Turena wipes the wood-top desk and arranges the white sheet over it. It’s impractical, she has been told, but that’s what an architect would think. No artist would deny the magic of a white surface, the dichotomy of blank or plain, the lure of bleeding the pristine. Funnily enough, that architect would be considered an artist in the important circles, while she would probably not.
The familiar finger of sensation unfolds inside her skin but she doesn’t pay too much attention. It’s gotten to be habit now, managing these impulses. Besides, it’s going to be a busy day and she wants to conserve all her feeling for the appointments.
The first one arrives a little early. They always do, these first-timers, probably standing outside the door till they can’t stand to wait any longer. Well, she can understand the pleasure of deliberate pain, completely. It’s exquisite, the real art, not the patterns and inks that she proceeds to emboss on people’s bodies.
The second one is a girl and Turena has to insist on seeing an identity proof before she takes her over to the chair. Turena doesn’t want any problems with the authorities. It will disturb the delicate balance of her world and chaos scares Turena. It always surprises her younger customers, who imagine her as a gun-wielding, tank-top-6-pocket-jeans-and-boots-wearing heroine of rebellion. Turena’s plain workshirts, neatly buttoned at the cuffs and light blue jeans always throw them off. Most of them ask her how come she doesn’t have a tattoo herself. She usually shows them the ankle quiver. It’s the one that was created for business purposes only. It usually satisfies them.
The girl has asked for a butterfly on her left breast. A romantic, Turena judges and smiles inwardly. If it had been the right breast, she’d have known the girl was an attention-seeker, a tease even. Women’s clothes button right over left and a tattoo on the right side is a better option for peek-a-boo games. The ease with which the girl takes off her shirt and then her bra, tells Turena something more. She is sure she got chosen, not for her steady hand but for her gender. But the girl isn’t coy about shedding her clothes and when she turns around, Turena’s notions are confirmed. A fading, almost not-there dark patch marks the area a little north-west of her areola. A love-bite. The girl expects more and she’d like camouflage. Perhaps even an invitation for the future.
She sees that Turena has noticed and starts to say something. Turena interrupts her and tells her that a tattoo must not be touched too much or even brushed hard for at least a month and would she like to reconsider the location? To ease her discomfiture, Turena tells her bra-straps can be painful on a fresh, sore tattoo. The girl considers for a whole minute and then shakes her head and lies back. The canvas is ready. Turena’s fingers are already tingling and she mentally thanks the person whose lips left that mark on the girl’s body. It gives added impetus to her work.
By the time she is done with her appointments, the tablecloth is splashed with colour flecks and an occasional red-brown spot that only Turena knows isn’t colour. She picks it up and tosses it into the laundry bag behind the door. Then she sits back in the chair and opens her cuff buttons, folding up her sleeves neatly.
On her left arm, just above the inside of her elbow, a long vine creeps up and turns around to the front, ending three inches under her wrist. Turena admires the leaves and scrutinizes the colour, with a professional eye to check if it needs retouching. Then she runs a finger along the vine, stopping mid-way. The finger feels it, even if the eye doesn’t – the scar and a memory of a time past. She leaves her finger where it is and looks up, thinking.
She can still hear the screaming. The colours are very bright and blurred, sunlight streaming in through a window and diffused all over her eyeball by salt water. The screaming turns to loud, unpleasant wailing. It hurts her throat and her chest too, to make that sound. But it is not enough. Her right hand reaches out and closes over something small, cold and metallic. Dimly, she registers it as the bronze statuette she bought on their honeymoon. He hasn’t noticed, his face is still cold with disgust and indifference, egging her on to make him care. The hand moves quickly and begins to carve her story out. It stings, the cool air burning as it touches torn flesh. It feels so good. So damn good. Then it’s being pulled away from her and in the scuffle that ensues, a little rip of flesh tears itself out of her arm. And there’s red everywhere.
Turena looks away and her eyes fall on her table. Thank God, she whispers. She looks down at her left arm again. It’s beautiful. A story of pain. She created that grapevine herself, to hide back then. But with it, she created art. She dwells on that thought for a full minute. Then she contemplates whether she needs to open a few more buttons to remind herself. Her hand rises slowly to her midriff but she stops there, letting her palm rest over the masterpiece on her stomach that tells about one of the greater tragedies of her life. That’s all she needs. It’s not that bad today. She smoothes the shirt down and just then her stomach rumbles. Turena feels quite proud of herself for being able to manage her pain so well.
Life is pain, this is true. But the world looks to the artist to look that pain in the eye and fall in love with it. There is a smiling glimmer inside her as she gets up. Dark feelings always feel acute, sharp and defined while good feelings are more like a gentle glow. Turena dwells on that thought for a brief second as she turns out the lights.
Then she locks the door to ‘Turena’s Tattoos’ and she goes home.