*#2 of the MANNY GOLOYUGO series. Extract from my Photography blog, Through Frog Eyes. Each month a guest photographer is featured and a short story is woven around a set of photographs. Please click on the link to read the previous stories and the complete version of the story below.
Amidst the firecrackers and the unabashed revelry of the crowd ushering in the new year, a small boy huddled between the doors of the shops, distancing himself from the madness, and truly petrified of the noise. This was the first time he had been allowed to leave the house to join the festivities on the streets, and his grandmother had cautioned him to stay close to the shops in case things got too wild once the fortune dragons came dancing by. His older brothers and cousins were all part of the parade, either as acrobats or dragon legs weaving through the streets and dancing the night away. Little Chen felt lost and instantly regretted tagging along. He was a quiet introverted boy who preferred to read a book or painstakingly put together model planes and ships rather than go out and play with the neighbourhood boys. He listened to the stories of the others with great interest but made no move to ask if he could join in until family pressure got the better of him this year. Following incessant cajoling from the uncles and cousins, Chen convinced himself that it was worth a try. After all, how bad could it be? He found out soon enough, and wished he had not tagged along with his father who had to cover the event for the evening news.
Years passed and Chen found himself travelling from one remote village to another as a public health doctor attending to families who couldn’t be bothered to travel several kilometres down the mountains on foot to the nearest health center. If the families would not seek medical services, the hospital sent out teams to check up on the villagers. Everywhere Chen went, however, he carried his camera. His father’s spirit lived on through that camera decades after he had been shot dead while covering a protest march. His mother had been devastated by the loss and never recovered from the nervous breakdown that followed. Witnessing the physical and mental deterioration of his mother, Chen decided to take up medicine and help families one way or another.
As Chen slowly opened his eyes and explored his surroundings, immediately realising that he was paralysed from the neck down. The village he had been assigned to inoculate was celebrating the harvest and these celebrations included several rounds of the local brew and passing the village cigar. He had his suspicions about the cigar from the very beginning, knowing there was more than just tobacco rolled into it, but the Chief had declared him the guest of honour and there was no way out. Chen’s downfall, however, turned out to be the tea that had “a bit of a kick” as the elderly village women had told him. He didn’t understand the local dialect of this particular village, but much to his horror, Chen realised he had mistranslated “guest of honour” when it should have been “main meal”.