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Why I dripped all over a fellow moviegoer

04 August 2017 - 06:58 By darrel bristow-bovey
Image: iStock

This is an open letter to the man who sat beside me in the cinema on Tuesday afternoon.

Firstly, sir, I'm sorry I dripped all over you. I am not usually so drippy but on Tuesday I was, and I can explain, but first some backstory.

Tuesday was one of my silent days. I have explained before about silent days, but let me briefly fill you in. When I lived alone I had a silent day once a week, during which no words would pass my lips. I didn't necessarily avoid public places on silent days, but I tried to drift through them like a ghost, like the shadow I sometimes suspect I really am: all ears and eyes and insubstantial, no voice.

If I had to conduct some small form of interaction I would do it through gestures and smiles and wordless mime routines, like a German who finds himself on a train carriage with a group of English football hooligans and doesn't want to give himself away.

Silent days are important for me because I am one of those people who are gradually depleted by contact with others, even happy contact. The problem isn't with others, it's with me. It takes an effort to be me, even with those close to me, an effort to be some version of my better self, to talk myself into being in another person's eyes. I think I have only six days worth of speaking in me each week, and when I try to stretch it over seven, I am overdrawing from the bank.

Taking a silent day once a week is fun and easy when you live alone but more difficult when you don't. Only a schmuck or Shaun Abrahams circulates wordlessly through a house with another person in it, trying to pretend they're invisible. So in recent years my silent days have become less regular, and no one benefits from that.

On Tuesday I had the chance for a silent day, and by jingo I was going to take it. I had a splendid morning, silent and contained, and in the afternoon I planned to see Dunkirk. I bought the tickets online - no need to speak to the cashier - and made sure it was at Nu Metro since it's impossible to buy tickets online at Ster-Kinekor. It's impossible to do anything good with Ster-Kinekor. (This is a subject for another day, but after extensive research I have discovered that Ster-Kinekor is an old Greek expression meaning: "I hate you and hope you have a bad day.")

My house is about 50 minutes' walk from the cinema so I stepped outside with a jaunty step and was five minutes out when it started to rain. This was no quirky Cape Town drizzle - the water fell like bombs from a screaming Stuka. It was the first time in three years that I wished I owned a car.

Ordinarily I would call an Uber, but can you use an Uber on a silent day? Like those brave boys on the beach, it was a moment for asking myself some hard questions. Could I bring myself to get into a car without saying hello to the driver? What if he tried to make conversation as we drove?

Do I have it in me to sit back there in lordly silence? I thought maybe at a push I could do it - I could find my inner captain of industry and work up an unjustified sense of my own importance and sink myself into my own regal bubble of thought - but what about when we get to our destination? Could I really just get out of the car and walk away without saying thank you and goodbye? Could I? We owe something to ourselves but don't we also owe something to the minimal fabric of decent society? But it was raining so hard.

And that, sir, is why I dripped all over you, right the way through Dunkirk. I feel bad about that, and about the occasion when it may have seemed as though I deliberately invaded the entire arm rest with my soggy arm, but then I reflect that the fabric of society is a cloth that billows both ways, and I reflect on the fact that I was there first and that in an otherwise empty cinema, with lebens-raum galore, you chose to sit yourself down right beside me, and then I do not feel all that sorry after all.


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