A rental showing has to be seen to be believed. Unlike showing a Monet, placed before a grateful audience and savoured.
Ten minutes is the allocated time. The candidates gather before the broken cyclone fence. At one time a gate must have swung across the concrete drive but not even the gate posts stand. It’s a balmy morning, there’s the knots of people slumped against whatever presents, a brick wall here, an acacia tree there. They eye each other off, in a way which says
‘ This place is a dump I really wouldn’t consider but I’ve gotta be here cause Centrelink housing said so’
‘ I hope I can get this place and finally have somewhere to stay.’
Five minutes past the 1230 opening time she swishes in, parks closer than all the rest to the property, and with chin jutting slightly forward proceeds to the door, keys jangling in her left hand, the key ring emblazoned, ‘The Edge’.
The throng surges forward. It’s not the appeal of the place that drives them forward, it’s the sense that they might miss out. The whole feeling that maybe I might miss out on something that if they were to give a moment’s thought, they really don’t want.
I’d arrived five minutes before the scheduled time, and scanned the crowd. I realised that had my Vinnie’s client had attended every open house in the area, and was still no closer to getting accommodation. He was never successful and though he saw many places it was simply part of the process to cover the agent’s agreement to ensure all potential tenants had seen a place to avoid later litigation.
He wasn’t there, hadn’t turned up, and feeling that he might miss out I took a turn around the block. On the last leg of the block I saw him propping his bike against a tee tree in the median strip.
He was as dark as dark could be. Deeper than dark chocolate about 5’4” he carried a large black satchel slung across his left shoulder its weight borne on his right hip. Slightly blood shot eyes looked over the people searching for the Chinaman. Not seeing the Chinaman, he backed away to his bike and stooped to lock it. The combination tumblers spun to open then he closed the clasp. He looked again, down the street and saw the polished red car slide along the curb. It stopped behind the Edge’s car, the engine slowed then stopped.
The Chinaman pushed open the door and immediately spotted him.
Between them the slightest smile, and perhaps a ‘G’day Albert’ responded with ‘Hello how are you’ in a slightly staccato soft voice. It was twenty five percent of his total English words.
‘Have they started already?’
For by now the crowd had engulfed the far left corner of the L shaped block pushing their way into the unit which the Edge’s agent had opened. It was small and had seen better days. Missing bricks from the window sill to the right of the door, a couple missing on the other side. Front to back was not more than six or seven paces and the lounge/dining three metres wide with a three metre first bed to the right through the timber veneered wall dividing the besser block box in two.
Two people were still outside; Albert walked a step or two behind the Chinaman as they walked across the leaf strewn car pad to bring up the end of the queue.
Miss Edge looked though the people crowded into the lounge and though shorter than all she commanded quiet when she asked,
Michelle at the front of the crowd said she was Duggan, giggling at Michael her new beau from the Pineapple last night. She’d been able to stay upright long enough to walk to the taxi they’d caught to his place last night. Thoughtfully he’d skipped work today to be here with her to fill out her ‘Seeking accommodation’ obligation to Centrelink.
“Foster……… Bailey……………….Malevchenko ………..” all acknowledged their presence. The Bailey kid had to be told to ‘shut the fuck up several times’ by his step Dad’s defacto’s girlfriend’s great aunt’s cousin who had come along to make up the numbers.
Thompson and Ovemwahgabi didn’t turn up, little Miss Edge’s nose did.
She struggled with Ovemwahgabi hoping they’d say who they were, then hoping maybe it was Albert. It wasn’t him, so she was faced with trying her best, something she found quite foreign.
‘ Poon’ she said, ‘David Poon’
and some of the crowd looked around to see who this might be.
I lifted my left hand and flicked my index finger to the ceiling.
‘Yeah that’s me’
‘Ah, ok ‘she said ‘So that guy with you is the refugee?’
Albert shifted his weight. He had no idea it was he who was being spoken about, though the words between Miss Edge and the Chinaman set him thinking.
He’d wanted a place for so long. He longed to see his kids and have them with him. The past months had drifted into a year and still he spoke to his kids sporadically and then only by phone for half an hour a week.
‘Ok’, Miss Edge said, ‘You can all see the condition of the place. Make sure that you get an application form from me before you leave and make sure you’ve got 100 points before you bring it back to the office. This unit’s going to go quick so make sure you don’t miss out.’
Most had stopped listening and moved either to the bathroom/laundry behind the kitchen end of the lounge/dining or the smaller bed two behind bed one. Mutterings about how good or bad the place was could be heard. Tania Foster was appalled and asked twice what the rent was, and each time recoiled at the rip off price. She left quickly.
The others milled around and as they left three men of the Dark Continent entered.
They slid along the timber veneered wall and around into bed one. Smilingly they engaged Albert in conversation, clearly enjoying the open for inspection. They opened the cupboards and approvingly drew the curtains to and fro.
As Miss Edge kept a watchful eye, she handed out her applications to the Bailey’s and Malevchenko’s. The Bailey man Tom muttered about the cracks in the bathroom then swiped at the kid who’d started to pick at the lifting lounge vinyl floor covering.
‘Oh that’s nothing, Tom’ Miss Edge quickly remarked ‘Write it down on the condition report’
The African’s completed their short circuit of the unit and by this time the rest had all left.
Miss Edge was clearly chaffing. Propped on her high heels she looked more uncomfortable than she needed to be.
‘So who’s the unit for David’ she said addressing the Chinaman.
‘It’s for Albert’
And with that he caught Albert’s eye and beckoned him to come over.
She looked him up and down; a pained smile creased her lips then she reverted to the Chinaman.
‘How many is it for, I thought you said one person on the phone the other day?’
‘Yeah that’s right, it’s for Albert himself, he’s been looking around here for months and can’t seem to get anywhere’
The Chinaman could feel his pulse rising. He’d never felt the sharpness of discrimination, or so he felt having been born and grown up in Australia.
She went on
‘So who are they?’ querying and gesturing towards bed one where Albert’s three friends were examining a crack in the window.
‘Never seen them before. Guess they’re friends’ he said.
‘We have a lot of trouble with the Sudanese so the landlords aren’t keen to have them rent’
‘But Albert’s not Sudanese’ I answered, ‘He’s from Burundi’
‘Burundi, where’s that? Is that in China?
“’In China? Whaaat the fuck’ I thought; was she kidding me, had I missed something?
She’d looked directly at me as she said this. Right into the almond shaped eyes I’d inherited. Somehow she registered my appearance, skin colour and features before projecting the central African state of Burundi into the Middle Kingdom.
‘Um no,’ I offered, ‘It’s in the middle of Africa next to Uganda and Rwanda’
It made no difference to her, where it was next to, it clearly wasn’t somewhere she might or want to travel to.
He was black, Sudanese are black so he must be trouble.
‘Can we put in an application for this unit now then’ I said
I passed her the forms we had filled out at the Centre earlier. We’d checked the points and made copies of all the documents.
‘So this is for him is it?’ she said
‘How do you say Ntabahigabose?’
I tried to help but she wasn’t for helping.
‘What’s your contact details, phone number?’
I told her that I had written them on the top of the form, and would like to hear as soon as possible if Albert’s application had been successful.
She moved to the door indicating that the showing was over. Three Burundians eased past her onto the parking pad, Albert and I followed her out. Albert unchained his bike and followed his three friends down the road in a snaking procession. I got into my red Subaru and wondered what had happened.
Eventually after much chasing around, Albert got the unit and his three friends visit.
Someday I might tell him how he was mistaken for Chinese.