The Last Signature
The Last Signature8 mins 20K 8 mins 20K
She was a dying, wealthy old woman, with really unworthy successors to inherit her business of art schools. As if fate had come up with a way to crumble down her business before her death. The beautiful paintings on the wall now seemed lifeless. Mrs. Verma's all time favourite black tea with half a tea spoon of sugar, went cold. And her face cheated on her in spite of all the makeup foundation and diamond facial. Not her wrinkles, her sadness instead slunk out of her soul giving her a pale and fatigued look overall.
She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life--the life she'd worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build--begin to crumble around her.
Dear Mr. Roy,
I am hereby writing this letter in continuation of our discussion regarding the sale of my property in your favor located at #45 Kolkata West, West Bengal. We have now reached the completion of the formalities pertaining to the sale. I am thus transferring the rights of the same to you in all respects.
That was a letter which her assistant had drafted on her behalf for the transfer of ownership of "The art world"; Mrs. Verma's brainchild.
"Oh I never thought this would happen! Damn my jealous soul." Mrs. Verma sobbed as she crouched on her office chair with her hands on her writhing chest. Tears dropped on the white Apple keyboard oozing out from the folds of those wrinkled eye bags on her sixty and two year old face.
"Ma'am should I send it off to Mr. Roy?" asked her confused assistant, after her lady boss signed the letter though in a dejected manner. Just like any other staff in the art school, she was dressed in a black and white uniform; formal shirt and pants, a tie with the logo of the school, a blazer and a metallic badge stating her position. But that query went unanswered. Mrs. Verma almost entered a deep trance of old memories, as if someone had hypnotized her to remind her of her old deeds.
It was a summer morning. Ryan had just completed his board exams for the tenth standard. Leila had just finished her last strokes for an abstract piece when she heard the honk of Ryan's bike. "How was your workout beta?" she asked as her son entered the corridor. That was a beautiful paved corridor with a little pond on the left side, exactly at a distance of a meter from the main building. Her house was no less than some art studio. Mrs. Verma had designed the entire house by herself. It was only after two years of coaching classes and exhibitions that she conducted within the house that she got the idea of an art school and an entire business revolving around it. And as expected, it took off with flying colours. Within five years since foundation, they had branches in almost all the big cities of the nation and a few in the suburbs. Also numerous exhibitions and competitions were conducted throughout, every year.
Ryan was a brown eyed boy of seventeen with an even toned light brown skin and a healthy muscular built, owing to his regular workout habits and sports diet. He was quiet strict about that himself, of course apart from his sports trainer Mr. Roy. His trainer had once told him that he could not play for the district championship, because he had thin and weak legs. Mr. Roy owned a network of sports schools throughout the nation and he sort of looked down on Mrs. Leila because she was a woman with great power and that hurt his male ego. To keep Mr. Roy within control, Mrs. Leila had sent Ryan to him for training; however that didn't much serve the purpose. He asked Ryan to remain at his mother's art school instead because according to his trainer Ryan looked like a frustrated teen artist, and not like a sportsman. The very same trainer recruited Ryan as the sports captain of the school after he won the district football match, though he was still treated indifferently.
"It was great ma! So what were you working on?" and he took a look at the canvas by the pond side as Leila began, "It ..." "Abstract right? For your summer collection isn't it? Are you going to exhibit this one for the annual fest as well? " Though a sports enthusiast, Ryan had an inclination towards art since the very childhood. However Leila never approved of him or his sister to be admitted into the art school, nor did she ever teach them anything in private.
"Wow, Ryan." She was losing her cool and the delicate curl of her lips gradually gave into a frown that clearly showed on her temple. "So you are too curious about all that? Have you started drifting away from sports already?"
"Why don't you let us paint too, Ma? I mean, I am not even doing that, I was just asking. What is wrong with you? Uncle loves singing and thus he teaches his daughter the same in their own coaching center. Look at you! You have established such big schools of art and yet you have deprived us of it? Why do you want to push me off to sports always? " Ryan's face which was already sweaty as an aftereffect of gym, was gradually turning angry red.
"Ryan…there's no career in painting and drawing beta. What will you do with it? You're a boy for God's sake. You need to earn. Am I spending all this money on your education so that you grow up to be an unemployed spoilt brat? At least with sports you might get a chance to enter some prestigious college through the quota and that'll be the guarantor for your future! Fool! " she was screaming at the top of her voice.
"Convince yourself ma! You do not even realize that you're insulting your own profession." Ryan stormed into the house and locked himself inside his room.
"Ryan!" she ensured that he was inside before she came out to the corridor again and started murmuring to herself. "I'm bad. I know. But one has to. One has to be mean in order to succeed. I know that both you and Mira drew well. You even won the 'Balak – artist award' when you were eight but you know what? The concept that you drew at eight is something that I could perhaps not even comprehend at twelve. I created this empire for myself, exclusively. Not for anyone else to outweigh me in my field of expertise.
The very next morning, Ryan woke up to find three printed sheets on his bedside table. One was a letter of acceptance for admission from Dehradun School for boys, the second one was a transfer certificate from his present school, and the last one was his mother's letter, informing him that it was time for him to go reunite with his sister. She was sent off to Dehradun College of social sciences for a graduation course in English. Mrs. Leila then reasoned it to be for a better quality of education because the painting classes at home could distract her daughter from her higher studies. Their opinions were never taken into account. Mrs. Leila's signatures always sufficed for it. However that morning, everything was quite clear in front of Ryan's eyes.
"Ma'am; are you alright?" It was louder this time. Mrs. Verma came back to reality. The parts of the Pashmina stole that she wrapped up with her fingers for the past fifteen minutes turned wet and her small toes slithered inside her slippery palm shoes. She was diagnosed with Lung and bronchial cancer. Smoking and the tobacco products that she used to vent out her loneliness over the past years were the probable causes of the same. She was at her sixties and none but persistent, prolonged cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and hoarseness kept her company as appetite weight and strength poured out of her sick body with every passing day. Neither her daughter nor her son enquired about her or made any efforts to contact her ever again. And Leila too had lost all her rights on them. She just awaited the end; her death.
By now, the students of the Art School had already gathered outside her office, all waiting to see their Principal Ma'am for the last time. Their humming resonated through the glass windows. Not glimpses of laughter and the usual; joy of creativity, but a sound of anguish and gloom. They were probably exchanging phone numbers, or maybe their social media handles. Maybe they were promising each other to remain friends forever, for both the good times and the bad. Maybe they were wishing each other good luck for the rest of their careers, so that they keep rising in the creative world, much unlike their own school of art and its sudden downfall. She sighed deep and looked up at her assistant. "Yes?" her voice sounded even shakier than before, either due to her age and illness or maybe due to guilt. "Should I send off the letter for transfer of ownership to Mr. Roy?"
A tear rolled down Mrs. Leila Verma's withered eyes and yet she smirked, "Yes".