The Guest Photographer & Short Story Series is back!
For this project, the guests were asked to submit three sets of photographs, the choice was entirely theirs and were not necessarily confined to a particular genre or theme. The short stories that ensue are based on the set of photos submitted, and the title of the photograph is imbedded in the story. The project has been dormant for a while but it is back with the Class of 2020, as a tribute to the outstanding work of the photographers and a celebration of enduring friendship! The stories will rotate according to photographer, some linked and others as stand-alones.
The photographer: Kevin Haggith is a Toronto-based photographer whose soulful images combine geometry and artistry, showcasing the strength of architecture or magnificence of a city, but always crowned with a gentle sensitivity and imprints of human presence.
For more of his work visit his Instagram pages:
Black & White or Coloured
The screeching of the train on the heavy metal tracks of the Berlin Central Station were a clear indication to Herman that it was finally time to board his 10:47 EuroCity Train. His hand grasped the handle of the small carry-on suitcase he had packed after breakfast. There wasn’t much in it, other than two changes of clothes, an old journal, a book his housemate Robert had sheepishly thrust into his hands the night before, the usual toiletries, and wooden picture frame lovingly wrapped in a silk scarf. This last item he had kissed gently before inhaling the scent of the cloth, hoping against hope to find traces of a long-faded dream.
Well, it’s about time, he muttered to himself, and it better be cleaner than the previous one. Patting his jacket for the ticket and his reading glasses, Herman boarded the train and found his reserved seat by the window in the compartment. After stowing the case in the overhead rack, he carefully hung his tweed coat, and fished out a lace-trimmed handkerchief. Hannah, his niece and personal assistant, had made all the travel arrangements, as usual, and booked all his preferred options, beginning with a window seat. Closing his eyes and exhaling deeply, Herman rubbed the handkerchief softly between his thumb and index fingers, taking care not to create too much friction, on the frail cotton. After all, it was at least 60 years old, and his were not the first hands to care for it.
The compartment door slid open and the conductor stepped in to scan tickets. For this part of the journey, the crew was still German, so it would be no problem to ask questions along the way should the need arise.
Ah, Herr Schultz, escaping the Berlin heat for a few days? Asked the portly uniformed man as Herman handed over his ticket.
Escaping, yes, but not just the heat. I guess you could say I am running away from myself and everything I hold to be true. Nothing is what it used to be and I find no joy in my surroundings or the people I thought were my anchors. Home is just four walls now, a stack of bricks that seem to be pressing in closer and tighter. Berlin has become stifling, overcrowded and loud these past weeks. The usual pandemonium associated with drunken tourists and confused locals. You would think that after all these months of social distancing there would be far less people. Alas, I guessed wrong and everyone has flocked to Kreuzberg and Prenzlauerberg as if there was free beer flowing endlessly out of some magical fountain! I can’t stand the music either. It isn’t music what they play in the biergartens anymore, it’s just noise. People have lost their sense of rhythm and have no clue what beat their souls and feet should follow. Hardly anyone bothers to look Behind The Façade and discover the authentic person, or ask questions that draw out good old-fashioned conversation. Even the food tastes so fake, soulless. Whatever the mobile phone or computer says seems to be the gospel truth now. What do you think?
Beads of perspiration rolled down the side of the conductor’s face as he frowned back at Herman and contemplated the old man’s words. Being only two years away from retirement, he could partially understand the sentiments, but unlike Herman, he enjoyed his electronic gadgets, lived on the internet most of the time, and couldn’t imagine life without rock music. Yes, Berlin has changed so much in the past decade, that much I agree with you. We see it in the passengers that board the trains every day. Sometimes I think politeness and travel etiquette died with personal hygiene sometime in the 80s. In any case, have a nice trip and enjoy your holidays. May you find what you are looking for.
Before the door could slide shut and grant Herman some much needed peace and quiet, three young men stumbled in, unsure of their location and whether they had the right compartment. After confirming that they had indeed found their proper seats, they flung their backpacks onto the racks, flopped down onto the seats, simultaneously stretching their long legs while opening their soda bottles and unwrapping candy bars. Herman sighed, wrapped his fingers around the handkerchief tighter, and forced a smile. He estimated them to be between 17 and 19, but not more, and by the sound of their nervous chatter, this was their first holiday without adult supervision.
Ah to be so young and naïve again! Where are you headed boys?
Our first stop is Dresden, where we meet up with two other friends, then we move on to Chemnitz, pick up another friend, and continue to Bayreuth, Nuremberg and our last stop is Regensburg. We must be back in four days.
That is certainly and ambitious journey. I hope you have enough money and safe places to stay along the way. You can never be too careful these days.
Jan, the tallest of the three, grinned and replied Yes, we might have bitten off more than we can chew, but this will be our last holiday together, so we must make the most of it, no matter what.
Why so dramatic? You are all too young to speak with such finality, said Herman bemused.
Frank, the dark-haired boy, piped up – That’s just it, all our days are numbered and this is our only chance to have a normal holiday. You see, Jan here is being sent with the army to Syria next week. I have been assigned as a missionary to Ethiopia, and Thilo here has Stage 4 bone cancer. We have known each other since the day we were born. Our mothers met in the delivery ward and since we were all neighbours, went to the same primary school, and learned to ride a bike together in Grade 3, basically done everything together, good and bad, so we wanted to have a farewell tour before departing in Opposite Directions.
Herman’s eyes turned to Thilo, and it was only then that he noticed the small oxygen tank beside him and that Jan was wearing a medical pouch around his waist, presumably with the necessary medical supplies for Thilo, who lifted a pale hand in greeting. Exactly how old are you boys? Asked Herman softly.
Thilo spoke this time, but so softly that Herman had to lean forward to catch every word. We are all 25, but nobody ever believes us and assume we are only 17. But we seem to have been 17 for the past eight years! It is getting very tiring having to show our ID cards everywhere we go or being slapped in the face by the women we approach who think we are a bunch of horny teenagers. I am a paramedic, but none of my colleagues took me seriously the first two years! Ironic isn’t it, that I, the one who saves lives, will be the first to die.
Jan jumped back into the conversation, after chewing his candy bar. Thilo, my brother, we all save lives in our own way, we just chose different paths to do so. Besides, how do you know you will be the first to die? I might get shot the moment I land in Syria or maybe get thrown off the plane over Iraq and get shot in mid-air before my parachute opens! Frank here chose the most difficult path if you ask me, choosing to save souls aside from lives.
Frank smiled and raised his bottle to Jan I have tried to save your soul since you pulled down our teacher’s skirt in Kindergarten, but seem to have failed miserably. Look at you, all scrawny and in the army! If I couldn’t save your soul nor your ass, how am I supposed to do so in Ethiopia?
Herman smiled as tears ran down his cheek as he thought to himself and here you are, you arrogant bastard, selfish and over-confident, thinking you know it all and can do everything better than the rest, on the brink of giving up on the inherent goodness of humanity. Thilo’s soft voice jolted him back to the train compartment. I’m sorry Thilo, I didn’t catch that. What did you just say?
I just wanted to know that brings you to us on this fine day. You know our travel story, but I’ll be damned if I get off in Dresden not knowing where you are headed.
My name is Herman, and like you, I am on the journey of a lifetime, hoping to come full circle. There is a Slow Boat to Prague waiting to take me back to where my life ended and my beloved Annie took her final breath as she died in my arms. I have lived my life, saved others as a military doctor and chaplain, outlived friends and betrayed family. But I am tired, and the one life I desperately wanted to save I couldn’t, and I will never forgive myself for it.
Frank turned to face Herman directly, Whatever it is you are planning Herman, don’t do it. That boat can sail without you, and we will stay with you for as long as we can if you allow us. Stay with us, stay for us.
(To be continued…)