My father, who passed away when I was ten, would tell me the same story every night before putting me to sleep – When he met my mother, they were strangers, yet the stars couldn’t keep them from becoming each other’s best parts. He told me to never be afraid of living, of going out there and looking at a stranger across the street, and hoping to marry him. ‘Don’t you ever be afraid to get your heart broken, my dear. You never know, your life might pass right by you, and you might be afraid to touch it,’ he would smile warmly and kiss me to sleep.
My entire life has been the search for a voice. This voice belonged to a stranger, a stranger I met in Paris, and had hopelessly fallen in love with.
A very particular baritone, soft, yet strong. Fresh yet experienced. Bruised but not spiteful. A voice I had heard years ago, that seared towards me from across the thick drawing board, while the silhouette of a man carved my face onto canvas, powerlessly yet without effort. I was getting myself sketched, and I had no idea that that day would change my entire world.
Paris, they say, is the city where you find love. But I never believed that love is something you can find, or search or discover. It remains there, like a tulip in hyper-sleep, in the deep crevices of yourself. It is free, and childish, and eager to grow. It tinges easily, and smiles at the vaguest hint of sunshine. But what it really needs, is the rain. It is only the sound of thunder which truly reigns its heart, only the promise of shower that lets it bloom. I had gone to Paris with my friends, when they were truly convinced I was depressed and ‘was in desperate need of change’ (read: love).
I, on the other hand, always believed that Paris was, truly, the city of art. Not because of all the wonderful museums and the tall articulate structures of modern art, but because of the people, and their ability to build little pleasant worlds around themselves. Their ability to love openly, and dream freely, and to believe.
I sat across a bridge as a man on the other end doodled something onto paper. This was ordinary. Yet there was something about him that made me curious. He was doing nothing, just sitting across a big sheet of canvas, sketching, while the world around him flickered like bonfire. He was doing absolutely nothing, yet seemed to be painlessly occupied in holding the universe together. I excused myself, and heedlessly crossed the bridge, unaware of the impact this would make on the rest of my life. The wind played beautifully with my gown – autumn leaves weaved onto cloth danced with the spring air.
“Is this seat taken?” I asked. I couldn’t see him, as the drawing board rested between us, and he was engrossed into his work.
“Do you wish to get yourself sketched?” He asked without nuance.
“Yes. Yes, I would love that.” I fumbled as I took a seat, and he without once looking at me, began his work.
Fifteen silent minutes passed by us. The wind whirled, and the cups in the restaurants around us clinked, soft violin played somewhere far, and I could hear, intertwined in it, the rustle of leaves.
“You know, the best lessons in life always come from strangers.” He spoke.
I was amused, “How is that?” I asked with indifference.
“They do not know you. They aren’t afraid to break the truth to you, even if that damages you. A stranger is practically the possible image of God.”
I was quiet. He went on. “Nobody who knows you ever really tells you the whole truth. They’d tell you to not fall in love, to not get married, to not take that career risk, or fight that risky war, but no one tells you that you are your biggest threat. Nobody prepares you for that. No one tells you that the strongest bullet has already been fired…the most lethal grenade is inside of you. No one protects you against yourself.”
I was spellbound. In the voice of my artist, I heard a respectable eloquence – one which you cannot defy even if you wish to disagree. In his voice, despite the nature of his warrants, I had discovered comfort. I sat there, tilting my head, lost in the dewberry layers of his thoughts, admiring how someone is capable of thinking such things, and speaking so deeply. There was something honest and true about him which I couldn’t help but fall in love with.
I sat there amazed, and breathless, having been torn apart and brought together all at once by a stranger, as he left me my painting, my most magnificent self till date, and pretended to have forgotten to sign it. I sat there, as my world was shifted by an artist I met in Paris, and though I did not even know his name, I immediately knew that he was so much more than a mere stranger.