- This story was published in the February 2014 issue of Asimov’s.
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about the author…
Sarah Pinsker is the author of the novelette “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,” Sturgeon Award winner 2014 and Nebula finalist 2013. Her fiction has been published in magazines including Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, the Journal of Unlikely Cartography, Fireside, Stupefying Stories, and PULP Literature, and in anthologies including Long Hidden, Fierce Family, and The Future Embodied.
She is also a singer/songwriter with three albums on various independent labels (the third with her rock band, the Stalking Horses) and a fourth forthcoming. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at sarahpinsker.com and twitter.com/sarahpinsker.
about the narrator…
Amy’s voice over training began by taking a short workshop at the Alliance Theatre, instructed by industry veteran, Paul Armbruster. Having whetted her appetite for the craft, she sought out further voiceover training with experts and agents alike, and finally landed at yourAct studios in Atlanta, GA. Under the expert instruction of Della Cole, a seasoned voice actress with over 30 years experience as both an actress and an agent, Amy grew as an actress and a voice over talent. She continues to sharpen her skills and is constantly working hard to provide the best possible voiceovers in the business. She is now proudly represented by People Store, and Umberger Agency, and works both in local studios and out of her home studio.
The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province
by Sarah Pinsker
I. Options for an Imagined Pictorial Eulogy of Oliver Haifetz-Perec
IMAGE 1: The photograph depicts an unmade bed covered in gear and clothing. A military-style duffel, half filled, dominates the shot. A camera bag sits next to it, cameras and lenses and lens cleaners laid out neatly alongside.
IMAGE 2: Shot from the center of the bed. A shirtless man reaches for something high in the closet. He has the too-thin build of an endurance runner, his bare back lanky and muscled. There is a permanent notch in his left shoulder, from where his camera bag rests. A furrow across his back tells of a bullet graze in Afghanistan. The contrast of his skin and his faded jeans plays well in black and white. A mirror on the dresser catches Yona Haifetz-Perec in the act of snapping the picture, her face obscured but her inclusion clearly deliberate. Multiple subjects, multiple stories.
IMAGE 3: This photograph does not actually exist. A third person in the room might have taken an intimate portrait of the two alone in their Tel Aviv apartment, photographers once again becoming subjects. A third person might have depicted the way her freckled arms wrapped around his torso, tender but not possessive. It might have shown the serious looks on both of their faces, the way each tried to mask anxiety, showing concern to the room, but not each other. They have the same career. They accept the inherent risks. They don’t look into each other’s faces, but merely press closer. It would have been the last photograph of the two together. Eleven days later, he is beaten to death in Uganda. His press credentials, his passport, his cameras, his memory cards, and cash are all found with his body; it isn’t a robbery. Since the third option doesn’t exist, the last picture of Yona and Oliver is the one that she took from the bed: his strong back, her camera’s eye.
IMAGE 4: A Ugandan journalist sent Yona a clipping about Oliver’s death. A photo accompanies the article. It shows a body, Oliver’s body, lying in the street. Yona doesn’t know why anyone would think she would want to see that photograph. She does; she doesn’t. She could include it, make people face his death head on.
Instead she opts for
IMAGE 5: in which Oliver plays football with some children in Kampala, his dreadlocks flying, his smile unguarded (photographer unknown), and IMAGE 6.
IMAGE 6: The only photo in this collection which was actually taken by Oliver Haifetz-Perec, photojournalist. It is a portrait of Lutalo, the Ugandan gay activist he was there to meet. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, as is Lutalo’s. His pseudonym means “warrior.” The scar across his cheek and nose is the first thing that catches the viewer’s attention, traveling from upper left to lower right of his face, the natural path of any English reader’s eye. The lighting of the shot highlights the scar rather than diminishing it. Oliver was killed when he intervened in an attack on Lutalo, who managed to escape into hiding. This is a small comfort to Yona, the idea that Oliver’s murder was not meaningless. She holds it to her chest when she tries to sleep at night. She wonders why Oliver stepped in, when he had always sworn by his journalistic objectivity, and if she would have done the same. She has always thought of herself as a witness, though she knows that her presence is in itself an imposition on the scene. The photograph of Lutalo is the last one on Oliver’s memory card. II. No Photos
All that Yona saw of Johannesburg, she saw from the descending airplane. She didn’t bother to take photographs, hadn’t taken any in months, though she knew she’d have to get over that soon enough. In any case, the plastic window would ruin any shot she composed.
Between questions about whether she was sure she was ready to return to work, her editor had warned her to expect secrecy, to accept a blindfold and an undisclosed location. She had assured Mel that she would be fine. In truth, she knew she would welcome the chance to get out of the apartment and away from the constant reminders of Oliver. A recently rediscovered village sounded interesting enough.
Her contact met her at baggage claim. He was tall, six feet at least. His polo shirt and khakis made him look like the drivers from the game parks. They all had computer-printed signs, though, whereas he had handwritten her name on a piece of cardboard and drawn a camera next to it.
“Welcome,” he said. “My name is Odwa Mabuya. Chief Project Manager. I know you must be nervous to go with a stranger. I hope you understand our precautions.” His English was accented but fluent. She wondered why he had come to pick her up himself, instead of sending someone.
She shook his hand. “In my line of work I’ve gotten in a lot of cars with strangers, but you’re definitely the first to blindfold me.”
“We hope you understand the need once you see what we are protecting.”
“Some sort of lost tribe?” she asked.
He smiled. “Ja. Exactly.”
He took her duffel – Oliver’s duffel – but let her carry her own camera bag to the car park. They arrived at a small white pickup truck. He put her bag on the seat and proceeded to go through it without apology. She offered her camera bag, and he did the same cursory examination. He searched her pockets as well, in a manner that was both awkward and professional. No hands strayed where they shouldn’t have, but he seemed uncomfortable with the process. Her phone, her earplugs, her passport, her sleeping pills, her anti-malarial pills: all went into a pouch that he wore around his neck. Everything else he stowed in the small space behind the seat of his truck. He motioned for her to climb in.
“Sorry,” he said. He handed her an airline-issue sleep mask patterned with snoring sheep. Yona wondered what anyone else in the car park thought of this, if they were watching. She put the mask on. These were the terms to which she had agreed.
“Would you like one of your pills to sleep?” he asked. “The journey is long, and you may feel ill from the bouncing of the bakkie – the truck – without your eyes to warn you. My bakkie has terrible shock absorbers.”
She wanted to say no, wanted at least some sense of where they were going, but as she opened her mouth to do so, the energy to argue drained from her. She was tired, and she would only be frustrated by her inability to see her surroundings. All the pictures untaken.
“Yes, please. Just a half.” She held out her hand.
She dreamed of the night before Oliver had left for Uganda. Clothing and cameras and documents were strewn across every surface as he tried to choose what would come with him this time. At some point he had given up on packing and pressed her to him.
“It’s only three weeks,” she said. “We’ve been apart three weeks before, dozens of times.”
“Not since the wedding. It feels different somehow.”
“It’s no different, Ollie. I’ll do my assignment, you do yours, and we’ll be back here in no time, with three months all to ourselves.”
He kissed the top of her head and drew back to look into her eyes. “You promise?”
She opened her mouth to agree, but in the moment she blinked, his face was not his face anymore. Or rather, it was his face, but bloodied and bruised, his eyes gone, the sockets smashed.
“I promise,” she said, hoping he believed her. “Are you okay?”
It took a moment for her to orient herself. The air whipped by the open windows of the vehicle and the evening sun warmed her face. Her head felt stuffed with cotton.
“Just a bad dream,” she said, still drifting.
She woke again as the vehicle slowed. She heard the hum of a powerful electric fence. The hairs on her arms stood up.
“Are you awake?” Odwa asked once they had passed the fence. “You can remove the blindfold now. We are here.”
After the drug and the darkness, Yona could barely keep her eyes open. Still, she wanted to see everything; she had already missed so much. She glanced at the tall fence receding in the truck’s mirrors. In front, the pavement had given way to two well-worn furrows through the grass. Where was here? She wasn’t supposed to know, yet she couldn’t help but wonder. She had landed at midday and it was almost dusk now. She judged by the placement of the sun that they were driving north and east.
“Do I get to know anything about where we are?”
That narrowed it down to a province, at least. She felt a familiar pull, for the first time in months. “May I start taking photographs?”
She twisted to reach her camera bag and pulled out the Nikon D4. III: Web Extra: Select Photographs from Yona Haifetz-Perec’s Trip Journal
SHOT 1: The guide in profile. His Bafana Bafana cap obscures his eyes. His right hand is on the wheel, his left on the gearshift. The setting sun is directly behind the photographer, putting Odwa’s face into sharp relief. He smiles for the camera, an easy smile.
SHOT 2: The hills they traverse are verdant, rushing headlong into their southern hemisphere summer. They roll with fractal curves. The composition of the photo mimics the topography of a hand: vein and muscle and sinew and bone.
SHOT 3: Three identical vehicles, white pickup trucks wearing similar coats of dust. The building behind them is long and low, its roof thatched and its walls mud. It looks newly built. A satellite dish nests in the thatching, an incongruous note.
“When do I get to meet them?” Yona asked.
Odwa lifted his cap and scratched his head. “Tomorrow. You should rest first.”
She debated arguing, but exhaustion was creeping over her again. They were still in the same time zone she had left uncountable hours before, but the recycled air in the plane and the sleeping pill had taken their toll. She was relieved to discover that her hut had running water and a cleanish bathtub. She had bathed under much worse conditions. The deep tub was luxury as far as she was concerned, even if the water was only lukewarm.
SHOT 4: The photographer’s blurred legs resting on the rim of the tub, the bed in sharp focus beyond them. Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman.
She only soaked for a few minutes, afraid she was tired enough to drown in the tub. She fell asleep with the lights on, a camera beside her, always watchful.
In the morning, she wandered out of the hut with her little Panasonic in hand. The staff of the facility, the anthropologists and whichever scientists were on this project, greeted each other as they stepped out of their own huts, all ignoring her.
SHOT 5: A tiny dead chameleon on the porch, desiccated but still holding onto a twig with its tail.
SHOT 6: Breakfast in the staff hut, on a small table in the kitchen nook. Rooibos tea in a china cup, buttermilk rusks on a saucer. Grenadilla juice, syrupy and sweet even in a photograph.
Odwa joined her after she had assembled and photographed her breakfast, handing her one of her own Malarone pills and a glass of water by way of greeting. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, thank you.” She swallowed the pill and drank the water. “Best I’ve slept in weeks, actually.”
She stirred some milk into her tea, then warmed her hands on the chipped teacup. “Will we go this morning?”
“You can meet me at the bakkie in one hour.” He grabbed a rusk from the tin where she had found hers, and disappeared out the door again.
She had nothing to do for the intervening hour other than nurse her tea and biscuits. She repacked, stuffed a few granola bars into the pockets, filled her water bottle and clipped it to her camera bag. There was a wooden bench outside the main building and she situated herself there to wait. She waved at the people who walked around, but none gave her more than a curt nod.
SHOTS 7-35: Photos of the staff going about their business. They laugh and joke with each other, fill the trucks with petrol from cans.
Yona was surprised Odwa didn’t blindfold her again, but she thought it better not to ask the question. She guessed that once inside the compound, it didn’t matter anymore. She wouldn’t be able to find her way back here again if she tried. Even now, clutching the door as the truck careened down the rutted path, knowing the time and the position of the sun, she could no more say where she was in relation to the previous hill than to the huts they had stayed in the night before.
SHOT 36: The path is clogged with goats. The goats are in no hurry.
“Why did everyone back there ignore me?” she asked Odwa. “Your colleagues?”
“Not everyone thinks you should be here.”
“Me personally? Or a photojournalist in general?”
“A photographer. They say we take our own photos for our own work. Why do we need someone from outside?”
She played with the focus on her lens. “And why am I necessary?”
He grinned at her. “You know the phrase ‘seeing is believing,’ ja? Here, that is not true. Believing is believing, a separate thing entirely. Your eyes will lie to you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Does your camera ever lie?”
“I try not to let it.”
“But you can foreshorten a distance, so a man looks as if he is standing on the edge of a cliff when he is in fact in no danger?” He took his hands off the wheel to demonstrate foreshortening. The truck lurched to the right and he grabbed the wheel again. Yona searched for the seatbelt, drawing it across her lap. “Well, yes.”
“And you can choose a frame such that a small group of people can look like a crowd? Imply that there are more behind them?”
“Your eyes will lie to you here, in that same way. I will tell you the truth, and hopefully you will choose to believe it, but it will not be the same thing that your eyes tell you. Belief is the opposite of seeing; it is trusting something you cannot see at all.”
She tried to make sense of what Odwa was saying. “But if that’s the case, I really don’t understand at all why you need me here.”
“We bring you here, and you tell the rest of the world what you saw. What your pictures show. And they leave us alone here to do our work, and they send us money to continue our work, and they say their prayers of thanks that such mysteries exist.”
“That’s a gamble, if you’re suggesting there’s something I shouldn’t be photographing. I won’t compromise myself.”
“It will not be a compromise. You’ll see.”
His self-assurance was starting to bother Yona. He didn’t know her. “And you?” she asked. “If so many of your colleagues are opposed to my visit, why am I here?”
“I am the project manager. I win. Unless I’m wrong about this, as they think. Then I will be angry with myself, and my project will not get a chance to get over it.”
Yona wasn’t sure how to respond to that statement. She lifted her camera to her eye to disguise her silence.
SHOTS 37-51: Yona’s fastest shutter captures the caprice of impala on the adjacent hills.
Odwa snorted. “Why would you waste film on impala? If you want nature photos, I can find you animals worth photographing.”
She shook her head. “It’s digital. No film wasted. I can delete them later if I don’t like them. But I do. I like them because they’re here, and they’re part of the story of my journey, even if you’re indifferent to them.”
He shrugged, but a moment later pointed to a waterfall in the distance. “For your nature album.”
SHOT 52: A waterfall cuts through a steep rockface. Typical of those found in other areas of the Transvaal escarpment.
It took them twenty minutes more to reach their destination. Yona would not have imagined that such a large area might be fenced and closed off. They had not been traveling at highway speeds by any means, but the size still violated her sense of scale.
And then they were there. IV. The Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province: A Multimedia Exhibition SHOTS 1-8: This exhibit opens with the photographer’s descent into the tribe’s land. A soft-bellied curve, then a steep switchbacked trail ending in a grassy valley. Small horses graze behind a rough stone wall. Their necks are thin, their bodies wiry, their joints large. Their coats glow with good health. A narrow stream bisects their grassy pasture. They raise their heads as a unit: wary, curious.
Odwa cut the truck’s motor, and they sat for a moment in silence. Yona switched to her old Leica for a few shots, just for the chance to hear a shutter click. The sound of the shutter would keep the horses interested. She took pictures until she sensed Odwa’s impatience, then returned her camera to her lap. He was right; they were not her subjects.
Her host started the truck again, and they traveled the length of the valley, between steep rock walls. On the other side of the path from the pasture there were crops growing in neat rows: maize, sugarcane, groundnut. The fields gave way to a small orchard, and beyond that, the village itself. Yona counted eighteen small sandstone dwellings.
SHOTS 9-13 take in the little buildings, their orientation to each other and the central commons. They have no windows. The entrances to the huts are wide and doorless, with carvings in the doorframes. There doesn’t appear to be anything stirring except for the goats. There are goats all over the clearing; a ghost town of goats.
Odwa got out of the truck, so Yona did the same. A gray goat wandered over to lip the buckle of her bag. She shooed it away.
“Where are they?” She didn’t lower her camera.
“Just watch. They left when they heard my bakkie.”
She watched the doorways, still expecting to see a face peek out of one of them. She held her camera ready. “What do you mean ‘left’?”
“Watch,” he repeated.
They stood in silence. The air carried the mingled scents of stew and goat and horse, a combination which Yona found surprisingly pleasant.
SHOT 14: Ears of maize piled on a rock, half of them shucked.
SHOTS 15-17: A small yellow bird alights on the stone and flies away with a tangle of cornsilk.
Somewhere, close yet far away, Yona heard voices. A moment later, there were people everywhere. Yona nearly dropped her camera.
“What the hell just happened?” she asked.
“Take your pictures, photojournalist. Plenty of time for answers.”
He was right. If she had been paying attention, maybe she would have had a picture to prove what her eyes suggested she had seen. What had been an empty clearing a moment before was suddenly filled with people. They hadn’t walked onto the scene. They appeared in mid-action, mid-conversation: talking, laughing, sharpening knives, beating blankets. These were not the South African tribespeople she had expected, either: they looked more Middle Eastern than Ndebele. Their clothing was loose and light-colored, suited for the desert.
She took pictures as if the people had been there all along. As if they were an ordinary farming collective, which they seemed to be.
SHOTS 18-38, and CONTACT SHEET 1: The people of the lost village go about their chores: pounding meal, calling goats, stoking the fire beneath the stewpot. A child shimmies up the narrow trunk of a tree to pick fruit. She looks directly at the lens, conspiratorial, before dropping a guava on the head of a boy below.
“Really,” Yona said when she paused to switch memory cards. “Where did they come from? How did you find them?”
“A team of archaeologists discovered an abandoned village, and was starting to examine artifacts they found there, when all of a sudden it was full of people. Poof! Not abandoned after all. Your first question is harder, and I do not want to color your experience. Do you want to meet them?”
“Yes, please. I assume they don’t speak English. One of the tribal languages?”
He shook his head. “None of the local dialects. Theirs is derived from Syriac, as best as we can tell, but parted from it long ago. We have an expert here working on that puzzle alone. Most of us can speak a few words, but we need to learn so much more.”
Behind Odwa, a horse stuck its head out of one of the huts and whinnied. A nearby child mimicked its call even before the horses in the field could respond.
“They let the horses in their homes?”
SHOT 39: A small bay horse stands in the doorway of a sandstone hut.
SHOT 40: A young woman appears beside the horse, an arm draped over its neck. They lean into each other.
“They do, but not all of the horses get that privilege. It seems to be the favorites, the way Arabian sheiks brought their favored mounts into their tents. You will see they have a lot of commonalities with desert peoples, even though they have been settled here and farming for so long. We still have so much to study. Come.”
Odwa strode across the grass toward the village, with Yona a few steps behind him. She was watching the goatherds when she saw them all flicker and disappear, then reappear. Yona snapped several pictures in quick succession, then stopped to page backward through the photos. Even at her highest speed Yona couldn’t explain the occurrence. She considered shooting video with the Panasonic automatic.
Odwa had outdistanced her by several meters. He sat down next to the person shucking maize, a sturdy middle-aged woman with a long braid, black flecked with grey. He gestured to the ground on the opposite side of the woman’s stool. Yona copied his position, lowering her camera bag to the grass and placing the Nikon on top of it before settling herself.
“This is Nura,” he said, gesturing to the woman beside him.
“Nice to meet you,” Yona said at Odwa’s prompt. “My name is Yona.”
Nura put a hand on Odwa’s arm and asked him a question. She spoke slowly and enunciated each syllable. He turned to Yona, an embarrassed look on his face.
“She says you look sad, and wants to know if someone died. May I tell her?”
Yona nodded. Odwa hadn’t asked about Oliver at all, but she realized that he had spoken to her editor and researched her before her arrival. Of course he knew. He turned back to Nura and said three words, pronouncing each haltingly. Nura spoke again, and he spread his hands and took off his cap to scratch his head. She tried again using other words.
Odwa settled his cap back on his head before speaking. “I think she is trying to say that she is a widow, too.”
The word “widow” hit Yona like a physical blow. She had avoided using it, had avoided looking at it full-on, even when it had presented itself on paperwork in the weeks after Oliver’s death. She had only just gotten used to the word “wife” when that one had been taken away.
Nura grabbed Yona’s hands. The woman’s hands were dry and warm around Yona’s own. Then they were gone as Nura flickered away and back; in her peripheral vision she saw the others all disappear. Yona was unnerved by the sensation of being held, then free, then held again. This feeling cemented the knowledge that what she was seeing, whatever it was, was not illusion. Nura reached down and wrapped her arms around Yona. Yona sat awkwardly in the embrace, not sure whether to allow it or break away and risk offending their host. She stayed until Nura released her.
Some of the others came over to where they sat. Nura spoke to them. One by one, the villagers introduced themselves and embraced Yona as if they had known her all their lives. Yona, who had once been hugged by Amma, the Hugging Saint, felt as if each of these hugs was a thousand times more healing than that one had been. She wanted to weep; it didn’t seem fair that she got assigned to a village of hugging saints, while Oliver had been beaten to death on the streets of Kampala. But then, those were choices each of them had made. She had been to war zones too. She held the tears back and accepted thirteen embraces.
When they were done, the others returned to what they had been doing. A young man, Razal, gestured for her to follow him. Odwa nodded, and she went over to where Razal was repairing an ornate leather saddle. She was surprised at the decorative carvings, when so much of what she had seen so far was subsistence-level. Razal’s invitation seemed to have opened the others up to sharing as well, and Yona found herself with plenty to photograph.
SHOTS 41-57 and CONTACT SHEET 2: Afternoon in the lost village. The children chase the goats, the goats chase the children. Tack is cleaned and repaired. Supper is made, horses are fed.
“There are two more important things for you to see,” said Odwa.
“I’m ready,” Yona replied, though she couldn’t imagine what might top the things she had seen already.
Odwa led her to one of the huts. Yona peered in, and a small horse peered back from the darkness. One of the children who had been playing with the goats ran up and flung his arms around the horse’s neck, swinging himself up onto its back in one movement. Odwa raised his eyebrows at the boy. The boy grinned.
Yona didn’t see him prod the horse in any way, but it leapt through the doorway like a battle charger. She saw the child shift his weight backward; his horse stopped in its tracks. Odwa clapped his hands and said three words. The little boy laughed and called to one of his friends. Others, children and adults, moved toward their huts.
Odwa grinned at her. “We don’t know much of their language yet, but I’ve heard them say ‘what can your horse do?’ enough times to be able to get that one across.”
SHOTS 58-70, CONTACT SHEET 3, VIDEO #1: The tribespeople demonstrate why the anthropologists have nicknamed them “Horsemasters.” An impromptu display demonstrates not only their riding skill, but the intense bond they have formed with their mounts. The children ride without bridle or saddle, while the adults deck their horses out in tasseled finery. The colorful tack is decorated in sharp contrast with the monotone clothing of the people. Their communication with their horses is near-perfect, at once more precise and more natural than modern dressage.
VIDEO #2: The sun has already set. There is no flash, and the picture is grainy, the hand holding the camera shaky. The villagers are gathered in their common. The one identified as Nura begins a chant. The others add their voices to the song at what seem to be ritual intervals.
“Was that the Kaddish?” Yona asked, stopping the camera. “It didn’t sound entirely like Hebrew or Aramaic, but it somehow sounded a whole lot like the Kaddish.” She didn’t really have to ask; she had recited the mourners’ prayer every day for the thirty days following Oliver’s death in the hope it might bring peace of mind.
“Very similar,” Odwa agreed.
“Is this another group claiming to be a lost tribe of Israel? Like the Lemba?”
“They don’t claim to be anything at all. But one of the first anthropologists out here was a Jewish woman, from Sandton, and she noticed the similarities. Here is what we know: they have several characteristics that are more in line with desert peoples than the native tribes of this area. Semitic practices, skin tones, etc. Their butchering practices are similar to those of kosher or halal; the only meat they eat is goat and fish.” He counted off the similarities on his fingers.
“But they’re led by a woman?”
“No. All of the adults take turns leading rituals. Their prayers do sound like some of the oldest Jewish prayers: the Kaddish, the Shema. Their language derives from Syriac or Aramaic, but diverges from both.”
Yona kept her eyes on the villagers as she spoke. “So they really may have come from the Middle East?”
“We believe they traveled down the length of the continent, ja. Their horses are genetically nearly identical to the Caspian horses of Iran, one of the oldest known breeds.”
“And the people? Genetically?”
Odwa sighed. “Hard to tell.”
He looked at her in the dark, then took a moment to remove his cap and reshape its brim. “You saw them disappear. We have not been able to convince them to let us do the types of testing we need to do. Yet. So we make guesses, for now.”
“And what do your guesses tell you? About their origins and their – talent?” Yona reached for her water bottle to hide her impatience with his answers.
“I believe they must be from that area. But how do we explain the disappearing? We use the label ‘transdimensional.’ Transdimensional for the way they wink in and out. Here and gone. Zap. We think that wherever they go, they spend time there, too, even if they are only gone from here for only an instant.”
“And do the horses wink out as well?”
“Not that we’ve seen. Nor have we ever seen anyone drop a baby or appear in a fire, if you are going to ask that. Things they are holding go with them. They all leave together, every time. Group decision, but how they decide? We don’t know.” He shrugged.
“So you’re telling me that I’ve spent my day taking photographs of ‘transdimensional’ beings who think they are ancient Jews? And all that talk about choosing what to shoot means you want me to keep all of the disappearing stuff out of what I bring back to my editor? You’re going to ruin me.”
Odwa smiled. “No. You are here to take photographs of a lost and isolated Semitic tribe, and convince the world that it is to this group’s benefit to remain lost and isolated. MY job is to stay here and protect them and someday figure out what they are and where they are from, and ja, why they have picked up certain Jewish rituals along the way.”
“You know this all sounds ridiculous, right?”
“I know. You can choose not to believe me. You can keep taking pictures and decide later. I thought it might inform your photos a little bit if you realized exactly how isolated they are.”
“Transdimensional,” she repeated.
“And what do they want for themselves?”
“We are still working on getting an answer to that. They leave when they are afraid for their group’s safety, so we know they don’t want to be overrun. They made it down the length of the continent, but they have been settled in this valley for some time, so we think it is reasonable to believe that they would like to stay here. Of course, that will not be possible if the complexities of their situation get out.”
Yona thought about her options: documenting what she saw, or documenting what people expected to see. She wondered what Oliver would have done. The loss hit her again, fresh and bright and blooming. She wondered how long it had taken him to decide to put down his camera and become part of the story. He couldn’t have had much time to make up his mind. An instant.
Maybe these people had an advantage over the rest of the world; maybe those times they disappeared really did last longer on the other side, wherever that was. Maybe when they blinked out together they had a chance to discuss with each other the ramifications of their decisions, to do more than hold each other and whisper reassurances and promises that could not be kept. Yes, you can intervene, but this will be the last moment we have with each other. Yes, my love, your life for his. I will try to understand.
SHOTS 71-83, VIDEO #3: The tribespeople sing. The song goes on long after the stars have come out, long after their voices have gone hoarse, long after the fire has dwindled.
SHOT 84: This picture was taken with a cellphone camera, by someone other than the photographer whose work is on display in this gallery. Yona Haifetz-Perec is the subject of the photograph. She is singing with the tribespeople, her face tilted toward the stars.