A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Diary of a Reluctant Immigrant: Moving in with Mr. Doright
By Muntu Chikondi

For me, the strangest thing about being an immigrant is that it was never my intention to leave my country permanently. My trip to England was simply an opportunity to take a break from my life, to do something different for a few years. I had a great life in my home country. I had a decent career, was in the vicinity of my parents, and had a better quality of life than the one I knew I was coming to...The Reluctant Immigrant Series continues ...


On our homecoming from Prague, our first holiday together, Mr. Doright and I returned to his house and I stayed for over a week, having accumulated enough clothing and girlie toiletries to survive that long without visiting my own little room.

Towards the end of the month, I finally visited Whitechapel just to check on my room and pay my rent. The atmosphere there was becoming increasingly oppressive and I was finding it more and more difficult to spend the night there. The relations between the people in the house were slowly deteriorating and I was not sure I wanted to be there when it all exploded. These fears, combined with Mr. Doright's general discomfort regarding the safety of the neighborhood, led to thoughts of moving away.
I was still unsure about living with Mr. Doright, given the relative youth of our relationship and implications that would surely arise if I moved in with him. Moreover, I worried: What would his relatives think? You know how these things go: a little African girl starts dating a British man, albeit a black one, and within months she moves in with him. Regardless of the situations' innocence, it was unlikely his family members would be without suspicion. And though we discussed moving in to a rented apartment together, I could tell he was too attached to his own house. His heart just wasn't in it.
I next considered moving into my own flat closer to work.   The area was much safer and several of the flats had more amenities, though it was not as culturally diverse or central as my current borough. Though it took me away from trendy areas like Shoreditch, Hoxton and Old Street, as well as the exotic food of Bricklane and the bustle of Spitalfields Market; it did have the advantage of two theaters whose prices were more affordable than the ones near my current abode. Besides, in the four months I lived in Whitechapel, I had never been to Spitalfields and had only sampled the faux-Bengali cuisine of Bricklane twice.
Perhaps a studio flat in Hammersmith could work out, though this was likely to be more expensive than what I currently paid. Despite this, I figured I could manage it if I added the money I would save traveling to and from work and use it towards my rent money instead. Plus, since the gym was closer, I could go without having to plan my travel so meticulously.
I half-heartedly looked for a place there, but in the end it became inevitable that I would move into Mr Doright's. I was spending too much time in Kentish Town to be able to actually look at places in Hammersmith, and I was slowly encroaching upon his space, leaving my feminine mark everywhere. It was also obvious that living in Hammersmith would not be convenient for our relationship. 
After several conversations where he reiterated his reluctance to move out of his house, we agreed that I should move in. Because of my previous relationship experience, I was still uncomfortable about it being a mutual agreement: I wanted him to ask me to move in. After all, it was his personal space; I wanted to be invited. As it was, I felt like we had both compromised and I would have preferred if he had not.
A few days after this conversation I met Mr. Doright after work and he presented me with a set of color-coded keys. He then revealed that he had wanted to have the keys ready before our trip to Prague, which had been over a month ago.
Now that I had his keys, I made plans to move my things. This required some real preparation: given my laptop that weighed a ton, the suitcase I had brought from Zambia, plus a few new additions-- in total, it would be a challenge even for your average weightlifter. On top of all this, I had also acquired a duvet cover from Mr. Doright, as well as one of my own. Looking around my cramped bedroom, I finally decided to abandon my pillow and duvet set, a pair of sneakers that had shrunk when I tried washing them, and a pair of jeans that made me look like I was posing for an “after” picture in a diet commercial. 
After much consideration, I determined there was no way that I would move from East to North London on public transport--especially since the nearest underground station was a ten minute walk away. Not only would I have to trek those ten minutes weighed down with luggage, I would also have to change underground lines at Kings Cross Station--currently a mess of construction--inevitably increasing the distance between the line I was coming from and the line I was trying to get on. Throw in a few stairs, escalators and not to mention hoards of fellow commuters; and I was thoroughly against moving my things this way. I would not even consider the bus, having never noticed a bus stop anywhere nearby in all the time I lived in the area. After taking the monstrous suitcase down the stairs, my mind was made up. I would leave house the way I came: by taxi. 
Thoughts of taxis, though, made me recall my previous moving experience. The taxi that helped me move from my previous abode at the hostel to my current one at Whitechapel was driven by a Brazilian gentleman, called Marco. Unfortunately Marco was a recent immigrant and his particular taxi licence did not require extensive knowledge of London streets; or, it appeared, any knowledge at all. A journey that I now know takes about thirty minutes took over two and half hours. He could not even find East London, let alone the road I needed to get me there. At that time, I had to collect my things after work and pack everything I owned in the evening. That meant that we didn't leave the hostel until after nine o’clock at night. It was an unfortunate time to travel, as it was too late at night to ask anyone who was sober or mentally stable for directions. Add the fact that it seemed Marco was unaware of the one-way system in the city, and this meant I managed to get home at midnight. On the way I saw the night life in the area, including my first drag queen (yes ever! Remember, I do come from small, conservative country), and of course the ever present drunken hoards making their way home from Old Street and Shoreditch. I was so tired after that move all I could do was crawl into my un-made bed and fall quickly asleep.
When I moved to Kentish Town, I was determined not to torture myself like before. In one way, at least, I was assisted by the fact that I had barely unpacked my suitcase from the previous move. 
As I was packing my things, one of my house-mates came in to ask if I had any idea where she could buy a suit. This struck me as strange, as she had not really spoken to me the whole time I was there, mostly spending anytime we had together whining about her life and some Turkish chap she was dating. For some reason she thought that I would be more equipped to tell her about fashionable clothing than anyone else in the house. She was wrong; I have an aversion to shopping that borders on phobia and once she realized this, she quickly left me alone.
I had arranged for a friend of Mr Doright's who works as a freelance taxi driver to pick me up and my house-mate's Turkish gentleman helped me put my bags in the car, all the while reminding me that I was due to pay my rent for the next month unless they found someone to move in. However, I was too excited about leaving to care what he was saying. I got into the car and watched that part of my life slide slowly away before turning to Mr. Salsa, the lovely--and not to mention knowledgeable--man driving me to my new home.
Once this euphoria had subsided, it dawned on me that Mr. Turkey had no reason to look for a replacement roommate. This risk had been transferred to me as he had taken payment for a month's rent and was still holding my deposit. I decided immediately that I should take matters into my own hands and put an advertisement out for a new tenant. Not being the landlord and having no interest in who took over the place, I placed my ad on a free website. Since it was the same website I had used to get my job all those months ago, though, I figured it was not in any way an objectionable website.
I placed the ad and waited. Given that I had been candid about the location and size of the room--slightly bigger than a walk-in closet, but barely holding a single bed and wardrobe space--I was surprised to receive several responses. I did not meet any of the people who wanted to see the room as I passed them on to the Australian chef or Mr. Turkey back at the house. My former house-mates were strangely picky, I suppose they really were somewhat concerned about who was moving in. I also had a sinking suspicion they were simply biding their time until the rent I had paid ran out and they were forced to find someone to pay the rent for next month. Their excuse was they wanted someone who would fit into the house as I did (I took that to mean someone they were unlikely to often see).
Inevitably, I was correct and the months rolled on until the last week when they finally settled for an Irish gentleman who had already been to the house twice at my prompting and whom they had twice rejected. He moved in and had the good fortune to inherit my duvet (which Mr. Turkey predictably claimed came with the room and no doubt charged him more for). Despite this fortuity, I still had to wait another couple of weeks before I received my deposit back. On top of this I did not get any of my rent back as a result of their delaying getting a new tenant. In all, it took eight weeks after moving out before they gave me my money back.
Thus, I was happy to be finished with them and was looking forward, albeit apprehensively, to a new stage in my life with Mr. Doright.