I have walked countless times in front of that house, yet today it felt different. The yellow paint that was chipping off the exterior, was replaced by a white coat of paint. The betel vines that espoused the sidewalls now lay on the muddy ground, all curled up. Shrubs and wildflower plants that used to adorn and hide the bottom half of the house were now in piles all over the front yard. A wheelbarrow lay upside down, with other garden tools surrounded. The rusted fences now boasted of a fresh coat of pine green paint. The broken gate was still the same though. The top screws had loosened a long time ago and the door remained ajar in a crooked manner, inviting all visitors, wanted or unwanted to wander in. I pushed the gate and it opened wide, with a squeak. I ground my teeth at the noise and pushed through. . The gate squeaked and closed with a bang behind me.
The pathway to the house was barely 50m away, and yet it felt so far away. I could hear the children laughing away while playing games like hide-and-seek, toupie, marbles, snakes, and ladder and climbing on the fruit trees. I could see the fathers and uncles drinking at the table while eating the spicy sauteed mutton with their favorite whiskey and soda water. They would wave at a passerby on the road and invite them in for a drink and a chat. The wives and grandmothers would be going to and from the kitchen, preparing the varieties of snacks and dishes while discussing their children and their lives. I took in all the memories and a drop fell on my cheek. I looked up and saw black clouds progressively covering up the blue sky. I ran to the top of the stairs, to the front door, and twisted the knob. To my surprise, it did not budge. I looked on my right for the old, brown flower pot, that was turned upside down. I turned it over but no luck there as well. As far as I could remember, this door was seldom closed, even when it was in a dilapidated state, and even if it was closed, the key could always be found under the flower pot. Fine drops of water fell and all the plants seemed as if there was dew on them. The black clouds were now just above, and it was as if they sped up time and it now seemed to be late afternoon instead of late morning. "Grrrrr...", thunder rumbled. Lightning crackled in the trees far away. It seemed that the clouds could drench all of nature's creations at any moment. I wondered where I would find refuge in this weather. toured the house, looking for an open window. I then saw that there was a side window that was broken, and was replaced very amateurishly by a sheet of plywood. I gathered a piece of wood from the waste in the garden and tried to reach for the wooden window but I was too short. I dragged a concrete block to the window to get some height, and hammered hurriedly at the plywood.
Rain started showering down, rainwater sluicing off the window panes. I doubled down on pushing the plywood in and in a matter of minutes, the plywood gave way. I quickly thanked my parents' genes for making me slim. I hopped on the sill of the window, slid through the empty space, and jumped into the room. My childhood room. I did not remember much about my life here, a few memories swooped in my brain, and I found myself smiling at myself in the dusty mirror of the old closet. My hair was plastered on my head, drenched from head to toe. I looked at the room through the haze of my spectacles. Nothing had changed. A musky scent in the air turned into the perfume of sandalwood and I could smell that as clearly as if it was yesterday. Rain was splattering on the roof. I came back from school and immediately changed into dry clothes without any help from my father. I was excited to meet my little sister. I was 5 years old and I had spent quite a lonely and quiet childhood. I loved my parents but I was a bit sad to not have a companion to play with. But it was going to be different now. My mom was in the hospital with my baby sister.
Rain splattered into the room through the broken window. I placed the plywood against the window to prevent rain from entering and damaging the remaining furniture. Thunder continued to growl and the house seemed darker and darker. I moved near the door to switch on the light. The room seemed even smaller with the light on. I looked towards the bed, where my parents, my sister, and I had spent the formative years of our little family. The spider webs in the corners of the room, the beautiful woodwork on the bed frame impressed with mold, the dresser, still magnificent from 25 years ago. I opened one of the drawers of the dresser and immediately screamed of horror on finding a big fat spider wrapped around an old rattle of mine. I pushed the drawer in, turned off the light, by habit, and left the room in quest for other memories.
I moved just a few steps away, from the room, into the corridor, and then into the kitchen. The smell of pudding came to tickle my nostrils. Another memory, this time of my mom making maize pudding for my birthday, which was a tradition of sorts. I quite enjoyed the time I spent during my developmental years with my mom. I did not remember specific details, just fleeting motion pictures. My sister sitting on the countertop. My mother trapping her between her arms, while dad had a supporting hand on my back, while I stood on the stool, ready to blow the candles that stood atop the jiggly pudding. The kitchen was just as I imagined, basic with an empty space - there was probably a stove here once - between the countertop and the sink.
Keys clanged. It was a miracle I was able to hear this sound given the weather outside. I wondered who it could be. Only my sister knew I was coming here today and she was oceans away. My parents were both at work and I had taken a break from work to come here to our old house to reminisce. I move surreptitiously from the kitchen to the corridor, and from there on, I glided next to the front door. I opened the curtains slightly and saw a man, wearing a black mask, with black-rimmed square glasses, and a Panama hat, and carrying a soaked umbrella. He was dressed in a pair of black jeans, a purple and black checkered shirt, and a pair of brown timberlands. He effortlessly opened the door and opened the curtains to enter.
"Who is this?", I asked him, suspiciously.
The mystery person put his hands up, surrendering to my attack. He moved towards me cheerfully and said something. I responded by taking a step back and bringing my hands into fists in front of me as self-defense.
He reached for his mask with his free hand, and said: "Relax, hey it's just me Johnathan."
I felt awkward and ecstatic at the same time.
"Since when do you call yourself that?", I scoffed at him, lunging in for a hug.
"I missed you", I whispered in his ears.
We sat down on the makeshift couch in the living room, which fared the best out of all rooms I had seen so far. We made small talks and got updated with each other's lives. Johnathan is my cousin. He is an IT consultant by day and loves to build, repair, upcycle and create in his free time. He wanted to renovate this house and turn it into a place where the whole family could gather again. I decided to join him in this beautiful quest of his. Life as a young adult, away from a close-knit family made me realize how precious those times were. We chatted for a few hours until the weather calmed and our stomachs growled. No productive work was done on the house today, but a very much-needed reconnection was made.
As John locked the house, I took a long look at the house that survived almost half a century's worth of love, arguments, births, and deaths. I grabbed John's arm and walked with my head on his shoulders while we took the pathway to exit the house. I listened to the resounding rumbling in his chest, when he recounted the time I cried because of fireworks, or the time I fell into a bush of prickly plants and had bruises all over my legs. We laughed at the echoes of yesterday and paused when we were on the other side of the fences. We had walked countless times in front of this house, yet today it felt different.