Our first visit to IKEA hadn’t gone unnoticed by our friends. Agnes’s friends almost fainted when she told them. After all, we had gone to the fantastical furniture house after just three months of dating. And not only that, we had also bought something together. Something big. Something real.
As far as the Swedes I knew were concerned, we were practically engaged. Agnes would have the right to half of everything we had ever bought from Ikea. In our case, that meant 50 percent of everything in our apartment.
That’s right. Our apartment. We had just moved in together.
Actually, the health of the relationship was always measured with an ikeameter. One of my friend asked me how we were doing.
“Excellent, man. Just excellent,” I said.
“Sounds good. She’s really nice,” he said, and paused. “Have you had your first Ikea fight yet?
“Ikea fight? What’s that?”
Apparently, there were two kinds of couples. Those who had had their Ikea fight and those who hadn’t yet had their Ikea fight. I thought about what my friend had said, a lot, and decided that Agnes was the girl I wanted to have an Ikea fight with.
I had lots of opportunities for that, but since I’m a lover, not a fighter, I always steered away from those chances. Then one afternoon, I found myself, once again, in the car on my way to Ikea even though it was a) Sunday, b) afternoon which meant that c) Ikea would be packed. Also, d) there was a Formula 1 race on TV.
I was in a great mood as I tapped the steering wheel to the tunes coming out of Classic FM. Agnes was looking at the Ikea catalog, pointing at photos of couches. I nodded and smiled. Nodded and smiled. A new couch was going to be nice. I was already looking forward to the next Formula One GP.
Classic FM took a wrong turn so I started to look for new songs. Nothing on Radio City, nothing on Mix Megapol, and nothing on Easy. Agnes turned off the radio and pushed the catalog into my face.
“What do you think of this one?” she asked me.
“Nice. COME ON, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” I yelled at the car in front of us, and pounded the steering wheel with my fists. Agnes put her hand on my hand and I calmed down. That’s right, I thought, no fighting. Take it easy, I told myself. We’ll get there.
Outside, on the side of the building, there was a huge sign saying, “The world’s biggest Ikea!”
The world’s biggest Ikea. Huh. And biggest fights?
“Over there!” Agnes screamed. We had turned into the parking lot, and were trying to find a free spot.
“Oh no. I didn’t see that tiny car there. Man, drive another lap around the parking lot. Or maybe we should just try the garage?”
And that’s what we did. We drove three laps around the parking lot, and then gave up and parked our car in the garage. I looked at the steady stream of people walking towards the Ikea. We got out of the car and joined the line.
Nobody said a word.
When we finally made it to the main door, I reminded myself of my decision to not get angry or frustrated. I was here with Agnes, everything was good, there was nothing to worry about, nothing to get angry about. Focus on Agnes. Focus. No Ikea fights.
“Agnes, wait a second,” I said.
She turned around and smiled, but before she had a chance to say anything, I lifted her in my arms and carried her through the sliding doors, over the Ikea thresholds. The young men and women at the reception looked at us, as did all the people picking up catalogs and yellow bags, before they all at once realized what a big moment they had just witnessed, and started to clap their hands.
Agnes buried her face in my shoulder. She was laughing and crying at the same time. I was shaking people’s hands, nodding and smiling. “That’s right. It’s a big day for us,” I said. And then, “What Ikea has joined together, let not man separate”, and “Can I get a refund for this?”
I was on fire.
Another good thing was that couches were on ground floor so we didn’t have to fight our way through big masses of people. We’d be fast and furious. It was going to be a military operation: get in, decide, go to exit, drive home. We were already in, so we proceeded to Step 2.
We walked through the crowds, hand in hand. I muttered excuses left and right, to everybody, and nobody in particular. Agnes was a step behind me, but still there. I had done my part, and got us to the battle zone, now she’d take over.
Agnes walked past the first couches, straight towards a big, red couch that looked like the one in the catalog she was still holding. I followed her to the couch, and exhaled. There it was. Our new, red couch. I loved it at first sight. It looked very comfortable, very soft – but not too soft – and just perfect.
But Agnes hadn’t stopped there. She made a surprising left turn towards the bed sofas, let her fingers run on a blue one, feeling the material. She turned around, looked me right in the eye, and said:
“What do you think?”
Now, I didn’t have very strong opinions on sofas, as long as it was nice and soft. Before I had said anything, Agnes turned around. “Fine,” she said. “You don’t like it. I can tell it my the look on your face.”
We went through the same procedure with every couch in the store. And even if the couch was good, and the look on my face was fine, then the price was off.
Naturally, I did have opinions, too. I didn’t want to have a leather couch, for one. Imagine sitting on one of those in the summer. No, thanks. A light bed sofa seemed too temporary. And don’t get me started on the one with the sunflower pattern.
I wiped a bead of sweat off my brow and took a quick look at the watch.
“You in a hurry to go somewhere?” Agnes asked me.
As we all know, there is no correct answer to that one. I just shook my head a little and tapped the pillows on the yellow couch right in front of us. I sat down. And then lay down.
“What do you think of this?” I said, trying to change the subject, and the mood.
“Why do I have to take all big decisions? Why can’t you just say what you think of these couches?” she said.
I thought her voice was sort of loud, so I made a hand gesture – you know, as if I was squeezing something between my thumb and the rest of the fingers.
“What? Am I too loud? Come ON!”
“Please, you don’t have to yell, we’re just here to find a nice couch. It’s not a big deal, even if we don’t find it here today. Although, we really should, we’ve been here for hours.”
“For hours?! First, we’ve only been here for 45 minutes, and second, if you don’t like it, why do you even bother coming here with me? I can buy a sofa on my own, yes, I can, mister. I do everything on my own anyway. I decorate, I clean the house, I cook, I go to work, and I take care of you. Why don’t you just grow up!”
And there we were. In the middle of our first Ikea fight.
I tilted my head to my left. Then right. I inhaled. I was ready. Ikea fight, meet me.
“Oh, so I suppose it’s my fault that a nice light sofa can’t handle the weight of your mother or that your father would probably just kill himself trying to fold a bed sofa back. And if your brother can’t sleep on a regular sofa, he can sleep on the goddamn balcony!”
“We don’t even have a balcony!”
Agnes grunted, pulled her purse on her shoulder and walked away.
“Besides, I did the dishes on Thursday!” I shouted after her.
She kept on walking. I looked around me. What did people think? Had anybody seen this embarrassing moment? But the only witness to our first Ikea fight was a young lady in a red shirt, an Ikea employee, who simple made a half circle with her arm, inviting me to look around me.
I saw three other Ikea fights around me.
I ran after Agnes and grabbed her hand. I asked her to stop. She didn’t even look at me but she stopped walking. It was time to make up. I backed up to the closest sofa, and pulled Agnes with me. She wouldn’t sit on my lap, and she still hadn’t looked at me, but she did sit down next to me.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Agnes looked straight ahead.
“I’m sorry about what I said about your mom. And dad.”
She stared ahead but inched closer to me.
“And your brother can sleep inside when he visits,” I said.
I put my arm around her, and leaned back so that she glided into my arms. Now she looked at me, and smiled.
“I sort of like this couch,” she said.
“Mmmhhmmm,” I said, and kissed her.
That was the end of our first Ikea fight. We found the girl in red and told her that we wanted to buy one of those sofas. She just nodded, pulled up the information on her computer and gave us a piece of paper we were supposed to show at the check-out counter on our way out.
Express lane, five items or fewer. That was easy. We walked to line number 18, an express one. Agnes was holding onto the note and showed me the way. She picked up a pack of napkins.
I smiled as we walked by the long line at number 9, and the even longer one at 13. At line number 18, the smile disappeared. Apparently, “five items” is a matter of definition. Some people think that three plants, one flat box, and a bathroom carpet is just one item.
I don’t remember much about the next 45 minutes, but Agnes told me things had been slow because an Ikea fight had broken out in front of us.
The sofa arrived two weeks later.
(To be continued…)