by Cherry Koshy
Allan realises there's something behind those snaps. Or someone...
Allan stared back proudly at the photos of his trip to Fujeirah and the Hajar mountains.
All through his waking life as an ambitious travel photographer, he would lead his equally ambitious bunch of photo hungry Turks who would crisscross the entire length and breadth of the Gulf every Friday, seeking out unique places completely off the map while unlocking new vistas for exploration and adventure.
But the identifying hallmark and sheer brilliance of his work lay in the interplay of shadows and lighting in every one of his photos.
Allan had a discerning eye for shadows outlining every one of his subjects, whether it meant shooting an old Omani tradesman working in front of his desk against an angry evening sky, or rugged rock that cast long outstretched and mysterious shadowy forms against broad sandy terrain. Every shadow told a story.
Sipping his cinnamon tea silently and munching a rather cold, vegetable sandwich, he thoughtfully walked to the balcony of his apartment overlooking Sheikh Zayed Road and stared out at the traffic below, his mind hunting for the next image that he would possibly capture.
Just then the doorbell rang.
A DHL courier man handed him a package at the door, and he signed for it, after dusting his hands free from the sandwich crumbs.
After closing the door, Allan, excitedly tore open the package, inside what felt like a gift-box, all covered in blue and silver classic wrapping with a small letter attached.
Sipping his tea, he read the contents of the letter out loud, “I have always been an ardent fan of your work. Inside this box is something I am sure you will appreciate, just a small token of my grandfather’s passion, which was wildlife photography, before he died. I would like to present this to you, since I have learnt a lot from you. Hope this inspires you.”
Allan smiled, and gently opened the box. Lying inside sheets of bubble wrap lay an old but handsome Kodak analogue camera, so old, it may easily have been from the sixties.
But what struck him most was the well-maintained condition of the lens, the steel and aluminum finish and the bulky frame of the camera.
“Well, “ he thought to himself, in a digital world, this seems so out of place, but maybe it makes pure business sense to gift this off at the nearest photography museum, because man, this seems so rare…his inner voice trailed off as his fingers accidentally hit a button, opening up a chamber and something fell on the floor.
Picking it up, Allan saw that it was a roll of film, neatly tucked away inside.
The find sent his pulses racing, as he became thoroughly intrigued about its contents. Forgetting all else, he quickly grabbed his car keys, slipped on a blue t-shirt and his dockers and rushed out the door to the nearest camera shop, the roll of film in his hands.
The old Kodak analogue camera sat still, basking in the faintly setting evening sun, next to its more advanced cousin, a Canon high-end digital camera.
Suddenly, blue bolts of lightning crackled like St. Elmo’s fire, static from the Kodak camera in short bursts, scurrying out across all directions, amorphous, amoebic brilliant light like radiant claws reaching as if to hold on to something in sheer desperation…finally finding its most obvious source, the unsuspecting Canon in one powerful umbilical connect.
A steady stream of crackling blue light poured out, emptying itself from the Kodak camera into the Canon.
And then the room went still into darkness, the crackling static shutting down into mute silence.
It was the first word that popped into Allan’s mind, an expression of pure relief as he finally found Alladin’s Rub, the old, corner shop photostudio famously regarded as the last analogue dinosaur one of its kind, a world where digital studios were the order of the day.
After a dark room dissolve, the negatives were finally developed and a couple of hours later over a combined street shopping break and dinner sojourn, he was holding the photos enclosed inside a brown envelope.
He opened the door to his house and got in, turning the lights on.
A rustling sound suddenly startled him and his eyes darted quickly to the dinner table on which his cameras were kept and…
Wait a minute, was that a dark shadow that just passed him by?
Unless his mind was numbed down to seeing shadows all day in his pictures, no it couldn’t be.
He waited, a bit tensed, perspiring in the humidity of the night standing still in the hall, the quietness enveloping him, heart pounding steadily.
Not a sound. Just a few car honks in the distance and the curtain rustling lightly. Maybe, that was what it was. The lights from the traffic were casting strange shadows on the ceiling, and the sound was probably chairs being shifted from some noisy resident above.
He then moved to the table, pulling his large oak chair and greedily tore open the envelope.
Inside, in classic Kodachrome retro colours were pictures of an old man, his ardent fan’s granddad, handsome with a trademark handlebar moustache and round face towering over his basketball mates in a group snap– every picture, frozen in time, a celebration of his finest moments as a basketball ace.
Lifting the cup, jumping to dunk in an ace shot, standing in the center of the court his lanky imposing frame eating everything around him, after party celebrations…a king of the sixties basketball craze.
But of course, his eyes fell beyond each of the subjects and on to the shadows in each picture. There was something about them, not the regular shadows in fact. These were somehow, different, incongruent, every one of them reflecting matchless forms.
One of them, the one with him standing centre court looked like a giant toad, the one with him lifting the cup was something else completely – almost like a witch on a broomstick…how could this be?
Or was his active shadowy mind seeing the angles in an unusual manner?
Just then he heard a metallic click coming from…the table on which his cameras were kept.
Walking to the old Kodak camera, he carefully placed it in a box filled with cardboard foam bubbles and confetti, and closed the lid shut. Sticking it carefully with tape round the corners, he added a line with the marker that said: “Museum Curio” and pushed it to one side.
Ah, the thought of seeing the grandad’s old camera in a techno museum of sorts and those handsome royalties being paid for it was already filling his commercially hungry mind.
Here’s to a successful me, he thought, his mental getup throwing projections of himself, beaming like a star already on the paths of glory and lifting his Samsung mobile as he clicked his first selfie of the evening.
He then went selfie-crazy, clicking a few more in quick succession: one against a painting, one in his studio, one in the study, and one in the library.
He then slouched down tired, on to his sofa with the weight of a man with a load on his mind… and pressed the review button to view his pictures.
They were all exactly as he expected them to be, all at classic selfie angles.
But somehow different…
Each picture had distinct shadowy silhouettes not relating to the subject at all. One had a toad, another one looking like a pregnant demon with horns, one resembling a bent old man, another looking exactly like the shape of the tall and lanky granddad.
Except that this time, the last shadow turned into an actual face, the face of the basketball crazy grand dad, looking sinister, menacing, glaring back at him.
Allan opened his mouth to scream, but his voice was immediately drowned out as the amorphous shadow stretched out its long dark sinewy arms from a nether world choking his neck and, dragging him into the picture…
And all was silence as the sofa rocked silently, throwing long dark shadows against the wall.