Thursday, August 18, 2005

I preferred it empty

I knew it was empty. And I know it still is. Why, the last time I checked, about two years ago, it was so and it has been locked up and secured ever since. So it must be.

I can still remember the resonance of my own steps as I paced the boundary of the interior. The stench of trapped stale air, the omnipresent cobwebs, the disturbing lack of furniture and the rays of evening sunlight forming neat rectangles on the opposite wall. Empty, that's what it was like. Total emptiness. I left in short time, re-securing the door to leave things as they were. There was nothing to leave behind anyway. It was empty.

The little yard around it, I have been taking care of regularly since my last neighbour moved out. It was a simple and small yard that did not require too much effort to look after. Speaking of my last neighbour, I have fond memories of her. I frequented the cottage when she was around. She was a vivacious person and I was quite the opposite. I could feel her effervescence rubbing off me and I enjoyed that feeling immensely. As things may be, she moved out without leaving word.

That was all about two years ago.

And I never found another reason to return. In fact, I found a reason not to. That was the arrival of my niece. What a bundle of joy she was! And still is! I certainly enjoyed looking after her and yet, it was without the total responsibility an average parent would have to bear. An arrangement that meant the best of both worlds for me.

At times, I do feel like a half-parent to my niece. Seeing things through her eyes is literally an eye-opening experience. When she is around, that dormant part of me I never knew was there awakens and slips into her world. When she is away, it goes back to sleep. The overall effect seemed to be one of a double life. I often wonder how life would have been like without my niece and I do come away with the feeling that perhaps, I need her company more than she needs mine.

Recently, an extra piece of furniture came into my possession. Looking around the house (largely colonised by my niece now), I made the wise decision that there was not any more room for it. Thoughts turned to that empty cottage. I had not been near it for two years and even the yard was now ashamedly in disorder. Perhaps I could clean it up a bit, and the interior of the cottage as well before storing the piece of furniture in there for the benefit of any future neighbour.

So I waited for the weekend when my niece went home before picking my way through the tall uncut grass leading to the cottage. What a tragic sight. Pieces of trash shrouded the ground, mailbox overflowing with junk mail, grass reaching the height of my knees and signs of ample rust on almost anything metallic. Could two years have been that long?

Still puffing from carrying the furniture and picking my way through, I felt my hands shaking slightly as I fumbled the key into the lock. The vibrations of the door about its hinges seemed to resonate and I thought I could make out some echoes. Finally the chains were off and I gingerly tried the knob.

The creaking suggested more rust but at least it was still working. With some effort, it reluctantly gave way and the door swung open inwards easily, almost on its own accord. Almost immediately, a strong gusty wind hollowed from behind my back and into the cottage, carrying with it some of the mail and trash. Where did the neat rectangles of sunlight go? Where did the opposite wall go?

I stood there dumbfounded. Turning around, the uncut grass can be seen flattened onto the ground, as if a chopper was attempting a landing near it. Pieces of trash were still flying in past me as I felt a cut or two on my turned cheek. Finally, even the piece of furniture standing next to me toppled over and rolled into the abyss before me.

Solemnly and mastering every ounce of effort, I wrenched the door close. Shaking even more visibly now, I replaced the chains and lock. Then I turned and ran home like a mad man.

It probably would be a long time before I would want to think about that cottage again. I preferred it empty.

Akan Datang: 綺

225 days to go.


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