Have you ever had a random encounter or fleeting moment with a stranger that stuck with you?
Sometimes fate plays a trick, brings you together with people you did not even know existed. Can you see him? The middle of the photo in the background, he looks quite innocent.
I am an amateur photographer, not that I aspire for a Pulitzer prize or have had my photos chosen for a magazine or newspaper. I did once for the Internet, a couple of insect photos and market photos from the East End of London, but no big deal. I was not paid for it. I do not even do copyright on my photos. If someone uses them without asking me, then that is their problem, not mine.
I pay a visit to London once a year, to visit my now 97 year old father. He has his own house, but I usually stay at my schoolfriend’s house to save him the trouble of catering for me. It works quite well. They both live just on the Eastern outskirts of London, one of those places that sort of expanded and grew after the Second World War. Some industry, a lot of so-called council houses as well as privately owned houses: each street resembles the one next to it, now and again an industrial building and all near a shopping center or town.
Every morning I would leave my friend’s house and walk along the street to the bus stop. Of course I had my camera with me, you never know. At the end of the street there was something that looked like a small industry. A long path leading to an office with various cars parked left and right: nothing special, but if you peeped through the gap at the top you had a very good view of the YMCA centre (the Young Man’s Christian Association), which is a hostel for young men looking for accommodation. No big deal, but cheap and comfortable if you do not have anywhere to stay, for younger people a good place for a cheap tourist visit to London.
So I stood with my camera and took this very photo, thinking an unusual capture, but a souvenir of my stay in this area in London. Engrossed as I was in my photography, I did not see the young man until he was standing in front of me.
“May I ask you what you are doing here madam?”
“I am taking a photo of the view of the YMCA in the background.”
I do not think he was very happy with this explanation. I was actually glad he understood and spoke English. He had a rather mixed foreign appearance, but this area of London is very cosmopolitan to say the least.
“I do not live in England and am on holiday, so I like to take some photos as souvenirs.”
“Where do you live?”
“That is interesting. The problem is that we are running a business here and we do not like people taking photos. It may be that you are working for an organisation that would use them against us.”
I was perplexed.
“If you wish, I can delete the photo from my camera.”
The foreign looking young gentlemen seemed to soften his tough appearance. He probably thought he had some sort of crazy foreigner in front of him. My suggestion to delete the photo seemed to appease him.
“No, that is no problem. Keep the photo on your camera. We just have to be careful.”
With this last remark he turned to return to his office, where he had a full view of the entrance to his yard, and I walked on to the bus stop.
In the evening I returned to my friend’s house and her boyfriend was also there. I told them of my experience. It seemed to be a source of amusement and they both started laughing, so I asked what the joke was.
“I bet he was a bit annoyed. It is a place where they sell second hand cars and also deal with repairs. They probably have a few devious deals they prefer to keep quiet about. If someone appears with a camera and takes photos, they are convinced that the insurance company has suspicions and the photos are to be used as proof. You were lucky that you got away with it. They have some shady characters moving around in that yard.”
I never saw the foreign young man again, although I was staying for a further week and saw the yard every morning. I just kept my camera in my bag until I passed the yard. He was probably observing me from behind his office window.
I will be back again end of this year. I wonder if his car repair and sales business still exists, or whether he has disappeared from the area. I do hope I did not cause him any sleepless nights, he seemed to be a nice person.=”