Category C: Third Place (2020) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Svetlana Nevskaya
Title: Find your way
Dina did not know why she could not help but stare at this strange picture. Some acquaintances she met on the way, discussing shapes and their metaphorical connotations as experts, tried to ask her opinion, but she just shrugged her shoulders as a reply, not caring to seem rude or ignorant. So, now, at this exhibition of modern art, where she was invited by her apparently omnipresent friend and secretary Suzi (“You are coming. At least once a year you have to show you are interested in the business which you work with”, said Suzi, implying that Dina — as a CEO of a headhunter agency — had found a dozen specialists for this gallery) she was staying here glued and did not know why this strange picture was attracting her.
Hundreds of tones — from dandelion to vanilla, from the forget-me-not flower to sail — of blue and yellow and the pure being of these colors formed in a strange magnificent dance, maybe fog, maybe — the opposite — a day drenched in sunshine. Dina had never thought in terms of color blurs or spots, but that moment she was hooked and suddenly started to imagine the artist’s face during this work: smiling and serious at the same time.
The longer she stood in front of this picture, the deeper was the strange feeling that gripped her. The feeling, as if something hidden deep-deep in her memory was trying to swim to the surface as some sort of ocean creature, living in dark waters not knowing the concept of light, have suddenly dared to change its place of residence and move from one corner of the mind to another.
While she was driving in her new Tesla, Dina tried to focus on the road and get rid of this stupid image. She almost succeeded. At home, listening to her husband Larry and their two kids chatting enthusiastically about their day, she almost forgot about the picture reminding her that there was something that she needed to remember.
“I have to meet the artist,” she called Suzi (Dina saw her online status) after she had tossed and turned for hours without sleeping, trying not to wake up Larry.
“It is nearly one a.m. You should say thank you to my mom. She always forgets about the time difference, reporting to me on her crazy news. You, by the way, are crazy too and I am going to sleep. We'll talk tomorrow.”
“Suzi, I have to… I just must meet this artist.”
“You mean the artist of the picture where we lost you today? Dear, this artist does not show himself to the public. His only and undisputable condition for exhibitions is not bothering him with interviews, meetings, and all that nonsense. He is like a… like…a…”
“Incognito,” Dina pointed out.
“Yeah. By the way, they say his manager leads his social media on these conditions too: only his pictures speak. And I must say it is a very expensive speech.”
The following evening, after rearranging her busy day — calls, letters, meetings, decisions, decisions and even — what Dina called — redecisions (when she gave the second chance to candidates for a job vacancy) — Dina had eventually managed to sneak into the exhibition just before closing.
What should she recall? What was the message? What point was she looking for in the picture that held her?
Dina stepped back and then forward. Closed her eyes. Opened them. Smoothly. Suddenly. Alternately. She decomposed this painting into lines, points, brushstrokes, but all those manipulations did not lead her closer to a solution or even a step towards one. Dina squatted down trying to recall the first feeling from this picture. What was it trying to say to her? Think, Dina, think.
She knew that when the direct request to her brain does not work, only one method could help.
Dina went to the park. This way — escaping or just giving herself the space to think — of making decisions always helped her. She walked, looking around noticing and not noticing at the same time lacy clouds, fearlessly absorbed by each other, leaves, greedily conquering the space and giving it back with the next gust of wind.
The fog. The sun. The smile. The sadness. Opposite.
The opposite. The bus. The fog. The smile and the sadness.
And then Dina remembered. It was another country, another language, another life.
She was a student and had to go by bus to the university in a neighboring town. She adored staring through the window and never tired of the landscapes flashing outside. But sometimes darkness or fog closed the windows — these eyes of buses — and to kill time she invented a game à la Sherlock: to reconstruct the story of fellow travelers. That morning in a half-empty bus she saw a young girl. Fancy hair — on one side her hair was black, and on the other — white (a brunette from one profile and a blonde from another). Dina instantly came up with her story: the unhappy girl was running away from her demanding rich parents who wanted her to become an economist and now she was going to a record studio to chase her dream and become a famous singer. Oh, and there was a man in a respectable suit, and polished shoes who might be an important big shot. Hey, wait a second, he was taking out a beaten-up wallet and counting the money for a ticket with careful gestures. In a flash, Dina came up with his could-be-story: his business was not going well, but for some reason, it was important to show to someone that things were looking up. She knew from book pages that this kind of proof is always a bad idea, so she wished him good luck and shifted her gaze. Some seats away there was a mother with a child of eight or nine. Oh, this would be easy for everyone. A little spoiled boy demanding from his mother a lot of stuff and asking for unnecessary help: to unfold candy, to get rid of the wrapper… a cookie, do not want the cookie, water…
Suddenly, Dina met the eyes of another boy, sitting alone though he was of a similar age as the needy boy. And she opened her mouth, impressed. His face was an open book. About the other passengers, she had only made suggestions and always kept in mind that it was just a game and what she thought would unlikely or never be true. The girl could be going to the hairdressing competition or to a math lecture at the university located nearby. The man could be just a family man who was looking good because of his caring wife. She never allowed her brain exercises to judge people.
But the face of that boy… The protective pride that he was independent. The contempt that his peer was a little whiner. And an irrepressible desire to have an adult with him who could hug him and indulge his whims with the same patience as the mother of the needy.
In an impulsive movement of heart, she opened her bag and gave him all her chocolate — the food for a student’s brain — she had for this week. A happy face thanked her. It turned out that they had the same stop. Their direction upon leaving the bus was shared and step by step she realized that the boy was…mute. His face was his voice to people without special knowledge of sign language.
It was the beginning of their one-week friendship. Pure friendship, full of deep understanding between two kids with different languages. Seven days of this friendship ended suddenly: Dina waited for him some days in vain and she stopped waiting when she heard that he was transferred to another boarding school without the time for good-byes.
The next day — it was her day off — Dina was sitting in her cozy chair, smiling. An opened History of Modern Art was on her lap.
“Have we been robbed?”, asked Dina’s husband pouring some coffee.
“Not to my knowledge. Why?”
“The Tesla. I’ve not seen it in the garage. Oh, please do not tell me that it is at a service station.”
“No, it has a new owner,” and Dina winked at the bus (or the fog, or the day drenched in sunshine) from the painting.
The name of the painting was “Find your way”. The notice to the artist’s manager «I am happy you have found your way to express yourself», signed as «The girl with chocolate from the bus.” surprisingly but expectedly worked.
It is worthwhile to add that the school for deaf and mute students received a bigger donation than it usually does. By a Tesla’s price.
(Please, do not worry: Dina did not replace her Tesla with a fuel car, she has found her way to get to work. But — sorry — it is completely another story).