I am going to view a house. It is a wet afternoon in May, one of those without any color except green. I am on my own. My wife said she had an important meeting. More important than house viewing.
I am sitting in my car waiting for the estate agent and watching the rain drops stretch and distort on the windscreen. It is a quiet leafy neighborhood with houses that look empty as if nobody has ever lived there. The kind of neighborhood I and my wife couldn’t afford. I do not know why the real estate agent insisted I should come. I do not know which one of the houses I am going to view, there is no sale sign to be seen. It could be anyone of them. I try to imagine me and my wife living in this neighbourhood, on this road, starting a family. It is very quiet, definitely needs someone to bring life and joy to it. Life and joy. Could it be us?
“Hello. Sorry I’m late,” the estate agent announces her presence with a knock on the passenger’s window. She looks hyper energetic and, as if to compensate for her lateness, gets straight down to business. “So, you are looking for a family home, Mr. Nikolov, is that right? I think we have something for you, this way, please, it’s the third semi-detached house down the road.” She walks fast.
She unlocks the front door. “Sorry, the electricity is off.” My eyes take a few moments to adjust to the dim light inside. The first thing I see is a bright yellow omelette hanging on the wall next to the entrance. The omelette has company: a platter with a selection of hard and soft cheeses, olives, gherkins, cured meat, and condiments. Fresh fruits, bright oranges and red watermelons, half peeled bananas, perfectly ripe strawberries and cream. Close-up photographs of food on every wall, with clean symmetrical lines and without any artistic pretence. Just images of food as we know it but on a macro scale and with much brighter colors. And there is more food on display as we proceed inside: posters, frames, pictures, occasional cut-outs from glossy magazines. The display continues. All kitchen and bedroom walls are covered in images of food, even the bathroom has pictures of entwined bright yellow lemons and black grapes.
Was the person who used to live here obsessed with food or did they have some kind of disorder? A fixation on food, an extreme passion for collecting images? I do not say it aloud. “Who are the owners?” I ask instead. “They must love food”
“The owner was a retired food marketing manager. He loved food but could not eat it.”
“How come?” I ask, intrigued and vaguely worried.
“He was diagnosed with a rare disease, could not absorb nutrients. Tube fed in the end, poor man.”
“I see, poor man.” I think about what a horrible condition that must have been.
“But he thought he could eat with his eyes so he wanted to have these displays of gourmet food.” The estate agent tries to sound reassuring.
The estate agent does not say the owner has died but it is pretty clear. Strange they have not removed the images after he has gone.
“So why have not they removed them,” I ask. The agent appears to have expected the question, it has clearly been asked many times. She has an answer ready: “It is in his will in writing. His inheritors have to either live with them in the house or sell the house with them”.
“He really put that in his will?” A minute silence follows. Why would you do that, I wanted to ask but say nothing. Was it the food he craved, or something else, his will to have his images persist in other peoples’ lives? Last attempt of connecting with the living, sharing his food with them? Or maybe a warning, a reminder that we will all lose something essential in life. The estate agent has remained quiet.
But maybe this is what we all do. Take a picture of what we can’t have or want to keep forever, and stare at it. In a little more private way maybe, but not always.
Back home, I put the plastic tray with ready meals in the microwave waiting for my wife to come home. Later I would tell her about the house if she asked me. Maybe later we will make love in our small bedroom. I stare at the print of a single boat and misty ocean hanging on the wall above our bed that my wife has bought. Only one of us can see it up close, the one who is on top. I imagine her soft curves. I always miss her when she leaves in the morning, trying to memorize every detail of her silhouette as she walks through the door, car keys in her hand, her swift departure. Maybe I would ask her later what she saw in it while on top, maybe something she quietly craved, time off our marriage, an escape route.