Winning entry in the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2011 Young Playwright’s Residency.
Mikaaiyl: Lower-class Arab man of 25-35.
Bomber 1: A middle-class Arab of around 25-30.
Bomber 2: A middle-class Arab of around 20-25.
Neighbour: An Arab peasant, of around 30-35.
Jibreel: A lower-class Arab, around 40-50. A refugee, fleeing to Jerusalem.
Mama: A woman of 45-55; a lower class Arab house-wife. She has been evicted, along with her husband, and thus is very poor.
Baba: An Arab man of 50-60. Does not speak.
Student: An upper-class Arab who is educated and moderately well off, as should be indicated in costuming.
The play takes place shortly after Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. The majority of the play is set in Haifa, Israel/Palestine, with the exception of the second scene, which takes place in a fictional village a day or two away from Haifa. Though time is not a hugely important factor in the play, it takes place over around five days.
The set is largely empty, with limited props usage.
Costuming should be simple, as reflects the sociocultural status of the characters. As is the custom with Muslim women, MAMA’s hair should be covered with a veil (hijab).
Dedicated to: a nameless man for whom ‘old age’ was a pipe dream who, with no tears in his eyes and despair etched into his soul, talked about scraping his daughter’s brains off a tree branch.
(Because we’re the luckiest generation only if we take for granted that half the world isn’t screaming for someone to save me.)
Pitch black except for a dimmed spotlight on the side of the stage, where MIKAAIYL crouches, facing the audience diagonally. There is a small, dark object on the floor beside him.
MIKAAIYL She’s all I can see. All there is. Superimposed on everything – on every face. She’s all I can see.
Main lights on stage left brighten for a uniform dimness on that side, though the other side is left pitch black. BOMBER 1 and BOMBER 2 enter from stage left, with an air of wariness, to crouch beside MIKAAIYL.
BOMBER 1 Who has it?
BOMBER 2 Mikaaiyl
BOMBER 1 Mikaaiyl-jan, pass me the bomb, will you?
BOMBER 1 Mikaaiyl.
BOMBER 1 What?
BOMBER 2 The bomb, Mikaaiyl-jan.
MIKAAIYL (turning to set his back to the audience) take it.
He passes the object to BOMBER 1, before turning back to face the audience fully:
Amira used to play with a ball of sand wrapped in cloth too. Like her. This one has a different dress, though. Amira never had dresses like that.
It’s never occurred to me to ask Allah about that, you know. Perhaps if Amira had had a better dress, He might not have taken her.
BOMBER 2 We’re ready, Mikaaiyl-jan.
MIKAAIYL turns around quickly to face the BOMBERS, stepping towards them, and raises his hand as if to protest:
MIKAAIYL What? What do you mean? Now? But-
He lets his hand fall.
Amira…Oh God, Amira…
BOMBER 2 What was that, Mikaaiyl-jan?
MIKAAIYL (whispered) Amira…
He shakes his head.
No, nothing. Nothing. Carry on, I pray of you. No, nothing.
BOMBER 1 (whispering) Mikaaiyl-jan, please step back. We don’t want you to get hurt.
MIKAAIYL No. No, of course not.
BOMBER 2 Really, Mikaaiyl-jan, you don’t want to be like the last guy.
BOMBER 1 Got too close, nail to the eye –
BOMBER 2 (Nodding) Got too close, the poor man.
MIKAAIYL Step back? Step back.
He steps back, but the others are still looking at him warily.
BOMBER 2 Mikaaiyl-jan? You might want to close your eyes
BOMBER 1 The first is hard
BOMBER 2 But easier, it becomes
BOMBER 1 It really does.
BOMBER 2 Just-
BOMBER 1 Close your eyes.
MIKAAIYL (turns to audience) Close my eyes? (He laughs) If only.
BOMBER 1 Duck!
The lights flash bright, then black out again, leaving a spotlight on Mikaaiyl. The sounds of screams.
BOMBER 1 We’re done here.
BOMBER 2 Done
BOMBER 1 Run!
BOMBER 1 and BOMBER 2 exit. MIKAAIYL remains, staring at the audience.
MIKAAIYL Close my eyes? If only. Because there’s chaos. But I can’t close my eyes.
I can’t close my eyes, you know.
I haven’t closed my eyes since…
I can’t close my eyes.
Enter MIKAAIYL, though the lights remain off.
MIKAAIYL It started in yesterday’s mists. In Jerusalem’s inception or Mohammed’s death.
Lights on, harsh and bright. MIKAAIYL digs with a shovel. There are two cloth-wrapped bodies near his feet. After around half a minute, he stops digging; drops the shovel with a clatter.
I arrived yesterday. I was at the markets, you see, the markets in Haifa, when I heard. We all heard. All of us, and how could we not. The call to prayer, echoing around the streets. I can still hear it.
He picks up the shovel, as if to continue digging.
The rest of the cast, offstage, begins to chant the following lines, starting softly and incomprehensibly till they build up to a shout.
CHORUS They’re alive. Allah I beg you, let them be alive.
The chorus falls silent.
MIKAAIYL Subhana Rabbiyal A’ala. That’s it. Allah is glorious.
NEIGHBOUR enters, staggering onto the stage. MIkaaiyl meets his eyes, and NEIGHBOUR glares at him. Mikaaiyl crouches quickly, picking up the shovel and turning from the other man.
NEIGHBOUR You’re back.
NEIGHBOUR Why. Why. Why.
MIKAAIYL doesn’t reply, and after glaring at him for a while, NEIGHBOUR staggers back off stage.
MIKAAIYL Excuse him, I pray of you. He merely wishes that I be dead.
He sits on the floor.
MIKAAIYL His wife – my Kaiesha, my beautiful Kaiesha’s sister, actually – had her head blown to pieces, I heard. His brother had to scrape her brains from a tree branch. He was screaming too much to do it himself.
He shrugs, and continues, speaking almost offhandedly:
So you must understand, it’s not that he hates me. It’s merely that I wasn’t here. He merely wishes that I be dead, because perhaps then she might be alive.
I don’t really think I’m alive, though.
MIKAAIYL stands, glances at the bodies.
MIKAAIYL I’m still living, if that’s worth anything. And so, I will dig.
What else is there to do?
Softer, dimmer lighting, Mikaaiyl is walking across the stage, a dirty cloth bag slung over his shoulders. JIBREEL walks in the opposite direction, and they bump into each other in the middle of the stage. JIBREEL falls over.
MIKAAIYL Ah, I’m sorry.
He offers a hand to JIBREEL to help him up.
JIBREEL Thank you, friend.
JIBREEL stands, and then looks closer at MIKAAIYL. He gasps:
MIKAAIYL (Dully) My apologies, but…Jibreel!
The two men embrace.
MIKAAIYL It is good to see you
JIBREEL And you.
MIKAAIYL What takes you from Haifa?
JIBREEL Mikaaiyl, don’t you know? You don’t, do you? It must have been after you left, then. Why did you leave, remind me?
MIKAAIYL Ah. Err…that is…
JIBREEL And where is your beautiful Kaiesha? And little Amira? She must have at least seven years by now, no? Ah, Amira, I remember the last time I saw her, you were living with Kaiesha-jan’s parents for a week, was it not?
JIBREEl continues speaking, but much more softly, as the lights dim and Mikaaiyl is cast in the spotlight, turning and stepping forwards to face the audience.
JIBREEL: She was in that hazelnut tree of yours. Oh, she’s a delightful child, though perhaps a little impolite to her elders…and such an intelligent little one. But it must be to her mother that she owes that, is it not, Mikaaiyl-jan? The man who marries her will be blessed by Allah, I have no doubt of it. As blessed as you are with Kaiesha-jan! You are fortunate, Mikaaiyl-jan, she is a beautiful woman. A wonderful woman, thought it has been so long since I have last laid eyes on her…Oh, I must return, if not at least to have the chance…
MIKAAIYL: Does he not understand? Do you understand? Are his brains so addled by the sun that he cannot see? Can you see? Can you see the darkness eating at my bones? Can you see Kaiesha’s hands around my neck? (Raising his hands to his neck as if to push away a stranglehold) Is it not my little Amira who is clinging to my knees, faltering my footsteps till I shall fall to the ground and never again stand?
Oh, how I deserve it. Oh Allah, Allah, why did you desert me? Why did you desert them?
The lights return to how they were before, and Mikaaiyl steps back.
JIBREEL To once again taste Kaiesha’s magical cooking…but where is Kaiesha, Mikaaiyl?-
MIKAAIYL What happened after I left, Jibreel?
JIBREEL looks taken aback, and then sighs heavily.
JIBREEL Ah, so you mustn’t know. (He shrugs.) Well, you’ll find out when you get back, I suppose…
MIKAAIYL What do you mean?
JIBREEL (Glancing behind him nervously) I must keep going, Mikaaiyl – there are people expecting me in Jerusalem.
MIKAAIYL (Somewhat confused) Alright…
JIBREEL begins to walk away, and after a moment of stillness, Mikaaiyl turns to do the same. Suddenly, JIBREEL turns back around.
MIKAAIYL stops and turns back around, surprised.
JIBREEL I’m sorry, Mikaaiyl-jan.
MIKAAIYL (Confused) What for?
JIBREEL Kaiesha. Amira..
MAMA and BABA sit huddled in the centre of the stage, covered by a dirty blanket with a sack by their sides. MIKAAIYL stands at the centre of the stage, looking at them in horror.
MIKAAIYL Mama? Baba?
MAMA (Feebly) Mikaaiyl? Is that you?
MIKAAIYL takes a step towards them as Mama pushes herself to her feet.
MAMA It is you!
She hurries towards MIKAAIYL to embrace him. Warily, he places his arms around her. Finally, MAMA releases him, keeping her hands on his forearms.
MAMA How was your journey? Shh, don’t disturb your father, he needs his sleep after what…
She trails off into silence, biting her lip, before changing the subject:
Where are Kaiesha and little Amira?
MIKAAIYL cuts across her quickly, stepping away from her grip. MAMA’s hands fall to her sides.
MIKAAIYL My journey was well enough, Mama. Long, but I am home…but why are you in this…(a look of disgust crosses his face) house? I went home but the door was locked, and when I asked around the streets I was told that it was one of the others who lived there now. What happened?
There is a long pause.
MAMA But it is of little importance. Come, let me find you some food
With a nervous laugh, she turns away from him.
He sits down on the floor towards the left of the stage, facing the audience but staring at the ground as Mama rummages in a bag. Finally, she pulls out a loaf of bread.
He turns around and she gives it to him, before lowering herself slowly to the floor beside him.
MAMA So…where are they?
The bread falls from his hands, and he stares at it for a moment before picking it back up again.
The main lights BLACK OUT, leaving a spotlight on MIKAAIYL that intensifies as he pushes himself to his feet quickly, running to the front of the stage.
MIKAAIYL Does she not understand?! Is it age that addles her brains, or her woman’s weakness? How can she not understand?!
The lights flicker, and Mikaaiyl steps back again, looking up at the ceiling and raising his hands as if in appeal, before lowering them, and looking at the audience.
MIKAAIYL: Forgive me. I would never mean to…but I lied. I did not ask the neighbours – I looked through the window, saw a woman and a baby. A woman and a baby, and a man with a gun slung around his shoulders. Forgive me, Allah, but I cannot understand.
Why do you allow this? That woman, she had hair as curly as Kaiesha’s. I saw it – it wasn’t covered like Kaiesha’s was, like Mama’s is. And that baby…babies look the same to me, whether they are our enemy’s spawn or Allah’s blessed. Why them?
Why are they alive?
Lowering his gaze to the floor, MIKAAIYL steps back He whispers:
MIKAAIYL Why? Why didn’t they die? Why must we suffer? Why won’t they?
He turns away from the audience, and the lights fade to black.
The lights brighten on a wooden table in the middle of the stage, with three wooden, obviously old chairs around it. ENTER BOMBER 1, BOMBER 2, and STUDENT, who all seat themselves.
BOMBER 1 I still think, brothers, that we should stay away from the main streets.
STUDENT And what would be the purpose of that, you fool? We want them to notice us, after all.
BOMBER 1 (Stuttering) I merely thought – that is to say – the women and children?
STUDENT Are you women and children? I understand that you have not benefitted from the education that Allah has bestowed on me, but surely even you are able to comprehend that they, whether man, woman, or screaming baby, are infidels. It is our duty, understand?
BOMBER 2 (Muttering) Well, it’s not as if you’re going to be actually doing it…
STUDENT (Sharply) What was that?
BOMBER 2 (Hastily) Nothing!
The STUDENT stares at BOMBER 2 for a long moment as BOMBER 2 shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, he speaks:
STUDENT Just remember, idiots, that it’s me who will be doing the true work. It is I that Allah will reward above all others. It would serve you well to heed what I say.
MIKAAIYL enters, walking towards the table hesitantly.
MIKAAIYL I had heard that you needed help…
He trails off as the other men look at him.
STUDENT (Unenthusiastically) Ah, Mikaaiyl. So glad you could join us.
BOMBER 1 (More kindly) Thank you for coming, Mikaaiyl-jan. Who told you where we were?
STUDENT (Disdainfully) Your mother, no doubt. Or Kaiesha? Perhaps little Amira?
The others snicker, and MIKAAIYL looks down, clenching his fists. They stop, but he doesn’t speak, obviously agitated. Finally, he mumbles:
MIKAAIYL The grace of Allah…
BOMBER 1 Of course.
BOMBER 1 smiles at him. They turn away, obviously disinterested, and Mikaaiyl walks to stand at a corner of the stage, obviously feeling out-of-place.
BOMBER 2 For a university graduate, you’re obviously very stupid. It’s the soldier’s quarters we should be concentrating on!
BOMBER 1 (Nodding) He’s right. We don’t want to give the Zionists more reason-
The STUDENT stands, interrupting BOMBER 2 as he leans forwards and bangs his fist on the table. The other two react with shock to the noise.
STUDENT More reason? Hah! Tell me what sort of reason they have to abuse our people, to kill our women and children, to take our land?!
MIKAAIYL pushes from the wall to step forwards, hand half-raised.
STUDENT I studied in Jerusalem, you know. I know these things! Didn’t you hear about what that vermin did to that village down south?-
MIKAAIYL cuts across him:
I have. And I agree. The main street. It should be the main street.
The others turn to look at him, obviously surprised by the fact that he has spoken.
MIKAAIYL They won’t listen, otherwise. They won’t understand that we will not suffer at their dirty hands any longer.
He walks around the table, to the front of the stage.
MIKAAIYL This is the only way they will understand. That we are strong. We will not suffer in silence in this living hell we have been cursed to endure. (Muttering) Kaiesha…Amira…
STUDENT Well said, comrade!
MIKAAIYL turns quickly to face him and the others, who are nodding in agreement. They all stand, stepping forwards to pat him on the shoulder.
BOMBER 2 You’re right, Mikaaiyl-jan. The main street.
MIKAAIYL Yes. And then maybe, I shall find peace.
The other men look at each other, obviously confused.
BOMBER 2 What was that, Mikaaiyl-jan?
MIKAAIYL shakes his head.
All stage lights are on, harsh and bright. Mikaaiyl lies curled in fetal position in the centre of the stage. Slowly, he uncurls, pushing himself up to sit with his legs tucked into his chest, staring directly at the audience. He is shaking, and his body is tense.
MIKAAIYL Won’t you save me? You didn’t save them, Oh Great One.
He shakes his head, then curls down for a moment, head to his knees, before looking up quickly. Releasing his knees, he leans forward so he is kneeling, as if to pray, eyes turned upwards.
MIKAAIYL It wasn’t for you. A child died yesterday. She was girl, a small one, with long dark curly hair and huge eyes the colour of…but you know my thoughts. Must I tell you what you already see?
He leans backwards, sitting down. His body relaxes, and his tone becomes conversational.
MIKAAIYL They killed her for you. She’s lying in pieces, and her mother will never weep over her body, her father will never dig, because there’s nothing left to bury.
Oh Merciful One, a child died yesterday. I saw them kill her. No.
MIKAAIYL leans forwards, and whispers:
MIKAAIYL Can you keep a secret?
He pauses, as if hearing a response:
MIKAAIYL It wasn’t them. I killed her, you see. I killed my little Amira – but she wasn’t my Amira, she was someone else’s and where is Allah when another family has a laughing daughter that looks the same as my angel?!
By the end of this he has pushed himself to his feet, and he is shouting. After a long pause, he turns his back to the audience, falling to his knees. He tilts his head up to the ceiling.
MIKAAIYL I couldn’t close my eyes. I couldn’t close my eyes, so I saw her throw a ball in the air. I saw her disappear before she could catch it.
She deserved it. She was an unbeliever. Unbelievers live with Shai’tan, in horror and fire and repentance.
He bows his head once more, before pushing himself to his feet, slowly, and turning once more to face the audience.
MIKAAIYL But Allah…she was so small.
Another long pause, and the lights start to dim, slowly, till MIKAAIYL is left under a spotlight as the stage is dark.
MIKAAIYL Do you see me, Lord? Does it matter, anymore?
I don’t know.