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Fiction Drama Friendship

Francis Barraud was no fool, but he was a gossip. He was nevertheless fooled into thinking that he was important in 19th century society on both sides of the Atlantic, a portrait artist of some renown, he had a good eye for copying, not for style or creativity. Unbeknown to Francis, he was just being used by his customers for his unbridled tongue, and usefulness of his idle gossip, he became the plant of false information, a secret in the hands of the worst person, the false secret guaranteed to reach the people it was intended to. Eventually, it became a farce, the manipulators played games with the painter, each side knew that the other was passing gossip and false information in the close-knit society. Francis Barraud was like a street walking advertising board, roll up, roll up, hear all about the latest; “Lady Dorothy is having an affair with the head butler!”


Francis became the instrument of misinformation.


Nipper the dog looked on with pain and misery at the laughter and ridicule that his master’s reputation, his loose tongue, made him untrustworthy and dishonorable. Instead of society rejecting him or booting him out on the streets with the poor, they used him for their own unscrupulous ends and means. His master had this narcissistic but erroneous comprehension of their manipulation. He thought he was the most popular and important person in the circles of society. His portrait painting was well paid, he had a continuous order for his work, and the commissions he received paid for a comfortable life, but he lived in daily falsehood.


That was until Tashi knocked on his door.


Tashi was a Buddhist monk, from the teachings of Gautama, which originated from India. No one would have recognized her origins that day, as she was dressed in the finest Victorian fashion, propelling a yellow lotus coloured parasol, her dark skin had been lightened with cosmetics, she was the quintessence of fashion and elegance of the day. She was calling on Francis that day, unannounced with a strange request.


“I want to commission a painting – a self-portrait by your renowned brush, Mr. Barraud!” She announced, as they finished the customary introductions, and both had seated in the main reception room of Francis’ London apartment.


“Why on earth do you want a portrait of me?” An astonished, but a very flattered Francis Barraud replied.


“Why? Because Mr. Barraud, you are a renowned portrait painter of the rich and famous, and I want to commission you to paint yourself. I’m a collector of self-portraits, and yours will be a valuable addition.” Tashi explained.


“I live in India, where my private collection is located. I will return to the land of my birth in one month, so the painting must be ready by this time. I will pay your normal commission rate, but it must be ready for a private viewing within two weeks. Do we have a deal? Mr. Barraud.”


Her eyes were assured, they shone brightly from the pupils, the irises were a dark shade of brown. Her voice had hints of her Indian origins, but her elocution matched her fine clothes, high class and elegant. Somehow, Francis thought he was in the presence of royalty, certainly he felt a child-like shyness under her gaze, Tashi had a commanding presence, sitting opposite Francis, he had this strange thought to bow in front of the seated woman he had met only moments before. He felt he was in the presence of some grand, of royal blood.


Tashi placed her gloved hands on the top of her thighs, and said “Our business is done then, Mr. Barraud, I will return in two weeks to inspect the painting.” She rose from the chair, offered her hand for Francis to shake on the verbal agreement. He shook her slender hand, and then with the other arm and out-stretched hand showed Tashi the door.


“Well, what do you think about that, Nipper? A self-portrait indeed! I have traveled a long path, Nipper; to come to this! Now what do you say papa? You expected the worst.” Francis was looking into the mirror, he seemed to be speaking to himself, or Nipper, but he imagined he was confronting his father, with his discouraging, and cruel look he always gave his eldest son. Those words continually ringing in his ears – “you’ll never amount to much, boy!” Francis’s father often repeated it as the lasting testament to his son.


Nipper looked up to his master talking to the mirror, a sympathetic sad look, he more than anyone understood the reasons behind Francis’s trying desperately to make an impression in society, at any cost with his disgraceful loose tongue.


The scene in front of the long, tall patio doors, bringing the light of the day into Francis’s studio framed the moment like a photograph. Unfortunately, it wasn't for a moment, Francis had been sitting with his charcoal pencil in hand, glaring into the long-dressing mirror for hours. A few lines had been made on the canvas, but now he was idle and still, his mind was full of thoughts, but in terms of the translation of his image in the mirror to the outline drawing for the self-portrait there was a mental block. His process of portrait painting had been conducted in many stressful environments, but it had become routine and commonplace, it was his art, he would sketch the outline, and then apply the paint, copying from his eye, from the live sitting and posing subject, or from the drawings he made of the subject earlier, bringing the sketches back to his studio to recreate on the canvas. He had his art and process, and he could do it in his sleep. In fact, the juicy pieces of gossip he extracted during the sitting was the result of concentrating on those topics with his subject, while his hand, his artistic eye copying the subject to the canvas, was completed in a secondary conscious state of mind, like riding a horse while reading a newspaper.


Today, for his self-portrait he fell off the horse, and the newspaper was unreadable. It was a complete mental block, he stared into the mirror, the canvas remained empty. There was a silent witness to the scene, Nipper. Only Nipper understood.


Two weeks passed, and on the appointed day Tashi called to review the self-portrait, Francis was near to a mental breakdown. Tashi sat opposite Francis in his living room, she could see from his appearance that Francis was unwell, he had unraveled since they last met.


“What’s wrong?” Tashi broke the strained silence from the opening of the front door to both sitting down, Francis could not look Tashi directly in the eyes.


“I can’t do the self-portrait.” Francis confessed.


“Why not?” Asked Tashi, there was no surprise in her voice, she seemed to understand.


“I can’t look at myself in the mirror, I’m ashamed of what I have become. My father’s words are burning inside my skull…” Francis' words tapered off, his head slumped, and looked at his shoes and the floor.


Tashi said with a softness of voice only someone with a compassionate spirit can exude. The voice is only the soft background beat, it is to encourage the source of the pain and suffering to be shared, to listen to the other person, to encourage the unburdening.


“Tell me Francis, what is troubling you?”


Francis starts to retell his inability to even draw an outline of the commissioned self-portrait. This is only the outcome, the symptoms, the blockage in his mind are more profound. He starts to go deeper into his past, his childhood, and tells her about his father, and how his father beat him and treated him cruelly. The negative mental scar, the burden that Francis had been carrying all his life, was encapsulated with his father’s words.


“You’ll never amount to much, boy!”


Then he tells Tashi about his current life. Francis confesses about his ridiculous image in society, he understands he is being used, but he can’t stop himself to gossip, he wants to impress everybody, his little world, and the power of information, he wants to be the centre of attention in any audience, at any time, as he shares his gossip, his tilly tally of misinformation.


The cause of his lack of integrity, his loose tongue, is centred around his complete lack of confidence.


Francis believes that to ingratiate himself into society, to become important in the eyes of others, he must impress in more than his art, and portraits.


Francis made his entire confession to Tashi looking at his shoes. Finally, he sat up erect, and for the first time in their meeting, looked directly at the bright piercing dark eyes. He saw her compassion, there was no judgement in those eyes. The burden of his confession had left him weak, and lightheaded. He waited for her words, and when they came, he was surprised, yet inspired.


Tashi also had a confession.


Tashi informed Francis that she had studied the philosophy of Buddhism, from the teachings of Gautama, which originated from India decades ago. These teachings had persuaded Tashi to become a practicing Buddhist monk. In Buddhism there are four states of mind, Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, Magga. Magga is really the way to continue a life in peace and balance, with eight principles. She told Francis that his misery and pain was caused by his unhealthy attachment to the desire to feel important in the eyes of others.


She advised him to find a different philosophy in his life. What people say about you, Francis, is none of your business. Be the man you want to be, and do as you want, without desire. Expect nothing and accept everything, these principles will make your life easier.


Tashi also advised Francis on karma in one’s life, taking care of the soul, and informed him of the law of humility. The theory behind the law of humility is that you must be patient enough to understand that your present reality is the product of your previous behaviour. Tashi said this is something Francis might not be able to understand, unless he understood that in Buddhism philosophy, and our souls are transformed into living bodies, over many lifetimes. If what one sees is an adverse or negative personality trait, one cannot concentrate on a higher plane of life.


In Francis’s life his father caused a negative trait to be transferred to Francis, that burden had caused the current circumstances of pain and misery, resulting in the inability for Francis to paint his self-portrait. He had lost his passion, his art, something that he should be proud of; his soul had perished. She concluded by saying these words.


“Someone brought me here. Your closest friend. He requested me to counsel you, to show you a better pathway forward in your current life. The self-portrait was a ruse, it was a test.”


Francis was speechless.


“What friend, I have no friends?” He said, when he eventually found his voice.


“The one sitting by your side, the one that has always been by your side, watching with concern. He looked into your soul, and he found a good soul, a good person – Nipper!” Tashi said softly.

November 22, 2023 07:55

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4 comments

Iain Aitken
13:51 Nov 29, 2023

I enjoyed this - some nice wisdom

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Mary Bendickson
07:43 Nov 23, 2023

Man's best friend.

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John Rutherford
06:55 Nov 23, 2023

This is part of book, about famous people in history changing their lives or their lives being changed thru the practices of karma. Yes, there is a lot of research involved. Francis is real, and Tashi is not.

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David Sweet
19:30 Nov 22, 2023

I enjoyed this story. I am curious about what inspired you? I read about his background after reading your story and found it intriguing. Did you do much research? Was Tashi a real character? Love Nipper's story!

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