My first Brooklyn apartment was a walkup in Midwood so cramped that a single renter would have felt smothered. Unfortunately, I had three roommates to contend with. My friend, Lindsay, and I lived on top of one another in a ten-by-ten room, while Arthur and Lula, a couple we barely knew, shared the bedroom next to ours.
At first, I survived the claustrophobia by taking solace in the fact that our apartment couldn’t possibly get any more crowded. How naive I was.
One morning, I walked out of my bedroom to find a man sleeping on our kitchen table. He was snoring and shirtless. After jumping three feet in the air and muffling a scream, I tiptoed closer to assess the situation. He had a stack of suitcases on the floor beside him and his coat was hanging off our pan rack.
My brain began to short-circuit. Who was this man? Why did he have so many suitcases? I decided to take a shower and reassess the situation afterward.
I was in the middle of washing my hair when a sudden knock boomed throughout the small space. I peeked my head out of the shower and stared at the door in horror.
The knocking continued and, without thinking, I called out, “just a minute!” in a deep, cartoonish baritone. The knocking stopped and a tense silence replaced it.
I came to terms with the fact that my peaceful shower was over and quickly dried off. I threw on my pajamas and reluctantly opened the door.
The man from the kitchen table greeted me with a tired expression and asked me a question in a language I didn’t understand. I answered him by staring back dumbly with my mouth hanging open.
We then engaged in the awkward let’s-both-try-to-get-around-each-other-by-going-the-same-way dance, and, after what seemed like an eternity, I successfully hightailed it to my room.
Lindsay was still asleep, but my mind was racing. I tried to concentrate on applying my makeup, but couldn’t stop listening for Kitchen Table Man. I thought if I could time my exit right, I might be able to make it outside my building while he was still in the bathroom.
My alarm clock chirped, alerting me to the fact that my class was due to begin in fifteen minutes and that I needed to hurry up. After some nervous pacing and deep breaths, I threw my door open and ran for the exit.
Kitchen Table Man walked out of the bathroom before I could escape. He held his pajama pants in hand and a towel around his waist. I skidded to a stop before him and whispered a meek, “excuse me,” feeling like an intruder in my own apartment.
After a long day of class, I texted Lindsay to ask if she had any information about the mysterious man. She responded that she had caught a glimpse of him and it looked like he had started unpacking his suitcases in our kitchen. My stomach churned.
I arrived home to see Arthur and Lula speaking in Estonian to the stranger, who had found time to put a shirt on. Lindsay was hovering worriedly behind them; her eyes locked with mine and I tried to give her a reassuring smile. Arthur noticed me and beckoned Lindsay and I to come sit in the kitchen with himself and the stranger.
Arthur explained that the man was a childhood friend of his who had recently lost his apartment. Sergio, as we came to know him, had approached Arthur and begged for a place to stay while he looked for work in the city, and Arthur, out of the kindness of his heart, had offered him our kitchen.
Arthur explained to Lindsay and I that Sergio would be sleeping on the kitchen table for the next couple months, and that if we wanted food, we’d just have to ask him first.
Lindsay and I moved a week later. I alone remained in Brooklyn and sought greener pastures in an apartment three blocks up the street. I can’t say I miss Sergio’s presence in my life, but he has made me grateful for every tenant-free kitchen I’ve had since.
No New York City dinner party would be complete without tales of real estate/city living horror stories. Our new column, Only in New York, recounts these only-in-New-York experiences.
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