Monday 15 September 2014

ShortStory 2014 Shortlist, Naman Sharma


Is this what I look like?
Vladimir asked the question in the gentlest of tones, the softest he could manage.
He remained unchanged, as the sketch artist in front of him crumbled under his crashing feelings. Vladimir noted each line as it creased or relaxed, every facial muscle, every nerve that twitched. The elated young drawer gleaming a moment ago, beaming with ecstasy, having completed a portrait before his peers and competition, suddenly found himself broken and dejected.
A question like this meant the drawing was not appreciated.

A question like this meant no tip.
A question like this was routine.

Vladimir did not expect a response, but he did hope for one.  For once he hoped, he wished, he almost prayed…
But nothing came.

The artist just stood there holding his sketch book in one hand, a pencil in the other; his eyes staring into his drawing, his focus nowhere near it. It was a look both of them were accustomed to.
The boy’s lips were murmuring, or perhaps trying to murmur something out: thinking of the best way to say it. The dry lips of the young man worked at angles, perhaps trying to hide an expression, maybe trying to shield a smile, perhaps attempting to frame a response.

Vladimir’s blankness gave way to a smile, a faint curve on his lips. He took the sketch book from the boy’s hand, tore off the sheet with his drawing on it. 
Holding the translucent paper to the skies, he looked up to the sun, cracking out from behind the clouds, rising up from the horizon, crawling up on the nose of his sketch.
The sketch was nothing impressive: the shading was abrupt, the line flow was uneven, the strokes were messy; but somehow the result was… impressive, intriguing. The amateur had produced a sketch coherent with Vladimir’s vision.

A big currency note went into the boy’s shirt pocket as Vladimir turned around and started walking away. The boy hesitated, as he pulled out the note, stuttering out something. But Vladimir did not bother to hear that the amount was too much or that the boy had no change to give back. He had started walking back to the city, away from the shore, tightly gripping the drawing.
 His smile had grown into a grin.

Vladimir entered his room in his usual unhurried manner; noticing every click as he turned the key, every twitch of the gears as he opened the door ajar, every spick of dust particle floating in the air tyndall-ing under the seeping sunlight through a tiny opening in the wall across the door.
All the walls were covered with paintings, drawings, sketches. Black and white attempts of a face, shaded outlines of a man, grim colours painted into a dull solitary figure.  

He walked up to the tiny opening in the wall across; a small rectangular remain of the window underneath. The gleaming sunrays hit his face hard, burning his cheek.

The burning skin did not deter him, the smell of flesh crisping did not trouble, as he ripped of all the sketches covering the window. The charcoal sketch from the market, the soot painting from a previous decade, the wood inscribed frame etched in a different era. They were all redundant now.
His face burning, the heat transferred through his veins and travelled down to the body. Vladimir did not care.
He flicked off some tape from a discarded sketch and pasted his newest acquisition, the morning sketch, at the centre of the window.

The boy stared at the big man walking away.
His face felt warm, whether under the rising sunlight or through emotion, he was not sure.
He glanced to the sketch book in his hand, the remains of the improperly torn page fluttering in the mild breeze.
The boy had learnt another invaluable lesson this morning. His mum was right, get up early and witness amazing things.

He had eased on the wrinkling forehead, erasing out majority of the creases on Vladimir’s face. The nose which was too big and seated, had to be trimmed and diminished appropriately. The receding hair line was brought up just enough to give the impression of maturity and not old age. He had held his pen delicately as he held on the protruding ears and trimmed their span. As he had swept his pencil for the beard, he had reduced the stress just enough to provide a proper shadow of darkness, not a dense black cloud. The lips had been normal, he was not good at drawing them anyway.
He had made the beast a gentleman.
He had made Vladimir beautiful.

He was just another imager, who gave someone a false sense of his prettiness through measured artistry.
He gave the old ugly man a reason to go back home elated.
Seated in front of the window, Vladimir stared at his face, in the sketch. The sun had invaded the morning sky and was burning wildly. His face’s skin was brunt, his neck was rotting, as the flames slowly flowed through the light downward. The glaring stream of light pierced his face like a demon’s sword spitting venom, as it corrupted his unholy body.
The blood he had stolen, robbed, bought, raped, murdered for, spilled down to the floor; red-ing the torn off sketches and paintings lying under his feet.
His face burnt off, Vladimir thought he was smiling, at least he tried with what he thought were the remains of his facial muscles, as the fire consumed him entirely.
He did not move.
Thank you, son.
I die a beautiful vampire.
I die beautiful.

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