I speculate that spending the duration of my college years crammed into a shoebox- sized apartment in Midwood, Brooklyn sullied my ability to accurately identify the strange and outrageous. Perhaps this is why arriving home to the sight of my 50-year-old roommate assembling a hand-made bunk bed in our hallway did not inspire a panicked Craigslist search for a new apartment on my part, but merely the smallest tickle of unease.
I had been living with Atakan and Sabina for the better part of two years. The three of us shared a 600 square foot, one bedroom apartment. Atakan, an older Turkish man, and Sabina, a 25-year-old Kazakhstani woman, lived together in the apartment’s original living room, which they partitioned down the middle with a hanging sheet. I lived in the apartment’s actual bedroom, which was roughly the size of a large walk-in closet. Because of this, the apartment was reduced to little more than a kitchenette, a narrow hallway, and the three of us coexisted on top of one another.
Though our living situation was far from ideal, we tried to make it work. Atakan spoke almost exclusively Turkish, but Sabina was fluent in both Turkish and English, and would often act as the liaison between us. So, while Atakan clumsily attempted to nail a wooden board to the vaguely bunk bed-shaped mess he was building, I wildly scanned the hall for Sabina, hoping she could make some sense out of it.
Unfortunately, I knocked into our shoe-rack before I could determine her whereabouts and Atakan caught my gaze. He smiled at me, proudly gesturing to his monstrous creation.
“See?” He exclaimed, “Two new roommates!”
My eyes nearly popped out of my head. I knew any form of protest would be lost on Atakan without Sabina to translate, so I took a deep breath and asked, “They’re going to sleep…in there? In the hallway?”
“Yes!” Atakan responded, pointing at the two levels of the bunk, “One bed for each!”
I was at a loss for words. Atakan looked so pleased, and I didn’t want to offend him, but he couldn’t seriously be suggesting that more people move in, could he? I glanced down at my own smooth, 20-year-old hands that had never seen a day of woodworking in their lives, and wondered how easily I could dismantle the bed in the dead of night before any tenant had the chance to take up residency in it. And who were these new tenants? And why?
I felt my cellphone buzz in my coat pocket and plucked it out to see Sabina’s face flash across my screen. I eagerly accepted the call and blurted out my current predicament in lieu of a hello.
Sabina sounded as exasperated as I felt. She quickly explained that two of Atakan’s cousins were visiting from Turkey and that Atakan, for some unfathomable reason, had promised to build them a handcrafted bunk bed so they could sleep comfortably during their stay.
“Sabina!” I squealed, “We can’t fit more people here!”
“I know, I know,” She responded in a huff, “Calm down, it’s only for three weeks, and I think he’s trying to be endearing. It’s annoying, but I can’t tell him to stop. Besides, they are going to be behind a shower curtain, you won’t even see them.”
“A shower curtain?!”
Sabina’s voice had begun cutting out as she descended the stairs to her subway. She chuckled, “I have to catch my train. Call me when he’s done destroying the apartment.”
She hung up. I stared at my phone dumbly wondering what she could have meant.
As if on cue, Atakan approached me, thrusting a neon green shower curtain into my arms and pointed a finger toward the ceiling in response to my bewildered expression.
I looked up and noticed for the first time the dozens of crudely hung wires stretching from one wall of the hallway to the other, crossing over one another to create a rectangular opening above the bed. My newly acquired sixth-sense for weirdness saw what was in store.
Atakan and I spent the next hour and a half fastening the shower curtain to the wires so that it draped around the bed like a canopy. This, he explained, was “for privacy.” I didn’t argue. By the end of our project, the half-finished bunk bed was successfully shielded from view by hideous green fabric. It stood against one of the walls in our hallway, directly across from my bedroom door, so that I would have to see Atakan’s cousins every day while coming and going.
“Perfect!” Atakan exclaimed.
I nodded glumly, excusing myself to our kitchen. As I poured myself a mug of chai tea, I began mentally preparing myself for every possible problem that the arrival of his cousins could bring. “How bad could this be?” I wondered.
Atakan’s cousins moved in three days later. I was surprised to see that they were younger than me, both teenage girls who couldn’t have been older than sixteen. Sabina informed me that they spoke no English and were cripplingly shy. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop them from starting a fire in our kitchen on their first night with us by accidentally microwaving a spoon. Their shyness also didn’t stop them from taking items from my room and hiding them, or using my bed as a drying rack for their wet clothes while I was in class, or using my shampoo without permission and then throwing it out when they didn’t like it. By the end of their three-week stay, I couldn’t believe I had once perceived the neon green bunk bed in our hallway as my biggest problem. It turns out that my real enemy was a much more obvious and familiar one; teenage girls.