It was around ten in the evening when Jade looked at the detailed brush carefully. She had already inspected each one of the hairs at the tip, the silver ferrule, and the wood that she was carving. Jade took the natural pencil-holding position, and pretended to paint. The brush was almost there… But there were so many more things that she could add, if only she had the time.
Suddenly, before Jade could even blink, the door to her chambers burst open, and in marched her master, Master Yang. Master Yang’s jet black hair was almost invisible in the dark room, his face as stern as could be. Jade jumped with the door slammed behind him. Usually he would bring in a few guards in case Jade tried to rebel, as if she ever would. Jade’s fragile, delicate arms and legs were too small and feeble to barely kick a ball.
The small window was the only thing giving light in the room, besides the small table lamp that Jade worked by while working on assignments given to her by Master Yang. The dim light that was given completely illuminated Master Yang’s face, hard and cold like the rain here in China. His eyes were narrowed toward Jade, and his mouth was puckered, as if he had eaten something sour. Jade quickly started to tidy her small working station, which held nothing except the lamp, a few papers, a jar with art utensils in it, and the brush she was currently working on.
Jade looked around the small, cramped room that she only went out of to get a meal- and sometimes even that was restricted. The bed in the corner wasn’t made, or clean for that matter. The door leading to the bathroom why wide open, letting the awful smells of the week- old meals she had brought in and thrown into the trash can in there out into the main room. Jade watched in fright as Master Yang wrinkled his nose once he got too close to the stench. Then he turns on her, an even more furious look on his face.
“Is it done?” He asks, walking around Jade and her desk. Jade watches him make every step, blinking every time.
“Almost, Master Yang. I must finish the handle and give final touches before it is to come into contact with the paint itself.” Jade replies, scared to death by the way Master Yang stares her down.
“It’s been three weeks already! It must be finished by the end of the week!” Master Yang insists, and Jade widens her eyes in surprise.
“But- But- But- Master Yang! That’s… That’s only three days! There’s no possible way – no! I cannot!” Jade protests, but Master Yang slams his fist on the table, barely missing the paintbrush Jade had been working on.
“You will! Or else.” Master Yang commands, and Jade flinches as he walks out of the room and slams the door behind him. Jade looked around her room- it wasn’t much, but it was all she had, which, compared to nothing, was a lot. Not finishing the brush meant all of this going away, all of this vanishing from her face, and a new world beginning for her – out on the streets.
Master Yang had taken Jade in when she was in the Girls’ Orphanage, which, compared to this, was a relatively nice place where she had friends whom she called family. Jade was merely confused when Master Yang came into the orphanage to talk to Mistress Fa to fill out a form to adopt an orphan. Mistress Fa, being the overly protective woman she was, carefully examined Master Yang first, then began to ask for details referring towards the adoption.
Jade was only seven when Mistress Fa had come into her bedroom which she shared with fourteen other girls only to be told that a man wanted a young girl who had a talent for carving and was a bit of a loner. Jade wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or offended about being called a loner, but she had eagerly packed her things into a bag Mistress Yee handed her and was on her way with her new ‘father’.
At the first of those six long years to come, Jade’s father had been exceedingly nice. She was told to call him ‘father’ or ‘dad’ as most children do, and was given her own room with everything she hadn’t expected. Her first real conversation with Master Yang had begun in the kitchen, while he was preparing a stew of sorts, and Jade was chopping carrots to put into the pot.
“Father?” Jade asked, starting off formally. If she would only feel a bit more comfortable, only then would she call Master Yang ‘dad’.
“Hmm?” Master Yang hummed, carefully stirring the pot of broth.
Jade looked around the kitchen, and found only them. “Do you not have…? Have a-a-a wife?” Jade asked, almost whispering.
Master Yang looked up and dropped the wooden spoon he was stirring with. “I did. She died a while ago… I’m very lonely nowadays, so I decided to adopt a child, like you. So I did, and here you are. Careful with that knife now, I don’t want you to chop your fingers off.” Jade looked down at what she was doing. She was only seven, yes, but she knew well enough that she wasn’t supposed to be handling a knife, much less a pair of kitchen scissors. But that was what her new father had commanded her to do, to cut open a large packet of sausage and chop it up after cutting the carrots.
The day Jade turned ten, she and Master Yang had decided to move. Master Yang was still un-married, seemingly completely fine with only having a small, mature daughter by his side. Master Yang and Jade had traveled four hours to another home in the mountains, far from any place of civilization. At first, Jade thought the move seemed extraordinary. The new house seemed like a mansion, complete with room service and an enormous kitchen in which there was room for over five cooks.
Of course, it all went downhill from there. Jade’s father took her past many kind, furnished rooms in the halls, and yet he still did not say that any one of them were hers. Instead, he led her down a dark corridor, down dimly lit steps, and down into yet another dark corridor. Finally he came to a door at the very end of the hall, and he then unlocked it. Jade closed her eyes and was led into the dark, damp room. When her wrist was released, she opened her eyes – only to see the room she would live in for the next three years.
From then on, Jade worked as her father’s servant, making certain crafts for him to sell. Once she asked who else was in the mansion, for she would sometimes hear loud doors closing from down the hall. Even though Master Yang didn’t reply, Jade somehow knew that she was only part of an enormous business up above.
Jade’s favorite assignments were those that required her to make paintbrushes. This past assignment was given to her from her father himself, which was rare, considering that Jade knew he had much better things to do than give a simple servant orders.
The new assignment was to make a paintbrush that would paint even more efficiently than their past edition to the Yang Collection. Jade, at first, didn’t think it was possible. Then, still required to fill orders, she began on her work, and found it possible by giving the brush a new material – paint.
At first, Jade though that this new theory was ridiculous. How would the paint help the brush paint more efficiently than the others? But when Jade added the hairs and did a simple dry stroke, the hairs seemed to bend to her thoughts, giving the picture more of the heart and soul, not just the thought.
So Jade continued to work on the brush, making sure that it was much more beautiful, more exciting than the others she had made. Time passed quickly- before she knew it, it was three weeks later. Now she would be abandoned if she did not finish the brush in time.
But how could she, when she had become so attached to the brush? Jade wasn’t sure if she could ever make a replica. Nothing seemed so fragile but so strong as this brush, and it seemed that the brush spoke to her when she did a simple practice stroke.
Jade tiredly sat down on the wooden stool and stared at the brush, lying there, on her desk. Jade picked up the brush and sighed. At the end of the week, this brush would be done.
At the end of the week, this brush would be gone forever.
Jade carefully placed the brush at the edge of her table and looked for more material. She took a block of wood from a box under her desk and the carving tool she had been using. Then she looked at the brush lying on the edge of the table carefully, and started to carve.