Rajid sat on the porch, his legs hanging off the rough-cut planks. The sun hadn’t yet risen. Next to him, his hand held a cup of coffee, cooling and forgotten. His restless mind was trapped in nostalgia, the kind that both warms and chills. He couldn’t believe he was sitting on a porch that he’d built, much less at 4:20 a.m. The cool breeze felt like a new life.
He remembered the day that the idea for the primitive cottage occurred to him. No one knew it, but it was the morning that he decided that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be alive for another year. Depression wasn’t normal for him. It held him in a close grip for months, growing like a wildflower in his mind. Though he looked normal to everyone he met, the feedback loop of self-destruction grew and controlled him.
He went to work, drained and resigned. Instead of working on his reports, he absent-mindedly scrolled through the ads his company helped place. He spotted the old cottage on the bottom of the real estate listings—the part of the page where properties sat and languished without interest. The dilapidated cottage was ugly and barren. He could see the missing clapboards, the windows that didn’t match, and the pitched roof. For the first time in months, he felt the stirrings of something optimistic. Without realizing it, he formulated a plan in the back of his mind.
Two weeks later, after resigning from his job, he liquidated everything he owned; the ugly cottage was his once closing finalized. He didn’t wait, however. His garage was filled with paints, windows, and miscellany for his new home. He didn’t consciously realize that the depression that gripped him disappeared as activity and planning overtook his waking moments. When he handed the keys to his larger house to the real estate agent, he felt like he was surrendering his ghost.
Every waking moment filled with nails, saws, and videos for DIY enthusiasts. He’d never been so exhausted in his life. Each morning, though, he crawled out of the sleeping bag on the worn porch, revitalized. He drank his coffee while sitting on either the front porch or the back one. The back porch was almost unusable when he got the keys to the cottage. During the day, he stopped only to eat a quick sandwich and a piece of fruit. After a few weeks, he started listening to music again, humming and singing along to familiar songs he’d once loved. On a particular Thursday, he realized that he’d been whistling along loudly to several songs. He smiled to himself. His skin browned and his body shed itself of all the weight that inactivity and inertia had accumulated.
In the late evenings, he sometimes drank a small coffee cup full of whiskey and used a temporary construction light to sit and read. He didn’t miss his television. He crawled inside his sleeping bag each night, thinking of all the things he’d do tomorrow. After three months, he stopped laughing at the idea that he might not see the next tomorrow.
Last night, he finished the wood plank floor in the living area of the cottage. He sat on the rough wood cross-legged, looking around the room. It was his and every finished surface echoed his sensibilities. He woke up the next morning at 4, his body stiff from the wood underneath him. He could sleep anywhere now and be at peace. In his previous life, his thousand-dollar mattress wasn’t enough to give him comfort. Somehow, he’d stripped his life down to activity, the bare minimum of food, and the absence of thoughts about himself.
He swung his legs back and forth and made the small jump down to the ground below. As he landed and stood straight up, he turned to look at the simple shutters and the porch. Everything was dark, with just enough illumination to see the outlines of his work. He nodded.
This place was his, as was his life again. He turned to walk up the railroad tie porch steps and make another cup of coffee. While it perked, he would listen to his muse and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.