While waiting at the intersection and wading through the conundrum of slow-moving cars and angry buses that hissed out smoke at measured intervals, Alice spotted the signboard above – The City Museum – 2.5 KMs to the Left. She kept drumming her fingers on the steering wheel for a few more seconds and then suddenly pressed hard on the accelerator and swerved to the left.
‘Just a quick short trip and then I’ll be on my way to the grocery store,’ she mumbled to herself. She had moved to the city a couple of years ago and had never been to the museum.
‘The painting collection there is fantastic!’ a friend had said once, she remembered.
She parked the vehicle and almost regretfully glanced at the shopping bags sitting limply in the backseat. ‘Hmph, later!’
At the building’s art section, she moved fast, from one painting to another, trying to take as many mental images of the displays as possible until she abruptly stopped at the artwork on the dark wall – a watercolour creation by an artist she had never heard of. The painting featured a lady walking in a meadow filled with summer blooms. The day was both windy and sunny and there was something very unique about her demeanour. Visually, she seemed quite upbeat and pleasant, yet there was something about her manner that perplexed Alice.
Maybe it was her elegant attire- a flouncy skirt and silk scarf, or the way she was struggling to hold on to her flying parasol against the elements, she thought before brushing the woman off of her mind while hurriedly heading back to the store.
Later, that evening, as she was flipping steaks on the barbecue and tossing greens in the bowl, the thought of her detour in the morning and the lady from the painting kept her vaguely preoccupied. ‘It was a simple painting by an obscure artist. Just stop obsessing over it,’ she reproachfully told herself to stay focused on the task at hand. A few hours into the party, and she looked around satisfactorily. Everything looked perfect, just as she had planned. Her family and friends were enjoying the bonfire which she had painstakingly put together in the backyard after returning from the market. Their faces were aglow in the warmth of crackling flames, and lilting music and laughter were spilling over like sweet wine.
It was at this moment, out of nowhere, the mystery unfolded in her mind. The woman in the painting, though extremely delicate and poised, seemed suspiciously content and recklessly blissful. Beyond the seemingly calming aesthetics of the art piece, the pink flowers, and the spotless dress, there were hints of secrecy, a kind of wild and joyful, yet hard-to-hide anticipation in her deportment- similar to what one would feel before meeting a secret lover.
This unexpected revelation about the lady took Alice back to the work trip she had taken a few years ago. Bittersweet memories of a brief rendezvous with a stranger in a foreign land. A memory she had no idea she had still clung to in the deep recesses of her mind until now. For a moment, Alice saw herself in the painting. She became the lady with the flowing silken scarf anxiously walking down a fragrant meadow while the wind blew wildly and the sun shone spectacularly. There was something clandestine and gloriously buoyant about her gait. She was on her way to meet her lover. Perhaps for the last time before they part ways with a promise to never contact each other again. A promise that was sincerely honoured.
The unexpected sound of footsteps coming from the back porch roused Alice from her reverie. She put the glasses down in the sink.
“Hey, Alice! Nice party!” A friend yelled.
“Thanks! Have you tried the dessert yet?” Alice responded with a question.