She heard the shuffling of his feet a split second before the door opened. For the first time in years, the two looked at one another and both felt the tension. Duyi Koay appraised the woman in front of him and immediately detected sadness. Gone was the brightness of those eyes that once shone, not with innocent youth, but curiosity and the desire for insight. Meadow appeared to him as her old teacher thought she might. Still pretty and appearing in good health, he nevertheless detected the faint stooping of the shoulders and the weariness on her countenance.
“If you had not left your note, I might very well be in cardiac arrest at this moment,” he said with a smile.
Meadow moved to him with a gentle hug, feeling the emotion rise up within her. “Mr. Koay, I had been told you were no longer here or I would have tried to reach you.”
Her former teacher understood, especially after all she had been through. The pain she had endured in the years following her parents’ death must have been a terrible ordeal, and there was no point in going all through it by revisiting those difficult days and weeks.
“Well, it’s true that I moved – from the middle of the town to this spot a few miles away. So, technically, you are right. I was no longer where I was.”
It broke the tension, and they fell into an embrace once more, no longer tentative. She studied him. Clearly older and with his arms atrophied from years of disuse, he nevertheless appeared vital, his eyes shrewd, like a hawk’s, or those of an owl. Somehow, he seemed smaller than she remembered, more frail, and perhaps too much on the thin side.
“Come. Come through the place and we will head to my studio – the reason I moved here. Leave your shoes on.”
Meadow followed his slight figure as it moved its way through a living area complete with a rustic fireplace and wooden chairs, past a bathroom lined in tongue and groove pine boards, into a kitchen replete with wooden cupboards and beautiful case windows, and finally through a door and into the studio.
Meadow was prepared to have her breath taken away, and there was no question that the tall windows, skylights, and post and beam construction were striking. Yet the entire area, large and vaulted as it was, looked more like the room of an aesthetic – which, she realized, was how he always had been. Art was on the walls and bookshelves, strategically placed. She smiled when she spotted a traditional Chinese tapestry yoga mat rolled up and leaning in a corner.
“Here, I’ll make us some tea. Come, sit down,” he offered. “You take sugar, I remember – a terrible practice,” he added with a grin.
“Actually, Mr. Koay, I have seen the errors of my ways and no longer take it. Working in a restaurant for all these years has shown me how damaging sugar and salt can be over time.”
He looked up and she was surprised to see genuine curiosity on his face.
“A restaurant?” he inquired.
“Yes – in Charlottesville.”
He was clearly confused over this, attempting to make some sense from what he had just heard. Meadow sensed what was happening. Despite the horrific tragedy of her parents’ deaths, he had merely assumed that she would have continued in her artistic pursuits and, because of her gift, would have a prestigious profile by now.
For a half-hour, and over two new pots of Chinese tea, she told him everything. It was painful for them both, but mostly for Koay, since he had no knowledge of what had transpired following her departure.
In a lengthy silence she would find difficult to describe, she scanned his face as if it were a canvas covered with conflicting strokes of the brush. Her old instructor made no attempt to press further, likely knowing that it would be a painful journey. He rose, quietly walking across the oak plank boards, and then stood in place looking out through one of the large windows.
Meadow felt the heaviness of the moment. She knew it would arrive at some point when they met, but it was difficult nonetheless.
“I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Koay – such a waste of gift, perhaps even a wasted life. I don’t blame you, for it’s true. Life just took it out of me and I have felt aimless since.”
He turned, then, and proceeded to his chair in front of her. Meadow was surprised to see what she could only describe as a determined smile on his features.
“Some things must be corrected from what you say. First, gift might be wasted, but no life is ever useless. Second, in one who finds their passion so young, it is always a difficult thing to maintain the disciplines of gift – it remains, but how to uncover it can be lost in tragedy. But it makes its home in your heart and will not relinquish its hold – it remains yours and yours alone.”
She sat in stunned silence, aware that more was coming.
“Third, life will not take out what it has put in. It is a gift, a treasure. One can bury it, but will never lose it.”
“But you did!” she blurted, immediately regretting her impulsiveness.
“It is true that paralysis seemed to rob my youth and my potential. But as long as one respects the gift, especially over the hard years of living, it will find new ways of breaking through hard ground, even when ability seems gone.”
Sitting in silence – both of them – it was difficult to knew where to journey next. The fates of life had taken his gift away through paralysis and hers through pain, and here they were – dried up and empty vessels and reminders of what life could have been if it hadn’t played its devastating hand.
“Come,” he said briefly, as he stood.
Meadow followed him to the far corner of the studio, where two large windows joined in the corner, displaying an expansive view of the Blue Ridge mountains. With what mobility his arms could use, he pulled back a drape and exposed a number of easels, each containing a variety of canvasses painted in what clearly was his unique style.
“What do you think?”
She was unsure what to say. “They are a joy to my heart, Mr. Koay. They are clearly yours … and beautiful.”
He nodded respectfully, in traditional Chinese fashion, and, nodding his head in their direction, asked, “Can you tell when they were painted?”
“From your youthful phase,” she answered automatically. It was an easy guess.
“Look closer, please.”
Not knowing what he hoped to achieve from the invitation, she stepped closer, analyzing the intricacy of the brushwork. Only then did she discover the strokes were different from those of his youth, sometimes dramatically so. Meadow went from one to the other, uncovering a series of revelations.
“Mr. Koay, these are … are … current.” It was said as if the heavens had suddenly opened and everything had changed. There, at the bottom and below each of his signatures, was the date of completion. All of them were dated within the last eight months.
Meadow looked up to see wonder on her teacher’s face. He, too, was entranced by his work, but she wondered how it could be. The paralysis had finished him, as far as any serious artistic endeavour went. Perhaps he used his mouth,she thought, as some other famous challenged painters had done.
“How?” was all she could say.
“Software,” he whispered, almost inaudibly.
“How?” she said, almost matching Koay’s quiet tone.
“It is amazing. Come and learn – see the wonders of divine and human creation – just as I did.”