It was five o’clock in the morning when I slammed on the brakes at my new house, eager to unload the things I’d stored in my son’s garage. I fumbled in the dark, balancing keys in one hand and boxes in the other. There it was, the click of the lock. I pushed the door open, then stopped. There were sounds coming from the back room. Alarmed, I dropped the boxes and switched on the light. Then I heard it again, only louder this time, a kind of scurrying and shuffling.
“Is anybody there? Is somebody in my house?”
I went to the back bedroom, opened the door and saw a young man looking embarrassed and ashamed.
“What on earth are you doing in my house?”
“I’m sorry, I’m very very sorry,” he mumbled in halted English. “I just needed a place to sleep.”
“How did you get in?”
“Oh, I didn’t break a window or anything, just took the screen off and climbed through.”
My memory flashed to opening the back window before I left for Los Angeles. Seemed like a good idea at the time but I was regretting it now. He’d settled on the bed, a bare mattress waiting to be removed by the last tenant.
“I’m so sorry,” he repeated, covering his face with his jacket. “I just needed a place to rest.”
I studied his face for a moment, then grabbed a blanket and pillow from the trunk.
“Here, if you came to sleep, then sleep. I’m going to be moving things inside now, so it’ll be a little noisy. I’m going to close your door so you won’t be bothered.”
“Let me help you.”
“No, you came to sleep, so get as much as you can. We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
I made trip after trip from the car to the house, all the time thinking how desperate and broke a person must be to enter a stranger’s home for shelter.
Julio woke at 7.30, came out and apologized once again. I’d unloaded boxes but had no furniture for our ‘talk’ so we sat together on the floor.
“Tell me about yourself.” I asked.
He seemed shy and humble, told me he was 35 years old, had lost a job in electronics in Santa Barbara after being hurt in a car accident and come to Ojai with the idea of working in the orange groves. He had his bachelor’s degree and hoped to learn internet marketing when he recovered. But just last night he’d found work washing dishes from 9.30 in the morning, until 9.30 at night, with a two hour break in the middle. He was determined to keep the job but had no place to stay, so decided to sleep on the street. He’d tried sleeping near the library but was told to move along, then remembered the real estate sign that had been in front of my house.
“Are you going to call the police? Have them put me in jail?”
“Nope,” I answered. “I’m going to give you breakfast, wash your clothes and let you stay here until you get on your feet. How does that sound?”
Apparently it sounded pretty good because his eyes watered and he launched into ways he could earn his keep by helping in the garden or the house or anything else I could think of.
After our talk, he left to wash dishes, a one mile walk, returning during his lunch break to see how he could help.
I was headed to the hardware store and then the grocery, so he came along, insisting he push the grocery cart and carry all my purchases. It was a little surreal in a, Driving Miss Daisy, kind of way – the old white haired woman with her hired man in tow.
After lunch he returned to work, but not before advising me to close the gate and lock the windows.
I laughed. “What? You imagine somebody is going to break in? It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”
He smiled, than fixed his gaze on mine. “Thank you for trusting me. You won’t be sorry.”
And so the universe has brought me my first housemate, not the one I imagined and not the moneyed kind, but it appears we are rather a timely fit.