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More than a painting

“Can you paint a portrait for me?”, the message goes.  “Here’s the photo…”

It was a picture of a young, smiling couple, standing in a busy street somewhere in the city.  Just an ordinary-looking picture, I thought to myself.

“Sure!”, I replied. “Do you want the painting just like the picture, or do you prefer a close-up?”

“I want it as it is.  I want us to be the focus, and I want the place and the beautiful colours.  It’s important.”

“No problem.  Oil painting takes time.  Can you wait 3 months?”

“It’s urgent.”

He paused for what seemed an eternity.

“I guess we will never be.”

We had not spoken, but even in his text there was a sense of desperation and sadness.  Suddenly, the picture didn’t feel ordinary anymore.  I felt an urgency, and a certain kind of pain.

“Early next week latest, ok?  I’ll place your job on top priority and work on it immediately.”

That gave me less than a week.

At once, I sent the canvas to stretch, and made a special frame so he could handle the painting while still wet.  Then, for 5 days in a row, I painted earnestly till the wee hours of night.  At times I wondered why.  There are better ways to earn money.  I could have turned down the job.  I didn’t even know him.  But it was more than a painting.  He could be sitting exactly where I was, brush in hand, every stroke an honest effort, every colour a symbol of hope.

We finally met, and I was shocked.  I thought I had met the wrong person, for the real man, skin to the bones, seemed to have lost half his weight.

He was grateful.  He loved the painting.  But we didn’t talk much.

I wish we did.  I wish I could do more.