Humour by Rehana Munir: The perils of moving house
I’m speaking to you while surrounded by a dozen cartons exuding a cardboard smell that reminds me of craft exams in the rains. The kind where an implacable art teacher draws a dots-and-dashes pattern on the blackboard, ostensibly for a cardboard box — a nightmarish Morse code for chronically unskilled students like me. Its peculiar odour pervades my dreams, gruesome at the best of times. I have merely moved homes, but it has felt like moving mountains.
It’s a (bubble) wrap
I think it begins with the delusion that the house-hunt is the most difficult part of this moving business. You find a flat you like and it feels like a triumph; how bad can the actual move be, especially when you have no compunctions about enlisting all the support you can get? Do you need chai? Yes. An extra pair of hands? Sure. A Spotify subscription? Most definitely. I was recently asked whether I’m going to hire packers in addition to movers. The question perplexed me. You had to be a masochist to say no, if the option existed. And so, the last five years of my life were pulled out of their dusty resting spot and bundled unceremoniously into boxes that are endearingly referred to as “cartoons” by anyone who deals in them.
In no time, you have your grandmother’s cracked old vase sneering at you, threatening to crumble even with a loud sneeze — and I’m nothing if not a prolific sneezer. It’s like every object around you suddenly comes to life, sharing snippets from its history you don’t have the time or energy to deal with. Your zealousness during the first fifteen minutes of the packing operation dwindles to a cursory involvement as the day progresses. Thankfully, there’s enough bubble wrap around to pop your darkest thoughts about displacement away.
The Boxing Day test
When the stuff arrives at your new home, it’s invariably to the sound and fury of the secretary of the new building, straight out of Catch-22. The movers can’t use the lift, but they’re not allowed to scratch or dent the already scratched and dented walls of the staircase. Once your belongings are safely indoors, you’re left to wonder whether they multiplied in the moving van. Did you actually have all those chests in the old flat? How do you not remember that massive painting? And why is it that only a fraction of the boxes has been labelled? So much for that little burst of excitement with the black marker you so efficiently bought the day before and instantly lost.
So many little battles are waged within the larger war of Boxing Day that by the time you’re left to count your scars, you’re sure the worst is over. You never found the giant scissors when you needed them. The creaky old bed just refused to be dismantled. And you discovered things in the loft that will forever trouble you. But — how bad can it be now that it’s all in the new home. This is when the home decor montage begins to play in your head: a cute little time-lapse where boxes are swiftly emptied, warm rugs cover bare floors and crockery finds its place as the lights come on in the picture-perfect skyline outside the window.
The morning after unspools like a reel of an arthouse horror movie. You’ve managed some version of sleep and breakfast, only to find the building secretary’s voice in your head replaced by the unpleasable Marie Kondo and her minimalist decree. The term “unpacking” is anyway loaded in our hypersensitive culture. Now, you have the twin challenges of unpacking the boxes and their emotional cargo while also ascertaining whether every object — from cupboard to bottle opener — “sparks joy”.
Ms Kondo’s injunction is well-meaning, I’m sure, but what about wretched souls like myself in whom a misty-eyed joy is sparked by chipped cups and torn train tickets, doddering divans and ancient lamps? If you, like me, live with an altogether less afflicted human, chances are a thousand arguments will be sparked, snuffing out any prospect of joy. Beyond the welding and the plumbing, the lampshades and the shoe racks, I dream of a quiet afternoon with a musty book that will always be home.
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From HT Brunch, August 1, 2021
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