A narrow space, spirally elongated up to the entrance gate of the museum. Visitors were slowly crossing across the passage maintaining a little distance from each other. I was almost in the middle in that long queue.
The air was cool, frigid. People were tugging up their collars, and hoodies against the cold. I wore a simple overcoat, tight slacks beneath, a winter top, and a scarf over my head to avoid that chilly winter wind. Few in the queue were whispering, barely audible in French or Spanish. I couldn't understand a single word nor was I interested. All I was interested in was keenly admiring the beautiful structure of the museum, as that long serpentine queue finally led me to the entrance.
‘Show me your card, please!’ with a smile, the security guard extended his hand. A tall man, stamped logo on his hat, wore a well pressed black colour uniform. A golden colour thick chain wrapped on his waist, a small pistol was on its leather cover well kept on the side of his waist belt.
‘Oh, sure!’ I said and plunged my hand on the overcoat side pocket. But as I fumbled around, I noticed that the guard waved me through. That's great , I thought, because I was sure that I was going to make everyone wait. Especially the slightly impatient guy behind me, who had now run ahead of me at the steps to the museum.
‘Ooh! Astounding views! The paintings, nevertheless the huge hall itself!’ I had no words to express. So amazing! Low pitch noises were resonating in the hall, coming from the visitors. Everybody's eyes were pulled up, fixed at the portraits.
Huge oil paintings, portraits of old time legends, most of them were portrait of historical events, war related, summits of big powers, journey in a voyage and nature’s beauty. I was totally engrossed with the paintings, thought about the artists. Every single picture was magnificent! It was so realistic, beyond my power to express!
Suddenly I felt someone was tapping my shoulder. I cocked my head right side. An unknown young lady, must be a visitor, stood behind smiling at me.
‘Yeah, want something?!’I turned around, asked her politely. But by that time, I was really impressed with her stunning beauty. If I am not wrong, she was exactly looking like a princess in the old time fairy tales. Tall, slim, very fair and sharp features, hazel eyes. Eyebrows seemed like painted by an artist. It gave me a sense of meeting her somewhere. Maybe in my childhood, I saw her picture in the history book.
‘No- no- I just noticed you are roaming alone, me too. I- um, I think, we can move around together- um, just be friends. Nothing else,’ she spoke with a heavy accent.
‘Oh! Yes- yes why not?!’ I joined with her.
‘Me, Maria from Argentina and you- -!’ she hunched giggling.
‘I- I am Amita from India.’
‘First time in Paris?’she asked.
‘Me, too.’ Her voice was also so sweet. She was giggling all the time and her pearly teeth glinted.
We, then crossed one after another paintings praising, throwing good comments on the excellent work of the artists. Twenty minutes passed, suddenly she showed her interest to going a coffee shop for light snacks. I agreed, went with her. The cafe shop was within the premises of the museum.
Round tables were well arranged somewhere with two-seater, somewhere four. We chose the two-seater. The waiter quickly offered a la carte- beverages. Both of us went through it, ordered wine only and light snacks, that's all.
She was too talkative, went on telling me so many things of her village, city, her friends blah blah blah. Attentively I was listening to her every word.
Within that short time, we really talked like two close friends. Suddenly her brows pulled up, ‘Want to see something? Come, I’ll show you something amazing. Come- hurry up.’
I was surprised with her sudden decision. As if I was hypnotised by her words, said,‘Ok, let’s move.’
She put the cash on the table and walked faster, holding the half finished wine bottle. She led me to a closed door but unlocked.
‘Maria, why here? What’s in here?’ curiously I asked.
‘Shh…don't shout! I heard from one of my friends, it's a treasure land. I mean- the most amazing pictures are inside the room. It is publicly not opened yet. I can't visit this place again and again. You know- PARIS is too expensive. Let’s see this today.’
‘Ok, but if we’ll be caught, then?’
‘Come on, Amita. We can finish it quickly, ok!’
She opened it and entered the room. I followed her. It was equally a huge hall like the previous one having portraits, very high rooftop too. I didn't know, suddenly I felt weird. No one was there. Only the huge framed photos were installed on chairs. All photos were covered with translucent nylon clothes. We two were moving around like two ghosts. I was thrilled with excitement!
‘Maria, I feel strange here. Let’s move out. I don't want to see anything. Come on, please.’
She giggled loudly. ‘Hey, nothing. Why scared? Come on. These are beautiful pictures. Unfurl the photos and watch it. I am with you. Don't be afraid.’ She insisted me too much.
‘Then, do me a favour. So many are there. You unfurl one, I will do the next, ok?’
I unfurled the first one. Maria did the next. ‘Ooh! Mind blowing portraits! Isn't it, Amita?’
They were all ancient king and queens portraits of Paris and some neighbour’s, preserved in that room separately. ‘Wonderful paintings!’ Maria whispered in a low pitch.
The last one was left, Maria’s turn. Suddenly a sound heard from a little distance, maybe from the corridor. We shivered out of fear. Anxiety piqued in our mind. I clamped my lips in my finger, ‘Shh- quiet! Let me check it. I pressed my toes on the floor, walked tightly towards the door, stood there hunching left and right.
By that time, Maria unfurled the last one. She stood aghast at the sight of the last framed picture. Her eyes bulged out with fear, water streamed both from nose and eyes, but she read it quickly. It was written in italic:
‘We, French people are deeply mourned for the untimely passing away of an young Indian artist- Miss Amita, who dedicated her life to give a lively touch to these magnificent oil paintings! She was being called by the Paris Artist Trusty, while she met the fatal accident. To honour her, we kept five days mourning.’ Maria turned and screaming loudly ran towards the door, dashed severely with a guard, the other one leaned backward.
One guard spoke in a harsh voice, ‘Ma’am, who gave you permission? Ma’am, answer me.’
But Maria cast her eyes to a distance in that corridor, where I gave her a bewitching smile.
‘Amita- Amita, y-o-u, you - —
‘Ma’am, whom are you talking?!’ The guard again looked back where Maria fixed her eyes.
‘No one is in the corridor madam, why are you babbling?’
Tears were streaming down, but Maria was nonstop, ‘Look gentlemen! Amita- that painter, she was with me. Just now she ran away. For last two three hours we were roaming around together. Believe me!’
‘Are you kidding? The artist died three days ago in a plane crash and that room contained all her paintings. That's why the room is locked for five days mourning as a mark of gratitude.’
‘But- but, ma’am, Amita is dead. You might be with someone else, come- come with me. You can check it from CCTV.’
Maria followed them unsteadily. The whole CCTV showed only picture of Maria. There was no second picture of anyone! Maria was shocked! She hid her face in her palms and went totally silent- numb!
‘Perhaps, I was hypnotised, I guess! Amita was the ghost- the image!’ Maria murmured to herself.