The house smells like dog – specifically a very, very sweet and old golden retriever. Nothing personal against her, but still, the house smells very much of her existence.
Then there are a few other details. The toilet seat is up, there are stains on the carpet, dust clings to the edges of the bunny-eared TV, and facial hair remnants stick to the toothpaste-crusted corners of the bathroom sink.
I am house sitting a well-established bachelor pad. I was aware that his home may not have necessarily appealed to my feminine abilities/sensibilities (which I would proudly give a 22% rating), and I suspected that this experience might present a challenge. But, perhaps, I thought it might be a good challenge.
In a hotel on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya, I slept on a bed that was rented by the hour. I unrolled my travel linen sleeping sheet to avoid lying on the stained covers. When I touched the dense, lumpy pillow a cloud of dust confidently swirled above the fabric. I looked under the bed and spotted a used condom (which wasn’t mine).
But it was all part of the romance and the adventure of it all. I was in a colorfully rural border crossing in East Africa. The used condom actually seemed to be a perfectly-placed detail.
In Muscat, the capital of Oman, I had booked a guesthouse online. The first time the skeleton key unlocked the door to the room, I sat on the bed and cried a little (and I hate to admit that). Every space in my closet served as linen storage for the guesthouse, there were dead bugs in the plastic cups, there was no soap anywhere in the bathroom, and I was in a random suburb of the city 45 minutes away from any charming historical spots. I simply felt very, very alone. But, I could at least claim that I was the traveling “single woman in the Middle East.” I eventually picked myself up, rented a car for the week in lieu of no public transport, and drove to the local grocery store to buy soap.
But, now, I am not in a foreign nor inherently-romantic destination. I am just down the street from home.
On closer inspection, and after a change of focus, I begin to notice the endearing details of this bachelor’s home and history. His plaid jackets hang on the wall, photographs of the Alaskan crab boat he captained for 20 years decorate the living room walls, and the tops of his rubber boots sit perfectly folded in his bedroom corner. A beautiful oil painting of a lighthouse rests in a 1980s wood frame on the bedroom wall. The light in the painting offers immediate and safe direction for ships to navigate through the layers of waves that match the colors of the cloudy, night sky. For me, this is the most beautiful moment of his home.
This challenge is not as easily justified as the romance in an African border crossing or the solo traveler in the Middle East. This everyday romance is a little more difficult to discover, but, it is just as real.