Representations of Home Creative Journal

ROAM - Spring/Summer 2021 - ROAM 1

Zoe Popham

“Home is at the bottom of a pyramid”

Everything we own is in Lidl bags. Dragged down four flights of stairs in burning sun, Uber-ed in waves to a friend's mouldy storage space. Hauled up five more floors, just for fun.

The counsellor told me to reconsider Airbnb-ing my apartment. "Home. Food. Health," she'd said with a smile. "Your mental well-being is more important than money."

I'd laughed, had thought she was joking. But she has no idea how it is to be broke, job lost during covid, alone with a child, searching, once again, for that idea of home. 

Paint Maslow's Pyramid all the colours you want, it seems I'm stuck at the bottom, no idea how to rise.


"Guests prefer a space with zero trace of you in it," says a post on an Airbnb Facebook page. I try my best to remove all evidence of our life. The apartment smells of pine and florals versus bleach.

Agnes wants to bring her favourite teddy, called 'Teddy'. I've warned her we'll be travelling light, staying at the homes of those who own several. A whole month ahead  confirmed; looking after rescue cats and elderly dogs, house-sitting pooled mansions and penthouses. All so we can make money for ourselves.

"About tonight," text the couple, the one with three dogs and a pool with waterfall feature. "Our flights have been cancelled. Will stay here after all. All the best!"

Eight, twenty-year old boys from Madrid show up early. "No parties, OK?" I say hopefully, hovering at the front door.

"Cartoon Network is channel 45," says Agnes, running back to throw herself on the sofa. "Enjoy your stay!" I say, pulling her outside, even I'm not sure where we're going to go.


"Cash deal for the fortnight. Up front," the woman says, a mutual facebook friend of a friend. Before covid there would have been offers of sofas, but everyone I know has kids. Everyone I know is scared.

It's a small, cramped place and the profit's half gone. But we have somewhere to sleep, and Agnes passes out cold. I check the door, and that the windows lock. Several times. Giant mosquitoes buzz violently overhead and cigar smells float up through the floor. Slight come-down from a fantasy mansion.

The Airbnb calendar flashes red with cancellations. Covid has officially destroyed summer.

I reduce the nightly prices a further 50%. Everything rests on the will of strangers to leave their homes to stay at ours. No tourists mean no money. No money means Maslow's Pyramid explodes. I wish I had told that to the counsellor.

My skin begins to peel itself back, nerve endings exposed, tortured by the movement of mere air particles; sounds, smells, thoughts, too painful to bear.

'Anxiety', I believe this feeling is called.


"We drank inside because the bars aren't open," is what the guests told the police. My neighbours hate me. They think foreigners spread covid. The guests hate the neighbours because the music 'wasn't that loud'. I imagine teenagers throwing up in Agnes's bedroom. 

I wake up every morning feeling nauseous, but try to spend as little time inside as possible. Oddly Agnes likes the room, she says it smells of guinea pigs.

Tonight a new group will check in from France, heavily discounted; five friends flying over for a cancelled wedding. "We're tired of being messed around," they'd said.

We will move to a penthouse with sea views this weekend, to look after a kitten that surely won the lottery. Well, we will, if the owner responds to my messages.

"Just double checking all's on for Saturday?" I send a third time, walking a tightrope between inquiry and desperation.

Covid has made us all unreliable and selfish.


Lisbon it is. The only place we can wait it out without losing money, but not making any either. A view of the Tagus through construction cranes and no curtains at all.

"Just think of it as an adventure!" I'd said to Agnes when the penthouse ghosted me. I'd watched her brown eyes see straight through the bullshit, a sentence used too many times before.  We'd dragged our bags onto the train, and metro, and bus, and up six more flights of stairs before we'd found our next home.

16 days until we leave, and my brain stem hurts. It is all just a matter of survival.


"I saw the blood and I thought you'd die," Agnes whispers, heavy tears hanging to her eyelids. I hug her to me but she shirks from the place where they stuck the needle.

Sharp stomach pains last night, panic at being sick away from home, alone, scared, taxi to an emergency ward with tests revealing nothing.

"Probably just anxiety," the Doctor says. 

Reminders of the reality of covid. Hospital waiting rooms of old people throwing up through masks, breathless strangers collapsing in corridors. Arrows and warnings, the stench of alcohol gel and stomach acid.

"Do not get covid," I repeat to myself. "Do not let this be your next home."

And who would take Agnes anyway?

I block the Airbnb calendar indefinitely. And the world feels calmer.


I'm googling the difference between scabies and fleas. My legs are covered in large, itchy welts but my last guests leave in three days. The neighbours have started an Airbnb hate campaign and I've spent any remaining profit on Lisbon take-aways, because nothing works in this kitchen.

But none of that matters. Not the amount of stairs I will have to climb to return our belongings, nor the student guests who fed my pot plants vodka.

We will be going home.

If home is a safe, clean place that doesn't move, with a functional kitchen, a place to brush down clothes from a case and suffer sickness in privacy and comfort, then let me be there.

I accept my place at the bottom of the pyramid.

Home. Food. Health. How precious. How appreciated.

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