In a Room with Bare, White Walls

Short Stories

It was Friday again. The sun had long since retired for the night, not wanting to be a part of the evening’s debauchery. Selim and Leyla were driving to Giyom’s house, Umut sat in the back seat with big tired eyes. Selim’s skin was dark and he wore a ragged goatee; his demeanor was that of a man drained of passion. He worked three jobs to support his family, leaving the house each morning at five and coming home just past midnight almost every night. The long duress of driving in traffic and trying to make enough living to make ends meet was visibly taking its toll on him. Leyla was pale and unhealthily thin, with hollowed dark eyes; one could see the tinge of paranoia set just behind her gaze and tell that she rarely slept at nights. These were Umut’s parents. He was just eight years old.

Umut had a mop of medium length brown hair that fell about his face. His eyes were big but carried themselves with a presence well beyond his age; they looked worn and defeated, as all old people do after a life of toiling in mediocrity. He was small with pale skin and gangly arms and wore old faded clothes. He could see street lights casting shadows on the windy road he knew well – Mulholland Drive. That road gave him a bird’s eye view of the den that was the valley; the dark of night obscured the brownish orange smog that smothered the daytime sky in a sultry embrace. Instead, bright pinpricks of light were dotted across the landscape below, greens, reds, yellows, and oranges – a mosaic of diversity that made the place seem alive and almost ethereal in its beauty. He knew better than to believe the startling display below him, the valley was a bland place in which nothing exciting ever happened. He was almost glad to be leaving it except that he knew where he was headed, and knew also that when he awoke the next morning he would be back in his own bed amid a hot and barren wasteland.

The drive always seemed long. After the curving valleys of Mulholland Drive were behind them, the streets became more ragged looking – where they were going was home to the forsaken of Los Angeles. The car, a black Volvo, stopped in front of a house. Its white wooden planks were faded and browned in patches, the windows looked greasy even from a distance, and Umut could almost hear the front lawn quietly begging for water in a pathetic, pleading whimper. The house itself seemed sad, as if it did not approve of the people it harbored, wishing for nothing more than to expel its inhabitants and find better suitors. Umut and his parents cautiously approached the house, whose dim lights could be seen from their perch on the driveway. At least Giyon was home this time.

The next few minutes were a blur to Umut. He remembered the door opening and frantic greetings and smiles being exchanged. Giyom was always suave and clean shaven except for a neatly trimmed black goatee; his girlfriend Agathe was beautiful, with flowing blonde hair and blue eyes that wished to escape, hoping for the freedom of the sea. She wore an old faded black dress that clearly had passed its prime; Umut wondered how magnificent it must have looked when it was bright and new. There were other faceless people there, Umut didn’t know them. The house was dimly lit; there were bottles and cans strewn throughout. White powder sat excitedly on table tops arranged in lines next to credit cards. Lighters and spoons and the stench of what smelled to Umut like wet grass and cigarettes permeated every square inch of the place – a haze wrapped itself around each and every one of them, slowing their movements, minds, and actions. Umut could scarcely discern what was going on around him. He remembered being led to a small room, being ushered in quickly, and the heard echo of the door’s gentle closure reverberating gently through his head. It was, after all, just another Friday.

Umut knew the room well; it was almost like his best and closest friend. Its white walls were barren and comforting. There was one painting hanging on the wall farthest from the door, above the small bed positioned against the wall – it depicted a naked woman with orange skin lying prostrate on a bed of sun-yellow flowers. The artist used abstraction to define the woman’s features; that picture haunted Umut’s dreams from time to time. The bed itself had a flower-printed sheet. To the left of the bed was a small television with a VCR player below it. Umut walked over to the TV and gently coaxed it to life, pressing the ‘On’ button with his bony forefinger. After a moment and a fearful flicker, the TV displayed the all too familiar hum and crisscross of white, black, and grey – just static. Nothing had changed from the week before, he mused. The room had no windows; his link to the outside world was the closed door behind him, its faded golden handle glinting menacingly in the faint light of the room’s one overhead lamp.

He could faintly hear the adults throughout the house from his station. There was loud talking and laughter, but he couldn’t discern much else. Umut thought about what could be so much fun, and why all the people had had the same tired looking eyes. He sat on the bed, bobbing his legs over the edge. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, forth and back and forth, back. After a certain amount of time, bare white walls become a source of entertainment. They took on and developed voices, Umut’s imagination created conversation and dialogue – the right wall was having an argument with his wife, the left side about who left the heater on last night. The argument grew heated and Umut, the young diplomat, played the role of arbitrator. Acting as an elder statesman of the law, he successfully negotiated a settlement that left both the left and right satisfied. He imagined his bed was a small rickety boat, carrying him off a desolate island, thinking of all the adventures he had had. He was determined to relive the adventures of Robinson Crusoe in his head that night. His little mind struggled valiantly to recreate the magic of Defoe.

His entrapment had a way of destroying Umut’s imaginative powers, which slowly eroded as the night wore on. As the hours passed, the four walls began to close, ever so slightly, in on him. Movement and thought was further restricted, and the woman stared mischievously down at him, seemingly waiting for the right moment to jump down from the painting and attack. He eyed her cautiously and with a slight tinge of fear in his heart, settled himself under the flower-trimmed sheet. The pervading quiet of the room created an almost deafening stillness. Muffled sounds of life outside his room were painful reminders of Umut’s feeble grasp on all things human. Each Friday a piece of his mind was left, chipped and broken off, at the foot of the bed in which he, every Friday, found himself falling asleep in.

Almost as if in some dreamlike haze, Umut awoke Saturday morning, in his own bed, with his cat Snow right beside him. The previous night felt like some faint but recurring dream in which he was trapped in a plain white room, equipped with a bed and flower-trimmed sheet, and that devilish painting mocking him from above. Both his mother and father were already awake, as if they had never needed to sleep. Leyla heard Umut stirring and brought him a bowl of cereal. Her eyes were red and looked delirious, there were deep-set dark circles engraved below her drooping lashes. She offered a faint smile and told him she loved him with all her heart. Umut loved her too. One hand lifted cereal into his mouth while the other descended onto Snow’s black fur coat – gently caressing her soft mane. The sound of her purr echoed throughout the white walls of his room.

Umut’s weeks passed by mostly without incident. Every morning he awoke at 6:30, ate a bowl of cereal, and got ready for the long journey to school. The drive took him over and around the valley to the greener pastures of the “west” side of Los Angeles; Santa Monica and Brentwood. He read books in the car on the way to school, this week he was reading Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Bilbo was wandering a deep and dank cave in almost complete blackness. The walls of the cave, like the white walls in Umut’s dream edged ever closer to Bilbo, almost suffocating him and filling him with an overbearing sense of terror. In his lost wanderings he happened upon an unassuming golden ring, and little did he know that ring would change the course of his life forever after. Last week he had read Ivanhoe – when he wasn’t dreaming about a room with white walls, his sleep was filled with fantasies and tales of chivalrous adventures and glory.

School was an exercise in futility. Class was redundant and boring and Umut spent most of his class time reading his book, much to the ire of his teacher, Mrs. Copeland. On Tuesday he sat calmly in his uncomfortable, rigid chair, and he saw the white walls of the classroom cast off the pictures and drawings obscuring their pristine surfaces – brimming with a white rage. The walls rose up in protest and fled the premises, escaping to their own place of inner freedom, wherever that may have been. Umut wanted desperately to get up and follow those walls. He felt more bound to his location than those four composites of wood, plaster, and paint, forever tied to the seat of a classroom and his sordid existence.

After school each day Umut would play with some of his classmates while waiting for Leyla to pick him up. He loved playing handball, or acting out his favorite video game, Megaman, with his friends. Umut always played the part of the hero, Megaman, fighting against all manner of evildoers, especially the dreaded Sigma. It was almost four on Thursday and the last few children left at school were slowly trickling away like the remnants of soap left in a sink, crawling and clawing its way down the drain. A procession of cars took them away – Umut remained. He waited. He was in a desolate yard, a jungle gym, tall and imposing in its multicolored glory sat patiently in a bed of sand. The slightly yellowed leaves of a weeping willow stood proudly in stark contrast to the deepening grey of the clouds gathering above them while a slight wind whirled about the yard. Two pieces of crumpled paper played tag, the willow shed a few tears, and Umut sat and waited and watched. His feet went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, forth and back and forth, and back again. The bench and the willow were his friends now.

It was nearing six at night and still Umut waited. Leyla hadn’t come to pick him up. Maybe she had forgotten? The growing darkness began to fill Umut with a sense of abject terror. The weeping willow that had been his friend an hour ago was transforming before his very eyes, its branches took on a menacing air, leaves wavering threateningly in the sharp wind that bit his skin with cold. Umut’s mind began to race; what if she got in a car accident? What if she forgot about me? What if something else happened? Leyla finally arrived at seven, tears of angry regret streaming down her face.

It was Friday again. Selim and Leyla were driving to Giyom’s house, Umut sat in the back seat with big tired eyes. Umut hadn’t seen Selim all week and the frantic memories of Thursday’s car ride home still rang throughout his head. I’m so sorry boo, I hate myself I’m so stupid. Please forgive me, I’m so sorry. Umut’s kind, sad eyes always forgave. His mind never forgot however. He thought of his mother with tender affection, noting perhaps for the first time, the creeping lines appearing on her face and a growing withered look as if her body was enduring a dreadful storm. Selim’s eyes drooped under the weight of what was unknown to Umut. They kept driving.

Rain dripped steadily down the window of the back seat of the Volvo, the dark expanse of the valley again sprawled itself below him – Umut felt at once like the master of all that he could see, and imagined himself being known and loved by all those living under his gaze. Greatness.

They arrived at the familiar house and he greeted Giyom and Agathe, the familiar faces. There were new unknown faces that he shied away from as he walked obediently to his final destination, like a prisoner approaching the dreaded chair. His parents had given him a movie to watch, it was one he had seen at least a hundred times before. Umut could hear the sounds of the night begin to coalesce and erupt throughout the house as the door gently closed behind him. There were the white walls and the painting. The flower-print sheet was folded neatly at the foot of the bed; Umut sat and stared at the cover of the video – “The Crow.”

The movie offered a momentary reprise, he was Sarah, a lost child simply wandering and forgotten. Umut’s streets were a room with bare white walls. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he understood the parallels displayed on the screen before him. He wished for Eric Draven to save him from his torment, to protect him and give him a home. There ain’t no comin’ back. We killed you dead, there ain’t no comin’ back. Those lines ran through his mind again and again. Would he be able to come back?

Umut sat calmly, blocking out the muffled screams from the living room and the sound of breaking glass. Soon there was just static. In the dark, the walls still appeared white. They watched him, welcoming him, and beckoned to him. Umut’s eyes closed and he embraced his dreams in their totality.

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