Category Archives: Brief as Photos

Brief as Photos: Still Gunning for 52

It’s easier said than done. Writing short-short stories, that is.

I started my “Brief as Photos” series exactly a year ago last week. My first, Lara’s Story was posted on April 26, 2008. The idea was to write a short-short story of less than 1,000 words every week for a year. That would have amounted to 52 stories in a year. But – as you can see, I did not even get to my half-way mark, which is really a bummer … sigh! I will continue to write my short-shorts until I get to 52. It may take me a year … or two… we’ll see. I may be on a move in a year or so. I did blogged my 500th post on May 1st …okay, that’s not an excuse … but I wasn’t idle, just writing about something else…

Here are the stories I wrote this past year:

Brief as Photos – 19: Ambassador to the South

Brief as Photos – 18: New Hire

Brief as Photos – 17: The Winner

Brief as Photos – 16: The Djinn of Small Wishes

Brief as Photos – 15: The Adventurous Life of a Fingerprint Scanner

Brief as Photos – 14: Japanese Roulette

Brief as Photos – 13: An American Abroad

Brief as Photos – 12: Gorgeous Princess Goin’ Fishing

Brief as Photos – 11: My Mother’s House

Brief as Photos – 10: Houses with Arches

Brief as Photos – 9: The Senior Spouse

Brief as Photos – 8: Campaign Props

Brief as Photos – 7: A Diplomat’s Wife

Brief as Photos – 6: The Good Consul

Brief as Photos – 5: Nurbibi

Brief as Photos – 4: Lottery

Brief as Photos – 3: Tandem Couple

Brief as Photos – 2: Bus Ride

Brief as Photos – 1: Lara’s Story



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Brief as Photos: Still Gunning for 52

It’s easier said than done. Writing short-short stories, that is.

I started my “Brief as Photos” series exactly a year ago last week. My first, Lara’s Story was posted on April 26, 2008. The idea was to write a short-short story of less than 1,000 words every week for a year. That would have amounted to 52 stories in a year. But – as you can see, I did not even get to my half-way mark, which is really a bummer … sigh! I will continue to write my short-shorts until I get to 52. It may take me a year … or two… we’ll see. I may be on a move in a year or so. I did blogged my 500th post on May 1st …okay, that’s not an excuse … but I wasn’t idle, just writing about something else…

Here are the stories I wrote this past year:

Brief as Photos – 19: Ambassador to the South

Brief as Photos – 18: New Hire

Brief as Photos – 17: The Winner

Brief as Photos – 16: The Djinn of Small Wishes

Brief as Photos – 15: The Adventurous Life of a Fingerprint Scanner

Brief as Photos – 14: Japanese Roulette

Brief as Photos – 13: An American Abroad

Brief as Photos – 12: Gorgeous Princess Goin’ Fishing

Brief as Photos – 11: My Mother’s House

Brief as Photos – 10: Houses with Arches

Brief as Photos – 9: The Senior Spouse

Brief as Photos – 8: Campaign Props

Brief as Photos – 7: A Diplomat’s Wife

Brief as Photos – 6: The Good Consul

Brief as Photos – 5: Nurbibi

Brief as Photos – 4: Lottery

Brief as Photos – 3: Tandem Couple

Brief as Photos – 2: Bus Ride

Brief as Photos – 1: Lara’s Story



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Brief as Photos – 19: Ambassador to the South

He thought he would make an exceptional ambassador one day. He lobbied hard to get a stretch assignment even in the belly of Africa but was not quite lucky. Instead he got a Principal Officer’s assignment in some backwater country. It was not the ambassadorship he had hoped for but the country was large and his consular district straddled two-thirds of the country. So he was not entirely unhappy.

He was in one of his trips to the southernmost part of his district when he realized that people had difficulty trying to understand his title as principal officer of the consulate. He thought of introducing himself as the American Consul, but his hosts often think of that as exactly the same level as the Honorary Consul of Belgium or Liechtenstein or some other old European country. In one of his radio interviews, he explained his role as kind of the “ambassador to the south.” And before long, he was being introduced as the U.S. ambassador to the south. He was quite popular wherever he went. He visited just about every large city in his district and a few smaller towns with ethnic and indigenous populations. He shook hands and chatted with politicians in fancy clothes, tribal leaders in colorful attires, farmers working in their fields, housewives carrying babies, students in town hall meetings and more. He listened and dutifully wrote a cable after every trip. He told himself that sooner or later, somebody was going to discover the wisdom of his insights, as well as his reporting skills, and send him somewhere important.

In May, he received word that the US ambassador wanted to host an official 4th of July celebration in his district. It was going to be their largest reception ever, as the U.S. ambassador wanted to meet all their local contacts in the southern part of the country. By early June the list had been finalized, the invitations all sent out, and his office was conducting telephonic confirmation for all the missing RSVPs.

The 4th of July reception at the residence was the talk of the town. On the night of the reception, the principal officer happily introduced his local contacts to the U.S. ambassador. Some have travelled from the far ends of his district.

A man in a colorful tribal get-up with a large smile walked excitedly towards where the principal officer and the U.S. ambassador were greeting the guests. The officer remembered him as the senior leader of a large tribal group.

“Mr. Ambassador, I’m so glad to see you again, sir!” the man said as he shook the principal officer’s hands.

The principal officer quickly introduced the tribal leader to the ambassador, hoping the latter would put the incident to nothing more than ignorance on the part of the guest.

But the tribal leader was not to be deterred. “It is nice to have two ambassadors here; it shows that we are a very important country,” he declared.

“Mr. Salamuddin,” the principal officer interrupted, “we only have one American Ambassador here. I work for him.”

“But I don’t understand, you are the ambassador to the south, no?” the tribal leader persisted.

The principal officer dared not look at his boss’ face. With an arm across the tribal leader’s shoulder, he quietly walked him away from the receiving line.

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Brief as Photos – 19: Ambassador to the South

He thought he would make an exceptional ambassador one day. He lobbied hard to get a stretch assignment even in the belly of Africa but was not quite lucky. Instead he got a Principal Officer’s assignment in some backwater country. It was not the ambassadorship he had hoped for but the country was large and his consular district straddled two-thirds of the country. So he was not entirely unhappy.

He was in one of his trips to the southernmost part of his district when he realized that people had difficulty trying to understand his title as principal officer of the consulate. He thought of introducing himself as the American Consul, but his hosts often think of that as exactly the same level as the Honorary Consul of Belgium or Liechtenstein or some other old European country. In one of his radio interviews, he explained his role as kind of the “ambassador to the south.” And before long, he was being introduced as the U.S. ambassador to the south. He was quite popular wherever he went. He visited just about every large city in his district and a few smaller towns with ethnic and indigenous populations. He shook hands and chatted with politicians in fancy clothes, tribal leaders in colorful attires, farmers working in their fields, housewives carrying babies, students in town hall meetings and more. He listened and dutifully wrote a cable after every trip. He told himself that sooner or later, somebody was going to discover the wisdom of his insights, as well as his reporting skills, and send him somewhere important.

In May, he received word that the US ambassador wanted to host an official 4th of July celebration in his district. It was going to be their largest reception ever, as the U.S. ambassador wanted to meet all their local contacts in the southern part of the country. By early June the list had been finalized, the invitations all sent out, and his office was conducting telephonic confirmation for all the missing RSVPs.

The 4th of July reception at the residence was the talk of the town. On the night of the reception, the principal officer happily introduced his local contacts to the U.S. ambassador. Some have travelled from the far ends of his district.

A man in a colorful tribal get-up with a large smile walked excitedly towards where the principal officer and the U.S. ambassador were greeting the guests. The officer remembered him as the senior leader of a large tribal group.

“Mr. Ambassador, I’m so glad to see you again, sir!” the man said as he shook the principal officer’s hands.

The principal officer quickly introduced the tribal leader to the ambassador, hoping the latter would put the incident to nothing more than ignorance on the part of the guest.

But the tribal leader was not to be deterred. “It is nice to have two ambassadors here; it shows that we are a very important country,” he declared.

“Mr. Salamuddin,” the principal officer interrupted, “we only have one American Ambassador here. I work for him.”

“But I don’t understand, you are the ambassador to the south, no?” the tribal leader persisted.

The principal officer dared not look at his boss’ face. With an arm across the tribal leader’s shoulder, he quietly walked him away from the receiving line.

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Brief as Photos – 18: New Hire

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

After they’ve completed one domestic tour and halfway through their third overseas tour, she became convinced that real jobs were difficult to come by in this lifestyle. She hated begging for jobs at every post. It was not that she was not capable; there were just not enough jobs to go around.

One day she made the leap to becoming a secretary; she thought this would afford her a job as she moves around with her husband every two-three years. She taught herself the Microsoft suite, applied online and easily got into the OMS program. She left her two kids with her husband in South America and went back to DC for training. They talked every week and she worked really hard. She had no problem completing the training but she missed her family every single moment. Then she learned that she was going to Barbados for her first assignment.

Considering the other places where she could have ended up for her first directed assignment, Barbados seemed like heaven. Except that her husband was being sent to the other side of the world. She came up with four locations where she and her husband could have served together but the assignment office told her “no.” She helpfully pointed out that one of the four places in her list had not been filled for the last two assignment cycles. The answer was still “no.” She talked it over with her husband and they’ve decided she should still go to Barbados. So she put in a request to visit her family and pack out before she shipped out to Barbados. The answer was also “no.” There was no time to spare; she was needed at post immediately. She wondered out loud if the needs of the Service will now always outweigh the needs of her family. Her assignment officer did not have anything to say.

One day she was a new hire, a few days later she was part of some statistics. It almost felt like a dream, except that she had a bill asking that she pay back all the training and related expenses. All of it.

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Brief as Photos – 18: New Hire

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

After they’ve completed one domestic tour and halfway through their third overseas tour, she became convinced that real jobs were difficult to come by in this lifestyle. She hated begging for jobs at every post. It was not that she was not capable; there were just not enough jobs to go around.

One day she made the leap to becoming a secretary; she thought this would afford her a job as she moves around with her husband every two-three years. She taught herself the Microsoft suite, applied online and easily got into the OMS program. She left her two kids with her husband in South America and went back to DC for training. They talked every week and she worked really hard. She had no problem completing the training but she missed her family every single moment. Then she learned that she was going to Barbados for her first assignment.

Considering the other places where she could have ended up for her first directed assignment, Barbados seemed like heaven. Except that her husband was being sent to the other side of the world. She came up with four locations where she and her husband could have served together but the assignment office told her “no.” She helpfully pointed out that one of the four places in her list had not been filled for the last two assignment cycles. The answer was still “no.” She talked it over with her husband and they’ve decided she should still go to Barbados. So she put in a request to visit her family and pack out before she shipped out to Barbados. The answer was also “no.” There was no time to spare; she was needed at post immediately. She wondered out loud if the needs of the Service will now always outweigh the needs of her family. Her assignment officer did not have anything to say.

One day she was a new hire, a few days later she was part of some statistics. It almost felt like a dream, except that she had a bill asking that she pay back all the training and related expenses. All of it.

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Brief as Photos – 17: The Winner

Photo from Wikimedia Commons under
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

It was her last day at work. She came in at her usual time, had coffee, and avoided answering the phone. She has started cleaning up her desk months ago, perhaps years ago, she could not recall. Yesterday she took all the photo frames and her knick knacks home. On her last day at work, there was really nothing else to do. But they all pretended otherwise, it was her last day at work, after all. She found some paper towels and armed with a can of Pledge proceeded to work on making her oak desk shine. She could not remember the last time she has done that in her long years of working there.

Somebody collected some money and they had pizza for lunch. After the afternoon coffee break, they had cake then they gave her a pin to commemorate her service. They also give her a card signed by all her co-workers including those she barely knew. Then they gave her a nice plaque, an award for something they said she did. There were hugs and goodbyes. They told her to come back and visit often. At quitting time, she was the first one out the door.

She had a big smile when she got on the elevator. The young man already in the car, smiled back.

She said, “It’s my last day at work today.”

The young man said, “Congratulations! You must be happy to sail into retirement.”

“Yes, I am,” she replied. “And I never had to put in a full day of work in 36 years,” she added proudly as she stepped out of the elevator.


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Brief as Photos – 16: The Djinn of Small Wishes


© Jupiter Images from clipart.com

George was a creature of unvarying habit. His afternoon walk, for example, usually ended at one of the benches inside Rumeli Hisar. He often liked to sit there with a good book. His favorite bench was on an elevated spot where he could sit and watch the Bosphorus all day, if he had all day. Sometimes, George sat there simply to watch the ships plying the route between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

George started fiddling with the samovar’s faucet, his newfound bargain from the Tahtahkale market. Then quite suddenly he heard a man clear his throat. He looked up to find an elderly fellow sitting at the other end of his bench. Not having heard the man approach, George was surprised to see him at all. The old man was wearing a dark Ottoman style tunic and pants. A red fez crowned his obviously bald head. His long, bushy and elegant mustache curled ostentatiously upward at the ends. George nodded to him abstractly.

“Pardon, efendi,” the man said addressing George in a Turkish honorific, clearing his throat again and standing up. “Ahhhhgggg, I have been waiting to do that for sooo long,” the man added, making a grand production of

stretching his back. “You have no idea what such a tiny space can do to your bones,” the man continued in a heavily accented baritone.

“I guess not,” George answered to be polite.

“Thank you, efendi,” the man said formally. “I am Mustafa. At your service,” the peculiar man said as he bowed.

George did not know what to make of all this. Although the man did not look like a vagrant, he was acting strange. And for all his obvious years, the fellow seemed robust enough to do damage if so inclined. George decided to give the fellow the benefit of the doubt. He had no desire to give up his bench any time soon.

“I am deeply indebted to you, efendi,” the man informed George. “You may ask for anything you want,” he offered expansively.

“Thank you, sir, but I have not done anything,” George replied.

“Oh, but you have!” Mustafa exclaimed, launching into a brief foot-shuffling dance. “You released me from that horrible prison.

“I released you from prison?” George asked. “From this?” George inquired with obvious disbelief in his voice as he looked at his samovar. “Okay, so who or what are you,” he asked good-humouredly after a pause.

“I am a djinn, of course, efendi,” Mustafa replied with a huge smile, as he proudly twirled one end of his mustache.

“A djinn? Ahh, you mean flying carpets and Aladdin’s lamp,” George asked trying to keep a straight face.

Efendi, please,” begged Mustafa. “I am a djinn, of course, but not the flying carpet sort. Those are a lowly bunch.

“I see,” George replied skeptically. “Please do tell me, am I the only one who can see you?”

“No, no, efendi. Of course, other people can see me,” Mustafa exclaimed. “Naturally, I can make myself invisible if I choose to,” he added with a wink.

“I see,” George replied. “Please stop calling me efendi. My name is George.”

“Of course, of course,” Mustafa replied. “I call you efendi merely to show my great respect. “If you are in doubt, you may ask the first person who comes by what they think of my fez.” When George did not respond, Mustafa continued, “You still don’t believe me? Okay, efendi, why don’t you make a wish?”

“All right,” George said, “make me the American ambassador to Turkey.”

Efendi, you must understand,” Mustafa protested. “I am a djinn of small wishes. I can make many wishes come true one step at a time, but a colossal wish like that is beyond my domain.”

The man answered so seriously that George almost wanted to believe him. “Ahh, Mustafa, you are good,” George replied with a sigh. “Tell me, what is it you really want? A visa?”

But small wishes matter, efendi,” Mustafa insisted. “Many small wishes add up to a big wish, if you know how to ask…” He paused, and then asked, “What is a visa?”

“Never mind,” George replied. “So you mean that if I want to be rich, I should wish for a nightly win in the casino for what, a thousand days?” George could not keep the derision from his voice.

“Well, kind of like that, efendi,” Mustafa answered. “Of course, it need not be a thousand days,” he added seriously.

George was growing tired of the strange fellow’s game. “Okay,” he said, “here’s a small wish for you. I want to see three boats sailing under the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge right this minute. I want their colors to be lime, pink and yellow, in that order,” George smiled as he asked for the most impossible colors he could think of in a sailboat.

“The Fatih Sultan …” the man stuttered, looking confused. “Ahh, is that what they call that thing now? The Conqueror’s bridge…” Mustafa gestured towards the bridge. “Er, what kind of boats, efendi?” he asked, turning to George once more.

“Any would do, Mustafa,” George replied as he tried to keep a straight face. No sooner had the words left his mouth when he saw a slow procession of the ice cream colored boats sailing under the bridge. “What the hell!” he exclaimed, quickly jumping to his feet.

“Another wish, efendi?” the djinn asked calmly, obviously satisfied with his handiwork and the reaction to it.

“Well, let’s see now — how about a fish sandwich from one of those fancy boats by Galata Bridge?” George asked drolly, still not quite sure a real djinn is right before him. This only happens in fairy stories he told himself. “Wait!” he exclaimed. “How many wishes do I get?” he asked looking as if he just won the lottery.

“As many as you like, efendi,” Mustafa replied with a slight bow. “One fish sandwich coming up,” the djinn announced.

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Brief as Photos – 15: The Adventurous Life of a Fingerprint Scanner

Photo from wikipedia under GNU Free Documentation License

She tried to make them feel comfortable and relaxed so she could get them to follow her fingerprint instruction as quickly as possible, but it was unavoidably hard to calm them when all they could think about was that visa interview. If you know anything about consular work, you know that most of the clients were nervous wrecks by the time they get to the window, any window for that matter. They’d placed their palm on the scanner, or they’d put their thumb on the edge or their pinkie on the side of the scanner. They’d place their folder, or hat, or handbag on top of it, too. You name it; she had seen just about every which way they thought their finger (and possessions) could get scanned. And she had only been working there for several months.

She smiled and told the lady once more to put her left index finger on the red light. The lady looked at her with a slight confusion on her face then proceeded to take off her eyeglasses and placed it on top of the scanner. “No, señora,” she said even more gently. “I need you to put your left index finger on the red light,” in as clear a Spanish as she could muster. The woman smiled widely, hesitated momentarily then took off her false teeth and placed it on top of the red light.


False teeth on her scanner – imagine. But she never freak out. Not even when a mommy whip out a booby to calm a screaming baby right when she had to capture those fingerprints. Not even when a bulky gentleman made a pass at her and tried mightily to collect her phone number. Not even when she was presented with an extra digit from each hand. Cool as a cucumber could not even begin to describe her.

She realized that you’ve got to have a straight face in this business or you’d ruin it for everyone else the rest of the day. She and the old lady had a good laugh afterwards after all the brouhahas died down and the scanner had been cleaned. They had no hard feelings, and they both had fun stories to tell – everybody knew that you could make the same mistake easily with these new technologies (she could already imagine the scenes if they ever go into ear or retina scan).


All part of the day’s adventure she thought as she looked out into her line that snaked through the doorway and into the waiting area under the fine tropical weather.


Since the office where she worked was a “test” post for the fingerprint program, they became kind of a showcase.
And as the “it” person doing the fingerprinting, she sort of became a showcase, too. One day they had a visit from Mr. Big Politician whose name has been thrown about in the veepstakes. He also came from the same border state where she was registered to vote.

The Consul General introduced her to the entourage as the sole biometrics person at post, as if somehow that is a laudable distinction in someone’s so called career.

“Thank you for the great job you’re doing,” said the visiting politician. She realized she should not be offended but she has always been taught not to say things you don’t mean.

“Caught any terrorist lately?” the politician asked. She thought, this guy must be joking, but he looked absolutely full and serious. Before she could stop herself, the response was out, “Unfortunately not. I do have to report that I snagged the teeth of the little old lady from Chamachenga last week. Who knows what else is out there?”

The politician let out a bellyful of laughter and the whole room burst into laughter with him, of course. So she went on and told him the story about the old lady who left her teeth on her fingerprint scanner.

“How many applicants do you fingerprint every day?” the politician queried after the laughter died down.

“Between 400 and 500,” she replied.

“We issue that many visas in one day from here?” the politician inquired with alarm.

“No, that’s the average number of visa applicants we get, the number we issue are significantly lower than that,” explained the Consul General quickly.


“Then why don’t you just take the fingerprints from those that you will issue visas to, instead of everyone?” the politician inquired helpfully.

“EBSA,” she piped up aware that the Consul General was giving her a look. But she was not sure if the look was encouraging or career ending, not that she really had any career to speak of.

“What’s that?” Mr. Big Politician asked.

“Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act which you helped passed in 2002,” she replied without batting an eyelash. “Which also dictate that I must take the prints of all visa applicants unless they are below 14 or over 79,” she added helpfully.

“Is that so?” Mr. Politician answered without blinking an eye. “Interesting.”

“You know of course, that the bad guys are not going to line up here to have their fingerprints scanned, right?” she asked her elected official before she could stop herself.

“How’s that?” Mr. Politician replied swiftly.

“Well, there’s this big hole up north as large as a dinosaur and over here, they hire “coyotes” to take them through that hole,” she added for effect, referring to the human smugglers popular in Central America. “Sometimes their services go “on sale” and the $5K fee gets a price reduction.”

“Is that so?” he replied. “Well, best do your job, best do your job well honey, and I’ll do my best to worry about this,” her honorable politician promised as he walked away leaving a wafting smell of the brewery in his wake.


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Brief as Photos: 14 – Japanese Roulette

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