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“A camera!” exclaimed Noy as he opened the large, fancily wrapped box his parents gave him when the clock struck midnight that Christmas. His father held his mother close as they watched their youngest son take the gift carefully into his hands. He held the camera and looked at it, not quite believing it was real. “Do you like it?” his father asked, certain what the answer would be. Noy grinned and said, “It’s beautiful! But... this must have cost you a fortune!” His father and mother looked at each other and smiled. It was good to have Noy home from school for
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the holidays—the house had been so quiet now that their children were grown and away. His mother explained, “Your Kuya Ben sent us a check last month—his holiday gift to your father and myself—and, since we were able to pay off all that we owed and still have a little left over... well, we decided we would buy you something nice.” “We knew you wanted one ever since you took that special class in high school, and, since you’ve done so well at the university…” “And you’re an honor student!” his father said, giving his son a pat on the back. “You’ve made us very proud, Noy. You deserve a little reward.” Noy smiled, thinking that the camera, formidable with its weight in his hands, made his efforts at school worth it. He was lucky to have parents who had done so much for him and his brother. “You two must have used up what you earned on the farm this year,” he said with concern. His father sat him down and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It was not all that expensive,” he explained. “I got this camera at a very good price—it was almost a giveaway! A business acquaintance in the city told me about a little shop owned by a friend of his, and the owner gave me the camera and these accessories”—he pointed out the flash, a zoom lens, and a tripod—“with a very generous discount.” “Father!” said Noy. “You were in the city and I didn’t even know!” His father laughed. “Yes, son. And I really did want to visit you and see how you were doing! But how could I with this huge bundle?”
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“You went all that way…”

“Actually, I had an appointment with someone who was interested in marketing some of our produce. The meeting turned out quite well. We’ll be supplying their grocery chain for the next year on a trial basis. Now, there is really nothing for you to worry about. What you should be concerned with is how this camera of yours works! Let’s give it a try.” Noy smiled and loaded the camera, securing its lock. His father and mother watched with interest as their son adjusted all the settings. What a smart boy, they thought. “Okay,” said Noy as he prepared to shoot. “Smile for the camera!” And this is just what his parents did, quite cooperatively, until the first light of that Christmas dawn.
* * *

It was not long before the entire barrio knew of the gift Noy’s parents had given him. He was out every day taking photographs of neighbors and their children, farmer friends in the field, women vendors in the market, and of course, all of his relatives. Whenever someone ran into him he was greeted with a smile—and a pose. It wasn’t long before Noy had used up the two rolls of film that had come with the camera. Even when the film had run out, Noy always took his camera with him. He brought it along wherever he went. He would go off by himself, into the woods and near the river, and practice reading the light meter and setting the lens opening. He imagined the types of images the camera
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would produce, capturing lines, shadows, or color at his command. He drew great pleasure from the thought of so many possibilities, and from the bright, shuffling sound of the shutter. One day, as he went walking about in search of new subjects to shoot, Noy looked up and basked in the sun as it shined through the trees. He said to himself, “That would be beautiful on film! I wonder what the meter reading would be if I tried this.” He raised the camera up to his eye and focused, adjusting all the knobs for the shot. He pushed the lever forward, and snapped. He pushed it once more, and snapped again. He took half a dozen shots of the sun and the sky, pretending there would be wondrous results. He then moved on and tried composing shots with trees. He looked through the viewfinder, and pushed on the lever. But to his surprise, the lever would not move. He tried pushing a little harder, but it refused. Noy wondered what was wrong with it. It only remained fixed in this position when his film was used up. And he had spent the entire morning practicing with an empty camera. Noy sat himself down at the trunk of a nearby tree, frowning as he thought of what to do. He wondered what he had done wrong, when only a moment ago the camera had been working just fine. Then it occurred to him that he had probably used up his batteries—he had been using the camera daily for over a week. He took the spare set of batteries that were in his utility pouch and replaced the ones that were in the camera. He set the knobs on the camera once more, and tried focusing again. He aimed at a large mango tree standing at
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the edge of the field, composed the shot and tried not to anticipate the worst. He wanted to be nonchalant about it, wanted to go about snapping imaginary photographs as he did earlier. But as he had feared, the lever remained stuck. His hands grew cold. He had broken something in the camera, he knew. He could not tell his parents about what had happened— they had already spent so much, and had planned so long to reward him with this gift. To tell them that he had broken something so expensive, in so short a time, would only have made them worry. It would have been such a disappointment to them. He sat and wondered how he would solve his problem, with only a tree to counsel him, and the sun sinking slowly into the horizon.
* * *

The man with the greasy face took the camera from Noy’s hands and turned it about in a disturbing way. He dismantled it, handling the fragile pieces rather carelessly. A cigarette hung from his mouth, and flecks of ash drifted into the open body. Noy reasoned with himself that this man was an expert at dealing with such equipment. But watching him handle this precious gift was almost too much to bear. “It wasn’t the batteries,” Noy explained to the man, who was dressed in an old undershirt, black pants, and tattered slippers. He hardly looked like he could be trusted with expensive equipment, and looked even less like
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someone who could repair it. “I tried using new ones,” Noy continued, “but that didn’t work. The lever just refuses to move.” The repair shop Noy had come to was lodged in the city’s commercial district, where fresh fruits and photo equipment were sold on the same street. A classmate who was an amateur photographer had given him instructions on how to find the place, which was a considerable distance from their school. Once he had found the street, Noy wandered about for a while, trying to decide which shop looked most reliable. Eventually, he chose the one with the most impressive window display. He hoped his choice had been a wise one. Now, he was not so sure. The inside of the shop was generally clean, but camera repairs were done in a back room which seemed to have been neglected. In its darkness, Noy could see the shelves on the wall, filled with cameras of different makes. Though each had a job tag attached to it, it did not seem like any of them had been inspected recently. Noy wondered how the owners of these cameras could have left them unclaimed for so long. The man with the greasy face began to test the camera, fidgeting with the settings, winding and snapping quickly. The haphazard manner in which he handled the camera made Noy uncomfortable and fearful that the man would do even greater damage to it. Noy began to regret having given the camera to this man, and thought that maybe he should try taking it somewhere else. But after what seemed an agonizingly long time, the man finally set the camera down on the table.
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“Leave the camera here,” he said in a in a gruff voice. Noy realized he was not given a say on this matter. The man took a drag off of his cigarette and, without looking at his client, returned to the outer room. The camera lay mutilated and spread out miserably on the table. Noy looked at the pieces of his camera and did not know what to do. He followed the man into the outer room and asked, incredulously, “You want me to leave the camera... here?” “Come back for it next week.” The man crouched behind a counter, opened a cabinet and took what looked like a tool kit from it. “But,” Noy said hesitantly, “could you tell me... could you tell me how much it will cost to repair it?” “I’ll give you an estimate,” the man replied as he shut the cabinet and flipped open a booklet on the counter. In it, he wrote out the camera specifications, and the repair job that was required. He tore out the top sheet and handed it to Noy saying, “Here’s your claim slip. Call me tomorrow.” The man took the kit and returned to the back room, closing the door after him. Noy looked at his watch and realized he had to return to school for his next class, so he thought it best that he should just leave. He folded the claim slip and put it into his wallet, looking hopelessly at the door that had been shut on him. In the dormitory that night, Noy lay awake in bed for a long time. He listened to the ticking of his watch in the darkness, wondering how many pieces it took to make time run.
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* * *

Susan was a bit on the heavy side and her pants were severely tight. Noy stared at her backside as she took down the order of a young couple seated at Table Eight. It was dark and smokey in the pizza parlor where he was now on his second week of working—he had been hired as a waiter and was assigned the night shift. When he wasn’t busy wiping up tables or handing out menus, he liked to station himself near the end of the counter, and listen to the folk singers play heartbreak songs. After bringing another tray of empty beer bottles into the kitchen, Noy stopped to look at the big calendar near the door. On the calendar, the President of the Republic smiled under the glitter of his official seal, immaculate in his jusi barong and poised with pen in hand. Noy counted the days that had passed since he visited the repair shop, and thought about his camera lying helplessly on a back room shelf. When he had called to inquire about the estimate, the man had told him that the repair would cost a thousand pesos, and that Noy would have to claim the camera within sixty days. If he failed to do so, he would forfeit his claim, and his treasured gift would be pawned or auctioned off—depending on the shop owner’s wishes. A month had already gone by and Noy had only managed to save up three hundred pesos. He tried asking Susan to loan him some money, but she said she had rent to pay and was already late by two months. He didn’t have anything of value that he could pawn for extra cash—his watch was reliable, but it was made of plastic. All Noy had

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to his name was his good grades, but now, with his job eating into his study time, even his GPA had suffered. Noy worried about whether he would be able to retrieve his camera on time. The thought only made him more sad. He seemed to be so alone in this congested pizza parlor, where everyone else laughed with such abandon. He missed his parents. He missed having his camera. And he missed conjuring up visions of the world as he saw it. “Noy!” he heard Susan call as she rumbled into the kitchen. She was about as demure as a steamroller. She was perspiring under her visor, fanning herself with a menu, as she shouted above the din. “There’s a mess waiting for you on Table Three! Make sure you bring a lot of rags with you! And make it fast—there’s a party of twelve waiting at the door!” Taking up his tray and an armful of rags, Noy turned and decided it was as good a time as any to tell her. “You know,” he said as he brushed past, “you really should wear skirts more often.” “Really?” Susan said, surprised at what seemed to be a well-placed compliment. “Yeah!” Noy called out, then mumbled, “... they’re not as likely to burst wide open.”
* * *

Noy brought the camera up to the light and checked the meter—the pointer went up and down, just as it should. He held his breath and then pushed on the lever—and
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breathed easy when it turned and snapped back. The man had done as he promised. The camera was working again. “Okay?” asked the greasy-faced man as he started making out the receipt. “Yes,” Noy replied. A sigh broke in his chest. He asked, “How much do I owe you?” hoping he could perhaps get a discount on the repair, but also dreading the possibility that the fee had been jacked up in the two months the camera had taken up space on the shelf. “One thousand,” the man replied, tugging on the slip. Noy took out his wallet, counted the bills he had sacrificed so much to save, and put them down on the counter. The transaction had been completed. The camera felt good in Noy’s hands. He was about to step out of the shop when the greasyfaced man asked him, “You work in a pizza parlor, huh?” Noy turned, surprised that the man had known about his job. He had never seen him at the parlor during any of his shifts. “Yes—well, I used to work at one near my school. Part-time. Have you... eaten there?” The man nodded as he put the booklet away. “I saw your picture on the ‘Best Employee’ display. Do they pay you good money?” Noy laughed when he thought of the sorry amount he got in exchange for the exhausting nights he had worked there. “Well,” he replied, “they pay me enough. I mean, enough to pay for a broken camera, at least!” The man did not smile, but continued to nod as though he understood. The boy was surely a diligent worker, he
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thought. The boy would not have a difficult time earning money. Noy wondered for a while why the greasy-faced man was interested in the job he kept. He didn’t strike him as the type to make small talk. But there were things Noy had to do, and pictures he had to take. He didn’t have the time to stay around to chat. He said “thank you” to the man, took his precious camera, and went gratefully on his way. The world would be his in a snap.
* * *

The greasy-faced man stood over his working table, on which were scattered cogs and springs left over from the repairs he had made. “Did that boy come for his camera today?” asked his wife, coming into the back room later that afternoon. “Yes,” the man answered. He held one of the miniscule parts up to the light and squinted at it. “How much did you charge him for fixing it?” his wife asked. “A thousand,” he replied. He turned the piece with his thumb and forefinger, observing it as though it were a gem to be admired. His wife raised an eyebrow. “Only a thousand!” she said angrily. “You should’ve asked him for at least twice that much! How will we pay off the debt we owe to the boss? The interest alone has gotten so big. . .”

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“Sshhh,” the man consoled her. “Don’t worry.” He took the little jagged piece and put it gently into the palm of her hand, closing her fingers around it so that it would not fall. He led her out of the room, and turned off the light. “The boy will be back,” he said, gently shutting the door behind him. “He will be back, very soon.”
(1989)

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