The smell of fresh breakfast and coffee lingered even in the open air. Cafes were crowded with customers, mostly families having some time for themselves. The laughter, chattering, hushed whispers as gossips were shared, footsteps of varying speed, occasional cries from a child and many more sounds created a symphony for her ears. A little boy ran past her, turning back to see his chaser, smirked and yelled “RUN, YOU SLOTH!” Bella smiled and shook her head as he sped of, his mischievous grin and bright eyes still in her mind. Another boy whizzed by her and disappeared quickly out of her sight. The chaos around her brought order to her thoughts. She wasn’t alone and that feeling was enough.

A colourful handwritten ‘MY INDIA’ banner greeted her at the entrance. Canvases and smaller frames on both sides of the exhibition room created a pathway towards the end where the largest painting hung. There were about 15 visitors and Bella began with the first picture on her left. It took all the courage she had not to walk up to the largest painting. Patience, you will eventually get there, she thought to herself. Soon enough she was engrossed in the collection. Most of them were sceneries originating from various regions in India. They were mainly landscapes and tribes. The framed pictures turned out to be some spontaneous sketches of views the artist thought to be impressive. The collection gave a different, more personal perspective of India to the visitors.

A portrait of an Indian woman, with the title ‘The Demon in Me’ next to it, caught Bella’s attention. Her red bindi was smudged and the shawl on her head was ready to fall off. The artist managed to capture her thick dishevelled hair in minute details. The loose strands hung on the sides of her face. Slightly parted lips seemed to be calling for help. If life had been kind to her, she would have been a beautiful woman. Bella was captivated by the eyes looking back at her. They were empty, tired, sad and lost all at once. There was something only Bella could see. The madness and anger suppressed deep inside.

“Exorcism,” said a man who had came up to Bella. “Her family thought she was possessed by a demon when they heard her cackling in a dark room one night, hitting her head against the wall. The next day she couldn’t recall why she had bruises on her. They discovered scratches on her chest too. A shaman was called and I happened to be in the village at that time. He successfully drove out the demon using a coconut and indecipherable chanting. Her family paid him 2 months worth of their income only to bury her body 3 days later. She hung herself, you see,” he explained. Bella found herself in the company of an attractive Indian man in his early 30s. His beige kurtha complemented his chestnut coloured skin, dark wavy hair and almost black eyes. Her cheeks flushed and she turned back to the painting. “I’m Varun. Welcome to my art exhibition,” he said. “Could you tell me more about the large painting at the end?” Bella asked, still staring at the woman’s eyes. “I thought you’d never ask,” she heard the smile in his voice.

“This is an old form of art in India. It’s called rangoli,” Varun began to explain. They stood in the middle of the painting. Its background was a blend of colours beginning with warm colours on the top half, ending with cold colours fading into black. A blend of feather-like shapes and flower petals came together to form a symmetrical pattern. “It’s often drawn by women outside their homes using rice flour. They do it so quickly using dots as guides. I took days to complete this,” he admitted with a shy smile. “You are very talented. Your chiaroscuro portraits are flawless. The landscapes were very beautifully captured, every bit of grass and sun rays. So why is this special?” Bella asked with genuine interest. “Chiaroscuro, a game of light and shadows. I’m impressed with your terminology of art,” he replied. Her red cheeks made him grin wider and he leaned in close enough to see she had held her breath. “Do you want to know a secret?” he asked while looking directly into her eyes. Bella nodded furiously and exhaled only when he straightened his body.

“It was her who got me interested in art,” he looked at the woman’s portrait they had spoken about earlier. “Malini drew a new pattern everyday. It was her gift. This was the last rangoli she drew before she hung herself.” Bella noticed that he wasn’t in the exhibition room at that moment. He was in a distant place and his eyes were full of sorrow. “Could it be… Was she your sister?” she asked quietly. He turned back to her and said, “Yes, she was. The mixed colour in the background represents the feelings and emotions we have. Happiness, anger, sadness, peace, satisfaction, love and everything in between. I regretted very much that I didn’t ask her what was going on. I am here because of her and it is my way of dedicating art to an artist the world would never know.”


Twenty minutes later, Varun said he had to meet a lady who was interested in one of his painting. “I’m afraid I have to go now. Thank you for taking your time to visit my exhibition. I usually don’t talk about Malini,” he blushed and smiled sheepishly. “You captured her eye colours really well. The deep brown colour-” she stopped mid sentence. ‘Brown eyes… Daniel wished mine were brown,’ she suddenly remembered. The closed room felt too cold suddenly and Bella felt as if she were falling. Suddenly everything went black.

_____________________

Varun watched the beautiful woman leaving the front door. She had the most amazing dark blue eyes he had ever seen. She wouldn’t tell him why she squeezed her eyes shut as if she were in pain. But when she opened them, her manner changed. She seemed more relaxed and confident. Her flirtatious smile and the wink at the end stayed in his mind for a long time. “Varun, Mrs Rhodes is here,” called his manager. He caught the last of her auburn hair as she turned right at the street. Knowing that his signed Polaroid picture in her bag would remind her of him one day made him happy. Varun really enjoyed her company even if it was only for a short while. As he touched his face where she had kissed him a little too close to his lips, he said, “Goodbye, Claudia.”