Man and Bronze Statue

Yeng Pway Ngon

Illustration by Leif Engström

Darkness. The sound of marching and shouted commands. As the lights come up, the sounds fade and we are at the seaside, at night. There is a new moon in the sky. A TRAMP is shouting and marching on the spot, very earnestly. A middle-aged MAN sits on a bench looking at the sea. He removes his left shoe and examines it, perhaps finding some sand in it and thumping it hard against the bench. He does the same with his right shoe. The TRAMP approaches the MAN.

TRAMP: With immediate effect, I'm promoting you to General. (MAN does not respond, busy with his shoe) With immediate effect, I'm promoting you to General. (still no response) With immediate effect—(the MAN stands suddenly, glares at the TRAMP) I'm promoting you to General.

MAN: Get lost!

TRAMP: General!

MAN: Get lost!

TRAMP: I will promote you to—

MAN: Are you going?

TRAMP: (bows and leaves. Just before exiting, he turns and shouts) Brigadier General!

(The MAN sits. He notices a couple kissing just off-stage—he seems both captivated and disgusted by them. After watching for a while, he begins moving wildly and whistling, and continues until they have left. He sits quietly.

Strange music—a bronze STATUE slowly approaches the MAN.)

STATUE: Sir. (no response) Sir, do you have a light? (as if waking from a dream, the MAN silently hands the STATUE some matches) It's late. (silence. The STATUE smokes) Do you come here often? (silence) I didn't expect anyone to be out here so late.

MAN: Aren't you anyone?

STATUE: I am different.

MAN: I'm also different.

STATUE: Is that so?

MAN: I come here almost every night. I stay out late, sometimes later than this.


MAN: Why should I tell you?

STATUE: You're here every night. Don't you want someone to talk to?

MAN: How do you know what I want?

STATUE: Of course I know.

MAN: Really? I know what you're thinking. It's actually YOU who wants someone to talk to, but everyone ignores you, especially those couples. Am I right?

STATUE: What do you mean?

MAN: If you even look at them, they glare at you with big fierce eyes. As if you're a thief or something.

STATUE: That's because you're a stranger to them. People always ignore strangers, no one knows what strangers are thinking. Or maybe they despise you.

MAN: They despise you?

STATUE: No, I said they despise you.

MAN: Me? How would you know? You must think that because you're always being despised yourself.

STATUE: People may despise you. They wouldn't dare, with me.

MAN: And why is that?

STATUE: I told you. I am different.

MAN: Different? In what way? How you dress? How much money you have in your pockets? Ha, you're the same as me. Everyone who wanders around at night is the same.

STATUE: Whether you believe it or not, I am different. People respect me. They only despise you.

MAN: Why are you so sure?

STATUE: I can tell from your face.

MAN: So you're a face reader.

STATUE: I'm a bronze statue.

MAN: (not hearing the STATUE) How can you tell people respect you?

STATUE: You'll know. You can tell by my face.

MAN: (putting on his shoes) I can't read faces. I don't know what celebrity or philanthropist you are.

STATUE: I'm a statue.

MAN: Stat—statesman? Like a politician? I'm not interested in politics. But I have nothing against politicians.

STATUE: I don't care about your interests. Listen carefully. I'm a bronze statue.

MAN: Bronze?

STATUE: Statue.

MAN: Oh, a bronze statue! You must be someone famous, then. But I may not have heard of you, I don't pay attention to these things. Unless you're REALLY famous.

STATUE: I'm not famous, I'm just a bronze statue. Just like that one over there.

MAN: I see. But I can't see any trace of bronze on you.

STATUE: It's not that simple. You have to examine, to feel, to sense the bronze.

MAN: How interesting.

STATUE: I can tell you don't believe me.

MAN: I believe you! You said you're not a statesman, you're a statue.

STATUE: That's right.

MAN: But you don't smell of bronze at all.

STATUE: Come closer.

MAN: Is this a trick? (the STATUE shakes his head. MAN sniffs) Nothing.

STATUE: You're too far away.

MAN: I'm not used to being this close to people. I'm afraid of bad breath. I mean, I'm afraid that I have bad breath. I don't want to offend anyone.

STATUE: I'm not just anyone.

MAN: You're not afraid of bad breath?

STATUE: I mean, I'm not just anyone, I'm a bronze statue.

MAN: (as if in a dream) Oh yes, a bronze statue.

STATUE: You can smell the bronze now, can you?

MAN: Yes. Such a sweet smell.

STATUE: You like me. You like the bronze statue.

MAN: (hypnotised) I like the bronze statue. (waking) Yes! I love bronze statues!

STATUE: Everyone does.

MAN: But who are you a statue of?

STATUE: Meaning?

MAN: That one over there is of Stamford Raffles. But you don't look like him. What's your name?

STATUE: The name doesn't matter. It means nothing to me.

MAN: What should I call you?

STATUE: Shakespeare said, 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' Just call me Bronze Statue.

MAN: Mr. Bronze Statue. How literary you are.

STATUE: It's nothing. To keep up appearances, all statues have to know a bit of Shakespeare or Lu Xun. Chairman Mao was also fashionable for a while, now it's Confucius.

MAN: So you have to remember a lot of quotes?

STATUE: Not necessarily. I don't bother remembering anything that's out of fashion. I've forgotten most of Chairman Mao, for example.

MAN: I haven't! 'Revolution is glorious, reform is no crime!' I don't remember any more. I used to shout along with others. Just these few lines.

STATUE: Chairman Mao is a bronze statue too.

MAN: Chairman Mao is a noble bronze statue.

STATUE: From our point of view, all bronze statues are noble.

MAN: And you?

STATUE: I'm a bronze statue. I must be noble too.

MAN: But I don't even know your name. How can I be sure? We say the great Chairman Mao. The great Confucius. The great Shakespeare. No one says, 'The great Bronze Statue.'

STATUE: So superficial. It's not just these people who are great. Every age, every land has its own bronze statues. How many have you seen?

MAN: Where are you from?

STATUE: The four seas are my home.

MAN: You must have been to a lot of places.

STATUE: Yes, anywhere that needs a bronze statue.

MAN: Where have you just come from?

STATUE: From Eskimo.

MAN: Eskimo? Is there such a place?

STATUE: Have you heard of Eskimo people?

MAN: Yes, of course.

STATUE: If there are Eskimo people, there must be an Eskimo land.

MAN: Of course. Singaporeans come from Singapore. Hong Kongers come from Hong Kong. Beijingers come from Beijing. So Eskimos come from Eskimo.

STATUE: You're very logical.

MAN: You're the bronze statue of an Eskimo! Am I right?

STATUE: No, I was just visiting.

MAN: But where do you belong?

STATUE: I don't belong anywhere. I go anywhere that needs a bronze statue.

MAN: Eskimo must be far away.

STATUE: It is. Over many roads, many rivers, many train-tracks, many seas.

MAN: How did you get here?

STATUE: I just closed my eyes, and here I am.

MAN: And to go back?

STATUE: I close my eyes.

MAN: And there you are?

STATUE: And there I am.

MAN: How excellent! Can I see you go?

STATUE: No problem.

MAN: Now?

STATUE: No problem. (blinks)

MAN: Can we start now?

STATUE: I've been to Eskimo, and come back.

MAN: Yes, you already said that. Do it again now, I want to see.

STATUE: Okay. I'll do it again. (blinks)

MAN: Can we start now?

STATUE: I'm back.

MAN: Back?

STATUE: I've gone again, and come back.

MAN: But you were right here.

STATUE: You may not have noticed, but I've just been to Eskimo and back.

MAN: You're a poet.

STATUE: No, a bronze statue.

MAN: You said you went to Eskimo, but you've haven't moved an inch. Only a poet could have such imagination.

STATUE: It wasn't imagination, I really did go. Touch my hand.

MAN: It's cold, like ice.

STATUE: Because Eskimo is a very cold place. Look at my hair.

MAN: What's special about your hair?

STATUE: Can you see snowflakes in my hair?

MAN: Snowflakes. Yes, I can.

STATUE: That's because I've just come from Eskimo, and Eskimo is a very cold place.

MAN: Marvellous. Tell me, did you see anything in Eskimo?

STATUE: Eskimo people.

MAN: What were they like?

STATUE: They wore Eskimo clothes.

MAN: What did they speak? Was it Eskimo?

STATUE: I was in too much of a hurry to speak to them.

MAN: What kind of people were they?

STATUE: Men and women.

MAN: You're talking about Eskimo people?

STATUE: Yes. Eskimo people.

MAN: What were the Eskimo people doing?

STATUE: Eating, sleeping, going to work and making love.

MAN: Going to work and making love? That's exciting.

STATUE: Don't be silly. They go to work, and later, they make love.

MAN: That's nothing new.

STATUE: There's nothing new under the sun.

MAN: But today I've met a bronze statue. That's new to me.

STATUE: Have you never seen one before?

MAN: Not one that can talk.

STATUE: Chairman Mao talked a lot; he was a bronze statue. So did Confucius. It's a shame you never met them.

MAN: I mean I've never met a living statue that wasn't Chairman Mao, or Confucius, or Shakespeare. A bronze statue that's just called Bronze Statue.

STATUE: There are two types of statue. The first type are politicians, artists, philosophers, presidents, heroes. The second type are just bronze statues. I didn't want to be anything else, just a bronze statue, and so I became one.

MAN: Can that be? Who would respect such a statue?

STATUE: Man is an animal born to worship idols.

MAN: People only worship a statue if he's worth worshipping.

STATUE: Of course. Do you think I'm worthy? (He disappears in a puff of smoke. A screen appears across the back of the stage with the STATUE's face on it)

MAN: Oh! (the STATUE laughs maniacally) You're huge!

STATUE: I could be even taller, even bigger.

MAN: How tall, how big?

STATUE: As tall as that clock tower, if you like.

MAN: Yes please! (another puff of smoke. The screen now shows a close-up of the STATUE's mouth, laughing loudly) Enough, if you get any bigger, I'll go deaf. (more laughter) We don't just respect you, we worship you, we fear you.

STATUE: You have nothing to fear. Ha ha ha!

MAN: Mr. Bronze Statue, can you please be small again? My neck is getting sore.

STATUE: That's why it's not easy for a mortal to speak to a statue. You should be careful what you ask for. (another puff of smoke. The STATUE is normal-sized again)

MAN: Tonight's been quite eye-opening.

STATUE: You haven't seen anything yet.

MAN: You said you could grow smaller as well?

STATUE: Haven't I just grown smaller?

MAN: I meant smaller than me. This small. (hand gesture) Or THIS small. (gesture)


MAN: You can't?

STATUE: I won't. A statue must maintain a certain stature. To be the size of a man is as small as we can go. Many statues won't even go that far. We'd lose our position if we became any smaller than you.

MAN: And then you'd have to be normal, like us?

STATUE: Or even less than you. A pig, a dog, a stalk of grass, a stone.

MAN: How dangerous. No wonder you can't do that.

STATUE: There's no danger. Just don't break the rules.

MAN: You were really big just now.

STATUE: That's nothing. You could do that too, if you wanted.

MAN: Really? I could be as big as you? How?

STATUE: Standing on the backs of others.

MAN: I didn't see anyone else near you.

STATUE: You were looking at my face, my mouth. The others were beneath my feet.

MAN: Lift your feet, I want to see.

STATUE: That's forbidden too.

MAN: If you can't lift your feet, how can you walk?

STATUE: We can lift our feet to walk, of course. But not otherwise, and no higher than necessary. Like this.

MAN: (watching the STATUE walk) Yes, many famous people do walk like that.

STATUE: Now you know why we are respected.

MAN: Yes. Especially the way you walk. How noble you look!

STATUE: You respect me too, then?

MAN: Respect! I worship you! Can you teach me how?

STATUE: Teach you what? How to walk like me? Of course.

MAN: Not just that. How to become a statue.

STATUE: That's possible too, in theory.

MAN: Never mind theory. Tell me something practical.

STATUE: Practical. Let's take an example—would you sacrifice your friends?

MAN: I don't get you.

STATUE: Don't you remember? To grow bigger, you'll have to stand on the backs of others.

MAN: You mean, will I step on my friends? Can't I step on other people? Like my enemies?

STATUE: In theory, it doesn't matter who you stand on. But your friends trust you, and your enemies don't. Your enemies will be cautious around you. It'll be harder to get close enough to step on them.

MAN: I couldn't bear to step on my friends.

STATUE: Then you can't grow any bigger.

MAN: Do you have friends?

STATUE: Of course. Lots of friends.

MAN: Aren't they afraid of being stepped on?

STATUE: They're all under my feet.

MAN: Poor friends.

STATUE: Not necessarily. They can be statues too. Lots of statues start out that way.

MAN: And you?

STATUE: You shouldn't ask a hero about his origins. Many of us have feet of clay.

MAN: Sorry. Can I ask another question?

STATUE: Go ahead.

MAN: Your friends—they can become statues if they crawl out from under your feet?

STATUE: How can I put this?

MAN: If it's difficult to answer, you don't have to.

STATUE: I can tell you this: if they get out from under my feet, they have a chance to become a statue. But only a chance. The most important thing is, after escaping, can they step on others in turn?

MAN: Yes, they need to step on your back.

STATUE: No, I'd never let that kind of disorder happen.

MAN: But you came to your position through this kind of disorder.

STATUE: No, mine was a revolution. Revolution is noble, disorder is shameful, it's carried out by subversive elements, it needs to be suppressed.

MAN: What's the difference? When you crawled out from under someone else's feet, did anyone try to suppress you?

STATUE: Of course. Fascists.

MAN: I don't understand.

STATUE: We'll have to stop here. We've already talked about revolution and disorder. We statues shouldn't touch on sensitive topics like that. I should go.

MAN: Stay a little longer. We can talk about something else, no sensitive topics. I want to know more about statues.

STATUE: I can't stay in one place for too long. Life is like a play, we come, we go. We're happy, we're sad. Now that we've met, we have to part.

MAN: I won't waste your time, then. But tell me, I want to become a statue—

STATUE: I know.

MAN: You know?

STATUE: You want to become a statue, and you want my help. Otherwise I wouldn't have been called to appear next to you.

MAN: You came here because of me?

STATUE: You could put it like that.

MAN: Then I'm about to become a statue! Am I?

STATUE: Becoming a statue is a serious affair. You mustn't rush into it. I'll go now, but as long as you want it enough, I'll be back.

MAN: When?

STATUE: When the time is right.

MAN: But when? When will the time be right?

STATUE: I can't tell you. It's a secret. But don't worry. I'll definitely be back.

MAN: I'll be here. I'll wait for you.

STATUE: Wait for me. I'll be back—if not tomorrow, the day after, If not the day after, next week. Wait for me.

Same place, another night. The moon has gone. An OLD MAN sits on the bench, singing a Cantonese song. The middle-aged MAN enters, pacing. He glares at the OLD MAN.

MAN: Hey! (OLD MAN continues singing) Hey!

OLD MAN: What is it?

MAN: You're on my bench.

OLD MAN: Ten? It can't be that early. (looks at his wrist, realises he isn't wearing his watch, fishes in his pocket for it) Look, it's eleven.

MAN: What?

OLD MAN: Eleven, I said. If your hearing's already so poor, what will you do when you get to my age?

MAN: I don't know what you're talking about. You're on my bench.

OLD MAN: You don't know? You could go look at the clock tower over there.

MAN: You're on my bench!

OLD MAN: Oh, you want to sit down! Go ahead, no need to shout.

MAN: This is my bench. Could you sit somewhere else?

OLD MAN: Sit somewhere else? Feel free. There's another bench over there.

MAN: I want this one. It's my bench.

OLD MAN: Make up your mind. Where do you want to sit?

MAN: Here!

OLD MAN: Then sit here. So troublesome.

MAN: Can you sit somewhere else?

OLD MAN: Could you talk to my other side? This ear is a bit deaf.

MAN: I said, this is my bench. Could you move, please?

OLD MAN: Your bench?

MAN: Yes. You're on my bench.

OLD MAN: Does it have your name on it?

MAN: Why would it have my name?

OLD MAN: If not, how can you prove it's yours?

MAN: I sit here every day. It's mine.

OLD MAN: I walk along this path every day. Does that make it mine?

MAN: Please get off my bench.

OLD MAN: You get off my path, then.

MAN: There are empty benches over there. Why do you have to sit on mine?

OLD MAN: That's a good question. There are empty benches—why can't you sit there?

MAN: I sit here every day. You're the one on my bench.

OLD MAN: I've never met such an unreasonable person. So what if you sit here every day? I'm here now. Go sit over there.

MAN: Why can't you go sit over there?

OLD MAN: Are you trying to bully me, just because I'm old? You hate old people, is that it? Okay, fine, it's your bench. But I'm not moving. What are you going to do about it?

MAN: I'm not trying to bully anyone. I just want my bench back.

OLD MAN: What an odd person. I can't be bothered to argue with you.

MAN: Please don't be angry. I'll sit here with you.

OLD MAN: I never said you couldn't sit here.

MAN: Thank you. Though I prefer to sit on my own.

OLD MAN: What?

MAN: I said I'd rather sit alone.

OLD MAN: So would I! If you'd rather be on your own, go sit over there.

MAN: I didn't mean that.

OLD MAN: Then what do you mean?

MAN: When I came here before, I always sat on my own. I'm not saying I don't want to sit here with you.

OLD MAN: I don't like to see people taking advantage of me.

MAN: I'm not trying to. I'm just waiting for someone.

OLD MAN: Can't you wait over there?

MAN: I'm afraid he wouldn't see me. I've been waiting a few days now. What if he comes and I'm sitting over there, and he doesn't see me?

OLD MAN: Didn't you fix a time with him?

MAN: No.

OLD MAN: You're just like my son. Thoughtless. How could you make an appointment and forget to fix a time?

MAN: I didn't forget. He didn't tell me.

OLD MAN: You didn't ask?

MAN: I asked. He didn't want to tell me. But he said he'd come, for sure.

OLD MAN: You might as well go now. He's not going to turn up.

MAN: He said he'd be here.

OLD MAN: Then where is he?

MAN: He promised. Tomorrow, the day after, sometime.

OLD MAN: Sometime. How could you trust someone like that?

MAN: He'll be here. We made a promise.

OLD MAN: What kind of person is this? An old friend?

MAN: No. In fact, I've only met him once.

OLD MAN: Just like my son. Too trusting. Believing someone after just one meeting. You've been tricked.

MAN: No, he's not like that.

OLD MAN: How long have you been waiting?

MAN: I don't remember. Maybe a week, maybe ten days, or a fortnight. The days are all the same, the sun comes up from over there, and then it sets, and then the moon rises, and then it disappears. Every day the same. I can't tell them apart.

OLD MAN: So you could have been waiting twenty days.

MAN: Maybe.

OLD MAN: And he hasn't come.

MAN: I know he'll be here. He wouldn't miss our appointment.

OLD MAN: You've waited ten days. Maybe a month. You're going mad from waiting and he's still not here. And you still trust him. Young man, you've been tricked.

MAN: He wouldn't trick me.

OLD MAN: My son was just like you.

MAN: Please stop comparing me to your son.

OLD MAN: You really are. He wouldn't listen. Thought he knew better. Always getting cheated by people.

MAN: It's not a person I'm waiting for.

OLD MAN: A ghost? No wonder you're behaving so strangely.

MAN: He's a statue.

OLD MAN: A state? Like someone from a different country?

MAN: A statue. Like that one of Stamford Raffles over there.

OLD MAN: A white man!

MAN: No, a statue.

OLD MAN: Never mind what he is. He can't be any good, if he's done this to you.

MAN: He hasn't harmed me. In fact, he's been my saviour. Thanks to him, I have hope.

OLD MAN: Hope for what?

MAN: He's going to change my life.

OLD MAN: Can he pick the winning lottery numbers, if he's so powerful? I understand. He's on your side. He'll protect you. Tell him I'm your friend, and he can protect me too.

MAN: I don't know what you mean.

OLD MAN: I understand. When this man comes, he'll give you hope.

MAN: Yes. I'm tired of living the way I do. Get up at the same time every day, read the same newspaper, take the same bus. Even the traffic jams happen at the same place. Do the same work, see the same faces, get shouted at. I'm tired of it. I want a change.

OLD MAN: You shouldn't complain, young man. It's the same for everyone, and worse if you're old like me. We're like clothes that no one wants any more, thrown aside. People treat us like one of these benches. At least the benches get noticed when someone wants to sit on them. People even fight over them. Who would fight over an old man like me? Do you have any old people in your family?

MAN: My parents are dead.

OLD MAN: Children?

MAN: No.

OLD MAN: You're getting on, you should have some soon. It gets harder when you're old.

MAN: I'm not married.

OLD MAN: Why not? You're not gay, are you?

MAN: None of your business. Why are you asking so many questions?

OLD MAN: I'll keep quiet, then. My son was like that, scolding me for asking questions.

MAN: I sit here every day, looking at the sea. The same waves, every day, under the same sun, the same moon. My life needs to change.

OLD MAN: Who are you talking to?

MAN: What day is it today?

OLD MAN: Are you talking to me?

MAN: I'm sitting next to you. Who else would I be talking to?

OLD MAN: If I talk to you, you're not happy. If I don't talk to you, I'm not happy.

MAN: What day is it?

OLD MAN: Always asking. Why can't you look at the clock tower yourself?

MAN: I said what day, not what time.

OLD MAN: (looking at his watch) It's half past eleven.

MAN: Forget it. Who cares what day it is. Sunday, Friday, day or night. Who cares.

OLD MAN: It's half past eleven. Shouldn't you be at work?

MAN: I don't work.

OLD MAN: Why not?

MAN: I quit my job after I met the statue.

OLD MAN: Just like my son. He quit his job too.

MAN: I'm not like your son! I left because I wasn't willing to waste my whole life on a job that didn't feed me enough but wouldn't let me starve. That's why I quit.

OLD MAN: You're unemployed. And now you'll be like me, confused, forgetting what day it is, what you did yesterday. Do you even know what day it is?

MAN: Of course I do.

OLD MAN: What is it, then?

MAN: Why should I tell you?

OLD MAN: You don't know. Just like my son. No job, no idea what day it is.

MAN: Your son can go to hell. I'm not like him. He's got no hope, he's finished. I have hope. I'm waiting for the statue to come back.

OLD MAN: Fine, you're different. But you don't know what day it is, and you've got no job. I'm too old to be bothered with young people like you. Ignore me if you like, but old people know best. I'm going now. It's late.

MAN: Please, don't go, I'm sorry I lost my temper. Sit back down a little longer?

OLD MAN: It's getting cold. Look, you can't see the moon, it's too cloudy. I'm going before it rains. You should get indoors too.

MAN: It's not raining yet. I'll stay a little longer.

OLD MAN: Do what you like. You can have the whole bench to yourself. (as he goes) Just like my son. Doesn't know what day it is. (exits, singing the Cantonese song)

Same place, another night. MAN and OLD MAN sit on the stone bench. OLD MAN is singing the Cantonese song.

MAN: Why are you always singing the same song? Like a broken record.

OLD MAN: My son loved this song.

MAN: Oh, your son, your son, your precious son.

OLD MAN: I used to bring him out by the sea. As we walked, he'd ask me to sing. He was about this big. (gestures with his hand to indicate a five-year-old child)

MAN: He's still not here.

OLD MAN: Yes, he never comes when he promises. But this time it wasn't me who called him—he was the one who called me, and promised to come.

MAN: Who?

OLD MAN: My son.

MAN: What has your son got to do with me? Why are you always talking about him?

OLD MAN: He promises to come and see me, but he never does. When he was little, I did everything I promised. I said if he did well on his English exam, I'd buy him a kite. He got seventy marks, so I got him a kite.

MAN: I liked kites when I was a boy too. Floating in the sky, higher and higher. It felt like I was flying. How wonderful.

OLD MAN: My son loved kites. I brought him to the beach, this one here, just over there. It was just flat ground back then. Did your dad take you kite-flying? (MAN shakes his head) Didn't he like kites?

MAN: My dad never played with me.

OLD MAN: Is he still around? I know, you're like my son, don't want to live with your parents. I hope they're both around, so you don't have to be lonely like me.

MAN: Why do you care? So many questions. Are my parents alive? Am I married? None of your business!

OLD MAN: What do you lose by telling me? You're like my son. So short-tempered.

MAN: For the last time, I'm not your son. Stop saying that. I'm not your son.

OLD MAN: You really are like him. Won't listen. You'll lose out if you won't listen to anyone.

MAN: Are you finished? So annoying.

OLD MAN: If I'm annoying you, feel free to leave.

MAN: Why should I leave? He said he'd be here. I'll wait for him.

OLD MAN: Waiting here every day for him. I've never seen anyone so stupid.

MAN: He'll be here today. I have a feeling.

OLD MAN: You always have a feeling.

MAN: Listen. Someone's coming.

OLD MAN: I don't hear anything.

MAN: Can't you hear it? He's coming! He's coming!

OLD MAN: Is this your friend?

TRAMP: (entering) With immediate effect, I'm promoting you to General!

OLD MAN: Oh, him. He's always around here. He's a madman, you can't trust him.

MAN: Who said I was waiting for him?

TRAMP: From now on, you are the General!

MAN: Get lost!

TRAMP: You are the Get Lost!

MAN: Go away!

TRAMP: Get lost!

MAN: Will you get lost?

TRAMP: You are the Get Lost! (exits)

OLD MAN: How bad-tempered you are. Like my son.

MAN: Shut up about your son!

OLD MAN: (after a long, awkward pause) I'm going.

MAN: So early?

OLD MAN: I have my pride too. I won't be shouted at.

MAN: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to.

OLD MAN: You didn't mean to? Were you shouting by accident?

MAN: I've apologised, haven't I?

OLD MAN: I'm going home to wait for my son to call.

MAN: He isn't going to call.

OLD MAN: Your statue isn't coming.

MAN: Fine, go. Who wants you here?

(OLD MAN exits, singing. The MAN lights a cigarette. Sea sounds. Twilight. Strange music as the STATUE appears.)

STATUE: Friend.

MAN: You've come.

STATUE: Yes, I've come.

MAN: I knew you'd come.

STATUE: Of course I've come. Who do you think I am, Godot?

MAN: Who's Godot? Is he another bronze statue?

STATUE: He might be. He might not be. He's someone who says he'll come and then doesn't.

MAN: I'm glad you're not him. I'm glad you're finally here.

STATUE: Are you ready?

MAN: Ready?

STATUE: To be a statue.

MAN: I'm ready. I've been ready since you went away. I'm so tired of my life. I need a way out.

STATUE: Discontent can be the beginning of destruction.

MAN: Let me try it. I'd rather be destroyed than slowly suffocated.

STATUE: The life of a statue may not satisfy you.

MAN: Anything is better than this.

STATUE: Becoming a statue is an arduous process.

MAN: I'm willing to suffer.

STATUE: But you might be the exception.

MAN: I hope so. I'd be grateful.

STATUE: Don't be grateful. There are conditions.

MAN: What conditions? I'll accept anything reasonable.

STATUE: You'll have to sign this contract.

MAN: What is it?

STATUE: It's for appearances. We statues are democratic. We don't force people into this. It's to show that you gave up your humanity willingly. To prevent future disputes.

MAN: Can I see?

STATUE: I looked it over for you. It says you willingly gave up your human form to be a bronze statue. And then you'll be free. Powerful.

MAN: I'll sign.

STATUE: You'll give up your human form?

MAN: Why would I need my human form with all the advantages of being a bronze statue? (searches his pockets) Do you have a pen I can borrow?

STATUE: You won't be signing it with just a pen. That's too casual. This is a serious business.

MAN: Then what? Blood? I'm scared of bleeding.

STATUE: You won't have to.

MAN: Oh, great. As long as it's someone else's blood, that's fine.

STATUE: No blood. We'll leave that to Faust and the devil. You'll sign with tears.

MAN: I'm not sad. Why would I cry?

STATUE: You don't have to cry. The tears will flow as long as you're willing to accept these conditions.

MAN: Really? Oh, they're coming. (MAN is crying. He uses tears to sign)

STATUE: No rush. There'll be plenty of tears, you won't run out.

MAN: So many tears. Why?

STATUE: It's normal, when you give up your humanity.

MAN: I can't stop crying. Where is it coming from?

STATUE: The tears are coming from your soul.

MAN: My soul?

STATUE: Your soul can't stop weeping.

MAN: Yes. I can hear my soul crying. Why? Why?

STATUE: Your soul is sad to be leaving you. It misses your body.

MAN: Am I losing my soul?

STATUE: Why do you care? You're a statue now. Only people need souls, statues don't. What's precious about you now isn't your soul, it's your stature. Your power.

MAN: I have no soul. Am I going to become a corpse?

STATUE: You're going to become a statue.

MAN: I'm frightened and sad, as if something bad is going to happen.

STATUE: Don't worry. That's a normal reaction as the soul leaves your body, you'll feel better than ever when it's gone.

MAN: Am I a statue now?

STATUE: You'll be a statue eventually, but not yet.

MAN: Why not?

STATUE: There's one more condition.

MAN: I've signed the contract. It didn't mention any further conditions.

STATUE: It did. You just didn't look carefully.

MAN: Really? Show me.

STATUE: Here. (shows him the contract)

MAN: It's on the back?

STATUE: Didn't you check the back?

MAN: There's nothing there.

STATUE: Look at the bottom right corner.

MAN: Such small writing. Who could have seen that? Are you trying to cheat me?

STATUE: Don't say that. A statue would never do such a thing. How dare you. Even something on the back of a contract in small writing is still part of the contract.

MAN: Why didn't you warn me?

STATUE: You should know to read a contract carefully before signing. That's basic. Why would you need someone to remind you?

MAN: Fine, fine. I'll read it now. (reading) 'In exceptional circumstances, a further condition may be added.' Are these exceptional circumstances?

STATUE: Aren't they?

MAN: I'm very ordinary.

STATUE: Some people struggle to become statues. They get trodden on before climbing out from under my feet.

MAN: I know. You told me.

STATUE: But you didn't want to do that, you took the easy way. You wanted to sign a piece of paper and have it happen just like that. Isn't that exceptional?

MAN: That makes sense, I suppose. What's the condition?

STATUE: You have to follow my instructions.

MAN: So you're my boss?

STATUE: You could say that.

MAN: What about my personal freedom?

STATUE: You'll be free. No statue is without freedom, but no one is completely free.

MAN: I know. You said there are restrictions on you, too.

STATUE: I'm glad you realise that.

MAN: Fine, I'll obey your instructions. It's still better than being human!

STATUE: Completely different.

MAN: But will I have to follow you forever?

STATUE: Of course not. One day, I'll give you power—

MAN: Power?

STATUE: Yes. And then you'll be like me. You won't have to listen to anyone, you'll be the one giving instructions.

MAN: I understand. You're in charge, but one day I will be too.

STATUE: Exactly. One day—tomorrow, maybe, or the day after...

MAN: (as if intoxicated) I know. The day after that, or next week...

STATUE: Or next month, or next year...

MAN: I'll have power. One day...

Same place, another night. Full moon. A YOUTH sits on the bench chewing gum noisily. When he gets bored, he spits the gum into the sea and takes a fresh piece from the packet. Mysterious music. The MAN enters. There is a rope around his neck, being held by someone off-stage. The rope is clearly controlling the MAN's movements. The YOUTH cannot see the rope. The MAN walks proudly, his feet splayed apart, apparently thinking he looks important.

MAN: (taking out a cigarette) Friend. Do you have a light?

YOUTH: Sorry, I don't smoke.

MAN: I thought all young people smoke.

YOUTH: None of my friends do. I have chewing gum, would you like some?

MAN: It's illegal to chew gum. You should smoke instead.

YOUTH: It's only illegal to sell gum. We're allowed to chew it.

MAN: I seldom see people around here so late.

YOUTH: It's only eleven. The person beside me just left. And there are people over there.

MAN: And you're a person.


MAN: Ah, but I'm not a person.

YOUTH: You're not a person?

MAN: I'm not a person.

YOUTH: Right. What kind of spirit are you, then?

MAN: I'm a statue.

YOUTH: A statue.

MAN: Like that one of Raffles over there.

YOUTH: You're (stands, imitates Raffles's pose) a statue.

MAN: Yes, but I'm different from him.

YOUTH: I know. He's white, you're Chinese.

MAN: Not only that. I can walk. (does so, but the rope is too short) He can't.

YOUTH: Then you must be more powerful than him.

MAN: Of course. Do you envy me?

YOUTH: I do.

MAN: I can come and go, shrink and grow. I'll show you if you don't believe me.

YOUTH: Why not, I'm not doing anything else.

MAN: I'll go to Eskimo. Do you know where that is?

YOUTH: No. I guess it's not nearby.

MAN: It's very far away. To get there you must walk over many roads, many rivers, many train-tracks, many seas.

YOUTH: If it's that far, I probably wouldn't walk.

MAN: How would you get there?

YOUTH: I'd take a plane.

MAN: I hadn't thought of that. But no airlines fly there.

YOUTH: Then I wouldn't go.

MAN: I can go.

YOUTH: You have a private jet?

MAN: I can go just by closing my eyes. And come back the same way.

YOUTH: How exciting. That must save some money. And your luggage?

MAN: I hadn't thought of that. I don't have any on me.

YOUTH: You don't bring luggage when you travel?

MAN: You're so picky. Okay, I can bring luggage too. But I don't have any now.

YOUTH: What if your luggage was overweight?

MAN: I don't have any luggage, okay? I'm going. Do you want to watch?

YOUTH: Okay.

MAN: Watch. I'm going. (blinks) Well?

YOUTH: Aren't you going to Eskimo?

MAN: I've gone.

YOUTH: You have? Oh! Welcome, welcome. Welcome to Eskimo.

MAN: No, no, I've been and come back.

YOUTH: Oh. Then welcome back to Singapore.

MAN: You don't believe me. Touch my hand.

YOUTH: What about it? Is it an Eskimo hand?

MAN: Isn't it cold?

YOUTH: No, it's quite a warm evening.

MAN: I mean my hand.

YOUTH: Why would your hand be cold?

MAN: It is cold. Because Eskimo is a very cold place.

YOUTH: Oh, right, your hand is cold, I couldn't tell before. Maybe my hand was too cold. The weather must be turning cold.

MAN: If you still don't believe me, look at my hair.

YOUTH: Oh! You've been to Eskimo!

MAN: You can tell?

YOUTH: Your hair is quite messy. It must be windy in Eskimo.

MAN: Never mind the wind. Do you see white stuff in my hair? Come here, under the light. (tries to pull the youth into the light, but the rope isn't long enough) Never mind, it's bright enough here.

YOUTH: I see it. White stuff.

MAN: Yes, white stuff!

YOUTH: Oh, right. Dandruff. (mimicking a TV commercial) Dandruff! How horrid!

MAN: You're wrong, it's snow! Eskimo is a very cold place.

YOUTH: Right, you're right, how pretty, the snowflakes in your hair.

MAN: And I can become bigger. As big as you like.

YOUTH: Excellent.

MAN: Very big.

YOUTH: Let's see it.

MAN: Watch!

(A puff of smoke. The lights dim and brighten. The MAN is standing in the same place exactly the same size, laughing heartily. The YOUTH is momentarily stunned, then joins in.)

MAN: What do you think?

YOUTH: That's a good laugh.

MAN: And I can be even bigger.

YOUTH: How big?

MAN: Taller than that clock tower.

YOUTH: Very good.

MAN: Do you believe me?

YOUTH: I believe you completely.

MAN: Watch. (As before—a puff of smoke, lights change, the MAN is the same size.) Aren't you scared of me? Ha ha ha.

YOUTH: Terrified. Ha ha ha.

MAN: You should be scared to death. Ha ha ha.

YOUTH: I really am. Ha ha ha.

MAN: I'm going to change back now.

YOUTH: Change back?

MAN: To my original size.

YOUTH: Is there a difference?

MAN: I'm much bigger now. Haven't you noticed?

YOUTH: Let's see. (stepping back) Oh yes, there is a little difference.

MAN: A vast difference, you mean.

YOUTH: Yes, vast.

MAN: I'm changing back now. (puff of smoke, etc.)

YOUTH: Have you changed?

MAN: Of course. Can't you tell?

YOUTH: Oh, yes, you do look a bit different from before.

MAN: Yes. I've shrunk.

YOUTH: Have you?

MAN: I grew big. I had to shrink to get back to my original size.

YOUTH: Right. I forgot you were big before.

MAN: I could get even smaller, but I won't. We statues need to keep our dignity.

YOUTH: Of course. We all need that.

MAN: Don't you envy me?

YOUTH: Of course. Why wouldn't I.

MAN: Only a statue can be like me. Come and go as I please. Growing big or small.

YOUTH: Going to Eskimo in the blink of an eye. Growing. Shrinking.

MAN: Don't you want to be a statue like me?

YOUTH: Like you?

MAN: Like me. Don't you think the way I walk is special? (tries to demonstrate; the rope is too short)

YOUTH: It is a little different from other people.

MAN: A little? It's completely different.

YOUTH: Yes, completely different.

MAN: Would you like to know why?

YOUTH: There's something odd about your footsteps.

MAN: (pleased) You can tell.

YOUTH: Are your legs—

MAN: It's not my legs, it's my feet. Can't you see? I seldom lift up my feet.

YOUTH: (looking) Oh, I see. You have a hole in your shoe.

MAN: What hole? Look. I'm treading on the backs of others.

YOUTH: Are you?

MAN: You can't see them. They're under my feet.

YOUTH: How amazing you are.

MAN: Don't envy me. You could be like me too—I'll teach you how.

YOUTH: To walk like you? (imitates the MAN) I'm fine, thanks.

MAN: You're not a statue, of course you can't walk like one. The walking doesn't matter. Wouldn't you like to be a statue?

YOUTH: A statue?

MAN: Yes.

YOUTH: Like you?

MAN: Like me.

YOUTH: No way.

MAN: Why not?

YOUTH: I'm a normal person. I've got lots of things to do. I can't play this game every day. I'm not a child—I'd get bored.

MAN: You'd get bored of being a statue?

YOUTH: Going to Eskimo. Becoming big or small. So what? Aren't you tired of it?

MAN: How could I be? It's what makes me special. Different from people.

YOUTH: Then you go ahead with your games. I'm not interested.

(Suddenly, the sound of a whip cracking, and the STATUE's voice)

STATUE: (off) Lazy idiot. That's enough rest. Get moving!

MAN: I have to go now. Statues never stay too long in one place. We have too much to do.

STATUE: (entering, with a whip) Hurry up! I don't have all day.

YOUTH: (not seeing the STATUE) You'd better go, then. Goodbye!

STATUE: Stop, fool! Turn this way, not that. Idiot.

MAN: (being dragged off by the rope) I'll come back. Wait for me.

STATUE: Go on!

YOUTH: (still humouring him) Okay, I'll wait for you.

STATUE: To your left, moron.

MAN: I might come tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, or maybe next week. When I come back, I'll help you turn into a statue.

STATUE: (hitting the ground with his whip) Are you coming, imbecile?

YOUTH: Yes, fine, I'll wait.

MAN: I'll definitely come back!

(Shouting, they make a circuit of the stage, then sit down. The YOUTH is left alone. He sits in silence for a while, then shakes his head and sighs with pity.)

Silence. Music starts as lights come up. A group of STATUES, each with a rope around his neck, each pulling at the rope of the one behind him. They have whips, which they use to hit each other and shout as they move endlessly in a circle.

TRAMP: (entering, to the STATUES) With immediate effect, I promote you to General!

(Blackout. In the darkness, the sound of marching, and then silence.)

translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tiang