I’ve wondered whether it’s a bit much to arrive at the property company’s office 30 minutes early, but I will get lost on my way from the station, and when I arrive 20 minutes ahead of time, I’m already 8th in line.
Yesterday, at lunchtime, I got an email inviting me to pick up a key to view a flat I’d applied for. The key would have to be picked up from the company’s office, and returned as soon as possible the same day. Said office is nowhere near my current flat nor the one I was going to view, but the location is simply perfect, and so I’ve cancelled the weekly Skype breakfast with my family and live-text my adventures to them instead.
It’s a warm and sunny Saturday, and I think that even if this whole journey turns out to be a waste, at least I’ve been outside. On the train taking me from east Berlin to the north, a large group of middle-aged women, who I suspect have had a liquid breakfast, are howling with laughter. Off the train I help a young mother carry her pram down the empty station steps, and make my way to the property company’s office.
It’s a gorgeous morning, and waiting for the doors to open I feel wonderfully calm. I’m out in the sun, actively pursuing my dream of having my own flat; a few roads away from traffic, all I hear is bird song and the chatter of people behind me. Only when I turn around to leave, keys in hand, do I see how long the queue has become.
The bus ride south is so bumpy I think I can feel my insides jumping around; at one point I’m almost thrown out of my seat. I stumble off the bus and look around. I’m a few minutes away from a gorgeous park, and it’s quiet: the location simply is perfect.
A short walk later, I find that the flat isn’t. Not only is it small in a way that even stretches calling it a challenge; it’s also on the ground floor, and out in the yard an enormous shrub provides privacy not only from prying eyes, but also the sun. We might be overground, but I’m getting a distinct basement feeling. Great if you don’t like daylight, I text my parents, and make my way back to that infernal bus. I’d love to stay in the area and explore the park, but I have a key to return.
One 20-minute hell ride later, I’m back in the queue. After about ten minutes, a nervous-looking woman storms past me, keys in hand, and asks where she can hand them in. More people walk past me and a second queue of key returners forms, despite there clearly being no system in place for this situation. The key returners watch nervously as the main queue inches forward. At last, the nervous-looking woman is being served, but apart from that it’s the main queue that moves. After several minutes, a stocky woman in a grey hoodie walks past me to wait near the desk that looks like it’ll be free next.
‘Excuse me,’ I tell her. ‘I was here before you.’
‘I’m only returning a key,’ she says.
‘So am I,’ I say, jingling mine. ‘I saw all of you come in. I was here before you.’
‘We’re only returning keys,’ the tall man I assume is her partner says from my other side.
‘Me too,’ I repeat. ‘And I was here before you. I’ve been waiting here for twenty minutes.’
‘We’ve been waiting, too!’ she says from my right. ‘We wait for an hour.’
‘Earlier we wait,’ he says from my left, ‘all these people come in to return keys and we wait even longer!’
I look at him for a second, wondering what this has to do with me. ‘I watched you come in,’ I repeat. ‘I was here before you.’
Eventually, he says something to her that I don’t understand. She glares at me and walks back to her original spot, hissing ‘Shitface!’ at me as she goes past.
On the train taking me back from north to east, a large group of young women are dancing around the carriage and singing a song that won’t leave my head for another couple of hours.
At least I’ve been outside.