PLEASANTON -- It was one of those impossibly cheery days, when the sun and the blue sky play with the intensity of a couple of kids showing off.
Despite chilly temperatures on this midwinter morning, the previous night's rain has dusted off Main Street, leaving the trees clean and the pavement still wet and glistening.
The cheer was matched only by the sunny cheer of the two brothers, Shokoor Khusrawy and Jelani Khusrawy, standing outside their Little Gallery.
It's a split-level space -- the stairwell and closet space beneath the stairs of a commercial building -- making it perhaps the tiniest art gallery in the Bay Area.
The 70-square-foot gallery, small as it may be -- it requires stooping to stand in some areas -- tells a large story of two men and their frightening escapes from Afghanistan, their reunion in the Bay Area, and hopes of having a third brother, Bismil, join them one day from Paris.
Shokoor and Jelani, of Fremont, are still smiling as they work from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the gallery, which now has Shokoor's painting of San Francisco's Union Square displayed in front of the shop that opened in January. The piece is a carnival of bright colors, exploding from the canvas and outshining even the brightness of the day.
"Those are the colors I see here," says Shokoor through his brother's translation. He feels more comfortable speaking his native language, Jelani explains.
"See, all the other scenes from San Francisco, all bright. That's how I see them, very different from Afghanistan," Shokoor says.
He pauses at the bottom of the staircase and places the back of his hand at the edge of a much darker street scene, the area of Kabul where he lived, dodging bullets and watching the homes of his neighbor being blown up.
"These are the colors I see there," he says, running his hand in front of the moody, subtly hued painting and gesturing at a couple of paintings on the other side of the room, not all that much more than an arm's length away.
Jelani grins as he watches his brother.
"When he got here (three years ago) we went to all the museums and galleries in San Francisco, and he was like a kid in Disneyland," he says. "We saw so many different styles, and he tried many of them until he found a style he liked."
A number of them are on display in the gallery, ranging from a charcoal drawing of Abraham Lincoln, to still lifes, abstracts, impressionist works and some of Shokoor's own stylings done with paint and palette knife.
Shokoor trained in art at the university in Kabul and had developed an excellent reputation as an artist in his own country. But it didn't come easy for Shokoor, who fell and broke his hip when he was a child. A number of semisuccessful operations left him unable to bend one leg. So he walks with a cane sometimes and paints with his work on the floor instead of standing at an easel.
As Shokoor continued his work in Kabul, the intensity of the bombs and bullets grew, and despite Jelani sending him supplies it was difficult. So Shokoor decided to try his luck at living in Pakistan, in a refugee camp in Islamabad. He tried to get there five times.
"It's not just a walk through a nice desert," say Jelani. "It's dangerous. There are no flights to Pakistan, no freeways leading there.
The trip is horrific in many ways, Shokoor says. To begin with, the Russians laced the country with mines. There are robberies and hostile groups waging war against almost anybody. Roads aren't marked, so many people wander the wrong way and die. In the mountains, there are snakes, wild dogs and unbelievably high peaks.
"You walk until you find a certain kind of vehicle, a sort of pickup truck," says Jelani. "If you have money, they will put you on a pickup truck. If not, good luck."
He sweeps his hand in front of his face, as if to clear away the memory. Then Shokoor says it's not much better for a refugee in Pakistan.
"You find out in Pakistan it's a different story of crime and corruption, especially for a refugee."
"He felt even more uncomfortable than in Afghanistan, with bullets flying around," adds Jelani.
Even in the refugee camp, though, Shokoor was able to create paintings, using the material Jelani sent to him. In turn, Shokoor sent paintings back and Jelani sold some and entered others in shows, which won his brother a number of awards.
When Shokoor tried to sell his work on the streets of Islamabad, the police rousted him and told him to leave. Finally, he decided to return to Kabul, where he found his old home bombed and bullet-riddled. But he did manage get a job as an associate director of the national gallery in Kabul, which was a mixed blessing. Part of his work involved looking at parts of the collection not on display, where he noticed so much of the work had been destroyed by the Taliban.
Finally, Shokoor decided to join his brother in the Bay Area and try his luck in America. Jelani had gotten his citizenship, and was able to sponsor his brother to live here. The gallery was just the next step toward bringing his brother here. Next is to find a studio to teach painting. Then, maybe someday, Bismil will come over and join his brothers.
"Then," says Jelani, "we can do anything."
And that's another reason why the colors are so bright on Main Street.