The Train Station Painter

I would often hear rumors about a lady who painted on the way going to line two. In fact, those rumors were true. I would rush my way down the corridor, heading towards the train when I would see her and her canvas propped up on a wooden support. She scented her work area such that the paints would not be a cause for concern. Tiny little vials of mixture surrounded her, forming a semi circle with her back towards the wall of the tunnel. She always brought a set of empty canvas’ with her. I never managed to pay much attention to her, but she was there. I often wondered what she was painting, and the chance never really happened upon me to ask. However, one day, while late going to work as usual, sprinting down the tunnel heading towards the train, I decided to stop.

I was an hour late that day. I was already expecting the worst, and I didn’t feel like getting the full brunt of it in person. I knew they were going to chew me out and fire me flat, but I still had some fight in me not to go into work. Instead, as I ran down that tunnel, focusing my attention on the lady who was painting, I stopped. The world around me walked by, some paying attention to the lady who was painting, some paying attention to the man who was panting his lungs out. The lady didn’t pay any attention to anything but her painting. Her skin was pale, and she wore a white dress. Her hair was a deep crimson, and her hands as she painted looked delicate. She would retract her brush, stare at what she made for a few seconds, nod, dip her brush gently onto the palette she wore on her free hand, and continue. I stepped to the side of her canvas, slightly behind the semi circle of scented vials she had. I couldn’t get a good glimpse of what she was painting, but it looked somewhat like a train.

“I’m not asking for donations,” she said. Her voice was low, almost like she had only spoken to me as if on a reflex, mindless. Her eyes were fixated on the canvas in front of her, and her mind was stuck somewhere between that world and the physical.

“Unfortunately I’m not all too altruistic myself, nor do I have something to donate even if I was.” The truth of the matter was, I was the one who was looking for altruism in my life. That’s what I needed, a seed of humanity.

“I see,” she responded coldly. Just like that, the ball was back in my court. She had no intention of speaking to anyone, and even if someone did speak to her, she was defensive.

“What are you working on?” I threw her a bone.

Her eyes were unchanging, her focus ironclad.

“It’s obvious isn’t it?” She finally said.

“A train, right?” She didn’t answer. It was a train. It was a white train, and instead of the underground tunnel or tracks in the city, the train was running across an empty plain. Somewhere in the distance was a tree, but other than that, the train was simply running off to a place neither I nor her could see. It was a beautiful train, a beautiful painting.

“Where do you think it’s going?” She suddenly asked. Her brush was off the canvas, her hands stopped, her entire body seemed frozen in time. Her eyes were transfixed onto the edge of the train. I wondered that as well. If I had to guess, it was probably going, “towards a place far from here.”

She smiled.

“Perhaps so.”

Then.

“You run by here often.” I was surprised she noticed.

“And here I thought you were too busy painting to notice anything around you.”

“That can’t be further from the truth. In fact, sitting here painting by myself, it’s inevitable that I’ll notice busybodies like you.”

“I guess you’re right.” I smiled.

“But, that doesn’t mean that those busybodies should be bothering me either.” She unhinged her canvas, set it behind her, and grabbed another one. A completely blank world stood in front of her. She set her brush into a pale below her and took a few breaths.

“So, why are you bothering me?”

“Should I not?”

“Not that you should, but, if you don’t have a reason, then you should not,” she smiled, “If you don’t have one, then I’ll give you one.” She brought her brush to the canvas and continued, “How about it? A model.”

“Why not,” I said as I stood a little ways away from the canvas. She shifted her work station such that she could face me and still draw. Though, I couldn’t see what exactly she was drawing, I had faith that it would somewhat resemble me.

“Why here?” I began. I figured I had the time, all the time in the world. I turned off my phone.

“You might as well ask that question to everybody in the world. You’d like to know that answer wouldn’t you?”

“You know what I mean.” She stopped, traced a few strokes on her canvas, and then spoke.

“Why do you think painters go to parks?”

“They do?” She cleared her throat.

“Some do. Some don’t. Some have a studio, some are homeless. But, you can paint anywhere, so why here? That’s the question, right? Why here. Let me ask you the same question, why here?” She didn’t break focus for a single minute. Her hands, her body, was all invested in creating that painting, while her mind, her words, were just answering the noise that came to her. All the while, the odd person walking on by scuttled away at the strange scene at the tunnel by line two. One part of my mind began wondering what I was going to do about a job.

“It’s on the way to work,” I answered.

“You’re not going to work,” she bounced back.

“You were here, you caught my eye,” I tried to give her a run for her money.

“Television catches your eyes. The billboards plastered on top of skyscrapers catches your eyes,” she wasn’t having it.

“Okay. I could be anywhere right about now. I get it. But that’s  just dodging the question. You’re a painter right? There must be something special about here.”

“As much as I want there to be a reason, there really isn’t. It just happened like this.”

“Really?”

“Really.” That made me a little mad. Talent, was the word they used to describe people like her. I refused to believe that any old painter could concentrate, make something at the level she was in the middle of a tunnel. That wasn’t how the world worked, not for me, it never has. To see it work for her, made me mad. But, maybe I was more mad at myself. I wondered what I was going to write for my next resume.

“Any special reason why you paint?” It’d be inane to say I got fired because a painter in a train station caught my eye. Though, maybe it wouldn’t.

“Any special reason why you get up in the morning?” Maybe they would find her and skin her for being so cold. She was the reason, my poison, I thought menacingly. I dropped it with a shake of my head.

“You know what I mean.”

“So do you.” She smiled. I sighed. Her smile somehow made it all the less irritating. Her smile somehow made our mindless exchanges worth something more than a few popped veins. It still didn’t make up for what I was doing. I never really did like that job.

“Okay…I get up every morning so that I can go to work.”

“Except for today,” she corrected.

“Except for today.” It’s no excuse, but I’d tell anyone. I hated my job. It really wasn’t worth much salt to just say it, but to skip out on work was another deal. Now that was true hatred. Didn’t really help me in the end, but I have the gall of a million idiots sitting in me. A million tired idiots.

“Instead, I got up this morning so that I could confront the painter in the train station.”

“And how’d that go for you?”

“Swell.”

I couldn’t tell her progress, but she was making progress, I hoped.

“As for me. I get up every morning so that I can see the bright sun,” she started, almost in a singsong manner, almost childlike, “and the blue sky, and feel the wind on my face.”

“And let me guess the answer to my actual question: just because?”

“Ding, ding, ding,” she made a motion with her hand like she was about to point at me, but she restrained herself, “You got it.” Her tone shifted, “What other reason do I need?” If I stopped to hear my breath, I could hear our voices slightly echo in the tunnel, and I could hear my anger slightly boil up. It wasn’t her fault, I told myself. It was the world.

“Sounds empty if you put it like that though.” But even then, that was just an excuse. I wondered what I did for twenty four years of my life. I wondered what anyone did. Twenty four. Twenty five. Twenty six. I’d still be doing the same thing, I used to tell myself. I didn’t have the courage to kill myself, who does?

“Is that how you see it?” She stopped her brush. Her focus was incredible. If a bullet whizzed by, she was sure to remain painting. I wondered what kept her going. But if I asked, she would answer me plainly.

“Is your life empty?” She asked. The painting was drying, her world was set, but she wasn’t done. I thought about her question, all the while, she sat frozen in her seat.

“Why don’t you answer first?” Her brush moved again. Her mind back in automatic.

“It’s not empty at all. You can only be further from the truth if you think my painting, or my life is empty. No. Every day is filled with color. So is yours. No matter how bleak you are, your life is full of color.”

“And how can you say that?”

“Well, you’re still alive, right?” She smiled. If that really was the only reason people needed, there wouldn’t be suicides, homicides, or pesticides. We wouldn’t need to engineer ways to kill or be killed. We would all be a bunch of happy idiots in a happy world where nothing bad ever happens. Just because I’m alive doesn’t facilitate I have a life worth living. But I couldn’t muster the words out of my mouth. I only had the inside of my mind to vent. That was my world. The world where I was a hero, where I skipped out on work with my head held high. The world where my jobless disposition wasn’t jacked up on anti-depressants.

“If you really need a reason to live,” she started, “find one. Anyone. Anything. Just like painting, better to do it then mope around, right?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t hurt to try.” The tunnel was more than empty now. Just us two, and a canvas. That was all that mattered. That was all that made up of our world then. That was all that she had effort for.

“Do you like to paint?” I asked.

“Love it.” Without missing a beat, she answered.  We were silent for the remainder of her painting. The entire world seemed to pass me by someplace beyond me. But I shook that notion out. It was idiotic. The world didn’t pass me by. No. I stood there in silence, listening to my own breath, listening to her strokes, and listening to the sound of the train echoing in the tunnel. I was just still enough to watch as the world walked in front of me, waiting for me to go back. The world was waiting. I was the one passing the world by, on my own terms.

“I’m done,” she said after a long while. She unhinged her canvas, and held it towards me, peering from the side, watching my reaction with a silent smile. In front of me was a train. A train that was situated in the middle of nowhere, with a single tree somewhere in the distance. The train was moving on by to a place neither I nor her could see. But in that train, was a man. The man was in the train, observing the world around him. He was smiling as the train moved on by. I didn’t need her to ask before I answered myself, “towards a place far from here.”

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