We meet as I have painted it. I have emerged like a butterfly from an interminable chrysalis, out on the streets, and we literally bump into each other as he rushes down the pathway oblivious to my approach. It seems you can almost paint a temporary blindness in your subject. I should have been visible from a long way back and he was not so quick on his feet as to err so easily. Yet, the painting will have its way. He is carrying books in his arm, again as I painted, thinking of all contingencies and ways to facilitate a first conversation. As they fall we also bend, simultaneously together, to pick up the texts.
There are legal books, heavy, ponderous, then beneath them a couple of texts on art. My heart rises almost to my throat. Art. I hadn’t thought of this at all so this was true, true of him, not fashioned by me, but so perfect as to be almost preposterous. And in tandem with the law, what a strange combination for my beloved. And even more there is a folder, collapsed between us, with sketches, now spreading out on the ground, threatening to blow away in the wind. Our hands grab each item greedily, hurriedly. We speak as we do so but do not look at each other. We are two inhabitants of a moment in time that has become an accident, we both seek to remedy it, but one of us knows it was not accident at all.
– I’m sorry
I say, apologetic for more than he realizes, but secretly triumphant, then continue;
– I did not see you till it was too late
– No, no, no..really, it was my fault
His voice is lovely, quite deep and divine, a voice made for reading poetry, drunk on wine.
– I was in too much of a hurry, I didn’t see you, and the ridiculous thing is, I don’t even know why I was hurrying..I didn’t think my caffeine addiction was that bad!
At this moment we have collected all the fallen treasures. He is crouching on one knee, the other leg half raised to give his books and his arms a place to rest. I am similarly positioned, looking at him. He is amused by his own observation and a sense of internal silliness. His eyes dance into mine.
– A caffeine addiction is understandable. There are worse addictions
– There certainly are!
We stand, and I am handing him some of the texts I have picked up, already panicking that this moment may be over too soon and without further conversation. I only painted this exact action, no more. I think dryly and with some regret and humour interlaced that Cliff may have a point about the advantages of animation. But the point passes as quickly as it rises, for my beloved is suddenly quite excited.
– I know who you are!
I am frightened for a moment that he somehow does know of my game and how I have sought to control his actions. I fear being caught out, being uncovered, being exposed, and shrink back slightly, still holding some of his texts, causing him to move closer and become all apology once more.
– I’m sorry! I don’t mean to alarm or offend you. But you are Paul Richards aren’t you? The painter?
The name Paul on his lips is actually like music. I am amazed. I shudder with pleasure, which again he mis-interprets, and he continues for I am incapable in that moment of speech.
– It’s just that..I’m..well I’m a law student, but my passion is art..my family..they wouldn’t approve of that…but I know your work..I love your work..and I’ve seen photographs of you..so..it is you, isn’t it? I’d heard you lived somewhere around here…
– I am Paul Richards, that is correct.
I hand him the last of his books, but not the few sketches I have retrieved from the greedy wind.
– Are these yours?
– Yes, but they aren’t…I’m sure they are not…proficient…I am better with the law than with art..I’m embarrassed for you to look at them..you are a master..and I…
And you, I think, you are my beloved. You need never be embarrassed with me. Besides, they show some promise, these sketches. He will never be a great artist perhaps, but he will be a competent one, with guidance. I feel the hand of fate above me, over-arching my own power and will through my paintings.
– These show promise. Do you have a teacher?
– No, not at all..it’s just a hobby..a passion..but..I study the law not art
– Would you like a teacher?
– I can’t afford one…
– Can you afford the time?
He understands where I am leading him and he is part eager, part afraid. He does not know my motivations, but I am promising him something he had thought out of his reach. He does not understand that even just in this moment, in this exchange, he is doing the very same thing for me.
– Of course I could, but…Mr Richards..
– Call me Paul…
I amaze myself in this moment.
– Paul..are you offering to teach me..can I presume..because I can’t pay you…
– I am offering, and I have no need of money. I make quite enough of that. But it will take time. I live in an apartment in that building over there. Number twelve. You can come there as often as you like, but I would suggest at least two times a week, and we will see what knowledge and skill I can impart
– Why are you offering me this? You don’t know me..
He is suspicious. Perhaps the beautiful must learn to suspect all approaches to them, no matter how useful they may appear. I am momentarily offended, but I hold back, trying to understand, because the wrong answer in this moment destroys everything. Everything.
– I like your drawings. And when you have a gift it is sometimes required that you pass it on..like a spiritual law..does this make sense?
– Yes, yes I think it does..
– Perhaps not a law you will find in your other studies?
I smile, amusement in my voice, some irony. He smiles back, a deep smile, a sense of camaraderie, and my heart races ahead to possibilities I can have no way of recognising fully as yet.
– No, I doubt that. Look, thank you..I would love to do that..let me..buy you a coffee at least..were you going to the café?
– Yes, I was, as it happens, and that would be delightful. We can plan your tutelage there and then.
And so it begins. The mentor and the student walking side by side in companionable silence to the café. We sit at a table that I consider ours, though he does not know, and we plan a future I have already rehearsed in my mind. I am not surprised, not any more, even by the vicissitudes of chance that attend this moment. I did not paint that he would be an artist, but he has an artist’s soul – I can see this in his eyes. And how else, in any case, would my beloved ever come to me, except through art?
On the way into the café he tells me his name is Richard.
It is perfect.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved