When I lived in London I shared a flat with a boy named Charlie. I call him a boy because, then, he was still a boy. And I was still a girl. We struggled to live together the way all people who know they are bound for life struggle. We fought like children. We were children.
Charlie had a lock on his bedroom door. I think it was mainly to keep out dirt and germs. To him I was just one big germ. I guess I was dirtier and scrappier than Charlie, but the lock on his bedroom door didn’t stop me from hiding in the fridge door and secretly drinking his Tesco “finest” orange juice straight out of the carton.
Charlie spent half of his day doing his “daily routine” which included taking a long shower, followed by reading Empire magazine on the toilet. About 20 hair products went into his hair but it didn’t seem to change texture or shape. I think he might have shaved his chest and things too, I can’t know for sure. He spent the rest of his day meticulously cleaning his room then selecting a dvd from his expansive collection, and sitting on his sofa to watch it alone. After, he would sit and think of new ways to spend his money. This was because Charlie was rich and had cleanliness OCD. I woke up and went swimming, then rode my bike to work, where I spent roughly 12 hours. Then I’d come home and eat popcorn for dinner. This was because I was poor, but also because I had exercise OCD, and probably some kind of eating disorder, too.
I sat on the kitchen counter to eat my popcorn, which drove Charlie crazy because it was rude and unhygienic. I also ate honey out the jar, but for some reason he thought that was cute.
Charlie could not have been described as a good guy but he did read me bedtime stories because it was the only thing that seemed to stopped me from having night terrors and sleepwalking. He couldn’t be described as a bad guy either, but he did sit alone every evening in front of me and eat his Tesco’s “finest” salmon meal for one. Sometimes he had an individual chicken dinner, but he never ate carbs after 6.
I had two jobs and worked close to 100 hours a week but barely made rent. I was going through a mindless faze of working towards a “career”, which sometimes lead me to doing patronizing odd jobs for pocket money.
One of these odd jobs was doing Charlie’s grocery shopping for him. I would fill the shopping trolley with the “finest” ‘meals for one’ that he requested, then add some popcorn kernels or a pack of rice to the cart. The deal being that I was allowed to spend £5 on Charlie’s card for running his errands. Once I’d schlepped all his shopping up the hill on my bike handlebars, he would read the receipt to check that I hadn’t spent a penny over £5 of his money. I never had.
That doesn’t make him a bad guy, just an ass hole. And it makes me pretty spineless. But, like I said, we were young.
Sometimes Charlie would say nice things like: “You look pretty, Lils.” And other times he would say things like: “You shouldn’t wear lipstick. It makes you look like a whore.”
When we decided to be friends we got on great together and made up games like “making it all the way round the room without touching the floor”. When I broke my foot we played a game to see how many strides it took to get down the corridor on the crutches, swinging forwards and using the crutches to catapult ourselves down the hall. Sometimes he felt rowdy and he’d try to wrestle me, but I could pin him in seconds. Whatever we played I won. Sometimes poor people are just better.
But when we fell out we hated each other. Once he upset me, I can’t remember what he had done, but it was the day before we were going to see The Darjeeling Limited together. We were both avid Wes Anderson fans and were saving the screening to share with each other, fellow fanatics. He followed me as I stormed into my room. I called my boyfriend at the time, who we both knew was an asshole (and worse- a grown up) and waited until he picked up the phone.
“Hi Dan.” I said in a bright voice staring a Charlie who was standing in my doorway. “I was wondering if you’d like to take me to go see The Darjeeling Limited?”
Charlie glared at me and mouthed “NO!” his head bowed like a bull.
“Great! I chirped down the phone. “Wes Anderson is my favorite director so I’m glad we’re going to see it together…“
My stony face expression dropped as I heard my stupid boyfriend say the wrong thing. I stumbled, frowning into the phone: “You must know who he is? “ I said “He did The Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic and stuff…. “ I trailed off hopelessly. Charlie was laughing and laughing.
Charlie would sometimes try to bluff me but I’d always “double bluff” him, because I was craftier and better at lying than him. Once, I forgot to lock the front door, in fact, I left it swinging open. I was probably late for work, but I also didn’t care so much about details like keeping things locked up, even my apartment. He phoned me and said we’d been robbed. He was trying to teach me a lesson. I acted real concerned on the phone, sad about all my stuff being stolen, then got off the phone sounding helpless. I called him back two minutes later and told him I’d spoken to the police and that they were on their way and that I was to glad he’d be there to talk to them. Panicked, he told me it was just a bluff, but I let him believe the police were on their way for a bit longer anyway.
Sometimes he’d say things to me like: “I’d never be able to introduce you to his parent because you’re too poor”. He was very scared of poor people. Sometimes I’d lie and say that I dabbled in drug dealing or that my ex-boyfriend was a ganster, just little things, to keep him on his toes.
Once I had an epileptic fit in front of Charlie and was unable to open my eyes or move as I heard him say: “Egh. Is she dead?”
Another time Charlie greeted me kindly from work: “I made up a song about you today!” he cried.
“Oh wow.” I said, “I’ve never had a song written about me before!”
We sat on the sofa in his bedroom and he began to strum his guitar, he got the rhythm going then began singing along… “She’s so beautiful, with her pretty red hair…”
“Charlie,” I interrupted. “I have brown hair?”
“Oh, yeah.” He frowned, “Well, just let me continue. It’s about you!”
“O.K” I smiled,
He strummed again and got a little further: “Always kicking round in converse.”
“But I don’t have any converse?” I interrupted again.
“Right.” Said Charlie, nodding.
“Charlie” I said slowly, “This song isn’t about me, is it?”
“No” he admitted, “It’s not.”
Something bound us like siblings even though we weren’t related. Now we’ve had years of driving each other crazy. But we will always be buddies, Charlie and me.