The rain poured loud on the asbestos roof above as he rushed her indoors and shut the umbrella to get in. He set the umbrella in a bucket to drain and made place for her to sit in the tiny little rustic cottage. It was years since they had met each other. It was a chance meeting on a vacation near a place she knew was his village. He was now a shadow of what he had been then. His vibrancy reduced to trembles, his confidence now painted in undertones, his outspoken gestures now reduced to whispers. She had never seen him like this.
He ambled though the little makeshift kitchen in his single room abode that was part home and part attic - piled with creaking cupboards from above which peeked old steel trunks. She wondered what a man of his meager means hoards in trunks so large. Her 8 year old daughter had a room bigger than his entire house. Leaks on the walls reeked of moulds and you could hear the rats squeak beneath the walls. But it didn't seem to deter him. He still managed to smile back when her gaze met his eye as he fumbled to pour the tea into tiny steel cups. This was the quietest conversation they had ever had. All she could feel for him is pity, but still somehow there was something about him she could not piece together.
10 years of being apart, being a successful artist and being married to the man of her dreams, there was still something about this man she couldn't comprehend. She wasn't his to keep and yet there was this tenderness in his eyes towards her. The warmth in his concern for even her smallest discomfort was still the same it was so long ago - as if time had never passed between them.
She half expected him to hold her and kiss her, but he kept his distance.
"How does it feel like to finally be an artist?" He asked. "It's great" she replied as if by reflex. But then pondered a little and answered him with bare honesty "it's good."
She paused a while and he waited patiently for her to continue.
"I guess I was never a great artist. But it was a dream I had and I chased it. That is what makes me happy."
He sipped at his tea and reminded her with a gesture that hers wa getting cold too.
Taking a sip, she continued "I don't know if I would have been able to even chase this dream, let alone live it, if It weren't for my first collection that sold out."
"I remember that one" he said. A nostalgia soaked smile returning to his face.
"It gave me faith that I could live this far fetched dream of mine - and that's what drove me all the way to where I am today."
The room retired to silence for a while. The rains had gone silent. The trickling water from the roof slowed down to a drip ticking like a metronome into the steel pot below.
"The rains have stopped. And it's getting late. I must go now." She said half apolegetically.
He just nodded softly and took te empty cup from her hands and said "it was nice to see you again."
Silence ensued again as she got ready to leave, tying back her hair and folding up her umbrella.
"Funnily, I haven't been able to trace a single purchaser of my first set of paintings." She said as she pulled her kurti straight and dusted it, ready to leave. He turned away to put the glasses back on the sink.
"If someday I do, I will go and personally thank each one of them. But I bet it got them the same kind of luck they brought me." A giggle lit her face .
"You still look as beautiful as you did back then when you smile. You better take care of that smile." He said glancing at her from the mirror before turning towards her with a smile.
There it was again. That smile that she could never figure out. "I will." She replied without a word spoken, with a nod that suggested an understanding that had never died.
As she left, the cottage was swallowed by silence once again as it drowned into the night. Only interrupted by the muffled engine roar of the car that drove away.
That night, the croaks of frogs and the chirps of insects were accompanied by the creak of an old trunk being opened with shaky hands, moist eyes and that incomprehensible soft smile.
An old trunk full of paintings from an artists first work.
-Pushkaraj S Shirke