She had the most curious smile. She wore it when she said hello, bright and pretty, and it flared around her to say don't touch me, please. He itched to draw her in those moments before she spoke out loud again, the stained white enamel of her teeth, slightly bared, by the shadow of her mouth.
She had brown eyes, just like his, and those of a good many million others; but in the pictures he sketched quickly in his mind every time they greeted one another, she had one startling blue eye, gleaming unreal.
He asked her once, blurted out really, if she would mind sitting for him. She had said no! forcefully, rattled, and walked away without saying goodbye with her mouth. He didn't really need her to sit for him, he carried the image in his head well enough, but he wanted her permission to put a part of her life onto paper. Her refusal rankled for days, and she avoided him the few weeks after his request. He missed her awkward grin.
In her neighbourhood, the kids called her the blue lady. They would knit their chubby fingers together to ring around her, singsong chant always the same - "The blue lady, the blue lady!"- continued atonal and childish until she gave each a sweet of some sort. Little hands that snatched at the colour-wrapped balls of sugar from her palms, darting away on sure satisfied feet. She always laughed when encircled, but she screamed inside to escape from their innocent faces with their practised demands.
But she never chastised them, or shooed them away. Every week, she went and bought a packet of lollies from her local shop. She was their blue lady. They alone had noticed the mottling of her skin, and called to her on account of it, they with the tactless sharp eyes of children.
How they met - this is the story of a boy, and of a girl, after all. It's required knowledge.
It was an innocuous beginning; one could say it foretold very little. He literally bumped into her in one of the newsagencies on campus. Items went flying - hers in one direction, and his in the other. He scrambled for his pens then turned to apologise to her for his carelessness, but she had already darted away. He had to corner her leaving the store to do so. She mumbled that it was ok, one hand absentmindedly rubbing at her left arm. He reached out to ask if she had hurt herself - no, if he had hurt her - and she gave him that terrified smile for the first time. Dropping his hand to his side, he changed tack, and lightly asked her to go have coffee with him to make up for the whole mess. She agreed only when pressed, still reluctant, but mouth still turned up at the corners pleasantly. They became friends.
Afterwards, he ascribed a lot of meaning to this meeting, saw it wasn't as simple as he had thought. A little, too late.
She stared at the artwork in front of her, mouth slightly agape, breathing heavily. He hovered by her shoulder nervously, excitedly. Their abandoned coffees, dregs only in his, sat on the table. He had gone ahead, drawn how he saw her anyway; he was strangely proud of it, and he wanted her to see.
Every line to capture that fly-away essence about her, and he felt it had translated - nothing but her face and shoulders outlined in black, in the act of turning away, that smile etched in bold lines. And above it, the one bright colour, the bluest eye.
She kept staring at herself, a simplified mirror, and she stayed frozen, until he grew impatient with her reaction. He asked her again what she thought, what she thought of it. She took her time in looking up to his eager face. She licked her lips, dry cracked, as she opened her mouth to speak.
"It's in the wrong place," she said softly.
Surprised, he looked down at the piece of paper, and then back up at her face, unsmiling and increasingly blank.
"What is?" he questioned, slight aggression in his voice from being puzzled. Did she not see herself in the portrait?
"No, you have me," she answered his hidden question, before turning back to the picture in her lap. "But you never really did see."
Drawing her thumb across her open lips, wetting the fleshy pad there, she slid it across the blue of the eye before he could stop her, smudging across the clean lines, a halo of pastel. She ran that same thumb over one drawn shoulder so it left a patch of blue, and drew aside her collar to let the colour rest there too, with the greying bruise near her collarbone showing.
She got up, and put his drawing down gently in his lap. She smiled at him, the same as she ever had. He let her walk away.