The metal stairs sing as I climb them in the dismal, grey rain. Twice my feet nearly slip, but my grip remains firm on the soaked steel banister. As I approach the moss green door of my grandmother’s apartment, the friendly blend of herbal teas embrace the stiff wind that surrounds me. My knuckles greet the door with a fitful rhythm of three knocks – a secret signal of my arrival – but before I am allowed to finish, the door whines open in punctuating submission; revealing the hollow room that I know only as shelter and sanctuary.
The closed blinds that hang at the other end of the room leave slivers of the day, revealing dancing dust in the otherwise vacuous air. Tendrils of steam join them as they leave the kitchen unit at the far left of the still room. Still stood in the doorway, I advance, leaving the floorboards to moan beneath my feet. With each slow step closer, I am submerged in a cloud of vanilla and chamomile, my grandmother’s favourite.
She’s stood in the corner of her humble kitchen, the birthplace of many culinary miracles. A mug of liquid viridian rests in the grasp of her aged hands. She beams an angelic smile when our eyes meet. I can’t remember the last time she left her bed, and her deep blue eyes accept the confusion in mine.
I turn stiffly to the main room behind me and the bed that rests happily in the corner. It is perfectly made; every inch of its violet cotton flora prudently revealing itself. A plump, feather pillow comfortably lounges on top of it. Yet, as the thin strips of light continue to fill the room, I see a dull loneliness in the sheets before me. A diluted stain that begins to spread before me, climbing the walls, painting them a hue of forgotten grey. Even the air changes around me, it becomes heavy and thick. The delicate breaths of herbal fragrances have all but decayed into stagnant draughts of peeling wallpaper and trapped memories.
I turn back around, met with nothing but grey walls and dusty kitchen worktops. Under my own breath, I hear nothing but the leaking drip of the old porcelain tap, desperate to be used again. Desperate to quench thirst, wash away the filth of this dirty world. Behind me, the bed is still lying there, awaiting her return. The pillow is just the way she liked it. If there was a way of letting this room know that she isn’t returning, I would. If there was a way of thanking it for keeping her safe until the very end, I would. If I could learn to accept it myself, then I’m sure I would.
But I can’t.