Life had settled into an uneasy truce and the trees outside 151 East 81st Street were fading to gold. The call came one sleepy Saturday morning as shafts of sunlight penetrated the traffic sounds and smudged window panes. Jessica was again away for the weekend, avoiding me. Although she had many friends, the voice on the phone did not sound like one of them. In those nervous New York days one did not take kindly to cold callers with a Brooklyn accent who asked if Jessica lived there.
“Who wants to know?” I countered unhelpfully.
“My Dad brought home some flower pictures that look like someone took a long time to paint them, signed with a name that I can’t really make out. I’m calling everyone in the phone book that has a similar name from around the area where they were left in his taxi. It’s taken me a long time, I’ve hit lots of dead ends, it’s become a sort of obsession with me ’cos I reckon someone must be really sorry to have lost these paintings. I think they are really lovely but my family think I’m nuts to go to so much trouble. But, sorry to bother you …”.
The world stood still, time suspended. “Wait, wait, wait …” I yelled into the phone. My breath returned, and so did all of Jessica’s paintings.
A series of fateful twists and turns would deliver me to Nepal several years later, but my flatmate’s destiny was sealed by the miracle of this man’s perseverance. Marrying late, she stayed in America and with restored confidence found time to pursue her plant painting. Today, as Jessica Tcherepnine, she is an acclaimed artist with solo exhibitions and two gold medals from the Royal Horticultural Society, and is represented in major botanical art collections all over the world.
I’m still not sure that she has forgiven me.
Jessica Tcherepnine, the Botanical Artist died on 31 December 2018 at the age of 80 in New York.