The Conceiting Portrait - (Part 1)
The Conceiting Portrait - (Part 1)19 mins 253 19 mins 253
The Conceiting Portrait (Part 1)
"This marvelous painting here was created by Albert Francisco. It deeply resembles nature's unconditional love to all living organisms that aspire in this world. A symmetrical abstract painting as it may seem, this artifact holds several morals and secrets unknown to mankind…" "Then why doesn't someone ask Mr. Albert what morals and secrets has he instilled in this painting. I'm sure only he can understand this painting better than anyone else. Besides, I really wonder why is this painting titled 'The nature's secrets'. I don't even see a tree in it!" interrupted a young girl in her early twenties. "Young Lady, if you wish to interrupt the session so frequently then I'd better ask your leave. Doesn't mean that if you don't like this session, even the others don't." the guide said politely without expressing his irritation. "Excuse me sir, but can you name me at least one child who is interested in this session?" the girl asked enquiringly.
The guide looked around to the group which he was leading and was embarrassed to know that half the students were missing and the remaining half had either stuffed their ears with cotton or plugged in headphones and listened to songs. With his face turning red with anger AND embarrassment, he said "Class dismissed." The students' faces brightened up as though they had been dying to listen to those two words. "Excuse me young lady, it would be a shame if I didn't ask you your name after such a big realization." the guide asked stepping forward towards the young girl (who was in her early twenties). "Yeah, you're right. Neither does calling me a 'young lady' give me any pride. Name's Joan McCallister. You can simply call me Jo."
For an introduction, Joan McCallister or Jo, as she enjoyed to be called, was a beautiful girl with hazel brown eyes and coffee colored hair. She was neither fat, nor thin and maintained a moderate height and weight. Unlike most girls in her college, she did not like gossiping or hanging around late night dancing in some disco club. She was much more talented and yes, she was mostly teased as the nerd of the institution. She was mischievous too, but no one actually knew that because she had never been caught for any mischief she did. Rather, she had already made her stage clear if she was to be interrogated and proved herself as innocent. Once, she had recorded a video wherein her Arts teacher was stealing fresh hot hotdogs from the cafeteria and posted it through Rylie's Facebook account (Jo is an excellent hacker). Rylie was interrogated several times about the video when she had no idea who did it or how did it happen.
Jo had her eyes transfixed on the restricted zone as though she was longing to go in there and unravel actual mysteries. "Well... just to remind you Jo, that no one is allowed in the restricted zone" said the guide with a stern look, understanding Jo's desire. "Don't worry, I know my alphabets well. I know that restricted means not allowed. But you see, most of the mystical paintings lie in there. Unlike the ones here, the ones there hold actual mind-blowing secrets!" Jo said putting her hands in the pockets of her blue denim jeans. "I see. Good luck in making your way through the line." the guide said pointing his first two fingers towards his eyes and then towards hers. "We'll see about that." Jo replied with a grin.
The guide walked up to one of the bodyguards at the gate and instructed him to keep a close eye on Jo. On the other hand, Jo, who aware of having an adult's supervision on her, pretended to be careless and dropped a glass jar of water which was kept on the information desk on the floor. The silence in the museum was broken by the shattering sound and everyone rushed to her. "Ouch! there is a sprain in my hand. I didn't drop the jar purposely." Jo imitated to be hurt. The guide narrowed his eyes to be aware of any pranks. The medic rushed to Jo and comforted her hand. He simultaneously asked questions as to where did it hurt the most and if she felt a sharp pain only if she lifted heavy objects. During all this fuss, no one bothered to clean up the broken glass jar and spilled water. Due to this carelessness, one of the museum staffs slipped and fell down with a piece of glass pierced in his left foot. He yelled out in pain, gathering everyone's attention. The bodyguard rushed towards the injured staff and helped him to sit on the chair nearby. The medic asked his assistant to get a lot of cotton and moved towards the staff with his instruments to remove the glass piece. Jo smirked and thought, Step 1 - Distract the Bodyguard = DONE.
Jo took advantage of the moment and tried to slip through the line but was caught red handed by the guide. "You, Ms. McCallister, are coming with me!" Oh no! Not again! Why does he always spoil the fun?! Jo thought in her mind with a frown. He dragged her to his higher executive and explained, "I am sorry sir but I need your time to explain the mishaps that have occurred in this short - duration. This girl here is Ms. McCallister. She was trying to sneak in to the restricted zone without a pass and had purposely dropped the glass jar to get everyone's attention so that she can slip in the restricted zone and rob the most deluxe paintings of all times!" the guide said emphasizing on the word 'RESTRICTED'. Hey! How can you blame me for robbing the paintings? You have no rights to accuse me of any crime without proof! Jo thought. "You cannot blame any girl like this Mr. Blake." the executive said politely. "I have proof, sir that this sneaky rat just tried to..."
"What proof may I ask Mr. Blake?" the executive interrupted. "The Closed-Circuit Television or in simple letters, the CCTV." the guide replied confidently. "That is no proof Mr. Blake. Our CCTV cameras have not captured any such moment where Ms. McCallister was trying to sneak in to the restricted zone. You can have a look yourself." the executive pointed towards the screens in front of his and pressed the play button. The tape played from the point where the guide had dismissed Jo's class. The scene replayed perfectly just as it was expected but then when it reached the point where Jo was going to the restricted zone, an unexpected event occurred that instead of heading towards the restricted zone, she went to use the museum washroom!
The guide stood there in shock as he looked at the screen. He loosened his grip on Jo's hand easily letting her slip away from the room. This guy is really dumb! He should have known that I am the smartest computer hacker in my college. Doesn't he know that hackers can hack the CCTV cameras and change the clips? Well, I am now free to enter the restricted zone now! Jo thought and ran towards the restricted zone when someone hit her hard on her back. "Hey!" she said trying to balance herself. "So, what have you been doing?" It was Max. He was the best poet in the college. "What is wrong with everyone today?! Why can't I just Arrgh!" Jo let out her frustration. Max was confused and tried to console her by apologizing again and again. Jo was like a sister to him.
Max had lost his sister a couple of years ago. The moment he laid his eyes on Jo, he felt as if his sister had been given back to him. Ever since, he loved and cared for her, just like he had done for his sister. After ten minutes of calming down, Jo said sadly, "Sorry Max, I didn't mean to shout at you so furiously. It's just that I'm trying to get to something and obstacles are throwing themselves in my path at an innumerable rate. I'm sorry." "No worries sister. But being your brother, shouldn't you tell me where are you trying to get to?" Max asked with a warm smile. Jo hesitated first because she did not want to break her brother's heart by letting him know that she was trying to break in into the restricted zone without a pass. He would have definitely opposed her idea and would have tried to get her to the right path. Not only that, Max was the only person who respected her and never teased her. Instead, if he ever came to know that a student was teasing Joan, he would literally smack him on his face and break his leg.
Their bond was strong and together, they had undergone several problems due to Jo's mischiefs. She didn't want to hurt him but neither did she want to lie. So, after a lot of thinking, she finally decided to tell him the truth. She narrated everything that had happened till now. He was shocked, yet impressed by her dedication to get something she wanted. He explained, "I am really happy to know your dedication but the path you have chosen is not right Jo." Jo heaved a heavy sigh and thought Here we go for the You-Should-Do-The-Right-Thing-In-Life-No-Matter-What lecture. "I know Jo that you must be thinking about the lecture I usually give you but right now, I'll help you to reach your goal." Max winked. Jo was surprised that he had actually allowed her to get what she wanted which happened only once in a blue moon. "But in order to help you, you will have to agree to my only condition." I knew something was missing Jo thought again. "You will have to correct all your mistakes and wrong doings."
"And how exactly do you want me to do that?" Jo asked with a raised eyebrow. Max pulled out a paper and a pen from his bag and scribbled down something on it. Jo tried to peep in but Max narrowed his eyes which hinted Jo not to peep. Max tore the paper into several chits, put them in a zip-lock bag and shook it hard. He handed the bag to Jo and said "This bag contains all the mistakes you will have to correct in order to get my help." Jo unzipped the bag and took out her first chit. It read – WAR IS FUTILE. "Max, what do you mean by…" but Max wasn't there.
He had already left to keep an eye on her like a spy. Why doesn't Max understand that I don't understand his poetic lines? I mean, he writes amazing poems but even he should have known by now that all his poems need to be explained! Only then will I understand what moral is he trying to convey. All that he has written in this chit is war is futile. Neither has he mentioned when I did this mistake, nor has he mentioned where. Understanding literature is not like hacking computers. To understand this one line, I will have to hit my head a hundred times on a concrete wall to get all my literature to the tip of my tongue. No codes, passwords and binaries! It makes me feel drowsy and bored! Someone help me out of this! Jo was blank and stared up in the empty air. As every minute passed by, she grew more restless. Time had never been so slow in her life. Just when she was about to crumble the chit, something caught her eye. There was something more written at the back of the paper. At first, she only spotted the letters E-D. But as she opened the chit yet again, the word made sense to her. BLOODSHED. Is Max trying to refer to the time when I purposely dropped the glass jar and one of the staff was hurt? Yes! This could be it. WAR IS FUTILE which means that violence is unnecessary and BLOODSHED means that a lot of blood is wasted. Max, you're a genius!
Jo ran through the various parts of the museum and finally reached the area where injured staffs and visitors were kept for the time being. She held a card tightly in her hands and re-read it over and over again to make sure everything was fine. It was a Get Well Soon card. Inside she had written as beautifully as she could. It read:
I apologize to you for my carelessness that has resulted in a devastating experience for you. Your devotion for work and care for everyone shouldn't have repaid you in such a manner. Believing that I am the main cause of your suffering at present, I apologize once again for not asking any other staff to clean up the mess caused by me and due to which, you had to face this bad injury.
Hope that you get well soon and forgive me for my mistake. I also hope that your family's support and care from me help you in your speedy recovery.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
(I hope that reading this quote gives you a little respite from your pain.)
Okay! Everything is perfect. Now all I have to do is give this to the right person. Jo entered the room which was filled with medical implements. Jo didn't like the smell and environment around her as it was very eerie and nauseating. She felt like running away at once but she had to finish her tasks in order to get help from her brother. Lost in her deep thoughts, Jo collided with a nurse. She immediately apologized and helped her pick up the tray that had been dropped by the nurse due to the collision. "Watch your step dear." The nurse said courteously. "I'm sorry. Can you please tell me where can I find the man who fell down today and got a glass piece pierced in the leg? I would like to give this card to him. He fell down today because of me and I wanted to make an apology for it." Jo held out the Get Well Soon card as she said. The nurse took the card and assured Joan that she would give the card as no outsider was allowed to meet any staff in the medical ward unless it was someone from their family. She even added that families were only allowed to come between the visiting hours and not before nor later. Jo thanked the nurse and moved out of the medical ward.
She inhaled some fresh air to get rid of the eerie smell that had filled her lungs. She took out the zip-lock bag from her pocket and pulled out another chit. It read – ALBERT FRANCISCO. Hmm… rings a bell. Albert Francisco, Albert Francisco, Albert Francisco. Jo repeated the name several times in her mind but it didn't strike the right chords. She turned the chit to see if Max had left another clue but found another piece of paper stapled to the chit. How come I didn't notice the staple? Jo removed the paper and examined it. Two paper pieces were stuck together on three sides making it a small pouch. On one side of the paper it was written CL_ _ S _ ISM_ _ _ _ D and on the other side it was written _ _ AS_ D _ _ _ ISSE_. This is simple physics Max, and it's called the persistence of vision. Jo took out a pencil from her bag and put it firmly in the pocket. She then rolled the pencil between her palms. The letters on both the sides collapsed to give out two words – CLASS DISMISSED.
Next time I see you Max, I'll make sure that you are dead! How can you ask me to apologize that good-for-nothing guide? He's rude, harsh, scary and what not?! Now I feel that I'd rather make my own way to reach the restricted zone than use your help. At that moment, Max's warm smile and jovial face reminded her of how much he cared for her. Jo sighed and decided to ask Mr. Blake to forgive her and that she was only doing it for Max. Jo took out her phone and checked her messages to see if she got any idea on how to correct her mistake. That's when she came across her group of friends who had recently been researching about exquisite paintings to complete their project. They had posted a message on Facebook just a few hours ago that they were searching for an Art museum to explore different paintings. Jo dialed the most trusted person in the group to inform them about the free visit she would provide them with in the museum. A young girl answered the call.
"Hello! This is Clara Weigel. How may I help you?"
"Hi Clara! This is Joan McCallister speaking. Remember, we finished our schooling together with Ann, Hannah and Kelly?"
"Hey Jo! How have you been doing, girl?"
"I'm doing good Clara. I just saw you post on FB. You looking for an Art museum?"
"Yeah, do you know any?"
"Yep. That's why I called you up. I'll text you the address. Be sure to come with your gang and don't forget to come within an hour. Okay?"
"I'm already in my convertible. Text me the address ASAP!"
Jo hung the call and texted Clara the address. So that's 50% progress. Time to complete the remaining 50%. And so, Jo was on her way to find Mr. Blake. She walked inside the museum and scanned all the different sections in the Museum – natural art history, Picasso's gallery, African Wildlife, Marine Adventure, Indian Art etc. but he was nowhere to be found. Suddenly Max turned up in front of her. "So, how is it going?" Jo felt like screaming at the top of her voice for giving her such lame tasks but she held back her anger and replied, "Good." "I know you're angry. But I see you've got enough control over your emotions pretty well!" he smiled. "Haven't you tested my patience enough?" she replied, trying not to express her irritation. "So, when is Clara coming?" Jo, who was not at all surprised with his question, replied, "Anytime now." As soon as she said that, she saw Mr. Blake walking through the aisle. "I'll be back in a minute." Jo ran to reach Mr. Blake and accidentally bumped into him. "I'm so sorry Mr. Blake." she said rubbing her head. "Sorry for what? You owe me much more than that young lady." Mr. Blake said as he grouched. "I know, and that's why I have booked an appointment with you." Jo smiled.
"You booked an appointment to say a sorry?"
"No Mr. Blake, I have a couple of friends you need to do some research work on art and I know you can help so…"
"So, you booked an appointment?"
"Yes. Sort of…"
"I don't see my clients."
"They will be here any minute now. I've asked them to come within an hour."
Just then Jo received a text message on her phone. She put her hand to reach for her phone and finally got it out of her bag. It was a text from Clara. It read – Hey Jo! I'm at gate no. 7. I hope you aren't playing' any prank. Come ASAP! "Mr. Blake, your client is waiting for you at get number seven. Just say my name and they'll know you're the one." Jo said to the guide. He turned his back towards Joan and forced the words out of his mouth. "I forgive you for everything." He walked ahead without saying anything else or looking at her. Jo smiled and texted Clara back – Hey Clara. Trust me. This is no joke. Mr. Blake (who is your guide) will be at gate 7. Hope he helps!
Jo pulled out the zip lock bag once again to see if there were any chits left to be completed. One last task left… The last chit did not have anything much written on it. It only had a zero and a one written on it. When she turned the piece of paper there was nothing written on the other side. No clue for this one? Jo repeated the numbers in her head.
"It's Binary!" Jo shouted drawing everyone's attention towards her. She felt embarrassed. "Uh… sorry… I didn't… uh… mean … to… uh" But everyone returned to what they were doing and Jo forgot about that moment. Okay, so what does it have to do with binary codes? Jo thought hard. Only one scene seemed to fit the clue Max had given. Hacking the cameras. Oh dear, Max pray for my soul if I die today. Jo gulped and walked to the control room. She looked at the executive who was busy trying to figure out what had gone wrong with the camera on aisle 9. "Excuse me Mr. Executive. May have some of your time?" Jo stammered. "Ms. McCallister! Do you need my help?" the executive asked curiously. "No, I actually wanted to unravel something." "Unravel?" he asked as he raised an eyebrow. Jo took a deep breath and spilled all the beans at the speed of a bolt of lightning. "I actually hacked into the museum's CCTV system to show that instead of trying to go to the restricted zone, I was trying to use the washroom so that no one suspects me. But I have not stolen any information about the staff or anything else using my hacking skills and have only tried to removed myself from false accusations imposed by Mr. Blake. I'm sorry" Jo felt ashamed. The executive stood there trying the comprehend whatever Joan said. "Well, I trust you." The executive said with an unexpected smile. Jo was dumbfounded. She just blinked her eyes in innocence.
Finally, after having some water, she spoke "Are you not going to accuse me of anything? Like maybe telling the police that I have been the one hacking everyone's system in the US or anything like that?"
"And why would you want me to do that when I know that no staff database has been stolen?"
"You know, just to spread rumors and make a new topic for the society to criticize and discuss upon."
"I'm not that kind of man. Just make sure you don't do it next time because then, maybe someone else might hack into our database, steals confidential information and blames you for stealing it. It's one risky thing."
"So, we're good? I mean, no accusations, interrogations or inspections?"
"None of that sort." The executive said reassuringly.
"Thank You so much Mr. Executive." Jo thanked him and came out of the control room. She felt really good and nearly forgot about the purpose why she had actually made all the fuss, to sneak into the restricted zone. She walked carelessly as if she had done the best set of deeds in her life. She roamed about when she saw Max, talking to one of the staff in the museum. She walked faster and closer to listen to them. She could hear Max say, "… Your substantial support and considerable assistance is deeply apprehended by my heart's essence. I shall always be indebted to your congenial demeanor and shall explicitly commemorate and disseminate the morals manifested by thee." Jo's head started spinning by the time she understood everything. The person who was standing opposite to Max was blank. He held out a card with his eyes widened. Jo ran to Max. "Hey Jo! You done with everything?" Max asked. "Just a second brother."
She shoved him aside and snapped her fingers in front of the blank man. He blinked and asked just one question, "Is that boy okay?" Jo felt like laughing but suppressed her laugh and said with a smile, "My brother is actually a poet so his literature is also at a high level." "If there was a level above 'high' then his literature would have been of that level. But the way, what was he trying to say?" the man asked. "In simple words, he meant thank you for help." Jo smiled again. "Boy! That was…." "Unexpected?" Jo completed his sentence. "Anyway, here's the card to the restricted zone. I gotta go. See you guys around!" saying so, the man gave the card to Jo and left. Jo's eyes flooded with tears. She was so happy to see the pass. "Happy?" Max asked. "More than ever." Jo hugged her brother and ran the restricted zone. She swiped the card and the door opened up for her. It was dark, foggy and cold. But none of that stopped her. She walked into the misty and hazy air disappearing from Max's vision.
TO BE CONTINUED…