How I Developed Insomnia: The Man with the Camera

I finished work late, as I always did on a Friday.  The shutters on all the other shops had been long since locked shut.

The air was still humid, but comfortable enough that I would not be sweating the whole way to the tube station.

Camden Market is an odd place at night; the area does not seem to sleep. Even past the time the revellers are gone and the pubs and clubs are shut, somewhere in the town, somebody’s awake and doing something.

That’s when I noticed him, the man with the camera.

He came into view, appeared in a hurry, looking back over his shoulder he slowed his jog to a stop, putting his hands on his knees to catch his breath.  A Digital SLR camera dangled down in front of him from his chubby neck.  Long laboured breaths from a man who was clearly not fit.

His body was illuminated by the yellow sodium street lighting, sweat glimmered on his balding scalp.  Imitation Aviator-style plastic glasses sat on his bulbous nose, his more than ample gut pulled at his shirt buttons that did their best to hold the structural integrity of the garment, anonymous trousers and scuffed shoes finished off his unkempt look.

I broke my gaze, I realised I’d been staring at the man.  I pulled earbuds out of my Jeans’ pocket and plugged them into my phone.  By the time I looked up after selecting the music I wanted to play, the man had gone.

I worry about being a woman on the streets after dark.  The market town has so many alleys and dark tunnels, that make the place foreboding.  I try to stick to the high street as much as possible, but tonight the roads are silent, so they feel just as unsafe.

Thankfully, for today at least, the short walk to the tube was pleasant, I entered the station and sighed.

Descending the escalator, a wave of cool air brushed past me, on a journey to the tunnels down below, like the ghost of rush hour hoping not to miss the train.

The platform was mostly deserted, just a couple of fellow future-passengers waited with me, all staring dead ahead, secretly praying that they don’t have to make small talk with the unknown people that occupied the same space as them.

The train arrived on time, through the grubby windows I could see the carriages were mostly empty.  The doors opened as the train let out a hiss from the hydraulic brakes, the horribly warm sweaty air from within wafted out like evil spirits.

I took my seat facing the doorway, waiting for it to close to signal the start of my homeward journey.

People sat in each of the seating units, not wanting to sit next to a stranger, creating a perfect symmetry, an algorithm that everyone took part in, but did so unknowingly.  As the doors began to shut, a stubby hand gripped the rubber edging, charging onto the train to ruin our seating pattern.

The man with the camera sidled through the narrowing gap, letting out a noise from the pressure on his stomach.  He puffed, the doors snapped shut behind him, scolding him for being late as the train slowly accelerated.

His eyes, magnified by the thick glasses, stared at me, I awkwardly smiled, the most I could afford the sweaty man; he smiled back and took this as an invitation to sit next to me.  I did not complain; I just moved my purse to the other side of the chair, crossing my legs to the right so none him touched me.

The man reeked of disinfectant, I wished he just smelt of body odour, I could handle that, the acrid smell turned my stomach.  He took a couple of minutes to catch his breath, before he lifted his camera up and turned on the small LCD on the back.

He whispered to himself, small chuckles peppered his solitary conversation, as he began to get more excited.

Curious I looked over his hunched shoulders.

He appeared to be reviewing the photos taken on the camera.  From the looks of it, he wasn’t a very good photographer.  Photos of a road, the streetlights too bright for the rest of the picture to be exposed well enough to make out any detail.  He changed picture every couple of seconds.

The next set were from outside a house, again the lighting overpowering the images, but this time from inside, a kitchen.  As he advanced, the detail became more apparent with the zoom he had applied to the lens.

A woman doing the washing up, closeups of her face, she must have been in her twenties.  Photo after photo of her face watching TV, the screen colouring her a different way each time.  Photos of her asleep in front of a still active television.

A photo of a front door ajar, warm light leaking from within, to the darkness outside.

A photo of a dimly lit reception hallway, a grandfather clock forever immortalised at 10:30pm.

A photo of the back of a woman’s head, taken from the threshold of a doorway.

A photo in front of her as she slept in the armchair.

The man rubbed his head front to back, fresh sweat leaving his scalp, clinging to his hand, his demeanour changed as the images became more intimate.

A photo of the naked woman lying on white silken bedsheets, appearing to be still asleep, posed with one hand behind her head and the other on her hip, her legs crossed.

Then I went white.

As the next photo appeared, I could feel the colour drain from me, my whole body numbed.  A little tingle that started in my neck, travelled in all directions, filling my limbs, a signal to turn off my unnecessary functions, to prepare for survival.  My stomach tightened as my blood fled and marched to my muscles, ready for battle.

The woman’s shocked expression, her mouth a large O, eyes open wide, pupils dilated, trying to come to terms with the knife that had penetrated her breast bone.  Her wrists tied, the rope disappearing out of frame to be connected to some unknown objects.

The camera advanced over the remaining images, like a low frame rate movie, the life escaping her eyes, frame by frame, until her head came to rest on a side.  The blood pooled around her body, outlining it as her lifeless body sunk into the bed; that’s when I realised the sheets were plastic, collecting the blood, stopping it from bleeding away.

I stared at the tube map, up above, counting each station off one at a time; I didn’t dare look in his direction.  I could feel him looking at me, burning holes in the side of my head; he knows I was watching, I was sure of it.

The man got up as we approached my station, I stayed in my seat.  As rigid as a board, I looked ahead.  The man left the carriage but stopped in front of the open doorway, appearing to be fiddling with something.  I wondered if he was waiting for me to get off too, but there was no chance of that happening.

The doors shut, leaving him locked outside, I was still tense, I was petrified.

The man turned, his eyes looked straight into mine and touched my soul; he grinned and held up his camera.

He mouthed as the train pulled away, “Did you like?”

Now I can’t sleep.

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