Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quick and dirty

It was a big house, furnished with odds and ends that were salvaged from the waste of the city above us. The clothes were kept in an old fridge, for example, and a bathtub with a rag in it was my bed. Interesting patterns showed up on the ceiling, because of the seepage from the sewers above. I never knew what work my father did, and was sometimes afraid to find out. He spent long hours in a room all by himself. The masters came down to meet him about three times a year. I don't know what was the business between them, but I don't think it was a very friendly one. One of the masters slapped my father once, and told him that he was a sewer rat, and that he should learn his place.
That night, my father explained to me how important it was to study hard and do well at school. The school was underground, so I didn't think it mattered.


It was a large spider. Large enough to grab my toy trucks and hurl them around. It was walking through all my miniatures. I ran and got my camera. The spider was moving across the room, and I tried to get a quick photo. It was in a perfect position, but I couldn't click, as the viewfinder was all dark. I removed the lens cover, then focused again. This time for a second, I thought the spider actually had a face, and smiled. The trigger was jammed. I tried to see why, and after some frantic searching, found a small trigger lock toggle on the side. That was strange I thought, I'd never seen a camera with a lock for the trigger. The camera was almost touching the floor when I got the shot. A spider between an earth mover and a cement mixer, its legs sprawled about them, as if it were attacking them. I was however staring at the spider - something had happened to it the instant I took the photo. When the shutter closed, the spider had a black body. When it opened, there was a red streak down the middle. I clicked again, and the legs of the spider changed dramatically. They were thin and spindly, now they were thick and shaped like knives. The body grew bigger, now the size of a small flower. And I saw the face again - it smiled at the camera - the face of an old woman.
I kept clicking, the spider kept growing, and in the end, there was an old lady-spider in front of me, the eight legs sprouting out of her spine, and she was smiling at the camera. One memorable shot I got was a closeup of her face, lined with age, and with her white hair as she looked wishfully at the skies she could not see. She kept moving about the room, in a strange spidery motion. It was difficult to catch how her legs moved. A little jerk with her ankles, and she was a foot to her side. Unfortunately I kept clicking. Suddenly, she realised what was happening, looked straight at me through my lens and viewfinder. I clicked. When the shutter opened, she was not there.


I was developing my photos. It was a room I had all to myself, and nobody knew about it. Had used tools and equipment from an abandoned bottling plant in the city to make all my equipment. The chemicals were difficult, but I got everything I needed from the chem lab at college. It was a little crowded, and I could not touch the rolls of films that were still drying. The photos were coming out well, but with an unexpected effect. There was a halo around everything, and the colour was spreading beyond the boundaries of the objects in the frame. This was because of something I had forgotten. I had put in a lens element of my own invention - the lens had water inside it. I was just experimenting, and forgot to remove it. The third photo was slowly showing up on the paper. It was a little grainy - which was an artifact of the chemicals. It was also out of focus, which was entirely my fault. I never got to see that photo.
Suddenly, the master bursts in, light floods the room, erasing a lot of effort in a second. I cant help it, before I can react, I can feel the tears waiting to burst through my eyes. I hold them back. The master walks around imperiously. He picks up my tray of failed lens elements. He observes the circular glass pieces, most of them with irregular mounds, some of them patched together crudely, some of them carefully carved out of bulbs. He is silent for a long time, carefully looking at all of it. The master laughs, my father hovers uncomfortably behind him. "You have bred an inventive little thief" the master tells my father. Then he turns to me, laughs again. "You will be disappointed with the city" he says.


The city has too many people. There are soft, faded colours everywhere. The grey roads go on for block after city block. The police zeppelins patrol the skies, with their instructions and their megaphones. I am in the blue sector, which is where all the number crunching happens. We maintain huge machines. Many of these buildings have nuclear reactors in their basements. Sometimes an axillary one dedicated to the cooling. I have a job in the city, making glass tubes and orbs - they are components of these machines. I am having a cigarette, looking into the crowd of people. I'm also talking to the vendor of the cigarettes, a friend and something of a psychotherapist. He follows my eyes as they stare at a young girl who looks something like the spider-lady I once saw — or an old friend from school, or maybe even a sister, I can't remember clearly. It was so long ago, that I wonder if it was a dream. Seems as if all that, my past life was unreal. Not that this one feels particularly real.
"The trick, around here..." he says " to learn what to say when you've just done something immoral"

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