In Mother Tongue Bill Bryson tells us that if we harbour an urge to look through the windows of the homes we pass, there is a word for the condition: crytoscopophilia. Despite these assurances, Microsoft Word still underlines it in red.
I had moved into the flat in September. I remember the date because it was shortly after the incident where I responded to a forwarded work meeting with a decline as it was on my birthday, stating that I would think about them in bed as I was eating birthday cake. The meeting organiser, the CEO, also received the response. Following a few days of mirth and uproar at my expense, the week I then took off to sort out the flat was surrounded by various rumours of a breakdown and a sordid affair. Little would they know the only affair I was having at the time was with that guy that worked at the train station and looked like a gothic version of Ricky Gervais.
The walls in the flat were painted, the flooring was changed, I de-limescaled my kettle in the bath whilst the kitchen sink was being replaced – there was an ongoing issue with the parking space (the woman in flat 32 seemed to struggle to distinguish the number 25 painted on the concrete floor in looming luminous yellow) – but it was home. My first home. I had considered that I still needed to buy a sheepskin rug (a fake one; more for fluffiness appreciation than the concept of butchery) and to replace the cracked bath panelling, but as I would likely be moving up the property ladder in a couple of years anyway, I wasn’t sure anymore that it was worth the hassle.
Each night as I walked home from work through the courtyard which was ill-lit from the lights from the other flats, I had the constant desire, an urge, to see what others had done with their identical space. One day a glimpse of a ground floor flat with the same kitchen design as mine (but smaller, ha!); another an indication of a fourth floor set of curtains (they were blue- possibly dark green? Not as nice as my curtains anyway…); this flat has a breakfast bar! – it’s up for sale – do I need another flat so I can inherit a breakfast bar? Obviously yes; this one, an interesting set of shelves; this one has a cat that watches me watching him watching me. I might steal him. I wondered if these inhabitants too had ever needed to chisel dog urine out of their skirting boards before laying down exhaustedly for a bit of a nap in the area their brand new linoleum flooring was supposed to go.
The neighbours upstairs had a penchant for perpetual drumming, and you could hear horrible screams from the ones across the landing from time to time (I’m sure the people they took in there that I never saw leave are fine) – but I might easily have befriended them all if I tried. My flat smelled mostly like vanilla though (with some unavoidable undertones of dog urine), and if I ventured into the corridor the sweet utopian embrace would waver and the smell of cigarette smoke from the doorway downstairs which had become rank over layers, and years would strengthen – or perhaps it was just another repugnant odour that I had formulated into cigarette smoke, given the familiar dankness of the hallway. It was like those cigarettes that smell like chocolate and chalk when you’re a child, and deniably like menthol as an adult, lest the mystery be so easily resolved.
Thus for the time being I would stare enticingly at curtained and netted windows as I moved across the courtyard and sit, twitching slightly with anticipation, inside my flat. Gothic Ricky commonly found the whole situation particularly arousing.