I tend to be scared of places rather than things. Unpalatable things tend to evoke aversion but unpalatable places tend to evoke fear.
* * *
There's an unfinished painting that I first saw in a dream many years ago that comes back to me now and then. It's a perfect rectangle, equal parts beige and maroon. There is a stick at either end and there is a crudely, almost carelessly drawn body of a tribesman on the left side. The body occupies most of the space on the left side and there is some kind of ornament around the neck of the tribesman. His head is oblong, it is inclined at an angle with the upper boundary of the rectangle and juts out of it most asymmetrically. The right side of the picture isn't complete. It also features a tribesman but this one's body is a little more irregular, almost fragmented. Most oddly, I can't seem to form a clear picture of the second tribesman's head. I'm sure he has to have one but I can't see it. His arm is twisted, almost broken; his legs look far weaker than those of his counterpart on the left side; they look almost cartoonish. He appears to be stretching his arm out and holding on to the stick to his left. Yet, because his body is so fragmented, I can't seem to tell which hand he is holding on to the stick with. It just seems to be there. For the life of me, I cannot picture his head.
* * *
I'm scared of the place upstairs. It evokes fear in a way I don't associate with any other place in the world. I've been downstairs, of course. I've been downstairs several times. Downstairs has literally been my second home. I know the upstairs looks exactly like the downstairs - the house was designed that way. They were mirror images of each other. Up until about twenty years ago, they used to be. But then the kitchen downstairs was broken down and expanded. The far bedroom downstairs was rebuilt from scratch. The bedroom across from the far bedroom was also refurbished and is now occupied by other people. Both bathrooms downstairs have been rebuilt on multiple occasions and bear scant resemblance to the ones upstairs. The near bedroom downstairs has also seen much upheaval over the years. In all that time, the rooms upstairs have also had literally hundreds of little changes and modifications - some approved and some not. The rooms upstairs have also been occupied by several tenants - some have stayed for years, some have stayed for no more than a few weeks. They have all stapled their own imprints on the rooms upstairs - their electrical gadgets have tripped up the power lines once in a while, their posters have peeled off a fair bit of plaster from the walls and their peculiar habits have caused a fair bit of moaning and, on occasion, cursing. But there's one thing that hasn't changed a bit since the first time I remember going there - upstairs. Upstairs is still exactly the same as it was all those years ago.
* * *
I went upstairs in late 1998. We had just moved into (my present) house and there was much celebration in the family for several other reasons besides. My first memory of upstairs was in the morning - the dust, the smell of termite-infested wood, the cool November breeze and the charcoal-black hoop-shaped grills on the windows. There was a wedding. There was a lot of chatter and a lot of dancing downstairs. I was upstairs with a few other people who were frantically trying to ensure that upstairs was set up for the people who were to arrive soon. I was running around, upstairs and downstairs, ferrying as much as my eleven-and-a-half-year-old hands could carry at one go. Apart from the fact that it was a very happy occasion, nothing of consequence happened that night in late 1998. We retired to bed around 12. I was the last one to leave and, as such, I was told to latch the door. The latch was a little stubborn but after struggling for a few seconds, I managed to secure it, aided in part by the dark yellow light thrown by an old bulb that was a few feet to my left. I took a quick look around, first right, then left and finally hurried back to sleep. Downstairs.
(to be continued)