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The Collector of Vignettes

The Collector of Vignettes

“Me, I’m a widower,” said the man. “I get pretty lonely, meet women, think I’ll have some company, find out all they want is my money.”

“I imagine that does happen,” I said, not that he was listening. “Some women are like that. But not all of us, thank goodness.”

“Try and take you for everything you have.” Finally, the eyes shifted my way, sizing me up. For a confidence, a tale of woe? “What do you do in life? You have a job?” No, he was just making certain he hadn’t run up against another female bloodsucker.

“Not what you’d call a normal job. I’m a photographer.”

“Oh. Photos, huh? What kind of photos? Marriages? Baptisms, things like that?”

“No. I’m an artist.”

He peered at me again, this time with overt mistrust. “You mean scenery? Portraits?”

“Well, sort of.”

“My son, now, he’s a great photographer, takes great photos, I can guarantee that! We even had a few of them framed. Photos of his kids, photos of the places he goes to with the wife. The works. He’s good enough to be a professional. Perfect photos, sharp, great colours. Of course, with the kind of camera he has, they couldn’t be anything else. You should see the material. Expensive? The best of everything. So, tell me, what kind of photos you take?”

“Black and white.”

“Black and white? What for? These days you have colour photos so perfect, you think you can reach out, touch the trees. If your equipment’s good enough, that is.”

“And blurry,” I said.

“What’s blurry?”

“The photos I take. Black and white and completely blurry.”

He laughed. Then stopped laughing. “This is a joke, right? Blurry. And you say you’re a professional photographer? Come on.”

“No joke.” I wasn’t about to mention I use plastic toy cameras most of the time. Such a revelation would require boring explanations, tedious justifications, and would only net me sneers.

“Okay, come on. Tell me what this is all about. Blurry photos. Black and white. What for? Why bother?”

“It’s a question of aesthetics.”

“Oh yeah? Aesthetics? Oh right.” His eyes flicked over towards my empty glass. Flicked back to my face. “Another drink?”

“Thank you. I’d love one.”

He flapped his hand in the waiter’s direction. “Actually, I should get around to taking some photos too. My friends are always telling me that. The places I get to in the world! The things I see, you wouldn’t believe it! I’m a real traveller now that I’m on my own. Not organised trips with groups, you know. I wouldn’t go on one of those things — I’m too independent a guy. But sometimes you have to have other people around. Like in Madagascar. There we were, straight through the jungle with twenty-two porters carrying our tents and food. And musical instruments, too, because at night, after they prepared the site and cooked our food, they played music for us. But let me tell you, it was dangerous out there. We wouldn’t have survived without the protection of those porters. You see what I mean?”

“I do indeed.”

“I could tell you things you'd never imagine. Like, I go to Brazil and our group spends eight days on horseback in the bush, right? You how hard that was? And then Carnival! Now, that was something. Women? Gorgeous.” He leaned forward, as if to impart a deep, fascinating secret. “Gorgeous bodies. But no big breasts. You know why? Because big breasts aren’t important over there. You know what’s important? Big bums. They get silicone put into the cheeks.” He sat back in his chair again, looked satisfied. Waited for my cry of astonishment and/or shock.

“Oh?” I said, trying to sound politely interested. The price of the second whiskey.

“Yeah, really!” He was disappointed. “Gorgeous, the women. Sexy. And always making advances. As a man, you don’t have to do a thing. You can have a woman every five minutes if you want. No reticence. Just fun and laughter and good times.”

“I suppose that’s why the world’s over-populated.” I said, smiled to show I wasn’t being antagonistic. Not overtly, anyway. Just your average polite listener, your average collector of vignettes.

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