The following comprises a zine by the author, as she contemplates memories and years etched upon the landscape of a house, through prose, poetry and illustrations. This was submitted as part of Mina Malik's digital curation on the theme of Summer and the Senses (May, 2022); Mina was not able to include it in her curation due to space constraints. Thus, we are publishing the piece now.
To live is not merely to see.
It is to wrestle with liminal spaces of our in-between;
to imagine and remember
to recede and misplace ourselves inwardly so we may live time.
The air was heavy and humid. The room was vibrating with a resounding krr krr of the pedestal fan, its blade cutting through the air, in affinity with the woodpecker beyond the window, which was hammering against a pitiful, pale, fruit tree. Noise so persistent, it felt like family. It flooded the room with absolute authority with no desire for a response, no space for emptiness—a monotone, dull, lulled nothing. The only other sounds that could overrule the fan were the abrupt, gluttonous gulps the house drew, mouthfuls of water meandering behind white-washed ceilings. Sometimes superseded by hollow, cryptic creaks that would echo from above with no explanation. The house rumbled as if to remind the room that the room was just a vacant box that the house had once swallowed.
The room was half glass, half steel. The sun never rose or fell against the windows, and the floors were always taciturn and yawning. The bed devoured all surplus space. Under the patronage of the fan, the sheets often flapped and furled, and the pillows rose like mountains, dissolving under a sheet of thick mist that was actually dust. There were rows of minuscule dog paintings on the wall, all ensconced in vibrant, juxtaposing hues; a soft respite from the humdrum of dreary life; they exuded warmth in the day, and in the night, they would glow.
The curtains lodged spider webs and lizards; and the eggshells, jabbed alongside their crooked corners, acted as talismans.
The mirror was a portal. It looked through you while you dissipated, and it blurred you while you burrowed. It never revealed yourself to you. It was the solitary sound of truth that surmised within this dwelling. It was honest in its unraveling and therefore unvarnished in its deception.
The drawing room was suffused with a yellow glow. The door revealed a shocking pink double sofa on the right; in the middle, a wide, marble-chipped mantelpiece protruding from the wall, lifting a legion of small ornaments and well-dressed photo frames.
The room wore lamps and light bulbs like generational rings. It hung two chandeliers akin to antiquated earrings that boasted holographic crystals; they would cast iridescent reflections whenever someone would switch the Sun on. The tall ceiling sheltered laughter and amplified it. It vibrated hushed tee-hee’s while wrapping chronic creaks and moans that the house often whispered inside a tender vacuum. Under its nape was a sooty Afghan carpet, stained in tiny footprints that once used it to play hopscotch. The carpet had absorbed strategic footsteps and fumbling secrets.
The walls were thick yet not resistant to the ravages of time. They were covered in landscapes, hills, and trees, and valleys unseen. But to the grown-ups, they were tainted smears, slithering snake-like, hissing hostility; something to be painted over and over again. For the children, they were canvases concealing hidden messages to be quarried. They built houses through those stains, sojourned to far-off spaces, bathed in daydreams. By night, the council of counters and settee sofas would be folded away like fortune-teller games and they would pave way for the museum of mattresses.
The children would take turns to curate them at perfect, slanted angles so they could be used as a slope to sleigh on. Once they would get tired, the mattresses would be conjoined to reveal a mountainous meadow, which the children would flock to—like fleeing fireflies; they were time travellers, and the room forced time to halt for them. The grandfather clock in the corner would tremble and clamor, but the room would dissolve its sound. It cradled and lullabied a new rhythm; a beat created to the sound of the voices that breathed new life into her crumbling and crackling bones.
The weather the room harbors is fussy and difficult to deal with. It always withdraws at the slightest inconvenience. In the summer, the moisture in the air is enough to drown you. In the winter, the air is dry enough to stop your breath.
The room is a toddler. Only four years old yet already neglected. It bites you with a trail of cartons—all shapes and sizes, that feed off of each other and cover every inch of the expanse, except the entrance; a dreary drying-stand situates itself next to the window casting spidery shadows that melt into the floor in the late afternoon.
The floors lie unfurnished yet brimming with scraps, secrets, and secret scrapbooks. The child was left to entertain itself, to imagine itself into being and now it lies drunk with indulgence. Its oinks are often kept company by the drilling that reverberates across the gentrified neighbourhood and the crickets that sing on the stream of battered legacies in its wake. When the sun pours in through the locked windows, the chairs crammed in the corner of the room cover their ears with beanie-shaped damp duds.
The wind is always violent and brazen in this part of the city. It whistles against the glass openings with urgency. The glass clanks with jealousy and competes with the wheezing, neighbourhood leaves for attention.
The crowd of cartons clumsily carry smaller cartons that cling and bubble, like molten rock and debris, waiting to erupt, simmering yet suspended. They cradle carefully crafted stories with fractured-narrative structures—abandoned by a procrastinating author. Diaries and degrees, books and photos, sculptures and instruments—all shape-shift into each other, like a network of moths transfiguring into leaves and leaves mutating into spears and fingers. They are amorphous time-capsules, suspended inside a constant present. Not enough to be of consequence, but enough to embody the sanctity of experience. The room is poor in the economy of love, silently bribing for the currency of time. It is static and ephemeral yet a conveyer belt of eternal memories, stuttering in perpetual motion.
This room is folded away at the corner of the house. It slithers silent whispers of a dying language, and I am only eight years old.
I feel like my childhood will last forever, and forever feels like a curse.
There is a small, black, vintage TV that echoes across the entire house; it is settled at the bottom of a worm-brown wooden shelf that is stacked with holy books. The TV is my biggest nemesis; its sound crawls all over me…stuttering, cloudy clamor inside me, around me… and then the sound devours me like the wails of an abandoned newborn. I can hear it everywhere. Even in my bathroom at the other end of the house. It travels through the whispering windows, amplified through chalky crevices. I loathe that I cannot disappear by simply turning the lights off and I loathe that the TV belongs to her. I hate the way the sound sees me when I don’t want to be found. I have misplaced rage and no language to articulate why I take that sound so personally. But I do.
There is no way around this room but to swim eyeballs deep in shame. Architecture can be so unforgiving. I must walk through the disease to turn the TV off when no one is looking. I am always caught. I do not have the language to articulate that I hate disease, because I hate grieving. Everyday. Slowly. I hate that grief must buffer in the background or that voices weigh larger than after-images of white noise. I hate to hear this instead of the softer hums of the island I have sculpted. I hate that I can hear this memory so clearly. She has a clock beaming at her from across her bed but she calls out to ask for the time, again. I hate the sound of time ticking. I pretend I don’t hear it. Her response is vomit-inducing. The words don’t have to reach her mouth. They reach her eyes. And I reach for the door.
I only have to step into the doorway to feel like I am the skin of a helium balloon and my insides belong to someone else. I am overcome by this impulsive urge to crawl out of my skin or to sink under my age. Like my true life is waiting for me in the insides of my flesh curtains, and the room is a window. The TV set isn’t the future, it is only a furnace.
I feel too large for this room. Like I am trapping all the oxygen in my lungs and leaving nothing for her. Like she hates me for it or thinks I am so silly for taking away all her oxygen without even realising it. She must see me as a terrible inconvenience and I must see the worst of her to believe that. I hate that the room reminds me of how I am too young to understand or read her language. I hate that she never teaches me but judges me for the gaps.
She is a frozen capsule and I am swallowed by scorched metal under the heat of this house which, oddly enough, never seems to offer her any warmth.
The room forgets her and I never forgive it for letting her leave. I don’t forgive her for forgetting me.
I finally forgive myself for forgiving her.
The clocks now have their ears cut off and I never learned how to tell time. I have a new room in the corner of a new house. I hear everything and it is so terribly lonely.
In the interlude of space and gaps between time, I am a child again.
This time, I get my childhood right.
There is something very sick and sticky about this memory. The room is a mausoleum and the air vibrates with her sonic fingerprints.
I can hear her clearly. Even though I am thirteen years late.
As the ants crawl in the moonlit night,
the sky full of gleaming light,
cobwebs glimmer in muted breaths,
chandeliers hang, sick to death.
The facade crumbles, its beauty lost,
moths breed in the dust cot.
Empty chairs and hunted ghosts,
Where do unsung echoes go?
The peepal grows through the window,
Feeding on the echoes from far below.
Roots twist and turn,
Leaves furl in the open sun.
The sun reveals a past unknown,
Shadows scatter, their cover blown.
Walls imbued with glossy tint,
Dream vendors trade in fine imprints.
(written along with Waleed Zafar)
The door was a window. On days when you were an un-sailable ship, it unravelled a bewitching hour, revealing to us specs that shaped our true north. It spewed back-handed glimpses into barred memories and rosy reveries. It cracked itself open for you to tumble through, a spinning world serving a pair of swimming eyes. There was no beginning; only parts and a cycle. It was all scatter-plot.
Chairs climbing like columns offered a kind of isolation that made you feel truly alone. There was comfort in making yourself feel smaller and choosing to be enclosed of your own volition.
The horizon felt cotton candy sad; woolly and nostalgic. It was too sweet, too much like hair, disappearing and dissolving before you could even chew it. Before you could even remember you had escaped. Sitting under the table was your way of adding an hour of yourself inside the hourglass of a world that never made space for you. It was your way of freezing a fleeting glimpse of this corner you forgot to fully grasp. It is a difficult thing to live on the periphery of your own existence, to watch yourself from the edge of a second skin, to be a repository of traces and shapes, to map out memories scavenging through intervals and context clues.
Under the chairs, you were allowed a fleeting moment of remembering who you could be. A glimpse of everything you truly are.
The sunlight offered a refuge from the thinness of being. When the wind would hum, curtains swung like strobing waterfalls, and the room would suddenly acquire sea legs. Shadows would dance, their footsteps floating across a sharp dream translating itself into hues softer than muffled prayers.
Emotions would have their colors washed clean but the room would surrender to the fever of feeling. Then all at once, the darks and lights would stitch themselves into glass fabric, tethered by a brittle and frozen silence. Only light shedding shadows, condensing into a symphony of islands. You would travel for miles without making a single sound.
The landscape of my house was as undefined as my memories and the shed versions of me that remembered it. Just as infinite. I kept peeking inside hovering doors, looking for misplaced life as it kept disappearing before me. Every path I tread on pulled me against the gravity of its own quicksand. Every path led me back to a dreamed and distant world where all compasses were trying to assemble parts of me, parts as young as dawn and as heavy as childhood.
Whenever I searched for the stars, it never escaped me how the moon had forgotten to float. Instead, it only hung.
Photographs by Waleed Zafar and Asavir Nadeem.
Illustrations by Asavir Nadeem.
Asavir Nadeem's work investigates disassociation across intimate and public spaces, as well as the role of mark making in relation to personal and collective memories. Asavir did her BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore. Her work has been exhibited locally and internationally and currently, she is working on multiple artistic projects.