This is a play I wrote in 2009, after meeting an Afghan woman who told me of her life under the Taliban.
A KITELESS SKY
INTRO: This play
would be held on a bare stage with a minimum of props. There are no separate
scenes and/or acts and all moving of props will be done onstage during the
performance, by highlighting the performance while the props are being moved
around, so far as possible by the actors themselves, in shadows.
characters (in order of appearance):
NAFISA, an Afghan woman
THE DOCTOR, a psychiatrist
AISHA, another Afghan woman
SHAHIDA, Nafisa’s daughter
NAJEEB, Aisha’s husband
MANSUR, Aisha’s son.
Men on streets
SCENE: Opens with a
bare stage with the spotlight on a couch of the style psychiatrists are
popularly supposed to have in their offices. Also, there are a small armchair
and a little table with some notebooks and a pencil or two. The rest of the
stage is dark. As the action proceeds the spotlight will gradually shrink until
it illuminates the couch only.
When the play opens, the DOCTOR and NAFISA are,
respectively, sitting in the armchair and reclining on the couch. The DOCTOR is
making an occasional note in a notebook. His appearance is unimportant; he
wears a suit, but can be short, tall, fat, thin, young, or old. He however
requires a deep and carrying voice.
NAFISA is a woman in her late thirties who appears to
be trying to hang on by her fingertips to what is left of her youth and not making
a good job of it. She has streaked blond hair, bright red lipstick and
fingernail polish, with a heavy layer of blue eye shadow on her eyelids. Her
clothes are, correspondingly, “mod”: maroon slacks and a bright orange
pullover. As the play begins she is speaking.
NAFISA: …see these things.
DOCTOR: And what would you rather do?
NAFISA: It’s not what I would rather do, it’s what I’d
I’d rather be anything, anything in the world but me.
DOCTOR: Look into your heart and tell me, pray
Just what is it makes you feel that way.
NAFISA: I have looked within my heart
And seen that it is all darkness there.
A bare plain – bare so far as I can see –
Under a sky where no stars twinkle
Any longer, and where the moon
Has hidden her face, when she saw the stars stolen
I have seen
Blood run like water, and I have seen
Water precious more than blood.
I have seen
Devils come to do me good.
All this on my dark plain
DOCTOR: Would it be correct to suggest
That you have been under stress?
NAFISA: You say so? I do not know
But to me it seems to be so.
Strange are the things I see
Things that should not be strange to me.
I see a child run at play
And I think it is another day
When skies would split and thunder fall
And bury a child under a collapsed wall.
I see these things and do not know
What kind of truth it is that speaks out so.
DOCTOR: And what are these images that come
Are they unbidden, or do you
Summon these devils up?
[By now the
lighting should be illuminating only NAFISA and the DOCTOR’S hands, making notes,
and then NAFISA only.]
in quiet tones as if to herself): The devils are not of my mind
They were, and they are, of humankind.
They punish me even when they are not
With their distant touch from lands I thought I
DOCTOR: You will have to exorcise them.
To this end, I suggest
To recall and describe them you do your best.
NAFISA: [As she
says this piece the scene should be shifted quietly in the background. DOCTOR
gets up and leaves unobtrusively.]
There was a field
Of flowers. Not real flowers, you understand
Real flowers were not for that land.
We slaved over them for years
To let them bloom.
It was not easy, in that land of terrible blight.
It was years of famine, drought and war
That soaked the soil with blood
That watered these flowers, and made them what they
I, and others like me
Were like plants winding through stony soil
In search of a breath of air. We came
To the point where just a grain away
Lay air and light.
But then came the famine
And threw us back again, piling rock on rock
And the devils came to save us
From the famine, war, and drought
By drowning us in something else.
[The lights have
been dimmed and now they go out. NAFISA continues talking but leaves the stage.
By this time the props should have been moved onstage.]
They told us thunder and lightning would bring us to
Paradise on earth
And we preferred to believe they told the truth,
Though we knew they lied.
We thought we were a force of nature
But our flowers came to know different.
We tried to let them grow, as best we could
In the suddenly arid soil
But they were torn up, all for their good
And thrown away.
The stage now bears a few assorted pieces of furniture and a small TV set to
one side. The floor is covered by a thin straw mat. When the light goes up
about ten small children should be sitting on the mat, cross-legged, talking
quietly to each other. A few more come in and take their places. Most, but not
all, of them should be girls. Their ages should be in the range of six to eight
years, not more. There is none of the usual childhood exuberance.
NAFISA. She should have done a quick change, replacing her bright coloured clothes
with something more subdued, but still “stylish”. Another woman, AISHA, of the
same age and general type, enters with her. Since,
later on, both will be seen in burqas, it would be easier for identification if
there is a marked difference in their heights. Both wear headscarves.]
NAFISA: Things are getting tougher,
things are getting worse.
Each time I think it can’t, I’m wrong
In this land bereft of music,
laughter, and song.
AISHA: I know. But we must carry on
There is nothing more we can do.
The children here know all they know
From such as me and you.
Possibly give up now.
NAFISA: I just wish I could have, just
A wish granted from the thousands I
have made in these months.
AISHA: Which? If wishes could be
horses, we would be far away
With these children in the light of
NAFISA: It doesn’t matter. Not really.
Anything will do. I’m no longer particular. I mean, I’ve been making wishes
till I’m blue in the face and still it has not got any of us anywhere.
AISHA: So, shall we get on with it?
I’ll let you begin. I think we should be shifting from your house somewhere
else soon. It makes me uneasy to remain in one house too long.
NAFISA: I know, Shahida doesn’t like
it either. She says it makes her feel nervous.
AISHA: That reminds me, where is your
daughter? I haven’t seen her around.
NAFISA: She sits in darkness and
And wishes sometime to breathe free
I tell her the time will come.
She’s not convinced – she says hope’s
dead and gone.
AISHA: Maybe she has a point at that
I think I should go and find
Some other place where these children
Their collective mind.
Meanwhile I stand at the door
To keep an eye out and watch for those
Who would force us at gunpoint to
become pure. [Exits]
NAFISA [to children]: Come on, boys and girls. Please make no noise, and we
shall begin. How many of you know the nine times table? [She takes up a notebook and opens it.] Come on, who knows it? [A few children raise their hands. She points
at one of them.] Yes, you, Fatma.
FATMA: (Begins reciting the nine
times table in a typical child’s sing-song) Nine ones are nine
Nine twos are eigh-teen
Nine threes are twenty-seven
Nine fours are -
AISHA: The Taliban!
NAFISA: Quick, here begins
The race to disguise subversive
hides her notebook, opens a bag and begins handing out little pocket Korans.
Enter three TALIBAN. They are all tall, in black turbans and long beards,
dressed in salwar kameez and carrying sticks and guns slung over their shoulders.]
FIRST TALIB [He must be physically imposing, with a deep voice]: What is going
on here? The Devil’s work, I’m sure
There is a smell of all things impure.
NAFISA [covering her face with her headscarf ]: I beg indulgence, it is not
It’s the Book we teach here, look
We are not doing anyone harm
We just help children understand
FIRST TALIB: You stand shameless,
bare, talk back to us
Why should we believe your words, tell
I see the Devil lives here too
There is his instrument, right before
to TV set]
That thing there we will take.
On the street it we’ll break.
The pollution of the immoral world
You and yours can do without.
And for your children, the Amir said
If you teach them, you’ll wind up
When we have funds, schools we’ll
And with the girls they will be
Beware lest we come after you.
To your painted face, you know what we
Careful, hussy, give it all a miss
You don’t know what can come out of
two TALIBAN carry the TV set out.]
AISHA: Children, pray, go on home
No classes today; do your lessons at
And do not forget how to pronounce the
Correctly. Go on home, children, pray
There will be no more classes today.
up and leave room quietly, with none of the usual after school chatter.]
NAFISA (in an aside, to AISHA): And not just today, unless I mistaken am
We could be in a real jam
Teaching children – well, it could be
In this life lived under a curse.
AISHA: Shush, sister, let them not
Bend your back and let them see your
That satisfies them, and happy they
A little victory in a greater war.
Like the reed that bows the wind
When they’re gone, we straighten up
dim and disappear. AISHA and NAFISA exit. Spotlight focuses on FIRST TALIB, who
comes stage centre. Other lights go off.]
FIRST TALIB: Yes, I know what you
think of me
But it’s not that simple, why don’t
You think me a brute, all without
But it’s not that easy to play my
I do god’s work, why don’t you see
And what I do isn’t up to me.
I love little girls just like you
Somewhere my sisters live on too.
I grew up in camp in a foreign land
Seeing my nation ground down to sand.
My country I love too, you know
I was distraught to see her so.
Vultures tore her insides out
Left no room for love or doubt.
These people you would set free
Were saved from death by such as me.
In the streets the bombs that fell
Made of life something worse than
Opium fuelled the horror here
Drugs and violence, hate and fear.
My Amir tells me what I must do
Tells me what is false and true.
He called; we came, and we saved
Women and children from men depraved
Men who were worse than beasts
Who invited Satan to their feasts.
Who raped and robbed, who killed for
Who would all pity, all compassion,
Would you rather we’d left the people
to them, alone?
We’d have had hearts then, like stone.
It’s for the people’s good this we do,
And Allah will bless them too.
We open for them Heaven’s gate
Save them from evil, confusion, and
Kites or gambling we don’t allow
Music is against the Amir’s vow
To make this land pure as pure
We will do all, be assured.
goes dark, FIRST TALIB exits. Lights come up, slowly, one by one. The scene now
is the same room, but now there is a look of being a conventional living room –
of course the television is still missing. The straw mat has been rolled up and
removed, and the furniture has been redistributed to give the impression of
enters. She is a girl in her middle teens. Thin, pretty in a sulky way, she is
dressed in a light grey sweater and faded blue denims with old white sneakers
on her feet. Her arms are wrapped around her chest. She shivers.]
SHAHIDA: I’m cold. I’m cold all
through. [Looking around the room and
raising her voice]
But what does that matter to you?
NAFISA [entering, in the same clothes as previously, she begins to talk before
she is quite onstage]: What matters to whom? What are you talking about?
It’s winter. It’s cold. Those things
As you should know by now.
SHAHIDA: If my father were here this
you wouldn’t say
He would have kept the house warm.
We would have had a fire burning
And warmth here
Instead, the chill eats into my bones.
If only my father were here.
NAFISA: He’s gone, we don’t know where
He went without a word to me or to you
Without a word of goodbye
Or news of where he is
Don’t you think I deserved better
I, who bore his seed
I who was his life
Or so he said?
Don’t you think I deserved better?
And what of you, his darling daughter
Whose hands he would kiss
And say they were princess’ hands –
you whom he promised the world
Where is he now for you?
Don’t you think you deserved better?
SHAHIDA: I am me, myself, entire
I decide what I deserve
Because I know my worth. And I know
Maybe he’s gone. Somewhere. To a
Maybe he sleeps now in a king-sized
Or in a shallow grave dug in stony
ground. What of it?
He is not here. But we are.
NAFISA: And do you think, perhaps
It would be better if we were not?
SHAHIDA: I don’t just think it; I know
There is still a world outside
Where one can go out and feel
The sun on one’s hair
The wind in one’s face.
And what have we? A life
Where we cannot even look out of the
Where we are beaten
If we go out alone
Even though we hide inside a burqa
With nothing left of who we are
Yes, mother dear, I think it is
Better by far that we were not in
NAFISA: And what do you think we
should do about it? Tell me
I want to know what through your eyes
Maybe I have grown old and stale
I see things through an opaque veil
You’re young, maybe you know
How one makes hope again grow
From the desert sands of years
Watered by blood and unshed tears.
SHAHIDA: I once used to hope I would
Maybe a media professional, on TV
Or an author – isn’t that a laugh?
Who can read now, who has the need
Of spending time on words on paper?
I used to dream of a lover, I used to
Of how his kisses would feel on my
Who can even see me to want me now
Who could ever read a thing I write?
It might have been better if only I
That there is a world outside
And out there things are just not this
That there women can walk in the light
NAFISA: I see
That you blame me for not taking you
Do you think I should have
Left all we have here, little as it is
And gone where we have nothing?
SHAHIDA: Do you, mother, if you look
into your heart
Think we have anything here?
What is a house, what is a home
If men with guns can come in and tear
your life apart
What is a city, a neighbourhood
When its life is all gone
Where beggars beg to stay alive
But inside their hearts want the peace
Look at me, mother. Look at these eyes
Look at my face. Why did you birth me,
bring me up
Was it to drain the dregs from this
NAFISA: Have a thought, love, for what
This soil, this land, this dust
Bore my ancestors and yours. This land
The centuries come and go
The kings and rulers come and go
Great and small, they lived and died
And my ancestors and yours lived and died
All in this land, they turned to dust.
Prince and tyrant, good man and bad
Nothing is left of them now. As
Nothing will be left of the tyrants
Who rule over us today. This I
I was a teacher, as you know
I taught the children, and I try and
And I try and keep
The little flame of knowledge aglow
When the tyrants come and darkness
The little flame is all that stalls
The forces of ignorance and evil
From wiping us, all that is us, away
Like chalk marks on the blackboard of history.
I cannot leave, that is the truth
I have a duty here.
SHAHIDA: You teach the children, so
And what do you call what happened in
Just a little while ago? Was that your
I would call it the light going out.
Wake up, mother, if there is still a
Let us, let us, flee this terrible
And seek the light of another day.
NAFISA: If I thought it might be
If I thought the world outside would
I would have gone, at least for your
But going would be a terrible mistake.
Do you know what a refugee’s life is?
Hell to that is a picture of bliss.
One sells one’s body, one sells one’s
Is still left with an empty bowl.
SHAHIDA: I’ll think about it. I’ll
think about what you said. (Coming front
stage, and the spotlight focusing on her as the rest of the stage goes dark and
Mother, you see things in terms I
In me there is a hunger, in me there
is a want.
In me stir things I cannot name
I want things I don’t understand
But I do know that none of them is
No love, nothing for me.
I’m a clever girl, you know, mother
And I tried my best to please you and
Was it all just for this?
If you will not leave at least I will
I’ll find a way, tomorrow if not
But I will go, this I promise me.
Forgive me but let me go
I want to go far – far away
Where love and laughter still find
Where I can open my eyes and see
The beauty of the world that lies
Forgive me but let me go
To the sunlight let me go.
SHAHIDA as the spotlight goes out. Lights rise on the same scene, but the
position of the furniture has been changed around and a bed has been added.
This is AISHA’s home. AISHA’s husband, NAJEEB, is sitting at a table, sipping
at a cup of tea. He is short, plump, dressed in an ordinary, shabby suit
without a tie, his shirt collar open. He has a beard of the standard length
imposed by the Taliban (at least one fist) and looks older than his years and
defeated. In the other hand he holds an unlit pipe and every few seconds he
will pull at it.]
AISHA (offstage): I’ll be there in a moment. (Enters. She is dressed in slacks and a sweater, and is rubbing her
hands together.) I wonder if we will ever be able to afford a bit of heat
again. What’s wrong?
NAJEEB: Tell me what happened at your
I hear talk. This is dangerous, what
You should know this. I told you
before that times are bad
And when bad times come, only the
Only the clever are careful
I told you all this.
AISHA: Stop sucking at that pipe. It’s
disgusting the noises you make
Nothing happened at Nafisa’s, it’s all
I don’t know why you believe these
lies people tell
Village chatter at the village well.
I believe we are doing good
Teaching the children, telling them of
Of knowledge. I won’t stop if you tell
NAJEEB: Teaching them what? The
All that they need to know is already
in the Koran.
There is nothing more they need to
Or at least their radio tells us so.
AISHA (laughs): Radio Sharia! What does it know of life?
And you talk of it to your wife
Who can’t remember when last she
At something that was not a matter for
But too sad and mad and bad for tears
Radio Sharia talks of things it does
It mixes religion, tradition, myth
Makes a monster of all of it.
You know it yourself – why, you told
Laughing, as I recall, how mullahs who
didn’t know Arabic
Would recite the Koran by rote
In Arabic, and refuse to answer
Because they didn’t want to show they
did not understand
You told me of this once, and laughed
And I recall I laughed with you.
Where is that laughing man?
NAJEEB: That man died. Somewhere along
the way he left
And the husk of me is all that remains
But still I live on. Do you want to
know what we saw today,
Our son and I?
AISHA: You went to the football match
We all know what goes on there. Did
you have to see?
Couldn’t you have not gone?
I can see it myself, not having seen
Being a woman, the only way I could
Would be if I were down on the field,
between the posts
For the first time and the last.
I can see it in my mind
The bare field and the bound man, the
bound woman, made to kneel
For who knows what sin, real or
I can see the blood money, if any
would be offered for a life
Turned down. Because what is money
For a life? What value is a life?
I can feel the terror of the bound
Person, no longer man or woman
Just a human being
Terrified and alone
Waiting for the bullet – the crash of
To end all thinking, all feeling,
I can feel it all. What can you say to
That I do not know already? Nothing.
NAJEEB: I don’t want you to end up
Between the goalposts. Think of our
son, if you will
Think of him being left alone.
MANSUR. He is about nine years old, bright eyed and excited.]
MANSUR: Mother! Do you know what we
It was so exciting!
the next part of the play will require a lot of changes in the props, the
lights should go out from this time and the spotlights come on to illuminate
AISHA and MANSUR only, and then, little by little, focus on AISHA alone. NAJEEB
AISHA: You found it exciting? Tell me
why you thought it exciting
And we’ll talk about it.
Did you understand what it was that
MANSUR: Someone who had killed
Someone else, for something
Was punished as he should be
And shot. I saw him jump and fall.
I saw the blood flow, mother, dark on
The ground soaked it all up. I
And when I cheered, the guards looked
at me and smiled.
AISHA: Listen, son, my love
It was very wrong to feel that way.
Try and imagine
What that man had felt
Never to know, to breathe, to taste
To see the sky, to see the grass
Never to hear a sound. Never to be
Can you imagine
The metal taste of fear in his mouth?
Can you feel the frantic beating of
MANSUR: But didn’t he kill someone
Didn’t that someone feel just like
Didn’t that person suffer?
AISHA: I could tell you it’s not for
us to judge
I could tell you a lot of things
But two wrongs don’t make any kind of
We don’t know, I don’t, you don’t,
Why that man had killed, or if he had
Death is never good, I can tell you
Death in whatever form, I have seen
too much of it.
MANSUR: I know a Talib
Who told me women are too weak
To know wrong from right.
He told me that men are strong
Men know right and separate it from
He is big, handsome too
He says what he says is true
He drives a pickup and has a gun
And is feared by everyone.
When I grow up I know what I want to
I want to be like him, I want him to
AISHA [clasping her hands to her heart, in distress]: I feel myself in a
Of emptiness and fear. I see no up, I
see no down
I no longer know which is solid
It’s all very well to talk of truth
To talk of tomorrow’s gentle youth.
It’s very well to talk of lasting
through the storm
I just wonder if I am strong enough
To stand it any more.
When I say words they sound false to
Because they contradict everything I
I talk of love and I talk of life
I talk of a world without strife
And my son cheers when blood is
Talk of compassion leaves him chilled.
Am I a failure? Am I worse
Am I part of this endless curse?
Tell me world, tell me what to do
I’m left in silence and all I have is
go out and AISHA exits, but is heard offstage]
My husband broke, he bent so far
My son’s a victim of this war
A victim of a different kind
Healthy body, wounded mind.
All I had is what I do
And I no longer have that too.
Tell me world, must a woman weep
Is there no promise she can keep?
Even to herself, can she make amends
If her life turns dust and ashes in
rise. The scene is now a marketplace,
with very poorly stocked vegetable stalls and a few men, some attending the
stalls, some buying things, and a few standing around aimlessly. A couple of
beggars squat in a corner, ignored by everyone. Enter AISHA and NAFISA in blue
Afghan shuttlecock burqas with nets over the face. Their burqas come down to
their white socks, which must be visible as they walk.]
NAFISA: Here we go again, forced to
hide ourselves in our clothes like frightened mice. And I have a degree in
AISHA: Try not to think about it.
NAFISA: But it’s only thinking left
All else’s gone, why don’t you see?
My man has gone, my freedom as well
It’s like a black magic spell.
My child’s cursed because she’s a she
And with her future she curses me.
AISHA: This is a sky
Free of kites, and a land
Free of music.
But I remember the shell that landed
where we are standing now
I saw it fall, saw the child who did
Who could not understand that he would
not walk again.
Some things change. There are no
Do you remember that time?
walk over to a stall and begin selecting vegetables. Enter the three TALIBAN.]
SECOND TALIB: What is this thing
What does she want?
FIRST TALIB: This is a mystery of the
ages. I do not know
But something within me tells me
Women need to be protected. Also
We well know,
Our enemies are yet unbroken
And we have more important things
Than women to think about.
SECOND TALIB: The world says we
FIRST TALIB: The world is a den of
iniquity and vice
Evil through and through.
It is no surprise, look at what they
Their women are forced to work
Like men in the marketplace
And yet when we save women from that
They say it’s a disgrace.
SECOND TALIB: Yes, you are right
The world should be shown the light.
THIRD TALIB: Someone told me women are
Temptresses sent by Satan.
FIRST TALIB: I don’t believe that
But there are things I do not know
And things where what I believe
Are irrelevant. Maybe I think that it’s
a failure of men
That they should be swayed by women
Or maybe I believe that Satan
Throws a spell on us all.
Maybe I do not believe anything.
What does it matter what I
SECOND TALIB: We do what we are told
We believe what we are told to believe
It is better that way. But still I
To fly a kite again
Someday. When the war is over
Maybe we can have kites again.
THIRD TALIB: I had a sister once
Who ran away from her husband.
He was older and beat her, that is
But it was still a disgrace.
If I found her I would kill her
It’s a matter of honour, my honour,
the family honour
Her honour too, the honour of us all.
FIRST TALIB: Look what we have here.
NAFISA: What? Are you talking to us?
FIRST TALIB: Of course we are talking
to you. What do you think you’re doing?
NAFISA: I don’t understand.
FIRST TALIB: You don’t understand?
Should I explain?
I would have thought your crime is
AISHA: Crime? I do not understand
I thought we followed the laws of the
FIRST TALIB: I can see your hands. You
They can’t be put out on show.
And it’s white socks that you wear
On us to spit you dare.
Our pure white you defile, witch
You would want it black as pitch.
and the other TALIBAN lash out with their sticks.]
AISHA: How can we buy without showing
There is a limit to your commands.
FIRST TALIB: That’s not our affair.
The order stands.
AISHA with the stick.]
Go home and repent
Vile woman, on Satan’s business bent.
other TALIBAN pass through with a young boy on a rope. A woman is running
behind them, crying and beseeching through her burqa. The TALIBAN with the boy
FIRST TALIBAN: That is a thief. He
will lose at least a hand.
We show no mercy to criminals in this
His victims need no longer fear
To protect them and theirs we are
And go home now, before trouble comes
You have had enough today.
go down slowly, as women go away silently. Slow music starts in the background
and swells until it stops suddenly and darkness falls. The spotlight once again
shines on the psychiatrist’s couch, where NAFISA talks to the DOCTOR.]
NAFISA: That was long ago and far away
Yet I think of it every day.
A kiteless sky I still see
And I know not what it means to me.
DOCTOR: And your friend? What of her?
NAFISA: Who knows, she keeps to the way
She learned in the market that day.
Perhaps she’s happy, perhaps not
Or she is resigned to her lot.
Little I could do or say
She chose her place in her way.
Perhaps she thinks of kiteless skies
Perhaps behind her net she cries.
They say that now she is free
It does not look like it to me.
One set of devils gone perhaps
Others already filled in the gaps.
Someday my land free and fair
Will see kites flying in its air.
When that time comes, I don’t know
Maybe girls will breathe free and
goes out momentarily and comes on again, focusing on FIRST TALIB. He comes
FIRST TALIB: You think you beat us?
You were wrong all along.
Call us “Taliban”, “Legion”, or what
We are too many for you to kill.
We wear saffron robes, suits too
Not just the black turban before you.
On Bible, Koran, or other book
We hang our purpose like a hook.
When one mask falls up one comes
All over the world beat our drums.
Not just in Afghanistan, all over Earth
Your own society gives us birth.
Be scared, be very afraid
We’ll make you as we want you made.
You’ll never know what hit you
You’ll think that lies are true.
You can’t hide though you run
I’m within you, every one.
So look in your mirror and the face
Is a face that belongs to me.
fall slowly towards darkness, to be replaced by a low red glow as the curtain
falls, with the FIRST TALIB seen in silhouette to the last.]