Juinlift sat on the green grass,
focusing on the straw in her hands, slowly weaving. Kringt, the
festival of spring cleaning, had just gone by so people were done
buying all those dusters to take care of their rugs and linen. But
just having thrown out the old and unusable, they might be willing to
buy some new baskets from her. She had to hurry to make them so her
older sister could sell the first ones tomorrow.
The sun was shining brightly, making the river a few steps away glitter in the light and some small lizards come out and rest on the stones, soaking in the warmth. Juinlift hummed to herself, feeling that the only thing making this afternoon even more perfect would have been a bit of company to chat with while she worked.
Unfortunately, her older sister was at the market, trying to sell the wares she had prepared yesterday, while her younger brother was once again out who-knows-where, probably trying to serenade some young lady. And she really couldn’t expect her mother to come and just sit with her. She still had to take care of the garden, after all.
Seeing as there was nobody else to accompany her, she could only continue to hum to herself, focusing on the task at hand. Anyway, she might not stay alone for long. Thinking of that, she glanced to the other side of the river but for now, the spot over there was still empty.
Juinlift huffed, feeling that that painter was really too unreliable. Coming here one day but then not the next, what was she to make of that? If you liked the person, shouldn’t you be more forthright? There really was no need to leave out any days. But anyway, she couldn’t force the issue.
Thinking of that, she continued with the first basket, soon finishing it and putting it aside. She glanced up to the other side of the river again, only to find it still empty. With another huff, she picked up the willow branches she had taken along, starting on a smaller but sturdier container.
When you wanted to sell your wares, it was always best to offer variety so the people could choose what fit their purpose the best. If you only had one type, then if somebody wanted something else, who would they buy from? Certainly not you. Thus, she would make baskets from different materials in at least three different sizes and even in different shapes if there was enough time. At the least, some should be thin and some should be wide. That was the secret to a well-running business.
While she was making her baskets, continuously humming a song that had already been joined by some of the birds that were sitting on the branches of the trees close by, there was finally some movement on the other side of the river.
Stiwa was hiding behind one of the trees on the other side, poking her head out to make sure that the person in question was actually there and alone. Spotting Juinlift, she smiled to herself. She retraced her last few steps, grabbed her easel and bag, and flung the latter over her shoulder before she went to her usual spot to sit down, setting everything up while whistling.
Hearing the familiar melody, Juinlift glanced up. She chuckled to herself and then just continued to hum before she suddenly stopped. Actually, what had she been humming? It wouldn’t be the same tune that that painter would whistle every time she came over, would it? No, it wouldn’t!
She thought for a bit and then hummed a folk song instead that she had heard in the city the other day when she accompanied her sister instead of their brother who had bailed on them once again. Then, she pretended that she hadn’t noticed at all.
On the other side, Stiwa glanced up as well. Seeing that Juinlift hadn’t seemed to realize that she was there, she pursed her lips. Finally, she opened one of the little vials that she carried around, took out the canvas, picked up the brush, and started with today’s masterpiece.
The two of them worked on opposite sides of the river, both humming a different tune while trying not to get swept up in the melody of the other person and stealing glances every now and then. It really was a wonder that for all this time, their gazes didn’t meet even once. It was as if all the months this had been happening, they had achieved some kind of wordless understanding. I look and look away, you glance over, then I can look again, so you can steal a glance.
Finally, after almost four hours had gone by, Stiwa finished the last brush stroke and once again looked up at the person who had modeled for her without being asked. She smiled to herself and rolled up the scroll, securing it in a woven straw tube before she went down to the side of the river to clean her brushes.
Hearing the sound of the water, Juinlift raised her head and looked right at the painter. For half a year, this woman had quietly worked on the other side of the river. Now, she still didn’t seem like she would manage to open her mouth. After painting her every single time, what was she even thinking? It seemed that she’d have to take matters into her own hands if she ever wanted to hear her speak. “Oi, Ms. Painter! Aren’t your customers getting sick and tired of only ever seeing the same thing on your canvas?”
Stiwa raised her head as well and smiled brightly. “Oi, weaver girl, my paintings aren’t to be used for practical purposes like your baskets. They’re only to look at and make the heart flutter with joy. And nobody will ever get enough of the sight of a beauty.”
Juinlift chuckled at that. “Oh, did you paint one?”
Stiwa raised her brows as if she had just been enlightened and jumped to her feet. “Now that you mention it, let me check again!” She went back to her easel, putting down the now clean brushes, and took the painting out the tube again, making a show of unfurling it and looking at it for a couple of minutes.
Finally, she lowered it again and furrowed her brows. “I saw a beauty sitting in the meadow and painted her. But now that I look at the painting, I have to realize that I did not quite do her justice. The painting simply isn’t true to reality just yet. I’m afraid I’ll have to come by again soon to give it another try.”
Juinlift shook her head at her. “How many tries do you want to give it? Haven’t you been trying this for several months?”
Stiwa nodded slowly. “Ah, I sure have. But you know, no endeavor is too difficult when it comes to art and a woman’s beauty. I will paint until I manage to get it just right! It’s like you with your baskets. Just because one doesn’t work out, you wouldn’t just stop weaving them, would you?”
Juinlift laughed and held up the almost-finished basket she was working on. “Are you saying my baskets are ugly?”
“I wouldn’t dare to insult your baskets. They are surely a work of art in their own right. I’m just saying that if — not that I think you would — but if you were to botch one up, you would not refuse to make another one ever again. So just because I botch up a couple of my paintings, I will not stop painting beauties either.”
“Oh? Maybe it’s not that the paintings are bad. Maybe you’re being too harsh on yourself.”
Stiwa looked at the painting again and then glanced to the other side of the river. “It doesn’t seem that way to me.”
“Well, if you came over, I could lend you a pair of eyes to appreciate it.”
“Ah, my customers have already done so. They always say it’s a beauty but they don’t understand art.”
“Well, since my baskets are a piece of art in their own right as you said, I’m sure that I would be able to tell you more about it. Unless you were joking when you said so?”
Stiwa lowered the painting, seeming a little thoughtful. “Well, I wouldn’t want to say that you do not understand enough about art to tell me whether I have captured the beauty well enough. But if you were to say that I had, then what should I paint from now on?”
Juinlift smiled at that. “Well, I could help you figure it out if you were to come over. In any case, maybe I will look at it and find that you are far from achieving your goal. I might be able to give you some pointers. Wouldn’t you just love to get those?”
“I don’t know. Would you want to hear me talk about your baskets?”
“Well, if you wanted to praise them, I certainly wouldn’t mind. In any case, I don’t think you’d have anything bad to say about them. My baskets are a piece of art in their own right after all. You can tell as much even from the other side of the river.
“Not to mention that I don’t doubt my mastery over my mode of creation. In my hands, whether it is straw or willow branches, they are like clay in the hands of a master sculptor or a knife in the hands of a talented chef. If you were to come over, I could make you a beautiful pair of straw sandals in five minutes!”
Stiwa raised her brows at that. “A pair of straw sandals? Well, that sounds neat to have for the summer. If I come over, are you going to just give them to me?”
Juinlift put on a thoughtful expression and even rubbed her chin. “Well, I could probably give you one sandal for free. If I were to give you two, what would my customers say?”
“They would surely praise you for your charitable heart since you are willing to make a pair of sandals for a starving artist.”
Juinlift’s brows shot up at that. “Oh? Ms. Painter is actually starving? In that case, I should give you a basket instead of a pair of sandals so you can go and pick some fruits. Might be better than whatever you’re doing on your side of the river there.”
Stiwa tilted her head, looking as if she almost agreed. “Well, whether it is a pair of sandals or a basket, I would be happy to receive anything from you, weaver girl.”
“Well, then come on over.”
With that, they arrived back at the beginning of the conversation again.
Stiwa looked at the painting in her hand and then at the river separating the two of them and shrugged her shoulders. “But how am I supposed to come over? Unless you are able to weave me a bridge out of straw, I’m afraid it won’t work, weaver girl.”
Juinlift laughed at that. “Why? Is the river too deep to wade through? And here I thought it would at most go up to your knees.”
“Most likely it would only go halfway up my shins but I only have this one pair of shoes. So if I go over and they get too wet to use, whatever will I do?”
“Stay a while, maybe. Or maybe ask me for that pair of straw sandals after all. Then you would have a new pair of shoes.”
“That sure sounds tempting. You’re truly making me consider this by now.”
“And yet, Ms. Painter is still just considering. You’re so hard to negotiate with.”
“If I wasn’t, wouldn’t I have been sitting on your side of the river at the beginning of winter already?”
“Ah, I thought that had been because Ms. Painter was afraid of the cold. I remember that when the first snow fell, you wouldn’t sit down on your side of the river. Instead, you would be standing there, looking as if you were rather cold.”
“Well, I also do not remember you sitting there and weaving baskets. Instead, I remember somebody throwing snowballs at me.”
“Oh, I surely didn’t throw them at you. I am sure I threw them at my brother. He just so happened to stand in the same direction as you did. In any case, it seems that I missed both of you.”
“I guess your hands are only used to weaving baskets after all, not throwing snowballs. Since we are on the topic, I might add that while I might not be as proficient at painting beauties as you are at weaving baskets, I can throw snowballs decently well.”
“You should demonstrate for me when winter comes again.”
“Maybe I will. It’ll have to depend on how much snow there will be.”
Juinlift shook her head at her, feeling that she wouldn’t manage to get her to come over today. With this painter, it was one thing after the other. You argued and argued and when you thought that the argument had stopped, she would suddenly pull something else from wherever she got these arguments from. And then, you would be stuck in another loop until you got back to the same point and the game would repeat.
If things continued like this, she might suddenly look up at the sky and tell her how late it had already gotten. Then, she’d rush to pick up her easel and run away. Juinlift could already imagine how she’d still hear her whistle for a while even after she was long out of sight.
Thinking of that, Juinlift could only sigh. “What a pair of magical hands you have there. A pity that I’m never able to see the result of what they do. Whether it’s throwing snowballs or those painting of yours, I’m afraid it might never happen. I’d better focus on my own hands and weave some more baskets.” With that, she lowered her gaze and started on her own creation again, not entertaining the other woman any longer.
Stiwa looked at her, not sure what to make of this. Since the day she had first come here, seeing Juinlift have a snowball fight with her siblings and almost being hit by that stray snowball, she had come here as often as she could, silently watching or painting her.
For a while, she hadn’t been sure if she was welcome but since Juinlift never spoke up until today despite clearly noticing her, she had figured she shouldn’t have a problem with it after all. Right now though, she felt that Juinlift seemed a little frustrated. Most likely, she was getting sick and tired of this whole matter.
Well, Stiwa couldn’t fault her. If you were being observed and pinned on canvas by a stranger for half a year, a lot of people might get angry sooner or later. And now, they had finally talked for the first time but it hadn’t seemed to lead anywhere. That sure seemed frustrating.