Holy Land

Mohamed Kacimi

Photograph by Sherman Ong

CHARACTERS


     IMEN............... The young girl.

     ALIA............... Yad's wife.

     YAD................ The husband.

     AMIN............... Their son.

     IAN................. The soldier, dressed in civilian clothes.


SETTING


A city under siege. The sea is heard everywhere but no one can get to it. There is a white-hot sky, obscured by flocks of crows. In this white city, there is no color, no sand, no accents, no perfume, no faces and no foreign clothes. There is also no arak, no pistachios, no hookah, no ice, and much less water. An old deck of cards is all that is left. Neither the soldiers, nor the barbed wires, nor the war are visible to the naked eye.

ONE.


IMEN: Just leave me alone!

IAN: Open up, open up!

IMEN: If I have to open up one more time, I'm going to die.

IAN: Open up, for the last time, open up!

Ian enters, very calm. He strolls through the room.

IAN (CONT'D): Who started the fire?

IMEN: What fire?

IAN: Who set the tires on fire?

IMEN: I so wish I could sleep, really sleep just once.

IAN: And the flag, who set the flag on fire?

IMEN: What flag?

IAN: Our flag.

IMEN: Your flag doesn't concern me.

IAN: What's that?

IMEN: The bag? Photos of my mother.

IAN: No, not with your hands, don't move, stand over there, take off your shoes, grab the bag gently with your right foot, pull it toward you, it's closed? Put your toes through the handles, spread your legs slowly, there, that's good.

He takes some photos out of the bag.

IAN(CONT'D): That's her? The doc?

IMEN: Yes.

IAN: Where is she?

IMEN: She disappeared yesterday.

He looks at the photo again.

IAN: She disappeared where?

IMEN: At the checkpoint.

IAN: No one died at the checkpoint yesterday.

IMEN: I said "disappeared."

IAN: And your father, where is he?

IMEN: You have him.

IAN: How long did he get?

IMEN: Life.

IAN: Too bad for him. She was a knockout.

He puts one of the photos in his pocket. She tries to grab it from him.

IMEN: Give me back my photo.

IAN: Why are you scared? I'm a good guy. Why are you looking at me like that, I don't like it, I don't like those dark eyes. What's in those dark eyes, can you tell me what's in those dark eyes?

IMEN: There's nothing, nothing in those dark eyes, nothing, only dark circles, only television, that's all, only silliness in my eyes, only music videos, only Soap Kills videos in my eyes.

IAN: People who have dark eyes are not transparent, not transparent at all. Stop staring at me like that. I'm going to rip your eyes out, I'm going to take them between my fingers, I'm going to crack them like nuts just to see what's inside them. Do you know Stravinsky?

IMEN: Stravinsky?

IAN: You don't like music, I can see it in your eyes, your eyes which I'm going to smash to pieces like a piggy bank. Stop shaking, I'm telling you, I'm a good guy.

He gives her back the photo.

IAN(CONT'D): What are those blood stains on the floor?

IMEN: That's Jesus's blood.

IAN: You think I'm a fucking idiot?

IMEN: It's Jesus, my cat, my tabby cat. He jumped on the turret of the tank that's right outside, he clawed at the turret, the soldier got scared, he stormed out of the tank, furious, he grabbed Jesus. With one hand he broke his paw, just like that, like a piece of straw, I took Jesus to the vet, he ripped out his claws and wrapped him in bandages. Since then, Jesus has blown a fuse, he runs everywhere, he bangs his paws everywhere, everywhere he leaves blood stains, on my bed, on the floor, on my clothes.

IAN: And where's this Jesus who leaves blood everywhere?

IMEN: With my neighbor Alia, the midwife.

IAN: I'm going to check on that.

IMEN: Why are you afraid of cats?

IAN: We have the right to be afraid too.

He exits.

TWO.


Alia enters.

ALIA: Imen! I can't stand it anymore.

IMEN: What a coincidence, Alia, me neither.

ALIA: This time, it's too much.

IMEN: Every day, it's too much.

ALIA: I'm talking about your cat. The soldiers showed up at my place at two in the morning to check up on your story. If I find him in my living room again, I'm throwing him out the window right under the tank's wheels.

IMEN: You think it's easy to be a clawless tabby cat in this goddamn Holy Land?

ALIA: The white damask slipcover on my couch, you know what it looks like now? A tampax, that's what, a tampax because of Jesus.

IMEN: If anyone touches so much as a hair on my cat, I'll kill him.

ALIA: You should pray for your mother's return instead of thinking about your cat.

IMEN: My mother always manages, but my cat, it's all I have left.

ALIA: You shouldn't say that, you'll always have the motherland. The motherland is everything.

IMEN: The motherland? You know how I feel about the motherland?

ALIA: Well, better that than nothing.

IMEN: My only motherland is my cat, he scratches, he purrs, he meows, he cuddles up to me when he's hungry and he leaves me alone when he's full. Have you ever heard of a Promised Land as beautiful as a cat? (A beat.) I have something to tell you.

ALIA: No, I won't fall for it.

IMEN: Yes! I love you.

ALIA: It's not that big of a deal, I forget, I forget easily you know, I'll wash the slipcover.

IMEN(lighting the hookah): Here, have a taste of this.

ALIA: Let's see?

Alia draws on the hookah.

ALIA(CONT'D): What is it?

IMEN: Double-Apple from Egypt.

ALIA: I can already smell the Nile.

IMEN: Hold the hose straight, Alia. A hookah is like a cock, the stiffer the better.

ALIA: You should give up television, Imen.

IMEN: Me, when I get a hit from the hookah, I go far, very far.

ALIA: Where are you now?

IMEN: I'm in Carcassonne, in Carcassonne.

ALIA: What's that?

IMEN: You've never heard of Carcassonne? You don't know what you're missing. I tried crossing the border this morning to buy cucumbers for my dark circles, it's an obsession, I know. At the checkpoint, the loudspeakers were shouting: "Everybody on your knees, move forward slowly on your knees, men lift your T-shirts slowly with the tips of the fingers on the left hand, women open your blouses with the left hand, everybody move forward, slowly on your knees, right hand behind your head." It was raining, crazy, the soldiers stop an old man to go through his bag of potatoes, one by one they feel the potatoes. The old man chuckles, he grabs my arm: "Don't worry honey, let them go through the potatoes, it's their destiny to go through our potatoes. I just got back from France. What's beautiful over there is the road to Carcassonne. You know, on the road to Carcassonne, you drive on a very wide road with tons of cars. At one point, you stop and you get a little piece of paper, then you drive, then you stop again and you pay. And then you leave the very wide road. At checkpoints in France, you always pay but you never get hit."

ALIA: And the cucumbers?

IMEN: Not a slice, the soldier didn't let me through.

Alia brushes Imen's face with her hand.

ALIA: Oh, I hadn't seen this one yet.

IMEN: Another one?

ALIA: It's barely noticeable.

IMEN: If every day I get a new wrinkle, in a year I'll be ready for the scrap heap.

ALIA: When are you getting married?

IMEN: I'm waiting for him to get out...

ALIA: How long did he get?

IMEN: Five years minimum.

ALIA: It'll go by quickly.

IMEN: Everything goes by quickly, love, life, dreams, death, everything goes except dark circles, that doesn't go, that never goes.

ALIA: If you have children, have eight, that way if they kill four, you'll still be left with half.

IMEN: I'm not that crazy.

ALIA: Our destiny is in the hands of God, He's the only one who knows.

We hear gunfire.

ALIA(CONT'D): It's starting again.

IMEN: I keep my destiny in my own hands, that way I'm in peace. I don't know what they can still be bombing. There's nothing left.

ALIA: It's funny, every time they bomb us, I feel a little hungry.

IMEN: All I have is fat free yogurt.

ALIA: I like yogurt. Is that a rocket?

IMEN: No, a missile! What kind of yogurt do you usually get?

ALIA: Greek, always.

IMEN: Big mistake.

ALIA: Why?

IMEN: Greek yogurt goes straight to your ass.

ALIA: Is that a missile?

IMEN: No, a rocket.

THREE.


Yad enters.

YAD: Alia, Alia, where's the arak?

ALIA: There's no more arak, my love.

YAD: If there's no arak, the East is dead.

IMEN: Come here, little kitty.

YAD: Night is falling, we have to do something.

ALIA: There's nothing we can do anymore.

YAD: We have to cross the border.

ALIA: There's a total blockade. They shoot anything that moves.

YAD: The tunnel, there's still the tunnel.

IMEN: They've blasted the tunnel.

YAD: There must be a drop of alcohol somewhere.

ALIA: We don't have a penny, Yad.

YAD: What about your house calls?

ALIA: Push, push, push, honey. I screamed for three hours straight. Finally the baby drops. I cut the cord. The husband grabs me by the scruff of the neck and throws me out on the street like a piece of trash.

IMEN: It was stillborn?

ALIA: No, it was a girl.

IMEN: What a terrible disaster!

ALIA: Now I know, as soon as a woman opens her legs, as soon as I get a glimpse of her belly, I know whether it's a boy or a girl. When it's a girl, I feel a storm over the woman's genitals, a great storm. I feel it very strongly. I'm never wrong. Girls are like death, I see them coming from a mile away.

YAD: There must be a drop, a little drop, somewhere. Men who treat women like dogs shouldn't be surprised to be treated like shit... A drop to summon up the night. A drop to bring the sea, here, to my feet. A drop to get a taste of the Milky Way... A drop...

ALIA: Here, scrape the last of this yogurt instead, you need magnesium.

IMEN: You hear that?

ALIA: What is it?

YAD: Nothing serious, it's the helicopters.

ALIA: We need to open the windows so they don't blow in.

IMEN: I never shut my windows so they won't blow in.

YAD: Where are they going?

ALIA: Toward the sea, I think.

IMEN: South.

ALIA: Why are they bombing us tonight? Nothing happened.

YAD: They're bombing us bombing us because nothing is happening. They're bombing us because we're waiting for an arak that won't come. because our glasses are empty. They're we don't know what to say anymore.

IMEN: Where did it fall?

YAD: Nor far, not far, can you feel? The house is shaking.

IMEN: Calm down, little kitty, calm down.

YAD: There's a strong smell.

ALIA: A smell of burning, there's a big, a huge fire out there. The hippodrome is burning, they've bombed the hippodrome. The lights are out...

YAD: A drop, just a drop and I'll piss out the window until I drown their helicopters.

ALIA: Eat your yogurt, my love, eat.

IMEN: The lights are coming back on.

ALIA: The helicopters, the helicopters, they're swooping down on us, the search lights are blinding me.

The wind from the helicopters blows everything in the room.

ALIA(CONT'D): All this noise, I can't take it any more, there is no God but
God, Yad, we're going to die.

YAD: My God, what a circus!

IMEN: My head is exploding. No, Jesus, no come back.

Jesus jumps on Alia's lap.

ALIA: Get down, filthy animal, go away.

She smacks Jesus.

YAD: The helicopters--

IMEN: I don't give a shit about the helicopters! Are you out of your mind? You scared him. See how he's shaking?

ALIA: And my silk blouse, see what he's done to it?

YAD: Such a Via Dolorosa.

IMEN: Cats' blood is not indelible! You soak the stain with 3% hydrogen peroxide, you rub it, you rinse in cold water, it comes out right away...

ALIA: It doesn't work with silk.

IMEN: Great idea to wear silk when we're being bombed.

ALIA: What do you want me to wear, acrylic? That would be the last straw. Don't you know that if you die wearing acrylic, your corpse stinks right away?

YAD: They're moving away. Here, Imen, run to Joseph's, he never closes. Tell him to give you a bottle of arak, Zahle arak, he knows.

Imen exits.

ALIA: What are you thinking, we have nothing left and you're throwing twenty dollars out the window.

YAD: Just because we lost our land doesn't mean we're going to give up our drunkenness.

FOUR.


ALIA: I have to tell you something.

YAD: I know.

ALIA: You know what?

YAD: I know in advance everything you don't tell me.

ALIA: That's true.

YAD: It's been thirty years.

ALIA: Talk about love!

YAD: Thirty years of love, that's no longer love, that's public service.

ALIA: You remember everything?

YAD: I remember everything.

ALIA: What kind of shoes does Imen wear?

YAD: Black shoes, made of goat's leather, with very thin laces, the lace on the left foot is beginning to fray and the heel of the right foot is slightly worn.

ALIA: And our first date? You remember it?

YAD: Argh, please, not that.

ALIA: What's wrong, Yad?

YAD: Couples' memories give me rheumatism, you know that.

ALIA: We've been through a lot.

YAD: What haven't we been through, you mean.

ALIA: Do you still love me?

YAD: Madly, as usual.

ALIA: I don't really feel it.

YAD: I can't do any better.

ALIA: Why not?

YAD: It's the war.

ALIA: The war always gets the blame.

YAD: It has to be good for something.

ALIA: Imen shouldn't be taking this long.

YAD: She always manages.

ALIA: Yad, I have to tell you something.

YAD: Tell me.

ALIA: We need to talk.

YAD: Alia, my love, when two people who love each other say "we need to talk" that means they have nothing left to say to each other.

ALIA: But I want proof of your love.

YAD: What proof?

ALIA: Socks.

YAD: What socks?

ALIA: For years you've promised to buy me socks.

YAD: What about the ones from Nicosia?

ALIA: They melted.

YAD: Those were pure Scottish Wool socks from Nicosia, they weren't ice cream parfaits.

ALIA: Your trip to Cyprus was three years ago.

YAD: Cyprus, Cyprus, what a beautiful country, donkeys everywhere, an expansive sea and as much Jack Daniel's as you can possibly want.

ALIA: You want to see them?

YAD: Show me. It's true there's a big hole right here under the toe of the right foot, and two small holes on the left foot under the sole. That's the occupation my love, it makes holes in our socks.

He kisses her.

YAD(CONT'D): It makes holes in the sky, it makes holes in the earth, it makes holes in our history, it makes holes in our bodies, it makes holes in our love.

He kisses her. She moves away.

ALIA: Don't think you're going to make love to me as long as there are holes in my socks.

She exits.


FIVE.


YAD: Will night ever fucking fall?
I have too many exiles, I have too many deserts in my throat to cry out. For once I want it to fall close to me, not on the ground but between my fingers.
Night always falls all at once.
I want it to fall little by little.
I want it to fall bit by bit.
I want it to fall drop by drop.
I want it to fall step by step, in my eyes.
I want to tear up the night that's falling on me.
I want to spew out the night that's slipping into me.
When night falls, I feel it here.
When night falls, I feel it sprout everywhere.
It's sprouting now, very loudly, in my head.
Night is bursting forth like a stream in my gut.
I don't smoke anymore, my lungs are empty.
Night steals my breath, it devours my lungs.
Night vomits night into my entrails.
When night falls, it rises in my throat.
I rip out my throat and slice it in two.
I slice it vertically from larynx to pharynx.
I find a mass grave.
A mass grave where all the nights are decomposing.
All the nights fallen into my body.
I am the mass grave for all the nights who don't know where the fuck to go.
When night falls, I search the sea.
It doesn't budge, the sea will never budge.
Too much salt, too many books, too many corpses in its depths.
I hear jackals lap up the waves.
Only jackals have the right to lap up the sea.
I can hear them, those jackals, they're vomiting black mud and stones all over the beach.
The jackals are vomiting children's heads burst open by explosive bullets.
Night falls yet there are white lights everywhere.
All those stars howling up there and all those tracer bullets shouting in my head.
I went into the night once and I came out burned by salt and corpses.
Everything is poisoned, rotten, in the night, the sand, the water.
The alphabet too is poisonous.
The desert too, especially the desert.
The desert, we're going to eat it up until the last grain of sand.
The desert, we're going to eat it up until the last star.
Everything falls here:
The desert falls.
The sea falls.
Oblivion falls.
Exile falls.
The body falls.
The tongue falls.
Eyes fall.
God falls.
Night doesn't fall alone.

translated from the French by Chantal Bilodeau



Read the original in French

Mohamed Kacimi is originally from El Hamel in Algeria. A poet, playwright, novelist, translator and journalist, he is also the president of Écritures Vagabondes — an organization which puts together international writing residencies. One of the most prolific contemporary writers of the French language, he is a recipient of the Prix Lugano du théâtre, the 2005 Prix SACD de la francophonie and a Jury Special Mention from the Grand Prix de littérature dramatique 2007. His work often explores contemporary Muslim identity and the role of religion in society. Kacimi has collaborated with poets Bernard Noël and Eugène Guillevic and his articles have appeared in Actuel, Le Monde and France Culture. He has written multiple books including an encyclopedia of the Arab world for children. He is based in Paris.

Chantal Bilodeau is a New York-based playwright and translator originally from Montreal. Her plays and translations have been presented in theatres across the U.S., as well as in Canada, Mexico and Italy. She has received fellowships from the Lark Play Development Center, the Dramatists Guild, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Banff Playwrights Colony and The Arctic Circle – an expeditionary residency program bringing together artists, architects, scientists and educators to collectively explore a region of the Arctic. Her translations include plays by Mohamed Kacimi (Algeria), Koffi Kwahulé (Côte d'Ivoire), Étienne Lepage (Québec) and Larry Tremblay (Québec). She is currently working on a six-play cycle which will look at the different facets of the Arctic and investigate how theatre can participate in addressing the many challenges faced by communities on the frontline of climate change. Her website can be found here.



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