The Woman ~
My birth was like a slow awakening.
Within the haze of a newly formed consciousness, I barely registered the one who was creating me. As my eyes slowly grew more defined – the irises developed grey flecks, the eyelashes grew dense and lush, the creases at the corners of my eye lids melted in with the smoothness of my skin – I began to register movement through a square window in front of me. He who gave me life touched me with a dexterity that was fascinating for my new born senses. Slowly from the bottom of my head, I felt the rest of my body take shape with a fluidity that was both strange and pleasurable. Beneath his fingers, I could sense my neck widening out from underneath my chin, ending in my shoulders, with its collar bones, then gliding down to form arms, bosom, stomach, legs.
He took special care while creating me. His brows knitted together with concentration, face very close to the window through which I could see him. He could touch me, but I was barred from touching him. When he was unsatisfied, he would obliterate what he did and start over again. Every time it was like a sudden jolt of vertigo at the loss of a detail, but when he replenished the missing part with a new one, the giddiness would be replaced by a tranquil calm.
With time, the white of my skin slowly flushed with a pinkish flesh tint. My clothes turned bright olive green, the tresses that hung over my shoulder in waves acquired a vibrant brown with burgundy streaks in them. I felt my lips turn soft, pouty and rich with a reddish hue. I was made to be beautiful. I could feel it in the way his eye admired me, lips turned up with satisfaction. Fresh with this awareness, and as delicate as a newly opened bud, I gazed at my creator with an avid interest.
His hair was cropped short, thereby accentuating the broadness of his forehead, which sometimes glistened with sweat. His eyes were droopy beneath eyebrows that connected just above his nose. He would twist his mouth in annoyance at a mistake he had made, or they would curl up to form a lopsided smile of satisfaction at a work well done. I lived to see that look of admiration he gave me. It made me feel the queerest sensation of pride, and I longed to stretch my arms across the barrier between us to touch him, but I couldn’t. I was frozen on the other side.
It used to be drab and cold here, until my creator swept his arm over my head, and I felt the warmth of sunshine cascade down - like long thick hair being released from a tightly held top knot. The honey coloured sunlight caressed my skin like melted butter. I could taste the dusty heat of perpetual summer on my tongue, and sense it on my hair, my eyelids, my lips - like the imprints of lingering kisses. In my mind’s eye, I saw tall glasses of juice with perspiration dripping down the edges, a riot of hibiscus, marigold, hydrangea blossoms swaying in the balmy summer breeze, ripe sweet-smelling mangoes glistening in the sun, houseflies hopping from limb to limb, gleefully rubs its front legs together, in an expression of excited expectation….
I would observe his room through my window. It was small and cluttered with paintbrushes, stained cups, some neatly stacked easels, newspaper clippings on dusty walls, a calendar with the image of God hanging from a rusty nail, a steel almirah with half torn stickers scattered across its surface like dying stars, stacks of books neatly arranged on bookshelves, and a laptop. He slept in this room on the bed, his snores making the window panes rattle, and he ordered in food from outside. He hardly ever left this chilly little room – so devoted was he towards creating me.
I could sense the wintriness of his home and of him through the partition that separated us, and my essence was both fascinated and repelled by it. When he faced me however, the coldness visibly chipped away - revealing a blazing interior. He burned with a frantic energy that seeped out of his eyes, nose, ears, smile - till I burnt brighter, like Icarus flying too close to the sun.
He was greatly influenced by 19th century impressionism, and on the wall by his bookshelf he had stuck a print out of French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’, as well as Manet’s ‘Olympia’. His obvious admiration for those works of art filled me with a strange jealousy.
I don’t know how I gained this knowledge, these human-like emotions and thoughts. The more he worked on me, developed me painstakingly under his deft hands, the more I felt like his soul was being poured into me – what he believed in, I believed in, what he knew, I knew. From him, I imbibed his mind, and with his thoughts I could feel the stirrings of my own, so that I became a kaleidoscope of sentiments, passions and sensations – all at once foreign and familiar.
Sometimes he had visitors – at which point of time he would cover up my window, rendering me blind. I would strain my ears to hear the murmur of voices – sometimes raucous laughter, sometimes the raised volume of arguments, and once I caught the sound of breaking glass. It distressed me to realize that I was hopelessly removed from everything – a feeling that would persist till he parted the curtain over my window and smiled at me.
“Nothing is truly a masterpiece until it has a soul”, I heard him say one day, as he ran his fingers over my skin. “Only the average would strive for perfection – they seek to see only the human form. What one must do is to seek the intention of the soul.”
I grew closer to him. He spent more and more time with me – forgetting to eat, to sleep. His visitors slowly ceased to come. His face grew haggard but his eyes gleamed with a maniacal passion as he worked relentlessly on. The barrier that existed between us blurred and dissolved…..
~ The Friend ~
As I helped break down the door to my friend’s apartment, we rushed inside, hoping to find him. His parents were at my heels, with worried expressions, and I felt a gnawing sense of guilt for having given up on him when he became so irresponsible and eccentric. Nobody had seen him leave this apartment for days, none of us had been able to contact him, and I feared the worst.
The smell of fresh paint and dust hit my nostrils with a staggering intensity that made me cover my nose. The tell-tale remains of his artworks were spread all over the floor. The entire flat reeked of neglect. I never understood why he had to leave his job to pursue his passion, instead of continuing with his art as one would a hobby – it had seemed like too much of a risk to me.
The apartment was empty, except for us and the smell. I stepped over the fallen paintbrushes and walked towards a covered easel, languishing in a corner of his bedroom. In front of it, I saw his slippers, neatly arranged as if he had just taken them off. I uncovered the canvas.
An incredibly realistic painting revealed itself to me and I drew back, my heart beating dully in my chest. Within the confines of the canvas, a very life-like painting of my friend embraced a beautiful woman with dark brown hair and burgundy streaks. Their bodies glowed in the light of a golden sun, nestled as they were, in the midst of marigolds and mangoes. I leaned in to look at the portrait of my friend - his eyes were so real and that smile so genuine that I knew for sure, deep in my heart – he had abandoned this world and climbed into his own painting….