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Monday, 12 November 2012

#13: Just the Khue of Us: Part Two

Khue (the spelling of which I eventually managed to painfully extract) and I didn’t talk at all for the first two days. I admit I’m not the chattiest fellow when in uncomfortable company – but the negative vibes firing out of his pores were forcing me back into my shell – before rebounding back at him. Perhaps I could have tried a little harder, but it's tough when your housemate doesn’t even acknowledge your existence. Eventually, though, I decided it was time to break the ice.

“So, how you finding it here?”

“It’s OK I guess,” he replied.

Breakthrough! Khue had spoken. It may have only been four words, but it was a start. I would have cracked open the champagne, if I’d had any (it was slightly outside my price range as a student). The ‘breakthrough’ turned out to be a false dawn, however. Within hours we were back to dishing out the mutual silent treatment.

After two days of taciturnity, I plucked up the courage to have another stab at conversation with the Laotian one – and actually got him to open up a little.

He had moved to the United States with his family in 1989, around the age of eleven (he told me he was now 25 – though still looked about 11). His family home was now in north Wisconsin and he had seven siblings – five brothers and two sisters. From that statistic, I gathered television had been a luxury his family couldn’t afford.

Having thought I’d made some significant progress, in terms of our house-sharing relationship, I was left feeling like I was back to square one when he completely blanked me a few days later in college.

My initial reaction was that this was just ignorance, but I later deduced it was more to do with a chronic fear of interaction with others. I imagined he must have had a tough time fitting in at school when he’d initially settled in America, retreating deep into the bowels of his shell as a result. Enticing him to come out of it now, 14 years later, was going to be hard work; but I was willing to give it a shot.

Khue was now most comfortable not talking at all. In the early days of our house-sharingship he spent a huge amount of his time watching TV. I should reveal at this point that we only had one channel, even if it was a good one (Fox – The Simpsons, The OC, Arrested Development, to name but three), though the reception was lousy, with permanent fuzzy snow. That minor detail didn’t stop Khue, though. I once arrived home to find him watching blue – not porn, but a blue screen. He was transfixed, mesmerized by it. I wondered whether he’d switched to the video channel and forgotten to press play.

When he finally got bored of watching a version of Derek Jarmon’s cult classic Blue (roughly three days later), Khue decided to amuse himself by reading the telephone directory. He was genuinely fascinated by it. Such was the intensity, focus and stellar concentration he displayed, you’d have thought he was studying for finals.

Over the best part of four months we toughed it out under the same roof. I felt like Khue’s mum; always clearing up after him; picking up errant chicken bones; de-plastering the microwave after more sessions of exploding cheese and vegetable ravioli; and flushing the chain on his behalf. I don’t think he was intentionally lazy, but just always seemed to forget to do this.

On one occasion he left me an early morning present. Sometimes Khue managed to get some pee in the pan, but this time his homing radar must have been completely on the blink. For me, it was a step too far and I dragged him out of bed to mop it up. I don’t think he actually used hot water (or any water) or disinfectant; just the mop – soaking it up into the head, then leaving the latter on the side. I gave him 4 out of 10; barely a pass.

Khue’s toiletry habits never failed to amuse me. I’d never known anyone (and still haven’t) who spent a penny (or a pound – he did drink gallons of water) at such breakneck speed: in; sound of urine hitting water (on occasion); chain-flush (on very rare occasion); and out – all in about five seconds. He’d got it down to a fine art; his pitstops as time-efficient as those of Formula One motor racing teams.

Despite all of the above, I found myself developing a soft spot for the vertically challenged one.

One day something made me hire the film Rainman from the local library – and it dawned on me that I appeared to have my very own version as a ‘room-mate’ (American students didn’t seem to be able to distinguish between a room-mate and a house-mate – so just referred to both as the former).

Someone had commentated Khue may be a little autistic and, following a bit of internet surfing, their hunch seemed to ring true. The chronic fear of interacting with people; rigidly repeating habits, such as eating the same food and watching TV for hours on end; being absent-minded; and having a tendency to spin things (such as key-chains). It all started to make sense now.


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