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Saturday, January 10, 2004

HUMAN PLAY

PLAYERS:
FATIMA
SELWA


ACT I

SCENE I

The scene opens in a spacious, dim-lit kitchen. Facing the audience are three, wide, curtain-fringed windows revealing night. Outside, there is a complete blackout and the sound of heavy rain is heard in the background. Against the wall, in the middle, a double sink, with plates piled on top, is highlighted under the light of a huge lantern set on the high window sill. The silhouette of a figure, with her back turned to the audience, bending over a yellow tub set on the sink, can be dimly traced.

Fatima is dressed in black mourning clothes, but wears a light blue jacket or vest over them. To her right lies the entrance to the kitchen, an aluminum door, with a solid looking frame. In the middle of the room there is a large, oval, wooden dining table with five chairs. A set of kitchen cupboards and counters fill the two remaining parallel walls. A naturalistic silence (preferably sounds of night) prevails and continues for a long moment, broken by the sudden crash of porcelain on a tile floor causing her to turn around violently. The lights are out for a minute after which she is immediately spotlighted and the distant sound of women chattering starts to be faintly heard in the background. The lantern has disappeared. The kitchen lights turn on. She is now completely in black (having removed the blue vest or jacket). The yellow tub has disappeared (concealed under the sink in the moment of darkness). Another figure, Selwa, also dressed in black, shown standing adjacent to her once the brief blackout is over, is seen slowly backing out of the spotlight. She moves considerably further from the sink, so her features cannot be distinguished. Only the outline of her shadow is seen as she stands close by, her head slightly tilted towards Fatima, attentive. A few minutes into the monologue, she takes a seat at the dining table, giving her back to the audience completely. Fatima addresses her all the time, as the monologue continues.

F- ‘ Oh! Leave it. Please leave it –as the figure stoops to recover the pieces of a broken plate. I’ll tend to it. (short pause) It was old anyway and there’s been so much to wash. Oh! I don’t know how we could’ve finished them without everybody’s help. But then, it’s always like this when someone passes away. Well, it is this time of year, isn’t it? (short pause) The time, they say, the Angel of Death is out on his end-of-year beat (a cynical facial expression follows). Oh God! Those people pouring in and out, I thought it would never end! Like a 20th century Doomsday! Do you know, Mother said that she, my Aunt Khadija, had always loved weddings and parties and social gatherings, that her memorial would have been her ideal social setting. Do you hear how some of them laugh softly, in fear of being scorned for making light of such a serious occasion? And how they sit and gossip about each other? About, how this event has been managed so far? How much money had been spent on the catering etc…etc…? Do you hear how some of them joke nervously about death? They say it’s a good sign (short pause), for people to be light-hearted about it all, to remember her with humor… that she’s happy up there. I still can’t believe she’s gone! It happened so fast! Just like that! (She snaps her fingers in the air). I just can’t (pause). (She stops in mid-sentence and soon signs of deep, mounting grief gradually surface on her face, almost as if paving the way to an imminent hysteria, but instead a neutral, contemplative expression quickly replaces it). No! I don’t want to go through that again. I think my tear glands must’ve completely withered in the last three days. Three days. That sums up, the time we’re allowed to mourn (short pause). She had always wanted to die quietly, in fact, prayed for it... She was in constant fear of a slow death. ‘ I don’t have anyone to take care of me, Fatima,’ she would say, ‘God, if you must do it, make it swift.’ And swift it was. The funny thing is though, when they first told me, I didn’t think about the loss, the endless gorge of the gap she’d leave. I thought this wasn’t really happening. It just wasn’t the right timing. Then when Reem screamed the news over the phone, I thought, ‘this is surrealist exaggeration!’ I was alone. I think I must’ve screamed as a reflex, but more because I was alone. It was too huge a catastrophe not to share. Mother couldn’t take it, still can’t. It’s better, this three-day-forever presence of everyone, this endless catering. It doesn’t allow you time to reflect on how it might have been otherwise, and at night you just drop dead with exhaustion! But not always; she came last night… Oh God! If she’d only known, how much she meant to each and everyone of us! But they say God was more than just merciful, that she would have never have managed on her own, with this war going on… (short pause) I mean this state of war and non-war, this state of waiting for war, or whatever you’d like to call it!’

At this, the sound of bombing is heard in the background. The lights are out -the seated figure rises and quickly exits. The windows flash sparks of light with every explosion. The lights fade in, back to the dimness that had covered the place before. Fayrouz sings ‘My Faith Shines’ (in Arabic) in the background. Fatima, wearing the blue vest again, hums the song as she continues pouring water out of a plastic container into the yellow tub (which is now back on the sink) to wash the dishes. Her washing is interrupted by the dark figure darting in again, Selwa. She walks up to her and murmurs a few words in her face.

F-‘ Mother says I’m not to stay in the kitchen? We’ve got to stay somewhere with double ceiling? I don’t know where she heard that, but since she’s nervous as is, I won’t make matters worse. I’ve never seen her in this state before, not since Mustapha ran off firing his machine-gun into the air, insisting he had military orders to keep the air dense or whatever (short pause). My God, he never realized those jets were too far out to be disturbed by any heat. Anyway, if Mother’s trembling with fear, then I’d better be there!’

Selwa exits and the sound of bombing gets more severe. Fatima is again spotlighted. This time she is away from the sink, seated at the head of the table, to the right. In the background, the sound of a radio, announcing what seems to be the news in Arabic, is heard, amidst different voices screaming, forming a cocktail of horrific sounds. An elderly male voice muttering in the distance is heard ‘ I told them it would happen, what did they think it was, a game? ’. His words echo and he reiterates them until his voice fades. An elderly female voice shouting ‘What is happening? This can’t be happening!’ is again echoed and reiterated, interrupting the first voice. Other voices demand silence to listen to the radio, in the form of loud ‘shush’s. Fatima laughs loudly, almost hysterically.

F- ‘ They were reading yesterday’s news! Ha! Huh! (scornfully). They were talking about anti-war demonstrations somewhere on this vast globe. Maybe they too never believed it would really happen. But why shouldn’t they? Weren’t they ‘prepared’ for all this? Weren’t they training Mustapha? Weren’t they going to teach them all a lesson? Those ‘computer slaves’! Wasn’t all this a board game, where our very bowl movements were being observed through key-hole satellites? The Mother of All Battles! The stillbirth of an entire nation!’

The shrill sound of a telephone ringing is heard. Fatima looks towards the phone on the kitchen counter, and lifts a lazy hand to point at it.

F- ‘The remaining traces of civilization. That must be Hind. (She exits for a second - a floodlight following her -to stroll back to the dining table carrying the telephone. She pauses as if to listen.) I know (short pause). I know (nodding). Listen! We can’t take too long. They’re saying something about the radar picking up our conversation, as if we’re going to reveal any military secrets! What? What are you saying? They’ve finally struck back! That’s impossible! At last some reaction! Maybe it’ll put an end to all this noise over our heads. Oh! God! Sometimes it sounds so close! Twice yesterday, I braced myself for death. I hugged my shoulders, “Ashhadu an la Illaha ila Allah.” (She acts it out as she speaks, with one arm hugging one shoulder) Listen! I’ll come over when this air raid’s through. On second thoughts, I can’t. It’s my turn to watch the water. It was only trickling yesterday, dripping today. We stayed up all night, I and Selwa, waiting. No, we didn’t take shifts. We sat and played Boggles. No. We had lantern light. Oh yes! Very exquisite! (sarcastically). But then again, how did you find out about the strike? It’s all over the news, did you say? Oh God! What next? Chemical warfare? Do you know, you were right about those wet towels and all and Mother says thank God you reminded us to tape all the windows (short pause). But then, I guess she wasn’t taking it seriously until the last minute. Well, wait until you hear this: Do you know what Zahraa’s mother -in-law did to protect her ‘precious’ hens? Yes, Zahraa, our maid, she dropped by the other day for some food. Well, she got these plastic bags, scores of them, punched holes in them for eyes and covered the hens’ heads with them. She couldn’t do it to her pecking roosters of course. Oh my God! Hind, she choked half of them to death and still insists it the better of two evils! Zahraa said the family was ‘in stitches’. We were in tears after she finished her story. Can you imagine? ‘Poultry gas masks’! They forgot about humans, but she remembered the hens (pause), those poor hens. What are these people coming to? She’s probably going to add them to her list of deceased. Deceased hens! ‘Chickens’ killed in action, wearing home-made gas masks, Martyrs of the Holy War against the Infidels! You never know, they could be giving them bicycles as compensation next. What? I can’t be serious! Why not? They were giving out cars in the last war, one car per martyr, maybe they’ll give them bicycles this time (pause). They could be very handy now with all this shortage of fuel. What? What was that? (short pause) You’re right. They probably won’t have any bullets left after this war. What? I can’t hear you. What? I shouldn’t be saying this over the phone. For God’s sake Hind! Who would be listening in amidst the turmoil out there? They can’t trace those Goddamn planes, never mind our conversation. Where are they anyway? Hiding in their ‘home-made’ bunkers or should I say ‘American-made bunkers’? Leaving us to face the music. Hind? (pause) Hind? Can you hear me? Oh! Don’t tell me this line’s being (pause). Oh no!’

She slams the telephone handle in extreme frustration. Voices in the background call her name. She turns off the kitchen light and exits.

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SCENE II

The next scene opens on a bedroom on a higher platform. Again there are windows in the background. A large bed to the right where Fatima is sleeping and a lantern hanging from a ceiling fan in the middle of the room. To the left, there is a plain wooden chair behind which lie the banisters of a staircase, evidently leading down to a lower floor. Fatima is clearly having a nightmare. She turns, twists and tosses violently. In what appears to be a normal manner, she gets out of bed, eyes firmly shut. She is sleepwalking. She makes as if to hug someone…then takes a step back as if abandoned. She then staggers, bumps into the chair, and tumbles over it, falling onto the floor. She gasps as she awakens and searches the room for traces of her fresh vision. She opens her eyes wide as she does, then closes them softly, sobbing.

F- ‘Why did you have to leave? Why did you come? (long pause, almost disturbingly long, after which she hangs her head). Now I know why…Forty days have passed since your departure. Yes, they have. Every day it’s the same pain of waking up to a precarious tomorrow. Did those bombs disturb your sleep? Curse them and their makers! What did you do to deserve this? What did we do to deserve all this? The punishment of silence! Even The Prophet mentioned it “God shall not change a people unless they change that which is within them.” What is within them? God, alone can tell… What is within us…deep within us (in an indifferent tone almost as if in a trance-like state). The bloodline of killings trickles like crimson treacle, forcing its history into and out of our veins and cerebrums, gushing into fresh genes…all the way into premature visions. And so they see to all there is to be seen before it is seen…’

As she reiterates this, she picks up a scarf lying on the bed, covers her head with it and kneels on the floor in prayer. Meanwhile faint recitals of the Quran -Suraat Yasin- grow louder and louder. She repeats after the speaker, almost as if drunk, swinging her head left and right, in a semi-darwish style. Suddenly, a strong blast shakes the room. She quickly takes off the scarf, then puts it on again, then finally decides to discard it. The lantern starts swinging creating dancing lights on the wooden floor. The Quranic recitals fade out to be replaced by the sounds of distant explosions. She rises reaching for the lantern, but she can’t seem to catch it. She tries again, but fails. She looks down on the patterns of dancing lights created on the floor and attempts to stamp them out one by one with her bare feet. As she does so, her feet seem to dance as if she is actually moving to the music of the shelling. Soon, she appears to start sweating and slowly wipes her brow. A final blast brings her to the floor again as she collapses and covers her head with both arms. Complete silence prevails. She gets up and heads towards the banisters as again her name is called from a distance (downstairs). She bends over the banisters as if addressing someone downstairs.

F- ‘ Yes, that was I Mother (in a loud voice which then changes to a normal tone as if the addressee had approached nearer). I’m fine…I’m still alive. No, I can’t come to sleep downstairs because you think it’s safer. No, it was just a dream. I have a message for you from Aunt Khadija. Yes, I dreamt of her. She was sitting on the bank of a sky-blue river, next to a very tall date palm surrounded by what seemed to be orphan children, almost as if she was telling them bedtime stories as she would to us long ago. She looked up at me and smiled. ‘Tell your mother to give out sugar, flour and rice, three sacks of each.’ Yes, that’s all she said. She probably thought we’d forget the Fortieth Day and all its dictations. You know, with the war and everything… I think that’s why she came to remind me, so very much like her. Do you know Mother, I think she wants us to give it all to orphans. (The faint sound of a distant, soft sobbing is heard, subsiding into occasional sniffs). Please, Mother, please. Not now. You’ll disturb her resting spirit, and she looked so peaceful, Mother; the world around her so serene. Could that have been Paradise Mother? Isn’t Paradise like someone’s death wish come true? You know, all that you couldn’t achieve in real life is finally realized. Mother, (short pause) Mother, I saw something very strange at the end of this dream. I don’t know, someone…supposedly our Lord Abraham, was repeating the same line from ‘Surrat Ibrahim’. The voice in my dream kept saying “ Oh fire! Be cold, be peaceful, unto our Lord Abraham”. “Oh fire! Be cold, be peaceful.”(Her voice echoes into stillness as she walks back towards her bed.) (The Arabic recitation of the Quranic verse (Ayah) is heard in the background.)

The lights fade out completely.

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SCENE IV

The lights fade in. It is the next morning. There is daylight in the bedroom window. Fatima is in bed again, calmly sleeping. The phone on the night stand rings. She picks it up.

F- ‘ Is that you Hind? (in a sleepy voice followed by a short pause). No, I don’t know what you’re talking about… What? (She sits up in bed, in extreme shock) They hit the Ameria shelter? (short pause) There were women and children inside!! What do you mean, they…(she falters). They boiled to death? One of those smart bombs, eh…? Oh! Very smart! (bitter sarcasm) My God what were their last thoughts! Trapped inside! Burned to death! Why the shelter? I can’t understand (short pause). There was a radar network underneath? (short pause). So bloody what? (short pause) Military tactics? (short pause) Do you believe that? (short pause) But why would they hit a shelter? Even so… Does that justify their action? Could anything justify what’s happened? Oh! How will they ever escape God’s anger! How can they! Oh God! How can they? No wonder there was such a strong blast yesterday. It was quite close you know. In fact, I think I can smell the stench of burnt meat from this very window or is it some hallucination? What? The dead bodies are still inside. It’s going to be very difficult burying them. (long sad pause, as if she’s pondering over the fact) Eh… Hind? Any news about Nuha? You know, you’re closer to where she lives (short pause). They shouldn’t have gone to Kerbalaa (pause). Dad thinks no one should’ve left home. ‘We’re not going to be the battle field’, he said. I don’t know Hind (pause) I keep getting those dreams. I dream Hayder, her brother, hands me a needle and thread and then asks me to stitch his shirt. You know about what they say… You know, about stitching in dreams being a bad omen, that it means you will stitch someone’s shroud in real life. It scares me…Remember before we went to Paris, when I dreamt of Aunt Khadija, when I drove all the way to her place in the early morning, just to make sure she was alright? God it seems like years ago when it’s only been a few months since. Remember my fear? Then my indifference ? Then I forgot about it. God reminded me. I don’t know if I can take that again. I don’t want to. Hind? Are you still there? This phone is a blessing, but I guess it’s just a matter of time before it’s fully disconnected. There’s enough crackling to indicate that. Anyway, that’s what Mustapha said. Mustapha? Oh, he came back yesterday. Yes, he says he hadn’t showered in a week. Thank God, we’d collected enough water for his bath, …even saved some to splash after him when he left home this morning. You know, ‘safe return’ and all that… Hind, every time I see him I feel like it’s the last time. Yes, I’ll give him your regards next time, Inshaalah. Call back if you hear anything on Nuha please.’

Fatima hangs up and lies back in bed, chin tilted towards the ceiling.

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SCENE III

It is the kitchen scene. Fatima has returned to washing dishes again. The yellow tub is at the sink; she is dressed in plain clothes. Slowly the lights fade out until the familiar dimness covers the room. It is night time. Selwa strolls in. Her features indistinguishable to the audience. She is just a moving figure in the dark. She seats herself at the dining table, her back to the audience. Fatima turns to look at her.

F- ‘ Don’t stare at me like that, I haven’t had time to filter any drinking water, washing, washing, washing … when the water’s so scarce. Now we realize how essential it is for life. Dad thinks this experience is very educational (an exaggerated look of amusement on her face). I wonder if he’ll still say that when we witness an airdrop! He says he doesn’t fear the Americans... blast them. He’s more worried about an imminent armed robbery from surrounding poorer neighborhoods. I mean, there’s no authority around here any more, is there? After all, you never know with all this influx of deserters. Oh! Ziyad’s back! I don’t know how on earth he could make it all the way up here, his mother says that his feet got swollen and at one stage he had to take off his army boots and walk barefoot. He’s lost about 10 kilos. It’ll sure help his figure. I can’t wait to see him, he’ll have loads to tell. Do you think he should’ve stayed there Selwa? He’s a medical student after all… They might’ve needed him, but then, everyone’s deserting! I mean there’s nobody left, is there? Did you hear about the deserter who broke into Aunt Maha’s house the other night; he was barely eighteen. Well, she was sleeping when he got into her bedroom. He flung back the covers of her bed to scare her, and when she raised her voice chanting, “ Ashhadu ana la Illah ila Allah”, he just stood there transfixed. He was armed, naturally, but he just quietly helped her out of bed and waited silently while she prepared a meal for him –no comments…just like that…and she being the mother she is, knew to do the right thing. He hadn’t eaten in days! Then, he insisted that she sit on the sofa and while he laid his head on her lap, and she read him verses from the Quran. Aunt Maha said he was in a state of panic. She said that she sensed it was the only way he could guarantee that she wouldn’t leave the house to report him. Not that she would under any circumstances. She dozed off after a while, and when she opened her eyes he’d disappeared. She said she saw tears on his cheek while reading him the Quran, that he looked like he’d come a long way. There’s no food down there and the trucks can’t make it to Basrah. They don’t give them a chance, do they? With the non-stop air raids, but that’s expected…What I can’t understand, is where those tons of wheat flour sacks disappear before they reach their destination. Ziyad told his mother he’d seen truckloads of them on the way up, but had had nothing to eat in three days. But why should I wonder? Sold off, probably. Didn’t the paramedic tell the injured woman on the street, after the air raid, that she’d have to walk to hospital? Where did his ambulance fuel go? Where did Suha’s furniture go after they bombed her house? Where are we going to go if ours is next? (Selwa rises and exists, slowly shaking her head left and right, as if in despair). Maybe we’ll go to Heaven, meet Aunt Khadija there, maybe…maybe we’ll (she stops in mid-sentence and pauses) Selwa? (Fatima had been standing at the sink all along, tending to the dishes every now and then. She had given her back to the audience for a few seconds and now turns to find Selwa has left) Maybe I should’ve realized you find this too painful, too confusing little sister. Why do I keep talking? I guess, I just can’t keep it all in! Those … so-called ‘life observations’. Selwa? (calling her), Selwa? (calling, louder) Selwa! Ziyad’s coming over, for a game of ‘Risk’ this evening! Games, that’s all we do... play games. Well, they play them up there (she lifts her head towards the ceiling), so we’ll play them down here… What’s the Goddamn difference? What’s the Goddamn difference!’ (She shakes her head.)

She picks up the dishes she’d just washed. One of the dishes slips and crashes to the floor, creating a loud resounding noise. The scene is covered in pitch black darkness for less than a minute. Then a green spotlight falls on a figure rising from the floor, dressed in black Bedouin mourning clothes, enveloped in rising fog. She rises to a slow, mourning music with an imposing sound of drums in the background (preferably the music of Peter Gabriel’s theme from ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’). Her eyes are firmly shut and her face has a very intense expression. Her thick black hair is braided in two plaits falling on her breasts. She picks up one plait with an evidently shivering hand, very reluctantly and holds it up to eye level. Her other hand holds a dagger which she directs towards her lifted plait, in an attempt to cut it off. Fatima screams very loudly in the dark. The scene is instantly covered in darkness again. A single, long, eerie minute of silence follows, interrupted dramatically by the shrill sound of the phone ringing. Fatima is immediately spotlighted again. Her face shows extreme panic as she picks up the phone.

F- ‘Hello? ... Hello… Hind? (She collapses crying). Hind have you heard from Khadija? (short pause).. Khadija? Did I say Khadija? No, I meant Nuha (sniffing). You said you would ask. What do you mean you didn’t get the chance! Hind, we agreed yesterday you would go there and ask. Everyone’s coming back! They’re late Hind! Oh my God! They’re late! What’s happened to them? (She sobs openly, then takes her breath and pauses a little) Why I’m crying? No, I haven’t heard anything…why would I ask you? I have not! (assertive tone) I don’t know why I’m crying. Hind, I saw this,… this (pauses as she struggles in attempt to express herself) I don’t know! Don’t ask me any questions! I feel extremely depressed! I can’t take this waiting any more! I can’t take anything any more! (overcome with grief, in an extremely depressed, choked voice) Zahraa’s brother was killed on the way up here. She’s disappeared to look for his body. She’s crazy! She says if she doesn’t find his body, she’s cutting off her braids! She’s cutting off her beautiful braids, Hind! (after a long pause of deep thought, where she is obviously reasoning with herself) I’m walking to Jadiriya (determined tone). Yes! I’m walking all the way to the other side of town. Nuha’s relatives live there; they must know something. I am not crazy, (short pause) ... and you’re going with me! I can’t take any more of this waiting. I can’t! I’m only human after all; as human as those people, those ‘castaways’ that came out of the Najaf catacombs, political detainees believing, they were still in the Seventies. They waited, but they waited too long. That was a historic wait! I don’t want to have to wait like that. I can’t! Like Um Jaffaar, when they told her that that her seven sons had not died after all.., after seven years…that they were stilled locked away somewhere…I can’t wait seven years. I can’t! We’re going tomorrow!’

She hangs up, wipes her cheeks with the back of her hands and dries her hands on her clothes as she exits.

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ACT II

SCENE I

The scene opens in the kitchen. Daylight is coming in through the window, but outside the clouds are dark. The music of Cat Steven’s ‘Peace Train’ is faintly heard in the background. The handle of the aluminum door turns. Fatima staggers in, wearing a rain coat dripping with black rain water, trying with some difficulty to catch her breath. She gasps as she speaks to an approaching Selwa, whose back is constantly to the audience as she helps Fatima out of her coat and seats herself at the dining table opposite to Fatima. There is a coffee cup (Finjan) on the dining table.

F- ‘God! It’s raining black outside! You can’t see a thing for the black clouds. The houses are covered in soot. Even the trees, that are normally shining green after the rain, are shining charcoal (pause while she takes her breath). As far as the eye can see, all you can perceive is in shades of black, grey black, coal black, blue black. They say it’s from the burning oil wells. What a waste! Believe me Selwa, we’re going to vomit it all out after this. (She takes a seat at the dining table, to face the audience with her head slightly tilted towards the right, her eyes directed towards where Selwa is seated.) Speaking of trees, the date palms looked strange. Selwa, they’re bent and twisted at the neck, as if looking down… looking down, … almost, … almost, as if ashamed of what’s going on, under their leaves. They say it’s a disease that’s spreading, evidently biological warfare... Who should we blame? We can’t blame them. I mean, not after the Army burnt half the groves down south, before the war, just to check out deserters. Anyway, I was caught in the air raid, not yesterday afternoon, the one this morning. I didn’t even know there was an air raid. I walked to Nuha’s house in Mansoor first, to make sure Nuha hadn’t gone back there; then, I picked up Hind. We were close to the church when we looked up to see those jet fighters flying overhead. It was then that the sirens sounded. We could’ve picked them up before them! They’ve massacred the radar system. Anyway Hind thought the church wall wasn’t enough, so we tried the church gates to get inside. Eventually, ‘Abouna Issa’ came and helped us in. He said some people were showing up regularly on Sundays. We sat and chatted till it was through. We saw a few buses on the way. Yes, they’re working. How do you think, I could’ve made it all the way to Jadriya? I’ve been away since yesterday, but God they were so crammed those buses, you couldn’t breath in them. People were different. Someone offered me his seat. They made sure the ladies well, the older ladies, at least, got in first. Everyone was just talking openly, freely, like they had a talk show on air and had to make the most of it. The guy sitting next to me kept pointing out air struck targets and telling me about how they got hit, like he’d sat there day and night recording his observations. They’ve ruined the Ministry of Defense. Yes, that old, British-Colonial style building, they spent a sum on renovating. What hurt me most, Selwa, was the Jadiriya Bridge. I thought at least they’d save that. It’s not even strategic, but I guess that wasn’t the point. Either it was too great a challenge to miss for the pilots, I mean. After all, it’s an air game isn’t it or…or maybe they wanted as much destruction as their construction companies could dream of, all their money back. Well, I hope they never get it! I’ll never be able to drive cross that bridge to work everyday any more. You should’ve seen it, Selwa, like a gigantic frowning mouth, jutting out of the river line, as if drowning in its own tears. I cried when I saw that sight, Selwa and the guy sitting next to me was not surprised. He kept shaking his head, cursing the allies out loud, and ‘the other guy’ under his breath… and all those around him. I mean, didn’t they know all this would happen, Selwa? Didn’t they realize the stakes? What did they think? But then, what did they care… hidden safely inside their ‘bombproof’ bunkers? What did they care? The city out there, Selwa, is a dying man trying to rise to his feet, and you want the truth, something in me has died too, just by looking at it all.. This is not the city I grew up in. I know we’re all excited, after all this is a great adventure! We’re on ‘CNN’ live, aren’t we? We’re making world news headlines, our demolished bridges, our ruined homes, our mutilated cadavers, our starved soldiers, our mal-fed children, our aimless warriors, searching for the long lost cause, that’s supposed to be embodied in all this, the long awaited liberation, … the feat that no one else could accomplish! What did he do to them? Oh God! What has he done to us? All this false patriotic brainwashing, cajoling, threatening, … The ‘Great Mastermind’ behind all this! Oh! If I could only turn the lenses of this real-life kaleidoscope to show them the bloody reality of it all.. Where are they taking us? To what fate? Do they know? Do we know? It was like Doomsday out there, Selwa! I saw a crowd of people gathered around a truck… a woman whose family had just returned to Baghdad, they were stranded on the street cause they’d run out of fuel. Well, this woman had been in labor all the way and the minute the truck stopped, she started delivering… Yes, in the back of the truck! Yes, There were cheers! … It was a baby girl, Selwa, and they called here ‘Hayat’. Oh my! It’s been a long journey (short pause) Quit staring at me! (slighted agitated tone) I have nothing! No news! (She slaps her palms against each other) We got all the way to Jadiriya. It took us an hour to find the place. I’ve only been there once before, a long time ago too. Anyway the children in the street helped us. You know old neighborhoods. Everybody knows everybody else. We saw her grandfather, sitting on the patio, Misbaha in hand. He didn’t recognize me. I told you it’s been a long time. He didn’t look worried, almost as if he knew something we didn’t. ‘They will come eventually’, he said ‘Where else can they go?’ I would’ve liked to suggest East –towards Iranian territory, West, North – towards Kurdish territory, The South. Come on everybody’s fleeing in different directions! He looked so calm, Selwa, almost indifferent to what might have befallen his daughter’s family. All he could reiterate was: ‘They will come.’ I don’t know, Selwa. Anyway we spent the night there. Her uncle and aunt were ever so kind to us, but then, they appreciated we’d come all the way just to inquire. If only the telephone lines were working, we wouldn’t have had to go all the way. It’s just limited to certain areas... By the way, have you heard rumors about the uprisings? North and South? What if they had got caught in all that? I mean it’s possible, isn’t it? You should see the attitude out on the street. Everybody says they’re approaching! They say it’s going to sweep the central parts in the blink of an eye! I hope they don’t hold the people here responsible. There are rumors of massacres up North. They were playing football with army generals’ heads… I know… I know it’s bloody, but then history has a lot to say about why this is happening… No, don’t look at me like that! Of course I’m not justifying it. Who would? They’re raping helpless women down South (pause). Dr. Riyad buried his father in their back yard in Nassiriya. The people who’re bringing this news say they had to trample on bodies to get here. What’s going to happen to us in the Middle? I just hope to God this doesn’t turn into a civil strife. One thing this country doesn’t need is a civil strife. Where would we go? I mean look at our street, for instance, the Omarys are Sunnies, the Hagobiyans, Armenien, the Shubbers, Shiite, the Zanghanas, Kurdish. Funny, we’re partly a mixture of all that, aren’t we? Should that protect us? Will anyone listen when the time comes? They didn’t listen to Yalchin, in Kirkuk. They almost shaved off his ear before he showed them his doctor’s ID. Do you know now, why I think this is Doomsday? Oh Selwa! I can’t think any more. I don’t know any more. Only God knows. Only God knows! (She buries her face in her cupped hands.)

The lights start to fade out. Selwa rises and exits. Slowly, Fatima tries to rise to her feet, supporting herself on the dining table. One hand slips and knocks a coffee cup (‘Finjan’ –which had been sitting there) off the table. It crashes to the floor as she almost looses balance. With that sound, there is a complete blackout. Again a green spotlight focuses on a Bedouin women, rising out of the fog. Again, she rises to a slow, mourning music with an imposing sound of drums in the background. Her eyes are firmly shut and her face has a very intense expression. Her thick black hair is braided in two plaits falling on her breasts. She picks up one plait with an evidently shivering hand, reluctantly. Her other hand holds a dagger which she directs towards her lifted plait in an attempt to cut it off. Fatima screams very loudly in the dark. The scene is instantly covered in darkness. A single, long, eerie minute of silence follows. Fatima screams again and staggers towards the exit, groping in the dark.

F- ‘ Selwa! Selwa! Why did you leave me alone? Oh! Selwa, don’t leave me alone! (crying) Please don’t leave me alone! Please(whimpering) Where are you Nuha? Dear God where is she? Nuha, don’t leave me … don’t go! Don’t go! Say you’re alive. Just say you’re alive. Aunt Khadija! (pause after which she screams louder) Aunt Khadija!

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SCENE II

The scene opens on the kitchen again. The sun is setting. The sound of the Muezzzin can be heard in the background calling for Sunset Prayer. A single candle on the dining table lights the kitchen. Fatima is seated at the table having a light meal. The sound of light laughter is heard in the background, as if coming from a group of people chattering. She eats slowly and quietly, indifferent to the world around her. The telephone rings on the kitchen counter. She leaves the table reluctantly and slowly walks to pick it up.

F- ‘Yes? ... Hello Hind. I’m OK (short pause). Nothing much … I was just having my Iftar. I know I’m late…I was praying before that. Yes? Go ahead, I’m OK. What’s the matter with you? Can you speak louder please? I can’t hear you! What are you trying to tell me? What do you mean you don’t know how? Seriously …Hind? Speak up... What? What did you say? You don’t know what you’re saying… (her voice lowers almost as if she is muttering under her breath) It can’t be true! No! (voice and intonation rise dramatically) No! (She screams loudly, letting go of the telephone handle. Selwa rushes in.) They’re gone!! All killed!! All of them! (sobbing, her voice is full of despair) her mother…Oh my God! (loud) Oh poor Aunt Rajaa! (crying like a baby)… A missile fell on the kitchen where she was preparing Futur (gasping for breath between sobs) They’re gone! They’re dead! (last two lines are said with utter disbelief) Oh God! Help me (pause) God! (helpless tone) oh! God (angry tone ) No! (Her voice fades out as she collapses in Selwa’s arms. There is a long pause followed by a rising voice that is still hardly audible. She states the facts in utter disbelief.) It was our army shelling the city of Kerbala! Our army! Our very own army! (said with amplified stress). They killed them! They killed their own people! Oh God! Can anyone believe this! Oh! my God! (She lifts her head towards the ceiling) Khadija! (calling as if she is expecting some form of response). Can you hear this? Can you see this? (pause). Aren’t you glad you died Khadija? ( She slaps her cheeks in despair) Aren’t you glad you left before them. They have no water before burial. They will not be washed before their final rest! They have no graves, Khadija! They have no graves (She whimpers)… They only have God, Khadija, they only have God!

The lights fade out.

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SCENE III

The kitchen scene again. Again, Fatima is at the sink. It is morning. She is now dressed in black mourning clothes again. She is still washing dishes in the yellow tub. Again, talking to herself, inaudibly. The sound of the phone ringing is heard. She leaves the sink to pick it up.
F- ‘Yes, Hind. What am I doing right now? Let’s see…I’m washing…I can’t stop washing, but nothing is getting washed…it’s still all there…It doesn’t go away, Hind…It just won’t go away… the stains are stubborn Hind! This ‘War life’ we lead is stubborn… Our faces mean nothing to it (a trance-like expression covers her face), when we are euphoric, victorious, sarcastic, cynical, sad… It’s just a twitch of a facial muscle! A photo taken by the sun, to be stored among millions within the contours of this endless earth.... to feed the resurrected memories of reincarnated spirits, so they may replay the ‘déjà vu’ of the ones before them. No questions. No explanations. Have I turned into a philosopher? No, Hind (firm voice). I’m just being my human self for a change. The human my DNA never planned for… the human, my parents’ genes overlooked! What do you mean stop this nonsense? This is sense like I’ve never known it before. I am not hysterical…I am trying to maintain my normal sense of existence in a hysterical circumstance! (pause, and a look of mounting surprise controls her face) Someone wants to talk to me? Who? (pause) Who is this? (A bewildered look covers her face, slowly turning into sheer shock.) Nuha? Is that you Nuha? Am I hallucinating again? Oh God! Not one of my awful dreams again! Oh God! Have mercy on me…I don’t want to loose what remains of my sanity! Nuha? Is this really you, Nuha? Where are you, and when did you get there and where are the rest…I heard these awful, awful rum--- (She stops short before finishing the word) How did you make it? Who else is still alive? You walked all the way here? From Kerbala to Baghdad? Four days! You escaped? Escaped what? Escaped whom? Aunt Rajaa? Can I talk to Aunt Raja? (a pause followed by a look of deep mounting grief) Your Aunt? Your nephew? Your sister? M…Mass graves? Mass …(She interrupts herself before her words are too painful to speak). God bless the strength with which you can say this to me Nuha. God bless you. God bless them, may they rest in peace, each and every one of them. And God give you the strength to go on. The rest lies in you and only you. They are the real Martyrs in this war, Nuha. God will remember that, when all will forget. God will remember them. God will remember the children, the warriors, the homeless, and the starved. God will remember…And when he remembers, he will smile… Yes, he will smile… And when they knock the doors of heaven to tell him their stories, he will listen, and when they have finished telling their stories, he will cry…I know he will cry…

The lights fade out.

THE END


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