Fiza had returned from Santorini, Greece after a week-long tour. She was a free-lance photographer. She and Eden had been together for two years. They met at one of her exhibitions. The theme for that exhibition had been Half-Lights. She had photographed landscapes in high and low lights exposing the beauty of the place in shadows. Some photographs captured half- lit human faces. The light refracted around faces revealing-concealing expressions of men, women, children of different ages and cultures. The entire exhibition was built around vistas and visages that were partially hidden. Eden recalled Fiza’s words at the opening of the exhibition.
“We can bring to surface the important aspects of life by showing both light and shadow. Shadows are part of life. They are part of our psyche. They are bound to each body. We cannot deny their existence. If we do we deny our truths. Acknowledging our shadow side, recognizing the shadows in our lives, enjoying landscapes with different hues of shades and shadows—this makes us honest and brave in our choices. Meeting life in the twilight is to accept life on life’s terms.”
Fiza’s words had appealed to Eden. She walked up to her and introduced herself.
“I am Eden. I loved your photographs.”
“Thank you. What did you love about them?”
“The visuals are lovely but beyond the visuals they make me think.”
“Think about what?”
“About life as you said in your opening words. It makes me aware of what is hidden—what is not glaring at me—something I need to pay attention to otherwise it may sneak up at me unawares.”
“If it sneaks up at you and surprises you will it be such a bad thing?”
Eden had laughed at this question.
“Well, it depends on what sneaks up. The shadow side of life can be unpleasant. My own shadow can take me down. Awareness is better than unawareness.”
“Are you a writer?”
Eden had smiled, “Yes. Is it that obvious?”
“You come across thoughtful, reflective. Writers are also readers. They also make for good critics.”
They had stayed in touch after this meeting and met a few times before they decided to date each other exclusively. After a year they decided to move in and live as a couple. They lived in New York City.
The Santorini tour had been around a new theme: The Incompletion of Things. Fiza had been photographing sculptural pieces that were damaged: angels with broken wings, goddesses with chipped breasts, gods with stubbed noses, giants without arms, eagles without beaks, girls with hollow eye-sockets. Something was missing in these otherwise elegantly sculpted figures or faces. She had also photographed ruins of churches, bare temples, half burned down private residences, evacuated convents, deserted gardens, abandoned cemeteries, unlived manor houses, boats left in the wharves, abandoned ships, even cities after an earthquake or an air-raid in war-torn areas. Eden had seen these photographs from the beginning. Fiza was now half way through photographing for her new exhibition. She was planning to go to the South to photograph semi-constructed houses abandoned by rich white families at the beginning of the Civil War.
“Did you enjoy your tour?” Eden asked her as she lay beside her.
“We got delayed because of a bomb scare on the plane. We all had to disembark and wait for hours till we boarded again. At Santorini the light was good and I took advantage of it. I took many pictures from different angles. I am very excited about this collection. It speaks to me personally.”
“Isn’t every collection personal?”
“Yes—in a way it is.”
“Then how is this different?”
“I pick loneliness—of abandoned places, of places that speak of former glory. There is nostalgia lurking around every corner but still the ruinous state has the power to teach us something about life and living.”
“Like what?” Eden sat up on the bed wrapped in a sheet revealing only her slender shoulders.
“That we are temporal beings. We inhabit the earth but we are also passing through. It makes me want to value life and acknowledge what has already passed—what is irretrievably lost. It also makes me happy to share my life with you.”
“So the past makes you value the present?”
“Not just the past but the withering past—a past that could have continued as present, as part of our lives here and now.” She paused for a moment and said, “I have a gift for you. Wait, let me get it.”
Fiza jumped out of bed and looked into her half-unpacked suitcase. Scattered around the bed-room were things from her trip: Her camera, her tripod, her shoes, cotton shirts, bottle of perfume. She pulled a medium-sized package wrapped in paper from the corner of the suitcase and walked back to the bed. Handing it to Eden she said,
“Here. Open it.”
Eden took it with a smile, “Thank you.” She said and unwrapped her gift.
“Oh wow!” she gasped at the white marble statue of Venus de Milo. She touched its head, its breasts, its long legs draped in a shawl.
“Goddess of love with an incomplete body.” She said.
“But what does it mean? Is love incomplete or is woman incomplete? Is love broken or is woman broken?”
“Maybe it means life is broken—incomplete.”
“Then are we searching for love in vain? Does it perhaps mean that we are going to be disappointed in our loves, and in our lives?”
“Maybe it means we are supposed to try harder to make it as perfect and as complete as possible. It asks us to strive more for perfect love here in-between the shabby, messy reality of life. We need to be generous with our gifts. We need to give.”
“What if my giving is not enough? What if I keep trying and the door still does not open? What if I am destined to stay on this side of the door and wait? How do I know?”
“Yes. There is always that dread of not being enough, of not knowing enough, of not doing enough. All we know is that we have to try.”
“Mom used to say when you pray ask for God’s kindness for life can be like a locked door.”
“Do you fear facing the locked door?”
Eden was quiet for a while, “Not in my creative moments. Not even in my loving moments. But yes sometimes when life forces me to stand outside and wait I can feel it. It touches me and goes. It doesn’t take me down. Not yet.”
“What brings you back to love, back to being creative?” Fiza asked.
“Impulse to live. What brings you back from that precipice?”
Fiza leaned over and touched Eden’s disheveled hair, “You are mine, and you are perfect.”
“Perfect?” Eden was bemused
“Yes. In your half-spent and half-lived life you are perfect. In your fears and in your prayers you are perfect. In your efforts to make me happy you are perfect. And all the time that we love each other we don’t have the faintest idea of how long we can continue to love each other in such perfection.”
“You mean anything can happen to us?”
“I mean we can’t predict life to its finite details. I want to be with you and love you forever but what is forever when we don’t control much in this universe. In this world of uncertainties, incompletion, and imperfection I have my Eden in you.”