I’ll admit. That was my worst move yet.
When the bride was in the bathroom, for the fifth time that morning, I dipped the corner of her veil in her mother’s cappuccino.
The first time I’d done something like that, I pocketed a hairpin. The bride’s sister had held one loop of her sister’s hair in place with one hand while the other searched the dresser for the hairpin she’d just put there a minute ago. It wasn’t even one of those fancy, studded ones either. It was just a regular, black bobby pin. I don’t know why I did it, but it felt good.
But then, at other weddings, I took (or hid) a stick of lipstick, one stocking, a lighter (the bride was a nervous smoker), a list of final touches, a false fingernail, a bra.
These were minor things that made for some short-lived panic but never ruined the day or left anyone in tears. The important things turned up after a few minutes, while the unimportant things stayed in my back pocket. Sometimes I felt awful, but then I reminded myself that I was only human, and if I had to have a vice, then let it be this.
But this time? No regrets! That bride drove me, and everyone, mad. If anyone saw me, they’d probably applaud me, but of course I didn’t let anyone see me. The whole morning, it had been a series of orders barked at all of us. At one point, she said to her bridesmaid, “If I’d known you would be on your phone, I would’ve asked Sarah!”
She said it with a chuckle, as if she meant it as a funny joke. Her mother rolled her eyes, making sure she didn’t see her, as if asking the bridesmaid to let it slide and reminding her that her daughter was usually a good person. The young lady took a deep breath and put her phone on the table, face down, and went over to stand by the bride. She just had to be there, admiring her friend’s glow on her big day.
When the ladies came out of the ensuite bathroom holding the hems of her dress from every angle, she reclaimed her stool in front of the vanity dresser.
I took some fantastic shots of her doting mother and friends doing her hair, fixing her makeup, and helping her into her glittery shoes. My favourite shot was of the bride looking outside the large hotel window as she put on her pearl earrings.
I was showing her mother the photo on my camera when we heard the scream. She was literally stomping her feet like a three-year old. Her mother rushed over and they all gasped when they saw the brownish corner of the veil. I held the camera down but tilted the lens upward, snapping what I’d say is the funniest photo I’d ever taken at a wedding. Of course, there are those classic shots of children falling asleep under tables with cake smeared on their faces or a drunk auntie giving everyone wet kisses, but this is a different kind of funny. The kind for my private collection. The horrified, bulging eyes, the mouths held in weird positions of horror or suppressed laughter, the arms flailing, the angry, accusatory looks.
“Oh, no, what happened?” I asked innocently.
“Nothing, Leah! Just someone’s fucking COFFEE spilt on my veil!” she snarled.
The mother took the veil to wash it in the basin while the bride went over to the balcony to see what was being done in the hotel garden. Her posse followed her and commented on how beautiful it all looked and that it was going to be a great day no matter what. They all admired the flower-covered arch, the neat rows of chairs, and the clear blue sky keeping its side of the agreement. It made for a beautiful photo of a soothed bride adorned in a halo of light coming from the window, surrounded by those who loved her in their pastel-coloured dresses. It was one of her favourites afterwards.
Soon, we heard the blow drier from the bathroom. A few minutes later, the girls fastened the veil on the content bride while her mother held her daughter’s hand with one hand and wiped some tears with the other.
That moment made for some of the best black and white shots I’d taken for a while.
When we went downstairs, I saw Dan waiting with his headset on and his sheets of paper.
“Babe!” he hissed, “what took y’all so long? I thought we’d agreed that you’d be mindful of the time!”
I apologised quickly and ran off after the bride. It was a wedding much like this that got us together. It was in Hawaii and Dan was the wedding planner. The bride had asked him to get in touch with me, and he hired me after thoroughly examining my Instagram page. Years later, he told me my photos were among the most authentic yet natural ones he had ever seen.
It's true. I usually carefully observe the couple's dynamics, their best sides, and their not so pretty sides. I catch details nobody notices until they see them on film. I capture micro moments of immense joy and adoration. I simply do it with all of my soul. I leave the wedding drained! Dan, however, though excellent at his job, saw it as a military mission. Everything had to be perfect. Every stage of the wedding had a ten-minute buffer that he tried his best not to use. The couples loved and hated him at the same time.
Well, I just loved him. He was funny, dynamic, sure of himself. He had a sixth sense regarding which clients to take on. He stayed away from stingy parents who wanted to squeeze every service from us for the lowest price. He stayed away from hesitant grooms who seemed like they might not show up on the day. He stayed away from brides who didn’t know what they wanted. Bridezillas, he could handle. Indifferent brides, however, he could not. But once he accepted a project, it was guaranteed to be a success. I loved working with him. Not just because I loved him, but because I was in awe of his mastery of everything. I also admired how detached he was from his field of work.
“All these weddings!” he once laughed. “They’ll most probably be divorced two years from now. But we’re so lucky weddings will never go out of fashion!”
This was precisely what had ignited the spark between us at the Hawaii wedding. I’d made a cynical remark about these big weddings where the couple chased a temporary high that wouldn’t mean much with time.
He looked at me as if he’d just found a long-lost mate, “Right? The whole institution is just archaic!”
“Absolutely!” I nodded as I packed my lenses.
I meant it too. I was a wedding photographer who loved weddings but didn’t believe in them. I grew up watching my whole family get divorced one after the other. I would take the best photos I could take, almost wanting the couple to enjoy this illusion of happiness and oneness while it lasted.
But then, Dan and I started dating. The first time he absentmindedly referred to me as his girlfriend while talking with his assistant, my heart fluttered. I didn’t make a big deal out of it or mention it later. He was a practical guy, and these sentiments embarrassed him.
One day, he nonchalantly said, “When we have kids, I’m teaching them all the things I wished I knew how to do when I was little!”
This was during a rare moment of vulnerability about his rough childhood, but I was stunned he wanted kids… with me!
After being together for six years, being partners in business and in life, I’m more in love with him than ever. He’s the opposite of every cliché I’d heard about love becoming duller with time. He still treats me like his princess. He brings me coffee in bed every morning. He still plays with my hair until I fall asleep every night. He drove my mother to most of her chemo sessions.
Still, I strayed.
I can’t blame him for anything because it’s me who changed. No, not that kind of “strayed”. See, I changed my opinion about weddings. Now every time he bashes the concept of marriage, a candle in my heart goes out.
At some point, I started wondering, if this relationship wasn’t worth crowning with a wedding, then which one was? Did I not deserve a ridiculously poufy dress and overpriced flower arrangements? That was when I started my minor acts of sabotage. I'm still not sure what the point was, but I had to do them or stop going to weddings, professionally or personally.
I pushed the record button as the bride slowly and elegantly walked down the aisle with her father. The pedantic, petulant girl from upstairs was, as if by magic, a sweet, confident woman, sure that this path was her path to a happily partnered life. I picked up my other camera to take a few shots of the teary groom, the best man putting a steadying hand on his shoulder, the guests covering their mouths in awe, the fluttering balloons, the yellow butterfly that happened to land on one of the bouquets.
Was I really crying?
Everyone was looking toward the front as the music played and the bride inched closer to the altar, but when my eyes searched for Dan, I saw him staring at me from the other side of the garden. His jaw was clenched, his hand over his mouth in disbelief.
I blinked away the tears and tried to smile reassuringly at him. He turned on his heel and went inside.