I Hate This Bed

Purnima Rao

“I hate this bed”, I tell my mother. “Don’t take it personally please, but I really, really hate this bed.”

The ‘bed’ is a behemoth that occupies my room. It is more at home in this house than I am. It occupies ninety percent of the space that I consider ‘my own’ and I hate it. It is a mocking, humiliating monstrosity of wood whose mission it is to remind me how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things. It’s a battle between a queen-size platform of planks and I. I am losing.

“Where will our guests sleep if we remove it?” asks my mother, with a defensive glint in her eyes. Uh-oh…she is prepared to fight. But this my one Sunday off and I am not in the mood to spend the next 12 odd hours locked up in my hole, weeping, alternating between vile anger and remorse.

Is that what my mother is – a lady in waiting? And is that what I am – already gone?

I don’t dare say this but inside I am thinking – What guests? We haven’t had guests in the longest time, unless you count my mother’s brother. A solitary man whose spirit could, in no way, occupy the enormous plateau that is my bed.

So, does that mean this room is meant more for a non-existent guest than for a living, breathing, altogether-here Me? Is that what my mother is – a lady in waiting? And is that what I am – already gone?

The bed was conceived, designed and built entirely by my mother in my absence. I was in Bangalore, I had vacated my room and now it was hers to do what she wanted with it.

One of the first things she did was to take our – my sister’s and my – beds and fuse them into one large unit. I remember the day those beds first arrived in our home more than fifteen years ago. As two stories of bunk bed.

My sister took the berth below, I perched on high. I loved that damn bed. Up until it came, our room was my sister’s domain. She decided pretty much everything that went on in it. Now I had my own special bed. Its altitude allowed me my first taste of privacy. I would mess it up with crumpled sheets and at least three books at any given time (“Who reads three books at one time?” my mother would ask).

Over the years, the bed became inhabited with a walkman, tapes ranging from the Beatles (for over two years), the Doors (about a week give or take) and, ahem, Boyzone (my dirty little secret). There was even a stuffed toy for a bit – Trunky the elephant. That bed was the earliest indication that I was different from my mother. I was a dreamer, I was a slob and I could read three books at one time.

Anyway, so my sister and I left and my mother was left behind with my father. A distant, generally decent, man with a tendency to be cruel as a defence mechanism. His mantra was – If you have nothing to say, be mean.

My mother took to renovation with a vengeance. Recreate, reshape, redo, reinvent. She took the bunk bed and broke down its upwardly mobile aspirations. She grounded it, made it fall back to earth. She covered it in pretty sheets and made it her own.

It was as if the bed had a lifeforce of its own, a chi imparted to it by my mother.

Its massive size and rectangular shape made the room shrink, made three fourths of it inaccessible for the sweeping lady and those who wanted to get to the cupboards. And anyone who entered the room could not leave without stubbing their toes or banging their knees against the legs. It was as if the bed had a lifeforce of its own, a chi imparted to it by my mother.

But then I came back. I don’t know if I ran away from my other life or if I returned for a singular purpose. Either way, I came back and wished to re-appropriate what I believed was mine.

I remember the first time I saw the bed when I got back from the airport. My mother displayed her handiwork with pride. I pretended to approve but inside I was horrified. Where did my room disappear?

I needed air and light. I needed all four walls and all four corners of my room. I needed the space in the middle to dance. I wanted to open my cupboard without it banging against wood. I wanted space for my books, my laptop, my music and my DVDs.

“What do you suggest we do with it then?” she asks me. Suddenly I can’t gauge her. The situation is tense and could go either way. I decide to step down. After a beat, so does she. “We could put it in the computer room and shift the single bed in.”

The computer room. That used to be my sister’s before she left for college in America. Now it is the Computer Room. As mine is the one with the mammoth bed.

I have no ideas. Unless you count the recurring dream I have of taking an axe to it and hacking away repeatedly, manically until there are no pieces left to be salvaged. Until it is dead and truly gone. But I don’t think that idea will go down to well with my audience.

So I keep quiet. Besides I like the bed for itself. I like the bed-ness of it. It is solid and comfortable and just right on days that my lower back is killing me. There’s just too much of it I don’t need. How do I explain this to my mother?

Sometimes I think she’s looking for signs of my selfishness so that she can have the satisfaction of telling me how much like my father I am.

So we stand on opposing sides of the room with the bed between us. I have just finished telling her I have no solutions but that it doesn’t change how much I hate the bed. She looks at me for a long time to see if I genuinely dislike it or if I’m doing it to punish her.

Sometimes I think she’s looking for signs of my selfishness so that she can have the satisfaction of telling me how much like my father I am. Cruel, insensitive, blind to her misery and unmindful of all that she has given up for me. I wonder what it will take for her to truly understand the depth of love I have for her.

Fuck the bed, I want to tell her. I want to climb over the mattress and reach her side. I want to hug her and not feel a stiff, untrusting person pat my back perfunctorily. I want her to know that I don’t care about the bed. Or that I care about it more than I do for anything else on the planet. That if she wants, I will happily bang my knee against its legs for as long as I live. That it matters.

She takes a long, deep breath, stares at the bed. And leaves.

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