Short Story by Theodora Sarah Abigail (The Jakarta Post, August 13, 2018)
He stood in the room of the art museum—the first of its kind in the city—and gazed at the paintings he’d spent his entire life writing about. The names of each painter were hastily scribbled onto a piece of paper beside each canvas, most likely by an underpaid intern or, worse, an unpaid volunteer. The text was illegible.
In person, the paintings were unassuming—boring, even. He was surprised by his dismay, and wondered how his professors would react if they knew he was entertaining such blasphemous thoughts. He had studied them for so long that they had ballooned in his imagination—he’d come to believe that they were giants, and revered their enormous and terrifying power. For years, those paintings had filled the crevices of his thoughts until there was no space left for daydreaming about good food, or snacks, or late-night trips to bars. There was no space left for books, either. He had not read a book in eight years.
The man glanced around the room. The guard was missing; he was alone in the hall. He leaned into the canvas and sniffed the painting. His nose brushed against the canvas, but it came away dry.
As he was eyeing the fine ridges and canyons of the paint, a woman—the woman—stepped into the room. She walked with purpose, heels clicking on the pristine, faux-wooden floor of the museum. Today, like every other day he had seen her, and touched her, and known her, she was beautiful.
He pretended not to see her. The sun offered him little consolation, and the wool coat he’d worn to impress no one in particular suddenly felt dry and scratchy. The air conditioner was broken, and so the fierce and full force of the monsoon summer forced him to reconsider all of the choices he’d made that led him to that exact point, standing in the near-empty room of an unpopular modern museum, waiting for something terrible to arrive.
People spoke of paintings and the way they consumed the white silence of a room as if they were earthquakes, capable of shifting the ground beneath a person and changing everything they believed about the world. Years of theoretical analysis about paintings had led him to believe, sincerely and without question, in their purity. But as he stood before the painting that he’d written his dissertation on, he felt nothing. Instead, he thought back to the street cart seller he’d bought the fried cassava from earlier that day.