The Photographer – by Carolyn Wallace

Primrose Hill Short Story Entry

I’ve searched for three weeks but haven’t caught a glimpse of them yet, though not entirely sure what I am looking for as it could be a woman but maybe it’s a man? Stealth, that’s what they have mastered, unseen they appear, snap, then melt away. Are invisible people a new form of tech now? Things move on so quickly I can’t keep up. Cars that run on electricity, talking to people via a flat screen, stir fry’s, watches that are phones, all new to me. I slink around trying not to be seen watching everyone carefully but no joy, so far. I wonder if I should use a disguise and if so should it be something unusual, like a chicken or a banana. It would certainly hide my face – but maybe it would prove too heavy and I would not be able to walk at all.

We have all seen the photographs, they’re regularly sent to the landlords with a complaint but the snapper’s identity is still unknown. There’s my image sitting less than two metres apart from a friend, my picture taken by an unseen camera, how outrageous, there’s a spy on our estate! Other images showed a group chatting and enjoying an early evening get together, people just sitting, passing the time during lockdown – most of the chairs were on the marked crosses but due to the angle they appeared closer but are they then still considered against the law?

I decide, as I am only tiny I can easily disguise myself as a bush, crouched down I can squat for hours, but ‘she’ does not appear. (Thinking about it I’ve decided it’s more likely to be a woman, the secret vendetta against those seen to break the rules does not seem to be something a man would bother with so I will refer to the spy as ‘she’ in future.) It’s better if nobody knows what I’m doing, they’ll just think I am indoors hiding from the virus, while I have every intention of unmasking the secret photographer. It’s good to have another hobby, knitting can be tedious, concentrating the mind is good for the elderly, they say. What I do wonder is who is ‘they’? Somewhere in Whitehall there is an office with ‘They’ on the door. Men in suits spend hours producing sound bites of advice such as ‘use it or lose it’, ‘stay alert’, ‘five a day’ and other bites of rubbish we are meant to obey!

The mess round here is disgusting. Dropped cigarette ends, empty cans of beer and bottles of wine discarded now exploding out of the bins, if ‘she’ highlighted this it would at least have some purpose but residents sitting, quietly, chatting a little too close, will only affect them, won’t it? I’ve been three days now in the bush. I gave up crouching as when I stood up I found that I had lost the use of my legs. It can happen as an old friend tells me to use them or lose them, and I do precious little at the moment but it was still a shock. I crawled to a place where there was some support and pulled myself up, another resident saying a sprightly ‘good afternoon’, as I hobbled on my now virtually redundant legs, did not look surprised. (The feeling came back eventually though I had googled disability transport just in case they were damaged for life, have you seen the cost of those buggy things?)
Getting old is nothing but a succession of body parts failing! If I were a vehicle I could book myself into the body shop but I’m a human and spare parts are difficult to come by.
I now sit in the middle of the bush which makes getting up a rather inelegant manoeuvre as I roll over onto all fours grunting and push myself up…. grabbing a strong branch from the bush for aid. It’s an enlightening experience being in a bush, I hear things I shouldn’t hear, see things not meant for me and I now know who drinks the alcohol and scatters the cigarette ends! I wonder whether I should take a picture of them and send it to the office but someone might object to my interference, so maybe I should crack the case of the anonymous photographer first.

I sometimes think I am invisible; I can walk around without anyone speaking to me which is a good thing as I don’t remember many people’s names, and when most of my time outside is spent in a bush conversation is limited. Last week I realized that I had not spoken to anyone, except myself, for six days! The resident Robin is very sweet, he comes into the bush and sings for me and I believe if I took some seed for him he would eat it out of my hand. Can one consider that a chat, or do I have to respond to make it a conversation? Maybe I should order some seed in my Sainsbury order but I’d rather buy cake – a certainty that will be eaten, unlike the bird seed. My horizon is definitely shrinking and there’s still no sign of the undercover agent!

Somebody has just said they know who it is. The photographer’s flat overlooks the seating area and the images taken leaning out of the window. I have stopped my search – it’s not as much fun when the subject is known. I have learnt a new skill set though creeping round without being seen, I just need to find a use for it.

Today the photographer presented herself to the group, camera poised she told us we were breaking the law… she was greeted with protest and fury. Fear of catching the virus makes some behavior seem extreme and it all seemed rather futile and sad, maybe she needs a hobby?

The cigarette ends and cans are still there.

Today I brought out my camera!

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