Love in a Time of Polaroid

Happy February! I love this month, I especially love February when it has 29 days. Whoop for the leap year. 

It is February and so I wanted to write about love. I have so many stories in draft. Life has been so busy, good busy but I don’t like the fact that it is keeping me from telling the stories. 

This isn’t a perfect story…but I hope it sets the mood for February. While you are at it, remember to smile for the camera, remember to smile for life.

Before you, cameras, Polaroids, photographs were top of  the list of my least favorite things.

Every time I was called to stare in its face, to smile or say something silly to a mechanical contraption, it left a sinking feeling in my belly.

You see, to me the camera nothing but the finest liar to have ever existed. Nothing it ever produced looked like it was supposed to.

It all began when my father insisted on a family portrait the Christmas I turned six. My mother had dressed I and my two sisters in the finest finery she could find. For her own part, she unearthed her most expensive lace and the coral beads she once told me had belonged to her great grand mother. No expense was spared by her, nothing was kept back, nothing was too much, for the family portrait.

I remember my mother’s excitement when the photographer brought the packet of photographs to our house when they were ready. This was back in 1982, when artisans took pleasure in their art and customer service. The photographer was also my father’s cousin twice removed who slept in our boys’ quarter so it only made sense that he brought work home with him.

The photos he and his camera had produced were perfect. The best one is still hanging in the house my father built in Benin. Someday I will take you there and you will see all of us as the lie the camera painted us to be.

In the photos, I looked like a happy child, a grin permanently affixed on my chubby face. Gone were the wrinkles that creased my face every time I was within 5 feet of my father. Omono, my eldest sister looked unhappy in a way only teenagers can pull off. Omena the second eldest looked unsure of her place in the puzzle with her arm linked awkwardly with my father’s  and her head resting on my mother’s shoulder.

My father looked like a loving husband, his fingers intertwined with my mother’s. The same fingers that were quick to twist my ears whenever I deigned to cry because it was a rule in my father’s world that boys never cried. The same appendages that were part of a hand that was quick to wield his belt of terror on his wife and children for the smallest inadequacies. For her part, my mother looked like a queen, like the best part of us all. That part at least was true. Mama was the glue that held us together. The rest of it though was a lie. The joy that seemed to be radiating from her eyes was nothing more than a trick of light, and pride that seemed to flush her cheeks had to have been the reflection of my sister Omono’s plastic red bangles.

Every other day after the family portrait, usually after my father had unleashed his cruelty, Mama would unearth the photos from where she buried them in her box of favorite things. She would caress the man that seemed like a loving husband with one hand while the other massaged hot balm into the wounds he had inflicted on her.

They deceived her you see, those photos, they did nothing but lie to her. They told her she had a loving husband and happy children. They lied to her and then lied some more until one day, my father struck her with more force than usual and she finally learned the truth but it was too late.

We buried her behind the family house just five weeks before my 14th birthday.

So it was that I grew up distrusting this thing called the camera and that I shied away from any opportunity for lies to be set in polaroid.

But with you Onyinyechukwu, everything has changed.

I went camera shopping yesterday even though it has only been a month since I fell hopelessly in love with you. Another man would buy a ring as his sign of commitment but what is a mere bauble compared with this beautiful thing that can make time stand still, that can help me relive moments spent with you over and over again?

I checked my phone yesterday and counted. On it, we have 621 photos together. Before you there were no photos on my phone. Two days ago, I tried to take one last photo of you as the sun set over the trees underneath which we had just made love for the first time and the phone alerted me to the fact that I had no more memory with which to store images of this new world I am living.

So I cashed my whole paycheck for the month and got us a camera.

This is how I know we will last. Because back in 1982, no one had a Nikon D7100 DSLR that would have caught the thin scar on the left side of my mother’s face or the chipped tooth in her smile, but these days the truth can only be hidden from the blind. Because no matter what angle we take a photo from, the truth shines through. Because you never have to try, you just are. Because two days ago, I took a photo of you sleeping and no matter the filter I used, you looked like a woman I could love for the rest of my life.

Song of the day: Michelle Branch – Tuesday Morning

One comment
  1. Topaz

    This: “what is a mere bauble compared with this beautiful thing that can make time stand still, that can help me relive moments spent with you over and over again?”

    and this: “Because no matter what angle we take a photo from, the truth shines through. Because you never have to try, you just are.”
    My favorite lines…

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