TRIGGER WARNING: Violence, curse words, racism.
Ms. Bette – An older woman, around her early eighties, suffering from amnesia.
A faint light shines on the right side of the stage. AMOORE, an African personal support worker in her late forties, enters MS. BETTE’s room with a purple flower bouquet. She drops it on the drawer by the bed’s headboard, of which a signal cord dangles. She sifts and straightens the bedspread, puts the pillows reclining the bed and board partially. The lamp’s light by the other drawer flickers; she brings out her phone and records it. She notices a little framed photograph with a French inscription situated directly below it, opposite her assigned chair. CONNOR, a senior in his early nineties is sleeping on a blue mattress at the stage left, breathing hard – the light is shadowy.
AMOORE: (Muttering.) “Clean them up, change their diapers…”
MS. BETTE: (Walks in sucking her teeth.) I knew it. I knew you’re no different from the others—another one sniffing my room’s odour, an African Sheppard!
AMOORE: (Giggles.) Ms. Bette, are you ready to sleep now?
MS. BETTE: Sleep, sleep, sleep. What else do I live for, if not to sleep? And if I do, I may rest and remain asleep that no sort of alarm would be able to interrupt my soundless snores. So, why don’t I stay awake?
AMOORE: Huh. I want you to sleep before I return to clean up.
MS. BETTE: Can’t you hear me because of this dental floss hunting for meaty pieces to jettison between my teeth? (Pause.) Alright then. (Aside.) She may start lecturing like the rest, “I’m just doing my job, Ms. Bette.” (Walking towards the bed, her footwear squeals calmly.) Ah! Dear traps, haven’t thee caught the rats already? (To Amoore.) Haven’t you got to tell the management that there are rats and mice in this room?
AMOORE: The last time I did, and the Housing Mouse Prevention and Control unit came around to snare with pesticides…
MS. BETTE: …Oh yes, I remember—(Sarcastically.) it’s as effective as me still perceiving the toxic things like their agents’ squeals.
AMOORE: I think your slippers are now the doers.
MS. BETTE: Oh no, young lady. Please don’t drive me crazy here. Did you see one of them run past my feet?
AMOORE: No, I mean your sandals squeal, seemingly because your soles steam.
MS. BETTE: (Hurries up the bed, then hunching to lift her right foot.) Really?
AMOORE: No, no, no. Ms. Bette, no need to do that. Just lie down, and I will dry them for you.
MS. BETTE: Don’t, I’m okay.
AMOORE: If you say so, but I will…
MS. BETTE: …But you will go sit your ass down because I said I’m good.
AMOORE: (Levers up Ms. Bette’s thick blanket and goes to her chair).
MS. BETTE: Where have you been?
MS. BETTE: I said, why did you take a two weeks’ leave? Because of me?
MS. BETTE: Black lie! You are not the first person to ever take a break from my existence.
AMOORE: Fine, I had to collect my husband from the correctional institution. Why are you asking?
MS. BETTE: Nothing.
AMOORE: White lie! You feel guilty for being racist and childish.
MS. BETTE: What else do you think I am with a diaper in the ass? Well, I might have given my slovenliness an impromptu thought.
AMOORE: Glad you did a little brain exercise.
MS. BETTE: I would be glad if it changed anything.
AMOORE: Well, I might as well remain less bothered about your words.
MS. BETTE: Ha-ha. You see that, got you to spit out the confessional gum from your mouth.
AMOORE: Wow, a trick well treated.
MS. BETTE: And has he learnt his lesson(s)?
AMOORE: Who? My husband? (Sighs.) Too soon to be sure. (Silence.) Did someone bring you that framed photo during visiting hours?
MS. BETTE: This? No. I was lucky to find it in my luggage when I was unfolding my things.
AMOORE: What? What was the lady on shift doing?
MS. BETTE: Wow, relax—just kidding. My boyfriend framed and presented it to me last week.
AMOORE: On Valentine’s day?
MS. BETTE: Yes.
AMOORE: (Narrows her eye.) Is that not?
MS. BETTE: A black guy? Yes. He’s such a darling.
AMOORE: How about the portrait that was there before? Of you and a little kid clutching a purple dinosaur?
MS. BETTE: I had to throw it away.
AMOORE: What? But you loved it. Did something happen while I was away?
MS. BETTE: You mean, did I escape again?
AMOORE: No, not that. Seriously, did something happen? Because since I’ve known you, you’ve always been on the fence. So, making this kind of decision seems somewhat…
MS. BETTE: …Quite unforeseen. That is how it feels; when you look away for a second, the sky thunders, growing thicker trees, and the sea remains epileptic, foaming a sky-blue revolution—everything changes swiftly without cause, precisely how it feels.
AMOORE: I don’t get you.
MS. BETTE: I never had— I mean, I couldn’t conceive a child with my husband. He tried all he could to make sure I don’t feel like I was the house’s white elephant. I only ate his meals and assembled his semen as if for specimen, but I could not make a live omelette of it. He’s an American. Before he died, we volunteered for the United Nations during the US intervention in the Vietnam war. We relayed medications, first aid kits and did the needful for the health section. Harry found this little girl lost in the backwoods, blubbering over her mother, who had been severely knocked by shells. The girl shivered in the tent’s heat, traumatized, as I treated her bleeding shoulder and ankle. At the time, I had the purple dinosaur my niece gave me, in my bag. I gave it to her, roaring like a dinosaur, and she shifted her fearful stares into the dinosaur’s rust-coloured eyeballs.
AMOORE: That was when you took the picture?
MS. BETTE: Yes, in the tent, with a Nikon F, such rugged camera! Not too long, the Northern Vietnams dropped a missile in our camp, and everyone had to grab their lives and their weapons. All I had was Harry and our first aid kits. That man insisted on going in for the girl. I didn’t agree; there was no peaceful chance for us to argue about the danger of returning in there. He left me his scent and camera bag and went for the girl. That picture is liquor in a framed glass that comes with two jiggles, the simpering-shit I sip every day. Everything went extinct: my fertility, the purple dinosaur, little girl, my husband…
CONNOR: (Screaming.) Fire! Fire!!
AMOORE: What? Where? Hold on (AMOORE rushes up and walks to stage left.) Connor. Connor? What fire? From where does it spring?
CONNOR: My head. My head. (Tries to get down from the bed but falls.)
AMOORE: Jesus! (Grabs him by his shoulder up from the ground but he falls again.) Oh lord (She runs out from the stage and returns with the SUPERVISOR). He screamed from sleep and fell off his bed.
CONNOR: There’s fire in my head.
AMOORE: (Tries grabbing him by his arms to get up.)
SUPERVISOR: No, no, no, no. You don’t do that. (Staring scornfully.) You shouldn’t have done that. That’s so unprofessional. You should’ve taken a picture or recorded him before calling for a nurse to take care of him.
AMOORE: Ma, he fell off the bed in pain, and I should have left him aching, taking silly pictures, before I call for help?
SUPERVISOR: You know what’s silly? You having to re-trace and re-route my concept in your gibberish accent.
AMOORE: But what do we do now, he is in pain. Should I go call the nurse now?
SUPERVISOR: Yes, get out!
SUPERVISOR: You just violated a code of conduct, so, I’m sorry we cannot have you around here anymore to cause more harm.
AMOORE: This is absurd!
SUPERVISOR: Just stay outside. I would grab your bag for you.
AMOORE: (The SUPERVISOR follows her halfway, drops the bag after AMOORE enters Ms. Bette’s room. The light dims on stage left.)
AMOORE: (Muttering.) “Clean them up, change their diapers…” (Sighs with ease.)
MS. BETTE: Lucky you, uhn? I’m still here, nothing to worry about. What happened?
AMOORE: It’s a false alarm.
MS. BETTE: Bradley’s recently braided hair must’ve been the cause for a fire. That’s how he does each night his young girlfriend plaits his wits in her laps during visiting hours. He won’t moan about how bad the cornrows hurt him until the archangels take time off to snore on their plastic trumpets. Then (Imitates a trumpet sound, giggling.) rapture comes earlier than expected. Yesterday, I told him he might soon assume the room’s temperature if he continues to do that with his numb body.
AMOORE: You both have young bloods to heat you up, don’t you?
MS. BETTE: His bones are flimsier.
AMOORE: (Chuckles.) You sure about that?
MS. BETTE: Free from doubt.
AMOORE: What does that, written on frame mean?
MS. BETTE: Oh, that. “Quand il n’y a pas moyen, je me souviendrai de toi ma verge.” It means, when there is no way, I will remember you, my rod.
AMOORE: What? (Laughing.) Are you kidding me?
MS. BETTE: No, that’s what it means.
AMOORE: That’s nasty.
MS. BETTE: I know, I have always been the freaky type.
AMOORE: What a bizarre Val gift.
MS. BETTE: I wouldn’t say this was my present.
AMOORE: Then what?
MS. BETTE: That naughty boy followed me to the washroom.
AMOORE: Wow, wow, wow, we should heed the stop sign here. Ye Black lady with a mucky mind, my menu’s been paused, remember? I can’t feed on that no more.
AMOORE: What country is he from?
MS. BETTE: Ghana.
AMOORE: You must’ve assumed I knew him, yeah?
MS. BETTE: Nah, I am not like those who think someone from Uganda is the cousin of he who is from Zambia.
AMOORE: He must’ve taught you a lot then.
MS. BETTE: Indeed. Few dialects of action words and yeah, the meals. Very nice ones.
AMOORE: And are you sure…
MS. BETTE: …He isn’t just using me? (Scoffs.) I never wanted to marry him. I am only an enzyme to his immigration status and social bank.
AMOORE: So, you are his sugar mama?
MS. BETTE: Accurate.
AMOORE: Understood. Now, we’ve had enough chat, can you please go to sleep?
MS. BETTE: I slept throughout the day after lunch and medications. If I close my eyes now, I will have little or no foreshadow or flashback scenarios to play in my head. Trust me, I won’t sleep.
AMOORE: It’s almost 1am—time for me to check other rooms.
MS. BETTE: You ain’t tired of saying that to me? What can’t ye with little cash do for some more? Always hawking around the clock like the seconds’ hand.
AMOORE: Rhetorical. You need someone to chat with? Get a zoo ticket to accompany the monkeys’ chattering conference.
MS. BETTE: Okay, that isn’t nice.
AMOORE: You want to know what else is rude? The masterminds of these godamn residences. Argh!
MS. BETTE: Black lady, are you okay?
AMOORE: Thanks for asking, and you too?
MS. BETTE: Sincerely, what’s wrong?
AMOORE: I can’t stop hearing him cry for help.
MS. BETTE: Who?
AMOORE: A housing member. Just like Bradley, he cries in the middle of the night. One night, he did and fell off the bed. I tried to help him up, but his skinny body grew weighty. I called on the supervisor, and that white woman expected me to take some silly pictures of an older man in pain before seeking help. Wasn’t that stupid? Then seized my job from me, sent me out like a foul mammal. And I was earning a lot. I’m pretty sure she took advantage of me being the first woman of colour to work there. (Pause.) But it’s possible for rain to fall on one side of the same soil, isn’t it?
MS. BETTE: Yes, absolutely. Lady, see, it is pretty fucked up in here. You are in a separate world of its own where its inhabitants are no spring chickens. But like the outside world, the ones that transcribe the rules for you are the ones that dishonour them the most. (Looks around and sits up. Whispering.) Do you know that Dr. Hunter screws that new lady?
AMOORE: What! How did you know that?
MS. BETTE: I ain’t no dummy, I see a lot. When the doctor comes in the morning to be sure we are not a breath short, he’d mention that Ms. Bridgette is the best person to call on whenever we need help. Who recommends a support worker to the tilted souls? The doctor. He ends his shift the same time she does. He would claim wanting to give her a lift in his car, but he screws her in it until it springs no more.
AMOORE: And how do you see his car bouncing?
MS. BETTE: Here. (Comes down from the bed.) Here. (AMOORE follows her towards the exit.) See? You see the world differently now?
AMOORE: Wow, so you’ve got the world in sight all these days.
MS. BETTE: Yes, I have. (Silence.) Tell me, black lady. You don’t take the bus. I see you walk down that route after shift(s). Do you live somewhere around Husch Crescent?
AMOORE: Yes, I stay there.
MS. BETTE: What number, if I may ask?
AMOORE: (Stares confusingly.) No, I am not going to disclose that. So, when you find yourself down the street again, you won’t head to my house? Never. I don’t want to be implicated, not again.
MS. BETTE: Why would I want to do that to you?
AMOORE: As you said earlier, no one needs a reason to sleep as she was born. For someone of your age, it just happens.
MS. BETTE: I lived in number 52. I spent 25 years in that house, cleared its mortgage and when I began to forget alphabets, complex figures, songs and wedding dance steps, everybody, everything I lived for, started to do without me. Sometimes I would cook and forget until it flamed. I would extinguish and keep screaming, “fire, fire.” But that number, I remember, my husband swore to me it would be the number of years we would be together on this earth. But obviously, he’s a goddam liar. The kid that stayed with me, Fred, my niece, my next of kin, grew up to acquire my properties. (Bursts into tears.) Fred sold them all, my house to some hustling black immigrants, cars, and even my pet.
AMOORE: (Stuttering.) Ehm. Ms. Bet, Ms. B—Ms. Bette, I’m so sorry. It’s okay. It’s okay.
MS. BETTE: No, it’s not. He dumped me here because he thinks I am going crazy. (Looks into AMOORE’s eyes.) Do you think I am? Take a look, I look like some dry crow’s feet. Like a forsaken idol. Am I freaking you out?
AMOORE: Listen to me, you’re not. You’re a pretty old woman that had lived her days and still has some left, to look prettier. Okay? So now, let’s get you to bed (Pats her in the back, towards and unto the bed.). Please and please, go to sleep Ms. Bette. Is there something you would want me to do for you before I leave? Like read you a book or something.
MS. BETTE: No. Go. Just go away like the rest. You know you’re a terrible liar, huh? Just like Harry, Fred. I knew Harry didn’t die in that explosion, he just never wanted to return to a stone tablet. And, my niece, he said this was a place for both the green and worn, when he was bringing me here. I had the smell attacks of menthol and iodine, before I saw fingers double-tapping syringes from the entrance. But (Whispering.) let me tell you a secret. This place is not where sanity abides.
AMOORE: Alright, thanks for enlightening me. For mortality’s sake, please sleep. (Muttering.) “Clean them up, change their diapers and when they fall and die, take a picture” (Stands up and grabs her bag from where the SUPERVISOR dropped it and exits the stage.)
(BLACKOUT on stage.)
SITUATION: The light brightens on the left stage. It is the lobby where BRADLEY, MS. BETTE, KAREN and GARY play ludo. EDWARD sits alone, reading a novel.
GARY: (Talking with an accent.) I play, I play (Pours the dice on the ludo glass.)
BRADLEY: The seeds are now yours, Oldy- that you may sow and germinate out of existence!
GARY: A loser always’ got one or two wordy scholarly theses for failure. Stay or shy away, you homeless gentleman (Laughs aloud.).
MS. BETTE: I think I need to go.
GARY: Where exactly are you going, Bette?
KAREN: She always has somewhere to go within this very box. (Towards MS. BETTE.) Look, bony. (Picks up a blue seed and begins to count round the games’ boxes.) There are over twenty footsteps this bad boy can take. But you will always see where he slips in or when he slits another’s throat to up his game. What silent escape has a wooden or glass floor?
GARY: Jesus! Lady Halloween. There you go with your gothic anecdote again. Bette, go if you are tired of our dry jokes, but to an infant’s cry, I swear, Bradley’s going to weep away his lids.
KAREN: Whenever you judge me, a weighty gravel slams in my head. Gary, you’re a f*cking headache. Isn’t leaving the washroom to pee on the woods’ mushrooms suspicious to anyone of you?
EDWARD: Dear Medusa, implore your dreadful snakes to shut up already.
GARY: I understand Bette better- only her and I know how to make snowflakes fall when tapping the cigar twice after looking back at a hella long trip. (Towards Ms. Bette) Go get some gas in that breathless lungs of yours (MS. BETTE exits to smoke.).
EDWARD: (Aside.) Such is the advice that buys one a field to sleep.
GARY: You know I can hear you, old man? Isn’t it time for you to bow to the east for your prayer mat to afloat you over three beaded fingers of an angel?
BRADLEY: Is that a cloudscape theory?
GARY: Shut up, Scholar. (To EDWARD.) Why can’t you just be authentic for once?
EDWARD: Friend, you can barely handle my authenticity.
GARY: This misanthrope right here knows that I know what his real name is. Not an eggroll or something that sounds like that.
BRADLEY: Can we please continue this game?
GARY: Pray I don’t remember your little secret. Six-six.
GARY: Keep the conspiracy theory to yourself (Counts and relocates his yellow seed.).
EDWARD: (Reading.) The pope says, “No one gets that you can’t dare a basement’s darkness or tackle the attic sunlight’s sneakiness…”
GARY: (Aside.) Phrasal Pharisee. (Aloud.) Ah. The prey refuses to pray as I approach.
BRADLEY: I am not your prey, Oldy.
KAREN: (Pours the dice.) What?
GARY: I wasn’t sure until now that your days are numbered. (Chuckles.)
KAREN: I will sip a fictional tea and ignore that you ever said something that unsurprising.
GARY: What were you given for breakfast?
KAREN: Grated meal. My teeth are extinct, remember?
GARY: Oh well, I had wheat bread and a cup of chai.
BRADLEY: That reminds me of that African woman during the night shift; whenever I complained of the lice-bites on my head, she says “Chai” like it’s a kind of exclamation.
GARY: That’s her name? How come she never worked in my room before?
KAREN: Because your shit stinks more.
BRADLEY: Or his mouth (Laughs aloud.).
GARY: Okay, that’s funny. But you know money is where the toothless diapers’ at.
KAREN: Wordy wigger.
GARY: Okay, that isn’t very kind. At least, I remembered to flush the water closet this morning.
KAREN: Don’t you come for me!
GARY: And you Bradley? What did you eat?
KAREN: If rice grains could germinate, dead souls would rise.
GARY: Is that?
BRADLEY: Yes, six-six (Counts for his seeds, itching his head.).
KAREN: You never thought your neighbour could make it too? Crawl easy there, Brad.
BRADLEY: I am hairy-weary. (Pause.) You know, at twelve when I started cultivating hair over my chest, forests afforested in the other covert towns of my body. I would shave and itch for days until a maize leaf sprout and a gang of weeds invade my nature’s ventilation.
GARY: You’ve got to report that to one of the workers before we also become skin diggers.
KAREN: I agree with that. (Silence.) Where on earth did your girlfriend go to, Gary? Did she say she was going out to smoke off the cloud? You know, I wanted to tell you earlier to check the horse properly before it walks away. To be sure, it does not womb an adversary; because not all that comes with the horse’s belly is the prize of war.
GARY: She just left, Weeny. Are you one of the new archaic support workers we’ve got here, Ma’am?
KAREN: Funny. You know, one of my favourite lines in a piece of literature is, “A murder weapon is a killer’s betrayal. Should it be burnt black, bleached white or assimilated brown, each has a smell and would reach the whiffs of a nosy sheriff…”
GARY: You know what else is funny? Cousins having sex and the family members not knowing. (Pause) See, I know why you’re mad at her. You want her to pay for the day you were caught coking. It wasn’t her fault; did she sneak the shit in for you? Come on, you’ve got to make peace with her.
KAREN: I see you’re due for a Nobel Prize. But sorry, I can’t.
BRADLEY: German-Jews’ spite.
KAREN: Oh God, I miss German juice. But why? Why do our bodies reject sweetness at these ages of rest?
EDWARD: (Reading.) We are as extinct as our fingers betraying the seawater, leaking them before our mouths could swear their secrecy…
GARY: This man’s a terrible actor (Pours the dice and relocates his seed.).
BRADLEY: I don’t think he is.
KAREN: Anyone can act; you just have to look in the mirror, say something you already know about and react surprised. (Imitating.) Yeah, Yeah, just like that. Wave the gloves like an old Queen.
BRADLEY: The Queen’s glove has two jobs, to wipe tears or collect them.
KAREN: (Phone rings aloud.) Waw-waw, what’s going on here?
GARY: Why do humans set alarms like timekeepers?
BRADLEY: Let me see that (Stands up slowly and looks at the phone closely.). “Time to rest.”
KAREN: Is that what the nurse set there? Oh dear, even memory forgets itself.
GARY: Why do alarms set humans off?
BRADLEY: Because we could forget to wake any day, anytime and may never wake after a briefly long nap.
(The fire alarm blares once.)
EDWARD: (Reading.) Too loud music could frighten an infant and cause it to cry loudly, too…
GARY: What’s going on?
KAREN: (Shivering in the seat.) Help, help. What’s burning? Someone should help me up.
GARY: Let me inquire what the problem is (As he stands up and runs towards the emergency exit, his hat falls behind.)
KAREN: You see that? Coward. You f*cking liar. Triangle is a con artist’s lifted hat. You, irregularly shaped idiot. Go, survive a day, while we die a prey.
KAREN: All men are.
BRADLEY: What can I do to help?
KAREN: You run too, protect yourself first. I will assimilate and remember the poem my mother taught me. “How to Escape in a Wedding Dress.” Pick the pink gown as if a filth (She pulls up her heavy skirt.) and hop those tiny feet away from their scotches, cold or warm (She takes off her footwear.). Breathe heavily upon your crochet musical high heels (She pants heavily.). Read safety as a pothole with gutter water. I mean chocolate tea and love’s honey. He will do his pretty stingy chase. Don’t turn, don’t quiver, don’t look back at him. Just leap and leap (She too runs towards the emergency exit.).
EDWARD: (Reading.) Because I bought a printer, my girl says I’m growing, now becoming a man…
BRADLEY: Psst! Psst!! Edward. What are you doing? Won’t you run for your life too?
EDWARD: There are chuckles of sadness sprawling my rashed face. I wonder why man fear is this uncultured— gasping about, seeking the bolt unfixed from their heart, as if fear would be their greatest discovery, ever.
BRADLEY: Would you run or not?
EDWARD: Why should I? You all don’t know when to R.E.A.C.T. Humans don’t trust themselves with a single alarm, so they set multiple alarms to wake every morning. How much more the one that rings once in the middle of the day? It’s a mere fire drill test, and you know it. You all seem to be lost in your amnesic transit. (Continues reading.) “Handsome or feet-some, one of these days, I’ve got to sleep with my boot on. Dying is a tough thing—it takes a lifetime of sleeping daily to perfect sleeping eternally…”
(BLACKOUT on stage.)
SITUATION: At the stage right is AMOORE, sleeping on the bed. MS. BETTE drags from the entrance of stage left to the right. She is cold, shivering.
MS. BETTE: (Muttering.) How different am I from a prisoner? The uniform, probably. (Silence.) They think they could keep me in forever, but I had a plan of my own. A winter plan, of backroom’s ladder, a fence and light legs (Silence.). Praise the frontliners! I puke on my clothing, and a lady, a black one perhaps, would hurry in and cleanse me. (Silence.) I excrete and pee in the bed, she won’t yell at me for behaving like a child. (Silence.) I scream at her to do a million things at a time, yet she wheels me around on a wheelchair like nurses through EKG flatlines and its hilly horizons (Silence. Knocks at AMOORE‘s house.). Hello. Hello there, anyone home? New landlords, I am Fred’s mom. Let’s talk about the mistake he made; he never intended to sell my house. Hello (Slamming the door.)
AMOORE: (The light shines on the stage right. AMOORE wakes up.) Who is there? Take it easy on my door. Stop slamming my door like a lunatic (Opens the door, a cat rushes out and snuggles around MS. BETTE). Ms. Bette?
MS. BETTE: Black Lady? I thought you said I was never insane.
Ayomide Bayowa is a Nigerian-Canadian poet and award-winning filmmaker. He studies Theatre and Creative Writing at the University of Toronto, Canada. He was a long-list of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2018, shortlist of the 2018 Eriata Oribabhor’s Poetry Contest, the 2018 and 2019 Christopher Okigbo Interuniversity Poetry Prize, the runner up of the 2020 On-Spot Poetry Writing Contest, the winner of the 2020 July’s Open Drawer Poetry Contest, the second runner up of the maiden edition of Arojah Playwriting Prize, 2020 and a finalist of the 9th Open Eurasian Literary Festival, London. He’s been published in WRR, Kreative Diadem, Stone of Madness Press, Praxis Magazine, African-writer, Kalahari Review, Barren Magazine, the University of Toronto’s Medium Newspaper. He is the runner-up of the 2021 University of Toronto’s “ELLY-IN-ACTION” Virtual Competition. His works are forthcoming in Guesthouse.
His Social Media Handle(s):
Facebook: Ayomide Bayowa
Photo by Bethany Zwag on Unsplash