A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

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Rainbow Runner

The sun was still below the horizon, the orange and pink tint in the sky not yet reflected in the grey and black water. He reached the top of the hill and stopped, the ground falling away at his feet in a gentle slope, soft and damp, until it reached the sand. It was still cold from the night, the breeze lifting the tiny hairs on the nape of his neck. He felt the hairs on his bare arms prickling. He loved this time. It was quiet. The stirring birds, the runners on the beach near the waves, were all part of a peaceful picture.

He looked down at the runners. Why did they wake so early? Had they all had nightmares all night? Was that man with the huge dog running so fast to escape from a terrible night? Was he scared? Did he ever look behind him to check whether the nightmares had taken solid shape and were chasing him? Was the tall man running because he knew that the rising sun would scare away the shadows surrounding him, in a blaze of brilliant golden light?

There was not a cloud in the sky. The pink, orange and golden hues heralded the onset of another spectacular summer day. He stretched his arms up heavenward, rising up on tiptoe, allowing his toes to wriggle into the damp, dewy grass. He let out a huge sigh, his eyes upwards, where the pinks and purples had not reached the paling blue from the night. The aching shoulders and tight wrists were testimony to another night hunched in front of the laptop. Proof that one did not need to sleep in order to have nightmares. The dry eyes hurting from the constant trawling for jobs, writing, rewriting and re editing his résumé, cover letter and files of work. All those years of careful planning. Of carefully balancing University degrees and part time work. All the advice from the wise and the experienced. All the well heeded counselling from the careers counsellors. The degrees propped up in their frames on the floor next to the well read and beloved books. The published work in various publications. Prestige. Really?

He lowered his eyes, arms and heels. Each bare foot rested completely on the giving grass. He brought his gaze down to the beach. A fluttering caught his attention. Far along, to his right he could barely make out a runner, … golly…

As the first tip of the sun rose above the water, and lit up the beach, he felt a sharp intake of breath, as he watched the runner come into clearer view.  She was tall. She was flying, really, not running. Her long black hair was left loose, streaming out behind her, and down her back. She was wearing flowing pants of a vivid blue. She was in a soft flowing top of some shimmery material also in blue green colours. A gauze of brightly hued purples and yellows floated around her in the breeze and around her throat. She was in sharp contrast to all the others, in their running gear, taut around their bodies, sensible and protective. She was free and, well, flowing.

Was she mad? Even as the thought broke out on the edge of a snort, it disappeared, as did the feeling of derision. She was closer now, loping along with the grace of an Amazonian Jaguar, but coloured in the clothes of an Australian Rainbow Lorikeet. Her mouth was moving, it seemed. He squinted to catch a better glimpse. She had no earphones on, so she might be mumbling, or singing, or… chanting? Praying? She was past him now,  disappearing down the beach on his left. The bright blues and greens and yellows she was wearing, blazed a trail as other runners stopped, and stared. He became aware of the time.

***

When he entered the house, it was quiet. Someone was awake upstairs, but no one was down yet. The weariness of a few sleepless nights seemed a thing of the past. He became aware that his shoulders were straight and his spine upright.

He walked into his room and turned off the light. He pulled the ivory blinds apart to meet the pale curtains. His unslept in bed still seemed uninviting.  He sat down at his desk, turned on the hibernating laptop and opened up the folder containing his résumé and accompanying portfolio.

Résumé. Check.

Cover Letter. Check.

Portfolio of work. Che.. e..ck.

He opened up the email from the famous overseas research institution. “… looking for people … bring about shift in knowledge … can you excite us … enthusiasm …”

That had been bothering him. He was enthused alright. On the inside. How could he excite a bunch of people who were across that ocean next to his home, when he could barely look his Mum’s yoga teacher in the eye without going red in the face, or speak to his sister’s giggly friends without stuttering? He just did not know how.

From his subconscious a picture grew bright in front of him. He typed Rainbow Lorikeet on Google’s search bar and clicked on Images.  A host of bright blues and greens assailed his eyes. He smiled.

 ***

A hand softly touched his head, and his mother asked, “Does the genius want his breakfast now?”

He turned and gave her a hug, “Sure, can I have some freshly squeezed orange juice, please? And some…”

“Okay, Okay!” she sounded a little stunned, probably at his animated response. “Come and help me, I have to leave soon.”

He pattered to the kitchen where Ellie was already bringing her oats to the table and Dad was eating his toast.

“Have you finished your résumé yet?” asked Dad, and then glared at Ellie. She had possibly kicked him under the table to shut him up.

“I am sure he has everything under control”,  murmured Mum soothingly.

He smiled in answer to Dad’s query. “Almost, just jazzing things up a little.”

“Jazzing! Jazzing up a résumé? What are you doing? Splashing it with bright red paint?” Dad’s glare was now directed at him.

“Something like that.” He took the halved oranges from Mum and started squeezing them. “Only, I am using blue”.

His uncharacteristically joking tone shocked Dad into silence. Ellie giggled. He winked at her.

 ***

He did get some sleep that night, but awoke as usual in the pre dawn. He walked down to the beach and paused at his usual spot. The customary runners and their dogs were there. He walked down to the edge of the grass, and sat down on the still damp bench. He felt calm. He had sent in his résumé before he went to bed last night. He wondered how long it would take for them to respond, if at all. He wondered if his gamble would pay off. He had re-illustrated his papers with colour. The graphs and pictures were now bold and looked almost like they had been drawn in for kindergarten, though they were still the same erudite, learned dissertations. He had inserted photos he had taken during his research of his subjects – birds in their full glory, and had captioned them with touches of Pooh-esque philosophy. He had used images and ideas that usually stayed locked inside his head, or in his own private journals because he was a scientist, not a kindergarten teacher. He dealt in deep knowledge, not vibrant colour. He stirred. Really?

There she was! She was here again today! She must have recently moved into the neighbourhood, or else she was holidaying, and staying in one of the houses let out for the purpose. She was again dressed in bright, flowing, rainbow colours. He could not tell if they were the same clothes, all he remembered from yesterday were the flashes of colour. He was closer to her path today, and could clearly see her muscly power swathed in her shimmering clothes. She still appeared to be singing. Other runners turned and stared at her as she passed them, but she did not appear to notice anyone. It felt like she was running in slow motion, but all of a sudden, she had run past him, and was becoming smaller in the distance. He smiled.

 ***

As he pushed open the door to the  kitchen he saw Ellie jumping about excitedly just beyond. Dad was waving a phone around and yelling “…where IS he? GAARGH!! Does he always have to disappear just when… Oh there you are!”

It was his phone. They were calling from San Francisco, and before his voice had a chance to shut down or his brain to freeze, he had plunged straight into the middle of an interview.

Half an hour later, he hung up and looked around. Mum, Dad, and Ellie were sitting at the dining table, quiet,  tense, staring at him. He had not realised that they were still there, or that he had not left the room.

“They want me to go in at 9:30 and meet with the “Head of Research” who is at a convention in Sydney at the moment”.

“I’ll drop you in”, Dad rushed off to shave, presumably.

“I’ll iron you a shirt,” Ellie skidded down the hallway.

Giving chase, he yelled, “Blue shirt, green socks.”

“WHAT”!!!

He heard Mum call out from the kitchen, “Quick, shower! Your breakfast will be ready in 10 minutes”.

 ***

It became a habit to watch out for the Rainbow Runner each dawn. He had noticed by now that she wore different clothes each day, though in the same Rainbow Lorikeet colours. A predominance of green, a lot of blue. Dashes and flashes of orange, red and yellow. Often, violet as well. The clothes were always flowing, not the kind of clothes runners wear. None of the tight fitting “wick moisture away from body” type stuff. No shoes, either, though that is common among runners on the beach. A scarf streaming behind her. She always looked like she was flying, making his heart soar each time he saw her.

Soon, he knew exactly when to expect her, just before the sun first peeked above the horizon. That was always when he spotted her running along the edge of the water in his direction. Then she would be abreast, and then past him, disappearing on the other side, just as the sun popped above the horizon completely. The colours in the sky would be starting to pale, and the sun itself would be brightening to yellow from its bright red-orange glow.

He found a spot on the sand to watch out for her. He would come and sit there, watching the dawn, as he had from childhood. He always knew when to glance to the right to see her approaching. He noticed that the other regulars ignored her nowadays, but his own fascination continued.

 ***

That last day, fully dressed for travel, he went down to the beach at the usual time. He stood close to her usual path, and when she approached, stepped up.

“He-hello”, he said, doing his best to ignore the sweat trickling down his back., telling himself it was a cool morning.

She stopped, and looked into his eyes. Was she aware how hard it was for him to not look away? She was panting a little, but smiled and said, “Hello.”

“I… I… I just wanted to say…”. What did he want to say? He had forgotten. All he was aware that it was vital he said it before he left, and that his tongue was stuck to his palate.

The silence did not feel awkward. She just stood there, still smiling. He noticed the wrinkled corners of her eyes, the grey flecks in her hair, the sun in her smile.

He started over. “Just… just… thank you, and… and… goodbye”. He felt his face crack into a smile, quite unaware of how boyish and vulnerable he looked.

She took a step towards him, and involuntarily, petrified that she was about to hug him, he leaned away, willing his feet to stay put. But all she did was put out her hand. “Thank you! And Good luck”. Her low voice resonated within him, and he knew he would remember it forever.

They shook hands and stepped away from each other.  With another wave, she was off, running again.

He turned and came back home. Dad had just finished putting breakfast on the table. Ellie was securing two orange and red flimsy scarves to the handle of his carry on suitcase. Mum had got the car out, and was just sitting down to breakfast. They were all wearing different shades of blue, and he realised, he was in bright parrot green.

“Come on”, said Dad, “we need to be at the airport soon.”

 ***

lorikeet's imagination

photo and editing credit: My son

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The Vanishing Heels

She was just a little in front of him, to one side. Part of her was in the sun, and partly shaded by the roof of the bus stop.  Her pale hair lay close to her head, and flowed down her back, past her shoulders, almost like a close fitting cloak, or a silk head scarf left loose. Her dress reached below her heels, he caught a glimpse of very high heels encasing a slender ankle.

Suddenly becoming aware he was staring, he looked away.  Someone bumped into him from behind and he moved a little to his right, closing the space between him and her. The bus to Sydney still had his doors closed, and the queue behind him was getting longer. People were murmuring amongst themselves , milling around in the purposeful way that people do in queues. He shuffled a little to avoid bumping into the couple behind him, and caught a whiff of a fresh breeze. Surprised, he looked around, yes there was a breeze, and it had suddenly turned very cool. She was very close to him now.  Still standing there quietly, with her gaze fixed at mid distance, head slightly bowed. A single strand of her hair lifted in the fresh breeze and he caught another whiff.  As soon as he tried to put a name to the fragrance, he could not smell it anymore.

He shook his head. He looked down at his laptop bag at his feet and then at the portfolio in his hand. He wondered whether he should take out his notes and go through them again. Everything depended on his presentation today.

“No need.”

He jumped. The voice was very quiet. Very still, like a drop of water falling noiselessly into a deep lake. He could not tell from where it had come. The couple behind him were talking in low voices amongst themselves in a foreign language. They sounded very intense. Not like the still, quiet voice he had heard. She had turned a little towards him, her head lifted, and tilted away from him. As he glanced at her, she looked into his eyes, then looked away to the mid distance again. Her eyes were the colour of liquid light. He was being fanciful. Surely her eyes were not such a light shade of golden? No. It must have been the light from the sun.

His heart was not racing any more. It felt strangely contained. For weeks now he had been living on unadulterated adrenalin. He had forced himself to sleep the last couple of nights, getting some calming tablets from his sister who was a Naturopath.

“ I want to be able to sleep, but don’t give me any thing that will make me groggy.”

“Look. Either you trust me or you get going. I have no time to spend on your distrust.”

“I don’t want to be a Zombie.”

His brother-in-law had intervened. “Leave him alone. You know this is a big deal. Just give him something so he can rest and still be thinking well on Wednesday.”

He had slept. But even in his sleep the swoosh swoosh of his own blood had deafened him.

Right now, though, he could hardly hear his heart. No Thrum Thrum of a racing ticker. No Swoosh Swoosh of frenzied blood.

He tickled his laptop bag with his foot. Had he missed any possible questions? What else could be asked of him?

“You have the answer.”

What? Who had spoken? That quiet voice again, that voice that was neither loud nor soft. Neither of his mind nor of the outside world. Golly! He was going to kill his sister!! He was delusional!!! His heart beat jumped up again and small beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. He could not bungle today!

She stirred. Flicking back her hair with both hands, like one would move the hood of a cloak aside, she looked up at the sun, exposing her throat to his view. She blew a long breath out, and then looked around. Then, as if aware that he was staring, she turned and looked at him. Her face was expressionless. No. Was it? Was it a calm expression? Or a confident one? Was she about to say something?

He nearly opened his mouth to ask her… what? Before he properly knew what he had been about to do, she had turned away. The bus driver was asking her name and checking it on the list. She pointed it out, and was given a seat number. He heard her say softly, “thank you”, and then she disappeared into the bus. She had no luggage. He forgot to be nervous.

He was in the bus next, and spotted her walking down the aisle looking at the numbers on the seats. He found his seat and sat down. A moment later she was standing next to him again and looking at the seat number on the seat next to his. She slipped into it. Was she stalking him?

“No”.

This time seriously startled, he glanced at her. She had just finished examining the seat belt, and was fastening it. He noticed how long her fingers were, how pale the wrist, and how delicate her movements. Gracious! Was he stalking her?

She leaned back and closed her eyes. Her eyelashes very long, sweeping her cheekbones. He wondered how old she was. It was impossible to tell. Her skin was taut, nary a wrinkle in sight, but she had none of that petal fresh bloom of a teenager. She was definitely past her twenties, but then how much past that? Once he got to thirty, and above, he could not place her in a bracket . She could be any age, but was definitely not a teenager. What did it matter, anyway?

He now wished he had not placed the laptop on the shelf above his head. What if it shifted and fell?

He turned to her and asked her if she could please step into the aisle so he could get his laptop. She unbuckled her seatbelt, stood up in a fluid movement, and before he could stand, had reached up, and fetched the laptop bag down and handed it to him. He smiled and thanked her, and placed the laptop bag on his lap, under his portfolio. She nodded, and murmured something he could not catch. She was already busy putting on her seatbelt, seemingly fascinated with it. She was soon leaning back, eyes closed and palms crossed on her lap. She looked like a painting, almost ethereal.

He noticed that the bus was already on its way. He had missed the small speech about the toilet facilities,  the reminder not to use or abuse drugs and alcohol while on the bus, and that the law dictated that the seatbelts must be fastened.

He could smell her perfume now. Fresh. It smelled of the forest. And reminded him of cool breezes in the dappled sunlight. Of deer and squirrels and possums in a fairy tale setting.

“Fanciful”.

He knew where that came from. It was himself. He was being unusually fanciful. He shook his head again to clear his thoughts. They strayed back to the meeting scheduled for later today.  His fingers started drumming on his portfolio. It made a loud jarring noise even to his own ears.

A soft whistling sound came to his ears. His heart stirred. He remembered the tune. This was a memory. He was not going mad. It was his uncle, his father’s older brother. His uncle would whistle popular and famous classical tunes, while he worked on his latest building project. He would sit hidden in the back, behind the boxes working on his own projects. His uncle never bothered him with questions or advice. His uncle did not even mind those times when he broke stuff,  or set fire to things as he tried out experiments. He smiled. His uncle had trusted him.

“Mark my words. Your son will do something wonderful, and you will be left gaping.”

Today could be the day when his uncle’s prediction would come true.  Suddenly he felt that it was possible. It was possible that his proposition would be the one selected. It was possible that they would see its potential.

“Of course, it is possible.” Yes. That was himself too, he thought, feeling a smile on his face. His fingers were no longer beating out a Morse code of exhaustion and anxiety. They were still. His palms were crossed, identically to hers. He leaned back and closed his eyes, slipping into his first unaided sleep in months.

****

They were drawing into Central Station when he woke up. He felt refreshed. She was awake as well. As he stretched carefully she leaned a little away from him, allowing him space.

They got off the bus one after the other. She looked around, then, virtually in step with him walked across to the pedestrian lights. She walked beside him across the road and entered the same building by his side. Her high heels made a very soft sound, very unlike his sister’s whose clackety clack he had come to hate.

It no longer seemed uncanny to him that she was by his side. She looked at him once or twice, always in that same indefinable way, but he did not try to probe that anymore. He shrugged. She had come from Canberra to Sydney on the same bus, to the same building. So what? He paused in front of the big information board, confirmed that Messrs Young, Young, and Bulle were on the 17th floor, and turned to the lifts. He saw a flash of her dress and heels as the doors closed and the lift rose away. He straightened his shoulders, realised he was still smiling, and pressed the up button.

He did not see her again.

The Serious Matter of Play Acting

It has been three months of gruelling fun. The exhaustion and the irritation of having to “again” go to rehearsals do not seem to be quite so large in Rumi’s memory nor do the weeks of “why did I agree to this” seem important anymore. The night is gone, the makeup is off, the lights have been dismantled, the action has stopped. The hum is again drumming along quite nicely.

What does still remain strong is a feeling that it was like a step back into childhood. Not quite a deja vu. Just a sense that this was travelled ground, familiar from a more innocent past. The garage in Tutan’s house was their weekend care centre. On one side was the make believe  world of Shonaton and Sufia, and on the other was the real time world of the players. Under the eagle eye of the weekend care leader, each person took their turn on stage and pretended to be who they were not.

Tulsi was worried that she was not quite getting the “dehaati” look, would it be better if she sat with her knees up? Or down? Would the Hospital props be ready on time for her to practise with them? What if she could not move her arms on “the night” with the “drip” attached to it??

Lena of course was an old hand at the game, but still not quite getting the “Aww Bishtuuu! Bishtuuuuu! “ right. Did she sound like a bus driver’s wife? How does a bus driver’s wife sound? Is it make believe? Or is it real,? Is there actually an accent to adopt?

Chhobi was unsure about her hands. What does one do on stage when one has long gaps and cannot really be standing up straight staring into space? Even a play has to be realistic, after all! Perhaps she should pretend to clean the room. Maybe do a little bit of dusting  – that would make it look real. Would it?

And so it went. Bakul fretted over how to pretend that Sufia’s hair was knotted when it was really silky smooth. Dibsy memorised everyone’s lines and fretted over whether the scene changeovers were going to take too long.

Amazingly, it was only Pakhi, who was not as far from her mandatory make believe days as the others, who was in no way interested in this elaborate weekly ritual of make believe that the adults were all so engrossed in. It was hard to get her into the garage, and even harder to get her to emote. But on the night, she pulled it off magnificently on stage.  The “real” make believe kicked in. Obviously she knew what was real, and how to cry and how to make others believe. With not an ounce of  stage fright, she walked on stage and her voice even trembled and hung on the air in  the lonely wail of a frightened and panicked child. Perhaps, because to her, it was not “art” or a “game” just a world that she still inhabits in her days of dreaming?

What elevates acting, and drama to the level of Art, and differentiates it from the dress ups and play all children indulge in? Why is one looked upon with indulgence, and allowed to be private and the other taken apart scene by scene, delivery by delivery by an audience? Why is one a game,  and intensely personal, while the other is  public domain, and intensely intellectual? Why is one face paint designed for fantasy and the other is make up applied by make up artists?

Even the terminology is reminiscent of day dreaming and pretend. The actors are all “playing a part” They have to make the audience “believe” in the transient reality of their .. dare one say it… game?

Sids made spread sheets with numbers and names and changeovers for sound control. Piklu pored over “light” instructions in a fevered frenzy. Tutan grew a beard in order to look like a bus driver. How meaningful was it all, really? Did it really matter? Should it have been fun, or was it really a solemn matter, needing intense, stressful, concentrated attention?

Of course it was serious.  A couple of hundred people came and sat in a darkened hall watching the emotions of a dozen players on stage. They felt drawn into the story, or not, as was their taste. They became one with the “play”. Or not. And at the end of it all it was a piece of Art served up for fun. Was it not?

So what makes a daydream into reality? What makes play-acting into acting? What makes a game into Art? 

Thank you to Rudrajit for photos. For more photos go to : Dournama Sydney photos by Rudrajit

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