Cinema in the River

I’m leaving Alice Springs in four weeks from today.  It’s starting to feel very close, and there are many people who I need to leave behind, which is saddening.  As the Alice Festival is currently on, and last night Cinema in the River (ie in the dry riverbed) was featuring an indigenous movie, Satellite Boy, I decided (as I already had Sally staying), to take some indigenous friends who are forced to stay in town due to their ill health, to the cinema.

I turned up at the hostel where they stay, only two blocks from where the cinema was being set up, and a big group of patients were sitting outside, all  looking hopeful that they may end up as a passenger in my car.  I had to explain that I couldn’t take everyone, which received mumbles of understanding from them all.  Sally’s mother who I usually try to keep my distance from because she is not averse to turning the simple into the complicated, scored this time because Sally was coming.  Then I convinced my favourite elderly man, King, who I know well (we first met 16 years ago when I looked after his now-adult son on the Paediatric Ward of the local hospital), to come.  King is very weak now, reliant on a walking frame, very probably in his last year or two of life, and separated from all of his family because he has to live in town now.  Plus a woman I’ve known for ten years, who recently also developed chronic disease and has to stay in town.

I manouvered Sally’s plastic bags of belongings with King’s walking frame around in the boot, while everyone found a seat in the car, and off we went.  Two minutes later we were at the big circus tent which had been erected for the Festival.  The cinema in the river event had been moved to the festival tent on the riverbank due to blustering winds.

I pulled up as close to the tent as possible so everyone could get out, including King and his walker.  I got out to retrieve the walker, and realised the car was moving – I’d forgotten to put it in park and left the handbrake off!  Fixed that amidst gasps of shock and laughter from within the car, sorted King out and as they all strolled slowly towards the tent, I found a park, then joined them.  We sat in the baking circus-sized tent for ages while crowds slowly settled on the ground at the front, or in seats arranged in rows around the stage where the inflatable cinema screen was still being erected after the rushed decision that it was too windy outside to hang it between gum trees in the riverbed, as planned.

A bunch of women back at the hostel had missed out because I wasn’t driving a bus.  Sally suggested going back to get some of them.  So we did.  Tiny little Jenny, who is about as tall as my elbow, always wants to come with me, and always misses out, so for once I could bring her, plus a couple of community women who I know just from having spent time at the hostel, with King.  Others still missed out, but that was the only extra trip I could muster and they were very understanding.

Once again I pulled up as near to the tent as possible, Sally and the women got out and began strolling towards the tent while I parked the car, then caught up with them.  By the time I caught up, Jenny was trying her best to let go of Sally’s hand and sit on the ground, as she was too tired to walk any further!  We managed to reach the tent without incident though, where everyone was still sitting and waiting, while crowds gathered in the growing heat and the shrinking air movement.

Having got there just after 6-30pm, they finally started playing the films at 7-30pm.  A few short local films first, then Satellite Boy came on.  I kept looking down the row of seats to check, mainly on King and Jenny (who are both frail enough that there was an element of risk bringing them out at night).

The film was about halfway through when I looked down and saw King vomit on the ground at his feet!!  I went over to him and he vomited about another five times, all watery and thankfully without any odour to it.  So I helped him up (with someone behind whingeing that I was in the way!) and he walked outside the tent with his walker, where he told me that “there’s no breast in there”.  No what?  “No breast”.  OH, NO BREATH!  He could not breathe in the crowded heat, and it had made him vomit, not helped by the fact that he had not eaten any dinner.  He’s such a sick ole thing, it is really heartbreaking and so awful that he is not with his family at this time.

Anyway, he felt better in the fresh air.  I took him back to the hostel and he told me he needed a hot cup of tea.  So I rang the doorbell and the night porter, a young guy who was completely unenthused about everything, came to the door and reluctantly agreed to make King a cup of tea.

I left King in Misery Man’s hands, and told him I’ll see him this morning to check on how he is.

By the time I got back to the tent, the movie was almost over.  They had all really enjoyed it.  I took one car load back to the hostel (two blocks away – a healthy person could have walked it in five minutes), then returned to get Sally, her mother and the other two remaining passengers.

Sally’s Mum announced that she needed to go to Coles “for cigarette”.  I should have said NO.  But I said yes before realising what I was agreeing to, and sure enough it was a run-around – she has this “boyfriend” and was buying cigarettes and food for him, with Sally in the back seat telling her “Mum!  Don’t spoil him, he’s not your son”.  So they went into Coles while we waited, and they came out with shopping for this boyfriend.  Which of course, I then had to drive across town with her, before dropping her back to the hostel.

After realising what I was embroiled in (which I should have predicted, as I know her well enough), I told her “Don’t ask me to do that again because I am not going to”.  She agreed.  I suspect she just agrees because she knows she’ll manipulate you again next time and doesn’t have to debate with you about whether or not she will!  This young, rough looking guy came out of a unit and took his free meal and free cigarettes from his so-called “girlfriend”, and disappeared again.  As we left I told her that it’s not my job to feed that bloke, I don’t even know him, and next time he can pay for a taxi if he wants you to feed him.  Again, she agreed happily and I got a sense of “Whatever” from her!

We dropped her at the hostel and came home.  And as soon as we got here, Sally (who has little tattoos on the sides of her eyes, which “keep bad spirits away”), started telling me about the spirit of this house, and did the owner’s grandmother smoke this house?  (“Smoking” is a ritual used to clear spirits away from an area).  “Because I have this big spirit on my back, and he’s telling me that his grandmother smoked this house”.  This, to me, is her mental health at play.  She’s had so many terrible things in her life, and manages them by having spirits talk to her.  She did this when she was quite young.

She rang her uncle on my phone to talk to him, while I got ready for bed, then I got into bed and started watching The Wire, so she lay on my bed to watch it with me.  I told her she could, but would have to sleep in her own bed.  Then I fell asleep, and I don’t know what time it was, I woke, and the lounge and her bedroom lights were on, and she was nowhere to be seen!  I called out to her, and then found her – lying on the concrete floor beside my bed, with one of my pillows, and the blanket off her bed.  I told her to go to bed but she didn’t, and she spent the night on the concrete floor!  When I woke at 6am and realised she was still there I said “Please get off the floor and go to your bed, this is silly, I can even see that bed, it’s right through the door, so there is no need for you to be scared, and if you are not going to sleep on a bed then you’ll have to find another place to sleep tonight”.  She got up and obeyed my instructions then.  Hopefully she’ll get a sense that it’s a good-spirited bed while she’s in there this morning, and be happy to sleep there tonight!

8 thoughts on “Cinema in the River

  1. A cinema outing for a group of very underprivileged people, what a lovely story! So often there’s one who will always take advantage, no matter what the skin colour, I hope Sally sleeps in peace in her own bed tonight.


  2. As always Helen…I love you stories. I can totally picture the whole scenes in my mind as if I am standing there watching it…..keep on keeping on.


      1. Well if you tell your Cambodian experience like you do your Alice Springs stories, then I am sure I am going to feel like I am there with you. I am looking forward to reading them.


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