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Chapter 17

“Is this right Ms Meyers”, the man asked the woman who was checking the arrangements.

“Can we please remove the flowers from here”, she pointed at the small table that sat between the two chairs placed in the room that had a small vase.

“How about two coffee mugs here”, the man made a suggestion.

“You know what, just remove the table. Let’s keep this place here open”, she thought and said.

“Ok, I will make the changes. Do you need anything more”, he asked.

“Rest of the props are fine”, she told him.

“Ms Meyers, you need to get ready now”, another man walked up to her and reminded her.

“Sure, sure. Uhm has Ms Hill arrived”, she asked him.

“Yes she arrived a few minutes back. She is getting ready”, he pointed at the makeshift room that had been set up.

“Ok good. Thanks”, she started walking straight towards the room.

She was met by Benjamin who was waiting outside patiently.

“Well handsome, you look worried”, she greeted him.

“I am a little tense”, he told her and wringed his wrists.

“Relax Benji, I know what has your insides twisted. But this time things will be different”, she placed a comforting hand over his shoulder. “Can I see her”, she asked him.

“Yeah, go on”, he showed her the way.

Catherine walked inside and saw Bethany sitting in front of the mirror.

“You know, you don’t need to prepare yourself a lot. You look beautiful any which ways”, Catherine stood in the middle of the room.

Bethany chose not to reply and continued on.

“Beth, I know you don’t trust me right now….”, Catherine started but was cut short by the photographer who now turned around sharply in her seat.

“I have my reasons”, Bethany said tersely.

“I know you have your reasons”, Catherine nodded her head, “but I will be changing your perception about me this time.”

“I am doing this on Benji’s insistence”, Bethany was still not ready to believe Catherine.

“And I am thankful to him. But Beth I promise you this time I will be honest. I am not playing any games any more. I just want to mend what I broke”, Catherine explained.

Still not ready to believe that her one time friend had changed Bethany took a minute to mull over Catherine’s plea. She lowered her eyes and bit her bottom lip slightly and then responded, “We will see.”

She then turned around and started brushing her hair ignoring the woman standing behind her.

Catherine stood there for an extra minute trying to think of what she should do next. She was hurt by Bethany’s coldness towards her but she knew she had brought it on herself. She was just thankful that she had got this one chance to make amends and she was going to use it wisely.

“We are rolling”, the man behind the camera said and raised his thumb up as a sign.

“Welcome to our special segment today that focuses on a very special person. I say special because not only is our today’s guest a very gifted photographer but also a person that has found a new way of adding meaning to her life. She is respected all over the world for her art. But now she is using her art to bring about a change in people’s lives. And I am proud to have been her friend once upon a time in my life. There have been a lot of rumors making rounds about her. But today we get to hear her story straight from her heart. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Ms Bethany Hill”, Catherine introduced her guest to the audience.

The camera rolled back a little to bring both the woman in the same frame. Once the director was satisfied that he had a good shot to work with he gestured Catherine to continue.

“Bethany, thank you so much for making the time. It’s an absolute pleasure to be sitting here next to you”, Catherine made eye contact.

“The pleasure is mine”, Bethany smiled but Catherine could make out that the smile was for the cameras and not for her.

‘Please don’t fuck this up’ Benjamin crossed his fingers as he stood in one of the corners and watched carefully. It was hard to tell whether his thought was directed towards Catherine or Bethany.

Not losing her heart Catherine continued, “Bethany, let me first congratulate you for your latest show Footprints.”

“Thank you”, the photographer nodded her head in acceptance.

The screen set behind the two ladies lit up with a photo of Bethany working with her camera lens.

“The show has been a real eye opener. I have had the fortune of attending the opening of the show and I must say I have never seen anything like it”, Catherine admitted.

“Well, Footprints has been quite an experience for me as well”, Bethany smiled nostalgically.

“The sepia tone used in the photos is just amazing. You have never used that before in any of your photos. Why did you decide to use it this time”, Catherine asked.

“The thing with sepia tone is that it removes all the distractions so that the attention stays on the subject of the photo. And Footprints is a series where the subject is of paramount importance”, Bethany explained.

“Tell me Bethany, what made you do the Footprint series? I mean that is not your style of photography. It is so different than what you are popular for. So how did you come up with this idea”, Catherine asked.

“Footprints has been a life changing experience. I know people did not expect it coming from me. But I wanted to do something different. I wanted to portray women differently this time. I wanted to show that women are a force to be reckoned with. She does not have to be decked up to look beautiful. Her spirit itself makes her beautiful. Whether her skin has wrinkled up or has acid burns or even scars and cuts, her soul is beautiful. And that is what I wanted to show”, the photographer explained the concept behind her show.

“What you did Bethany was quite courageous, changing your style completely when the world had started taking notice of your work”, Catherine pointed out.

“It’s not me who is courageous. The women that I have captured through my lens are courageous. They have met with so many setbacks in their life and yet they keep on moving ahead. And they do that with a smile on their face. It’s amazing”, Bethany seemed to be in awe this time.

“Talking about women and their strength I have an admission to make here”, Catherine started. “A lot of people know that your mother worked as a hooker in Las Vegas. And they know that because I was the one who wrote a story on it”, she added as Bethany shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

‘What is she doing’ Benjamin thought. Now even he was nervous. He didn’t know what Catherine was pulling out of her hat this time.

“I admit that that story was a big mistake of my life. I wrote how you were ashamed of her past and how you objectified women because of that. The truth is you were never ashamed of any of it. You were young when you found out about it and were just trying to come to terms with it. I made a scoop out of it just to get into the high ranks of the publishing world. But I was wrong and I want to apologize for it”, the journalist did the unthinkable of making a public apology.

“It’s ok”, Bethany for the first time showed signs of forgiveness.

“It’s ok if you do not want to talk about it. We can move on”, Catherine flipped through her notes for next question.

“No, I want to talk about it”, Bethany stopped her. “This is something that I have kept buried inside me for a long time. But now I think it’s time to come clean.”

“Ok the stage is yours”, Catherine said.

“A lot of people know that you wrote that piece on me and my mother. But very few people know about the repercussions it had on my life. I faced a lot of humiliation. But the biggest blow came when my dad questioned me. He thought that I was really ashamed of my mom as you had hinted to in your story. He stopped talking to me and to this day has not met me. So today I want to use this interview as a way to reach out to him”, she said and reached out to the senior Mr Hill. “Dad, I know I let you down by saying those things that got published but I never meant them. I loved mom and still love her. Today I realize she was a woman of substance because she was able to overcome her situation. She worked her way through the hard days and got out of that rut. All she needed was a helping hand and someone to have faith in her. And that came from you dad. You saw her for what she was and not for what she did. You loved her unconditionally dad and that is what I have learnt from you – to love unconditionally. I am proud of your relationship with her. I am lucky to have you as my parents. And someday I would like to be the same woman of substance that mom was.”

A silence fell in the room as everyone was moved by the photographer’s address to her father.

“Talking about love, there is one more uncomfortable question coming up for you Bethany”, Catherine warned her. “Rumor mills are rife with speculations that you have found a new love in your life and it’s none other than the mystery woman whose photo you have been putting up in all your Footprints shows.”

“What is the question here”, Bethany asked as she leaned back in her chair as if she was taking a step back.

“Who is this woman and is it true that you are in love with her”, Catherine made it more direct now.

“Does it matter? Does it really matter who that woman is and what is my relationship with her”, Bethany looked agitated.

“It matters to the world. Unfortunately, people believe that lives of celebrities are public property and they have a right to know everything about it”, Catherine said.

“I don’t agree to it. I believe everyone has a right to privacy. But since you have asked me now I will give you the answers. The mystery woman in the Footprints show is my inspiration, my muse. It doesn’t matter what her name is. You may call her with whatever name you want and she will still be my inspiration. As for love, I am in love with the idea of her being. I am in love with the way she sees the world and what she does to make a difference in it. I am in love with the way she reaches out to the less privileged. I am in love with the way she cares. I am in love with the way she loves her husband and is dedicated to him. I am in love with the way she looks at him as if he is the one for her. I am in love with the idea of being in love with her”, Bethany made a passionate confession.

“And will we be lucky enough to know her identity”, Catherine asked.

“Let her be a mystery. She has a husband and a family and I don’t want to cause any distress for them. I am happy knowing that her husband absolutely adores her and will do anything to make her happy. Even she loves him to pieces. They are a lovely couple and that’s how it should be”, Bethany said.

“So you say you are happy knowing that she belongs to someone else”, Catherine asked.

“Have you always loved everything that belonged to you? Have you never wanted something that belonged to someone else, a toy a candy, anything”, Bethany asked.

“Yes, there have been times”, Catherine admitted.

“Same is the case with me. I always knew that she belonged to someone else and I am ok with that”, Bethany said.

“Wow that’s quite an unconditional love, just like your dad’s love for your mom”, Catherine made the connection.

“After all I am his daughter”, Bethany smiled.

“And you say that it will be always like this for you”, Catherine probed.

“Yes, it will be. I am not ashamed to admit it for what it is. I am what I feel but I am not limited to what I feel. There are facets of my personality that go beyond my feelings. Yes it is true that this love, this affection is quite deep rooted in me. But it has made me a better person. Now I cherish myself in all shapes and forms, because I know this love delves within me. I love myself in rain and shine because it means loving this love within me. I am more loyal to myself and more at ease with myself. I have found an inner peace that was missing earlier. That restlessness is gone. It has been replaced with serenity. It’s like hitting the edge of nothingness where you realize you are nothing yet everything at the same time”, Bethany explained.

“That’s quite scary”, Catherine couldn’t believe what she had just heard.

“Trust me, at first it is scary. But then you will realize that it is strangely the grounding force for you as a human being”, the photographer glowed with a calmness that was new to Catherine.

Benjamin who was hearing Bethany’s side of the story for the first time was left stunned. He had never seen this side of her. He didn’t know his friend had stepped up a little higher on the ladder of spiritual existence. He was seeing this unfazed Bethany for the first time.

“Let’s move on to what you have planned for your future. Tell us what’s been going on with your studio”, Catherine asked.

“We have a new investor Vanessa Goodman who has joined us. I am really grateful to her for her support. We have decided to take on two kinds of projects moving ahead. One will be commercial money churners that my assistant Giselle will be handling. She has trained under me and will lend my touch to the commercial projects. Then there will be the philanthropy projects that I will be handling. These projects will be done for charity organizations that Ms Goodman will help us identify and vet out for credentials”, Bethany laid out the blueprint.

“Anything coming up immediately”, Catherine asked.

“Yes there is this organization called Droplets that I am joining hands with. The charity has been working tirelessly for last 15 years in the African continent trying to set up clean water sources. They have been going into the heart of the continent just to make sure that people get clean drinking water. We all live in a society that has been quite privileged. We do not know the term scarcity in its real sense. We are faced with the problem of abundance to such a great extent that we see no problem in wastage. But it’s really striking to know that the very continent that is considered to be the cradle of human civilization is today struggling with basic needs. The land from where man started his journey has been left ignored. The greener pastures of the outer world have lured man out of this land that today struggles to provide food and water. The apathy is that we consider water to be one of the life forming factors. But water is one of the most wasted and polluted resources today. Droplets is working hard to set up sources that can provide clean drinking water to the people living there”, Bethany explained her project.

“What makes Droplets different from other charities? I mean why this particular organization”, Catherine asked.

“Accountability”, Bethany responded immediately. “Droplets is one organization that reports back to their donors on every project that they complete. And this reporting is not limited to the donors. The reports are also available in public domain. For every single completed project they share the photos and GPS coordinates on Google Maps. That is what I find really interesting”, Bethany was using hand gestures now which meant she was really excited and really comfortable talking about this topic.

“And is this where you come in”, Catherine asked, “for the photos.”

“Yes, but my role on these projects will not just be limited to taking photos for the reporting purposes. I will be capturing these people and their efforts to inspire others to join them. See the thing with charities is that they do not always have a shortfall of cash. There are too many do-good figures who are ready to donate. But what is really needed at times is manpower. We do not have enough volunteers to lend a helping hand. Money will only do so much for you. Beyond that it is all volunteers and people who spend their time on the fields. I want to capture them through my lens. I want to show their efforts to the world so that we can have a few more people coming forward. My photos will be used in journals, magazines, newspapers – everywhere”, the photographer explained her role.

“Any other charities identified so far”, Catherine asked.

“Not yet but my manager Benjamin is working with our new investor Vanessa to identify a few more”, Bethany said.

“This means you will be traveling a lot”, Catherine observed.

“Yes that’s right”, Bethany nodded.

“Any fears of being homesick”, Catherine asked.

“Not at all. I took a trip to India a few months back and it has taught me a lot. The concept of fluidity of life is now very clear to me. We humans are all like water. As long as we keep flowing, our spirits will remain clean and energized. The day we stop, we will decay. And I am not ready for that”, Bethany remembered her visit to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial.

“Well looks like we will see some very interesting work coming up from you in the future”, Catherine smiled.

“I hope se”, Bethany agreed to it.

“Well Ms Hill it was a pleasure to have you here with us. We look forward to the good work that you have planned for yourself and we wish you all the best”, Catherine shook hands with her guest.

“Thank you”, Bethany returned the gesture.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that was Bethany Hill talking right from her heart. Before we sign off for the day, I would like to mention a few things. I have known Bethany from our college days and we were good friends, in fact dorm mates. I have seen Bethany’s growth and have witnessed a lot of changes in her. But the one thing that never changed in her was that she never did any interviews to stay in the news. The only times she would talk to the press is during the opening nights of her shows, and that too because the gallery owner that showcased her photos had a stake in it. She always preferred to stay behind the camera. This is the first time that Bethany has agreed to come in front of the camera and do a video interview. There is a message here for everybody to take home. The first one being every single person whether a celebrity or not has a right to privacy. We as press need to respect that. They may be public figures but that does not mean we have a right to intrude in their lives. We need to let them be. The other important message is that we all need to look around ourselves and try to do something for the humanity. We live in our bubbles, disconnected from the world. But isn’t that very selfish of us? We all know that there are people out there who need a little help and support from us. But we lean back in our cushions thinking someone else will do the helping. But that’s not how it should be. We are all tied with a cosmic string that runs through us. A decision made by Bethany today here will affect the lives of so many in some other part of the world. A small act done here today will have an impact somewhere else in the world on somebody. That’s how we leave our mark behind. That’s what our legacy should be. Bethany has chosen her legacy. Now it’s time we choose ours. With that I call it a day for us here at the studio”, Catherine ended her monologue.

The lights went out. The place erupted in applause. The room was full of cheering. Benjamin walked up to Bethany and hugged her. “You were amazing”, he whispered in her ear.

“Thank you Benji for making this possible”, she smiled back at him gratefully.

“You did it B, you did it”, his excitement was quite contagious.

“I couldn’t have done this without you Benji. You have been a true friend to me. I am eternally grateful to you for your support and understanding”, she told him honestly.

“Yeah I know I am the best”, he teased and she laughed.

Soon they were approached by a few people on the sets wanting to congratulate them. Benjamin stepped back letting Bethany soak in this moment.

He looked around and saw Catherine standing in one of the corners going through her notes. He walked up to her. “Thank you Catherine for everything”, he said.

“Thank you Benji for getting her to do this. I will send across the recording to you for your feedback on edits. You are also invited to join my team during the editing sessions. Nothing will get released without your consent”, Catherine told him.

“I am not worried about that anymore”, he told her.

“But I am. I don’t want Bethany to think that I have backstabbed her again. I remember the contract and I will abide by that. We will seek your written consent before we release this interview”, Catherine said as she started packing up.

“Are you mad at me for something”, Benjamin narrowed his eyes and looked at her skeptically.

“No I am not. I just need to be somewhere else now”, and with that Catherine left the room.

Benjamin saw her walking out. He didn’t understand what had happened.

“Benji, have you seen Catherine”, he heard Bethany call him.

“Yeah I saw her”, he replied still looking confused.

“Where is she? I need to talk to her”, Bethany asked him. This was another unexpected behavior from the photographer. He looked at her for a minute and then pointed his finger in the direction that the other woman had taken.

“Thanks”, Bethany replied and started walking in the same direction.

Bethany entered the other room and saw Catherine pacing around and taking deep breaths.

“Catherine”, she called out to the seemingly distressed woman.

“Beth, what are you doing here”, Catherine panicked.

“I wanted to talk to you”, Bethany came closer and crossed her arms.

“I have already told Benjamin that nothing will get released without written consent from you”, Catherine moved ahead and assumed the same stance in front of the photographer.

“That’s ok, I am not here for that”, Bethany looked down at her feet. Her demeanor had changed. Her voice no longer held that venomous tone nor did her eyes have the same disdain and disgust.

“Why are you here then”, Catherine asked looking confused. She didn’t expect the photographer to be standing in front of her.

“I am here to thank you”, Bethany said calmly.

“Thank me for what”, Catherine still couldn’t understand what was happening. Was this real? Was Bethany indeed there to thank her? Or was she acting disillusioned?

“For doing this. I know I had my doubts that you would try to turn around this interview for your own personal gain. But I was wrong”, the photographer finally admitted.

“I told you I have learnt my lesson. I would never go behind your back ever again”, Catherine repeated what she had said so many times before.

“In that case I wanted to ask you something”, Bethany stepped further ahead.

“What”, Catherine was all ears now. What was the photographer going to ask her.

“Can I have my friend back”, Bethany asked. “I have been missing her badly.”

“Of course you can”, Catherine moved ahead and hugged the photographer.

Benjamin who stood at the door looked at the two women and smiled to himself. This was long time coming. He had been seeing both the friends at loggerheads with each other for a very long time now. He missed that easy camaraderie and the fun that they used to have together. The bitterness and the disgust had taken over their relationship. But now they had found their closure. They had managed to bury the hatchet once and for all. This was going to be a new start for all of them. Things were going to change and they were going to be better. They were going to be happy. Isn’t that what everyone wants, to be happy? It’s just that different people seek their happiness in different things. This was Bethany’s way. She had finally found meaning and purpose in life and nothing could beat that now.

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