Soldiers’ Silence : A Play in Four Scenes

HOW & WHY

The editors at Raiot tell me I should write an introduction to Soldiers’ Silence, and tell them “how and why” I wrote it…

So let’s start with theatre first, and, more importantly, what it has done to my head – all these many years, bringing in men and women who invaded my being, filling me with theatre and messing with my head.

I could easily write a chronological list of these luminaries, decade after decade, but I’ll squeeze the stone and draw water.

Top of the list would be Kenneth Tynan, the year, 1972, yours truly, a cocky 22 year old, thinking that sun rises behind his arse and he thinks he’s God’s gift to theatre. A girlfriend gives me a present of Tynan’s, Curtains, for me to only find out that I knew sweet shit-all of theatre and the related arts.

She was trying to tell me something this girlfriend. A year later she gave me another present – another collection of Tynan, titled Left and Right. These books demolished me. Reduced me to nothing. They became my bibles. I read these two books and read them and read them and read them.

Kenneth Tynan

Remember that this was Goa in 1972 – not the Beach Party Capital of India as it is now, but harking back to medieval times. Tynan was fresh, iconoclastic: he put the Goan monks with their sophistry to sword, he brought in the outside world. He governed my reading and visits to the library. I was never to be the same. John Osborne, Edward Albee, Shelagh Delaney, Eugene Ionesco, Brecht, Arnold Wesker, Pirandello, Pinter, Tennessee Williams, Peter Hall, Peter Brook – anyone he recommended, I would try to read and find out more. By the time the 1980s came around, I was pretty literate, and Tynan had made sure I knew just how powerful theatre was.

He was also incredibly nasty. Perhaps way worse than me. For instance, reviewing a play with a guy in the lead role (and a very big shot in the theatre and British cinema many, many years later), Tynan writes in his first sentence: “Last night, (mentions the man’s name) played Hamlet and lost”…

He was also edifying. In one of the books with me – in an essay to prospective playwrights – he writes that a good play isn’t one that is written with a great theme in mind – like non-violence for instance – but because it has real people to tell a story that eventually leads the viewer to comprehend the importance of ‘non-violence’. The play – the story – could be accidentally overhearing a conversation.

So Soldiers’ Silence actually kicked off at the Pune Bus Stand waiting for a bus to Goa. Two backpackers, almost the same age – around late 20s – were also waiting with me, for a bus to Shirdi. One was a white guy wearing a lovely T-Shirt that I would willingly have stolen. Another guy, with the colouring and hair, and build, that made me think West Asian. Irani, Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian I was thinking, born with a football in his mouth, a possible midfielder.

Like two obvious backpackers, different from the other passengers around them, the two began talking, and because I had no choice I eavesdropped. Also, I am pretty good at this in a public place. On my good days, in a restaurant for instance, I can follow three different conversations without trying!

So, to cut a story short, one was a white American from Milwaukee, taking leave from his business (inaudible); the other, an Iraqi. The conversation that got me went like this:

The Iraqi says, “Yeah, originally from Baghdad, but I’ve been in the US ten years, just finished (not audible)…taking a year off, travelling with my new passport (laughs)”.

This is crazy! I’m expecting silence from the white guy. But that doesn’t happen. He laughs instead. Like he’s embarrassed. He curses George Bush and they both laugh. The two than trade stories on the war and how stupid it was. “We would have dealt with Saddam ourselves,” the Iraqi tells the white guy, “there was no need for this war, like this”…The American agrees with him…

I felt like barging into that conversation. I wanted to tell them that I hate war. After the war ends, who wins? In a war, can there ever be a winner? Can there ever not be those who have lost, who will harbour deep-seated bitterness that will last through successive generations?

And yet, every year, modern, industrialized nations invest their resources in research and development, to find ways and means of killing more effectively – in the name of a war that may be round the corner – and when a winner will crow, and the vanquished lick their wounds.

I would have loved to join that conversation, but my bus to Goa was boarding passengers. The two seemed happy talking to each other. When I stared at them through the window as the bus moved out, I imagined the two of them becoming friends. An Iraqi and an American, once pointless enemies, now friends…maybe the white guy would take the Iraqi home, and the Iraqi guy will fall for the white guy’s sister…Bollywood at its best…

But thanks to Tynan, there is too much of the existentialist in me. Life isn’t happy, however much you may want happiness. That’s a dictum, whether one likes it or not, it goes with your state of mind. That brief unrequited conversation at a bus station led to an idea in my head, more in my style, where an unhappy Iraqi meets an unhappy American in an Indian airport, like maybe Pune…

*********

The list doesn’t end with Tynan. It leads, thanks to Tynan again, to Jerzy Grotowski, and a book of his that I begged my elder sister in Canada to send me. It was another bible, one for an actor, making the actor the centre of the theatrical universe, regardless of whether he wears clothes or not. I won’t tell you how much Towards A Poor Theatre cost in 1975, in rupees, or how, after reading and re-reading the book I actually only understood it as the 1990s broke!

Jerzy Grotowski

I was helped by a playwright whose feet I would touch any day of the week – Athol Fugard, who without knowing it, for many years, was a friend, a brother, and a father. He gave shape to the kind of theatre I wanted to do. So yes, I would stage many of his plays, at the drop of a hat. He’s influenced me, big time.

Today, he’s even more important to me. Plays for two actors. Back to being a poor theatre. Sure I like the ‘posh’ theatre – the NCPA experimental – sets, lights, backstage support, a cast of about 25. I even know the play I want to do – rehearsals for a full month – a brilliant feminist interpretation of a Greek myth. Where does theatre get its money? How will the actors live?

Athol Fugard

The poor theatre beckons. Tynan, Grotowski, and Fugard, join a fourth person who messed with my head with a philosophical text, The Empty Space, that spread over their heads like an umbrella – for all of them, equally – the scholar-director, Peter Brook.

Why wouldn’t I dedicate Soldiers’ Silence to these four guys?

*********

Why an Iraqi and an American in an Indian play, somebody asked me? Not to difficult to figure out:

I wanted an Indian army officer, Rajiv Kapoor, playing the part of the American, Robert Klarmann; I wanted a Kashmiri, Anwar Mir, playing the part of the Iraqi, Raza Husain. I would play with locale, idiom, make it real for us in this country, tell ourselves that we are no different from Robert and Raza.

Then I thought to myself, would the goons of the hyper-nationalistic ABVP, actually allow this to be staged? No way. I’ve seen how they operate, spitting venom, ready to cripple and kill.

Not important. Let the locale be Indian, let the characters be American and Iraqi. Maybe watching Soldiers’ Silence, audiences will put two and two together and say, hey, this could be happening in Kashmir too. That kind of compassionate thinking the ABVP can do nothing about…

 

Soldiers’ Silence

A Play in Four Scenes

Scene 1

Lights open to an airport lounge, dimly-lit by a solitary emergency lamp. Two men can be seen, one of them, Robert, pacing in the front of a row of plastic chairs, the other, Raza, sitting on one of the chairs, fanning himself with his hankie, and every so often wiping his brow and neck. He does this in a very calm, unhurried way, unlike Robert, who’s pulled out his shirt from his trousers and who uses to wipe himself clumsily…cursing and ranting incoherently.

Even though it is dim, one can see that Robert walks in a strange way…a stiff, loping, non-rhythmic kind of walk…as if walking with artificial legs from the hip downwards and doing his best to get used to them. His hands too, from the shoulder downwards, follow the same peculiar gait. Robert mutters to himself, somewhat inaudibly, but obviously angry, his voice steadily rising to meet his opening lines…

Bob : (Robert is American) …Of all the fucking things to happen to me, I’ve got to be stuck in this fucking place…so fucking hot it’s like a bloody desert man…and I’m here flapping my fins. (To Raza) What kind of a place is this anyway?

(Raza does not respond. He sits there, impassively, almost straight-backed, legs together against the chair, hands in his lap, arms resting on the arms of the chair. Bob ignores the other man’s stoic silence and continues his rant as he paces faster and more awkwardly)

…You know what that Indian fellow says to me, bowing up and down like he was a bloody monkey? It’s the height of their summer he says to me, like I couldn’t figure that one out for myself! This is nothing the little sniveling shit says to me then, it can go up another few degrees too. Yeah, sure, bet you anything that by ten o’clock in the morning you could fry a fucking egg on his oily head!

What kind of a country is this anyway? Why are the lights off? Why is the air-conditioning not working? What kind of a shit-hole have we found ourselves in? Power failures! Can you imagine that…in this fucking day and age? I mean is this a civilized country or what?

I mean…this fucking flight that’s supposed to take me to…what’s the name of that fucking place anyway…?

(He puts his hand into his shirt pocket and takes out a paper that he struggles to read in the dim light)

…Bang-a-lo…is that a name for a fucking city? Bang-a-lo? Hey, you happen to know what a ‘lo’ is by any chance? That’s Indian for ‘whore’… (He laughs at his own joke)…Nah, not going to do it…who wants to bang a stinky, oily Indian whore anyway?

(He laughs uproariously but without any humour)

You get the joke buddy? You know…bang-a-whore…bang-a-lo…

(He laughs again, then throws his head up and bays in rage)

…Whatever the fuck the place’s called…I booked this fucking flight from the US of A…I paid in good ol’ Uncle Sam’s dollars…because it works out way cheaper for the US of A, and these guys call it fucking ‘Medical Tourism’, can you beat that? And they love our American money, and then what do these fucking oily bastards do? Before I can reach Bang-a-lo, they cancel it. I mean how do you cancel a whole flight…what’s supposed to happen to the passengers? ‘Operational problems’ that black oily bastard says to me…I mean, what’s that supposed to fucking mean? You got a problem you fix it, that’s what I’ve always been taught…

(He screams in rage…kicking out clumsily and almost losing his balance)

…God this heat…I can’t take it…when is the fucking power coming back on? Oh Jesus…

(He lapses into silence. He increases the pace of his awkward walk, but still muttering under his breath. Raza lets out a long sigh and stretches his hands)

Raza : There is always the failure of the electric city in this place. This is what this man who is selling the tea he is telling me. (Sighs) …but at least this darkness, she is not so bad heh? They have this one light here, we are not so blind, we can see. (Laughs) Me, I am not so good when she is dark…what I like though is one glass of hot tea…

Bob : …Tea? You want to drink tea in this hot fucking hell of a hole??

(Raza lights a cigarette as Bob continues speaking)

…Me, I’d go for a nice cold six-pack…drink three of them in one go, one after the other until my throat freezes over…now that would be mighty welcome…yes sir…three cold beers…one each in my armpits…right over here, one in my mouth. (He laughs)

Raza : …No, we must to drink black tea…Suleimani…she is the tea she is drunk by emperor. You are to say Solomon…you hear him name?

Bob   : …Solomon? You don’t say? King Solomon…sure I know him man…I read my bible when I was kid just like anyone else…Solomon’s justice huh? Yeah…but he sure was one real randy guy…had dozens of women. A harem…gorgeous looking babes with big titties…

Raza : We not make the tea like English peoples. Only the tea, with plenty sugar so she become sweet, one piece of the lemon, some leaves of the mint. (He sighs) She very good, this Suleimani. Make you feel good. The heat from the outside, she go away…

Bob : (Stopping his pacing and peering ahead in the gloom) You know the way the English drink their tea is pretty civilized, very classy…even though it tastes like warm horse piss. But that tea that you guys drink…don’t mind me saying this buddy but it looks just like your oil…thick and black…straight from the mouth of the devil…

…Now if you ask me, the thing you really need to drink is a nice, healthy Starbucks…you get it all over the world these days…a good, reliable, American brand…

(Raza says something in Arabic; Bob stops and peers at him)

…Hey, you an A-rab ain’t you?

Raza : Why? I no look like Arab for you? I…am…Iraqi…from Iraq

Bob : (Laughing bitterly) Yeah, I should have guessed that…just my fucking luck if you ask me! Here’s me trying to move on with my life, if you know what I mean…and what do I find? An A-rab next to me …!!

…Yeah, now that I think about it, you guys always asked for tea didn’t you. Me? I would have begged for my six-pack. You guys were different. You didn’t want food, didn’t want a bath…just your fucking tea…

…But hey, man, I bet you find this place pretty cool in comparison huh?

Raza : Your laugh, she is very strange, like I am hearing it before…it is going round and round in my head bringing memories of my country. In my country, Iraq, you sit in the shadow, away from the sun and you get so cool a breeze she will blow, you can sleep like little baby…ah…not so good now, but before

Bob : You ask me something like that buddy and I’d say I know quite a bit about that…

Raza : …For me, this place is very beautiful. All place I am sitting, she is beautiful. I am sitting here, my eyes she is open and in my head I am dreaming. This place she is beautiful. Like My country…Iraq…she beautiful country one time. Music everywhere, people she is singing and dancing…we are in love, we have babies, many babies…and all the babies they are happy…we are happy…we are singing…everybody is happy…

Bob : I remember things like that too buddy. Me and my buddies and our families, sitting on the lawn…my wife yelling Hey Bobby boy come and get the meat honey! I guess you won’t get that buddy…but for us Americans little things like that mean a great deal. The barbecue, the burgers…

Raza : …The Bible…

Bob : …Nah…I’m not that kind of a guy…just the barbecue, burgers and beer, thank you very much…

Raza : …It is all ‘B’…barbecue, burgers, beer, bible…

Bob: (Laughs) How about that…

Raza : You forget bazookas and bombs…it is still all B’s…Bible, barbeque, burger, beer, bazookas, bombs…

Bob : Bastard things, all bastard things…

…There I was…from burgers to bombs…and there we were my buddies and our wives. They were singing…

“Left, right, left, right

Bob’s leavin’ to Iraq to fight

Left, right, left, right

Bomb terrorists out of our sight

In his pocket

There sits a gun

Waiting to come out

And kill Saddam…”

(Laughing)

Er…no offence man…but if you were to ask me I-raq was the worst thing that ever happened with my fucking life…there were times I felt was so hot in I-raq I thought I was gonna dry up man, you know, like one of those old leaves that fall down from a tree. I can’t tell you how I’d long to get out of my hell-hole. I’d sit there and pray for my fucking clock to tick over…then I’d get the hell out of my hell-hole…straight out…into my Jeep, back to my room, A/C turned on full blast. Man, some days I used to spend two full days in that room, going through six-packs like they was just plain chilled water, watching porn and shaking my meat…that was the life if you ask me. Not the rest of your country though buddy…no offence you understand…I mean…I know you guys had this great civilization there…Mesopotamia. They told us about that…but down on the ground, where guys like you and me were…it was not all that cool…it wasn’t civilization man, no way…

Raza : Shaking meat, what is this…?

Bob   :   That’s just a way of saying it man, you know… (He makes gestures of masturbating himself and reaching orgasm)…

Raza : You insemine the desert. First the Britisher people, and now you. So long no flower is growing for us, no children. Like what you have done in Vietnam. There red blood, much red blood. Here? Only oil…black oil…stinking oil for your American happiness…and blood, red blood. You want insemine? What you want insemine?

Bob   : (Laughing nervously) …Hey buddy…just joking. I think you mean in-sem-inate…

Raza : In-sem-inate…you only know how to in-sem-inate

(Bob continues his pacing. Raza moves in the chair for the first time, adjusting positions and slowly stretching his legs forward)

Raza : …(He leans forward and chuckles)…So, you go my country, you go Iraq…?

Bob : …Yeah…I been to I-raq…(He laughs)…Have I been to I-raq…

Raza : (Still chuckling) So what you are go do my country, you? In Iraq? You work US government maybe, eh?

(Before Bob can reply, his body seems to take a life of its own, and he trips over Raza’s legs just stretching out. Raza screams in pain, while Bob, his body berserk, tumbles to the ground awkwardly even as he screams in a mixture of disbelief, surprise and pain. Bob stays on the ground moaning but not moving, still, as if dying. Raza is the first of the two to recover and get to his senses…he says something in Arabic…then very slowly, grunting and groaning, getting to his feet and stumbling towards Bob. As he walks, one notices that he too, has the same clumsy walk as Bob’s, perhaps even more pronounced now that he has been hurt by the collision. He gets to Bob, bends from the waist, painfully, and shakes Bob, who now seems totally unhurt, and fully in his senses…).

Bob : …I don’t know what to say, guess I don’t know my own strength huh? (He laughs bitterly) I didn’t mean to hurt you man, but the fact is that after…my…incident…er, my accident…I don’t walk too good…

Raza : …Is okay, is not the problem. I also have accident in my life. (He laughs) My problem maybe I am not sitting so good…

Bob : We make a great pair is what I’m thinking. Me, I can’t walk to save my fucking life, and you can’t sit! (They both laugh. Raza, still holding his position, lifts Robert up from his waist, effortlessly and helps him get his balance. The two men pirouette holding hands, and awkwardly, but in perfect coordination, help each other back to the seats. Where, once seated, they lean back breathing huge sighs of relief. Lights flicker a few times and go off with both men heard laughing in great glee and contentment)…

End
of
Scene 1

 

Scene 2

Lights come up on the same dimly-lit airport lounge, except that this time the scene is suffused with the sound of the two men laughing…

Raza : …Ah, what for me to tell you this? What is use? Long time she is happening. How you can say it? It was… accident…

Bob : …Yeah, you tell me friend. Mine was an accident too. One fine day…I’d say it was a day like any other day I’ve ever known. It’s a Saturday morning see, so me and my buddies we’re playing baseball with the kids in the park, all the wives chatting and laughing and gulping the booze behind out backs. Me, I’m making out like I was Ruben Sosa, hitting homers that would make him turn dark blue with envy. I was just amazing that day. You see these arms of mine…go on feel them… (Raza does so). Okay a little slack now after…the…er…accident. But you take it from me buddy, once they were like the trunks of a small tree. Used to box too, you know…middleweight…‘Boom-Boom’ they used to call me in the unit. When I banged a guy buddy…one on the smacker to stun him, one on the head to shake him, one on the jaw to lay him out…he laid out…just like he was a little baby sleeping…

(He laughs happily, a sound that slowly peters out as if he has understood the seriousness of what he was actually going to say)

…Ah, when I think about it, I feel like climbing to the top of a mountain and shouting at God. I’m that angry…

…There was all of us there. It was a beautiful day, the air fresh and crisp. And then…and then…I can’t lift my hand up, it’s like my muscles have gone to sleep…

(His voice breaks. Raza leans over and pats Bob’s arm…)

…Hey buddy, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m tough. You don’t know how tough I am. I wouldn’t break down like a baby buddy. We’re in this shit-hole together and we’re going to get out of it together. The fucking lights are going to come on any moment now…and we’re going to be getting along with our lives…

Raza : …Whatever is happen is happen. What we can do now? Is gone! You me, we have one life she live, one life she to die. This is what I say myself every time. It is happen now, live, let what has happened let it happen…

Bob : …Next day I have to go get the tests of my yearly medical…you know, like I’ve been doing right through service…go in, get the usual shit from the doctor, then breeze out and get back to my life…

…So what the fuck you think happens? I breeze in like usual, get my results and walk out of the hospital walking like a fucking cripple…(He laughs, his voice brittle and appearing to break)…a cripple whose muscles refuse to work…

Raza : Inshallah…that is what we say. It is the will of God…what God wants to happen to the people, God will make it happen to the people…

Bob : Yeah, I guess after what I’ve been through, I need to finally believe that. Mind you I may have laughed about all this shit a few years ago…no, that’s not true…just six fucking weeks back, that’s all. You told me something like this six fucking weeks back and I would have laughed like I was fit to burst. But today, man, I know better. God’s a motherfucker who listened to some son of a bitch who cursed me…

Raza : No…you do not know God my friend, he no can do like this…God is goodness only…he is all-merciful, most compassionate…he will not listen to man who will curse you…

Bob : You don’t know a thing man. No offence intended. I was born a Christian…you know what I mean…but I stopped going into Church when I was fourteen. I’d wait till my folks and brothers walked in…then I’d sneak out backwards and hide behind the cars. I guess I was what you’d call an ‘outstanding’ Christian’. (He laughs) You get what I mean buddy? An outstanding Christian… out-standing…a Christian who stands outside the Church. (He laughs uproariously)…Hey, that’s pretty good huh? I was an outstanding Christian…

Raza : Why for you to make fun of God? This is not good, please…

Bob : …Look, let me out it another way…I don’t know too much about God, let me admit that…maybe he’s there, maybe he’s hiding, maybe he’s just not there, who the fuck knows? I’m not really sure. You ask me, he never did a fuck for me. I did it all myself, man…I, me. Myself. If the old fucker’s there, I think he forgot I exist.

(He takes a deep breath; exhales loudly…take another deep breath and shouts)

…I did my duty man…for God and country…did he give a flying fuck??? Huh? You tell me that…

(Raza gets to his feet with great difficulty. Robert leans forward and helps him clumsily. Raza stretches, howling softly like a wolf in deep pain)

Raza : (Laughing) You see what she is happening to me? How can I help you? You’re your problem my friend. I cannot help you forget what she has happen to you, this accident. I am useless; I cannot even to give you the electric supply in this shitty airport…what I can say to you?

Maybe you are too angry my friend. What this anger she will do you? She will make the accident go away? I cannot even walk without the pain she come. In my experience my friend, I pray you to make peace with God. God, he is goodness…all we people we are not having that God he has. Your God, my God…both he is good. You, me can be bad peoples, murderers, thieves, rapists, torturers…but not God…God, he can only be goodness, All-Merciful, All-compassionate… (He intones the same in Arabic)…

Bob :   (He laughs bitterly) …I don’t see why we wasting time talking about God man…it’s like you said, what’s happened has happened. It got me thinking. Sometimes something is staring at you in the face and you don’t see it…

You know when I was really young, my grandmother, she lost it in her head. Couldn’t recognize any of us, not even her husband and her own kids. They put her in the loony bin with the other crazies. We’d go and visit from time to time. When she had one of her ‘bad days’ as the doctors would say, she wouldn’t utter a single word. Just stare ahead of her, right through whoever was standing in front. It didn’t help when she had her ‘good days’ either…she’d sit in her bed, singing…the same fucking song over and over again…(He sings Doris Days’ ‘Que Sera Sera’ in a falsetto)…

Que sera sera…you know what that means buddy? Whatever will be, will be

Raza : I speak good French my friend. My father rich merchant…I go to France study…In Nantes…My French she is very good…

Bob : Voulez vous coucher avec moi? I been to France too baby…Mar-sey…went there on a troopship once. Boy was that good…you walk up to the whores at the docks and just say voulez vous coucher avec moi…you have jiggy-jiggy with me baby? (He makes lewd gestures with his hips)…

Raza : In France we speak of love…J’aime, tu aime…nous aimons…

Bob : You talking about love man? Love? Do you guys give a fuck for democracy?

Raza : We are learning in France. We get education, we make Iraq great country, strong country…we buy, we invest…

Bob : What the fuck did you get from France?

Raza : My father and his brother get partnership with French company making book for Iraq…

Bob : Books? Teaching your women how to say voulez vous coucher moi?

Raza : …I learn how to say ‘These rats, these rats’ in French…

Bob : (Aggressively) What’s with this talk about rats buddy?

Raza : My father he always tell me where there is plenty rubbish there the rats they will come…

Bob : You head going off in this fucking heat buddy??

Raza : Too much dirt…too much oil…black rubbish. Then rats…everywhere…many rats. These rats, these rats…

Bob : The pied piper of Hamlin…you ever hear that story?

Raza : Too much oil…black rubbish…too much rats…big rats…dangerous rats…killer rats…

Bob : That’s why you needed us baby…we came in and took out the rats for you…

(Raza shifts uneasily in his chair. Bob laughs nervously, and after pacing in silence for a minute or so, start humming Que Sera Sera…)

…I guess after what happened I am glad I met you…I almost feel that life is better…six weeks since I walked into the hospital…

Raza : You accident only six week old? (He laughs bitterly) See, you must count how much God he is blessing you.

(As he says the following, he walks up and down…interspersing his comments with groans and moans)

This pain mine, she is living with me more than three year now. Morning I get up, she is hurting, night I go sleep, she is hurting, whole night she only give pain me. I sit, I in pain…so I stand…still the pain she come. I walk, one second the pain she go, then she come like a needle is poking me inside, near the bone. Everywhere I go, asleep, waking, the pain she will come. (He laughs bitterly) …My wife, she is this pain…my lover…my beautiful woman…

Bob : …Yeah, but that’s the big difference here baby, you can feel your pain, you live with it. I can’t feel my pain…I can see it… (He holds his hands out and wriggles his fingers)…I know it’s there…but I don’t feel a shit. Now that’s a real pain if you follow me…

(As he has been saying these lines, Bob has also got to his feet. He nudges Raza and they both laugh somewhat artificially)

… Hey, but I just wish these damn lights would come on. I don’t see too well these days…result of my accident I suppose. I feel my eyesight’s been affected too. Imagine that, and me who could put a 22 through a squirrel’s eye at thirty feet…

…I need some light in this fucking place. I’d like to see the face of the man who helped me to my feet…but damn that was a silly accident the way we got tangled up huh? First time that’s happened since I went to the damn hospital…

…God, why don’t these lights come on? This gloom don’t bother you man?

Raza : (He laughs) No, this darkness, she no bother me at all…she is not darkness this darkness. She is my friend. See, I am to put my hand out, I can see it. You are wiping your face, I can see it. That insects are there flying around the lamp…there…you can see? I can also not see too good my friend. I have only one of my eye, the other one she no can see. Your accident my friend, she is only come with pain you cannot feel…mine is everywhere. I can feel my pain…

(With great concern) I am not like you my friend, I cannot be. I am how you say…a veteran. I find God after my pain. Before I not need him…I no have time for him. I am very strong; I fight maybe three-four people one time…

…But the accident she happen and suddenly I find God one day. In the middle of all my pain he comes to me and he says, Raza, I am here, come, bring the beads that your father gave you to pray to me, and come here and pray. I shout to my mother and my sister who look at me the whole day and cry…the whole day they just look at me and cry. I tell them I want my father’s prayer beads…they are made from ivory, pure ivory and the string she is made from the camel skin. They search and search through the broken house and I shout like anything to them, because the pain, she is so much I am sometimes feeling I will bite my own tongue into two. That much pain…see, my teeth here in front they have become shorter because I bite them so much. (He shows Bob how, clenching his teeth, and moaning in great pain) I do like this, the pain she is not so bad…(He repeats the whole action again, this time even louder)…

Bob : (Shouting) My God! Stop that man, fuck it’s crazy…it makes my skin crawl man…fuck…why you do something like that, you crazy or something…?

Raza :   This is what I try tell you. We are sitting here in this hole and straight away you start making the complaint…you shout about this…you shout about that. Why you no see how lucky you are?

…What you know of pain. Six week your accident only and you are crying like baby…

Bob :   (Angrily) …I didn’t fucking cry buster…I’m not so fucking useless that I can’t lay you out cold. No offence buster, but you watch your fucking lip…

Raza : (Ignoring him and pacing painfully from one end to the other, walking in front of Bob) Forget the pain my friend, let us talk about this place…this hell… (He points expansively around him)… this hole. This darkness that you do not like…

Well my friend, nearly two full year, day time and night, I am living in darkness…so much darkness I did not know which time it was the day and which time, she comes the night. And pain…so much pain I cannot even think of how to show you, explain you what I was feeling. I do not know which is to be hurting more…the darkness or the pain. Darkness so strong, my eyes are open but I cannot see my hand in front of me…I have to feel like small baby where is my leg paining, where is my toe she is killing me…and every day I am feeling that my strength, she is going…

…But I am strong those days. I no can give up, I shout at God himself, I tell him do what you wish, I will never give up my fight. Every time I am coming awake, I say I will not give up, I will be strong, this hurting I will carry it, I am strong

Then one day, the darkness, she goes…and the light when she comes, she makes me blind. I could not see for one full day…only I see a white light, very bright…brighter than the sun…and I remember the pain. The pain she comes and she does not leave me. Like the darkness before that, she stays there…until for me there is no morning, no night, only pain…

I try many things. I take a piece of wood, like my finger, put around it one piece of cloth, and then when the pain comes, running on my body, I take this piece of wood and I bite it… (He mimes biting a piece of wood, grunting in pain and rage)…

Bob :   (Shouting) No…for God’s sake…don’t do that…it’s like walking on my grave…stop it!

Raza : …That is when God came to me, and he make me bring this…

(He lifts his right hand up, and from his wrist, unwinds a loop of round prayer beads which he dangles in front of him, then takes them and runs his fingers over each one of them, as he does so, praying in Arabic)

…When I am doing this, when I am praying…one prayer only my whole life I know…but this prayer she help me. Over and over I say it, give it to God and maybe he is listen…the pain she become less…at least I do not have to bite my teeth, or one piece of wood…or sit with all the curses I have thrown…

(Raza now walks up and down, intoning his prayers in Arabic while he moves his fingers from one bead to the other. Bob watches him with great fascination)

Bob   :   (Laughing disbelievingly) You telling me that all that mumbo-jumbo takes away your pain buddy? I mean, you with the Marines or what?

Raza : …You can laugh if you wish my friend but prayer to God is giving me strength…

Bob :   (Laughing even louder) …Strength to do what? Figure out what man? That we can’t walk chicken-shit without stumbling like our bodies were all fucking mangled up?

Raza : (Angry) You are alive! You can walk…you can sit…you can feel…

Bob : …Maybe not the last one. You know what really frightens me most? What happens if I shit in my pants and I don’t even know?? What will I do then buddy? Huh? Take out my prayer beads…

Raza : Throw away your hate! You have too much hate. You are angry whole time. What you are angry with? What has happened has happened? Sing your song…your grandmother song…what is this song? You like your grandmother very much I think…your voice she is crying when you sing it her song…

Bob : Yes, I loved her very much, more than I loved my mother even. I was like a little goat. Wherever she went, I went. They all laughed about it, everyone of them, teased the living daylights out of me but me, I didn’t care, she was the most beautiful person in the world. She was better than your God even…or…mine. When she went crazy and couldn’t recognize me…couldn’t even talk to me about things we did, I went crazy too. I cried for days…whole nights even. I prayed to God, I prayed so much that he would send her back to me, and the bastard…the swine…the mother-fucking shit…he didn’t do a fuck…

(He breaks down and sobs, his heart totally broken. Raza lets him, holding him close and cradling him like he was a little boy. After the sobs subside, Raza pushes him away with some effort to keep his own balance. They sway in front of each other like two drunken men. Raza laughs and begins to intone his prayers loudly, holding the beads in front of him, dangling them and teasing Bob playfully)…

Raza : Pray with me…come…pray… (He continues praying over Bob’s next words)…

Bob   :   Shit man, I can’t pray like you…I don’t know that lingo man…I mean what the fuck am I supposed to pray? I did all my praying to Jesus baby…he didn’t give a dog’s shit for me… (His voice threatens to break as if he’s going to cry again)

Raza : You pray like me…take it one thing you know…and you pray…

Bob : No! I done my praying to Jesus, I served my life for God and country so help me Jesus, and no fucking man is going to say otherwise…

Raza : You sing your grandmother song. What that song? Come you sing it…I also sing it with you… (He prods Bob playfully, laughing) …Come my friend you sing it…you sing good…beautiful voice…like angel. Sing, God will listen to you….

(In spite of himself, Bob begins singing Que Sera Sera…Raza moves his fingers along the beads and dangles them as if they were an instrument of percussion and joins him singing off-key and jumbling up the words…Bob laughs and sings with increased passion, making the tune sad and wistful…Raza moves a step away and stand still, now intoning his own prayer in Arabic and Bob sings. Lights fade to their harmonies)

End
of
Scene 2  

 

Scene 3

The lights have still not come back in the lounge; the emergency lamp has almost gone out. The scene is dull, almost lifeless. Bob is standing there, the beads in his hand. He sings Que Sera softly, while Raza laughs. Suddenly the main overhead lights in the lounge flicker on and off…both men laugh and then groan…

Bob : Damn, for a moment then I was just about to say that these beads of yours work…

Raza : They work my friend, see how happy we are both feeling? It is like a big stone she has been taken from our backs…

Bob : (Rubbing the beads furiously and singing)… Come on God, you do this for us, you bring the lights back…bring the lights back…bring the lights back…bring the lights back…bring the lights back…

(While Bob intones that phrase, Raza himself intones his prayers in Arabic. The lights flicker on and off again. The men laugh and whoop like children, then breathlessly continue their strange prayer. The lights come on bright. The men have their backs to each other when this happens and laughing, they turn to face each other.

Bob’s laughter disappears in a howl of fear the moment Raza’s laughter disappears in scream of rage. As if providing a stroboscopic effect, the lights go off and on, off and on, as aza stands there transfixed in rage and Robert, as if dispelled by his hate, is hurled backwards, slow-motion, to lie supine on the floor a short distance away. As he hits the ground, lights go off, come back dim as just one light comes overhead, directly above Bob, who cowers and trembles…)

Bob : (In great fear) I knew it! You are the devil…Satan…

Raza : No! You are the devil…

Bob : Go away from me…I need you like I need death…Go away! Leave me alone, I have suffered enough…

Raza : No! You can never suffer enough! I need you…I have waited for this day… (He intones something in Arabic) …My god how I have waited for this day…to be alone with the butcher of Baghdad…alone with him, only him and me. I will not forget…I cannot forget American bastard. I cannot forget…

(Raza throws his head back and laughs, while Bob whimpers. Lights off suddenly)

End
of
Scene 3

 Scene 4

 (The last scene opens as if a play with conventional lighting. Robert is on the floor in the same position that Scene 3 ended, if anything, a lot more supine and helpless. He is bathed in a tight circle of light…perhaps three or even four spots converging in a tight, sharply focused circle enclosing him from head to toe. Around this circle, Raza hobbles, laughing fiendishly…chuckling…shaking his head in amusement…breaking the circle of light by walking into and out of them)

Raza :   What is the names they call you in Husseini Street in Baghdad? You know that my friend?

(Bob shakes his head, indicating he does not. He looks frightened out of his wits)

… (Laughing bitterly) There were so many, maybe even I forget them and I know them once better than prayer…

…Murderer, butcher, rapist…the one without a heart…the one with ice in his eyes, and murder in his heart…bastard son of an old wrinkled camel…son of killers and murderers and rapists…fucker of little boys…evil one…the one who ate his mother’s heart…the one who killed his sleeping father…the beast…the animal…the laughing vulture…

What more you wish me to remember? Where are your evil eyes now? Why you are not standing in front of me throwing your spit from your mouth on me? And the way you are laughing at us, why, why, you are not laughing at me?

I think your accident, she is bad for you. You have forgotten how to laugh at another man my friend. Shall I remind you…?

It started with the slaps. Offer one cigarette, a glass of tea…a civilized man who had learnt our culture from his dirty government. Lovely smile…the smile of a friend. Then, a slap, across the mouth…like this…so you can taste the blood exploding in your mouth like a bomb…

(He makes as if he’s going to slap Bob, who screams and flinches…then looks sheepish and tries to look as if he’s tough)…

Then the beatings my friend, do you remember them? You sat there drinking beer and watching your woman soldiers. Ah, can I even dream of repeating this for you…

(He puts his head up, as if a wolf baying for blood and lets out a painful but angry roar…like a wounded lion almost. He limps into the light and stands over Bob who stares at him fearful and open-eyed. Raza bends from the waist, makes his hand into a fist and raises it…breathes in as if he is going to deliver one telling blow in Robert’s face, crushing it. At the end of his long inhalation of air, he merely straightens up, and says angrily, as if hissing the words)…

Raza : If only I could tell you how I longed for this moment. I have dreamt of hurting you like you hurted me…make you do everything…every single thing. Then end it with my dream of you. I will take out my knife. You remember your knife butcher? You remember what you did to Mahmoud’s sister, you bastard? You remember? No? What about my eye butcher…you remember my eye??

Bob : (Screaming desperately) Yes, I do…I do…my God I do…I do

Raza : I will do everything you did to me. I will make you eat your own shit, and when you bring it up screaming and choking on it, I will make you crawl on the floor and lick it with your tongue…

Bob : (Whimpering pathetically) No, please, I beg of you…

Raza : …Then you feed me water with sugar…lot of water and wait for me to build up the piss. (He taps Bob’s shoulder) What happens then my friend, tell me…tell me…

Bob : You need to piss…

Raza : Where I piss butcher? Huh? Where??

Bob : In a bucket…

Raza : What is in bucket?

(Bob mumbles an answer incoherently)

…No, I not can hear you properly. Speak like a man, not a baby…

Bob : Electricity…there was a live coil inside…It wasn’t serious, it’s not enough to kill you

Raza : Do you know what it feels like my friend?

(He stands in front of Robert, as if strapped in place and re-enacts the torture. Robert cringes in this tableau that lasts a couple of minutes. Raza is panting, in real pain from the exertion)

You knew…you knew you would never break my spirit my friend. I am from the Republican Guard butcher, you knew how strong I was. Months of your torture…how long was it butcher? (He mentions the time in Arabic) Nearly one full year, butcher. You try everything you know. You learnt new ways of hurting. New tricks…

Now you know why I do not mind this darkness here? (He points around him) This darkness where I can see? How many days you kept me in total darkness, sleeping in my own shit and piss, living worse than an animal? Tell me you bastard

Why you not respect me like a soldier? You could not break my spirit? My soul, my spirit. Why you broke my body? (He tries to clumsily lift his trouser legs) …You know how many operations I have done? Fourteen! Still there are three to go. I think I must tell them cut the legs off…may be then this fucking pain she go away. What about my hands? My eye?

(He sobs pitifully, recovers in anger, brushing away his tears, but trying hard to be calm and composed as he continues speaking)

Last of all my friend I will take my knife, paratrooper knife, sharp like anything, very pointed at the end, so fine you can clean the food from the teeth with it. I take this point, sharp like a needle (He points)…and take out your eye. First this eye, and then, the other one. Then I take you to the edge of the desert, put the eyes in your mouth and show you the way to hell…

(Raza suddenly bends down, a movement so fluent, it brings a squeal of pain from Bob. Raza laughs bitterly, and holds his hand out, palm open)…

Raza : Give me back my beads…my father’s prayer beads. (As Robert hands the beads back hesitantly, Raza takes them, straightens up and continues speaking, moving in and out of the light, and laughing sadly)…

…The father of the father of my grandfather, he was a merchant. He travelled across the desert, across the sea of Moses, across another desert and into Morocco and Tunisia…then he travel to Africa. There he meet an African prince. I remember the story from the father of my grandfather. There were no rains in this man’s country…and he met my father when he had made his camp…where the desert begins. He said how he needs the rain or else his people will not eat the next year or even drink the water. My relative he go on his knees towards Mecca and prays for a long time. He prays and prays and the rain falls. The prince wanted to know the power of my old grandfather’s prayer. He became Muslim. The African prince he gave him these beads, made from the tusk of a grand elephant…

The beads they pass down to my father. My father the day he died, his last words was spoken giving these beads to me. Keep them with you always, when you have trouble and you think God he has forgotten you, you take out the beads and pray…

(He intones the prayer, but stops it abruptly. He throws the beads on Bob’s chest. Bob yelps more in shock than pain. Raza laughs bitterly)

Because of this bastard beads I lose my hate for you. All my anger for all you do, I have rubbed on these beads with my fingers. (It seems as if he’s crying softly) My heart is clean. God he takes this anger and throws it away…what can I do you…?

Bob : (Screaming as if demented) You can laugh, you son of a bitch…you can shit yourself laughing… (He struggles to his feet, stands uncertainly, wobbling, pointing to various parts of his body) Your curses have been answered buddy. What more do you want from me? This is no accident.

I have a perfect body buddy. Perfect. Boom-Boom Bob, the best boxer in the ring, the toughest slugger on the diamond… (He starts crying too) This body is dying on me buddy. No pain. I don’t feel a shit. One day this muscle stops working, the next day, this one. I need to walk differently, move differently, use other muscles that will keep me moving, going…

The doctors asked me to get a wheelchair. Can you believe that? Your wife will have to look after you for the rest of your life they said…or you can get admitted into a home. A place where they can look after me as I turn into a vegetable. You cursed me, you son-of-a- bitch…

Raza : Yes, I did, hundred times, thousands and thousands of times day and night…

(A silence follows. In this silence, the lights in the lounge come on one by one, the fans and air-conditioning follow. Both men rub their eyes in the sudden glare of light, as if waking up from a deep sleep, and looking at each other as if the only thing has been a bad dream)

Bob : Yes…yes…I deserve it…I’m sorry…

(Raza laughs. He bows mockingly)

…No, no I am not…I was doing my duty…

Raza : Those prayer beads…that one…I must take it and choke your neck. You? You are a soldier?

Bob : (Shouting) You were putting fucking bombs under our feet! You know how many buddies of mine got their legs blown off by you bastards?

Raza : Yes, you were innocent people, you and your government. You do nothing to us. We blow your legs, you, what you and your people did? You do not know? The muscles in your brain, they also have gone? You have forgotten butcher?

An announcement comes on the sound-system: “This is for the attention of passengers travelling by Flight DB462 to Bangalore. We regret the long delay that was caused by operational problems with our craft. Please bear with us. Any inconvenience caused to you is deeply regretted. Passengers flying DB462 to Bangalore, you are requested to pass through security and await departure. Thank you for flying with us and always at your service.”

 (An awkward silence follows. Raza picks up a small travel bag, slinging it over his shoulder, and walking away, towards the security gate)

Raza : That is our flight, my friend. Finally it comes. What I can say you now?

Bob : You can take away the curse…let me get back to my life. It’s different now…I got a little boy, my wife’s real pretty…I got…I had me this small business selling plants. I love plants man… (He sobs) The doctors don’t know the fuck that’s happened to me…there’s no cure fuck you…they don’t know what started it…

…It was a war, fuck it…it was just a war…

Raza : And what is this that you have my friend, you will call her peace? Maybe two, three years time, who knows, you will know what this peace she is. I have no hate for you my friend, there are no curses. Even if you were alive and well, I would have made the peace with you, the real peace. There is only my pain and what I must to do to take away this pain. Come my friend, our doctors they are waiting for us…maybe he will cut off this bastard legs of mine. Salaam

(He waits for a response from Bob, and none forthcoming, slowly hobbles away. Bob gets to his feet as if wanting to say something to Raza, then goes back and sits, losing his balance awkwardly and almost falling. He regains his composure.

The lights in the lounge begin to flicker again. Some go off, and some stay on, randomly. Another announcement can be heard, muffled in the background. One light comes on, dim, directly above Robert. He rubs the beads, one by one. He sings Que Sera Sera as the lights slowly dim)

 End

Have your say

comments

Raiot

Subscribe to RAIOT via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 14,054 other subscribers

Hartman de Souza Written by:

Hartman de Souza has a background in theatre, education and journalism. He has been associated with several theatre groups in the country and was, till September 2015, the artistic director of the Space Theatre Ensemble, Goa.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.