Charcoal.

A/N: I haven’t been doing any Arts Award work lately, so here is a romantic “fanfiction” I wrote on a bus in Paris in early 2015 for an art-obsessed friend of mine. We spent most of the Paris trip planning out each other’s love lives, as every single person with too much time secretly does.

(Names were changed.)

No one appreciates art anymore. It’s too slow for the world of fast food and rush hour and speed dating. And now, more than ever, it’s only a preserve of those who will allow their time to be slowed down enough to appreciate the “finer things.” Normally, Maja would regret this, would want art to be something the whole world – regardless of such arbitrary things as class and location and upbringing and social codes – can share. But in this unusually bright evening, where the sun painted the sky a deep, rich orange and London was a sea of glinting rooftops, she was glad to be alone in a room of the Tate Modern. Just her, her sketchbook and pencil, and the sculptures that now faced her. They were fine postmodern originals, the sort that were so abstract that one wonders if they were made in some other dimension external to known reality. The pencil flew across the page.

A scratching noise came from across the room. Maja tried to block it out; she liked to draw in silence. The noise persisted. Inexplicably, it really irritated her. Scratch, scratch, scratch…

“Could you stop making that noise?” asked Maja, her eyes still on the sculpture. The noise paid no attention.

Sighing, she stood up and began, “Hey, I’m trying to -”

She stopped. The noise was charcoal on paper. In the corner of the room was a boy, quite tall and slender, dressed in a blazer, dark jeans and a cotton printed scarf. His long, black hair fell over his face as he concentrated on his drawing. Their eyes met.

“Sorry, was I bothering you?” he asked. His voice was low-pitched, yet had a certain softness to it.

A blush crept up Maja’s cheeks. “No, no, it’s fine. I mean, I like drawing in silence, but you know, charcoal sounds nice too, I guess,” she babbled. Real smooth.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t even aware that I was making a noise. I was just so-”

“Immersed in the drawing?” Maja blurted out.

“Yes!” The boy laughed. Maja noticed how nice his eyes were: large, oval and grey, framed by long eyelashes. Piercing. “When I draw, it’s like I’m somewhere else. Somewhere I can express everything I want to without being judged.”

Maja nodded; she knew exactly what he meant. “Yes. It’s like speaking another language, except rather than having to abide by someone else’s grammatical rules, you can create your own rules. You can interpret what you see in whatever way you want to. I think that’s what’s so attractive about art: whatever you create is unique, and presented in a unique way. You have total autonomy.” She blushed even more; why did she suddenly sound like a Sartrean aesthetics chatbot? And what was it about this boy that made her want to tell him all this? “Sorry I just, er, went off on one there.”

“No, no, I completely understand.” He gave a hint of a smile. “It’s nice to find someone so passionate. Most people just think I’m crazy for hanging out in art galleries and drawing everything that inspires me the way I do. I mean, it’s not exactly what most teenagers do.”

“Same here,” said Maja.

She saw him quickly add a stroke of charcoal to his drawing. She was curious. “Which sculpture are you drawing?”

“Um, it’s not exactly a sculpture. Well, it could be one metaphorically, but…” he stuttered, blushing.

The temptation was too great. She shuffled next to him, peered at his sketchbook, and gasped. On the page was a perfect charcoal sketch of…herself. Her long, straight hair, her coat adorned with badges, her chunky jewellery, the focused expression on her face as she lost herself in drawing.

“Sorry, this probably seems really weird…” mumbled the boy.

“No, it’s, I…” Maja was lost for words. “It’s beautiful.”

“I said I drew things that inspired me,” he said shyly.

They gazed at each other. The moment seemed to last for a century.

“What inspired you about me?” she asked.

“You looked like you were really into what you were doing, really passionate. That’s rare these days,” he replied. “I thought you might actually understand me. And…you did.”

There was nothing to say. Language couldn’t express the warmth she felt. She just smiled, and so did he.

“We should go out sometime,” he said.

She nodded.