The Painter, a short story
The Painter is a sad heart touching love story
It was a wonderful night in Maveli. The sea was beautiful and the shore was sparkling with the mystic hue of an enlightened horizon, embedded with the new moon. When he took his fifth peg I looked at him alarmingly but checked myself from interfering as I recalled the phrase, ‘in vino veritas. His eyes were like a forlorn island harbouring some secret of his own. I waited for him to speak out that secret – now or never.
Seven days had passed since I came here. Once every year I planned a visit anywhere to avoid the boredom of life or in search of a new story for my next writing. Maveli was my best choice with its exotic beauty and intoxicating aroma of wet sand. Every day I used to stroll on the beach and enjoy my drink till the night moon touched my forehead and the beach became lonely except that one man stroking his brush silently in the light of the hanging lantern by the post, beside the easel, circled with a nimbus aura. Sometimes the light flickered in a lopsided grin as the lantern clashed with the flirting breeze, raised from the northern sea. And I waited on a stone hinge, drooping my shoulders and directing my gaze toward the devouring, mystic sea, humming the seductive note against the glittering warm sand breast. When he finished his job he took off the canvas, stared at it for a long time and then drifted it away in black water. Like a kid to a mother, it fondled upon the sea breast, with the ever-changing motion of waves till it subsided into the depth of its womb.
I witnessed this for seven days till I moved to Lougburn to attend my cousin’s wedding. I returned after five days as my cousin’s left arm broke tumbling over the flower-decked stairs due to his absentmindedness or over-alertness at the proposition of the new nuptial life. I had to stay and prove myself as his most reliable kith in the dense population of Legbourne. But at my heart, I felt the flapping restlessness come back. I was afraid to lose my story.
The day I returned to Maveli it was early noon. I cursed the sun to be too slow to devour the western horizon. When I reached the beach in the evening I found he was already there, sitting and looking at the distant sea as if calculating the periphery of the untouched shore, ever waiting to meet the stretched vista. The beach was warm and a few people were strolling afar. There was no sound except the babbling of churning sea and the spasmodic trill of exuberant gulls flapping in faded bleak. Astonishingly I found his canvas unravelling itself under the dusky sky projecting a figurine of a beautiful lady with chestnut hair and lavish doe eyes gleaming in husky darkness along with the arranged colour box and brush. Gathering some courage I sat beside him. He spotted me from the corner of his eye and offered me a peg. I humbly took it.
He spoke first.
“Who are you?”
He laughed most amusingly.
“It’s a beautiful place and everyone travels here. But no one keeps vigilance on me.”
I felt shy but I did not feel the need to explain.
Then he pointed at his canvas,
“She was more beautiful, than my painting.”
“She must be,” I murmured.
“I fell in love with her when she bought one of my favourite paintings from the exhibition of the Maveli Gallery of Autumn Landscape. Love is seldom reciprocated. But she reciprocated. We both were exuberant and happy. We talked a lot; we shared a lot; we wrote a lot about our love with conjugal harmony, fulfilling every passion that we created, harboured and throbbed with.
Then life changed, life became a puzzle and I got busy solving it. She waited patiently for me, then complained, then got angry and fretted. But those emotions were nothing to me. I was occupied with a broader perspective of life than a mere love affair. Fame and new prospects blinded me.
She became frenzied. Like a volcano she boiled over, accusing me, insulting me, and bursting out her contempt. I just smiled and kept my phone switched off, sometimes blocking her numbers. She kept changing the numbers and I kept on blocking them.
This continued. She tried to meet me in my studio. I lied and told my assistant to inform my absence to her though from the shutter of the upper-storey window I stealthily looked at her angst, deprived face harrowing up and down. I relished her flickering desperate, tired gaze at the road as she prayed I would come back soon and meet her daggered heart. The sight of her lone frail face was pitiful but I had no choice. I was occupied with something more sky-scraping than love.
Her love seemed suffocating as if it was coiling me in thousand loops like the Boa Constrictor. An artist is a free man you know. She went back when her exhausted feet could no longer hold her. She used to threaten me, “You will be destroyed when I’ll be no more, you will cry when I will not cry anymore.” I just smiled and said, “Ok” to all her frustrations. I always smiled when she accused me and remained indifferent when she begged me for love. I was like a stone, unperturbed and rigid; I was destined for a greater reality than love. Nothing could change me except the death, the death of love.
I felt she was dying; she was collapsing in front of my conscience. But I could not help it except being cold and vague and perhaps cruel, extremely cruel. She pleaded for a call, pleaded for a bit of solace. She texted me thousand times, of which I answered none.
Gradually she waned from the full moon to a demilune. A crust of my attention could keep her alive but I did not care.
I just let her die.”
He paused. The sand was cold beneath us and the ocean was mournful. He was looking ahead of the sea. His face was that of a distant, alien island not yet ventured by any explorer. His eyes were perturbed with deep agony.
I waited for him to continue. He took a good swig and then continued.
“There she dies, one day, in front of me. I just smiled as I always did when she cried, clinging to my shirt and washing it with her warm tears. That was the last touch of her, the touch as palpable as it haunts me even now.
She wanted to meet me. I could not arrange it and tried to avoid it. Then one day everything stopped suddenly as if silence had conquered a ravaging storm. It made me surprised and curious and a little bit worried. There was no call, no message, and no desperate pleading on her part. I waited patiently. After a month she called me and requested me to meet her here, on this beach. She assured me again and again that it was her last prayer and that after that, she would leave this place and no longer disturb me. I agreed. This adjoining beach was quite distant from the original one and less crowded. After dusk, it becomes alone, like me.
It was a moonlit night. Sea waves clashed violently and the ocean was brimming to its full. I kept her waiting for a long time. When I came she was there, silent, solemn and beautiful. She looked at my smiling face, a deep profound look. I took her in my arms and kissed her. Her lips were cold and tasteless; her slender waist was only a frame of bone. I felt the lightness of her body in my embrace, like a feather, ready to float away in the air, far from the earth. She handed me a box wrapped in purple velvet. When I looked at her questioningly, she said, “A gift for all the coming years, open it when I will not be with you.” Then she smiled and kissed my forehead, like a mother kissing her dead son before the cremation and turned towards the sea.
Suddenly I felt heaviness in my chest as I looked at her receding silhouette touching the whitish rumbling foam. I could not see her face but there must have been something which my delicate brushstrokes never be able to capture. I wished to turn that face towards me and to say, “I Love you.’’ But I was afraid that my tongue could betray and even if it could utter those long-forgotten words anyhow, she would not believe them anymore. So I said nothing. Then she turned to me smiling, the most languid but beautiful smile. I laughed at her though my heart was wrenching in inexpressible pain. Suddenly a gust of wind broke into the tapestry of the serene sand bank, captivating the luminous moon in its hostile enmity. Thunder creviced the tapestry of black camouflage in vicious cruelty. A tangy fishy smell from the forlorn fish boats punched my nose and there was only the dense darkness dancing with the deep sea and nothing. Nothing. For the first time, fear engulfed me, the fear to lose her, losing the love I never retributed. I cried at the top of my quivering voice,
There was no trace of her. I ran and ran searching for her through the shore. I ransacked every boat, bush and dune but she just vanished into that sky, into that sea. After one hour when the thunder stopped and rainwater started dribbling through my sweaty cheek, I squatted on my feet and collapsed on the wet shore. I wished to cry, to scream, to kill myself. But I remembered the box on the sloppy stone and scrabbled for it. When I retrieved it, the sky was soothed and the moon was free. I remained seated there for long hours looking at the sea with a tottering hope until the dawn broke with a roseate hue. Before facing the world I crawled back to my studio, weird and feverish.
For the next few days, I eagerly waited for the cops to pick me up. Any knock at my door made me flinch out of my chair. But there was none. I did not get out of the room and read no newspaper. I just hung a notice outside of my studio- “closed’’. I confined myself within the four walls.”
“What was of the gift?’’ I could no longer hold my curiosity.
“Yeah, the gift. He paused for some time as if he was visualizing the unwrapping of the last reminiscent of her.
“It was a letter, a very brief letter. I can remember every word of it, as I read it zillion times.”
There was a day when I could fight my pain myself. I was so powerful. My strength, my pain, everything was mine. Then you came and took me away with you, taught me to fly with you. My life became a joyous journey with a superfluity of dreams. But everything changed so suddenly that I drifted away in fathomless pain. My strength eloped with my love, my dependence, and my blind vocation. I fell into a pit of blind wonder; my whole world was smeared with faithlessness, betrayal, and selfishness. I could not reinstate, could not accept what you had done. I tried hard but could not fight it. I believed you more than myself. You stained my God and it was hard for me to tolerate it anymore. So, adieu.
After seven days I came out and stepped onto the seashore as it was calling me in the name of Maria. From that day I started drawing her image with recurrent whims as if just to gush out the face from my memory, the framed profile, a girl in a purple gown and white top smiling the most exotic smile turning her sad eyes glittering under the luminous sky before death. Every night I sketched that face and drifted it where I lost her before I could hang my eyelids for peaceful sleep till the next day. It keeps haunting me. There is no escape.”
His voice broke in utter desolation.
We both remained silent for the next hour till I bade him goodbye. He also rose on his feet quite clumsily due to the intoxication of wine or of memory I could not conclude. I helped him to wrap his things and asked if I should accompany him to the studio. He waved his hand to signify the denial of a lonely fighter.
I gazed as he trod the way like Sisyphus knowing well that he had to come again.
Hey, I am Munmun, the phoenix fabulist who wants to tell you stories. I love to read stories and I love to weave stories. I feel life is an amalgamation of multiple stories, colourful threads, and threads of pain, pleasure, hope, and hopelessness. We just need to pick those hues and arrange them, knitting them with our own emotions and perception. So let’s celebrate the stories of life.