Wallpaper

by Abbey Khambule

Before you left you asked me to move a small vine of bougainvillea inside until winter had passed. It’s now inscribed an arch over the window, creeping over the graffito “Ek Is As Gevolg Van Jou” sketched above it; drooling and draping over the old radiator in shades of purple and vermilion.

I’ve put my ear to the keyhole too long, listening for your footsteps.

Yesterday I turned half the room to the eternal morning: painted the sunrise with cut out pages from the old Getaway; set two birds on the wing—paper silhouettes climbing towards a ceiling of mackerel sky.

I open the door slightly to hide the aberration when the landlord knocks. I don’t want the day, I tell him, take with it the humdrum night.

But he cannot hear me. He’s tired, and his ears are deafened by the autumn of his life. He says he’s here to see about the thermostat. I tell him it was removed twenty years ago. I repeat myself and can hear my words echoing in the vestibule.

I set my teeth and feign interest as he let out a smile, for I knew what was to come next—he tells me how the apartment once stayed him and his wife. His words are worn out, and so is the lisle that ties to each memory.

I try to imagine how so much of what he says could’ve fit into so little space. Everything is almost within arm’s reach, the tv, the kitchen sink with its dirty dishes, a bottle of cheap merlot tucked away within aging cabinetry, the neatly folded-up camisole, without which it seems there is no formula to everything else’s upkeep.

You’d fold words into origami and hide the shapes in different places in the room for me to find and unfold.

It feels like only yesterday I watched you walk away, exiting quietly, your feet falling on the landing softly like flower petals when they touch the ground, but the landlord’s dying voice reminds me that it’s been over a year since you left.

While he gently plucks at each word, I wonder still if I should put on the kettle, have a cup of tea ready for when you walk through the door; or knit and purl the morning light to a shawl—a warm tippet, mote filled; have it ready for you to wear over your shoulders.

He has a doctor’s appointment at eleven a.m., he says, and asks if I’d be “kind” and drive him.

I leave a paper key by the door lintel, and I wait outside in the car, wishing its windows were tinted.

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