Audience sits in two rows facing each other in the centre of the venue. There is a gap at the centre of each row. The lights go down as the audience settle in. The characters come out in the dark to their places on each side of the house seats; JOHN, dressed in a dirty soldier uniform and holding a rifle, stands opposite to TOULLI and SHAFA. Toulli is dressed in tattered shirt and pants. The only weapon he has left is a handgun. SHAFA wears torn everyday clothing of foreign style.
The sound of war. Soldiers screaming. Explosions. Tanks and trucks. Running feet. Guns.
Lights on on JOHN.
JOHN: I am John McKale, soldier of Pokland.
I had worked almost all my life trying to become a doctor and to save people’s lives, but the war had forced me to kill people instead. I was shocked that I even had the ability to kill, but war can turn anyone into a killing machine.
More than a week ago, our troop had demolished a small Yuranian village, and the screaming of the villagers still haunted me. I had left the troop to escape the war, but the more I thought about that day, the more I felt disgusted with myself.
That was why when I saw Toulli and Shafa,
(lights up on TOULLI and SHAFA. TOULLI stands in front of SHAFA, protecting her, pointing his handgun at JOHN in defense)
saw that they were just kids, I decided to do what my heart had been screaming at me to do this whole time during the war.
TOULLI: I am Toulli, and this is my sister Shafa. We are villagers from a small town in Yurany.
More than a week ago, our village was destroyed by an army of Poklish soldiers, and I was left with nothing but my little sister. I decided to enlist as a soldier so that I would have weapons to better protect myself and Shafa.
Unfortunately, I had lost my rifle during a bombing, and was left with only a handgun. We had also gotten separated from the troops and had been trying to find our way back to the fort for a few days.
We were finding a hidden place to sit down and have a bite to eat when John had startled us. I immediately jumped in front of Shafa, for if anything happened to her I would not forgive myself. She was all I had left and I felt the responsibility to deliver her from the war so that our mother would be able to rest in peace.
We had mostly been hiding and running, and still hadn’t had to kill anyone yet, but that was not going to stop me from killing the white soldier standing in front of us.
However, I was surprised when the soldier slowly put down his rifle and kept his hands in the air in surrender.
(JOHN does what he is being said to have done)
JOHN: I come in peace.
TOULLI: he kept saying.
JOHN: I come in peace.
TOULLI: I examined the man for a good while. The whiteness of his skin, the coloured eyes, the light hair.
This was the type of creature that had broken into our house and killed my family, and if Shafa and I hadn’t been shoved into a closet by our mother, we would have been killed then and there as well.
I was not ready to start trusting one of their kind, and I could feel, by the way she was pulling at my outfit, that Shafa was not feeling comfortable with the man either.
JOHN: I want to help you.
TOULLI: he told us. I had studied Poklish in school and was quite fluent in it. But I didn’t understand his intent. Why would he want to help us?
He kicked his rifle out of reach, and carefully reached into his inner pocket.
(JOHN does as he says)
I tightened my hold on my handgun.
He pulled out a stethoscope. I cocked my head but still didn’t let my guard down.
The man started miming examining a patient, constantly pointing to himself. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore and . . . (he laughs)
JOHN: I was surprised he started laughing, but it made me feel more confident.
He explained that he understood Poklish, which made me sigh in relief.
I started introducing myself, making sure that he knew I did not mean any harm, and that I wanted to help them.
They looked quite underfed, and the boy looked pale. I could at least improve their health.
The boy finally lowered his gun and put it away.
He introduced himself as Toulli, and his sister Shafa. They were orphans who were trying to find their way home.
Once I was given permission to come near them, I set out to become the man I was supposed to be all this time: a doctor. I made sure the kids were eating right.
Toulli insisted that he was alright, despite the fact that he was pale as ever, but I didn’t want to force anything on them yet, and so I focused on Shafa.
I treated her fever and disinfected her cuts.
I tried to look as friendly as I could possibly manage, but the look in her eyes every time I examined her clearly read suspicion and fear.
I guess the girl couldn’t understand Poklish, and therefore found me more intimidating.
I often heard them conversing with each other. The soothing and comforting tone of Toulli’s voice contrasted with the tension and terror in Shafa’s. I could understand a little of what they were saying, and I knew that they were talking about whether or not I was to be trusted.
Although I had gained Toulli’s trust, he still made sure that we were of two different sides so that I would not scare Shafa too much.
By befriending Toulli, I had tried to cross the line between the two opposing countries, yet we were still at war, and it seemed no matter how close we became, there would always be a gap between us.
(Lights start to fade)
And like how a river separates two lands, the river that separated me from the kids taunted my inability to get to the other side. I would have to swim harder.
(Lights fade out)
The sounds of a peaceful night. Crickets chirp. A light breeze. A little stream. A frog croaking.
Centre lights come halfway on and we see TOULLI standing at the centre of the alley. JOHN and SHAFA both lie asleep at their respective spots on either side of the audience.
TOULLI: It was a quiet night. Shafa and John had both gone to sleep.
We had been travelling with our new friend for four days. That marked a week since Shafa and I had gotten lost, and two weeks since our parents were killed.
(He takes off his shirt and pulls up his undershirt, revealing a large red cut near his left rib cage. He pokes at it, wincing a bit)
A week ago, Shafa and I were following the troop back to the fort, when suddenly there was a big BOOM! and everything went flying.
Next thing I knew I was crawling through the debris in utter silence.
I knew I was trying to find something, but had forgotten what I was looking for, until a small hand grabbed onto my arm so tight that I thought my bone was going to crack.
I turned around and it was Shafa. A sigh of relief escaped my mouth because she was what I was searching for. She looked traumatized but uninjured.
My hearing had recovered then, and the sound of gunshots told me that we were still under attack. I quickly grabbed Shafa and sprinted to the nearest shelter I could find, which must have been farther away than I had realized, because when I finally came back to my senses, I had no idea where we were.
Shafa and I spent the night at the little shelter of bushes and trees.
The night was almost as peaceful as this one. Shafa had fallen asleep, and I tried my best to stay awake just in case we got discovered.
That was when I noticed the throbbing pain near my stomach. A piece of stray metal had jammed itself into my side.
I remember the calmness when I first saw it, and then the gripping panic that came mere seconds later.
I was going to die, there was no denying that. What would happen to Shafa when I go? How would she feel? What would she do?
These thoughts went on and on in my head like the stream of water flowing out from the faucet. Like blood gushing out from an open wound. . . .
(He looks to SHAFA)
But then, I see Shafa, the peacefulness of her sleep, the way her soft, long hair falls gently on her cheeks. I know I have to stay calm for her. Live for her. No matter what happens, I have to make sure that she is not disturbed. Even if my wound becomes infected, everything will be alright, because I will live for her.
(He looks to JOHN)
Thanks to the doctor, I know she will live too. John has been eyeing me a lot ever since I first rejected being examined, but if he finds out about my infection, Shafa would be alarmed as well.
(He looks back to SHAFA and smiles)
It’s okay, Shafa. This tiny wound wouldn’t kill me. The doctor’ll make sure you stay healthy, and I’ll make sure you get home safely.
(Lights slowly fade out. He slowly walks towards where SHAFA is lying, smile still on face, but physique as if in pain. He gently lies down beside SHAFA, covers her with his shirt, and goes to sleep. Lights out)
Lights on on SHAFA and TOULLI. SHAFA wakes up, sits up, and stretches. She taps TOULLI gently on the shoulder, trying to wake him up. When he doesn’t respond, she shakes him slightly, calling his name. When he still doesn’t respond, she starts to panic, kneels beside him and shakes him hard, crying his name.
Lights on on JOHN. He is awoken by SHAFA’s cries. He sits up, looks over at the kid, and sensing SHAFA’s anxiety, stands up.
JOHN: Is everything OK, Shafa?
SHAFA: (Is startled by JOHN’s voice, looks over to him and stares at him hard and long. Then, with sudden realization, she points an accusing finger at JOHN and screams in foreign language)
YOU KILLED HIM!
(He makes a step towards her, which alarms her, and she runs away from him)
(He starts after her, but stops when he sees TOULLI still on the ground. He tries to feel the boy’s pulse, but it cannot be found. The boy’s body is stone cold)
Oh no . . .
(JOHN pulls the boy’s shirt up over his head and grieves. He then stands. Rumbling music and the sound of a rushing river starts. He chases after SHAFA)
Centre lights come on. Lights on TOULLI come out. SHAFA comes in from the side of the venue, crying and wheezing. She steps into the gap of the row of audience closer to her. She stands there, hesitating, for the alley is now a rushing river. JOHN comes running in from the side door.
(When SHAFA sees him, her urge to run away from him forces her to jump into the water. SHAFA kicks and punches, trying hard to keep her head above the water. JOHN stands where SHAFA had jumped from, hands reaching out, urging her to come out of the water)
Come on, Shafa! I’m not going to hurt you. You’re gonna catch a cold again. Come on, grab onto my hand.
(SHAFA continues flailing her limbs this way and that, struggling for air. It takes JOHN a while to realize that SHAFA cannot swim)
Without second thought, JOHN jumps into the river and grabs SHAFA, bringing her ashore to his side of the stage, where he had been standing the whole time before this scene. SHAFA, weak from fright and exhaustion, still tries to run away, but JOHN grabs onto her. SHAFA finally gives in and cries into JOHN’s chest while the doctor soothes her. Lights fade out. Sound of river fades out.
Lights on on JOHN and SHAFA, who are standing at JOHN’s side of the venue. They are holding hands.
JOHN: I had finally gained Shafa’s trust, albeit through unfortunate means.
We had gone back to Toulli’s body and gave him a proper burial.
The poor boy had a large cut near his left ribcage, which became infected and eventually developed blood poisoning.
If he had let me examine him I would have been able to prolong his life a bit with antibiotics so that he would have enough time to find a hospital where he could be treated, but . . .
(he sighs and hangs his head)
Anyway, what was important right now was to get Shafa safely home.
We had been wandering aimlessly for two weeks straight.
When Toulli was here, it had always seemed like he knew where he was going. But now that he was gone, I had no idea where we were, and where we should be headed.
I could feel that Shafa was as nervous as I was, for she had been gripping onto my hand ever since we buried Toulli.
(He looks down at SHAFA and smiles at her)
I am her only support now, and I am not planning on letting her down anytime soon. I will get her home, no matter how long it might take. For Toulli . . .
(Lights on on other side of stage. We see a SOLDIER dressed in a foreign military uniform with a helmet. He points his rifle at JOHN)
Before we knew it, we had reached the fort.
(JOHN puts his hand up in the air)
I come in peace.
(He nods at SHAFA)
I’m bringing her home. She lost her parents and then her brother. She needs your help.
The SOLDIER nods in understanding and lowers his rifle. JOHN kneels down beside SHAFA and puts his hand on her shoulder.
JOHN: I know you can’t understand me, but I want to wish you the best of luck.
He smiles at SHAFA, and the girl embraces him. She turns and, with the encouragement of JOHN, slowly walks towards the SOLDIER. The SOLDIER reaches out his hands to welcome her home. SHAFA grips onto the SOLDIER’s trousers and waves to JOHN. JOHN stands up and waves back. He turns his back to SHAFA and the SOLDIER and leaves.
The SOLDIER raises his rifle and aims at JOHN. A gunshot. JOHN collapses. Lights on JOHN’s side fade out. Lights on SHAFA and the SOLDIER’s side fade out.
Centre lights come on. SHAFA stands at the centre of the alley. JOHN lies still at his place, and TOULLI stands still at his.
SHAFA is now a grown woman, probably in her early thirties.
SHAFA: (She takes a long moment to look at the still body of JOHN lying on the ground)
War was not only happening outside, it was also tormenting me from the inside.
Two weeks before this, before we reached the fort, John had saved my life.
I am deathly afraid of water, and jumping into that river was the stupidest thing I could ever have done, and if it were not for this stranger, I would not be standing here, telling you this story.
However, this stranger saved me, and with that he saved my memories, and thus he saved Toulli, and my mother, and every one of the people I loved who had suffered and died in that dreadful war.
For two weeks, I felt an overwhelming gratitude towards this “stranger,” and eventually my young, immature heart fell for him.
Those two weeks, although painful for I was still grieving for Toulli, were still undoubtedly the two weeks in which I felt the most hope.
This “stranger” has saved me, and I can finally trust him, and I know he will lead me home.
I remember thinking: “Perhaps he likes me too. Perhaps he will stay with me when we arrive, and we will live the rest of our lives in peace, away from war, away from everyone else.”
But then two weeks passed, and we finally reached the fort. And then this.
(she looks to JOHN again)
When they shot him, at first I felt a piercing pain in my chest, as if they had shot me too.
It was a strong, intense pain, exactly like the pain I felt when I found Toulli dead.
However, this pain wasn’t as long-lasting. What felt like mere seconds after, the pain was replaced with comfort.
They killed him. He killed Toulli, and they killed him. He deserves it.
(she grabs her head)
Oh! But he doesn’t deserve it! He saved me!
But he murdered Toulli.
(she shakes her head as if to shake the chaos out of her head)
War outside, and war inside.
But it doesn’t matter whether or not I think John deserved to die. He is dead. And in return of his favour, I will also save his memory, just like how I will save Toulli’s, and my mother’s. The war may think that it can destroy everything, but memories are indestructible.
SHAFA takes out an empty book and a pencil, and starts to write. Lights slowly fade out to black.
John McKale (31)
A soldier of Pokland fighting the Yuranians in Yurany.
Having grown up in a rural town, John’s father often took him hunting, and he developed great accuracy in gun-handling. However, his passion is in medicine, for his father often lectured him about the importance of knowledge in first-aid in the wilderness. This inspired him to pursue a career in medicine. He enrolled in a prestigious medical program and worked hard towards earning a certificate in hopes of opening his own clinic.
When the war began, he had enlisted hoping to become a medic, yet because of his excellent skills with the gun he was assigned to become a soldier instead. His dream is to become a great doctor and save many lives, but before he could realize that dream he had already killed many.
One day his troop invades a small Yuranian village, eliminating every villager in sight and taking their possessions. After the invasion, John is haunted by the screams and cries of the villagers that he killed, and he slips away from his troop to escape the war. Wandering for a couple of days, he encounters Toulli and Shafa. He knows he has to kill them, but he cannot take it anymore, and he ends up helping them. When Toulli dies, John swears to deliver Shafa safely back to the Yuranian fort. He knows some Yuranian and can understand what Shafa tells him, and he longs to let Shafa understand what he wants to tell her. Finally, he and Shafa reach the Yuranian fort, but after Shafa is taken away by some Yuranian soldiers, he is shot dead.
Toulli Kasanev (18)
A young Yuranian soldier.
His father had died, leaving his mother alone with him and his younger sister Shafa. Desperately needing help with the family, his mother remarried. However, the stepfather brought to the family four children of his own, children whom he had been hiding from Toulli’s mother until the day he moved in. Being the oldest child, Toulli took on the responsibility of taking care of the family, for his stepfather turned out to be a useless alcoholic.
When the Poklish army evades Toulli’s hometown, a small Yuranian valley village, they destroy everything and everyone, leaving Toulli homeless, parentless, and responsible for his younger sister. He and a small group of surviving villagers quickly enlist in the war so that they would be armed and therefore would be more likely to survive.
The group of villagers wanders the countryside for about a week, seeking for a place of refuge. Unfortunately, they are attacked, and most of the few survivors that remain are captured by the opposing army. Toulli and Shafa manage to escape, yet during the bombing, Toulli loses his rifle, and is left with only a handgun. In addition to that, a piece of metal is stuck in his stomach, and he suffers from infection. He hides his injury from both Shafa and John, and they never find out until he dies all of a sudden in his sleep.
Toulli speaks fluent Poklish and bonds with John almost immediately.
Shafa Kasanev (6)
A Yuranian girl.
Being the youngest of all her siblings, Shafa was often bullied by her stepsiblings. One day, when she was playing with her teddy bear by the river near her house, her stepsiblings snatched the bear from her and threw it into the river. The teddy bear was given to her by her mother, and Shafa could only watch as the river swallowed the bear into its deep stomach and tore it apart. After this incident, Shafa developed a fear of water, and she never went close to the river again.
When her town is invaded, Shafa is left with only her brother, Toulli, to depend on. Having witnessed many deaths, she grows braver and stronger. When she and Toulli meet John, she has a severe fever, and wouldn’t have survived if John didn’t cure her. She is quiet and introverted, not being able to trust people easily. She can never accept John’s hospitality as easily as Toulli does, and she makes up stories in her head about John being a monster or a demon in disguise. When Toulli suddenly dies, she immediately suspects that John killed him, and runs away. She only starts to trust John when he saves her from drowning. She then tells him stories about her life, some real, some made up, and she slowly starts to fall for him.
When John and Shafa make it to the Yuranian fort, she witnesses John being shot, and two contrary emotions are aroused inside her. One is grief, for her first crush is completely destroyed. The second is satisfaction, because she still believes that John had killed Toulli.
The play is Shafa’s recollection of the war.
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo