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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Benefit of Doubts

a satiric play in 6 acts. 118 pages. 

A play dealing with temptation and importunities of women, opening the grosser side of a woman’s passion. A comedy of propriety woven with threads of studies of prudery. A tyranny of conventional propriety looking into the flaws of both the moral and judicial system in the so-called high society. A play of morality and integrity, carnal love and true love, honour and dignity.

Solicitations of Abbou, a young servant by a married woman, Nana her master’s wife. He’s tempted but all the more striking is his consciousness of the divine presence which to him is the ultimate sanction of morality. His persisting integrity exemplifies higher power-a world’s influence might invade but would not touch the upright. He does not falter; he rejects her innuendoes and solicitations willy-nilly.

But she takes her revenge-doesn’t take his rejection lying down. The covetous wife turns the tables on him by asserting the opposite of the truth. Makes a covert appeal to the jealousy of the men-servants against the hated Abbou, and to the fears of the society women, whom she represents as unsafe from insults. The women all agree that no man has a right to resist their solicitations. Beauty is spurned. Her distorted account of facts has the desired effect on her husband. And there is the threat of prison for Abbou, and the company of the vilest of men, instead of the caresses of beauty in high places.

But the Judge, her husband, can read through their solicitations, and have been busy all along with another similar strange death-row case, a perfect parallel to the false accusation by his Wife to his own servant. Where two brothers living together and the wife of the Elder Brother, accuses the Younger Brother falsely. The Elder seeks to murder the Younger. But being at last convinced of his innocence, he slays his Wife instead.

All these happens against a background of the domineering presence of Big Mama, the Judge’s mother, and who is not only in bad books with Nana, but also is soliciting lobbying, and helping a covetous lass, Minnie, to get married to her son.

Excerpts from the play Benefits of Doubts

A2S4—The Native Return

[Minnie spreads a dark duvet in her king-sized bed which lies strategically in the middle of a room that’s devoid of modern convenience. Draperies and Swahili kangas hang precariously on racks. Smoke from jasmine incense fills the room. An old African mat, faded carpet, etc are adorned by unpacked pastries, snacks, drinks, etc. Minnie’s beaming smile splashes in approval. Enter Big Brother]

  Big Brother: [Holding the drinks] Jameson? Amarula? What a sumptuous waste! Who are you indulging this time? [Teasing] One of your classy gigolos?
Minnie: No. I’m not Minnie-coddling anyone tonight. It’s just the justice…
Big Brother: [Anxiously] Say what?
Minnie: What now, are you deaf? I said Justice the just. I’ve prepared for him tilapia stew and marinated chicken tikka-mous-tikka. Feel free and invite yourself to celebrate and share in this auspicious occasion.
Big Brother: [Nonplussed] Excuse you? Who asked you to? Is this the latest overcooked Soap-Opera tactic to snatch the husband of Nana?
Minnie: Stop being ridiculous! You sound so surprised. Well, I don’t see anything about it that goes beyond the bounds of the ordinary.
Big Brother: Then remind me, what would a married man want in our house?
Minnie: [Nodding] Mmh! Indeed! Want or desire; you catch up real quick, bro. real quick. What if his wife can no longer satisfy this need; or want; or desire. But stop judging me now! Tonight I host the Judge. Next, it is the minister himself! [Gyrating her waist] And you say-say Minnie-Minnie Mo has small means! Is it shocking?
Big Brother: [Correcting] Not shocking or even impossible a feat for someone with a bottom like two stale buns! But I’m warning you sister and your itchy groin; to think harder than shaking it to make Nana share her husband...
Minnie: [Teasing] Are you serious right now…
Big Brother: [Firmly] Listen to me you silly goose…
Minnie: Why should I listen?
Big Brother: This is no time for more childish gibberish.
Minnie: Seriously? Only when you want me to listen, it’s THAT serious…
Big Brother: [Sternly] I’m very, very serious, sister-girl. Who says he can just come here and amuse himself? Don’t you realise this is only trouble if you are just his side dish of marinated ‘tikka-mous-tika ?’ Besides, this scheming escapade can only compromise our court case and cause a scandal.
Minnie: I know that, but you too should appreciate the countless times I’ve argued, holding deep debates within my mind but losing all arguments. I’ve told my heart; but it won’t listen—not one bit! What can a damsel in distress do when blissful fortune fastens as a magnet his muscular spirit to her heart? Such a resolve is only a pawn for hopes and a means to her desire...
Big Brother: [Adamantly] You must stop these solicitations. Honour demands it. How shall I to save my face, as his close friend, if he Minnie-coddled and then booted you? This shall be a gross transgression...
Minnie: Objection overruled, my lord! Talking of honour, what’s more nobly honourable than a judge embodying an ideal union? For once in my bosom lies the only man worthy of my virginity, honourably guarded for the white bed sheet on our nuptial night, [longingly] for the ululations of the old maids exulting the honourable stain the morning after...
Big Brother: Virgin? [Laughing] You? Then why do you broadcast yourself on the market as ‘single-and-ready-to-mingle’?
Minnie: My marital status is just a scheme to sample my suitors and test how suitable my caprice is in my amorous adventures. I may only be a little boat looking for a harbour but until today, I have sailed cruising past the assailing sea of desire. And now, as a respite, after anchoring in the apogee of my journey, providing proof of my honour, no one, not even Big Brother can delay my romantic voyager any longer.
Big Brother: Unbelievable! Will you keep too your local gigolos as playthings?
Minnie: I’ve summoned them too, to share in my banquet—all the homeboys—already the maids are in the kitchen.
Big Brother: No doubt to deliver a press statement to your gigolo billy-goats sniffing round you.
Minnie: You and your foul mouth! Is this about your Kiki that I turned down?
Big Brother: I’m just saying little sister. If you indulge the judge and instead of elevating you into a pedestal, degrades you as his footstool, our family will be an object of disgrace, and you will put me in a very awkward situation!
 Minnie: I am a woman gifted in untying knotty love chords of any man, seducing him long enough to share in my dream. So stop patronising me with lectures about virtue and respect. [Snapping] Why should I even worry about your honour or your cherished friendship when love spread ahead of me in endless dreams of ecstasy? I’m shrewd; I’ll lay all my cards, not just my little cleavage! The sages say ‘blessed is the hand that gives’ but today I declare, hallowed be the hand that gives a lot... [Noise from without, ululation] and there comes my prince. [To Big Brother] Don’t just stand! Can you usher him. [Bustle outside, offstage voices] Welcome our son! Our loving son!
Big Brother: Why would I welcome him when you no longer listen to me?
Minne: [Desperately] Don’t stand here! I don’t want him to know we are arguing about him. Get out! Get busy, pleee-ase! [Both laugh knowingly as he exits].
Old Woman: [The compound stirs] Welcome my son. They are excited because they have never seen such a big car!
Minnie: That’s what I’m talking about.
Old Man: Park the car near the umbrella tree!
Big Brother: Let me park it for you, my brother!
Old Man: You are most welcome, my son.
Young Man: There you are! A new shining banknote for me!
Judge: And for you, mama, an island Kitenge, my wife wears a similar fabric.
Old Woman: Ooh! Thank you, my son. I will always pray for you to have everything you desire. [With emphasis] Everything, my son!
Judge: And this papa, is all for you. Rolex watch, see? Exactly like mine, we are now a family. [With emphasis] One big family!
Young Girl: Ooh my! All these wads and bundles! What a full-size briefcase!
           Old Man: Hallowed be the hand that gives a lot! [Laughing] You always gave a listening ear to the needs of your mama! Mother is supreme. [Laughter and general mirth as the judge comes into the room]
Judge: Oh my dear [Hugging Minnie] Look at you? Like the queen of Sheba!
Minnie: Is why a gracious reception to welcome my kingly Solomon.
Judge: The spiralling incense is already making me feel at home [Sitting on the bed, trying it] and my throne is floating with the whirling uud!
Old Woman: [Aside] Did you see that? Sinking into her bed with no invitation?
Old Man: [Aside] Audacious gesture! Signal his meaning better than words…
Old Woman: [Aside] Spelling his intention...

Big Brother: [Coming in] Here’s your car’s keys. Hey Mr Big Man! Look at you [beside himself again] A real king my friend! Look at all these people? Just come to receive you. You should vie for a senatorial seat [The drinks come, everybody sits. The women take on the carpets and mats, the men on the cushions. The judge takes off his coat and is hung on the rack by Minnie].
Judge: [Tickling his glass with a spoon] Order in court! [General laughter] Order! I see no order without my gavel. [Seriously] By God, Mnazi booze! I have been missing all this. My old neighbourhood hasn’t changed! What a return to my roots, cheers good people and a toast to your health! [Lifts his glass]
Minnie: Cheers everyone! [Tickling hers] Truly the return of the native! [Taking a long sip] Mmmh! Mnazi cocktail! The best busaa booze! [Laughter]
Big Brother: Yes. Mnazi and Amarula. But please tie your trousers at the legs.
Judge: Haha! I know that my stomach may run like caterpillar’s engine…
Big Brother: Purring like your Benz. It’s a beast! That machine is just amazing? Never driven one before! The ignition key and vrmmmvs [imitates]
Judge: Welcome to the club of big boys...
Big Brother: Yeah, big boys! Remember when we were street villains terrorising this neighbourhood, hehehe...
Judge: Yeah man! While pretending to be the murky boys only to meet the real Murky Boys...
Big Brother: And playing in the rain looking for broken down vehicles...
Judge: Yes, or stranded after we poured detergents and black oil to make the roads slippery! Then we would push big men cars for a fee!
Big Brother: And our ‘Dark Knight’ Wrestle-mania matches.
Judge: We were slippery lithe little things.
Minnie: Lads clad in loincloths.
Big Brother: After smearing our legs with coconut oil.
Judge: And amulets in our heads to intimidate a rival.
Big Brother: Tied to our arms! Tribal tattoos filling our faces.
Judge: Artwork done by Khalid, Remember the clan’s calligraphist?
Big Brother: And drumbeats animated every round of bout, breathing life...
Minnie: Little girls like us would intone in ululations to cheer up the wrestlers; and each applaud, a pointed sword, piercing an opponent’s sinewy muscles.
  Judge: Settling our disputes using our young growing muscles, bulging with pride. Meeting head-on and challenging our fears with both hands. We wrestled with fortune and held it by its neck, demanding our rights…
Big Brother: Never wrestling to mesmerize the crowd. [Takes a refill] While we were on the arena, our craft possessed us. We cared less what others said. We were the element, breathing fire to the explosive stage, ignoring the immaterial madding crowd. Wriggling out with clenched teeth at a rival’s grip, interloping legs round legs!
Judge: And what euphoria that followed at long last when you trounced your despondent opponent to the ground!
Big Brother: The conqueror would be carried shoulder high, cheered as the rival lay jeered in humiliation...
Judge: Even throwing his arms up in the air as opposing fans fell out stirring chaos to the merriment amidst drumming complimenting his bravado.
Old Man: This way, you all exploited safer avenues to channel your super energies instead of taking to alcohol and drugs to forget our poverty.
Judge: Life was tough and rough, but we wrestled it like Okonkwo in Umuofia!
Old Man: Around here, surrender is simply not an option. Do you know even the word ‘defeat’ is not in our vocabulary? We say ‘effortless attempts’ to show there were still gems of exertion in the endeavour!
Minnie: We fake it until we make it. [Refilling their glasses]
Old Man: The neighbourhood is a university in itself, a garrison of knowledge, the kiln of pristine wisdom from which the mind refines its faculties.
Big Brother: Oh! How I miss those days…
Old Woman: Copious in our lack, cautious in our hard luck, cordial in our dissonance, and decent in our sadness—such were the moral values guiding the natives of this village.
Old Man: The youth of today squander time playing computer and video games, shifting their football dexterity to watching Live Premier games.
Judge: [Laughing] I still have a battle scar, in my arm—a reminder that you beat the living daylights off me, but in turn, didn’t I get the better of Elder Brother? Remember how he made ‘effortless attempts’ to trounce me! Poor sod! Asked or a rematch! But this was no more than the efforts in the anus of a proud dog attempting to put out a furnace with his puny fart! [Minnie and the unmarried girls bring the main dish]. Wish I could re-live the history!
Big Brother: Yeah, he cried like a great baby half the night. And made his girlfriend cry to see him cry! [Laughing] Polluting the sweet air of our neighbourhood with sighs and groans of the grand defeat. [It’s served and all sit ready to eat]
Minnie: Dinner is served. Let me say the grace: Good food. Good friends. Good Lord. Let’s eat!
Big Brother: What a grace in haste, my lady!
Minnie: Bon appétit!
Judge: No! No! No cutlery for me. My fillanges are better in scooping food than all these spoons! Let me savour an art I had forgotten—a self-indulgence of using my fingers to eat!
Minnie: Then at least wash them...
Judge: Oh! About that... (Dips his forefinger in thick sauce and licks it. Picks the fish and smooches its mouth and works on it)
Minnie: You’re playing truant again with ‘germs-are-not-aware’ games.
Judge: Away with un-African table protocols. I remember we mixed all the courses and sauces into the Swahili sinia. [Impudently mixes all the food in one big round plate] Yes, like this! Then mould a mixture of fish, tikka and salad, dig it into the stew, making small balls, and put it into your mouth, like this, and then chew it, relishing its taste, leisurely with your right teeth, emitting like smoke, a fishbone from the left side of your mouth! See?
Big Brother: Yes, that’s right. You’ve never forgotten your roots!
Minnie: Only that the fish will choke you if you talk too much...
Judge: [Hot chillies sting his tongue] Oh get me some water!
Minnie: Are those tears of joy welling in your eyes?
Old Woman: Here’s a serviette
Big Brother: [Laughing] Tears of a nostalgic native!
Minnie: [Teasing] ‘Twas you who specifically insisted on highly spiced fish stew!
Old Woman: [To Minnie] Put some pilau portions with no pepper on his side of the big dish.
Judge: [To Old Woman] Oh! No! No choicest steaks, piling them before me!
Old Man: You are the guest of honour
Judge: Let’s all equally savour our daughter’s culinary arts; relish the African cuisine; but only without foreign formal rituals!
Minnie: Thank you, sir. [Giggling] Actually, you inspired my African cuisine.
Big Brother: You must maintain the standards you set in your own house!
Minnie: Our poor standards pale in comparison if you are so used to etiquettes of the high table that dictate knives to be on the right (and knives varying in diverse array), spoons to be on the left, what spoons to stir tea with, what spoons for pudding, and what spoons to serve stew!
Judge: Oh! No. Don’t mention it. It makes me sick every time my wife, in her prudence personified attitude, lectures me that: ‘You have used the wrong spoon to eat biryani!’
Old Man: Here, your fingers are the knife...
Old Woman: And even your left hand is still the right spoon...
Judge: [Laughing] There’s this restaurant with a notice; [Swallows hard] ‘adjust your standards if they are superior than ours.’ I feel alive to that fact today right here. Besides, nobody cares to warn me if I forgot to wash my hands.
Minnie: Oh, but I did that, didn’t I?
Judge: Then you are learning very fast on the job. What prudery! We should make you the chairperson of plates and spoons committee! [All laugh]
Minnie: Really? I have trouble using a fork and knife. I will look like a primitive hunter hacking away my food.
Old Woman: Please spare your time to give an orientation to my daughter on decent table manners
Judge: Ok. The short of it is that the fork is in your left, prongs face away, with your index resting on the backside, near the head of the fork. Your other four wrapped around the handle as you bend your wrist with your index pointing the plate, making the tip of the fork and knife somewhat point towards the plate…
Minnie: Big Mama says I should learn to be a decorum queen, especially to eat rice with a fork and graduate to using chopsticks. How is it even possible?
Judge: You pick the rice up, by scooping it with the fork. Don’t pick because you’ll stab nothing. Don’t heap food on the rear of the fork, just turn it over. But are you chasing or following me? [Laughs] A thousand dos and don’ts!
Old Woman: Fortunately here, you plunge your hand into the food, take the right bit, scoop it up, mould as you daub about in stew, then off you chew!
Minnie: [Cosseting] Eat daddy! Eat! It's all for you!
Big Brother: Whoa there! That’s going too far! Licking off the groundnut sauce!
Judge: No wonder it’s called finger-licking food! [Wiping his forehead] A palate’s paradise in devouring cayenne pepper and feeling the variety of flavours of my native dishes!
Minnie: [Aside to Old Woman] Have you put it?
Old Woman: [Aside] Yes, and he has gulped it down as an appetizing saucer. Get some more pepper! He’s all under your beck and call
Judge: Oh, mother pepper! I’m under your spell! And my mouth waters with a passion for pepper
Minnie: Here! [Handing him a serviette] For your red eyes; the window to your soul, purified by a cayenne!
Judge: And a sweaty temple! [Wiping] Some more passion juice...
Minnie: Drink my dear! Drink the juice of passion from Sheba herself.
Old Woman: No wonder love begins with metaphors of passion!
Big Brother: Your brow is damp, bro! And your head’s perspiring! Are you overindulging yourself, sir!
Minnie: Here’s more tikka...
Judge: No, please. I’ve had more than enough to last an eternity. How nostalgic am I to partake in this collective banquet! A toast to my beautiful lady! I truly adore this chicken tikka-mous-tikka!
 Minnie: And adore is the word of the day. [She places a bowl of warm water. Prompts the other guests to take their leave after washing their hands] Use this after hand-wash perfume so you don’t smell tilapia [Enter Mugithi, the one-man guitar strums his guitar, plucking the strings, his voice rises up in tepid tempo. Big Brother too, takes his cue]
Judge: Oh my God! The One Man Guitar! [Rising to dance] And what theme shall we dedicate and call this re-union?
Minnie: The return of the native! [Draws the net curtains, they dance] The return of my soul brother [aside to Mugithi] hit me with music, man! Here’s your payment for the performance! Double the amount! More later!
Mugithi: [Aside] Oh my! Five thousand shillings! You have my tongue, sister!
               [Singing] O judge, king of African sky!
You are an African grey eagle,
That a tilapia mistress of the sea
Forsook her ocean to follow you
But far better than a watery race
Take Minnie; a bird of your flock
An African fish eaglet you deserve
By a feather higher can she perch
Tangling your talons in dreamy air 
     [Minnie gyrates and ululates, dazzling the Judge with her dance moves].
Mugithi: A fish left her kingdom
To love an airborne bird
But after the infatuation
Of tilapia wedding an eagle
Did they settle in a coop?
Or in sunken aquarium?
Beware my soul brother
               One can’t nest a palace
               Upon the scales of tilapia
               The union shall drown
               And choked by fishbone
               Beware my soul brother
               Minnie the eaglet is yours
     [They dance vigorously as Mugithi strums]
Judge: [Drunkenly] The mellow plucking
Of the guitar strings
Stirs me to passion
And passion listens
Rising his erotic head
With guilty conscience
For he knows he’s rash
Yet he’s softly persistent
      [He pulls the reluctant Minnie and whispers to her]
Mugithi: Minnie’s love is written
     Upon every soaring swoop
     Upon every mating tenor
     A lovely African fish eaglet
     Perching in her perfection
     Perfuming the sapphire air
     The lofty cloud of azure sky
     With a rich fecund splendor
     Swearing tender maiden love
     Of her king and to her desire
     Only to make her eagle happy
Minnie: [Aside] O music of Mugithi
    Ignite his divine fire
    That dies during day
    Arouse it up this night
    Its beams and blazes
    Mugithi, stir his pathos
    Untie his love chords
    Mugithi, seduce him
    I’ve laid all my cards
    Heaving my cleavage
    My love spread ahead
    Into ceaseless ecstasy
Judge: [Drunken] O Mugithi, o the guitar notes
              O Mugithi, you arouse me
              O Mugithi, trouble my heart
              O I hear an eaglet’s mating call
              O escaping some beautiful beak
              O words of love reach mine ear
              O as piercing whisper of a lyre
Minnie [Aside] Mugithi, stir his pathos
    Untie his love chords
    Mugithi, seduce him
    I’ve laid all my cards
    Heaving my cleavage
    My love spread ahead
    Into ceaseless ecstasy
Judge: [Staggering] O creature of romance
            Fill me with poetry
             Melt me like lump
             Till I fry in desire …
             Raging with fire…
             O my love muscle...
             O come to me my love…
             O come thou fount of love...

[The judge pulls the submissive Minnie. They embrace tightly and kiss, heading towards her waiting bed. Mugithi takes his guitar and tactfully slip away.]

[Lights fade.]


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