My lease, my money, and my what?
My spray-tanned building manager isn't mad at me anymore, or so he says. That's great news, because what it would've taken to make him happy, I'm really not into, and I'll need him as a reference later.
He's wished me dead since December, but I hadn't spoken to him for months and didn't know, so I was confused when he formally forgave me just this week.
"I want you to know, I'm not mad at you anymore," he announced, and paused, allowing me a chance to apologize, to redeem myself to him. Instinctively, since I was in his office asking him for a favour, I thought it best to play along. "I'm sorry," I said. But it didn't feel right, and I wasn't convincing because I had no idea for what.
"When you didn't call me back, I was really hurt," he went on, the air was viscous with melodrama, bitter with cologne. "I called you twice, and nothing. Nothing."
I had a flashback: It was winter and I'd just returned from Belize, where I'd unexpectedly extended my stay. I was there assisting a moderately renowned artist / Rastafari-turned-Freemason / alcoholic sociopath with customer relations, to beef up my resume while on the road. My building manager helped stave off the rent-hungry landlord until I got back. Having deflected all flack for the delay, I thought he deserved a little Belizean treat, and since the only thing I enjoyed about the country was the food, I brought him satchels of dry rub seasonings.
Before arriving in his office that snowy day in December, we'd never met. I'd never seen his portly frame dressed in fuchsia, his seemingly polished, hairless egg of a head, or his series of chins. Still, I somehow managed to bring him the perfect gift, because thanks to divine coincidence, he's a foodie. Enthralled, he kept the conversation rolling for an hour, until I impressed him by talking red wine, which is when he made his pitch.
"I'm going to take you to Laval's best kept secret, an incredible French bistro," he declared. It wasn't a question or an invitation so much as an obligation. It was an awkward moment I hadn't seen coming, and I knew, with every centimeter of my being, driving to the suburbs alone with my middle-aged building manager would be even more risky and unpleasant than going back to Belize.
"Ooooh, that sounds nice, thanks," I lied, "but I am going to Nova Scotia for the holidays." I sighed, using the sound of my relief to have a legitimate excuse, to help fake disappointment. A few days later, before I made my escape, he left me voicemail, "I have something for you. Call me."
From that moment, until I caught my plane to the safe, remote village that is my hometown, the ring of my phone was an air raid siren. Whenever it sounded, I'd cover my head and, filled with anxiety and dread, pray for it to end. That was back in December, and I'd forgotten all about the incident, but my building manager hadn't.
"I bought you a nice bottle of wine," he said, "but you never called me back, so I drank it."
This man manages tens of large buildings with hundreds of tenants, and yet he bought me, little old late-cheque-sending me, a present. Surely his intentions weren't pure, but still, this man will be my primary reference when I apply to rent a new apartment, so I need to handle his pride with care. I trapped him into admitting he enjoyed drinking the wine without me, and then heckled him a little for bothering to call me, when he is so clearly out of my league. It's all about angle.
Thinking I'd won and could leave, our respective pride and virtue intact, I thanked him for his time.
"Maybe we could still share a bottle of red sometime," he blurted. I had nothing left. No defence. No possibility of witty evasion. The air in his office so thick, we were stuck. Ten full seconds, or heartbeats, or swallows passed before we each, simultaneously, drew out a long uncomfortable, "Ooooooooooo-kay."
I turned the knob, pulled the door open and left, not sure which of us was responsible for allowing that final, terrible moment to happen, and praying there won't be another air raid any time soon.