The Houses are Made of Cards in the Land of Morning Calm

story about houses

The half-moon beach is manmade – I found out. The house used to be a boathouse belonging to a hotel, perched on top of a cliff, overlooking the majestic lake encircled by lush foliage.

It started with a vision of a rich man. A railway was laid, the beach was made. The hotel was eager to meet the whims and needs of the most privileged class arriving in carriages and cars.

I once lived near the water. Not this close. But you could see a sliver of the sea from the top of the hill behind the house. The backyard of the house was filled with orange trees. My sisters and I would pick and pick and fill the bucket with oranges and eat them till our fingertips were stained in bright yellowish-orange.

Dad would climb the hill leading to the flat top enclosed by the pine trees, their trunks slim and swerving from dancing to the ever-shifting wind infamous for its intensity. At times he’d bump into my older sister who was already smoking at the best spot where you could see the body of water shimmering in the fading afternoon light.

Dad and I drove to the beach. It was drizzling and the summer was well over. No one was there and we drove that little shitty rented car to the sand. There he parked – dangerously close to the water in my adolescent mind.

He lit a cigarette and blew out the smoke straight through the open window, to the breaking waves. The air was salty, and the smell of bitter tobacco burning against the misty morning by the sea roaring with the wind made me realise that there’s beauty in all things. Even in tragedy. Even more in tragedy.

The house on this island belonged to my mother’s father’s brother’s second wife. His first wife died long ago. I heard bits and pieces of the scandals she left behind. How stingy she was with the live-in maid. And how she made the servants work. If there was nothing to do, she’d strip down the curtains to be washed. A beautiful tyrant ranting and panting with demands of what she thought living a life was all about.

The tiny seaside village was empty minus one house two doors down. The old man there was a retired middle school principal. He and his wife occasionally came out for a stroll around the dilapidated village like floating ghosts taking one last look. Houses with low stone fences, thatched rooves, flat and sturdy; once inviting, but no more.

The house was meant to be a summer getaway plus an investment. But the second wife of Mom’s uncle was ahead of her time. The area boomed twenty years later. Meanwhile, she never flew to the island to enjoy the little house renovated with a new toilet and sink, the updated kitchen, and the rooms with waxy wooden floors. We were there instead.


Her husband – my mother’s father’s younger brother, that is – once lived in a two-story house in a big port city, prior to purchasing an additional house. I know this because we lived there too. This was very long ago, when my younger sister was a crawling baby.

The second floor had a long hallway, and at the end of it, a door opening to the library stocked with books and albums containing extensive collections of stamps. They belonged to his son, who never married and was in and out of the psychiatric wards. It was one of the brightest areas in this rather dark and damp house.

The sunlight came through the window facing the end of the alley and moats of dust floated like speckles of confetti too lazy to settle as beams of white light flashed into the room. The musky smell of old and hidden rose to the surface.

A marble floor. And it was heated. That was the best part of the house we stayed at in the old historic town of a bustling capital coming into modernity in full force. The house had an ample outdoor area that was well manicured – healthy grass, flowers in bloom, ornamental steps shaping the path.

This house belonged to my mother’s father. He lived with his second wife and his mother. His mother – my great grandmother – had white hair that flowed down to her waist but it was pinned neatly in a knot every single day, not a strand out of place, making her unusually light eyes stand out even more.

There was a floor to ceiling window facing the garden, creating an illusion that we were secluded somewhere in nature, all primitive and instinctual, when in fact we were just in the living room of my grandfather’s house. His pipe on the coffee table. The leather armchair of his an imposing presence, even without him.

There was the first movie theatre ever just down the road from the house. And a famous cold noodle place where you have to line up during lunch hours. But we weren’t there much. Sporadic stays. And never too long.

His first wife – my biological grandmother, my mother’s mother – died young. Mom and her sister have no memories of her. They were barely walking when she passed. Nevertheless, they continue to lament the loss. And believe that their misery was bound to unfold.


Four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Back in the old neighbourhood – this is where I went to elementary school. Only for two years, but I remember the stark division of the ghetto part – made of makeshift houses that looked flimsy as cardboard boxes – and right next to it, the brand new apartment complexes rising up. There is no such partition when I return.

The apartment belonged to my aunt – Mom’s divorced twin. The concept of the bedroom was black and white and grey, reflecting the distinct taste of my cousin who was at the time away to attend college abroad. A grey bed sheet, white walls, a black picture frame of a woman holding a long pipe.

She is wearing a wide brimmed hat covering half of her face. Her visible eye is full of flirtatious intent. It’s an illustration done with sharp and easy strokes. The details are omitted for imagination. The idea is to exude cool-chic. Nonchalant charm.

I dont care if you love me. But I know you do.

Here in this apartment, I walk to the bus stop to take the bus to school. Last semester of high school. On weekends I sneak out from the apartment in the middle of the night to go clubbing and drinking and just be out with friends who do the same.

It’s winter but there’s no snow yet, and I’m on the back of my friend’s scooter. It’s almost morning – the city’s ever-changing face turns soft and benevolent bathed in the hues of pastel light.

My face is snuggled on my friend’s thick winter jacket, an earnest boy eager to take me home, safe and sound. We go on the bridge. The river is beneath us. The cars are wheezing by fast.

The smell of water mixed with gasoline, chilly wind whirling my hair like wildfire; the boy asks me a question, but I can’t hear him. The scooter lurches forward with a sudden speed. I tighten my grip around his waist hidden in a puffed-up jacket and lean closer – my chest pressing his back – as the buildings and houses near and far collapse one by one.




For more short stories, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.