The final step was a big one and he slipped as he descended to the pavement. Luckily, the bus driver, with a practiced preparedness, caught him on the way down, avoiding the inevitable crunch that would likely have occurred. The older man bowed in appreciation, then went to the side of the bus to claim his rolling bag.
For Duyi Koay, it had been some 15 years since he had been to Williamsburg. His partial paralysis had made travel complicated and frequently painful, causing him to build his world around his studio outside of Clifton Forge. A series of taxis waiting in a lengthy line provided a sense of relief as he ventured over to the leading vehicle.
“Need a ride, sir?” the driver asked.
“To William and Mary College – the Andrews Gallery,” Kaoy replied. “Is it far?”
“Fifteen minutes at most,” said the man as he opened the rear passenger door.
Duyi mindlessly stared out the window, his thoughts filled with mixed emotions. Meadow had sent him an invitation to her first showing since she began her studies at William and Mary, and he had wrestled with whether to attend. He decided in the affirmative for the simple reason that he was wildly curious as to how she was faring and how her painting was refining. He smiled, realizing that he had no choice but to come.
The taxi spent some time on Jamestown Road before pulling up before a low three-story structure with windows running from the ground level to the roof. More modern looking than many of the other more traditional buildings, it nevertheless was attractive. The taxi, however, cruised by the front doors to the far side to where there was easier access for those with physical challenges.
Koay paid the driver, who fetched his case from the trunk, and proceeded to the entrance. A sign close to the doors said Phi Beta Kappa Theatre. He smiled at the thought of a performance theatre being named after a fraternity and then moved through the door, eventually reaching the exhibition hall where people were filing in and out.
Everywhere he looked, in every direction, were paintings large and small – all of Meadow’s work. There were original sketches, watercolours in frames and some not, and some wonderful oil on canvas pieces. How did she get all this done in just a few months?he thought to himself. The larger pieces were landscapes, including some of the Allegheny ridge in the Western part of the state. But it was the various small depictions on various easels, large and small, spread throughout the exhibition hall, that drew him. As gifted as she was at depicting the natural world, her ability in composing people in various environments was nothing short of astounding. Some of the portraits of country people were deeply textured to bring out the sunburnt faces, deep wrinkles and sinewy muscles of the subjects. They were remarkable and captivated most of those in attendance.
He suddenly happened upon a small piece whose subject he knew immediately. It was of the single-room schoolhouse in which they had found the note, only it wasn’t as he remembered. Instead of the newer boards and windows, Meadow had depicted it as it must have been prior to the renovations – much like the sketch she had shown him in the truck. Something in the grains of the wood, the shape of the holes in the siding, or the crow standing in the dilapidated bell tower presented an aura of … what exactly? Rather than historic, it was more mystical. The depiction drew the viewer into the building itself. It spoke volumes of Meadow’s talent of adding mystery to her work – not by adding darkening clouds or exaggerated lines, but by creating a composition that made the viewer, more than anything, want to get inside the building and see for themselves if it was as they imagined it to be.
“Remarkable, isn’t it?”
The voice came from behind him and Koay found himself facing an older woman with a graceful fashion sense and a short crop of grey hair that somehow made her look ascetic and welcoming at the same time.
“Yes, in ways I can’t fully describe,” he responded.
“Well, if you can’t make full sense of it after being there yourself, then the rest of will never stand a chance.”
With confusion on his features, and before he could say anything, the woman held out her hand. “Professor Duyi Koay, I am Margaret Gonder, vice-president of the college. Meadow has told me a considerable amount about you, and I was hoping we would encounter one another.”
“But, how did you know who I was?” he asked, still perplexed.
“Come, I’ll show you.”
They slowly made their way to a mid-sized easel display near the farthest wall from the entrance, where she stopped. There before them was an oil painting of an Asian male, older, and with greying hair at the temples. But his eyes were alight with curiosity and what looked like the first intimations of a smile quivered on his face.
“O my,” was all he could say.
“It’s a remarkable piece,” Gonder exuded. “Meadow told me that she puts it by her large drafting table whenever she works and whenever she feels she is losing her way. She captured in this piece something that just a cursory look at you wouldn’t reveal.”
Indeed, she had. The face seemed to be emerging from the darkness, with its left side still lost in shade. But the eyes somehow brightened the piece in a way that could easily dominate anyone looking at it.
Before he could say anything, arms came around from behind him and a soft voice said, “Sufi, I knew you would be here.”
Meadow walked around to face him and, in an instant, he saw something he had never seen before: Meadow at peace. The troubled eyes he had once painted were gone, replaced by the knowing orbs of a deep humanity. “You are transformed,” he said, with an ebullience he could never describe.
“Thanks to you,” was all she said, moving in to kiss his cheek. “Vice-president, this man is the reason I am here. He pulled me from my past into my future.”
“Of this I am aware,” Gonder noted. “In fact, I have a proposition for you that I’ve wanted to talk to you about for some time.”
“We want you to set up a permanent gallery here,” Meadow said exuberantly. “I’ve told the faculty of your remarkable work with the mind and software.”
“We would appreciate it if you would consider helping us to adapt our curriculum to those with physical challenges. It will take time, we know, but we are prepared to budget for what you would require.”
He looked into Meadow’s eyes and saw nothing but excitement. “It’s not just about that, Sufi. There is great need here for the art of the East to receive fuller examination and recognition. You could help teach students all those wonderful things you told me about the distinctions between how the East and West see colour, perspective, and the whole instead of the individual.”
Five minutes later, the three of them agreed to meet in Gonder’s office the next afternoon to explore the possibilities. Koay, owing to his natural cultural reticence, was thrilled as the sense of a door opening inside him made itself felt.
Later, as attendees began filing out at the closing hour, Meadow took her old instructor to the elevator and upstairs to the studio she used. It was rustic and plain, which he appreciated. Paint was everywhere and canvases were positioned all over the floor.
“It’s not as quaint as yours, Duyi, but it has become my church, a sanctuary, a place where, as you once said, the divine meets the human. I am the happiest here.”
He found a wooden four-legged stool and sat on it. Looking around, a smile grew larger on his face.
“What?” she asked.
“You have found yourself, as you will be.”
Meadow pulled a chair over to face him, saying, “You are the only person I have ever heard say such a thing, Sufi. Your idea of how who I will be in the future has been calling to me and waiting to be fulfilled is something I have thought about every day since coming here six months ago. Perhaps it is the most profound thing I will ever learn. The past, with its pain and a kind of dystopia has been left there, and I continue to feel that my present is in the future. It makes me want to rush, to hurry my lessons, to cut corners in my learning. But, always, the thought of you telling me that the important thing was to be on the journey has kept me disciplined. I … I owe you everything.”
“You owe your dream everything,” he countered. “It was what brought us together and it was your parents that got you to this place long after they had gone.”
Meadow put her hand on his. “They’re not really gone, you know – not in the least. All those years of trying to find them, to remember them, and now they are here. I have learned that the key to immortality is living a life worth remembering, and you have given me that.”
He embraced her at that point because words were no longer sufficient … or needed. The opaque lighting in the studio provided them with a surreal sense of presence, of companionship, of peace.
“I want you to come and work here with me, Duyi. Our journey has only just begun – if you will let it continue.”
His smile reappeared. “How interesting. I was there in your past, in your present, and now I will be in your future. It is a pleasant thought.”
“So, you’ll do it?” she said, jumping up.
“We will work it all out tomorrow.”
Later, alone in her studio, Meadow realized she had never been happier – not even when she was young. She thought of her parents and their remarkable legacy. Yet for all the wonderful people in her life – her parents, Les, Koay and Gonder – she understood that it was ultimately her gift that served as the timely tool for breaking out of her stationary life and propelling her into her future.
She turned a canvas around that had been on her favourite work easel. It was a riot of colour, consuming its every inch of surface. There were clouds and stars and shade and a sense of the ominous. But, opaquely at first, a transcendent light emerged to suffuse the entire canvas. She only understood tonight that she, unknowingly, had been painting God – the divine she had known in the past who would now guide her to the future.
Meadow carefully mixed her paint and, despite the hour, lost all sense of time. The consistency and colour just right, she swirled her medium-sized brush around the palette and raised it to the canvas. With the very first stroke she felt it drawing her in, as her entire being became one with the creation.
This is the concluding chapter of The Secret Nook. In the next post I’ll put up the details concerning how to purchase the paperback or download the free digital version. It was a revealing book for me to write and is dedicated to my wife Jane and her remarkable talent that is now emerging from her many works on canvas.