And then we flew to Australia, and I wanted to see the fairy penguins outside Port Philip Bay. Again it’s night, and we get this long speech about No Photos Whatsoever, but I’ve got the camera in my bag. I mean what’s the point if you can’t get at least one shot to bring home, show your friends? There was a half moon and you could see them all coming ashore. They’re skinny penguins, not like the Antarctic ones, but some were really fat, and the guide whispered, “They’re the mothers.” They’ve been out at sea for weeks, months, fattening up so they can take over feeding the chicks.
Careful you don’t scare them, she’d told us, over and over. No shouting, no photos, because sometimes the mothers regurgitate all that fish and go back into the sea. I can’t believe they don’t come back though, soon as we’ve left. So I took three flash shots, one of all their babies looking up at me, and then a bunch of them scuttling back into the ocean and hopping in. They’re so funny when they’re in a hurry! And the fishy stink! Ugh! Everybody hissed and the guide grabbed my camera, but all she did was put it into a plastic bag, zip it up—and hand it back to me! “They’ll come back,” I told her, but she wouldn’t speak to me. Nobody would.
They printed out really well, and you won’t believe it, the next ones I took were even better! I got paid for them; they were printed in a magazine! Little old me, a paid—what do they call it?-- photojournalist.
It was a ballet at the Sydney Opera House. I’d taken tons of shots of the outside but I wanted one inside, during a performance. That’s me in my new Christian Dior, and yes, the pearls are real. The earrings are new. I got my perfume duty-free. They make this big announcement first: please turn your off cell phones, no photography of any kind, as it can disorient the dancers. I don’t see how; they must be used to being photographed by now. Anyway, it was one of those modern ballets, dark and gloomy, so I’d need the flash, and just as one of the big burly dancers did a jump straight towards me I got my shot. But he sort of half-twisted in the air, and when he landed he shouted, “Crack!” It was so strange, “Crack!”
So I held my finger on the button and kept shooting high-speed. He’d landed at an angle and his leg had snapped. You could see the white bone sticking out. But he kept trying to keep dancing, and I kept shooting away. Then I got a final shot of him dragging himself off the stage with his arms, backwards.
The show went on. Nobody said anything to me, but I knew I had award-winning shots. I was right.
Simon Leigh is an Aussie-born novelist and poet living in Toronto.