Sunday, October 07, 2012


Reflections (c) Harendra Alwis

The tip of his stencil settled on a surface that had long ceased be canvas. The shade it carried did not contrast much with the countless layers beneath that he had painted over and over again, but he noticed her cheeks dimple and her expression intensify as the white horse-hair bristles stroked them. The movement caught him by surprise and he glanced over his shoulder, without removing his brush from the canvas, to make sure he had not left a window open for the sun and clouds to alter the shades.

And there she sat behind him, her stubby fingers clinging on to the pleats of that beige dress, the same one she wore however many years ago – he didn’t remember. All he wanted then was to paint the perfect portrait and she was the perfect subject. And there she sat with the same mischievous smile and accusing eyes framed by those luscious locks streaming down her shoulders as she had on that fist evening now but a fond old memory. Sharp, but not yet wise; mature, but not yet a woman; refined, but not yet a lady, her feet dangled restlessly – not because she lacked the grace to remain poised, but out of sheer will not to conform to the snobbery that has forced her to sacrifice far more curious pursuits, to indulge a master painter who had dare lay down a shadow of her immortal likeness on an already decaying canvas.

In all those years that have passed since the first time she sat there, her skin grew more radiant and her face saturated with the playfulness of youth. With each passing month, he noticed how the dance in her eyes intensified and the locks flowed thicker around her brow. Even then, he knew the exact length of her eyelashes and the shade of her tresses; he knew every wrinkle of every pleat in each of her dresses. His palette bore the colours that made up different tones of her skin from the light of dawn to dusk, in the light of a candle flame and under the moon and stars. Indeed each hair on her head had been counted.

Even as he noticed that the windows were shuttered, his brush felt reluctant to part with the canvas. He turned back almost reflexively – worried whether he had inadvertently made a mis-stroke, but before his eyes met hers on the portrait, or he had time to realise it was blushing, he was thrown back a few steps. The picture on the canvas was no longer the one he had painted, the face not the one he had tried to perfect over innumerable years. In the moment he took to realise what had happened, all those years had passed. The girl on his canvas was missing and in her place sat a woman, now perfect in every way that the artist was too flawed to recognise, let alone appreciate.

And there she waits in a studio that the painter had long abandoned, together with his palette and the horse-hair stencils.