From up here, the town is a gently undulating sea of rusty red terracotta roofs. Beneath them, small white houses coddle charmingly narrow, winding cobblestone streets. Behind me, I can hear the call of wheeling gulls as they scour the waterfront for their daily bread. All around me is the white noise of life, of bicycle bells and talking.
The effect is breathtaking, the view to die for. The sun has just touched the mountains in the distance, and the sky is fading from rich blue to the dusty golden of sunset.
After a deep breath, I tear my eyes from this wonderland and look through the eyepiece before me. Through it I see a small cobblestoned square, barely a wide place in the constricted laneway. But it is wide enough to house a few tables belonging to a cafe I know serves the best coffee in town.
At one of the tables sits a beautiful young woman. She is dressed casually, in a light sun dress. Her reddish brown hair is held back from her face by the sunglasses she has just tucked up behind her ears. Her smile is radiant, and her blue eyes sparkle when she laughs.
The reason she’s laughing is the impeccably dressed young man sitting across the table from her. Not that he matters. He is merely a detail that brings me up here. It is not him sitting down there at the cafe that matters, it is that she is sitting with him. Only she matters.
A sudden thrill runs through my body, the same one I always get when I sight my mark through this lens. The rush of incredibly power, the feeling of holding someone’s life in my hands. A simple twitch of a finger, and her life is over.
But this time there is something else as well. A debate rages in me, one that’s always been there but has until now been hidden away behind closed doors in a corner of my mind. I am surprised by it, having never before allowed the thought to surface.
One voice compels me to take the shot, to finish it and move on. Another begs me to spare her. The debate wheels on and on, round and round, and I stand immobile, watching this beautiful young woman laugh and move like poetry under the crosshairs.
I could just pack up my equipment and go away. Leave her to her happiness. Who am I to take that away from her?
I am a professional, I shouldn’t have thoughts like this. I was hired to do a job, and I should do it. That is all it is. A job.
Our lives – hers and mine – teeter on the edge. The world holds its breath. I feel as if a great weight is about to shift one way or the other, as if the fate of worlds hangs in the balance.
You’ve done it a hundred times before, says the first.
But not one hundred and one, says the second.
And I am surprised to find this is my voice, that I have spoken aloud. I relax my hands, and step away from the edge. The world exhales. I look down at my equipment, suddenly aware of how I’ve taken this tool of expression and turned it into something unclean.
Slowly, with shaking hands, I remove the camera from its tripod, and pack it away in my camera bag.