Our First Apartment
by Nadya Agrawal
Our first apartment was a small, shitty little thing. It boxed us in with thin walls made of flaking plaster. Faint but noxious fumes sat in the hallways. Our knees would touch the bathroom door when we used the toilet. It was horrid, and we deserved it.
Those days we spent most of our time rolling around in bed, sleeping in only to wake up and fall back asleep in a heap. Our covers were littered with crumbs and creased books. We left bottles of wine open to air and forgot about them until they tipped on to the floor. And we told each other secrets and stories about the lives we lived before we found ourselves in this bed together. I found him lurking in a shop, opening magazines and closing them. And then he found me sitting alone in the park on a bench. And that’s the story of how we met. About as small and nondescript as the apartment we moved into a few months later.
He had a penchant for filling our home with dead plants he found on the street, abandoned by their neglectful owners to wither in the gutter. They brought with them flies and disease, till we too had to toss them back into the same gutter they were discovered in. This is how we received our cat. He brought a tiny shivering kitten home in his coat pocket, perched her in front of a bowl of food bought at the bodega on the corner, and waited till the bowl was shiny and clean again. Linda the cat grew fat on the food we abandoned around the apartment – bits of smoked salmon snatched from the cafe where he worked, or garlic skins left over from cooking. She grew into the corners of our dusty little box. Her footprints through the place marked a constant, restless migration. The same one we made between the rooms.
Our love gave way to habit. We shared the same air under the comforter and it was like how we breathed the same air in the day, sickly but delicious. The day when it all changes is actually the amassment of a million other seconds that happened on other days. I was carrying Linda in my arms, letting her belly and back legs hang down, and walking to where he sat in the apartment. I waited for him to stop his work and look up. And while we waited, I shook Linda so her legs swayed like we were dancing. He was trying not to smile when he finally met my eyes.
—My dad’s sick, he said.
—Oh, I’m sorry.
I put Linda down and she slumped away, her belly dragging the dust with her.
—I think I need to move home. Just for a little while.
—Yes, obviously. Of course.
I should have asked if he wanted me to come with him, but he would have said it himself. He was, after all, an extension of me and spoke my language.
—It’ll be OK, I offered. He nodded and hugged me.
The next day his bags were packed. The day after that he was gone. I watered his dying plants while he tended to his father, and it felt like our actions were psychically linked. I dreamed about him upturning a watering can on his father’s hospital bed. Linda grew slower those weeks, often staying only in the rooms I occupied. The moments I usually filled with him I attempted to clean our hovel, but everything simply shifted locations to another surface. Time moved fast for him where it stretched out for me. Suddenly it seemed as if there was no cap on his absence. He talked about moving home permanently to take care of his mother. Then he asked me to send his things. I packed a box with his books and clothes. All his plants were dead now so I put them back in the gutter.
Our shared oxygen dwindled to nothing. Linda and I avoided the places he sat. She became lean again without his food to feed on. Then I began cleaning. It was like waking up and deciding to shave your hair off. It meant something but who cared? I threw out everything, his things and my things and the stuff we forgot to pick up. When I was done the place was smaller and I was emptier. I had cut and cut till the raw pink skin rose to the top. Then Linda and I left too.
Nadya Agrawal is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She founded the art and opinion magazine Kajal.
Image source: Keith Misner/Unsplash