For over a week Haroon had let the letter sit unopened in the bottom drawer of his nightstand. Then one morning, he found it staring up at him from the dining room table. Shuba emerged from the kitchen with a plate of dosa and a near-empty container of yogurt. She set the items down between them and began rearranging the napkin holder out of habit. After a few moments silence she said, “We can open it together.”
“I thought it would be best to wait until the holidays were over.”
It was meant to be an explanation of sorts, but hung in the air like a plea.
“No matter what happens, we’ll manage,” she said softly, pushing the plate of dosa towards him. “And Shruti is old enough to understand.”
This is what stayed his hand the most. The thought of Shruti’s college education in jeopardy was more than he could stomach at the moment. With leaden fingers he opened the envelope and scanned its contents.
“$9,000 a month, starting in January. It’s out of the question.”
The tap on the passenger window broke Haroon’s concentration on the stoplight in front of him. He turned and shook his head at the couple standing next to the curb, switching on his off duty light. The pressure from the seatbelt on his bladder was growing every minute.
It wasn’t until he turned onto Seventh that he remembered the Barnes and Noble was in the other direction. The bookstore was his preferred rest stop in West Village; its bathrooms were relatively clean given the lack of foot traffic.
Circling back around the block, he saw a young woman bounding towards him, arms waving energetically. She was one half of the same couple from before, still too far away to recognize him. Seeing her face fall as he drew nearer, Haroon laughed and stopped the cab.
“Where to?” he asked as they slid in on a gust of brisk air. It was unseasonably cold for mid-May. He exhaled quietly on hearing 19th and Park; he could make it another ten minutes.
Glancing in his rearview mirror, Haroon was struck by how much the pair resembled a couple he had the chance to photograph more than two years ago.
Meredith and Jason’s engagement shoot had been one of his first solo bookings after Peter retired. She was a nurse at Lenox Hill at the time and he was earning his Masters degree in architecture from…was it the New York Institute of Technology?
He remembered the session well. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens had been the chosen backdrop. Heavy morning fog nearly upset their plans, but nature’s caprice ended up lending a winking, fairytale quality to the pictures. Haroon’s favorite from that day was one of the pair peeking around the base of a large oak tree, a coil of vapor winding its way up the trunk.
In the weeks before she was set to leave for Rutgers last fall, Shruti had been helping him pore over thousands of photos to select the lucky few that would grace the pages of Kumar Photography’s new website. The shot of Meredith and Jason went in the “need to contact” pile; their old client agreement only licensed them to use images for up to six months after they were taken.~”Hello?” The woman’s voice on the other end sounded muffled.”Hi, this is Haroon from Kumar Photography, may I speak with Meredith or Jason Palmer?”
“Sorry, who’s calling?”
“This is Haroon from Kumar Photo–”
“Oh, hi Haroon, yes of course. This is Meredith.” Her tone was hesitant.
“Is now a good time? I can try back later if not.”
“Um, no, now is fine.”
“Ok, wonderful. I was just calling because we’re in the process of redesigning the website and, with your permission, I would love to feature some photos from your session.”
The next pause was so long he thought the call had been dropped.
“I’m sorry, Haroon, but Jason and I are actually no longer together.”
It was his turn to grasp for words.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to presume.”
“I’d be happy to provide a written review or testimonial,” she offered.
“That’s very kind but it’s quite alright. My apologies again and I hope this hasn’t stirred up too many unpleasant memories.”
“No, no…the opposite actually. That was a really happy day.”
Haroon cleared his throat. “Well, good night, Meredith. I wish you the best.”
“Same to you, good luck with the new website.”
Haroon sank into the couch as he hung up the phone. Rubbing his temples, he glanced down at his list. An evening’s worth of calls and he had only secured permission from one former client.
“$9,000? That’s more than double what we were paying before!” Shruti sat up from where she had been lying next to the tree, her eyes widening in concern.
“I know. Your mom and I looked at the numbers and we just don’t think it’s going to work.”
“But why? How can they do that out of the blue?”
“The landlord wants to make space for a Duane Reade. Kostas is closing too, and the flower shop.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do? There has to be something in the contract we can point to…”
Haroon shook his head. “I wish there was sweetheart. But we signed a two-year lease and these are the terms of the renewal.”
Tucking her knees underneath her chin, Shruti rocked back and forth slowly. It was a long time before she spoke again.
“Well, at least not that many people are taking just indoor portraits anymore, right? And as soon as the website’s done you can start booking off-site shoots online.” Her face lifted a little as she gazed at him expectantly.
“Let’s hope, priya, let’s hope,” Haroon said, smiling with effort.
It was supposed to be a temporary thing, becoming a cab driver. But then the website launch took longer than anticipated, and he wasn’t booking enough new clients to make up for the loss of studio portraits, which had been the steadiest part of his income.
It’s funny, Haroon thought. How one second you’re framing moments in time from behind the lens of a camera, and the next you’re watching a kaleidoscopic world slide by from behind the window of a car.