The first thing you must know is that I am sane. Totally, undeniably, boringly sane. The second thing you need to know is that I sketch lately as if I am possessed, because I feel, I am.
You see it all started when I wandered. This particular day, on this particular early morning, when yet again I could not sleep, I found myself in Chinatown. There was an early spring rain falling, the kind that couldn’t decide what season it was pouring into. It was drizzling down steadily as I left that little restaurant with a newspaper over my head. I should have hailed a taxi, but walking felt good. The winter had been long and only several days ago had even a hint of Spring arrived.
I am used to meeting odd people at odd hours, being an incurable insomniac. These, ‘all kinds in the city’ type people, these random encounters, often becoming part of my bread and butter, my work a day world as a muralist. Still I almost didn’t notice the woman, elderly in even the broadest terms, shuffling along in front of me, dressed only in a bright housecoat and non- matching but just as colorful slippers. with a straw hat to top off the ensemble. The odd thought, came to me as odd thoughts often do to creative people, that the woman looked almost as if she were a human ice cream sundae, thrown together without much thought to design.
I watched her continue to walkin front of me, fascinated with her outfit. Suddenly she angled left to cross the street, dropping a brown wrapped package from one of her bags as she crossed. Without thinking I quickly picked it up and followed after her, gently tapping her on the shoulder, so as not to frighten her. I handed her, the package, with a smile and she looked me straight in the eyes. There was something odd about her eyes, they were a sparkling violet, almost like a purple bubbling champagne was peeping out from her loosely wrinkled face. She let off a thankful tirade of Chinese words toward me, unfortunately none of which I understood. I smiled again as I turned to leave, another simple interaction in my life, soon quickly forgotten.
Although I could not understand her words, a creeping fear grew in my body, as I began sketches for a mural that day. These sketches were something totally different than I had ever sketched before. As if my hand, my artists eye even, were seeing scenes of a life I had never known. A Chinese village I had never seen. Not even in photos. In this sketch, so detailed, so life-like, sat a little girl of no more than five. I knew it was the lady from the street. They had the same bubbly Amethyst eyes. By the end of the day, the incredibly detailed sketch was done. Streets, shops, people in this drawing who all seemed eerily familiar. Like I had known them forever, even though in reality I was a stranger travelling through their world. That night I slept contentedly, not awakening once, this in itself odd. For I had awakened every night for as long as I could remember.
The next morning, I woke up early, refreshed, feeling like I could never remember feeling before, eager once again to get back to my drawing board. With the scene from yesterday out of my system, I reasoned, I could finally get to work on that new mural project I was applying for a grant for. I was wrong.
Once again, the minute I took up my pencil, it was in my hand but neither my drawing implement or my hand itself, felt like they were mine. Once again I was sketching, a different place, a different time yet still, there to one side, was the now young woman with the haunting eyes. The work again took most the day and when it was finally complete, I realized the sky outside had darkened around me. I made myself a quick supper and laid down on my bed where once again a full night’s sleep overtook me.
So it went, for a month, every day, a different sketch, a different panel if you will, of the same life. Some sketches light and happy, other’s dark and foreboding. Yet when I would spread them out on my studio floor, it was obvious there were panels missing. The dark and foreboding sketches never led to their source but instead the next panel would be bright. It was as if the gloomy sketch before it was only a hint, a tease of what was missing.
I knew if this project was ever to be complete I had to go back to Chinatown. I had to find this elderly woman among thousands of others. I knew now these panels I had been drawing were scenes of her story, her life and she alone would be able to fill in the missing spaces. Only she could tell me what was missing, what indeed had kept her up at night.