Sunday, December 24, 2006

Portrait of a soul.

The man gently arose from his slumber.

He had long decided that this would be the day. Never one to procrastinate, he quickly got out of bed and prepared himself for the morning ahead. He had followed the same routine for years now - a shower, followed by carefully trimming his beard, which he kept cut close to his face. As he did this, he stared into the mirror, contemplating his life. Though he was old, he was still hale, and his body remained that of a man in his prime. Born in Italy, he had long ceased to regard that country as his homeland.

Finally he finished his wash, and dressed. His suit had been tailored for him by Saville Row's finest. Such were his tastes. He had always demanded the best, and having made his fortune as a young man trading in luxuries such as silks, he could well afford them. He lived among the trappings of his wealth. Having made his first fortune, he had only built on it over his long life, though wise investments and an uncanny knack of understanding when to take a chance. He was, by now, wealthy beyond the dreams of most men. His apartment was spectacular. A large penthouse in central London, it was decorated in a manner that spoke of his elegant taste. He had been living there, under an assumed name, for the better part of a decade. He hadn't gone by his actual name in a long, long time.

While he was wealthy, he chose not to live ostentatiously. He owned an apartment in London, where he based himself, and one on New York's Fifth Avenue. The majority of his belongings, the belonging that he actually cared about, were stored in a large vault of an established English bank. Periodically he would visit this vault, to add to it or take something away, or sometimes just to sit for a time and lose himself in the past. As a matter of fact, it had been something he had been doing increasing often of late, and in the past few years found himself spending most of his waking hours there. It was because of this that he had decided on today's course of action.

After dressing, he ate a simple breakfast of oatmeal, followed by an orange. Oranges had always been his favourite fruit, and he made it a habit to have at least one every day. He cleaned up after himself, and left the apartment. It was a sunny morning, and most of the morning traffic of people commuting to work had died off. Still, London was a city never entirely quiet, which to him was one of the reasons he was attracted to it. It reminded him of Bruges, his home city, in the time he had lived there. He briskly walked to the grand building where his vault was located. After the usual security checks - though he was well known at the bank, procedure had to be followed, he was allowed access to the vault.

The vault itself was a large room located beneath the bank, and was one of several that he had leased out, moving his belongings between them at regularly to avoid questions being asked. He moved through the vault slowly, inspecting items at random, and recalling the reasons why they remained special to him, and the events of his life they were involved in. Finally he stopped before the jewel of the collection, his wife's wedding dress. A splendid gown of dark green velvet and silk, he had taken great pains throughout the years to ensure it remained in as good a condition as possible. However, he was unable to stop time itself, and the gown was slowly deteriorating. He had not dared touch it in years, but today he ran his hands over it, remembering his wedding day.

In retrospect, it had been the best day of his life, and foreshadowed everything after that. His marriage had been the happiest time of his life, and after his wife had died, he had consumed himself in his work, whatever it happened to be at the time. However, even that could no longer hold his interest.

He did not know why God had chosen him to live as long as he had, but he did know that there were others like him, people he had encountered over the years, who doubtlessly lived secretively and hid their identity as closely as he did.

When he was done reminiscing, he left the bank and walked to the next building on his agenda, the National Gallery. Without paying attention to any other pieces of artwork, he went straight to a particular piece, and gazed up at it. His own face looked back at him. The portrait of his wedding day. He knew that this would be the last time he looked upon his wife, so his attention remained on her, and not the picture of himself staring sternly at the artist.

Eventually, he had enough. Whispering farewell to his wife, he turned and left the gallery. As he left, a crowd of tourists stopped before the painting, and a tour guide spoke: "And here is the famous painting "Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife". It's one of my favourites. Painted almost six hundred years ago by Jan Van Eyck, it is..."

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