Naina sat in the darkness and sketched. She loved the sound her pencil made scratching against the paper in the still of night. Tonight, she didn't notice it. The leaden point moved furiously across the page, gouging, maiming. Did she herself not want to see? Was she afraid of what she would create? Of the images that would issue forth of their own accord? She didn't know. Nonetheless, alone, in the dark, she drew. As if the fact that the images saw no light made them somehow better, less dark, less raw, less feral. "No such luck, kid..." she thought to herself. And then she bent her head again and drew. When at last she was done, she shut the notebook she was scribbling in with a bang. No attempts to look at it. That brave task was for the morning. She placed the book next to her, the purgation complete. She closed her eyes, wondering if she would feel a little tired, if sleep would pour itself over her in its lazy, cool waves. No such luck again. She flicked on a light. Stared at the book next to her. Four hundred sheets of paper awaiting her. The metal binding coiled sinuously in and out of the sheaf, flicking its forked tongue at her, beckoning. She shut her eyes again. She was exhausted. She flicked the light off again, if only to keep from having to see the book. She leant her head back, hitting it on the wall she was sitting against. Eyes tight shut, she waited till the emptiness inside became too much to bear. Finally, they burst open, and choosing a spot on the ceiling to stare at, she resigned herself to wait for sleep.
She was sprawled out on the floor in the middle of her little room. Her bed was against one wall, a desk against another. All other furniture, she had moved to the extremities of the room. And there she lay, in the centre of the stifling room, windows shut and fan switched off. Spread out under and in front of her was a large, blank sheet, which in turn lay upon sheets and sheets of old newspaper. Abruptly, Netra put down the brush in her hand and stood up. Then in one quick leap, she vaulted to her bed, turning around on her toes on its edge to survey her work so far. In the dim yellow light, the reds and yellows on the page came alive, seeming almost to dance on the sheet. Staring at the page from afar seemed to refresh the bigger picture in her mind, and she leapt off the bed, careful to keep her feet from picking up any of the dust that amply carpeted the floor. "Got to remember to clean that," she thought to herself as she picked up her brush and lay down on the sheet again, resuming where she left off. She lay like that, barely moving but for the motion of her wrist in the silence of the night and the swish-swish of her brush. Intermittently, she stopped painting and closed her eyes for a moment, picturing the image she wanted to create. And then it would resume, the swishing, followed by the bubbling-stream sound of washing her brush, followed once again by the sound of her long, sweeping strokes. Eventually, the stillness of the night got to her, and she started humming, softly, slowly, the songs of happiness and light that the colours seemed to evoke in her. All she knew was the sheet before her, the bottles and brush, and the stroke of her hand. So when she finally did hear the knock on her door, it was louder than it should have been, and she jumped a little out of her skin.
A sliver of light. A gleam from beneath a door. It opened. The sliver expanded to a ray of light and a large figure was framed in it. "Shit," Naina thought. "What the hell are you doing sitting in the hallway?" her dad asked. He towered over her, his imposing frame looming large. Half his face was hidden in shadow, the rest of it twisted back in more rage than Naina thought possible when one has just woken. Meekly, she looked at the ground, shuffling to her feet, gathering up the book and pencil, mumbling, "I'm sorry, I couldn't get to sleep..." "What do you have a bloody room for, then?" her father bellowed. "Don't you know there are servants in the house? Don't you know better than that? What would people think of me if something were to happen to you in my own home? Can't you show me that much respect? You have a responsibility to me. Start becoming a little aware of it. And start showing it." Tears welled up in her eyes, but Naina bit her lip. She would not give him that pleasure. "I'm sorry." she said flatly, her voice empty, catching in her throat. Quickly, she strode past him and into her own room, slamming the door behind her. In a fluid motion that could only have been borne out of years of practice, she reached an arm out behind her and latched it. Breathing out heavily, she leaned with her back against the door, fighting to keep the tears in, when a fist slammed into it. A terrible voice on the other side, maddened with rage, yelled, "Don't you slam a door in my face! Open this door and I'll teach you some respect!" The fist hammered into the door again and again, and through her pain, Naina gave a silent prayer of thanks for her parents' lavish taste for quality. Outside, she could hear her mother, obviously awakened by the clamour, trying to placate her father. He banged on the door one last time before finally walking off, audibly muttering, "I'm glad I only have to deal with one of her." She thought she heard a choking sound, a stifled sob, her mother's voice shaking. That was it. She couldn't take any more. She slid down the door, falling to the floor with a slump. And there, silently and profusely, her tears poured down her face. Many, many hours later, she fell asleep there, from sheer exhaustion.
Netra started. "Shit, Dad," she said, a little louder than was necessary. "Do you have to do that? I might've ruined this!" "Well, it would help, Netu, if you would stop singing at a quarter past two in the night like it's high noon," he replied, a little scorned himself. He stood at her door, leaning against the frame. With his pyjamas and tousled hair, he seemed vaguely comical. "You're supposed to be asleep. When I checked on you around midnight, you seemed rather happily so. What's all this, now?" "Nothing. It's homework. And I couldn't sleep, so I decided to do some work." Netra said, scratching her nose and getting to her feet. "A: You told me yourself you didn't have any homework from college, and I think you'd remember something that big," he said, ticking it off with a finger. "B: Deciding to work in the middle of the night is one thing, waking up your poor old dad and probably half the neighbourhood is another. I'm surprised that I haven't got any calls from the neighbours yet." "What? You're the one who said my voice sounds like honey! Or does that not apply when you're sleepy? Very nice of you to change..." she began, but he cut her off. "Don't you try and sideline me, young lady. I'm all for your art, you know that. I just don't like being lied to. Now, if you'll just politely tell me what this is all about, and promise to go to bed at an even remotely civil hour, I'll leave you be." Netra crossed her arms in front of her chest. "No!" she said, defiantly. "Netra, just tell me what this is for and I'll leave." he said, levelling his eyes on her. "Why do you need to know? I felt like making something, so I made it. Why do you have to keep asking? Why can't you just leave me alone?" She was practically shouting now. "Why do you have to keep prying? You know I'm not like other girls my age. You know I don't go out sleeping with boys, I don't go and smoke or do drugs. All I ask for is a little privacy!" Quietly, her father repeated, "What's it for?" Netra exploded. She let out a groan and picked up the glass of dirty water she'd been washing her brushes in. Before he could do anything about it, she threw the water onto the sheet. Then turning, she walked up to him, and standing very close whispered, "It was going to be a gift for you." With that, she shut the door in his face. He stood outside for a couple of minutes, fazed. A single tear rolled down his cheek. With trembling fingers, he caressed the door, then went back to his room. In her own room, Netra sat at her desk, crying, shaking with anger. Whether at herself or him, she didn't know. Trembling, she did the only thing she knew how: took a large sheet of paper, picked up a brush and began to paint. Black and blue merged effortlessly with red as she moved her hand with violent brushstrokes, filling the page. When finally she stopped to breathe, it was finished. She got up, shakily, and walking to her bed, collapsed into a dream.
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