Column between people: in the unsorted part of life

When you buy used, you get a story as a gift. This one leads to enchantment via a basement.

On the way down: Cellars tell a lot about the people belonging to them Photo: dpa

I follow a stranger into the cellar. Iron doors slam shut behind us. It’s dark. "So, the megaphone," the woman says. "It’s my son’s, but I’m hiding it here. His father bought it for him. Giving a megaphone to a five-year-old! Thank you very much! You can imagine the noise it makes." The woman unlocks a basement door. "Here we are." Ahead is one of those basement rooms that people don’t furnish, they cram. I contacted the woman on the Internet about her classified ad. Now I’m bursting into the unsorted part of her life.

It is said that the cellar symbolizes the unconscious, that it reflects the soul of a person. Boxes, toys, furniture, a mattress, pile up here. The woman begins to search. She pulls out boxes, looks in bags, climbs over furniture. "Yeah, where is it?" she mumbles, "I had it." She opens closet doors, "It’s got to be here somewhere." I stand in the hallway. Something stops me from watching her closely. Searching her basement feels private. And only she knows the order of her chaos, after all. "I’m really embarrassed about this now," she says. Then she runs out to the staircase.

"Schaatz," she calls up, "do you know where the megaphone is?"

"There’s some people coming for the mattress," a man’s voice sounds from upstairs. "Oh, I see, the mattress. That too," says the woman. "But the megaphone, is that in the apartment?" "That’s in the car," the man shouts. "And where’s the car?" "You stay there. I’m coming!"

We walk up the stairs, another woman meets us in the stairwell:

The search in her basement feels private. Only she knows the order of her chaos

"The mattress," she asks, "can you actually roll it? Our car is small."

"You have ideas," the woman says, then disappears into the basement with her. Her husband comes out to meet me, "I have two five-year-olds in the apartment," he says, "Just ate Play-Doh." He grins and walks with me to the underground garage. I can feel time slipping away, and at the same time feel something real, invigorating, so in the middle of this family’s life adventure: the gift of history you get when you buy used.

The megaphone is in the trunk: white, red, shiny. The man turns it on and holds it out to me: "Speak into it," he says. "Hello," I say. My voice echoes through the underground garage, but nothing else is amplified. "You have to speak into it properly," the man says. "Like this: hello!" Nothing happens. "Hmm, that must work." He pushes the buttons: "Maybe it’s the batteries. Come on, let’s go find some in the apartment."

The son gives me a nasty look

We go upstairs, in the stairwell the woman is just lifting the mattress out of the basement with the buyer. In the apartment, two little boys are romping around. "Better if the boy doesn’t see the megaphone," the man says. "If he finds out we’re selling his toy, all hell will break loose." He looks for batteries and then puts them in the megaphone: "Hello!" His voice suddenly sounds loud and metallic through the apartment. Immediately the boys come running, "Whose is that?" "That’s the wife’s," the man says, pointing at me. His son gives me a nasty look. "You may now speak into it one last time," the father says solemnly. He holds the megaphone in front of his mouth. "Hello," says the boy. Then he runs off again.

"I’ll leave one of the new batteries in there for you," the man says, and takes the rest back out for himself. I give him the money, I no longer bargain the price, I no longer consider taking the megaphone. I feel like we’ve both earned the conclusion of this deal now.

In the evening my phone rings. It’s the woman from the basement. She seems to want to sort something out, to clarify something. "I wanted to apologize for the mess just now," she says. "You must think we’re out of our minds." And then she says the phrase she’ll be charming the megaphone with from now on. "Good luck with everything you’re going to do with it."

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