real life

"He had a knife." The day my best friend and I were held hostage by our housemate.

I was 23 and six months into my new life in London when my best friend Meg and I made the decision to move out of our lovely Battersea apartment to somewhere a little less out of the way for her work. We finally found a place in Shadwell that was not only affordable, but didn’t feel like we were living in a shoebox, so we put our names down, handed over our deposit and it was all locked in.

Our elation at finally finding a new place managed to cloud any concern for the free-for-all style at which this six  bedroom place was being divided up. Not only were we now on a new lease, but we were living with four complete strangers. Male strangers.

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The apartment was actually two separate flats that had been merged into one; we had two bathrooms, two kitchens, but only one front door. The second had been boarded up under the guise of this being one place, and a door had been put in the middle of the two apartments, left open for easy access.

I met Noah* the night before we officially moved in. He walked in, spotted me, and immediately came up and introduced himself, grabbing my hand and shaking it enthusiastically. He was a student, a few years younger than us, and I was excited at the possibility of making a new friend. My instincts could not have been more off.

On a Saturday morning, Meg and I woke up to find that all of our stuff in the kitchen had been taken out of the cupboards and drawers and placed on the floor. Noah was the only other person sharing the kitchen with us, and when asked about it, he aggressively retorted, “You touch my shit, I touch yours.”

He believed that we’d moved his things in the fridge, and had retaliated accordingly. His hand was down his pants during this exchange.

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Needing to get out of there, I quickly changed and made my way to Meg’s room. The front door was wide open, Noah taking up the entire space with his hand still down his pants. My heart was pounding as I knocked urgently on Meg’s door, unsure of why this felt like a violation when he really hadn’t done anything to me.

We headed back to Battersea to collect the last of our things, and while there shared the morning’s exchange with our old flat-mate, her boyfriend, and their new flat-mate, Troy*. Troy asked for Noah’s name and found his Facebook profile, reading out some of the bizarre posts he found on there and making us laugh. T suddenly froze.

“Wait, when did you guys say you’d moved in?” he asked.

We told him the date.

“He posted something that day. ‘Two girls have just moved in. Where can I buy a gun?’,” Troy said slowly.

We reached out to the three other guys we lived with, asking if any of them had encountered issues with Noah. They had, and the behaviour was aggressive. Armed with this information, we ended up meeting with the property manager, hoping that they would be able to get Noah to move out.

They weren’t too sympathetic and didn’t offer any help. If we didn’t want to live with Noah, we would have to be the ones to leave, we just had to find replacement tenants.

It felt wrong to convince other people to move into the apartment, but under the circumstances, we knew we just needed to get out, and that we had to do it quickly. We posted an ad for our rooms, appealing to men only (there was no way we were bringing another woman into that situation), and we had booked a few viewings for Thursday evening.

Meg and I were moving into an Airbnb that Saturday. So close to getting out, but still so far.

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Noah followed us around during each viewing, closing all the doors whenever we had left a room. When we requested that he stop, he got in our faces and announced that he’d do what he wanted. Our other flatmate, Chris*, who had been watching the exchange, told Noah to leave us alone, that we were actually leaving because of him.

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From there it comes and goes in flashes. Noah storming between apartments one and two yelling, Noah grabbing me, repeating, “I don’t make you uncomfortable, do I?”, Chris pushing Noah, Noah threatening to call the police on Chris. At one point he had a knife. Eventually, Noah storms off, slamming the door between the two apartments, him in apartment one, the rest of us in apartment two. Then, the sound of a lock.

We were locked in the second half of the apartment with no way out. Noah starts taunting us from the other side, hammering on the door, walking outside and watching us through the windows. He was manic, and we didn’t know what he would or could do next.

Meg and I locked ourselves in my room. We’d all called the police, but they didn’t seem to think us being held hostage in our apartment was too urgent. We were trapped in the apartment for over an hour before a loud knock at my door from the police indicated it was safe to come out.

Noah had followed through with his threat to call the police on Chris so had eagerly opened the front door to them, but when it became evident that they were there for him, he got aggressive, yelling and resisting arrest.

I didn’t talk to anyone about the situation, feeling it was easier to just bury it and try to move on, but it followed me wherever I went. I had no knowledge of whether Noah was still in custody, or if he was out roaming the streets. He had our contact information, so I was terrified every time the phone rang, I got an email or a Facebook message.

I kept seeing his face in crowds, feeling the urge to run and hide whenever men raised their voices around me. I felt unsafe and completely isolated. Over a month after the incident, we finally received confirmation that he was still in custody and that this wasn’t his first offence. Knowing he was in jail should have made things easier, but I couldn’t shake him.

I’d felt so brave when I moved to London, but nine months after Noah was arrested, I returned to Sydney feeling like I’d failed. Over the years, the trauma has lessened. I still have to fight the urge to run when men raise their voice or invade my personal space, but I can’t see his face or hear his voice anymore.

Sometimes it’s easier to minimise the situation instead of acknowledging the severity of it, but to be violated in any way is not nor will it ever be okay. If you’ve ever experienced anything that has made you feel unsafe, I’m sorry and you are not alone.

Feature image: Getty.

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