A smile and a quick nod from me ensured that the infamous Mr. Ian was in safe hands. In the few days that he was in town, Ian managed to get the respect of the security and the local police. I tried not to roll my eyes at the obvious baiting for a sarcastic reply. A quick visit to the hospital confirmed that there were no serious injuries. Sans the huge bulge on Ian’s temple, he seemed absolutely fine. Once Joshua took over, I was relieved.
“Do you know him?” I asked Ian on our way home.
Ian’s jaws clenched before he drew a deep breath and replied “An artist whose reputation I ruined… he was excellent until he stole the work of other struggling artists.”
“How did you find out?” I asked curious to know more.
“He stole one of mine.”
“I exposed him at an international event when he exhibited my painting. He was ruined. Goodbye art. “He said mirthlessly.
I shivered. The attacker in the dark was frightening. I thought he was about to attack me.
“I am sorry you got caught in between Jenny. I saw him here at some of my exhibitions recently. I should have warned everyone. I didn’t think he was harmful despite his threats. “
“Jenny, you were brave today. I didn’t expect you to save those paintings. There are special to me…someday, I hope I can explain to people what I see in them.”
I looked at him in surprise. His words struck a chord in me. An unexplainable feeling washed over me. I needed to diffuse what I was feeling. The car stopped in front of our house.
“Looks like the knock on your head was hard. Please get some rest. “I said as I got out with Maggie. “Good night Ian. Good night Joshua”
Ian smiled and nodded. Maggie winked at Ian before she wished Joshua goodnight.
My head was all muddled up. I went home and cried. I had conquered my fear; fought a shadow and won. The paintings filled my dreams all night with shadows dancing around the stranger who began to visit me every night with an unknown face.
Maggie was worried and began to hover around Ian to keep tabs on him. I felt irritated when I saw her checking on him. Joshua looked a bit lost and I could not muster courage to ask why. Three weeks before Christmas, all the sold pieces were packed and dispatched. Joshua was busy with work and Maggie seemed distracted. The bakery began to pick up business for Christmas and I was busy with all sorts of orders. Maggie was present physically but her mind was elsewhere.
Ian began to travel as soon as he felt better. Both Joshua and Ian called Maggie during the evenings. Julian began to put on the pre Christmas weight he usually had when I had him tasting my cooked batches. The little chap insisted on helping me with the cookies and frostings and it was a shame to say no to him when he did a random sampling.
“Aunty Jenny!” He said as I was putting away the Christmas orders one evening, “There is a parcel for you!”
I ran out to see the postmaster standing at the main gate. “How are you? “He growled.
“Hi, Mr. Abraham…it has been a long time since we met.” I loved talking to him. He was the elderly neighbour from next door who gave me the heads-up for mails from Jac.
“I heard you were busy with some events in town” he said. Years of smoking had worn his voice to a gruff.
I smiled. “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea…I have masala tea…your special…” I knew that he could never pass up an opportunity to have my tea. He loved to sit down and talk of the old days with a piece of cake and piping hot tea. I loved listening. He reminded me of Grandpa.
He nodded as he walked in. “ I was just telling Julian that there is a parcel for you at the post office. Go and collect it tomorrow.”
I nodded and walked in to the kitchen to begin brewing the tea. Julian sat down with Mr. Abraham. Both of them helped him to some hot puffs.
“So, business is doing good, eh?” he asked as crumbs fell on his shirt.
“Yes, by the grace of God. Maggie is doing some interior decoration also, so we are quite busy now.”
“Jenny, you must think of yourself also. A young thing like you should be married. You should have a good husband who would take care of you like a queen.”
I nearly rolled my eyes. Mr. Abraham loved to think he was the voice of wisdom. As the tea got ready, I thought of his comment and said“I have a man I love…”
“Who is it?!” asked Julian and Mr. Abraham in the same breath.
“Well I can’t disclose his name…but, he is taken.”
Julian’s face showed disappointment.
“Well, what is he like?” asked Mr. Abraham as I poured a cup of sweet tea.
“He is ….eh…older…”
“ Pah! Age is nothing…does he love you?” His first cup got over quickly.
“Well … I am not sure. Do you love me?”
“What sort of a question is that, child? You know I do…you remind me of first sweetheart…”
I stalled a bit.” He has a wife”
“What!? Good lord Jenny! What is his wife like?”
“A witch I bet…that’s why he is leaving her for you! ”
There was a moment of silence before Mr. Abraham realized that I had pulled his leg. “Jenny…” he roared, “You never fail to pull my leg…” Julian burst out laughing.
I could not contain my mirth. I joined in.
Once, the tea and cakes were happily consumed, Mr. Abraham left me with a word of advice.
“Don’t be afraid to care. You are wonderful as you are. Eleanore Roosevelt once said ‘We are afraid to care too much; for fear that the other person does not care at all’. Take a chance to be happy, Jenny.”
For a second, it felt as though my Grandpa was talking to me. I missed him. Maybe, he was right, I needed to take a chance.
* * * *
The parcel at the post office looked like the one I had helped to send for Ian. I did not recall Jac’s address on any of the sent items. I nearly ran home in my anticipation to see it. The outer covering with Jac’s handwriting was carefully opened behind closed doors. I did not want Maggie to make any comments. She would urge me to meet him if she knew about his gift.
Nothing had prepared me for the gift. It showed the silhouette of a woman looking at the eclipse. What caught my attention was that the eclipse looked like the copy of the stamps we had exchanged and the lady resembled me, except she was different. She was beautiful. The night sky in the picture suggested the finishing of the eclipse. In the distant horizon, there stood a man watching. At the end of the eclipse there was hope that both man and woman would be revealed.
A thousand questions ran through my mind. This was Ian’s picture for sure but it was not at the gallery. Did Ian know Jac? Was he here at the gallery? Does he know me? How? Who told him? Was I careless in hiding myself?
I took out my stamp collection and looked through the stamps…the eclipse was a match to the stamps. I ran out to find Maggie. I needed to talk to someone.
“Maggie! Maggie!” I yelled as I ran from room to room looking for her. I was panicking.
“Am here in the kitchen…..what’s wrong?” Maggie looked frightened.
“Who’s Jac?” she asked as she looked baffled.
I took a deep breath. In my panic, I had given out his name. I took another deep breath. I needed to be free. It was time to tell Maggie about him.
“The Prince Charming you referred to , his name is Jac.” The dam exploded. The secret came out. I did not realize how deeply I cared until I showed her the painting. Tears poured out uncontrollably.
“What does it mean Jenny?” she asked as we looked at the detail of the painting. “Was there a letter with it?”
I shook the parcel covering. A letter dropped out. There was no address written just my name. My hands trembled as I opened it. His words spoke to me.
How shall I begin? For years I wondered on how to tell you of my feelings. I believe this painting will tell you of my anticipation. The eclipse will soon pass. The shadows will fade and then there will be just you and me.
If you close your eyes and take a deep breath, you will know who I am. I have seen you and I have felt your insecurities. It is your resilient approach to life that has captured my heart. Even if your answer is no to meeting me at Christmas, please know that my heart comes to you with this favourite picture of mine.
Maggie and I took a deep breath. The scent of the aftershave caught my attention. It was oddly familiar. I could not trace it. Maggie read the letter twice before she smiled.
“Call Ian, Maggie. He may know who brought this painting.” I said breathlessly.
“Call him yourself. “ Maggie said as she smiled. “I‘ve got a man to woo.”
“What are you talking about? Did Ian say no to you?” I asked in surprise.
“No to what?” Maggie looked surprised.
“Your heart…” I said with a shy smile. Ian was really a catch, even if he wasn’t my type. Then again, I did not know my type.
“You goose! Ian is already taken….he is in love with this girl whom he has known for years. Apparently, he is planning to propose soon, according to Joshua.”
“What!!? But I thought…you said…well you winked…and he was …Oh Lord, I am confused. “
“Why? Isn’t it obvious, I am head over heels for Joshua?”
I started laughing. I was not sure if it was relief or pure stupidity.
“Ok…so Joshua said no to you?” I felt stupid for thinking it otherwise. The man was madly in love with Maggie. I saw it in his face.
“Not exactly….he needs help.”
“Look, he has not said the magic words and I asked Ian to help when I realized that Ian was perceptive to this development.”
“So the wink…and the calls…” and then it struck me. That was what he was doing. He was coaching her and making Joshua nervous while he was at it. I started laughing. This was going to be fun. Ian would have to help the both of us.
Romance shall continue…