THURSDAY: In Search for the Purist


Copyright is held by the author.

LAURA JANE was not pretty. Her nose too long, forehead way too narrow, sat right above the beady, brow less eyes. Her thin straight hair fell to the waist like the tall, russet poplars of Autumn. She knew this only too well. That she was plain, made her a recluse; pale, shy, withdrawn, wrapped up in routine smoothness, comprised going to school, and getting home by bus. An aspiring artist, she went to art school. She took the regular route back and forth and ate her humble tomato-cheese sandwich for lunch every day. She got off the evening bus at Tattersole Arcade from school, and walked up to her one bedroom flat around the corner. Her only real interaction was with the owner of the corner store. A young friendly man in his late thirty, with a receding hairline. And her dog; it greeted her too, with a welcome bark, as soon as it heard her key turn in the door.

Only one person, the young Tom Braidy from the corner store, had uncountable, casual encounters with her over the years. Many of them she valued, others she ignored. But the fact that in his happy demeanour, he took the trouble to ask, how her day was, and what she had been up to, made it all meaningful to her. Some days he even walked her down the street to the corner of Tattersole Arcade to her apartment. It needed not to be expressed, but there was an uncanny connection between the two of them, which neither of them explored, to take the relationship further. Or even make advances, Tom Braidy, a perfect gentleman didn’t incline to do, although he knew that she kept to herself.

25. She was not poor. Neither was she highbrow, middle or lowbrow. She traveled frequently, to escape from the humdrum of her life. Much of the world, she saw was on cruises across the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Indian oceans. She received scholarship, and saved up from the sales of her art for these journeys. On several occasions, she took along her paraphernalia of artwork. Such cruises gave her the high, an inspiration, to sit raptured on the deck without an exception. To watch dolphins frolicking in the undercurrent; immersed in the jaded waters of oceanic wonders. Or behold the cataclysmic cyclonic breaths of cloud-folds in rumpus. Sultry, summer’s days were perfect to capture these moments. Moments of tranquility and rage caught on canvas. By far, her resolute adherence to structure made her a purist. Her paintings revealed the exquisite beauty of her artwork. Her strokes were bold. They displayed glimpses of insightful richness of colour: gold, emerald and scarlet. Contrary to the tunnelled visions, her brushes touched the core of life, the principles and properties of rainwater that made life possible, under every garnered atom of the earth. She once sketched a silhouetted doe against a translucent light of the golden ray. The spirited female deer leapt high, and low to reach out to the leaves at sunrise in an enchanted forest under a macabre; a deeper conceptualization of life in the spirit of abstraction.

She was alone, but not lonely. Her siblings took her to be spinsterish, who selected to lead a life of desolation. They assumed, her days must be too bleak, like midwinter mornings, without a beau. But there was no heaviness in her heart. No poignant regrets to bear grudges. She felt feisty, and chose to remain blissfully ignorant of the “promising otherness,” of other kinds of freakish lifestyles. She adhered to a purist line of art. When she portrayed bleakness, such as terrifying lightning above murky oceans, for example, she laced them with sprinklings of silver linings. Through turbulence or placidity, brightness or morbidity, her portraits glowed with exultant warmth and optimism. Her viewers barely had any inkling of what imparted such sheen to her art. Neither did she. Her depiction of a transcendental reality, allayed any fears or new trepidations arising out of tomorrow’s uncertainties. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’s dispositions found their way into the depth of her canvas in nuanced detail of thrills and hopes; raw emotions of happiness, divorced of a formidable tomorrow.

One day, however, a fatalistic frontier unveiled before her. A sense of foreboding loomed without a description. Her inner peace threatened. Until now she had been untouched by quandary. But it had to do with the owner of the corner shop, Tom Braidy. In all the world, this only man, who didn’t find her even remotely odd, asked her out tonight. She agreed, because of the lure of an enchantment; a romantic interlude which awaited a special tomorrow.

As she descended from the bus, she felt a thrill run right through her. She walked over as usual to the shop to buy milk. It was a midwinter evening. The dense fog like Turin’s shroud covered most of the Daintree rainforest ahead. The fog hung from a panoramic ceilinged sky in opaque, droplets of whitewashed walls. When she entered the shop, she couldn’t find Tom. No matter, she opened the fridge to reach for the milk. Everything else appeared normal, except Tom’s peculiar absence. He was not there at the check-out counter. In fact, he was nowhere around to be seen. Laura Jane, was concerned, more so curious. She stood still with the milk bottle in her hand awhile, then she walked over to the till, where she usually found him. Her gaze shifted momentarily to something lying on the floor. It was an inert body, a corpse at worst. She looked carefully. Her eyes scanned the body, head to toe, up and down to take a closer look. Pupils darted frantically to make sure that there was no mistake. It looked like someone she knew only too well. It was but, no one else but Tom’s body. It was he, who lay here, hard as a fallen filbert; left to rot overnight; decaying spots of clots, like the yellowed sycamore. She was petrified. As was the body, cold as frozen fish. Someone had murdered Tom, and she was the first to find the body. The brittle bottle of milk fell from her clutches. It scattered all over the floor; many-sized glass fragments in milk, glimmering pebbles under a foamy sea-bed. The milk fused with Tom’s dead blood, a rivulet of honeyed, textured blend. She fainted.

Again, there was yet, another tomorrow. This tomorrow without a closure; away from all other tomorrows of her past years brought only lustreless sterility. For when she woke up in the hospital, her head hurt from the harshness. It destabilized her mental balance. She gathered her torn self from the shock. In the heart of it, she was still nervous sore from all she witnessed; this magic long gone. This too, too, terrifying episode transpired into an illness. With no known panacea, the chemical composition of her tetchy mind went awry. The euphoric sparks from her porous imagination occluded. — “The end of imagination,” her heart clamped up. It recoiled, and she actually suffered a blow of loneliness for the first time. She felt short-changed. Nostalgia gripped her from loss of a friend. Nothing brought back her solace; neither the dedication of her artwork, nor the keen cruises she braved on those curvy seas. She knew she was unattractive, but thought she had fragile youth of infrangible bones. Mistaken; now they caved in like potter’s clay, broken in the mould in novice hands. Her sketches rendered nothing, other than unscented wasteland of blighted stills. Her palpable sensuousness of sights and sounds, touches, tastes and smells in crisis. She viewed the same prosaic tomorrow, that every other artist also viewed. She ceased to be the exceptional purist.

  1. Wow. Beautiful use of metaphors. Thought-provoking. Keep writing.

  2. Beautifully written. Mehreen Ahmed has a distinct, unique, and compelling style. Her stories stay with you after you have read the last word.

  3. A terrific and profound story about art, life, the artist, and what it all distills down to. A beautiful piece of writing!

  4. Oh, such a touching tale of what inspires creativity and what takes it away. How it molds each of us.

  5. Almost poetic in its narration, Mehreen Ahmed holds the readers attention to creative detail in her story in a vise like grip, the opening lines on; and refuses to let go. A fine example of why, as readers we will never lose our desire to be lost in a wonderful story which stimulates our intellect.

  6. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it seems like a fever dream more than reality.

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