Conversations – Strangers in the cafe

(Written as a part of writing exercise)
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Two strangers – HER and HIM. Walk into a busy cafe. They end up sharing the same table , because the rest are occupied.

She is working on her laptop, while on a call. He is listening to something on his phone.

After a while..
She shuts down her laptop and then sips the coffee. He is busy on his phone.

She looks at him and he looks at her, they exchange courteous smiles. And just when he is about to return to his phone-

HER – Was I too loud?

He throws a questioning look at her, removes the air pod from his left ear, leans a bit forward, towards her and-

HIM – I am sorry?
HER – (a little loud) No… I was reading aloud while working on the presentation. Was I a bit too loud?

HIM – Ah.! I don’t know about that. (smiles) But.. now.. you are being .. hmm.. quite loud.!

She turns self-conscious and returns to her coffee. He returns to his phone.
A brief moment of silence and –

HIM – Mind if I ask what was the presentation all about? The one that you were working on!
HER – Ah.. hmm…

HIM – Ah. Don’t worry. I can understand if it’s way too confidential. But if you cook up a story saying that, tomorrow you are meeting the CEO of HANSEL PRIME and the presentation was for that, I would reply with ‘oh. that’s nice’.
HER – (confused) but I don’t know any company by name ‘HANSEL PRIME’!

HIM – (smiles) Well. That’s how you cook up a story Ma’am. You start with cooking up a fancy name.

Laughs exchanged.

HER – Actually… It’s just a sales pitch.
HIM – Sales pitch of what?
HER – So we have this new product for restaurants. Nothing fancy. Just a vending machine to dispense starters.

HIM – Oh wow! I own a restaurant. I could use that.
HER – Oh wow!! Seriously??
HIM – (laughs) No. I just cooked that up!

She throws a complaining look, followed by a laugh.

HIM – So.. on the scale of 1-10 how good are you at selling stuff?
HER – Well! I don’t ‘sell-sell’ stuff. I only prepare the presentations and pass them on to the sales team.
HIM – Ah! You should have just stuck to my HANSEL PRIME story. That was far more interesting! At least you were meeting the CEO in there!

He laughs.

HER – (complains) That was rude!
HIM – Ah was it? (thinks for a while) Or maybe it was! (smile) So.. tell me. How can I make it up to you?

HER – I don’t know. You tell me!
HIM – How about you pay for my coffee?
HER – Why should I pay for your coffee!
HIM – Well.. you don’t have to ‘pay-pay’! I will pass on an orange-colored currency to you and you can pass it on to the waiter!

HER – (laughs) You are continuing to be mean!
HIM – Well. At least I am making you laugh! Unlike your presentation that made you look grumpy!
HER – I am not grumpy!
HIM – Good! Then try not to look grumpy!

Silence.

HER – Actually yes.! I am a little grumpy! But that’s only because there’s so much chaos around. At the office, at work.. (looks around) in the coffee shop here! I just want to… I don’t know… slip into something silent and enjoy the silence. Maybe then I would look a lot less grumpy!

They sip coffee in silence, drowned in the chaos of the cafe.

HER – So.. What do you do?
HIM – Well. Had we met a week ago, I would have said – ‘It’s been a week since I started working on my maiden movie as a music director’.

She grows a little concerned.

HER – Oh! What happened now? Did it get shelved?

HIM – Ah no! Now I would say – ‘It’s been two weeks since I started working on my maiden movie as a music director!’

He smiles. She displays sweet anger.

HER – Is this how you usually talk?
HIM – Ah no! It’s just today! Next week, Tuesday 6:30 PM, when we meet at Roulette Park for beer, I will be far more polite and sweet!

She looks taken aback.

HER – (perplexed) What!! Why would I meet you again? That too for a beer? And that too on a working day?

HIM – Well! Because I will be far more polite and sweet! That’s why!

HER – Well… I am not buying that!
HIM – Well, You are the one who is good at helping in selling stuff! Help me in selling you my invite!

He smiles.

HER – Hmm… You can start with… working on your sense of humor!
HIM – Why? Am I not funny enough?

She puts up a feeble smile.

HER – You are! And that’s the problem.
HIM – So you don’t like to laugh?
HER – Well… I don’t like that fact that in the past three weeks, you are the only person who has managed to make me laugh!

Now he turns self-conscious. He picks up his coffee mug and sips the coffee – rather uncomfortably.

HIM – Ok… You wanna talk about something else?
HER – Something else? Like.. what?
HIM – I don’t know. Anything! Ennio Morricone, World politics, Arctic ice sheets, sea seals, or the fact that my coffee got over a while ago. Yet I am pretending to be drinking it and that’s only because you have made me self aware.

She laughs. He smiles -rather sheepishly.

HER – So.. you tell me, now how can I make it up to you?
HIM – I don’t know. Hmm… Oh hey… Why don’t you listen to this song that I have composed for the movie!
HER – And what if I don’t like it!
HIM – You could just lie that ‘you loved it’! And I will buy that.

She laughs -mildly, and then pulls out her headphones. He connects it to his phone and then presses on the ‘play’ button.

Forty seconds later…
She frowns in confusion.

HER – There’s nothing in here. It’s just silence.
HIM – Something you were looking for.. since long! And you look a lot less grumpy now.

She looks at him for a while, closes her eyes and presses on the play button.After a couple of seconds, she begins to smile.
We begin to pull away -slowly. The chaos of the cafe dies down -slowly.

-CHAN

The first conversation between a ME and a SHE

ME – That’s a nice book.?

SHE had buried her face in a fat novel. We were in a flight, SHE was my co-passenger and that was how I chose to kindle our first ever conversation.

SHE – (smiles) I Know.


She adjusted her large round glasses before returning to her novel. She hadn’t answered my question and I had to bother her again.

ME – Oh no.. That was a question..!
SHE – (acting surprised) Ah.. Was it?
ME – Yeah. See. that’s the thing..
SHE – (confused smile) That’s the thing about what?

ME – About spoken English..! It’s different from novel reading. You need to master the art of picking question marks and punctuations..! I asked ” That’s a nice book?” and you thought it was a compliment.

SHE – Ah.. ! All this while I thought mastering the art of basic grammar helps. For instance, had you asked ‘ Is that a nice book?’, it would’ve made both our lives a lot easier.

Was she being sarcastic? I grew confused and forced a smile. I returned to my silence and she returned to her book. After a while..

ME – Is that why you read novels, to learn the grammar?

SHE looked at me and this time the smile had grown fainter.

SHE – Na.. I read novels to kill time. But right now, I don’t think there’s any such need. Because you are anyway killing my time and mood..

Awkward silence. She was about to resume reading.

ME – (confused) Did you mean it in a good way or bad?
SHE – (sarcastic smile) Ah.. I am sorry. That was me offering compliments.

Silence…

ME – See that’s the problem with mastering the art of grammar. People with poor grammar, the ones like me, can’t sense the mood and understand the meaning..
SHE – Ah..! Perhaps paying attention to the tone and expression of the person would help.

My smile dropped, mind grew numb and repartee went dry. She turned the other way and to the next page of the fat fiction. Or maybe it was a non-fiction.

ME – You are irritated..
SHE – (irked) I am sorry.. Was that a question?
ME – Ah.! No.. Your crash course on grammar has helped. I said ‘You are irritated’ and that was a statement.
SHE – Good.!
ME – What’s good? Me learning the grammar real quick or you looking irritated?
SHE – The fact that you could finally sense that I am getting irritated, is good.

Both of us looked at each other for a while. Odd silence.
The airhostess arrived at our seats with the drinks cart. I grabbed a beer and she an orange juice.

ME – cheers

SHE took a real deep breath and put up a straight face.

SHE – You do know that you have been irritating me, right?
ME – ( stutters) Yeah I guess.!
SHE – And you still continuing to do it, you know what is it called?

I began to think for a while and when nothing crossed my mind…

ME – I don’t know.!
SHE – This is stupid.!!

I returned to silence for a moment and then..

ME – (sighs) Man.! Thank god.! I thought you would mistake it for indecency. You know what, you are not only good at grammar but also good at reading faces.!
SHE – So does that mean you are stupid?
ME – Stupidity is a very subjective thing.
SHE – (irked) Care explaining how?

ME – Do you know that light shifts its path when it travels from one medium to another?
SHE – Yeah I had chapters on ‘refraction of light’ during my primary schooling..
ME – Yeah.. and you do know that light travels at 3Lakh km/sec
SHE – In Vacuum yes. but in air it’s a little less..
ME – Good.! Now see, the person behind us who is overhearing our conversation would think that you are a science genius..

SHE quickly turned back and the passenger behind us panicked. He smiled uncomfortably and rushed to the lavatory. She looked at me and laughed Mildly. I shrugged my shoulders and continued.

ME – But you thinking that I am stupid and yet discussing the high school physics with me. Now I would see that as stupidity.!

Her smile disappeared, but then it returned, rather quick and with far greater intensity. She burst into laughter.

SHE – That was offensive, you should know that.!
ME – Well, I do. But the fact that you are laughing, your right shoulder favouring me now and you no longer crossing your legs, tells me that you are interested in furthering this conversation.

She grew conscious, shrunk her smile and crossed her legs again.

SHE – So you think your poor sense of humor piqued my interest?
ME – (winks) Na.! I think it was the high school physics!
SHE – (smiles) And what else could you decipher about me?

ME – The one common between you and your book.
SHE – (confused)That both of us are fat?

I thought for a while.

ME – Okay. Now I know two common things about you both. One, that you are fat. Tell me the other.
SHE – (laughs) That was offensive again. But anyway.. I’ve no clue.. You tell me.
ME – The names.. I don’t know both your names..!

She laughed like she hadn’t in years and then held the book towards me. The title read ‘Chicko – The street boy’.

ME – That’s a nice name. And what’s the name of the book?

She laughed again, but I chose not to. That was the thumb rule – Don’t laugh at our own jokes.

ME – Ah.! That’s the name of the book.! So what is yours? Would I find it on the first page of the book?
SHE – Why would my name be on the first page of the book?
ME – (curious) So is it there in the last one?
SHE – (laughs) Nooo..! Why would it be there?
ME – I don’t know.! People with large round glasses have this habit of writing ‘THIS BOOK BELONGS TO’ and their name, with a dirty looking signature.
SHE – (laughs) Sorry to disappoint you. But I haven’t picked the bad habit.

ME – (winks) Ah.! I can help you pick habits.!
SHE – That was kind.! But no thanks.!

ME – Lady.! What should I do to know your name?
SHE – May be wait.!
ME – And for how long?
SHE – May be until we cross paths again.
ME – That we would.!
SHE – Was that a prophecy.?
ME – Na. That was me praying! ( laughs mildly) And your grammar wouldn’t help you understand that.!

We smiled and took a sip from our respective drinks can.

ME – So if I decide to write about you, what should I be calling you in the story?
SHE – You could call me ‘SHE’
ME – SHE is beautiful.!

We both smiled.

SHE – And what should I be calling you?
ME – The first adjective that came to your mind, when I first spoke to you.!

Silence…. and then she smiled.

SHE – That was Stupid..!

-Chan

Withdrawal Syndrome – A conversation

Author’s Note: ‘Conversations’ is a series of fictional short stories comprising of conversations between the fictional ‘ME’ and a fictional ‘SHE’

SHE – Who drinks coffee at 1 in the afternoon?
ME – (grins) Well, if you walk into that coffee shop with me, you would know.!
SHE – Wow.! Instead, why don’t we walk into that FINE-DINE across the road and find out who on the freaking earth would have lunch at 1 in the afternoon..!

Was she irritated? I grew confused and kept quiet for a moment.

ME – Okay.! Tell me one thing. On a scale of 1-10, how hungry are you?
SHE – Well, I don’t know about hungry.! (pause) But if you ask me how angry I am on the scale of 1-10, I would say that the scale is about to snap now.

She was certainly irritated.

ME – Did you have coffee in the morning?
SHE – No.. I didn’t..
ME – See.. there you go..!
SHE – What?
ME – The withdrawal syndrome!
SHE – (confused) Eh?
ME – You consumed zero caffeine today.! And you have already begun to show the withdrawal syndrome..!
SHE – Look! I don’t even know if that was an attempt at humor. But I am real hungry now..!
ME – There you go.! Symptom number one – Increased Hunger
SHE – (restraining anger) Do you even realize that you are seconds away from getting yelled at?
ME – And that would be the second symptom. Irritability coupled with anger.!

I grinned, but she didn’t. My laugh died a silent death.
She stared at me for a while and began to walk away. She entered the restaurant and I followed her into it. She sat down and I picked up the menu.

ME – (surfing through the menu) Okay listen.! You want to start with some soup?
SHE – Yes..! Let us..!
ME – (confused) But they don’t have soup in here.!
SHE – (shouts) Then for god’s sake, order something that they have in here..!

The entire restaurant fell silent for a moment. I fought awkward glances from everyone in there.

ME – This has gone out of my hands.!
SHE – What?
ME – First it was caffeine withdrawal syndrome. And now you are showing ‘Soup withdrawal syndrome’.!

She didn’t respond, not with words. She grabbed the menu card from my hands and quickly glanced through the items.
Waiter arrived at our table.

SHE – Give me number 4 in the starter and number 7 in the main course. And make it spicy.!

She passed on the menu to me. I snubbed the menu card and placed my order.

ME – (to the waiter) Listen. Give me number ten in the starter and number nine in the main course.!
WAITER – (confused) But there’s no ten in the starter.!
ME – What? No ten? You got a nine in there?
WAITER – We got only eight items in the starters sir..!
ME – What’s the eighth?
WAITER – Lava chicken sir..

I think for a while.

ME – Why don’t you do one thing. Prepare Lava chicken and make it extra spicy. Make it your tenth item in the menu, name it ‘volcanic chicken’ and bring it to my table.

I grinned at the waiter and he threw an unhappy smile at me, before exiting into the kitchen. And we dived deep into 2 minutes of silence.

SHE – Okay listen.! I am sorry.! The hunger got on my nerves.! And the mood swings thanks to the cycle of my month..
ME – That’s okay.! (smiles) Thank god I stayed calm..!
SHE – (smiles) Else?
ME – Else, I would have missed an opportunity of having starter number ten, main course number nine with the lady number one.

She smiled, gently. And then, Silence…

ME – And wow.! Look at us.! I was a lunch boy and you were a coffee girl.! But today we have opposite cravings..!
SHE – (smiles) Well.. Things gotta change right?
ME – Yes..! Like the coffee that they served in your favorite coffee place.
SHE – What about it?
ME – Earlier it was a bad coffee place..
SHE – (laughs gently) And you like it now..?
ME – Na.! Now they have gone worse.! But things not good for you, that’s what we get addicted to..!

Gentle laughs exchanged. Soft Jazz in the restaurant, continues to play. Soft Jazz in the restaurant, continues to play.

SHE – (smiles) You have changed.! A lot.!
ME – How about my sense of humor? Still intact..?
SHE – It”s like my favorite coffee place. It has gone from bad to worse (laughs)
ME – Ah.! Beware.! You might pick addiction.!

We both laugh gently, yet again. Followed by, awkward silence..

ME – Anyway.. As you said, things gotta change and so should people. We are meeting after a year and I sincerely hope that I am coming across as a better person and not a different one

She didn’t speak. Me neither. Waiter arrived at our table with the orders. We slowly began to munch the starters.

SHE – What was running in your mind, when you asked us stay away from each from each other other for a year??
ME – You know I am weird, don’t you?

SHE smiled softly.

ME – Hmm… you know when you start watching movies, reading stories, you sort of begin to imagine the ‘would be happy moments’ – Scripted beautifully, executed to perfection.

I grabbed a tissue, wiped my mouth and continued.

ME – I thought an year of staying away, would induce longings and when we finally meet, it would be one of the happiest moments in our lives
SHE – (poignant smile) Did that work?
ME – You tell me..!
SHE – Well… I don’t know.! This is strange. It’s completely awkward (pause) It’s like I know you, but I don’t. And it’s this strange confusion.! If all the memories that we had together, was it real or was it figment of imagination? or a beautiful dream that I had as a kid that’s appearing blurred now?

Poignant silence…

ME – Tell me one thing?
SHE – What?
ME – Am I coming across as a stranger?

silence..

SHE – May be… yes.. (pause) I mean, I can still see the weird you.! But I think it’s me.! I think I’ve changed as a person
ME – So you no longer interested in trivial talks? weird conversations and poor humor?
SHE – I don’t know..
ME – Well.. I know..
SHE – What?
ME – It’s the withdrawal syndrome..
SHE – From coffee?
ME – From ME..

Silence..

ME – Well… I guess, you are right.! We are strangers….

I get up and made an exit from the restaurant, leaving her in pensive silence.
*****************************************************************************
After ten minutes….

ME – Are you expecting someone?

I walked into the restaurant and pointed at the chair across her table. SHE frowned in confusion, and then smiled gently.

ME – Ah. I am here in the town after an year. The town has changed, a lot. Afraid that I would be lost, I was looking for a person to have a lunch conversation with. Would you mind?

She smiled gently.

ME – I shall take that as a yes…

The waiter arrived with the bill.

ME – So lady, what will you have?
SHE – I had my lunch. I could stay until you finish yours..
ME – Oh.. Then how about some bad coffee?

Without waiting for her response, I turned to the waiter.

ME – Get us two cups of bad coffee
WAITER – Sir.. but we have only latte, espresso, cappuccino, Macchiato..
ME – Well.. Any of these would anyway make a great bad coffee.. Get us two cups..
WAITER leaves in confusion.

ME – (smiles) So..Let me start with the formal question. What do you do for living?

She held her silence, before she spoke.

SHE – Listen… I know you are trying hard. I want to smile, I want to talk to you. And as much I think about it, its making me increasingly uncomfortable and filling me with awkward feelings.. And I am certain that we can never get to being the old us..!

There was a strange sense of pain. I looked at her for a while and smiled. The jazz playlist continued to play.

ME – May be you are right.. We can never get to being the old ‘us’.. That might spoil all our beautiful memories, the happy pictures that we have in our mind (Pause) But we could try being the new ‘us’…


SHE – And what is the new ‘us’..?


ME – Two strangers.. who’ve met for the first time.. Have a long memorable weird, funny conversation. And while they converse, they also know that this would be their last ever meeting..

I smiled. There was a long silence, before the waiter arrived at our table with the orders. We picked the coffee cups and took our first sips.

SHE – So..Let me start with the formal question. What do you do for living?


                                                                                                                                                       -Chan

Leave Me Alone – A conversation

ME – So tell me exactly.. What happened?
SHE – It fell into the pool from the first floor .
ME – I thought cats knew how to swim..
SHE – The pool was dry.. it hit the floor..
ME – (laughs) that’s a funny way to die..

SHE glared at me, through her sadness. I stopped laughing and blurted out.

ME – I mean..I am sorry for its death. I do…
SHE – That’s okay..!
ME – So are you okay now?

SHE continued to look sad.

ME – What does the silence mean? That you are not okay?
SHE – The silence means that I want to spend sometime in silence..
ME – (confused) Oh..! Does silence help?
SHE – I don’t know. I will only know if you stop asking me questions and let me be by myself. So, please .. could I get a moment alone?
ME – Yeah. You could. But when do u want it?
SHE – (irked) Now..!

Awkward silence.

ME – I mean.. I am confused now.. Does it mean that I should leave or would you be leaving?

She looked at me for a while, got up and began to walk away. I quickly ran behind her.

ME – Listen..
SHE – (turns around) What?
ME – Why would the cat jump into a water less pool?

SHE was visibly annoyed.

ME – See.. I was trying to understand.. Did it really think that there was water in the pool or did it accidentally slip and fall?
SHE – Na.. It had a rivalry with the cat next door. So that cat plotted a murder, pushed mine from the first floor and made it appear like a suicide.!

Awkward silence and then I break into loud laugh.

ME – You are joking right?
SHE – (restraining) What do you want?

My laugh died…

ME – I want you to smile..
SHE – I shall… I need sometime..

She began to walk away. I began to follow her. She stops, turns around.

SHE – I asked you not to follow me..
ME – (confused).. No you didn’t say that.. You just told me that you want to spend sometime in silence.. So I was following you silently..

She glared at me for a while..

SHE – Okay.. Stop following me, stop talking to me and Leave me alone..
ME – Come on.. You can’t keep adding rules..
SHE – See.. I understand that you want to see me smile.. I shall, eventually. But for now, it’s important for me to be sad for something dear that I have lost..
ME – Why is it so important? I didn’t cry for my dog when it died..
SHE – I never knew that you had a dog..
ME – Apparently we had one, when I was a kid, 4 year old. Car ran over it. But more importantly I didn’t cry..
SHE – You were a kid! Why would you cry?
ME – Well.. I had cried when I had lost my mickey mouse eraser

She looked at me for a while.

SHE – You cried over a lost eraser but not over a dead dog. Wow..! What does that tell about you?

I think for a while..

ME – I don’t know. That’s a difficult question. Don’t confuse me now. You just tell me what should I do to make you smile?
SHE – Leave me alone..
ME – I don’t think that would make you smile..

She began to walk away.

ME – Hey.. I figured out the answer..!
SHE – For what?
ME – I cried over a lot eraser but not over a dead dog. I know what it tells about me…
SHE – What?

ME – That I was a Stupid kid… and that..hmm… being stupid helps.. See I know that your cat had..
SHE – Stop calling it a cat.! It had a name..
ME – And what was it? Cat Winslet?
SHE – No. it was a male. Winnie..
ME – Winnie is a nice name. But anyway.. See.. when Winnie was alive, it made you smile right.? Now that it’s gone, you think that being sad is a way to pay respects. But I feel that Winslet..
SHE – Winnie..

ME – Yeah sorry.. I feel that Winnie would be so offended to see you forcing yourself to be sad. Winnie would be like – “come on girl. I died, you cried and I smiled. But now don’t stretch it too far. Get over it. Stop overacting”

Silence..

SHE – Was that a joke?
ME – No.. It was a beautiful philosophy. But I can come up with a joke – What would you call a cat which serves ice cream?
SHE – Sorry.. I am in no mood to listen to jokes…
ME – It’s a puzzle for god’s sake.. I will leave you alone if you answer it..

She continues to walk, briskly towards her car.

ME – Moreover the puzzle has a cat in it.. Please.. You got to respect cats.

SHE stops, looks at me.

SHE – All rite.. You are going to leave me alone if I get the answer right.

I nod and she begins to think…

SHE – cat-all-ice-is? as in catalysis..

ME – Well.. This sounds like a better answer than the one that I had in mind..
SHE – And what did you have in mind?

I smiled at her and walked towards her car. She followed me.

ME – Well.. A cat which serves ice cream is called… ( I opened the car door)…A gift that would make you smile..

I kept looking at her, with a hope that my SURPRISE GIFT would make her smile.
Her expression changed for sure. But wait.! She isn’t smiling. What’s wrong..!

I looked inside the car – The ice cream splattered all over the seat and her beautiful cushioned seat torn apart. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.
The only thing that was intact was the bow on the kitten’s head with a tiny label which read- “CAT WINSLET”.

ME – (nervous smile) I think you are right. I should leave you alone… That always helps.

And I sped away….!

 

The portrait of Queen Ina! – A short story

“How much did you say?” he asked.

When Zylos heard the whopping amount that he will be paid for his work, it was difficult for him to believe that he had heard it right.

“A hundred thousand Stellars”, came the reply.

Zylos was the most renowned painter in town – earning his living by drawing portraits for elites. It was the country of Origiana in its late 1500s, ruled by Queen Ina.

There were various tales that spoke of Queen Ina’s rise from a being a singer in the court to becoming the queen. She was married to prince Tyzar who went on to become the king. Upon his untimely demise, the baton was passed onto her – She became the ruler.

The minister of the state was at the door of Zylos with an offer. A portrait of Queen Ina had to be painted and he would be paid a huge amount in return.

“Zylos! Would you agree to paint the picture of her highness, Queen Ina?” the minister asked.

The assignment was not something that would demand much of his effort. The money that he would be getting in return would would help him lead a life- lead by the rich.

He accepted it.

“But there’s a condition”, said the minister.

Zylos threw a questioning look at him.

“You can’t paint the picture in her presence”, he said.

“Then?” asked Zylos.

“You cannot expect her to warm her seat and pose, while you paint her. We would allow you to attend the court proceedings and you could stay there for half an hour. We would allow your visit every day until you are done”.

“So you want me to memorize her face and continue the drawing once I am back home?” asked Zylos. Artistic genius that he was, drawing from memory wasn’t something that bothered him.

‘It might take some time, but not forever’, he thought.

“That shouldn’t be difficult. Could be a matter of weeks”, he gave his nod.

The minister smiled at him- “The queen will have a look at the painting. She would expect the portrait to match her beauty – every contours on face intact. Any flaw that she finds in it and you will not be paid for your work”.

“So the money…” Zylos paused.

“You will be paid after your work!” the minister smiled.

***********************************************************************

Queen Ina was perhaps the most beautiful woman on the earth – at least amongst those women whom Zylos had seen.

Every day he spent twenty minutes in the court looking at her – paying attention to every minute detail on her face. He was not allowed to carry any drawing material to the court, hence all his observations had to stay in his mind until he returned home.

Once home, he would quickly try to put those details on canvas. He would spend hours on every line that he drew and every stroke that he made.

Every day he would wake up early in the morning and stare at the canvas until it would be time to rush to court. In the court he would then spend time in identifying those details on her face that deviated from his painting.

Weeks rolled and then months, but the painting wasn’t complete. Ones which were complete didn’t appear perfect to him and he had them thrown away only to start with a new canvas.

He tried to distance himself from others. He stopped talking to those around. He kept thinking about Queen Ina’s face all the while.

One day it occurred to Zylos – ‘My wife is also beautiful. She might be someone who is serving as my distraction. While I draw Queen Ina, it must be my wife’s face that is invading my memory every now and then’.

The moment that thought crossed his mind, he started avoiding his wife. He stopped looking at her, with a fear that it would influence his painting. He burnt all his wife’s portraits.

A year passed by!

Her husband’s behavior started bothering her. She turned ill and one day she passed away. However, her desertion had little impact on Zylos. He continued painting the portrait – all day and all night.

Few more years passed by and Zylos was yet to paint a portrait that satisfied him. He kept visiting the court and the minister kept enquiring about the progress. The desire to paint a perfect portrait had turned into an obsession!

***********************************************************************

The neighboring kingdom Vyzan had declared a war on Origiana. The battle was fought. After four weeks of war Origiana lost.

Brave lady that she was, Queen Ina was one amongst those countless warriors who had lost their lives in the war. Every royal belongings including the palace was destroyed.

The king of Vyzan took over Origiana.

***********************************************************************

Few more years passed by.

Now Zylos had turned old and was in his fifties – leading a lonely life.

One day a carriage stopped by his hut. A bald man of almost his age stepped out of the carriage. His attire and the badge that he wore, suggested that he was a senior official in the court of Vyzan.

“Is this the place where Zylos, the painter lives?” the bald man asked.

Zylos took a moment and nodded.

“Are you the one who was working on the portrait of Queen Ina?” he asked.

“Yes”, said Zylos in a shaky voice.

There was a sharp change in the bald man’s expression. He was visibly excited. “Well. Do you still have any of her paintings”, the official asked, with a hint of anxiety in his voice.

Zylos didn’t reply. Instead, he took him inside and pointed at a huge pile of paintings – covered in dust.

He picked up a cloth and slowly started dusting them before arranging them on the floor one by one. Every picture in the pile was the portrait of Queen Ina! Painted with perfection!.

When the last piece was dusted and laid on the floor, the bald man stopped counting. There were around a thousand of them!

“Beautiful!” he exclaimed in a voice that choked.

Zylos responded with a forced smile on his tired face.

“Why have you painted so many of them, a thousand ?”, the bald man asked.

“I don’t know”, Zylos replied softly.

“I am buying them, all of them”, said the bald men- gently.

Zylos was taken aback by surprise.

“One million Stellars”, he said and held out a large leather pouch towards Zylos.

The artist was at loss of words. All his old memories rushed in. Tears rolled down his cheeks. With a shaky hand he touched the pouch and with the other he wiped his tears.

The bald man signaled his men and they started moving those paintings to his carriage.

When he was about to leave, Zylos asked the question that had made nest in him all this while.

“Why pay so much for her painting?” he asked.

The bald man stopped and turned around. He came closer to him and started speaking.

“I was born here and was in this town until I left this country at the age of seventeen. Until then I used to look at her daily, listen to her sing by the river bank, dreaming of my future with her and thinking of ways to talk to her and confess my love.

I left this country in a hope of making it rich and returning one day, being someone who could ask her hand in marriage at ease.

But I am returning now, after a gap of thirty years. So much has transpired in these thirty years- struggle, war, longings and at last a comfortable life.

My love towards her stayed persistent, but I couldn’t recollect her face anymore. I forgot how she used to look.

All these years I yearned to see her face and when I am here, she isn’t. She is not alive”, he stopped as his voice choked.

Pointing at the leather pouch in Zylos’ hand, he continued “This money is the least that I could pay you. The joy of seeing her face again and bringing alive her face that had faded away from my memory, is of worth beyond any measure”.

He silently thanked him and proceeded towards his carriage. When He was about to step into the vehicle, something struck him and he turned around.

“You live alone here. Aren’t you married?” he asked.

“My wife, she died years ago”, said Zylos.

“I am sorry”, the bald man apologized. “But you are an artist. You could draw her portrait and keep her alive”, he smiled.

Zylos didn’t respond and waited for him to leave.

Once his carriage left, he walked into his hut.He mounted a fresh canvas on the wooden easel and took out his brush.

He tried to recollect his wife’s face again- like he did every single day!

And as always, all that he could remember was – Queen Ina’s face!

-CHAN

(A writer hates it when he has to explain his story. Let’s see if you have understood the story right 🙂

If you don’t want me to spill it for you, stop reading this any further. Go back and give the story, a second read.

If you want me to explain it to you, then just think- why did he paint over a thousand portraits of the queen? Was he drawing them intentionally?  And wasn’t he throwing away every picture that failed to satisfy him.

Did he continue to paint the Queen in spite of her death? 

What were those last two lines in the story trying to convey?

If you still haven’t understood it right, try reading the story once again.

All that I was trying to tell is that there is a possibility that he had stopping painting the queen a long back. He must have been trying to paint his wife, because he had begun to miss her.

Sadly, he had forgotten his wife’s face. And whenever he tried to remember her face and paint her, all that came into his mind was the face of Queen Ina.

That’s how, a thousand pictures! At the end of the story, it was not Queen Ina’s face that fetched him the money. It was his honest attempt at painting his own wife’s picture.

I wanted to put across this point very subtly in the story and not describe it in detail.)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Thank you for reading this.

If you have liked this story, please share it with your friends. That would help me reach maximum readers, which I cannot otherwise. 🙂

I would also love to hear your feedback. You could provide yours by commenting here or by dropping an email to passionophoria@gmail.com.

In your free time, do visit the blog and read my other stories.

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Painted face.! – A short story

“Have never met a female clown before”, he said and put aside the newspaper.

The break-up of ‘Beatles’ music band had occupied the headlines of the newspaper.

She was a clown at a reputed circus company and he was into the business of paper mills. They were at a coffee shop.

“No one likes to go out with a girl who works as a clown. You are an exception”, she smiled.
“I see that you have got a dimple”, he pointed out.

She – “When you are a clown it doesn’t matter. The smile painted on your face gets the better of it”.

He – “So you don’t like being a clown?”.

“What do you think?”, she asked.

She was the only daughter of a reputed publisher in the town. Needless to say that she was rich.

“Hmm.. that mine was a wrong question”, he replied.

Their families had thought of their marriage alliance and she wanted to meet the groom in person, before giving her nod.

“Tell me something interesting about your job. How do you feel when your act doesn’t draw any response from your audience?”, he asked while keeping a curious face.
“That’s the thing about painted face”, she paused.

She took out a paper napkin and started scribbling something on it.

“If you see audience laughing their heart out you feel like peeling off the mask and revealing yourself. For, you want the person who is doing the act to get the accolades and not the ‘clown’. Because, no one’s going to remember the person who did the act. For them they are all the same”, she smiled.

“A clown”, she added and held out the picture of the female clown that she had just drawn.

“And what about the times when your humor doesn’t work?”, he said while taking the paper napkin from her hand.

She took a sip of the coffee.
“You feel good that the audience haven’t seen your face. For the audience, it’s the clown who has failed at the act and not the person behind it”, she laughed.

“That’s a nice picture. I shall keep it with me”, he said and buried the napkin in his coat pocket.

“That’s not the only thing about the painted face”, she continued from where she had stopped.  “It helps me hide my anger when our boss yells at me. It helps me bury my boredom when I am in the middle of a boring talk”, she said.

“Are you hinting at our ongoing conversation?”, he asked.

“No”, she laughed. “I was just trying to endorse it – the painted face. How i wish everyone had the luxury of wearing painted faces even outside the act”.

He stayed silent.

“Like the other clown”, she exclaimed in excitement.
Excitement in her tone drew his attention and he grew wary.

“Like whom?”, he asked.

“There’s the other clown who works at our company. He is yet to perform on stage. He never removes his make up. Not even when the act is over”, her excitement was persistent.
“That’s interesting”, he responded.

“No. That’s not the only interesting part. Everyday before the show he comes up to me and hands out a rose to me, a red one”, she paused.

He dropped a sugar cube in his cup and started stirring it.

“And he has never spoken to me once. All that he does is giving me a rose and bringing his hand close to his chest”. He could notice her eyes gleaming while narrating the account.

“Probably he likes you”, he said.

She could sense an element of discomfort in his voice.

“Ah. Probably.! But he has never really confessed and it would be wrong on my part to draw any inference without really understanding his intentions”.

Both stayed quiet for a moment and silently took a sip of their coffees.

“So what do you do every time he hands out a rose to you?”, he asked.

“I just stay quiet and put up a confused smile”, she laughed.

“He must be looking terribly disappointed every time you do that”, he raised his concern.
“I don’t know”, she paused, looked at him and smiled.
“That’s the thing about the painted face”, she paused again. “It lets him bury his emotions under the makeup. And all that I see is his painted smile”.

“Oh.!”, he smiled – for the first time in the entire conversation.

She caught the dimple on his right cheek.
“I see that you have got a dimple”, she pointed out.

He stayed quiet for a moment and smiled broader.

“When you are a clown it doesn’t matter”, he kept his coffee cup on the table.
“The smile painted on your face gets the better of it”, he added.

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——————————— THE END ———————————-

CHAN

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Thank you for reading this.

If you have liked this story, please share it with your friends. That would help me reach maximum readers, which I cannot otherwise. 🙂

I would also love to hear your feedback. You could provide yours by commenting here or by dropping an email to passionophoria@gmail.com.

In your free time, do visit the blog and read my other stories.

——Follow Passionophoria blog Facebook page to receive updates about my future works

Click here to visit the page——