Abel Kane, a photojournalist who worked on the world stage, was renowned for the bravery and compassion of his images and considered a lunatic for his habitual early morning runs, even in the midst of war. Living alone, in a depressing afterlife, in a small bleak apartment in Narrow Street, London, he regrets not making a long-lasting relationship and envies those with comfortable boltholes. Latterly described as ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’, he’s unhappy, but understands its cause: he’s elderly and has cancer, but thinks, If only I could still run, I could live.
Isolated by Covid and bereft at no longer being part of his tribe of photojournalists, he resorts to looking at their work in the press, clipping and collecting their moving images. He’s certain the idea that the lens insulates the photographer from the emotional impact of what is being depicted is false.
During an afternoon nap, Abel finds himself amidst a herd of wild elephants scavenging on a rubbish tip. Their feet noisily crush the garbage as hungry birds and swarms of flies harass them. The elephants’ sensitive flexible trunks patiently sift through cans, plastic, and junk for food the vanquished jungle no longer provides. Abel smells the stink of the detritus as it rots beneath the burning sun. The elephants trumpet; it is not the sound of triumph. Waking, he wonders, Did I make a difference?
That evening, Abel opens his folder of press clippings and studies Edgard Garrido’s photograph of a cemetery on the outskirts of Mexico City; it reminds him of a sequence from Eisenstein’s ‘Que Viva Mexico’. In the right foreground, a bare-chested gravedigger, wearing a straw hat, shovels earth from a grave. The rest of the frame is filled with many seemingly higgledy-piggledy graves with hundreds of crosses and floral tributes to those who have died from Covid-19. All is soft. The evening colours are muted, the atmosphere imbued with resignation at the inevitability of death. Abel stares at the gravedigger and wonders, What’ll they do with me?
That night, Abel dreams of running on the high veldt when the earth was young, as if he’s a character in a film, and isn’t, somehow, himself. He watches his arms and legs glistening in dawn light as he effortlessly runs, full of hope, unafraid of life or death. His feet rhythmically glide through shimmering silken grass as if in flight. He stops and breaks the ice on the surface of a watering hole and scoops crystal water to slake his thirst. Looking up, a sky of fading stars and the silver sliver of a crescent moon cause him boundless joy. Running on, he breathes in the wind, now fragrant with the warmth of distant orange groves and honeysuckle. Clouds gather. Hearing thunder, he laughs, believing he can outrun the storm, even lightening and thunderbolts. He lengthens his stride, flexing his muscles, speeding towards his destiny. I’m happy and at peace, he thinks. As he dies, he wonders if there’s a better afterlife to come.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.