By Shebana Coelho
A pitch dark stage – as dark as you can make it –
slowly lightens into shadows. A dim blue
searchlight roves across the stage, and into the
audience, and in the arc of its turning, it
illuminates a table and two chairs. In one chair,
facing the audience is a GIRL, fair-skinned, in
her twenties with long black hair. Her hands are
clasped behind her back, as if they are tied
together. But they are not. Her head is lowered,
as if she is sleeping. But she is not. One side of
her face looks discolored, as if she’s wearing a
face mask, the kind you get in beauty salons. A
MAN, in his fifties, sits in the chair to her
left. When the spotlight reaches her again, her
head swings up and she opens her eyes.
Later, he tells me he knew my name all along.
Your middle name, to be exact.
All it takes is a Muslim in the middle.
Naseema, to be exact.
She slowly, sinuously leans towards the man and
blows. He blanches, startled. She keeps blowing
and slowly, with her breath, forces him to rise
and he rises and steps back, and further back till
her breath has forced him off stage.
She turns to the audience.
But earlier, first – the skin of my father gets me in.
If they saw the brown inside, the brown of my mother,
I’d be at the detention cell, at the airport with
everyone else who had brushed against brown in their
past or in their family or on the plane and the scent
lingers, did you know? That’s what the guards say. “We
know how to smell you.” They’re trained to
smell…roses. They’re trained to smell…attar. I hear
them whispering as if no one hears. But everyone hears.
Those smells carry.
The SOUND of low bells, the kind cattle wear
around their neck and a shepherd, NIDAL, about
sixteen, enters from the opposite side of the
stage. He wears a keffiyeh, a black and white
chequered scarf around his neck. He’s in a
reverie, as if following his cattle and not
noticing her at first.
I carry a new lamb. The sheep follow. We go to what is
left of grass. They eat what isn’t burnt. They eat what
is left of green. I swallow the sand. I love a girl who
I saw on a bus that went by very slowly so the people
inside, behind the glass, could take pictures. I stood
up straight when it passed. The minute you see anyone
shooting…a picture, you want to stand up straight. It
could be on the news. You have to think ahead. But that
girl, she put the camera down when she saw me, and the
sun hit her instead. It hit her through the glass as
she looked at me and then I saw her hair…
Now he notices the girl and they meet in the
center of the stage. Tenderly, he touches the
…hair like yours…
like this, soft and clean from a place that has water,
a place where you just ask for it and….
He takes a step back and a stream of water falls
on him, drenching him. Like a waterfall, it falls
as he stands there, arms akimbo and then he cups
the water in his hand. The girl reaches forward
and puts her hand in the falling water, cups the
water in her hands as well. The water fall stops.
In unison, they drink from their hands. The Girl
looks up at Nidal.
In the desert where I used to live, where I used to
love, the land is flat and the sky is so big you can
see for days ahead. You can see the weather forming.
You can see a storm coming. You can say (she points
into the audience) it is raining there, just in that
spot, and not there, in that other spot – like that.
Nidal shakes the water off him. He unloosens his
scarf, squeezes the water from it, and then sits
down slowly on his haunches, as if looking at a
horizon only he can see.
Here, we watch the bombs falling. You can see, (he
points into the audience ) there is someone dying, and
there is someone not dying, not yet. You can see this
bombed from clear across the ocean. You can see the
planes. You can see the righteousness with which the
bombs fall so we die righteous deaths. (laughs) Can’t
you see us all dying so that the rockets hidden under
us may live?
He ties the scarf back around his neck, humming
softly. It’s not a carefree sound – as if he’s
deliberately calming the cattle, while keeping an
eye out, being vigilant. Suddenly he YELLS, ducks
and goes flat on the ground.
Get down. Now.
The Girl gets down, lying on her belly. Together,
they look at the audience.
My father is an old man in a chair in a desert. A man
like thunder. A line of sheep behind him. A gaggle of
hens beside him. We live in a house with sheets of
aluminum for walls and sheets of plastic for roofs.
Bullet casings at our feet.
The sheep nuzzle the casings. The chicken nuzzle the
We dream of the well we can’t dig. The land we can’t
Mamnou3…it says here right on the dotted line, in
between the dotted lines, see that signature, see the
shadow of that ink…
The water in the river…
…the water is not allowed, mamnou3. The water we
hear, running in pipes past us, the water that goes
…settlements, swimming pools, dates…
…stockpiles, guards, guns.
They slowly begin to rise so they are sitting on
….that after a village is destroyed…
…what is needed is to build something even if it’s
…building a wall…
…patting a wall into place…
…by moonlight, only by moonlight…
They slowly rise to their feet
…just so something is left standing at dawn. Fajer.
He sits cross-legged on the stage.
At dawn, he was sitting outside…
…twenty feet from the mosque waiting for prayers to
At dawn, they took him. Later, they hit him. They
argued about hitting him more. Hitting him more, they
decided. His small body on its side.
How do you burn a body? They didn’t know. Burning my
body, they learned.
I dreamed him. Even as they found him, even then, I
dreamed him and it was the dream that brought me here.
I had never up and gone anywhere. I up and came here.
They exit in the dark.
Lights up. The girl returns to the chair and sits.
She places her hands flat on the table, closes her
eyes. Her head falls forward. You can see the mask
clearly now, green, covering one side of her face.
MANJU, an Indian woman, also in her twenties,
enters and sits on the other chair. She takes a
nail file from her pocket, picks up the girl’s
hand and starts buffing her nails. Sounds of
Bollywood SONGS slowly RISE on a radio we can’t
see. Manju hums as she buffs. The Girl slowly
opens her eyes and raises her head. She yawns.
Welcome back, Madam. Have a good doze, Madam?
Oh. I thought the mister that you came with made you
Miss, what beautiful nails you have. Bloody beautiful,
if I may say so.
The girl laughs, intrigued.
So sorry, Madam, I mean Miss. It is a bad word but I
She giggles-she has a distinctive voice.
Isn’t it good, my “bloody?” I practiced it watching
those Bond movies. Uska nam kya hai? (what’s his name)
James. His name is James.
Those only, Miss. I watch those only over and over
again. If you heard me with your eyes closed, you
wouldn’t even know I’m not a native. I mean, Miss,
The Girl already has her eyes closed.
If I bloody well say so, then it bloody well is so.
Those bloody people. No bloody manners. Now open your
bloody eyes and look at me, I said…
The girl opens her eyes and smiles.
You’re bloody perfect.
(giggling) Thank you, thank you, Miss. The hundreds of
time I have practiced bloody, I can’t even tell you,
can’t even count…
Twenty times a day, every day for a week – that makes
twenty into five… No, wait… regular week is seven
days, so that is twenty into…
A GUNSHOT offstage followed by a recognizably
Palestinian SONG like “Wayn A Ramallah.” The Girl
and Manju listen.
You want me to change the channel, Miss? I can’t stand
these shouting-bouting movies.
That’s the news, Manju.
Same thing, Miss, all doom and gloom, kill this, win
that, shoot this, save that.
The Girl is silent.
Close your eyes, Miz. I’ll take off the mask now.
The Girl closes her eyes. Manju takes a cotton pad
from her pocket and scrapes the mask off the
girl’s face, in smooth, lulling strokes. The Girl’s
head drops and she snores for a few seconds, then
starts and opens her eyes.
(softly) Turn up the volume, Manju.
She stops cleaning the girl’s face.
I said, go make it louder.
Manju drops the cotton pad on the table, rises and
walks off stage. The SOUNDS of the SONG RISE
LOUDLY. The Girl picks up the cotton and finishes
cleaning her own face, till all traces of the mask
are completely gone. As if looking in the mirror,
she inspects her face. A harsh SPOTLIGHT finds
her, and illuminates her, blinding. She begins
coughing. The MAN enters.