All in a day’s work

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Indigo welcomes you to Flight 6E 188…”

I shut my eyes and succeed in blocking the stewardess’ face from my head but do not succeed in keeping the automated voice out. I twist my torso and find a comfortable position, and let the voice wash over me. It must have been the quickest I fell asleep in a while and even in my state of slumber, I am surprised.

From a distant universe, a faint voice asks to be excused. My heart beats faster as this intrusion in my dreamless state of being is not very different from the feeling elicited when finger nails scratch a black board. It also reminds me of the times when my room mate would grind her teeth in her sleep and how the sound would make me bite my pillow and taste the cotton, and how I would pray for the sound to stop- I’d do anything, Lord, please just make it stop.

I open one eye to see a very pretty stewardess, with a tentative finger inches away from my shoulder, and a heavyset man with an apologetic face, gesturing that his seat was next to mine. I wordlessly get up, make way, and seat myself back. My new found neighbour makes himself comfortable, and just as I struggle to go back to sleep, his elbow invades my seat space and jabs my ribs.

“Ow- excuse me!”

He is overcome by a fit of loud and piercing cough. I turn my back to him with serpentine flexibility, preparing to drool on the back rest when another passenger seeks my neighbour’s attention.

I delegate one eye and one ear to understand the source of conflict.

Words are exchanged. The pretty stewardess arrives again and my belief in God is reaffirmed. My neighbour misread his seat, and is guided to the right seat. I get up, make way and seat myself, again.

I relegate thirst that is gnawing at my neck to the back of my head and beg sleep to give me another chance. Between the taunts of the sun that is shining too bright and the air conditioning that is too cold, I fitfully dream of UV rays, of snowmen and of me touching the sun.

I am awoken by the aroma of expensive food served to corporate flyers and am momentarily distracted by the clouds. I gulp some water down and shut my eyes but my neck and knees hurt now. I swallow a groan and unsuccessfully try to ignore the crew that is now persuading the passengers to try the on-board gifting options and requesting that they throw the waste in the garbage bag that would be brought along. I yawn about ten times in less than a minute and my jaws start to hurt too, now.

I refuse to look at my watch, but the way my insides flip as we lose altitude tells me sleep time is over. I sulk as the wheels hit the ground and we are lifted a few inches from our seats. As soon as I switch my phone on, N calls.

“I couldn’t sleep as well as I did last time” I mumble to N. In response, he makes the right sounds- concerned and apologetic.

I walk out and book a cab. “Mount road, newspaper office” I tell the driver.

My day has just begun.

What are you wearing today?*

*This is a script that I had submitted for the Short and Sweet Festival- Chennai this year. It was shortlisted and performed at the Alliance Francaise de Madras on 9th and 10th July 2016. It won the audience vote play of the day on 10th July. It had a brilliant director and cast to carry it off- and was one of the highlights of my 2016 🙂

Cast

Vedha

Suraj

Vikram

Tara

Scene 1

(A railing, against which leans a beautiful, traditionally dressed woman, Vedha, facing the audience. She is curvaceous, and is in her early 30’s. She is wearing a neat, cotton saree, pleated. Her hair is braided, with a string of flowers pinned to her long hair. She looks like she has just returned from the temple, she has sindoor in her forehead. Her mangalsutra is prominent.)

Vedha: Well, here we are. Another evening. (Sighs deeply, looking bored. Tuts) I do not know which is worse. A philander for a husband, who is never home because of his “business trips”? Or all those pitiful words from people who actually know about these “business trips”?

(Walks to the other end of the railing)

Don’t get me wrong- I have stopped caring. I used to be the kind of woman who worked really hard to keep my man in my bed- it is just unfortunate that the man I am married to gets bored easily.

(Draws her braid in front and plays with her hair)

But, what would you do in my place? Get a job? Return to your parents? I gave all those a thought. Believe me, I have been thinking about this for years now. This- this is comfortable. Because now, we have an agreement. For a generous allowance, I let him be. He feels an allowance is more economical than an alimony, anyway. (Smirks) ‘Being Married’ is a tag we both need. For the world. For our families. The only irony here is that my husband can get away with what he does. And I sit here in front of you as the devoted wife. Because I choose to. But I am BORED. Oh, you have no idea how bored I get.

(A rubber ball flies into the flat. The woman picks it up)

Vedha: (Smirks) And so, I amuse myself.

(Suraj,not more than 20 years of age, runs up to the woman, sheepishly puts his hand out for the ball. She hands it to him with a smile.)

Suraj: Marubadiyum anna veetley illeya? /Brother is not home again?

Vedha: Ille pa, Delhi poirukaaru/ No, he has gone to Delhi

Suraj: Seri.. Thanks-nga/ Ok, thank you

(Suraj exits the stage)

Vedha: This poor boy has a thing for me. And you know how these boys are. Why don’t I show you?

Scene 2

(Steps out of the stage. Railing is removed, and a park bench is placed, with Suraj and Vikram playing with the small tennis ball. Both are in their late teens. Vedha is by one corner of the stage, watching them)

Vikram: Dude, you got to grow up. I mean, she IS quite something, but find someone your age man!

Suraj: But I feel sad for her. She’s always alone. And look at her- I mean, what sort of husband would leave somebody like THIS alone all the time!

Vikram: That is true. But I have decided, dude, Kalyanam nu senja ivangala maadhri oru ponnu-a paathu pannanum/ If I ever get married, I will get married to someone like her.

(A girl, Tara walks into the stage. She is wearing a short, fitting dress, has a visible tattoo and is dressed to kill)

Suraj: Oye! Look at you- all dressed up!

Tara: Haha, thanks! It is my friend’s birthday. We are going dancing tonight. Ok I got to go, friends are waiting.

(Tara Hurries away)

Vikram: Why does she need to wear such clothes? And have you seen those weird boys who drop her back home? Never gets dropped off by the same boy. It is always someone new.

Suraj: I don’t know about the boys but if my sister wore something like that, I wouldn’t let her step out of the house! How difficult would it be to rip it off her, I say?

Vikram: Vidu Machan/ Leave it bro, I am sure she is used to that by now. Come let’s leave. It is getting late.

Suraj: Ok just once, throw the ball into her house! I’ll tell her bye and come.

Vikram: Addangmatteya!/ You are incorrigible! (Throws ball. Both jog and exit the stage)

Scene 3

(Vedha walks from the side of the stage to the centre while the railing is being moved back onto the stage. Park benches are removed and a comfortable chair, centre table, and a flower vase are kept adjacent to the railing)

Vedha: Now I know for a fact that that poor girl just enjoys dancing, and dressing up, like any girl her age. You need to just look at a girl’s eyes to know all about her. This girl is one innocent thing. My eyes, on the other hand- they will tell you a story you wouldn’t ever imagine. And here comes the ball again.

(Ball flies in, Vedha catches it, as if she was expecting it. Suraj walks in, looking sheepish)

Suraj: So sorry, again! (Stretches his arm out for the ball)

Vedha: (playfully swats his hand and laughs sultrily) No ball for you. Can you help me with something? My husband is also not home.. I don’t know who to ask..

Suraj: Oh sure! Anything for you!

Vedha: Why don’t you come in.. (Walks ahead, talking loudly, into the living room) So I have a new phone.. I don’t know how I should move contacts from my old phone to the new phone..Here why don’t you sit here, I’ll get you the phone..

(Vedha exits stage. Suraj makes himself comfortable, looks stunned at his luck, and waits. Vedha re-enters, with her saree pleats undone, carrying both phones. She walks to Suraj, hands over both phones and sits beside him, edging close to him. Suraj springs up, perspiring)

Vedha: Ene pa?/ What happened? Come sit down with me.

(Taps the seat next to her. Suraj warily sits down)

Vedha: (mockingly) Did I scare you?

(giggles. Combs Suraj’s hair with her fingers and runs a finger down his cheek. Stands up and un-pins the string of jasmine in her hair and places it on the centre table. Removes her bangles, one at a time, and places them on the table, smiling at Suraj)

Suraj: (Bolts up) Akka, sorry akka, I don’t know how to do this! (Drops both phones on the table and dashes out, exits the stage)

Vedha: (Laughs loudly) I was betting he would stay longer!

(Suraj climbs down to the audience, Vikram meets him by climbing down from the other wing)

Suraj: Machan You WON’T BELIEVE WHAT JUST HAPPENED!!

Vikram: What happened? She called you inside and tried to do this eh? (Holds Suraj’s face with both palms and brings it close to his)

Suraj: (Wrests himself free) YES! That’s what she tried to do!

Vikram: (Slaps Suraj hard) Mahalakshmi maadri irukaanga! Avangala pathiya ippadi pesure? Poi vaaya kaluvu! (She is like a goddess, and you speak of her like this? Go wash your mouth!)

(Vikram walks away. A stunned Suraj follows him. Vedha is on stage, watching all this standing by the railing)

Vedha: (Laughs) How ironic, don’t you think? In a world that judges you by the clothes you wear and the way you look, women like me- Rule! (Bad-ass smirk)

***Curtain Down***