They say we claim spaces and make them into homes. Two years ago, I had a space too. A home with a shabby backyard where we had a traditional South-Indian breakfast, idli with sambar and coconut chutney. She liked cooking outside when the skies were clear and bright; she never forgot to mention it as she did so. I would make a Nescafe-instant cold coffee and chat with her about the week.
She was only an aunt but cared like a mother. It was not my home but felt the closest to it. I had my own room, and I decked it with things from my hometown; the Kalamkari printed bedsheets from Hyderabad, the few pictures of my parents and my sister, a tiny unicorn figure that my friend sent over, and a lot of books and other trinkets. Though I never spent much time in it, I planned religiously to make every wall, every piece of furniture, and the littlest décor to feel like me.
Perhaps my subconscious picked up something about her husband that told me to keep building my home within a home. On the night of March 9th, my aunt had gone out with her friends. And sure enough, my instincts were right, and my efforts did not go in vain. I rushed and locked myself inside the room. As I fell onto the carpet, the sweet aroma of the sandalwood incense hit me, and my eyes fell on the tiny statue of Buddha on the corner table. For the first time, it was my room, and from that night, it was my safe haven.
After three months of holding it in, I finally spoke up. Nothing had really changed between them, but I no longer had an aunt or a home. I just had me behind a locked door. Despite the harshest and coldest nights, there was always a kind of plushy, quiet warmth. The four walls, reminding me of my mother, hugged me close, kept me safe, and consoled, “You’ll wake up to a better morning.”
In the summer of 2020, I moved into a new unit with my sister. It was not as polished or as big. It had a messy backyard with bird poo everywhere. Broken kitchen floorings, cracks in the doors, mould in the bathroom, and holes in the window meshes that I ignored in my desperation to move out. As I slowly shifted my stuff from their house, I met my lovely neighbour, a lively woman in her early sixties, who showed us around. She took care of the birds and made little birdhouses in the backyard for them. Eventually, the bird poo on the clothing lines did not seem to bother me as much. She gave an occasional smile and some of her flower pots to keep in front of our unit. As we fixed up the corners and duct-taped a few…