Semi-transparent threads of a cobweb floating in the barely noticeable currents of the air that had already soaked up the coldness of the chilled sea now and then twinkled in the bright glowing and still warming sun. Feeling the approaching rainy days, the Odessites overcrowded the centre of the city as if agreed in advance. The crowds were swirling around in the City Garden, at “Gambrinus” and at the Greek Square. They were strolling along Deribasovskaya Street, unhurriedly turning left to the Opera House and further to the Primorskiy Boulevard, to the Duke at the Stairs whichis constantly on guard.Thosewho were enthusiasticenough reached the Mother-in-Law Bridge. So to say, the citizens were celebrating the undeclared holiday of Indian summer.
A huge crowd gathered in the yardtot he left of the Opera House. Something was happening there and naturally, the looky-loos who had already tasted ice-cream, coffee, beer or stiff drinks at Deribasovskaya Street were pulled there in. I had to hustle a little bit through the crowd, elbowing my way through the fence of people’s backs…
In spite of a fine day he was wearing an ankle-length khaki-coloured raincoat under which only massive tractor boots were seen.The raincoat was tightly buttoned up to the Adam’s apple. The sleeves were rolled upto his elbows and only bare brown-skinned arms were sticking out of them. A massive golden bracelet was shining on the right wrist. Alike the bracelet, a thick golden chain tightly wrapped around his stiff neck was sparkling under the collar of the raincoat. Hisheadwasbald, reallybald, notshaved. Hehadneithereyebrowsnorlashes. His baldness and chocolate-colored skin contrasted with the whites of his big protuberant eyes.They seemed to be rolling over his face as he shifted his gaze from the man sitting on the folding chair posing for a portrait to a huge piece of paper on the sketch-box easel. His sketches – portraits made with crayons on the thick grey paper - were laid in line right on the asphalt pavement.Keeping up drawing now and then he was saying something to the crowd addressing nobody in particular. He could suddenly smile to somebody and exchange a few words with that person.
By all means, this ‘one-man show’ in the open air was admired by the southern audience. Nevertheless, they were attracted not by the show. Butbythecolours.Bytheraveofthecolours.By the fountain of the colours.These portraits seemed to say, even not to say, but to shout to the audience: ‘Look! This is the way you could be, if you find the door to my world’. Most of people were sedately circling around the sketches as if taking a victory lap and silently leaving the yard searching for new surprises of the city. But some people were motionlessly watching a coloured crayon between the artist’s thick fingers. The Odessites are artistically aware people and nomediocre drawings would attract and keep them at the artist. Butsomethingmagicalwashappeninghere. People involuntarily imagined what colours and twists the artist would use to create a portrait of a new ‘alien’. It was amusing to imagine a real person as an ‘alien’. Itseemedtolooklikehim, butnotreally. So the process captivated and the ‘fans’ were waiting patiently to see whether the resulting portrait was close to… no, not to the original, but to the image that they visualized. Perhaps, somebody stopped here for a different reason, but as for me, everything was exactly as described above.
Allofasudden, twowell-dressedmiddle-agedmenappeared. They were talking very loudly. Oneofthemwasalengthybrunetwhowasclearly interested in the portraits and was walking around scrutinizing all the sketches. Anotheronewasawell-builtbrown-hairedmanwhowasstandingstillandmakingdirtyjokesas to each sketch –‘That’s it. Justhavealook. Wasthis broad facescratched by an excavator grab? Andthisface, ha!What kind of snots are running on his lips? Perhaps,ithasjusthappened’.
Everybodyheardthatverywell, includingtheartist. Whenthebrunetwenttogazeuponthesketchesfor the second time, the brown-hairedmanstarted to hurry him up, as in ‘You have already seen the daubs and that’s enough! Wehavetogo’. But suddenly, the brunet came up to the artistand asked him for the price of one of the sketches. Theartistdenied the request and said that that the sketches were too valuable and that’s why not for sale. The brunet was visibly upset. His friend appeared next to him. When he heard about the denial, he convinced the brunet that he would arrange everything and buy the sketch.
‘Look’, headdressedtheartist, ‘everything in the world has its price, just tell me the figures and I’ll buy it. Since my friend liked this sketch so much, I’d like to give it to him’.
‘It is too expensive. You won’t pay that much’, the artist denied again.
‘Letme decide for myself what is expensive and what is not. Howmuchisit?’
‘One thousand roubles’.
The brown-haired man started to hesitate and suddenly it became apparent that he was able to carry on a common conversation.
‘I don’t want to depreciate your art, perhaps, it costs more – I just don’t know a thing about it. But I can’t give you more than four hundred for it’.
‘Well, you see, as I have already told you, it is not for sale’.
The friends are leaving empty-handed. At those times one could have a nice dinner at the restaurant for forty roubles. So, the given figures meant whole lot of money.
Soontwogirls, friendsfromseniorclasses appeared. They were delighted with the sketches. One of the girls came up to the artist, pointed to the same portrait and asked for its price.
‘Twenty roubles’, answered the artist, ‘maybe you want me to draw your portrait. For the same price. What for do you need the portrait of a foreigner?’
‘No, I want exactly this portrait’, the girl adds shame facedly, ‘I have only ten roubles and some change’.
Her friend gives her five roubles more.
‘So you will give me fifteen roubles and some change, won’tyouregret?’, the whites of the artist’s eyes are hiding under the eyelids for the first time.
‘Yes, we will pay you’.
‘How will you get home then?’
‘Welivenotfarfromhere, somehowwewill limp up’.
‘Well, give me ten roubles and take the sketch, but promise me to hang it up above your bed’.
‘I just wanted to do so’.
‘I’m kidding. You can hang it up wherever you want, it’s your thing now’.
The girls are leaving and the Artist raises up are note with Lenin above his head and starts waving it. ‘Look! The girl was given ten roubles so that she could probably go to a disco, but she bought my sketch for it. That is the most valuable thing for me!’
It was my fellow-country man Vahan Ananyan (he undersigned his drawings as KilpVahan). I didn’t recognize an Armenian in him at that time, may be because he was already a man of the Universe.
Kilp – translated from Armenianկիլպ –skinless, bald.