Life in Black and White by Ellie Duffy

Short story ‘Life in Black and White’, on Superimposition (UK-HK), by artists Hin Nam Fong, Melanie King, Samson Pak Hang Wong (Power of Place).

She twists in her seat, a white gaming chair that probably meets standard regulations for home working conditions if you ignore its slightly wobbly left armrest. Lids drop slowly over dry, tired eyes, while the beaming sun pierces its way through the fingerprint-covered window. Summer wasn’t meant for this. She listens to the familiar chime of her loaned Dell laptop coming to life. Even that sounds strained, much like her cramped fingers and stiffening neck. Only in her twenties, healthy and spritely in the ‘Before Times’, her body shouldn’t feel like this, but long days hunched over a laptop has taken its toll, and she
wonders, as she always does, when this will all be over.

The screen comes to life with its scattered, disorganised folders and company-specific applications, and she glides her finger lazily over the trackpad until her cursor hovers over her email. She yawns, watching the same messages from the same accounts filter into her inbox: Lindsay from HR, Josh from Marketing—a pause. She doesn’t recognise this address.

NEVER OPEN AN EMAIL FROM AN UNKNOWN ADDRESS! She recalls Heather from IT’s explicit warning. A tightly locked database, spam accounts rarely make their way through
the firewall, but she has seen them on occasion. She drags them simply to the email’s ‘trash’ folder, then goes on with her day the same way she always does. Everything is the same lately. Same, same, same…

A mixture of curiosity, lack of care and, just maybe, a small portion of rebellion, of the desire to do something out of the ordinary no matter how minute, causes her to tap on the unknown email, its subject simple: Today.

We don’t know each other, but I hope this email finds you well.
Please see my image below, and tell me…is it this quiet there?

Compelled by the email’s ominous body, she blinks from the text to the picture below, its bright colours dulled by immediate emptiness. She doesn’t know the place, but she can tell
it is not the UK. She stares at the scene for a while, able to picture its usual vibrancy. She imagines droves of pedestrians lining the streets, cool drinks and idle chatter. Colourful conversation, happiness, joy. When she looks again, though, what she sees is the reality: a near-empty street, silenced by the pandemic unfolding around her. Around the whole world.

She is stunned to silence, to sadness, to emptiness. Then, to realisation, to a sense of unity. She stands, iPhone poised and camera ready, then takes a picture of the first thing to catch
her eye: a bright red post box across the street, chipped and graffitied but still standing tall. The reflection in the window imposes her photo, but she doesn’t suppose that matters.

Ignoring the voice in her head that sounds suspiciously like Heather from IT’s, she types her response while her photo uploads:

Thank you for your photo. Here’s mine:


As you can see, everything’s black and white here now, too.