This is a drawing I made of Anyu one late spring day when she was 77 years old. I had just turned the corner from the main road into our driveway when I spotted her sitting on the front porch steps, basking in the sun with closed eyes, her large canvas sack beside her. Seemingly lost in reverie, she hadn’t seemed to notice my truck pull up.
I parked the truck at the back porch, skirted around the hedges surrounding the house, and walked up to her, unannounced. Her hearing couldn’t have been very acute, or maybe the nap of the lawn had quieted down my footsteps, for she had her eyes closed as I approached and then stood to look at her in silence. No wonder she was unaware of my presence; she was after all 77 years old and her senses had begun to falter. The look of unvarnished pleasure in sitting under the sun suffused her face. This love of the sun was and had been a constant in her life and had not altered in her advanced years.
I sat down in the grass near her and waited for her to notice my presence. The sun warmed my back and heated up the backpack with my calculus stuff inside. I had just driven back twenty miles from doing the final exam in my university calculus course. It felt luxurious to sit soaking the heat up and not have to calculate how and where to fit in studying to a busy day of wifely doings.
Anyu opened her eyes and gazed about in a daze. Her glance passed over me and returned in surprise.
“Where have you been?” she asked. “When did you come back? I rang and rang the doorbell and you didn’t answer.” The querulous tone in her voice projected her displeasure.
“I was at SFU writing my final exam. I wasn’t expecting you today.”
Anyu stretched her arms and popped upright on the step. “Well, I was bored. It was such a nice day, a little bus-ride was in order. I figured I might as well come out here to see you.” Then she added, “What’s for lunch?”
“I have some left-over lentil soup from yesterday.” I said, getting up off the grass and hauling my back-pack toward the stairs. “You can have that, and I’ll also make you a sandwich. Egg salad, I think.”
“I have to watch my cholestrol. Does the lentil soup have much fat in it?” Anyu asked grabbing her sack. “And, I can’t eat eggs – too high in cholestrol. Make it a tuna sandwich.”
“Come in then. I’ll see what I can rustle up for you.”
We entered the house and dropped our bags on the coffee-table. While Anyu hunted around inside her sack I went to the kitchen to prepare her food. She followed me and sat at the kitchen table watching me hop about, making the preparations.
I worked quetly, without talking. Reheated the soup, opened and drained a can of tuna, chopped onions and pickles, buttered bread and assembled the sandwich. I mused about Anyu’s penchant for flitting about the countryside by bus in all kinds of weather and without letting anyone know about her eventual destinations. Often, she groused about arriving at some far-flung friend’s place, unexpected, and finding herself not welcome. This day she had travelled, by bus, through 4 adjacent municipalities to reach our place. This had to have taken her at least two and a half hours. Of course, because she had not let me in on her plans to visit, she was ill-informed about my doings and whereabouts. So, if she was irritated with me, I figured that a product of her bad planning.
“Let me see that tuna can.” she demanded. “I need to read the label and see the counts for cholestrol. If it is too high, I will not eat that sandwich.”
I handed her the can. She fished out her reading glasses and perused the label at length. I placed a bowl of soup in front of her and went off to plug in the kettle for tea.
“Where did you learn to make soup like this?” She said between spoonsful of the lentil soup.
“Well, not from you, Anyu,” I chortled. “you never let me touch anything in your kitchen. But I love reading recipes and anything about cooking.” Then I added,” it is the meal one does not cook for oneself that is delicious. Enjoy”
Anyu ate with gusto and polished off two bowls of soup and a whole sandwich. For a woman who prided herself on eating like a sparrow, this day’s demonstration of feasting indicated an uncharacteristic vulture-like appetite.
I made up a pot of tea for us and took the fixings into the living-room. “Come sit in the big green chair and put up your feet. While you rest and digest, I’ll do a drawing of you.” I placed her tea-cup on the table by the chair for her. “If you want you can close your eyes while I am drawing.”
“I don’t want to look dead. Pictures of people with their eyes closed makes them look dead.” She settled herself, took a sip of tea, then patted her hair. She marshalled her energies, drew herself up stiffly and presented a dignified self for my study.
I went into instant drawing mode and drew like mad for half an hour. Anyu was silent throughout, and her facial expression registered an array of emotions, but not ones which showed any pleasure at all. The primary affect was pride overlaying dissatisfaction. Or so it seems to me that my drawing emphasized.
Whe the drawing was at a point I felt comfortable leaving off, I nudged her out of a funk by turning the drawing to face her. She studied it at length, took sips of her tea and finally commented wistfully. “What ever happened to my pretty face? I used to be so beautiful.”
“You still are beautiful, Anyu.” I reassured her. “Just different in beauty, more complex and tempered by experience.”
“Well, you can take me home now.” she said. ” I paid for my lunch by sitting for you. Let’s get going.” She finished off the last of her tea, grabbed her satchel and stood up, ready to leave.
I put aside my drawing board and charcoals, grabbed my purse and keys and led her out the back door to the truck.
On the hour-long drive to her apartment in Burnaby, she fell asleep. Once we arrived, I walked her to her door, used her keys to let her in. She yawned and reclined onto her couch. “I am so tired,” she said. “Please cover me with the afghan and let yourself out.”
I covered her, kissed her cheek and left. Driving back home in rush-hour traffic, I thought about how my day unexpectedly turned out. Anyu arriving out of the blue was surprising, but provided a break from my obsession with thoughts about calculus. This is the drawing of Anyu at 77. She may no longer drop in on me as she used to, but I have this drawing in memory of our time together.