As my mother struggled to force open the door that had been sealed for months, dust blew through the air. The purple walls in the garage were no longer the pretty lavender I loved, but a gloomy gray from the layers of dust and faded memories. I turned to the right and looked for the white car my grandfather used to drive my brother and me in. I was met with empty space and a reminder that the car was sold.
I’ve been in that car less than a handful of times. But when I was, those were some of the few moments I was able to spend with my grandfather. He’d drive us to the only mall in our small town — a mall that also functioned as a hotel, restaurant and playground. I’d run into the ice cream shop that only sold the wrapped cones that you could find at every store and grab one from their freezer, finishing it before my grandfather even had a chance to pay. Then we’d make our way up to a red booth in the top-floor restaurant, my favorite in all of India, and eat the same meal I get at every restaurant — naan and paneer. My brother and I would share the food and each order a different flavor of lassi and split. We’d be the only ones at 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 entire restaurant would smell like a mix of every spice, ironic since the food was bland.
The empty garage connects to my grandparent’s office. I stepped over the broken door frame that guarded the office and noticed the layer of gray dust coating my foot. The green walls looked the same as they did the last time I was there — untouched. After my grandfather passed, the office became a time capsule, opened only to enter and leave the building or as a room for my grandmother to speak with my grandfather’s old clients who kept coming to talk about their case files from years and years ago since he was their lawyer. The normally crowded room filled with loud clients from all over town was uncomfortably silent. When I entered, I hesitated before I looked up to see his empty chair and cleared desk — a desk that was normally covered in case files.
My brother and I would sneak around and peek into the office when my grandfather had clients over. We’d move the curtain that covered the dividing glass door and quietly laugh from the living room, joking about the clients who’d glare through the door. Then, if we were bold, we’d open the door and bolt into the office. We’d laugh or pretend there was something important to tell our grandfather, but we really just wanted to get a look at the clients and eavesdrop.
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 to every morning covered the wall. Splotches of water damage covered the top parts of the walls, and the previous paint job shined through them. I wasn’t allowed into part of the attached dining room and bathroom because the ceiling had collapsed there. The window behind the box TV was too small to let in a lot of light, and it was distorted so people couldn’t see inside and we couldn’t see outside. The window in the back blocked off any ounce of sunlight because my grandmother covered it with blankets for a reason I forgot to ask her about. But even with the dust and the damage and the covered windows, the room was still oddly bright from the nostalgia and joy that beamed from the pictures.
I would spend most of the time in my grandparent’s living room when I was at their house. My brother and I would lay on the cot and watch Harry Potter movie marathons all day with the air conditioning pointing directly at us on high so that when the power went out, the room would stay somewhat cold until the air returned two hours later. We would wait patiently for the power to come back and the minute it did, 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’d scarf it down in the living room as the marathon played on.
I walked past my grandfather’s locked bedroom — it sent a slight shiver through my body — and made my way to the bedroom my mother and aunt once shared. The red paint was peeling off the walls, and the only working light was the sunlight hitting the distorted windows. A few crows sat right outside the window cawing, breaking any silence in the room. The hot air burned my skin. The fan and air conditioner no longer worked. A sadness loomed over me when I saw the murals my brother and I painted as kids tattered from the aged paint. I took a breath in and was hit with the pungent smell of mothballs, a smell so familiar to me, yet, one that I hadn’t smelled in years. The windows were covered with my cousins’ paintings from when they were little, over 25 years ago, dull, but still intact.
Whenever I visited my grandparent’s home in India, my entire family including my aunts and cousins would all sleep in this room. We’d watch TV and talk for hours. My grandmother would tell us her best stories as I played with my toys. She’d talk about my parents and my aunts and my uncles. She’d tell me about my cousins who were all much older than me, and the things they did when they were little.
Just before leaving to go back to my aunt’s house (12 hours away by train), I went out onto the terrace. I was met with burning dry air, hotter than that from my mother’s room. The sun was beating onto the concrete, so every step I made burned my feet. The brightness blinded my eyes for a short second while I adjusted from being inside a room of darkness. The clothesline that we used to dry our clothes every few days had fallen and was laying on the ground. My toy scooter sat in the corner next to the fallen line, unusable, completely rusted and dusty. I looked to the side and saw the other entrance to my grandfather’s room. A large heavy silver lock held the door closed. I stared at it for a few minutes with a pit in my stomach as my mind went blank. The same emptiness in my head I felt years before at his funeral. A white ladder rested next to his door against the wall leading to the second terrace. My cousin and I ran up it, and my heart sunk. The second terrace was shattered: holes in the ground, broken cement and brick everywhere, much worse than before. My cousin and I stood close to the edge of the second terrace, but not too close since the broken brick on the sides no longer acted as a barrier to stop us from falling. We watched everyone walk by as it got darker outside, a queue for us to leave.
My entire family — with the exception of one cousin and her son — was able to come clean the house that day so my grandmother could sell it. That was the first time we had all been together since my oldest cousin’s wedding, over 7 years ago. When leaving the house, our taxi waited impatiently for us. I turned back one last time to see my grandmother’s home, our home, looking more beaten up than ever. The pink paint was faded, but still bright enough to catch one’s eye when walking down the street whose name I can never remember. I got into the taxi with one of my cousins and his wife, and we left.
The pit in my stomach only got bigger, knowing that would be my last time at this house and maybe even in this town. The town that I spent my happiest summers in and would now be leaving behind along with all my memories at our house. Our house where my grandmother encouraged my brother and me to paint all over the walls, no matter how bad the painting was, and where she never cared whether I’d spill paint on the furniture because she wanted us to have fun. Our house that she’d keep visiting after my grandfather passed to try and make sure those paintings were not destroyed from water damage or the peeling of the walls. Our house she’d one day stop visiting due to her age. Our house that my mother, aunts and all the grandchildren grew up in. The pink house on that one street that I could no longer call ours.
MiC Columnist Roshni Mohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.