The heat remembers everything. The heat is violent. The heat doesn’t forgive. The heat lays bare trembling bones and sacks of flesh. The heat brings you to your knees, asking you to worship it.
My childhood home stood behind one of Karachi’s electrical powerhouses, two miles of squatted settlements, and a run-down police station. The house was built of concrete; the whole structure was slanted slightly, like it had been tipped over by accident. Brick red railings lined the balconies and multiple windows. It had been in conflict with the tree growing right outside for years now; branches twisted through the porch, moss climbing up to the top, veins dangling around its frail walls.
The pale blue metal gates have eroded into a concoction of orange rust and grey, like Edvard Munch’s paintings, they scream with each passing gust of warm, thick wind. The cement ground still manages to crack now and then, the same way it did when the grass it replaced crumbled beneath my sore feet. The neighbourhood was built of single units of 8 houses sharing three walls with each other; two on each side and one at the back. If you wanted to, you could reach the ends of each unit by climbing over the little walls that separated the roofs. Not too far from the house was an empty lot where trash was gathered and set on fire, embers growling at anyone that looked too long.
The house echoed with sounds of crows cawing, passersby conversations, neighbours flushing their toilets, car horns, and a constant hum you’d learn to ignore on your third stay. I’m realizing now that it might have been the heat. The air conditioners would blast hot air before cooling down.
I was always embarrassed by the house. I was embarrassed by the exposure, the grime, the dust, the dirt, the shame. The shame of knowing there was better, there was more. The shame of knowing I wanted more. And I held this shame like the heat held me, tight in a chokehold. Congested,
Some days I eat too fast, and I am struck stuck still.
Someone left the gates open once and the washing machine went missing.
The air inside smelled spicy, of cloves, cardamom and chilli powder, mixed with sweat racing down our backs. The air smelled of the time I microwaved corn kernels in a plastic bowl for seven minutes. The air smelled of smoke from the burning trash. Crystals still fall off the 30-year-old chandelier next to shards of peeling wall paint, like they did six years ago. There are four rooms on the ground floor and five right above, but the house only houses two permanent residents: my grandfather and the absence of everyone else.
A snake snuck into the kitchen once and we took turns throwing utensils at it, trying to dictate the direction it slithered to next. Geckos were a more common occurrence, so the concrete walls were bruised by whatever weapon was chosen that day. Usually, the slippers my aunt left behind because they always landed the blow, because she was brave.
The walls of the storeroom next to the kitchen were scribbled with each visitor’s deepest secrets, all desperately crossed out after the temporary release. An excerpt from a poem by Jaun Elia remained untouched:
Sabhi kuch tou na beh jaye I am afraid everything will flow away
Keh mere paas reh bhi kya gaya hai Till I have nothing left
The rooms upstairs were each owned in brief circulation. Each containing a piece of the owner that the house itself attempted to erase through age, deterioration and faulty architecture. The room assigned to me housed three others before me and you could tell. One patch of the wall was especially bruised through moving the furniture around, showing layers of yellow, purple and turquoise paint under the current white. When I brushed my fingers against it, it pierced my flesh open.
When it was hers, my aunt watched the neighbour shoot a bullet through an intruder’s skull from the room’s window.
When it was mine, I watched the neighbour take his own life.
The last heatwave carried threads of torn linen hidden on the roof with tides of flames, iron rust, the dust in each crevice, a smoker’s cough and black tar phlegm stuck to words that escape me when pollution fills my lungs and all I can think of is my father who started chain-smoking in 1989. The room’s walls carry the heat, and the air conditioner coughs hot air, and the bed burns when you touch it for too long. Dust collecting in my sandpaper eyes, taking the shape of the same chokehold that left me stunned.
The heat is violent, it remembers everything.
The heat confronted me, then
held me. This time gently, like a familiar
About the Artist/Writer
I'm Ilsa! I'm a queer Pakistani-Canadian emerging artist based in Amiskwaciwâskahikan (so-called Edmonton, Alberta), halfway through a BFA. My current art practice consists of explorations of identity, the mechanics of memory and all forms of connection, especially digital. I tend to mix my main mediums (photography, sculpture and intermedia) with text to create my own visual language.
This written piece is part of an ongoing experiment that maps out my childhood home virtually. For more information, feel free to contact me on Instagram: @st4rnest.