The Artist at Work

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It was July, 2010. The year I published my first book.

Some days you remember for what they are, and for the long road you’ve traveled to get to it. That day was a special one for me. I’d never being any happier holding a printed copy of my book in my hand and not feeling a proud sensation run through me.

Although it was rather difficult getting the book out. In case you, my fellow reader, don’t know it yet, I’m a Nigerian. And where I’m from, writing is a vocation only the few tend to take it seriously. I’d tried publishing my book through local media houses but neither understood the level of seriousness or expertise I was seeking. Thus my only option was to take my wares abroad. At the time I hadn’t yet set foot on American soil, although that would be a dream this first book of mine would afford me. I browsed for any independent publishing house I could find and happened to stumble on AuthorHouse. Maybe now, they never would have being my first choice, but at the time, I had no choice available to me. Americans don’t understand how much choice they have as opposed to someone from Africa. Anyway, long story short, they put the book out for me. You can find it on their AuthorHouse website, or on Amazon. Though it’s unfortunate I’ve never earned a single penny from the book, and I’d like nothing but republish it sometime again, maybe add another story or two to the collection. But until then, it’s here to stay.

Here’s a short excerpt from the title work: “The Artist at Work.”

* * * * *

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Sometime in the early month of May, in this present year of our Lord, the brilliant reclusive artist who resided at #27 Dan Wilson Street completed his long awaited masterpiece.

It had taken him more than two and a half years to finish it. That was two and a half years of blood, sweat, loneliness and absolute solitude. For two and a half years he had locked himself up in his little studio behind his house staring at his wide plain canvas all night and day, neither going out to see his numerous friends nor wishing to be seen or heard from by them or by well wishers or even his family … except for his Cheshire cat, Thom.

He never came out much during this time – except for crossing the street during the evenings towards the roadside sellers to buy cooked food, oranges and kola-nuts. During this time he seldom went out to the market either but stayed indoors swallowing cups of coffee and eating large amounts of junk food, which he prepared for himself. He lost a few pounds because of this but still he wasn’t bothered. His recent girlfriend after much fuss, fits and complaints had walked out on him into the hungry waiting arms of his neighbour next-door, but even that never bothered him. Not one bit.

Though his eccentricities wasn’t a new thing. Even when he wasn’t working he still kept to himself, never getting involved with people’s arguments, quarrels or thoughts, even if they invited him to, though he never refrained from buying them palm wine drinks whenever they asked. Yes, he did smile and laughed at their crude jokes even when they were directed at him but he seldom involved himself with them; and when he spoke, his words were soft and few. Time and time again they tried to indulge themselves unto him without much result. He would at times become unusually quiet and distant. Still they loved and worshiped him for whom he was, but deep inside, they feared him. No one around ever thought about picking a quarrel with him – for what reason would they?

Indeed, everyone in the village knew of his persistent seclusion whenever he sat down to begin a new painting, which was quite often … but this time it had been too much for them to bear.

On the street corners, in the marketplace and roadside eating/drinking spots, all the villagers talked about was him. They whispered of him, argued about him, recalled past tales and chance encounters with him and in the end laughed about him. It wasn’t long before one could barely separate what was truth and what was rumour. And why should they – after all, he was their favourite neighbour, their number one icon; the one person they wished their wayward sons would emulate and become and whom their supple daughters would hopefully one day marry, that’s if the good Lord so wished it.

“I hear that he has gone mad … utterly and completely!”

“My God, will you please keep quiet! You’re always over hearing nonsense.”

“You who’s talking, what do you know besides drowning your mouth in a beer bottle.”

Uproarious laughter.

“What I heard was his painting got the best of him so he locked himself up the other night and slit both his wrist.”

“That what you heard? I heard he opened his throat – ear to ear…”

“Well, that wasn’t what I heard. I hear he’s working on something much bigger and greater than his previous works …”

And on and on the rumours travelled like an ageless nursery rhyme, sweeping all over the village, infecting all whom had an ear or two to listen.

Day and night they stood watching from across the street, balconies and opened windows; drinking beer, cracking dry jokes, swapping stale gossips and reading old newspapers, watching and waiting anxiously to be among the first to see his studio doors creak open. Their doubts had slowly begun to evolve into fear till one of them – though till today nobody could actually recall whom – stood up and approached his back gate, followed by several others.

Silently they crept across his littered backyard like thieves and pressed their nose against his studio’s dirt-stained windows. A heavy sigh of relief came off their breaths as they were once more happy again when they recognised the artist, naked from the waist up, standing with his back towards them, a palette in his left hand while his other swished a paintbrush across a wide canvas in front of him while Thom, his cat, purred by his feet. They stood there for a long time, talking and whispering excitedly amongst themselves till finally the artist came out and rudely told them to leave. Distraught though they were, never the less they left with a much warmer heart and mind.

The next day had brought a new sunshine into the village. Everybody, from the newspaper vendors, to the bar tenders, to the Reverend Father who presided over the Catholic church in the village, to the roadside food sellers, to the ragged winos and drunks sitting by the gutters, to the ever grumbling postman, to the little kids going to school and the young lads playing football by the sand field all day. They were all very nice, polite and bright to each other and it could be said that throughout that week, nobody exchanged so much as an angry word, threat, or malicious glance at each other. The artist was alive and kicking behind his work and that was all that mattered to them.

The next item on everybody’s mind was about his upcoming work: was he through with it or not? And if not, when? What was on it? How beautiful was it? Did he intend on selling it, or sending it to one of those profitable Art houses in the city, or was he keeping it for himself? Or if indeed he was going to sell it, then how much would it cost … and could either of them afford it?

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