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All characters in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
"There may be pleasure in the memory
Of even these events one day".
Virgil, Aeneid, I:203
The Night of "New Jersy"
Copyright © 1992 by Salahuddin Hariri.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author. First published by SAB For Printing & Publishing & Advertising. Beirut.
Printed in Lebanon
CHARACTERS OF THE PLAY:
(Beirut, Lebanon, 1983)
The US battleship New Jersy arrived at the Lebanese waters between the third and ninth of October, 1983, to join fourteen other US Navy vessels spotted earlier off the coast of Beirut. Its mission, as reported by national and international news-papers at the time, was to intervene should the anti- government forces launch a devastating attack on Souk-El-Gharb, one of the Lebanese Army's strategic strongholds.
On the twenty-third of the same month, an unidentified Moslem drove a truck into the US Marine in Beirut – in what came to be described later as a "suicide mission", and which resulted in the instantaneous death of at least 230 Marines.
It is sometime after these two dramatic events started generating political tension, both in Lebanon and abroad, that the action of the play takes place.
As the curtain goes up, one realizes that the stage setting has been designed in such a way as to suggest the impersonal spaciousness of a shelter in a huge building – which happens, in this case, to be located on one of those sidestreets that run east of Kournish El Manarah. The shelter's ceiling is supported by a number of strong concrete columns. These columns are by no means the only objects one may see on the stage. All over the place are folding-beds, bamboo chairs, small tables, and unwrapped boxes of various sizes – this shelter, much to the benefit and relief of our characters, has, for several years now, been let to a furniture company.
At one corner of the stage, right, is a small room equipped with a lavatory, a wall-mirror, and a toilet seat. All these items are momentarily hidden from sight with a screen fixed on an enamel rod. But should one of the characters decide to answer the call of nature, the whole picture would come into view.
The only entrance to the shelter is a wrought-iron door, center, left, that opens directly onto a flight of stairs. These stairs, instead of suggesting the comforting idea of a symbolic bridge between the underground world of the shelter and the world outside, stand callously naked, an unwelcome interruption even to the tomb-like atmosphere of the place.
(Presently, Mr. Halim Hamraj, a well-built, middle-aged man, comes down the stairs, with a flashlight in one hand, and a phone on a long extension cord, in the other. He puts the telephone on the top stair, takes a few careful steps, upstage right, and finally touches a light-switch on the wall with the tip of his finger. The shelter flooded with light now, he flicks off the flash-light and goes back toward the stairs. Silence does not last long. As if in response to the nervously expectant eyes of Mr. Hamraj, the telephone starts ringing persistently. He picks up the receiver, unrelieved and unhappy).
HALIM (On the phone) : Hello?... (Strained) Yes, of course I'm speaking from the shelter. (Listens, then furious) You ask insensible questions sometimes. You really do... What? Oh, yes, yes, and don't start again with these tiny, little worries of yours. The extension cord is long enough to reach any corner down here. You can call any member of your BE – LO – VED family at any time you want and for as long as you wish. Are you happy now? (Listens, reduced almost to absolute despair, then, alert, as though pricked with a sharp pin in one of his vital organs) For God's sake, don’t come down right now. Listen, you! New Jersy isn’t going to shell West Beirut, I assure you. It's all a political game the Americans are playing. Didn't I tell you that before? (Listens, eyes closed) Hell! Hell! You're in a hell of an argumentative mood tonight. So spare me the agony of it all and stay a little longer with the neighbors where you are right now. I'll call you when I realize it's necessary for everyone to come down here. (Quick as a flash) Bye now, Layla. (Gnawing his teeth) GOOD BYE, I said.
(He replaces the receiver, mumbling a curse or two, then looks around the place, obviously not interested in, or even capable of, seeing anything. His twitching cheeks are evident of an internal suffering -- a restlessness reminiscent of those indistinct afflicted tensions of a teen-ager -- which he can no longer keep to himself. He wanders around for a little while, then busies himself by adjusting a few chairs. But obviously that does not help him overcome his ever-increasing agitation. He stops and gazes at the telephone a couple times: first with childish uncertainty, and then with stubborn determination. He picks up the receiver and starts dialing a number, whispering to himself every single digit of it, perhaps to exorcise forever the haunting ghost of his hesitancy. He blinks with nervousness, clears his throat, and gets ready to speak).
HALIM (On the phone) : Good evening, Madame Christa-bel… Guess where I'm calling from? (Suppresses a laughter) Forgive me If I can't follow you in French, but you didn't guess right anyway… Oh, no. Guess again, but, mind you, take your time before you make your second guess… (Overwhelmed by the sweetness of the moment, he stands on one foot, unconsciously testing his ability to fly) Not quite. Not quite, Madame. (Clears his throat, then singsong) Chris… ta… bel… Oh, I mean Madame Christabel, I feel… it would be unnecessarily tedious to keep you guessing… all night… about my whereabouts, wouldn't it? After all, time is precious… too precious, I mean to say, to waste on… just guessing. Know what I mean? (Drops his suspended foot) Please, please, don't get alarmed. I was only trying to tell you that I was calling from the shelter… Yes, yes, I've just fulfilled my promise to get my own telephone down to the shelter. From now on we can all call our relatives and friends from down here. Isn't that dandy?... (Overwhelmed again by his intense emotions) Oh, Christabel ! Chris… ta… bel… Your voice rings melodiously over the phone… and wherever it is heard, I should say. (Frowns) What do you mean by insisting on calling me Monsieur Hamraj all the time? Please don't stand on ceremony with me, and please stop getting me confused with your French expressions. Just call me Halim, will you?... (Deeply hurt, and suddenly in a tone full of dignity) All right. I see. I'm sorry I seem to be bothering you all the time… anyway, I've just heard the news on the radio, and it's more likely than not that New Jersy is going to shell not only the mountains, but also West Beirut and its Suburb… to exert more pressure on the anti-government forces AS YOU VERY WELL KNOW… (Draws a deep breath, then softly, pleadingly) So all I'm asking you to do is just leave your house and roll down… I mean come down to the shelter immediately… as a sensible precaution should the Americans lose their minds… What? Oh, my wife? (Looks around as if expecting her to pop out from behind one of the concrete columns) In fact, she was here a few minutes ago and then went up to the house to get a blanket or two, a coffee-pot, some sandwiches… and I don't know what… All right then, Chris… I mean Madame Christabel. I will not take another moment of your time. But remember, please, that I'm down here already. Bye.
(He replaces the receiver and heaves a great sigh mixed with both relief and frustration).
HALIM (To himself) : I blew it again! I know I blew it. (Slaps the wall) Like hell I did! (Shakes his head in desperation) Why does it have to be that way at my age, I will never be able to understand. I will never understand either why something within me keeps pushing me toward what I already know is nothing but a lust-reeking waste-basket of an unapproachable woman? Why? Why? Why? (Swings around, stamping the floor furiously) I know why. I damn well know why.
(While he is being absorbed in his reverie, one can hear the sound of foot-steps, off-stage, approaching. Little by little, the voice of a ten-year-old girl, Nina, becomes distinctly intelligible. Nina seems to be striving to make a reluctant Sri Lankan maid understand the emergency of the situation, specifically the reason why they should hurry down to the shelter).
NINA (Off): The big ship will shoot. Big bomba. Very big bomba. So hurry up, Nanda. Hurry up down.
NANDA (Off): You lie, Nina. Big ship no shoot. You lie.
NINA (Off): It will. It will.
NANDA (Off): This country crazy. People no good. When your father come me go Sri Lanka.
NINA (Off): I tell you the big ship will shoot. I overheard the neighbours… neigh… bours… You understand?
NANDA (Off): Pisso neighbours !
NINA (Off): They were whispering about it. And when they whisper, I know something bad is going to happen. I really do.
(They finally appear at the door to the shelter).
NANDA : Me no go down, Nina. Big ship no shoot. No bomba, see?
(Nina starts descending the stairs, dragging the reluctant maid by the hand).
NINA: Come. Come. You're always lazy.
NANDA: Your father afraid always. You like father afraid too. No one in shelter, see?
NINA (Still dragging her down the stairs): You complain… You know what?
NINA: I mean you complain… You know why?
NINA: Because you're lazy.
NANDA: Lazy? What you mean?
NINA: You don't like to go up or down the stairs because you are gi-la-la, gi-la-la. (Pushes her playfully at the belly).
NANDA (Giggling): Me no gi-la-la, gi-la-la, you pisso… yekseni.
HALIM (Who has been watching them with amusement): What does that gi-la-la, gi-la-la business mean, Nina? I've heard you use these words too often recently.
NINA: Oh, uncle Halim, you're here! (To Nanda, triumphantly) See? Not only I who's being afraid. Uncle is too. He was the first to come down to the shelter, wasn't he?
HALIM (To Nina): You haven't answered my question. What do those strange sounds mean?
NINA (Happy to express her linguistic privilege): Oh, well… they mean… they just mean to be fat.
HALIM: I see. (Approaching Nina, almost whispering) Don't you think it would be better if you were on better terms with her… I mean if you didn't call her mames like that…(Kindly, tenderly) since your Daddy isn't around all the time to take care of you?
NINA (Stiffens, on the defensive): My Daddy's coming back. He's not with me right now because he's working at two places. Don't you know that?
HALIM: I know. I know. What I was trying to say…
NINA: He's working at two places to make enough money to put me to school.
HALIM (In utter darkness as to what he should say to ease the tension of the infuriated girl): I know all that… I really do.
NINA: No, you don't. Not only you, but every one else in this building. Yes every one of you thinks Daddy's going to run away (Her face working in great pain) and leave me alone right here. But no, no, he wouldn't do that. He's not… (Unable to finish her protest, she turns her face away to stifle a sob).
HALIM (Pats her gently on the shoulder): Come, come now. You shouldn't be upset with uncle Halim, my dear little one. I'm only trying to tell you what your Daddy would have exactly told you… had he been around… I mean about how to handle her (pointing at Nanda. Nina is still fighting her sobs) Don't be hard on yourself, dear. You know how much I care about you. I even wish I had a daughter like you. (Still no response from Nina) Come, come, my dear, you're the loveliest thing that ever happened to this building. We can't afford to see you unhappy for one single moment, (hugging her) can we?
(While Halim has been trying to calm down the little girl, a woman in her early thirties, dressed in dark blue jeans and a sky-blue sweater, has stealthily descended the stairs. She now stands silently behind him. This is Sally).
Sally: Hello there.. (Halim turns around, suddenly self-conscious) I knew you'd be here. I was definite.
HALIM (Gently, but trying his best not to meet her eyes): Oh, yes, I'm here. I've just brought down my own telephone to…
NINA (Excited, to Halim) : Oh, please, uncle Halim, can I call Daddy from here? Oh, please tell me, can I?
HALIM (Very kindly and slowly – probably to evade for as long as possible the disturbing, but by no means unpleasant, presence of Sally): Of course you can, my dear. But first your Dad would have to call and leave his phone number with us. He's not at one and the same place all the time. You know that. And you know also how frustrating it is to get an unbusy line these days. I'm sure, dear, your Dad is trying all the time to get in touch with you. All the time.
NINA: You think so, uncle?
HALIM: I'm positive.
NINA (Beaming): All right, then, I'll wait. I'll wait until I hear his voice.
SALLY (To Nina): Nina, dear, guess what I've got for you right here. (Taps at her hand-bag).
NINA: Not that Zig-Zag chocolate bar again!
SALLY (Sweetly): But you've always liked it, remember? Every time I go shopping and ask you what you'd like me to buy for you, (Bends, mimicking Nina) your lovely brown eyes dilate with excitement and you cry out, "Zig-Zag, Tante Sally, please, Zig-Zag". Here you are. Take it.
NINA (Taking the chocolate bar): But I've had too much of it already.
HALIM (To Sally, amused): She's hard to please, isn't she?
SALLY (Flashing him a smile): As some are hard to get, I can tell you.
HALIM: I don't know about that. (Quickly, to Nina) If you're planning to spend the night here in the shelter, little girl – because you might have to after all – you might as well tell the maid to go up and get you a blanket and something to eat and drink.
NINA (To Nanda): Didn’t I tell you the ship will shoot? See? Everybody will come down. Everybody.
NANDA: Pisso everybody.
NINA : Pisso or no pisso, you go up and get me a blanket.
NANDA: You blanket? And me?
NINA: Get yourself a blanket too. Go, hurry up. Bomba will fall. Hurry.
(Nanda starts going up the stairs).
SALLY (To Nina): Nina, dear, you go up with her and get yourself a night-robe. It's going to be very cold tonight. Go, go, and tell her to bring down the plastic bag with the cheese and jam and bread in it. Remember how many times your Dad asked me to keep reminding you of that bag? Remember?
NINA (Nostalgically): I wish Daddy was here tonight. He'd know what I should do and all.
SALLY: Don't be silly. We'll all take care of you, don't you know that?
NINA (Going up the stairs): I know. But still…
(Nina and Nanda disappear. The atmosphere is a little bit melancholy).
SALLY: It's a strange feeling, you know… but I can't help it. It's something rather mystical… or maybe just a hazy feeling I've been developing toward this girl.
HALIM: I think I know the feeling. I also have that sort of sympathy for her.
SALLY: But what I feel toward her is something different. Amazingly different from any such sentiment.
HALIM: What else could it be? We're all aware of her condition.
SALLY: Maybe it's admiration.
HALIM: Admiration! For her? You must be joking.
SALLY: Yes, admiration. And maybe I'm too proud to admit it.
HALIM: I wouldn't admire anything about any girl in her condition, I tell you… Well, maybe except for her ability to survive her confusing… sort of nowhere…
SALLY: Exactly. That's exactly what I've been thinking. It's stamina. That's what she's got. And that's what's admirable about her. Don't you agree?
HALIM: Well, yes, that's something.
SALLY: And to be absolutely honest, I have to admit that sometimes I feel that I like everything about that girl. Everything. (Silence).
HALIM (Suddenly realizing they are standing there all by themselves): I'd better go up and fetch some candles. The power goes off unexpectedly these days.
SALLY (In a musical tone): And I'll provide the matches!
HALIM (Ignores her remark and heads for the stairs): I won't be long.
SALLY (Reproving, but tenderly): Why do you always grow irritable whenever you look around and find out we're being alone, you and I? (Coquettishly) Does my presence frighten you in any way?
(Halim stops, startled, then turns around).
HALIM: Come on, Sally. You can't be serious.
SALLY: I'm very much aware of my weaknesses, and want of observation isn't one of them.
HALIM: Believe me. Believe me, it's all in your mind.
SALLY: And what's on yours, I can only wonder.
HALIM (As if determined to put an end, once and for all, to her conspicuous approach – very seriously): Now look, Sally… if I may address you by your first name… on account of the many, many years we've spent together in this building…
SALLY (Amused): Explanations are unnecessary. You've always called me Sally. You can call me Sal, or even ssssss for that matter.
HALIM: MADAME SALLY! I'll get straight to the point.
SALLY (Mimicking his serious tone): MR.. Halim, please do.
HALIM (Flaring up at not having been taken seriously): I'm sick and tired of your hints and innuendoes…
SALLY: Hints!! Innuendoes! (In mock – defiance) Do you want me to get undressed to sound loud, open, and explicit?
HALIM: For God's sake, simmer down, will you. (Glances nervously at the door, then fuming) Do you want every one in his damned building to be on top of us?
SALLY: Top of us or bottom of us, you thing I give a damn?
HALIM (Pleading, obviously to avoid an embarrassing scene): Sally! Sally! Listen, please. I know that you have certain tender feelings…
SALLY: Oh yes, what about those tender feelings?
HALIM: I mean those tender feelings you've been trying…
HALIM: To express to me.
SALLY: So I haven't been wasting my time after all. The message is finally delivered. (Theatrically) Congra-tulations, dear Sally. You've done a very good job indeed.
HALIM: For God's sake, Sally, listen to me. I sincerely have great respect for your courage…
HALIM: But you are a MARRIED woman.
SALLY: And you happen to be a married man. Right?
HALIM: That still makes a difference despite our pretense to the contrary.
SALLY: I've been searching all the sparkling cells of my tiny little female brain ever since I began to read your mind, and eventually have come up with nothing. With not even a shade or a bubble of that difference. Nothing. Nothing.
HALIM: Your sarcasm will get you nowhere. (Frustrated, but pleading still) You frighten me, Sally. You really do. You know why? Because you can be as stubborn and unpredictable as a little child.
SALLY: As stubborn and unpredictable as Nina you mean?
HALIM: On the contrary. I can always tell what Nina's going to do or say next… Well, if not always, at least sometimes.
SALLY (Laughing off the whole matter): Well, there's always a little mischievous child in every one of us, don’t you agree?
HALIM: Now you're making sense.
SALLY (Suddenly thoughtfully): You know what?
SALLY: You know what I admire most about Nina?
HALIM: Not exactly. You tell me.
SALLY: One can't fool that little girl any more as one could fool an ordinary child. Not her.
HALIM: Who's trying to fool her?
SALLY: You know what I mean. She's growing up so fast… inside I mean.. so fast it's a pity she doesn't have an aunt around… or a grandmother… or any female relative for that matter to look after her.
HALIM: It can't be helped. Her father's relatives are all in the north as you know. And if I may take the liberty to say so, you seem to worry a little bit too much about her.
SALLY (Hit at the right cord): It's true. You know why?
HALIM (Awkwardly): Maybe because…
SALLY: I haven't a child of my own? No, it's not that. (Laughs sadly) Honest it's not that. The truth is that there's something about her condition that reminds me of my own childhood.
HALIM: But I never knew that your parents were ever…
SALLY: Oh, they never were.
HALIM (Perplexed): I don't understand.
SALLY (Her eyes drifting away): Understand?… (Smiles sadly) Oh, that's something no one ever understood… or will ever understand.
HALIM: Why do you say that? Sometimes I can't follow you.
SALLY (Resuming her presence of mind): Follow me! (Her eyes flicker with mischievous playfulness) You never did. It's I who've been following you. Chasing is the right word. (Playfully claws at his face with both hands) Yes, chasing you like that. Meow! Meow! Meow!
HALIM (Stepping away from her as if from a maniac): MADAME Sally, please. (Sally goes on with her chase, her face working in such a way as to inflict a frightening effect on him. Her successful attempts to wear a variety of weird facial expressions betray her happy acquaintance with the all – time – popular movie ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST).
HALIM: Control yourself, for God's sake, Sally. To see you like that, one would think this is a madhouse.
SALLY(Running her ten fingers through her fair to look like a witch): Madhouse you've said, madhouse you've got! (Runs after him).
HALIM (Running away): Your disheveled hair makes you look like you were really mad. Come, come now. Smooth your hair before anybody comes down.
SALLY (Mean): Any one in particular? (His only response is silent bewilderment. She shouts) I demand that you answer my question. Any one in particular I said? Your wife, for instance? Or that la-la divorcee - Madonna?
HALIM (Beyond himself): YOU ARE MAD! By God you are.
SALLY (Enjoying her mad game immensely): Mad! Mad! Mad! Mad! (Claws at him again) Mad you said, and mad you'll get. (Then murmurs like a real ghost, if you believe in the existence of any) There is WISDOM in my madness. And there is WOE in your eyes.
HALIM: No wonder you're teaching drama to high-school kids.
SALLY: There is WISDOM…
(An unusually deep sound of a very unusual bomb is suddenly heard travelling over the be-nighted city; Sally and Halim freeze in their respective places. Their frenzied eyes tell that the mysterious sound has stricken terror in their hearts. The ordeal of waiting for an-all demolishing explosion is endless, though futile. As they finally realize that the moment of danger is over, they exchange a look of blissful rebirth).
HALIM: The Americans have lost their minds.
SALLY (Still confused): Where do you think they hit?
HALIM (Infuriated): Where else? It must be the mountains. Damn!
SALLY (Alarmed): Why the mountains?
HALIM (Embittered): Because we haven't heard the explosion, have we? And that damned bomb won't be roaming the sky all night long. That's why it must be the mountains.
SALLY: Relax… Relax... Your family and your immediate relatives are all here in Beirut. Why then worry like you've already lost somebody?
HALIM (Almost to himself): That damned New Jersy has finally made up her mind to hit the mountains.
(Beating his breast) OUR OWN MOUNTAINS!
SALLY (Alarmed, and ready for a fight): What in hell did you mean by saying OUR OWN MOUNTAINS, eh?
HALIM: You damn well know what I mean.
SALLY (Defiantly): No, I don’t.
HALIM: It was foolish of me to think you would. After all, you're just a converted Christian.
SALLY (Shocked to the marrow of her bones): Converted! What by all the demons do you mean by that? You should wash your mouth ten times before you dare utter this word again.
HALIM: Don’t play dumb!! For the devil's sake, don’t! You know as well as I that being a converted Christian in this land is being nowhere. No roots of any sort. No history. No background. And that's exactly why you can't understand how I feel about…
SALLY (Cutting him short): And you damn well claim all the roots and history for yourself, eh? Now listen to me, you! Just because you're a Moslem from the mountains doesn't mean that you own those mountains. Christian families had inhabited those mountains long before the word Moslem was ever invented.
HALIM: The word Moslem, for your information, was never invented. It always existed. And always will.
SALLY (Venomously): You… one-track-minded son of a fanatic.
HALIM (Self-righteously) : A fanatic of historical truth I may be. But in no other way can you describe me as being fanatical.
SALLY (Holds her head with both hands and shakes it in exasperation): My God! What have I done to myself? How in hell did I accept… to even entertain… any tender feelings for such a bigoted creature like you?
HALIM: Take them back… unentertain them… those tender feelings of yours. I've never encouraged you in any way, Madame.
(During the last few moments of their heated argument, voices of people rolling down the stairs in great confusion, off-stage, have been heard approaching constantly. The nearer the sound of foots, shuffling and trampling, the more distinct the voices. Sally and Halim instinctively shrink back from each other, and start pretending, each at one corner of the stage, to be busy arranging chairs and small tables in their proper places. Sally does not forget to smooth her hair.
Nina, holding a plastic bag, and Nanda, struggling with two blankets, come down through the door: Nina happily excited; the other with an expression of dull interest showing in her eyes. They disappear behind the columns, with Nina dragging the maid out of sight, in what seems to be, for the little girl at least, an occasion to improvise an exciting war-game of hide-and-seek.
A man in his mid-thirties, dressed in a black suit, follows in. He is wearing a slightly purplish cravat so tightly tied round his neck that it suggests, if anything, the will to self – suffocation. This is Antoin, Sally's husband).
ANTOIN (To Sally, who, all tensed up now, has come to meet him) : So this is going to be another underground festival, I suppose.
SALLY: Despite your cynicism, you suppose right this time.
ANTOIN: I always suppose right when things aren’t what they seem to be.
SALLY: I hope you’d realize that this is not one of your high-school philosophy classes. This is a shelter. A hide-out where scared people expect to have some peace. Or is that too complicated for your philosophical mind?
ANTOIN: Whenever I detect a tone of bitterness in your voice, I understand that you feel guilty about one thing or another.
SALLY: I certainly feel guilty… not about one thing… but about another… if you can think hard enough – or speculate, to borrow one of your favorite words – to find out what that another might possibly be.
(As they carry on with their argument, they drift away from the others).
ANTOIN: I've speculated long enough, I assure you.
SALLY: In the realm of speculation every one is a self-appointed genius – another one of your favorite lines.
ANTOIN: And what about other realms, if I may press the argument a little further?
SALLY: If any thing's bugging you, why don't you come out with it… plainly and honestly, eh? Try that for a change, will you.
ANTOIN (Embittered): Can you tell me why you, of all the women in this building, have appointed yourself a care-taker… a surrogate mother sort of … for that little girl? Who, by any deity you happen to believe in, did ask you to tell her to get that plastic bag with the cheese and bread and God knows what in it… down to the shelter?
SALLY: You're not only self-centered, you're fog-headed… insensitive.. and unhinged…
ANTOIN: And round the bend, you may add. I've long acquainted myself with your terminology.
SALLY: It's not that you live in a world of your own that bothers me. Really, it's not that… It's that monstrous indifference … that lack of basic human affection... and care… that makes of your words the sharpest of knives… that you keep plunging into my flesh and… conscience.
ANTOIN: Your words would be more effective, and believe me, much more appreciated if you tried them in one of your high-school dramatic performances. But anyway, you haven't answered my question.
SALLY: Get off my back, you and your questions.
ANTOIN: I've been off your back for quite sometime already. Or haven't you noticed?
SALLY: Cheap double talk!
ANTOIN: And your frog-faced mother doesn't approve of it, does she?
SALLY: Damn! Damn! Damn! For years and years I've been trying to teach you how to talk and behave properly as a good Christian. But in vain. All in vain.
ANTOIN: Don't evade the principal issue of our conversation by indulging yourself in your damn, damn, damn religious hypocricy.
SALLY: Me! Hypocricy! Very well. You can indulge your-self in self-torture for as long as you can take it. But leave me alone. Leave my mother out of your conversation. And for Christ's sake, keep that little girl out of your feverish mind for just a little while. Give her a break. She's had enough already.
(She walks away. He freezes in his place, facing the wall).
(By now several people have rushed down into the shelter, some holding bags, others carrying coffee-pots, tea-pots, and gas heaters. Among them are those who are carrying blankets, candles and match-boxes, paper cups of various sizes, et cetera.
Layla, Halim's wife, has already been dialing a number. Obviously getting a busy line, she re-dials the number three or four times. She does that while her nervous eyes are stealing anxious glances at her husband and the other women around. Her husband pretends not to have noticed her. Finally, she starts talking earnestly to someone on the other end of the line. This is done in pantomime.
The character that stands out as being different from every one else is Christabel, a divorcee in her late thirties. Christabel has evidently made it a point to live up to her own standards even while being in the shelter: she is dressed up smartly, and has not forgotten, even in this time of possible danger, to smother her shoulders with a beautifully-crocheted white shawl. But that alone might not pinpoint her, to her evening audience, as being different from every one else, and therefore, to create this effect, she is seen holding a bottle of wine, along with an elegant crystal-clear glass.
And that is all.
Oh, by no means. For Christabel is also carrying an international magazine, with the smiling face of Princess Diana of England, brightening up the cover page.
Christabel inspects the place as if she were there for the first time, then selects a chair and sits where she intends to give everybody the privilege of enjoying her presence. As she settles down in her chair, she puts on a nearby table the bottle of wine, the glass, and the magazine. As her lips finally manage to hold a cigarette, Mr. Tareef, a pleasant gentleman in his late forties, flicks off his cigarette-lighter and, despite her many, many protests, succeeds in lighting her cigarette for her).
CHRISTABEL: Merci! Vous êtes très gentil.
TAREEF: Your French accent is impeccable. Definitely it's beyond my capacity to imitate it. And as for my gentility, I sure owe it all to your presence. In fact, your presence has such a transforming effect on me … I already feel that I'm no longer the man I am. I'm Tareef plus something else… something gentil.
CHRISTABEL: (Off-hand) : Domage, Monsieur Tareef. Domage, you don't parle la langue de sophistication et de culture… But anyway, you still have one saving grace. You know how to light a lady's cigarette.
(In the meantime, two men appear at the door, each politely making way for the other to pass before him into the shelter. They finally smile to each other, hold hands, and enter together – a gesture so sensational that the stage starts reverberating with confused and confusing whispers. But this moment of social and psychological animation soon subsides into an awkward silence as the two men haste each in a different direction and then start wandering all over the stage distractedly.
The younger of the two men is hardly thirty years of age. He is slim, with nervous eyes that vibrate with painful inquisitiveness. This is Tarik, a poet who has been struggling impatiently to find and articulate his artistic voice by concentrating on one significant subject from the contemporary experience of his country. The significance of the subject, so he happens to argue with himself, relies solely on his ability to capture, in a series of poems, the spirit of a new generation of young men who have recently emerged on the political scene to prophesy, with unshakable faith and determination, the revival of a culture long-thought to be dead.
Tarik's nervous wandering all over the stage comes finally to an end: he sits on a chair, opens a book, looks for a sheet of paper folded between two pages, unfolds it, and starts scribbling something on it.
The other man is Minister Lemetrius. There is something elusive about the face of this minister that makes it difficult to describe: it reeks of time but not necessarily of age. One might think he is only sixty or seventy years old; another might consider him an accidental survivor of the very mists of those days of David and Solomon.
The minister goes on pacing the stage back and forth restlessly, but thoughtfully, with one hand aimlessly rubbing his chin.
Nina, who wouldn't stand such plodding uneasiness for too long, soon fulfills her role as child-interrupter of uneasy silences, by popping out from behind one of the concrete columns, munching a chocolate bar or a sandwich, and running straight toward the minister. Surprised out of his reverie, Minister Lemetrius halts in sudden alertness. All eyes flicker with expectation).
NINA: Uncle Lemetrius!
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Still caught by surprise): Who? What?
NINA: It's me, NINA.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Recognizing her) : Of course. Of course. How's everything. Nina? Are you all right?
NINA (Worried) : Is the big ship going to shoot again? I'm scared sick.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: You take it easy, little girl. The Americans know exactly what they're doing. They wouldn’t hurt you and me. We're not their enemies, are we?
NINA (Confused) : But they are still shooting at us, aren’t they?
HALIM (To the minister, reproachfully) : Stop confusing the child, will you. (To Nina) Of course the Americans would hurt you and me and our likes if they got the slightest chance. And as for them being our enemies – don’t you ever forget it.
NINA (Trying to make sense out of her confusion) : If they went on shooting, they'd be our enemies. Right?
NANDA (Appearing near the column) : You come here, Nina. You still little. You not man. Man and man talk, you close mouth.
NINA: I know them. I can talk to them. You can stay there if you want to.
NANDA: If you not come, I tell father. You understand?
TARIK (Looking up from his paper) : Don't listen to anyone, Nina. The Americans have always been our enemies. And will always be. And as for Nanda, she wouldn’t understand your need to know the truth about friends and enemies. Go on asking questions. Ask them once. Twice. And more if you wish until you learn what you want to learn.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Earnestly) : For Christ's sake, stop it. She's still a child. Hatred is contagious, so don’t feed her with hatred. All she needs to learn about life at her age is that she has no single enemy in the whole world.
TARIK: True, your reverence. Very true although your Christian charity hasn't improved the world a bit.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Had it not been our Christian charity the world would still have been a jungle.
TARIK: Jungle indeed! Take Europe and America, for instance. Aren't these two wonderful continents populated with charitable Christians like yourself? And aren’t those charitable Christians the same people who sell Israel the most sophisticated weapons to help her destroy our nation? What do you say to that, your reverence?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: They do not sell weapons in the name of Christianity. That is blasphemous, mind you.
TARIK: In the name of what, then?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Trade, I'd say.
TARIK: Trade! That's a charitable explanation indeed.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Where there is a buyer, there is a seller. Don’t the Arabs buy their weapons from the West… like Israel I mean?
TARIK: Unless you shed your Christian skin for a little while, you'll never be able to see the difference between the weapons they sell us and the weapons they make accessible to our enemies in the region.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: But why are you mad at me? I'm not Europe. I'm not the United States of America either. I have no business in this war.
TARIK: Every one has business in this war. All of us, whether we breathe it or not. And that's why this little girl must remain uncontaminated… by our lies.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Furiously) : I object to being called a liar.
TARIK: I didn’t call you a liar. But liars we make of ourselves by pretending we have no business in this war.
HALIM (A peacemaker) : The war is bad enough. And this argument will not bring it to an end.
TARIK: It will bring it nearer the truth. And that's good enough for me.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: What truth? Tell me, what truth?
HALIM: The honest truth, gentlemen, is that there are children and women in this shelter who need a little bit of peace.
TARIK: I will answer his question because silence isn’t the language I master best.
HALIM: For God's sake, Tarik, spare us tonight.
TARIK: If I did, the truth would not! (To the minister) You say you have no business in this war? Very well. I'll pretend to have believed you, but can you explain to your neighbours… to this congregation… why your heart cries out with joy every time European and American troops arrive in Lebanon to help our stinking regime get hold of itself?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Because those troops come to prevent a bleeding country from an eminent death. That's why.
TARIK (Correcting him, mercilessly) : Because those troops are Christian troops and you don’t dare say it !
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Trembling) : I dare say anything I want any time I choose!
TARIK: Exactly. You can indeed dare say anything you want any time you choose because you happen to be living among Moslems, Minister. This is West Beirut. The place where the Islamic spirit dominates, and therefore where democracy has its day! Go ahead, Minister, pour out your heart. You're safe with us. You can be sure of that.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Beyond himself) : I was born free. And I live here under nobody's mercy!
HALIM (At the top of his voice) : ENOUGH! I SAID, both of you.
(His commanding roar brings about momentary order. Christabel's and Sally's eyes, strained with anxiety, slash TARIK with blades of horrified disgust. The two women exchange angry whispers. TARIK takes a deep breath, looks around restlessly, and then smiles to himself, presumably having decided to exercise self – control. He turns to Nina, still smiling).
TARIK: Nina dear, come over here. I'll read you my latest poem. You love poetry… songs… don’t you?
NINA (Apprehensive, hesitant) : I… guess so.
TARIK (Gently) : Come over here. Don’t be afraid. The minister and I were only exercising our wits… just joking. There was no bloodshed.
(Nina, assailing doubt and hesitancy, finally goes to him in assured steps. The paper he had scribbled something on he raises now to read from – but suddenly looks at the minister intently).
TARIK (To the minister) : This poem is about that Moslem youth who had run his truck into the USA Marine compound near the airport… a few months ago, remember?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: You mean the one who killed over 300 human beings? Of course I do. I know the story.
TARIK: You know about it only the part you choose to know… as a Christian I mean. The poem I'll read now will put you face to face with the part you refuse to see and acknowledge. It’s a simple exploration of our cultural truth. I'm sure you'll find it to your liking! (To Nina)And now it's your turn, Nina. All you have to do is just concentrate on the music, and the music will help you feel the meaning of the words. (Looks at paper) The title of the song is simply "there". Part One. (Recites) :
his destination was a point
obscure in distance:
a blade entranced
by the shock
of splashing light
the glaring suns
splintered against it
it was a point that was no more than
(He winks at Nina, steals a look at the minister, and then surveys the troubled audience. Angry whispers of disapproval are hissed from Sally and Christabel's corner. The latter skims excitedly through the pages of her international magazine, with the bright face of Princess Diana showing to the audience. When Christabel finally signals others to look at something on one particular page, the whole corner rolls with laughter. Tarik deliberately ignores all that and goes on reciting the following lines):
the lucid morning and the lucid eye
entwined in purpose
drove the truck for him
his fingers green upon the wheel
playing his secret song
to keep him company
driving and driven as it were
toward the point that was no more
(A few neighbours have come closer to Tarik as if attracted by a mysterious power beyond their comprehension. In the meanwhile one can hear Sally's voice commenting in arrogant defiance: "Only your voice will keep you company!" As for Christabel, her antagonism expresses itself in such remarks as: "How I love this excellent wine!" or "This bottle is my only paradise!" Tarik persists in his exercise of self-restraint and recites the following lines):
a smuggled carpet
upon the flying tyres
outlandish scenes of greenery
visions of grass
the lucid eye had had for centuries:
(Christabel uncorks the bottle of wine, shooting defiant glances at Tarik. Sally has produced some plastic cups from somebody's plastic bag. As Christabel fills up the cups, the two women whisper a toast, suppress a laughter, and drink. This is done as a deliberate expression of their calculated indifference to Tarik's presence and to the content of his poem. Tarik manages to ignore their antagonistic intentions by winking at Nina and addressing her sweetly).
TARIK (To Nina): I can see you love words, dear. I don’t blame you. All kids your age do. (To the minister) How do you like it so far?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Politely) : I don’t mind it at all. Besides, you recite it elegantly.
TARIK: Did you notice the color green recurring in this part?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: I also noticed your glaring suns and splashing light, instead of illuminating the world, threatening it with annihilation.
TARIK (Cynically): You're on the right track, minister. The right track. Part Two will develop the color green further. This part I'm certain you'll like most. (Recites).
the tender neck
yielding in frightening willingness
in joyful terror
to the blade
that blinked and burst
a pregnant leaf
soaking in brightening dew
trembling with green--
the nails that hunt for blood
rending two hearts wide open
in the hands
that blossomed on an olive tree
two holy branches of eternity--
twin anguished horses
trained by anguished hands
shooting across the flames of sworded
twin voices howling
in the name of him
whose will they served
estranging life from life
poisoning with justice all the hearts of
whose worldly cure had been their
and dropping both upon the scourging
where two palm trees were turning
(He rests the paper on his right knee as he takes in a deep breath).
Tell me, Nina, do you like the song? The music I mean?
NINA: Well… when I grow up, I will write songs like you.
TARIK: Better songs you mean? Of course you will. It's only a matter of time. (To the minister) I call this part, Minister, a plunge into our cultural heritage.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: A plunge indeed! But into what I could never tell. (Crhistabel and Sally chuckle) For you interwine images in such a way as to deliberately create a complex vision of what you think is our cultural heritage. Why don’t you try a simpler way of writing?
(An awesome silence engulfs the stage as the mysterious sound of a travelling bomb arrests the attention of the troubled herd. A fearful expectation holds them equal – in humility: young and old, male and female, friend and enemy – all tentative targets to the threatening unknown. The mysterious sound dies out in the distance).
HALIM: Damn! New Jersy must be hitting the mountains again.
SALLY: Let it hit wherever it wants to hit as long as it leaves us here entombed in peace.
HALIM: That's not a sensible thing to say.
TARIK: Nothing has any thing to do with sensibility any-more in this country. Words are a give-away, an unintentional betrayal of the human skin.
SALLY (Aggressive) : Whose skin you mean?
TARIK: The speaker's.
SALLY: Not necessarily mine?
TARIK: Yours or mine, does it make any difference?
SALLY: It sure does if you intend to insult me.
TARIK: Why should I bother to insult you when you're doing the job yourself?
SALLY: You'd better watch your tongue. I can return the insult any time.
HALIM: Return to your senses, both of you, and let us pass the time…
TARIK: The time will pass itself away regardless of our intentions.
HALIM: Spare us your philosophical mood tonight. Go back to your poem. Sing it. Dribble it. Shriek it out. That would be more reasonable and more entertaining than…
TARIK: Entertaining isn't the right word. But anyway you're right. (To Nina) You're still around, my dear? Good. I'll read the last part of my song only for your sake. (Raises the paper, then recites).
and merged the trains of ancesters
bringing all time and distance to the
where time and distance were no
more than there
and clashed the glaring suns
the splashing light
splinters of red and green
two lines inimical
the horizontal and the vertical
cut through each other in a fatal dare
to form the point that was no more
(He smiles to himself rather sadly, but not without self-content. A brief moment of silence follows. As the neighbours fix their eyes on him, anxious to see what he will do or say next, he silently returns the paper to its former place in the book. The air thickens with tension. But when Tarik rises from his chair and goes up the stairs to finally disappear in the dark, an immense sense of relief brightens up the faces of those to whom his presence has been a trying experience).
SALLY: Unburdend at last!
CHRISTABEL: Now we can enjoy our drink in peace.
HALIM (Overlooking their remarks) : The poem wasn't too bad. Or was it, your reverence?
SALLY: It wasn't the poem, but the man, you know…
(She and Christabel clink their glass and cup as they burst out laughing. The minister clings to his silence, deep in thought).
CHRISTABEL: Monsieur Halim, do you care for a drop of wine?
HALIM (Amiably): A tiny drop wouldn’t hurt.
SALLY: If only you knew how to taste it!
(Sally holds out her cup and Christabel fills it. Smiling seductively, she offers Halim her cup, which he accepts uncomfortably. Although his wife has been unhappy…watching him hanging around other women, she manages, with painful pride, to stay cool and collected – and away from the drinking crowd).
SALLY (Eying Halim, cynically) : Let's drink to the undecided and the unhappy.
CHRISTABEL: That sounds kinky, Sally, but I like it.
HALIM: If we leave other people out of our chat…
SALLY: Why should we? (To the minister) A drink, Minister?
CHRISTABEL: Of course. He's the one who needs it most. Tell me, your reverence, do you have to put up with that man's impetuousness whenever he's around.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Taking the cup from Sally) : Well, my dear, since we're bound to live with other people, our only choice is to put up with their… (Steals an uneasy look at Halim) weaknesses.
HALIM: Well put, Minister. I also feel the same way about other people… if you get my meaning.
CHRISTABEL: What that man has isn't a weakness. The other word for it is…
HALIM (Interrupting) : Temperament.
CHRISTABEL: And the other word for temperament is fanaticism.
SALLY (Teasing) : Most men in West Beirut are fanatics. And what's a fanatic? A potential criminal.
HALIM: Now wait a minute.
TAREEF (Joining them) : I haven't missed much I hope.
CHRISTABEL: What one may miss, another may not.
CHRISTABEL: So much depends upon taste.
SALLY: That sounds kinky, Christy, but I like it.
(The two women exchange an all-knowing look. Christabel takes a cigarette from her cigarette case and holds it between her lips. Tareef lights it for her. She inhales indulgently, then lets out a squirming train of smoke).
CHRISTABEL (To Tareef) : Merci! Vous êtes très gentil.
TAREFF: It's my pleasure. Always.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Christabel, dear, you'd better cut down on your smoking. You're such a heavy smoker, you really are.
CHRISTABEL (Coquettishly) : Are you really worried about my lungs, your reverence?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: You bet I am. Your lungs are of vital importance to your health, aren't they?
CHRISTABEL (In drunken amusement) : So are my heavenly domes! But don't you worry about either. Caner will never smoke its way into my body. Besides, votre domaine est l'ame. Le corpe est le mien.
(Men and women break into laughter as the minister freezes in embarrassment).
CHRISTABEL (Theatrically) : Sally, dear, you didn’t tell me where you've hidden your eternally-cravated husband. I don’t see him anywhere.
SALLY: He's probably meditating over one thing or other behind one of those columns.
CHRISTABEL: I'd like him to share a drop of wine with us though he's not much of a drinker.
SALLY: I'm sure he'd be happy to share a drop with you.
CHRISTABEL (Chuckling) : I can see why you don’t want him around.
SALLY: You do? All right then. I deserve a break, don’t I?
(Christabel cracks a peel of laughter and staggers away with her drink. Halim follows her a few steps, whispers something into her ear and, feeling bluntly rejected, leaves her to disappear behind one of the columns. He starts pacing the stage back and forth in restless confusion).
SALLY (To the minister) : Why should you spend the night standing here, your reverence? Feel free to use any of the beds over there. Take a nap. It'll do you a lot of good later.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: That's very kind of you. But I'm used to reading a page or two before falling asleep. Unfortunately, I left the Bible in my room.
SALLY: For such a night any book will do. Look what's there! Christabel's magazine! (Takes the magazine from the table and hands it over to the minister) The reportage on Princess Diana is quite interesting. I'm sure you'll like it. An innocent diversion from the Bible every now and then wouldn't upset the Lord.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Smiling at the face of Princess Diana on the front page) : She's got a sweet smile, doesn’t she?
SALLY: Enjoy it, your reverence, enjoy it. It's a British manifestation of the Lord's mercy.
MINISTER LEMERTIUS (Suddenly anxious) : I can't sleep now. Oh not now – I haven’t heard the news yet.
TAREEF: Nothing much on the news tonight, your reverence. It's been reported that New Jersy shelled only unpopulated villages in the mountains.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: No casualties?
TAREEF: No casualties.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: I see. I see.
(Holding the magazine in one hand and caressing his chin absently with the other, he carries himself away very slowly and disappears in a dark corner).
(The electric light flickers for two seconds and then goes out. The dark stage is flooded with protesting shouts, obscene curses, and angry moans).
HALIM: Stay where you are everybody. I'll light a candle in a moment.
SALLY: And I'll provide the matches!
(The hustle and bustle come to a climactic point, uniting all the voices in one rejoicing shout, at the very instant Sally strikes a match and holds it for Halim and other men and women to light their candles. The tongues of light disperse in different directions as Halim places his candle on the top stair and closes the door to the shelter. Candles flicker in all corners of the stage, the reflection of the dancing lights coming sometimes from behind the concrete columns).
CHRISTABEL (Moving toward center of stage) : And the Lord said There should be light. Let there be light and there was light.
SALLY: I don’t want to be confused with Him!
CHRISTABEL: What's that you're babbling?
SALLY: I said I don’t want to be confused with Him! It's I, I, I who've given you light. At least tonight.
CHRISTABEL: And I, I, I thought I was the only one drunk around here.
TAREEF: Nothing is more enjoyable than a nice little chat…
HALIM: Wait until the wine takes hold of their imaginings.
CHRISTABEL: Then what?
HALIM: You know what.
CHRISTABEL: No I don’t. You tell me.
SALLY: Yes, tell us.
HALIM: Now simmer simmer down, will you.
CHRISTABEL: You tell us First.
HALIM: I've nothing more to say, and let's leave it at that.
CHRISTABEL: The cat's eaten your tongue or what?
SALLY: Don’t be hard on the man, Chrisy. He's a little dear one.
CHRISTABEL: I'll tell you what. You go over there (indicating telephone) and dial my number. I'll be waiting to hear the story.
(She stamps the floor in drunken amusement and bursts into mad laughter).
HALIM (Infuriated) : If you're trying to… you'd better stop it immediately. (She goes on laughing).
NANDA (Chasing Nina) : You back Nina. Back here I said.
NINA (Out of her reach, teasing) : I'm a fast runner, Nanda. I'm Road Runner! You can't catch me. You're gi-la-la, gi-la-la.
NANDA: Me no catch you. Come here little bat.
NINA: Brat you mean. Repeat after me. Brat, brat, brat…
SALLY (Suddenly alert) : Nina, silly girl, come over here.
NINA: She wants to catch me.
SALLY: Stop running around like a little rat. If you fall down, you'll break your bones.
NANDA: I no play, Madame. She must eat. She must go sleep.
SALLY: Come over here, Nina. Now!
NINA: I'm not hungry. I don’t want to sleep.
SALLY: Here, I said. And Now!
HALIM: Now be a good girl, Nina.
NINA (Almost tearfully) : you're upset with me, taunte Sally? But why?
SALLY: Be… cause… you've taken the sweet effect of the wine… off my brains. That's why.
HALIM: I don’t think she'll get the point. She's never been drunk.
CHRISTABEL: Give her a chance, and she will. It's only a matter of time.
HALIM: You're dreaming.. Anyway you shouldn't wish her ill.
CHRISTABEL: Wish her ill? Are you out of your mind? This is the best thing a woman can wish another.
HALIM (Amused) : A drunk woman's wish!
CHRISTABEL: Someone like you can never understand that a woman is a woman only when she's slightly… just a little bit… tipsy.
SALLY: That's why I don’t feel like a woman any more. The wine's gone… out of my mind. Gone. Gone. Gone.
TAREEF: Nothing is more enjoyable than a nice little chat between…
CHRISTABEL: Cut it out, for Chris sake, and light my cigarette.
TAREEF: Avec plezir!
CHRISTABEL (Outraged) : What?
TAREEF: Isn't that how they say it in French?
CHRISTABEL: Oh God! This is what happens when a pregnant pig tries to fly! Anyway, you're not to blame. Blame the environment! But before you do so, light my cigarette.
TAREEF: It's always my pleasure, but I don’t see any cigarette between your lips.
CHRISTABEL: Then give me one… avec plezir!
TAREEF: But you don’t smoke my brand.
CHRISTABEL: When a woman needs a cig., any brand will do.
TAREEF (Gives her a cig. and lights it for her) : This is my lucky night.
CHRISTABEL: Don’t push your luck, silly man. Just hang around with your... just in case… (Almost to herself) How boring… these men in West Beirut … How…
NANDA (A little bit impatient) : Madame Sally, please. You talk Nina. Tell her come with me. She no eat yet.
SALLY: Oh, oh, oh! My mind is so painfully clear. I'm only wondering where the hell has the wine gone. Where? Where? Where?
NANDA: Madame Sally, please.
SALLY (Flaring up): Stop pleasing me, you stupid old fool!
HALIM: Easy with the poor woman, Sally. Get hold of yourself. She's only asking for your help.
SALLY: I know what she's asking for. I know. I know. (Turning to Nina) Come over here, little brat. And don’t you dare contradict me.
NINA (Coming around, half-surprised, half-submissive) : I haven't done anything wrong, taunte Sally. I was only…
SALLY: You were only giving her a hard time. Why don’t you eat something before you go to sleep, eh?
NINA: I'm not hungry…
SALLY: That shouldn’t make any difference. You can't… you shouldn't… go to bed on an empty stomach.
NANDA: See, Nina? You eat before sleep. Come, come.
NINA: But I don’t feel hungry. How do you want me to eat?
SALLY: I know what's going on in your little mind, Nina. You're trying to trick her into falling asleep so that you'd be free to stay up and play. But that will never be. (Holds the girl by the hand) I'll see to it myself that you eat properly and sleep properly… tonight… and every night your father happens not to be around. (Drags her away until the three of them disappear behind a column. Sally's voice is still heard) Your tricks are not unknown to me. So HERE you sit. And THIS you eat. (The voice dies out).
CHRISTABEL (To Halim) : You see?
HALIM: You mean Nina and Sally?
CHRISTABEL: No. I mean Sally and Nina! She's becoming so attached to her. Acts like she was her…
CHRISTABEL: Well what?
HALIM: Well nothing. I mean I know all that, so what's new?
CHRISTABEL: I'll tell you what's new.
CHRISTABEL: Do you know that you sounded so foolish… and so prejudiced… when you thought I was wishing that little girl ill? Was that because she's a Moslem and I'm a Christian? Was it that? Was it…
HALIM: You're… over-sensitive tonight.
CHRISTABEL: Tonight! I'm always sensitive. But you've never been sensitive enough… not tonight… nor at any other time… to understand how a sensitive woman… a real woman… feels.
HALIM: You're still a lovely woman, despite every thing… I'm glad you finally came down to the shelter.
CHRISTABEL: Cut that nonsense out! You think only Christian women drink, don’t you?
HALIM: Hey. Hey. Now wait a minute…
CHRISTABEL (Overlapping) : Now let me tell you, you biased old turkey. I know Moslem women who drink more often than men do… and I also know that they would drink you alive in one… just one… swig, take it from me.
HALIM: I know that for a fact. You think I'm blind?
CHRISTABEL: And they mostly drink in their shameful privacy. You know why? Because that's their only way to handle your… transparent… fragile… mentality.
HALIM: Oh. Oh. Now. Now.
CHRISTABEL: Oh. Oh. Yes. Yes.
(The candles in the corners of the stage flicker out one after the other. Tareef and many others are seen no more).
HALIM: Mothers are putting their children to sleep.
CHRISTABEL: Wives ought to do likewise...
(In the following few moments their voices grow less and less intelligible until they are heard no more. Their chat, or argument, goes on in pantomime. When the last candle in the farthest corner flickers out, Christabel staggers away and dissolves in the dark. Halim inspects the place, sadly. His eyes watch the silver blade of fire from the candle on the top stair – for a second or two – before he makes up his mind to disappear, like every one else, in the inviting darkness of the night).
Suddenly the shadowy figure of Nina trickles in, moving toward the spot still lit by the candle on the stair. She is finally seen eating a sandwich, unwillingly, and tensely looking around as though expecting something or someone to pop out of nowhere. Sally's figure follows. Sally is very upset, but manages to control herself).
SALLY (To Nina, in a very low voice) : All right, smarty, what do you think you're doing? Leaving me and Nanda in there and sneaking out with your sandwich, eh?
NINA: She wants to put me to sleep right after I finish eating…
SALLY: So she will. You should go to sleep like every one else.
NINA (Tearfully) : But, taunte Sally, my father may call any minute.
SALLY: So what are we going to do now, you and I? Just sit and wait for the telephone to ring?
NINA: Oh no, taunte Sally. You can tell me a story if you wish. I love the stories you tell. You remember that one about…
SALLY: Suppose I agree to tell you a story, will you promise to come and sleep with me… in my bed over there… right after I finish it?
NINA (Excited) : Promise. (Sits on the lower stair).
SALLY (Sitting on the stair next to her) : Ok then, let me see… Have I ever told you the story of Daniel?
NINA: Daniel? (Her eyes narrowing, trying hard to remember) No. Not that one.
SALLY: Good enough. Let me see where I should start… (Scratches her forehead, humming, then snaps her fingers) All right, listen now… Once upon a time there was a king called Darius. He was a very strong, very capable, king.
NINA: I'm sure he had a beard like Daddy's.
SALLY (Amused) : What makes you think he had a beard like Daddy's?
NINA: Because when Daddy's driving his car and stops at a check-point, the militiamen look at his beard and signal him to move on. No questions like "Who are you?" or "Where are you going?" -- as they do with other cars. I've noticed that many, many times… I mean because he has a beard like the king in the story…
SALLY: I can see your point, but you shouldn’t stretch your imaginings too far. I mean your Dad has grown a beard not in order to frighten people… He must have had another reason in mind! Anyway, as for king Darius, people were afraid of him because he had lots of soldiers. All trained to fight all sorts of battles. They were armed with shining swords and pointed spears. And always ready were they to stab their enemies to death.
NINA: Every day they stabbed their enemies?
SALLY: Not necessarily every day. But should kings of neighbouring kingdoms attack the kingdom of Darius, Darius would give orders to his army to march out and drive the enemy back into their land, and even to hold their soldiers and generals captive. Know why? To employ them later as slaves in his magnificent palace.
NINA: Was his palace far away… I mean from here?
SALLY: Of course it was. It was in Persia, my dear.
NINA: Is that a place near Lebanon?
SALLY: Oh Gosh, not really! Persia is the old name for Iran.
NINA: I see. You're talking about…
SALLY: King Darius! King Darius, Nina, and no one else!
NINA: But I hear people talk always about Iran and …
SALLY: Keep that to yourself and stop interrupting me!
NINA: I'm sorry.
SALLY: Back to our story then… Darius, the king, woke up one early morning, and was in a very bad mood. He never said a word to any soul. He never even said good morning to his wife. Poor wife. In fact something was bothering him. So finally he sent word to his councilors to meet him in an hour's time. And so it was. After an hour or so, Darius went into the court-room and told his councilors his will. In short, he wanted them to tell his people to… to…
NINA: Yes, Yes, to what?
SALLY: Well, to make a long story short, he wanted all his people to worship him instead of God. And for thirty days. Now should any man disobey the king's will, the king would cast him into the den of lions.
NINA: What's a den, taunte Sally?
SALLY: It's a place where they used to keep lions. It's something, say, like a cage. Underground.
NINA: I see. Go on. Go on. What happened then?
SALLY: What happened then… what happened then? Well, let me see. At the time Darius was king, there was a good man called Daniel. And that Daniel was not afraid of the king. He refused to go by the king's will. He went on worshipping God Almighty instead of king Darius. And what was his reward for his good deed? He was cruelly cast into the den of lions.
NINA: Did the lions eat him? Tell me. Tell me.
SALLY: Don’t get excited. For they could not. They tried of course, but they could not. Daniel managed to stay alive. You know how?
NINA: Because he had a sword?
SALLY: No. Guess again.
NINA: A spear?
SALLY: No. No. Guess again.
NINA: I know. I know. He ran away.
SALLY: No sword. No spear. No running away. He had faith. A better weapon.
NINA: So how did he save himself from those lions?
SALLY: As I said. He had Faith. He believed in God, the creator of all men and women and animals. And it was that faith that eventually saved him. Got it?
(Nina's eyes draw a suspicious question mark as her little head nods polite understanding).
SALLY: And so, my sweet, little girl, one has to believe in God. That's the only way for us to remain safe… and, for that matter, to go to bed and have a good night's sleep.
NINA (Tensed up) : But I don’t want to sleep now. I don’t feel sleepy.
SALLY: You'll fall asleep in no time. (Rising) Come, come, move your little ass off the stairs and let's go to bed.
NINA (Her little ass still glued to the stairs) : But, please, taunte Sally, let me stay here a little longer. Daddy will call any minute now.
SALLY: I've heard this story before. And now listen to me, little one. You promised to come and sleep with me as soon as I finished telling the story. Don’t break your promise. This is a very bad habit. And God will be cross with you if you start breaking your promises at this early age.
NINA (Brokenly) : Taunte Sally, please. Please, let me sleep here on the stairs. Near the telephone.
SALLY: To catch your death of cold! Not a chance.
(Nina has already laid her head on the stair).
SALLY: Don’t do that. Don’t you dare do that. I'll lose my temper, and every one will be wide awake in no time. Do you want everybody to be angry with you?
NINA (Sits up, through her tears) : I don’t want to sleep. I want to wait for Daddy. Taunte Sally, please.
SALLY (Guilt-stricken, she seats herself on the stair next to Nina and caresses her hair) : No need for these little pearls, my dearest. I understand how you feel. But I don’t want you to be ill by tomorrow morning. Because you will if I let you sleep on these cold stairs the whole night.
NINA (Looks up, pleadingly) : I'll tell you what we can do. We can both sleep here on the stairs and roll ourselves with a blanket.
SALLY (Shocked, but finally submitting) : Come to think of it, it's not a bad idea after all. (Their eyes meet, then Nina throws herself into Sally's open arms) All right. Don’t get sentimental now. I'll get a blanket and we'll try to get some sleep.
(She rises and moves away until her shadowy figure disappears behind one of the columns. Nina lays her head on the stair again. After a few moments, the whispering, but strained, voices of Sally and Antoin are heard):
ANTOIN: A hundred times I've warned you about it, haven't I?... She's preying on your weak spirit again, and before you know it, she'll make an exemplary slave of you.
SALLY: Keep your petty thoughts all to yourself. Thank God we don’t have a child of our own to be ruled by one blind dictator of a father like you. For that's exactly what you'd have been had I not had that blissful miscarriage.
(Their shadowy figures may appear to the audience).
ANTOIN: That was a willed abortion, Sally. WILLED, no matter how hard you try to lie to yourself. And to the world.
SALLY: Willed, you said?
ANTOIN: Willed I said, and willed I meant. And the reasons you gave then for your criminal act will always remain to me as dubious as your mother's muddy mind's approval of it.
SALLY: Well, well, well. Go on with your stupid accusations. Blow out your mind if you wish. I'll keep mine intact. And your calculated tortures that you keep inflicting upon me will only hurt you at the end. Just wait and see.
ANTOIN: Off, off, with your blanket. Go, go and sleep with that little monster on the stairs, while her father, that sleekly sneaky Sunnite, is chasing women wherever he pretends to be working at night. Any night.
SALLY: It's true, you know…
ANTOIN: What's true?
SALLY: That ripeness is all… though I doubt it very much whether you'll ever reach that stage.
ANTOIN: Fuck off with your blanket and your bloody Shakespeare.
SALLY: You'll never grow up, you thick-headed, fog-brained, idiot. Can't you understand, or at least imagine, that I'm only pretending to let her sleep on the stairs… just to trick her into falling asleep… to then carry her off to bed?
ANTOIN: Well, when it comes to pretences, you are the master.
SALLY: Living with you has taught me all sorts of games, my dear. Anyway, she'll fall asleep in no time.
ANTOIN: Why don’t you give her one of your 3mg lexotanil tablets to knock her… sound asleep… as you usually do when you're not in the mood to make love, eh? Isn’t that a wonderful idea?
SALLY: Your destructiveness is phenomenal. Good night.
(Their voices die out. As Antoin dissolves in the dark, Sally re-enters the semi-circle faintly lit by the candle-light. She is carrying a blanket. Suspecting that Nina might have fallen asleep, she tiptoes the rest of the distance to the stairs. She smiles affectionately, seeing that the fighting spirit of the little girl has finally gone to rest. She covers Nina with the blanket, and carries her, with some difficulty, away into a dark corner of the stage).
(The candle remains indifferent to the empty silence of the place. It goes on burning, and dying probably like a mythical hero who chooses to let out his last breath, standing. But the aloneness of the candle doesn’t remain uninterrupted for long: the shadowy figure of Minister Lemetrius erupts from a dark corner and pauses, meditatively, a few steps from the stairs. As time passes, his meditation culminates in what a pious person might describe as a vision: the door to the shelter begins to open little by little as though manipulated by an invisible hand. A few seconds, and the door is wide open… Now guess who's standing there? Right there? Believe it or not, it's no one but the ghost of Princess Diana of England (well a British ghost every now and then wouldn’t hurt anyone). Anyway, the drowsy eyes of the ghost restore their vividness upon catching a glimpse of the minister. The ghost, dressed up in white, suddenly smiles and starts humming a popular tune from the children's popular movie MARY POPPINS).
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Finally recognizing the ghost's identity) : By God, look who's there. This must be Princess Diana (Animated) Oh, gentle Princess, you must have come to help where the Americans have failed. Answer me, Princess… Answer me...
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA (Breaking into song):
Chim … chimeny
Oh, chim… chim… chimeny
I like how I feel
And I feel so free
(She repeats these lines twice as she tiptoes her way down the stairs into the shelter).
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Feverishly) : The Americans have failed us tonight, Princess. Instead of demolishing the headquarters of our terrorist enemies, they shelled the naked, unpopulated rocks of those bloody mountains. Gentle Princess, if you do not step in yourself and help us persevere and triumph, we'll be shipped out of this sacred land… not in ships made of Cedar - wood, but in boats made of wall-paper…
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA: It's the Prime Minister, or Ministress, as the case may be, that you should address, and not me. This is indeed a delicate matter… and I'm only a princess… a princess whose duty is to cast lovely spells over the world… Do you like my song?
(Breaks into song again)
Oh, chim… chim… chimeny
I like how I feel
And I feel so free
(She repeats the same lines twice).
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: (Uncontrollably trembling with excitement): Gentle Princess -- you, the noble descendant of Richard the Lion-hearted -- have finally come to the rescue of those whom the French, the Italian, and the American armies have abandoned to their… and your own… enemies. Tell me this is the truth. Tell me, Princess.
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA (Swaying with the rhythm):
Oh, chim… chim… chimeny
I like how I feel
And I feel so free
Oh, chim… chim… chimeny
I'll tell you a story
In two words or three
While nations are fighting
Their dogs all self - biting
We sit here in London
Just sipping hot tea
Oh, chim… chim… chimeny
I like how I feel
And I feel so free
(The ghost tiptoes her way up the stairs, still humming the happy tune. She finally disappears and the door is closed. The minister shakes his head and, having restored his self-awareness and his awareness of the shelter/world, comes to the bitter realization that it has all been an illusion).
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (To himself): By God what have I done to myself?... Damn you, New Jersy…! Damn you now. And damn you for ever! Amen!
(The candle flickers out.
The minister covers his face with both hands as the darkness engulfs the stage).
(If the director finds it necessary, the curtain may go down for a few seconds only).
(When the curtain rises again, the only character whose presence is intensely, though momentarily, felt is the DARK. Throughout the next succession of snapshots, the quality of action, motion, and gesture, is tinged with the faint, grey obscurity of the dawn. Even speech and dialogue wear the same color. For the action is mostly internal now.
An invisible hand opens the door.
The shaking figure of Tarik moves in through the door. He is carrying a heavy bag. As he descends the stairs, he is heard talking to himself).
TARIK (In a nervous tone):… The calculating shrewdness… of the…fox. That's what they've got… the calculating shrewdness of the fox. But, no, oh, no, this time it's not going to work. Not anymore. Not anymore. (Looks around, inspecting the place, then places the bag near the stairs). The word? Oh, yes the wooord. Ooooh, yes the word. (Shuffles around with growing agitation). No, no… no amends… We should not make amends… Not with those… whose calculating shrewdness of the fox… has plundered our rights… to dignity… self-respect… and a good life. (Self-conscious now, he shakes his head as though in protest) What's that I'm doing to myself now? Oh, God -- my God! I've been talking to myself again. (Rubs his eyes and forehead) I know that I should do something… (From off - stage, a strange voice faintly calls his name three times. He turns his eyes toward the door). Act, act, act… anything… act, act, act… somewhere… anywhere… to distract myself from… myself. But… but this dark is… has… got to me… into me. (Drifts again) If only it was day time… If only Nina was just… not sound asleep as she must be… if only she was… (His face relaxes) Oh, yes she'd listen to me. She'd understand me… (Happy as a child) Yes, yes, she will… she's the only one who… who will…
(As if conjured up from her sleep to fulfill his wishes, Nina emerges from a corner and sails, as though in a dream, toward her conjuror. His reaction to her sudden appearance ranges from surprise to gratefulness).
TARIK: You're not asleep! Haven't got into bed yet?
NINA: I'm wide awaaaaake. (Draws, with her forefingers, two full circles round her eyes) Can't you seeeeeee?
TARIK: Oh, yes, I can. You're… as you said… just (Mimicking her) wide awaaaaaake.
NINA(Runs around him full circle, giggling): You've got a funny voice.
TARIK: That’s your voice coming out of my mouth.
NINA (Still running in circles): It's NOT. Can't be. Can't be.
TARIK: Of course, it is. (Mimicking her again) It can be. It can be. It can be.
NINA (Her arms transformed into butterfly wings): Uncle Tarik, look. I feel I'm flying… oh, flying… oh, flying.
TARIK: You're only trying… oh, trying… oh, trying.
NINA (Slows down to a halt, thoughtfully): You know what I did in school last week?
TARIK: No, I don’t. What did you do? Tell me.
NINA: Promise not to be cross with me?
TARIK (smiling): Was it something… nasty?
NINA: No. No. It was…
NINA: It wasn’t nasty… but tricky.
TARIK: Tricky enough to make me cross with you?
NINA: You're cross with me already. I'm not going to tell you.
TARIK: I'm only kidding. Come on, you know me.
TARIK: Nina, oh, Nina, come on now, tell me all about it. If you do, I'll give you… and this is a promise… a lovely little present… to remember me by… when I'm… gone. Is it a deal?
NINA (Flushed with anticipation): It's a deal.
TARIK: Go ahead, tell me. I'm all ears.
NINA: Well… I mean… last week… as I said… Miss Fatin, our math teacher, was giving us a math test. I was very well prepared. I always am. So I started solving the problems. There were twenty of them. And, well, there was that awful boy who always smells of onion. I don’t know how he sneaked in and sat at our table. One of the pupils who share the same table with me was absent that day. So that onion-smelling boy had his eyes… glued…to my test paper. He was trying to cheat. And Miss Fatin didn’t notice how his eyes were… GLUED… to my test paper. She was busy reading a letter… I thought of raising my hand to call her attention and tell her what that boy is… was… trying to do, but I remembered that she doesn’t like us… you know… to tell on each other. "Classmates", she says, "should be friends. Close friends. And always friends." So I decided not to… But suddenly I thought of something. Yes, I did NOT want that boy to get a straight "A" on the test… like me… and he hadn’t studied the night before… Yes, I felt tricky. I started writing the wrong answer to each question and moved my paper a little bit toward him… so that he would copy it… yes copy the wrong answer. Then I secretly erased the wrong answer and wrote the correct one. I did that with ALL the questions. Twenty of them. And you know what? I got them ALL right, a straight "A", and he got them ALL wrong, a straight big round "O", as Miss Fatin says. (Throwing up her arms) Ooooop, he never sat at our table again.
TARIK: I bet he didn’t.
NINA: Was that good or… bad, Uncle Tarik?
TARIK (Surprised by the freshness of her question): Well… I would say…
NINA (Horrified by his hesitancy): BAD!?
TARIK: Nina, dear, listen to me. This is indeed a tricky question. Now, suppose I said… (With an air of laughing off the whole matter) But how in hell and how in heaven would I know how you were supposed to handle such a delicate matter?
NINA: But you are old. You OUGHT to know "good from bad".
TARIK: In the first place, I'm not old! However, I'm old enough to know "good from bad". Oh, yes, I am. You bet I am.
NINA: Then tell me.
TARIK: You think it's fun playing the judge, eh? But, on second thought, if that's the post to which I've been appointed, I'd say you were both right and wrong.
NINA (Exasperated): You sound like Miss Fatin! You never tell the… (Stamps the floor) I will never… ever… tell you any other story of mine. (Gives him her back).
TARIK (Tormented by a long-hidden secret): The question of right and wrong is the most slippery question man has ever encountered, and, most definitely, most absolutely… failed to solve. Can you understand that? (Seeing he is talking to a child) What a bloody, distracted fool I am! Of course, you can't understand. (To himself) How can she? How can she? (Turning around suspiciously) I'm glad the minister isn’t here at the moment. My awkward position would have elated him. Oh, yes, it would have. Not only that, but he would have summoned up all his fine speeches to explain to me… to educate me… in the art of his charitable education of children.
(As if conjured up from his sleep, or whatever state he happens to have been in, Minister Lemetrius -- in ironic response to Tarik's fears -- emerges from the dark).
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Right.
TARIK (Startled): Who's right? Who's right?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Wrong! WHAT'S right? WHAT'S right? That is the question.
TARIK: Don’t tell me what's on your mind, because I don’t want to hear it.
MINITER LEMETRIUS: Your negation of me only asserts my existence! You need me more than you think. Come, come, you know exactly what's on my mind.
TARIK: So why do you keep worming your way into my skin? Why do you sneak…?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Ask your skin!
TARIK: Sometimes it occurs to me that you derive only pleasure from reading… more closely… and more deeply… into my mind… my soul.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: What else but pleasure do you expect me to derive from your springs… overflowing…
TARIK: Springs? Overflowing?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: .... with the unarrestable, unmanageable forces…
TARIK: Stop analyzing me for charity's sake!
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: … which even you… in the rare clarity of your… cannot handle with the clarity and precision… required in an artist.
TARIK: It's your problem, not mine, if you failed to understand the poem I had recited to Nina. I don’t know why I've just remembered that Arab poet who, when critics said to him, "Why don’t you write what we can understand"? retorted sarcastically, "Why don’t you understand what I write"? That's a tale for you.
(In the past few seconds, Tareef has silently joined them).
TAREEF: Nothing is more enjoyable than a nice little chat between two…
TARIK: Of course, I'm experimenting with different poetic forms and techniques. It's only natural. But what a non-artist wouldn’t understand… I mean as imme-diately as an artist would… is the painful fact… yes painful because it's not easily shared with others… that what might seem to others a deliberately obscure form is nothing for the poet than the precise thing that can best translate his…
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Ravings? On that we all agree.
TARIK: You've been feeding on your special brand of ravings long enough to have dismissed from the recesses of your mind and soul all your… potentials… for sense and sensibility!
NINA (Runs in circles): I'm a butterfly… Watch me leap and fly… High and high and high… I'm a butterfly. Uncle Tarik, please, sing me another song of yours. I feel like dancing.
TARIK: That's exactly what I have on my mind. But you ought to stop dancing for just a little while… until I have sung my song. You dance later, OK?
NINA: No, not OK. You sing and I dance.
TARIK: First, you learn the song and the music. That's my little present for you.
NINA: You win. But hurry up, I can't wait too long.
TARIK (To the minister): This poem is dedicated to the memory of a twelve-or-thirteen-year-old boy from the city of Sidon, who got himself killed in a brave attack he launched on an Israeli truck…
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Is it another one of your plunges into our cultural heritage?
TARIK: I couldn’t agree more. (Looks around searchingly) But let's not waste any more time arguing. (To Nina) You know what I call this song? "on sidon beach", that’s what I call it. Now listen. (Recites from memory).
a mile or just a little less off shore
the island lies indifferent
the morning waves
babbling and hissing
thrust their arms in air
clutch hard and harder at the sloping
and failing to stay longer than they
crawl down in playful silence
to try it once again incessantly.
(While he is reciting his poem, unidentifiable faces loom in different corners of the stage -- some gloomy and protesting, some hungry always for the next line…).
The scene kept humming back from
a haunting recollection of a trip
a summer visit
he once had paid the island on a boat
it really did not matter much
that now he could not see those rocks
the splendid rise of splendid waves
the rhythmic silence of their fall
for now the inward look was all.
(Christabel's and Sally's half-suppressed laughter slightly interrupts the flow of the recitation. More than one of those unidentifiable faces sneer at the laughing women).
or just a trifle less
of rippling blue
stretched now between the island
whose tightened eyes were bent
over a strip of trampled sand
on sidon beach
the twelve-year-old foot
rubbed the sand
contrived the letters n and k
the splashing sand gave way
as bit by bit
was heaving into view
a shotgun sheathed up in a piece of
he looked around in silence
not a stir
except the wings of pigeons
over a sleeping minaret.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS:This piece is easier… much easier than the first one.
TARIK: Perhaps. Though, to me, all poems are the same.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Poet's talk!
TARIK (Ignoring this, to Nina): Well, well, now. How about this little present?
NINA: I like it. You know why? Because it makes me feel like dancing. May I dance now?
TARIK: Ho, ho, ho! You feel like dancing then!
NINA: Are you upset with me?
TARIK: Never. Ever. Since… who knows?... (Again the same strange voice offstage faintly calls his name three times) you and I might never see each other again… you are free to do anything you like tonight… today.
NINA: You're going, then, uncle Tarik?
TARIK: In a minute I will. You may say I've got an appointment with the… foxes!
TARIK: But I'll be back. I'll come back (winking to the minister, mysteriously) sometime… with the thunder!
NINA: Thunder! You mean you're going to fly?
TARIK: If only you can see my wings.
NINA: I can. I can. (Her arms butterfly wings) I've got wings too.
TARIK: And lovely ones as I see.
(The next part of Tarik's poem is dramatized in pantomime. Halim, for instance, plays the role of "king tennes", with a paper bag for a crown; Nina and other female characters who have shown sympathy for the poet play the "lasses"; a few young men, with sticks for swords and spears and torches, play the "warriors"; and whenever implied, the invaders' "cries of war" are heard offstage.
The whole atmosphere is that of a mythical world. Tarik goes on reciting his poem):
the gardens of the ancient king tennes
are all abandoned lasses of the earth
the breeze a stripping wind
the brightful moon
a stranger tresspassing
unveiling to the world
the prideful nakedness of arms
and budding breasts…
the gardens' walls can not detain the
he flies across the jasmines to the gate
that spits him out in shameful agony
amidst the piercing howls of warriors
so young so furious and so proud
they twirl and twirling shake the soil
uprooting flowers jasmine trees
trampling to silence all the reeds
performing there the burial dance
of their abandoned lasses
before the persian blood invades
their purest veins
their city's heart…
the blazing hands
rebellious undulations through the dark
inflict upon the crackling soil
a sweeping conflagration
both life and shame
when all at once
beyond the choking city walls
are roused frustrated cries of war
the voice of king artahshashta
declaring his glorious defeat
his stolen triumph
forever swallowed by the whirling clouds
(The dance slows down, and the dancers, all except Nina, retreat into the unseen corners of the stage).
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: You've done it again… this plunge into the fragmentary… the unshaped…
TARIK (Furious): Unshaped you say? It's the ancient history of Sidon and you know it.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: I wonder if many people will manage to understand that…
TARIK (Defiant): Many will.
MINSTER LEMETRIUS: Then count me out.
TARIK: You're out already.
(Carries his bag and makes to leave).
MINSTER LEMETRIUS (Sarcastically): Leaving before you tell us what… eventually… happened to that boy from Sidon? Weren't inspired long enough to finish the poem?
TARIK (Stops, indignant): I always finish what I start. (Places the bag between his legs and turns to Nina) Forgive me, dear, if I kept part of the… present… with me. But since it's high time I left (The same strange voice offstage faintly calls his name three times; he stares at the door, excited and disturbed)… What was I saying? … Oh, never mind. (Carries his bag and smiles to the all-ears girl) This is what finally… eventually… happened to the boy… (Recites).
he looked around in silence once
still not a stir
except the wings of pigeons
over the sleeping minaret
he pushed two steady steps off shore
the mosque was taller than before
the pigeons flickered out of sight
his arms were getting tight
what happened next he could not tell
but when he fell
the star of david on the truck
was bleeding endlessly.
(As Tarik recites the next ten lines, Minister Lemetrius and Nina move stealthily backstage. Their disappearance occurs simultaneously with Tarik's deliverance of his last line).
a mile or just a little less off shore
the island lay indifferent
the morning waves
babbling and hissing
thrust their arms in air
clutched hard and harder at the sloping rocks
and failing to stay longer than they
crawled down in playful silence
to try it once again incessantly.
(Without looking around, he climbs the stairs, presumably hypnotized by whatever force has taken hold of his imagination… He fades through the door. Silence).
(Agitated and disturbed to the point of madness, Halim charges from behind one of the columns toward center of stage and, there being no physical target on which to vent his restless energy, stops suddenly to curve with his lips what seems now to be his whole being).
HALIM:...Lust-reeking waste-basket/ water-melon/ pump-kin/ striker of a new New Jersy in my life! One in, one out! And at my age! Oh, hell, how can…? I'll never be able to understand why that…peculiar something…within me keeps lusting and lusting and like hell lusting after Christabel and such such women from her tribe. Always and always and like hell always. I'll never be able to understand either why I haven't learned… and trained myself… to lust after our home-made buns. Home-made they are and like hell home-made. Always and always and like hell always… (Slaps his face with both hands while moaning out the next exclamations): Oh, hell, oh, hell. Here, here, I AM, the MAN, the MAN, a man of sorts.
(Sally and Christabel stroll down the stage toward him. They are exchanging confidences, apparently amused by whatever they are telling each other. Each playfully rubs her shoulder against his as they pass by him. Startled out of his agony, he runs after them).
HALIM: You can't pass by me like that…
HALIM:Like you were going going going… without stopping to…
HALIM:To just to…
CHRISTABEL:Out, out of our way. This is a free country, isn't it?
HALIM:That's why I'm free to be in the way.
SALLY:And that's why we're free to break your neck for it.
(As is his habit, Tareef has stealthily joined them).
TAREEF: Nothing is more enjoyable than a nice little chat between two old...
SALLY (Snapping): Old yourself, you little old shadow.
CHRISTABEL: Light me a cigarette.
HALIM: I'll light you one. (Produces a cig. and a lighter).
CHRISTABEL: Keep your cigarettes to yourself. You're not as gentil as he.
TAREEF (Lighting her a cig): Enjoy it all.
CHRISTABEL: Whatever I enjoy I enjoy it all.
SALLY (To Halim): Light ME one.
HALIM: Smoking is bad for you.
CHRISTABEL (Amused): Not bad for me, eh? Sure, my built is different from hers. I'm smoke-and-cancer-resistant. Or do you have other funny ideas about my body?
SALLY: And what about MY body? It sure is this-and-that-resistant, but there's one thing it certainly can't resist. And, you (To Halim) you there, will tell me about it. NOW.
CHRISTABEL: Oh, my. Oh, my. Shall I be permitted to conclude, dearest Sal, that your bo… is his field of experiments?
SALLY: His field of specialization would be more accurate. (To Halim) wouldn’t it?
HALIM: You're out of your senses. Now listen to me…
SALLY: Listen and listen and listen. Is talking the best game you can play? Do and do and do something for…
CHRISTABEL: Sally's sake.
HALIM: Keep Sally out of our…
CHRISTABEL: Our what?
SALLY: Yes, yes, yes, your what?
HALIM: My… our… whatever. You are really mad.
SALLY (Clawing at him): Mad you said, and mad you'll get.
CHRISTABEL (Applauding them):
Sally, stick your fingers in
both his eyes, it's not a sin.
(Repeats her song, while Sally is chasing him around the stage).
HALIM: You'll never grow up. Never. Ever. Never. Ever.
SALLY: If I'm a child…
CHRISTABEL: How can you chide?
SALLY (Still after him): How can you chide? How can you chide?
HALIM: Even Nina has more sense in her little head than you two put together.
(Sally makes a sudden stop, exchanges a funny look with Christabel, and both women burst out laughing).
SALLY (To Christabel): Nina! Remember? We don’t know yet whether she used toilet-paper after all.
CHRISTABEL: It was surely hilarious to watch that woman instruct Nina how to use ONLY WATER to clean her… hi, hi, hi, when she goes to the toilet.
HALIM: What's wrong with that? Moslems always wash their… with water when they go to the toilet.
CHRISTABEL and SALLY: FA-NA-TICS! What's wrong with toilet-paper? Soft, white, clean toilet-paper?
HALIM: Nothing at all. But water is better. Much better.
SALLY: So you too wash your ass with water, eh?
HALIM (Obstinate): Hot or cold, always water.
SALLY: And you eat with the same hand you wash your dirty ass with, right?
HALIM: Like hell right. I mean NO. I eat with my right hand and wash with my left.
CHRISTABEL: And what would you do if you were left-handed?
SALLY: He'd mistake his mouth for his… hi, hi, hi, hi.
HALIM: That's not funny. Cleanliness, whether you like it or not, is fundamental.
SALLY: And what does the little girl say about that?
HALIM: Ask her in the morning.
SALLY: I'll ask her NOW. (Shouts) Nina, Nina, come over here. It's urgent. A matter of life or death.
(Nina sails down the stage toward them as though in a dream).
CHRISTABEL: Here comes the fun…
SALLY: Tell me, sweetie, which feels tenderer… on the skin… water or toilet-paper?
NINA (Simply fed-up): I've heard this before. I've heard this before.
SALLY: Answer my question, and answer it honestly: DO YOU PREFER WATER TO TOILET-PAPER?
NINA: What do I care? I can use both.
CHRISTABEL: You've got to choose one. Only one.
NINA: But I've got both.
SALLY: Damm it, I say. You're supposed to choose one. Only one.
NINA: I.. I wash it with water and dry it with toilet-paper!
SALLY and CHRISTABEL: Ooooooooooooh! FA–NA–TI–CAL!
NINA (Sailing away): Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to sleep.
(She is out of sight. They are stunned).
CHRISTABEL (To Tareef indignantly): Light me a cigarette. And light it quick. I need to smoke off the out-rageous nonsense they've squashed… intolerably… into the child's mind.
TAREEF: It's always my pleasure, but I'm afraid you'll be smoking two cigarettes at one and the same time.
CHRISTABEL (Realizing she is still holding her unfinished cig): Oh, Lord. (Throws it and stamps it furiously) Now light me one. (He does) So perhaps you find it inappropriate for a woman to smoke two cigs at one and the same time, eh?
TAREEF: I didn’t say that. I was only... curious.
CHRISTABEL: Curiosity killed the cat.
TAREEF: I mean I was only wondering…
CHRISTABEL: It really makes no difference how clever you try to be for I can always read your mind. And… (Stamps the floor) Stop interrupting ME.
TAREEF: I didn’t say anything.
CHRISTABEL: You're still talking.
CHRISTABEL: So… at a woman who smokes two cigarettes… at one and the same time… you're the first one to cast a stone. Now how about a man who marries, not smokes, two women AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME? That's a riddle for you.
TAREEF: Not at all.
CHIRSTABE: Not at all?
TAREEF: I simply didn’t make the law.
HALIM: And I swear by the law that he's telling the truth.
CHRISTABEL: Cowards! Cultural cowards. Both of you.
(Catching Sally staring at her shoes) What in hell are you doing?
SALLY: Admiring your shoes.
CHRISTABEL: What? What's wrong with my shoes?
SALLY: I like them.
CHRISTABEL: Huh? You like…
SALLY: Yes, yes, I like them.
CHRISTABEL: Has anything got into you head?
SALLY: I couldn’t help it. It always happens to me. I mean whenever I get a glimpse of a beautiful pair of shoes, I always remember Mama.
CHRISTABEL: Was your mother a…?
SALLY: Oh, no. But when I was in my early teens, Mama taught me that the most important, and most critical, part of the ordeal of dressing up is the proper selection of the proper shoes. Wear anything you like, she would say. It's all fine. Any skirt, any dress, any pair of jeans, any top, even any bra. But always select the best shoes. For that, and only that, will make all the difference.
ANTOIN (Advancing from behind a column): Mama is wise, for in the final analysis, a woman is worth the price of her shoes!
CHRISTABEL: You sound like you've had a good night's sleep.
ANTOIN: Good indeed. I sleep like a log.
SALLY: Only sleep like a log? You talk like one.
ANTOIN: Besides her shoes, what else do you admire in this world, dear Sal?
SALLY: Besides her shoes, I certainly admire whatever is wearable and throwable.
ANTOIN: Lucky shot if you can throw away whatever you've been wearing… recently.
CHRISTABEL: Can't you ever talk straight?
ANTOIN: What's straighter than a log?
SALLY: Another log.
CHRISTABEL: I've got it.
ANTOINE: What about your admiration for that little monster who's got… what do you call it… stamina?
SALLY: Get her out of your feverish mind. She's sound asleep.
ANTOIN: Thanks to you.
SALLY: I know you're jealous, but I can't help being nice to her.
ANTOIN: Not nice, but devoted.
SALLY: Oh, oh, oh. Your magnifying eyes again!
ANTOIN (Bitter): Take care of her… slave away your life… go down on your knees… make her feel all right… and give her sleaky sneaky Sunnite of a father a grand chance to go on chasing women wherever he goes at night, any night.
TAREEF: Nothing is more enjoyable than a nice little chat between two old young…
SALLY: Light her a cigarette, since smoking is bad for my health.
TAREEF: It's always my pleasure. (Goes to light a cig. for Christabel).
SALLY:Light it and then come back.
ANTOIN:He's free to stay there…
SALLY: Got you. You're jealous again. Solid proof.
ANTOIN: Not jealousy, but disgust. That's what's been eating me up. And you're wrong, absolutely wrong, if you think you'll humor me into forgetting that little monster.
SALLY: Oh, Lord. You're a fine one to spend a life-time with.
ANTOIN: You know what I think you are?
SALLY: Would I be offending you if I said I didn’t care?
(Christabel, Halim, and Tareef -- the last has just joined them -- are now engaged in an argument less heated than the on-going argument between Sally and Antoin. The utterances made by the first three are not heard; their tensions are suggested through gesture -- except on three different occasions as indicated below).
ANTOIN: You're a sigh and a tear for that little monster… just a weakling… You're nothing more than… more than a walking shadow.
SALLY (Indifferently): Shakespeare!
ANTOIN (At a higher pitch): … nothing more than a will-less… drifting waterplant.
SALLY (Same tone): Tennessee Williams!
ANTOIN (Higher still): Dammit, I say. If you go on babbling like that, I'll skin your teeth naked.
SALLY: That's Thorton Wilder!
ANTOIN: That does it, That… oh, Lord…
HALIM (Overlapping, to Christabel): You're much much worse than New Jersy.
ANTOIN: It's maddening. All maddening. Only hell can explain to me why I married you and how I've managed to set out…along with you…
CHRISTABEL (Overlapping): Oh these men of West Beirut! Huh!
ANTOIN: … on this long, long, long, journey…
SALLY: Into night? That's Eugine O'Neill for you! End of game. Period.
ANTOIN: Period, eh? Do you have to remind me of your bloody period whenever you get a chance?
TAREEF: Nothing is more enjoyable than a nice little chat between two old young…
(The ethereal entrance of Nina, with her eyes wide open but obviously not seeing or recognizing any one on the stage, distracts everyone from their bitter or amused selves. Anticipated silence electrifies the atmosphere with tantalizing curiosity. Nina moves very slowly toward the stairs, her eyes transfixed with a single purpose).
SALLY: Oh, Lord, she's sleep-walking.
ANTOIN: A mini-version of Lady Macbeth…though she's not saying: What's done cannot be undone!
CHRISTABEL: Give her a chance and she will.
ANTOIN: Tell her to go back to sleep.
HALIM: Hush…she's sleeping already.
ANTOIN: Then wake her up and tell her to go to sleep again.
SALLY (Standing between him and Nina): Phe… no… me.. nal… your vindictiveness!
ANTOIN: You let her eat from my own salami!
SALLY: I did? When?
ANTOIN: Last summer.
SALLY: Oh, you.
(Nina has reached the stairs. She climbs two steps, her eyes fixed on the telephone).
TAREEF: Let some one hold her hand!
SALLY: Don’t you dare!
CHRISTABEL: She'll fall down and hurt herself.
SALLY: Ignore her completely and she'll soon go back to her bed.
ANTOIN: Is that what Lady Macbeth does?
SALLY: Tie up your serpent's tongue… your ugly mind!
(Nina finally sits on the top stair, raises the receiver with one hand, and starts dialing a number with the other. It turns out that she manages to dial "zero" six times).
HALIM (Bewildered): Zero… Zero… Zero… Zero…Zero… Zero. I don’t understand.
CHRISTABEL: Nor ever will.
TAREEF: She's under a spell.
NINA (On the phone): Hello. This is Nina Amlad speaking.
ANTOIN: We know THAT.
NINA (On the phone): Yes, I want to speak to him. Hello! Daddy?... Oh, whose voice is this?...No, no, I don’t remember you. Now where is Daddy? … All right then, I'll call later. Tell him I called when he comes… Bye.
(She replaces the receiver. But she doesn't move).
CHRISTABEL: Well, what shall we do now?
CHRISTABEL: All night?
SALLY: Patience, Chrisy. She'd be all right if we didn’t disturb her.
CHRISTABEL: And in the meantime?
TAREEF: In the meantime…
(Nina's lips draw a shade of a smile).
HALIM: Look. And listen. She's about to say something…
SALLY: Only to herself. So please be quiet.
(Nina turns her eyes towards center of stage. She very slowly gets to her feet. And as she starts descending the stairs, they all step aside to let her go her way. Once in the center of stage, she looks up as though watching a tall person).
NINA: Of course, your reverence, I'm quite all right. But what I wanted to say…
(Minister Lemertius, in a dream-like fashion, drags himself from behind one column and plants his feet two steps from Nina's. They look at each other for a happy moment, then he starts giggling).
NINA: What are you giggling at? I didn’t say anything.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Oh, yes, you did. But you keep forgetting.
NINA: No, I don’t.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Then I'll have to remind you. You did ask me, a little while ago, to ask the Princess, in my turn, to grace our… gathering… with her sweet, gentle presence.
CHRISTABEL: I don’t believe my eyes. I don’t believe my eyes.
HALIM: Now we've got two sleep-walkers.
TAREEF: Some one… something… has cast a spell on this place…
CHRISTABEL: And sooner than we think, we'll all be joining them, I'm afraid. Oh my, oh my, I need a glass of wine.
NINA (To Minister Lemetrius): It's taken me only two seconds to remember. You're right. Now where's the Princess?
MINITER LEMETRIUS: Look there. Up there. She's just arrived.
NINA: Where? Where?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: She's opening the door. Look, she's there.
(Nina, along with everyone else, turns around to face the door… which is half-open already. The Ghost of Princess Diana gently graces down the stairs. She is now among them).
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Oh, Princess of England and the other isles, I hope you haven’t forgotten my plea… What I'm asking you is only to consider the facts…
(The Ghost of the Princess, obviously in a dancing mood, holds Nina's fingers with her own and improvises a dance and a tune to go with her song. Nina's figure responds to the melody and sails around the Princess).
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA (Dancing as she sings):
Purge yourself of self-affliction
Of your nagging, gnawing tension
Stay unwarmed to "fric" and friction
This you do and nothing more.
NINA: Says Diana nothing more.
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA:
Why forget and why remember?
Why forgive then be tormentor?
Time is its own lamb and monster.
This you learn and nothing more.
NINA: Says Diana nothing more.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: But, mind you, Princess, the proper issue…
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA:
This hard game O skip it, skip it
And your slingshot, drop it, drop it
Hold your tea-cup hot and sip it
This you do and nothing more.
NINA: Says Diana nothing more.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: But, Princess, the basic issue…
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA: The basic issue, my dear, was once stated by the Romans or the Greeks.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: What? Romans? Greeks?
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA: A Roman or a Greek said once…or once said… that it's much easier to conquer a whole people than to conquer a single man.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS (Baffled): What do I care what those ancients once said or said once. I want to know what the British say.
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA: They simply say… Well, well, after all, dear sir, why don’t you join us in England? It's not a bad place, I assure you.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: And leave this sacred land?
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA: What's wrong with England? At least there… (Breaks into song while Nina dances to the tune).
I heard it never rains till after sun-down
I heard the morning fog must disappear
In short there's simply not
A more congenial spot
Than trin-teren-ten-tin-teren than here
In Caaaa... meee.. lot.
(Princess and Nina go on with the dance, still humming the famous tune. After a little while, this lovely atmosphere is interrupted by the sudden entrance, through door, of a strange man, who looks around with some thing like terror in his eyes. The dance comes to a halt. All eyes are fixed on the strange man).
STRANGE MAN: Has anyone seen Tarik Mulhum?
HALIM: He was with us a little while ago.
STRANGE MAN: You mean he's already gone?
SALLY: I think he went for a walk.
GHOST OF PRINCESS DIANA: It's time I went for a walk myself.
(Princess tiptoes her way up the stairs and disappears. The strange man has already gone. A few seconds pass before every one around wakes to a faint sound of a far-away explosion).
HALIM: What's that? New Jersy again?
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: Or is it… perhaps…
CHRISTABEL: Oh, No!
(The unspoken word has stricken terror in their hearts. From one corner emerges the sleepy figure of Nanda).
NANDA: What you doing here, Nina?
CHRISTABEL: Stop where you are.
SALLY: Don’t talk to her. She's sleep-walking.
NANDA: She sleep-walking? She play.
MINISTER LEMETRIUS: She's.
(But it's too late. Nanda has touched Nina on the shoulder. The girl is wide awake. She looks at the people around her in great astonishment. Without alarm, she covers her face with her hands and starts sobbing).
NANDA: Why you cry, Nina? Come, come, you sleep now.
NINA (Still sobbing): I want Daddy. I want to talk to Daddy.
NANDA: You no good, Nina. You no eat tonight. You no sleep.
NINA: I don’t want to eat. I don’t want to sleep. I want to talk to Daddy.
(She hurries towards the stairs. Sits near telephone).
NANDA: Why you sit there, Nina? You cold, you die.
NINA: Daddy will call very soon.
NANDA: Who said Daddy call?
NINA: I said. I know.
(Nina lays her head on the top stair. Nanda approaches indolently).
NANDA: All right, little one. You sleep here, I sit here.
(Sits next to Nina, watches her fight sleepiness, then holds the girl's head and places it tenderly in her lap. Nina is no longer fighting. Nanda starts moving her knees rhythmically, her dark lips humming an almost sad tune).
NANDA (Singing softly):
Doy Doy Doy
Doy ya baba
By by by
By ya baba
On ne babo
Ety ini ya
Gal la rabey
Si ti ini ya
Gal lin ga la tey
Pani ni ya
Babo tey by
Do wa ni ya
Doy doy doy…
(While Nanda is singing Nina to sleep, the stage gets obscured: little by little, the faint color of the dawn turns to greyish dark. In the meantime, the other characters withdraw in silence, each to his/her corner, backstage. The curtain goes down while Nanda's knees are still moving rhythmically and her dark lips humming her special tune).