I could see through my door, even when it was closed, even when it was locked. I stared into it for a second before unlocking it and stepping inside. My footfalls echoed melodically.
The walls of my room were pristine, ivory white, untouched, unwrinkled, like fresh paper. There was a window, frosted over, above my bed. The room was scentless. I joyously breathed. What a crisp, fresh start.
I sighed contentedly and sat on my bed, but the sheets puckered. I quickly stood up and smoothed out the crinkles. I walked around the room, listening to my footsteps.
I could also see through my neighbors’ locked doors. My neighbors’ rooms had grimy walls and the musty smell of old wax, with shafts of sunlight the color of urine that spotlighted specks of dust, hanging in the air like spiders, creeping around with unnerving leisure. I had looked into their rooms on the way to mine. Mine seemed to be the cleanest in the building.
But I could befriend my neighbors. In fact, I was excited to.
My first few nights in the room, I found that my neighbors spoke in a curious language, incomprehensible gibberish, as though mumbled through frozen lips and chattering teeth. There was always a neighbor talking, whether its the one across the hall of the couple to my right or the siblings to my left or the angry one below. Though I studied and eavesdropped on them in the hallways, I couldn’t decipher their words. I couldn’t even decipher a word of greeting.
At night, I heard jazz riffs playing with trepidatious music from their rooms. Perplexed, I had gone to their rooms to stop them. They could not speak or understand English, and this only prompted them to play music louder.
One time, they gave me a box of crayons when I stormed up to their rooms to complain. Infuriated, I had thrown the crayons at them, but they only gave me another box.
They were driving me to insanity. I myself was close to giving in to their incoherent mumbling.
Growing accustomed was a grueling thing. As seeing that this building and these walls were going to be my accommodations for much longer than temporary, I became helpless for a while against these people whom I could not for the life of me understand. The first few weeks or months (I couldn’t tell the passage of time, though perhaps the passage of time is irrelevant in the face of how the time is passed), I had trouble sleeping, eating, and grew sick often, unable to lift my head from my pillow because of an iron weight that seemed to sit on my forehead like a formidable mountain.
When my health recovered and I finally was able to sleep, even with my neighbors’ loud gatherings, I could no longer bother to make nice with them. I was going to leave them be, and they were mostly going to leave me alone (though not leave me be, which I eventually accepted). I avoided eye contact with them, and never uttered a word to them.
I didn’t know how to dispose of the crayon box, as my neighbors were strict that I had one in my room. It was the only thing they really invested themselves with in my life.
Meanwhile, I was careful to maintain my pristine room.
One day I woke up and immediately noticed the crack in the wall, like a crease in paper, or a fissure in a snowy field.
Distressed, I paced back and forth, furrowing my eyebrows while scrutinizing the imperfection.
I stopped pacing. I stared at the crayon box, then the crevice. I cautiously drew a white crayon out of the Crayola box, gripped it in a fist, and held it up to the wall. I hesitated, then carefully drew over the crack. The crayon smoothly colored on, obscuring it.
Drawing the crayon up and down against the clean wall felt strangely calming, liberating, and therapeutic, like a deep breath of sweet air and yoga music. I proceeded to write stories and poetry, and draw my family and friends with the white crayon, though couldn’t tell because it seemed that I was only tracing invisible figures, with white on white. Yet, I felt the pigment leaving traces on the wall. I could feel my words, my drawings, my mark on the room.
I used up the entire white crayon, wearing it down to nothing.
I stared at the wall I spent hours on, the wall that had my poetry and stories and family and friends were on, but saw nothing aside from the pristine, ivory white, untouched, unwrinkled wall, like fresh paper. Somewhat disappointed, I stared at it, struggling to find the marks.
I stared for a long while, thinking nothing.
After what could have been a couple of minutes or the better half of the day, I gently picked out a pink crayon, and quivering, brought the tip of the crayon to the surface of the wall.
I flinched, flinging the crayon across the room. It left a pink dot on the floor where it nosedived. I scrambled to the scene, and, hardly able to breathe, inspected the pink spot. I squinted at it.
It contaminated the pristine, untouched, creamy white walls of my room.
It felt even more liberating. Fascinated, I picked up the pink crayon and placed it back in the crayon box. I marveled at my new room, astounded by the difference.
Tempted, like a kid guiltily reaching for a second cookie from the jar, I drew out a black crayon.
I drew a gleaming, grand piano, proudly stood like a stallion. White, black.
Excited, I then drew a rat, round and plump with greasy fur. It stuck its long, tapering snout was in the air, sniffing around from the small, piggy nose with stiff, bent whiskers sticking out in every direction. Its beady eyes squinted in concentration. Saliva dripped from the uneven buckteeth jutting from its mouth. Awkwardly stood on small, pink, naked feet, the enormous rat was unhurriedly ambling with its tail stretched out for balance. Brown, gray, pink.
I drew a girl. Harshly blended were hard, tough features of an ox and soft, delicate ones of a doe. Thick, strong brows shadowed large, wide-set, glaucous eyes that were almost sunken in, with deep purple rings, like ripples of violet waters, that looped under them. There was a feel of momentary balance to the eyes, as though they were captured in a whimsical moment while they were about to tumble down the jutting cheekbones that carved hollows in her cheeks. Her narrow, hooked nose gave her a cutting falcon appearance. Apricot, green, purple, bronze, rose.
I drew waves, glassy, rhythmic swaying, water building to a climax then collapsing on itself, swirling as it crashed down with the snarl of a distressed beast. White, blue, emerald, turquoise, deep sapphire, soft lavender, tempestuous navy, tart crimson.
Explosions. Shrapnel. All colors.
I let out a proud, throaty laugh, though cut it off immediately when I found a neighbor at my door, looking through it. Warm with embarrassment, I stared at him, blinking, still with a crayon in hand poised next to the wall. He stared at me, blinking. I put the crayon down and cleared my throat. I stiffly smiled.
“Hi there. Um, sorry. Um, is there anything I can help with?” I hadn’t uttered English words in so long they felt foreign and awkward on my lips, like I was forcing the wrong jigsaw pieces together.
“Outgrabe brillig, mimser sal yude tisdder.”
“Sorry, I don’t understand you. Do you speak English?”
“Nrah sheeh-shoe gabble.”
Unknowing what to do, I shrugged, helplessly spreading my arms out. “I can’t help you there, sorry,” I said, even though I knew he didn’t understand. I wanted to sound sane to myself.
Bye. I waved.
He waved back.
Nonplussed, I asked again. “Is there anything I can help with?”
Exasperated, I returned to my wall. Yet my neighbor continued to stare. He was the angry one who lived below me.
I resumed drawing to appear to have forgotten about him, and he went away.
That night, my neighbors were silent. I sat on the floor looking up at my crayon drawings, particularly the girl. She was telling me about her insecurities. She hated her wide-set eyes and her pale complexion that the rat criticized her for. She felt cold in the empty white wall, and wished it was busier. She wished it was a party. She wished she could talk. She’d even talk in words that didn’t make sense, if it were from people.
I listened. She was a beautiful girl.
The waves comforted her.
“She’s just being whiny,” The rat interjected.
Then the piano started playing Mozart.
The next day, I decided to add some color to her cheeks. With a coral crayon, I lightly colored them in.
Another neighbor was at my door. “What do you want?” I asked.
“Aila jee moos.”
I stared at him. I burst into uncontrollable laughter, doubled over, guffawing, then gradually as air left my lungs from laughing, I was snorting, gasping, and wheezing with my cheeks and abdomen aching. Finally, I was collapsed on the floor, shaking silently and suffocating and thinking it was the most uproarious event to ever occur in the building.
Fighting the laughter, I struggled to a sitting position on the floor of my room, and panted. “Mojo tojo,” I replied gleefully, and guffawed.
My neighbor stared at me, seemingly offended. My laughter dispersed in a few seconds afterwards, and, mortified, I wondered if I had crossed the line. I wondered if I had disrespected my neighbor, and if this was going to complicate my already-pathetic relationship with my neighbors.
“Ero plow,” he responded good-naturedly, even offering a smile.
I blinked, dumbfounded. “Merja fooka nad xylemsh,” I said tentatively.
“Baintel shen reant clo,” my neighbor replied.
I laughed again, this time in astonishment. I didn’t know what I was saying, and I couldn’t tell if my neighbor did, yet somehow we were conversing. “Blee bloom?”
I unlocked the door to my room, and he smiled and stepped in, carrying a scent of old wax. I gestured towards my box of crayons, and he gladly took one. He drew a purple stick figure on my wall.
Overjoyed, I shouted and clapped him on the shoulder. He smiled bashfully.
Gradually, more neighbors came to my room and drew on my wall and gave me boxes of crayons. I had come to know almost everyone in the building. Sometimes I invited people over, and sometimes they showed up by themselves and I welcomed them. Often we exchanged crayons, or whole crayon boxes. Sometimes I went over to others’ rooms as well, and drew on their grimy walls.
Slowly, after crayon layering on crayon layering on crayon layering on crayon, the coatings of crayons on my wall accumulated to a sickly, brown colored grime that sometimes dripped onto my floor. Also, the body heat from the amount of people that were frequently crowded in my room defrosted the window. Now, sunlight radiated through in beams or shafts.
My room now had grimy walls and the musty smell of old wax—crayon wax—with shafts of sunlight the color of urine that spotlighted specks of dust, hanging in the air like spiders, creeping around with unnerving leisure.
Cozy, comfortable, and welcoming.
I had even attended a couple of parties, ones with jazz riffs playing alongside trepidatious music. Though I never knew what they were saying, and I became aware that they didn’t know what I was saying either, they accepted me when I spoke in muffled, incomprehensible gibberish. We laughed and danced together.
It was psychotic, deranged, homey.
The crayons brought me home.