The room I sit in is messy. It is dark, and has a mysterious aura abut it. It feels exciting. Part romantic, part uncertain. Makes me melancholy. The room reminds me of my mother. Had she been here she would have said, “Why can’t you boys ever keep your rooms clean? I am warning you for the last time in my life. Next time if you can’t find anything, look in the garbage can!.” A smile escapes my lips. The man I have come to meet welcomes me informally and starts off with too much of a preamble.
“To tell you the truth you have me confused. I really don’t understand why it is that I even agreed to your request. I haven’t met a soul from outside in years. I don’t know what it was that urged me to put in all the effort to make you comfortable, and then sit patiently and share with you my thoughts that have been bottled up for so long that I surprise myself by being able to recollect them. It feels like the flood gates of my memory have suddenly been opened.
“My thoughts are wandering all over the place today. The evening is beautiful. It reminds me of all those times that I sat and shared a story or two with those kids in the park. Wonder if anyone remembers the old story teller they were so fond of. You know one day a little girl came to hear a story, and she brought her entire household with her. She had a raging fever, but refused to stay home and miss the story. I had a tough time convincing her to go home. It was only when I promised her that I would go to her house and tell her a story did she relent. Thats how much those kids loved me. They were pretty much the joy of my life too. But then time takes its toll on our memories... They must all be married and have kids by now.
“People come and people go. But there are always those who leave an indelible mark on us. Long after they are gone, they still make you think. They live lives that are examples.”
He looks at a painting that lies in front of us and continues. “That painting there, (he sighs) was painted by me in those times. But now, it just lies there, a reminiscence of the time when the air was fresh and the spirit was free. I was young, energetic and had a lot to look forward to in life. Carefree, those were the days when youth seemed to last into eternity. But then time the traitor, always takes its toll.
“I think of all my grand-children. I miss them a lot. (He lights his pipe). When we were young, we lived in huge families. But now the times have changed, I guess. People are too busy to even be able to take proper care of themselves, we are better off here. Atleast there are people to hear us call out to them. At home everyone leaves for work or something or the other, and we are all alone.
“You know”, he continues, “It feels so nice to have you here for company. Not many people come here. Atleast not to spend time and listen to us. You are probably here only because you have to earn your living. But even then. It feels nice to be wanted. Your patience, it makes me feel so loved.
“What do think of that painting?” I was taken aback by this abrupt invitation to join in the conversation. Before I could recover, he continued. “You know. That painting has a beautiful history behind it. It is the only spot of brightness in my otherwise dull existence. She was so beautiful. One had to see her to believe her beauty. Its a pity she made me promise to keep it a secret.” In my mind formed a picture of a wonderful romance that could never see the light of day. I thought of secret rendezvous and moonlight strolls in the parks. He seemed so content as he spoke about “her.” “Maybe some day I shall tell you about it.”
A couple of hours have passed since I got here and it is now time for me to bid my host farewell. As I rise to leave, he says, “It is a secret, but someday you shall know.” I leave.
More than a week was past, and one day, just as I sat wondering about what to do with the transcript of that evening, the phone rang. It was my host’s son. And instinctively I knew it. He was no more, but in the past week he had willed his painting to me, and had also left with it an envelope addressed to me.
I reached the appointed place and after offering my condolences, received the painting and envelope. I took these and departed. I actually felt awkward to be there in the midst of his family. For some reason I felt like a traitor. I know it sounds weird, but I have no other words to describe what I felt. I opened the envelope.
“I knew at the time of our meeting that my end was near. I sit and write this letter soon after you have left. I have not much time to live. This painting is what helped me live this long. Gave me memories and the strength to pull on. But after you left I realised that there was actually very little for me to look forward to. I have enclosed in this envelope another envelope that contains the key to mystery of the painting. But remember. It was a secret.”
Within I found another envelope just like he said I would. It was old and tattered and the paper was yellowing with age. On was the inscription, “the secret of the painting.” I look at the painting. It seemed to radiate a warmth of a sort. It had the aura of mystery around it. It seemed above all tranquil. The last words of the letter kept ringing in my ears. “It was a secret.”
Next morning in the fire place was found a burnt envelope with the words, “cret of th” on it. The rest had been burnt.