Thursday, June 1

The Photo Shop

The shop is so small that you cannot simply enter without saying—‘Excuse me’ or—‘Are you queuing?’ at least once. There are always a few staff seeing to the customers: one taking passport photographs, one at a computer, and one at the till. It is not illogical to imagine one in the basement as well, working the machine, developing film and printing prints; octopussy in their operations, machinery clunking and a chemical odour in the air. It is perhaps five minutes from the door of my office, close enough so that I am dissatisfied to throw my butt on the floor, not having quite enjoyed the full length of it.
I was dropping off a 36 exp. roll of 35mm Kodak, ISO 200. The roll was quite neat, the film completely contracted, leaving the cylinder smooth and good in my palm—‘Just this, please.’
‘One hour or three? … It’ll be ready by two… CD or prints? … Thank-you.’
She looks at me; I am a normal person, there is no reason why she should not look at me. ‘You’ve been coming here a long time.’ She is Indian. Her voice sounds like my Nan’s did. She is not old but her eyelids have folded down over her eyes and her teeth are crooked and overlapping in a way that makes me believe her husband loves them especially. She assumes no rush to serve the other customers but addresses me in a most regal posture with her hands folded in front of her. I tell her that I have, that I’ve been working in the city for ten years now. I tell her—
‘I’m glad you’re still going. So many places round here have closed over the years.’ I think of all the bookshops I’ve seen swallowed up, the good pubs, the music stores; all of them discovered empty during the lunch-hour and a sign advertising the property to-let, with dust already caught on the windows and all the innards gutted.
‘It is because we have stayed up-to-date,’ she says, not without an air of pride, and I nod.
‘It’s good.’
‘We do everything in-house.’
‘I hope you keep going for a long time.’
I will admit: a swell of flattery swamped me when she recognised my face, after all I am such a normal person and quite unremarkable. She has recognised me all these years and not said a word, and now, ten years on, after ten years of custom, she should remark that I have been so loyal.
She has been there as long as I can remember. Her husband works there, too; or at least I am so bold as to assume he is her husband, that they are married, and manic collector’s of carboot market cameras. He appointment is only quite recent, the past couple of years. In addition to the couple, there are three women. A young lady with eyes that never look anything but startled, as if she has grave news to deliver and you are the recipient, the one she has been tracking down; eyes that seldom blink from behind thin-rimmed glasses. There is a tall lady, always dressed in black, who, like all of them, offers few pleasantries to the customers, but most likely pursues photography in her spare time and laughs like the devil is trapped inside her throat. The lady with the steadiest hand takes the passport photographs for the customers. She, too, is tall and alien to a hairbrush. I imagine she keeps a large basket of hair between her legs, which she will allow lovers to pluck with their teeth during the delights of giving head. I also imagine that in the evenings, on a Friday, they will briefly go for a drink in a smart pub around the corner. Wary of the city-workers they stand away. The ladies will share two bottles of wine; the man – the bar-run his alone – gin. I would like to get to know them but it would take an outsider like me a long, precarious time to be inducted into their circle. I would no doubt be subject to quizzes on my taste in the arts and my politics scrutinised until I were screaming obscenities.
They have witnessed my life the past decade. What secrets they keep!
The first photograph I took after my job interview of an old man sitting on a bench, having asked his permission, he resumed his pose and looked out. Women, naked in hotel rooms and flats, clawing at my camera, smoking cigarettes, feeling themselves open and bold. The one woman I loved, the romance of time we spent together, on weekends away, with my family, in her underwear, cooking dinner, covered in come, bathing, staring at sculptures in some kind of awe. All those photographs of my family as we sunbathed on holiday, laughed, relaxed on the sterns of boats, as we walked across fields and retrieved bottles of white wine from the fridge and played ping pong. Most recently the photographs of my niece as she grows and as I love her more, the first photograph she took when I gave her the camera and showed which button to press. It is strange that they have seen all of those moments.
Nevertheless, I was flattered she recognised me.
I said—‘Have a good afternoon,’ and left the shop. On the corner, where the wind blew up the alley, I composed myself. It was a hot day and there was a tremendous lazy joy in walking around. Into the market I went and, keeping my head down, I enjoyed stretching my legs. There were many people about but I was alone, pleased for it all the same.

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