2012, London, East End.
The photography? He shrugs, standing in the light, wide gallery. He wears leather, black leather and like nearly everyone here he has a wan coloured woollen scarf at his throat. The print behind him is an oddly angled street-scape, a corner that isn’t recognisable at first, the kind of exterior that looks both like an interior and like a ruin, nearly monochrome apart from the furthest depth turning violet and the light spilling acid yellow from one edge. Saïd and this photograph are caught in a girl’s iPhone, flickering and restless. She’s a student, serious, like a sponge for understanding and he bets she’ll fall apart when she realises that understanding doesn’t happen. He hopes she’ll have something to run to.
He shrugs, the motion purely Gallic and obnoxiously elongated. “It’s to freeze time.” Lashes, eyes cast briefly, tellingly to the ceiling then swept away. He still has it, women who wanted to mother him once, now they’re the ones who want to fuck him. Eyes up again, hold. Blink now. “To try to freeze time.”
You want to make something that, once seen, can never be unseen, cannot be any other way. Like a great song — it can be mixed up, sure and sometimes it sounds good, snatches of it may even be better but you’ll always know the way it was the first time you heard it. A thing like that, you know instantly, that’s the way it is.
Pictures seem infinite in the sense that you can keep looking till you die. What you see — well. That’s not how you remember and you don’t remember fucking it up. So you make it again. Another shot, angled a little away, focus on the car door, abandoned and open. Focus on the streetlight, the one that’s not busted, on its piddling pool of light. Focus on the back of his neck. Again and again.
It’s horrific, the cliché of it, but this, combined with the accent, with the hints at psychic torment dogging every step of his art. It gets him by.
Here, the accent and the mostly-dark hair and his in-between skin read French. Okay, so he doesn’t shout about his sister here, he shouts about light and composition and he shouts less in general, but still. Even when they say his name, even when his black boyfriend murmurs in his ear, even when he talks too fast, with too much rhythm, they read him as utterly French. None of them’ve had more than a couple of decades' concern for Arabs. They’ve had centuries, millennia of hating the French. It takes precedence.
He runs his hand through his hair. He’s only slightly vain, but he’s glad he’s keeping his hair.
He’d laugh. Sometimes he really wants to laugh.
The women nod, concern and empathy notched on their faces. The men nod. Halfway up the stairs, holding a beer, he catches Saïd’s eye and nods loosely, as if to say, we’re doing this again. Saïd clutches his glass in front of his chest, listens gravely, a hint of pleasure to his mouth when a man way old enough to know better intones that his photographs are the truth about all their lives. They all murmur at his verité, at his Art. Something at the back of his elbows and calves itches, like he wants to break into a floppy, stupid dance.
They’re going on like he’s fucking Camus, but he’s not. He’s the other guy, the guy in the book with no fucking clue how to handle a gun.
He thanks them then excuses himself, for a moment yes of course. He runs up the stairs, one hand out, a hand on his arm, caught for a second and he’s pulled gently in. They both laugh and then he runs up the stairs lightly, his fingers trailing behind him saying touch me, follow.
The roof, like the best roofs has starlight and street noise and smoke. The joint drifts in their hands, orange and black in the gloom like a bloated bee. A siren breaks the night three floors down, its red light dodging into view late then hovering along the street, looking both fast and too slow. It makes him think, it still can’t help but make him think.
It’s the same thought, brought on by streetlights and cars and sirens swerving through the night. Brought on by cameras and warm, late evenings with kids shouting and with kids not. By any of the dozens of things that startle him. There are two versions, two compositions of this — one where he’s looking left, one for right. One’s brighter, over-lit, really, blurred out like fireworks. The other’s like paint. Abstract, thrown paint. Figures and odd angles. You’d have to stare and pace to make out what’s happening.
Sometimes he says Hubert in his sleep, and …. Maxime is here. Smoking with the light flaring orange over his face before he passes it to Saïd, here. Here’s the dry warmth of his hand, here’s the way Saïd calls out and Max never argues when it happens, never looks pained. He shakes Saïd gently awake. He watches him, careful to look like he isn’t. Here is his breath and here are his lips.
Saïd never got to this with Hubert and he doesn’t know if either one of them would have let themselves. He exhales and they watch the city blur through the smoke. He looks at the rooftops, the dizzy part of the horizon where the city must change, where it snarls at the edges, fraying. He watches Maxime’s profile, always beautiful in half-shadow. He wonders if it matters, what they didn’t do.