It’s very difficult to find apartments in Amsterdam, an old and small city. Sidonie and her friend were trying to find a place to live and they placed an ad in the newspaper, giving my place of work to call. They asked if I would mind taking calls for them. I said I wouldn’t.
My Dutch was hardly adequate; it enabled me to buy food and panic when times called for it. They had advertised for two rooms. I knew two rooms to be twee kamers.
I was alone in the office when the telephone rang. A Dutch male voice asked, “Advertitie voor twee kamers?” Ya, I replied, not me (or may, as it would be pronounced in Dutch), my friends, twee persons voor twee kamers. I felt quite proud of myself, two people for two rooms. Aah, he said, twee persons. Ya, I said, do you have them? Twee kamers, he said. Ya, ya, I said. Slowly, and partially in English, he said, “I am holding my pemel.” Oh, ya, I said, thinking he might mean he was holding a pencil, not knowing the world for pencil in Dutch, though curious as to why he would tell me that at all. “Momentje,” he called out. I imagined he was writing something down and waited. “Ik kom,” he cried. I hung up.