Last evening, after I took a mistimed crap at work, I came out and suddenly felt existential. I know that is a bit excessive, given that I don’t have a clue about the concept, but I thought it was the thing to be, like being woke and all. Still I had a nagging sense that it was a sort of blanket term you applied to anything that went on inside you.
But was I being existential?
And if so, does anyone care? Should I care? I decided, someone should. Someone with that kind of luxury. (OK the real reason is at the end of the blog…cos the footnotes plugin cost y’all, so scroll down…. )
Because, what if I was a slave, and I was being beaten up, I mean…after I’ve done the required amount of mine-working that was expected, minus a few, enough at least to get me beaten up occasionally. And while I am being beaten up by the chief slave-driver, possibly a tall hefty man with a giant mustache that bristled with severity and the labored sweat of whipping people to work. After about the 20th lash of the pointed whip, I turn around and tell him,
“Mister… I resign. I have had enough of you…and I do not think this is what my life should be about…”
It could surely confuse the slave-driver…and he would squint in the sun and stare down at me and say, “You can’t just…resign…”
Bleeding on the fields, I reply with vehemence, “I totally can…”
“But do you know what you want to do after…resigning?” He was saying it as if it were a dirty word on his tongue.
For a split second, I was confused. Enough to destroy the rebellious drive within me. Because honestly, I was doing slaving because I didn’t know, or I was born for it, and what else could I be doing.
And so I just allowed him to whip my back, and I was like…hey this is not such a bad life…I mean…it has its benefits…I mean…look at the view…mountains, the pristine rivers, the beautiful women…and of course…Rosie….
But these existential thinggies don’t leave you so easily, even if you be a toiling slave. So the next time Karl was beating me up, yes, his name was Karl, I waited for him to finish the total fifty, whining and weeping, and begging him to stop, and promising to work hard, and all the required. And when he was done, I said more firmly, “I am going to marry Rosie…”
Karl was ready with his reply, sharp as a whip, “Slaves don’t marry…”
“Aha! See..this is why I don’t like this life…I resign…”
The sun was warm above us, And Karl..he was wiping the sweat off his brow, as if tired of this routine I was throwing at him. He said, “Ok..so you’ll resign…and what ….you’ll go and marry Rosie…and what…you’ll have two kids…or more…god knows how many you heathen lot make…but tell me…how do you plan on feeding these sorry buggers? Huh. Are you planning on starving your cubs? Even an animal like you wants to be a good father! Just not thinking things through, young lad… “
I scratched my head. He had a point. I said, “I could earn a living…”
He laughed his belly-laugh, as if I’d said a good joke, “As if anyone would pay a slave!
But I said, “I want to paint!”
“Paint the walls for me…”
“There is no money in that sort of thing!”
“Ha! There is no money in being a slave, either!”
“Yes…but…you have three square meals a day…”
I looked into the distance and then at my dirty fingernails… “But I don’t have the time to paint…I don’t have the mental space for it, what with you beating the shit out of me…”
Karl narrowed his eyes, as if he knew it was time to change his tune. He said, “My dear Rembrant… come here…sit here next to me. Let’s have a chat man to man…”
I squinted up from the floor where I was crawling, not really trusting the man, but still straightening up and seating my arse beside him…
Karl went on, “I don’t mind telling you that in my time…I’ve had the chance to be make love to some of these artist types you is aspiring to be….and if I know a thing or two…it is…you need talent…which means that you’d take the pain from my whips and turn it into paint…but more importantly discipline…” he was using the worship-some tone in his voice, like when he was talking to us about the jesus bugger, He said, “And knowing what a lazy bugger you are…without a god-fearing bone in you…you’d resign and fritter around and sigh…and be like..I am a painter…but not paint even a landscape…and we are back to the starving babies I was telling about earlier on…”
“But I don’t like slaving. I might like painting. And I want to paint portraits… not landscapes…”
“And where is you gonna find all them models for portraits?”
“I could use Rosie!”
He laugh boomed at this, “You think the plebes wants to see the portrait of a slave girl working the mines? They’d rather see the portrait of a cow!”
That night…after a romp in the sack with Rosie, I told her about my talk with Karl, and how he thought I was a no-gooder who would just starve her kids. She said Karl was a slave-driver, and it was just what he’d say, cos he didn’t want to lose his top talent. This got me confused. “Me? Top talent? Then why was he always beating me up?”
And Rosie being the smart one, said to me, “that’s what they do to the best talent, don’t you know. “
Then she went and sold her grandmother’s chain and bought me some oil paints and canvas paper, and told me that she wanted me to paint her portrait, naked and stuff. But I was too heartbroken that she’d sold her Mammy’s necklace, the only family heirloom she had, and she was like…”if you are so sad about it…you could paint it right back on me…in the portrait…”
So I did. Also I took Karl’s advise too…painting my pains away…sometimes using the blood on my back for red….and adorning the painting with loose skin. And then, next time Karl was done whipping the shit out of me, I asked Karl if he wanted to share a smoke, and then I unfurled and showed him the portrait I had drawn of Rosie. And he took a long look, puffing away at his cigar for a long moment. And then…looking straight at me….he stuck the cigar in the middle of the damn painting, all the while telling me he was doing me a favour.
Past midnight, I heard the screams. It was Karl dragging Rosie out of the girls rooms. I screamed till my throat ached as them other slaves held me back…making me watch as the bastard raped my girl….
I was weeping my heart out, when Rosie was returned later on, tattered clothes, half-dead, the works. I gave her some water, allowed it to trickle down her broken lips, and then wept on her torn bosom. Late in the night, she got back her consciousness, and in a weepy rage, I told her that I was going to burn by paintbox and my canvases and myself while I am at it, and she was like…”no way…you keep painting my love, cos that foul-breathed bastard would never have thrown a glance my way had you’re painting not made me as you see me…beautiful as this landscape…”
That was the night I became a painter.
Real Reason: OK, I also read the first act of my novel that I wrote over the course of ten hopeless years, a rom-com cum chic-flic cum satire cum cum that is trying hard to be the next Chetan Bhagat while wanting secretly also to be the next Amitav Ghosh but really is best suited in the newly created cum genre…although there is very little cum in it to begin with.