I have to be quick. Before everything dries up and disappears. I’m using water to paint a big portrait on cement. The water drips and pools together until the ashy-grey cement changes to a purple-black colour. I dip my paintbrush in the water. I hold the brush and pipe attachment with both hands so I can make a straight line above the eyes. A drop of sweat rolls off the tip of my nose. I lick my lips and taste salt. I lift the paintbrush carefully and stare at the face’s fabulous fringe. Who is this? I never know whose face I’m painting.
I see random faces in everything. In clouds, in tree bark, in egg whites, in the foam that sits at the top of the cup when I stir my mommy’s coffee, even in plain white walls. If I stare at a wall long enough, any smudge, paint bubble or bloodstain from a squashed mosquito comes together to form a face.
When I was younger, I used to draw those faces right on to the walls. My mommy used to say my drawings were creepy. She started taking me to Sunday school. To me, my drawings on the wall were just like the pictures on the church’s stained-glass windows. So I started drawing my faces on the church walls too. I never understood why all the church people got so angry with my art.
My paintbrush sticks out of a long silver pipe. I hold it in my right hand and aim it at the middle of the portrait. Two short squeezes of the pump in my left hand shoot out just enough water from the tip of the brush to make nostrils. My daddy was an engineer, a welder, he made this water-slash-paint bag especially for me. He was tired of having to pay for property damages for my “graffiti”. He made this complicated contraption; a Karrimor bag with a waterproof packet inside. On the left side, there’s a pump that I use to suck up water. On the right, a retractable metal pipe; it’s thin but I can stick any size paintbrush in the tip.
When my daddy gave it to me, he said, “This is your tool now, Baby.”
He pulled out all the plants in our garden, chopped down the loquat tree and put concrete over everything. Then he said, “This is your canvas now, Baby.”
There’s a small stream running through the skiem where I live. The Sparza River’s water is dark, looks like flat Coca-Cola. My daddy took me there and showed me how to pump the water into my bag. “This is your paint, Baby.”
I still have a 2-litre bottle of Sparza River water that we collected that day. I keep it safe in the back of my cupboard, with the other bottles of water my daddy brought me from all over the world. He worked on the ships. He always used to bring me water from all the international places he traveled to for work. He brought me rainwater from China, water from a dam in America, from a river in India and a waterfall in Japan. The water from each place makes different colours when it dries on the concrete. But our Spaza River is my favourite to paint with because it’s so full of nutrients that make the water leave a golden glint hours after it evaporates.
I hold my paintbrush above my portrait’s lips and wait for a small drop to fall on to a stone. Now the woman in my concrete picture has a stunning mole. I step back and look at my work. Her bob is already starting to fade. It’s a hot day, in a few seconds the whole portrait will be gone. There will be no trace of the woman.
My daddy’s plan worked. After he made this water bag, I never drew on walls again. I also don’t draw in books or on paper. I only paint with water. On sand, on tar, on the pavement. Nobody sees my work because it vanishes almost immediately. It’s good, I don’t want my art to make people angry.
Tell us: What do you think of the narrator’s father?