Friday, 5 May 2006

Love is...

I had arrived far too early. I was in seat 2, row F, right at the end next to the walkway and steps. I had to gather up my belongings, stand, allowing my seat to flip up behind me and squash myself back into the space that had become available numerous times as the other members of the row arrived and shuffled awkwardly past me.

I empathised as I saw an old man trying to maneuver his way across the platform a few rows in front of me. He and his already seated wife would have been more at home in a traditional Theatre which incorporated leg room between the seats rather than the unstable, creaking, pack ‘em in, stack ‘em high, multifunctional, wheel it in, wheel it out auditorium arrangement for this performance.

He was bent over. His back was all stiffened up and had to shift his whole body round just to look behind himself. The people sitting on the row he was about to negotiate were not so accommodating as I had been for my co-row-sharers and had simply turned their knees sideways rather than getting up and out of the old gent’s way. I held my breath as he began slowly edging himself along. Lurching forward, staggering slightly, almost loosing his footing he glanced up, panicking, reaching for his wife who immediately became upright and threw out an arm to stabilise him, calmly guiding him to safety.

As the lights came down the old man, his wife, me and the rest of the audience settled into our seats for act 1 of the evening’s performance.

During the interval I rushed to the bar for a sip of water and to scribble a few notes into my notebook. In retrospect I wish I had observed the couple more closely.

I made my way back for act 2 and went through the same rigmarole of clutching at my hand bag and making myself as small as possible as those who were assigned seating close to mine jostled past me.

The auditorium platform creaked and swayed as the rest of the audience filed in. My old couple were making their way slowly, carefully and in good time, down the steps holding on to the hand rail for support. Looking ahead of me I noticed that their row was empty. For a moment I was relieved as I would not have to watch the old gent struggle for a second time but then I saw him draw himself up, a look of recollection crossing his face, panicking again he turned to his wife.

‘Where’s my coat?’

His wife became animated. For a moment she considered that perhaps they had not taken the missing coat to the bar with them and it had in fact been left behind prior to the interval but the backs of their previously occupied seats were not obscured by the absent jacket.

Her expression was one of exasperation. Not angry though. A gentle, resigned exasperation. The speedy resolution of the matter would reside with her, the slightly more agile out of the pair. This was agreed between them with nothing but a glance and no words spoken.

His Wife’s attention turned towards the door at the top of the steps, she paused a while, quickly planning her route through the fast approaching audience before hoiking up her maxi skirt and putting her best Clarke’s comfort clad foot forward to head back out the way she had come in to locate the missing garment. The force employed to project herself quickly up the stairs jolted the semi-permanent auditorium with every step.

I was so busy watching her leave that I didn’t see her Husband’s decent into his seat. Turning himself around in his chair to keep an eye on the door through which she had exited and would re enter.

There was something so vulnerable about this Gent. His head sitting on those stiff old shoulders, the slowness of him, the stillness of that anticipation, he did not move his attention away from the place where he would witness the re-appearance of his wife. Forlorn anxiety emanated from him, this man had become immediately lonely the instant his beloved partner had left the space. Without her, he was lost.

His concern that she might not make it back in time to take her seat before the lights went down was immense. And he would not be reassured until she was seated safely back beside him. I was on the edge of my seat, caught up in this private little drama. My heart was in my mouth and I too would have been inconsolable had she not returned in time for the beginning of act two.

Thankfully his wife came back, coat in hand, just before the lights began to dim. Determined that his wife’s transition back to her seat would be as problem free as possible the old man had picked up her jacket to prevent her becoming entangled in it on her return and clutched it to his chest, his knuckles whitening.

He did not take his dewy eyes off her until she was firmly installed next to him.

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