Time: Anytime when it’s dark.
Setting: Inside of a prison cell shaped like a cross. A bulb of white light hangs on top, right where the axes cut each other; swinging with the occasional breeze that comes through the only window high on the wall, which looks out to the sea. A man sits huddled in the middle, with his face buried between his knees directly below the white bulb. In the police diaries he is named Marat; the leader of an insurgence; and his capture is hailed as a great step in stemming the tide of the growing rebellion against the order of the state. He has been kept in this cell for three days and is to be executed unless he confesses and gives away the names of his companions. There’s a big black tape recorder at each corner of the cell. These carry the voices from the outside as well as capture whatever Marat says.
Tape A: (Deep grainy voice of a man about 50): Charming evening outside.
Tape B: (Thinner voice of a man of about 35): Delightful… with the breeze from the sea.
Tape C: (Shrill voice of a 25 year old man): And the young people at the beach look so happy.
Tape D: (Sensuous female voice that almost sounds digitally morphed): Everything seems to be getting back to lovely order.
All together (Singing): Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s celebrating.
A roar from the sea. The white light swings with a wind.
Tape A: Move into the light Marat.
Tape B: Show us your face.
Tape C: Let the white light fall on you.
Tape D: Lift your face from your knees.
All together (Singing): And then there would be light. And then there would be light.
Silence. The white light does not move.
Tape A: Want to be free Marat?
Tape B: Want to go out of this darkness?
Tape C: Want to smell the real sea?
Tape D: Want to be out there with the happy people?
All together (In a suddenly heightened pitch that almost becomes shrill): Tell us the names; tell us the games; show us the spots and you’d be free again.
Marat (Face still buried inside the huddled knees with a murmur that rises with each word): Nobody’s free. Not you, not them out there, not the white light, not the sea.
The sound of a huge roar of a wave lashing against the shore. The winds become unruly. The white light swings violently, the bulb almost hitting against the walls.
Tape A (angrily): You’re wrong fool. We’re free.
Tape B: We work for the government. We get paid well.
Tape C: We’re secured. We’d never lose our jobs.
Tape D: We’ve got houses. Spouses. Kids.
Tape A: Cars. Gadgets. Raises. Shares. Furniture.
All together (Very loudly): We’re safe. We’re contained. We’re contented.
A storm is beginning to brew outside. The waves sound louder. The bulb has got stuck in the window grill during one of its mad swings. The centre of the cell is in darkness. Marat stands up. His face still unclear.
Marat (with cutting emphasis on each word, and with a voice that’s more boyish than last time): You’re contained. You’re blasphemed. You’re executed. Every damned day. And what is worse, you don’t know it. Or maybe you do. You’re killed. You’re shot. You’re hung. By your state. By your government. By your rules. By all that you call order, law, life. You torture people with lights. But you’ve never known one since you started your jobs, your assignments, your deadlines, your missions. The city you live in is darker than a jungle. Some know it but shut up ’cos it’s more comfortable that way. Some haven’t known it yet. The worst, like you three, had known it once but have forgotten all about it now. You refuse to remember it except in sweaty dreams. So you think you’re free. You rot. You clot. And when they’re done with you, you’re dropped. You’re just names, numbers, faces, units; all in one bloody game. (Beginning to dance in spasmodic movements that grow more and more vigorous as the bulb begins to swing again and the white light cuts across him) I’m the only who’s free! I breathe, I live, I grow, I feel. I can still see. I can still be me. You’re all bloody pimps (Panting, with rising excitement, with a voice that increasingly grows shrill as the light swings violently with the rising storm) you’re all owned by guilt. I’m the one like the lonely tree. (With almost hysterical shrillness followed by a collapse on the floor) I’m the one to be felled and freed!
The bulb breaks with a sudden crack. The entire cell is in darkness now. There’s perfect silence except the slowly rising storm outside; the splash of the waves mixing with the slow screech of the tapes as they continue to record. The screeching continues with rising volume for about 20 seconds till all four tapes stop recording together. About 3 seconds of pure silence.
Tape A (still steady): Marat?
Tape B (nervous): Marat?
Tape C (shaky): Marat?
Tape D (scared): Marat?
Sound of sirens blowing comes through the window drowning what the tapes try to say, mixing with the storm to produce the effect of an air-raid during a war. For the first time, moonlight enters the cell, forming a shaft along the vertical axis of the cross on which Marat is seen collapsed. After about 15 seconds, the sirens stop. Now it’s just the waves and the moonlight. Four men with torches enter the cell in heavy boots. They drag Marat out. He does not stir. For the first time, his face is seen in the torchlight. He is a beautiful man about 33 in a milk white robe with remarkably bright eyes and a beard. His hair is all white.
First Man: You had your chances.
Second Man: You could have saved yourself.
Third Man: If only you had given us the other names.
Fourth Man: You’d be shot now. You’d be chopped, axed, grounded.
All together (Very loudly): You’d be executed.
Marat begins to laugh as he is dragged out of the cell. The tapes on all four sides begin to screech. The boots, the screeching, the waves from the sea all mix but gradually Marat’s laughter rises over all, as it grows convulsive. His limbs begin to jerk even as he is held by the four men from all sides. But he does seem to try to free himself. On the contrary, his movements become a dance as he goes out with a deafening laugh. The sound of heavy boots marching away begins to fade till it becomes a faint rustle. A few moments of perfect stillness and silence follows and then the tapes begin to whir again. The cell is completely dark except for the shaft of moonlight that begins to spread itself. After about thirty seconds, a series of gunshots blares across the uneasy silence. It is followed by an announcement that is too loud to be clearly heard. Only the word FREE is heard thrice followed by the noise of a celebration, growing increasingly muzzy with the announcement. The sea has quietened now. The tapes begin to whir again.
Tape A: Charming evening outside.
Tape B: Delightful… with the breeze from the sea.
Tape C: And the young people at the beach look so happy.
Tape D: Everything seems to be in lovely order.
Silence. The sound of a girl sobbing swirls in from far. The celebrations outside have subsided. Indistinct whispers begin to scratch the air. They grow louder and harsher until they start to roll back to an uncomfortable silence. The hush in the air begins to grow guilty. The waves begin and rise and fall and begin again.
Tape A: Did he remember us before he went?
Tape B: Would he remember us now?
Tape A: What was on his mind when they took him? Why did he laugh?
Tape C: The execution would go down in history. We’ve all played a part.
Tape B: Did they ask him if he had any final wish?
Tape A: He must have laughed.
Tape C: Who would they bring in here next?
Tape B: What must we now erase?
Silence. The sob grows stronger, becomes a wail and then stops, like a whirring down of a tape recorder. A green light flows in from the sea and becomes a still point in the white shaft from the moon in the cell.
All together: We’ve all played a part.
Silence. A loud sound of all the tapes switched off at once. All lights go out.
Time: Sometime immediately after, when it’s still dark.
Setting: A railing by a pavement that’s cluttered with dead branches of a huge tree recently felled. There’s a traffic signal for the pedestrians by the railing. It’s red now. Two men stand, seemingly waiting for the signals to change so that they can cross. They are in caps and long jackets, and it looks like they’re heading home after a day’s work. One of them is short and stout with a squeaky voice that seems to come from a tape, while the other is tall and lean with a deep voice that appears to come from a hurt inside. The first is named Dismas, the other Gesmas. After about ten seconds, more people begin to gather around them, one by one, faceless bodies with heads hidden behind black umbrellas to suggest it is drizzling.
Dismas (with forced anger): Damn this drizzle!
Gesmas: Damn you! Got a light?
Dismas fumbles through his jacket pockets. More people walk up behind them, trampling on the dead branches scattered around. The signal is still red.
Gesmas (seemingly speaking to himself, angrily): What do we get after doing what we do? What do you keep after forgetting it too? A drizzle with a red signal. A fumbling wait. That’s all you get. A bit of wetness. How on earth can you strike a light here? With all the broken branches, the black umbrellas and the rain? It’s all so bloody sticky. Soggy. Like a bad memory that won’t go away despite all the drink you drown. (Noticing Dismas still searching for his lighter with an awkward, almost funny posture) Look at you, you goddamn clown! Look at you move! You look like a bloody zit; clotty and swollen! Good thing I can’t see myself now or I’d bloody freak out!
A large crowd of black umbrellas has gathered by now with the rise in the sound of the branches of the felled tree being trampled over. A loud announcement of “Do not cross the road while the signal is red” blares across the drizzle.
Dismas (after a long and clumsy rummage through pockets): Here you go Peter. (Handing him a lighter shaped like a cross)
Gesmas (furiously, almost threatening): Do not call me that you fat fart! How many times have I told you not to?
Suddenly there’s a sound of a cock crowing. It startles Gesmas to the point of a nervous shock as he looks around frantically while clutching on to Dismas’ jacket. The sound ascends in pitch till a loud female “Hello?” breaks it. It’s a mobile ringtone. One of the faceless people starts to speak beneath his black umbrella. Gesmas is still panting; scared and rendered dishevelled. Dismas holds his arm and snuggles up close. The announcement stating not to cross the road now blares again.
Dismas (almost crooning in his ears): Relax mate. It’s just a freaking phone.
More branches break behind them as more black umbrellas walk up. The female voice is speaking in the phone, whispering and yelling alternately.
Gesmas (still shivering, in a flustered voice): The cock crowed… thrice… I sat by the fire… that was… so many…
“Do not cross the road now.”
Dismas (whispering, in a soothing voice): That was ages back. Nobody remembers it now.
The female voice (yelling while holding back a sob): You betrayed me, you disowned me. Just like I knew you would. Just like I said you would.
The signal is still red. The sounds of branches breaking go up as more feet march in to cross.
“Do not cross the road now.”
Dismas (still in the comforting voice): And that was before everything started. There’s no written record about it now. We’ve destroyed it all. Come, light up your fag (holding the cross-shaped lighter close to Gesmas’ chest) all you need is a good smoke. We’ve had a hard day. Let’s drown it in something, shall we?
Gesmas (hardly aware of what he’s muttering): He was so right in there, wasn’t he? It’s not about what you remember. It’s about what you forget.
Dismas (in a hushed whisper after a quick look behind): What you must forget!
“Do not cross the road now.”
A murmur begins as the crowd of umbrellas behind begins to stir, seemingly angry at the prolonged wait. The signal is still red.
The female voice (sobbing): You asked me to wait! You said you wouldn’t forget!
Gesmas (in a broken voice): I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to betray.
Dismas (nervously angry): Have you gone mad? Who would know what you did? It’s all sealed.
Gesmas falls on his knees, beginning to weep.
The female voice (with an unnatural laugh): But I won’t give you up. I’d keep it all in. That way it would tear you more. They’d never know it was you! That way, it would sink in your deeper.
Dismas (steadying himself): They’re bringing him in.
Gesmas (with a blank expression and in a slow lingering staccato): History is the bitch that blackmails me every day. All I get is this wait before the red and the wetness.
The female voice (clear and composed): They won’t know it was you. I won’t give you away. That way, it would always stay.
A loud siren passes by with the sound of a long convoy of cars with police whistle. A cheer goes up from the waiting crowd as all stand high to get a glimpse of the coffin that passes by. All except Gesmas and a girl of about 18. Both of them lie listless on the pavement, by the railings. They do not stir. The convoy passes. The signal turns green. The black umbrellas start walking. The broken branches break further with a sound of pain. Some feet kick away the branches to make way. The cock crows again as the phone begins to ring. The sounds mix. It’s deafening. The feet march away. The umbrellas become one black head. The signal is still green. Curtains.