As my mom struggled to force open the door that had been sealed for months, dust blew through the air. The purple garage walls were no longer the pretty lavender I loved, but a dark gray from the layers of dust and faded memories. I turned right and looked for the white car my grandfather was driving us and my brother to. I encountered an empty space and a reminder that the car was sold.
I have been in this car less than a handful of times. But when I was, those were some of the rare moments I got to spend with my grandfather. He would take us to the only mall in our small town – a mall that also served as a hotel, restaurant, and playground. I would run into the ice cream shop that only sold the packaged cones that we could. find in every store and grab one from their freezer, finishing it before my grandpa even had a chance to pay. Then we walked to a red stand in the top floor restaurant, my favorite in all of India, and ate the same meal I eat in all restaurants – naan and paneer. My brother and I shared the food and each ordered a different flavor of lassi and split. We would be the only ones in the restaurant which makes sense since I now realize the food was mediocre at best. But at the time, I thought the food was the best in town. The whole restaurant would smell like a mix of all the spices, ironic as the food was bland.
The empty garage connects to my grandparents’ office. I stepped over the broken door frame that guarded the desk and noticed the layer of gray dust covering my foot. The green walls looked the same as the last time I was there – intact. After my grandfather passed away, the office became a time capsule, open only to get in and out of the building or as a room for my grandmother to speak with my grandfather’s former clients who kept on going. not to come and talk about their cases years ago and years since he was their lawyer. The normally crowded room filled with loud customers from all over the city was uncomfortably quiet. When I walked in, I hesitated before looking up to see his empty chair and empty desk – a desk that was normally covered with files.
My brother and I would sneak up and peek around the office when my grandfather had clients. We moved the curtain that covered the glass partition door and laughed quietly from the living room, joking about the customers looking through the door. Then, if we were daring, we would open the door and lock in the office. We were laughing or pretending there was something important to say to our grandfather, but we really just wanted to take a look at the customers and listen to them.
The living room was the same shade as the garage. Pictures of all the grandchildren, our parents’ weddings, and the Hindu gods my grandmother prays every morning covered the wall. Stains of water damage covered the upper parts of the walls, and the previous paint job shone through them. I was not allowed to enter part of the adjoining dining room and bathroom because the ceiling had collapsed there. The window behind the TV box was too small to let in much light, and it was warped so that people couldn’t see inside and we couldn’t see outside. The window in the back blocked out any hint of sunlight because my grandmother covered it with blankets for some reason I forgot to ask her. But even with the dust and mess and the windows covered, the room was still eerily bright from the nostalgia and joy that emanated from the pictures.
I spent most of the time in my grandparents’ living room when I was at their house. My brother and I would stretch out on the cot and watch Harry Potter movie marathons all day long with the air conditioning pointed directly at us, so that when the power went out the room would stay a little cold until the air comes back two hours later. We would patiently wait for the power to come back on and the minute that happened, we would continue our marathon, never moving from the cot. Our grandmother would come and give us homemade dosas and chutney for dinner, and we would scarf it in the living room while the marathon was going on.
I walked past my grandfather’s locked room – it made me shiver slightly – and made for the room my mom and aunt once shared. The red paint was peeling off the walls, and the only light that worked was the sunlight hitting the warped windows. A few crows sat right outside the window croaking, breaking all the silence in the room. The hot air burned my skin. The fan and air conditioning no longer worked. Sadness swept over me when I saw the murals my brother and I painted while the children were in tatters of aged paint. I inhaled and was struck by the pungent smell of mothballs, a smell so familiar to me, yet, that I hadn’t smelled in years. The windows were covered in paintings by my cousins when they were little, over 25 years ago, drab, but still intact.
Whenever I visited my grandparents’ house in India, my whole family including my aunts and cousins slept in this room. We watched TV and talked for hours. My grandmother told us her best stories while I played with my toys. She was talking about my parents, my aunts and my uncles. She told me about my cousins who were all much older than me, and the things they did when they were little.
Just before leaving to return to my aunt’s house (12 hours by train), I went out onto the terrace. I encountered scorching dry air, hotter than that in my mother’s room. The sun was beating down on the concrete, so every step I took burned my feet. The brightness blinded my eyes for a short second as I adjusted inside a dark room. The clothesline that we used to dry our clothes every few days had fallen off and was lying on the floor. My toy scooter sat in the corner next to the fallen line, unusable, completely rusty and dusty. I looked to the side and saw the other entrance to my grandfather’s bedroom. A large, heavy silver lock held the door shut. I watched him for a few minutes with a pit in my stomach as my mind went blank. The same void in my head that I had felt years ago at his funeral. A white ladder rested next to his door against the wall leading to the second terrace. My cousin and I ran over and my heart sank. The second terrace was shattered: holes in the floor, cement and broken bricks everywhere, much worse than before. My cousin and I stood near the edge of the second patio, but not too close since the broken brick on the sides no longer served as a barrier to keep us from falling. We watched everyone go by as it got darker outside, a queue for us to leave.
My whole family, except for a cousin and her son, was able to come and clean the house that day so that my grandmother could sell it. It was the first time we had all been together since my older cousin’s wedding over 7 years ago. As we left the house, our taxi was waiting impatiently for us. I turned around one last time to see my grandmother’s house, our house, looking more run down than ever. The pink paint was faded, but still shiny enough to attract attention when walking down the street whose name I never remember. I got in the taxi with one of my cousins and his wife, and we left.
The pit in my stomach only got bigger, knowing that this would be my last time in this house and maybe even in this town. The city where I spent my happiest summers and which I will now leave behind with all my memories at home. Our house where my grandmother encouraged me and my brother to paint all the walls no matter how bad the paint was, and where she never cared if I would spill paint on the furniture because she wanted us to have fun. Our house that she kept visiting after my grandfather passed away to try to make sure that these paintings were not destroyed by water damage or chipping of the walls. Our house that she would one day stop visiting because of her age. Our house in which my mother, my aunts and all the grandchildren grew up. The pink house on this street that I could no longer call our own.
MiC columnist Roshni Mohan can be contacted at [email protected]