometimes have live concerts there. The sound is always terrible, but we love to go anyway.”
“Oh, I think I know the one you mean. Reflected, woozy sound everywhere. I live close by but I avoid it as a matter of principle”, Sean grinned at Erik.
“Now that you mention it, how come you're leaving the place you're staying at now?” Erik asked.
“Oh, you know, commute was getting pretty tiring and all. This house here is located better.” Sean said and took a sip of his beer.
“I can leave from here and be on campus in 15 minutes every single day!” Charles said happily. “At any case, who is up for a round of Mario Kart?”
The next day was a Friday. Erik woke up quite late, his first thought being to check on the results of his program. His second thought after was that the pillow was too fluffy and comfortable, and he never wanted to let go. With great pain he forced himself to roll out of bed and open his closet in search of something unwrinkled and clean.
The insides of the closet were disappointing. He had really let himself go with organizational matters ever since starting his PhD. He missed his array of identical neatly folded shirts and pants. One day, however, he would be done. And then he'd get a job. Maybe he'd become a railway engineer for Deutsche Bahn. He'd be a sharply dressed engineer, even when going on-site with the construction worker's hat, he'd make it work somehow. The only thing sharper than his clothes, would be, of course, his design plans. He could work on a team to design a new generation of sturdier and faster trains, why not. He would... he should probably put a stop to daydreaming.
For all he knew, he'd take long to finish his PhD. Maybe two years down the road, he would still be drinking in the pub with Charles, in Oxford. Maybe he'd never make it back to Germany. Maybe he'd still be doing the 15-minute commute to the lab to check what results MATLAB had spewed out overnight. Maybe he'd even anxiously pop in the lab after drinking in the Red Lion at night, just to check, and find out that the program had crashed at 95 %. Thank God everything was so close, favorite shitty pub, Uni, home, a triangle containing most of his life.
“Oh shit”, Erik thought to himself as he picked out a t-shirt and jeans. “There's something that doesn't add up.”
“Charles! Charles, are you still home?” Erik barged into the kitchen to see his flatmate leaning against the window with the usual cup of tea in his hands, staring outside. Daydreaming, just like me, Erik could very well imagine.
“Good morning Erik”, Charles said, sounding more awake than he looked.
“I think Sean might have lied about why he's leaving his current flat.”
“Huh, why would you say that? I really liked the guy.”
“He lives in Headington, right? There's a direct connection from there to the Oxford campus. You remember when I dragged you there from the pub a couple of times to make sure my experiments were running?”
“Erm, faintly? I was very drunk.”
“Okay, but it is really close, okay? Our flat isn't more conveniently located. So that can't be the reason. He made it up.”
“Or he doesn't know? Not everybody has the transport app.”
“Everybody has the transport app.”
Charles let out a sigh. “Take me, for example, I hardly ever use it. What an odd thing to speculate about. Maybe it's not easy to get to the train station from his exact address. Why even think of this stuff?”
“I just got a vibe he was not telling the truth, and put two and two together.”
“Well, as I said, I really liked the guy. But you can veto him out if you have a bad feeling or something, and we can look at other candidates”, Charles said, looking at his tea unhappily.
Erik pondered that for a moment, and his expression softened. “I don't know, it's probably unfair to veto him out based just on my impression... but, don't accept him yet, okay? And yeah let's look at more candidates, have you checked for e-mails already?”
“The... the influx of e-mails winded down a bit after the first day, but we still got a few new applicants. Let's take a quick look together before you dash out.”