Short story: The Travelling Camera by Chris Mooney-Singh
When Ivan Seow saw a hand-sized bag on the side table he couldn’t resist grabbing it. There was a camera inside. Conscience told him to hand it in, but the tag attached read: Journey beyond your expectations. Use me and upload to freecamera.blogspot.com. Afterwards, relinquish me at any airport. ‘Timesparks’ was written on the flipside. Ivan accessed the site on his phone. Yes, there was a blog and this was the password.
Now his flight was being called. He quickly popped the camera into his bag, intending to use and pass it on, honouring the instructions.
Aunty Ming Xia lived in Caulfield. She had fed Ivan so amply he wanted to show his appreciation. “Let me take your photo, Aunty.”
Next morning he got a train to Flinders Station. Killing time, Ivan clicked random shots — a punk girl with rainbow hair, an indigenous man dunking donuts at a stand-up cafe. He snapped Melbourne’s rush-hour trams appreciating their slow historical charm. After his meeting, Ivan got someone to photograph him with his client.
Back at Aunty’s, checking the blog, it said he could only upload five pics. Ivan selected the best.
He liked the portraits and the street shots, but wasn’t expecting what uploaded in their place. The city of trams became a Melbourne of futuristic flying shuttles. Uploading Aunty revealed a Chinese lady in Nineteenth Century blue silk robes. The rainbow punk girl morphed into a Marie Antoinette-style aristocrat, her high coiffure ribboned with rosettes and central sun brooch. The indigenous donut man — now an Aboriginal on one leg balanced by a spear was offering the welcome gift of gum leaves.
Ivan studied more closely. No travel shots anywhere – just history and incomprehensible futures.
Not all the pictures were pleasant. There were also scenes of poverty, starvation and panoramas of chaos. The photograph of himself and his Melbourne client seemed privileged by comparison. He recognised his own face in the Chinese waiter accidentally upending a cocktails tray over a colonial man puffing on his cigar.
Modern Singapore hadn’t prepared him for these time-bending images. Were they sparks from the past, glimpses into the future — reincarnation evidence through ultimate time-lapse photography?
That night he taxied to Tullamarine Airport and discretely left the camera on a bar top before joining his flight home.
Ivan lost the Melbourne contract and some office prestige. Was this connected to the blog? As Regional Manager he travelled more, and luckily, business improved in other sectors.
Meanwhile, he studied world civilisations’, the engineering feats and natural resources needed to create such epic structures. He also read up on projected technological ‘toys of progress’. Flying cars were coming. He imagined them against Singapore’s Astro Boy skyline.
From time to time Ivan checked out the blogsite too. Yes, the camera was still travelling, uploading provocative posts under the common ID – Spark.
With economic balance shifting in Asia’s favour, would greed breed global reprisals?
Thus, Ivan’s sleep was disturbed. He saw India dying of famine, China’s robot armies on the move. Checking the blog the next day he was shocked the camera had also gone to the Subcontinent, documenting both past palaces and grandeur alongside future turmoil. He saw eruptions in Indonesia, mass death in Africa, civil disobedience in Europe, US annexation of Canada. Weeks later he dreamed of Dubai with its offshore Palm Islands – 520 kms of artificial archipelago in the Persian Gulf. He checked the blog again. Sure enough, here were post-tsunami pictures showing how the sea had taken back human reclamation projects.
Ivan went to Bangkok, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Shanghai and elsewhere. He compared present realities with the blog images’ shifting futures: some cities would thrive; others would take a dive. Headlines of acute global problems made Ivan feel both socially impotent and vicariously responsible. Did the bizarre blog mirror or orchestrate mayhem? Countries’ fortunes were on a roller coaster. The postings reminded him how one era’s wretched coolies become another age’s industry captains.
Next, Ivan was sent to Taiwan for an IT networking conference. Afterwards, he took a bus from Taipei to Yangming National Park.
Ivan climbed Grass Mountain and breathed. Returning he found thousands of Papillion butterflies feeding on and fertilising pink azaleas.
Somewhat revived, he headed straight for Taoyuan International.
Having time and needing coffee he found an airport cafe. Sitting, there was something lumpy on the padded booth seat. He retrieved it. Not here! Surely, it couldn’t be — the camera? Or were zip-bags circulating en masse through the world?
Wanting no unlucky Melbourne replay, Ivan stretched, depositing it gingerly on the next table.
Soon, a Caucasian woman sat. She was unzipping it! Ivan didn’t wait to see whether or not she would pop it into her bag.
Chris Mooney-Singh was born in 1956 of Australian-Irish descent. He has worked extensively in publishing, editing and education. The founder of Poetry Slam in Singapore and Malaysia, he has also published two joint collection of poetry, two chapbooks and has three spoken word CDs. He is the founding director of Lit Up Singapore, a multidisciplinary festival for the literary arts. In addition, he developed and curates two virtual 3D arts communities at sikhlifeonline.com and islandofthearts.org. His poetry has featured at Times online, Mindfire, Unbrella Journal. Stylus and QLRS among others. Chris has appeared at the Austin International Poetry Festival (2003), Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival (2004) and Singapore Writers Festival (2007) among others. He has two books under red wheelbarrow, The Laughing Buddha Cab Company (2007) and The Bearded Chameleon (2011). Currently, he is a visiting scholar at Monash University.