This article was first published in 2020 as a submittion to a writing competition under creative non fiction on the prompt:"Write about a character arriving in a place unlike anywhere they’ve ever been"
Everything in this hallway seems to look down on me.
The high ceiling, the chandelier, the red carpet, the spiral staircase… I squeeze myself into the tiny, very old elevator and make my way up to the fifth and last floor.
Looking at my reflection in the mirrors that show three versions of me, I think to myself that this must have been the servants’ quarters, many, many years ago. It seems a tad dramatic but appropriate, after losing my relationship, my job and my apartment, that I would end up up there.
I enter the code I was given and the door of the 5th floor opens.
I pass what seems to be, either an art room, or a living room.
It looks like it is purposely up to me to decide. There is a couch and a coffee table, a chest of drawers and lots of paints, brushes, frames, canvas and drawings everywhere. But I have no time to decide what this is, my heart is pounding. I need to keep looking.
I walk down the hallway, looking for room 55. My new room.
I drop the two suitcases that seem sufficient to contain my life and look around. Bed, nightstand, wardrobe, carpet... a small bathroom. It's clean and cute. Nothing like I expected, but then again, I had never heard of such a place before.
As I continue to explore outside my room, I follow the corridor decorated with strange and seemingly random pieces of art, until I reach a space covered in shelves, themselves covered with dry food items on one side, and small fridges on the other. And at the very end, a kitchen.
The kitchen surprises me the most. It looks like straight out of an IKEA catalogue. A tasteful mix of white and light wood counters, tones of neatly labeled spices, teas and enough utensils and cutleries to cook for an army. The best part is the big window letting the morning light reflects on the round white kitchen table, gently waking up the plants and herbs aligned under the window.
People here love plants... It somehow makes me feel better and calms my anxiety.
I suddenly realise I'm alone. This whole time I feared meeting anyone as it would make it all real. But now that I haven't seen or heard a soul for the past 30 minutes, it starts to worry me. Best to get it over with.
The first time I heard about this place, I pictured a russian kolkhoz or a dirty frat house. Nothing like this.
I had experienced shared living before, in my 20s, while studying. But it was never on my bucket list for my 30s.
I cried myself to sleep that first night.
In a strange bed, in a strange bedroom, on the 5th floor of a strange building that once was a private hotel and that I was now to call home.
But it wasn't just mine. It was home to 49 other people. A bunch of strangers who, like me, had gone through the recruitment process to be the lucky member of this very peculiar community.
49 individuals who, unlike me, where here by choice, not necessity.
That thought terrified me. I may have read the website in its entirety, I may have tried to convince myself this was a step forward and not back, I could not get my heard around how this place could work.
But it did not only work, it thrived, and the people in it, they grew.
The next morning, before my brain fully registered where I was, my other senses take over. My eyes notice movement in the hallway as my door seems to have been left open, my nose catches the aroma of fresh pancakes while my ears perceive my favorite sound, laughter.
That, and the idea of pancakes, give me the courage to get out of bed. I change from my pyjamas to regular clothes, not wanting to give, whoever is out there, reasons to laugh at me.
Deep breath in, I tell myself, and off I go.
As I timidly enter the kitchen I'm faced with five people in varied stages of the awakening process, clearly wearing what they slept in. Coffee is being poured, peanut butter and jam are being spread and someone is trying to tell a story.
I stare and feel silly. I don't know what to do with myself. It only lasts a second. Someone pulls out a chair out of nowhere.
As I sit down, a cup of coffee, "you want milk in that?", and a plate of pancakes, "you're ok with eating dairy?", magically appear in front of me. I try to say thank you but people want to know if I slept well, if I'm missing anything in my room and if I'm joining for climbing later.
It's all very overwhelming. I nibble on my pancake as I watch them evolve around me, it's like an effortless dance. Someone comes in, coffee flows, pancakes disapear, plates are washed, hugs are exchanged, plans are made, and people leave, wishing everyone a wonderful day.
I ask what or who it is we are celebrating. "oh nothing special" someone says laughing, "you're on 5th floor, these things happen, someone just felt like making pancakes today".
By the next day, everyone knows my name.
By the end of the week, I keep my pyjamas on for breakfast.
By the end of the month, I understand that every day is pancake day, pie day, someone's birthday or Disney marathon night....
And if there is nothing to do, there is someone to do nothing with.
And that fear of living with others, is suddenly replaced by the terrifying idea to one day have to go back to living on my own.
And it hits me that I have finally found what I had been looking for all along and never thought even existed.
Something hidden between the walls of the 5th floor of a building like any other from the outside, like no other on the inside.