Two months later, and Babine had settled into her old life, the dreary events of the last weeks buried deep in the recess of her mind. Her art was doing good; she had sold a couple in the eight weeks since, and another a popular newspaper had done a piece on her as one of the budding artist to watch out for.
With her new found fame came an increase in demand, and she found she had to work extra hours to meet up. She was currently in her art room; one of the rooms in Simone’s gallery where she sometimes painted or sculpted.
She had taken to using Simone’s place when her one bedroom apartment had become too small to paint in as well as temporarily house her finished work. Simone’s offered more room to do so.
She was hard at work, trying to finish up a batch of 3 paintings that were due to be presented as a gift to a general by his daughter. She had been commissioned by the girl, who had heard of her work from a satisfied client.
The door opened and Simone gave in, a smile playing on her lips. “You have a visitor.”
“A visitor? Who?” Babine asked, wiping her stained hands on the apron she had on before taking it off.
Simone shrugged, her smile deepening and was out the door without answering.
Babine frowned, wondering at her friend’s sudden mysterious attitude. In the past weeks she had been inundated with visits from people who had heard of her work. She guessed this was one of it. She needed the money. Her savings was building and soon she would have enough to buy into Simone’s business and become a partner, an offer the other woman had tabled before her a few times.
“Allen!” She exclaimed in surprise as she got out and saw him staring at a painting, his back to her. She was aware her heart suddenly took on a staccato beat at the sight of him and tried to still it.
Allen turned and smiled at her as she approached. “Hi, been a while.”
“Yea”, Babine replied, trying not to stare at the faded t-shirt and jeans she had on. She’d wanted to put on a more pleasant outfit but had changed her mind at the last minute. Now she silently berated herself for it. “What brings you here?”
“I want to do a painting of a friend for her birthday and I remembered you said you were an artists”,he replied. “Actually its Ava. Her birthday is in a few weeks time and I want the painting as a gift for her.”
Babine nodded as he spoke, aware in her subconscious that Simone was lurking very close, seemingly busy. She knew better and knew her friend wasn’t busy. But she also wondered what she was up to.
“That’s great”, she replied, bringing her mind back to the matter at hand. “I can have it ready in a week.”
“That’s great”, Allen beamed. “What will the bill be like and how do I pay? Cash or cheque?”
“That would be 20,000 naira”, Babine replied. “And you can pay through whatever medium you are comfortable with.”
Allen nodded and brought out a chequebook. He began writing while Babine looked away, casually glancing at the potential clients who were in the hall, observing the paintings hung for display.
“Here”, he said, handing it over. “And what’s the collection like- do I come over or do you do deliveries.”
“Most of my works are delivered”, Babine collected the cheque and slipped it into her jeans pocket. “If you’ll just text me your address I could have it delivered.”
Allen nodded. “Here’s my card. Text me your number and I’ll send my address. And here’s the picture you’ll be using.”
Babine collected the picture and stared into the beautiful face in it. She tried to quell the slight jealousy she felt at the other girl’s beauty. She had no reason to and no right to be; absolutely no right.
“So…..I should be expecting the painting in a week’s time, right?”
Babine nodded, snapping out of her thoughts.
Simone listened to the conversation near her quietly, pretending to be busy at her desk. There was suddenly a stretched silence and she looked up subtly to see Allen rocking on his heels while Babine had her hands deep in her pockets, a habit she assumed when she was nervous.
She sighed, realizing what she had to do. “Why not get a portrait done for yourself as well?” She suggested, and two heads snapped in her direction.
“What?” Allen asked.
“I suggested getting a painting of yourself done as well”, Simone replied, coming over to join them. “Or do you have one already?”
“Errr……no”,Allen replied, staring at the lady who had let him into the gallery. He also remembered she had been at the quarantine center alongside with an older woman to meet Babine.
“There you have it!” Simone gave her best PR smile. “Getting a painting of yourself done would be nice and you’d be killing too birds with one stone. And we do all sorts; landscape, still-life, portraits, even nudes.”
Babine gasped at the last statement, aware of Allen’s brows shooting up in…..amusement? He had a slight amused smile on his lips.
“Nu de? I don’t do nu de. I stopped that years ago”, somehow she felt this strong urge to throttle her friend and the need to let Allen know she didn’t do nudes.
“Yea, we stopped”, Simone replied with a dismissive wave of her hand, aware of Babine’s embarrassed, but smoldering eyes on her and deciding it was safer to avoid them so she kept her gaze locked on Allen’s. “But we do on demand and we can have one done for you in no time and at a reasonable price.”
“Really?” Allen drawled, his eyes twinkling. He was aware Babine was embarrassed by her friend’s revelation and that seemed to amuse him further. “Unfortunately, I’ll have to pass on the offer, tempting as it sounds. Although I like the idea of my portrait being done.”
“Great!” Simone beamed her reply. “Babine can come get it done at your convenience if you’ll just fill out a form we reserve for all our clients. This way, please.”
Babine watched in silence as Simone steered the conversation. She was still too embarrassed to speak but she saw Allen was busy filling the form Simone ended him.
“Great. So when would you like to start?” Simone asked, collecting the form from him and filling it.
“Errr….how about next week, when she’s done with the present work?”
“Perfect”, Simone cooed. “Oh, and you don’t have to advance a payment now until next week.”
Allen nodded and turned to Babine who had walked quietly to join them. “So, I’ll see you next week?”
Babine nodded and he smiled, turning to leave. She watched him leave and realized her heartbeat, which had been on overtime the entire time he was around was slowly returning to normal. He went out of sight and she turned furious eyes to her friend.