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The Room and Us

* Jan van Eyck, Suckling Madonna Enthroned(1436)

Jan van Eyck might be notable for his great details to the landscape and the infusion of that to the almost sculptural, grotesque figures of men, but this acclaimed painter never paid much-needed attention to the accurate proportion. Just look at the volumnousness of Madonna’s robe clashing with the unpractically slight forms of her throne and the baby. The narrowness of the cell, on the other hand, provides a rare intimate fixation on Madonna and her baby, but an underlying anxiety of claustrophobia might lurk stealthily somewhere. The suckling baby looks upon at once warily at his mother- Madonna’s maternal gentleness hardly overcomes the baby but the world, in which he was fortunately born, escapes his youngish vision and its wonders are yet witnessed by this pure soul.

Him and I are appointed to sit a person’s house until that person comes back. Clock is ticking away, inflicting that person on a crime of being unpunctual and going back on his words. We have thought of any possible, albeit some whimsical, activities to fritter away the long hours, yet seemingly after ages and years have passed between us we still sit facing each other, ashen-faced, racking our brains to come up with even one simple word. The place we are situated in is technically narrow, walled on four sides with an almost unnoticeable door leading to the kitchen, which we are restricted to go unless we are really thirsty. The location is rather insular, as we assume so since not a soul or sound is heard in the vicinity, but the curtains, which are drawn with not a corner ruffled, block the approaching darkness and ascending night lights eternally from us. We are also forbidden to wind up the curtains no matter what happens.

Therefore, I am always the fast one to think of something interesting. I tell him to put away the papers he read so we could at least have a clean table to strategize. With bleary eyes he says insouciantly that he has always liked to let things run amok. I say no deal since the person might come back soon and such a state should not be remained. He muses over how many hours still will the person finally show up before us and thus he counts those hours, as I am appalled with how long we have stayed in this house. He then proclaims it makes no difference with what to do in this hour when we are bound to have still so many hours to while away. I am beginning to get nauseous with all those numbers so I beg him to stop with what is forming in his mind before it comes out of his mouth. He wrinkles a wry smile, stands up, and takes down the mantelpiece that seated above the fireplace.

I am made anxious with his recklessness. But that thing is supposed to stay on the fireplace! He laughs mockingly and wonders why I still care so insignificant a fuss when everything seems to be so long ago. He then kneels beside my feet and tries to cool me down with a story he just fabricated, during those bleak moments when that person is still here. In his story some boy of a small town witnesses a sphinx roaming near the valley, so he runs home all his might to impart to his family this unbelievable incident. The boy’s story proves to be truly hard to believe, for the whole house is instantly emblazed with laughter when the boy finishes and stares at them with wondrous eyes. That night the sphinx appears again and this time barges its way into the boy’s house. All sleepers are more or less unperturbed and even when some are half-consciously aware of an elephantine monster, they close their eyes at length and declare the scene to be merely living in their dreams. Only the little boy, with the day’s occurrence still retentive, brandishes a stocky candle at the sphinx and mumbles in undertone some incantations. With those people who cast the sphinx in disbelief it passes them caring not a whiff, but with the boy, who takes its form and contour into the vision of his eyes, it spares him no mercy of punishment (and of what punishment the sphinx imposes on the boy the teller mercifully spares me the detail and reason.)

I start to march off to the kitchen when my craving for food shows no sign of cessation. He swiftly overtakes me and hinders my further attempt. The impulsion within me is so urgent that I flap him away violently and continue my venture. He is both anxious and baffled at my drastic change, in much effort beseeching me to consider the consequence of such rash action. I declare the kitchen can be mine since the doorknob is nearer-fetched by me, and sooner I will be cooking my own square meal. He shouts, not without much fury, that a permission is demanded and such permission can be only granted by that person, that person is the only one who decides whether the kitchen can be used or not. I retort that the kitchen is my territory, and an occupier of the kitchen is the sole one to wield the use of it by his liberation.

Suddenly we all silence and gape at each other. We then realize, that nothing is shared, nothing is divided and nothing is dual. That person can be outside and eavesdropping our conversations all the while, and when he next comes through the door, a victorious cry and ardent welcome he is expecting to hear from one of us- this sole and lone one and no more.


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