Broken Landscapes

Continued from Imagined Landscapes

No more than four feet by four feet, it was filled to the brim with personal items.

“It’s all junk. The house is leaking everywhere, so I put everything in here.” he explained. And true enough most of it did look like they hadn’t been touched or even looked at for decades.

As I photographed the room, pretending as if it was the most interesting place in the house, I’m discreetly looking for something. Anything that wasn’t too precious for the owner to part with, anything that would remind me of this place once its gone. I have enough photographs of the place, so what I’m really looking for is a literal piece of it. A small plank maybe? A piece of the roof? One of the chengal floorboards? The whole is the sum of all it parts, and so to take one small piece away at this point would be the equivalent of tearing it down.

I gave up. I should be contend with the photographs.

Halfway down the steps, I stopped.

There was something in the store room, calling out to me. I did the unthinkable as a guest and asked if I could look inside the room again.

There. There it is. How did I not see it the first time around?

Blue skies, emerald green sea and gold tinted white sands all under a thick patina of grime. It was a painting of the sea. not just any sea, it was unmistakably east coast. The horizon ended abruptly; where is the other half? I scanned the room quietly but it was impossible to see with all this junk.

I asked him if he knew who painted it. Why? How did it end up cut in half and nailed to the wall?

“A long time ago I rented one of the rooms to a man. This was in the 80s I think. He worked as a security guard at a nearby bank. He bought his own paint, you know the kind they use to paint walls in houses, and started painting on this gypsum board he found. He left it behind when he stopped working.” he explained.

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“I’ve kept it for so long. The other day, rain was coming through the window. I needed something to cover it up, so I used this board.” he continued, showing me the tools he used.

With a rusted hammer he pried the boards loose, breaking parts of it in the process.

Both halves finally came together again. I felt bad for depriving him off his window.

“Ah don’t worry. They are going to tear everything down anyway. Let it get wet.” was all he had left for the house.

And so they did. Three weeks after my visit, the house was unceremoniously torn down in front of Wan Mokthar, reporters, curious spectators, and hungry collectors who rushed in to grab the floorboards and roof tiles.

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Photograph by NSTP