copyright © 2003 John Shirley

"The Stranger"

by John Shirley

Lights come up on a man, downstage right, dressed in casual business attire, a poorly folded map in his hand, a business card in his chest pocket, and a handkerchief in his back pocket (but not visible to the audience).

M: I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, and I had absolutely no idea where I was or where I was trying to go. Lost in the maddening crowd of passersby, I slowly walked along an unfamiliar city street. Above the automobile horns and screaming car stereos, I heard a woman crying. I made my way through the wall of pedestrians and across a gravel biking path. And then I saw her.

Lights come up on a middle-aged woman, sitting on a dilapidated park bench (beside a small duck pond), upstage left. The woman’s hair and clothes are disheveled. She is holding a plastic bread bag full of crumbs and a tattered tissue. Her face is a mixture of kindness, sadness, and fear. She spends part of her time tossing crumbs to the ducks and the rest wiping tears from her eyes.

M: (continued from previous monologue without interruption) She was sitting alone on a broken park bench beside a little duck pond. Her right hand alternating between a bag of stale crumbs for the ducks and an exhausted tissue she kept using to wipe her eyes. From the look on her face, she’d been there for a while. I sat down beside her, offered her a handkerchief, and asked her what was wrong.

W: Nobody cares about me anymore.

M: (to woman) I know how you feel.

W: No. No, I don’t think you do. I’m sick of hearing about war. I’m sick of being afraid. I’m sick of seeing my children in pain.

M: I care. I mean, I stopped what I was doing and care over here to talk to you.

W: That’s not the same. You walked over here because I was crying and afraid. If I hadn’t been crying, if I hadn’t seemed threatened, you wouldn’t have given me a second thought today — or any day. You don’t really care about what’s going on inside of me.

M: (to audience) She was right. Of course, she was right. But what did it matter? I didn’t ask to be a part of her life today. I was just wandering around, and this is where I ended up. I didn’t cause her problems. But she looked familiar. Like I’d seen her somewhere before. So I stayed.

(to woman) Do you want to talk?

W: My children. That’s why I’m crying. Just look around.

M: Look around? There’s no one here.

W: Just look around. Just listen. Look at my children. Listen to their lives.

M: I’m not sure I know what you mean.

W: (simultaneously to man and to audience) Just look at my children — ready for war against a threat that they can’t even prove exists. Look at my children, ignoring the truth that stares them in the face. Look at my children: hungry, homeless, shivering on the street; drug deals taking place beside their cardboard shacks and sucking them into a world they didn’t create. Look at my children: high school dropouts full of hate and Welfare food. They survive. I survive, but I falter. Look at my children: bleeding on the street because another bullet went astray…Black or white: they all bleed the same. (3 second pause) Listen to my children. I hear screams at night. Men and women beat each other and their children. Listen to my children: so many voices of intolerance and hate. Listen to my children: belittled when they say that they won’t bleed to kill another man. Listen to my children. Too many of them are still silent. They won’t use their rights. They won’t speak up. They won’t write it down. They fight with shadows. They won’t acknowledge the danger within.

M: (to audience) She buried her head in her hands, and I put my hand on her shoulder. The sun was starting to go down, and I had to go.

Man gets up from the bench, hands the woman his card, and slowly begins to walk away.

M: (to woman) I’m sorry. I never even asked you your name.

W: (still to man and to audience) My name is America.

Lights being to go down slowly, to about one-half of full intensity, as the man continues to speak and the woman — as discreetly as possible - slips offstage.

M: I walked around for a while. I tried to walk to my hotel, but something drew me back to her. When I went back to find her, there was nothing but a bag of crumbs.

Lights fade slowly to black.


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