Cameras always seemed fascinating to Palm. Her first camera was a special gift from her mom on her fifteenth birthday. Since that day, she started capturing anything and everything under the light of the sun. It brought her pure joy to be able to freeze moments in time.
Things have changed since then...
Today, at forty, there seemed to be a little more to photography than preserving moments. As Palm wandered about on nameless streets for years, capturing people in the midst of activities, the purpose became evident.
Capturing the essence of life—isn’t that what it’s really about?
When she decided to arrange this exhibition, this reflection had motivated her. After countless years on the move and innumerable pictures stored in her collection, she chose only ten for today's exhibition.
These were her most prized pictures; all of them possessed that essence. Palm decided to run over each of them once before the exhibition opened.
Exhibit A: Ambition
A man pedaling through the roads of Ishwarpur, Haryana. Palm had spotted him passing through multiple times on the same day, during her stay in the village. When she enquired the locals about him, they had very little to say. All they knew was that the man had three jobs.
It would start at daybreak with distributing newspapers on his bicycle. Then he would return home to change his clothes for his job as the Maths teacher at the village school. After that, he would work his last job for the day—as a purohit tending to the evening rituals at the village temple.
The reason was speculated to be his sick wife and little children back home. They said he was very ambitious for wanting to put them through college someday and send them off to the city. His wife’s treatment was very expensive as well.
Palm was intrigued. She waited around at dawn one day. He never noticed her clicking away at his approaching figure.
Exhibit B: Dream
Kim Yonjun had a rough start in life. He grew up in abject poverty with abusive parents. When he didn’t go to his part-time job after school, as his parents insisted, his father would tie him to a chair and torture him till he agreed to work. He would put out cigarettes on the boy’s hand. By the age of eight, Yonjun had stopped screaming. He just sat and endured until his father got tired.
That was the answer he gave during the interview when asked about what motivated him to move all the way to New York from South Korea at the age of 16.
At the time of this interview, his multimillion-dollar business chain was creating a buzz in the industry. That’s why Palm tagged along to click some good shots of Mr. Kim for a newspaper article. She got more than just pictures, though.
When the last question was asked—if the uber-successful Kim Yonjun had a dream—his answer sent a chill down Palm’s spine. He said he always wanted to have some free time to sleep to his heart’s content, never to work again.
Exhibit C: Tears
Morina. That’s her name. Palm worked with her in Prague during a short stint there. There was a strangeness to her that Palm never quite grasped.
They took the same road home together after work. Every time they reached the shade of a particular tree next to a bench, Morina would go silent and shed a few tears. The first few times, Palm was taken aback and tried to comfort Morina. She asked for the reason countless times; all in vain. Morina would wipe off her tears as soon as they came and start smiling again. All she ever said was that it was a quirk of hers; there was not much more to it.
One day, Palm caught Morina off-guard and snapped a picture. Morina protested meekly. Palm pressed for the reason for her sudden tears. All she said was, “your tears keep you alive as much as your smile does”.
Exhibit D: Smile
Palm was having a bad spell that summer in Barcelona. Someone stole her wallet and mobile on the streets. It was a case of pickpocketing; Barcelona is notoriously known for it. But it was too late by the time she realized it.
None of her pictures, so far, were satisfactory either. To top it off, the heat was killing her. Walking back to her hotel, s she felt parched and sat in the shade of a building. It felt like the universe was against her. There was no way she could fight this curse.
Just then, a little boy came out of nowhere. He seemed shy but excited. He pointed at Palm's camera and said, “Miss, will you click a picture of me, please? I’m wearing my new shirt.” A smile grazed Palm’s tired face. One click, and the boy was elated. Shortly after, he ran away, giggling his heart out.
Exhibit E: Beauty
Supermodel Ino Postova; her fame knew no bounds in Ukraine. She was the icon of sensuality. Every product she advertised would sell out. Every event she attended would swarm with fans. It would seem like she was a falling star; everyone wished to see her, just to make a wish.
Palm had the opportunity of working with her on an editorial shoot for a magazine. It was the most beautiful yet saddest face Palm had ever seen; eyes that always looked out the window, as if longing for something. A cigarette on her lips in between shoots; she never spoke a word to anyone on set, except for the occasional “hmm”, “yeah”, and “no”.
When Palm got news of her suicide a few years ago, she was glad she saved this one picture.
Exhibit F: Friends
In the park near Palm's house, she witnessed an endearing scene one day. Palm had gone for a stroll a few hours before sunset.
As she was sitting on a bench, she saw a little girl in a white dress running after a bunny. She tripped and fell and the bunny escaped. As she sat there bracing her hurt knee with tears in her eyes, Palm wondered where her parents were.
Then she saw another little girl in a black dress approaching. She came to the other girl and said, "I told you, you can never catch a rabbit. It's better to look at them from a distance. My mom always says that. Now get up. We can ride the swings together." She helped her friend up, and together they went towards the swing, holding hands.
Palm was glad she had her camera with her that day. She never left home without it after that.
Exhibit G: Artist
Why do people paint? Palm always wondered.
Blood, sweat, and tears; so much effort put into each piece. And what does it culminate into? Does the world really need another painting? What difference would it have made if some of these paintings never existed? People, much like their efforts, are so inconsequential; they might just vanish tomorrow and it would be like they never existed.
People say “art is an expression”, but we aren’t able to fully express everything. There are always certain nuances we never meant to create. Then is our creation ever our own? When a painter looks at their final creation, is it ever what they intended it to be? Why do people take on so much pain of disappointment, failure, self-doubt, insecurity, and indifference for something that can never truly be theirs?
Mr. Morrison here probably doesn’t think so much. That’s why he is able to paint. His brush never stops; not in the last 20 years that Palm has known him.
Exhibit H: Death
In the garage of St. Claire hospital, Palm spotted two women wailing and shivering while clenching each other. Her hand naturally reached for her camera. She felt both guilty and curious. So, she lingered a while longer and peeped from inside her car.
She overheard their muffled words and could barely make out any meaning.
One of them kept saying, "I told him..so many times...not to go skiing. I…I.. should've begged him to stay."
The other woman tried to console her. She said, "It wasn't your fault, mom. He never listened to any of us."
The mom said, "He..he...was with us...just two... two...days ago. What should I…. should I...tell his father, once he returns?"
Palm didn't need to hear anymore. She drove off swiftly.
Exhibit I: Love
Palm's two best friends in the world, Laura and Raghav. The three of them had been friends since their college days. Laura and Raghav always had a crush on each other but never had the nerve to confess. They would tease each other so much that a new fight would break out almost every other day.
They were the models for many of Palm's initial photoshoot experiments. Although she lost many of those early pictures, she kept this one safe. It captured her friends perfectly. To think they got married last year still made Palm very happy.
Their love story is one of a kind. They've left each other so many times—for jobs, goals, fights, heartbreaks, dreams, and different lives. But somehow they always crossed paths. Both of them have said the same thing to Palm on separate occasions—"When we're together, it's like we never parted ways. We have always been together, even when we didn't realize it."
Exhibit J: Humour
The man who inspired Palm to do this exhibition; she met him on a trek in Nepal. He owned a horse stable and gave horseback rides to travelers on uphill treks.
It was a narrow path and Palm had never ridden a horse before. And this peculiar black horse that she was on seemed to have a death wish; it veered towards the cliff every few minutes. Palm's heart would race when she gazed into the dark abyss beneath.
Meanwhile, the man walking with the horse's lead rope in his hands kept yapping about his life. Only when the horse went too close to the cliffside would he notice and pull the rope tight.
Palm couldn't take it anymore. She implored, "Why are you letting the horse get so close to the edge? I am going to die if it slips over the edge."
The man said nonchalantly, "Ah, death! It’s no big deal here in the mountains. My father always said—when you die, just think about the person you love."
She asked, "And what about you? Who would you think about when you die? Who do you love the most?"
He said, "My fourteen horses. Whom do you love?"
Palm said, "My camera".
Both of them had a hearty laugh on their way to the base camp where Palm requested him to smile for a picture.
It was already opening time, already. Palm was proud of the pictures she had selected for the exhibition. She went to the entrance hall to uncover the exhibition title. She swiftly removed the red cloth covering the banner.
It read “The World Is Round.”
“In more ways than one”, Palm thought to herself.
This Night Owl Original has been authored by Sreejani, She is a writer and a student of Comparative Literature based in Kolkata, trying her best to make the most out of life while writing about what moves her. She hopes that whatever she writes, can help one feel something, no matter where they are situated on the map of the world.