by Bruce Eaton
Finding genius in an unexpected place.
|He had a dizzying array of drawing materials. Chalks, charcoals, pencils, crayons. He had named each one. Rickshaw, Killer, Blunt, Gilbert. I couldn’t make any connections looking at the implement and learning its name. It all seemed random to me.
“What do you call this one?” It was a standard Ticonderoga, bright yellow with green lettering, a standard #2, now only about three inches long, but the eraser had barely been touched. He used his thumbnail to pick away at the wood to reveal the blunted lead, and his nail held enough graphite under and around it to solve a quadratic equation. He noticed it spreading across his dry and cracked cuticle and he gave it a lick and tried to wipe it away, which only served to spread it further around his thumb, but he seemed satisfied with the result. His nail was still black.
“Why do you call it Blue?”
“You know how a country guy might have an old dog that he’s had a long time, and call him Blue? That dog is like his oldest, bestest friend. So that’s what I call this one, ‘cause it’s my oldest pencil friend. I’ll be sad when I have to put him down.”
It made perfect sense. I wanted to ask about Rickshaw, but it seemed so private, so personal now.
Oni was thirty-one years old and couldn’t spell his name, but God knows he could draw. Though each drawing took forever to produce, he seemed to require no great effort to accomplish it. I had read that Mozart completed his symphonies in his head, complete with orchestrations, so when it came to writing it down it was merely clerical work, a simple matter of transcription. Watching Oni was like that. It was already done in his head, he was just writing it down.
His pictures were lonely. Not completely sad, but featuring an isolation that was palpable. There was one of a leafless tree on a rock promontory overlooking a crashing sea, defiant yet alone. Another showed a cat looking through a screened window, separated from the great outdoors. The cat was mangy and was missing an ear, perhaps the remnant of its last foray to the other side of the screen. The outside was muted by the mesh, making it like a memory out there, a longing. The screen itself was a miracle of detail in the rendering, with tiny irregular holes in the otherwise perfectly symmetrical squares that defined the screen, perhaps where the cats longing had overcome its restraint, and other squares that had been filled with paint from many years ago, and a pine needle that had become entwined. It was achingly beautiful and painful.
When Oni finished one he never looked at it again. He began anew. Whatever it was that was pushing him, it was never satiated. It was an exorcism that never ended. The demon was tenacious, but in the effort to free himself, Oni let us steal a peak at something divine.
The absolute purity of his actions, free from any agenda save the completion of the transcription of his vision, was unique. I could find no comparison in anything I did, from my simplest grooming to my groping attempts at novel writing. Everything I did had an agenda, a future or a past, always serving something else.
Oni couldn’t count money or even wash very well, and I felt humbled around him.