It all started with a door.
Did it? Not really.
On a second thought, the door didn't start the whole mess. Rather it can be labeled as a witness, a milestone perhaps. At least that's what Aru thought as she dipped the paint brush in a bucket full of thick, dark paint.
“Never close this door,” the old man had said as he gently caressed the large mahogany surface. His pale hand adorned with wrinkles, marking all the years he had experienced. “It connects us, bonds us…proves that we are a family,” he used to say fondly.
The said door in question wasn't any lofty golden gate to some dazzling city. If anything, it was something very insignificant.
A door of a house. It was situated right in the middle of the said house. That's it.
The said old man was one of the owners of the house.
This story started a long time ago by the hand of a man who happened to be Aru's great-grandfather. The man came from an impoverished family. But he was ambitious, so he vowed that he'd climb up the socio-economical hierarchy. And so he did, he worked his way up, got married and became an established individual in the society. However, he felt that something was missing. He wanted a home. So one day, he decided to build a large house for his family and his descendents to come.
It was a rather pretty looking establishment. The whole building was only one storied tall but it was spread horizontally, taking over one third of the total area of an acre of land, which was quite a large size for a regular home. But the man had grand plans of making it the permanent residence for his clan.
With careful eyes he watched over as each brick was set, one after another. The “L” shaped building was surrounded by nature. After all, two-thirds of the area consisted of trees. On the front, there was a yard with a few coconut trees which exist even today. A nice brick built path stretched from the gate to the main entrance of the house.
But the yard at the front was nothing, compared to the greenery at the back. A garden which consisted of vegetables and flowers - the properties would change from season to season. Starting from tomatoes and lemons to flowers like daisies - all were available.
Right beside the garden, there was a well and beside that was a small forest. Mango, Jackfruit, Banana- trees of different specimens grew haphazardly along with nameless wild bushes and flowers. The trees were high and the leaves were thick. Sometimes, even the sunlight had a hard time coming through.
Aru remembered how in her younger years she used to take shelter under the trees if it rained as the leaves shielded her like an umbrella. That was a long time ago.
After her great grandfather died the ownership of the house naturally was passed on to his sons and daughters, who at the time unanimously decided to honour their father's wishes and preserved the house just the way it was.
Two of the brothers continued living there with their own families, each living in an equal half of the building. That way the privacy was maintained yet they wouldn't be called neighbours, for the door in the middle of the building was always left open.
On festivals or regular days, dinner dishes would be passed between the two families, children bounced across, calling each other to come out and play. The double door kept connecting them, silently.
Thus decades went by and it was time for the house to get new owners again.
This time however, most of the heirs were not enthusiastic about keeping an old house. It was understandable, most of them lived in the city and maintaining such a large house in a small town would indeed be quite a hassle. So the properties were distributed, lands were sold. Some opted to wait, thus they built walls to ensure that no one could claim their lands. So bit by bit, the home slowly lost its pieces, its face constantly changing. All that was left was the L- shaped house. It was passed on to the son and daughter of the two brothers respectively. Both the sons of the older brother and the daughter of the younger one ended up getting the halves of the house just like their fathers did.
As an attempt to preserve the last bit of the original meaning behind their home, the older brother, before his death, begged his son and niece to keep the door open.
“It proves that we're a family,” he had said.
However, Aru's uncle was not satisfied. To him, having a female cousin who had moved out to the city and obtained the same amount of property he acquired seemed thoroughly unfair. He was enraged and didn't try to hide it.
At first, it was bargaining. Then came the blackmailing, and after that the threats.
Aru's mother paid no heed to her cousin's anger.
“Inferiority often causes people to clutch at straws to make them feel relevant.” she used to say. After all she, a professor, was above a small businessman in many ways. Naturally, that took a toll on the relationship between the two families. The young Aru realised that they weren't welcome at Tashu's, her cousin.
At first it wasn't obvious, but her uncle's smiles wouldn't reach his eyes, or the heavy atmosphere each time she tried to visit them, said it all.
The final straw however was the time when Aru, then a 9 year old, as a naive attempt to bond her uncle and mother, drew a picture of the families together and quietly slid it under the connecting door, passing it to her uncle's area. She was sure that her cousin would pass it on to her uncle. He would try to understand, right?
But when she found her drawing dumped in the trash can the next day, she realised a few things. First, perhaps the world of adults was far more complicated than a child's. Secondly, she was introduced to an emotion she wasn't aware of -- humiliation.
With that Aru figured that it wasn't her place to say anything. Time perhaps would heal them all.
Shortly after the picture incident, her uncle decided that having a connecting door with the enemy wasn't wise.
Aru carefully gave another stroke with her paintbrush.
“What are you doing?” A voice called.
Aru turned her head to see her younger sister Nifa.
“Drawing a door frame,” Aru replied.
“But why are you drawing a door frame for a door that doesn't exist?” Nifa asked exasperatedly.
Aru blinked at her, and then looked at the door or rather what was left of it: a concrete wall to fill the cavity.
She remembered the day when it happened, how the double doors were unhinged, how with brick upon brick, she lost the sight of everything and everyone behind it. Now the gray, submerged wall looked more like an empty grave. She didn't like the sight, so she decided to draw door frames around it. Perhaps it was childish. But she didn't want to answer, so she settled with a “just because.”
Nifa sighed, she really didn't understand what her sister was thinking. She stared at the jagged scar on Aru's left hand, the one she was holding the paint brush with. “How is your hand?” she asked instead. Aru gently massaged it, “A lot better now. I'm having a bit trouble in making fine movements but it's nothing intolerable,” she smiled.
She received this scar a few months ago at her own university.
Tiasha Idrak is a student of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.