The painting was almost complete. He just had to add a few touches. Painting landscapes was never his thing but he had been forced to paint them since…He tossed the paintbrush down and got up. He walked over to the window and stared out into the street below. It was quiet now. It was Sunday. Almost everyone was in church. He had stopped attending Sunday mass three years ago. He had stopped doing a lot of things three years ago. Three years ago she had stood right there by the door, ready to removed her coat when her cell rang. He had no idea who called her but after she ended the call, she grabbed her knapsack and said, “I have to go but I will be back later,” before she pulled open the door and rushed out.
He waited all day for her to return or to call but neither was forthcoming. Three years later and she hadn’t returned. He had no idea where she was. Maybe she went back to her home in Benin. She was the reason why he stopped painting people and started painting landscapes. He had broken his own rule of never mixing business with pleasure. She was supposed to be his muse–that was all. He had painted hundreds of women before and not once did any of them stir any passions in him. He was immune to them. To him there were just muses.
Then, he met her one day at the gallery where his work was on display. She was eighteen at the time. Her youth was so refreshing. She wasn’t beautiful or even pretty and her eyes seemed too large for her small face but she intrigued him. He wanted to paint her right then and there. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that she was going to be his next muse. After they left the gallery, he took her for a cappuccino. She was a bit hesitant at first although she was flattered that he wanted to paint her but he was very persuasive.
She turned out to be the perfect muse, inspiring him to produce his best work. He churned out painting after painting. She sat there day after day, still as a statue. He supposed that it was gradual but one day he realized that he that he had fallen for her–of all he foolhardy things to do. He was twice her age, for pity’s sake. He thought of finding another muse to replace her but he couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing her again. She had brought light and joy into his otherwise dull existence. Life without her would be intolerable. He didn’t replace her but it became increasingly hard to paint because he couldn’t concentrate. Instead of painting her, he wanted to take her in his arms and…
He leaned forward, his palms flat on the window seat, his tortured gaze scanned the horizon. She was out there somewhere. His life was empty. There was a great big chasm and his heart ached every time he remembered how she had literally run out of his life. He never got another muse. No one could replace her. Oh, Johari, my inspiration, my grand passion, my torment.
He heard a sound behind him and turned. His face became ashen when he saw her standing there. If she didn’t blink, he would have imagined that she was an illusion. All sorts of emotions churned inside him. His hands curled into tight fists as he tried to hold them in check. Part of him wanted to take her in his arms and lavish her with kisses while the other part wanted to lash out at her for the misery she had put him through.
“I came back, Adriel,” she said, moving closer.
He didn’t budge. “Yes, three years later. Where have you been all this time?”
“I’ve been in Benin. That day when I was here with you, I got a call from an uncle that my father had fallen ill and that I was needed home right away. I got the first flight out of London. I helped my mother to look after him until he recovered. My mother asked me to stay until she could afford to hire a private nurse. I tried calling you but there wasn’t any answer. I think your cell was off. I wrote to you while I was in Benin but you never answered. Adriel, you must know that only a family emergency would make me leave you. All the time I was away, I thought about you and missed you. I wondered why you didn’t write me. I thought you were out of the country or busy with gallery showings or—that you had met someone.”
He quickly closed the distance between them. “I’ve been here all this time,” he told her. “Missing you and wondering where you were. I had my phone turned off and I never received any of your letters.”
“So, there isn’t another woman…?”
He shook his head vigorously. “No!” Groaning, he reached for her and pulled her into his arms. “I couldn’t be with anyone else even if I wanted to. I love you, Johari.” He covered her face with kisses, unable to help himself.
She hugged him tightly about his waist and murmured, “I love you too.”
They stood there in the sun-dappled room locked in a passionate embrace. He stopped painting for a long while and he no longer had any need for a muse. They got married in a quiet ceremony in Saint–Paul–de–Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera. When he returned to painting, he did portraits while Johari worked in a museum which featured his work.