The picture came out dark. At the right edge of the photo, just above my shoulder, the clouds had parted to reveal a bright white sun. It made my hair glow brilliantly like the streaks of a golden fire. The rest of my face and body was partially washed out in the glare. More so was Rhea who stood beside me. A silhouette outlined against the luminescent sky.
Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off the picture. It exuded a strong feeling reminiscence of a partially remembered dream. A dream lost in the labyrinth of the dream world. But a part of it, still lodged into my consciousness, clear as glass, evoking a strong feeling of nostalgia. A moment frozen in time.
‘Isn’t it like a dream?’ Rhea said as she came from behind and put her arms around me, “I too can’t stop looking at it.”
She smelled rich of shampoo and soap. Of an earthly smell that rises from the parched land after the first rain of the season. Of the air that travels a thousand miles, dancing above the green mountains, singing over the blue rivers. Of all those fragrances that are natural and fresh and heaven. I fell in love with her again.
‘It’s always like this,’ she continued, her breath warming my neck, ‘sometimes it is the sun, at other, it is a stray lamp. Then occasionally the flash wouldn’t go off. At others, the camera just fails to click. I’m cursed. I just can’t get a clear picture anymore.’
I thought about that. She was right. It had been a long time since she got clicked clearly. She was always hazy, a shadow, in the photos. And this killed her a little. She loved to get clicked.
I was never a photography enthusiast. Hardly click or got clicked. I was traditional in that respect. I preferred drinking the images with my eyes, storing them in my mind, and let them develop over time, slowly, gradually. Everything – the view , the smells, the sound, the texture got captured in this way.
The digital photos locked the moment in time, exactly. In memories, they were perpetually changing, always developing, the dust of time and our own experiences putting one filter after another over them, making them new every time I remembered them.
And I hated the absence of this quality in the photos. They appeared naked to me, stripped off of an essence in its quest to preserve exactness.
She tilted her head a little, nudging my head, pulling me out of my thoughts. ‘Let’s take a photo,’ she said with a sigh. Her voice floating in the silence of the room like a single ripple on the surface of a pond. I took her hand in mine and kissed. ‘Yes, let’s go out, I said.’ She smiled and jumped like a six-year-old girl. ‘I just need a minute,’ she said as she stood to the dressing table and started arranging her hair.
‘In the garden,’ I said as I took out the Nikon out of the drawer and stepped outside.
The day was perfect. It had rain the last night. Washed clean of the dust and weariness of the summer, the mountains wore deep brilliant green. The autumn wind set the fresh new leaves of mahogany rustling. There was a taste of salt in the air, along with a faint sound of waves crashing on the beach. It seemed to be coming from a far-away world – a distant sound that seemed to reach us from a doorway to the another world.
She stood on the pavement, scores of petunia behind her. She made a pout. Her eyes sparkled in the light. I saw her through the viewfinder – she looked perfect. As I clicked, no sun came from behind, no flash misfired, nor the camera malfunctioned. Like I said, it was a perfect day.
As I walked towards her, feeling accomplished, I pressed the button to see how the photo came out. Everything was as it was supposed to be – the light, the background, the petunia, the frame. Everything was perfect except her. She was not there in the photo.
“What the heck,” I cursed under my breath, half-laughing, half-surprised, “I don’t know Rhea,” I said as I kept on walking towards her, kept on looking at the photo, “I don’t know what happened but you are not in the pic….”
My words froze in my mouth. Just as my feet and my breath. She wasn’t there. Just as she wasn’t in the photo. Just then huge black clouds gathered from nowhere and suddenly everything became dark, and in an instant a brilliant lightning flashed, illuminating strangely the spot where she stood only a few moment before, and then the sky roared with a deafening sound, the clouds cracked and it started raining, drenching me skin deep.
I stood there for a long time.
Finally, as I walked back, the Nikon lay half-submerged in a puddle that formed in those few moments of rain, still displaying the picture where she wasn’t there.