I turned on the radio.
“Hello New York!” The announcer’s exhilaration raped the silence.
“September eleventh, two thousand and one is going to be a beautiful sunny day. Beautiful like every day in our city. It’s 6 am and high time to get out of bed!”
I got up. With my camera hanging on my shoulder and a folder under my arm, I left the hotel. The city that never sleeps was waking up and coming to life. Although there were still a few hours before the meeting, I preferred to spend the time wandering through the streets than staring at bare walls.
At a corner coffee shop I drank a quick coffee and with lazy steps set off in the direction of Central Park. I sat on a bench and watched the people running past.
“Do you know where the ducks are?” I heard from behind me.
A teenager looked inquisitively back and forth between me and my camera.
“Ducks? I don’t know. On the water, probably.”
“No, they’re not there.”
“Maybe they flew away?”
“To a warm country?”
“Are you a photographer?” he asked.
“Yes. You too?” I nodded my head at the camera hanging from his shoulder.
“Uh…No. I came to see the city.”
“By yourself?”
“And what are you going to do besides see those ducks?”
“I want to take a picture of New York from the World Trade Center.”
“It’s high.”
“Yeah,” he looked at my camera again. “What do you take pictures of?”
“Do you want to see?”
He hesitated.
“Are you in a hurry?” I asked. “The World Trade Center isn’t going anywhere, you know.”
“Ok.” He sat next to me.
“This is an important day for me. I have an interview about an exhibition.” I reached for the folder and gave him my portfolio. He laid it on his lap and began turning the pages.
“Who’s that?” He gestured to a photo of a girl sitting on a suitcase.
“It’s a long story,” I answered. “I don’t know where to start.”
“Maybe from the beginning? It’s always best to start from the beginning.”
“I don’t know much about her. She was sitting by the roadside and I thought she was looking for a ride. She didn’t wave at cars like a normal hitchhiker, but I stopped the car anyway and rolled down the window. She didn’t react. I lifted my camera and took a picture.”
“Hey!” I yelled. “Going somewhere?”
“What?” She came to.
“Do you want to go somewhere?”
“I don’t know.”
“Me either. Get in.”
She threw the suitcase on the back seat and looked around the car. “But you must know where you’re going?” I asked.
I shrugged my shoulders.
For a long time we rode in silence. The empty landscape blended into a yellowish-grey stain. I reached for the radio and turned on some music. Jim Morrison sang about a dog without a bone and a killer on the road.

The car ate up miles of hot asphalt. She spoke up with the last beat of the song.
“Is it really important where we’re going? Is it important to remember where we came from? Getting upset about what happened, wringing of hands, crying – that won’t change anything. And what’s to come? It’s never sure whether tomorrow will bring something good. What good comes from worrying about the past and fearing the future? The most important thing is the present moment.”
“Of course.” I nodded my head, considering for a while the mental state of my passenger.
“Look how memories are so similar to dreams. The farther in the past they are, the older they are, the harder it is to distinguish them from that which your imagination creates. If it weren’t for souvenirs, props from the past – there would be no evidence of the difference.” She was silent for a while.
“But it doesn’t matter. Tell me, what do you do? I’m guessing you don’t murder helpless hitchhikers?”
“I take photos.”
“You see! You make souvenirs. You help people keep their memories.”
“You put it nicely.”
“Oh! An exit. Should we get something to eat?” she exclaimed at the sight of a station.
I stopped the car. I saw how she struggled to pull the suitcase from the back seat.
“Leave it. No one will steal it. There’s not a living soul around.”
“No. I have some…female treasures in it.”
We went inside. She arranged herself on a couch by the window, leaving the suitcase by her feet.
“What do you photograph?” she asked.
“People. I spend some money that I managed to save and I move around here and there.
“So you found yourself a new hobby for retirement?”
“No. I’m too young for retirement. Plus it’s nothing new. I always photographed people.”
“You must really love them, huh?” she laughed.
“Love? More like fear.”
“They’re strange.” I stopped and looked down. “What do you have in that suitcase?”
“So why are you schlepping it? It’s freaking huge. What kind of treasures you got?”
“Really nothing.” She reached down and laid it on the table.
“Look,” she struggled for a while with the lock, “nothing that would be valuable for you, and so many things that mean so much for me.”
“But it’s empty,” I answered, looking inside.
“I told you so,” and she pulled it to the floor.
“Why are they strange?” she asked.
“Why are people strange? Maybe you’re strange? You’re lonely and everyone seems horrible and evil, right?”
“And women seem wicked when I’m unwanted?” I joked.
“Bingo! Cause if they’re strange, it doesn’t hurt, right?” she asked.
“It depends when.”
“Were you hurt before? Did someone break your heart?”
“Eugene? Eugene broke your heart? Are you gay?”
“Eugene was my friend. We went to Beirut together. He had this idea that we would create this great material. His text and my pictures.”
“We holed up in some Christian apartment and we waited for the situation to develop.”
I sat by the kitchen table cleaning a lens. I almost dropped it when he came inside.
“Bastards! They killed Gemayel. It’s getting bad and it seems like it won’t be over soon.” He shook his head and went to the window.
“Are you stupid?” I dragged him deeper into the room. “Do you want some idiot to blow your head off?”
“Fuck! Nothing good will come from this waiting, you’ll see. You sit on your ass rather than try and get photos. Do I have to fucking teach you how to work?”
“Gene, stop. Right now we can’t…”
“We can’t what? Pick up your little toy and do something. Is it that hard? Look.” He grabbed the camera and went to the window.
“You put it to your eye, you set the focus, and that’s i-”
I saw how Eugene’s head blew into pieces. When I threw myself to catch his falling body, I felt pain in my chest. I lost consciousness before we slipped to the floor. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was the hospital IV. All around I heard moaning. The light from a candle appeared in the door.
“There’s no power,” said the nurse, placing it by the bed.
“Two people brought you here. No one asked questions, so no one answered. Do you remember what happened?”
“Should we send someone for your things? Do you have some baggage?”
“No, I don’t. That’s not important now. Could I be alone?”
She looked around the room.
“That’s not really possible, but I can go if you’d like. Call when you need something.”
I tried to escape from the image of Eugene dying. I fell asleep.
“…I’m telling you. I tell you every time. You see? How many times now?”
“I don’t know. How many today?”
We were walking around Central Park devising plans for the immediate future.
“We have to do something big. We can’t sit on our asses in this fucking city and waste time on unimportant matters. Think…” Eugene was getting worked up.
“Unimportant? What do you need?”
“War! We have to show people who are fighting for a cause and don’t stuff their faces, fart, and copulate in public for fun. Suffering, bro.”
“If you want to see people suffer, you don’t have to go to war to see that. Anyway, I don’t want to look for something that I don’t want to find.” We reached Central Park West.
“No, of course not,” he got very ironic, “it’s better to stick to a group of teenagers and wait until that dreamy John tells you that love is all you need.” We walked past the entrance to the building.
“Hey. Mr. Lennon,” a young guy walked up to a man walking through the door. He raised a revolver and shot. I grabbed the bleeding body and tried to hold it up. He looked at me with Eugene’s face, and he died, whispering something unintelligible. The murderer aimed at me. I screamed and opened my eyes.
The shade from flickering candle flames danced on the walls and ceiling.
I remembered that on the night we met there was no light. There was some outage at the power station and for several hours there had been no power. It got dark, so I had to decide – go to sleep or go for a walk in the city. I loaded high-speed film and set out.
“…and the day will come when God will smite us with eternal wandering in the abyss of hell…” A street preacher was just getting warmed up. “The day will come when for eternity you will wander, deaf and blind, in oblivion. And verily I say to you, that that time has come. Fear the Lord and pray for mercy, so that he will give his children one more chance…”
“Shut your face, fucker.” An amused passerby gave him a shove.
“You will fry in hell, you infernal scum. Phtoo!” The preacher rasped. They threw themselves at each other, swinging fists, but before I could take a picture, other people managed to successfully pull them apart.
“Nice,” muttered a man observing the scene. “Just turn the lights off for five minutes, and cockroaches come out of the cracks. Photographer?”
“Beginner.” He laughed and stuck out his hand. “Eugene. Beginner journalist.”
An empty bottle flew above our heads and shattered with a smash into a glass shop window.
“Here we go,” I thought, reaching for my camera, “I hope my boss appreciates me not sleeping tonight.”
The city seethed. No photos could portray the lunacy that got into people. The sound of broken glass, imploding TVs, creaking hinges and yells created a strange music, which seeped into every nook and cranny of the city. People threw themselves at each other, grabbing stolen items. An inadequate number of police tried to cope with the enraged crowd.
I had to change the film, so we hid in an alley.
“Incredible,” Eugene raved.
“I never thought that the type of lighting could have such an effect on the image of man.”
“You really are a true philosopher.” I shut my camera and wound the film to the first frame. “Should we go?”
“Wait a sec. I have to relax.” He tried to calm his breathing. “Have you ever seen crowds like this?”
“Just like at Woodstock.”
He looked at me, judging if I was joking.
“It wasn’t really in Woodstock, but in Bethel. There was nowhere to sleep, eat, or pee. Half a million people. I don’t know if that town had ever seen so many people in its entire history. They were lying on the grass, standing under trees, sitting on rocks, dancing, singing, praying, meditating – they did everything.”
“Take my picture.” A young hippie girl patted me on the arm.
She jumped on a suitcase and balanced on one leg, arms outstretched wide.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“From New York. You?”
“From sunny California,” she laughed. “Three years. I’ve been on the road for three years.”
“And you’re not bored?”
“Bored? Every day a different view out of the window, different people, different things to remember. Could it be boring? My mom told me that the most important thing is to have roots. To have a place I can return to. But what for? To build castles there, and ever-higher walls?”
“But what will remain after you’re gone?”
“See? You talk just like her. It’s not important what’s around – it’s important what you’ve got inside you. Come on. Let’s go to the hill.” She pulled me into the crowd flowing in the direction of the stage. Hundreds of thousands of people waiting for the world’s biggest concert.
“Hi Tommy, Marika,” she addressed some hippies sitting in the open doorway of a bus. “I thought that you were going back to the desert.” “Hey Sunny.” Tommy kissed her on the lips. “We couldn’t. Everyone’s singing about going to San Francisco, but it’s probably a better place.”
He moved aside and let us into the bus.
“Want to smoke something?” Marika asked.
“No, no. Wait.” Sunny held her back.
She opened her suitcase and began digging through a heap of colorful clothing. From a suede bag she pulled out a small bottle with a dropper.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A door,” she tittered. “Stick out your tongue.”
I looked at her beautiful smile, at her big dark eyes. I liked how she took her dress off and held me close. Patterns painted on the roof began to glow in bright colors. Undulating and chasing each other, end to end. I felt unseen hands touching me and taking me high above the bus, above the meadow. I saw a small car lost in a sea of people. Higher and higher, above the continent, oceans, and earth. I passed planets, stars, spiraling galaxies, nebulae; farther and farther until I reached a black hole. Borderless and timeless, it was calming and terrifying at the same time.
Harsh sounds attacked my ears. After a moment of cacophony, individual instruments emerged and a screeching voice intimated that there must be some way out.

The music vibrated.

I fell onto the sidewalk. My body became limp, I didn’t have the strength to run farther. I died.

“Get up, brother,” Tommy shook my shoulder. “The party’s over, time to go home.”
“Did it start yet?” I asked.
“It’s over. You were out of it for four days.”
“I was…? Where’s Sunny?” I had a look around the bus.
“Sunny caught a ride home. We’re going to New York, we can take you with us, you coming?”
“Yes,” I answered.
We got on Route 55, then Route 17; on Route 6, gesturing to the camera lying next to me, he asked:
“When did you start taking photos?”
“I was sixteen and I fought with my father for the first time. But not like a teenager who’s giving the old man some attitude, but seriously. I belted him in the face. Don’t ask me why. He told me to fuck off and never show my face again.” He nodded his head, lighting a joint.
“I grabbed the Polaroid laying on a shelf and ran out of there. I thought that if I played tourist, no one would figure out that I took off from home. I didn’t know where to go. I turned towards Central Park, thinking about what to do next. On a bench there was this weird, old man. He had to be a hundred years old or more. He was clutching a folder in his hand as if there were valuables inside. Next to him was a camera, so I thought that fate was giving me a sign. I walked up to him quietly.
“Do you know where the ducks are?” I asked.
He opened his eyes and looked at me kind of confused.
“Ducks? I don’t know. On the water, probably.”
“No, they’re not there.”
“Maybe they flew away?”
“To a warm country?”
“Are you a photographer?” he asked.
“Yes. You too?” I nodded my head at the digital camera hanging from his shoulder.
“Uh…No. I came to see the city.”
“By yourself?”
“And what are you going to do besides see those ducks?”
“I want to take a picture of New York from the Empire State Building.”
“It’s high.”
“Yeah,” I looked at his camera again, trying to figure out who he was. “What do you take pictures of?”
“Do you want to see?”
For a moment I considered whether provoking a stranger had been a good idea.
“Are you in a hurry?” he asked. “Empire State Building isn’t going anywhere, you know.”
“Ok.” I flopped next to him.
“This is an important day for me. I have an interview about an exhibition.” He reached for the folder and gave me his portfolio. I laid it on my lap and began turning the pages.
“Who’s that?” I looked at a photo of a girl sitting on a suitcase.
“It’s a long story,” he answered. “I don’t know where to start…”