Sunset Red

By Celin Jay

Roshi wore a mournful look as she surveyed the partially complete sunset scene before her. She held the little stub of red crayon between her fingers and looked at it as though it was the most precious thing in the world. This little piece belonged to the box of crayons gifted by her artist aunt who lived abroad, on her last birthday. She wished for the umpteenth time she had preserved the little wrapper which mentioned the shade of colour. She had scoured all the shops she knew for the shade of red in her hand but with no luck. The size of the crayon had reduced further as she had distributed samples to her best friend and cousin who had pledged their support in her search for the elusive.

The stub was just enough to be skated around on the canvas with her index finger and that would be the end of it.
Carefully she wrapped it in a small piece of tissue and wedged it between two crayons in the box. She took a clean sheet of paper and made small squares of crimson, scarlet and plain red. She then covered these little squares with carrot orange, persimmon and burnt orange. Still not satisfied she bestowed some of the squares with further layers of mustard yellow, gold and jonquil. The final colours in two of the squares were pretty close but not what she wanted. She kept adding some more layers of colours until she became tired, irritable and confused. ‘This wouldn’t do at all’ she told herself for what she had in mind was a solid thick layer of uniform background and not a patchy uneven layer for her sunset scene.

She looked gloomily at the bowl of fresh strawberries on the table, at the red chequered table cloth and at the long stalks of blood red dahlias in the cut glass vase for a long time. She felt a sudden urge to add a dash of yellow coloring to the water in the vase and wait and watch for the petals to absorb the hue.

The sound of the doorbell put an end to her wanderings. She opened the door to let in Vicky her friend who fished out three sticks of crayons from her bag. One was the colour of tomato paste, the other was crimson and the third had too much yellow. ‘No’ Roshi nodded her head in disappointment and put the three sticks into a basket. The basket was fast filling up with various shades and brands of red.

Her mother came back from work in the evening and Roshi gathered eagerly around her as she deposited the grocery and her own things on the table. Her mother’s interpretation of ‘the’ red was way off mark. Her perception of colour was limited to ripe red tomatoes, dark green leaves and pinkness of health of her family. It was difficult to place her as the sibling of a famous artist.

The girls let themselves out of the house. They were greeted warmly by Vicky’s Labrador whose leash was secured to the railing on the verandah. Roshi stroked the wet nose and sleek head, her fingers lingering on the bright red leather collar of the pup. ‘Actually this colour would also do’ she said, muttering to herself.

When Roshi returned after walking the dog her mother gave her news which had her hugging her mother in joy. ‘Aunt Ira called after you left. She is expected this weekend and she has promised to bring the crayons for you.’

Her aunt arrived early Saturday morning, a tiny personality brimming with energy. Her sharp eyes reached out warmly to encompass her elder brother Karen and herself. She tossed an oval rugby ball towards her brother who caught it nimbly and subjected it to a quick look over before his eyes rested on the scrawled signature on one of the panels.


An unnatural glow lit up his face as he realized that the signature belonged to one of the poster boys in his room, a high priest of the game. Leaving the exulting figure Aunt Ira turned her attention to Roshi, looking through her, her sharp thin nose quivering imperceptibly. Though waves of disappointment were engulfing her, Roshi could not help but appreciate that the most eloquent aspect of Aunt Ira was her nose. She spoke sparingly while her nose spoke volumes and right now it was telling Roshi that she would not be getting her crayons for whatever reason it was.

Roshi was sitting dejectedly studying her sunset scene when a shadow fell across it. Aunt Ira observed her work tight lipped, her demeanor not betraying what she felt. She bent down suddenly and sniffed at the picture while Roshi shifted uneasily. She took Roshi’s closed fist into her palm and tapped it gently with her long bony fingers. Roshi loosened her grip slowly, in the process releasing a tube of her mother’s favourite cosmetic now reduced to sub usable levels. A guilty stain rose up her neck and spread to other parts of her face as she remembered the ‘eureka’ moment when she was rummaging through her mother’s things after the blow in the morning.

‘Roshi, I’ll tell you a story of a small boy. You may make what you want of it. The boy was very poor. It so happened that the king had a baby boy after many years. The king was celebrating the happy occasion by inviting everyone in his kingdom to a grand feast. People were trying to out do each other in their endeavor to find the perfect gift for the child. The big day arrived. Rich or poor, all wore the best they could afford and bearing fancy gifts they went to greet the baby. The poor boy had nothing with him save the torn shirt on his back and his broken flute. The baby unaccustomed to seeing so many new faces gave vent to his feelings by howling shrilly. No amount of cajoling or toys could calm or distract him. The poor boy who had been pushed out by the jostling crowds due to his shabby appearance, took out his flute and placed it on his lips. The sweet serene music trickled in to the inner chambers where the baby had whipped up a storm. The soothing notes whittled down the shrill cries to whimpering and then a small smile appeared like sunlight breaking through dark clouds. Few moments later the baby drifted into deep sleep with a smile on his lips.

The poor boy apparently had nothing to give but what he gave ultimately had no equal because he gave from his heart.’

Roshi turned her head and looked down at her work. She looked at it really hard as though seeing it for the first time. She had to admit that it looked pretty commonplace. In her search for the perfect colour she had lost focus of the actual objective.

Pushing everything aside she slipped on her shoes and headed out of the house to take a walk. It was that time of the day when the slanting rays of the golden sun added an ethereal beauty to anything and everything. Evenings such as this happened everyday but today, Roshi looked at it through her eyes and her heart.

Story continued here......