Title: TEARS OF A PAINTER
Gernre: Women's Fiction
Word Count: 100,000
In TEARS OF A PAINTER, the artist, Anna Bontine, tells the heartbreaking sacrifice of how her dream, to have her paintings hanging in the galleries of London, becomes a reality. If you were to ask me, Anna says, of the most beautiful thing I’ve ever encountered, I would tell you of Erek’s goodbye kisses, they were different from any other. And his eyes. Yes, his eyes. And if your were to ask me, she continues, what of hell, have you seen it? I would tell you of six children, eyes hollow, dressed in a soldier’s garb, holding kalashnikovs across their hearts. And then, say you asked me, what of bravery, tell me a story of bravery? I will remember Mark.
Anna begins her story when she a girl living in the idyllic coastal town of Mombasa. She tells about the day at the Baobab tree when her best friend Mark mysteriously becomes the meanest person she has ever met. We see how, when she is seven, her father’s car crashes into a truck on an unlit road. Anna tries everything to soothe her mother’s grief and becomes the perfect little girl. Slowly her artistic liveliness begins to fade.
But when Anna is twenty-four, she meets the war photographer Erek Sorenson. Erek's air of uninhibited adventure and freedom captivates Anna. He mirrors what she desperately longs to find in herself. Then, Rwanda breaks out into one of the most brutal genocides in modern history. In its aftermath, Anna, inspired by Erek's daring, travels to Rwanda. There she gets entangled in the dangerous politics of war photography which costs her everything she has ever believed in.
Like my character Anna Bontine, I too grew up in East Africa and visited Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide. I use this firsthand experience to bring the story’s backdrop to life.
There was a mango tree in Mark’s garden which, in the right months, somewhere between November and April, gave us the sweetest, juiciest mangoes. They were a blushing green on the outside, and when opened, the flesh, a pure cadmium yellow. And what a relish to eat! If I was lucky enough to get away with it, I would knock one straight off the branch, charge to the back quarters where Saidi the houseboy lived, and ask his wife to cut it open for me. And I would eat the mango, its sticky nectar dripping down my fingers, down my elbows, puddling on the slabs below. Or sometimes I simply ran with two in hand to the far corner of the fence, where the ferns grew thickest, and squatted behind the screen of leaves. I’d rip the skin with my teeth and chew and suck until only the fibrous seeds remained.
But whenever Mark’s mother found me under the mango tree, a stick or stone in hand, she’d shoo me away. “Saidi bought mangoes from the market. Come inside - he’ll be happy to cut you one," she would say. And Saidi would serve them on a plate, cut up into neat little squares, the matching dessert fork by its side.
One day, Mark caught me with Saidi’s family in the servant’s quarters, my face buried in a mango cheek.
"I'm going to tell on you," he said; he was ten.
"Please don't," I begged. I was barely eight.
"Okay, then let me pull your hair."