By: Evan Guilford-Blake
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Yasmina, early 30s
SETTING: A bare stage. The production is encouraged to use sound as much as possible to create the environment.
TIME: Approximately the present
In Yasmina, Cloris and Gordafarid (18 minutes), three women — a wounded war veteran, one about to leave for a war zone for her first tour of duty, the third making the choice to sacrifice herself to serve her country — “write” letters to significant others describing their feelings about war, the experience/anticipation of it, and their part in it.
Playwright’s note: The wars that are the settings for what is described in Yasmina, Cloris and Gordafarid, the women who describe them and the incidents to which they refer are, all, entirely fictional. War is not a thing of time, place, generation or specific circumstance.
AT RISE: The stage is dark. Lights rise slowly on YASMINA. [NOTE: It is suggested Yasmina begin her monologue in black and remain in shadows until she says: “I think a lot about darkness.”]
YASMINA: Dear Rikki —
Good news at long last. They’re sending me home! I tried to call you but I got the goddamn voicemail — we have got to get rid of that message. First thing we do after I walk in the door. After you kiss me, of course, for what will probably be the thousandth time since I get off the plane. That message sounds sooooo sweet. So instead of me — live from 5,000 miles away — you get this, instead. E-mail isn’t the comforting sound of your voice, and I’ll try again later, but I’m so excited I couldn’t wait to tell you. And, besides, I need to practice my typing. Ignore the mistakes: This keyboard is really small and no way I’m gonna let anyone proofread it.
The other good news, I s’pose, is that you won’t have to come. And I’m grateful for that. I mean, it would’ve been awful goddamn hard for you to get in here, let alone just get here; and we couldn’t’ve afforded for you to stay long enough to make the trip worth it. And, b’sides, I figure I still don’t look so good. I don’t know if I’m ready to have the world see me like this — however “this” looks. There’s still some pain — the doctor says there will be some pain at least a few more months, maybe now and then after that, because of the nerves. You remember.
But, really, I’m a lot better. The bandages came off this morning — for good! When they said they were going to do it? I kept thinking: The nurse ’s gonna gasp like in that Twilight Zone show. I’ll never know if she did. I thought they’d let me be awake for the “unveiling” but, no, I was under. And groggy as hell when I woke up. But now I get to feel my face again. Rik — there are … lots of scars. Lots. More than I guessed there was. I mean, I knew there’d be scars, it hurt so much, it was like my skin was gettin’ tore up again and again, but God, I’m so afraid of what I look like. I’m afraid for you to see me. I know I’m ugly, and they can’t do anything reconstructive for years, maybe never, and I don’t want to look like this, I don’t want to look like someone little kids will scream at when they see, like someone you’ll have to hide what you’re feeling when you see. I know you didn’t want me for my looks in the first place, and eleven years is a long time, but, you’re so goddamn beautiful and hey, how people look, it’s always made a difference to me.
I guess it won’t any more, huh?
I guess it’s good I never had kids.
CLORIS: Hey, Paulie.
There are lots of stars out tonight. They make me feel silly. Like when you and me’d get in the car, go ’way out into the country, and just lie in some field, listen to the crickets, drink and smoke pot and tickle … and all the rest. Tonight, before we got ready for bed, Mita and me sat on the rocks outside and looked at them. The stars, I mean. They’re really cool, out here. I mean,
like there’s no lights, well, except for the ones around the base. But you can see, it’s like, a hundred miles, across the water, across all the boats — ships, I mean; I still call them boats sometimes, the officers get real p.o.ed. Mita thinks it’s funny. Sure not like the city. Or the county. I never seen this much darkness back home.
I wonder if it’ll be like this there. They keep showin’ us pictures, but I can’t tell nothin’ from pictures. I guess I’m excited about goin’. I mean, who ever thought I’d get to go somewhere on a dif’rent continent, on a plane and all. Some of the girls’re scared. I mean, all the stuff you see on TV, that’s in the papers. Mita’s brother tried to talk her out of joining up. He comes here every week, and he always tries to get her to sneak away. “What you wanna do this for?” he says. “You gonna get your sorry ass killed.” Mita just laughs. “Maybe,” she says. But I know she doesn’t think she will, get killed I mean.
Me neither. I mean, I know I ain’t the sharpest crayon in the pack, but I been payin’ attention — real careful attention — to everything. For the life of me I can’t remember that boats ’re ships. But I do remember the stuff that counts; and I know how to take care of myself. Hell, Paulie, I always took care of myself. War’s just a dif’rent way of havin’ to do it. You know. I been banged around; you get good at bangin’ back.
GORDAFARID: My dearest Son,
Your uncle (whose name I cannot write here, of course) was very understanding. He left the decision up to me; he did not apply pressure. He is a good man. He explained how a woman would not arouse suspicion, as a man would, entering such a place. And he urged me to discuss it, with him, and with you and your sisters, because you are all old enough to understand. But you, my Son, are too far away and it was not something that could be discussed by letter; even this I must leave with someone whom I know you will think of when you hear what has happened, and that person will place it where you will think to look. Your younger sister does not understand why I would do this. She has babies herself and a husband who is alive and good to her, and who cannot go to war because he cannot walk. She only feels, not thinks. She did not come to see me today. Uncle said it was best if no one entered the house today who did not enter it every day.
Your other sister remains in the hospital. Her wounds are healing but she will, I think, never again be well. She has nightmares every night about the bombing, wakens screaming, her husband tells me. Of course, I have not talked to her of this. She sees people die every day and to know her mother has planned her own death would be more than she could bear. Please explain to her when she is well enough just to weep.
Uncle fears the authorities will punish the rest of the family. I fear that too, but they will claim they had no knowledge of my act. Now that I have made the decision, he said it would be all right for me to write this for you to find later, but he cautioned me: Do not use anyone’s name.
YASMINA: Anyway…I’m making progress in Braille. I still can’t read much, but I got through a whole page today. Took me an hour, I had to go over some of the words three ’r four times, but there’s what the therapist calls “context”: If you figure out the first letter is “e” and the last one is “t” you can figure the one between them is prob’ly an “a.” If it’s a three-letter word, anyway. I get confused on the longer ones; I forget what letters I read. It’s probably good I’m reading Stephen King. I think the longest word in Salem’s Lot is “vampire.” And feeling that word — it conjures up lots of images. All of them having to do with darkness. Different kinds of darkness.
I think a lot about darkness. Like being in a tunnel that’s too long to know there is a light at the end. Before I came here, before the explosion and the pain and the wanting to die, I loved it. Lying there with you, late at night, pitch black and all the sounds magnified. Every breath you took, every rustle of the sheets, the tiny, tiny sound of my finger tracing the circle around your areola, the licking of your lips before you kissed me. It’s true: You are more aware of sounds when you can’t see. Here, I hear planes, footsteps in the hall, the other women crying, crying out.
Sometimes I hear people die.
CLORIS: Right now, I’m lyin’ here, waitin’ for them to turn off the lights. Lot of the girls are doin’ their last minute packin’. Mine’s done. The plane leaves at six o’clock — whoops, I mean: zero six hundred — and I don’t want t’have to get up a minute earlier than I got to. I’m used to it, though, fin’ly, gettin’ up real early, I mean. Last week when I wrote? I was only complainin’ ’cause I was sore, from all the marchin’ and stuff. I feel good now, now that we’re about to do it. Fin’ly.
Hey, before I forget: Thanks for the present. I love it! I am twenty-one as of yesterday. Mita and a couple of the girls bought me my first legal beer, at the commissary. Mita said she would’ve taken me out for a big celebration but, of course, we can’t leave base. But first leave we get? We’re gonna go paint the town. If there is one. In the pictures, it don’t look like there’s much there at all. Kinda dull. “Have to get our excitement from the shootin’,” is what Mita says.
GORDAFARID: I write this with both sadness and exhilaration in my heart. I have prepared myself, with uncle’s wife’s help. She too is sad but she understands things the way I do; it is the way men must understand: This is war and, in war, we all must be soldiers. There is more at stake than one woman’s life. There is what we believe, what we live for. I will leave in a little while but it is important to write to you, to be able to say these last words to you, my Son, so you will remember that what I do is done from belief in our cause, and faith, and love.
What, after all, is death but an opportunity to join God? I am fifty — that is not old, but I have lived a full life, loving and being loved by your father, giving birth to my children and watching each of you grow. You are my legacy, as you are your father’s. He will be proud that I have chosen to serve God and our people, just as I am proud of you for the service you perform in protecting our nation.
I know there is much to say that is important, yet it is the weather that impresses itself on my mind. It is a warm day, but not so warm the bindings are uncomfortable. When we put them on it
felt odd, to know I was dressing for the last time, that these would be the garments in which I would say my last prayer, that the photograph uncle’s wife will take of me will show me in this unobtrusive clothing in which no one will notice me. Few people have noticed me in my life, except your father, and I have not minded: I have lived a simple life, as God has willed. This is good. I come to my death with my eyes and my heart open, in clear conscience, despite the deaths I know I will cause. I believe those, like mine, are the will of God.
It is bright outside, a beautiful day. I am grateful for God’s kindness in granting that. Walking where I must go, I hope I am not so absorbed that I fail to notice the sun, the sky, the children, even the scarred streets and buildings. There is so much beauty even amid the rubble their bombs and soldiers have left. And so many of our friends, our loved ones, dead.
YASMINA: I’m not going to die, Rikki, not for a long time. The doctor says I’m in “surprisingly good shape.” I oughta be: You can’t train other soldiers for six years if you’re not. But it’s gonna be hard to live, I know that. For both of us. When I get back? We should go right away, someplace where they’ll let us really tie the knot, you think? If you’re still willing. And I believe you when you say you are. That’s what’s been keeping me going the last four months, knowing there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I might not be able to see it, but I can feel it. It’s warm and it feels— safe. I love you, Rik. Thanks for loving me — not because of, not in spite of. Just — loving.
CLORIS: Hey, Paulie: just got time for one more thing before lights out. You know I love you. And I know you’re scared for me. Thanks for workin’ at not showin’ it. Jeez, when you was in, I was only twelve, thirteen years old! I’m glad there wasn’t no war then. I’d’ve been scared for you, if I’d known you then, I mean. And thanks for understandin’ how I had to do this. I loved my Daddy, and he’d be scared for me, and he’d be proud of me, too. And when I come back — and I am comin’ back; you can bet your ass and mine on that — when I come back we are gonna get married and have us a dozen kids, live happily ever after, ’cause there ain’t never, never gonna be another war.
GORDAFARID: I recall when you were a baby, how I was filled with hope as much as milk, and I nestled you to my breast and you drank of it. How I loved that! My breasts are dry now but still, whenever I think of you I think of that, your lips gently suckling, your eyes closed, your tiny hands reaching out for me. It is I who reach out now, to you, to the rest, asking for your prayers. Heaven will be a lonely place if your father is not waiting for me, if you and your sisters do not join us one day.
I am not afraid. Uncle assures me there will be no pain; I will hear nothing. The end will come too quickly for me to even notice. I will close my eyes, take a breath in which I will pray and speak your name, your sisters’ names, your father’s.
YASMINA: I’ll see you soon.
CLORIS: Gotta go now. I’ll write you from the plane.
GORDAFARID: Then I will press the button and go to meet God.
YASMINA: Yours, Yasmina
CLORIS: Love, Cloris
GORDAFARID: Goodbye, my Son. Pray for me.
Evan Guilford-Blake writes plays, prose and poetry. His work has appeared in more than 100 journals and anthologies. His prose has won 27 awards and garnered four Pushcart Prize nominations. His scripts have won 47 competitions including the 2020 Porter Fleming Award for The Death of Donald Trump. Thirty-three of his plays are published.
Evan’s published long-form prose includes the novels Animation and The Bluebird Prince, and the award-winning story collection American Blues.
He and his wife (and inspiration) Roxanna, a talented jewelry designer and business writer, live in the southeastern US with their beloved rescue mutts, Baldrick and Pip.