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Life

An artist
Short story

July 28, 2004
iranian.com

The funny part of walking around all day looking for a job was that it really was a beautiful city to walk around in, but paying attention to that only made him want to go home and draw, and he knew that he could do his best drawing once he got the other parts of his life straight, namely, finding a job. There sure was a lot that he wanted to do though. Even though he had no job and his apartment was in a poor part of the city, there was so much that he wanted to say about even just what he had seen so far and he felt good about having come to the city on his own.

It was something that he had not been able to explain to his family when he'd left, and that was because he had not understood it himself. He didn't even remember having decided to leave. It was just a decision that had come inside him and grown. He couldn't think of it going any other way now that he had come. Did you think that you were going to become an artist and not have a time like this, he thought. That's a good one.

It was going to be fine once he found a job. He would be ready to get down to work. He would begin doing the things that would make his family see why he had left. It had been hard to leave without them understanding, but he was twenty years old now and he knew himself to be someone who would not always be easily understood. He knew he was not just trying to be a certain way.

As long as you were being who you thought you were, that had to be all right, huh? If you turned out to be wrong, then you knew something at least. But right or wrong did not have much to do with how hard the thing was. And he was something that he did not think he would turn out to be wrong about.

As he walked he came to a corner where two men stood talking and as he came close he saw that they were two men speaking in the language of his country. He had been walking randomly, half looking for places to apply and half exploring the city, but now he decided he would follow the two men. It was very clear and smooth that he would follow them. The city suddenly seemed like an understandable thing. It was all very simple: You did your part and the city did its. And the sun and the hills and the evening were all part of what the city had. He could understand what all those things were when he listened to them talking. It didn't have to do with the subject matter - they were talking about business - it had to do with the love that was the subject matter. It was funny because he had gone to school in America and he spoke English better than he spoke the language of his own country, but still he heard that love most clearly when he listened to something like those two men talking.

He followed the two men and he felt how all of the happiness and sadness that he had ever felt towards his family and his people were not that far apart. Happiness and sadness themselves were not that far apart, but it was especially true for them. Even now he knew that he would not tell his family how good he'd felt to walk behind two countrymen, the next time he spoke with them over the phone. Anyway, who would understand? His mother and father had done that for the whole first part of their lives, and his brother and sister had not yet left home and might not know what was in them. Even he himself, if he were to go up and introduce himself to them, he might stumble over enough words to make him wonder if he was really a part of this after all. It was best to just follow them and look around and feel how there could be a time when he was a part of eveything he saw.

They walked to the university campus. The two men were walking easily and casually and he slowed down. He liked the way that his people were in no hurry. They were interested in where they were going, but they were interested in the walk there too. He had often felt that when he was going somewhere with Americans, a feeling that he had wanted to say, hey, this is something too, us going to the place. But he had not said it. It was awfully nice to think that he might be part of a culture that felt that way too, not by saying anything necessarily but by walking slowly enough that it was understood.

They walked across the campus and he thought of how wonderful it was going to be now that there were not only the parts of the city that he had dreamed about that matched the dream, but also parts he hadn't dreamed about that matched it as well. He hadn't given much thought to a college campus, mostly because he had not liked college, but he liked walking across it as one of the parts of the city.

And then he had the thought that if he could go up and introduce himself to them, perhaps they could help him in terms of finding a job. They looked like two men who knew the city and who could at least say something in that direction. It wasn't out of the ordinary, and maybe they would be as glad as he'd been to hear them.

But he felt like he would be doing something to the walk if he did. It had been a pure decision to follow them, and its result had been something pure. Even if they owned a cafe or a bookstore themselves, and even if they were looking for somebody to hire, still it would be doing something to the walk to go up and introduce himself like that, or even to introduce himself and hope that the conversation came around to the matter of him looking for a job. What he'd felt as he'd walked behind them was bigger than that stuff.

He supposed that this was the kind of thing that his father was referring to when he'd told him that he did not understand the practicalities of life. It did not feel impractical though. To walk behind two men speaking in his native tongue, here in a new city where he did not know anybody he could speak it with, it did not feel impractical at all. None of it felt impractical - not the leaving college or the coming to the city or, least of all, the wanting to be an artist.

It was a sad and beautiful feeling to hear in the men's conversation his father's voice, and his mother's voice, worried about him. He could hear the voice of a people whose country was far away, in a part of the world that was a dry and hot place, but also a cool and mountainous place that had a deep understanding of fruit and tea and nuts, and of sorrow and laughter as well. He could hear how it was a place where a son did not get up and leave his family for a city a thousand miles away, because they were his family, and why the hell would he be wanting to leave them? It took a big country like America just to be able to think of doing something like that.

That was where he was though, and he could do a lot of things in his own language, but he didn't know how to dream other than in American. He was an artist, and he didn't know where art could come from except from what he knew. But there was nothing to say that that dream couldn't include a walk in the city following two men speaking in the language he was born in. The art in that was plenty. And when he drew the love he heard in it, which he felt certain that he would one day be able to do, they'd recognize it, his mother and father and everybody else, and the whole thing would be worth it for that.

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