The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes Fiction
The Storehouse of Images
Ghosts fill, fill and fill a bare room. Lost souls searching for a spiritual home. One of those lost souls answers to the name of Kevin Carter.
Hollow victories behind them all that they are, all that they see is spiritual poverty. I stare at this hollow landscape. Crows flying out in all directions to meet me. The garden is honest. As honest as a swimming pool filled with bronzed bodies. All I can think of is blood and honey. The land of thirst.
I can feel the onset of the winter chill calling me. I am a war photographer in the desert. Hot sun beating down on me. I take my pictures. In another life, I was a documentary filmmaker. In another life, I was a student in film school. In another, a daughter, a sister, a niece. I have never seen such poverty. That is why I have this storehouse of images. To remind myself to live. To remind myself that I have to be present in the moment.
The past is past. I have to surround myself with howling futurists and damned intellectuals. All I can see is murder, genocide, mass graves and death. Welcome to Sarajevo. The red banners scream. I dreamt of Bosnia last night. A light shone through me. Telling me what I had to do. Where I had to go. It illuminated the lens. It was a sun and then it was a moon with her pitch-black craters.
I am the volcano woman. Now I find myself in a hospital. In an expensive clinic. I am an experiment in the works. They ply me with the best doctors, psychiatrists, caregivers, gourmet canteen food and pharmaceuticals. They think that I will forget what I have seen but I have news for them. The doctors think that they are saints. They are megalomaniacs everyone. They waltz around me.
A waltzing they go. They rave against the machine of life. The wheels go round. I dream now more than I ever have. Even more than I have since I was a child with dolls and a dollhouse, tea parties and watching my mother from under her apron strings. Sitting under the kitchen table. The smell of pie apples baking in the oven. I am getting thinner. The doctor says this in his lilting voice as if it is a good thing.
Why are you so afraid of intimacy, the psychologist asks me. I think it is because of my parents’ relationship. When it came to me they never really saw eye to eye. They never gave me their blessing when it came to my profession. I say this is a very fancy hospital. They do not pay much, the psychologist says. It is a teaching hospital, he says. I feel as if I am constantly forgetting something, I say to him.
He says we are making progress. To forget is good but the heart must also learn to forgive. Is that not why I am here, I ask him boldly. You must forget the war now and move on your life, the psychologist says but because he is a man, I feel I must become submissive. I must become a fragile flower. I must be dominated. He ends the session by saying my money is running out. It is essential that I see someone on the outside though.
I concur. I do not know what he talking about though. I know someone will be waiting for me with a car to pick me up. They will take me home. The nurse does not smile at me. She does not acknowledge me. Finally, I knock on the door. Yes, she says. I forgot what I wanted from you. You took so long to acknowledge me, I said. She says nothing and goes on reading her fashion magazine. She does not look like the cover of a glossy.
I feel sorry for her. She is pretending to be something that she is not. Many women do this. If I could expose the fashion industry, I would. All I have in my head now are stories of men and women. Their vulnerable children. When I was a war photographer, the wide-open spaces nourished my soul. The women that I met at the refugee camps who were mothers and daughters. I realised the sparseness of fiction. They became my friends, those women and I loved them as mothers love their daughters even though I was their same age.
There is something so concrete about my thinking now. It will have the death of me. This feast of lions, tigers and wolves. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. I felt a fire in the network of my veins. Platelets floating by on thin wisps, wafers of air. I was a condemned woman carrying a torch. In this line of work, you can sometimes forget the thin line between life and death. You cannot have an invasion without the past.
I can never take that something back. I can never take those words back. I can never take that knock, knock, knocking on the door back.
My deadliness were like leaves. Beautiful to look at. I knew I always had something to do. Something to finish. I thought I was an artist. There is no art to a charred body.
The pause, whenever the women I spoke to in a refugee camp with a translator came to a pause, was filled with a strange anxiety and in turn, I was filled with an urgency to take the picture before it was too late.
Some days I thought this job would be the death of me. In some ways it was. In others, I never felt more alive than when I was looking death square in the face.
The women when they talked about rape I cried with them. I became overwhelmed. I became emotional. It was as if it had happened to me to me too. Stories about sexual violence. I would tell the mothers to keep their daughters close to them. I would tell them I would pray for them. They would just cry. One woman would not stop crying when I asked if I could take her picture. She asked me if it was for the newspapers. Yes, I said it was.
Then that must mean that you are very important, she said. The translator looked at me for a reply. I said that no I was not important. The pictures that I took where more important than I was.
What do you want? What do you want me to bring for you the next time I slip across the border in the early hours of the morning? Chocolate. Bring me chocolate. The American soldiers always give our boys chocolate and then she hid her face behind her scarf and did not say anything to me again except to say. This is the last time I will be seeing you. All I could say was maybe. I will remember you. She told me. This woman had so much grace.
More grace than any other woman I had ever met in my life. More grace and elegance than my own mother had.
My mother is picking me up from the hospital. She asks me if I am happy which her way of asking do I still remember is. I tell her what she wants to hear. Yes, I am happy to be leaving that place. The hospital? She asks at a red light. Yes, the hospital, I answer. She asks me when I am going back. Back where. I pretend I do not know what she is asking me. You know very well what I am asking you, she says. I say nothing. I say nothing at all. I think that is best.
We ride in silence all the way to my childhood home. Do you remember the man? The man who did it? No, I answer her. I am putting my travels on hold for a while. I think I will just stay here. Stay as long as you want to, my mother says. It is almost as if she is trying to reach out to me. You do not have to talk to me about it today. Perhaps tomorrow. She is pressing me. She needs to know what happened to her brilliant daughter out there in the wilderness.
There is a hunt. A hunting I must go. To discover the past. Try to remember, my mother says. I do not want to. I do not care to remember. She cannot understand this. You do not understand what I have seen. I try to explain to her. I can try and she holds me to her chest while I cry as if I was a little girl again bullied on the playing fields of childhood by the popular girls, the mean girls. How did you ever survive?
He stamped his boot in my face and demanded my pictures. Called me a European. European trash. Worse things could have happened to me, I tell her. Well, my mother the optimist says, it is over now. There are other things in life that a woman your age can do. I am going back I say. No, no, no. You are not going back there. Leave it to the men. When you got off the plane, I hardly recognised you.
This is what I do. I take pictures. I tell her about the Americans I met over there. The American men and women. You mean soldiers ,Elena. Well, to me they were just American men and women serving their country. These affairs of yours are just affairs. I do not understand you sometimes Elena. We, your father and I did not bring you up like this. I say nothing. I only remember arguments late at night behind closed doors.
A packed suitcase that was there in the early hours of the morning but was gone at the break of day. You think you are so perfect I wanted to yell at her. You must have a death wish to go to the countries you go to Elena. My father says nothing. He sits at the breakfast table reading his newspaper, eating his eggs and his hot, buttered toast. Drinking his lukewarm tea. Always tea. He smiles at me. He winks at me as if I was a child again.
As if to say, do not pay your mother any attention. I do not. Elena, you have become prettier. Is what he said when I got off the plane? Yes, dad. I laughed and he smiled. He looks young when he smiles. I go and see a therapist. I hate it but I go anyway. I know he will ask me questions and some of what I will say will be hazy. He will ask me if I am all right and I will say I am only trying to remember.
It is difficult to remember. I remember everything about my childhood. My mother. My father. Their relationship. I do not know anything about intimacy. What is love? I am lost. I am at a loss for words. Please be patient with me. The therapist would look at me for a very long time with his sad eyes and his long face. He is as old as my father is. Indian. There is nothing green here. The interiors of his office space is like the desert.
I want to go back there. I met women and children who live their lives with boots being stamped in their faces. If they can live with it then so can I. I know I am being brave but my mother thinks I am not thinking. If you can only imagine scores of women in tents. Refugees who have no country. Who have faced war, who have been displaced, who have lost their husbands, their children, their homes. I can tell you many stories.
A picture can tell a thousand stories. I think that is why I do it. If I were a writer, I would write books. I am no poet but my favourite book is The Bell Jar. I feel incomplete. It is like jazz to me, that book. I could read it repeatedly. The copy that I carry around with me is well thumbed and dog-eared. I speak. The Indian therapist listens. He nods his head. Sometimes he writes something down on his scribbler.
He is making notes. That shows progress I surmise. I think of the people that I met when I was in the desert. The soldiers who have died. The vultures that circled malnourished children. People can be vultures too. Women can be Eves. Men can be Adams’s. All I feel is winter building up inside of me. I feel the autumn chill inside my mind. To make me happy my mother is making a cheesecake with black cherries. I saw your pictures Elena.
Elena, they are good. For goodness sake, is this what the newspapers really want? You know we have supported you.
All I wanted her to say was, ‘you are a wise mouthpiece for the voiceless scaling the barnyards of war’.
© Short fiction by Abigail George March 2016
Email address: abigailgeorge79 at gmail.com
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