What if You Died, but Not Really?

A story of death and wall painting

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

He is painted on the walls of my apartment in shades of pearl and light blue. That was his job, to paint walls and do house fixes. But he will never fix another house or paint another wall because he died today.

Wall paint catalogs are liers. They appear before your eyes all pretty, promising bright futures in rainbow tones. But first, they confuse you. How are you supposed to pick between beige and almond? Blue and blah? When you finally do, you bring the paint home, only to be disappointed. The paint on the walls looks nothing like the catalog.

So I went back to the store and picked another one. Thankfully, it was only a 5-minute drive away because I had to repeat the journey yet again. In the end, I got it right. He took the chosen one and applied it to the walls. My dad helped him. He helped my dad. They both helped me navigating the massive overwhelming sensation that is buying your first apartment.

I remember there was stuff everywhere. Nobody even lived there yet, but the floors were covered in card boxes protecting them from the undesirable and unavoidable paint drops. The few existing pieces of furniture laid asleep under old bedsheets. The smell of cleaning products filled the air, mixed with the Spring scent that came in through the open windows in that warm April of 2017.

There were four people helping me make my new flat livable. More than that, they were turning it into my dream home, and I would have achieved nothing without them. My mom, my dad, him, and his wife.

While they worked on the fixing and cleaning, I did my 9-to-5 job from in between the boxes, in my improvised home office. Sometimes, I would ask them to be quiet just so I could make a phone call. I had to call people all over the world and ask them about moves in the sulphuric acid market. Who sold how much acid to whom, at what price? At the time, I was a sulphuric acid reporter for a price reporting agency in London, working remotely. I wrote a weekly report about sulphuric acid for some people to read, people I never met. I wonder if they even existed, if they actually read it and if they got any value out of it. Some jobs are weird like this.

Others make a lot more sense. They’re about painting someone’s new flat. Fixing a broken tap. Making a stiff window work properly. They are about tangible and utterly palpable life.

Like the baker who prepares fresh bread for your breakfast every morning. The shoemaker who makes the boots in which you walk through life. Or the hairdresser who gives you a new look.

These people leave a legacy. They all helped others, warmed someone’s heart, made a difference in other people’s lives. Would we care about sulphuric acid if we didn’t have bread on our tables and a roof over our heads? Would we care about most things in life if we remembered we might die tomorrow? And when we leave, what stays behind?

The walls of a house tell its story. They are long-standing witnesses of the life that slowly unfolds, day after day, shaping who we become. They outlive us, carrying these silent stories for generations to come, for people who will never know what came before.

I lived in the apartment for a year and a half until I moved to another country and rented it out. The current tenants have been living there for almost three years now. I am sure that when they leave I will need to get the walls painted again. Someone else will come, unaware of all the life that happened there and paint over it.

It will look beautiful, new, and fresh. It will be a new beginning. And whoever that new painter might be, one day, he too will be gone. But the layers will live on, hidden treasures of past lives, that turn a house into a home, and the dead into the living.

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