This is the story of two neighbours who don’t see eye to eye. The next door neighbour is an uncouth libertine and our protagonist has already had a nasty showdown with him. Post-it notes are exchanged as the only ‘civil’ form of conversation between them. Read the first and second parts of the story here and here for more.
Work was fun that day! The boss congratulated her on her arguments in a complicated corporate crimes matter. She received a call for an interview from a prestigious law-firm. Her colleagues and she went out for a lunch-date and just when things couldn’t get any better, she received a call from one of her favourite people in the world – her Godfather.
“Helloooooo Bashir Uncle…” she sang out over her phone.
“Hello, my girl! It’s nice to hear your happy voice at this hour of the day. I thought you would be dog-tired from a hectic day at work.”
“Oh no. Today was a good day. I’m happy!” She whirled around on the footpath and people stared at her like she had gone cuckoo.
“That’s fantastic. I wish you more of such days. Listen, your Aunty has been pestering me for sometime about asking you over. So, I made up an event just for you, and you have to attend it, do not say no”, he mock-ordered her. Uncle Bashir, always the charmer.
“If its just for me, why would I say no uncle?” she tittered, “I’d love to attend it and meet you and Aunty. Its been rather long since we met.”
“Yes, it has been…The event is an exhibition I’m holding for a young artist from Delhi. Your Aunty will be there too. So it will be a great time to catch up. I’ll email you the invitation. The Opening Night is this Saturday at 6. Make sure you come.”
“I will Uncle. I look forward to seeing you and Nina Aunty.”
“Alright then. Bye, bete.”
Yes, today was a fabulous day. She pumped a fist in the air, hailed a rickshaw and headed home, where the first thing she noticed was a new door on the neighbour’s side and a carpenter’s bill taped up to her door. She smirked and stashed the bill in her purse. Of course she would pay for it, but she would make him beg for it first. Payback is a bitch!
She made herself some soupy noodles and washed them down with wine she drank straight from the bottle, while watching Humsafar (fellow-traveler), another sappy drama. That night she slept like a baby.
The next two days went in utter peace. She had noticed the lock on the neighbour’s door. Thank god! Hope he’s gone for good. She cleaned up her place, bought the groceries, threw the rat out (she had finally remembered to buy that rat-trap) and she had unpacked the remainder of the cardboard boxes. On Friday evening she went out after work and indulged in a bit of shopping and hung out with some friends.
Then it was Saturday.
The exhibition was at Bashir Uncle’s own Art Gallery near South-Ex. Opening nights were always a posh affair and though she wasn’t one to be fussy over how she dressed, she didn’t want Bashir Uncle to think poorly of her. He was the only person close to family she was left with after her father died and her mother… Nevermind that. She pushed the thought away and resumed painting her nails.
At 5 she finally peered at the solitary mirror in the apartment and found she liked the way she looked. The white dress with gold detailing was a no-fuss sheath dress and her kitten heels were an equally no-fuss shade of nude. Her poker straight hair was left loose as usual because that’s how they had always been, except on court days. Her makeup and jewelry were minimalistic, like they always were.
At 7.30 she had made it to the gallery. She was glad she had missed the madness of the opening, the flurry of pictures, speeches and everyone attacking the free booze. She engaged in some small talk with Bashir Uncle and urged him to go on about his work. Opening nights were always busy. He immediately vanished into the sea of hobnobbing fellow artists, journalists, connoisseurs and the who’s who of the art world. She picked up a glass of champagne and started looking at the artists’s work. The man of the hour was someone named Kirat Randhawa. She had read about him in the invitation but there was no picture of him. She could see that he was exceptionally talented. He had mostly done abstract portraits in acrylic of beggars, street urchins, the elderly, and generally people who belonged to less fortunate backgrounds, but there was a theme to his paintings – beauty in squalor and decay. The colors were vivid and the brush strokes broad, rendering each face animation and vitality. A clever predominance of a group of colours ensured that each portrait evoked a certain emotion in the viewer – fiery reds for a street urchin, pallid grays for a sex worker, bright yellows for smiling ragpickers and cool azures for the old. She moved from painting to painting, halting at each for a polite amount of time, till she came face to face with her father’s eyes staring at her from a canvas across her, and then time stood still.
This portrait showed her father’s eyes and lips, and a hand clasping the chin delicately. The face itself was painted in several overlapping colours to evoke a multitude of emotions. The lips smiled, but a deft use of the palette knife gave a cracked appearance to them, giving them a very aged and unkempt feel, conveying the mortality of man. The face was smiling but the eyes were dull. The painting was labelled ‘Paul’, and she stood transfixed for an eon till the loud buzzing of someone’s phone brought her out from her reverie. She didn’t want to leave this frame. She wanted to look at it forever. So she carefully fished out her phone and started to take a picture of it when someone whispered quite close to her ear, “You’re a naughty one.”
She gasped and dropped her phone. It clanked loudly on the marbled floor. The speaker bent down to pick up her phone while she furtively looked around to see if her Uncle had noticed. Mercifully, he wasn’t anywhere near the scene.
The speaker straightened and handed her the phone, and she found herself staring at the most arrestingly haughty face that wore a mischievous glint in the eyes.
“I hope that photograph was meant for personal use” he said, smiling knowingly.
“I…” I’m such an ass! She mentally screamed at herself.
He kept staring when she didn’t say anything. How was she supposed to explain why she was taking a picture? But she tried for an apology anyway, “I’m so sorry. I just liked this one a lot and erm… it…it was a really stupid thing to do. I’m so sorry…”
He didn’t say anything. Just smiled and stared at her searchingly.
“You’re not going to report me, are you? I didn’t mean to sell it or something.” she panicked.
He broke into a sparkling smile. Somehow she felt he was amusing himself at her expense.
“Aah! I see you two have already met.” her Uncle saved the day.
“Not really. We haven’t been introduced yet.” The man looked from Uncle Bashir to her suggestively. Her Uncle obliged, “Oh good. I love to introduce people. Trishna, this is the man of the night, the Kirat Randhawa, and Kirat, this is my God-daughter, Trishna Paul.”
Kirat gave a quizzical look, “Paul? As in Jaideep Paul’s daughter?” He pointed at the painting.
“Yes, the very same.” Uncle Bashir nodded his head vigorously.
Kirat had an Ah-ha moment, “No wonder she looked familiar.” He resumed staring at her. “You have the same eyes…” he looked from the portrait to her eyes and then his gaze dropped down to her lips “…and mouth.”
Uncle Bashir knew when to leave two people alone. “Well, I see someone waving at me. Carry on you two.” He beamed at them knowingly and rushed off.
There was a moment of awkward silence between them before Kirat finally spoke up “So… that’s why you were taking a picture.”
She only nodded sheepishly in response.
“If you’d only told me I would have given you a reproduction of it.”
“Oh no. It was a stupid thing to do, to begin with.”
“No, no. Your father was a great influence in my life. I would do anything if he asked me to, but he’s not there anymore” he looked sadly at the portrait, then back at her “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. But it was years ago. It gets easier with time.” She could only smile politely about it now.
“He was a faculty member at J.J. I learnt a lot from him, and not just about art. I adored him and his work. I don’t know why he stopped.” He looked searchingly at her but she remained close-lipped.
Another awkward silence.
Someone called out to him and he waved in reply. “I’ll have to leave now but I’d love to stay in touch with you and talk about him, if that’s okay with you.” She shrugged but nodded her head at the same time.
“How about dinner on Monday?”
She really didn’t want to hang out and talk about her father’s death of all things but he looked at her so earnestly. She caved, “Sure. I have work till 6.”
“Great, I’m engaged at the Gallery till 6 too. Where do you work?”
“Then can we meet near C.P., say at 7?”
“Okay” she smiled politely.
“I’ll take your number from Bashir and get in touch with you.” He started walking away and flashed her another sparkling smile.
She flashed him a plasticky one in return.
He disappeared into a group of foxy socialites. She disappeared into her thoughts and even though Nina Aunty tried to drag her away to her place later, she politely declined, returned home and sulked the remainder of her weekend away.
To be continued…
©Pradita Kapahi, 2016.