Ali Salami

The Tangled Skein By Bahram Sadegh

There is an invisible force, like an invisible hand, which I cannot see but can feel and sense. It moves me and guides my actions.

“ Look alive! Tilt your chin upwards. Unfold your forehead. Show us a grin Direct your gaze at the camera. I’ll count to three and you’d better hold still like a statue so that the picture does not blur. Are you ready? And… one, two and a three!”

Two evenings later, he climbed the stairs of the photo studio to collect his photo, holding the receipt the photographer had given him in his hand. He remembered how the photographer had inquired two evenings earlier:

“Your name, sir?”

He had given his name.

“The standard six by four format? Maybe postcard size?”

He had replied: “Just one… as a sample.”

“It’ll be ready tomorrow night… at eight.”

Before he even opened the door, he realized that it was already past eight of the clock and muttered to himself, “It must be ready by now.”

The photographer’s assistant, who was sitting behind the desk, stood up as he approached. After exchanging a greeting, the assistant sat back down. He looked at the assistant in confusion: “The boss isn’t here?”

“No… they have just gone out.”

“This receipt…”

He pulled the receipt out of his pocket and placed it on the desk. The assistant picked it up, read it and nodded respectfully, “Yes, sir, this is for tonight… but you’ll have to wait for the boss.”

He wanted to express his frustration that his work and life were on hold, but he only managed to say, “Work and life…” and dropped into the chair. The assistant, aware of the inconvenience caused by the photographer’s absence, suggested flicking through an album to pass the time. He inquired again, “They’re not coming back?”

“Why wouldn’t they? It could be any moment now…”

And he turned his attention to the photos on the wall…

After a quarter of an hour, the photographer arrived and immediately greeted him warmly:

“Welcome, sir.”

Turning to his assistant: “Has the gentleman been waiting long?”

And then to him: “I’ll bring it right away.”

He rose from his chair, approached the desk and leaned on its edge. The photographer came back with the photos from his workshop: “Let’s see, is this it? Yes, here it is.”

He grabbed the photos, took a quick look at them and then protested: “They’re not mine. There must be a mistake

“How so? You mentioned…”

“That’s a mistake. I don’t have a mustache, and you can see one in these photos… Besides, I don’t wear hats.”

The photographer looked at the photos again and then scrutinized his face: “Strange… You do look like the person in these photos.”

“Resemblance? What use is that to me… I’m puzzled.”

The photographer hesitated, and his assistant had already left because he did not know how to help. The photographer pulled out another set of photos and laid them out, muttering to himself, “These aren’t the right ones.”

The photo was of a girl.

“Neither is this one.”

It was of a woman.

“Not this one either.”

It was of a child.

“What about this one?”

He compared the photo with him: “This one has a resemblance. No hat, but still a mustache.”

He leaned forward to take a closer look and said, “Let’s see… no hat…”

“But what does ‘resemblance’ mean? How can I confirm that it’s mine? I don’t recognize my face, I don’t know what it looks like anymore. Isn’t there a system to avoid such confusion? Aren’t the photos numbered?”

“Sure… we label them, we have a system. But the problem is with the beginners. This apprentice has got everything mixed up. Completely mixed up. For example, there are three different sets of photos, all labeled with your receipt number… After years in the profession, we get an apprentice who seems completely lost… as if he’s emerged from the wilderness…”

“And now what? How much longer do we have to wait, Mr. Photographer?”

The photographer continued his examination.

“It’s not this one either.”

It was a picture of a historic building.

“Ah… there we have it.”

He picked up the photo in disbelief. “How can this be mine? It does not look anything like me. Since when do I wear coats like this?”

The photographer replied with a hint of resignation: “That’s out of our hands. Maybe you were already dressed like this the day before yesterday and changed today.”

“That’s impossible.”

The photographer stood up again and explained with a shrug: “We do not have any other photos here. One of them must be of you…”

He gritted his teeth and after calming down a little, he claimed: “These photos don’t belong to me. I paid for six six-by-four photos and a postcard. You have to deliver them…”

The photographer held out three sets of photos to him.

“Here, take them as a favor. No need to get excited. Honestly, I’m confused. Each set seems to portray you: one with a mustache and hat, one with just a mustache, and one without either. Choose whichever you like…”

“Choose? Are you joking? Dear photographer! Either you’ve lost your mind or you’re making fun of me. Isn’t this a business? Don’t you have clients? Don’t you strive to work and earn? Who shows a client three different sets of photos and claims they are all his and tells him he can pick one? Wasn’t it obvious when I sat for my photo two days ago that I was not wearing a mustache or a hat and certainly not this coat?”

The photographer found himself in a tight spot and tried to keep his composure by politely replying, “You’re right, and I admit it. The fault lies with my stupid apprentice who got the orders and numbers mixed up. Otherwise your photo would have been handed over to you without any problems. What amazes me, however, is the striking resemblance of all three sets to you. It’s as if they actually belong to you. Now I’m not sure if they belong to you or someone who resembles you… I am at a loss as to your actual photo… How this mix-up came about…”

“And how am I supposed to recognize it if not even you can recognize it?”

“Why shouldn’t I? Show me any photo of me and I’d know immediately if it was mine. I’m baffled…”

“Baffled? Does everyone have to be able to recognize their own photos? You’re the photographer, it’s your responsibility. Does a hen recognize her eggs? Watch how they fool people. They keep them waiting for days, tear them away from their tasks and their lives, only to end up like this…”

On the verge of tears, the photographer presented a mirror:

“Here, this will clear things up. See if you look like any of the photos.”

He took one look in the mirror and then, still holding the mirror, sank into a chair, muttering in dismay. He abruptly handed the mirror back to the photographer, covered his face with his hands and groaned. The photographer quietly inquired: “Do you see?”

He rose, returned to the desk, looked at the photos again and handed them back to the photographer, who suggested:

“If you wait, perhaps the rightful owners will come. It might be interesting to meet those who look like you.”

He motioned towards the exit and said, “This is all a hoax. These are not my photos. What happened to my real photo is a mystery. Maybe you never took it. Your studio is a disgrace.”

As he left the room, the photographer began to pace up and down in despair:

“God, this is maddening. How could he not recognize himself? How could all these photos look so much like him? I might as well… I might as well jump out of the window.”

At that moment, his apprentice came in and said, “Did this gentleman pick up his photos? I saw him walking towards the studio across the street.”


© Ali Salami 2024

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