The house was a living, breathing body. The real estate agent, a man my father’s age and eyes more honest than I had imagined, boasted about the semi-famous author who had lived there before, and the nice swing in the back, and how it was the best sector to live in the city. His salesmanship was not required. The energy of the house spoke to me. The crispy autumn wind outside reminded me of witch castles seen in old Halloween movies. It shook some of the curtains, coming in through half-open windows. We didn’t celebrate Halloween here. Such a pity. My house would have liked to have been dressed up.
My moving in alarmed the old couple who lived next door to me. They seldom left their mansion, the one with vines hanging on the gates. And when they did, they stopped outside my house and stared at it, as if calling me out.
“Who are your parents?” they had asked me the first time we had meet, after smudging their glasses while looking at my letterbox. I lied about who they were, for it wouldn’t have mattered either way. They weren’t famous or wealthy enough to be in the news.
I left my last name out of the house sign. It simply said Priya in white bold letters. I could tell that it bothered my neighbors. There was also some communal hesitation about a young girl living alone in a previously vacant house that manifested in efforts to learn more about my background.
I still had to dust the shelves. There were rooms in the back that remained untouched. The neighbors watched me polishing the old furniture in the lawn and marveled at the fact I didn’t have servants. They each had a houseful of them, cooking, sweeping, mopping, weeding, gardening, polishing, dusting, washing and even white-washing the walls every Diwali. All the houses on this street had a mini-house in the back, the “servant’s quarters” as one judge called them.
Once, the lawyer who lived in front of me asked to remove the decorations I had on the gates. “This is not the sort of image we want to promote.” I asked him why. He coughed, looked at my chest, and continued, “Because this is a neighborhood of respectability. Now, I don’t know how you bought this house, or what sort of money you used,” dirty, his face said, “but we don’t tolerate indecency here.” He turned and hobbled across the driveway, his leather Oxfords sliding on smooth gravel. I wanted to send my dog after him, but he would probably have her shot.
I decided to host an all-night party to spite him. I invited people I went to school with, and they invited the people they went to college with. We played American rap and YoYo Honey Singh until the windows began to shake. The cops crashed the party at exactly ten o’clock. Someone had complained.
“I don’t know where you are from Ma’am, but in Chandigarh you can’t play loud music after ten.”, said the elderly one. The younger cop wouldn’t meet my eyes.
I moved all my guests inside. There was food I had ordered at a whim. Coke in slim, slippery glasses perspiring on thin napkins. The guests marveled at the tall beams and the marbled floor. A few of my old friends had asked how I bought it. I laughed and told them to mind their own business.
I opened all the room doors to giggling couples. I had made sure the beds were in working condition, ancient as they were. I needed to get the musty smell out of them, and what better way than celebrating life?
“As long as there is someone having sex in a house like this”, I told the bewildered guests, “the house can never feel empty.”
The braver ones went first. The timid followed with heavy hearts. The guests ate and fucked, the rooms open for everyone to see. My house threw mysterious shadows on the walls as forms joined and broke apart. Limbs cascaded on silk sheets I’ll have to throw later.
The neighbors called the police at five in the morning. The sirens disturbed the bird’s calls.
They sped into the driveway, but as they opened the door, all they saw was me on my knees, mopping the floors with my hands, the old way, the forgotten way, the way they make the servants do it. They stared at me from the open doorway, the same cops that had come last night. Their hands spoke of smothered morning woods. They left without speaking a word.
The neighbors left me alone after that. I locked the doors to keep the energy inside. My dog licked my face every morning and I went to work. The energy was conductive, buzzing me with inspiration and warmth I had longed for. We all just want to be understood.