The look on David’s face took away my own smile. He had only been outside for five minutes, but I knew that something had happened in that short time to make him look this way. I soon found out what it was. He had run into Paco, our landlord, who, coincidentally, had exited his house at just the same time that David had exited ours. He had spoken with David, but, this time, it wasn’t about his family or childhood memories. This time, it was about mine. It was about the visitors who had arrived just hours earlier – the four people who had piled out of the car and entered our home. To the same extent that I was exhilarated by my family’s arrival, he was bothered. He asked David how long they were planning on staying and when David told him a couple of weeks, he informed David that they could stay two or three days but then would have to find other accommodations. They had barely just arrived, and they were already being thrown out. And it suddenly added a new light to the endless visits that Paco had paid since we had moved in, it added truth to my own suspicions, and it added volume to the small voice in my head that was trying to tell me that something didn’t seem right.
David was furious and would have gone immediately to the agency if not for the fact that it was 10 pm and the office was already closed. He resolved to go the next morning, and we went to bed disturbed by this new revelation that somehow Paco thought that he had the right to say who stayed inside the house that we were renting.
Paco stopped by the next morning, putting his nose up to the special screen that allowed those on the inside to see out but prevented those on the outside from seeing in and soon spotted me in my pajamas, in front of my computer. He asked if David was there and when I told him that David was in the shower, he briefly considered talking to me but then must have decided it would be better to wait for David because he went away. He stopped by two times more but David had already left for the agency. By his third visit, he couldn’t keep silent any longer. This time, he bypassed the screen, knocked directly on the door and entered the house. Hoping that somehow he had had a change of his heart since his talk with David the night before, I happily introduced him to my parents. I was sure that once he saw my father who looks like Santa Claus and my mother who personifies sweetness, he would realize that he didn’t have anything to worry about. But my hopes were quickly dashed as he barely could contain himself long enough to say hi before curtly declaring that guests were fine to “visit but not to sleep”. Fortunately or unfortunately, my Spanish was good enough to get the message, and, without anything more being said, I also got the message that the two- to three-day grace period for my family to find other accommodations was actually non-existent. It was obvious that he wanted them out immediately and that, every second they spent there, it was one more second too long for him.
Our picture-perfect home was starting to crumble, our little castle beginning to feel like a dungeon. Being in a situation where the landlord lived just above us could be ideal if the guy was normal, but, now that we had stepped out of line, he wasn’t afraid to breathe fire. His meek, shy, lonely facade was starting to give way to a suspicious, watchful, reserved hermit who had been alone all his life and wasn’t about to share his home – and his invaluable treasures within – with a couple and their visiting family. And, suddenly, his chance encounter with David the night before seemed anything but coincidental. He must have been listening to us through the walls at the bottom of the staircase that led up to his home in order to be able to exit his door at the same exact time that David had. And I suddenly realized that he knew every time we came or went, every time that we had dinner or turned on the shower. He was keeping track of our every movement. And I knew that, even if we had every right to stay as tenants, he would do everything in his power to drive us out. Without meaning to, we had entered in to a battle and suddenly I wondered if everyone in Altea was as crazy as he.
David returned hours later and reported that the agent was going to talk to him. When we still hadn’t heard from her hours later, we decided to stop by the agency to see if there was any news. To our surprise, we found Paco seated at her desk. He was talking to her and we joined in for an impromptu meeting. The agent patiently explained to Paco that we were in our right to have guests, but it didn’t matter that we had that right nor did it seem to matter that the apartment was equipped with 3 beds – enough to sleep six people. What mattered was that Paco didn’t want more than two people in his house, and, having never rented his home before, he was shocked that renters could even have guests.
He didn’t know that, by having tenants, he was giving up his right to say what decorations stayed on the walls, what chairs were used, and how his space was used. He didn’t know a lot about how such things worked, but he did know that he had given it a try, he didn’t like how things were working out and he wanted us – and our visitors – out. And, even though he was kicking us out, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this 44-year-old man who looked almost like a child as he sat before us with his clasped hands and downcast eyes. And, for a moment, I caught a glimpse of the situation from his perspective. He was simply protecting his childhood home that he had renovated and crafted with his own hands. He was imagining strangers using his 100-year-old chairs and sleeping on his beds and it must have felt like an invasion of his personal space. And I knew that him wanting us out was enough to make me want to leave. How could we stay knowing that our presence caused him such pain?
Before we left the agency that day, we made plans to visit apartments the next day. We were starting our search anew and I desperately hoped that we could find a home – just like Paco’s.