The Unprecedented Canvas

Whoever you think you are, whoever you present yourself to be, whoever you could potentially be, and whoever you have been in some misbegotten past— whatever ideologies may have sunk their teeth in you and devoured you whole, and whatever faint glimmer, if any at all, of an unprecedented light still somehow flickers behind your canvas—there still, hopefully, remains an abundance of chaos to be excavated from the abyss of your soul, a majestic spectrum of magnificence to be poured forth into your drying palette. And if there is nothing further to dig up, well then, my condolences to the corpse.

In the interest of brevity, as such matters seem to increasingly demand so as not to invite the premature glares of caricatures of differing opinions, I will spill forth an account of a single day in the telling of which a kaleidoscope can be glimpsed in the place of a single-minded rant. Let the spilling begin, shall we? Stand up straight and hold your ground, ye despairing canvases.


In the latter half of the twentieth century, the Phoenix family name came to be known all throughout the Saddar area in Karachi as portraitists—the lofty quality of their services attracted the attention of even the remotest prospects. After 1965, however, they fled to Canada, fearing for their lives, but they left behind the family of John Phoenix, who could not afford to take his wife and son to Canada, so they remained in Pakistan despite whatever struggles may happen to await them. Paul Phoenix, John’s only son, would accompany his father to the art shop where he would serve as his father’s only apprentice. His father would show him the beauty of sketching the individual human form and of all the beauty that could be captured within a sketch without the consideration of practicality. They would often go to the Saint Andrew’s Church together to offer their prayers for the prosperity of their family in this “strange foreign land”, as Paul’s mother often put it.

One such day, while John was busy showcasing his work to a potential patron for much-needed commissions, Paul got into a brawl with the patron’s son and disfigured his nose. The patron stormed off with his son after scolding John who, in his usual manner, defended his son with the utmost fierceness.

In the next week, John Phoenix fled to Canada before the authorities could summon him, but the rest of his family stayed behind. The accusation of the patron had turned into a rather serious matter and his accounts about the extent of the damage caused by the “Christian brat” had become much too exaggerated.

Before John left, he took his son in his arms. “Never let anything happen to your mother, Paul. Someday, I’ll bring you to Canada, alright buddy?”

“When, father?” Paul asked. 

“Very soon, my Paul.”

John died in Canada soon after and even failed to receive a proper burial. In the following years, Paul grew into a rather cautious teenager who swore to his mother every day that he would not repeat his father’s error and would survive until they could manage to immigrate and visit John’s tomb.


An Osprey gave Paul Phoenix a look of contempt before soaring away, the cloudy sky of Karachi growing darker in the background, leaving Paul to turn back and grab hold of his mother who sat frantically shaking after yanking away Paul’s cross off his neck. A couple of sneering parents stood at the end of the university driveway, waiting for Paul and eying Paul’s mother with a hatred that almost gave her convulsions.

“Can I have the cross back before I go inside, my dear mother?”

“You’re not getting out of the car at all. And no cross. It pricks too much,” she replied. “It’s not safe.”

“What if I want to be pricked a little?” 

“You can’t want to be pricked. Ever.”

“Not even a little?” Paul asked, clawing a couple of fingers at her. “A tiny bit?” 

She pouted. “No!”

“Fine, you can have it. But I will snatch that away from you when I return home after classes.”

She smiled. “You can try, but it’s mine now.” 

Paul chuckled. “We’ll see.”

“Jesus, look at that hatred in their eyes. Being with Mariam and Alex will cause nothing but trouble, Paul. Break away. Please. For your old mother. Their parents are too dangerous.”

“I’ll have nothing then,” Paul said. “That outcast group is all I have. They need their leader to help them survive.”

“My survivor son,” she said, patting his shoulder. “We’ll soon be out of here, won’t we?”

“Very soon.” Paul leaned closer to her. “We’ll soon be walking on Canadian soil.”

“Our home,” she said, smiling. “You better go in now. It’s all clear now. They just left.”

“It’s never really clear, mom. There’s always someone to hide from.”

“You’re a survivor, Paul. Never forget that,” she said. “You can’t afford to forget it.”


After classes were over, Paul and Alex walked through the university’s courtyard while Mariam stayed behind to exchange notes with someone.

“They were just looking out for us, Paul. Our parents,” Alex said. “They don’t mean you any harm.”

“Are you sure they got no wind of our group? You’ve got to absolutely make sure of that. We can’t afford any leakage.”

“You heard about the madman, Paul?” Alex asked. 

“What madman?”

“Escaped this morning. Jumped out the window of the lunatic asylum right behind your street in the Saddar area. I’m surprised you don’t know about it already. It’s been all over the news.”

“Yeah, well. There’s been other things on my mind.” Paul stopped in his tracks. 

“What might those be?”

“Our outcast group,” Paul replied. “I can’t help but feel that we’re drifting apart.”

“Oh.” Alex turned his gaze down at the pavement as they arrived at the driveway. “Another one disappeared yesterday, Paul.”

“Another what?”

He sighed. “You know.”

“Must’ve been foolish to speak out. So foolish. These outcasts don’t have any regard for vigilance, do they?”

“Foolish?” Alex asked. “Sure, that’s what you would say.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s time.”

“I asked something, Alex.”

“Listen,” he said. “We can’t hold out anymore.”

“Answer my damn question. I think as your group leader I am entitled to be answered first before you embark on this horrid line of—”

“Paul, you’re such a turtle. You keep hiding in these shells and try to—” 

“Where the hell is Mariam? I think we ought to have her say on this.” 

“Knock yourself out—that won’t accomplish anything.”

“She’s with you on this … this rashness?”

Alex smiled. “Here’s what we’re thinking, okay? Just listen.”

Paul bit his lip. “Alright,” Paul said, spreading out his hands. “Let’s hear it. Enlighten me with your acumen.”

“See,” Alex said, pointing at Paul. “That is exactly the problem.” 

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Ha, don’t pretend now,” Alex scoffed. “This mocking …. this patronizing you do. We’re not cardboard people here, Paul. You think you’re the only one who knows what to do? Think again.”

“Calm down,” Paul said. “You’re obviously in no condition to—”

“There you go again. Oh, good, our Flamingo is here,” Alex said, his face lighting up at Mariam’s arrival.

“Hey, Viking, I’ve told you a billion times not to call me that,” Mariam said to him. “Anyway, what’re we talking about, boys and gentlemen?”

“The boys and gentlemen aren’t talking about anything,” Alex said. “I am just telling him of our plan to escape from Karachi. And I am not descended from Vikings. That’s just a rumor.”

“A substantial one though. Your temper isn’t like that for nothing. You’ve got Viking blood.” Mariam growled and grabbed his arm, pressing on his veins. “One can never be sure when you’ll be raiding and pillaging from our minds.”

“I have Alexander’s blood. I’m named after him for Christ’s sake,” Alex said.

“Alexander’s blood? That’s just too much of a stretch and even if it were true, wouldn’t mean anything.”

“It is true, and it means everything,” Alex said, his brows knitted together. “And what about you, you tomboy? Mommy’s going to marry our little Flamingo to a nice gentleman with a fancy wedding and all, huh?”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. You know full well I’m not going through with that.”

“Help me put some sense into him, Mariam,” Paul said to her. “He thinks he’s above this. Says you are too.”

“That’s you, Paul,” she said. “Sure, the Viking and I have our differences, but he, like me, has nothing to lose by splitting.”

“Exactly,” Alex said. “I can’t do this to my family anymore. Can’t put all my eggs in this fantasy basket of yours, Paul. The initiative has to be taken now. What, you think my family will restore its glory by waiting for an escape?”

“What? Is this a joke to you? You two morons think you can survive alone? What’re you two blockheads going to do? Start a revolution?”

Mariam and Alex sighed.

“This isn’t about survival anymore, Paul. Again, that’s just you,” Mariam said.

“Where are you two going to go, huh?” Paul asked. “No, really, where? A jungle?”

“We’re already in a jungle, Paul,” Alex said. 

“And you’re reneging on our plans?”

“What plans? There are no plans as I just said, Paul. I’m sorry.” Alex suppressed a scoff.

“Do I really have to bloody spell it out for you? I’ve been talking about them ever since the day I met you two,” Paul said.

“Look, we just don’t have that sort of time unlike you,” Alex said. “It’s not that we don’t want to immigrate to Canada, but we just can’t wait till we’ve graduated from university to start being who we are freely.”

“No? So, you’d rather risk not ever having the freedom to be who you are, assuming you know who you are in the first place than to have patience and survive through this jungle.”

“And who am I, Paul?” Mariam asks. “I don’t know who I am beside a rebel against whatever is chiseled in stone apparently. You know what my mom said to me the other day, Paul? Oh, you won’t even believe it. She said, ‘Mariam, I know you want to create your own role for yourself, but trust me, as your mother, I know best who you ought to be, and you have to live by it. There’s no choice.’ Does that sound like something waiting for an escape will subdue? It’ll be too late if we keep waiting. Your mom may buy this fantasy about one day going to Canada, but I know bloody well that by the time that escape is available to us, we will have lost our essence here and wasted far too much time already.”

“Isn’t that enough for you to be able to survive for now?”

Mariam’s eyes flared with anger. “There’s that word again—survival. It’s not a virtue. I don’t give a damn about survival anymore; I’d rather be killed in rebellion than to have to conform to some idea of me which just isn’t me.”

“So, you two are just going to give up?” Paul asked.

“Giving up?” Alex asked in astonishment. “We’re doing anything but giving up. It’s you who’s given up on yourself, Paul.”

“Paul,” Mariam chimed in. “You know what happens when a group of porcupines bundles so close together that even their spikes start pricking each other? Only they suffer and for everyone else, they become one pack and they could just be wiped out in one fell swoop since they’re huddled so close together. This may be hard for you to swallow, but we’ve all got to stray away from each other and risk death rather than cowering in some corner with fear. I’m not going to give them an easy aim. Believe me, this is for our own good.”

Paul rested his hands on his hips. “Don’t need a group or a leader anymore, huh?”

Mariam and Alex looked at each other and nodded.

“Hey, Alex,” Paul said. “Why are you going anyway? With her?”

“Never wanted one,” she said. “Having a tyrant has done us no favors. Neither has this group for that matter.”

“A survivor,” Paul insisted. “A well-meaning friend. Not a tyrant.”

“A coddler in a jungle,” she said. “Almost a clone of the very parents I distance myself from.”

“Don’t,” Paul said. “I know things haven’t been perfect.”

“Dreadful. That’s how they’ve been. Purely dreadful.” 

“Do you two trust my judgment? At all?”

“We trust initiative, Paul. A bold initiative. So far, you’ve been lacking it, Paul. We are digging it out of ourselves now.”

“By giving into death?” Paul asked. 

“By giving into who I am.”

“And who exactly is that?”

“A dead girl,” she replied. 

“As good as dead, I suppose.” Paul sighed.

“Hey, how about me, Flamingo?” Alex asked. “Hellene?”

“Coward,” Mariam replied without hesitation

“Coward with Hellenic blood?” 

“Coward with coward blood.”

“See?” Alex turned towards Paul. “That right there. That’s why I’m going with her. She’s of my blood, Paul—feisty, growly, and just wild. What more can one want?”

“He thinks he’s valorous because of his stupid blood,” Mariam said to Paul. “I just rip apart his delusions of grandeur.”

“Why do you bother?” Paul asked.

“It’s not like I enjoy it, Paul. He’s just, I don’t know, fun. He’s no Romeo though, just a lackey.”

“Violent delights have violent ends,” Paul said.

“Frankly, at this point, I’d be disappointed if a violent end wasn’t due,” Mariam replied. “I’ll die with a blast.”

“Do whatever you want, you two. I’m out of words now. Just leave, go ahead.”

“If only you understood us,” Mariam said. “You’re welcome to come with us, Paul. We could really use a few portraits.”

“Not a portraitist anymore.”

“Think about it, Paul,” she said. “Just you, Alex, and I on the beach, enjoying our freedom. Not a soul bothering us.”

“I would go, but …”

Mariam rolled her eyes. “But Mrs. Phoenix.”

“Can’t risk my life while she is alive. I’ve already shoved her into a corner.”

“You were just a kid, Paul. Don’t you think it’s time you let go of the guilt?” Mariam asked.

“She’s alone every single day because I dared to pick a fight with them. You know, when I see that glimmer of hope in her eyes that we will, one day, get out of here, there’s nothing else I want to make real for her. I don’t care if I have to keep my head down or be alone because of that. I can compromise that to make her happy. That’s who I am—a survivor.”

“I respect that, Paul,” she said. “I swear I do. All that stuff I said earlier about you being a coddler—it wasn’t an accusation.”

“Certainly felt that way.”

“Hey, Paul, watch out!” they both yelled.

Paul turned around. Suddenly, he found himself engulfed in total darkness as a hood suddenly got tied around his head. He heard both Mariam and Alex cry out and subsequently ugly silence.

“It’s the madman! Help!” Paul heard Alex cry out before his cries died. The driveway was empty by this time.

“Should I stick the bastards into the trunk, Jalal?” Paul heard a voice ask.

“No, Saud. They’ll hardly breathe in there.” 

“What do we care if they breathe or not?”

“We don’t care. I care. Settle them on the backseat of the van.” 

“Whatever you say, boss. Where are we going anyway?”

The Osprey that had shot Paul a look of contempt earlier returned, letting out a sharp cry, and it landed on Jalal’s shoulder.

“Home,” Jalal replied.


The rickety van treaded through Mauripur Road when the hoods were finally taken off the three young outcasts. Jalal drove while Saud kept repeatedly glancing back at them with the stare of a hungry dog—Jalal would yank the leash whenever Saud would try to harass Mariam. One of Saud’s attempts was hindered rather permanently when Mariam landed her clenched fist on his saliva-dripping mouth when he tried slipping his hand underneath her veil.

Despite Paul’s pleading to sit without causing any unnecessary trouble, there was no stopping her. Alex found great amusement in watching her seize hold of this strange circumstance. She repeatedly tried inquiring where they were headed, and what fate awaited them, but Jalal would shrug off her questions with questions of his own. He showed a strange curiosity about the three of them and learned of their outcast group and the recent events that had unfolded in their lives.

“Hawke’s Bay Beach,” he told them finally after all his questions had been answered. “It’s home.”

When the van finally made it outside the beach, Saud could not be controlled with a leash any longer, and he quickly sprang up and leapt on Mariam.

“Get off me, you sicko,” she said. “Get him off me! Paul!”

Before Paul could strike him, however, Saud collapsed and slipped out of the car door behind which Jalal stood with a shovel. He outstretched his hand out to Mariam.

“Let’s go, children,” Jalal said. “The sea awaits us.”


Jalal led them to the beach where they all sat together in a circle before the waves. Alex and Mariam decided to go take a walk nearby while Jalal talked with Paul in private. When they left, Jalal grabbed Paul by the wrist.

“And if you’re just cowering here when the great waves wash you away from the shore? What then?”

“I’ll keep away from the shore.”

“It’s all shore, this life. The waves are bound to devour you if you don’t move.”

“And if you have someone that can’t move with you? Do you let her get swallowed by the sea?”

“You yank her into motion.”

“Is it that simple though? What if she had seen what happens when you’re yanked into motion?”

“And what exactly happens?”

Paul gestured at the sea. “You get to pull off the shore into this.” 

“You might find a way to swim.”

“You’ll just find a way to drown most likely.”

“I have a proposition for you, Paul. But first, about your circumstance, what exactly is it that you’re hoping to achieve by keeping your head down?”

“You wouldn’t understand.” 

“Wouldn’t I? Why exactly is that?”

“You’re just a madman, what do you know?”

“Plenty more than you think, I bet. Just a madman? I’ve been in and out of every sort of place you can name. Asylums, deserts, wars, you name it. My life’s been quite the wild ride, Paul.”

“More like a pointless wandering.”

 “A dangerous one at that.”

“A reckless one.”

“Ever have any adventures, Paul?” 

“Never needed any.”

“Your father, he had any adventures with you?” 

“Drop it.”

“What’s to happen to the Paul that lives in adventure? Is he never being yanked into an actuality?”

“What are you–crazy?” Paul chuckled and eyed Jalal with suspicion. “One would think you’d have the wisdom of a madman as they say.”

“It’s quite colorful. My life, you know.”

“I am not sure I would call being locked up as a loony a colorful event.” 

“What would you call colorful? Surviving?”

“I would call it prudent. Safe.”

“Yet in you, there is someone that’s longing to bellow.” 

“No such thing.”

“No? What about her?” he said, his eyes on Mariam. “What strange spirit animates her?”

“Nothing strange about it. Just despair. Despair at subjugation for being a woman.”

“Is that it? Just despair? That’s who she is?”

“Yup. That’s Mariam.”

“Have you ever happened to pay attention to her cadence of speech?” 

“What’s that got to do with anything, Jalal?”

“There’s a slight quiver in her voice when she’s proclaiming her bold turns of phrases. There’s someone in her that’s afraid.”

“What do you mean ‘someone’? She’s Mariam. That’s all she is.”

“The strains of all humanity tug inside each one of us. You find the wildness in me repugnant?”

“I find it misguided. Useless.” 

“What about the wildness in you?” 

“Don’t have any.”

“Everything has its opposite within itself.”

“I’m a portraitist—not a philosopher. What do you want from me?”

“A portraitist?” Jalal’s eyes beamed with excitement. “I want you to paint your canvas voluntarily.”

“My canvas?”

“Close your eyes, Paul,” Jalal said. “Let me show you a dream. Every person you know—think of them, but instead of imagining their faces, imagine a blank canvas chiseled into a human form, alright? Are you seeing it?”


“Now, tell me, whatever person you have in mind, if there was to be any paint on their canvas, where does the paint come from? Is it painted from the inside? Or is the paint spilled on it from the outside?”

“I don’t know.”

“Look carefully, Paul. Focus on the vision. What do you see?” 

“I don’t know.”

“What do you see?”

“It is painted from the inside but the paint can’t make it to the front. I can’t see the painting from the outside, only some faint outline of it. And there’s just so much spilled on the canvas from the outside. So much.”

“Now, tell me, what do you desire?” 


“If you could do anything in this vision, what would you do?”

“I … desire that I should only see the painting of the inside from the outside instead of this nonsensical spattered paint that is so ugly. So ugly. But how?”

“By making the paint so corrosive, so ablaze with fire, that it can make it to the outside.”

“But how?”

“By painting your painting from the inside with your blood. The paint that is constantly spattering your canvas is nothing, is limited, compared to the sea of paint you can drill for from the inside. But this excavation is a dangerous matter indeed—the best and the worst, the angels and the demons, the light and the darkness lies buried inside. and if you’re not careful enough, demons may rip through your canvas and leave nothing but shreds, or the most beautiful phantoms can ascend to your canvas and begin painting it from the inside. This world, Paul, is a kaleidoscope of canvases, and as more and more canvases try to imitate each other completely, the effect of the whole diminishes. If you want to glitter in this jumble of canvases, you have to paint your canvas with blood from the inside and let it inspire awe once it is fiery enough to display itself on the outside. You might never get to pass the entire bloody painting to the other side of the canvas, but it must be sufficient to inspire awe.”

“But how do I pass this painting to the outside even after I’ve painted it with blood?”

“Through a bargain with yourself. With sacrifices of what you hold most dear. To sacrifice what is easy, to sacrifice what is dear. You have to cleanse your palette with blood. Every second that you allow your canvas to be spattered with poison from the outside is a permanent stain upon your canvas. Every second. Never mistake the outside of the canvas to be who you are. Remember that your painting need not acquiesce to what substance it is made of; one has no say in that. Some individuals have their canvases made of the most expensive parchment, but the paintings are horrid, and some individuals have their canvases made of the roughest straw, yet the magnificence of their paintings inspires generations to come. And never—hear this carefully—ever compromise even a single brush stroke to save the entire canvas itself. If you do, you’ll end up with a horrid painting on the canvas before you know it. No compromise in any brush stroke. No brush stroke should be bloodless.”

“Is that why you live like this? Like a madman?”

“A madman is such a rarity, isn’t it? No one seems to want to paint their canvas. At all. And no wonder—the brush is too heavy; it weighs more than anything else you will ever lift. You know what I realized today?”


“Your group, Paul. I see the potential you have to paint your canvases. I am an outcast just like you. But …”

“But what, Jalal? What did you realize?”

“That painting the canvas is only half the point. There is also the element of sharing the art of canvas painting with others. And that’s why you are here now sitting with me.”

“But why me?”

“You’re their group leader, right?” 

“I am.”

“You shouldn’t have formed a group.” 

“Why not?”

“Why you shouldn’t have formed a group? Because if you do, people won’t find who you are in the canvas; they’ll find you in the form of you that they have chiseled out of your canvas themselves. It’s a compromise—a potentially deadly one. Not only they, but your group itself will do that. Most people in this world are chiseled canvases because they compromise their own canvas in service of a larger canvas and make the error of seeing themselves in some other larger jumble of them. Don’t be like that, Paul.”

“What if I am killed if I am alone?”

“Destroying canvases of unique beauty will eventually destroy the beauty of the whole kaleidoscope.”

“What do I care for the kaleidoscope? Everyone else can go to hell.”

“You care for the kaleidoscope because its shines forth in every heart to come. What heart do you want for your progeny?”

Paul turned to the sea and gazed at the crashing waves with utter shock.

Jalal swiftly grabbed his hand. “Tell me, why do you think you are treated like an outcast here?”

“People here are intolerant—they are oppressive. That’s why.”

“Is it really that simple, Paul? Just that? That’s who they are? These people are suspicious of outsiders because they have been subjugated in the past by outsiders—they have every reason to be suspicious. Ever consider that? And you forming your group only makes it worse because it is as if you confirm their doubts and present yourself as a threat. Don’t exacerbate into tribalism. You have to earn awe. You have to make the entire painting of your canvas brighter than any particular spot on it.”

“That’s just wrong. I shouldn’t have to.”

“You will never fill your palette properly if you can’t see yourself doing that. Just like them.”

“So perfect, huh? You’ve not been wrong once throughout this ‘beautiful’ life of yours, this … this hell of a ride?”

“Been wrong all this time.” 


“I let canvases turn to crisp so that mine could survive—so that mine could be perfect.” A tear trickled down Jalal’s cheek. “Every one of those could have easily been a magnificent canvas.” And then he softly said, “Let’s get back to my proposition now. This is what I offer you, Paul: I have three tickets to Canada. Now, one of them is of course for me, but the other ones I can offer you, but you have to choose between going to Canada yourself with your mother and leaving all this behind and with it Mariam and Alex—or you can give them the tickets to have their freedom and you yourself can stay here and survive like you’ve been surviving.”

Paul looked back and saw Mariam and Alex chatting and enjoying each other’s company.

“What’s it going to be?”


“We found you, Paul,” Mariam said from behind. 

“What?” Paul asked.

“Look.” She pushed the green sea turtle in Paul’s face. “How cute is that, Paul?”

“It’s extremely rare to find those,” Jalal said.

Mariam sat down with them, and rested the turtle on her crossed legs. “Just like our Paul here.”

“So, boys and gentlemen,” Mariam said. “What’re we talking about now?” 

“You, Flamingo,” Paul replied.

“About me?” she asked. “What about me?”

“You kept saying I didn’t understand you two. What’d you mean by that?” Paul asked.

“I don’t know. You always seem to have it always figured out. You have no correction system.”

“Correction system?”

“And the group. Don’t even get me started on that. What good is it to have a group when you do nothing with it?”

“Be that as it may,” Jalal said. “Paul here has something to tell you.” 

“What is it, Paul?” Mariam asked.

“You know how we’ve been dying to go to Canada? Jalal here will take us there.”

“Really?” Mariam and Alex both asked. “Why would he do that?” 

“For the sake of our canvases,” Paul replied.


Paul pointed at Alex. “His ancestors bear his canvas.” Then, pointing at Mariam, “She’s decided to burn her canvas altogether just because her palette has been snatched away. She still has her brush, but she doesn’t know it.”

“Who snatched it away?” Jalal asked. 


“What canvas? What palette? What bloody brush?” Mariam asked.

“It’s complicated. We’re heading for the airport in a while. He has the tickets.”

While Mariam and Alex embraced Paul and each other with excitement, Jalal stood up.

“I just have to make a call. Wait all three of you here.”

Mariam stepped forward and took Jalal’s hand in hers. “Thank you, Jalal.” 

Jalal looked at Paul. “Your group is finally intact, Paul. Congratulations.”


Brutish dark police trucks lined around the beach in a semicircle under the violently cloudy night sky. Behind one of the nearer trucks, the fathers of Alex and Mariam stood alongside the sniper.

“Put your hands behind your head and kneel down!” a police officer exclaimed. 

“Do what they say, Jalal,” Paul pleaded.

“The brush will not be compromised.”

“What do you want?” the parents asked. “What trade do you want?”

“Tell them, Jalal,” Mariam said, tugging at Jalal’s arm. “Tell them you want a safe route to Canada.”

Jalal took all three of them in his arms and kissed their foreheads.

“Officers of the law,” Jalal screamed. “Don’t dare come close to me, or I will pull the kids into the water with me. My demand is to the parents of the hostages.”

“We’re not hostages!” Paul cried. 

“Yes?” Mrs. Phoenix asked from afar. 

“Do what they say, Jalal!” Paul cried.

“The first demand I have is for Paul’s mother,” Jalal said.

“Yes? I am listening! Say anything you want. Just don’t hurt my Paul.”

“Miss, you have no idea what unbridled force you’re taming within your son. Tell me, how much do you love, Paul?”

“I love him more than anything.”

“Would you be willing to risk death for him?”

“Of course. Of course, I would. Come on, mister, leave him be and come here towards me and shoot me instead. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

Jalal sighed.

“I want a promise from you, Mrs. Phoenix.”

“A promise? Ask anything, dear sir. I know you’re a gentleman at heart. You wouldn’t hurt him, would you? God knows he’s been through enough. Please, sir.”

“Promise me that you will not make Paul bow down anymore. Promise me that when you see a fire in his eyes, you will let him into the wilderness to confront the chaos on his own. Promise me that you will not compromise Paul’s brush strokes in order to save his canvas.”

Mrs. Phoenix’s face only betrayed confused.

Jalal chuckled. “Miss, if you don’t know what any of that means, don’t worry— I’ve told your son everything. He’ll explain what I mean once I am free again.”

“The fool thinks he’s going to be free, ha!” the sniper said.

“Yes. Sir. Paul’s a very good boy. I’ll let him be. You have my word.” 

“Very good,” Jalal continued. “I just want to exchange a few words with my children,” 

The parents looked at Jalal with disgust. “Your children?”

“Paul, never let any canvas burn away for the sake of your own canvas—never! Promise me that.” Jalal coughed blood. “Never make my mistake.”

All three of them tugged at Jalal’s shirt in tears. 

“Let’s go now, Jalal. Please. Come on, we all need you. We’ll visit you in prison.”

“Here,” he said, pulling all of them closer. “I want you to have this Osprey, Paul. And—”

“He’s pulling out his weapon!” an officer screamed.

Before the outcasts could turn around, the sound of a gunshot froze them. Jalal collapsed on the sand.

“The unfinished bloody canvas finished at last,” Jalal said, his eyes shutting close.

“No!” Mariam cried. “No! No! No!”

It started raining violently, hiding everything sight. Paul, Alex, and Mariam circled around Jalal.

A herd of police officers approached them closer. The outcasts gripped Jalal by the feet and slowly dragged him into the sea, finally returning him to his rightful home. When they pushed him into sufficient depth to drown, Mariam refused to let go.

“Mariam! Let go. Don’t be stupid!” Paul screamed.

“No, no, no, no, no,” she cried, as if to herself. “I won’t let go of him. I’ll drown with him. I need to go down there where no one can find me.”

When they swam back, Mariam suddenly started back again. 

“Where are you off to again, Mariam?” Alex asked.

“We forgot something,” she said. 

“Forget it—it’s too late now, Mariam!”

She went to him and pulled something from his hand.

“Oh, the tickets,” Paul said. “You better hide those before—”

The police officers stood before them. “What the hell you think you’re doing? Hand those papers over right now.”

“What is that that you pulled from his hand?” asked the second officer. 

“Tickets to Canada,” all three of us replied. “They belonged to him.” 

“We better check it.”

After they arrived back at the trucks, the police officer suddenly dropped his torch. “That’s strange.”

“What?” Paul asked.

“Is there something you kids aren’t telling us? It is a criminal offense to—” 

“What is it, officer?”

“These are just empty shreds of paper.”


“The outcast group is united now. Isn’t that what you wanted, Paul? So why are you all of a sudden like this? You should be happy.”

“I was wrong, Alex.”

“We all were,” Mariam said.


“Mom, one more thing,” Paul said. “How did the police find out where we were?”

“You don’t know? He didn’t tell you?” 

“Tell me what?” Paul asked.

“I thought you knew,” she said. “It was him, Paul.”

“Him who?”

“The madman.”

Paul fell silent. “Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know—but I am certainly glad he did. If you were able to survive that, you can survive anything.”

“I am not going to survive anymore, mom. No smudges on my canvas anymore.”


So, is your palette cleansed? Is your canvas painted with your blood? Have you let your canvas be chiseled? So, is there indeed an unprecedented light behind your canvas? Or has it been extinguished by the spattering of some other canvas onto yours—or worse, one which you yourself copied from some other canvas?

Did you ever ask yourself, “Would that I could bring the entire world to my feet merely by the eloquent magnificence of my form—that I could in my capacity to paint layer over layer over my canvas contrive the image that would make tears yelp out from the eyes of all its beholders and inspire a longing to lick the lightning of suffering and danger itself just so they themselves could have even a slight chance of resemblance not to your image, but to the fire that your canvas inspires in them! But instead, here you are—trying to paint yourself in the image of all these worn-out old canvases and for what? So that you can be safe? Oh, what canvas is worth anything if it’s painted without fire, without blood?”

If you seek to engulf your canvas in darkness, never will you even have the chance to be remarkable. Will that be your fate? The biggest error is to expect the world to bend to your will without bending yourself to that ever-enchanting image that can have reverence sprinting towards it out of awe—awe from miles away! Let us all pick up our brushes with valor and begin painting. No entitlement will paint your canvas for you, no subjugation can snatch your brush away—so, get up and begin to pour the unending beauty with your excavation, fill your palette and get to work, and present before the world after your descent into the best and worst of you, the unprecedented canvas.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *