It was a balmy spring evening circa 2002, and I was merrily arriving home to my little one-bedroom Coogee lady pad after a night of bubbles and canapes at a work function. (Life was so different then. Sigh.) But the moment I turned the key and entered the apartment, my senses were immediately on high alert. The first thing I noticed was the smell. Cigarettes – as in, someone had freshly butted one out. Then… was that a LIT CANDLE sitting in the middle of my living room floor? My eyes quickly scanned around the room, taking in my household items that were strangely juxtapositioned around the floor. Why was that bag from my bedroom now sitting in my living room with my DVD player poking out of it?
‘Um, hello?’ I found myself saying to the empty room.
My first, very confused thought was that my ex-boyfriend was somehow involved. He lived in a van, and after we split, I once came home from work early and caught him in my house playing video games. (The whole last sentence of which should go a very long way to explaining why he was an ex.) The fact that he didn’t smoke, wasn’t into candles and no longer had a spare key clearly weren’t registering, as I hastily dialled his number.
‘Hey, long time no speak!’ he said, with the slightly confused air of someone who most definitely had not just been in my house smoking cigarettes, lighting candles and moving household objects around.
‘Uh, good,’ I replied. ‘But you haven’t just been in my house, have you?’ I really, really wanted it to be true.
‘No,’ he said, with as much indignation as someone can muster having previously been sprung being in a house when he shouldn’t have been.
‘Ok then,’ I said, ‘Well, if you don’t mind, I’m just going to keep you on the line because (I said this next bit far more airily than the situation called for), I think someone might be in my house!’
I strode into the bedroom and headed straight for the large, built-in wardrobe – basically the only place in my rather tiny apartment that could potentially house a hidden person. I started sliding open the door, and as I did so, I could see that the clothes hanging on the rod were all being pulled back towards something. It could only mean one thing, yet I continued to sliding the door open all the way. (You know when you start doing something and every fibre in your being is telling you to stop, but you keep going anyway? Yeah, that.)
And there she was. A tiny, redheaded, rat-faced little woman, hiding in my damn cupboard. Things happened rather quickly after that. I screeched ‘GET OOOUUUT!’ and did that crazy person thing of flailing my arms and legs about wildly. Meanwhile, while I was screaming, my ex was going nuts over the phone on my behalf, screaming and threatening blue murder in a rather pointless manner given that a) he was about 45 minutes away and b) I was the only person who could hear him. The one calm person amongst all the madness was Little Miss Closet Dweller, who simply raised her hands in surrender, said ‘sorry man’ and started wandering down the hall, while I did what probably looked like Irish dancing with jazz hands behind her as I thrust her towards the exit, slamming the door.
Adrenalin coursing through my veins, I finally managed to calm down my ex and get him off the phone, assuring him that I was going to call the police, which I swiftly did. They assured me they would be there shortly. As I anxiously awaited their arrival, every tiny sound outside appeared to be magnified tenfold. ‘Relax Zoe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re just being paranoid, on account of just having found a tiny lady in your cupboard.’
‘Okay Zoe,’ I replied to myself a moment later. ‘Paranoid or no, that distinctly sounded like a TWIG SNAPPING.’ There followed a series of highly suspicious noises directly outside my flat, which was situated at ground level at the back of the elevated block, accessed by a flight of stairs. Then, as I looked out my kitchen window towards the black garden beyond it, a little, pointy nose slowly started to emerged in profile, followed by the rest of her weasel-like face.
‘What are you still doing here? I’ve called the cops!’ I yelped, sounding like a bad actor who was about to meet an untimely end. Ratwoman’s response was possibly the last thing I expected to hear.
‘I just want me tracksuit pants back.’
WTF? This was so random that I was momentarily taken aback. A frenzied investigation found that yes, there did appear to be a foreign pair of tracksuit pants in one of MY bags in the living room. (Which, incidentally, was also stuffed with several of MY clothes and some other curious thieving choices… a snack box of sultanas? Some incense sticks? Sure, I didn’t have that many valuable possessions, but this was almost insulting.)
While a sane person might have thought to wonder WHY my intruder’s tracksuit pants were no longer on her person, all I knew was that I wanted her gone, so I did the only logical thing – grabbed the tracksuit pants, flung open the door and strode out into the night, twirling the tracky daks above my head like a lasso.
‘Where are you?! I have the pants!’ I declared. Seems that amidst all the weirdness and terror, I’d suddenly turned feisty. (Despite the fact that my unwelcome visitor was obviously a junkie, I didn’t really feel in any physical danger – perhaps a combination of the fact that she was barely five foot and spoke like an extra from Dude, Where’s My Car?.) She emerged from the shadows and as I handed her back the tracky pants, I exploded with what can only be described as a frenzied lecture.
‘You can’t just walk into people’s houses!’ I began. I can’t remember the precise details of what followed but there was definitely an impassioned, ‘I work HARD for my
sultanas and incense sticks stuff!’
Ratwoman was contrite, if not particularly heartfelt. ‘Sorry man. I’ve never done anything like this before, eh?’
‘Well,’ I concluded, a little prissily, ‘the police are coming. I think it’s time you left.’
‘Ok. Thanks man.’
And as my Cupboard Comrade went to exit my life as abruptly as she entered it, there was one final moment of wackiness as SHE HELD OUT HER HAND FOR ME TO SHAKE. But it gets worse, folks. I SHOOK THE DAMN THING!! Oh, I don’t know, I was confused, in shock, a bit tipsy. And I’m polite, what can I tell you?
POSTSCRIPT: The police came, and within a matter of days, called to let me know that my little friend was under arrest. After leaving my place, she had attempted to break into several other homes in the nearby neighbourhood, including one that had people in it at the time. Guess my lecture really sank in. After giving a long, detailed statement to the utterly-fascinated police (I left out the handshake bit, natch. I have my pride. Somewhere…), they informed me that largely thanks to my detailed account, her house-hopping habits were on hold – for the time being at least.
PS: Oh yeah, and the reason she wanted her tracksuit pants back? Because she’d been trying on my clothes and when I interrupted her she was wearing my yoga pants. I never did get them back…