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Chapter 122 Part 1 - The Mysterious Art Museum

Rossellini (4)

Returning to reality from a dream, I sit blankly on a rock sofa.


Lea was next to me, but I was deep in thought, so she sat quietly without disturbing my contemplations.


Monet had said a lot to me.


He talked about the direction of my life, but also gave me words that are immediately helpful.


"Why do you paint nature, sir? Aren't you able to move people with your work, even if you paint in the studio?"


"Flowers, you see. They're more beautiful in nature, among the grass, trees, wind, and beside ponds, than when plucked and put in a pretty vase. Why bring something beautiful from its best place to an ugly one and force it into a painting?"


I murmured, recalling our conversation.


"There's no need to artificially take something from the most beautiful place and draw it elsewhere."


Smiling faintly at his words, I got up from my seat.


"I dream of painting and paint my dreams. Yes, let's do that."


I turned to Lea, who was waiting for me.


A child with lovely round eyes. I smiled and gently pressed her nose with my finger.


"Good Lea, did you wait for uncle?"


Lea, as if tickled by her nose, rubbed it and giggled.


"Since we greeted each other in the dream, no crying when we really leave, okay?"


"................"


In the dream.


Fortunately, I was given time for a final farewell with Lea.


Whether it was a gift from the museum or a coincidence just before leaving, I didn't know.


But I had enough time to talk about parting and promise to meet again.


"Shall we go now? Since it's our last day, let's walk around the village together, Lea. We'll take one last look at the paintings we made together, how about that?"


Lea, not understanding the words but catching the nuance, jumped off the sofa and ran ahead, urging me to follow.


I followed Lea's lead, smiling and walking slowly.


**


The next day.


Monica stands with a vacant face as I wait for the car to the airport in the square.


"What is this."


Monica's gaze wasn't on me.


It was on the countless people who had come to see me off.


The number of people who came to the square for the farewell seemed close to a hundred. Probably all the families from the houses where I painted murals.


An old lady handed me a paper bag and said something. Monica, regaining her composure, translated.


"She baked bread herself. She's giving it to you to eat if you get hungry on the way."


"Oh, thank you, grandma. I'll enjoy it."


The grandmother was just the beginning.


Fruits, cookies, pies, and drinks.


People one after the other put homemade food in my hands.


Monica chuckled at the sight.


"They all say thank you. You must have formed a deep connection with this village during the three weeks you spent here."


How could I form a connection with people I couldn't even talk to?


They were just grateful, having seen my hard work while painting.


I beamed, my hands full of food.


"Thank you all! I won't forget."


Uncle Agusto personally loaded Italian cakes he had prepared into the trunk.


I handed over the food in my hands to the driver to pack, then looked at Lea for the last time. Her family was there – mother, father, and brother. Lea, trembling her eyes and holding her mother's hand, ran to me as our eyes met.


"Ban!"


I knelt down and hugged Lea.


The child's body shudders, on the verge of bursting into tears.


I patted Lea on the back and whispered to her.


"Didn't we make a promise? Not to cry."


".................."


Did she understand? Lea's body trembled, but it was evident she was desperately holding back her tears.


I smiled at Lea as our eyes met.


Lea, with tears in her eyes, forced a smile too.


I wiped her eyes and said,


"I'll definitely come to see you again, until then, Presto, Rea, Ci vediamo presto."


I spoke the Italian I learned last night from Monica. In Italian, there's a different way of saying goodbye to someone you may never see again and someone you will meet again. What I just said means, 'See you soon, we'll meet again.'


Lea smiled at my goodbye, but her tightly bitten lips made it seem like she'd burst into tears as soon as I turned around.


Thinking it would be harder to leave if I saw the baby cry, I stroked Lea's hair once more and then spoke to Monica.


"Let's go."


"Yes, Ban."


Monica was also leaving the village for a few weeks for store construction. While she was saying goodbye to the villagers, I got into the car first and looked at Lea through the car window. The child, with her big eyes wide open, is holding back her tears with clenched fists.


Lea probably thinks that if she cries now, she might never see me again.


I felt a lump in my throat and a chill at the tip of my nose, but I turned away. If I show any emotion, it would only make things worse for Lea. Finally, Monica got in the car, and it was time to leave the village for real.


After driving a few meters, I looked back from the car.


Lea was in her mother's arms, bursting into tears.


I rubbed under my nose and turned my swollen eyes away.


Then Monica teases me with a laugh.


"Wow, are you crying because you're sad about parting with that little one?"


"Who's crying? I'm not."


"I see tears, though?"


"No, you don't. I just yawned because I didn't sleep well last night."


"Haha, Ban, you're really cute."


I quickly turned my head and rubbed my eyes.


But there were no tears on my hand.


'Damn, no tears. Fell for her teasing, damn it.'


I rubbed my eyes as if wiping away tears, so she'll think I did.



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