Ghosts of dawn – A short story

Brilliant colours of blue, light grey, pastel pink, golden yellow smeared across the sky, shifting as quickly as the wind and the clouds. I am standing on a beach in Kuantan with my film camera pointed at the horizon. Each frame overlaps onto another, no two moments are alike. I share the birthing morning with coconut trees, boulders and sand, moist from last night’s high tide.

The world is cold, dark blue. Unfamiliar, nameless faces cross my gaze.

A prisoner of circumstance
A line producer who just quit his job because he refused to work with thieving assholes in the film industry. His words, not mine, but I knew exactly what he meant. Now he sells motorcycle accessories in Subang. He arrived in the rain last night and plans to head home today. He still has to go back to work tomorrow but at least he’s happy. Pulling his long hair behind his ears, he walks back to his hammock for a smoke.

It is slowly getting brighter, but the sun is nowhere to be seen.

The wandering enthusiast
Khaki pants, sport shoes, a friendly smile. We have the same type of bag. A student from the middle east, enjoying a brief escape to the seaside from KL. He pointed at the rising sun, now peeking above the wall of clouds, and said “WE should have been here earlier”, not knowing I’ve been standing here in the dark for hours. Click click click. He was surprised to learn that there’s a full hour from the sun appearing on the horizon, up to when it pops up from behind the clouds. With his camera set on a small silver tripod, he put up his GoPro on an even smaller tripod to the left, so he could photograph himself under the morning glow after an entire morning of waiting.

The first rays of the sun cuts through the cold air. Far in the distance, fishing boats drift away towards the horizon.

Here comes the tortured soul
He declares himself a camper, a free-spirited drifting soul who “belongs to nowhere”. This newly minted graduate in fishery studies had camped on the beach the night before, before being rudely awakened as his camp and backpacks were slowly being dragged seaward by the rising tide. He plans to continue travelling south to Johor Bahru to escape the monsoon, and with only RM600 left in his bank account, hopefully find a job.

The curious one

Because he couldn’t sleep. That was the reason for putting on track pants, sport shoes, a light wind breaker for a quick run. He runs past me before turning back, mustering enough curiosity to ask, “can I look at the picture?”. There was no picture of course. I explained how film worked, and offered him a look through the viewfinder instead. He stared at the upside down world inside the camera for a few moments, before thanking me, and continued running.

By now the sun is up, slowly lifting the wall of clouds higher, and then higher still. The world is visible now.

Just as the much-celebrated sunrise is only a short moment from the sun’s daily routine, these encounters happen and then they move along. I remember their stories and subtle inflections the most, but their facial features are a blur, and their names remain theirs to keep.

I will never see any of them again.