Nov. 19th, 2012

seesonlysmoke: (Painting)
Altaaf was slowly but surely growing more confident and not just in the bedroom -- and all the other places he and Ryan had ended up having sex. He was more at ease with his faith than he had been, although that was still sometimes a personal struggle as he dealt with seeing through the brainwashing he had endured as well as living a modern Western life with a very all-American girlfriend and the contradictions that sometimes had with Islam. One thing that had helped was finding an online group of fellow Muslims, many who had grown up in strict, very devout Muslim families but were now settling into the freer, funner, and sometimes confusing world of secularism. Although not exactly his situation -- anyone with his background would be hard to find, inshallah -- Altaaf could relate enough that, along with Ryan's help and support, adjusting to his new life was becoming easier.

There was also not so much hesitancy in going into town, even on his own. He'd become something of a regular at certain places, such as the office supply store and, his weakness, Mickey D's. At least once a week he would take a trip into town. At first, such trips had been with Ryan, but more and more frequently, he was going by himself as his confidence and sense of security that he would not be abused for looking like one of those 'fucking ragheads', although he did take precautions and always dressed in Western clothes, and to those he spoke to, he told them he was Indian and a Hindu. It amazed him at how...ignorant...many were, but found that almost as many were happy to learn and asked a great deal of questions.

It was his day in town, and as usual, he went to McDonalds first for the chicken sandwich, fries, and Coke that he always got. After that, he did something that very few people in California did, and that was take a walk down the main street. He saw little point in driving from one point to the next when it really wasn't that far. This way, he noticed things that he otherwise might not have, such as today. Altaaf had almost reached the office supply store, where he regularly browsed and sometimes bought art supplies, when he saw a new store was opening. Except that it wasn't a store, but an art gallery.

Curious, he went in. Someone was inside setting up, hanging some paintings on the walls, and he just stood inside the doorway, looking on with a small smile.

"Oh, hello! Sorry, but we're not open yet." The man, fit in a a lean way with salt and pepper hair, had just finished hanging the painting and looked over to him.

Altaaf shuffled a little awkwardly. "No, I am sorry. I just couldn't resist a look. Your art is really very good."

"Thanks, but only this one is mine. The others are local artists as well, though." He extended his hand as he came over. "Paul Wardell. Nice to have an appreciative visitor. Let me guess, you'd be from India? The...Punjab?"

Nodding, the Kashmiri shook his hand, surprised at Paul's close guess. "Yes, the Punjab. Although now I live here, not far outside the city. I'm Altaaf. I've always loved art and paint a little myself and do some photography."

"Really? Come in, Altaaf, let me show you around, a little preview before I have my "grand opening"." Paul laughed. "I lived in Gujurat for about a year, long time ago. Beautiful country, India, and a land of great contrasts, some good and some bad." Altaaf had to agree with that, and for the next several minutes the two men chatted about India as they moved from painting to painting. "So, what kind of painting do you do?"

"Oh, a lot of it is of where I grew up. Pictures of home that I have in my head, but I'm also trying to paint the desert here."

As they finished up and walked back to the door, Paul shook his hand again. "Tell you what, Altaaf, next time your in town bring in your portfolio, and I'll have a look through it. Give you some advice, if you want."

"You would do that?" Altaaf was amazed at the offer. He liked to paint and Ryan told him he was good, but to hear some real advice from another artist would really help him to get better. "Thank you...thank you."

***

It was in the week that followed that Altaaf had his birthday, that Ryan gifted him with his own Harley, and that he...they voiced their love for each other. He hadn't even realized that he had told her at first, the words had just come out, but they were no less genuine for that fact. He did love her, and Ryan was the most important, not to mention beautiful, person in his life. It wasn't that she had saved his life, but that she had opened up a whole new world for him, understood him, cared for him, and he did for her.

Still, that didn't stop him from taking his routine trip into town the next week, by himself on his new Hog. He didn't tell Ryan about the gallery or Paul. If Paul didn't like his paintings and drawings, then he didn't want to feel a complete idiot.

An hour after walking into the gallery, Altaaf emerged with a stunned look on his face. Happy, but completely and utterly stunned. Not only had Paul liked most of his work, but he agreed to hang two in his art gallery, debuting as he put it, the area's newest talent. There had also been some wonderful constructive criticism that Altaaf had taken to heart. In return, Paul had been surprised that his new Indian friend had never had any formal training, and while some of his work was a bit on the raw side, that had an appeal of its own. The two that would be on display, and for sale, were a painting of the shore of Dal Lake back in Kashmir (although Altaaf hadn't mentioned that), near where he had lived as a boy and a drawing of a Joshua Tree that he had seen one day while he and Ryan had been out exploring the area together.

Hardly able to contain his excitement, and disbelief, he managed to ride the bike back to Ryan's. Back at the house, he found her relaxing by the pool, and after taking off his leather jacket, he crouched by her sun lounger. To stop himself from grinning like a loon, he had to bite the inside of his lip, so that hopefully, he would not spoil the surprise too soon. In fact, he tried to act as casually as he could. "Ryan, do you like art galleries? There's a new one in town, and I was given a couple of tickets for their opening tomorrow night." His lips pursed together to try and not smile, but his eyes were shining.

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Altaaf Khan

November 2012

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