Nowhere Room

by Kristine Ong Muslim

(This piece is from the out-of-print book, We Bury the Landscape: An Exhibition-Collection, published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2012.) 

after Mike Worrall‘s The Never Ever Room (1998), oil on panel, 122 × 155 cm

Theophilus is wedged in the wooden floor of his temperature-regulated chamber called Childhood. Drawing moths during the summer, a 50-watt switch bulb dangles from the ceiling.

His mother says: ―You only fill one small room when you die so there’s no sense in occupying more while you are alive.

He nods, never talks back.

―A good parent can either teach you to forage or to be safe. I choose to keep you safe. Then she slams the door only to reappear at the end of the day with food.

Theophilus grows bigger, older. His limbs approximate those of a man’s. His senses of smell and hearing grow acute.

Outside, the schoolchildren taunt him, throw stones at the window, and leer at him—the pale-skinned boy anchored since birth to the floor of his room. Theophilus will not admit it, but he covets the schoolchildren‘s teeth, ruined by too much candy and soda. He admires their unruly hair, which smells of summertime. He loves to hear them call him ―ugly because it makes him feel unique and important.

Each day, the windows and doors shrink a little. In time, even his finger will not fit.