Boys on Film
Photograph by Mashid Mohadjerin, Story by Alan McCormick
My phone is my camera. I like to be able to document things at any moment. ‘You’d shoot anything that moves,’ my girlfriend says.
The boys in a farmyard west of Bucharest weren’t interested in posing. Except one: Danut, smoking, staring at the camera with typical teenage nonchalance.
He sought me out after. ‘You should pay us for that,’ his English surprisingly good.
‘Would you like to see what I took?’ I asked.
He shook his head. ‘Money,’ he said.
But I showed him anyway.
‘Here,’ and he grabbed my phone, taking a moment to study the picture more closely, then deleting the image with a swipe of his finger. He handed me back the phone. ‘We’re not in a circus,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
‘I can tell you are,’ he said.
I was walking away when he stopped me. ‘You could help me leave here. Take me to Bucharest, help me get a visa for the UK.’
‘No, sorry, I can’t help you; I can barely help myself. I’m on holiday, that’s all.’
‘Holiday: nice. You have cigarettes?’
‘Yes, I have.’
‘I do too,’ he said, lighting two and offering me one. ‘Smoking is good, makes you feel brave, like you can do anything.’
‘Look, I’ve got to go.’
‘Bye bye, Photo Man.’
‘That’s not my name.’
‘My name‘s Danut; Romanian for Daniel.’
When I got to my hire car I looked for my phone in my jacket pocket. It’d been swapped for a dead phone with no battery.
I walked back to the yard. Two boys were unloading animal feed from a truck.
‘Have you seen Danut?’
They looked at me and continued unloading.
‘Danut,’ I said, and then shouted it out, ‘Danut!’, as I ran towards the barn.
He met me as I arrived at the barn entrance.
‘Hello, Photo Man.’
‘The name is Michael, and can I have my phone back?’
‘Photo Man suits you better.’
‘Okay, but I’d like my phone.’
‘If you let me take your photo you can have it.’
I wasn’t about to answer.
‘Clothes on or clothes off?’ he asked.
The two boys left the truck and came over. Danut chucked one of them my phone and came and stood beside me. ‘I was teasing, Photo Man. Here, Lucca will take a photo of us together,’ he said pulling me close, a fraternal arm over my shoulder. ‘Relax,’ he added, and so I draped my arm over his shoulder too: two pals together, GI’s on extended leave, gone AWOL.
The boy taking the photo laughed when he saw the result on the phone screen, and made exaggerated sucking sounds as he jabbed his finger in and out of his mouth.
‘He’s saying we’re faggots, Photo Man.’
‘Tell him to fuck off.’
‘No, I don’t think so,’ he said, still holding me.
I freed myself. ‘I must go. My phone, please!’
‘Here you are,’ and he took it from Lucca and placed it gently in my hand.
‘You should stay though; we’re cooking a chicken over the fire. Lucca is a good cook, believe it or not.’
‘I don’t believe it but thanks for the offer.’
He walked me to my car. ‘You’re missing out,’ he said, opening the driver’s door. ‘But you know where we are if you change your mind.’
‘Where you are,’ I said. As I was about to drive away, I realised I still had the other phone. I wound down my window. ‘I think this is yours.’
He laughed and took it. ‘Not a thief then, Photo Man.’
‘How come your English is so good?’
‘Stay, and I’ll tell you.’
‘No, it’s okay, I’ll leave it to the imagination.’
When I returned home a week later, Lila met me at the airport. We kissed and I patted her stomach. ‘How’s our chick doing?’
‘Thriving,’ she said. ‘I have a photo of the final scan in my handbag.’
‘Show me when we get home.’
She looked hurt for a moment, and then quickly righted herself. ‘You look wasted, what exactly did you get up to when you were away?’
‘I’ll tell you when we get home.’
‘Brought me a present?’
‘Would I be allowed in the country if I hadn’t?’
At home, my respite over, we fell back into our usual pattern, giving each other space when we were together, meeting at home after work to share a meal, some television and bed, walks and films at the weekend, the countdown to the new arrival ticking ever closer.
In bed we played the name game. We were onto ones beginning with D.
‘Girls’ names?’ she asked.
‘Deborah, Debbie, Desdemona, Deirdre ’ I replied and she laughed – I thought she’d have laughed at ‘Desdemona’ but it was ‘Deirdre’, the image of Deirdre Barlow in her eighties bubble perm and huge glasses shared telepathically between us. I continued: ‘Davina, Delilah, Doris,’ and she sniffed her disapproval.
‘Take it seriously, Mike, we’ve only a few months left. What about boys beginning with D?’
‘No, I said.’
‘No, to boys names beginning with D?’
‘We’re having a girl, I’m sure of it.’
When Leila arrived – my idea – we took thousands of pictures, and I mean thousands.
One morning when I returned home from the nappy run, I found Lila using my phone to take a photo of Leila as she lay on her back kicking her legs in the air.
‘I hope you don’t mind; you had no disk space left and so I had to delete some pictures. I found this one though, and she showed me: ‘Who is the boy and why do you look so odd?’
‘No-one,’ I said. ‘I was travelling near Bucharest and got talking to these farm workers. They asked me to stay and eat with them, that’s all.’
‘’That was nice of them. Did you stay?’
‘What did they cook?’
‘Was it good?
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘That’s settled then. So, can I delete it?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Delete away.’
Alan McCormick was born in Mombasa and lives with his family by the sea in Dorset. He’s been writer in residence at Kingston University’s Writing School and for Interact Stroke Support. His fiction has won prizes and been widely published, including Salt’s Best British Short Stories. His collection, Dogsbodies and Scumsters, was long-listed for the 2012 Edge Hill Prize. Alan has just completed a memoir, Holes, and Wild in the Country, his second story collection. He also writes flash shorts in response to pictures by Jonny Voss. See more at:
Mashid Mohadjerin’s work explores the boundaries between art and documentary image making, covering subjects such as displacement, social and physical alienation and, more recently, modern day revolt against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. She has won several awards for her work which is exhibited all over the world, and is published in respected titles such as The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, La Domenica di Repubblica, The Globe & Mail and the BBC.