Occasionally, when the business of the day has settled, I close my eyes and two faces from my past pop into my my mind. Patrick and Aisha (not their real names) – in real life, they have never met yet in my mind they occupy the same space. Both, waiting, looking at me with regret, disdain, both quietly angry. I know this look, as i have inhabited it myself, from the inside-out.
Aisha is 9 – she sat quietly through a noisy session at a Moss Side school when I came to talk about careers. The boys in the class I am been told by the teacher are ‘jittery, unambitious and unfocused – English is a problem.’ – ‘ohh‘ I reply, and in my mind, a fire is lit ‘we’ll see‘.
I focussed my attention on those boys – their questions and ideas about the brain and filmmaking and science rained down – the teacher was surprised. But, at the end of the session I spotted Aisha – she was staring straight at me, with ‘that’ seething look.
Those eyes wanted something – ‘what about me?’ They seethed. The bell rang and the kids left. The teacher walked me to the corridor – ‘that was amazing – who knew they were so interested in science?!‘ I want to ask about Aisha, I don’t know where to start – how do I know? How do I explain ‘that look‘?
Patrick is a 19 year old film lover – I get to know him a little over 10 weeks or so of a 12 week programme screening films at a homeless centre. At the very start I am told ‘The films are already programmed – just hook up the DVD to the projector, introduce the film and encourage a debate afterwards… it’s best if you don’t tell people where you live. If people are drunk or high they’re out and they know that‘.
The films were all British, volunteers served up popcorn and coca cola. Patrick dropped by on the second week and stayed til the end as others drifted in and out. His eager criticism and arguments during post-screening debates got people annoyed ‘he talks too much‘, ‘shut up‘ – it sparked an idea – lets do a review, every week. Amazing how a number can be a way in to conversation for those who say very little or are tongue tied when put on the spot.
‘The Gasman, what would you give it? Out of ten?‘.
‘Because I travelled all the way up to Glasgow and back again – good times, good times‘.
Ocassionally we watch a short film, made with local filmmakers and some of the punters. Then we had a panel – chats about how to act, falling in love with your co-star and dressing up. When the credits rolled, we did our reviews and then folks told their own stories.
Patrick, was our most vocal critic and wanted Polish films. Give me a list and let’s see if we can influence the next programme. Each week I brought him European film magazines which he took away and diligently brought back the following week. He pointed out films to me – ‘this and this and this‘.
When the 12 weeks came to a close – the manager asked me to her office – ‘we would love you to stay but the funding fell through‘. By now we had a lovely routine going – as I arrived – people would rearrange the chairs to face front – other folks would give out popcorn and coke. Someone would shout ‘lights!‘ And duly they would go out. Jessie (not his real name) introduced the film this time – Sherlock – he’d been in it as an extra. Thinking back I had so much love for those times and the moments when people who usually waited to be served came alive suddenly.
At the last session I introduced a quiz, to get feedback easily for the final report. I announced that this was my last session. My heart cracked when I looked at Patrick. He sat there, seething at me. That look. And then he slowly turned his back. I lost him.
A fire alarm rang. The quiz was abandoned ‘slowly now – make your way outside‘. And that was that. I went back with another project, this time, growing sunflowers in the centre’s allotment. Patrick was gone.
I might not find Patrick or Aisha again – and, yet, a few months back, the universe came calling… it started with two emails and a meeting – first from a filmmaker, then from a researcher. ‘Erinma, can you help me? I tried to speak to these funding people and they didn’t have time.‘ I replied, hesitant at first.
‘Why me?‘ I ask – ‘because I have looked out there and I just know, I know you will get me, I think you will understand where I’m coming from.‘
We have a saying – me and my partner, ‘if you get left behind, I will come and find you. if i get left behind, you will come and find me.‘.
Lessons in love and life.