by Dawn | June 2017
When I was nine, I met a young man.
He was sitting by a stream, his knees were wide and bent. A clipboard was laid on his lap as he stroked the tip of his pencil across the paper. One streak at a time, they formed a beautiful scenery.
My young self was easily swayed by the beauty of his work, peering behind a tree and watching closely. I had captured how his head rise and bow from time to time. I noticed his movements, and my eyes darted back and forth from his work to the scenery in front of him: a breezy and peaceful meadow over a silent stream.
That discovery overwhelmed me, at the same time it was confusing. I didn’t know how he was able to draw things so beautifully without color, and he didn’t seem to have any other mediums other than the pencil he used. Yet, it was something different compared to mine. I brought the paper I’ve been carrying in front of my eyes, and there was the green grass and the blue sky. Three figures were in the middle that represented my small family: me, my mother, and my late father. Everything in my drawing had color, but the young man’s art was far more beautiful.
I couldn’t understand why I remembered that. The scene suddenly flashed in my mind the moment I stepped into the museum. It felt strangely nostalgic, and I gripped my own clipboard in my arm, along with a worn notebook I kept through the years. The memory made me realize how far I’ve come. Aside from expecting the visit of Lawrence Dillon, a master artist I’ve discovered and looked up to during college, inspiration was my only purpose for coming here. But guilt crept through my chest as I remembered how I focused too much on my achievements…without giving credits to the one that gave me this passion in the first place.
I walked around the museum, preferring the recent displays of modern artists than that of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo. Lawrence Dillon was the artist my visual art teachers usually cited, as the art styles and use of mediums were adopted from him. As the renaissance arts were more on paintings, the recent ones were more on pencil streaks and gray shades. Colored pencils were more popular now, the kind of art I grasped after seeing my root of inspiration.
That time, I was only able to draw circles for faces, curves and spirals for trees and clouds, and a U-shape for a smile. The young man’s artwork slightly discouraged the small amount of confidence in my nine-year-old self, ignorant of the difference of our age gap and experience. Yet curiosity was a big thing for children. Instead of walking away with my head low, I was on my tippy toes with my steps closing the distance between me and the young man.
My great ignorance allowed me to be easily overwhelmed, and his work was even more fascinating up close. My young mind’s vocabulary was limited to the words “It’s very beautiful” when I actually meant it was “perfectly detailed.” I was able to identify the stream even without color, and that bit of information both confused and fascinated me.
The beauty of his work blurred my awareness of anything else. It was only then he turned to me that I realized I said that out loud.
My beating heart froze me exactly like a little girl I was. The words of my mother suddenly echoed through my head. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. Despite the evidence of the young man’s lack of dangerous weapons, the thought of stranger with a hatchet was still scary—even in broad daylight. But instead of standing up and raising his hatchet, he stayed on the ground and flashed a smile. Its gentleness was enough to calm me down at most. It reminded me of my own father’s smile.
“Hello, little girl,” the young man said. My eyes lingered on his right hand that stopped scribbling to shift his attention to me. I wanted him to continue, but his hand was only twirling the pencil around his fingers. It was another thing to be amazed for.
“H-hello, mister,” I managed to say. My little conscience believed that I should look at people in the eye when talking, but I averted my eyes to his artwork when I was too shy to look at him. The same words from my teacher rang in my head and I looked back at the stranger, but it went to another direction. My eyes gazed down, but it failed to reach the ground. My own artwork appeared before my eyes, and I quickly hid it behind my back.
“Are you lost?’ His voice was as gentle as he first spoke, but I didn’t take my eyes away from the ground.
I shook my head. No words of explanation came out. My attention was easily distracted to the colorless strokes on his paper. Even without the blue of the water and the green of the grass, I was able to see clearly that there was a breezy meadow over a flowy yet motionless stream.
There was one thing I had never seen from the reality he referred his artwork to, and it was enough to blur everything else outside of my attention. By the stream was a vague sketch of a figure. My inexperienced deduction could only figure out that it was sitting with its feet in the running water.
A few moments had passed until I realized that Mister was staring at me. I caught him smiling at my ignorance when I looked back at him, and I almost squirmed. It was then I thought I had to say something. “Y-your drawing is beautiful, Mister.”
His smile widened—a movement that almost eased me from all of my discomfort. “Thank you.” He took a glance at the paper I hid behind my back. “Is that your own drawing?”
My nod was hesitant. “But I’m not so good like you.”
“Oh?” One of his bent legs straightened, tilting his clipboard in a way which the artwork was directly facing me. It almost took my attention from him again. “I’m sure it’s not bad. Can I see?”
He raised his palm at me, inviting to give away my artwork. It was now all crumpled from the constant gripping, but my hand slowly gave in. I gave him the paper, and he smoothed the creases around the edges.
I watched him, waiting for a reaction. The only thing I received was a smile as his eyes still inspected the drawing. “It’s a nice drawing. Are these your parents?”
“Mm-hm. But my daddy is not with us anymore.”
His head jerked to me. The smile on his face disappeared and it gave me a bit of discomfort. “Why? Where did your daddy go?”
“My mommy said he is in heaven now, but she misses him. I want to draw my family so she can be happy again. But…” My eyes landed on his artwork again, at the faceless figure that looked to be sitting by the stream. It was the part I was amazed the most. He can draw a person without copying anything.
“What is it, little girl?”
I pointed meekly at his paper. “I can’t draw like that. Mommy won’t like mine.”
The discouragement hit me like a brick wall. It was my first time the feeling was very clear to me. My drawing was nothing compared to his, and I easily believed that my mother wouldn’t like it. My eyes fell back to the ground again, and I caught my fingers twirling around each other.
A hand on my wrist surprised me. His gentle grip was enough to pull me and sit beside him. I cowered at the unfamiliar touch when he wrapped one arm around me. But the discomfort quickly vanished the moment I looked up at him. The same gentle smile flashed back at me.
“You know what, little girl?” he whispered. His tone was similar to the start of a storytelling. “When I was a little boy, I was also not so good at drawing.” He reached for his clipboard in his lap, placing it at the ground beside him. His attention was fully on me now. “When I saw my father’s drawings, it was too beautiful compared to mine. But do you know what he said?”
I shook my head.
“When I showed him all of my drawings, he always said they were wonderful. At first I didn’t believe him, and…” He shrugged for effect. “I told him that I will stop.”
Panic bubbled up inside me. It was a normal effect of storytelling, a sensation when the listener entered the world of the character and didn’t want him to give something up. But even as a child, the artwork he held now showed me that he didn’t. Still, I asked, “Did you stop?”
“I almost did.” He ruffled my hair. “But he told me: ‘Your drawing is wonderful, son. It’s not of what it looks like, but of the meaning it held.’”
I didn’t understand the last part of it, but I glanced at the crumpled drawing in his lap. Maybe it was the gentle tone or the smile, but his words lit a light of hope in me somehow. My little meek self was too shy to ask him what it really meant, but it was enough to convince me that I wasn’t going to stop drawing.
“In other words,” his fingers playfully shook my nose before placing my drawing in my lap. “It means that your drawing is beautiful for what you want to show, not for what it looks like.”
He pointed at my drawing. “Why did you draw this, little girl?”
“I want to show my mommy that we are still family,” I said slowly. “Even if daddy is in heaven, he is still with us.”
“And that’s more important.” He ruffled my hair again, and I heard myself giggle.
That was eleven years ago, and I couldn’t remember his face. There was only a blur of a dark shade for his hair and a brown color for the coat he was wearing. He left the day after without giving me a name, but flashes of his smile were very clear. And I remember how I went home skipping on my feet.
It was after a few years when I understood why he was sitting there. And I followed his example, looking for inspirations everywhere. I would’ve preferred the beauty of nature, but my mother and I just moved in an urban environment for my job invitation. My job interview was still tomorrow, and I decided that the museum was the first place I could probably find inspiration.
I wanted to thank him. I believe my whole achievement wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t encouraged me. It was impossible to reach him without a memory of his face and left only with Mister as a name. So when I was eleven years old, I took a notebook where I wrote letters to him. I thanked him for the inspiration, I thanked him for the encouragement, and I also believed that he had helped my mom back to her self again. As I grew up it felt quite stupid, but I kept writing on it anyway. It still encouraged me, and I brought it along every time I want to draw.
I roamed around the portraits, inspecting the details and art styles of every artists. My hand instinctively gripped the notebook, a habit I did while searching for inspiration. I’ve constructed a style on my own, where combination of colors formed different figures and sceneries. But I still admire the man’s style—that colorless artwork of heart and soul poured on to it.
I stopped on my tracks, my attention immediately caught by a certain portrait on the wall. The sudden feeling of familiarity was like a needle against my skin. I heard my heartbeat, getting louder and louder as I stepped closer. I’ve been admiring it only from memory, but seeing it again after eleven years was like back being nine years old again—it was overwhelming.
It was exactly the same as before, a simple meadow, a stream…they’re all there. The only difference was the figure. Not only that it was a little girl, but a man was sitting beside her, an arm around her, and they were smiling at each other.
I moved closer, and my heartbeat swelled up moist in my eyes. The little girl…looked just like me.
Four words in neat handwriting was at the top-left of the artwork, the same words that I kept with me all these years. Before I left the man in the stream, placing a hand gently on my head, he told me something that my little self didn’t understand. And the moment I read it his voice rang like a gong in my head.
Quality is inside you.
I gasp to keep the tears in and looked away. My head jerked around to avoid some pair of eyes at me and pretended I was looking for something. I decided to look for the information. The small signature on the portrait was too small for me to see, but even seeing wouldn’t get me anywhere if I didn’t know even his first name. I proceeded to a stone closest to it, a plastic plate was on top encrypted with printed letters. It said:
“Quality” is an artwork of Lawrence Dillon drawn by hand at the age of 18. The artwork represents his experience of meeting a little girl who wanted to draw for her mother who lost a husband. This was said to be his prized possession in the memory of the nameless girl who encouraged him to stay strong after the death of his little sister.
My hand found its way to my mouth, and I felt a tear trickling down my cheek. I had known Lawrence Dillon as a master artist of traditional sketches with no other mediums used but pencils. Lawrence Dillon, a famous modern artist who was said to visit the museum today, was the same young man eleven years ago.
I stood there, frozen.
“Hello, little girl.”
I remembered the gentle voice. The voice that encouraged me to pursue my future. The voice that comforted me of my fragile nine-year-old self and helped my family of our loss.
I almost believed it was all in my head, but part of me wanted to pretend it wasn’t and it made me jerk my head to the side. I found a man standing directly in front of me, the dark hair now clear to me, straight and neat as it parted on one side. The familiar smile, now very relieving, was what convinced me that it was him.
I couldn’t speak. He was right there. In front of me. Smiling at me. Lawrence Dillon, the famous master artist of traditional sketches who draw his artworks with quality from inside. I gripped the notebook tighter, wanting to give him all the letters I wrote even when I knew he couldn’t read it. With him right in front of me, he gave all possibilities that he can. It was as if we were back eleven years ago, along with my shy self. Crying in front of him was as embarrassing as being caught staring at his work.
His hand reached up to my head and playfully ruffled my hair. “You’ve grown.”
His voice kept overwhelming me. My little self would’ve just jumped at him and gave him a bear hug. I kept my ground, more tears falling and staining my face.
**Lawrence Dillon is a fictional character and does not exist.
Posted on Wattpad | “Moment’s Time”
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