Upon his arrival, he met the brothel keeper and enquired about the woman. The man said, "She be comin’ at a high price. Ye must 'ave heard o' her beauty 'n mark me words, she be an expert at wha' she does. Are ye ready t' pay th' amount we demand?"
The scoundrel’s greedy eyes lit up as he nodded to a door on the far left of the dilapidated building. The room seemed larger than the others and he could hear someone playing the harp through the windows. He stepped in, careful not to stumble on to anything in the dark. He fished out a candle from his pocket and lit it with a makeshift lighter he built on his way there.
He found himself in an unusually large room compartmentalized with curtains drawn at places. The floor were made of colored tiles arranged in jagged patterns, and the walls were made of gneiss and polished granite. A window to the east opened to a lobby overlooking the valleys. A tinted glass partition separated the lobby from the hall. Silk banners hung from the ceiling and Persian carpets adorned the floors. Polished stone pedestals held golden and silver statues portraying nude men and women and beside the bed was a table with the finest of chinaware and a meal fit for the gods. Everything in the room was rich and lavish; the painter found himself awed, and envious that he never had a place so luxurious even in all the kingdoms he had visited.
“Must have been done to complement her,” he thought. “All this… Even kings would turn green with envy seeing these riches. Who then, may this woman be? I’d heard rumors that kings grovel at the lady’s feet pining for her love but I’d always dismissed them thinking it to be just another ruse. Seeing all the gifts that her lovers showered upon her, there is no doubt she is an angel of heavenly grace. But I have never seen her before. Nor have I felt such an affection for anything but my art? Why then, am I so restless? It is as if I am to do something that will etch my name in the hearts of painters for eternity. It seems like destiny has been calling me, guiding me to this place. This very moment…”
While he was immersed in his thoughts, an angelic voice, crisp like crackling butter, yet soothing and sweet as honey brought him back to reality. He swiftly turned towards the voice. Such was its power, said history documenting the moment forever. He was stunned the moment he saw her.
"She is a goddess walking on earth,” he said to himself, “There is no way she could be a common whore."
The lady with all the grace of a swan and majesty of a lioness walked towards him and in a voice that could have you forget everything she said, "Good day, My Lord. They call me Lisa, a name not given by my parents of course. You may call me anything you like. I am all yours for tonight. How can I please you?"
Captivated by such forthrightness, our protagonist replied, "Milady, Please do not mistake me for another of your daily clients. I am but a modest painter. A slave to my art known far and wide for what I do. My paintings adorn the walls of placid palaces and paltry inns alike. Tonight I am here to task my brush to paint your soul. It shall be a painting to etch your timeless beauty into my canvas making you immortal as you were ordained to be.”
"Alas, I wish I could capture this laughter just as well," thought he, mesmerized by her completeness.
"My Lord,” she said with her bewitching eyes piercing holes in his state of being, “I am a mere prostitute who has been blessed with a beautiful face. But the soul you speak of, is no more alive. It died the moment I stepped inside this brothel. You seek to make me immortal, to have people talk about a whore for ages? Trust me My Lord, every night I sleep with a different man, young and old. They play with my body, they call me beautiful and shower gifts and praises on me. They say how they will never forget me and will come back for me but once they step out of this room, I am no more than an object of pleasure for them. They talk of my beauty but never about me. I am beautiful, I don’t deny it, but I am certainly not worth painting."
The painter replied with a long silence. He drew a stool for her to sit and himself sat on his knees in front of her. Lisa, taken aback by this sudden development tried to stand up but the painter stopped her. He held her hands in his and smiled looking straight into her eyes as though he was about to speak to them. Lisa, for the first time was comfortable in the company of a man.
“I honestly have no idea what others think of you, and I couldn’t care less but for me you are art, broken yet beautiful. You are not the whore they say you are; you are much more than that. You are a warrior, a fighter. I don’t know what made you do this for a living but I know that deep down you are still the girl who dreamt of reaching out to the stars. My dear lady, I am an artist. I can see, feel and imagine what others can’t. Others before me might have slept with you but I will be the first to make love. I will use my brush to kiss the curves of your body; I will use the colours to sew your broken soul back together, piece by piece. My dear Lisa, say yes and I will create a masterpiece the world will know as the Mona Lisa.”
And for the first time Lisa shed tears and not clothes. Tears of consent.
Viwanshu Vaibhaw with
The Ghost Writer
Cover Image: Ishita Sikdar's acrylic on canvas titled 'Her'