PLAY #340: QUIET PLEASE, YOU’RE MAKING RATHER A FUSS (NOV 30)

London, November 29th 2015.

PIGEON sits on top of a statue of QUEEN VICTORIA.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

What is all this fuss?

 

PIGEON

Climate Protest. Huge. Biggest ever, they say.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

So loud.

 

PIGEON

You prefer it when large gatherings are restricted to jubilees?

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I’d prefer it if everybody stayed put.

 

PIGEON

Your wish is the police’s command: climate protestors in Paris are under house arrest. State of Emergency, they say. As if the world warming is something to be thought about later.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

It would be quite pleasant to be at home in this weather. No time to be rocking the boat.

 

PIGEON

Not everybody has a palace to lounge in.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Well, those who do should use it at least. Not sure why that Charles is always running about interfering.

 

PIGEON

He’s speaking in Paris, you know?

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Oh, I hear it all. When I tried so hard to remove the royals of any obligations other than stiff smiles and firm handshakes. It is no sort of legacy, at all.

 

PIGEON

I think the sun’s long set on that empire of yours. Though it’s doing a good job of laying waste to all those pesky colonies that severed ties with your kingdom: sun’s not a bad weapon to have in your arsenal.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I fail to understand why people lay contemporary woes at my feet.

 

PIGEON

History’s what’s at stake here: the climate reparations that the rich will pay for their plundering of the poor. Everybody’s all chat about the future – looking out for the grandkids – but the real issue is the past.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

What interest have you in any of this?

 

PIGEON

I’m on the lowest rung here: rat with wings. I take your scraps but you think I’m to blame for rising CO2 emissions? I’m cleaning up your messes. But birds will be just as screwed as the climate changes, not like we have any court to appeal to.

Course I root for the underdogs: why else would I spend so much energy shitting on statues?

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Had I my army at my command, you’d usurp every pheasant for a place on my dinner table.

 

PIGEON

You know the story about the King of the Birds?

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I don’t care for fables.

 

PIGEON

There’s a big competition. All the birds in the world strut their feathers and flap their wings. And it looks like the eagle is the clear winner. Until a robin pipes up, from the eagle’s head, saying that this tiny little thing that survives surely has to be superior.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I see your point: may you enjoy your last few moments atop my crown until the water rises a sufficient depth to drown you.

 

PIGEON

Not my meaning. Anyway, I’m no monarchist.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

That would explain your gifts.

 

PIGEON

You’re the one stuck. I don’t want to just be an observer. Want to believe in change. I’m off to Paris.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Bon voyage. I hope you’ll find some statues to shit on there.

 

PIGEON is already in the air, leaving QUEEN VICTORIA alone, and suddenly, she realizes, rather lonely.

 

 

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PLAY #339: JET SET (NOV 29)

Washington D.C., 2009.

Georgetown University, a pond.

JAMES (late 20s; Chinese; male) sits on a bench, in a suit.

 

ISAIAH (20s; African-American; male) enters in a tattered military uniform and sits beside JAMES.

 

JAMES

Isaiah!

 

ISAIAH

You didn’t think I’d make the reunion?

 

JAMES

This is…

 

ISAIAH

I was always dead set on being here. Though I didn’t realize how dead set I’d be. You were the one who wasn’t sure if you’d be bothered traveling from China for some half-assed five-year thing where nobody’s changed enough to like them yet.

 

JAMES

Yeah. Guess you beat me on the distance.

 

ISAIAH

Sure did.

 

JAMES

I live here now, actually.

 

ISAIAH

This bench? I had you pegged for bigger things.

 

JAMES

D.C.

 

ISAIAH

Bet your Dad’s not too happy about that.

 

JAMES

Among other things.

 

ISAIAH

You told him?

 

JAMES

Yeah.

 

ISAIAH

Whoa! I wish I could drink to toast something.

 

JAMES

Me too.

 

Pause.

 

ISAIAH

You think they could have stumped up for a statue? All they got is some plaque for me shared with some other sap who was stupid enough to sign up. Not even a scholarship boy. He didn’t get the memo that rich folk aren’t supposed to die in this war.

 

JAMES

You were mentioned. Part of a speech.

 

ISAIAH

Who knew that all I had to was get blown up to make a name for myself around here? Still, at least I got myself a plaque. That’s more than Nick got.

 

JAMES

I guess suicide is not so marketable.

 

Pause.

 

ISAIAH

Who all else is here?

 

JAMES

Not many people I actually want to talk to.

 

ISAIAH

Don’t tell me that all those power-interns are actually running the city now?

 

JAMES

Everything we feared has come to pass.

 

ISAIAH

The jet set have taken over.

 

JAMES

Just about.

 

ISAIAH

Well I got enough miles for all of us. First class ride back here, too: all class for corpses.

 

JAMES

Yeah.

 

ISAIAH

Yaya make it?

 

JAMES

She’s off working at some farm.

 

ISAIAH

Definitely not speech-material. Go mad into debt so that you can grow your own lettuce. However, the scholarship boy who could get himself blown up, that is a story worth spinning!

(beat.)

Any of the gay crew here?

 

JAMES

Not any you’d want to sleep with.

 

ISAIAH

Just as well. Not sure old Brandon would really be up for ghost kink.

 

JAMES

He’s working at the Capitol now, who knows what kink he gets into.

 

ISAIAH

You know where his office is at?

 

JAMES

You’re going to perv on him?

 

ISAIAH

Ghost’s got to have some fun. You seeing somebody?

 

JAMES

Yeah. Actually. An environmental activist.

 

ISAIAH

Your Dad must be really pissed.

 

JAMES

Yeah. He’s a drag queen too.

 

ISAIAH

From coal magnate to screaming queen?

 

JAMES

Josh! Delicious Drag-On.

 

ISAIAH

Sweet. Nice for you to have somebody you’re on the same page with.

 

JAMES

We still find things to fight about.

 

ISAIAH

Not like us though.

 

JAMES

No.

 

ISAIAH

He’s here?

 

JAMES

Not really his scene.

 

ISAIAH

Not ours either.

 

JAMES

No.

 

Pause.

 

ISAIAH

You were right.

 

JAMES

That’s no comfort.

 

ISAIAH

The war was bullshit.

 

JAMES

You remember the protests here? The pro-war group outnumbered us. You weren’t the only one here in support of the war.

 

ISAIAH

Only one here stupid enough to die for it. Or, one of two, not even unique in that.

(beat.)

You were right. Whole war was a dirty scramble for what’s beneath. Something we have no business in getting involved in.

(beat.)

They’re lucky I died. I’d be here too otherwise, setting fire to the plaque or the flag or the endowment or whatever I could ignite. Nothing I believe in now.

 

Pause.

 

JAMES

There’s always friendship. Or hope. Or revenge.

 

ISAIAH

Something.

 

JAMES

Streets are crammed with ghosts. That’s what I like to think in protests: streets are full of spirits on our side.

 

ISAIAH

People don’t believe in ghosts.

 

JAMES

Don’t believe in dragons either. But that’s no good to you when you’re faced with a mouth that’s aflame, is it?

 

ISAIAH

Guess not.

 

Pause.

 

ISAIAH

You should go. Mingle with the jet set.

 

JAMES

I’m happy enough here.

 

ISAIAH

On your own by this dumb pond?

 

JAMES

I always was a freak, right?

 

ISAIAH

Yeah.

 

They sit by the pond for some time before ISAIAH walks off, leaving JAMES on the bench, nothing to jet set off to.

PLAY #338: RUBBLE (NOV 28)

London, 2012.

ROSE (20s; Nigerian – Igbo; female) approaches QUEEN VICTORIA (a statue of QUEEN VICTORIA; 80s; white English; female).

ROSE has a water pistol outstretched.

At the edges of the stage: rubble.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

What on earth are you doing?

 

ROSE

A direct action.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Put that thing down at once!

 

ROSE

I’m not your subject.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I’m sure this is still an offence. Shooting a monarch: it won’t end well for you.

 

ROSE

I don’t have bullets. I don’t believe in violence.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Then what are you doing with a revolver?

 

ROSE

It’s symbolic. You’re going to drown in oil.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

What are you on about? I have nothing to do with that substance. Is it not enough to be covered in pigeon shit? Why tar me so?

 

ROSE

Because you reigned over an era of mass industrial expansion and colonization. Because my country has been ripped apart by oil.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Hardly my fault.

 

ROSE

Nigeria never existed until colonization: our boundaries were wars waiting to happen, no way all these different tribes should be squeezed into the same state. And all that uncertainty gets blown up once oil is involved.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I gave away as much power as I could during my reign. I cannot be blamed.

 

ROSE

You’re a symbol. So you’re getting doused.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

This is barbaric.

 

ROSE

So is capitalism.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

You really want to blame me for that?

 

ROSE

I’d rather squirt oil everywhere. Pour it over the Olympic Tent. Into every museum lobby that’s sponsored by fossil fuel companies. Over half the statues of doddering grey guys who got rich off the plundering of poorer people of color.

(beat.)

But I’m not Bruce Willis. I’m just making a simple point. You’re beloved: this will do.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I don’t see why you’re so upset over oil.

 

ROSE

Oil, coal, gas, take your pick – oil is the easiest thing to fit into a water pistol.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I did think those coal-mines were dreadful for the young children.

 

ROSE

I’m not putting your conscience on trial. You’re not a person anymore. Symbols set in stone don’t have feelings.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

Do it so. Cover me in black. That was my fashion after all.

(beat.)

I see the appeal. Bearing everything. The worst on display. There’s a certain honesty to that.

(beat.)

Well…

Before ROSE can do anything, it starts to rain oil.

Oil drizzles from the sky, covering ROSE and QUEEN VICTORIA.

 

ROSE

Did you do this?

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

I’m a statue. Not a god.

 

Pause.

 

ROSE

What’s happening?

 

QUEEN VICTORIA

That, my dear, is for you to discern.

 

ROSE looks up at the oil rain, which continues, as the lights fade.

PLAY #337: IGNITE (NOV 27)

Fallujah, 2004.

ISAIAH (20s; African-American; male) lies on the ground – an American soldier, he is covered in dust & wounded.

HELEN (late teens; African-American; female) enters wrapped in a huge, tattered American flag, which seems to have come from the 19th century.

 

ISAIAH

What’s happening?

 

HELEN

Try not to talk too much: it’ll be easier that way.

 

ISAIAH

Who are you?

 

HELEN

Name’s Helen.

 

ISAIAH

Are you an angel?

 

HELEN

Oh, I’ve had far too much fun for that.

 

ISAIAH

A dream, tell me you’re a dream.

 

HELEN

Plenty of folks have called me that. I’m not one to turn down a compliment.

 

ISAIAH

Tell me I’m not dying.

 

HELEN

I’ve been known to lie – some people say that’s all I am – but myself, I believe in brutal honesty. There’s a tenderness to brutality once you’re clear about it, don’t you think?

 

ISAIAH

I am dying.

 

HELEN

It’s not so bad. Try not to talk or think too much: it’ll make it easier.

 

ISAIAH

Fuck!

 

HELEN

Or if you are going to talk, come up with some better last words. You could try ‘Helen.’ Focus on me and you’ll be fine.

 

ISAIAH

Who are you?

 

HELEN

I’ve told you: Helen. You can call me something else if you want. The name of a sweetheart. Or a sweet guy, I’m not fussed. Wrap whatever noun you want around me: Jamie. Billy. Freedom. Revenge.

 

ISAIAH

James was right. I should never have come here.

 

HELEN

Thinking is especially ill-advised.

 

ISAIAH

A phony war for a phony President. I should never have got involved in all of this.

 

HELEN

Focus on me: you’ll feel better.

 

ISAIAH

Whole war’s just another fucked up way to kill brothers.

 

HELEN

I’m the thing that makes all this horribleness acceptable. Look up at me and see that there is something worth fighting for, something worth dying for, and it’s something higher and elevated – that’s how I fancy myself now – not something down and dirty. Let your death be glorious and golden-

 

Sound of gunfire.

An explosion.

A geyser of oil erupts from the ground, drenching HELEN, the flag, and ISAIAH.

After the oil and gunfire has stopped, ISAIAH is dead.

HELEN shakes herself out, sits down beside ISAIAH.

 

 

PLAY #336: SCENE: THE GOOD BYE (NOVEMBER 26)

London, 2013.

Heathrow Airport.

SARASWATI (late 20s; Indian, Bengali; female) sits, waiting.

 

ROSE (mid 20s; Nigerian, Igbo; female) walks in with a backpack on.

 

SARASWATI stands.

 

ROSE

Hi.

 

SARASWATI

Hi.

 

ROSE

Is this the scene where you try and convince me to stay?

 

SARASWATI

I know that won’t work.

 

ROSE

True.

 

SARASWATI

But I didn’t like how it ended.

 

ROSE

Me neither.

 

Pause.

 

SARASWATI

You want to get a coffee?

 

ROSE

I don’t know if I have time.

 

SARASWATI

Or a drink. Just a shot of something.

 

ROSE

It took me longer than I thought to pack-

 

SARASWATI

No surprises.

 

ROSE

I can manage without you, you know. Did it for many years.

 

SARASWATI

I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…

 

Pause.

 

ROSE

I should get going. You know how much hassle they give me going through security.

 

SARASWATI

Five minutes. It’s already delayed. And you know they’ll just rush you through if there’s a queue.

 

ROSE

Okay.

 

They sit.

SARASWATI offers some chocolate.

 

SARASWATI

Your last Giant Button?

 

ROSE

I’m not going to Antarctica. They do have sweets in Alaska.

 

SARASWATI

They probably have gargantuan Buttons.

 

ROSE

Probably have buttons the size of this bag.

 

SARASWATI

Covered in peanut butter and all sorts of terrible things.

 

ROSE

Probably.

 

ROSE eats some chocolate.

SARASWATI fishes in her bag and pulls out a bright hat.

 

SARASWATI

I made this for you.

 

ROSE

Wow.

 

SARASWATI

It’s not quite finished but…

 

ROSE

It’s beautiful.

 

SARASWATI

You can unravel it and attach it to some derrick if you want.

 

ROSE

I love it.

 

ROSE puts the hat on.

 

SARASWATI

It’s too small.

 

ROSE

It’s great. This is what you were working on?

 

SARASWATI

You know me. Any excuse to avoid the dissertation.

 

ROSE

You can join the Radical Knitters.

 

SARASWATI

I’ve Sappho’s ear-muffs to finish first.

 

ROSE

How are they?

 

SARASWATI

Good. Except that Rumi misses you terribly. She’s peeing everywhere.

 

ROSE

Bitch does not miss me: she did that when we started dating, remember?

 

SARASWATI

She was marking her territory.

 

ROSE

And now she’s reclaiming it.

 

Pause.

 

SARASWATI

She’s in mourning.

 

ROSE

Cats don’t mourn.

 

SARASWATI

If elephants can, I don’t see why cats can’t.

 

ROSE

Cats are the cockroaches of pets: nothing’s going to keep them down.

 

SARASWATI

You can see why she’s upset you’re leaving.

 

ROSE

I’ll send them a postcard. Different surface to pee on.

 

SARASWATI

Lovely.

 

Pause.

 

ROSE

Thanks for the hat. It’s really…

 

SARASWATI

You’re welcome.

 

ROSE

I’m sorry about everything I said.

 

SARASWATI

Me too.

 

ROSE

I didn’t mean to dismiss what you’re doing.

 

SARASWATI

I know.

(beat.)

And I didn’t mean to dismiss what you’re doing. I know why you’re going.

 

ROSE

Why I think I have to go?

 

Pause.

 

SARASWATI

I didn’t come here for a fight.

 

ROSE

What did you come for?

 

SARASWATI

A quickie?

(beat.)

I needed to see you.

 

ROSE

This isn’t the scene where you convince me to turn back. You have to at least buy a fake plane ticket for that.

 

SARASWATI

No. This is the scene where we both display how much we’ve learnt in Britain and say ‘cheerio’ and ‘toodlepip’ and ‘I hope you beat that iceberg’ and ‘I’m sure this whole caper will work out splendidly.’

 

ROSE takes off the hat.

 

ROSE

I did pack a hat, you know. I’m not completely clueless.

 

SARASWATI

Once you’re warm, everything else should sort itself out.

 

ROSE

You’ve never taken this mission seriously.

 

SARASWATI

Since when did protests become missions?

 

ROSE

We’re not just holding up cardboard signs at oil rigs. We’re going to do something.

 

SARASWATI

Like get thrown in jail?

 

ROSE

We’re not the Arctic 30.

 

SARASWATI

No, you’re much less organized.

 

ROSE

I’m tired of having this argument. You know why I’m going. You can call me stupid and selfish and stubborn and whatever else you want, but I’m not giving up.

 

ROSE stands.

 

SARASWATI

I don’t think you’re stupid. Or selfish.

 

ROSE

That’s not what you said.

 

SARASWATI

Maybe this is the scene where I apologize.

 

ROSE

You’re not very good at it.

 

SARASWATI

No.

 

ROSE sits.

 

ROSE

I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you.

(beat.)

And I respect what you do. I shouldn’t have said that about your dissertation.

 

SARASWATI

It’s true. Nobody’s going to read it.

 

ROSE

At least you’re thinking about climate change.

 

SARASWATI

We can’t all be Antigone.

 

ROSE

And I like that story about the dinosaurs.

 

SARASWATI

Pterodactyls aren’t even dinosaurs. Who’s going to read an article about a story that’s got some B-list prehistoric creatures in it? I’d be better off knitting full time. At least the radical knitters make barricades more colorful.

 

ROSE

Stop. I don’t need you to be tied together beside me to a barricade, that’s never what this was about.

 

SARASWATI

No. Geography. That’s all there is to it. A rather mundane foe in the end.

(beat.)

I don’t think what you’re doing is stupid.

 

ROSE

Thank you.

 

ROSE holds SARASWATI’s hand.

Pause.

 

SARASWATI

This is the scene where you leave?

 

ROSE

Soon.

 

Not yet, though, so ROSE and SARASWATI stay on the cheap plastic chairs, the holding of hands turning into the resting of heads on shoulders, the sound of planes taking off all around them.

PLAY #335: HOW TO (UN)MAKE AN AMERICAN FLAG (NOV 25)

1813, Baltimore.

The Star-Spangled Banner lies across a table, half-assembled.

To the side of the stage: rubble.

 

GRACE (13; black; female) is sewing.

HELEN (14; black; female) is modeling different scraps of cloth.

 

GRACE

Would you stop fooling?

 

HELEN

Red and blue are awful together: I think gold would be my colour.

 

GRACE

I’m the one who’ll get in trouble if you rip something.

 

HELEN

Or maybe purple. I bet Cleopatra would have had her some fine purple cloth.

With gold stars. Why these ones need to be so pale, I don’t see. Not like when you look up at the sky, stars can have all sorts of colors.

 

GRACE

You’re an expert now, are you?

 

HELEN

When are you going to make something for me?

 

GRACE

I’ll make you some purple ribbon and then I’ll use it to keep your mouth shut.

 

HELEN

Grace, where are your manners? You’re supposed to be the one learning skills. A free young woman.

 

GRACE

Indentured young woman.

 

HELEN

Still, you’re the one going places. It’s up to you to keep up decorum.

 

GRACE

Such as turning a flag into a dress?

 

HELEN

I’m helping.

 

GRACE

You haven’t done a scrap of work.

 

HELEN

Only because you tease me if I do help.

 

GRACE

Your stitches would be fine if you concentrated on what you were doing and not how you look doing it.

 

HELEN

Why should I care about fashioning this silly old flag though? I’m just the anonymous slave girl that nobody will remember: when this flag gets draped across history, there’ll be nobody there to record my name.

 

GRACE

Should I write it in the corners?

 

HELEN

I’d rather you included my picture: such a face should not be lost to history.

 

GRACE

I’ll draw it across every star, so.

 

HELEN

Mind you do. It would be better to have somebody beautiful smiling from a flag, no. That’s why they have all those statues of women isn’t it? Somebody beautiful to fight for. I do think it would be an improvement to the flag.

 

HELEN puts a piece of the flag over her face, trying it out.

GRACE puts down the piece of flag she is working on, walks over to HELEN.

 

GRACE

It has the advantage that you can no longer babble on.

 

HELEN

You are dreadfully unkind to me. Worse than all those horrid nieces who come here to help.

 

GRACE

At least they are unkind to you. They pretend not to see me.

 

HELEN

Well, of course nobody could pretend that I am invisible.

 

GRACE

No.

 

Pause.

HELEN and GRACE stare at each other.

 

HELEN

Look how hard your hands are worn.

 

GRACE

It’s fine.

 

HELEN

And your eyes – you’ll go blind working like this.

 

GRACE

I thought you did so much more work that I did around here.

 

HELEN

Well, I do. But I’m strong.

 

GRACE

Yes.

 

HELEN

And my hands are already worn away to nothing.

 

GRACE

No.

 

HELEN

Yes. See.

 

GRACE holds HELEN’s hands.

 

GRACE

They’re…lovely.

 

HELEN

Horrid. That’s what that niece would call them – I can never remember which is which. And it is of no matter – my forehead remains perfection.

 

GRACE

Yes.

 

Pause.

HELEN breaks away and walks to the rubble, looking out at a window.

 

HELEN

I do wish this flag was finished.

 

GRACE

It’s nearly done. Ready for the Battle.

 

HELEN

She gets in such a mood about it.

 

GRACE

I know.

 

HELEN

And what is the use of it anyway? Wouldn’t take much for a cannon to knock off one of those stars.

 

GRACE

They’ll stitch it up anew, so.

 

HELEN

All lies, too. Stars are not what they’re fighting over – there’s nothing pretty about this. Only ugly things pulled from the ground – who can sell what where – that is what people battle over, only it is a finer thing to imagine that one is fighting for a star or a woman.

(beat.)

The stars must have their revenges on us. We treat them as though we own them: squashing them down to size, slotting them onto a piece of a cloth, stripping away all of their color and sparkle. They’ll burn us, one day, show us humans that all the time we’re squabbling over who owns what or who owns where, they can’t be captured or controlled.

 

GRACE

I’ll steal one for you. When this is done. You can decorate it as you wish.

 

HELEN

Grace…

 

GRACE

Nobody’ll miss one of them. Not when there’s the war running around us all. As you say, some old cannon might as easy blast through the thing.

 

HELEN

It’ll be a new country.

 

HELEN

The Republic of Helen?

 

GRACE

No ownership or squabbling.

 

HELEN

No more needles.

 

GRACE

No more carrying.

 

HELEN

No more wrinkles.

 

GRACE

Only sparkling.

(beat.)

And holding.

 

HELEN

I’d like to go there.

 

GRACE

Me too.

 

HELEN and GRACE look at each other across the flag.

The sound of something from outside – gunfire or fireworks, it is unclear which.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLAY #334: TWINE AROUND KNIVES (NOV 24)

Berlin, 2015.

A table in a café: TARIQ (30s; Syrian; male) and SARASWATI (30s; Bengali; female) sit.

Around the edges of the café, sand and rubble, unremarked upon.

A book is on the table: ‘Imaginary Maps’ by Mahasweta Devi.

 

TARIQ

So why does the pterodactyl come?

 

SARASWATI

What do you think?

 

TARIQ

You really are a literature professor.

 

SARASWATI

We don’t have to talk about the story.

 

TARIQ

No. A distraction is good.

(beat.)

I guess the pterodactyl comes to…what’s the place name again?

 

SARASWATI

Pirtha.

 

TARIQ

Right: ‘Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha.’ Maybe he came to Pirtha because it begins with the same letter?

 

SARASWATI

Or she.

 

TARIQ

Right. Or it. Who knows with a pterodactyl.

(beat.)

I was never good at reading stories. Sayid always said I had no imagination: I can follow a recipe but can’t break free from one. Which was easy for him to say, because he could never make anything.

 

SARASWATI

You liked the story enough to finish it.

 

TARIQ

Yeah. It was good. A bit weird. But good to have a distraction. You usually teach this back in London?

 

SARASWATI

Sometimes. It’s part of a syllabus I have on Environmental Literature.

 

TARIQ

Right. I guess that’s part of why the pterodactyl comes – to warn about the dying earth.

 

SARASWATI

That’s one potential reading.

 

TARIQ

But the bird’s not really much of a messenger – nobody gets it really, except for that kid, who can’t speak, so it seems like the pterodactyl doesn’t really come to the cave to say anything, the bird or dinosaur or whatever it is just wants to die.

 

SARASWATI

Yes. It makes a difference if we read the story from Puran’s perspective or the pterodactyls.

 

TARIQ

Is it possible to tell a story from a pterodactyl’s perspective?

 

SARASWATI

What do you think?

 

TARIQ

I don’t know. Food, I can tell you about. This bit of bread: badly made. See, you can peel apart this pastry and it tells you all sorts of things about how long it was let rise or put in the oven or whether it was folded enough times. Stories, I don’t know…that’s your territory.

 

SARASWATI

Maybe. But one of the beauties of this story is that nobody really knows what the pterodactyl’s story is. It’s left open to the imagination.

 

TARIQ

You ever seen one?

 

SARASWATI

A pterodactyl?

 

TARIQ

Yeah.

 

SARASWATI

No. I mean, there’s a skeleton in the Natural History Museum but it’s not really the same thing-

 

TARIQ

What about back in…where is it, Pirtha?

 

SARASWATI

That’s in Madhya Pradesh. My family is further west. Though most of them are in the U.K. now.

 

TARIQ

What made you come here?

 

SARASWATI

I don’t know. I’m on leave for the year. I have some friends here. I wanted to…

 

TARIQ

Do something?

 

SARASWATI

I suppose.

 

TARIQ

Saving the world with stories?

 

SARASWATI

Not quite. The truth is that I didn’t have a plan coming here. I wasn’t sure how I could plug in, or if I could. Teaching was in my comfort zone.

 

TARIQ

Am I your best student?

 

SARASWATI

Maybe if you teach me about breaking bread.

 

TARIQ

Find me an oven.

 

SARASWATI

Right. The place you’re at is still okay.

 

TARIQ

Yes. Nice people. Can’t complain.

 

SARASWATI

I still can’t believe how horrible the reaction is back home. Or rather, I can believe it, but still…

TARIQ stands.

 

TARIQ

This is a place I can imagine a dinosaur swooping around.

 

SARASWATI

Not many tall buildings for it to hide behind.

 

TARIQ

Lots of forgotten places though, don’t you get that feeling? I went to the exhibit about the war – where the Wall is – and they have these pictures of Berlin now and then and you should see some of the streets, more rubble than road, it’s not hard to imagine some broken dinosaur nursing its wings under the stones…

 

TARIQ pulls out a cigarette, lights up.

 

TARIQ

You mind?

 

SARASWATI

No. It’s allowed here, you know.

 

TARIQ

Right. You want one.

 

SARASWATI

No. Yes. Yes, please.

 

TARIQ hands SARASWATI a cigarette, lights it for her.

TARIQ looks towards the rubble at the edge of the stage.

 

TARIQ

Sayid would have liked this story. He was always going on about creatures, he was the one with the imagination. Used to go on about uniquorrrns, kept saying they were beside us all the time.

 

SARASWATI

Unicorns?

 

TARIQ

Uniquorrrns – some mad stuff he was about, like if the things were really kicked off the boat in the beginning they must have adapted to survived, he said, probably had all sorts of incredible powers. Invisible, he said they must be invisible to survive all those years without people eating them or turning their horns into money. And they were also a thousand colours, according the Sayid, he wasn’t really one for consistency, which was what made him such a horrible baker, but why couldn’t something be invisible and lots of colours, he’d say. Dogs can make sounds that we can’t even hear, who’s to say that they’re not beautiful?

(beat.)

Sorry, I’m getting off topic. I’m probably your worst student.

 

SARASWATI

You’ve actually read the story, that puts you in the top ten percent at least.

(beat.)

You can talk about him if you want.

(beat.)

Or not. Whatever you want.

 

Pause.

 

TARIQ

Any of the stories you teach have happy endings?

 

SARASWATI

Occasionally. Teaching about Literature and the Environment isn’t always the cheeriest topic.

 

TARIQ

No. Do you talk about climate change?

 

SARASWATI

I just taught a course about literature and climate change last year.

 

TARIQ

Happy endings?

 

SARASWATI

Some.

 

TARIQ

There’s this artist that’s tracking all the people who’ve died because of climate change – it’s some giant map with lots of dots and stories, I think. Or maybe it’s lots of maps.

 

SARASWATI

I don’t know it.

 

TARIQ

I thought of it when I was reading the story – I guess because of the title of the whole book. Because he imagines it as an imaginary map too, like a map of the world where the stories of people matter.

 

SARASWATI

It sounds like an impossible project.

 

TARIQ

Exactly. And I thought that there’s no room for pterodactyls on this map – I mean, they’re long gone. Or uniquorrrns. Or Sayid. Which, I don’t know if he’d qualify. Because, you can argue that climate change is a contributing factor to the crisis back home – huge drought leads to food shortage leads to unrest. Not to mention oil and all of its history. Or the levels of seas that capsize boats. But I don’t know if it helps. To think of him as a dot. Another refugee killed. Another climate casualty. It doesn’t bring him back.

(beat.)

It should have been me. He was the one who had hope. Who believed in the beauty of the world, even when you couldn’t see it, he said it was there, invisible.

(beat.)

I don’t see it. I just see knives everywhere. Hacking everything. And around them, we build things, ideas, stories, civilization, bits of twine that can’t hold back the knives.

(beat.)

I’m sorry. I’m not a very good student…

 

SARASWATI

I’m on leave because my partner died last year. I couldn’t focus. Could barely feed the cats. So I came here.

(beat.)

I have heard about the map. She’s on it. She was with a group of activists in the Arctic protesting against drilling. Their boat capsized. Nothing nefarious. It was a guerilla group, one that shouldn’t have gone, not after all the Arctic 30 Stuff. They knew the risks.

(beat.)

It was a controversial addition to the map: hard to pin climate change down as a villain when it shifts shape so much. The map itself is controversial, provoked a heated debate in class. That was before…

(beat.)

I’m not a very good teacher…

 

Pause.

TARIQ and SARASWATI finish their cigarettes, stub them out.

They sit down.

SARASWATI takes the book, about to put it into her bag.

 

TARIQ

Let’s talk about the story.

 

SARASWATI

I don’t know if-

 

TARIQ

I want to. In case some pterodactyl emerges out of the rubble. It would be good to be able to recognise it.

 

SARASWATI

Okay. The story…

 

SARASWATI puts the book back down.

SARASWATI and TARIQ look at each other, neither wanting to be the first to start, neither wanting to leave….