Powered by equal parts electricity and anger, the hot plate of the iron sails across a black, wrinkled cotton sea, smoothing the shirt’s temporary flaws imposed by the recent trip through the washing machine.
How dare that young man come into this house and expect me to do his laundry for him; treating me as though I were simply here to serve.
“Philip, I am in desperate need of doing laundry; is there a Laundromat within walking distance of the house?”
“The house isn’t really close to the town, but you should be able to do laundry there, we’ll just need to check with Bärbel first. She won’t be there when we arrive, but you can gather your clothes together and we’ll put them aside.”
This coming after I went out of my way to arrange for him to stay at the neighbor’s which was subsequently turned down.
Philip, Kohei and I have just descended the 17 varnished stairs into the neighbor’s basement. The room is arranged as neatly and with as much order as its sealed brick floor. There is a small desk to our right and floating adrift the middle of the room lies a lone bed; the mattress is sized for one person but it is adorned with two sets of bedding, each topped with a piece of chocolate. My emotions begin to clash – the uneasiness of sharing a 3’x6’ sleepspace with another man who I have only met hours previous mixes with the fear of insulting my hosts who have graciously agreed to welcome two unknowns into their house for the next four nights.
This torment continues as we head back to Bärbel’s house for dinner and, although not helpful to the situation, I take some comfort in sensing I am not the only one with these feelings of apprehension.
Does he even appreciate that I am up at 1:00AM in the morning ironing while everyone else sleeps? The iron leaves its smooth wake across another shirt.
Paul finds me at dinner the next night, “Hey Travis, I checked with my host family regarding the extra bed that’s going unused – they said you’re more than welcome to it.”
“Thanks, I’ll just double-check with Bärbel that it’s ok and take my stuff over there later.”
After the third morning in a row, I’ve become accustomed to waking up to the dog’s nose in my face, letting me know that he doesn’t appreciate me taking up residence on his sleeping grounds. Angry wet noses aside, I rise to meet the morning and notice my clothes, dirty the day previous, are neatly pressed and sitting in a pile adjacent the couch.
A slight miscommunication snowballs into an enormous misunderstanding when I seek out Bärbel to thank her for going way out of her way and doing my laundry for me. I find her setting the table for breakfast.
“Thank you so much for doing my laundry, you didn’t have to-” The dropping plate and accompanying reply signal that I am to stop talking.
“I think it was very impolite of you to have Philip ask me to do your laundry for you.”
The china’s resonance and her words hang heavy in the air as I try to grasp where things have gone wrong. I am so shocked by her response that it would not be until later in the day that I figured out that the request to do my own laundry had been horribly misconstrued.
“I-I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to cause any trouble...” the words dribble from my mouth.
“While I did not mind washing your clothes, understand that I am not an employee of this house.”
“I know, er, I mean I would never, uh…” I stammer to explain myself, but instead seem resigned to the hopelessness of the situation. A final “I’m sorry for causing problems” is my parting contribution to the confrontation as I tuck my tail between my legs and duck out of the room.
The ensuing awkwardness of the following days is eased by a natural scarceness courtesy of sightseeing plans. When I am around the house, I do my best to just be a good houseguest and avoid further rocking the boat anyway I can.
On the final morning, I awake refreshed having been offered a bed in the main house for my last night; a gesture that both the dog and I greatly appreciated. The time has come to say our final good-byes.
“Bärbel, thank you so much for all of your hospitality over the past week, I have really enjoyed my time here.” I consider offering up a final ‘burying of the hatchet’ apology, but think better of simply letting the past be forgotten.
“It was nice to have you and you are welcome to stay in this house again any time you want. I really mean that. We had a misunderstanding but that is ok now.”
We embrace in a genuine hug, each relieved to be parting under good graces. While not a mind reader, I can only hope to guess at Bärbel’s final thoughts…
That young man, he’s ok in my book.