Granny Ben

It actually isn’t as much a story of a photograph as it is a story of an old and lonely woman and her small dog. The whole thing took place about ten years ago in one neighborhood in Southern Bohemia in the middle of blocks of panel houses.

Granny Ben

In this ordinary and god-forsaken place, every afternoon small boys played football on the ground between the buildings. The ball was flew all over and bounced in all directions. But of all places, it flew the most into the window of an old woman, who had no one and was a good target for different pranks. And so every other day the same scene occurred, in which the boys begged the old lady for their ball that had dropped into her kitchen and broken dishes or sometimes the window. The lady didn’t want to give up the ball and sent her tiny barking dog Ben at them. It always involved a lot of shouts and tears. And so the lady began to be called Granny Ben.

No one was particularly fond of the lady because Benny got up every day around four o’clock in the morning and the old lady walked him around the whole closed block of homes. As soon as she opened the door at this early morning hour, the dog took a run and barked all over. The lady, still in her nightgown, screamed behind him in a high-pitched voice as loudly as she could: “Benny!!! You bastard, wait!!! Just wait, my darling, just wait till I catch you, I will kill yooou!” Neighbors leaned out of their windows, shouted at the poor old woman various unpublishable swear words and occasionally even threw something at her. And so it was repeated every other morning.

One afternoon, I think it was in the fall, this lady grabbed me under my arm, pressed me against her and said: “Young man, would you photograph me with my little darling? I will hang the photo above the cupboard in the kitchen, so that we wouldn’t be home so alone………”

Sure! Sure my dear, I will shoot such an old hag, who wakes me up every morning, never lets me have a good sleep, not even on Sundays. I will photograph a granny who takes away the football from small boys! And already I was looking for a suitable excuse to quickly and quietly get out of it, but her embrace was so tight that I couldn’t refuse.

“All right, just stand here perhaps, click, click ……….. well and it’s done!!! I will bring you the photo tomorrow.” I didn’t even wait for her to thank me or hug me tightly. The next day I approached the apartment on the first floor of the building, where the lady lived. I had the photograph, 40×50 cm, neatly hidden in a hard paper tube so that it couldn’t be seen at once and so that it would be more difficult to take it out. I rang the bell at the door. “Good morning, here…… here you have the photo….. as you wanted… so, have a nice day and good bye!” I didn’t wait for anything, took the stairs three at a time. Surely when madam sees herself, her embrace would be even firmer and maybe that wouldn’t even be the end of it. Out of breath, I stopped outside under her open windows and I waited to see what would happen. I have never before heard such long and cheerful heartfelt laughter that came and it was one of the greatest rewards I have ever received. Before I moved away from the neighborhood, the lady always nicely greeted me in a high voice across the whole street and once she even invited me to her home for coffee. To see Benny in the golden frame, she said.

Thanks to this photograph I sleep well in the morning. Thanks to this photograph I see the world of old people differently. Since that time I don’t mind dogs barking in the morning.

Incidentally, this photograph was chosen this December for an anthology of documentary photography and photojournalism, which will be published in the USA and which aims to show the ordinary face of this world. But that’s not as important.

Daniel Kaifer

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