Visions of La

“Blue, man. It’s the colour of the future”

“Why would you say that?” I asked, with an absent mind, as I continued flipping through my phone’s contents.

“Well, think about it. Blue is the least natural colour at all. At least with regards to earth. There’s no blue plant or an animal.”

“The sky’s blue.”

“Of course. But I’m talking about the world of the future – at least from the viewpoint of today. It’s only natural to conjure up a future in your mind that has less of natural things. I mean, surely there will be lesser forests about ten years from now. Twenty maybe.”

We were facing a blue billboard from across the street. It was the advertisement for some sort of insurance, and as usual, had a Black, White and an Asian man smiling all together. It’s one of the most depressing styles of advertising. One that almost makes you conscious that you’re looking at an advertisement, and lets you see through the farce – into nothingness.

It was early evening, and the sky was doing its best to not support my argument about its colour. A couple of airplanes flew high up, leaving streaks of white that disappeared soon after. I could see the strobe lights.

“Look at all the science fiction movies so far. Most of them have black and white dominating their sets, but the next colour that they pick is blue.”

“C’mon. You’re heading nowhere. Blue is a very common colour when it comes to showing some visual sophistication. Humans regard the colour as modern and intrig – ” I saw his point.

“Do you have your camera ready?” he asked. I nodded, tapping on the bag hanging off my shoulder

“And the million dollar lens?”

“That too. Fixed this afternoon. Hoping to use it today.” I said, smiling. He looked around and then at his watch, “When is um, Mr Schering going to see us? He said four thirty right?”

“Yes he did. But he is a journalist. It’s a big firm. So he’s allowed to be late.”

“Yeah right,” he grimaced as he continued looking around. To our right, the street took a turn and then intersected another at a junction, where it crossed the road leading out of this part of the city.

“Did he precisely state that this is where we should wait?” I asked, doubting.

“Not really. He simply asked us to hang out on this street and that he would see us because this was on our way to where he’d take us.”

“But this is a long street,” I said “And there’s a sharp turn there. Perhaps he’s just crossing the junction and is looking for us there.”

“Quite possible. Let’s check that place once anyway. But what if he comes here when we’re there?”

I thought for a minute. ”He would give us a call if he can’t find us.”

“He could do that even otherwise, as we stand here. But let’s keep walking, nevertheless. This place is not exactly very interesting.”

I agreed to that. Usually, any part of the city had something interesting to a photographer. Strangely, this long street was mundane by all means. And the little irregularities had nothing beautiful about them. Most of the people walking around were old, a good number using sticks to support themselves. To that end, in our dark denim pants and leather jackets, we stuck out as sore thumbs in the locality. Perhaps that’s what Mr Schering had planned. Indeed easier to spot.

The sky turned into a deeper shade of red as we walked out of the locality, and into the evening. The lamps were switched on by some invisible hand, as they cinematically lit up in rapid succession into the winding street.

Night time usually gave more room for experimenting with photography. So I took the camera out of the bag and hung it around my neck, hoping to test the new accessory out. Switching it on, I quickly set things to the required values so that I would get a good image in this lighting. I looked around for a test object to take a picture of.

I spotted image of a monkey drawn over the glass of one of the lamps that lit the street. Standing at the foot of its pole, I tried focusing it for an image. It took me a while; I was taking a picture of a light source, which in contrast to rest of this place, was pretty bright for a camera set to capture the night.

Nebulae of gases floated inside the little glass chamber high up, emitting light that threw lines on my camera, appearing as one looked through blinds. Orange spots materialized in the yellow chamber, growing wings. The yellow clouds bloomed, expanded, and eventually broke away into little wisps as younger successors took their place. The black monkey sat with its hands covering its ears as orange birds moved around its head, as if to induce nausea.

Eye stuck to the viewfinder of the camera, I clicked the shutter. The view, clearly went blank as the shutter closed. A moment later, it opened, and there was darkness. A few long trails of yellow smoke wafted around.

Red flash. Far away, I saw lines. Horizontal and vertical, as they crossed one another, forming patterns. They were not squares, but elongated kite like shapes that shone in the mild light. I turned to look forward. Distant rooftops covered my view, with a backdrop of tiny glistening lights from buildings amidst the evening sky.

I looked back down. There was movement, and a tiny flash in the darkness. Upon the mesh of lines were two dark patches. I saw myself; so many feet away, awkwardly posed and trying to take a picture of me.

“You’ll burn the million dollar lens.”

I turned to find myself at the edge of the street once again. Plank was several feet away, talking loudly. I looked upwards. It seemed as though the monkey was staring back at me, though I could not see any eyes drawn.

I started walking in Plank’s direction. The street looked a lot more vivid. The irregular buildings seemed as boring as they were before, but I could take pictures of them. But first, I quickly checked the picture that I had just taken. Or had I taken one?

Sure I had. An image with black stripes across it, caused by the fringes from the lamp. There was the black, but cloudy outline at the center, with lines extending from the body to its ears. There were orange bursts toward the top of the image, but mostly obscured by the fringes.

“So did you take a picture after all?” Plank asked. I showed him the picture. Not sure what had happened, I asked, “How long was I standing there, focusing the lamp?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “about a minute, I guess. A little more probably. Good picture, though. But you might have to process it. Looks too…stoned. But yes, the lens does seem worth all that money.”

That was pretty normal time to focus on an object before taking its picture. As additional precaution, I also held my breath for the few seconds before I clicked the button to ensure there wasn’t the slightest of movements when I took such a faraway shot. But this time it felt as though I had travelled. From the confines of my body into the object that I tried to capture in time. I was posing as well as taking the picture – playing the creator as well as my creation, in some ways. I tried to shake the thought off my mind, assuming that staring at all that brightness got me off guard for a second.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, looking up at Plank. “The lens indeed is like no other.”

We kept walking and reached the point where the road bent. I took a few large steps by the curve to get a little ahead of Plank. I felt the immense need to guide.

An old man was walking towards us. A red winter cap covered his ears, and a number of layers of clothing below. He had a stick in one hand and a big plastic bag in another. Full of grocery, I thought. Holding an end of his jacket was a little kid, walking almost in muddles, cackling as he tried jumping every other tile on the pavement.

“One minute, Plank.” I said. The approaching kid would cross one of the lamps anytime now. Would make for a good picture. He was looking up. I switched the camera on.

The sky was a deep shade of red, almost black, and empty – but for a lonely occupant. The scarcity of stars that gave me mild pangs of anxiety. It appeared as if the moon had taken over all of them, establishing his solitary rule. There was nobody to ask for help. Nowhere to go. He was now eyeing us earthlings. And he’s following me wherever I go.

I wanted to get home. I held on to the hanging piece of leather tightly, and took larger steps. The plastic bag swayed dangerously close to my face, but it caught the light from the lamps as they reflected off its folds. I laughed.

“Come this side, Bobby” Grandpa said, as he stopped to make way for me. The tiles were so neatly arranged. I hopped once in a while, and made sure I stepped only on the bright ones. I turned around to see if he was still there. The plastic bag sparkled as it reflected some more light. I laughed. I’m not alone.

“Keep walking, Bobby. You don’t want to be late for the cake!” Grandpa said. I turned around and started walking again. Up ahead in the darkness, I saw another flash of light. I heard distant sounds of my favourite show on TV. Strange images flooded my head, unfamiliar and nostalgic at the same time. I looked at the sky as strange beasts danced inside my head. Mysterious contraptions ensued, and brutally hurt one of the beasts. A big circle formed and rapidly shrunk to cover everything but the face of the fallen. I blinked. There was the moon looking back at me through the circle. I laughed once again.

The sound stopped abruptly, ending with a clear beep. “Yes, Mr Schering,” Plank said. He looked at me and pointed the direction we had been walking in, as he said into the phone, “Yes, sir. Sure. At the intersection. Green Car…Ok, Bottle Green, almost Black. Okay, we were walking towards that anyway….Yes, give us a minute.”

He hung up and said, “You were right. He’s at the junction.”

We started walking as I switched the camera on once again to check. Nothing unusual. Just the face of an innocent, smiling kid, half illuminated by golden light. The kid was going home. The thought of a fresh and warm cake in the reverie made me crave for one. It would be a while before dinner though. Considerably long time, in case the job was anything big.

I looked at the photo again. I felt like I knew all about that kid. “His name was Bobby. Robert, I guess.” I said.

“Yeah, man. I heard it. His grandfather was asking him to stay close or something.” Plank said, as he walked in hurried strides. “There’s the junction.” He said, pointing at the signal pole ahead. It was busier with more vehicles.

“You know, he was scared of the moon.” I added.

“Most kids are, right?”

We heard rapid succession of beeps from both our phones. I reached for it in my pocket, but decided to check later. We were almost the intersection.

“He said we had to turn right and find his car. Bottle-Green, he said. Almost black in this lighting.”

We reached the busy intersection. A lot of people were now talking into their phones, looking concerned as they tried speaking louder than the traffic. “Which school?” I heard one man ask as I crossed him. Everyone had their phone out, either speaking or checking it as they walked.

The almost black car was not too far and we spotted it. We waved at the car, and Mr Schering waved from inside, possibly spotting us in his mirror.

“Get inside,” he said when we got there. The warm insides of the car was more than welcome. We got into the car and shared pleasantries as we shook hands with him. We had already spoken to him once, so it wasn’t exactly our first meeting. He had said he needed some high profile photographers and writers to cover some of the firm’s side business. Later he had revealed that he was heading a team that carried out investigative journalism of sorts, under a different name.

“Did you buy that lens that I had specified in the mail?” he asked me.

I said I did. “Good that you did. Certainly will make things a little easier tonight. You will be reimbursed soon. But only half the money. Trust me, it’s more than worth the other half that you spent on it,” Mr Schering said, with an approving smile.

“So what’s our first assignment?” Plank asked, beaming.

*

The sky filled my view, with the moon its center. It was a feeling of quiet. The darkness calmed me, and I did not feel warm or cold. But I felt intrusion. I felt at one with a stranger I had not meant to be with. A stranger that had forged my departure. I felt the outer edges of time brushing past me, as it pulled me forward.

The perception induced a flash of memory. My mind raced backward, as the black sky faded into a frenzy of images. My first thoughts about Jenna momentarily resurface. I saw my parents waving at me from outside the glass doors of school. The glass door metamorphosed into a big window in front of me, in a tiring white room. A doctor effortlessly inserted needle into my arm and pressed a ball of cotton over it. As he pushed the piston, the drug burned through my veins. It’s okay. It will keep you from falling sick. I heard. Mother. My mind raced back to the beginning; to the formation of the rest of me, my real body – the universe.

The moon seemed to grow brighter as I recalled equations from yesterday’s homework. All knowledge seemed to merge with actual memories. Images from books began jumping to life. The bright moon began to wobble, as its clone entered into my field of view, approaching with great ferocity.

I observed the Hydrogen atoms beginning to gravitate together, as if the rule, the urge, was to begin movement into a more complex state. As I watched, the stars aged, and blew up to spew all the remaining Hydrogen and Helium out into the universe.

The bright Sun now filling my view faded into the Earth, a product of all additional matter that had begun orbiting the Sun. In the shallow pools and basins, amid the great lightning storms that swept the planet, I could sense a new level of vibration in matter, and its need to consume other life in order to sustain its vibration. As I watched, the animals filled the oceans, and when the plants had released enough oxygen into the atmosphere, began their trek toward land. In rapid flashes, I saw myself being born, and dying at the same time. Finally the progression ended. There at the pinnacle, stood humankind.

“Poor thing.”

His confident face faded back into the moon.

“I hear it’s all to do with some racist bullying in this school district.”

My vision was obscured as figures bent over me to observe closely. Bright light hit my face, with distinct flashes intermittently distracting me every now and then.

“Hope you aren’t feeling sick or anything. Gunshots are of the worst kind,” Mr Schering said.

“Oh, no. It is an exciting job,” I replied as I turned away from the corpse, covering the lens with a cap and wondering if I should check my arm for needle marks.

– Sumanth

Photo Courtesy: BrownhillBob

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