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Walther* from London, 4.11.2002
(*name changed to protect anonymity)
Another heartbreaking story from London
Everything just went smooth these days. The guests arrived at the flat - a nice student couple.
I was just back from from a climbing holiday in Scotland - and before that I had spent some interesting days with mountaineering in Chamonix. Now I was standing in Tottenham Court Road in the heart of London. I had surfed for two hours in the big Easy Internet Cafe across the road. Now I wanted to unlock my bicycle from the u-shaped metal pipe that formed the cycle stand. " What the hell is that ? " I had only locked the front wheel to the stand , there was no connection to the bicycle frame. Everybody just could have unscrewed the wheel , and steal the the rest of the bicycle. " Phew, I really had luck. Let's get away here quickly " I just needed my keys now. My keys... where were they ? I started searching frantically in my pockets, then my bag pack. Damned, I lost my keys ! I looked around the small square in front of the theater were they staged a musical about the rock band "Queen" . People were constantly coming and going - the evening show was going to begin. The busy traffic on the road and the huge skyscraper of Tottenham Centre Point added to the cosmopolitan Inner City atmosphere. But now everything had an unpleasant and dangerous sub tone.
" I need to get my key ring with the flat keys back ". Without keys you were an nobody in London. I searched the concrete slabs of the pavement in the immediate surrounding, in the vague hope his keys would have stayed untouched there for two hours. Of cause they did not. Then I run back to the Internet cafe. The Easy - Internet Cafe had 500 seats. It looked like a huge , anonymous open-plan office , and the internet surfers represented the work force. " Take care of your personal belongings. Thieves are operating constantly on the premises ". That was written on a sign in the entrance area. I run up to the second floor and searched the area were I thought I had been approximately seating. Then the row of seats behind, the row in front of it - nothing. I asked the manager. " Anybody found a key ring ? - No, nothing found. "
I went back to my bicycle. The whole absurdity of the situation started to dawn on my: I could not go away from here , as otherwise thieves might steal my sloppily locked bycicle. And I could not simply unscrew the front wheel from the fork and go away with the rest of the frame, as then everybody else might see me as a bicycle thief and call the police. Thus I felt like a stale mated king on the chessboard - I was basically glued to this godforsaken place forever.
London now showed a darker, meaner facette. Just a few miles away from here were the cheaper and rougher boroughs with drug dealers, crack prostitutes, car thieves, hooligans - the urban jungle with its smaller and bigger predators , waiting for an easy prey. They all seemed to melt no together to one big black cat that started to show her teeth and claws.
There must be a way to break the stalemate... I decided to call the police. " Hello, my name is Walther... Walther Dupont..." He felt a bit awkward with his continental accent . " Listen... I am in strange and difficult situation.. he told the whole absurd little story. " Can't you sent a police patrol patrol around... and they might carry the bicycle to the next police station... and I come around later with my passport ? - No, we can't - why just don't you take your bicycle away, and if anybody should ask you, you simply explain the situation !? " He could read the mind of the police officer - just another triviality that wastes precious time. He could afford to think sharp, plain and simple - he simply would return to his flat , perhaps in the suburbs, kiss his wife, switch on the TV set...
I started the long way back in the early London night to the terraced house with my flat upstairs . And I wondered , how I should open my flat door. Normally, I had a spare key deposited at my neighbour downstairs. But I had given my guest this keys - I did not bother to have a duplicate made at a locksmith... People came back from the office or shopping. They looked at him with a short glance, as he passed them by with the bicycle frame on his shoulders - without the front wheel. I showed them a broad grin , saying " I am a honest guy - you don't believe I am a thief, don"t you ? " Nobody bothered to asked me any questions - perhaps they were afraid of getting into difficulties. I arrived at my home. At least his neighbour was in. " Hey Stan...it is me, Walther... can you open the door for me, please ? - Yes, a moment ".
Now I stood inside a narrow corridor - just a white door between me and my cosy flat. I tried what I called the " Australian Method " to open a door without keys - I threw myself with my full body weight against the door, in the hope that would make the spring lock snap open. I had some tries, then Stan , who was heavier then me. Then I kicked with my foot against the door lock Nothing happened . " Damned, that really sucks... that fucking door.. ! " I had also locked the second door lock - and that put up to much resistance for us. If I would apply more force then I would break out the whole door frame, leading to a costly repair.
Despite my anger and frustration, I tried to keep a cool head. I was locked out off my flat, and I had neither the address nor the telephone number of my guests, who held the spare key. What to do now ? Calling a locksmith ? He would drill a hole into the metal box with the lock mechanism inside, then open the lock with some skillful manipulations. But I would have to pay him a fortune , as he would charge me night rates now - and a new lock. I could not afford that.
I entered Stan's flat. More a dungeon than a real flat , with dirty, stained carpets, a greasy kitchen full of unwashed dish. The bathroom did not look much better. A TV set was constantly running in Stan's living room. He had cable TV. Last time I visited him, he had a cage with two pet rats. But now even they seemed to have abandoned him.
" Can of beer, Walther ? - Yes, sure " . I needed something to calm my nerves. Then I sat down on the old couch. I had an idea - I could send my guests an e-mail, requesting them to contact him. At least I had their e-mail address. " Stan, is your internet-connection still working ? - No, I have technical problems at the moment. " He had no luck today.
Behind the almost tramp-like appearance of Stan and his seedy flat , there was a an intelligent, almost spiritual side to discover. Stan had even studied alternative health practitioner at an university in Australia - but that was years ago. Around 10 years ago he came together with his wife to England - initially for a short holiday. But they stayed longer, and their marriage broke apart. He seemed to have lost all his dreams after the divorce.
They only way for me to log on to day internet tonight was to go back to Tottenham Court Road to the Internet Cafe. They stayed open the whole night. But I did not want to go back. A long television session started in Stan's living room. A mix of soap operas, news, a documentary about computer hackers. Then a science fiction about a group of spiritual devotees , who followed their leader to built up a wooden village in the middle of a large forest.
They thought they would devote their whole life to work , prayer and family life in this New Jerusalem. But then a deserter found out the the frightening truth about all of it - the cult leader was in reality a sort of slave trader from another planet , and their forest camp was placed in the middle of a large space ship. They were just meant to breed, and work as submissive slaves for their masters. Stan was absolutely addicted to television . I started to draw comparisons between his television set and the cult leader and his religious sermons in the Sci Fi. But Stan could not feel my thoughts, but just drank quietly beer and smoked his roll-ups At two am in the morning, Stan seemed to have watched enough television. He switched off the set, and offered my a blanket, and I went to sleep, still wearing my sweaty clothes.
I woke up at around 10 am in the morning. Now I wanted to solve the key problem as soon as possible. " Morning Stan ... I just go to the Easy Internet Cafe ... I will be back at around 3pm" . I still had 10 Pounds in my pocket. My guests told me they would return for the coming weekend. If I could not contact them earlier, I would have to survive in this semi - homeless conditions for another four days. The number 1 bus brought me back to the scene, where the whole disaster started. It was busy as usual - tourists, shoppers and business people strolling around on this bright, sunny days. They all had their flat keys in their pockets.
I bought a new ticket for internet usage in the internet cafe. I felt nervous and distracted - the previous night had brought no real relaxation. First I sent off an e-mail to my guest, requesting him to come as soon as possible to Stan's flat - but would he really bother to log on today ? " I better find out his home telephone number on the mainland " . I had to log on to the web site of the hospitality club for that purpose - but I would have to sign in with a password. I tried one of my usual ones - it turned out to be the wrong one. Hastily I wrote an e-mail to the web master - but just minutes afterwards I remembered the right one. I felt absolutely nervous...
With my guest's home number written on a slip of paper, I entered one of the phone boxes on the street. The glass walls were plastered with photos of nude call girls, advertising their service. I made a phone call to the continental number - just an answer phone.
Around 3 pm I arrived back at Stan's flat, together with a shopping bag full of survival food. " Anybody shown up so far ? - No, nobody." I started to hate myself . At the end end , there was nobody to blame then myself. " Why did I not spare half an hour an a couple of Pounds on a duplicate set of keys ? ".
Then I simply resigned into my fate and surrendered to hours and hours of trash TV programs in Stans flat. From time to time I started to rebel against Stan's habit of zapping between 5 or 6 different channels all the time. But he simply let me feel, that at the moment he was the host - and I just the guest at his mercy. " It's my television set - you can leave any moment, if you want . - Yes, and thats what I usually do, going climbing and mountaineering , and spent the night outdoors in my tent. At least I am not a slave of London, like you " I replied angrily. Then I decided to better keep my mouth shut. I had no other address to go...
Hours went by. Suddenly the telephone rang at 11 pm. " Hi , it's Michael ... I have received your e-mail.. - Halleluya - Michael , good to hear from you ... Damned, Michael, please, help me to get out of here as soon as possible... Can we meet at Bank underground station ? ".
One hour later Michael passed the ticket gates in the underground station and handed me the keys over. " Bye Michel - see you on the weekend ". The big black cat that followed me closely day and night , angrily hissing from time to time , now seem to have lost interest in m. Then she disappeared into the darkness of the London night.
Back in my clean and tidy flat, I took a bath. The next day I went again to Tottenham Court Road to fetch the front wheel that was still locked to cycle stand. A broken rim and couple of bent spokes twisted around the axle - that was all that left over. May be some hooligans ? " The big black cat felt hungry last night - but she has not eaten me " I thought.