Although the camera wasn’t as heavy as I thought it would be it still required a bit of effort on my part. I had spent some time moving things out of the way, creating a path I was going to drag it through. I also made sure to be as neat as possible as I am sure the rats wouldn’t appreciate a mess in their spotless storage room.
Satisfied I had made enough space without having to worry about causing damage, I grabbed the black, nylon strap and began to pull. The camera scraped against the floor but not enough for me to get it clear out of its corner. The strap dropped as I caught my breath. Maybe it would go faster if I pushed it.
Squeezing myself between the camera and the film containers lined up next to it, I wedged myself against the wall, propping my feet against the black textured plastic. With a heaving groan, I pushed as hard as I could, accomplishing the desired effect. The camera lurched into perfect position.
I was glad the rats didn’t have a love for stairs. All levels were connected by a series of sloping ramps. That should make dragging the camera outside easy, or so I hoped. I was still out of breath though.
I pushed the case, turning the camera lengthwise then gathered up the strap. Bracing my heels against the floor I started pulling, walking slowly backwards as I did so.
“Hey, I thought I heard something going on here.”
I turned my head as I continued pulling. Jinnai stood at the entranceway watching me strain. “Just getting… my camera…” I puffed, letting go of the strap.
Jinnai laughed. “You should have waited for me. I would have helped you.” As the dark rat came up to me, I straightened out my wrinkled tunic, running my fingers through my hair.
“Actually, I was surprised I didn’t see you before,” I replied. “Aren’t you supposed to still be on duty here? I’ve been moving stuff around for a while.”
Jinnai let out a snort. “No one steals anything from the storage areas. Anyway it was Justin who called me away from my post.”
I looked up at him with a mixture of surprise and anxiety. “Justin called you while you were working? What, another meeting?”
“I told you about those meetings,” he replied, not sounding worried. In fact, he seemed a bit more cheery than usual. “Strangest thing too. He asked me if I would like a change of assignment. He never asked me that before. He would just say, ‘go there’ and I’d go.”
“Yeah, that’s really strange.” I hid a knowing smile. “So what are you going to do?”
“Get the heck out of storage,” Jinnai answered with excited confidence. “I’m going to get a real guard assignment. I’ve chosen a position working with Brutus in the main entranceway during the night hours.”
“Brutus, eh?” The name caused me to unconsciously rub my forehead.
Jinnai could hardly contain himself. “He’s a mute so it’s not like I’ll be doing much talking with him but at least I’ll be in a place where I won’t be bored out of my mind.”
He was very proud of his unexpected promotion and I was proud also, not only for Jinnai but for Justin as well.
“That’s absolutely wonderful.” Without thinking, I reached out, wrapping my arms around his neck, giving a congratulatory hug. I didn’t realize I had done it until my face was on his shoulder, my nose in his fur breathing in his scent.
Jinnai was taken off guard by my presumptuousness but I felt his hesitant hands touch my back, completing the embrace. We pulled away at the same time, our noses almost touching as we paused. I couldn’t help but take in his beautiful blue eyes sparkling in the artificial light.
Feeling myself being swept by the moment, I quickly turned away, stepping back and giving out a nervous cough.
“Yes, I am very happy for you,” I half-mumbled, trying to compose myself. Jinnai took a step back and looked away as well. I could only imagine what was going through his mind.
“Thank you,” he answered with a small grin on his face.
For a split moment we just stood there wondering what to do next. I then remembered my camera. Thankful for the distraction I picked up the strap again. “I still gotta get this thing out of here.”
Jinnai shook his head as I returned to my pulling. “Hold on,” he started. “I have something that’ll make the job a lot easier for you.”
He walked back to the front of the room, rummaging behind some boxes. Finding what he was looking for he pulled out a wood tray with a rope tied at one end. As he came closer, I noticed that each corner of the tray had a wheel. He placed it down next to the camera.
“All right!” I cried at the sight of the dolly. “I was afraid I’d have to drag this thing all the way to the top.”
“First we have to get the camera on it,” Jinnai answered. “I hope it’s not too heavy.”
He went over to the opposite end of the camera, trying to get a grip on the casing. I did the same on my end. With a count to three, we lifted the camera, placing it on the wood pallet. I was glad I had someone to help me since I knew even if I had found the wheeled tray, I would not have been able to set the camera on it.
“There we go,” Jinnai answered, slapping his hands together. “Now, isn’t that better?”
With the slightest pull the camera rolled on the smooth stone floor. I still had to exercise caution since the first bump would knock it right off the tray. “Thanks a lot,” I replied. “Now to get this thing outside.”
Jinnai was quick to invite himself. “Here, I’ll come with you. It’s still too big to roll around without help.”
“Aren’t you on duty though?” I asked. “I don’t want to get you into trouble.”
Jinnai shrugged. “I’m not going to get into trouble. Helping is part of the job description. I’m helping a rat in need.”
I laughed as I started to pull the camera. “If you insist.”
“You’re twisting my arm,” Jinnai replied in the most deadpan tone he could muster. Leaning against the camera he began to push.
I picked out the perfect place to set up long before I started messing around in the storage room. It was a flat grassy area by the beach near the little brush Jinnai had been hiding under just a day before.
The sun was still low in the sky but brightening everything with the newness of morning. The camera faced a large rock that made a good backdrop with its flat side. I also got some of the Valley scenery without catching anything that would show the rats compound. The last thing I needed was Justin confiscating my film again, especially since it took a little more effort just to get the camera there, much less working.
I checked the new roll of film put in it prior to moving, making sure everything was ready. At this size, changing the film was a challenge to say the least.
Jinnai stood aside, watching me as I worked over the camera, adjusting the focus. Because of the awkward size, I couldn’t turn the lens and look through the eyepiece at the same time. I had to turn, look and see if the transparent circles on the inside matched. If they didn’t, I had to guess by how much I had to turn the focus ring by.
“That should do it,” I said more to myself than to Jinnai who was listening.
“What are you doing anyway?” he asked.
I stepped back, studying over the stone backdrop. “I want to take a picture of myself. Even though I may never get to develop this film, I want a record of this. It’s not every day someone gets to experience such a dramatic physical change.”
“That makes sense,” Jinnai answered. “But what if you never change back to the way you were before?”
I paused, taking in the idea. Actually, I didn’t want to think I would never change back. In fact, the whole self-portrait idea was an anchor into the hope that I would change back eventually.
“Then I don’t,” I answered, somewhat straining at the words. “But I think after spending all that time dragging this thing here, I deserve a photo.”
I looked through the eyepiece again, beckoning Jinnai to come over.
“I need you to help me with this,” I said. I pointed to the shutter button on the top of the camera. “You see this? When I tell you I want you to press down on it. You probably will need to press a little hard but try not to shake the camera. There will be a loud click then you can let go. Okay?”
Jinnai nodded. “Sounds easy enough.”
I combed my hair with my fingers, smoothing out my clothes again. I hoped I looked as decent as I thought I did. I felt a little nervous, downright goofy actually like the day all the kids in grade school went to get their picture taken.
I glanced over at Jinnai who just kept watching me, following my every move in case I decided to do something spectacular. In fact, I could swear he looked entertained by the whole thing.
I sighed and stood in front of the rock, close to the edge so that the picture would have some greenery in it. I decided to just go with a simple pose, leaning against it with my hands folded in front of me. When I felt comfortable enough with my stance, I nodded my head.
“Okay,” I said. “Push the button.”
Jinnai placed both hands on the shutter button to press down. The loud click I told him would happen startled him a bit but the camera did not shake. The image was now forever collected.
As I relaxed my pose the sound of amazed gasping caught our attention. We looked over at the taller grass about a foot away, a whole group of rats watching us as they hid.
“Hey there!” I shouted, causing them to shuffle. “Come on out, there’s no need to hide.”
At first they were hesitant to come near the camera and us but just like human children, their fear evaporated as their curiosity grew stronger. One by one, child after rat child came out of their hiding place all smiles and giggles.
One of the older rats explained that they were swimming when they noticed us messing with the black and silver box.
“So what are you doing?”
“I’m taking pictures.”
I smiled at their enthusiasm. “I’m using my camera to collect images of people and things I want to remember.”
The children gasped at the concept. “Can you take a picture of us?” The question caused them to burst into a chorus of ‘yeahs!’ and ‘me too’s’. Jinnai snickered as squealing rat children surrounded me.
“Okay! Okay!” I shouted. “If you want your picture taken, you all have to do is stand in front of the rock and wait until I tell you guys to smile.”
The children scattered, shuffling themselves in front of the lens. I walked over to Jinnai, who was still grinning. “Now I wish I could develop this film,” I replied. “But I guess it’s the thought that counts.”
With Jinnai manning the focus I was able to take several photos of the squealing kids. I laughed at the realization that it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t have any film in the camera. These little rats just liked performing for us.
The parents who wondered where their children had disappeared soon joined us. Needless to say, they ended up having their picture taken as well. As word spread as to that I was doing, we had to pull the camera back to accommodate the growing group. I lost count as to how many rats were showing up getting in on the act.
Stronger than the urge to ham it up was the urge to eat. Lunchtime rolled around and everyone was eager to fill their stomachs. Soon it was just Jinnai and myself alone with the camera once again.
“I think it’s time to pack it in,” I said. “We better get this back inside.” Then it hit me. “Wait a minute. All these rats and I don’t have a picture of you.”
Suddenly bashful, Jinnai turned away. “It’s okay,” he said. “We don’t have to do this now. Maybe some other time.”
“Get in front of the camera,” I replied with a slight command tone. “We have this out already. Might as well use it.”
“How about showing me what you’re doing anyway?” he asked. “You keep looking in that window. I’m not even sure what you’re looking at.”
“Oh that’s easy enough,” I answered. “First of all, this isn’t a window, this is called the viewfinder eyepiece. You look through here to see what you’re taking a picture of.”
We both leaned over to look through the eyepiece, our faces pressed against each other.
“You see that round transparent image? That’s the split-image focusing system. When the two halves become one, that means the picture is in focus and the camera is ready.”
The technical talk put me into teacher mode, causing me to ramble about every nuance I could think of. I was going on and on until I felt strands of my hair move in an odd way. I glanced up from the eyepiece seeing Jinnai smiling down at me. As he leaned against the camera, he gently rubbed a lock of my red hair between his fingers, taking care not to pull. I stood up, smiling sheepishly as he let the hair fall back into place.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I was boring you.”
Jinnai laughed. “No, you weren’t boring me. Not one bit. I heard every word you said.”
I blushed even harder, wringing my hands. “Let’s take your picture. Everything’s set.” I motioned for him to go to the rock. He walked over, trying to figure out the best pose to take. I leaned over the camera, reaching for the focus ring, making final adjustments. I watched him through the eyepiece just shuffling around. Jinnai looked up at the lens.
“So what do you want me to do?” he asked, swinging his arms aimlessly.
For some reason my hands were trembling. “I don’t know,” I answered without raising my head. “Be comfortable. Do what you think will make you look best.”
Jinnai shrugged and leaned against the rock. “Is this okay?”
He gave me a small smile as I pressed down on the shutter release. Now Jinnai would forever belong to me. Regardless of what happened, he would always be mine.