by Shehzad Ghias Shaikh
A One-act play
The scene takes place in the middle of a jungle. In a clearing surrounded by a canopy of trees, an old man appears. He is carrying some belongings, wrapped in a green, weathered bed sheet, on his back. He walks on stage hunched under the weight of the bundle.
Aadam: Waris! Where did you go?
Waris: Right behind you, Father.
(Aadam pauses to wait for Waris.)
(Waris appears carrying a bag in each hand. The weight of these bags is pulling down on him but he stands upright carrying them. These bags are much heavier than the bundle on Aadam’s back. Waris does not look tired.)
Aadam: We can rest here for a while if you are tired?
Waris: As you wish, Father.
(Waris puts the bags down.)
Aadam: You tell me what you think.
(Aadam waits for an answer then looks out towards the audience.)
Aadam: I do not think the destination is far now.
(Waris just winces without saying a word.)
Aadam: I can see that you are tired. I can see it in your artful smile. Fine, let us sit for a bit but only a little while, all right?
(Aadam puts his bundle down. Waris comes over to help him sit down.)
Aadam: We need to be far from here by sunset. Hopefully by the day after tomorrow we will be at our destination. (Aadam points to the direction opposite to the direction they came on stage from.)
Aadam: There! There lies our destination. There is the harbinger of our dreams. (Aadam gets up in excitement. Waris unwittingly snickers.)
Aadam: Your distrust is disconcerting.
(Waris does not answer.)
Aadam: Waris, my son, doubt is the enemy of hope. Even if you cannot see the light, you must believe that there is light. Somewhere out there (Aadam points to the direction opposite of where they came on stage from)… There is always light.
Waris: I didn’t mean to be despairing, Father…
Aadam: I am your father. I know everything. You see the shadows but you have not seen the sun. You have not seen the sun rise on the valley. Stories cannot ever do justice to the sight. I would not have believed its beauty myself had I not seen it.
Waris: I have heard you talk about it countless times.
Aadam: And you do not believe the ramblings of an old man? That is it, right?
Waris: No, no, your dream is my dream, Father.
Aadam: Dream? You think I have been intoxicated by my fancy? Ha! This is as real as real can be. A dream evaporates in the light of day but this will stay with you forever. I promise you I have not uprooted you for the pursuit of a dream!
Waris: As you say, Father.
Aadam: Don’t keep throwing it back at me, tell me what you think? Am I talking to myself here?
Waris: What do you want me to say?
Aadam: Say what’s on your mind. You cannot expect me to keep talking and then simply repeat my words. You are your own person. You are not a mere reflection of me, mimicking my every move, imitating my every word.
Waris: That’s not it…
Aadam: What is it, then?
Waris: Let it be, I am sorry.
Aadam: Son, please say it, it is unhealthy to let thoughts fester in your mind.
Waris: I just thought we would be there by now, that’s it.
Aadam: We are almost there.
Waris: We are always almost there.
Aadam: Sometimes the canopy hides the light but that does not mean the sun does not exist.
Waris: All right, Father.
Aadam: All right? There you go again, do you have no belief?
Waris: I do.
Aadam: Believe that even when the world around you seems dark, there is always light. There is light somewhere out there.
(Aadam points to the same direction that they came in from.)
Even if the field is blanketed with snow, come spring the flowers always blossom. We are so close; I can almost smell the roses.
(Aadam gets up and picks up his bag and starts walking.)
Aadam: You will believe me once you see it, once you see it all, once you see everything as bright as day.
(Waris does not follow.)
Aadam: What is keeping you? We cannot rest for any longer. They might catch up to us.
Waris: I am tired.
Aadam: We have not even walked that much today!
Waris: I am not tired of walking… I am tired of the journey.
Aadam: Then just sit here waiting for them, let us just live out the last few minutes of our lives under the canopy singing songs about merry-making. Is that what you want?
Waris: That is not what I want.
Aadam: Then come, come my son, come with me. Let us keep walking.
Waris: (Loudly) I do not want to walk!
Aadam: Do not shout.
(Aadam looks around frantically, visibly scared.)
Aadam: Have you forgotten what we have left behind? Were you blind to the misery? Have the memories of the suffering faded in your mind? Do you want to burn again in that fire?
Waris: What will protect us from the pain over there?
Aadam: Everything. I was there, I have lived there. I never saw fire in the valley, I should have never left. I believed in a dream, I followed the dream but it led me to nothing. I have stopped dreaming now. I want to go back to life. (Aadam points inconclusively in a direction) There, there is not a fantasy.
Waris: Why did you leave there then?
Aadam: (Pauses to think before answering. Sits down.) Trusted the wrong people, thought the grass is greener on the other side and saw the green grass turn to a red wasteland; the fire, the fire does not discriminate between the barren and the fertile. I was made to believe in a dream but I saw the dream turn into a nightmare… (gets up) No, no… No more dreams, now. I know what is real and I will keep walking towards that till the day I die.
(Aadam starts walking away.)
Waris: Why do you keep lying to yourself, Father?
Aadam: What did you say?
Waris: Nothing. I am sorry. Let’s go.
(Waris picks up the bag and starts walking.)
Aadam: Wait, wait! What are you trying to say? We have been working for nothing? Walking towards nothing? All these years wasted for some ‘dream’? The pursuit of nothing? This journey, the journey to nothing?
Waris: I don’t know. Nothing comes from nothing.
Aadam: Let’s not be quick to judge and slow to introspect, let our ignorance not be an excuse. You are ignorant of who you are and that is the worst kind of ignorance. You see the shadows; you think the shadows are the truth. You see the world through a certain shade, with your tinted glasses. It makes you see everything with a tinge and your mind makes you believe that is how it is, your eyes lie to you, they deceive you. Your mind makes you believe that there is nothing beyond what you know, the sheer ego of the mind. No, this world, this cannot be all that there is, it cannot be this dark forever…
(Waris looks unmoved.)
Aadam: It is hard to make the night believe the day exists.
Waris: Belief is the enemy.
Aadam: The enemy?
Aadam: The enemy of what? It is not my enemy, I believe therefore I am. I am what I believe.
Waris: Where has this misguided, misbegotten belief brought you? In the middle of the jungle with just one more person, would your faith bring them all back? When you dreamt, were you alone in the dream? A journey through hell for a paradise lost. The lone fantasy of a believer. Every believer. The sheer ego of the mind to dream, to be…
Aadam: (interjecting) I would never have believed in such a dream.
Waris: You will be alone there.
Aadam: No, I was there before. We were all there. You are just too young to remember. There is unbridled happiness to be had, if we only get there.
(Both silently stare at each other.)
Waris: If we only… will we ever get there?
(Aadam stays silent and does not respond.)
Waris: Have you ever thought about death?
Aadam: To die or to kill?
Waris: To die, just fade away, instead of fighting it, to just be one with the snow, to lie there and see the darkness slowly take you over; the somber sleep of death coming over you peacefully. No more dreams, no more beliefs, no more hope for the light, just darkness, the black of death. To be nothing, nothing at all, to go back to what we came from… nothing.
Aadam: Why would I think of that?
Aadam: To take your own life?
Waris: To have that power over your own life, for once, for all.
Aadam: …And the valley?
(Both are silent.)
Waris: How far?
Aadam: We are almost there.
Waris: How far?
Aadam: Patience. Patience is a virtue. You cannot just get everything instantly. That is the problem with your generation. We have given everything to you. You crave but you don’t work to fulfill, you want it all and you want it now, tomorrow is worthless to you, if you can’t have today, it means nothing to you.
Waris: We are free today.
Aadam: We are unfree today, we will be free in the valley.
Waris: If we are not free here then we will not be free there.
Aadam: If you think you will never be free, you are condemning yourself to your own hell. Don’t set the fire that will consume you. Reduce yourself to ashes, then you can lie peacefully in that snow of yours.
(Aadam starts walking away in a different direction.)
Waris: I am confused. Who are you lying to, Father? Me or yourself?
(Aadam turns back.)
Aadam: What do you want?
Waris: What do YOU want?
(Aadam looks pensive.)
Aadam: The sun is about to set, we might as well stay the night here now.
Waris: Are you not afraid?
Aadam: What’s to fear? I have made this journey before, be it the other way. The journey is not to fear. You will know this to be true when you make the journey again.
Waris: Are you afraid of death?
Aadam: There is death everywhere.
Waris: We might never get there?
Aadam: What has gotten into you, Waris? Do you remember the story your mother used to tell you?
Waris: Which one?
Aadam: The one about the spider.
Aadam: The rain might bring down the spider but the sun always comes out. The spider makes it to the top, someday, somehow. We are being washed away, we are being flushed out, but the sun will come up and the water will go away. Like Noah, we are the chosen ones. We will survive.
Waris: Those are just stories.
Aadam: That does not mean they are not true. I have been in the rain, now I know where the sun is. The rain must never make us forget the sun.
(Aadam points haphazardly.)
Aadam: There is not a story.
Waris: And the sun is there?
Waris: Let’s go there, then.
(Roaring boom in the background. The characters do not react.)
Waris: We should leave.
(Waris picks up the bags and starts walking away. Aadam does not follow.)
Waris: What happened?
Aadam: It’s almost night.
Waris: It is night.
(Aadam and Waris walk around the stage in circles, saying their dialogues frantically.)
Aadam: The days are getting shorter.
Waris: The weather is changing.
(Another roaring boom in the background. They do not react but they quicken their pace.)
Aadam: Let’s just go. We can walk slowly. Stay close to me. We should not stop. (Aadam starts to leave.)
Waris: Do you also not believe in the valley?
Aadam: We came that way? (Aadam points to the right.) We should walk towards there… (Aadam points to the left now.)
Waris: No, we came from that way (Waris points a little to the left of where Aadam had pointed earlier).
Aadam: Are you sure? Then…we must go that way.
Waris: In the dark?
(They start walking towards one direction. A roaring boom sounds from that direction. They start walking in another direction and a roaring boom sounds in that direction as well. They start walking back and there is another roaring boom. They both stop and look at each other.)
Aadam: Do you not want to go?
Waris: As you say, Father.
Aadam: Tell me what you think.
Waris: I think we just should go back.
Aadam: There is no back.
Waris: We had everything.
Waris: It is ours.
Aadam: It was ours.
Waris: We can fight.
Aadam: We can die.
Waris: So be it.
Aadam: Die in the night without the morning sun.
Waris: At least we will be home.
Aadam: My home is there.
(Aadam does not know where to point. He aimlessly jabs the air around him.)
Waris: My home was here.
(They both look away and take a step.)
Aadam: It is dark now.
Aadam: Let’s just stay here.
Waris: Are you scared?
Aadam: What’s to fear? We will be there tomorrow.
Waris: Our journey ends tomorrow?
Aadam: Yes, we will be there to witness the sun the day after.
Waris: Do you truly believe in that?
Aadam: What do you think?
Waris: As you say, Father.
Aadam: Let’s go here.
(Neither of them moves. They are in the same position as at the beginning of the play.)