Fiction

Photographic Memory

 story by Mahima Khetiya

 

***

“I have a photographic memory,” the old man living in the tiny, stinky studio apartment on 5th Avenue used to say to people. He said he remembered the engraved date on an old Picasso painting that he had once seen in an art gallery. He remembered every phone number he had dialled. He also remembered the day he had seen snow for the first time when he was a child.

Not that people cared. People hardly cared about him. He had no one, except his own mind and a diseased cat that he had named Minnie.

The old man loved taking a walk at 2 in the afternoon, when there were lesser people on the road and he could take pictures without people staring at him. He almost felt like people had never seen an old photographer. Maybe they really had never.

People used to think for quite some time that he liked using the phrase “photographic memory” because he was a photographer. But then again, that didn’t make sense and they didn’t care enough to give it a thought.

On one of his afternoon walks, he clicked a picture of a little girl on her orange bicycle, cycling furiously on the road. She had a bouquet of lilies strapped to her back, and for some reason, the contrast of white and orange attracted Jerry enough to capture it into his camera. He headed back home, transferred the pictures onto his computer—a piece of junk that seemed like a blow of wind would shake the mainframe and shatter the machine.

Flipping through the pictures of last week and re-checking his mail once more to make sure that he had no reply from the company where he had gone for an interview a few days ago, he came across a picture he didn’t recognize.

It was of an old lady, munching on some bright pink candy floss just around the corner of his neighbourhood.

Another unrecognisable picture. A sparrow twittering in the early morning smog, perched on a pine tree.

Another one. The girl with the orange bicycle—except this one was taken three days ago.

Jerry almost ran to the police station. He claimed that someone had been taking pictures from his camera.

The officer made him sit, offered him a glass of water, and flipped through the unknown pictures.

He then flipped through the set of pictures that Jerry knew he had himself taken. He asked about the girl with the orange bicycle. Jerry shrugged and mumbled something about it being artistically pleasing.

The officer was intrigued by the man who looked like a homeless person, was an old photographer with no job and no family, and how his utmost concern was that someone was taking pictures from his camera that he could, otherwise, have passed off as his own and that would have landed him a job. He suggested the same thing to Jerry.

When Jerry walked home that evening, and checked his computer, he saw a new mail notification, but before he could go over and click on it, his cat let out a sick moan and scratched its ear with a dusty paw. Jerry noticed a rash, and checked the cob-webbed jar in which he used to store money.

Only three cents.

Sighing, he decided that it would do Minnie some good if she had some fresh air.

It was night when he returned, and he drank a bottle full of water, and called it a day.

 
***

Miles away from his studio apartment, the officer was sitting on his desk, inquiring the little girl with the orange bicycle.

The girl said she delivered flowers to people, and that she passed by that same route everyday at 2 to deliver a fresh bouquet of lilies to the widowed lady on the street across from where the old man lived. She claimed that she had no idea that the old man had ever taken a photograph of her. She definitely didn’t know Jerry so she surely did not know about the stranger taking photos, too.

Scratching his beard, the officer stepped out into the night’s crisp hair, and tried to understand how it was possible that a stranger sneaked into Jerry’s house, took photos and went away– without even deleting them. And such beautiful photos they were. Jerry even remembered the exact timing of every photo he had taken, and so he seemed pretty sure his photographic memory had no memory of the unknown photos. The officer believed his sincerity.

Yawning, he retired for the day. He concluded that Jerry must have taken his advice and would make some money out of the unknown photos.


***

Next morning, Jerry woke up, sat flipping through his photos, having some leftovers for breakfast, scouring the streets with his diseased cat, and randomly striking up a conversation with some homeless people in the dark alley behind his apartment. He told them how he remembered the engraved date on an old Picasso painting that he had once seen in an art gallery. He remembered every phone number he had dialled. He also remembered the day he had seen snow for the first time when he was a child.

He went home, refreshed his mail, awaiting the reply from the company, ignoring the mail he had received yesterday. He put it in the spam folder.

Flipping through the pictures of the last week and re-checking his mail once more to make sure that he had no reply from the company where he had gone for an interview a few days ago, he came across a picture he didn’t recognize.

It was of an old lady, munching on some bright pink candy floss just around the corner of his neighbourhood.

Another unrecognizable picture. A sparrow twittering in the early morning smog, perched on a pine tree.

Another one. The girl with the orange bicycle—except this one was taken four days ago.

Jerry almost ran to the police station. He claimed that someone had been taking pictures from his camera.

The officer leaned back, as realization dawned on him.

He asked Jerry what he was doing the day those photos were taken. He said he was sleeping.

And yet later that day, when the officer talked to the old lady who was photographed eating candy floss in the unknown picture, she gave a toothless smile and said how Jerry had asked her to pose that morning, and how she pitied him for not remembering things, how he had been like that for years, how she had been secretly taking his sick cat to the vet so she wouldn’t die and leave him all alone with his forgetful mind.

When the officer nodded sympathetically, thanked her and was about to leave, she touched his arm with her wrinkled hand, and told him, “Officer, do let him live under the impression that he has a photographic memory. That is the only thing he constantly remembers.”
 
 
 
Mahima Khetiya is a writer from Mumbai, India. A 20 year old English Literature student, blogger and bookstagrammer she has a passion for reading, writing short-fiction, novels and a little bit of poetry. She always reads more than she writes, and buys books more than she reads them. Currently co-authoring a novel to be published the following year by Bombaykala Publications. She likes looking at white flowers, aesthetic things, and old buildings.

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