46. Karen Malpede--Prophecy—An Excerpt

46. Karen Malpede--Prophecy—An Excerpt


 

George Bartenieff as Alan Golden and Najla Said as Mariam Jabar in the premiere production of Prophecy,

 The New End Theatre, London, 2008. 

 


Scene 14

[Alan Golden’s office; he is an executive director of an NGO.  Mariam, his estranged daughter, opens Alan’s door.  Mariam was raised by her mother, Hala, in the Middle East.  She has just arrived in New York and met her father for the first time the night before.  She clutches a large leather lady’s handbag to her chest. ]

Mariam

Hello, Alan.  Thank you for making some more time. 

Alan 

I’ve cleared the whole afternoon. We barely got started last night.  Come in. 

[He moves to hug her, but she steps away.] 

Alan

There is so much more about you I’m dying to know.   (Silence) Sit down, please, Mariam.

[He points out two chairs around a low table, and he holds one out for her, and then sits. She keeps holding onto her bag.] 

Alan

Mariam.  How very lovely you are.  Like Hala.  People must tell you that.  How long will you stay in New York?      

Mariam

Long enough. But, I want to know about you. 

Alan   

You do?  Sure. That’s so nice.  Well, what’s to know?  I’m still executive director here.  Your mother worked…she had the office right next door.   Does Hala ever speak about those years? (Silence.)  Well, I’m rather overwhelmed at the moment. We’re trying to  figure out how to get some aid into Tyre, then, of course, there’s Gaza.  There’s always Gaza, as we say around here.  Not to mention Iraq.  

Mariam

It’s an overwhelming moment, yes.

Alan

You look so much like Hala. 

Mariam

I have your nose.  (They laugh,  nervously.)

Alan 

Sorry.  That was a mistake. 

Mariam 

Don’t be sorry about that. 

Alan

Good. (Pause.)  All right, Mariam.  Look, I’ll tell you.  I never intended to leave your mother.  It was Sarah.  By the time I had sorted things, and Sarah was, well, resigned to the way things were, your mother didn’t want me anymore.  How is she?  How is Hala?

Mariam 

Hala was traveling the road north from Tyre with a convoy of women and children when the road was hit.  The first ambulance, clearly marked, it could be seen from the sky, was destroyed.  Deliberately targeted Hala says.                                                                                                                                                               

Alan

 (He reacts to this angrily)

We heard.  (Pause) Hala would be in the thick of it all.   

Mariam 

Everyone, now, is in the thick of it, I think. 

Alan

True.  Does she know you’re here?  That you’ve come? 

Mariam

It was a beautiful summer in Lebanon, Alan. Our house on the Corniche overlooks the sea.  In the morning there were birds, at night music.  So many friends had come home.  We were laughing all the time.  Hala made me leave, to go to London, she thought. I never left Heathrow.  I got on a plane for New York.    

Alan

I’m very glad. 

Mariam

 I am glad, too.

Alan

 I’m happy about that.

Mariam

Happy?

Alan

Thrilled, I’d say, yes.  We have missed so many years. I will work hard,  Mariam, to become a real father to you.   

Mariam 

There’s no need.  I’m grown.

Alan

Even for a grown-up, a father is…I miss my own father quite a bit.  It went so fast, your growing up.  I thought about you every birthday, what you’d be wearing, where I would take you.  I always wanted you to ride the merry-go-round in Central Park.  I never knew the actual date. 

Mariam 

June 27.

Alan 

Close!  I always thought the first of July.  Somehow, I think, I was not surprised to see you as you are now, in the hijab, too.  A father knows his daughter, somehow, even if, 

Mariam 

I never felt I knew you. 

Alan 

We can be father and daughter, now.  I’ll show you the city.  What would you like to see?  Do you like opera, museums, food, we have the best restaurants, shopping, do you like to shop?  Read?  Hip-hop? There are mosques.  We have quite a few Arab neighborhoods. There are so many people I’d like you to meet.  You’ll stay for awhile, I hope.  You could think of studying here, at Columbia.

Mariam 

I’ll stay as long as it takes.

Alan

Months? Weeks? 

Mariam

It won’t be that long. 

Alan  

No? 

Mariam 

I don’t think you know why I’ve come?

Alan

I had hoped to see me.

Mariam

That’s true.

Alan

To get to know me a bit. 

Mariam   

Yes, to see you at work. I wanted to be here in this building with you and all these good people, all these innocent civilians, at this particular time, when so many innocent civilians in my part of the world.... You do good work, all of you.  You send aid to people like me.  You send protein bars and bottles of cooking oil, not olive oil, of course, vegetable oil, but still, we can cook up the dried chick peas, and rice, if we have clean water, that is.  If the water purification plants have not been bombed, if crude oil has not been dumped in the sea, killing the fish.   Never mind.  You send ready meals, if you have to, dump them on us from the sky.  And you send little pieces of paper telling us to leave our houses before they are bombed.  That is very kind.  The good people in the United States, continue to think they are good because of the work you do here helping refugees. The more refugees your country makes, the more people like you try to help.   

Alan 

That is one way of looking at it, I suppose. 

Mariam 

Do you look at it another way? 

Alan

I try.  There is always evil in the world, and there is always good.

Mariam 

True. 

Alan

I do what I can to tip the balance our way.  

Mariam 

That is admirable, Alan. 

Alan 

Thank you.  Your mother, too, Hala feels the same way.  Felt.  I’m certain, still does.

Mariam

Oh, yes. My mother thinks exactly like you.  But let me ask you, Alan, one thing.  I have come here just to ask you.  Why when you tip the balance, as you say, why is it always Muslims who must die?  Why does the balance never tip the other way?  There is a bomb ticking right now inside my bag.  Please answer soon. 

Alan

Don’t talk like that.  Not even inside my office.  It’s fine to be outraged, of course.  I am, also, outraged.  But someone might overhear you, even here.  That would put you at risk. 

Mariam 

I understand.

Alan

Fine, then, okay. We all know what’s going on.  What do you think I do day in and day out?  But I want to tell you something else:  My father, your grandfather, he lived in times worse than these, and he never gave up. He wasted not one instant on revenge.  He got people out.  He saved lives. Often, of course, it does feel useless.  I feel hopeless…but I learned from him, from what he did, individuals can make a difference to other individuals. That may be all we can do.  But we must do that much. 

Mariam

That is true.  

Alan

In times like these, it does feel overwhelming.  That’s why family is so important.  My father left a legacy to me. I intend to pass his legacy to you. I have letters to you, Mariam, a drawer full, returned by your mother, unopened.  I wanted to know you.  I tried to imagine what you needed to hear at every time, every age.   You can read them. Tell me if I got anything right.

Mariam 

That would be nice. 

Alan

I sent money, too.

Mariam

Naturally.  Of course. 

Alan 

I wanted you to have the best.  Be the best.  Your mother and I spoke about a new race.  It was foolish, romantic talk, of course.  But we believed it in those days, and we still do, Hala.  I am certain of that, in peace, somehow, in justice, in living together, side by side, that someday clearer heads will prevail.  We believed in you, too, Mariam.  We believed that in making you from our flesh we were going to give something beautiful not just to ourselves but to the world.   I am so sorry I wasn’t there to see you grow up.  

Mariam

In Lebanon for the Civil War?  In East Jerusalem?  Where?

Alan 

I am sorry, Mariam.  I have a great deal to be sorry for.   But, please know, how thrilled, how blessed I feel, truly, I don’t use that word lightly, that you came to find me.  We can be father and daughter, at last.  It’s a gift.  Amazing at this time in my life to have one more chance.  I am so happy that you’ve come.  

Mariam 

One more chance?

Alan

I might live to know my grandchildren, a wonderful thought.  I am a fortunate man, Mariam, because you’ve come. 

Mariam

(She stands, clutching the bag to her chest)

I see.  I thought it would be nice if you knew me, if you understood everything in your last minutes, if your whole life flashed before you, and you got to know at the very last moment that this child who was supposed to bring in the new world, only you never got to watch her grow up, unfortunate, that, but there was always a war on, after all, and how could you leave your important job to go there, anyway.  It was always so unsafe.  But, I wanted you to know, now, at last, about the new world you made with your big dreams, your empty words, and the murderous actions they cover up, the peace plans, the road maps running every which way, they have to bulldoze so many houses to get there, and put up such a big wall, build a fence around Gaza, such a nice prison they built, to keep the fishermen from being able to fish, and there is nowhere to run, you get blown up if you go to the beach, if you leave, you can’t get back in, and, then, why not send Lebanon back to the stone age, the people, after all, are so primitive, but none of that matters, now, at all, because most of all I wanted to see your face at the moment you understand  it is your own flesh who is going to blow you up.

[At this, Alan makes a lunge for her, and he grabs her bag.]

Mariam

I wouldn’t open the clasp.

[He stands frozen, holding the bag away from him, not knowing what to do. Mariam laughs.] 

Mariam

We are all terrorists, after all.

[She takes the bag away from him.]

Alan 

Forget about me. I’m an old man.  Don’t ruin your life. 

Mariam  

Don’t you know, we love death more than life?  We love martyrdom.  Get ready, Alan.  I’m going to give you a treat.  Parents are always already dead.  They don’t get to hear this:

[Mariam  begins to recite the Kaddish.] 

    Yeetgadal v’yeetkadash sh’mey rabbah

    B’almach dee v’rah kheer’utey

    V’yanleekh malkhutei, b’chahyeykhohn, uv’ yohmeykhohn

    Uv’chahyei d’chohl beyt yisrael 

[Alan freezes.   Mariam opens the bag and dumps its contents onto the floor: lip sticks, pens, her passport, a diary, a wallet, keys, the usual stuff, a book. Alan feels like a fool, but he relaxes.  Mariam picks up the book.]

Mariam 

See Under Love by David Grossman.  A great novelist!  A great book!  I have read it, every word.  Have you read this, Alan?  You should.  Mr. Grossman’s father was in Auschwitz.  And do you know that David Grossman had a son, Uri.  He was a tank commander in the ground invasion.   His father had just signed a petition with other Jewish intellectuals calling for an end to the fighting.  The war could have ended before Uri Grossman got killed by a Hezbollah rocket.  He was twenty years old.  And you think we are the only ones who love to make martyrs?  Do you think we are the only ones who love death?  (She trembles) Like an ocean, like two seas crashing together between the rocks and that is my blood stream, that churning is always my heart.  You cannot imagine the power with which my heart beats.  How does my heart not jump from my chest?  How does my blood not rush out?  You wanted something else.  I believe you wished for a son.  In your mind I would be a great man.  I would have had a bar mitzvah.  I would have done good.  I would have figured out how.  Like your father, like you.  

Alan

No. Mariam. It was you I wanted.  All the time, I wanted you. 

[Alan goes to her and he holds her and comforts her.] 

Mariam  

It’s too hard. 

Alan 

I know that, believe me, my dear one, my daughter, my child, I do understand. 

 

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