by Bahram Sadeghi
translated from the Persian by Kaveh Basmenji
There is something invisible, like a hand,
which I cannot see, but I can feel, I can comprehend.
It pushes me this way and that…
Okay! Raise your head a little. Open up your eyebrows. Smile. Look into the camera. I’ll count to three. Be careful not to move. Otherwise your portrait will be no good. Ready! One, two, three...
Two nights later, he was climbing the stairs of the photo shop to collect his picture. He was clutching in his hand the receipt given to him by the photographer. He remembered that two nights earlier the photographer had asked,
And he had given his name.
—Regular six by four? How about a postcard size as well?
And he had answered,
—Just one... as a sample.
—It’ll be ready the day after tomorrow... eight in the evening.
Before opening the door, he looked at his watch and saw that it was already past eight. He whispered to himself,
—It must definitely be ready by now.
The photographer’s assistant, who was sitting at a desk, stood up for him. He sat down on a chair after returning his salutation. He looked at the assistant without recognition.
—It would seem that he’s not in?
—Yes... yes... he was here just now.
He took the receipt out of his pocket and put it on the desk. The photographer’s assistant picked it up read it and nodded respectfully:
—Yes, sir, it’s for tonight…But you have to wait for him to come.
He was about to say, “I’m terribly busy”. He only managed to say, “I’m terrible …” and sank into the chair. The assistant must understand that he had left his business to come and collect his photographs, and that he was upset to find that the photographer was not in, but what could he do? He found it better to busy himself with something. He started to turn the pages of an album.... He asked again,
—Isn’t he coming?
—Of course he is. In a few minutes...
He occupied himself looking at the photographs pinned on the wall.
After a quarter of an hour, the photographer arrived. As he came in he started a conversation.
And to his assistant:
—Has the gentleman been here long?
And again to him:
—I’ll give them to you right now.
He rose from the chair, went to the desk, leaned his hands on its edge. The photographer fetched the photo from his workshop:
—Let me see, are they here? Yes, there they are.
He held out his hand and took the photos. He looked at them briefly, and then:
—Not these. You’ve made a mistake.
—How come? What do you mean ... ?
—You’ve made a mistake. I don’t have a moustache, these photos have a moustache... Besides, I don’t wear a hat.
The photographer took the photos abruptly. He looked at them carefully, and then at his face:
—Strange... but they resemble you very much.
—Resemble? I don’t see much resemblance... I can’t make head or tail of them.
The photographer hesitated a little. His assistant had left a while before (he had found it better to leave because he did not know what to do). He went into the workshop, fetched another bunch of photos and scattered them on the desk. While examining, he was whispering:
—Couldn’t be these.
They were photos of a girl.
—And not these.
Of a woman.
Of a child.
He looked at the photo and the man:
—This one’s very much like you. Hasn’t got a hat... But still it’s got a moustache.
He bent his head forward:
—Let me see... No hat...
And he added:
—What do you mean, it’s very much like you? How could I think that’s my photo? Can’t I see my own face? Can’t I remember what it looks like? Don’t you have an order number to make sure the photos don’t get mixed up? Don’t you put numbers on them?
—Yes... We attach numbers to them, and we do have an order number. But what’s to be done with a careless fellow? It’s this assistant’s fault. He’s mixed them all up. He’s made a muddle. For example, look at this: there are three series of photos all bearing the same number as on your receipt... What a mistake to employ an assistant after all these years! As if he’s come from behind the mountains... He’s not got a clue...
—What am I to do then? How long have I got to stand here, Mr. Photographer?
The photographer was still examining the photos.
It was the picture of a historic monument.
—Aha... that’s it.
He grabbed the photo.
—How could you say that’s it? There’s nothing about it that looks like me. I have never worn a jacket like that.
The photographer sat down. He replied impatiently:
—It’s no longer any business of ours. Maybe you had a jacket like that two days ago, and have changed it since.
The photographer stood up again. He shrugged:
—We don’t have any other photos here. It must be one of these...
He was grinding his teeth together. After he calmed down a little, he said:
—These aren’t my photos. Six six-in-four photos and a postcard size, you’ve received the money, you’ve got to deliver...
The photographer put three series of photos before him.
—There you are, sir. Respectfully. There’s no reason to get angry. I really don’t understand. All three look like you, they’re your photos. One with moustache and a hat, one with moustache and without a hat, and one without moustache and without a hat. You can pick whichever you like.
—Whichever I like? What’s it got to do with liking? With respect! Mr. Photographer! You’re either nuts or trying to make fun of me. Are you not a craftsman? Haven’t you ever had customers? Don’t you want to have a respectable job and life? Where on earth when someone goes to collect his photos, is he given three different photos, made a fool of, told that all three are your photos, pick whichever you like? Were you blind two days ago when you took my photo? I neither had a moustache, nor a hat, nor my jacket was like this.
The photographer was irritated by now. He rubbed his hands together and tried to keep himself calm. Politely and distinctly, he replied:
—It’s all true, all logical, I agree. I swear to God that it’s all the fault of this stupid, foolish assistant of mine who’s mixed them all up; who’s confused the numbers. Otherwise, I would’ve given you your photos at once, without all this fuss and argument. But I’m totally astonished at how much these three photos look like you. As if it’s you yourself. I really don’t know if they belong to you or someone else resembling you... I don’t know what’s happened to your original photo... How is it possible ... How couldn’t you recognise your own face?
—Could you recognise it yourself?
—Why not? Just show me a photo of myself, no matter when it’s been taken, and I’ll immediately tell you whether it’s mine or not. I’m astonished...
—Astonished? Are all the people in the world obliged to recognise their own pictures? Now you’re a photographer, it’s your profession. But which hen could recognise its own egg? Look how they cheat people... how they waste their time for three or four days, keep them from their life and business, and then answer like this...
The photographer was about to burst into tears. He took a mirror out of his pocket and gave it to him.
—It’s quite easy. Look! See if you look like these photos or not.
He took the mirror and looked into it. And then, holding the mirror in his hand, he sat on the chair. He was whispering bitterly below his breath.
And then he suddenly gave the mirror to the photographer, held his head in his hands, pressing it. The photographer asked in a low voice:
He stood up. He walked to the desk again. He picked up the photos, looked at them, and gave them to the photographer. The photographer said:
—If you wait, the owners of these photos will come. It’s not bad to get known to your lookalikes.
He moved towards the door:
—It’s all hocus-pocus. None of them are my photos. It’s not clear what’s happened to my real photo. Maybe you didn’t take my picture at all. To hell with you and your photography.
When he left, the photographer started walking round the room like madmen.
—Oh God, I’m going crazy. How could he not recognise himself? How come all these photos looked like him? I’m about... I’m about to throw myself out of the window.
His assistant came back:
—Did he get his photos? I saw him going into the photo shop opposite here.