Winner of 2nd prize in the Memories from Books flash fiction contest
Shubha resisted the urge to give a piece of her mind to the two young men at the desk. She had simply stated her name on arrival at the gallery when they had begun sniggering. Despite their attempts at being discreet about it, they were failing miserably. Offended, Shubha did her best to ignore it as they handed her the booklet for the art exhibition.
Even though their behaviour was unacceptable, she figured it wouldn’t be appropriate if the artist’s mother created a ruckus at the gallery’s entrance on opening night. Instead, she decided to mention it to the organiser the moment she saw him. For now, she accepted the booklet giving her best death glare in response, and promptly made her way in.
The gallery had begun to fill up with people - mostly art patrons, some friends and family. Today was a private viewing for a select audience, invitation only. Shubha met with the familiar faces and spent a few moments with each of them. This was Avira’s first big exhibition and networking at such an event was important.
Having arrived straight from the airport, Shubha was yet to meet her daughter who was busy with the art enthusiasts. She decided to use the time to walk around the gallery.
Though Shubha was well versed with all of Avira’s work, it was the first time she was seeing it on display. She usually saw them unframed, propped up in an available corner of Avira’s studio. However, seeing them showcased today in a large open space, Shubha couldn’t help but admire the beauty of her daughter’s work. Every canvas looked exquisite. She had been delighted to learn that offers had already started pouring in from buyers.
Moving through the exhibits, Shubha stopped before one particular painting. It was her favourite amongst the collection - an abstract piece with a randomised pattern painted in varying colours. The balance of design and colour was perfect. This was in fact the piece that had got Avira noticed and subsequently led to her being signed on by an agent.
Warmed by the memory, Shubha unfolded the program she had been clutching in her hand and leafed through the pages to read the description for this artwork. As she turned the pages over, she saw scribbles of colour across them. At first glance, they appeared to be some sort of background design. Paying closer attention, she realised they looked as if a child had scribbled on it, doodled maybe. She flipped through the flyer from back to front, wondering if maybe she had been handed over a used one. Probably some silly prank by the two boys at the reception.
Then, for the first time since receiving it, Shubha noticed her own name scribbled on the top right corner of the front page. It was in Avira’s familiar cursive handwriting. She turned to the back of the booklet which displayed an author portrait and the URL for her new art website. There, at the bottom of the page was a beautifully painted swan. Suddenly, everything made sense. No wonder the boys had behaved as they had. Clearly, they had been asked to hand over this ‘destroyed’ booklet to Shubha.
Shubha smiled to herself as her eyes sought her daughter. When they finally landed on her, Avira was deep in conversation with someone.
Sensing her mother’s eyes on her, Avira excused herself and strode towards her.
“I gather you like the exhibition,” she said.
“As if you didn’t know that already,” said Shubha, playfully.
“No, it’s something more. I can see it in your eyes.”
Shubha held up the booklet in her hand, grinning. “This,” she said.
“What about it?” Avira feigned total ignorance even as her mother could see right through it.
“Don’t pretend with me, sweetheart. I’m your mother and I know you better than you know yourself.”
“Really Ma. I have no idea what you mean.” Avira was trying so very hard to keep the smile off her face.
Shubha placed her hand on Avira’s cheek and said, “You want me to spell it out now?”
Avira threw her head back and laughed, before wrapping her arms around her mother.
“Nah,” she said, “I always say the genius in my genes comes from you.”
Mother and daughter laughed together.
“So, this is your new logo, is it?” asked Shubha, pointing to the bird painted at the back of the booklet.
“Naturally, an ode to my favourite book.”
Shubha leafed through the booklet again, looking at Avira’s doodles on the pages.
“Back then if someone had asked me, I would never have guessed you would become an artist. Writer, maybe. Not an artist. You were so in love with that book. It was the only story you ever wanted to listen to. Then, one day, you discovered the pen.”
Avira beamed. She loved to hear her mother tell her this story.
“God knows how I disliked your scribbling across the book, trying to copy the pictures. No matter where I hid it, you wouldn’t rest till you had found it. It was much later when I realised that not only did you love the story, you loved the illustrations as well, especially of that white bird.” Shubha smiled as she shook her head.
“And that’s how I ended up having over two dozen versions of the book.”
Shubha nodded. “That reminds me,” she said, handing over the gift bag she had brought for her. “This is for you.”
“Ma, you didn’t have to.”
Shubha placed it in Avira’s hands. “Go on, open it.”
Avira’s heartbeat quickened as she pulled out a flat gift-wrapped package. Carefully unwrapping the paper so as not to tear it, she turned it over to reveal the contents.
What she saw nearly made her squeal in excitement. It was a vintage edition of a Hans Christian tale. Her absolute favourite of them all. The Ugly Duckling.