“Umm, it does look alright.” Amir lied.

Actually, it was the opposite of alright. It was expensive and unnecessary. The bathroom looked newly renovated. From the wall-mirror to the bathtub, everything had been scrubbed with care. Amir eyed the corners of the bathroom, trying to find any faults. The marbled floor was pristine and reflected the ceiling lights. For a second, Amir thought it was too bright for a simple bathroom, but then again, this whole neighborhood was otherworldly.

He had taken the bus to Surrey Hills instead of driving straight for the inspection. Walking down the street, he had seen gated mansions; their walls had signs that started with “Trespassers will be prosecuted.” To Amir’s amusement, this was the first time he walked these streets in broad daylight. His mind snapped back to the present moment.

“Umm, the bathroom looks stunning,” he said slowly. It was more to reassure himself than to announce his satisfaction with the property. He pronounced his sentences slowly, masking his accent.

“Would you like to test the taps?” said Michelle, the overly enthusiastic real-estate agent. The question seemed to be more of a suggestion than anything else.

“Uh, no… I think it should be fine.” Amir said, his voice crackling with uncertainty.

“Let’s take a look at the bedrooms.”

“Right this way.” She gestured down the hallway.

“There are two bedrooms on this floor and an ensuite on the second one.”

Amir nodded along with her. Her upbeat voice chipped away at his ears. Maintaining appearances might have come naturally for her, but for Amir, it felt too exhausting. A wide smile seemed to be glued on her face. She looked like a sculpture from a wax museum. Elegantly dressed, and a face masked with make-up to hide an otherwise imperfect skin. Just like the house, she was a façade. Amir felt he could see through it all because he wasn’t new to deception. For him, it was an essential life skill, a job requirement.

“We have steam-cleaned the carpet. Wolly, soft, it’s made from only the best material on the market”, she said proudly.

“Yes, umm, I did notice that,” he lied again, brushing his trainers lightly against the carpet. It did not feel different from any carpet he had been on. For him, all carpets were the same. He found the rawness of a straw-mat more stimulating than the warmth of a carpet.

They stood at the entrance of the bedroom. Amir looked around once again. He spotted a small cobweb in one of the upper corners. His eyes became fixated on it.

“As you can see, everything has been renovated perfectly for a new tenant. This room can have one person comfortably living inside”, she announced.

The room was indeed quite spacious. Yet, she seemed to undersell it. Amir figured it had space for two people. That would have been the case in his previous house. The cobwebs were the only impurity that stood out in his eyes. They were the only familiar thing in this house.

“Are you happy with this room? Something that might concern you?” she asked with her polite tone.  

Cobwebs were not something to complain about; he could clean them in fifteen minutes. He knew better than to raise small issues. It was unfathomable for a house in Surrey Hills to have cobwebs, yet here he was. The façade wasn’t perfect after all.

“No, it’s perfect,” he lied again. Politeness was just sugarcoated lying.

They walked out of the hallway and into the living room. The walls were adorned with paintings. He walked closer to inspect the wall. Its creamy white color seemed to hide its texture. He ran his fingers across the wall, trying to find any crevices. He was used to brick-walls with rough cracks. The smoothness of this wall deceived him.

“Textured with industry-standard cement and plaster. The walls are double bricked if that was something you were wondering about”, she added. “Cool in the summers, and warm in the winters.”

“Oh, um..yes. Double bricked walls. Better than the wooden alternative.” He said absent-mindedly.

They entered the living room. Instantly, Amir’s head shot upwards. Hanging from the ceiling was a magnificent chandelier. Adorned with crystals, it illuminated the room in soft yellow light. Amir could only bear to look at it for so long.

“It’s customary to have a chandelier nowadays. We had one crafted just for this room. The lighting is perfect.” she said. She rotated the dimmer on the wall, and the light softened.

“You can brighten or dim it according to your preference.”

He looked down and gave his eyes time to readjust. He had never seen one so close up. “Preference.” He repeated slowly. He hadn’t heard that word in a while. Preference meant changing something according to one’s comfort. Preferences seemed so leisurely. His survival spirit had always steered his choices. He never had time for preferences.

“With that, our tour comes to an end. What do you think about the property?” she asked. “It’s quite good. The place looks quite clean, and I am impressed by the layout. I want to proceed further.” he said hurriedly. He had been rehearsing the sentences in his mind for too long, yet his accent was all over the place. The façade of this house had endured, while his own had crumbled.

“Are you satisfied with everything?” she asked him curiously. Internally, she tried to place his accent.

“Yes, of course. The property is…very clean,” answered Amir. Apart from the cobwebs, everything was absolutely clean.

“I’ll bring the documents, and you can take a seat.”

She pointed towards the sofa. Amir followed her directions and sat down. He sat right on edge and leaned forward. He rarely placed himself in comfortable positions.

His mind was racing. He had missed an important detail yet failed to remember what. He tapped his hands on the pockets of his jeans, a habit he had cultivated out of need.

“Phone, wallet, keys, knife,” he whispered to himself. Everything was there. He took a deep breath.

In the next five minutes, Amir was signing documents. As he handed the realtor the last form, she smiled.

“Please provide a copy of your identification documents. Our agency will run some background checks.”

“Is that…required?” he squinted his eyes lightly.

“For all of our clients. We are very thorough with our checks.” The realtor had emphasized her last statement. She was closing in on him.

“Sure,” he answered. “I will send you the documents over email. I don’t have them currently,” he added. He didn’t have any documents at all. He had paid good money to get new ones, and they wouldn’t be ready till next week. His new life had so many documents. The road to high society was littered with security checkpoints.

“Once everything is confirmed, we will sign the final set of documents. That will confirm your tenancy. If everything checks out, of-course.” she said sharply. “Unless you have something to hide!”

Amir was caught off-guard. He froze instantly, his eyes darting to all the exit points in the house. Michelle broke the silence with her chuckle, and he reluctantly followed suit. His laugh was forced and awkward, but it helped defuse the situation.

“You sound like you’re new to these parts.” She pried.

Amir felt exposed. His ruse hadn’t been enough to fool a real-estate agent; how could he expect to gel with the neighbors.

“New to Surrey Hills, yes. However, I was born and raised in the city.”

“I understand this is an upgrade from your previous house.” She said sharply. He could almost taste the condescendence.

“I suppose.”

He wasn’t going to let Michelle on his secret. A thirty year old secret, he had worked hard to bury. He had been an undocumented immigrant for most of his life. He had never stepped inside a government institution or had an official transaction done. Having amassed a small fortune from his illegal activities, he had decided to start life anew. This meant abandoning his life of crime and assuming a new identity. Amir had found that money could solve a lot of problems. Getting hold of a legal identity was one such example. All he had to do now was play the part. Sadly, he had found that playing a rich guy was harder than actually being one.

 “I think this house is perfect for a simple person like you!” she said. She was smarter than she let on. These subtle jabs were enough to keep Amir on edge. He decided to head out as the tour had ended.

As the inspection ended, Amir headed towards the door; he turned around one last time to face her. It was time to strike back. He said it in one single breath, entirely dropping his fake accent.

“Cobwebs. The bedroom had cobwebs. I’m not interested in buying a poorly maintained property.” He left without looking back.

(1489 words)

Reflective Essay

My story “Cobwebs” incorporates multiple themes and strategies I learned throughout the unit. Ideas such as “Subjectivity and Identity” and “World-building” take center stage for my story. Cobwebs was also my submission for the workshopping session.

During the brainstorming phase, I wanted to craft a world that paralleled reality. Although, fantasy-oriented world-building gives the writer a lot of creative leeway, I wanted my world to incorporate the gritty realities of life and the conflicts that arise when different worlds collide. The world that Amir belongs to is an unfair and dark world. In contrast, Michelle’s world is confined to Surrey Hills, which is a posh area. The undertone of conflict between these two characters, although subtle, shows that neither party thinks they belong in each other’s world. Although the property within Surrey Hills is a good reflection of the world that Amir is trying to enter, Amir’s world is shown through his thoughts, dialogue, and anxieties.

World-building, as taught in this unit, really fascinated me. I realized that a world doesn’t need to be explicitly established through vivid descriptions and sensory details. World-building takes place in the mind of the reader as they piece together hints and clues. I tried to place similar clues throughout Cobwebs that hinted towards how Amir’s world looked like. His world is born out of desperation, struggle, duty, and survival. That being said, I didn’t neglect the practice of traditional world-building. The explicitly established world in this narrative was the property being inspected and the suburb of Surrey Hills.

The second theme that I aimed to incorporate was that of subjectivity and Identity. Identity took center stage for Amir as he tried to portray himself as someone else. Amir kept on masking his accent, being polite, and stuttering while speaking. This sense of discomfort showed that he could not assume his chosen identity and kept falling back to his older self.

 The ideas around Identity intrigued me. Throughout the story, Amir had an internal conflict between his identities. He tried to suppress his true self and let on a façade while projecting his insecurities towards the house. He refers to Michelle and the property as fake and deceptive while hiding behind his made-up persona. Of course, all of this starts to fall apart as we reach the end. I wanted to add a final straw that would make him snap. That’s where he pointed out the “cobwebs”, which were the only imperfection in an otherwise perfect world.

Throughout this unit, my personal goal was to improve the dimensionality of my characters and the quality of dialogue. Throughout multiple drafts of this story, I kept on fine-tuning the dialogue. I tried to make it sound more natural. Adding stutter to Amir’s dialogues helped show his internal struggle. Michelle’s dialogues were more straightforward and double-edged. At first, coming up with dialogues that complemented these distinct characters was hard. Still, as I continued rethinking and rewriting this story, I improved dialogue quality by a lot. Overall, I am quite satisfied with how this piece turned out.

(507 words)