UPON A BIRD’S WINGS
Evie also Storm Female
Alma also Mirin Female
Notes for the reader
The scene distinctions are for ease of reading, rather then to necessarily indicate a break in the action as in some instances the action is continuous. There is no interval.
A forward slash (/) marks the point of interruption in overlapping dialogue.
They play spans a four-year time period.
The stage is split into two different locations - a domestic scene featuring the walls of a house and kitchen on one half and a forest clearing on the other. The atmosphere is lush and green and alive. It smells of the forest floor.
In the forest clearing is the rebel’s camp. It is simple and sparse, surrounded by wildness. Hammocks hang camouflaged from trees. On one branch hangs a birdcage with a small yellow bird in it, partially hidden. There is a wooden platform underneath. Two wooden trunks sit to the side of the main clearing, filled with ammunition, food and large reels of audio recordings.
The forest is encroaching and surrounding the house, threatening and comforting in one. Just outside the kitchen stands a plum tree, with a bunch of freshly cut flowers at its base and a small, framed photo hung with string around its trunk.
The inside of the domestic kitchen is simple but enough. There is a work surface, wooden table and two chairs. There is a door to the left that leads to the rest of the house. The furniture is rustic, slightly uneven and looks handmade. Sacks of vegetables are stacked to one side. In the corner, partially hidden, is a large brown cardboard box. Alma stands at the work surface, her back to the audience, making sandwiches. She wears a dressing gown and flip-flops.
Outside the house Bene and Evie stand, both looking skyward. Bene holds Piko, his ragdoll. Bene is 9 and Evie is 11.
Evie I tell ya, I not see nothin’. Sun burning up my eyes, come now let’s step
Bene Look, up there. Serious now, use your eyes to gone see, not top of your head
Evie Eyes are looking. Got white fluff clouds up in them, s’all there be
Bene Nah wait, you ain’t open your eyes proper see. There, ‘tween that fat carrot and the magic man with his pointy hat. There, some giant spaceship with an alien boy stepping from’t - Can’t you see it?
Evie No. Oh. Maybe...
Bene Oh. How for your eyes can’t see nothing plain true in front of them? Rubbish.
Evie What you saying for? My eyes see just as good as yours. Better. Fact.
I only see the things that real be
Bene Nah so. I gone told you about the talking turnip I met up side the hill yesterday, you didn’t even believe
Evie That’s because it weren’t true. Eyes done see things that be fact, not some made up talking vegetables up ‘side your head. They be as real as your doll there
Bene Piko’s not no doll, are you Piko?
And you don’t know.
S’real. I tell it so. Turnip spoke t’me and everything.
Evie Oh yeah. What’d he say?
Bene Asked ‘bout the sea. What it be and how it get so much salt up inside it. How them fishes gonna live in there when all that salt fill it up?
Evie Is it now? And what you chat back lil bruv?
Bene Said it like tears o’ god be filling up the seas. And as fishes be born o’ god s’all alright. See?
Evie Tears of god? And which god you speak on?
Bene Ain’t decided yet. But I reckon all gods gone cry at some point or other though. Truth speak.
Evie You a wise one, lil bruv, but you dipped in dream time/ and
Alma calls to them from inside the kitchen.
Alma There’s food a top the table, you two want it
Evie (to Bene) You speak crazy though, talking turnips and that.
Alma Food. Table high.
Bene and Evie enter the house and join Alma in the kitchen. She gives them both toast and continues packing two lunchboxes.
Alma What you two always out looking skyward for? Think the world gonna drop to your lap from clouds above?
Evie Maybe it gone fall to us like the tears of god fill up the seas, isn’t that right Bene?
Bene You don’t even understand
Alma Not neither of youse hear me when I say work be the way this world get built. Not no other way.
Bene Yes Mama.
Evie Yes Mama.
Alma Serious now. Don’t ‘yes Mama’ me like you heard it all before.
Evie (quietly) But you gone said it all ‘fore.
Alma Speak up if you got things need speaking? No?
Then eat your toast.
It’s like you stop up your ears from hearing. I gone spill it all to your ears before, thinking on that the words fall somewhere near but each time I look outside it be the same. And each every time I step to that school they tell me the same. One a daydreamer and the other got one ear to her friends.
What your pa would think on it…
Evie It ain’t that we don’t hear you, Mama. We do.
Alma That be so? Then why for you walk round with your face sky leaning ‘specting heaven to provide? Holding them eyes wide like dreams gone fall up in them?
You not be studying them books like I said, with words which need get up side your head, instead you two be twisting out tales like talking frogs is going to get you an education. I tired of speaking it out.
Bene Mama/ is
Evie It ain’t that I don’t like to read Mama just brother Bee, he got whole worlds held up side his head. He spill ‘em better than any book I gone held, don’t you Bene?
Bene You always done say I’m stupid
Evie Nah, don’t mean stupid in a stupid way, stupid. I mean you…you see it different to others. It like you speak out the world and, sometimes, I gone need catch up my breath to stop it breakin’ what you talk on.
But sometimes you is stupid stupid though.
Bene I’m not stupid, stupid.
Mama, what/ be that, is it
Alma Evie love, you need breathe full and stop up your eyes from staring bird-ward. As if you see ‘em dancing with the wind and wish it was you. Like you jealous ‘pon their wings when you got feet to do a walking. And school ways they should be going.
And no go calling your brother stupid.
Evie Maybe it right to be jealous ‘pon birds wings? Why for not? A bird gone fly wherever she feels to, ain’t no shame to be jealous ‘pon that. These feet ain’t move me no place but school to here to school to here
Bene Mama – what be that?/ is it
Alma And school today is where you should be stepping/ now
Bene A present for me?
Alma What you say child?
Bene has found the large brown cardboard box and is opening it
Bene This for me? Can I open it?
Evie What be that? Let me see!
Evie tries to grab the box from Bene’s hands
Alma Ain’t nothin’ in there for either of you
Evie Bene, give it me. Bene!
Alma Leave it be. I meant to have put it away. I said
Evie and Bene have managed to open the box in their struggle and as Alma grabs the box away Bene pulls out a radio.
Bene Amaze! You got us a voice box? Mama, this is amaze!
I wanna hear it speak
Evie goes to grab the radio from him
Evie Wait till they hear at school! Give it me Bene, you don’t know what you do. I’ll find the voices – Marina gone got one and she told me all about listening /tight to
Evie begins to twist the dial through fuzz, but Alma stops her and takes back the radio.
Alma This not be for your ears, hear?
Bene Why for not?
Evie How come you got us a radio wrapped tight and we can’t even listen it?
Alma It not be meant for you, okay?
I’m serious, I don’t want to see either of you ear to box, understand?
Bene But Mama/ at school they
Evie Why for not? Please /let us
Alma I say no. Hear me?
It not food for your ears. Not nothing good on it so no need to listen tight to it, see?
Now get ye gone to school, times a wasting this morn.
Bene But Mama…
Evie If not nothin’ good then why you go listen it up?
Alma Because I old be and ‘cause I say it not for your ears. Now you already done had two hours extra to talk unto the clouds and all else ‘cause of the teachers rally and even now you’ll still be late for school. I got wantings on hearing good things from your teachers next time I see them so hurry.
Go safe to school now sweet ones and fill your heads with all that makes the world turn, okay?
And don’t worry more on this. ‘Sides, we’re not keeping it
Evie But why for not? You can’t throw it away, you can’t, we just got it. Marina’s got one and she say her family listen it up each and every eve. Please can we keep it?
Alma For the last time I speak it, no. Now, go to school straight right. No chat to no-one, no stop to hear the birds sing, no pause to see the flowers grow. Hear me?
Straight and then straight home here again. Understand?
Now go loves.
Alma kisses them both on their foreheads and gently pushes them out the door.
She realizes both lunchboxes are still in front of her and goes to call after them but she can no longer see Evie and Bene. Sighing, she sits heavily at a kitchen stool and opens a lunchbox, picking absentmindedly at the sandwich whilst staring at the radio, which sits on the floor.
Meanwhile. Bene and Evie are walking slowly to school. Bene holds Piko in one hand.
Bene Why for you think that Mama say we can’t listen it?
Evie ‘Cause she think on that the voices be full of stories that gone distract us up from school and suck us in and then we’ll never pass summer exams. ‘Specially you. You little so it’d be easy to do and you gone get sucked too easy into tales anyway so I ‘spect you’ll never be ‘llowed to listen one. I ‘spect Mama will let me though. As I’m older an’ all.
Bene No way, no fair! I won’t get sucked to no story on the voice box. I won’t! Tell her Evie, please.
Teacher done say we should all listen close if we can for she speak that the future lie inside of it. How you think that can be? A thing so big as a future be inside such a small little box of metal?
Evie You silly. You don’t even know. She don’t mean that it actual inside of it, doughnut. She mean that the stories it speaks gone tell out the future like old Madame Scarletts with her tea leaves, ‘member? The one that say to Mama last summer that she gone go have another baby and mama near fall down dead with the shock?
That’s what your teacher mean.
Bene So inside the voice box Madame Scarletts be sitting with her cups of tea leaves to tell up who gone go have more babies?
Bene Truth speak Evie? Oh. Well that don’t sound fun.
I don’t even like babies much.
Mama can keep it if that all it be, true say right Piko?
Bene looks to the skies
Look Evie, there be that giant rabbit again, the one I tole you I saw yestereve. Look so, he be followin’ us…
Evie rolls her eyes and they exit.
Alma finishes the sandwich and moves slowly to the radio. Steeling herself she switches it on. She rolls through fuzz and white noise until it clicks gently onto a man’s voice: young, a little hesitant but with something suggesting power and authority to it. She raises the volume until it fills the space.
Night Radio VO …each one of you with ears to listen and eyes to see what has become of this, our garden. For the flowers look limp to my eyes and the tree roots be drying up. Once we had gardens the world over envied. We been lazy, hear it, lazy in our/
Alma turns the radio off, disgusted.
She turns it back on and distractedly eats the other sandwich
Night Radio VO ...for raise up your eyes true and look pure around you. ‘Feel good ‘pon what you see? Weeds be spreading right up under our noses - not no more I say! Pollutin’ up the flower beds, spreading ugliness through rose gardens and stoppin’ true bloom growin’/
Alma switches the radio off in anger. She hurriedly packs it back in the box and puts it in the cupboard under the sink.
Slowly, almost against herself, she opens the cupboard and removes the box. Opening the box, she removes the radio. Placing it in her lap she turns it on, the young man’s voice growing in volume.
Night Radio VO …And I see there be snakes lying low to the grass, feelin’ power in their space ‘cause they allowed here too long. Snakes full up on poison, fat with wealth they be, see ‘em protected up by the weeds and hidden in tall grass/
As she listens the lights dim on her to blackout.
Alma is in her kitchen, a potato in her hand. She has changed and is wearing a simple housedress. It is now late afternoon and the sunlight is soft and low. It is clear she has spent some time listening to the radio. She is rigorously scrubbing the potato before beginning to chop it violently. The radio plays.
Night Radio VO …this job been left me by them that stood tall before. My calling for I, Brother Night, I be hearin’ it loud to my ears. I grown tall seeing such weeds take hold o’ this garden. I grown big knowing they try cut down the ways o’ my father, they try pull out his roots like that all it take to turn the world blind to what they do, to the monies they steal and the lands they rob, but no. No say I! This garden been given to my hands now to clear. I promise it loud to the very spot where his body drop that change gone come in his name, hear it for the rains be comin’. And we be comin’ too. This garden gone grow fresh again, you’ll see it so for too long we/
Alma doesn’t notice Evie and Bene standing silently in the doorway.
Bene: You listening it up! I thought you said we getting/ rid of it Mama?
Alma Bene, Evie! Oh, I didn’t see you there, expect you, I didn’t expect you so soon here
Alma rushes to turn off the radio, attempting to hide it.
Evie You said on come straight home.
What was you listening up?
Alma Nothing. Not one thing. Just a…I was listening a gardening programme. Yes, that’s what was. Gardening.
Evie He sound sure angry about his gardens
Bene Mama…why you coloured up beetroot over a bit a gardening talk? Is it ‘cause the voices gone say we done have another baby soon?
Alma What say? Child, another baby?! What are you speaking on B?
Bene Like Madame Scarlettes did say.
Them from inside the voice box didn’t say that?
Alma No, sweet, no more babies. And Madame Scarlettes wouldn’t know her tea leaves from her pumpkins. Okay?
Evie Then what be wrong? What was the man talking on?
Alma It be nothing. Nothin’, my sweets. Rains be coming, s’all…gonna wash clear those new carrot seeds if I don’t plant ‘em deep. S’all it be. And…and I got need to prune back the old plum tree, for we’ll be wanting sweet plums come summer for your birthday pie Bene
Bene True speak, I love plum pie
Evie Serious Mama, s’all it be?
Alma No worry you okay. Serious now, don’t go dream thinking on this. Just a bit of gardening for spring time. S’all it be. Really my sweet.
Now, go play whilst I get dinner cooking, okay?
Alma ushers them outside and continues making dinner.
Bene and Evie begin to play a game, jumping over cracks on the path.
Bene You stepped on it, I saw. Bad luck for 10 years, rules say
Evie Nah, rules say if your foot slips two you got bad luck. One crack ain’t mean a thing. Means good luck actually. Nah, serious.
Bene You silly. Speak as if I don’t know truth. I ain’t young stupid you know.
Evie You is. You don’t even understand radio speak. That’s stupid.
Bene I did understand - talkin’ plum trees and that.
Evie Oh yeah? Why you think Mama stop up her face for fear tears gonna drip down then?
Bene Because. That’s why.
Evie You don’t knowthat’s why
Bene You don’t even know, that’s why you asking me. If you don’t know then I ain’t saying. Stupid.
Evie I do know. Deep to my bones, I do
Bene Speak it then
Bene Evie. Speak it.
Else you fibbing on it and I’ll go tell mama
Look it ain’t in word speak. It…it feel to somethin’ else. Like when you talking up on faces in the clouds, well I got a feeling on the words, ‘sif things broken and breakin’…
Nah, forget my words, crazy talk s’all, you got eyes too full anyway. Stay safe up there, inside your head
Evie hugs Bene, surprising him.
Bene What you doing for!
He pushes her away, embarrassed.
Evie Anyways, I gone go give Marina back the pen she borrowed me but tell Mama I’ll be back for eating, ‘kay?
Evie grabs her bag and exits. Bene is left holding Piko and begins speaking to it
Bene They act like I thick brained, Mama and Evie. But I know more than sister blood think. I see it different, s’all.
I see what their eyes let slip, Piko. True say I do.
You believe me, don’t you Piko?