By Anam Abbas
My grandfather’s house was not a place of rules or admonitions.
My grandfather was not a man of many words.
He was a man of the other kind, who commands almost without trying, whose existence is enough reproach.
In my grandfather’s house, I would spend sometimes parts of a day, sometimes parts of a week, and once almost half a summer alone (other summers were spent there, but not alone, those were family vacation getaways). My parents would leave me to attend to their own affairs, in my grandfather’s care, in my grandfather’s house, my mother’s father, a consequential man.
I enjoyed these visits. I was free to entertain myself, and was read to when I was bored. The house held many objects of fascination, things that I could only look at from the corner of my eye, stare at from a distance. Not because there were rules. As I said my grandfather was not a man to lay down the law, but there was an unsaid business to my presence in his habitat. I did not dare touch anything, would not even think to ask him to explain the appearance of any object strange or commonplace in that house. He was a silent patriarch with an ancient history and no past.
I was perfectly content with this arrangement. You see, I was a child of few words. My pleasure lay quiet and dormant in my gaze, like a voluptuous woman, lazy in her bed-sheets, squirming in the glow of morning sunshine blazing through the gaps in her curtains.
Once, I remember having a fever.
My grandfather must have been busy with visitors and the servants shuffled me off to sleep in a room that my grandfather used mostly for his afternoon naps.
In his giant bed I twisted in my sick-sleep for hours, waking up in fragmented spells of sweat, drool and vertigo. When I finally stumbled out of the fever, I found my way to the attached washroom, a room I had never before visited. I splashed water on my face. I stood on the tile floor letting the cold seep through the soles of my feet like a healing wind. The light in that room was white, almost foggy, without the fog; a liquid white that massaged the senses, devoid of assault.
As I looked at my reflection in the mirror, in the strange white light and exhaustion of my body, I noticed a reflected glimmer. It was coming from the bathtub behind me.
It was peculiar enough that I broke away from the demonic battle with my mirror-face, a battle I often experienced around fevers- a game of self mockery, a moving away from self on to a play field where I battle with another self over the judgement of my face. It must be feverish hallucination, or some sort of existential ritual I put myself through in the wake of my body’s confirmation of its ineffectitude.
I pulled the shower curtain aside and peeked into the majestic bathtub, not the jacuzzi kind but your regular oblong tub, a shelled out eggplant. This one was white and the white of this tub, like the light, seemed to fade. Especially against the silver of the ship that lay there. No, not floating in water. It was just a metal ship in an empty tub. It took up three quarters of the tub. The other quarter, I stepped into, to closely examine the monstrosity.
It was big. It was very detailed, not with ornament, but precise like a machine ought to be. I read later about it . I could look it up because the name of the ship was inscribed, in nonchalant script, on its side. KANDAHAR.
In its lower expanses the actual ship could and did hold six thousand sharks. I saw this absurd aquarium and attempted to slide it out from the ships belly, but it was too heavy, unyielding.
At the helm, where it pointed to the void of an imaginary ocean – what ocean could bear the condescension of a ship so grandiose, I could not imagine. Surely not the tub – that was a grand joke. On this deck, I saw a white balloon-shaped object attached to a taught diagonal mast fastened to some mechanism deep inside the ship. I pulled at it. I do not know why I pulled at it. It was not calling out to be pulled. The pulling was not a result of a deep and calculated analysis. Nor was this movement of my arm an act of instinct, beautiful and amoral. It was simply a precipitation. I did know what should happen if I pulled. Certainly not what did happen.
I pulled and suddenly my feet were not touching the cool surface of the tub. The white balloon immediately expanded, bloating up with air I could not imagine the bathroom holding, lifting me with it. I found myself stuck between the balloon and the ceiling above, and as the balloon continued to expand I found myself wedged tight against the roof, the balloon buoying me up, pressed against my throat and belly, my chin pointing upwards like a question mark.