FARZANA: A young woman, quite modern, who dresses in jeans and wears jewellery.
YUSUF: Her husband, also young and smartly dressed.
SULTANA: FARZANA’s mother, whose voice only is heard.
SARFRAZ: YUSUF’s elder brother, who dresses as a conservative Muslim.
SCENE: A living room in an average middle class apartment. A sofa along one wall sits opposite a television on a set of drawers. Over the sofa there’s a large unfaded rectangular patch on the wall, as though a framed picture of some sort which hung there has been recently removed. There are two doors, one, stage left, leading outside and the other, next to the sofa, presumably giving access to the rest of the flat. There is a large steel cupboard stage right, with its side to the audience, which is open.
As the CURTAIN rises we see YUSUF kneeling on the floor, with a spread newspaper before him and a rucksack which conceals from our view exactly what he’s doing with his hands. He’s speaking on a mobile phone with headphone earpieces plugged into his ears.
YUSUF (on phone): Yes, I understand. I’ll be there as soon as I’m done. Yes, of course I know how important it is. You don’t have to keep repeating –
[Enter FARZANA from the door leading to the outside. She takes off her shoes and unties the cloth over her hair as YUSUF keeps talking, without realising she’s there.]
YUSUF (on phone): Look, brother, I know all that. The package will be delivered to the right place at the right time. I’m not going to fail you.
FARZANA (walks over and taps YUSUF on the shoulder): Yusuf?
YUSUF (starts violently, hurriedly into phone): I’ll talk to you later. (Takes out earpieces, turns to FARZANA) You’re back early.
FARZANA: Yusuf, what’s going on?
YUSUF (stuffing thing quickly into rucksack): Nothing. Why, should something be going on?
FARZANA: Who were you talking to just now, and what are you putting in the bag?
YUSUF: It’s nothing. Just work.
FARZANA: Yusuf, I’m neither a child nor am I stupid. What are you doing?
YUSUF (shutting the rucksack, getting up): Farzana, let’s sit down. How was your day? How come you’re back early from work? Is something wrong?
FARZANA: You’re asking me what’s wrong? Isn’t that sort of strange? I’m not the one hiding things from my partner.
YUSUF (looking away): I’m not hiding anything from you.
FARZANA: Then tell me who that was on the phone, and what’s in the bag.
YUSUF: I’ll tell you...later.
FARZANA: What’s later? What does later mean? [She gets up off the sofa and makes to go over to the rucksack. YUSUF quickly grabs her by the arm.] Stop it. Let me go, you’re hurting me.
YUSUF: Sit down, Farzana. Sit down and hear me out.
FARZANA: Let me go first. [He lets go. They sit down on the sofa] Now. Tell me.
YUSUF [Indicating the television set]: You’ve been watching the news. You know as well as I do that things aren’t good for our people. They’re making threats.
FARZANA: Who are our people? How do you mean, our people?
YUSUF: You know as well as I do. We Muslims.
FARZANA: No, I don’t know. All I know is that I have nothing in common with the lot who pray in the mosques five times a day and drape their women in burqas –
YUSUF (interrupting): Like Sarfraz, you mean?
FARZANA: Yes, like Sarfraz. I’m not like that, you aren’t like that, we don’t even talk about religion in this house, and I don’t see what –
YUSUF: When they come for us, Farzana, they won’t distinguish between who’s a believer and who isn’t. All they see is people with Muslim names, and that’s enough.
FARZANA: So what are you planning to do about it? [She eyes the rucksack] Well?
YUSUF: I’ve been talking to some people.
FARZANA: Which people?
YUSUF: It’s better you don’t know. Then you won’t be implicated.
FARZANA: Implicated? [She stares at YUSUF, frowning] What is in that rucksack, Yusuf?
YUSUF: You don’t need to know. [Gets up and begins walking back and forth, growing increasingly excited] When I was young I believed the tales that everyone was equal in this country, that it didn’t matter what your name was or which god you prayed to. I thought all that mattered was my intelligence and willingness to work hard, and I had plenty of both. And then what happened? Everywhere it’s the same, as soon as they find out you’re Muslim the job offers vanish, the interview calls don’t come, you find people with lesser qualifications being chosen ahead of you, and so on. You remember how much trouble we had finding this apartment? Everywhere, as soon as they found out we’re Muslim, they didn’t have any further place to let. That’s why we’re stuck here in the ghetto with hardly any facilities – because only a Muslim area will accept us!
FARZANA: Yusuf –
YUSUF: I’m not finished. But just pushing us to the margins isn’t enough, is it? We’ve to be treated as though we’re foreigners and terrorists, as though we’re guilty unless proven innocent, as though we haven’t any right to a voice. When is the last time you heard of Muslims being given justice by the courts? Well?
FARZANA: So what’s your solution? Are you planning to start going to the mosque, like Sarfraz?
YUSUF (laughs): Oh yeah, that’s going to do a lot of good. I could bend my back towards Mecca five times a day, put on a skullcap, and grow a beard, and exactly what would change? Nothing. [Gestures angrily.] You and I, we distanced ourselves as much as we could from our roots. We don’t live with my family, though that broke my parents’ hearts. We don’t go to the mosque. We don’t fast during Ramadan. I even took off that print of the Kabaa on the wall you didn’t like. I let you dress as you please, go to work, and in all ways we try and be like anyone else. But at the end of the day what are we? Just another couple of Muslims.
FARZANA: What are your options? Are you thinking of emigrating to the Gulf or something?
YUSUF: They treat us Indians worse than slaves there, and you know that as well as I do. No, this is a war against us here, and the earlier we acknowledge that the better.
FARZANA: Who’s fighting this war against us?
YUSUF: Are you stupid? The Hindus.
FARZANA: All Hindus? My friend Meenakshi, for instance? She’s fighting this war as well?
YUSUF: You know what I’m talking about.
FARZANA: No, really, I don’t. I don’t see any war here. I don’t see who’s fighting, and I don’t understand what you intend to do.
YUSUF: You’ll find out. [Goes over to rucksack, slings it over his shoulder and walks to the door.] Don’t wait up, I may be late.
FARZANA: Yusuf, wait. I have something to tell you –
YUSUF: Later. Tell me later!
[Exit YUSUF, slamming door.]
[FARZANA stares after him, stricken. Goes as though to put on her shoes and follow him, thinks better of it, and walks over to the cupboard. Now that the rucksack is gone, the audience can see that there are some coils of wire, a screwdriver, pliers and a couple of pieces of electronic equipment on the newspaper. She stands looking down at them, her fingers to her mouth.]
FARZANA: What on earth...?
[FARZANA’s cell phone rings. She goes to where she’d left it on the sofa.]
FARZANA (quickly, without looking, into phone): Yusuf? [Pause] Oh, it’s you, mother. Listen, I can’t talk now, something’s wrong...
SULTANA (voice off): Did you get the report? What did it say?
FARZANA: Yes, it was positive. I’m, I’m pregnant. [SULTANA squeals with excitement] Mother, mother, listen, I can’t talk now.
SULTANA: What did Yusuf say? Is he happy?
FARZANA: I don’t know. He’s gone out. I couldn’t tell him.
SULTANA: You call and tell him. I know he’ll be so happy. And you’ve got to start taking care of yourself too, now that there’s the baby to think about. I just wish your father were still alive to hear this. I’m...
FARZANA: Mother. I can’t talk now. I’m sorry. [Ends call, puts down cell phone. There’s a knock at the door. She turns eagerly.] Yusuf?
[SARFRAZ enters. He’s a fairly stereotypical fundamentalist Muslim man with a beard, in salwar and a skull cap. He looks around.]
SARFRAZ: Good evening, sister. Is Yusuf here?
FARZANA: No. He’s gone out. [She has a sudden thought.] Do you know where he is?
SARFRAZ: No. Why, did he want to meet me?
FARZANA: I don’t know where he’s gone. He said [hesitates] He said...
FARZANA: That the Hindus are fighting a war against us Muslims, and the earlier we admitted that the better.
SARFRAZ: Oh. [Rubs his beard] Do you know what he meant by that?
FARZANA: I can guess. There was a bag there, which he was filling with something and talking about delivering a package on the phone. He wouldn’t tell me what was in it.
SARFRAZ: But that’s...if it’s what you think it is...
SARFRAZ: That’s very wrong. It’s completely unjustifiable to harm innocents. Did you tell him that?
FARZANA: I couldn’t tell him anything. He didn’t listen.
SARFRAZ: Sister – we have to stop him.
SARFRAZ: I’ll go look for him. You try and contact him on his cell phone. Tell him not to do anything till I talk to him.
FARZANA: And if he won’t listen?
SARFRAZ: In that case we may have to contact the police.
FARZANA: Not the police! They’ll kill him.
SARFRAZ: It may have to be a choice between his life and those of a hundred innocents, sister. [Shakes his head] If only he’d been more interested in religion, he’d have known this is against...
FARZANA: Spare me the lecture, please. Find my husband for me. That’s all I want.
SARFRAZ (looks at her, begins to say something and thinks better of it.): Very well. I will do what I can. Inshallah, nothing bad will happen. Khuda hafiz. [Exits]
FARZANA (to closed door): And goodbye to you, too. [Picks up phone, types number] Yusuf? Please answer, Yusuf. [Listens eagerly, but there’s no answer.] Damn!
[In the distance there’s the sound of an explosion. FARZANA turns slowly. The cell phone drops from her fingers on to the sofa. There’s a long moment of silence, and then ambulance sirens can be faintly heard.]
[FARZANA’s cell phone rings. She stares at it, puts her fingers out to touch it, and draws them back quickly again as though it’s red hot.]
FARZANA (mouths silently) : Yusuf?
[Shots sound in the distance.]
[The cell phone stops ringing.]
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014