Wednesday 21 February 2018

Ailbhe Malone: Do you remember the time we got burgled? And our other flatmate caught the burglar in the act?

It's a Friday night, and I'm hanging out with my ex. My ex-flatmate. It's been a while since we last saw each other. Well, what feels like a while. In actuality it's only about three weeks. But having gone from living in each other's pockets to now only meeting for after-work drinks, it feels like aeons.

In the six months since we moved out, a lot has changed. New jobs and new houses mean that we have seen each other maybe seven times since the move. Emails have replaced late-night chats in the living room, and instead of smelling dinner cooking in the kitchen, we now share it over Instagram.

At the party that night, we gravitate naturally towards each other, conspiratorial chatting and catching up on gossip. There's an easy back and forth – sentences flow into one another, names are shortened and heads nod frantically. Other guests come up to us, and move away – so wrapped up are we in our conversation.

We were always great at living together, we reminisce. We'd met at university, and moved in together when we graduated.

We had the same barometer for cleanliness (hers set a little higher than mine) and for household necessities (mine set a little higher for fresh flowers and candles than hers).

We made it through first jobs together, and even holidayed together.

But familiarity erodes wonder. As the lease ran on, I'd let the mundanities of our flatshare rub out our friendship.

That's not to say that by the time we moved two years later, we hated each other. But there was definitely a cooling off period – like returning from three weeks in the Gaeltacht, thinking that maybe living with your best friend from school wasn't the best idea.

"Remember that time when there were six boxes of cheap white wine left in the office after an event? And they were going to throw them out – but I said I'd take them home. For free! I was delighted."

I butt in. "But you couldn't afford a taxi. So you took them all home on the train in one go. You collapsed the second you got through the front door. And the wine was rotten!"

All the little annoyances that built up while we lived together melt away. Why did I used to get so cross about the way she hung out the laundry? Why did I think it was so important that the remote control was left directly next to the television, rather than on the kitchen table? How did I forget how fun she was?

"Or what about the time that we got burgled? And when our other flatmate caught the burglar in the act, he didn't know what to say?" She laughs: "Which meant the burglar was apprehended with 'excuse me, what are you doing?' He was so polite and so cross at the same time!"

As the evening draws on, we flesh each other out. We're no longer 'that person I used to live with'. We're full-bodied and fine.

I remember that's she's been having a rubbish time at work – she remembers that I've not been well.

Our laughter segues into a genuine conversation – the kind we used to have all the time. The caricature bleeds out into a character, and two years of cohabiting doesn't seem like so long ago any more.

They say you can't choose your family, but you can choose your flatmates.

And I'd chosen well.

Irish Independent

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