Bellies lined with pyttipanna, we refill our water bottles and stride home from the city centre towards Block 5. Grey tenements dwarf the district’s spruces, shrinking shakily below us as we sail towards the seventh floor. We file down the long corridor towards a room in the far-right corner, its door invitingly propped open and underlit with shades of grey-blue. Our host is a thin man in his mid-50s, a mass of gangly limbs jutting out beneath baggy clothes. He is dressed for the beach, or perhaps a long-distance sprint. Shuffling inside with his battered black sliders, he shakes his head in a trance-like fugue. His ponytail hangs like an emergency cord, a fuschia exclamation against a soiled singlet. Inside, the air is heavy with the spices of stale half-baked stews. I hear snatches of a newsreader reporting on the Eurovision Song Contest semi-final results and some distantly encroaching virus. We take our seats and two pumps of ICA-branded hand sanitiser. My chair is draped with a dish cloth printed with an old-fashioned shortbread recipe. The arms are broken and I gently prop my elbows on them, cautiously testing the strength as the splintered wood splutters. My neighbour has two braids of platinum blonde hair which she wraps methodically around her fingers whilst we make light conversation. She speaks animatedly about something which I do not understand.
Unlike the other rooms in this complex, each wall of the living area is thickly lined with wooden shelving units populated with a lifetime of records, tapes, videos, shot glasses, flyers, posters and colourful cultural ephemera. The wall adjoining the bathroom is stacked with hundreds of empty beer bottles, meticulously arranged into categories according to their country of origin.There is a clean, cream sheet lining the flattened daybed with a large white telescope propped against the nearby window. Two sets of lace curtains overlook a psychedelic reimagining of the Mona Lisa. A branch rests vertically against the telescope, entwined with a dense knot of blue fairy lights. We watch our host move freshly cooked flatbreads from the frying pan to the bed. Three large saucepans simmer patiently on the hotplates in front of us. When the food is ready for serving, our host clears a box of latex gloves and a container of pink rock salt from the table and lays down dinner plates, each framed with three neatly folded injeras. He plates a warm crescent of kitfo, a handful of gomen and a puddle of yogurt. When the conversation lulls between mouthfuls, I notice the artificially roaring fire in the corner of the room, Perspex neon tendrils flapping chaotically against its nylon cage.
When we finish, an alien ringtone crescendos from the cook’s back pocket. He taps the bluetooth head piece fixed on the right hook of his ear. Det finns sex kunder här, He growls in hushed Swedish, slouching towards the bathroom, Nej men vänta bara! He reappears, smiling broadly as he ushers us out from the threshold. We catch flashes of half-washed dishes in the bathroom sink as we leave, ICA bags swollen with groceries and barnacles of garlic, onions and bell peppers spilling from the shower caddy. He wipes his brow with a hand towel, shaking soap scum from the cuffs of his wrist, throwing Varsågod’s with each wave.
Elinor Potts is a Freelance Writer, Editor and Senior Bookseller. She is a soon-to-be graduate of MA Contemporary Literature, Culture and Theory (KCL), is based in London and has a First Class Honours in BA English & Comparative Literature from Goldsmiths College (15-18).