By Amrita Khadilkar
I broke into my own house twenty minutes ago. Now I hide in the basement, crouching behind the sofa like a common thief.
Well, technically this is not my house anymore, even though I remember the smallest, oddest things about it—the dim light that used to hang on this roof before I renovated it, the stubborn water stain on the wall that had to be hidden behind furniture, the creaky spot on the bedroom floor…
I wonder if the house remembers me, too. A little cockroach comes out from underneath the sofa and creeps up towards me, only to stop mid-way and raise its antennae, as if in recognition. They live long lives, these winged pests. Maybe this little guy sees the cowering woman in front of him and remembers how she once glided across this place—singing in the garden, dancing in the kitchen, making life plans in this very basement.
I feel pathetic, looking for solace in the little brain of an insect.
I didn’t intend for this afternoon to play out like this. But it all happened so fast. One minute I was walking towards the shops; the next minute, I found myself turning into a familiar street.
There was no car in the driveway. They were both out—the man I spent twenty years loving, and the woman who took my place in less than twenty days.
What on earth does he see in her? My loyal friends had exclaimed back then. Maybe I could find out now. Lucky for me, he hasn’t changed all of his ways. He still keeps a spare key in the pot near the back door. So I let myself in. A quick look, in and out, I promised myself. At the very least, it would be a trip down memory lane.
Once I was in, the house seemed so quiet, undisturbed, as if it was expecting me all along. But then I heard a car pulling into the driveway. I hadn’t counted on them coming back so soon. As voices came closer—his laughter, her incessant chatting—the only place I could escape to was the basement.
Which is where I find myself now.
This basement always used to be my special spot in the house, a place to retire with my books and get away from it all. Ironic that I find myself back here. But before I drift off further into the past, I notice something.
It’s a flatpack box, the kind that comes with unassembled furniture. It’s partially obscured, wedged in between the wall and the side of the sofa, a pamphlet of instructions and a hammer lying on the side. It feels strangely exciting to be close to the mundane happenings of this new life he is creating. I move closer to read the pamphlet.
It doesn’t take long for me to realize that it’s a step-by-step instruction guide on how to build a crib.
I stare hard at the unopened box. A child will be coming into this house soon. Tiny footsteps will echo through the corridors, sweet babble will fill the stubborn spaces that taunted me, all those years ago, back when I lived here. The spaces that remained, no matter how much expensive furniture I bought or how many plants I arranged or songs I sang.
I want to get up and run away from here, but it feels like the wind has been knocked out of me. Heat rises up my body. I want to call my loyal friends and tell them that I have found exactly what he sees in her. Instead, I stay still, wait for the voices upstairs to die down, and then let myself out, as stealthily as I came in.
Later that day, I pour myself a glass of wine and let the quiet music of memories play softly in the background. A warm buzz envelops me as I look through old photos. There is one in particular, of me and him, our arms wrapped around each other as we stand in the entrance of that house on the day that we bought it. We look young, naive and happy.
I realize then that no amount of babbling sounds and parental love can drown out what that house gave me, and that the only memories that matter in the end, are those still living in the basement of my mind.