The picture hung in the window of an art gallery in the arcade. Every day I walked through the arcade with its myriad of tiny exotic shops on my way to and from the station. As the arcade was narrow and roofed with curved glass for natural light, the reflections of the passers by merged with the reflections of the goods on sale in the various windows. Sometimes I had fun with the curved glass, making silly faces that bounced backwards and forwards across the street, from shop window to shop window. Other shoppers would snigger at me but I sometimes caught them doing the same.
Yet whenever I reached the art gallery I would stop and peer at the portrait of a young girl. She was pictured in the first flush of her beauty, a sweet smile on her lips, her head lowered slightly so that she seemed almost to peer upwards through her auburn hair. Her dress swelled and flowed and when the light twisted, to me, she seemed almost to move.
The label below the frame said, simply: ‘Portrait of a girl’ with no artist listed or named. I did go into the shop to enquire, but the price – well let’s just say it would take me a long time to earn that much money, let alone spend it on a painting by an unknown artist, however captivating. For it was captivating: at least to me. I found after a week or so that I couldn’t walk back to the station without passing the gallery. If I tried, I felt uneasy, insecure, and when I got home I had no appetite and slept indifferently and with disturbing dreams.
At last I decided that I must break this spell, and stayed away from the arcade for a week. A whole week, it felt like a lifetime. Then following a very long day in the office, I was hurrying to catch the last train home. A violent storm raged the skies and rain and wind battered the glass of the arcade as I followed the damp footsteps of the last lone hurrying commuter.
Rounding the corner of the arcade, I glimpsed a figure that moved against the glass of the gallery window, and seemed to shimmer. Panting, I followed the wet footprints that led towards the glass – and stopped. The footprints led through the glass to the painting, and I shook to see the girl gaze adoringly into the eyes of a lover. ‘Portrait of a couple’ read the label.