A Flight of Stairs
when we were young,
our weekends were occupied with visits to our cousins’ houses.
we were many — almost 20 — by relation, all first cousins to each other,
but, all nothing less than siblings bound by the same blood and bones.
on those weekends,
our favorite cousin to visit was one whose house rested at the base of a steep hilly slope.
how exciting it was — that steep hilly slope — to the 20 of us who were accustomed to straight floors and evenly made furniture.
how easy it was to skip on our way down,
the gravity, itself, building our momentum.
most times one of us would stumble down and scrape our knees and palms
and would pour fat droplets of tears on those scrapes, burning them more.
so our mothers would force us to hold our hands
or lend the ends of their saris to wrap around our fingers,
to make us take measured steps,
to let the excitement recede for a while.
somehow we weren’t afraid of those knee scrapes,
for there were other blemishes on our skins — the shin bruises caused by the evenly-made furniture.
we were neither afraid of the fall nor of gravity.
once we reached inside the bricked and cemented structure,
and opened our shoes and sandals to touch the cold, marbled floor,
the smell of fresh food would assault our senses and beckon us and our hungry stomachs to the floors above,
and we would immediately run up to join in the gaggle of the cousins.
when food was served,
because we were 20 of us,
we couldn’t find a seat at the big table,
which would usually be occupied by the adults.
so we would all take our heavy plates of food,
holding them precariously on our dainty palms, some dangerously tilting to one side,
to our favorite spot in the house -
a long and narrow flight of stairs.
a set of stairs should be nothing but an interconnection of, oftentimes, equidistant steps that take us from one elevation to the other.
but for the 20 of us,
it was a place where we reserved one step at a time for occupancy
and sat to eat our guts full.
the cold from the marble would seep in through our pants and pajamas,
but we gave little care as we gobbled our rice and Dal,
spilling some on our clothes, more on the person sitting below us.
if we look at the old photo albums that have dedicated sections to our childhood,
we would find more than a few pictures of us smiling for the camera,
sitting on the same set of stairs,
perhaps a few of us with plates on our laps and flakes of rice around our mouths.
I visited this house that still rests at the bottom of the steep hilly slope.
from my eyes, its red bricks look dilapidated.
the slope looks less exciting now,
and it is still unskippable.
not because my mother held me before I fell victim to gravity,
but because my heels wouldn’t let me jump on its pockmarked exterior.
I still take off my heels when I enter the house.
the marbled floor is still cold, but I don’t smell fresh food.
and as I walk leisurely up to our long and narrow flight of stairs,
I realize how tiny it is.
I wonder how the 20 of us had ever found a place of ourselves in its limited dimensions.
the emptiness of the space jars me.
I look at it now with a small smile and a full heart with the memories of the spirits of the past.
I take a small plate of food, now, and avoid sitting on the stairs.
I join the adults who are plenty compared to us, the cousins, who are very few and dispersed all around the world.
Their photo albums are now filled with their kids in places unknown.
Nobody sits on this set of stairs anymore.
The coldness from its hearth is untouched.
Its steps, unpolluted.
This flight of stairs born from childhood nostalgia is only there for us to pick apart as a far-off memory.
It reminds us of a time that we can never get back, no matter how much we wish to try.
What is your flight of stairs?
Let me know in the comments. :)