The Rainbow Houses


She awoke to the pitter patter of the rain outside her window. It was early in the morning and still dark outside, but it was time for her to get up, get ready, and get out.

Leaving her hometown for the first time, Nabila looked down at her village, Kampung Pelangi, which was all Nabila had known up to this point in her life. But to Nabila, it was known as “Rainbow Village” since all the houses were painted fluorescent rainbow colors to make the village more attractive. During her seven years of life, Nabila had fond memories racing her friends down the roads alongside the houses, hiding between them when it was time to go to bed, and marking how tall she had grown over the years on the wall next to the front door of her house. To her, the bright colors bouncing off all the houses were home; they were where she was safe and where she belonged. But, as she flew above the houses in the airplane that Sunday morning, she realized that this would be the last time she would ever see her beloved rainbow houses ever again, and as a tear rolled down her cheek and into her lap, she shut her eyes and went to sleep.

Several hours later, Nabila was awakened by a cheerful voice, “Hello and good evening, this is your captain speaking. We should be arriving in Los Angeles, California in approximately 15 minutes.” Nabila looked at her parents anxiously and began to grow worrisome of what her new life would entail.

Back in her hometown, Nabila was a very intelligent child growing up; she was always at the top of her class, very polite to all her teachers and family, and always up for anything that came her way. But this was different. Here, Nabila didn’t know one word of the language, but there she was, 15 minutes away from landing in her new home. As her parents noticed her distress, her father assured her that everything was going to be fine, and although she showed him a brave face, deep down she was terrified.

Once they landed, her father navigated Nabila and her mother through the airport; he had picked up English on his frequent international business trips to the states. As Nabila and her family finally sped away from the bustling airport in a taxi, she peered outside the window to take it all in. She didn’t see the local market owner, the old lady that lived across from her, or even the comforting rainbow houses. Instead, she saw supermarkets bigger than her village, homeless people begging for money on the side of the road, and skyscrapers that she couldn’t even see the tops of. As she sat back down in her seat, she choked back tears as reality settled in.

A half hour later, Nabila and her family arrived at their new house - a dingy, run down condo.

“This isn’t my house!” she exclaimed.

“Nabila, please, this is new for us all. This is our house now and until we can afford something better, this will be our home,” her mother countered.

Angered, Nabila stormed through the house, went into her room, and stayed in there for the rest of the day. She thought about the the rainbow houses, their warmth encompassing her as she fell into their reach.

The next morning was her first day of school. Once she got to her classroom, the students were all gathered around on the carpet, painting pictures and giggling with one another. Nabila was given some paints and brushes to join in, so she got to painting the one thing that gave her happiness amidst all the chaos: the rainbow houses.

                Although Nabila hated going to school and was too shy to make new friends, she did look forward to every Friday when she was able to paint once again. This was when she didn’t have to worry about not speaking the same language as the other kids or not having any friends. These were the days that she could once again paint her beloved rainbow houses with the vivid colors and careful brush strokes. Every week, Nabila would paint the same picture, and every week she would hang the newest addition on the wall along with the rest. Nabila thought that if she made enough paintings of the rainbow houses, it would soon feel like she was back at home surrounded by what she knew and loved. So every week, she busily worked on making as many paintings as she could to fill up the section of the classroom that featured them all. 

But one day, as she came to school eager to paint, she noticed that there was one more spot missing on her wall, but she had used up all of the paper that she had been given. She didn’t know enough words to ask for more, so she just stared at the empty space on her wall.

As she sat there, she heard the same pitter patter of rain that fell on the day she had to leave the rainbow houses on that dreary Sunday morning, and those same feelings of loneliness came flooding back to her.

              As Nabila looked up once again, she saw one of her classmates come by and start to put up her own painting on Nabila’s wall. Startled, Nabila stood up and stared at the painting. Her eyes grew wide as she saw what it was: another rainbow house, one last one to fill in the blank space. Overjoyed, Nabila’s eyes welled up with tears as she found herself smiling for the first time in what felt like forever. She didn’t know the language and she didn't know who that girl was, but the smiles that the two girls shared were universal.

               Then, almost instantaneously, the rain cleared up and the sun came out.

“Come on!” Nabila’s classmate exclaimed as she took her hand and lead her outside.

As Nabila walked outside, she saw the biggest and brightest rainbow that she had ever seen; it stretched further than she could see on either side and it was more beautiful than any rainbow house she had ever seen, too. As Nabila darted her eyes down from the captivating rainbow to her new friend, the emptiness that she was just feeling was nowhere to be found.

“Look Nabila!” she said, “It’s a rainbow, just like the ones in your paintings.”

               Nabila could not believe what she was seeing. In that moment, she knew that although she might never be able to see her beloved rainbow houses again, she did know that wherever she went, they would always be with her.


© Shreya Shantharaj


BIO:  Shreya Shantharaj loves exploring, whether it be within her hometown or half-way across the world. She’s a vegetarian, but she’s always out and about trying new foods across various cultures. Although she is easily frightened, she tries to get out of her comfort zone as she one day hopes to conquer her fear of skydiving.