I saw him one evening, quite by accident. I was not meant to see him. I was on the phone, out in the balcony, pretending to listen and he sat out in the rain, with his tattered grey umbrella, smoking. He couldn’t see me, it was too dark. I saw him again the next morning, packing his little tiffin box and getting on his bicycle. He handed over a set of keys to another watchman and left. Since that evening, I see him everyday. He is very quiet, doesn’t smile much and looks 55. He likes tea and he likes to read. He smokes more when it rains.
I moved into this apartment 6 months ago, he’s been sitting on that blue chair longer than I have lived. A girl not older than me talks to him now and then. She lives in my building. She gives him a book every week and he reads through the night by the gate lamp. I know this because when I wake up in the middle of the night, I like to see what he’s doing. And he’s usually draped in a black blanket, reading. Now and then he takes a short walk from one end of the lamp post to the other. He’s usually done with the book in about a week. Then the girl gives him another book. And then another. A boy smaller than the big cycle that he lugs around with comes to the buildings to give all the watchmen tea. Our man hasn’t paid him in months so the small boy doesn’t give him tea anymore.
When I first moved in, I didn’t like the yellow walls in my apartment. When I slept on my futon, the yellow on the walls grew yellower, a disgusting vomit yellow. The light from the street lamp outside seeped through my white curtains and made grotesque shadowy shapes of lurking trees and wires on my walls. When Thaima was alive she would tell me stories of ghosts who lived in trees. I don’t believe in ghosts now but the trees on my wall look like ghosts could live in them.
The floor is a cold marble today and the heater is broken. Sometimes when I am looking at the marble, my feet playing OCD games, lying mathematically parallel, next to each other, I think of how easy it is to live alone. I remember dreading I was going to lose it all within a week of moving in. But overtime I noticed that the yellow was less cruel on days that I covered the futon with yellow sheets. After that my nightmares of being pawed and eaten by yellow wolves disappeared. I like getting back home to an echoing quiet that is my living room, to the windows shut tight like my eyes when my past comes rushing back to me, to the leaky tap in the bathroom that I don’t want to fix, to the uneven folds on my bed that never go, to the kettle that is always brimming with water, and to the curtains that are transparent enough for me to peek into the outside and opaque enough to stop my past from coming in.
My past is a red curtain I close my eyes to. It is one of those reds that I can vaguely see and feel with eyes closed. A band of plain red, unpatterned, fading now but quickly becoming stronger every time I open my eyes. I freak out when the leaky tap in the bathroom stops leaking. It means red. It means he knows where I live, it means he’s coming after me. The leaky tap is comforting to me, like the sound of a distant, heavy truck passing by somewhere, like the sound of lorries on highways during night journeys, like the sound of slow afternoons on rainy days.
My childhood was blue. It was an open field, with white clouds hanging close to the sky but not raining. My childhood was a blue letter box, a mini suitcase I put all my grandfather’s letters into. He gave me a blue bow for my 5th birthday. I cannot sleep without it. I keep it next to my futon. I don’t want to remember yellow, I don’t want it to be my present but it is much better than red so I live in it.