There’s a language in eyes as deep as the Harappan language inscriptions. No one has deciphered them, and yet the language is as old as the soul of civilization.
I have made many attempts to fall into girls’ eyes. Most times, I’ve been unsuccessful as phones come in between. Smartphones spoil everything! But a girl looked at me at the station this morning and in her eyes I saw a lake, a pond like the one back home in my ancestral land, and yes I saw the sea.
Her eyes were blue.
Time stopped and then I realized that she had gone away and I had missed my train. Now there was no point going to college. I would just walk around the city and make a few sketches. I love to walk. When I walk I slow down and take in the sights and sounds around me; it’s an artistic thing to do to walk and observe and turn the world into this mighty object.
I walked to Café Monde, a place I frequented often, and took a comfortable seat where there was enough light (I noticed that the seating was cerulean blue) and I began to draw. I drew the waiter who served coffee. He was triple-chinned and jovial. I had drawn him several times before, always in a new light. I liked how my pencil caught new facets to him each time. I drew a young woman customer, one who spoke hurriedly on the phone, her face tilted, her eyes brimming with emotion. She wore a dress that was a beautiful shade of turquoise blue.
I thought of my blue eyed girl then (I must have loved her) and tried to draw her. But since she was not before me, I could not draw her well at all. I drew a face that ended up looking like the girl before me, her hair longer and her eyes blue. I broke my pencil nib angrily. I could not remember her face clearly enough to replicate.
This was what my art teacher said to me,” If you must draw, you must have memory. You must be able to imprint a face in your mind and then be able to reproduce it from memory. From in here,” and he would knock me on the head. He was skeptical about me, even though I had a reasonable examination score. I was an artist in art school, no doubt, but now his words sounded in my ears. I had not enough memory to reproduce whom I had seen and fallen in love with at 7.30 AM that morning.
I shut my eyes, and the jovial waiter interrupted me, “Vicky, what will you order?”
He knew me as I went there often. ”I’ll order later,” I said.
“You seem worried,” the waiter said.
There was no one else in the café except the girl who was leaving anyway; something someone said on the phone made tears steam down her cheeks.
“I’m trying to remember a girl’s face. I need to draw her,” I said to Jo.
“Well that should be easy. When did you see her?”
“Today morning,” I said.
“Then what are you waiting for? Draw her quick before you forget!”
“I think I already have,” I said.
“What do you remember about her?”
“Her eyes,” I said, “and a koala on her tee.” That was all I could remember.
“Did you say koala?” the waiter said.
The waiter was Jo. He had been waiting tables for thirty years now and he never tired of it. “It’s a nice job,” he said to me once,” There’s just so many kinds of people who come to Café Monde and I remember each one.”
Jo was like that, though he wasn’t conventionally successful, he was really successful. He was happy and always had a story to tell. “Speaking of koalas,” he sat down next to me conspiratorially, “I’ve seen one with my own eyes.”
“How is that even possible?” I asked. More digressions would not help me on the path of recall but Jo always had something positive to say and that is a rare quality.
“I have seen a giant koala. One of the proprietors of Café Monde took us on a trip once.”
“Of course not. To his own private home where he has a zoo of sorts. I was roaming around in the precincts and there on a eucalyptus tree was a fat furry animal with long claws and a teddy bear face. It was furry and very cute looking, but we were forbidden to touch animals and so I took a picture. I wanted to show my daughters the animal. As luck would have it my phone crashed and all my photos were gone with it. All I have is the image of that animal with its beady eyes looking at me. In here,” he pointed to his head. “Can you at least draw the koala bear that you talked about?”
I managed to do that as it was a rudimentary impression. Two big ears and beady eyes that I made blue for good measure and a large flat nose.
“Yes, yes,” Jo said laughing. “This is exactly what that animal looks like. I’m taking this drawing of yours, young man!” he snatched the sheet.
“You have a bright future!” he added.
A customer walked in at that moment; it was the young woman who had left tear-stained. Now she looked despondent, as though the words from the phone were seeping in.
She noticed that I was drawing and she came toward me.
“Do you mind?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” I said. She was good looking. Her features were ordinary. Her hair was braided into a snake plait. Her eyes were curious and she was more interested in what I drew than me the person. The turquoise of her dress complemented her skin.
Jo asked us what we would have.
“Two lattes,” the girl said.
“Two?” I asked.
“One for you,” she said.
The girl I was trying to draw was now a very distant memory languishing on a distant sea lined shore.
“This girl looks like me,” the girl said frowning at my drawing book. “That’s what you were doing when I was seated there,” she looked at the empty chair where she sat as though it had a bad smell.
“Well, it isn’t you. I was trying to draw a girl I saw at the station this morning. She had the most beautiful blue eyes.” I looked outside at the blue sky. “But I don’t remember her face any longer. I don’t know if her chin is pointy or blunt. I don’t know if her eyebrows are shaped like rainbows or if they are irregular.”
The girl was thoughtful.
“It frightens you that you have forgotten the face of the girl you love,” she said and then she added quietly, “It frightens me to remember.”
I turned crimson, at least I felt crimson.
“All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug off the past. I think that is who I am,” the girl said, “and that is who you are and so we must be kindred spirits.” She held my hand and squeezed it gently. Her face was somewhat like the girl I had seen in the station. Except her eyes; I moved my hand away from hers.
Memory turned love on its head. Even if I saw the blue-eyed girl again, I could not be too sure of my love for her. Or my love for art. Was it true that I could be an artist after all if I could not etch what I loved? My canvases, my paints and palettes and pictures all testified that I was an artist. My way of dress, my goatee, my absent-minded look all screamed out my artistry. It was my identity, being hunched in a chair, a half-chewn pencil in my mouth, my idea of who I was. The scribbling, sketching, cross hatching, knifing layer of forgettable layer. Linseed oil was me.
I don’t know when I forgot. Was it when I realized that I had missed the train and then heaved a sigh of relief as my assignments were pending anyway? Was it the long walk and the visions I saw—the old woman with her dog, the beggars who lived behind the hospital, the blue Ferrari that sped past?
When did I forget my art? My mind went in a circle. How could one forget what one never had?
And now this girl before me with a determined pout. I could see that she was trying to hold my gaze and find the indecipherable, but when the image of something I held dear crashed I no longer wanted to converse in any language, even a mysterious one. I patted Jo on the back, paid him for the lattes and left.
That night I painted the last picture of my painter identity, of the girl in the café. She came out just about right, but there was something missing, perhaps it was the look of determination in her pout or perhaps it was the pupils that I had painted a diluted aquamarine blue.
It was the confirmation I needed. My fingers never flew after that.