The Painting of Illusions
Written by Nandini Sethi
There was once a painter. He painted only the sky- sometimes blue, sometimes a darkling orange; once in a while he’d add birds to the sky, but almost always, the sky was tumultuous. In a perpetual state of unrest, the glimmer of the blues disturbed the peace of the land, and rose up to a discorded heaven. A broken sky.
I passed by his little corner on my way home everyday but I never questioned him. He had a little shoe-box of a room, which ordinarily would be passed off as a cobbler’s shop, but he never put his paintings up for sale. Nor did he mend shoes. I remember the first time I saw him, he looked quite different from what he does today. Earlier he had a bright face, a bustling spirit of positive energy, but for a long time now he’s been morose and seemingly untouched by the words of an outsider.
His face was sharp, his celestial green eyes resting below his whetted brows; a paint brush always sat above his ear, a little gesture I didn’t know whether for style or convenience. But it suited his expressionless façade nonetheless.
I think I can see through his stone-cold demeanor. As humans we tend to mask our vulnerability. I want to ask him, confront him about what went wrong- why the somber countenance and the gloomy way he spent his days; the stormy skies.
One Friday night as the thunder rolled in and droplets of rain raced down my window, I couldn’t help but think of his skies. I asked him about it today, but my timid excuse me, can I have a word with you? was rudely brushed off with a, “no, these paintings are not for sale”.
I had never implied that. Perhaps artists have a bias against businesses and people working for them in general. The wine in my glass tasted more bitter than usual today, and I wondered what it was, what upsetting thoughts that plagued his pretty little head.
I didn’t give up after the first time. I stopped by his little ‘spot’ and informed him about the culture of art in our city; the exhibitions, the like-minded painters, but he never cared for my enthusiasm. He stopped responding to me, refused to even face me when I called out to him. “Why? Why is it that you paint only this sadness, this pain? The sun is shining, and everyone around you is glowing in its light; why can’t you paint what you see? Why can’t you paint happiness?”
He remained silent. As I turned to walk away, he told me that the day he feels something again, he’ll paint a happy sky, even if what he feels is pain.
I didn’t understand what he meant by that, and I don’t think he wanted me to understand. Maybe that was just his way of letting me know that I was bothering him, and saying something cryptic would scare me away. I did not want to, but I stopped visiting him. I thought of leaving him some food or cash, but I don’t think he would appreciate that. And it was a bit presumptuous, only because he was an artist spending his afternoons in a shoe-box, doesn’t mean he wasn’t living out his evenings in a mansion of his own.
Today I felt light and giddy. It was a few weeks later, and I was getting ready for a date. But that didn’t go as planned; I waited for two hours in the restaurant, embarrassed and alone, as I sipped my wine and picked at the bread basket. When all the tables were vacant, and I had gulped down an entire bottle, I decided this was too humiliating; I paid the bill, threw in a generous tip, and ran out the restaurant, vowing never to return.
I walked back home, completely drenched, as the sky didn’t show a single indication of the rain halting any time soon. It was chilly, and the drizzle turned into the beginnings of a storm. It looked like the paintings of someone I knew. The winds were strong enough to uplift trees and I was staring to regret my decision to walk back home.
Almost sprinting now, I took shelter in a little corner. The day’s events caught up to me, and I couldn’t help but tear up a bit at everything that happened. I was cold, tired, alone, wet, and for the lack of a better word to describe what I was feeling, miserable.
I was startled out of my thoughts by a warm embrace on my shoulder. It was none other than the artist himself, draping his coat over my shoulders. He looked as glum as ever, nothing changed about him in these few weeks, except he didn’t carry around the paintbrush by his ear now.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him.
“I could ask you the same thing.”
Several moments passed, and neither of us said a word. In the tiny space of his shoe-box room, we squeezed against each other, silently watching the pouring rain, and if he saw me shiver or wipe away my tears, he didn’t bring it up. It felt nice.
“I should get going”, I turned to face him, shrugging off his coat. He stopped me, shaking his head solemnly. He told me to wait a minute, and exactly a minute later he appeared again, an umbrella in his hand, some tissues, and a pair of sports shoes. I looked down at my feet and couldn’t help but wince at my wrong choice of heels.
I couldn’t help but blush at the gesture, and looking up at his face I saw nothing but gorgeous, expressionless features. I thanked him once again and ran back home.
It was the next day, on my way back home from work, that I decided to stop by and return his coat and shoes. I knew he wouldn’t appreciate any kind gesture in return so I didn’t even bother picking up some food to thank him for his unprecedented kindness.
On reaching I found the shoe-box to be empty, the paintings still scattered about in their regular places. Everything looked the same, dull and dingy, bottles of paint dripping out on the floor- except one thing. Right in the center, the main table he usually sits at to work on illustrating his newest unvarying version of the sky, was placed a painting unlike anything I’ve seen before.
A stormy sky, clearing up as the sun peeks in from the corners, and the people all around dancing as they watch from below a sight so comforting to their sore eyes. And in the centre was a girl so animated, laughing and prancing about, the only one who got drenched by the rain.