I live with Therese. We are cohabiting in her apartment these past six nights. It is an intimate arrangement. We share the bathroom. I think she showers at night. I shower in the morning. Her bedroom is right next to the bathroom, which I use, hopefully to modest effect. My bedroom is around the corner past the living room, perhaps 5 metres, but separated only by a bedroom wall.
Therese is one of a syndicate of Danish hosts who have signed up to billet conference participants from outside Denmark. Jeanette and Rick have separate hosts. The difference is, they have met theirs. I have not met mine. Five days and five nights together without ever meeting. It is a surreal arrangement but it has become surprisingly normal.
Therese offered some months back and we set up the arrangement. I made direct email contact with her just before my departure for Denmark last week. She wrote back. “Anyone who fights climate change is welcome in my home”, she said simply. I immediately looked forward to meeting her.
I headed off for Copenhagen on Air New Zealand. In Hong Kong airport I checked my email. This was just as well since Therese had made a late-minute change to the arrangements. She was attending her annual Xmas Party the Friday night I was arriving. She would leave the key for her apartment at the Left Luggage counter at Copenhagen Airport. An unusual arrangement, I thought, perhaps normal in Nordic culture, though three years in Sweden had not bolstered my experience for this. I was beginning to like Therese.
Sure enough, the Danish official at Left Luggage cheerfully handed over the envelope in my name. Don’t you want to check my identity, I said, incredulously, offering my passport?. No, no, he said in clear and clipped Danelish. We trust you. I felt humbled. I was beginning to like all Danes.
I take a train, and then a metro, then I track down her apartment on the street. It is close to midnight, cold and dark and unfamiliar. The apartment is the standard, brick, semi-detached tenement building bordering right on the street. Moment of truth. The outside door-key works. I reach the top floor and the same key allows me inside. I am home. There is a welcome note from Therese. She will be home around 3.30 a.m. I creep in, use the shower, and flop into what is presume is my bed in what I presume is my bedroom. This proves to be perfect judgement. At 4.00 am, I hear what I take to be Therese climbing the stairs and passing my bedroom.
Saturday morning I am up and off at 6.30 a.m. Unsurprisingly, no stirring from Therese’s bedroom. I e-mail her from the conference. She emails back. Welcome she says. She will out that night at a second Xmas Party. Do not expect her back early. I am back at midnight – to an empty apartment. But it has been made warm by a wood-burner and a light is left on for good cheer.
From Friday to Thursday today, I have left in the dark around 7.00 a.m. and returned in the dark around midnight. It is not a routine guaranteed to meet Therese. I email her. This is from your phantom guest, I say. It is proving difficult to meet up. Perhaps breakfast next Saturday morning before I fly out to New Zealand?
She replies by email. It says: “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha”. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps before.
I believe I k now Therese very well – better than many delegates I have shaken hands with and exchanged professional comment at Bella Conference Centre. I know her habits. I know her reading material. I know what she looks like, since there are photos of her – at least I think it is her – on my bedroom wall. There are quite personal notes to her posted up, which, given she knows I am coming and leaves them up, I presume I am free to read, though I feel a pang of prurient guilt nonetheless. They make her out as an unusually creative, pleasant and carefree young woman.
I hope I meet Therese.
They also serve, who pass like ships in the night.