Thursday, February 25, 2010

In The Theater

I went to the movies yesterday, when the sun was bright and the sky was clear and the entire city seemed to be busy doing other things. I didn’t have a movie in mind, any would do. I walked through carpeted halls that smelled of popcorn, entering different theaters at random, number 12, then 2, then 7. I pulled the heavy doors open, just getting a quick glimpse of what was going on at the moment. Men yelling in the trenches, a girl walking down a forest path, a teenager in the back seat of a car, a man with a gun. I tried to avoid the temptation of staying in one place, I forced my feet to move, pushed my own elbows off the armrests by sheer will, quickly walking into the light-filled halls once again.
Soon, I realized that there was one theater I didn’t want to visit, I kept avoiding it with each pass. The door was covered by a maroon curtain, and just walking in front of it gave me an overwhelming feeling of dread and impending doom. Like a strange tide, I felt my body pulling me in the other direction, while another part of me knew what must be done. I escaped the light, the popcorn and the safe patterns of the thin carpet. I went in.
The previews were just ending. The movie was about to start and I looked into the rows of empty seats. I was alone. I realized they were showing the feature to an empty room. Not one sign of life. No oxygen, no carbon, no breath. And then the questions began: Why would they do that? Who would do that? Was the process so mechanized that the movie just begins and ends regardless of the audience? Was there a man up there, behind the flickering light, responding to orders? I looked at my ticket, I should not be here, not in this theater. The ticket I bought was for another movie, another theater, another audience, other seats. This show couldn’t be running just for me…they couldn’t know I was here, the lone man in an empty theater.
I sat down twelve rows from the front and in the center. In the film, aliens make the whole city fall asleep to steal their memories. Halfway through the movie, I realized I had fallen asleep on cue. Someone had yelled at me to stop snoring, but I looked around and found the same lonely chairs, the same quiet stench. There was no one with me. I had dreamed the yell.
I kept watching the movie and looked around every so often to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I found no evidence one way or the other, except that the movie seemed to be just ordinary scenes of ordinary people doing nothing in particular, and I wondered what had happened to the aliens.
I found myself becoming more intrigued by the green ‘exit’ sign to the left of the screen. I wanted to get up and go through it, to find the door or stairs or another world with an alien carrying my memories. I wished to walk beneath the sign’s green glow, only I seemed to be glued to my seat. A heavy metallic atmosphere pushed me down. The smell of plantain soup would come and go. I was confused by the green sign and its message. Was it informing me of the exit? Was it a suggestion? A command?
Meanwhile, the movie on the screen continued. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. And me, here, watching.