‘No need to take your shoes off,’ she sings. To be honest, it hadn’t crossed my mind. Why would it? Surely these good people don’t want strangers walking around their house in bare feet.
‘This is the hallway.’ Now there’s a platitude if ever I heard one. She glances at her clipboard, falsely reassured. She keeps looking up and around and down at the printed details in front of her. She struggles to unclip one set of details to pass to me. If she’s been to this house once before I’d be surprised. She makes her way tentatively to a door on the right. She’s been rewarded in her endeavours and says confidently, ‘... and this is the kitchen.’ I see her smile broadly. She clearly likes to please.
In one respect, I feel for her. She’s obviously new to this. I must ask her where she got her suit from. How old is she? How old do you have to be to become an estate agent? She must be all of sixteen. I’m not sure about the shoes. I’m thinking sixth form and work experience. Yes, that must be it. Do they really let them out on their own on work experience? Surely not.
‘You can go out from here to the garden.’ She points with her forensically manicured painted nails to a door at the far end. The kitchen is generally unremarkable but functional. The shelf by the window is full of small pots of dried herbs, each one carefully labelled in black cursive handwriting. There’s what looks like a chicken carcass on top of the fridge. That’s an odd
thing to leave out if you know you have potential buyers coming round.
‘You could take the wall down and make a large kitchen-diner,’ she says with glee. Now why would I want to do all that? Might as well go for a house with a kitchen-diner in the first place if that’s all I’m going to do. I nod and smile, signalling some sort of encouragement. Anyway, does that wall even go through to the dining room? I’m not entirely sure she knows.
We squeeze round the doorway doing an about turn, partly because she didn’t really think this through and partly because she failed to indicate her intentions. It leaves us sharing an awkward moment.
‘This is the dining room,’ she says, with some aplomb, opening the door next to the kitchen. She’s trying to do the right thing, letting me go in first to get a sense of the room and to appreciate the size. But now I really do feel sorry for her. Her face drops.
‘Oh,’ she says. The room is completely blacked out. There’s black emulsion on the walls and, from what I can tell, blood-red ceramic tiles on the floor. I think the windows have been bricked up. She tries the light switch, up, down. It doesn’t work. This room didn’t feature in the online brochure. Small feathers drift around in the draught from the door.
‘Must be...,.’ She fiddles with something next to the switch. ‘Ah, there.’ I’m rooting for her. She’s trying. She’s found some sort of dimmer switch but it’s hardly shedding much light on the matter.
‘Oh.’ I am probably on my umpteenth house where umpteen is fast approaching infinity and have learnt to expect little, because that’s what I usually get. The poor child is clearly new to this and her naivety, although refreshing in one sense, makes me fear for her long-term prospects.
‘Oh,’ she says again. Maybe she doesn’t have an extensive vocabulary. Maybe that will come when she learns the script better. Maybe if she had read the online brochure...?
‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t...,.’ she mumbles. We both stare at some sort of pentagram set in the centre of the flooring and some weird paintings on the walls. Creatures doing strange things. We both tilt our heads sideways but apparently neither of us can make out what it’s supposed to be. A heady scent pervades the air around us: incense, maybe. Is it to cover the slight notes of burnt meat I’m picking up? Is that an altar standing proud on what looks like a marble slab? There are at least a dozen tall dark candles in ornate cast iron holders flanking this slab. I look up at the ceiling. Zodiacal signs loom through the darkness as vague silhouettes. We’re both looking round, open-mouthed. Interesting...,. She turns off the dimmer switch and shuts the door. Did I hear a sigh of relief just then?
‘The living room is up here. It’s a family that lives here.’ I don’t say anything. What can I say? Even she can see this is not quite what she thought she was expecting. She opens the door into a conventional living room, comfy chairs and a large wide screen television on one wall.
I feel relieved on her behalf. She’s on much safer ground. We both admire the large windows and the ornate fireplace. Bookshelves are filled with classic novels and reference books, nothing untoward.
‘Three bedrooms upstairs, one en-suite,’ she says, taking it all in her stride now, her training showing. The professional ousts the unconfident gangly youth. I follow her upstairs.
‘Family bathroom, separate toilet,’ she points. I peek in. Do I say anything? It’s not as though I was looking to find fault but the toilet lid is up and the water in the bowl is almost overflowing. There’s some not very nice detritus floating on the top. But do I say anything? I don’t want to upset her. I’m just worried in case I tip her over the edge. For all I know this is her very first viewing on her very first day of her very first job. So I shut the door tightly and continued along the corridor with her.
‘The master bedroom,’ she proudly says with a pseudo bow as she ushers me through. Again, she’s in control now because she can see a double bed, matching duvet cover and pillowcases, those tiny little matching cushions that have no other purpose in life other than to be carefully positioned and removed daily and fitted wardrobes. It is impressive. I peek into the en-suite. No strange jetsam lurking in the toilet bowl here. I make the appropriate noises indicating my approval. It really is rather charming.
‘Bedroom two,’ she announces with a flourish, again allowing me to go in first. It is done up as a young girl’s bedroom. Pink. So much pink. So very much pink. The clues were there. The door was labelled Princess Barbie’s Castle. I came out of there a little stunned. Dizzy, even. If I’d worn sunglasses...,.
‘They have a little girl,’ she says.
‘I think they use the third bedroom as a guest room and study,’ she says. Still recovering from the pink, I’m then met with its antithesis: beige. I take it all in. It’s smaller than the other two rooms. There’s room for a sofa that would fold down into a guest bed and a desk next to the window. The rest of the wall space is filled with shelves. Each shelf is filled with cabbage patch doll heads, every one unique. It becomes apparent that each head is numbered meticulously and presumably cross-referenced elsewhere. Out of order comes chaos. One of the more gruesome looking specimens has three nails driven into its forehead. Propped up next to it is a book, How to Grow Your Own Cabbage Patch Doll, by Kaley Brockley.
‘Oh,’ says my young friend. I’d forgotten she was there. She really needs to work on her conversational skills. We both go back downstairs.
‘I have a key to the back door so we can go into the garden,’ she says, looking chuffed as once more she is on safer territory. She has the key. She came prepared.
‘I think we have to go out through the kitchen,’ she says, partly to reassure herself. If that’s what she needs to do...,.
‘Ah,’ she says when she manages, after several attempts, to unlock it. At least it’s a change from ‘oh’. She looks down at her shoes. I look down at her shoes. They are very attractive glitzy five-inch stilettos. They would be perfect for a night out. The garden is a fair-sized rectangle with not much interest contained within it. Patches of grass bridge the small muddy areas. Larger muddy areas bridge boggy areas.
‘Well, if you’d like...,.’ She motions for me to have a good look if I want to. I think I’ve seen enough. I smile at her. Hopefully, it is an encouraging smile. I would hate for our meeting today to have broken her into a snivelling heap.
I thank her profusely with promises to give her feedback, making a mental note that I will have to spend tonight, yet again, looking for more possible properties to view.