Post Road Magazine #23

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Notebook of Answers Kaveh Bassiri

GIRL: African Moslem, early teens.

BOY: African Moslem, early teens.

In a room where questions line up, a large table, its flat plane the color of hummus, rises up to the brick back wall. If you stay long enough, you can imagine it shrinking to hold its guests sitting for dinner, the scent of lamb hiding in the grains, the eye of the pen tracking letters, the orders that haven't been named. By its leg sits an ashcan filled with water, slowly releasing a shadow across the floor. On the right side of the table stands a bottle, the label hidden behind a pink and magenta plastic flower arrangement. Behind and above the table is a large window onto the rampart, closing in this dark room. Each day, the window opens to a different light, as if we are processing a photo, hanging the negative to dry. A single metal chair, with its rusted back facing you, waits for a BOY or a GIRL, whose names are collected from the alphabet of the clouds. To the left, there is a hill of sands from a settlement of stones caught by a postcard.

There are pauses at each space in the monologues as if the speakers receive questions. You can wait in the silences, rest at a door for the knock of answers, or follow as they run after those who call them.

Scene 1
(Light. A single bulb, with a metal turban, polishes the table with the color of well water. The window is black. The GIRL sits at the table; her green "tobe" protects her head and her shoulder. You watch her back as it drops and rises, taking in the weight of the room. Pictures, passed to the GIRL, skitter out from a crack between the table and window.)

GIRL
(A picture slides toward her. She looks.)
No, that's my sister.

On the other side of the hills, where the sun gets up.

I don't remember.

(Another picture rushes toward her. She looks.)
That's not my house. We have walls. I have a fig tree.

(Looks again at the picture.)
My sister and three brothers.

No.

(Another picture)
That's grandpa's. We live next to him. His house is in the middle. It's the biggest. We always wanted to play there, but we weren't allowed.

Let me go.

(Points to the picture.)
Dad gave me that. I wanted a red one, but it's pink.

Please. Yes. Yes, sir.

There were cows, goats, chickens. We had two donkeys.

We were in the next town.

I don't know why.

I bought potatoes and beans.

No, we don't go there.

Yes.

There—


Scene 2
(Light. The window is gray, the flower arrangement changed to red. The BOY is sitting at the table. Outside, the wind opens and shuts a flag. Through out this scene, we hear intermittent knocking, arrivals, salutations, farewells, the bolting and unbolting of the door. Do you recognize the one who is sitting next to you?)

BOY
There were horses and camels everywhere. Big cars. They were wearing green and tan jackets.

No. They are Moslem. Yes.

We were afraid. I had never seen those flying blades come so close.

Yes, I think so.

Ant . . . Anton . . . Antonov. I don't know.

They said . . . They said, "Get up. So we can see you." He was five years old.

I could see him. His gun was shaking. He was holding it like a sparrow.

Oh, no, that's not true.

Maybe, I don't remember.

Yes.

They said, "Run. You don't belong."

No. Our Islam is good. We pray all the time.

I don't understand your question.

Yes, I can count. I can do multiplication and division.

The Imam was running. The chickens were screaming, their wings beating, jumping up. Everyone was running. They wanted to fly. I wish I knew how to fly.

No, I didn't.

They call us blacks. But we're—

I know that.

What do you mean?

She was calling, "Fatima, Fatima, Fatima!"

Yes.

I want my mother.

Oh, please. Do you know where she is?

Yes. I'll try.

He was not white.

They took everything: the window, the pictures, the carpets from the mosque.

No, we wanted a real soccer ball.

That's not it.

Dad says it is because they're looking for oil.

I don't know.

What is the word for it?

It all burns. Very fast. We were hiding in the smoke. The air was greasy.

I wanted to go to the outhouse.

They were cooking and eating our cows and chickens. I could hear the laughter, strong as the tractors.

I wanted to, but I couldn't. I couldn't move.

Imam said, "It's a day where men will be like moths scattered about and the mountains will be like carded wool."


Scene 3
(Light. The window is white, the flowers blue. The GIRL is held down by the punctuations, trussed to the chair by ropes taught to protect pronouns: he, his, you, herself. Throughout the scene, she quietly tries to free herself, while the sound of rain, drilling outside the door, slowly gets louder.)

GIRL
No, that was later. It was Muharam.

We had porridge. The school was closed. We were afraid they would come back.

No, I'm telling you, I wasn't hungry.

I was getting water from the well. But I didn't want to.

It was noon. I could hear the call for prayers. I told dad, it'll be okay.

Because I'm the youngest, I think.

Yes, five times.

Please sir.

No. Please don't.

They came in green cars. They had small horses on their pockets.

No one was there. They were in the mosque. There was a funeral for the Imam.

No, I don't want to.

My sister says it'll never open again.

Don't.

They were waiting. They saw me. I wanted to hide. But there was only the desert.

Yes.

They pushed the tobe into my mouth. I couldn't say anything.

Yes.

They pressed my wrists against the dirt. I tried to open my eyes.

Yes. YES.

My dad said it is because we're different.

No, I don't.

No one came to visit. I was waiting in the outhouse. Imam says it is like "a man who kindled a fire, and when it lit all around them, God took away their light, and left them in darkness."

No, that was later.

They were gone. I was naked. What were they going to do with my clothes?

Yes.

He was ashamed. I was afraid.

No, that's not it. (Pause.) I don't like horses.

Okay.

Orange Fanta.

Yes. I'll try.

He had brown loafers. One of them was torn. He was bleeding.

My head was down. I could see.

Yes, better.

They said, "You are Tora Bora."

Yes.

I don't know why.

They said, "You are the daughter of a rebel, you saw them, you saw-the-might."

No, that was later.

Yes, but I wasn't . . . I'm not . . . bad.

Yes, I study Arabic.

But, I don't know.


Scene 4
(Light. The flowers turn yellow against the window, a mirror reflecting the BOY and you in the room. The heat is rising outside. As the BOY speaks, millet seeds begin to pour on top of the hill of sand. You can hear the heartbeat of the hourglass.)

BOY
I haven't seen her. My sister ran away. She wouldn't look me in the eye, just stared at the wall.

Yes, Abdullah is my friend. He is strong. He has big hands. He is smart.

The wind was heavy. There was dust in the trees. I couldn't see or hear. But he saw me.

No, that's not true. He wasn't living with us.

I don't understand.

Yes. He had nowhere to go.

No, I'm telling you that's not true.

They were standing at checkpoints. We had to go up the hill. There were the birds following.

I heard them say, "We kill the blacks, even our cattle if they have black calves."

Hasan couldn't sleep all night. Someone had to stay up and watch, keep him quiet.

No.

They're like dried figs. Yes.

Abdullah carried Hasan. We rode on a donkey. But it was too weak. We left it to the road and walked the rest of the way.

He was supposed to meet someone, I think.

I wanted to cry, but I'm older. I couldn't.

I don't understand. I don't know what you want.

I had diarrhea for days. But, I had . . . we had nothing to eat.

He must be angry with us. But I don't know why.

YES, I wanted to.

Hasan was too weak. I told him he couldn't.

We only had time to cover him with sand and grass. It was very hot. There was nobody else but the flies and the red ants. We couldn't wash him.

No, I don't.

Why do they have to kill the calves? They are very expensive.


Scene 5
(Light. The mirror is a window reflecting the room. A second mirror behind you has opened the rooms to each other. The table and chair in the other rooms are expecting their guests, their audience. The GIRL on the chair is still. The smell of cooked sorghum and millet fills the space between the words. The flowers, the color of milk.)

GIRL
Yes, please.

The earth is hard here. Where is the fig tree?

No, I don't know anyone.

There are no letters, no phone.

Yes. Some sorghum and millet.

I like okra.

It's cold at night. Look, these sores on my back are from the worms.

No, we can't go to the mosque.

No. We need wood. No.

We need fire.

(The cement floor slowly glows red. The GIRL turns around and stares through the door behind you. Her lungs a candle.)

END OF SCENES




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