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Figures on the Lake

Figures on the Lake

Written by: Atanaska Dimitrova (Architecture, 2013) 


“Stand back from the closing doors!”

“Ugh!” I launched myself ungracefully into the train carriage as the doors closed.

My heart was beating fast, thumping as though it was trying to escape my body. I could hear its beat pulsating in my ears. My mouth was wide open, gasping, trying to catch my breath. I turned to my right and ran as quickly as I could to get towards the front of the train. As I walked the threshold between the two carriages, my body felt heavy while my legs were weak, unsteady. The next carriage was empty. Despite this, I continued walking to find what I perceived to be the most secluded seat. There, I attempted to control my breathing; inhale, exhale deeply. Breathing slower, feeling calmer, I let my eyes rest for a few minutes.

I was woken abruptly by the train driver's announcement.

“We are now approaching Nottingham station.”

Already? I must have slept through the whole journey, I thought.

I got off the train feeling disorientated but with a clear end destination in mind. Without thinking, I got on a bus to the University of Nottingham campus. I knew that this was my intended destination, but I did not know why. Seconds after the bus had arrived on campus I was running through the Portland Building. Trying to run. There were so many students. Attempting to avoid running into one person meant that I ran into another.

“Miss, do you have 30 seconds? I just want to ask you a question.”

I flipped my left hand in the air to give a signal, not even giving the stranger the courtesy of a verbal answer and continued trying to make my way to the other end of the building.

I finally reached the exit of the building and pushed the heavy doors to get out. The autumn windshad eradicated the vibrantly-coloured, dry leaves from the giant trees and I could see the lake so clear from here.


I was going to The Island, a small plot of Highfields Park located on the lake. 


Walking cautiously down the steep slope towards the lake, I passed no one. This was a serene place, a quiet place.

On The Island, the dry, leafless branches of the trees reached to the sky and interfered with one another; forming a dense forest. But the trees were not completely bare. There were paintings. Paintings, lodged between the branches. And I could see it. Picasso's painting. His Three Dancers animated the static branches. The pinks and blues of the painting illuminated the grim greys andbrowns of the naked trees.

I approached it.

I could smell the moist soil beneath my feet. It had been raining, probably the night before. That specific, unusual but familiar post-rain smell was lingering in the autumn air, masking its freshness. Like how the smell of a drying painting intrudes on the fresh air of the room it rests in and violently occupies it. Similarly, Picasso's painting was violently occupying my mind.

As I stared at the painting hanging recklessly on the naked trees, I remember the first time I saw it. The Tate Britain in London. A one-off Picasso exhibition in the basement that culminated with a single painting occupying a large room. The painting Three Dancers was placed in the centre of the wall. As I sat on the only piece of furniture in the room – a firm timber bench – I was completely isolated, yet surrounded by the chaos of the scene.

I don't regret stealing the painting.

My plan of action was meticulous and ensured that I had the painting in my London flat days later. I placed it in my bedroom, where I could be encapsulated by its grand scale and dense depth of colour, where I could drown in the details of the emotional scene. It was a chaotic, ecstatic scene in which the figures appeared to be in a state of complete exhilaration or perhaps, madness. Lurking in the background behind the third dancer was an obscure figure. A defined black silhouette with an unknown identity, perhaps one to be feared. 

As I thought of the obscure figure in the painting, back on the island, I began to hear the beat of my heart pumping in my ears again. 


Suddenly, I remembered his silhouette. The man chasing me in London. That's why I was running. I remember running further and further away from him. Glancing back to measure the distance between us, I could only perceive him as a shadow, a silhouette. Long and slender, just like the figure in the painting. My mind was racing with questions. Why was this man chasing me? Who was he? Is this a past memory or is this the present? Why am I here; the island, the lake, the campus?

The inconsistencies in my mind were like puzzle pieces that were intermingled and in the wrong position, clashing and damaging the clarity of the image. My thoughts didn't make sense.

Suddenly, my legs felt heavy and lightweight simultaneously. Panicking, I stretched my arm out to try and lean against the sturdy tree trunk next to me, but I fell.

Instantly, I was awake.

Not in Nottingham. Not standing on the island by the lake. I was awake and sitting on the train, still travelling to London King's Cross station. Barely minutes had passed since I had entered the train to embark on my escape journey out of London, back to the place that taught me about art history and ignited my irrational passion for art. As the train came to a halt at the next stop I heard the sound of footsteps approaching. I turned my head slowly to the left to see him looming over me. The dark, well-defined silhouette from the painting. He was wearing a uniform.

“Miss, you need to come with me and answer some questions at the police station.”

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