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I watched Patrick pacing the weedy backyard. He was talking on his mobile phone and nodding vigorously, his manner placating rather than agreeable.

‘What did you think?’ he asked as we walked back to the car. It was mid-December and the trees were threadbare brooms, their wispy branches upturned to a dirty sky.

‘Um, that lady – Dasha – she’s definitely moving out?’

‘Oh, she – she’s Polish or something, she’s given me nothing but trouble since she arrived.’ Patrick zoomed back down the street.

‘So it’s £89 per week?’

‘What did I say? Is that what I said?’

‘You said’-

‘£89 per week, without bills. Or wi-fi. That takes it up to’– Patrick was interrupted by the jangling of his mobile phone. Grimacing, he tossed it onto the back seat.

‘It’s not unreasonable, is it,’ he began, ‘to expect a 25 year old to be able to make his own life choices? I’ve just had his mother on the phone hassling me, she’s not happy about him moving out because she says he has issues and he’s better off sorting them out with at home with her.’

‘Who’s this?’

‘Dwayne. The one in your room. The room you wanted. I did tell him nothing’s settled yet. In fact…’

Patrick did a U-turn.‘What I don’t need at this point is my tenant’s mother bothering me on the phone. I knew he had depression but I didn’t know he was also unemployed.’

We pulled up at a house that was nearly identical to the one we’d just left.

‘I let the room to him purely on a trial basis,’ said Patrick as he unlocked the door. I tried to keep up as he climbed the stairs.

‘And this one’s £89 per week, everything included?’

‘Yes. Yes. £400 per month. Dwayne!’ He knocked on the door. ‘I’ve just had your mother on the phone.’

Barefoot in shorts, Dwayne hulked silent and motionless in the doorway.

‘It’s small,’ said Patrick to me, ‘but the facilities here are in good working order.’

I smiled awkwardly at Dwayne, who nodded back. Patrick beckoned him into the hall.

‘Depression’s nothing!’ I heard him say. ‘My three brothers have got schizophrenia…’

While Patrick harassed Dwayne about his mother, I peeked inside his bedroom. It was so small you could touch both walls from the middle of the room; lengthwise, it was just big enough for a bed. A massive flat screen TV was wedged into the remaining space.

After a few minutes Dwayne retreated to his room and shut the door. ‘He’s dropped out of college too,’ confided Patrick as we headed downstairs. ‘Actually I think his mother has a point.’

‘Joel!’ He banged on the door of the front room.

‘Are you in? I’ve got an Australian for you!’

A sandy-haired dude reclined on a couch while an action movie exploded from the TV.

‘Oh, hey,’ he said, and turned to Patrick.

‘Can you check out the boiler sometime? It’s playing up.’

Patrick grunted and opened a cupboard in the hall.

‘So where are you from?’ I asked.

‘Melbourne,’ he said. ‘I got a job over here as an engineer. It’s alright, actually. Where are you from?’

Before I could reply Patrick reappeared and said he’d be in tomorrow to fix the boiler, shutting the door on our conversation. In the car, he asked me what I thought of the room.

‘I’d take it,’ I said, carefully locating my enthusiasm in the realm of the hypothetical to preserve my conscience.

‘I’ll see what I can do to get rid of Dwayne. As I said, I prefer my people to be educated’-

‘Oh, I have a degree’-

-‘as I like to maintain a high calibre of tenant. To be honest I really can’t be bothered dealing with his mother.’

I walked to the tube feeling bouyant, relieved the business of finding somewhere to live might have come to an end.

Back at the hostel, doubts resurfaced. Patrick said the rent was £400 per month, but the ad said £89 per week. I sent him a tentative email asking for clarification on the price, and less than ten minutes later got a curt reply: ‘did you do x52 divided by 12?’

Where had he conjured the extra £15 from? There was something wrong here, and for once it wasn’t my maths. I considered my options, trying to concentrate while a ConTiki tour group exuberantly murdered ‘No Diggity’. Finally I emailed Patrick again and said I was moving in with my cousin. Dwayne could keep his shoebox.

‘How was it?’ asked my friend the next day.

‘No dice.’

‘This was the one you said you had a good feeling about?’

‘That’s me – always positive.’ I told her about sleazy Patrick and how he’d offered to kick an unemployed depressed black guy out of his room for me. Immediately I felt guilty about adding the word ‘black’ to the list – what was it for, other than to signify disadvantage? Not just unemployed and depressed, he was unemployed and depressed and black – I left the word out when repeating the story to Ian.

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