by Gisella Gianina
(“In this world, Mister, a woman’s voice is the sound of rustling leaves.”)
“Do not speak. You’re only annoying me. Just sit down and look pretty, you hear?”
She speaks like wind chimes clinking against the afternoon wind, quiet and fleeting. Weak. This irritates him, to the point where he can’t hold his paintbrush steadily for his hand’s shaking too much with frustration. She’s undoubtedly a beauty, but holds no art value to him, fragile like a wilting rose. There’s no individuality he finds worthy to uncover and highlight for the world.
But the painter has no choice. He has to draw her. His client this time around is a wealthy man whose handshake stacattos; it was quick and firm and left quite the impression. That’s why they’re in an awfully spacious backyard, serenaded by water pouring from the bamboo pond spitter. The woman sitting meekly before him, dressed in a beautiful, traditional white dress that must’ve cost a fortune—is the client’s soon-to-be wife.
She’s young enough to pass as his client’s daughter.
She’s probably after his money, he thinks, as he paints soft black strokes for her hair, a pathetic gold digger who only has her looks going for her. This, he can assume, since he doesn’t sense the air of nobility that his clients of upstanding statuses usually carry from her. He exhales angrily. When he pries his gaze away from the canvas to his model, he finds the woman looking down for what seems to be the hundredth time that afternoon.
“I told you to raise your head,” he half-snaps.
“I’m sorry,” she apologizes, folding her hands on her lap. She does raise her head after that, but refuses to meet his eyes. The painter scoffs.
“I also told you not to speak, woman,” he grits out the last word in a mocking tone. “Only open your mouth when I tell you to.”
The painting progresses in silence after that. He colors her lips, pale pink that reminds him of cherry blossom, and then her eyes. Her eyes are cold brown, gaze vacant and emotions distant. How dull.
After an hour or so, he puts his paintbrush down and leans back on his chair. She looks fatigued. “Shall we take a break?” Silence. “You may talk.”
She doesn’t reply, only shifting her gaze to the horizon. The sky has warmed down to a lovely orange-lavender hue, gold lights peeking from behind the clouds. As he watches her, he decides she’s more beautiful with colors reflected on her. With her skin so pale and her hair an endless black waterfall cascading down her back, she looks like a living monochrome doll. The expensive clothing isn’t very much help, either.
“When you’re married to him,” he says, “tell him to dress you in vibrant colors. You’ll look better in them.”
The young woman finally cracks a smile, then laughs softly. A soft, fractured sound. “I’m afraid that that’d be useless. My fiancé doesn’t like them. Once I dressed myself in this bold shade of red, and the moment he saw me he told me to go change.”
“And you obediently followed all his wishes? How foolish. You could have told him what you want. Is it so hard for you to stand up for yourself?” His whole face reddens, and his voice rises sharply to the sky. Above them, birds previously perched on a tree branch leave in a flurry. Weak. What a weak soul.
Her eyes dart to the ground and she takes a deep breath.
“In this world, Mister, woman’s voice is the sound of rustling leaves.
“Everyone can hear us, but no one listens. After all, people see us as empty shells that emit white noise,” she says. Then she raises her head, a sardonic smile on her lips. Her voice, though, stays as featherlight as ever. “You are no different, aren’t you?”
He stares at her. She stares back with the same intensity, smile ever-present.
As they exchange silences, his fingers dip into the paint. He has only realised something.
In her eyes, there are flecks of gold.
Per October 2016, The Sound has been adapted into a beautiful short film titled Rahayu. It gracefully landed an award for Best Cinematography at Mega Forsi 2016 held by University of Padjadjaran. Unfortunately, the film isn’t yet available online. Still, I’d like to express my utmost gratitude to Adi, who made really great things happen to this modest story of mine, on this platform. Also, thanks to everyone supporting me through the whole ordeal. Much love,