Had I known the sheer amount and nature of the red tape business to attend to when divorcing and moving, I would have forever stayed poised in the state of separation in the eyes of god and, beyond god, the Institutions. Now, though divorced, I’m suspended in a zone of fifty shades of grey, deprived of my ID, driving licence, permanent address and, effectively, my official identity. I wonder if I’m even legally in my home country, but I’m too scared to ask, lest I should be deported to wherever officially non-existent persons are put away.
The first trial, involving dealing with electricity and water providers for my rented flat, was in retrospective a gentle foreplay to the roughhouse that was to come later. The marathon began with a delightful one-mile walk in biting cold to the seat of the electrical company, situated in a less than convenient distance from my home. I had researched in advance how to operate the six lifts in the modern building: a lift is allocated to each traveller individually, based on which floor you want to go, and she who gets in a wrong lift is lost forever in between the floors.
My impeccable plan was nearly ruined by a gang of noisy, rowdy men who violated my lift, pushed me to the back of the small cabin and then found it inexplicably hilarious when I was trying to get out on my floor through the sheer bulk of them. Since then my errand didn’t go quite as planned. I was the only customer in the large customer centre and clearly disturbed the clerk from updating her Facebook status when I dared to enter her booth. She hated me on first sight. It was mutual. I presented my request with utmost politeness, maintaining a professional smile on my face. Wait. That was what the clerk was supposed to do. Except she didn’t.
I asked to have the electricity bills registered and sent to my name, which is the usual procedure required of renters. The clerk didn’t like my proposal. I can’t say I was particularly thrilled either. I was however sure that the Facebooking official would be eager to dispatch payment reminders the first thing if my registration wasn’t successfully completed. Visibly disgusted, she took my Rental Agreement and copied details from the contract to her Facebook Timeline. She looked at me with a sigh and said, Your address doesn’t exist. I retorted, Are you sure? It existed fine when I left it this morning. There ensued an argument as to whether my home is a real place or not.
Finally, seeing that she is missing important Facebook updates, the clerk admitted that new buildings were not in the system yet and willed my address into existence. She handed me a list of advance payments to be charged monthly for the electricity. It was three times as much as I had reasons to expect. Are you sure, I ventured tentatively, that this amount is adequate for one person in a bedsit? The clerk gave me a look of deep disapproval, That’s none of your business, the payments are set as they are, and we’ll see if it’s enough after a twelve-month trial period. I stared. The woman made to return to her Facebook. Can I offer you telecommunication services? she said by the way. Are you joking? I thought, no-thanked her and left.
Uplifted up by this unqualified success, I proceeded to skid on slippery pavements in a vague direction of where I thought the water supplier building was located. Only it wasn’t. I had to accept that I got it wrong about a mile later, when I found myself walking on a motorway. I condescended to consult Google Maps on my phone. I was informed that the desired destination was four miles away from my position. I didn’t take Google’s word for it and I did right: after much puzzling and freezing on the spot, I found that I had the GPS disabled when I was leaving home to conserve the battery. Google thought I was still at my home address, the one that the electricity clerk thought didn’t exist.
You could say that it was complicated. With the phone clutched as a compass in my ungloved hand, which was starting to incur frostbite, I trampled across fields, parking lots and private properties for two more miles before I saw a building with a metal sea wave nailed on its façade. Unless it was an ocean centre in a landlocked country, I was there. No one was around, but when I stealthily entered the building, a receptionist materialised out of nowhere. Where to? she interrogated me. The customer centre? I tried. Very well, the receptionist broke into a smile and gave me directions.
I was so astonished by her friendliness that I didn’t listen and went on to bang my head on a glass door that didn’t open. It was the wrong door. Opening the right door for me, the receptionist ushered me to the relevant office. I was struggling with the temptation to ask her to hold my hand while I’m negotiating with the clerk. But I overcame my desire for a touch of humanity, and the receptionist abandoned me. The clerk gave me the familiar look of professional annoyance. I curled up in the chair, recited my request and procured my papers.
But you don’t own the flat, said the clerk after she studied the intimate details of my Rental Contract. No, I know, I admitted, and don’t need to be reminded, I thought silently. So I can’t change the billing to your name, the clerk jumped to a convenient conclusion. But—, I feebly protested, when she added as a side note, And the bills are not registered in your landlord’s name either, but to the “Home on the Hill” company. I was mortified. Does it mean that my landlord is not my landlord and that I rented the flat from a person who doesn’t own it and hence can’t rent it? Also, “Home on the Hill” sounds like a pyramid scheme.
I kept on staring at the clerk. She had meanwhile returned to her Solitaire. That would be all, she observed without looking up. Can I have my documents back? I asked humbly. Ooh! Now the clerk was mortified by her appropriation of my ID and my Rental Contract, the validity of which now came in doubt. Having retrieved my papers, I left the gamer to her cards and left. All done? the super excited receptionist called at me as I was trying to be invisible on my walk of shame. Yes, I white-lied and ran. I wasn’t pursued.
Not precisely super excited about the result of my errands, I dragged my super exhausted self all the way back home. I might or might have not stopped on the way to get the cheapest box wine of the brand Mr Cellarman, popular among Alcoholics Anonymous. I arrived home semi-dead, but glad to find the building still existing. In your face, Facebook clerk. As I was wiping snow, slush and mud off my boots before going in, my eyes travelled to a large plaque above the door. It said, Home on the Hill, 666/21e Hospital Street.
“Home on the Hill” is of course the name of the collective of flat owners in the building. That explains a lot. Such as why the water supplies for the building are registered in this name. It also implies that my landlord can still be my landlord. Or not. I informed my tentative landlord about the water registration situation. He said he knew. But since he knew, why on earth did he send me to re-register with the water company? Was it a loyalty test? Is he a red tape agent provocateur? I’m scared and I started sleeping with scissors in my hand. For the tape.