Half an hour before the Art exhibition was supposed to take place, Lyla went to check her work, but when she went to her space, there was nothing there. The evening before, she had taken hours to lay out in a specific order the sticks, stones, and other objects that made up her work. She had been meticulous. She had used a large colour photograph, a tape measure, and a ruler to help her recreate the artwork she had developed in her studio, back at home.
This was supposed to be her big day. Lyla worked in an office, but her yearning was to be an artist. She had taken part in many shows but had never won anything. She was beginning to believe that maybe she should just forget all about pursuing this passion and settle down as her parents had often suggested.
Lyla had selected all the individual elements making up her work for their shape, for their symbolic meaning, for the way they complemented the others. It had taken her weeks to choose the right objects and to decide their optimal position. And now they were gone…all gone. She fell to her knees and began to cry.
“What’s wrong, Luv?” Asked a cleaning lady, who happened to walk by holding a broom and pan.
“The show is due to start in half an hour and someone has stolen my artwork, my sticks, my stones, everything. That’s what’s wrong!” Said Lyla sobbing.
“Oh, no! That was me. I mean, I didn’t steal anything, Luv. I thought it was rubbish that had to be cleaned up. I’m sorry.” Apologised the woman.
“Well, what did you do with it?” Asked Lyla while drying her tears.
“It’s alright, Luv. It's in the bin outside. Do you want me to get it for you?” Said the cleaner.
“Yes, please.” Replied Lyla, blowing her nose.
The cleaning lady came back with a red bin, while Lyla was staring at the photograph, and mentally calculating how long it would take her to put all her work back in its original position.
“Here, Luv, do you want me to empty the bin on the floor?” Asked the woman.
“No, I think that will be fine, thank you, I’ll take it from here.” Said Lyla, taking the bin from the cleaning lady and hugging it.
For some reason, Lyla remembered the dream she had the night before. In it, it was morning, and she was leaving for work as usual, when she saw a middle-aged woman in the parking lot, helping a man and two children out of a red car.
The woman propped the man and children up against the car as if they were pieces of furniture, took a picture of them, and began taking their measurements with a tape measure. The man and the children didn’t speak and wore dark aviator sunglasses. They looked as if they were under a spell.
The woman lit a cigarette and waited impatiently tapping her foot on the ground. After a few minutes, an immaculate white garbage truck came, and she gestured to the men collecting the trash to take the man and the two children away.
The garbage men grabbed them by their hands and feet and threw them into the back of the truck, where they disappeared with the rest of the refuse. Lyla noticed that the rubbish was pristine white and did not smell and that the refuse collectors had large white wings sticking out of their backs, but the wings had been tied together, as if to prevent them from flying away.
In her dream, Lyla was sitting inside her car, watching this scene through her windscreen. She wanted to scream. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She was petrified. When the garbage truck left, the woman turned round to climb back into the red car, but Lyla looked away so as not to recognise her. She knew this woman, even though she hadn’t seen her face.
But that was a dream and this morning felt like years ago, and now, back in the exhibition, Lyla realised she needed to focus. She took the lid off the red bin and laid it on its side, emptying part of its contents on the floor.
She looked at the photograph of her original artwork one last time and ripped the picture in half, carefully placing the two halves next to the objects spilling out of the bin. As a final touch, she wrapped the tape measure around the bin, broke the ruler in two and threw both halves on the ground.
Lyla won first prize for her work. And On the underground, on her way home, sitting opposite her, she recognised the embarrassed cleaner, who pretended not to see her.
“Thank you!” Said Lyla to the woman before getting off the train.