Best Sister Ever Pt. 03

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Chapter 3 – You’re a wizard, Harry!

When I woke up it was 8.30 a.m. and Kate was gone. I searched the house, which took all of two minutes, but there was no note. My phone was empty so I charged it and when it came to life text messages from Kate came flooding in. I guess putting pen to paper was too old fashioned.

“Hope you slept well. Will be away for 2 nights, very sorry. Off to make sure Kanye doesn’t forget to wipe. Relax, take in a show. XXX Kate”

Another one soon followed:

“Pls let me know when you read this, starting to think you’re angry and leaving.”

Up next:

“Martin, would love to hear your voice before take-off. Sorry about last night.”

Then:

“Must put phone away now. You know you are my favourite man in the whole world, right? Talk to me, bro. XOX”

That was the last one. I replied:

“Just woke up, phone was empty. Not angry Kate, never at you. Hope you’re back soon. Love, Martin.” (It took me two minutes to type that, by the way. Cheap ass piece of shit Sony phone. Who the hell licenses an OS called ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’, that’s just asking for trouble.)

I guess she would read my text whenever she touched down. I had no idea where she was even headed to, probably not to anyone called Kanye. By now, I began to understand she was just naming random celebrities as a way of mocking me. I stopped paying attention to music somewhere in the nineties and have absolutely no idea about modern artists and current songs. I like classical music and opera. When I’m really slumming it, I play movie soundtracks. My secret shame is show tunes. I’m only telling you because shame is a relative concept and I’ve more to tell. Lots more.

The first order of business was that damned water heater. I’m not a plumber, but I can Google with the best of them and so I found the manual and read the diagnostics section. The error codes on the display told me the heat exchanger was probably malfunctioning. I opened the thing up and it was just filthy. It had probably never seen maintenance since it was installed; there were certainly no stickers. Further Googling brought me to a forum where someone had detailed the maintenance plan. I cleaned the thing as best I could, wrote down the dimensions of some O-rings and the model number of a filter and then painstakingly cleaned the heat exchanger. That was rather difficult, considering she only had two screwdrivers and a hammer, which she kept in a kitchen drawer. I couldn’t do much, but I could reassemble the heater and at least there was now a proper supply of hot water available, rather than a thin, tepid stream. I guessed she had been messing with the buttons and my turning if off for so long made it ‘reboot’ with factory settings.

Now that I had the time to look around, I saw that her apartment was in dire need of some DIY. She had paid just over 400.000 pounds for this! My villa had only cost 700.000 euro, only 150.000 euro more if you did the conversion. For that, I had a house that was five times bigger and in perfect condition. It also had a massive garden and no neighbours within fifty metres. But then, my villa wasn’t in the heart of London, where house prices are insane. This house would go for about 170.000 euro back home and you’d have some very interesting neighbours you wouldn’t want to bring on an airplane.

The ceiling was yellow, though I was sure it had once been white. The doors and window frames needed painting and in some places the wood was too far gone and needed replacing. The electrical system was shockingly outdated, as was the kitchen. Most of the wallpaper was coming loose, the carpets were threadbare (which was hidden by expensive rugs) and the bathroom had that ‘Polish army hospital’ look to it that I personally try to avoid when decorating. And I happened to have a hole in my life and a lack of purpose at the moment, so I was going to damn well fix this place up.

The thing is, if you start to fix up a house, you need at least one room that is empty. That’s where you move furniture that’s in the way, keep your supplies, saw bits of wood, and so on. This house had NO space. Absolutely none. I could just about stand in the hallway without touching the walls, but I couldn’t walk there without scuffing my shoulders. And I’m really not that broad-shouldered, nor do I swagger. The house did have a small front garden, or rather something abattoir-like that had a low wall around it, mossy tiles and three different rolley bins. (I think escort bayan that’s what they call them.) And there was something similar, if slightly larger, at the back of the house. There was no street access to that area, so I figured if I could keep it dry, I could use that for outside storage.

Tools are expensive, but there was a pawn shop not too far away called, very aptly, Captain Pawn. I picked up practically all the tools I had back home for a song: a big chest on wheels with every kind of wrench and screwdriver imaginable, a battery powered drill, a table saw, a voltage tester and the nice man threw in a big cardboard box filled with stuff he couldn’t sell separately that had been set aside until a guy like me showed up: it had lots of sandpaper in it, electrical tape, some paint brushes, painters tape, just lots of odds and ends you end up with when you do chores around the house. I was happy as Larry, until I remembered I would need to get all of this home. They asked me where I lived and for a tenner they said they’d deliver it some time in the afternoon. I have no idea why they were so nice to me, maybe they just liked the fact that I was going to do something positive. All they see there is people coming in to hock their Playstation for booze money. I guess I made for a nice change of pace.

Still, it is a problem to fix up a house in the middle of London, if you haven’t even got a bike. Fortunately, you can get lots of stuff delivered. I went back home and while I waited for the van from Captain Pawn I went online on my laptop and ordered from a building supply store. White paint is white paint, I don’t really need to see that. I paid a bit extra for same day delivery and the vans from the pawn shop and the supply store showed up not five minutes apart. Meanwhile there was a text from Kate: she had landed in New York and was very happy we were still okay. I didn’t tell her I had big plans, it would be nicer as a surprise.

The van came an hour later. Just when I was about to have a proper go at that heat exchanger now that I had tools, the doorbell rang. I made my way downstairs and opened the door to the biggest Rastafarian I had ever seen in my life. He was massive. It was like Magic Johnson had been dressed up by the BBC wardrobe department to look like the most stereotypical Jamaican ever. He had everything: massive dreads, gold bling, a knitted hat, a beard, the works. I consider myself a citizen of the world and all men are my brothers, but I don’t run into someone like that every day and he must have seen me look shocked and step back, which made him laugh.

“Hi mon, don’t worry. Me ain’t here ta rob ya.”

He held out a massive hand.

“Me name is Arry. I live next door.”

I tentatively shook his hand, sure he was going to ask me for money.

“Hello Harry. I’m Martin. Pleased to meet you.”

“Awright, Marteen. So I is wondering, are ya movin’ in wid Kate?”

“I um… I am her brother. I’m staying here for a while.”

He smiled a big, broad, gold-toothed smile. If he had a band, it was sure to be called The Electric Mayhem. He had to be in a band, surely.

“Awright! Kate’s bradda! She been’ tellin’ me ’bout you mon. Ting is, I look out for Kate, she’s a lovely girl ya know? I just wanted to be well conscious about the bretheren dat show up in her house, ovastan? Jiss to make sure you is no samfy man or a qwenga.”

By now I was sure that Harry was not here to cause problems, apart from some minor linguistic ones.

“Harry, I don’t understand half of what you’re saying, but you’re welcome to come in for a cup of tea if you like and perhaps I can put your mind at ease.”

He seemed surprised by the invite, but took me up on it.

“Small up yuhself den, me come in.”

He followed me to the kitchen and we chatted while I made tea. He turned out to know a surprising amount about me, so Kate must indeed have mentioned me. He also looked approvingly at everything that was just delivered. As we sat down on the sofa with our tea, he asked me how long Kate would be away.

“I am not really sure. A couple of nights, I think. She’s very busy.”

“Aye mon, always flying ‘roun de world. So you gonna run dee road for a while?”

“Again, I have absolutely no idea what you said,” I smiled. “I like how it sounds, though.”

He let out a deep belly laugh and slapped my shoulder.

“You a tap a di tap mon, me like. But you gwan fix up dee house?”

“Well, that is a bit ambitious. There tuzla genç escort are some window frames that really need to be fixed and painted and I was hoping to fix up the kitchen and the bathroom a bit, change some taps and stuff like that. I don’t really think I have the space to do a proper job, but I might cover all this in plastic and paint the ceiling.”

“An’ wash de curtains,” added Harry. I know I was stereotyping him, but he didn’t strike me as someone who was particularly inspired by cleanliness. He wasn’t wrong though. Kate’s curtains weren’t white, but dark grey. She kept the place dust free and clean enough to live in, but I guess she simply never had the time to do more than that.

“Yes, I’ll chuck those in the washer too. No shortage of jobs here.”

“Me ain’t got no job. Me last boss, he was well cole, I had to cut out ya know. Me naw deal wid nuttin now.”

“Yet again, I have no earthly idea what you just said.”

Again, that thundering laugh. He should sell a recording of that as a ringtone.

“Come with me, I’s wan to show you some ting,” he said, getting up. I followed him to the hallway, then outside and then to his front door.

“Go on, have a looksee. Jiss wanna flass me house at ya.”

I gathered from that he wanted me to see his house. And I must admit I was dumbstruck. I had anticipated some sort of cave, reeking of weed or whatever the street name is. Ganja to him, I suppose. But his house, similar to Kate’s, only mirrored, was almost entirely empty and immaculate. Polished floors, cream walls, a white ceiling, hardly any furniture. An estate agents dream.

“Me rents dis apartment from a brinks. He cut me a break when I keep it nice. No herb in da house, no nuttin. Dis house, it get worth more every year. So one day him gwoan’ rock up and sell it. But for now, I can live here. I did all dis.”

“Really? You painted this?”

“All dis, mon. New floor, kitchen, every dam ting. It look like Kate’s house befoh. So you wan me ta help ya? Me don wan much, you can try me out for a day, then we talk frackles. Ya can’t do much alone, but wi mi mon…”

“Right. Let me decode this. You want to help me fix up her house, I can try you out for the day and if we work well together I make you an offer?”

“Ya mon. I know a lot of people, I can borrow stuff. Ladda.”

“What?”

“Ladda!”

“You mean a car?”

He laughed and mimed climbing up a ladder.

“Oh a LADDER, now I see. Yes that would help. Okay Harry, you’ve got yourself a deal.”

We shook hands on it and he immediately made himself useful.

“Awright Marteen, you gon’ love dis. Dee house on dee adda side is empty. An natty bwoi here have a key. I an’ I can use that to park her stuff.”

“Brilliant. So you’re saying there is magical dragon who lives next door and he grants wishes?” I said excitedly, to get back at him for being incomprehensible. Harry stared at me in utter amazement and then nearly collapsed from laughing.

“Me gwoan try an tone down de lingo for I-yah,” he promised.

“No thanks, I already ate.”

We got an awful lot done in three days: we cleaned out downstairs and put all her furniture in the empty house next door, so it was easy to then paint the ceiling and walls. Harry had surprisingly restrained views on colour schemes and suggested a very inoffensive light-greenish cream for the walls, because that matched the front door. The wallpaper came off in neat strips; I’ve had more problems with Post-it notes. He did most of the painting, if only because he didn’t actually need any kind of ladder to reach the ceiling. I worked mostly outside, replacing some elements of the window frame with new wood or filler and painting over it. He had a few tools I could borrow and often popped out to see if I needed help. He also knew where to find a plumber and within a few hours we had a tiny, bald man running around who fixed the water heater properly and made sure it wasn’t leaking carbon monoxide, exchanged the taps for brand new ones that hadn’t been to the taste of people who had moved into new houses, so which were only technically second-hand, inspected the gas line and actually fixed a tiny leak there (so he checked Harry’s place and the house next door too, but they were fine) and then charged me eighty quid. Eighty! That was an absolute steal for everything he had done. I almost wanted to hug him. Harry was obviously hired but he felt I was overpaying him when I offered him one hundred pounds tuzla kendi evi olan escort a day, so he haggled me down to seventy and lunch.

Paint was cheap, but carpeting can get expensive and I was on a seriously restricted budget: my remaining life savings. Still, I decided this was too good a chance to waste. I called around and found a flooring company that was willing to come over and cover the entire ground floor with something in light brown they had left over from a job decorating an office. They needed to get rid of it and had a man sitting on his thumbs that very day, so Harry and I took out the carpet and then I prayed that what I had ordered sight unseen would be acceptable. Office carpets tend to be a bit more ‘adventurous’. But it was fine and for six hundred pounds including insulation mats the ground floor looked fantastic. He even left behind half a roll and some odd bits, which Harry claimed he could use to redo the stairs. We dragged in the downstairs furniture again and I was up late cleaning everything before I put it back in drawers and cabinets. I spent that night without drapes, as they were at a dry cleaners.

On day three, Harry and I worked on the kitchen. There were a few nasty stains, a burn and even holes in the cheap wooden work surface (I’m sorry if I sometimes misuse technical terms, this is not my first language) but Harry found a used marble worktop (that’s it, worktop) online and claimed he could get it to fit. A mate of his actually drove all the way to Sevenoaks to get it for us in a van and with that he seemed to have cleared a debt with Harry, so I only paid for fuel and the infamous London congestion charge. It was a marvellous thing and we did indeed get it to fit.

The kitchen got a lick of paint, too, and that’s when I got a text message from Kate, telling me she’d be gone for at least another day. That meant we could attack the attic: Kate had amassed a lot of small, rubbish cabinets for some reason and, feeling very daring, we tore them all down and put them in the front yard. Then we rented a van for a few hours, got rid of the cabinets and a lot of other trash at a municipal dump and went to a second-hand shop to get one massive, proper cabinet Harry somehow knew to be there. It was a difficult job to fit it in the van, but it came apart in three sections and we actually had four microns to spare. Taking these elements upstairs via the hallway proved impossible, so now we had to improvise a hoist and tackle to get it all in via the upstairs window. Harry made some calls and soon it was like the set of a blaxploitation movie in our street, as quite a few people showed up to help. Some brought hoisting equipment. They were here and then gone again in half an hour.

Harry and I had a lot of fun working together. I hadn’t gotten my hands dirty in quite a few years and he was happy to be doing something: being unemployed takes a lot out of you. I began to understand him a bit better and when it turned out I knew the word ‘bumbaclot’, he nearly laughed himself unconscious and then hugged me. I treated him to dinner at his favourite place, a hole in the wall in some side street of Camberwell Road I’d never have tried in a million years by myself. I may very well have been the whitest person to ever set foot in it. I have no idea what I ate, but there was salty fish paired with some sort of fruit, curried goat and steamed cabbage with carrots and it was Goddamned amazing. You know how French cuisine is good because they use the absolute finest ingredients? Well, the Jamaicans never had the finest of anything, so they became wizards with spices and slow cooking techniques. (Much like the Cubans, I’ve been told.)

At the end of day four, when Kate told me she was definitely heading home, we had done over a hundred individual jobs. Some were as small as replacing a socket or hanging a door level so it wouldn’t close by itself, others were downright dramatic, such as reupholstering the stairs. My hands were raw, my back hurt and all in all I had spent over 2200 euros from my savings, but dammit, did it feel good to have done so much.

I was very nervous about Kate’s reaction, though. If she was anything like my Monique, she’d throw a fit about not having been consulted, claim that we had picked the wrong colours and materials for absolutely everything and then demand it was all reversed. She was nothing like Monique, but you can never quite tell with women, can you?

“Don tell her I an’ I did it,” said Harry. “Take dee credit, she wants to look up to you. Aw right, me gaan, bredren.”

“She won’t possibly believe I did all this by myself,” I said, as I saw him to the door.

“Inna di morrows,” said the big, friendly giant and disappeared into his own immaculate house.

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