A house of cards
One afternoon, months into the pandemic, I sat with my sister on the balcony playing Uno. The sun was scorching, someone was screaming on the streets and never mind the drilling that refused to stop in the building opposite to ours. But still, we had nothing else to do, so we played. One of us had the idea of playing battle music, you know, to tense things up a bit. But after a few shoddy games, most of which I lost, both of us grew bored. So we set out in search of something better to do.
I roamed around the house, forced myself to get some work done until I eventually resigned to the impossibility of it.
An hour later, we checked up on each other
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Scrolling through Pinterest,” I replied. “What about you?”
“I am building a house of cards.”
We pitied each other’s bad decisions. Praised ourselves for our own superior choices.
Afternoon turned into evening and then stretched into night, but she kept building her house of cards. It seemed like a complete waste of time to me, but as someone who had squandered the entire day away, I thought better of voicing my opinion.
She would place the cards carefully, constructing one layer on top of another until one small nudge collapsed the entire structure down to dust.
I found it amusing. She did too, at first. But then she grew annoyed, inching towards frustration with every fall.
“Give it up, already,” I whined.
“No, I have to complete it!”
“It’s going to do fall down eventually.”
I busied myself with something else. First some reading, then some complaining. But all the while, she kept at it.
I did some more reading and some more complaining and then it was time for dinner. But before we could sit down at the table, my sister came running to me, beaming with a joy only victory can provide.
“It’s done, come, see!”
Maybe it was the strength of our footsteps, or the trick of the wind, who knows? But when I entered the room, no house greeted me. Just a bunch of cards scattered across the floor.
Today the weather is gorgeous, the wind beyond delicious. It drizzles lightly and thunders loudly. Bittersweet is one of my favourite words, and on days such as these, I can almost taste the word.
It feels a little too perfect. Like everything I could wish for was here for me to savour, enough to make me feel invincible. And this precise perfection is what makes it so fragile. Like it could disappear just as easily, all with a gentle nudge.
A part of me believes this is how the world will be when it all ends. Not burning fires and wretched screams. Not roars of destruction and crushing defeat. But just the whispering of the wind and the murmuring of a Keaton Henson song.
Just this gentle passing into nothingness.
Fragile is another word I like.
I first saw the word on a carton– “Fragile. Handle with care.”
I experienced it when my favourite cup, a gift from friends, cracked. Then again when my phone fell to the floor and the screen shattered. Yet another time when I heard the news of someone’s passing.
And lately, I have begun to feel the word.
Joy is fragile. So is life. So was the house of cards that couldn’t withstand the gush of wind. And this evening that is slipping through my fingers.
Perhaps, having is losing. And not having is yearning. We keep oscillating from one end to the other, on a string that is ready to snap. Goodness knows what is holding all this together.
And perhaps, that too is fragile.
Now more than ever, reading the news reminds me that life is indeed fragile. Hurtling to escape, yet still here. Bittersweet.
We work so hard, building for ourselves little houses of cards, hoping against all odds that they will withstand the greatest of tsunamis. But at the knock of the wind, it all comes crashing down. There is an obsession, a sort of maddening frenzy to keep stacking the cards, despite how pointless the entire endeavour may seem. But at least it keeps us going. And in a world where the cards will collapse, in this minute or the next, what more can we really wish for?
It has stopped raining now.
There’s no wind either.
My sister asks if we can play Uno.
I tell her, I have something better in mind.
“Let’s build a house of cards.”