Saturday afternoon. Grey clouds hang low in the sky, releasing the rain. A cool energising breeze blows away the hot dusty air that’s drained and dirtied the area for days. I walk up the wet concrete steps to glass doors and enter the local cinema.
I buy my ticket in the noisy, crowded foyer and join the meaty queue that will (eventually) let us into the screening area. The river of people winds from the pimple-faced ticket collector’s podium (and plaited rope “barrier”) out to the damp street. Parents hold the place in line so their youngsters can roam until summoned.
Children squeal, fight and scream. Parents yell. Leaving my earphones at home was an error I’ll only make once. The school holidays are a joyous period.
After a 15-minute wait, a comfort washes over me and I come to life. This is the first time I’ve properly queued in 16 months and it stirs a delicious fire in me. This is not my first rodeo. London has trained me for queuing. I allow the irritation and indignation to build with a pleasant familiarity. Let’s play this.
I tut. I tut again. I shake my head. I let out a quiet but terse and tight-mouthed “For fuck’s sake!”, and follow-up with a much louder, exasperated “Oh hurry UP!!”
I try to lock eyes with my fellow queuers to get their facial agreement at what is clearly an unacceptable delay and borderline violation of our human rights, but no one’s engaging with me. It’s almost as if they think I’m overreacting …
Strange. In London, a mini middle-class riot would have started.
It takes all my will-power not to approach the ticket collector and instruct him to let us in. It’s 3:12pm. The movie starts at 3:15pm. WTF? Let us be seated!
In the motherland many others would have already done this, but not here. And if I lead the army, these soldiers won’t back me.
I’m not ready to be a mutineer. So I wait. Finally we’re granted entry … so late that the people are noisily finding seats through the trailers. My anger is sustained.
I take my seat. Three rows from the front, on the aisle with a vacant seat next to me. The only other spare seat I can see is in the front row.
10 minutes into the movie a couple enter. In the dark, they make their way to my row. They rustle and “whisper” like elephants next to me. I deliberately put my finger to my ear so they can see I’m blocking them out. I know what’s coming.
“Excuse me, but would you mind moving so we can sit together?”
I smile and speak politely.
“I’m really sorry, but I queued for half an hour to get a decent seat so no. Sorry”. (It’s an English sorry. Translation: I’m not remotely sorry).
I’m triumphant. Didn’t expect that did you, my late friends? You didn’t suffer the crowds or the queue, and you can’t just saunter in and relegate me to another sub-standard seat. Next time, get yourselves to the event on time.
The woman sits next to me and the man moves to the seat in the front row. It’ll be an awkward couple of hours, but I’m up for it. This little battle is mine.
I smile. London is still in my blood.
In less than three minutes the woman gets up, gets her husband, and they both leave the cinema.
I nod in satisfaction. And turn my attention to the person near me crackling their crisp packet too loudly …