It was dark all around. Two days, eleven hours and thirty-four minutes since I’ve been enduring the darkness. My surroundings seemed humid in the confined space of a box with no space to move. I was covered in a plastic wrap over a black cloth suffocating me inside which also made it difficult for me to perceive the size of the box or if I had company or not. There was not a single sound I could hear. I did not know what to make out of it. I did not know what I could do, or if I could do anything. I stayed silent and still, for that was all I knew I could do. I waited for something to change.
I heard noises as someone opened the box or a container whose size I couldn’t make out. They picked me up and carefully unwrapped the plastic around me. I did not know why they needed to bind me so tightly. I was frozen, always dependent on someone to move me. I could not move on my own.
Two gentle hands held me from the sides, careful not to let the black cloth fall and lifted me up in the air. The hands clutched me tighter but ensured it didn’t hurt me as they pushed me against the wall where a nail pierced my back. The unknown pair of hands hung me against a wall to a nail!
This was it, I thought. I would no longer be subjected to darkness. It was only a matter of time that this episode of my life would end and another chapter would unfold. This end was the beginning for me. I guess. Isn’t that what everyone says when a major event happens? I wonder.
One of my first memories, which people would say, not long ago was Mr Arvind looking at me with my back to Mrs Ritu. He beamed as he looked at me with pride. And I knew I was worth it. I knew I was special from that moment on. I knew I was meant to make people feel a sense of awe, a longing for a moment in their life where they could be what they actually were meant to be, what they wanted to be!
He held me gently, just like the hands that picked me up before hanging me to the nail in the wall. He looked at me or looked through me with a smile. There was a sparkle deep in his eyes. But sparkles were temporary, they existed for a moment. What I saw in his eyes seemed permanent. Perhaps a glitter? I’m not very good with words for I have no reason to speak, and I do no speak either, so I apologise if my words don’t make sense at times.
When people look at me, they see me for what I am and who I am. They see me as a reflection of themselves. I am abstract. Each person who looks at me sees a part of themselves in me. But it is a little known fact, that there is only one person that can see me exactly as they should be seeing me, Mrs Ritu.
I’m sorry, I got sidetracked. So, where was I? Oh yes! Mr Arvind picked me up and inspected me. I never felt uncomfortable, as many women say when under the male gaze, even though I knew there was nothing I could hide from him. He could remove all the layers of complexity I have and see me bare. I didn’t mind. I knew what I meant to him, and I know that I was meant to be seen bare, stripped, open to anyone to look at me.
He placed me down gently and looked up, towards Mrs Ritu and the shine in his eyes vanished. His demeanour shrivelled and he slumped under his own shadow. His face showed concern? Maybe.
“Are you alright?”, he asked Mrs Ritu.
I heard nothing, but I could feel her looking at me from behind. I couldn’t turn around on my own. Did I mention it? I can’t move on my own. I always need someone or something to move me, that’s one of the problems to live like me. But, why was she staring at me like that? It seemed that the moment I woke up, she had lost a part of herself.
But that wasn’t supposed to happen for I know who exactly she is! In many ways I am her. She wanted me to be like her. She paid Mr Arvind just to make me be an external version of her. But, why did it look like she regretted her decision the moment I woke up?
Mr Arvind offered her a glass of water behind me. She calmly took the glass and gulped down the water. Did she hate me? Did she resent me? “Perhaps you’ll feel better if you look at yourself?”, he asked her. I hoped she’d say yes! I wanted her to look at me. I was her. I am her. And I will always be her. I am also many versions of her. I am the best of her and the worst of her. I am what she was, I am what she could be, I am what she wanted to be, I am what she is and I am what she never wanted to be.
She got up from her chair, I could hear the cushion relieve itself as the weight lifted from it. I heard a pair of heels walk away towards the door.
“I wish to be surprised at the inauguration, Mr Arvind”, I heard her voice from far. “And I know I will love it. I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel well.”
And that was the last I heard of Mrs Ritu. And I replayed this memory all the time I hung against the nail in the wall. I didn’t feel pain. I couldn’t feel pain. I also can’t feel. I just don’t have the ability. I am only meant to evoke feelings in people who look at me. I am supposed to etch myself in their minds the way they envision me. As I said, each one sees me differently. And if I began to feel, I would no longer be able to do my job properly. I would no longer be safe showing every bit of myself to people. I would no longer be able to allow them to feast on me with their eyes. I would not be able to arouse awe or fear or pleasure in people. I just am meant to be incapable of feeling.
I also can’t perceive time. It means nothing to me. I just exist to do my duty. And I don’t know if I die or not. Many like me were lost, many dies and many live for eternity. If ever I mention aspects of time, that is because I know that you, who are reading my story cannot understand anything without the mention of time. I know that you can perceive my story through the lens of time. You need a before, now and an after. And I hope my accounts help you understand the way you should.
I waited. And I thought about the nail piercing my back by which I hung. And I relived all of my memories until I could hear noises around me. I heard distant mutters which turned into loud but calm conversations. There was just way too much for me to listen to. There were too many people speaking. It would be the first time I’d be seeing a huge gathering who would look at me, feel things, dream about me, curse me for being abstract, perform research on me, fantasize me. I can be all of those at once, but I did not know if I could do all these duties to so many people. There was only one way to find out.
A familiar smell came closer to me. The smell whispered to me in a voice I could recognise. The voice I was waiting for all this while. “It’s showtime, Mrs Ritu”. The voice was eerily close to my right. The crowd fell silent. I felt two pairs of heels walking amidst the crowd through the floors and walls. The pattern of steps was also something I recognised. The pair of heels stopped and turned towards me. The black cloth fell and I was revealed to the world for what I really am, a portrait of a special kind. A portrait of a beautiful woman who wore nice-sounding heels. And also, a portrait of everything. I was the first of my kind, the only one of my kind.
The lights in the room blinded me. The flashes from cameras disoriented me as I heard a collective audible gasp from the crowd behind the cameras. My eyes adjusted to the lights and I heard applause in the room. Mr Arvind bowed to the crowd standing beside me. I would’ve bowed too, but I couldn’t move. I was hung by a nail in front of a crowd who were here exclusively to look at me. I looked across the room and I found others hung to nails in the walls. All of them are proud to see me exist. But I knew that the pride would turn into envy. People would forget their existence for a few cycles of the sun and the moon. people would pay all of their attention to me while others hung like me would envy me knowing I was better than them. I was the masterpiece. That’s what Mr Arvind always told me.
I searched in the direction of the pair of heels I had heard earlier. My gaze met that of Mrs Ritu’s. She looked at me like she’d seen a ghost. She’d become pale, and the man beside her with an arm around her waist beamed at me oblivious to his wife’s horror. I presume he was Mr Ritu, but I would not know unless someone told me. I was told people in this generation were easily offended by baseless assumptions. It was my duty to not offend anyone by my thoughts, but it would be fair if someone was offended by the virtue of my existence for that would be a part of their thoughts. What people perceive of me was just a reflection of themselves. All I do was bring to attention every person’s deepest feelings. And that is a difficult task for me to do, it was difficult for a being that couldn’t feel or understand the concept of time.
As the evening went on many people, young, old, the beautiful either physically or from within, the ugly either physically or withing walked up to me, looked at me. I evoked something in them, and then satisfied with what they felt deep within, whatever awoke inside them brought a facial response which not many people would’ve recognised, but I did. I understood them at that moment more than anyone else could. But did they understand me? I’m not sure. There was only one who understood me, and that was Mr Arvind who now stood near Mrs and hopefully Mr Ritu speaking subtly. Mrs Ritu seemed to have gotten back her glow but she seemed to be searching for something that she lost. And she seemed to be searching for it in me.
But if whatever she had lost were in me, she might never find it ever again for everyone who looks at me takes back a part of me. Whatever she lost would now be within the bodies and minds of every person who laid their eye on me. In other words, Mrs Ritu now lived in every human in this room and come tomorrow, every person who reads or watches the news of the latest entry of the world-renowned artist Mr Arvind.
Something that felt out of place were the journalists. The ones who were supposed to be sharing me with the world were cocooned in their own world too busy deciding headlines. That was most of them, but there were exceptions, like the oldest journalist in the room who stood in a corner who just looked at me deep in thought. I could see it in his eyes, the burning question to what each and every person in the room was asking- Who’s portrait is this?
Everyone in the room except Mrs and Mr Ritu and Mr Arvind would see a painting. An abstract painting with seemingly random shapes and colours and perceptions of the eyes of the viewer. But only those who knew Mrs Ritu could make a pattern out of the random shapes and colours and see the shapes morph into what looked like Mrs Ritu. And it was only the keen and the observant who could unravel the next layer and see within the portrait who I really am. Rather was. I am just a shadow, a recreation of Mrs Ritu of what humans call the past. As I see Ritu looking at me, I doubt how we are similar. She had lost something the day I awoke, and I had gained everything. How is it that I can still be called a portrait of Mrs Ritu when there is an imbalance between us for a portrait is not just a canvas that captures the physical human? A portrait is an insight into who the human really is deep within and it was the job of the artist to bring out the best of the person on canvas. But what if the artist captures the absolute best of the person onto the canvas at the cost of the person losing it forever?
Is that what I am? The absolute best of Mrs Ritu who never stopped smiling until the day I awoke? I did not know. I might have known if I could feel, but alas, I do not. I now am someone forever who never shall exist. And I could see the pain in her eyes as the world marvelled at the beauty I exuded. Everyone in the world would feel and understand the best of Mrs Ritu, except her.
The cycle of the night ended. I hung there for many more cycles. I was once again covered in black, held gently and packed in plastic. The cycle of darkness continued. When the black curtain came off, I was in a smaller room. A common front room with a couch, a table and a couple looking at me, the man smiling and the woman resenting me.
Cycles of day and night passed and at the beginning and end of each cycle, Mrs Ritu would stare at me, searching inside me for the part that she lost. She never smiled. Every time she looked at me, she stood at a different place in the room examining me from each and every direction. Each time I saw her more tired. I saw fights between her and her husband. She cried in the room while I could perceive him crying in another room. She would then look at me. Glare at me. And I understood her. What have you done to me? she asked me silently. She demanded an answer from me. She deserved an answer from me. But I am incapable of answering anyone. I could only show her what she had to see. But she simply could not recognise it. I was her from the past. We have branched apart from the day I awoke. We are two separate entities now, while I was the thief and she was the one who lost everything.
She could not let go of me. If she did, she would never find what she’s searching for. And she needed me. I now showed her a purpose in life. She had to find what she had lost.
Many moons passed. Mr Ritu no longer came to the house and she sat on the couch alone staring at me at dusk and dawn while she played with her wedding ring which took considerable effort to get out of her finger. Plates of uneaten food on the coffee table, a clear invitation to fruitflies and an assortment of bugs which she didn’t care about anymore. She did clear up the area once a week but most of the time she spent too much energy in finding what she lost and the worldly necessities didn’t seem to catch her priorities.
Another cycle of packing and repacking took place and this time I saw a smaller room that housed a bed and a kitchen in the same room. A smaller studio. Ritu had shrivelled in her size. Her hair lost its shine and her skin became flaky. She seemed to not only lose herself but also everything around her as she signed some papers about which I do not understand. She removed her wedding ring which came away easily from her thinned finger, looked at it from all directions, kissed it and wore it again.
A few more cycles of the sun passed and as the first rays of the sun passed through the window and fell on her face as she stood close to me, two feet away at an angle to my left and our eyes were level. This was the first time she saw me from this position, the same position where Mr Arvind sat to paint me. This was the same angle where he sat and painted me. This was the position where he had captured the best of Mrs Ritu from his eyes and put it all into me. And it dawned on me that I wasn’t the thief. I wasn’t the one who stole the best from her. I was the consequence of theft. I was the object of the theft while the thief revelled in joy, fame and commissions from the people he robbed.
This was the first time I saw something in her eyes. It was the first time I saw her eyes alive. This was a time when usually humans came close to each other and hugged each other. But I could not move and neither could I feel emotions. But she had no one to be with her now. She fidgeted her wedding ring.
Her smile faded as fast as it came. She had found everything she searched for but had lost everyone around her and everything that meant to her. And whatever she was looking for she could never get back. What she found was now like a soul of a loved one that’s passed from this world and taken refuge in a star far away from earth. It was available for everyone to see but will always be out of reach.
That day she never left the house. She stood in that position basking under the best of who she was, relived every moment of life when she did not know how not to smile. Her eyes were alive. The dark circles faded. Her hair looked got back its shine. She seemed to receive nourishment from the essence that she found hidden within me. I saw her eyes. The eyes were determined. They now knew what had to be done. They now knew what they had lost. They also understood how they could find them.
The cycle ended. Mrs Ritu looked like how she had looked when I awoke. Not exactly, but almost close for I would never know. She was behind me when I woke up. But I know myself and I could predict how she would’ve looked. And she was the most beautiful human being ever. I do not judge. I can merely point out the facts and she was beautiful. That doesn’t mean others aren’t.
She was the most beautiful person from two feet away at an angle to my left. Night came in. The lights never turned on. She did not move. She did not want to miss out on the treasure she saw. She needed to find back what she lost.
The first rays of the sun crept from the window, the floor and it was then that I saw was a pair of legs suspended in front of me. The legs were limp. As the light flooded the room, I saw her hanging with a rope around her neck just like the nail in my back. Her body lay limp but her eyes shone in the morning light like those of an adventurer before starting their journey. Like a pole vaulter before starting their sprint. Her eyes knew what had to be done.
She had to make her way to the stars to find what she had lost.
And that was the only way the equilibrium could be attained.
With all the light around me, and no living eyes trained on me, I too did not exist for now. I would not exist until anyone finds me in this room. In a sense, I am in the dark just like Mrs Ritu.
I finally am the exact portrait of hers. Our paths seemed to have finally converged.
Why is this story special to me?
In this story, it was the first time I took the Show and don’t tell idea seriously and ensured I don’t mention a feeling or an emotion even once.
This story is also one of the first ones which I had written over multiple iterations making it better everytime. It definitely isn’t perfect, but it has come far since the first iteration.
I do hope I was able to deliver it the way I intended.
Lesson 1: It is fine to chuck the original idea if you find a better one that suits the story.
Lesson 2: Sometimes allowing a story to ferment at the back of your mind for a while allows you get better clarity of what the story is really about. In this case, atleast from my perspective, it is a story about perceptions and how we lose ourselves based on how people see us.
Lesson 3: Looking back, my stories have come a long way. Each time they got better. Remember to be proud of each piece you write. It matters.
I really hope you liked the story! I’d love to hear what you think of it! Did this story make you feel anything? If yes, lemme know what! If no, let me know what was missing!
More Power to you!
Here are other stories of mine that you may like!
- What Happens at the back of a library on a birthday? | Libraries are just mysterious. And the most secluded parts hide secrets.
- The machine | Sometimes machine spawn wherever they want to. And people protect them. But for what?
- Waking up to the ghosts of the morning | What sort of ghosts spook you in the morning? Or is it a ghost at all?