A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
People did not usually come Monday mornings. Today was no exception. It was almost ten, and not one person had stepped foot in the gallery. She mouthed in the last slice of her potato chips and threw the pack in the waste bin. Her ears caught the humming of a car at her front. That started the day. Her first customer had arrived. She peered through the glass door and huffed. That kind of customer should not start the day. He parked his gold car as though the parking space was his and stepped out as though the ground belonged to him.
He wore new eyeshades and she grieved over his previous one she had shattered. The shades pointed to her as if he could see her through the glass door, making her wonder if the door’s tint had faded. He slid open the door and she thanked heavens the brown shades covered his eyes. Seeing them would add to her hitches. He removed them and her hitches doubled. But he was now her customer, a patriotic one, and a patriotic customer deserved something good as a smile. That, she gave him.
“You want to buy a—”
She tried maintaining her smile. “I’m sorry. Then why are you here?”
He sat on the bench and placed his new glasses on the table. “To see your paintings.”
She attempted saying something but resorted to shrugging. No arguments should be made with a customer.
“You added new paintings.” He scanned the room and rose with a smirk. “And that’s the painting of my orchard.” He looked at the orchard painting slanted on the wall.
She glimpsed at it. “Yes. It is.” She was so silly to have forgotten to take that home. “I painted a double and kept one for myself.”
“You like the place.” His smirking lingered. His former sombreness and stares were much better than the new put-on. The next thing he would probably do is reprimand her for reproducing his orchard’s photo without his permission. It was painful to know he had every right to.
“Yours is finer,” he said.
“I’m sorry I reproduced it without your consent.”
“No crime committed. At least, not against me.”
“You can go see the paintings you came to see.”
He moved a step forward, crossing fingers. “I didn’t only come to see your paintings. I also came to see you. And now, it’s more interesting to know that you love my orchard.”
“Would you want to see it?”
It would be adorable seeing such nature, but the best answer to anything the customer offered was undoubtedly a no. “I’ll pass. I’ve seen lots of orchards.”
“Mine is different. Have a little break. Majority of people will start arriving by noon. We should be back before then. ”
He spoke like one that had known her for decades, when they were not even friends. She reproduced his orchard photo, broke his eyeshade; why wouldn’t he exercise the liberty?
“But you’re not doing any—”
“You don’t expect me to leave my work here and follow you to an orchard.” She paused on realizing her voice had almost reached the ceilings. “I don’t even know you.”
“Did I cause that blackout or something else did?”
“I’m sorry.” She removed her gaze from him as he walked closer.
“I’m harmless,” he mumbled.
“Why don’t you do what you want to and leave. Please.”
He squatted and eyed her as though his next words were written on her face. “I’ll leave if you come with me.”
“Why do you want me to come with you? Why would I?”
“Because I like you and would like you to come with me.”
Most women complained that men were the most annoying creatures on earth. No word of that was wrong. All men. Not one exception. All of them. “I’m not coming.”
“If you can give me any other reason other than you don’t know me well enough, I won’t disturb you again.”
It was good he knew he disturbed her. “That’s the reason. I don’t know you enough.”
“Then get to know me so you would be sure I’m harmless.”
“Please, the last thing I need now is a man taking me away—”
“I’m not asking to be your man. I’m asking for a chance to know me.”
That was merely another manner of saying it.
“Come see the orchard.” He placed a hand on her upper arm and she thanked her sleeves. “Pause from everything and refresh yourself. That is what nature does. And you’d agree with me nothing could be more nature than that orchard.”
True, that was what nature did. It refreshed the soul and rid it of anything that needed ridding. And right now, so many things in her head needed ridding, but there were other ways to get the soul refreshed than visiting his orchard.
He slid his hand from her arm. “Even if I harm people, I won’t harm women, and even if I harm women, I won’t harm you.”
“What you saw on the photo was only a surface. When you see the whole thing, you will have a lot to paint. See it as a fieldwork. I have a camera in my car. You can take as many snapshots as you want and paint them at an okay time.”
The fieldwork was a good excuse, plus he had a camera, but those weren’t enough for her to leave her gallery and follow a man she knew nothing about to an orchard she knew nothing about. Heavens knew he was disturbing her.
“I’m going,” she said without thinking.
She wanted to eat back her words but refrained. Going to an orchard for fieldwork with someone interested in her field was better than being idle at the gallery. She refused considering other things, other threats.
As he rose, his smirk widened. She followed him up before he would try to help, and did a small prayer—the devil should not reveal itself the few moments she would be at his orchard, even though there was nothing to pick in an orchard.
They eased to his Chevrolet and it immediately began moving.
“You raised the orchard?” she asked, staring at the windscreen.
“It was my grand mum’s. She handed it to me in my early youth.”
“It’s used for tourism?”
“No. Private as a house.”
Good. Nature was not to be used as a means of obtaining money. They rode on same windy road that led to Richard’s house, passed the ‘Glo’ signboard that guided her to Richard’s house on the day she went to take seeds. He diverged right, into an unfamiliar sandy lane. She glanced at him. She barely knew him and was already in his car, on the way to an unknown place, same way she barely knew Richard and landed in his house. Where did she get the bad habit of being so gullible?
“We’re not so far,” he said.
Few cars treaded the grassy ground. The houses lined at the road’s sides resembled that of her street—short and clustered.
He stopped by a blue fence near a rickety storey building. Treetops, rustling to the soughing wind, showed above the fence.
“Is this it?” She searched for a gate or anything resembling one.
“The entrance is at the other side. We’ll have to walk there.” He grabbed a bag from the backseat and opened the doors. She glanced at him. Not that bad.
They edged along the fence and met the gate. He slotted a key into the padlock’s keyhole and pushed the door open. A new world. The good side of nature. Clean, healthy cherry trees and leaves slashed themselves, and the loosed ones hovered all over the ground.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said.
She smiled and treaded the turf demarcating the two rows of trees. Edging past the trees, she brushed their leaves with her fingers.
He positioned a camera to some of the trees and took a shot. “You will have enough landscape and nature’s beauty to work on.” He positioned and took another shot. “This orchard drew me close to art. My grandma always brought me here. We planted most of the trees together. Why don’t you do the snapping. You know what you like,” he said, stretching the camera to her.
She focused the camera on the trees lined at the left and snapped. He moved forward to her and peered at the screen. “Perfect shot.”
She pointed the camera to other regions and snapped.
An hour passed. Leaving became a problem. The sight and beauty did not let her. After taking all the snapshots she could, she decided it was time to leave and rode for home in his car. Nature had done its best job—rid what needed ridding, she kept telling herself
To Be Continued….