Painted Red

‘Adam and Eve’ was a busy Cafe in Hauz Khas, an uptown locality in Delhi. In spite of the titillating heat, it never failed to attract crowds of students, businessmen, and young lovers. The aura of the cafe was such that it was ideal for lovers to have sweet gooey love chats in private cubicles at the back of the cafe. The outer parts of the cafe were well lit for the hushed business meetings to take place.
On this particular morning, the cafe was stemming with people. The owner even had to arrange for extra seating. Outside the cafe, the smell of coffee was all pervading. It tickled the nose of one of the cafe’s regular customers, Gideon.
He was early for his appointment with the subject of his next painting, his fiance- Meera. She was a beautiful girl. Gideons’ whole life centered around her, they were to be married a month later. However, things hadn’t been going too well for them. Meera was an upcoming model and her career was her main priority. Meera’s’ feelings had undergone a drastic change in the past few months. She now thought that Gideon wasn’t the right man for her. He whiled away all his time painting. Their ideologies and “standards” as she put it didn’t match any longer. Gideon in an attempt to reignite the spark in their relation had planned this meeting and he was confident it would work.
“I have just enough time to grab a coffee,” he said heading to the counter. “One Irish coffee, please. Takeaway.” Gideon was the kind of guy who stayed aloof. Crowds made him uncomfortable. He was a part-time painter but what he really did for a living was unknown.
He gave the waitress a crisp Rs. 500/- note and without collecting his change turned to leave.
“Sir your change,” called the waitress from behind.
“Keep the ch…” before he knew it he had tripped over his open shoelace. This, in turn, led to him spilling his rich Irish coffee all over the girl sitting with an open file two tables from the counter.
She was at him instantly. She jumped up and posted a full blooded slap across his right cheek. “Are you crazy or what? Can’t you look where you walk?”
“I….” before Gideon could utter anything further she had gathered up her files and loose sheets. She stomped off in a huff. He looked around him. People were mocking him and then he saw Meera. She stood there looking at him as if he were some lunatic. He had made himself look like an idiot in front of her. She walked out of the cafe.
Gideon went after her but she was already in her car. He ran after her
“Meera why are you leaving?” he asked.
“I wasn’t going to stay anyway. I just came to tell you that I have a photoshoot in Mumbai today.Mumbai I have to leave immediately.”
“Meera, what about..” before he could ask as to what would be the fate of their relation she coldly said,
“Bye! Gideon.”
The next thing he knew was she was driving away from him, from their future together. He called her that evening but Meera didn’t attend his call. She later messaged him saying
“Leaving Delhi for good. Hope to never see you again.”
And right after that, her number was ‘switched off’.
The girl in the cafe had slapped him for such a trivial incident but the repercussions were vast and destructive.
“She will pay for this,” Gideon thought.
He marked the date in red on his calendar.
“15th March 2013… how ironic. It’s known as the Ides of March. The soothsayer told Julius Caesar, beware the Ides of March…”

*-*-*

The red mingled with yellow on the canvas to depict the scene of a late evening. The sun was crimson yellow, it dipped into the vast stretch of the blue ocean. She was mesmerized by the beautiful mingling of colors. Standing awkwardly still for over fifteen minutes, concentrating so hard on the bold strokes of color, she hardly realized a man walk up and stand quietly beside her.
“Ahem.” He cleared his throat, “Hi, Something intriguing?”
Norah was taken by surprise, she never really had random people come up and talk to her. For that matter, she also found it a little rude that she was so abruptly brought out of her musings. Here she was imagining herself in a far-off land standing on the beach watching the sun. In a jiffy, this interruption had brought her back to the cramped hot marketplace called Delhi Haat where an art exhibition and sale was on. She, however, obliged the rude stranger with an answer, “No, not intriguing. On the contrary, its simplicity has mesmerized me.” She said before she turned to face the strange man.
Then almost suddenly she blurted “If you’ll excuse me I’d like to find the owner of this piece and buy the painting of him.” Norah hurried away from the man. His face she wouldn’t easily forget. He was the very man she had slapped two weeks ago in the café.
Norah was a workaholic, her father was a drunkard and ever since he had begun to neglect his role as a breadwinner for the family, Norah had stepped into his shoes. Norah had always wanted to be a travel photographer and painter but the financial problems back home had forced her to give up on her aspirations.
The stranger smiled and made way for Norah, a smile which on a closer look would have seemed odd to her but she was in a hurry to get away from him the very sight of who gave her a strange dizzy sensation. His eyes sparkled like the evening light bouncing off the water in that painting. His face had the flush of red, a sign of life flowing within him. At the reception desk, Norah asked “Umm, Hi could you please tell me who the owner of painting number three is. I’d like to purchase it.”
“One moment ma’am. It belongs to a Mr. Cross” replied the receptionist pointing in the direction of the one Norah had just avoided.
“Thank you.”
Norah was impulsive. She was too young to know the ways of the world. Just 27 years old and forced to carry the weight of earning for a family of four had put her under a lot of stress. The day the cafe incident took place she had the most important meeting of her life. Her promotion depended on it. Gideon had ruined her presentation. Something she had been working at for months, often not sleeping for days at a stretch. Skipping meals more than often, but she knew she had overreacted and felt very guilty for slapping the man. Norah walked up to him. She had to apologize. Mr. Cross stood there observing his painting looking slyly at her approaching.
“Hi, again. I forgot to formally introduce myself earlier. I’m Mr. Cross, but you can call me Gideon. By now I’m guessing, you must have figured that the painting you want belongs to me.” He smiled. She knew her face was flushed and that she was gaping at him wide eyed. People would have easily mistaken her for a stone sculpture in that position. He smiled again and this time there was a hint of amusement it. Slowly she too smiled and then they began to laugh.
“I’m sorry.” she said wiping a tear from laughing so hard.
“Since my work has you under my spell you should drop by my studio someday I have more paintings you might be interested in.”
Norah thought he was too forward. They hardly knew each other and he was inviting her to his art gallery. She was struggling with words. Wanting to politely but strongly curb his advances.
“Thanks, but I’m actually here to apologize for what happened at the cafe.”
“It’s ok. I’ve forgiven and forgotten that incident. Soooo…”
“So?” she asked, not quite understanding what he expected her to say.
“You still haven’t answered my question.” he said.
So he was the persistent type of a person. She knew she couldn’t mince words and hence sought to answer him directly.
“I don’t really know you, Sir. As much as I respect your art, I will have to turn down your offer.”
“No problem Norah. But just in case you change your mind my art gallery is situated in Defence Colony just near the St. Lukes Parish. Here is my business card. Feel free to drop by anytime.”
“Thank you. I’ll take your leave have to get to work. Bye.”
“Sure, Norah. Take care.”
Norah walked down to her office. She didn’t remember having introduced herself to Gideon. The entire day she kept wondering as to how Gideon knew her name. But this thought soon diminished from her mind.

*-*-*

A week passed since this awkward meeting. Norah’s boss wanted her to get some new paintings for his office walls. This wasn’t part of Norah’s job but she couldn’t really say no to him. He knew this and would often take advantage of his position to harass Norah.
Since she couldn’t really shun this task she began to google art galleries close to her office which was situated in Hauz Khas. Two places, in particular, caught her attention: Dilli Haat and Meera Galleria in defense colony. She fumbled in her purse for something and then found the piece of paper she was looking for, Gideon’s card. Meera Galleria belonged to Gideon.
“Nice,” she chuckled, “I might get a big discount.”
Norah was very pleased with herself. She picked up her bag, got into her car and drove off leaving behind a cloud of dust. Norah sent him a quick text.
“Need paintings. Stopping by your studio.’
She immediately got a positive reply.
She stopped right outside his studio. Gideon was standing there. he was dressed in a business suit. His jet black curls carelessly falling on his shoulders. He looked quite a sight Norah thought to herself. There was an exhibition going on at his studio. “Hi, Mr. Cross,” she said.
“Please Norah, call me Gideon. Come inside,” he said. He placed his palm on the small of her back, guiding her gently past the sliding doors. His touch sent electric signals all over her body. She had never felt so strange in a man’s company. Norah had gooseflesh. She heard Gideon chuckle beside her, a manly gurgle from the back of his throat. The blood rose to her cheeks she knew she was blushing. The glass doors they had slid past closed automatically, cutting out the heat and noise of the outside world.
Norah bought seven paintings off Gideon. She got it at a very reasonable price too. so much so that Gideon even gave her one complimentary painting for herself. This little act brought Norah closer to Gideon. His value rose in the eyes of Norah. That evening she got a text from Gideon that read: “Hey beautiful. What’s up?” She didn’t know why but the text sent stray flutters in her stomach.
The text set things off, they began chatting often and soon they began going on casual dates. She would meet him at a ‘Costa Coffee’ a small cafe in the Defence Colony Market near his studio apartment after work. Gideon was disciplined- like a schoolmaster, and while he never publicly displayed affection he didn’t hesitate in lifting Norah off the ground in an embrace and twirling her around every time they met. They would talk about paintings; he would give her small yet valuable tips. She even began painting again. Gideon asked her why she had quit.
“My father was a painter, a famous one too. My mother was his muse. But not for long, he began drinking a lot. We never knew the reason, until one fine day in a drunken stupor he told us that he had secretly remarried another woman as she became to him his new inspiration.”
Most probably in an attempt to cheer her up, Gideon spoke, “Hey Norah, I have a few paintings you might be interested in. Let’s go.”
Gideon invited Norah to his studio apartment to show her some paintings. “You’ve got a palatial apartment Gideon.” Norah gazed wide eyed like a five-year-old child. The house seemed less frequented. It seemed like no one lived there permanently. Gideon’s apartment overlooked a lush green park on one side. On the other side was a little shed where he kept his brushes and canvas boards. The apartment had many rooms which didn’t have any furniture.
The walls in the apartment were covered with vibrant colors sprayed on them. Most of the portraits were abstract pieces, a few were half done. The room into which Gideon led her had large glass panes on two sides on one side the park was seen and from the other his lush green lawn and the shed. Norah noticed two odd paintings which had a curtain drawn in front of it but was too excited to pay heed to such trivial details.
“Mr. Cross you are a mini god when it comes to painting,” cooed Norah with an unconscious flutter of her eyelashes.
“Ah, please call me Gideon.” He replied pouring her a drink. With his back still towards her, he asked, “So Norah how’s the painting going?”
“You know how it is I started work on it, but work makes it difficult to give time for one’s passion.”
“Do you mind being the subject for my next painting?” He asked with a contorted face. It almost seemed he would cry, his breath came in gasps, his movements became agitated and he began twiddling his thumbs. It seemed like he was repeating please say yes over and over in his mind.
“I’d be honored Gideon,” she replied trying to smile like the Mona Lisa.
Gideon dragged a chair and set it in the middle of the room, hesitating a little he asked, “Do you want to sit or stand for my portrait?”
Realizing that the painting will take a long time to be done and remembering that she was the fidgety kind of person who couldn’t stay still for long she replied, “I’d prefer to sit Gideon.” And so the work on the portrait began. The first thing to go down on paper was Norah’s eyes. Her eyes were shaped like almonds, hazel eyes. Gideon looked intently at every detail of her body. She felt sparks of electricity run down her spine. She could feel herself grow red; she became more conscious of herself. Almost after thirty minutes when his eyes settled on her neck she knew she had that ‘deer in the headlight’ look.
She hated herself for that particular day’s dress selection. A short flowing summer dress with a deep neckline. As if sensing her discomfort Gideon cleared his throat, “Let’s take a drink break, shall we? I don’t think you will care for a beer and some pork salami?”
“A beer and salami will be just fine,” she smiled. Gideon walked past her to the fridge. She stole a glance at his athletic body, quite unusual for a painter. She wondered if he went gyming in his spare time or played rugby. She began wandering about his room observing the different paintings.
There were six paintings hanging, two were covered with something that resembled a curtain.The first painting portrayed a monsoon day with a faceless figure holding an umbrella. Even on looking closely she couldn’t tell if it was a man or a lady. She moved to the second painting. It depicted spring, a field of flowers, clear blue skies and in that field a girl and a boy. The girl resting her head on the shoulder of the boy. Perhaps whispering sweet words of love. Norah sighed; she had never experienced such emotions. She never knew what these young lovers felt in each other’s company.
She quickly dismissed her feelings of disappointment sorrow and a certain sense of longing. The third painting had a young girl, her hair blowing in the wind. She was smiling at a young man behind the canvas. Perhaps he was painting her just like Gideon was painting Norah. She smiled at the familiarity.
“I wonder if Gideon is back.” She said aloud. “Gideon? Gideon are you back yet?” Gideon. Where was he? She turned around to find him entering the room empty handed.
“Hey listen, I just realized I’ve run out of beer. There is a shop at the corner of the road. I’ll just get some. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
“It’s ok to let it be. Don’t worry, the beer isn’t that important.”
“No, it’s not okay. We need a beer break.” He winked scurrying out of the room before Norah could protest any further. She heard the front door open and slam shut. The click of the automatic lock indicated that Gideon had left and that she was all alone in the house now.
She just shrugged and went back to looking at the paintings.
Moving on the fourth painting was autumn. Dry leaves were strewn all over the place. The trees in the background were bare. The park bench was deserted with the exception of two people. It looked like the same boy and girl from the previous painting only this time they sat at the extreme ends of the bench looking away from each other. The painting made use of dull colors. The painting seemed gloomy and she couldn’t bear to look at it another moment.
The fifth painting was veiled. She uncovered it to see the portrait of a beautiful young woman. Beautiful, yet there was something about the face of the woman. Certain sadness was writ on her face. Norah moved away from this painting to the next. She uncovered it, what she saw sent her reeling back a few steps. The painting showed the same lady lying in a pool of blood. A man was standing over her with a knife in his hand. The entire canvas was painted red. But this wasn’t what shocked her, the woman in the portrait closely resembled her and the man standing over her with a knife resembled Gideon. She felt a cold draft of air on her feet. She looked around and found all windows shut so where was the breeze coming from. She was scared now.
She didn’t have a single minute to waste. She quickly gathered up her purse and scarf. She was in the flight mode but in this anxiety, she hadn’t heard the front door open and shut again as Gideon re-entered the house. She turned to leave but just as she did all the color from her face drained.
Gideon was standing there smiling quizzically at her with two beer cans one in the right hand and the other in the crook of his right arm. He held a newly sharpened butcher knife in the other, “What’s the matter, Norah. Are you leaving?”
“Yes. I have to leave.” She replied looking away.
“What is the matter, Norah? I thought you were having fun. You can’t leave now.”
“My boss called he wants me in the office right away.” Norah was blinking her eyes rapidly to avoid eye contact with Gideon.
“Are you lying to me, Norah?”
She didn’t reply but clutched her purse harder.
“Answer me Goddamn it.” Norah had never seen Gideon so agitated before. “Meera left me too, the day you slapped me in the cafe. It was your fault she left. I won’t let you leave me too Norah.” he said his voice calm and composed.
“Gideon please let me go” she pleaded tears welling in her eyes.
“No, you can’t leave so soon. I still have my painting to complete. You can’t leave till I finish what I began. I have a whole blank canvas waiting to be painted.”
As Gideon approached her, a splash of red sprayed over the canvas. Gideon had begun his masterpiece.

*-*-*

by Nikita D’Monte

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