Author: D.U. Okonkwo
Publisher: A Few Words Press
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
ISBN: 978-0993161711 (Paperback) / 978-0993161704 (eBook)
Genre: Literary Fiction Format: eBook (.mobi / Kindle), ePub, PDF
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The extraordinary story of how a facially-scarred and reclusive sculptress breaks free upon discovering the true source of self-esteem.
Now she is forced to step out of her comfort zone and enter the very public world of gallery showings. When she does land a gallery contract however, she finds herself the target of a rival artist after the very same contract. And with malicious lies, he intends make her regret taking what should have been his. Now, for the first time, Ria must look to find a truth that conquers all lies.
Ria appreciated the beauty of the headless female sculpture standing before her. A sculpture without its head has its own particular beauty. Strong sculpted legs, intricately crafted torso and powerful shoulders; the beauty of creation.
She squatted in front of the sculpture and ran a slender hand over its flanks. The modeling clay she had chosen had done its job; its durability ensuring the legs of the sculpture came out strong and smooth, the hips gently curved. Six weeks into the making, this piece would be larger than any piece she had previously sculpted, and certainly more challenging.
Here in her art studio which spanned the basement of her small house in London’s Bermondsey, clay statues of ancient kings and queens graced the long wooden shelves resting against the studio’s ivory walls. A small sink sat at the far end against the wall beside her large white storage cupboard, and two years ago she had bought a two-seater sofa and tucked it in the far left corner. Her small stereo, which she only put on when sketching, rested on a table beside it.
Time to begin its head, she decided, and her firm full lips curved into a smile of anticipation. Creating the head was her favorite part. If the legs, shoulders and torso possessed their own particular beauty, then how she created the sculpture’s eyes, slanted its mouth, and molded the chin brought out not just beauty, but the sculpture’s personality.
Ria got to her feet. A slim young woman with close cropped tightly curled black hair; she had a delicate oval face with a beautiful dark chocolate complexion that the faded pink burn scars that ran from the apples of her cheekbones to her collarbone couldn’t mar.
She reached for her apron and tied it around the long-sleeved white t-shirt and soft faded blue jeans she’d pulled on that morning. Sculpting was arduous and messy work, but for her, one of the perks of being a full-time sculptress was that she went to work in her most comfortable clothes.
She moved to where the armature waited atop the worktable. Shaped like an egg, an armature’s rigid metal framework ensured effective structuring of a sculpture’s head.
Collecting an armful of old newspapers from the white storage cupboard in the corner she rolled them into balls then began to fill the armature with them. Once thoroughly packed she secured it in place with a small plastic bag. Next the clay. She took a moment to relish the solid yet light weight in her hand. Then, detail by detail, piece by piece, she began adding more and more clay to the stuffed plastic bag, melding and smoothing it against the bag’s slippery surface. She hummed as she worked; following the measurements she had set out when the idea had first flown into her mind. Her deft and skilful fingers, armed with her trusted sculpting chisel, manipulated the clay.
The sharp slap of the letterbox upstairs stopped her. She stretched her arms high over her head, working out the stiffness in her shoulders caused from bending over the armature. After cleaning her hands she left the studio, heading up the pink carpeted stairs to the ground floor.
She plucked the white envelope lying on the doormat. June sunlight shone through the glass panel in the front door, and the click of women’s heels sounded on the pavement outside as they made their way to work. Once the morning rush was over and it was quiet outside she’d go for her daily morning walk and think over the next steps to completing the sculpture.
Breaking the seal of the envelope, she pulled out the letter.
Dear Ms. Ofor,
Account No: 17032007-55GM Property: 55 Garden Mews
Please be informed that payment due on the above-referenced account has not been met.
We have made several unsuccessful attempts to contact you.
Our records show that your account is in arrears of £11,509.
Please make arrangements to clear the outstanding amount within 28 days or the case will be escalated to our solicitors, whereupon they may be forced to take legal action, resulting in the repossession of the property.
If you have since made arrangements to clear the aforementioned amount, please ignore this letter.
Ria’s stomach dropped somewhere below ground level, and the noose of the repossession notice, the one she had tried to loosen over the last six months, only tightened further around her neck, almost choking her.
She had failed.
The knowledge brought a bitter and sour taste to her mouth, salty tears to her cheeks. She had tried everything to sell her art; special offers, first buyer discounts. Everything except what you really should, she acknowledged silently, and squeezed her eyes shut. The scars have faded, she reminded herself. They’re not as disfiguring as they once were. No one will stare if you go out; no one will point or grimace.
Face damp with tears she’d been unable to keep at bay, she looked around desperately. Her heart pounded. How would she sculpt? Where would she sculpt?
She groped her way back down to the studio, went to the storage cupboard, and then pulled out the lowest drawer. The pile of threatening letters she had received over the last nine months stared up at her like hungry wolves. A shudder raked through her.
She needed to be strong and think, she told herself. Wiping her eyes she moved to the teak filing cabinet beside the storage cupboard and placed the letter atop it, then on a deep breath then opened the bottom drawer. Art magazines and industry journals were stacked neatly inside. Please, she begged silently as she rifled through the drawer. Please still be here.
Her trembling fingers hit a cool glossy cover. Sculpting Magazine – last month’s issue. She held it to her chest for a moment, closed her eyes and attempted to steady her racing heart. Then, opening it, she flipped through page after page until she found what she was looking for: the monthly snapshot of an art agent. This issue profiled Meg Fuller, president of a boutique art agency called The Art Room. As an art agent, Meg Fuller placed artists with art galleries throughout London.
Only in Ria’s most private moments did she allow herself to imagine what it would be like to be a commercially successful artist. Then she thought of people’s stares, comments, the rejection, and she shrank into herself.
Now she looked up at the portrait of her deceased Uncle Jonas that took pride of place on the wall. After she had graduated from Rayners Art Academy six years ago he had helped arrange the financing on the flat. Located in Island Gardens, the Docklands area of East London, she had loved the small compact house on first sight.
“You helped me buy this place,” she whispered to his smiling face, still holding the art magazine. “You encouraged my love of art. You started me on this journey.”
He had introduced her to art at age ten. A successful surgeon, he had children of his own, and had therefore spent a lot of time with her and her older brother Dominic One afternoon, he had taken her and her and her brother Dominic to visit the Canbury art gallery in central London. Stepping into that gallery had been like stepping into a warm, enveloping cloud. Light poured in from the huge wall-to-wall windows, paintings graced the white walls, and eclectic sculptures stood atop tall pedestals. Uncle Jonas spoke with the other gallery visitors about the displays, all of them speaking in awed whispers and hushed tones as they studied the different artwork. Dom had been bored though. Ria smiled at the memory of him impatiently hopping from one foot to the other; desperate to leave and see the car exhibition that Uncle Jonas had promised him they’d visit afterwards.
She had not been bored, but enthralled. Uncle Jonas had asked a member of the gallery staff to answer her questions and for the next half an hour she had learned about the process of bronze sculpting. After that day she had focused more attention on her art class at school and throughout college. Her father had been dismissive of it from the start. His blunt ‘Most artists can’t afford to feed themselves,’ had only added strain to their already fractured relationship.
And now, standing in her studio years later, her father’s words now kept going around her mind. But he was wrong, she decided. And she could prove him wrong. She looked across the room at her sculpture, then at the many other smaller pieces resting on the studio shelves on the walls. “I can fix this.” Her eyes narrowed on the sculpture again. “I have to.” With her free hand she pulled her phone from her handbag beside the worktable and looked down at the art agency’s number again, and then dialed it.
A young woman answered on the second ring. “Good morning, The Art Room; Layla speaking.”
“Hello.” Be confident, Ria ordered herself, and sought to make her usual low calm voice strident. “Can I speak to Meg Fuller please?”
“Who can I say is calling?”
Ria drew a fortifying breath. “Ria Ofor.”
“Just a second.”
A moment later a different female voice spoke. “Ria Ofor?”
This was it. Throat tight with both fear and anxiety, Ria swallowed and then answered. “Yes.”
“This is Meg Fuller. I recognize your name, Ria.” The agent’s warm and enthusiastic voice eased Ria’s nerves a little. “I’ve seen several of your pieces on The Platform website but have never been able to find contact details for you. Are you calling for possible representation?”
“Yes I–” Ria had to blink back the image of the bank letter that threatened to shadow her vision. “Yes.” She cleared her throat and aimed to speak more firmly in an effort to exude confidence. “I’ve been working on a new piece for several weeks. I think it may be of commercial interest.” “I see. You have an up-to-date portfolio?”
“I do yes.”
“Good. Why don’t we set a date for you to come and meet me tomorrow afternoon? We’re in Covent Garden.”
Alarm speared through Ria. “M-meet? You mean…face-to-face?”
Ria’s hand grew clammy on the phone. “Can we…can we perhaps negotiate something over the phone…I mean instead of meeting? Maybe…maybe I can email you photos of some of my pieces?” Please say yes.
“I’m afraid not. I always meet any new potential client face-to-face.”
Ria squeezed her eyes shut briefly. How could she reveal her reasons for not wanting to meet face-to-face? She lifted her hand to her face, but caught herself at the last second and clenched her hands into fists.
Over eleven thousand pounds needed to be paid. She had to do what was necessary. She hoped that for once the chips fell in her favor. She drew a deep breath. "I'll be there, Meg."
Covent Garden was the heart of London’s tourist district. Its cobbled streets attested to it being one of the oldest places in the city, and its bustling market, lively street performers and boutique designer shops drew both tourists and Londoners alike. It had been years since she had been here, Ria mused as she exited its tube station. A row of rickshaws lined the pavement just outside. Some riders bargained with enchanted tourists over hire rates while others sat back to take a rest between rides. Taking a right outside of the station Ria headed towards the main square. This place still possessed so much energy and vibrancy, she admitted. She wouldn’t admit she had missed both.
“My balloon!” a young boy suddenly squealed. A royal blue balloon flew over Ria's head. “Mum, catch it quick.”
Startled into glancing up, Ria saw the bright blue balloon in question. She jumped up, catching its long, red string in her grasp. She held it out to the little boy.
“Thank the kind young lady, Jimmy,” his mother prompted.
Brushing his ginger fringe aside, Jimmy stared up at Ria, his large brown eyes wide. “What are those things on your face?” he asked instead.
“Jimmy!” Grasping his free arm, Jimmy’s mother sent Ria a beseeching look of apology as she took the balloon from her. “Come on, Jimmy.”
Ria stood rooted in place, her body completely immobile like one of her own sculptures. Only when someone accidently bump into her did she realize she had been standing there for some time. Jimmy and his mother had long gone.
Heart pounding, she ran the back of her hand down her right cheek, over the rough texture of unforgiving burn scars. Letting her hand drop, she forced her fingers to relax. All thoughts of her impending meeting with Meg wiped clear from her mind, she spun on her heel and headed towards the tube station, thinking only of home.
Meg Fuller ran impatient fingers through shoulder-length black hair. She rose from her desk and walked out into the main reception area of The Art Room, her emerald eyes narrowing.
At the reception desk her summer intern, Layla Banes, glanced up. “Still nothing?”
“Not a dickey bird, and I’ve already left a message.” Annoyed, Meg grimaced. “I'll try her one more time.” Then she had cut her losses. Ria Ofor looked to be a special talent, Meg had seen that for herself while browsing The Platform website several months ago. But she liked artists who knew the importance of communication.
“I’d better head off or I’ll be late for the dentist.” Layla grimaced. “Wish me luck.”
“Always. See you in a couple of days.” Returning to her office, Meg picked up her phone and dialed Ria’s number for the second time. Six rings came and went before Ria answered.
“Ria, this is Meg Fuller from The Art Room.”
On the other end of the phone Meg heard Ria’s shocked gasp. “Meg…hi.”
“Where are you?”
A pause before Ria whispered back. “At home.”
Meg waited a beat. Well, don’t rush to apologize for standing me up will you? she thought with annoyance. “We were scheduled to meet today at twelve-thirty.”
A sniffle came through the line. “Meg. Oh. I - I’m so sorry for - I couldn’t make it.”
Meg’s brows drew together. Ria sounded like she had been crying. “Are you okay?”
Another sniffle. “Yes I – yes of course. I’m fine.”
Sure you are, Meg thought with concern, and hesitated before asking, “Do you still want to meet?”
About The Author
Born and raised in London, D. U. Okonkwo writes commercial literary fiction. She graduated from the University of Salford with a BSc in Business with Spanish which included an ERASMUS exchange living in Salamanca, Spain. RISE is her first novel.
To learn more about D. U. Okonkwo, visit her website at: www.duokonkwo.com She is also on Twitter @duosays, and keeps a blog at www.duosblog.com
Connect with D.U.:
Author Website: www.duokonkwo.com
Author Blog: www.duosblog.com