Wednesday, 25 May 2011

An intimate festival in Sydney's Town Hall

I heard him begin to cough from across the aisle, the air rose within him like a great tide and then stopped.  I heard him again begin a cough but the air rushed neither in nor out. I turned my head to find him in the dark hall. He stood in shock and emitted a muffled bark. Stood like a marionette raised on strings. He reeled then, first forwards then backwards while his legs wound around each making nonsensical patterns on the old floor.

I sat in silence, willing the breath either in or out of him but he did not breathe, he fell like a rag doll against my legs. His feet were still winding about, walking imaginary steps, he clutched a plastic water bottle to his chest while I held him upright in my arms. The warmth of him through his jumper, through my jeans, took me by surprise as though I had bent down to hold a stuffed bear and found myself with a mewling infant instead. The heat coming through his clothes, the winding feet,  the never-ending struggle for breath, this man was desperately alive.

My friend Lawless flew out of her seat and down the side aisle of the hall, the ease of her steps incredible in their contrast to the warm flailing man in my arms. My focus on the man was so intense I had already forgotten the easy slide from one breath to another, the possibility of flight on foot, the possibility of anything but sinking out of existence in an agonising waltz.

I did not raise my eyes but if I had I would have witnessed the silent stare of the pipe organ's great mechanical lungs capable of causing a state of reverie with each breath. This is when I wanted to run, my only thought to make it up to the eyrie and pull out all the stops, cause the organ to breathe with mighty force, pull the air up and out of this man's lungs and out through the screaming pipes so he could live. But I sat with my hands flat against his rigid back feeling the heat of him increase with his struggle. And then they swooped, his friends calling, 'Geoff Geoff are you alright!' and the officials from the town hall and then the people in seats around us.

He was stood up and half-dragged to the back of the hall, clutching at his plastic water bottle, where the medical staff Lawless had magicked out of the air would do something, what I am not sure, to unstop his one crucial air pipe and set his lungs back into regular unthinking motion. I sat back silently in my chair and realised the speakers on the panel had not even paused, Lawless returned to her seat and so the evening carried on under the silent watch of the grand pipe organ whose powers of breath and life remain untested.

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