Just a short while ago, I finished typing the post about my favorite childhood meal. And now here I am, writing about my childhood home. Guess I’ll be strolling down Memory Lane a while. To be fair, it’s also my current home, so it’ll be a short stroll.
At the age of 12, I was living in the same little apartment that my family had moved into four years before, when we first moved to Dubai. My family’s been living there for 23 years now.
The apartment’s part of a housing colony, comprising a cluster of identical rectangular slabs painted in a forgettable shade of white. Each building contains a row of four or five apartment blocks. Each apartment block has three floors. Each floor, four apartments. It’s a very dull-looking neighborhood.
Inside, it’s not much better. Bare off-white walls surround a tiled floor that can only be described as hideous. There’s a staircase with a steel railing, topped by a dark wooden handrail. It almost seems like a group of builders had a bunch of scrap left over from some other projects and decided to dump it all together, bestowing it the very generous title of ‘apartment’.
Climb up two flights of incongruous stairs and you’ll come to a landing. Each corner is marked by a door. At present, the landing is bare. When I was 12, a partition hid two of the doors from sight, one of them being ours. Our apartment actually belonged to our neighbor, who was renting the place out to us; he liked to keep his property gated off. So getting in and out of the apartment was a two-stage process. It was kind of like a secret bunker.
In one corner of the landing, you’ll find a cream-colored door decorated with a few religious artifacts. That’s us, though the artifacts are gone now (new management, new rules). Our place was, and still is, pretty snug. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms (with one working shower between them), a kitchen and a living room, connected by a hallway.
The floor was once covered by a mud-brown shag carpet. How long we had it, I don’t remember. The cloudy white tiles we have now feel like they’ve been there since the beginning. The apartment was fully furnished when we got it, which was a blessing and a curse. We didn’t have to buy new furniture. But the furniture we had…sucked.
Our couch was an orange wooden frame covered in cushions the color of dirt. The end tables and coffee table were the pale orange , topped with clear glass. Our dining table was a sheet of glass with four metal legs. It was surrounded by six metal frames encasing chocolate-colored faux leather. Something a furniture showroom ate didn’t agree with it, and it vomited all over our house. Over the years, the furniture was replaced bit by bit, but the majority of it hung out there longer than it should have.
I could go into even more detail about the spidery cracks along the walls of each room, the windows covered with an almost opaque screen and practically screwed shut, or the kitschy knick knacks that adorned ever empty shelf courtesy of my mother, but I think I’ve made my point.
However, as much as I hated that house, it became a part of me. It was where I spent my childhood. The small, poorly lit kitchen was where my mom would make school lunches that I often forgot to eat while playing with friends. It was where a veritable feast was cooked up every night for dinner and where,in later years, my parents cooked as a team, sometimes getting me and my brother involved in the process.
The unremarkable bedroom that I shared with my brother (for a long time, due to lack of space) was my study hall and my playroom. It was my entertainment center and my library. It was where both my dreams and my nightmares came to life at night and disappeared like a puff of smoke at daybreak. It was where I woke up on my birthday and on Christmas morning, unable to contain my excitement over the presents that lay waiting for me.
The horribly mismatched living room was where my best friends and I watched movies and played video games. It hosted many a birthday and anniversary celebration. It was a classroom where my mother held tutoring and singing lessons. It was a playground where my brother and I wrestled, played catch and broke a whole bunch of fragile objects.
That house that I grew up in is not fancy. It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s downright hideous.
One day, in the uncertain future, I’ll be moving out of here. Part of me will be relieved to move into a house or apartment of my own, one that’s hopefully put together better. But I know that another part will feel nostalgic about that ugly white slab of an apartment building. It’s a place I call home, inhabited by countless memories that paint every room in shades of joy and sorrow.
Maybe it’s not so bad after all.