My camera is a Canon SD1400IS. My pal sneaked it in across borders from the States three years ago. It’s black, with bevelled edges. It sits feathery in my open palm. It’s a handy little beast that bites harder than it barks. Its best shots, are in natural light.
This portrait, this is one of its masterpieces. It’s a photo of my niece, Angel. She was five when I took it late last November. It’s been my WhatsApp profile pic ever since.
Saturday morning. I was taking a stroll with her around their hood, her little hand in mine left, and the camera in my right. She was talking, as she always does. Her eyes squinted in the sunlight when she did. She laughed at her own jokes, that innocuous laugh I wish I could trap in a jar to listen to later. She kicked and jumped and hopped about. And she engaged me in a way that had me look forward to these neighbourhood strolls with her whenever I came around.
The Angel told me about the things that upset the regular five-year-old girl: she told me about her mop of uncombed hair; about how Dad took her to his barbershop last Sunday and had it shaved all off. Last I saw her she looked like Huey from The Boondocks. Now she looked like Family Guy’s Stewie. Hehhe. She told me about how Mum had “disappointed” her that morning (speaking of her Mum, I don’t know how she’ll feel about me putting her angel’s photo up here). She told me some made-up story about what Miss Chebet does these days to punish her and her classmates. Then she asked me whether I thought her green-and-red floral print dress thingy matched with her tights. I told her she looked swell. She said thanks. She smiled. She posed for a shot, I clicked. She returned to grab my hand. We continued to walk.
So Angel, is that a dress or is it a top?
“It’s a dress-top,” she said without a thought.
I smiled at her quick wit.
Along our stroll, we met the neighborhood kids frolicking in the sunshine – the girls were hurdled on the leafy lawns in intimate circles. The boys in a round of football. Others were zigzagging the pavements on roller skates. Other kids were on their bikes. The watchmen looked on. Housemaids, housemaids were pegging fresh laundry and shouting across the hanging lines; the smell of Sta Soft and cheap gossip filled the air. Station wagons convoyed out the hood in unprepared bursts. Saturday morning errands I suppose.
But it’s the kids’ frolic in the sunshine. That’s the soundtrack to this photo.
Just before this moment, the Angel’d asked me to dare her to run to me as fast as she could. She took her mark then charged at me with outstretched arms. Her squeals followed after her. She wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed. She squeezed firm. She squeezed certain. She squeezed with chuckles and eyes shut. She pressed her cheek against me, paused as if to listen for something. Then she dropped her arms and rested her chin on my belly to meet my eyes, that goofy smile across her face.
One unmatched and fleeting moment. That’s all I got.
I worried about my arm that cast a shadow across her face. And the fish-eye effect that came naturally when she looked up at me. I worried also that her bald head would come out shaped like a watermelon. I needn’t have. It’s the spontaneity of these effects that gave this photo its character. It’s what makes it such a masterpiece.
Like most my favourites, I grayscaled the photo. I sat the Angel later on my lap to show it to her. She frowned in obvious protest, “Why does it look old?”