By Jasmine Ruffin
“Ten million dollars is my final offer.” The whole crowd stands still, the ripple of silence rings in my ears and my head pulses with pressure. I smile at my painting, the oil paints and contrasts ever so perfect and the memories that come with it. “Never.”
20 years ago
Lilypad’s were strewn across the pristine water, the oak trees cuddled the lake, I’d been coming here since I was a child. This was our family’s cocoon that was sheltered away from the world. One day another family came, they were almost identical to us and had a daughter, Chai, that was my age. Best friends at first sight ; We chased the wallabies that jumped in the paddocks and climbed up the trees resulting in splinters on our knees. Inseparable, every day we would play from the birth of dawn to the reside of dusk. One day we carved our initials into the largest oak tree on the lake, as the days bleed to months, rain and shine didn’t threaten to erase our initials.
“Then get the brown and flick upwards.” My painting looks nothing like Chai’s painting, but I persist. “And wah-lah!” she cheers proudly as she lifts her painting in the air as though it’s a newborn baby. “Mines really bad.” I whimper as I turn it into her view. “It’s really good!” She studies my art. “How do you paint so well Chai.” I question her as her art in my eye’s bursts into life. “Mindset. you have to see the situation, you have to feel the air that circulates the garden, the plants scent, what book the woman is reading. You have to immerse yourself within the painting, feel the emotion of the painting if that makes any sense.” She dances around the studio with the painting in her arms, its beauty intoxicating. “Just take a canvas and practice on that.”
We had to run to school to make it on time, the weight of our schoolbooks and the pressure of good grades weighed a little too heavy on our backs. Chai and I were able to catch each other among the chaos of the bustling crowd hunting to get the first pick of lunch at the canteen. It’s my favorite lunch today, a slice of cake that balances out the grey meal and adds colour to our lunches. It seems it is Chai’s favorite day every day, she always finds something to be excited about whether it’s the change in juice or that she could see the canteen lady smile everything seems to be so positive to her. “Why are you so happy all the time?” I suspiciously ask as I fork at the cake and a piece breaks away and enters my mouth. “Because lately I’ve found myself, I know exactly who I am, it’s weird because sometimes you have to lose apart of yourself to find another-” The speaker rings over the canteen singing Chai’s name. “Wait!” I still say nobbling on my cake. “Where are you going?” she gets up to leave. “I have to go to the doctors.” That’s all she says before she leaves and loses herself amongst the school crowd.
I ride to her house at dusk with anxiety tickling my thoughts. I knock at her door and a very tired looking Ms. Sage opens the door. “Hey Libi, is Chai around?” She looks at my eyes almost transfixed. “no.” she trembles, she reaches for her handkerchief and dabs her nose. “Why?” slowly I feel like I’m sinking in suspense. “She sick, really sick.”
When word came of her passing the next day, I felt something grapple at my happiness and joy and rip it from my body, The next couple of weeks I felt like I was trapped in a painting, the paints slowly intoxicating every part of my body, all I wanted was to be freed from the canvas, but I couldn’t make it out. The harder I tried the harder it hurt. The more I felt myself drowning in the empty colours.
I went to our lake, but the lake had been drained and only the shriveled stumps of the trees remained, our initials gone with the rest of the tree. Now an empty space stands on the stump, where something beautiful had once stood.
It was late at night, the canvas laid bare across the room and grief clawed at my thoughts. A spark of inspiration struck me as I saw Chai’s face in the canvas, I started immediately, with whatever I had trying to find her on the canvas. I hadn’t lost her after all.
20 years later
“What never? Its 10 million dollars you maniac!” the man yells at me and the whole crowd shudders backwards. “Never”.