The Exiles

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By Lourd Ernest de Veyra and Jose Victor Z. Torres

(The Exiles is a play about men and women living in exile because of their political beliefs. In their flight from a governing dictatorship, the three characters slowly discover their conflicts in the society they tried to blend into and the personal beliefs they tried to live for while evading the dangers of arrest and death..

Act One of The Exiles was first performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines as part of its Waiting in the Wings program in 2005. It was directed by Dennis Marasigan and featured actors from Tanghalang Pilipino.
The following is an excerpt.)

CHARACTERS:
Felipe
Vicente
Desirea
The Poet

ACT 1
SCENE 1
(The lights open onstage.  The café. Felipe and Desirea are standing on stage left.  Felipe is sitting at a table.  Desirea is looking out the window.  It is raining. Vicente is sitting by himself at a table on stage right.  On the table before him is a manuscript. )
VICENTE    :    (to the audience) I wanted to publish a collection of my poems.  A compilation of writing/poetry.  The first decade of oppression.  The years of deaths.  The months of torture. The days of disappearances. The poems would be the highlight of my career. It would open the eyes of every one who would read the deaths and torture of this regime.  It would open the hearts of the patriots who would read its pages.  My book will break the shells of these creatures of cruelty and oppression. It will be a bestseller.  It will make my name in this country’s literary circles.  It will mark me as a writer of note.
(The lights dim on Vicente.  The sound of thunder could be heard.  The rain becomes a downpour.)
DESIREA    :    It is cold.
(Felipe does not reply)
DESIREA    :    You think they’ve already covered the grave?
(Felipe does not reply)
DESIREA    :    (pause) It is so cold.  (pause) Maybe we should put a headstone… soon?
FELIPE    :    It is a pauper’s grave.
DESIREA    :    Yes, but a headstone would…
FELIPE    :     …wouldn’t matter anyway.
(Desirea pauses.  As he is about to say something, he stops, then turns away.)
FELIPE    :    It was a pauper’s grave.  He is just one of many buried there.  We could hardly afford placing him in a hole in the ground, much less have a headstone made.
DESIREA    :    If we… If they just gave the money.
FELIPE    :    They would not.  They will not.  After what he did.  (pause)  So he ends up in a pauper’s grave.
(A short pause)
FELIPE    :    Do we have some wine?
DESIREA    :    I never knew so few people would come.
FELIPE    :    Some brandy?  Even whiskey will do.
DESIREA    :    He was popular. Even after all of this that happened.
FELIPE    :    Absinthe. Claret.
DESIREA    :     Even before you came.
FELIPE    :     Even a bottle of the most sour wine would be enough.
DESIREA    :     Even before you came.  They could ask him to write… all kinds of pieces.  Speeches, articles.  He would write letters.  Letters of protest.  Letters of pleading.  Letters of love. (pause)  He was good at that.  Love. Even if no one liked him that much.
FELIPE    :     A cup of coffee would do.  Like the one this café used to make.
DESIREA    :    They would buy him drinks.  Then they would make him write when he was drunk.  The most eloquent words flowed out of him when he had something to drink…
FELIPE    :     A glass of water would be fine.
DESIREA    :     Until you came.
(Pause)
FELIPE    :    (pause) I am thirsty.
DESIREA    :    Until... us. (pause) Did we kill him?
FELIPE    :    (pause) He killed us.
(Pause)
DESIREA    :    It’s such a cold, sad day.  (pause) There was some Chianti left from last night. (pause) I’ll get you some.
(Desirea exits)
FELIPE    :    No, we didn’t kill him.  He killed us.  (pause) And everything we tried to live for.
(The lights change.  Desirea comes in with the bottle and sets it on Felipe’s table and leaves.)

SCENE 2
(The café.  Daytime. Seven years ago.  Vicente goes up to Felipe’s table)
VICENTE    :    One does not drink a bottle of wine alone.
FELIPE    :    Excuse me?
VICENTE    :    You are new here? In this place?
FELIPE    :    (suspiciously) No.
VICENTE    :    You are. I know. (pause) It is hard to lie in a place like this.
FELIPE    :    (shrugs) Yes.
VICENTE    :    And in this town I presume?
FELIPE    :    Yes. (eyes Vicente) Listen, if you are the authorities, I have a travel pass and my identification….
VICENTE    :    That is of no matter to me.  May I join you?
FELIPE    :    If it won’t offend you, no.
VICENTE    :    (hesitate) Oh. I see. (pause) How disappointing.
FELIPE    :    Talking to strangers does not sit well with me.
VICENTE    :    That is good.
FELIPE    :    What do you mean “good”?
VICENTE    :     To you I am a stranger.  That is good. (sits) Good.
FELIPE    :    And what could be good about meeting strangers?
VICENTE    :    You do not know strangers.  They make you cautious.
FELIPE    :    And?
VICENTE    :    And, in these times, it pays to be cautious. (pause)  Your bottle is empty.
FELIPE    :    I ordered another before you came.
(Desirea comes in with a bottle of wine. She sets it in front of Felipe)
DESIREA    :    Sangria
FELIPE    :    Thank you.
(He reaches for the bottle but Desirea does not let it go)
DESIREA    :    Pay first.
FELIPE    :    How much?
DESIREA    :    That bottle and this bottle. Forty.
FELIPE    :    What? What is this? Liquid gold?
DESIREA    :    You ordered a bottle.  You pay a bottle’s price.
FELIPE    :    (to Vicente) She told me they don’t serve in glasses anymore.
VICENTE    :    (shrugs) Maybe they have no more glasses. Customers here throw glasses if they’re happy.  And believe me, they are happy a lot.
DESIREA    :    The regime has placed a quota on the shipment of wine.  It is cheaper to get it by the crate than the bottle.  Señor Galo wants to finish his stock quickly before ordering another shipment.
FELIPE    :    (takes out some bills) I would rather suck my blood.
DESIREA    :    I hope it is as good as the sangria. (shrugs) Times are hard. (in a hard tone) No money. No wine.
(Felipe pays.  Vicente smiles. Desirea pockets the money.)
VICENTE    :    The usual for me, Desirea.
DESIREA    :    Dog’s piss for you. Señor Galo says no more wine until you pay the bill.
VICENTE    :    Just a glass?
FELIPE    :    They have no glasses.  You just told me that.
DESIREA    :    (motions to Felipe) Share his.  You love to freeload anyway.
(Desirea leave.  Felipe opens the bottle and takes a gulp.  Vicente is watching him.  Felipe notices Vicente watching him as he takes another gulp.)
FELIPE    :    I am sorry, I only offer to friends.
VICENTE    :    Ah.
FELIPE    :    And you are only a stranger.
VICENTE    :    I see.
FELIPE    :    It is, as you know, different here.
VICENTE    :    Friends take care of you.  They are the ones you run to in times of need.
FELIPE    :    Yes.
VICENTE    :    Friends will shelter you. They will feed you.  Clothe you. They will take care of you. (pause)  Then… somehow, when the time comes, they will betray you.
(Vicente shrugs and stands up)
VICENTE    :    Do you have a place to stay?
FELIPE    :    What do you care?
VICENTE    :    You are new in this town, I presume. Do you have a place to stay?
FELIPE    :    I have.
VICENTE    :    Where?
FELIPE    :    That is none of your business.
VICENTE    :    This town is small. Everything becomes everyone’s business. You have a place to stay? Where?
FELIPE    :    Maybe you are one of the spies of the regime.  If I denounce you here, now, the people here would hang you from the ceiling.
VICENTE    :    We are not savages here.  Not like the regime across the border. (pause) Let me explain, Señor stranger.  If you are staying… (points) there.  Then a thousand pardons, for it seems that you are a man of the upper class.  Your people look down in us refugees (pause).  But what are you doing here in the café of the rabble? The place of the outsiders? Your leisure times are spent in palaces and resorts. (pause)  Or maybe you will stay there (points)?  Then you know the people there.  Lower than the rabble we are.  A friend of thieves and cutthroats.  Animals! And I don’t mean dogs and cats.  One of my friends, bless his soul, thought they were friends.  He ended up in the gutter.  His throat cut. And do you want to know why he deserved such a gruesome end?  His shoes.  They needed his shoes.  Brand-new.  I seem to remember.  Given by his mother. Sneaked it over the border.  (shakes his head) Poor mother.  She couldn’t even bring her son’s body home.  Even rotting bodies are criminals to the regime.
Here in the café you can find a friend.  The less fortunate but a friend.  Or a stranger.  Or both.  But no place to lie down.  No room. You get drunk, pass out on the table.  Then when you wake up, Desirea will charge you for a night’s rent.  But, believe me, you are among friends. Believe me.
FELIPE    :    No, I don’t.
VICENTE    :    Suit yourself.
FELIPE    :    I have my own place.
VICENTE    :    That is good. (about to leave, then stops)  Just remember my warning about the animals on the streets.  They are what they are.  Beasts.
(Vicente leaves the café.  He goes to his side of the stage, sits at the table and begins to write another poem.)
(Felipe stands up and goes downstage and faces the audience.)
FELIPE    :    I left my province a criminal fleeing the law.  But it is the criminal that is innocent. The law is the one guilty. They oppress. They suppress. They torture.  They kill.  They promote the good. Their good.  They forced us to accept it .  I was the one who refused.  And I had to flee. I joined the ones trying to cross the border  We paid good money to people just to get us across. We, my friends and I.  We fled.  Our guide was good.  He got me across with less risk that I anticipated.  “The pay was good,” he told us, “It would be unfair if I leave you here to be arrested.  I have a name to protect.” (pause) The bastard.  (pause)  Then I came here to the café.  My friend told me that the café was a safe place.  “Go to the café,” were my instructions. Go to the café. The café was a shelter.  But what a shelter it was.  Patriots sitting on wooden chairs around wooden tables.  Drinking cheap wine.  Smoking cheap cigars. Fornicating with cheap women.  This is the price of refusal?  If it is… then it is a very cheap exchange for the minds that are in the place.
(The lights open on one part of the stage.  The Poet is standing there and holding one of Vicente’s poems.  He begins to read.)

CHEAP MEN WITH BRILLIANT MINDS
There they go again: the bastards
Their brains swimming in cheap wine,
Howling at the moon,
Screaming at imagined passersby,
There they go again: the faithless
Of unshakeable faith, chastised
By loss and frantic cigarettes,
Staggering through the image
Of abandoned streets,
Believing the god inhabits
The gutters, his omniscience
Dressed in crumpled hats and mothball coats,
Sour whiskey breath of sacredness
Answering every child’s intimate prayer.

Yes, true arts thrive in dark
City corners and brothels –
A poem is born between
The spread legs of a whore,
Between soiled sheets,
In mossy urinals, behind
Dank curtains, saliva-stained
Reeking of spent passions,
Through the pores of unwashed walls.
Or a poem could gleam
From the edge of switchblade.

The bastards: hurling empty
Soliloquies into the blue night.
Hungry, scarred, feeding on
Desperate scrapheaps of the past.
Declaring their radiance and greatness
To the whole slumbering world,
Inside their minds, where love
Is made more important
By its absence

Every bottle bears a blood-drenched
Painting, every graffiti a sacred mural.
Every beggar an angel.
Every trashcan, every cigarette butt,
Every clogged gutter, every broken water pipe
A sight that the world must reel on

Blessed are the bastards –
The fierceness of the verses shall destroy them
Blessed are the bastards –
The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away
Blessed are the bastards –
Their raucousness will be their silence
Blessed are the bastards –
Forever inhabiting their own homelessness
Blessed are the bastards –
Eternal sufferers, made in the image of gold.

Each of their broken bodies
A temple, shivering.
Filling with immense light.

And crumbling beneath,
Damp skies of dawn.

(The lights dim on The Poet.  He exits.  The lights open onstage.)

SCENE 3
(Vicente is sitting at his tale, writing.  Felipe goes up to him.)
FELIPE    :    Excuse me.
VICENTE    :    (does not look up) Hmmm?
FELIPE    :    Excuse me? Sir?
VICENTE    :    Hmmm? (looks up) What? What? Can’t you see I am writing? What do you want?
FELIPE    :    Sir…
VICENTE    :    Ah, the bill? Señor Galo wants the bill? You tell jour jefe that I will pay the bill when I have the money.  It will be soon.  (reaches into his pocket and takes out a few coins) Here.  I will pay the rest soon. Keep some for yourself.  When I finish what I am writing, I submit it to the newspapers.  When I submit it to the newspapers and they accept it, I get paid.  When I get paid, I pay him and all the other people and bills I need to pay.  Now, the longer you interrupt me here, the longer your jefe does not get paid.  Do you understand?
(Felipe does not reply.  He just stands there dumbfounded.)
VICENTE    :    Now, vamos!  Leave me alone.
(Felipe moves away from the table.  Vicente goes back to his writing.  Felipe looks around.  He does no know what to do.  Desirea enters.  Felipe stops here and hands her the money.)
FELIPE    :    Here.
DESIREA    :    What is this?
FELIPE    :    (gestures at Vicente) Part of his bill. With a tip he wished to give me. (gives her the coins) I do not need this.
DESIREA    :    (looks at Felipe) You were here three days ago.
FELIPE    :    (pause) Yes, I was.
DESIREA    :    Did he say anything to you?  Did he offer anything to you?
FELIPE    :    He said he knew a place to stay in. I said no.  I told him I have a place to stay in the city.
DESIREA    :    I see.
FELIPE    :    I… found a place.
DESIREA    :    (nods) I see. That is good. (pause) And what is the reason that you came back here?
FELIPE    :    (pause) A visit.
DESIREA    :    (gestures at Felipe’s suitcases) With your bags?
FELIPE    :    (shrugs) Thieves.
DESIREA    :    The place you are staying in has thieves?  You must be in an interesting neighborhood.
FELIPE    :    No! (pause) Yes. (pause) No. (pause) I have no place to stay.
DESIREA    :    I see. (pause) You shouldn’t have told him you had a place to stay. Come.
FELIPE    :    Where are we going?
DESIREA    :    (gestures to Vicente) To him.
FELIPE    :    He does not know me.
DESIREA    :    Oh, he will.
(They approach Vicente’s table.  He is still writing)
DESIREA    :    Vicente.
(Vicente does not reply)
DESIREA    :    (a little loudly)  Vicente!
(Vicente is still engrossed in his writing.)
DESIREA    :    (slams a hand on the table and shouts) Vicente!
(Vicente looks up, startled.  He sees Desirea.  He smiles.)
DESIREA    :    Someone wants to see you.
FELIPE    :    (to Desirea) What?
DESIREA    :    A visitor.
VICENTE    :    A visitor? (looks at Felipe) You look familiar.
FELIPE    :    I was here.
VICENTE    :    When?
FELIPE    :    A few minutes... (pause) Three days ago.
VICENTE    :    Three days ago?
FELIPE    :    Yes?
VICENTE    :    Then what?
FELIPE    :    You do not remember?
DESIREA    :    It is always difficult for him to remember things considering the state he is always in.
VICENTE    :    (suspiciously)  What happened three days ago?
FELIPE    :    (hesitates) You were drunk.  I am sure you won’t remember even if I told you.  (to Desirea) This is stupid.
VICENTE    :    Who is stupid?
FELIPE    :    (to Vicente) Not you. (to Desirea) I might as well leave. (to Vicente) I am sorry. I am disturbing you.
(Desirea holds him back.  Vicente notices the action and looks at Desirea.)
VICENTE    :    You know him?
DESIREA    :    (shrugs) Don’t you know the people you talk to, you old drunken fool?
VICENTE    :    (thinks) Was I that drunk?
DESIREA    :    He just arrived three days ago.  How many like you arrive here in the café the past few days?
VICENTE    :    (stares at Felipe, remembers) The friend with a place?
(Felipe nods)
VICENTE    :    (smiles) The one who does not share wine with strangers?
(Felipe hesitates then nods)
VICENTE    :    Ah! The stranger.
FELIPE    :    Yes.
VICENTE    :    And how is your place? Your friends?
FELIPE    :    There is no place.  There is no friend. I… I don’t know what to do.
(Vicente gestures to the seat before him.  Felipe sits down.  Desirea leaves).
FELIPE    :    I don’t have any friends here.  I don’t know any place here.  I don’t know where to go.
(Desirea returns with a bottle of wine and two glasses.  She places these down in front of Vicente.  Vicente reaches for the bottle but Desirea continues to hold on to it.  She looks at Vicente, then at Felipe.  She lets go of the bottle.)
DESIREA    :    Pay later.
(She leaves.  Vicente opens the bottle and fills the glasses.  He hands one to Felipe.)
VICENTE    :    Here.  Share the wine.
(Felipe takes the glass, looks at it for a moment then at the door where Desirea exited.  Vicente nudges his arm.)
VICENTE    :    Go on. Drink.  A glass will be good for you.
(Felipe drinks a long draught.)
VICENTE    :    (nods)  Now we can talk.
(A brief silence)
FELIPE    :    I had friends at home.  When I had to leave, they told me to go here. To this café.   They… my friends… said that there will be help here.
VICENTE    :    They may have been right.
FELIPE    :    They told me to come here. It is the only place I know here.  I had been walking the streets for the past three days.  Always no place to rent.  No vacancy.  What is wrong with this place?  Last night, I had to sleep on a doorstep of a house in a street corner. Thieves could’ve slit my throat for my shoes (pause).  My friends said that people who flee the government back there should come here at this cafe.  Because there are people who would help you. (pause) I don’t know what to believe anymore.
VICENTE    :    Strangers are more reliable to trust…sometimes.
FELIPE    :    Sometimes.
VICENTE    :    (pause) We protect each other (pause).  Have you ever notice birds when they fly together?  The flock protect each other in flight.  Even if the other may or may not be strangers.  (pause and refills Felipe’s glass) Share the wine.
(They drink.  Desirea goes to the table. Vicente writes something on a piece of paper and gives it to Felipe.)
VICENTE    :    There is a room down the street.  The apartment with the red door and broken handle.
FELIPE    :    The red door down the street?  The owner said that they were full.
VICENTE    :    Their rooms are always full.
FELIPE    :    Then what’s the use…
VICENTE    :    Give him that note.  He will know.
(Felipe stares at Vicente then looks down at the note.)
FELIPE    :    (reads) There is a vacancy now.  (pause)  But the owner said…
DESIREA    :    Just give him that note.
FELIPE    :    (pause) Thank you.
DESIREA    :    How much?
FELIPE    :    What?
DESIREA    :    How much was the price for your head?
FELIPE    :    I don’t know.
DESIREA    :    Really?
FELIPE    :    Yes.
FELIPE    :    (pause) They just wanted my head.
DESIREA    :    Why?  Is it made out of gold?
FELIPE    :    My mind was too much for them.
VICENTE    :    Sometimes some people are just better off dead.
(Silence. Felipe nods, stands up and leaves.  Desirea goes up to Vicente).
DESIREA    :    You are tired.
VICENTE    :    I have been writing since last night. (pause) The verses are coming so painfully slow.
DESIREA    :    Then you should rest.
VICENTE    :    What do you think of him?
DESIREA    :    Him? (shrugs)  Not much. (pause)  He could be just lying about his head.  He could be a spy.
VICENTE    :    He will learn nothing if he is. He will not last long among us if he is a spy.
DESIREA    :    You should not trust him too much.
VICENTE    :    He is a good man.
DESIREA    :    Really?  (pause) How do you know?
VICENTE    :    I know.
DESIREA    :    You don’t even know his name.
VICENTE    :    What are names for people like us? Fear hides identities Trust brings out the real names.  Then when you know his real name, you must learn to keep it so only a few will know.
DESIREA    :    That is what scares me.
VICENTE    :    There is always something to be scared about. (pause) Sometimes I wonder.  What is this that I have burdened myself with?
(Vicente returns to his writing.  Desirea goes behind him and hugs him.  He stops writing and holds her hands.)
DESIREA    :    You are tired.
VICENTE    :    In times like these, it is hard to know tiredness. (pause) I am lying to you.  I know him.  The friends told me about him before he arrived.  He is cautious.  Too cautious.
DESIREA    :    He will soon trust you.
VICENTE    :    That is what he just did.  That is why he is here.  He trusts too much.  It will kill him.  (pause) But his mistrust will also kill him. It is a dangerous path he is crossing.  A very thin line between life and certain death.
(Vicente stands and hugs Desirea tightly.  The lights dim and fade out.)

SCENE 4
(The lights open on one part of the stage.  Desirea is standing there.)
DESIREA    :    They all come to the café.  I called them The Rabble. Useless men.  Barren-minded women.  Their beings made inutile by the government that ran their country.  They fled their country to bring their lives back together.  Even a semblance of what remains of it.  And they came here.
The café of Señor Galo used to be the talk of the town. It was the place to be in. Then The Rabble moved in. And the regulars moved out.  No matter what Señor Galo did, The Rabble found the place… comfortable.  He gave them the best watered wine and the most delicious burnt or half-cooked food just to get them out of the place.  They were bad for business. (pause) But they stayed.  And the jefe just had to accept that these useless men and barren-minded women had become his regular customers.
(The lights open on another part of the stage. Vicente is standing there. )
DESIREA    :    He arrived one night.  A writer who fled his country.  He arrived with a past full of dreams. Big dreams (pause) and large fears.
He just arrived and told me to take care of the Rabble.  He talked to Señor Galo and told him to take care of them. Just like that. As if taking care of them comes for free.  Señor Galo laughed at him.  But Vicente, he had something in his personality.  He could convince people with just talk and words.  Señor Galo thought about it then agreed.  A bit reluctantly, at first.  But he did agree.  He still took care of them. And so, here we are. (pause)  He was a poet with big dreams.  He knew that The Rabble would probably end up leading something if he got them together. Vicente was looking for someone to read him.  To know him.  (pause then turns to Vicente) You can’t have them all.
(The lights fade out on Desirea.)
VICENTE    :    (to the audience) His name is Felipe. A writer. A journalist.  He is good. I have heard of him.  He was good. He behaved.  But only for a while. Then he decided to write about the government.  From that step he began writing against them.  So they went after him.  At first it was a price on his head.  But then they decided he wasn’t worth the price after all.  He was better off dead.  They hunted him like they hunted all of us. Like animals. He continued to write in hiding.  Until he had to flee. He could be of use to the cause. I do not believe he will fail in this.  There is too much in him for him to fail.
(The lights fade out on Vicente. On another part of the stage, a light goes on.  Felipe is standing there.)
FELIPE    : (to the audience) The place Vicente referred to me was a crowded rooming house two blocks away from the café.  The landlord was a stingy old dog who charged for room with a common bath at the end of the corridor of each floor.  One bath for ten rooms in a two-story rooming house.  But it was a home. A haven. A place to stay for the moment.
(The lights go on onstage.  The café. Desirea is clearing a table.  Felipe goes to a table and sits down.  He pulls out a sheet of paper from his pants pocket and unfolds it on the table. Desirea enters.)
FELIPE    :    Is Vicente here?
DESIREA    :    Not yet.  He doesn’t usually arrive at this hour in the morning.
FELIPE    :    Do you know where he lives?
DESIREA    :    Is it important?
FELIPE    :    What?
DESIREA    :    Is it important? I can have him sent for and he can come now if its important.
FELIPE    :    No, not really. (holds up the sheet of paper).  He asked me to write something for the broadside they were putting out.  I wanted to show it to him.
DESIREA    :    It is best you do not know where he lives.  Besides, you wouldn’t find him there.  He’s probably drunk and out cold on some gutter.  (pause) The fool.
(Desirea finishes clearing the table and goes offstage for a moment.  She comes back, wiping her hands on a dishcloth.)
DESIREA    :    Is there anything else?
FELIPE    :    What?
DESIREA    :    Do you want anything?  The bar isn’t open yet.  There is breakfast if you want.
FELIPE    :    There is breakfast here?  Something to eat?
DESIREA    :    No.  You have to go someplace else for that. Breakfast for people here is usually an egg with brandy.
FELIPE    :    No, thank you.  It’s a bit too early.
(A brief pause.)
FELIPE    :    I never did thank you.
DESIREA    :    For what?
FELIPE    :    For helping me get a place.
DESIREA    :    What do you think of it? Your new home?
FELIPE    :    I got used to it in the past three months.
DESIREA    :    He always does that, you know.
FELIPE    :    Who?
DESIREA    :    Vicente. He helps people like you.
FELIPE    :    Exiles?  Fugitives?  People on the run?
DESIREA    :    Yes.
FELIPE    :    What do you think of it?
DESIREA    :    I do not know.  (pause) As a matter of fact… (thinks) You know, as a matter of fact, I really don’t care.
FELIPE    :    I think you do.  In a sort of way.  How many?
DESIREA    :    How many what?
FELIPE    :    The people like us who come here?
DESIREA    :    For someone who’s been here for only a short while, you ask a lot of questions.
(A brief silence)
DESIREA    :    I am curious.
FELIPE    :    About what?
DESIREA    :    What did you write that made you flee?
FELIPE    :    A lot of things.
DESIREA    :    Those “lots” of things must’ve been really bad.
FELIPE    :    They didn’t like me much.
DESIREA    :    “They” are the people you are running away from.
FELIPE    :    You know my story.
DESIREA    :    (shrugs)  It is the same as all the others.
FELIPE    :    And you?
DESIREA    :    Me?
FELIPE    :    What is your story?
DESIREA    :    Me?  (laughs) I am just the old hag who serves the customers in this once famous café.
FELIPE    :    You are not an old hag.
DESIREA    :    Compliments won’t get you free drinks around here. (smiles)  But thank you anyway.  That’s the first time someone really said something nice to me.  And not because they wanted to get into bed with me. (pause)  Do you?
FELIPE    :    What?  Get into bed with you?
(Desirea nods.)
FELIPE    :    No.
DESIREA    :    Really?
FELIPE    :    Yes. (pause)  I am not saying you are not a desirable woman but…
DESIREA    :    Thank you.
(A brief silence.)
FELIPE    :    No, really.  Why are you here?
DESIREA    :    (pause) It was a long time ago.  I have already forgotten. It’s probably because I have seen too many faces and places.  Too many stories I have listened to and somehow I would make them my own.  The reason I will be telling you now will probably just be one that was told to me years ago.  (pause) I don’t know…really.  (pause) No one has asked me that for quite a while now.
FELIPE    :    You are also not from around here.
DESIREA    :    Yes.
FELIPE    :    From where?
DESIREA    :    You do ask a lot of questions.
FELIPE    :    I was… I was a journalist, you know.
DESIREA    :    I do not want to know, if you don’t mind.
(A brief, awkward pause.)
DESIREA    :    (smiles)  My turn to ask.
FELIPE    :    What?
DESIREA    :    Do you want to order?
FELIPE    :    Maybe later. My question?
DESIREA    :    Your questions…can get you in a lot of trouble around here.
(A brief silence.  Felipe looks down at his paper and begins to edit it.)
DESIREA    :    Vicente made you write that?
FELIPE    :    (holds up the paper) This? Yes.
DESIREA    :    His goodness doesn’t come without favors.  Yours had come.
FELIPE    :    He can ask all he wants.
DESIREA    :    It is not for him.  It is for the cause.
FELIPE    :    As long as it is not illegal.
DESIREA    :    For “them” everything is illegal.  For you, for Vicente, for the others, it is something good to be done.
FELIPE    :    The good for one is an evil for the other.  A soldier told me that once.  When I was still working for the government. He told me, “You will do good now but when you realize that our good is bad than your good, then you will be bad to us.”
DESIREA    :    He is right.
FELIPE    :    It is sometimes difficult for us to accept that they are right.
DESIREA    :    Vicente used to be good also.  Almost all of The Rabble here were.
(A pause.)
FELIPE    :    About him.
DESIREA    :    Yes?
FELIPE    :    Are you his?
DESIREA    :    (pause) Maybe.  (pause) At times. (smiles) It would’ve been easier to say “None of your business.”  But I guess… no.  No one owns anyone around here.
FELIPE    :    I am sorry.  I mean… if I have offended you.
DESIREA    :    Yes.  Yes you have. (gestures to the paper) What is that?
FELIPE    :    A speech for the meeting with the exiles. Vicente says that if it is good then it can be published.
DESIREA    :    (nods) He told me about that.  He wanted to read a work of his but he was placed among the main speakers and not in the cultural part. (pause) That is good.  You are giving him what he wants.
(Desirea leaves.  Felipe looks at her as she leaves.  Then he pulls out a small notebook from his pocket and a pen.  He begins to write.)
FELIPE    :    What do you want from me?
(The lights fade)

SCENE 5
(The stage is dark.  There is the sound of applause.  The lights go on onstage. Vicente is standing there.  He is well-dressed but looks a bit awkward in his appearance.)
VICENTE    :    It is an honor to be here.  Of course, many of you are familiar with the things I do.  This evening, I will not read poetry.  Instead, I will start with a brief note.  Then a poem.  Nothing much, you see, just enough for you to be entertained.
It is an honor to be here at this gathering.  This gathering of the exiles or, to follow what they call us back home, the rebels.  The insurgents.  The rabble. The no-good radicals.  The traitors.  The troublemakers.  The cancer that has to be eradicated from society.
I guess we should be proud to be called as such.  At least, our government gave us a name.  But what of the ones who disappeared?  What of those who were swallowed up and spat out as skulls and shattered bones with moldy flesh?  Do they have names?  Will they ever have names?
They called us cowards because we fled.  We didn’t face them. We didn’t fight them.  These men carrying guns.  These men with their so-called laws.  I say to them: No one fights a superior enemy unless he has decided to end it all. No one is prepared to lose unless he is prepared to die.
We left our country. We left our families. We abandoned loved ones.  People who cared for us.  People who loved us.  They who we cared for and loved.  We fear for them yet we ran away.  We fled because we didn’t want them to share our pain.
Is that cowardice? Are we cowards because of that?
We fled one day to fight another day.
Are we then cowards?
We didn’t want to end up like those without names. Or the tortured ones.  We fled in spite of our will to fight.  We fled not out of fear.  For they do not scare us. The blood. The torn flesh.  The broken bones. The screams. The weeping. These things… these only made us believe that there is something worth fighting for.  And this is what we will face.  This worth is something we value.   We do it for our home.  The lives we had.  The lives we want to have.  That we want our children to have.  But these will be worth nothing if we forget them.  If we erase them not when they are no longer here.
It is the memory. It is the home we will have in our life in exile.  It is something that will hold us up in the times when we fail.  It is the reward we will have in the time of triumph.
The time of triumph when we shall return.
(Applause. Vicente raises his hands, takes out a piece of paper out of his pocket, and unfolds it.)
Before I end my speech, I would like to read a poem I wrote.  (groans are heard from the audience)  I know. I know.  But since you gave me this opportune time.  Then I shall use it to my advantage.
(There are some good-natured boos and catcalls before Vicente begins to read the poem.  As he reads it, the lights dim on his spot as another light opens onstage where The Poet is standing.  The lights fades out on Vicente as the Poet takes up the reading.)

EXILE POEM
A short definition of home –
A greasy piece of fish,
A cold clump of rice.
A pistol.
A solitary candle.

Home has given way
To the rumbling tanks of night
To the armies of the sun.
My neighbors have fled,
With eyes of fear and moonlight,
With faces trembling.
The wind heavy with odor
Of lead and burnt flesh.

Home, your geography now circled
By a thousand boot marks,
Your skies punctured by raised fists
And voices shackled by hopelessness
Your sunrises smeared with blood,
Spreading over slum roots,
Over shanties sprawling for miles like sores,
Over rivers murky with despair.
Over ricefields littered with landmines.
Torn bodies, tiny hills of skulls.
A thousand lost slippers.

Home – all your poems and legends,
All your stories and songs,
Now lost to firebombs,
Reduced to ashes
Floating through empty fields of memory.

Today, the sky
In my part of the world
Remains purest blue,

Obscured by the shrapnel of black wings.

(As he finishes, there is a brief silence.  Then polite applause followed by cheers and louder applause. The lights fade out.)

Montage Vol. 11 • September 2008