Dreams of Deja vu

Dreams of Deja vu

In Arts college, 25-year-old Nathan paints a triptych by teleporting the consciousness of his muses into his mind. No one knows his secret, but it all started when he was 8. He learns then that he possesses a special gift of seeing people through their bones, reading their minds, and recalling their consciousness into his own. We meet his imaginary friend, Larz - the same age as Leonara, who is Nathan’s neighbor and friend. We are also introduced to Nathan’s nanny who whips him and starves him over his madness and disobedience when his parents are away.


Paranormal fiction / Magic realism


Rochelle Potkar (Australia)

Twenty-five-year-old Nathan Raman tried to cut out the way light fell over a female classmate’s hair and face, the way a male classmate’s kurta sleeve flapped to the wind, the way the smell of oil paint emanated from his teacher’s body, the smell of turpentine that filled the class. He tried to cut out every influx of every sense, so he could concentrate on what the professor was saying, just like the other students were.
In this first year at Fine Arts college, every student was asked to render their first paintings. The first year’s syllabus would concentrate on Purab ki Chitrakala (Arts of the East) before moving to European and other art forms.
I hope I can do this. No… I don’t think I can do this… This is the wrong course for me. These people seem so talented. And I seem like an idiot. Empty.
You can. You can. You can. Just try. And you can do anything you want to do. Most of the good things, most of success is about having confidence in yourself.

After that, Nathan didn’t take long to arrive at what he wanted to paint. Ideas were never in short supply, really. Like laundered clothes, they were stacked in the shelves of his mind. This was ready to spring through his fingers, and the rhythm of his body.
While the others were deciding on smaller canvases, Nathan decided to oil-paint a triptych, eight feet high and 12 feet wide.

On the day before he began this, he woke at the crack of dawn and sneaked out of the dorm. His hometown, Saravalli, was just an hour-and-a-half away by train, but Nathan had opted to stay in the college hostel.
Now he wandered in the hostel compound humming a song whose words he couldn’t remember. The sky hadn’t struck alive yet. Nor had the sun painted its rays into it. The trees lacked color and hunched like sleeping shadows as Nathan walked through bramble bushes, and stepped out of the hostel compound through the barbed wire fences.
He ran across the road in the pre-dawn chill. At the shoulder of the road, a group of beggars were sleeping. Nathan had seen them often: a man, his wife, a toddler, an older girl, and a younger boy.
He sat in front of them, observing them for long, taking them in. He had an hour before the sky would grimace and brandish the quiet sky, robbing him of his privacy with them. He would have to do what he wanted before his subjects stirred.
Sweat beaded his skin as the pink-orange of a full-fledged sun tore through the curtain of mist. He abandoned the pavement, running across the road with the five essences inside him, feeling distended and sick, as if he would throw up all that he had eaten the previous night.
But scrambling onto the scaffolding and ladder in front of his canvas, Nathan began work. He wasted a lot of paint in haste. The lilt and heaviness inside his head hammered and came through his fingers, in color, in shapes coming to life in the bodies he carved. He had one small day with the essences inside him. He’d better hurry.
Walking muses, he called them.
He worked without a break, setting out layers and layers of paint on the wide canvas, losing sense of time as he hummed an invisible tune. As the tune changed between his lips and throat, each pixel of his mood changed. His feelings morphed into newer ones, creating base moods. His emotions curved, and memory turned translucent.
By nightfall, Nathan was back on the pavement and in the shortest of time before the traffic lights changed from red to green, he ejected all five essences.
Then feeling empty and depleted, he left, happy that those beggars were stirring back to consciousness, one by one.
A month later, when others viewed his work, they strummed into silence.
“So real! Full-bodied!” said one.
“It has soul! Strange intensity!” another said.
Many came to view his painting again, and day after day they became more and more articulate as they beheld it.
“It is those eyes – they seem too too real. Look at those irises… and eyeballs.”
“And the skin?” “Maybe it’s the light that falls on them?”
“No, they will spring to their feet any second.”
“Way too haunting.”
“I feel I’m being tricked,’ said another, ‘cheated, and bewitched.”
Some used unkind words like: ‘wizardry’, ‘devilry’, or that Nathan had done something diabolic or even horrible. They complained they were disturbed for nights in a row after viewing and studying the painting.
Nathan’s painting was a life-sized triptych of farmers and farm life in a sugarcane field. The left panel had a cloud of fleeing locusts over sugarcane leaves under which stood a toothlessly smiling, colorfully-clad pair of young boy and girl. The middle panel showed a furious harvest between farmer and his crop. The right panel was a zoom-in of a weather-beaten shoe and a coal-black child sitting near it crying tears of diamonds. A woman in a veil sat stale, distant, and frumpy in a small corner away from that child. All the figures in the painting looked out of the frame as if through a window, at the viewer.
“But how come they look so real?” asked Chuck when Nathan and he lay down at the edge of night, alone in their hostel room.
Nathan acknowledged his friend’s question, but rooted his answer in silence.
How many times could he take people’s consciousness away like this?
It could get risky for them and him. He was yet to reach or know the outer limits of his own skill. How much could he stretch and challenge it? How dangerous would it get? It was disturbing that those beggars lay comatose all day long and only he knew why. What if they were picked by the municipality workers and burnt on a pyre or flung into a morgue?
Just because they were lowly people in a crowded city living on a haunted patch of street, no one had missed them. Just because there was nobody to ask after their hazed stupor, everything seemed safe.
But the immorality of his skill frightened Nathan.
All this had started when he was eight years old.
When his parents were away, young Nathan would sit in his living room getting sheaves and sheaves of blank paper out for his charcoal sketches.
One day he drew his nanny - Aunty Marie’s face as she sat in front of him, sewing buttons on his father’s work shirt.
As he sketched her, she felt dizzy and by the time her sketch was done, Aunty Marie had passed into unconsciousness. After a few minutes, when she regained composure, Nathan showed her the sketch.
“What on earth is this? What made you do this?” yelled Aunty Marie.
“But… so nicely. I thought you would be happy.”
“Happy? How… how can this be so real?”
Right enough the sketch of her face looked like it was breathing, like it would tear through the paper and face them or begin to talk.
“What in the devil is this?!” As Aunty Marie raged on, Nathan saw her gliding to the other end of the hazy, shape-shifting room. Her clothes, skin, and features began to dilute into a gray mass in the outline of her body. He kept looking at her, and her blurry mass turned static. He saw clumps and pockets of thick gray in her X-rayed shape.
Nathan didn’t have names for all this yet. He didn’t know pain, grief, fear, insecurity, or loneliness. But he guessed this was something everyone had… maybe in different proportions.
He sensed sorrow from those gray clumps of Aunty Marie, out-stretching from the core of her heart to the outer limits of her body, like a spider’s web. And the roads off Lovely Sadan that shot across toward the town’s shops, church, school, playground, garden, and bank. These same roads on which his mother walked away, ever so frequently, never once turning to wave him a goodbye.
The living room moved around like a carousel, turning him dizzy.
When it stopped, Aunty Marie too returned to her normal self with skin and clothes on, and Nathan’s headache subsided. He was relieved. Whatever was happening?
As Aunty Marie massaged her head, he said, “I understand you, nanny. I understand you.” His voice then arrested between thought and throat. But why can’t you understand me? You, who are the only person with me when Paapu and Mama are not there.
He knew Aunty Marie would bring out the cane by three in the afternoon. That was when her irritation peaked.
She paced around the house, bewildered with his drawing.
“You are not getting any lunch today! Understood? This is your first punishment, but this will not be enough I know.” She waved the cane, soon drawing an orchestra of pain over his cheeks, face, neck, wrists, stomach. His skin singed as he tried dodging the lashes.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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