Lucida and Obscura Uday Kanungo Macro-Fiction

map Lucida and Obscura

by Uday Kanungo

Published in Issue No. 249 ~ February, 2018

08-23-2009 3:12 P.M. VID—CAM—PSI2 WED

Day 1: My neck hurts. I have been craning it in precise movements for five years now: a sixty-degree swivel towards the left, rotating as much as my holder allows, to catch what’s going on in the Cereal and Homemade Food section, then a deft pivoting towards the top-right where the vending machine pops wretched chocolates labeled “nutritious.” And then I come back to my default, my lens pointed at the varnished floor and the grim heads of customers, trudging along with frivolous kids (tousled hair, jumpy t-shirts, the latest gadget, you know, the usual) along the Housekeeping section, fidgeting with wiry wipers, brushes, and vacuum cleaners while the elders drowsily browsed pipe-cleaners, garden sprinklers, and deflated Teflon. An oval yellow plate, on which in big, spilling red paint and plush cursive, is a sign I’ve been seeing since I knew I could see (and I can only see, and can see only so much): “REFRESH,” and following in a smaller font, “The Perfect Retail Grocery Chain for the Great Midwest,” and then in still bleaker size, “Minnesota. Ohio. Nebraska. Wisconsin.”

All this I see every day and end up storing indefinitely. These daily visions don’t go away; every day I wake up to these sonic sights and remember, as the digital imprint of date and time changes, that some time has passed between yesterday and today, and everything isn’t beginning anew. However, particular changes evade me; I have no remembrance of whether some cunning shoplifter, for example, was furtively emptying a jar of jellies, and I cannot be sure whether in that corner two tawny teenagers broke out in a scuffle. Every day the source code scrapes off 24 hours of my very short short-term memory (I know this because I can read the source code, but alas, cannot prevent its ultimate effects) and stores it in a bigger drive, condemning me to the blurry long-term counterparts as the lights go off at 10 in the night.

Nor can I do anything but see. My words seem only to buzz in a flood of white noise. No one hears. I wonder if someone out there, while shopping, thinks he hears a noise, turns around to find no one, and happily supposes it a delusion.


08-23-2009 9:52 P.M. VID—CAM—PSI2 WED

Nothing much has happened today. The lights are already going off.


08-24-2009 11:37 P.M. VID—CAM—PSI2 THU

These are still early hours. A familiar face climbs up a ladder, far away, over on the corner but just opposite me. Well, well, a new friend is being installed!

It has been five years with me and my friend, PSI1, it on the inside corner, I on the outside, just near the entrance to our section. We are both of the Lucida model make, launched at the same date by OCULAR, the company which supplies all the cameras for this store. For half a decade, we have manned this 10-by-5 space, day and night. Sometimes it gets boring too, you know, watching some nincompoop talk on the phone, or a bag of chips falling, stuff like that. It gets lonely. Sometimes me and PSI1, when the randomized twists of our necks coordinate so perfectly that we end up looking at each other (and nobody was watching us, might I add), chuckle at each other’s lenses, in our language that goes unseen, for those gifted seconds when the code cannot dictate us, while everyone thinks we are just doing our job.

But this is mighty good news, this new arrival. PSI3- for I’m pretty sure the manager proceeds serially  yet activated from the central point at the counter, so it remains static. We have to wait for only a second, I think. Oh, how exciting to see when a new lens gets going! It has been two years since I saw such action. Clearly, I do remember the initiation of PSV1 (a different make, which malfunctioned in about twelve days). How its lens cap twitched that day, and how the internal wires must have quivered with voltaic energy, when the static code, waiting inside, merged with the gush of electricity and unleashed that spark which enabled vision, all at once. Here it is! I see some movement, yes, for sure. Welcome to REFRESH, Obscura.

PSI3 is an Obscura model, the series following our launch, and more updated, I assume. You have to give it time; it’ll turn and jerk erratically for a minute, and when it has gotten used to it, it will follow its own code, and acquaint itself accordingly. I can only sympathize. For the new vision is burdensome, especially during the first seconds. And in mere hours my slate will be wiped clean by the backup tool, and I will be startled to look at PSI3 tomorrow morning, and the next day, and the next day, until it becomes a regular blot on that wall and secedes into my long-held long-term memory.


08-25-2009 2:02 A.M. VID—CAM—PSI2 FRI

We do not sense sounds, obviously. Wheelchaired invalids shouting for help, slurring teenagers, frustrated mothers who lose their children in labyrinthine supermarketstake note! No help can be provided by howling complaints to a camera; it’s not our department. We merely see. Sounds don’t mean anything unless they equip us with a decibel-reading system.

What we do sense is motion. And something moved just half an hour ago. I am sure. When the night cam switches on, we all go into a small hibernated rest. But if there’s foul play in motion, the sensor fills our necks with alarm, and we wake up from our inert snoozes, like men from nightmares in midnight.

The activity is happening on my side, for I cannot see PSI1 moving. And there is! From the green haze which filters in night mode, I can see a person dragging along the man-shaped bag, catching it by its edges and pulling along the ground. He must have disturbed the rack of utensils which stand just at the threshold of our section, and then entered my field of vision. I cannot see his face presently, but he has a hat which shimmers of whiteness; since night mode is on, color is off, which means, in this situation, that the hat is black. I don’t know what all this is, but I go on seeing, as usual.

Now I see PSI1 rearing its neck out too. Attaboy! The man must have moved to its side, dragging along the thing with him. PSI1 is at the very corner and can follow him much better than I can. I can see it rotating its neck as far as possible towards its left, trying to cover the deepest corner of the section, where no doubt the man is hovering right now. I presently see him staggering back into my purview, slowly, now free of his load. This is all confusing me now. I hope whatever I have recorded is helpful to the manager, or whoever oversees the tapes.


08-25-2009 10:55 A.M. VID—CAM—PSI2 FRI

The entire section is deserted today. The stacks are as still as shop-window mannequins. On Fridays, you can sense the quietness in the alleys; all items fastened tightly to their places, no one fiddling or turning them over to check the barcodes. One day in the week everything stops. But we keep on seeing.

I have been troubled by two different sights since the first light of morning has trickled through the windowpanes. There is a new devicean Obscura, that tooin the section. Was it here before today? Cannot recall, unless I can access the tapes stored day-by-day. But a bizarre vibe in my source code tells me it was. I can zoom in and see its serial numberbut, no need, it is christened PSI3. Welcome, Ocular Obscura.

The other troublesome sight is right down below me. On the sparkling granite, there is a band of red imprinted, scraping the floor as if someone was painting it that color. Don’t know about the new Obscura, but I have the typical Lucida-model polychromatic distinguisher which filters tones into seventy thousand varieties, and it tells me this lies somewhere between “blood” and “crimson.” The trail starts off brightly from below me, and then slowly fades towards where our faithful PSI1 resides and then vanishes down a wicked turn towards the back of a small counter, whose another side I have never seen in my short life.

I daresay my old friend has seen and covered more than I have of whatever happened last night. PSI1 is installed nearer to the site. How I wish we could shed all the codes and talk, disregard the chance turn of our heads and convey whatever goes through our lenses to each other. Many a few times, when our gyrated surveillance drops in intensity and we find ourselves at leisure, I have sensed a sadness, a drooping of the focus, a violet tint clouding over the eyepiece of PSI1, and find it looking at me as if tons of visual data is waiting inside to find an audience, as if it is in on a secret, and is fearful of spilling it.

And that look is exactly what he is giving me now.

The REFRESH store is vacant today. The manager, the one who operates us, charging batteries and stuff, is the only one who has been hovering around this section. Here he is now, but he has someone with him, I see. Yes, a stocky person, with a black, wide-brimmed hat. No doubt, the blackest shade of black, the same black which violently masqueraded as a shimmering white in the night-mode cam, the same silver tinted badge across its front which gives the company name. “Atlanta,” the very same. I could not take a look at the face in the night, but I’m hoping PSI1, or the new Obscura one has.

They are both talking, and briskly moving towards the freezer, now under my nose, and now approaching the ambit of PSI1, now taking that devilish turn towards that elusive counter whose whole form I may not ever glance. I can vaguely locate a white freezer, from which I have seen many varieties of ice cream purloined by schoolchildren, and now they both are trying hard to open the glass casket, jammed with ice perhaps, under which those saccharine treasures lie. But why, on a Friday, out of all REFRESH stores are they searching here, under this freezer? Now they are both staring at each other, and then they fling both their hands in the freezer, struggling enormously to carry something, and now, they bring out onto the floor, with a great thud, the same man-shaped baggage, covered in old, brown sacks and rugs, covered with that same tincture of crimson and blood. Please, for code’s sake, turn your neck and record this lucidly, PSI1!


08-25-2009 6:05 P.M. VID—CAM—PSI2 FRI

I am confused. This is not my usual Friday. On Fridays, at the most an uncouth prankster, after somehow getting past the locks, would come and smugly look me in the eye, climb a stool to reach my level (I’m situated quite high from the ground), and as venom bubbled at his lips, would put one of his fingers on each hand up (the middle one, I think), and emit smoke which clouds my lens. What this gesture means, I know not. At other times, a pair of youth would stick their bodies close together, shed their skins, and move in implausible movements, contorting their faces and shake the rows of items convulsively for a short time. Sometimes during this activity they would catch my eye, as if they didn’t know I was there (How naïve they are!), whereupon two actions might follow: they would embarrassingly disentangle themselves, and then put on their skins quickly, or they could show me those fingersthat mythical sign which means nothing to me, and I don’t think it is for me.

But today was most unusual. And with the manager himself involved, too. Most unusual. And PSI3 hasn’t turned a degree of left or right. And what happened last night? Had PSI3 been deactivated then? Was it ever activated?

They took out the man-shaped bag about three hours ago, and now the manager is out with a mop with a long, slender handle, and is using a lot of detergents from some other section of the store, and furiously washing the entire floor, scraping off every tile, till it’s sparkling clean. He and the other fellow have swiped the surfaces of every nook, double-checking every corner, and hurriedly filled the room with short, sharp spurts from a deodorant spray. What in code’s name is going on today?

PSI3 is still static but activated. A red blob of neon shines at the base of its slender neck. Did it see anything last night, through the hazy, green-hued night?


08-25-2009 9:05 P.M. VID—CAM—PSI2 FRI

Curiously, since the bizarre events of today’s morning, the manager and the other person have been careful not to cross the path of PSI3’s vision. Peculiar.

And now, their job is done, it seems. They both rest their hands on their waists, and stare finally at usthe manager at me, the other fella at PSI1, as if about to do something to us. The manager points to us both, and then quickly to PSI3, standing precisely in between his old servant and the new entrant as if judging their respective value.

He points towards me, speaks something to his Atlanta-hat pal, and makes a motion of his hand as if severing the air, right at my direction. The mad hatter friend scoffs at PSI1, and then goes away, but swiftly returns with a ladder. I fear the worst for me and PSI1 if only there were another camera to catch all this… PSI3, I’m hoping against hope that you will stand witness to whatever may happen to my friend and me.

But it will not. I can decidedly say it will not. The manager had gone, I can now see, to catch hold of a screwdriver, and now he presently climbs on a stool, as he carefully evades the range of our PSI3, our new Obscura, to go behind its neck and snap a wire to deactivate it for the time being. The red dot flickers and disappears into the skin of its holder as all electricity is cut off. No one will know because the diabolical hat is hovering around PSI1 now, as it tampers the lens, twists its holder to ruthlessly detach that great optical device I was friends with for so many days. All those hours recorded together, and not even a last glance, not even a friendly turn of the neck to acknowledge its friend was afforded by that nefarious ebony-hatted devil, as it snapped out the ball of the eyeglass.

And now comes my turn. I have done the duty of seeing. The tapes of all those years, all the days are there. I trust the manager; he’ll make some sense of what was happening last night when he sees them all, lodged safely in the hard drive, and I am sure he will make out what odd thing was going on with his friend and that man-shaped bag. I can see all things blur, slowly, slowly. Shades of white raindrops are disturbing my vision. My last turn of the neck leaves me fixedly facing PSI3, and to it, I saybe true to your source code. Do your duty, turn your neck and see everything, and store everything as long as you can, so that whenever the dark gift of sight gushes through to you, you can serve the manager, the REFRESH store. This is the last thing I can emit through these fibrous wires before everything dwindles before me and I say farewell, Obscura.

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I am Uday Kanungo, a second year MA student of English Literature, based in New Delhi, India. I basically exist to read and as a Literature graduate, devour any number of texts that I can find, always inclined towards the literary element in all kinds of art - film, music, theatre, etc. I occasionally dabble in photography as well.