By Rohitha Gunetilleke
I live across from Grand Central Market. On this summer afternoon, harsh light bounces off the concrete, the asphalt and the weary greens. From my studio window, I haven’t seen the Angels Flight ride for some time now. The slanted gondola that went up and down Bunker Hill, usually carrying a handful of selfie-capturing tourists on their twenty-five-cent journey to no-where, is latched and padlocked.
I think of my first visit to Grand Central Market, nearly 20 years ago, on a photographic field trip. I enter the rabbit hole willingly, recapturing the shadows along the long-lost hallways, past the fish stalls that sold whole Bonitos, fish heads and guts by the pound, now long gone. Fishtails jutting out of cardboard boxes, dented mangoes, blemished papayas, I step forward slowly, cranking the film through my Pentax ME. I wonder whatever happened to that camera. I step over the mountain of day-old bread and now I am walking on a wet beach in Negombo, Sri Lanka, a fishing hamlet north of Colombo. I walk past a row of fishing huts and stop in front of a silhouetted child under a cajan roof. There, I retake my first photograph.
Lal Hegoda went through my stack of thirty-six postcard size black and white prints and fished out that photo of the child. In that slightly underexposed photograph, the insipid light filters through the cajan roof barely illuminating her chintz frock and her tiny hands. Lal showed the print to the class that Saturday and got his darkroom tech to print me an enlargement. I long for that print now. Did I lose it somewhere along my life, while traveling through curfew to catch a plane in 1983, or chasing after a wailing red light that carried my wife on her last journey?
I have sat by this window for several months now, while the world is slowly dying. Social distancing couldn’t latch me like the Angels Flight. In front of me, on my computer screen, my world appears in 23,122 photographs, two unpublished novels, and a folder of poems.
I emerge from the rabbit hole and start revising a strand of a poem.
You no longer notice the tarred-out road signs
you get to where you got to go.
The sea lulls you
to see only what you need to see.
I leave the window to boil water. I am hungry for a cup of dark tea.