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Pradhyumn Pradeep

The dingy smell of the dusty apartment heater and the dry, sweaty blanket returns as I slowly come back to life. The comforter is all pilled; I’m not sure how to fix it, its dryness scraping against me and irritating my skin. The mattress is a perfect rectangular brick; it hosts me every night and keeps me asleep. It’s enough. My singular green blanket, though uninviting, keeps me warm. A small window illuminates the whole room. The color of this chamber is... odd, to say the least. Is it gray or white? Possibly both? The sight I first see is the dim popcorn ceiling illuminated by faint gray light. I have only a solitary floor lamp (the bulb doesn’t work anymore... might have to replace it soon). I can hear the air condenser units drone from outside; my nose is all dry now (too much heat overnight). I don’t want to lift my head and look at that lonely window sitting at the south wall. The vertical blinds make their ritual slip-tap-sssslip-tap sound as the air from the heater gently sways them. Young rays of light try pushing through the occasional gaps in the panels. They fail to vivify my prison. Ah, not prison. After busy work days and long hours of restless labor, I find myself somehow excited to return to this hell I call home. To return to my brick on the carpet, to retreat back underneath the green shell.

So I want a new bed. My mattress is so firm and hardy; it was only made to last. There is nothing organic about it; there’s no love at all. It keeps me comfortable at night and allows my body to rest perfectly. Not one single human finger was ever laid on the mattress during its creation, carefully made part by part by all sorts of different machines. The bed serves its purpose, of course; it holds my weary bones in place the way I left them, it keeps the bugs on the carpet below from crawling up to my resting body, and it traps the heat I gather under my blanket.

But it smells like its factory, its birthplace. Everything it does is correct. It was sold as the quintessential mattress for the occupied single man: amazing to keep a healthy body free of pain, effective at regulating body temperature, and perfect for adolescents with their late-night lust. I am convinced that it has served its purposes well. Just not satisfied by its boring character.

I also want a new blanket. It’s green and cardboard-like now, ruined to the point of unsettlement. To give credit where it’s due, it generously though uncomfortably offers the gift of warmth at night. But it, like the mattress, reeks of the machine it was made in. It suffocates me more than the smell of static heater-warmth in the room. It drowns me in its laziness.

The lethargy that flows through my blood leads my monkey mind to stray away to dreamland. I let my sleepy thoughts dissolve and run loose in my veins; they intoxicate me like a downer. I lie still and sink into the brick as I travel back to India...

Well, I can’t sleep any longer—Grandma and Aunt and Mom are in the kitchen banging pots and pans against metal stoves. Grandpa is nearby, shredding coconuts on that little stool with the blade sticking out of it. These sounds are unmistakable. Crows cawing outside. Scooters and motorcycles making whirring noises as they traverse the dirt street below our house. Violent gangs of stray dogs are fighting as always, barking at each other ruthlessly. Must be fighting over roadside garbage again, they don’t fight over anything but what they need. These dogs are like men.

My bedroom’s thin pink curtains are wide open to let in light (as if they ever blocked out light in the first place, completely useless: solely for ornamental purposes). Warm rays of sunshine rush in like water and gently kiss my milk skin. Its golden flourishes are like gifts from God. I look out the window with those intricate round bar patterns (Muslim architectural influence; probably why it’s so pretty).

So many trees outside the open window... look how the dark green leaves sway gently in the breeze. There’s so many telephone cables twisting through them, spiraling amongst themselves, all tangled up and messy. There could be a hundred of them—can’t count correctly. Crows often get caught in the webs and get electrocuted. They fall to the ground, dead, and serve as a stray cat’s lunch. Kids climb all the nearby trees to find and eat the crow’s eggs.

What’s that smell? It’s unique to India. The smell of smog and dust—pollution? Or the unnamed smell which appears after rain? Smells of ghosts and ugetsu? Incense from the prayer room (or maybe a nearby temple)? I’ve never smelled that smell in any other country—it is the smell of home.

The walls are a bland color of yellow. It complements the salmon tiles and dark brown shelves. Everything looks so... elderly. The artistic flair of the antiquated room feels authoritative but inviting. Grandpa built this house when he was younger; he built it with Grandma after their marriage. Ages ago. Why does the room just feel like it has responsibility? The Great Wall holds no competition with these inexpensive brick walls. “Any wall is great if the roof doesn’t fall.” But these walls are like living things. They stand there and shift around us inhabitants, like a warm hug.

However, they only exist to hold us in a place that we can call home. All the plentiful windows here are open (for light) and let in bugs that buzz about everywhere in the air, bearing the business of a philosopher. Where are they all going so hurriedly? What kind of work do they have?

Warmth—I am having a love affair with this warmth. The mattress I lay on is hard and uneven, but it supports me. I might as well sleep on wood—wouldn’t be much of a difference. But it’s a loving cushion and is just... warm. It’s like this home, a gentle adobe in the middle of a crowded and busy world. Rests here the product of likely a hundred or more workers’ sweat and toil. Thousands of foreign fingerprints have been laid on these uncomfortable fibers and springs. So what if the mattress isn’t comfortable? An aura of love sways about it. It lives beneath me, and embraces me.

I don’t want a new blanket, even though this one is too small. My feet poke out the other side, and it has the texture of an old newspaper. It was likely made artisanally by some old grandma on the roadside, selling her blankets for cheaper than ever in the ’80s, when my own grandma was young and buying furniture for the house she and her husband built. This dusty blanket engulfs me with its warm passion. I love it too much, and I don’t want to let it go.

I want these hazy memories to cling on to me like that unique smell of my true home.

All dreams end. With a blink of an eye, my morning hallucinations fade like a sedative dies off into nothingness. Once again, I am found in the center of my lonely holm, surrounded by a smug lake of memoirs of distant asylum and electronic heat. I have woken up in a perfect world; dogs aren’t shouting outside, the sounds of big vehicles are all hidden away in the distance, and my blanket is soft and perfect. Everything here is accurately measured and formulated; every angle and corner of this bedroom has been carefully calculated by its engineers, the heat given by the AC was meticulously pre-measured, and the walls have been constructed to mute all sounds of the outside world. My mind dances not with joy; on the contrary, it squirms around drowsily with no interest in waking up. Dreams are exciting, so it would rather sleep than stay awake.

A warm connoisseur of grief sweeps across my sordid face. Another one follows from the other eye. The loneliness here has seared my skin of its joy; it has injected the drug of nostalgia in its place within me. These drugs are poison ruining my blood, but as much as I try to, I cannot high the sense away; it leeches off me from the inside like a parasite, feeding at my life and happiness. I want that small blanket from the grandma sewing away by the roadside. I want to hear the dogs argue again. I want to hear my grandpa shredding coconuts in the kitchen. The memories are just drugs now, so all I can do is feel the high for as long as possible. It becomes less effective over time.

It seems that I seriously want to go back to that perfectly imperfect bedroom from my distant youth. I was too careless back then; I should have savored the uncomfortable comfort while I experienced it. My dreams cling onto me like a spirit that possesses the soul without its knowledge. Eventually, I shake off the deadly slumber, but my heart still throbs with longing, beating that odd and painful rhythm that I have now gotten accustomed to.

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