January 18, 2008

house #47, acton street

my train/tube commutes have always been interesting.

if i’m not mentally memory-surfing between mumbai and london, then i’m travelling across many minds and through many characters on paper, leafing through pages and pages of them till i reach my destination. and then the story continues on my way back home. sometimes, a little disoriented when i have just read a powerful story, the characters travel a short distance with me, and drop off even without me knowing when. most times, i am happiest when i come across a happy ending.

one certain book that never ran out of characters, or stories, was but a door on acton street. i passed by this door en route to my office on the #45 or #46 bus, which starts at kings cross station, passes through pentonville road, kings cross road, acton street, and finally grays inn road where i get off. a seven minute-journey, i think, including all the bus-stopping times in between.

opposite one of these bus stops is this door to house#47, which i always found half-open. i must have noticed it the first time i passed acton street, for not all houses in england keep their doors open to the public. as i passed by the door a second and third time, i began to wonder about the people living inside. were they young, too careless to think about an open front-door? were they elderly, too ill to walk? perhaps someone inside was just too hot, and decided to ventilate the room a little. but why was the door open every day, and especially at that particular time i passed the road.

the door was a dark, old shade of green, with a worn-out gold-coloured ‘u’-shaped handle right in the middle. the glass above the doorframe was cracked, broken, as if shattered by a little boy who missed catching a small ball that his friend must have thrown across, or a lover who wanted to get his message across to his/her beloved who lived with very strict parents. the message would have to be wrapped around a little pebble strong enough to smash the frosted glass. maybe an elderly widower, who always forgot his keys were under the doormat, once had to break glass to get into his own house. maybe there were vandals on the street who bullied and harrassed, and troubled the residents of the #47 house the most. what if there was an extremist group inside, mixing flours and chemicals and cooking recipes that threatened innocent lives? maybe one of them had an argument and that is why the glass was broken. no, no, maybe there was nothing to it at all. the house perhaps was rented by someone who was so busy that the door and its broken glass was never on their to-do list. gasp! what if it was a haunted house, and no one liked to live in it? …that’s why the door was always half-open (maybe it creaked horribly too), that’s why i could never ‘see’ anyone going in or out…

everyday the bus stopped in front of #47 on acton street. everyday, the characters changed. the stories changed. the writer also, changed. the bus journeys became irregular and i began to travel once a week to work. the rest of the days, i worked from home. i always looked out for the door though, and all the stories it wanted to tell me.

yesterday, for the first time in one-and-a-half year, the door was shut. it was brand new, and had a fresh coat of shining, black paint on it, like it was teasing me. the doorframe had been replaced too, and the glass, frosted, was all intact. i kept looking, even when the bus had taken in all its passengers and had begun to move on. when i could not crane my neck any longer, i relaxed. the activity must have brought a smile to my face, because the person in front of me returned it, surprised, and somewhat awkwardly.

he should have known. i just happen to like happy endings.

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