They moved to the city. It has been seven years now. The family had lived next door all my life. I had grown up with their children; the daughter was my best friend; the son was like a little brother to me. As far as I can remember, their house was always full of people and life. They took every visitor in – human or animal. Their garden, where I learned to notice plants and later take care of them, was my second home alongside the most beautiful birdsongs during the day and chirping crickets in the night.
They left. They had the very regular, ordinary reasons – for education, work, and allegedly, progress. The compound has been quiet ever since. The birds left after a few seasons, tired from waiting. The windows remained shut, then gathered layers of dust. With time the house fell asleep. The paint began peeling away, the terracotta tiles on the roof were breaking, plants grew in the cracks that appeared in the outer walls, and the nameplate outside the rusting old gate began hiding behind a layer of verdigris. The De Silva family left, and silence moved in next door.
People migrate every day. Families leaving in pursuit of the sensational big city life, hardly come across as odd. As if some compulsion of human endeavor to be fulfilled. Exits of many strained the walls of our village. Over the years, my family, the Doregos, have struck up an unlikely camaraderie with goodbyes. There is an outside, and then there is the village, the idyllic, the inside. For some reason, the outside world, the unknown, the promises of big things, although mostly certain, failed to draw us out, and we have remained in a village with many sleeping houses.
When our friends left, and as many did over the years, they left behind spaces in our hearts and within their abandoned houses- that never seemed to entirely fill. Rusting window bars and creaking roofs gave way under the unfailing seasonal monsoons (rains). The house that belonged to my neighbors stands like a lonely popcorn seller at the cinema, waiting for the crowd to swell up during intermission.
Next up in the line was the family of Lester Pinto’s, whose move got planned with enormous attention and in great detail. For days it became the trending social activity among the neighboring households. Lester had been offered a job. He would take it. Endless discussions over tea were held in our front yard. It fills me with wonder how my father remained unaffected and least bit encouraged even to allow a passing thought of a move to the city. They planned about everything- from what household items to carry and what to leave behind, which people to meet before leaving, and the people to meet on arrival, their hosts during the first few days in the city.
However, when the time for the move arrived, all the preparations seemed pointless. It’s hard to plan how not to be upset, and the intense urge to feel sad did not betray – everything felt disorienting despite all the heads up. It was a teary goodbye. Lester went up to the house, looked at it long and one final time, then turned away, got in the waiting car, and drove away. We stood there, transfixed, and when the sound of the car had faded from our minds, we walked with heavy footsteps back home.
They promised to call but seldom did. The most we heard from them was a card around Christmas. Someday I would be offered shelter by them, a home away from home, when later I would move to the city in search of bigger opportunities. Promises like this made during those moments of departure had seemed like a distant possibility. Like something I might actually do someday.
The roof caved under the heavy monsoons. Our repeated calls were met with no responses. We figured that they must have changed their phone numbers. The rusting lock on the door gave way quite easily under the weight of a hammer. I stuck close to my father, watching out closely for creeping things crawling out of desolate corners. My father went to look at the room where part of the roof had fallen through. The house was shrouded in memories; all the things came flashing back. I found the bookshelf on which we had kept a large jar of pebbles – one for every time we visited the beach. I decided that I would continue to fill it up. I lifted it off the sagging plank of wood, and then the shelf audibly sighed with relief.
The nooks and corners were redolent of things that had long ago claimed the place. The sentimental square patches on the walls where family photos once hung, the ring of the stain where the vase stood, a cabinet left half-open, as if in a hurry and forgotten to shut behind.
This was the first time we had gone inside the house without them there. We probably never would again unless more of the roof gave way or a wall collapsed. My father decided to send them a letter. As time goes by, the house gathers more dust. The nameplate that watched the Pintos drive away is still embedded in the wall, hiding under layers of patina.
Author: Wesley D’Souza
[Writer; St.Joseph’s College, Bangalore; English Literature]
Illustration/Image/Graphics: Anagha Deshpande
[Visual Art; Symbiosis International University; Photography]