The Tablet of Bliss

When I’d finished my portrait, I added something extra, in miniature, something so tiny you could only have seen with a magnifying glass, unless your eyesight was exceptional, but even then you’d have to know what to look for.
It was all painted inside a highlight in the iris of his right eye, smaller than a grain of rice.

The miniature depicted a David Beckham in a small house in Iraq with his family − Victoria, Brooklyn, Romeo − as a mortar explodes between them, fired from a British tank. We can see the screams on their faces, a noose of fire tightening around them.

I have a friend who is a vet. He removed a malignant tumour from a dog. When I told him I wanted it, he knew me well enough not to ask why; there is no why in art.
I crushed the tumour with a pestle and mixed it with paint. It’s made of cancer, that little drama.

The thing is: when I saw at that first reception, when he cried and had to be taken away, I could see it in his actual eye. I don’t know how it happened. Like a sixteenth tattoo, my miniature had stamped itself on that little tablet of bliss.

It was Malini who insisted we find him. Even I didn’t know she planned to do that. Cancer free, Malini is in prison now. 1.5 billion people watched her stab the world’s most famous footballer in the eye. But the world doesn’t hate her; she’s no Myra Hindley. They’ve only forgotten, as they’ve forgotten the man in front of me.

Beckham isn’t speaking; he’s still looking at his shoes. I count to a hundred, then stand and walk to the door.
As I’m opening it, David Beckham speaks:
Thank you.
What? I say.
‘Thank you, K−. Thank you both.’
‘For what?’
From outside I can hear, for a moment, a child laughing, but then there is silence once more. He lifts his head, surveys the room.
‘For this.’

It’s only when I’m in my car that I begin to understand. The wrought iron gates have closed behind me and through I can see a stonewashed black sky and the lonely silhouette of the spire. Perhaps a hundred people will walk past it tomorrow and think… nothing.

I drive away, down this dark, deserted street.

Rajeev Balasubramanyam is the author of In Beautiful Disguises (Bloomsbury, 2000: winner of the Betty Trask Prize and nominated for the Guardian First Fiction Prize) and The Dreamer (expected October 2009).

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5 Responses to “The Tablet of Bliss”

  1. October 13, 2008 at 11:43 pm, smith3000 said:

    I might have to read this again a couple of times before I really get my head round it ..

    But even if I don’t know exactly what you’re saying, I like the way y0u say it:

    “Like wool against my skin, the air is damp and smells of beer.”

    And it’s certainly a new perspective on the divine David.

  2. October 16, 2008 at 12:42 am, Martin Cooper said:

    What a great story, very muscular and witty, each progression inventive and surprising. A real pleasure to read, it made me laugh out loud a couple of times, and it’s good to read something that feels subversive, but not obvious.

    The minature in the eye is a beautiful image, and a suitable encouragement for art to affect the wider world. Perfectly judged.

  3. October 17, 2008 at 5:24 pm, Judy Kendall said:

    Best thing you’ve written yet?

  4. October 29, 2008 at 6:00 pm, Rachel said:

    Very gritty and crazy. Story moved quickly.

  5. November 28, 2008 at 1:41 pm, Yvonne said:

    Story draws you in like a magician, humourous, innovative, full of smoke mystery and crazy mirrors. loved it


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