This story was a submission to our March 2022 Short Story Contest.
I desperately labored to capture every moment, to preserve ephemeral blips in the eternity of time. Beep, click, snap. Beep, click, snap. My camera whirred in protest as it struggled to document everything my 7 year-old brain found remotely interesting. "Let's get a move on," my father groaned as I methodically documented the eighty-seventh cracked seashell – the scattered debris would have to wait. It was time for the main attractions. As we rushed from record store to garden, beach to restaurant, the scalding Jamaican sun relentlessly beat down, making the air above the derelict gravel road shimmer like gently-disturbed water. The temperature would’ve typically driven me insane, but it was numbed by wonder and excitement like a surge of adrenaline delivering fear and pain into oblivion: nothing could ease the elation that accompanies travel.
Or so I thought.
When I awakened from my slumber, I was overwhelmed with panic; I had left my camera in the taxi we took to our hotel! Dread welled up in my throat like bile, and an invisible hand squeezed my lungs. I clung to the desperate hope that my prized treasure would be returned, but my optimism waned with each passing hour. Soon, my thoughts became a downward spiral — I began to think of every reason the camera would not be returned, a cacophony of negativity that seemed to get louder and louder with each passing second, drowning out rationality. Suddenly, I was aware of how economically privileged we were compared to most Jamaicans. Who knew how many days of taxi driving my camera and SD card would be worth? Through this thought process, I realized that my camera was truly gone. Without it, the remainder of the trip would be indelibly marred.
Or so I thought.
With the uniquely-unshakeable belief in falsehood that only a child can muster, I decided that without my camera, I would barely be able to enjoy the trip, let alone remember it. Nevertheless, we had a few more days left on our vacation, so there was nothing to do but press forward. Our next major activity was snorkeling, and despite my inability to take snapshots of the moment, I remember the experience as clearly as a cloudless, cerulean sky. The moment I put my head beneath the waves, I was greeted with an explosion of vibrant colors. The image that greeted me was like a photograph with the saturation cranked to the max; It seemed impossible that the natural world could be so colorful, and unfair that such beauty was concealed below ultramarine waves. The ocean floor teemed with life: everywhere I looked, schools of fish urgently darted around, and the corals swayed in the water like dancers. The reef almost seemed within reach, although my mandatory floatation device prevented me from descending too far. I didn’t mind. I was perfectly content to simply observe, my lost camera forgotten. It was only afterwards that I remembered my plight, and I felt a pang of self-loathing as I recalled my forgetfulness.
When we finally made it back to the hotel after an eventful day, the receptionist greeted us. “Excuse me?” She brandished my camera, asking if it was mine. I blinked in disbelief. Blinked again. Was I hallucinating? Tentatively, I reached for the camera, ungracefully stammering out an inadequate thank-you. Suddenly, I felt guilty. I remembered how I lost faith in the taxi driver, believing that he wouldn’t notice it and that someone else would take it, or he’d take it, or simply forget where our hotel was. Instead, he’d gone out of his way to hand-deliver it to our hotel. Grateful as I was, I barely used my camera for the rest of the trip. Weathered through use, beaten down by time, the camera now remains as an ancient relic nestled in the depths of a dusty closet at our old house. Last year, I got a new camera, and I still love photography, but you can’t capture the best parts of life — they must be experienced.