I’m never late for movies. But that day, I didn’t know I was going to a movie. My daughter was in detox, again, and this was the morning I was supposed to pick her up. It was never easy, being reunited with Anna, so I asked my good friend to come with me.
As Gill and I were heading towards the detox facility, my phone rang. They’d decided to keep Anna a little longer. Woo hoo! She loved it in there, and it gave me a few more days of freedom. ‘Let’s go to the Nova,’ I suggested. After all, it was Monday: cheap day. We could still just catch the morning session. Winter Sleep was playing, which we wanted to see because Margaret and David (bless their dear, departed-from-TV souls) both gave it four and a half stars.
We got our tickets with minutes to spare. Noting that the running time was three-and-a-half hours, we figured we’d need some sustenance. We decided Gill would dash down to Woolies for fruit, while I got the coffees. We’d meet in the cinema.
When I got to the cinema door, Gill was waiting outside. ‘I’d better go to the loo,’ she said. ‘It’s packed in there, but I found us two seats together, in the very back row. I put a banana on each of the seats to save them.’
The Nova’s layout is pretty novel, with each of its cinemas a different size and shape. This was one of the medium-sized ones. I made my way up the aisle and had nearly reached the back row when the message on the screen that tells us to turn off our mobiles faded away, and I couldn’t see a thing. On reflection, I should have waited for my eyes to adjust. But, as I got my phone out to mute it, at the same time balancing the two cups of coffee, a bright idea occurred to me. I’d turn on the assistive light. I shone my beam over the row, allowing me to see two empty seats at the far end. I proceeded to squeeze in front of the viewers, politely murmuring, ‘Excuse me,’ to each person. As I edged in front of the tall older woman next to the empty seats, a voice exploded out of her: ‘Jesus Christ! Everybody else managed to get here on time!’
Her words were full of so much venom, I was shocked into feeling like the chastised child I too often was. ‘Sorry,’ I mumbled, ‘I’m looking for two bananas.’ With my little torch I scanned the seats... they were indeed two empty ones, but I couldn’t see anything on them. The woman snarled, ‘Turn that light off! NOW!’
I dropped into the seat beside her. She wouldn’t let up. ‘I said, turn that thing OFF!’
‘Ok. Sorry...’ Hands shaking, I couldn’t find the button for the bloody light. Finally, somehow, I managed to turn it off just as the film began to roll. I sat with my heart hammering, groping around in the empty seat on my right. I could locate no tropical fruit of any description. Where were the bananas? Where was Gill? I looked around desperately and that’s when I saw, in the light of the now glowing screen, two seats tucked right up the back in the corner of the cinema, over to my far left.
Who knew there could be a row with only two seats? I squinted over there and sure enough, I could make out the familiar shape of my friend. But I couldn’t go to her. No way was I going to risk more public humiliation by scuttling in front of Dragon Woman. And it had been awhile since I was agile enough to scramble over the back of a seat. Gill, however, was fitter than me. If I could get her attention, she could walk behind my row and climb into the seat beside me. I tried a feeble wave, but Gill was staring at the film. Texting her wouldn’t work because I knew she kept her mobile in her bag, and would have turned it to silent. I had to face it: I was stuck, with Gill’s latte getting colder by the second. At least I could sip my own coffee... but then a terrible thought surfaced. I had ordered a large long black, and if I drank that, I was so gonna have to pee before this 196-minute movie was over. And then an even darker thought stomped in. Gill knows how picky I am about where I sit in the cinema. She thinks I spotted a single seat in the centre of the cinema and I’m so selfish that I chose that over her, leaving her alone and latte-less.
I rehearsed my pleas of innocence to her several times, until finally I told my inner voice to shut up. I had broken the rules of polite cinema citizenship, and probably my bestie now hated me. All this was out of my control. I resigned myself to just concentrating on the film. I actually did that for a while. It was, after all, the kind of film my daughters make fun of me for liking: mostly people having conversations in dim rooms.
About 45 minutes into the film, I became aware of a snuffly, snorty sound, not emanating from the screen. Looking to my left, I saw Dragon Woman’s chin dropping to her chest... here was my chance! I seized my coffees and edged across in front of her, my heart rising as her head lowered even further. No-one barked at me as I ‘excuse-me’d’ my way along the row. I plonked down beside Gill and whispered urgently, ‘Sorry. I didn’t see these seats till it was too late.’
‘Oh, I know. I should have told you about this funny little row back here.’
My heart hummed with relief. She still loved me! She handed me a banana and I gave her the latte, which she assured me was welcome, even if barely warm. I settled back to enjoy more of the procrastinating Turkish writer bickering with his sister. But now that I was safe beside my friend, my mind decided Dragon Woman deserved a severe talking-to. 'How dare you speak to me like that?' My mind created a separate script as the screenplay unfolded. 'The film hadn’t even started yet! And do you want to know why I was late, when my middle name is Punctuality? Do you have a clue how it feels to love someone so much that you’d give her years off your own life, if that would stop her pain? You want me to tell you what it’s like to have your heart break for somebody so many times that it feels like scar tissue in your chest? And BTW, everyone else is managing to stay awake during the movie!'
No, of course I didn’t say that. I didn’t want to create a scene. On the other hand, I didn’t think she should sail away, victorious, a sour old bitch without a shred of compassion for a baby boomer banana-searcher.
Although basically a wimp due to a heavy dose of emotional abuse during my childhood, I am no longer incapable of standing up for myself if I plan for it. Believe me, Winter Sleep gave me plenty of time to work out a strategy. When the film ended, I waited for the other patrons in her row to exit, then stepped in front of her before she could get away. ‘Excuse me,’ I announced, ‘I’m the person you hissed at before the film started.’
With the house lights up, she didn’t look like a dragon woman. She looked elderly and frail, wearing a lot of foundation and red lipstick. She glanced around nervously, not willing to meet my gaze. I knew I shouldn’t keep her cornered long, but before I stepped aside I delivered the line I’d prepared. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was good enough. ‘Lady, I hope you never have to be late for ANYTHING!’