Heavy smoke from the artillery fire and burning buildings has left only little windows of clear space to aim my camera through and snap pictures. My ears have long ago given up any attempt to hear anything over the pounding thudof the battle. I move through the streets half blind from the smoke and mostly deaf from the explosive guns looking for pictures to take. I want to bring Chechnya back to the world. I have fourteen roles of film already. Three more to go and then I can leave this dangerous place forever.
I watch the fog swirl around obscuring everything but my curiosity. Where is she now? Maybe huddling in a door stoop somewhere damp from the fog or hiding in the bowels of the B.A.R.T. station down on Embarcadero Street.
From the balcony of my apartment over looking the bay, I have a clear view of the entire street as it slopes down towards the wharf. Once the fog has burned off in the afternoon heat everything below me is visible. Little shops, art galleries, and expensive restaurants line the street below attracting tourists and day shoppers from the airport and suburbs. All day long cars move slowly up the hill from the waterfront perusing. I look down on it all through a camera lens, an old German model nearly thirty years old. I don’t know what I hope to see.
The apartment is simple; nearly bare except for a small bathroom and a walk in closet I’ve converted into a darkroom. My things are scattered on the floor: rolls of film, some books, empty pizza boxes, half a bottle of Jack Daniels, clean and dirty clothes in overlapping piles, a worn suitcase, an ashtray filled with half smoked cigarettes. Materially I have very little, but Chechnya has given my mind many things to sift through, though I’d prefer to hide from much of what I remember. Ash and faces in the ash with dead blank eyes looking into nothing appear at random. I sleep very little, two or three hours a night if I’m lucky.
When I do sleep I often dream of the pictures I have taken of the Russian death squads moving through the cities with their guns and tanks burning down every thing in their path. Sometimes Yuri will come and sit by me on the shattered cement wall overlooking the still burning apartment buildings where he was killed trying to photograph a woman and her two children jumping from the eighth floor to escape the flames.
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