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Baby Blues

by Paola Moretti


Siri – a very young Asian woman

The stage is in darkness.
Music: the Buddhist mantra “Om mani padme hum” sung by Ralf Illenberger or any other rendering capable of creating a similar atmosphere of sadness and nostalgia. The chant fades out as a voice off , hoarse and raucous , is heard. The chant and the voice alternate, overlap, like two aspects of a sole reality.

Voice off – Come on in, sir, enter the house of love
good food, clean beds
a young girl for sale
going cheap…fresh, lovely, healthy
come , take her, sir
she yearns for a white man, she’ll serve him like a god,
she’ll be your slave for as long as you wish
and she’ll help you discover the warmth of Thailand..
come in, sir, come on in, come on in….

The stage lights come on. Siri, centre, lights a stick of incense and prostrates herself before the statue of an imaginary god. Next to her an empty, open fridge. On the floor strips of paper on which she has allegedly written her story and which, as the monologue unfolds, she checks and sticks to the inside of the refrigerator.

Siri – Yesterday has gone. The day before yesterday too. Today … will take time.
In here, waiting for the debt to be settled. What debt?
Mine? My mother’s? No answer.
A patient, unpredictable henchman
sometimes it increases, sometimes it decreases, you can’t keep track of it ..
(She picks up a strip of paper, checks it)
I reckoned it all to the very last penny.
Light and dark. One day.
Every single moment, even the slightest variation
Light and dark. Two days.
Dark and dark. You can hear the rain. Three days, maybe.
(In a mechanical, toneless voice) Yeah, we get on fine together, don’t we?
Like an engaged couple,
I’ll come back tomorrow, return, don’t ever come back.
May you die!
What do you mean servant ?? I ‘m not saying no.
I don’t speak. At least I think I don’t speak.
I just think.. How did that thought escape me?
Ten times dark and light. A thousand times?
Suddenly everything was quenched, swallowed up by water
drool and spittle, blood and sewage.
Inside and outside of me.
I lost count ; at some point I lost track of it.
We are fine together,
is that not so, what do you say?
We are very well
I’ll be back tomorrow; I’ll be back tonight; don’t come back
What do you say ? Shall I kill you?
Memory has faded into fragments I fail to recognize,
a stream of light, like my lantern on the river at night…
(She remains absorbed, browsing through the strips of paper)
The river … the great river
and loads of children… no father, no mother,
or uncles or cousins, no family,
only us , fishing for shrimps in the water,
hopping like birds, light as we were.
On the river, facing my house, forgotten by everyone,
so I thought, and I felt safe. Long days ahead of me
all identical, neither pain nor happiness, a child forever.
Suddenly it happened.
Hello Siri, he said, obscuring the light.
I’m your uncle. I have been watching you for some time now
from sunrise to sunset, in the river fishing for shrimps
while your mother is in need of everything.
Uncle , when, how … I’d never seen him before
yet he knew so much about me.
My mother did not need anything
the shrimps we caught were enough
She was able to eat and pay her taxes. What else did she need?
You can’t just stand there, pretend to live
and enjoy a clear conscience. I have been watching you for some time now
You don’t even turn around to look at your house,
You must honour the woman who gave you life.
What gift is greater than that? What do you do in return?
You don’t care if your family is ruined.
I turned around and I saw my mother smiling inside the window.
Maybe at me for the very first time, or at my uncle.
Then, when all was about to change …
How can we say for whom those glances and smiles were meant
they rent the air like gleaming blades .. all
rushed by so fast and nothing could be compared any more to
what had been until then.
Even the shrimps in the basket stopped squirming and surrendered to death.
My sister had disappeared, perhaps someone had spoken
those self-same words and she had gone, my dear sister …
All day in the river while your family … your mother …
Do you understand? Are you capable of understanding? Are you listening to me?
Doing nothing all day long, and if someone comes to see you,
you hide like a nocturnal animal.
Even if someone wanted to pay you a compliment, take you for his wife,
he could not, because you have no manners.
You’re a dead weight, a useless burden.
Your sister … you should follow her example … do what she does.
Do what she does? I asked my uncle.
Good, there’s a good little girl, he said,
Let yourself be led by those who are more experienced than you ..
I knew you’d be reasonable.
Come here, come closer.

When my sister left
she was wearing a new dress
carried a nice little bag. I went to meet her…
but she lifted a hand to stop me
she didn’t want me to come near. She backed away a few steps
her hand raised all the time and then hurried away
as if there was something on her mind
that could not be told. I called her
but she had gone already. What could I do?
She’ll come back in the end, I said to myself, or she won’t return at all.
With that secretive character of hers, practically mute,,
she’ll come back surely. She wasn’t used to being alone
didn’t know how to speak, but so beautiful that nobody seemed to mind.
When she left, the whole village came
to congratulate my mother. Laughing as if it were a fete..
Where’s she gone, I asked my mother.
It doesn’t matter, said she, god protects her and all is well.
We really need a television
here everybody has one except us.
It’s not honourable to have children who
waste time all day and don’t help their families.
Fishing or wading in paddy-fields is no use
you have to open a bar in town
a place to entertain tourists
a kiosk to feed them …
whatever can earn loads of bahts for the family
It takes a little sacrifice, a little courage,
I don’t need to tell you what to do.
If I were younger I would do it myself
I would not have to beg you for a TV-set
something everybody has, except us.
No one will come to save us and the days come and go
without anything good ever happening.
You bow over the water thinking that to eat means to live,
all day bent in two with that smug air of yours
and don’t even iyou ask me if I am happy.
Is your mother happy? No, she is not.
Yet after my sister left, she laughed often
with the villagers, happy or unhappy I could not figure it out
perhaps happier …than before … than when …
I don’t know, just happier.
Every day she lit a stick of incense to
the Buddha of Prosperity
she had never been devout, prostrated herself like the monks
then she sat in the road waiting for the suffering to end.
She ate what they brought her,
rice and shrimps …she ate with her eyes closed
so as not to cease praying.
And finally her wish was granted
My uncle … (reflecting) another one? I don’t remember …he brought her a television
the biggest ever seen,
they couldn’t even get it through the door,
They had to open the roof and lower it down .
My sister must have become very rich
to buy such a marvellous gift.
My mother gave a party, with meat, fish and tapioca cakes.
People filled the house and even came from the neighbouring villages
they queued up to see the television and congratulated her.
My sister hadn’t come back yet, but nobody noticed that.
Those who speak little are soon forgotten
and she was practically mute,
so nobody thought of thanking her.
Thank whom? Said my mother. Nothing and nobody.
This is what you do for a mother, everyone knows that
This and more for the woman who gave you life
it’s a duty, no more need be said.
She sat in front of the television, day and night,
happy as can be, honoured by the neighbours who came to see her
bringing flowers, meat, fish and beer. They ate and drank
seated around the television set, which nobody ever turned on
because they didn’t know how,
anyway, on or off it made no difference.
Someone vomited on top of it and that was very funny
But eventually they tired of the game and stopped coming.
Day after day the house grew empty
all that remained were leftovers and withered flowers.
(she pastes some strips of paper carefully inside the fridge)

I can’t just sit here all alone any more, she said.
This loneliness is killing me.
This is the fate of a mother who gives life…
If only I had a telephone to speak to my neighbours…
Everyone in the village has at least one
we are always the last.
They talk to each other night and day and send photos
I am left out, nobody thinks of me.
I want to die, this house will be my grave.
She went to sleep on a mat hung between the trees,
she rocked in the wind, whenever there was wind,
when there was no wind, the children up from the river and took turns to rock her.
She slept and dreamt of all the things she needed to be happy.
My sister must have been making a fortune,
because they began unloading parcels every day
in front of our house.
Telephones, curtains, ,dolls, dishes, computers, sandals, bags,
furs, necklaces, silk dresses, swinging lanterns,
good-health bells …bigger and bigger parcels,
stacked one on top of the other, that nobody felt like opening,
an unsteady, fluid, quavering mound.
The neighbours didn’t like it, they spat on it and began cursing it.
One night they shared out the parcels and threw what nobody liked
into the river. The currents soon carried them off,
in a single night. And deposited them in the next village.
Hello Siri, said he. I’m your uncle.
Uncle when, uncle how …I had never seen him before.
Maybe I had, but I didn’t recognise him then.
Your sister is dead. She set fire to herself.
He smiled as if this were good news for me
as I filled the baskets with shrimps.
They were alive and squirmed. They didn’t want to die.
It’s your turn now, because your mother needs everything
and you must provide for her.
What did my mother still need?
There was the issue of that debt.
who would refund all the money she had been given
for the sale of my sister ?
Have you thought of that? You have to honour it, he said.
Sold? By my mother? To whom? And why was she dead?
He was joking, yes, surely he was.
but I went into the river and hid among the others,
dark-skinned, thin, tired, sunburnt children, all the same to look at.
undistinguishable. Or so I thought.
My uncle called me..
I looked at the river, the sun behind the bamboo grove.
All I had left was my name,
a small fishing net and a basket of shrimps
that didn’t want to die.
Come, Siri, don’t be afraid, why are you crying?
you’re big enough now to honour the woman who gave you life.
The moment is yours, Siri.
He dragged me out of the water as if I were nothing at all..
Siri the child … never seen before… that had never existed…
Child? Women are born women already,
dressed in silk, flowers in the hair, red on their lips.
Don’t cry, smile.
They’ll have you at once, because you’re young and fresh
They’ll keep you as long as you remain healthy and beautiful,
they’ll tear at your skin like dogs
you must be prepared, don’t be afraid,
you’ll suffer the first few times, but, then you’ll get used to it.

Sister, come and get me!
We’ll go back to our mother and show her what she’s done!
She took me away from the river,
the sun and the boundless air,
and hurled me into darkest hell.
Blood, drool, spittle and infinite pain on my childish body
violated, torn, pierced, humiliated day after endless day.
My soul took flight, in a dream
to fish bare-handed in the water
that enveloped me like a mother.
Light and darkness. A thousand more days.
I seem to have lost count…
We get on so well together, really well
I’ll be back tomorrow, don’t come back,
you call me a whore, I’ll kill you.
I ran away several times, I think,
in the beginning I was so thin I could pass under the door like a mouse.
I sought the way back home, I got lost…
What home? Who was waiting for me there?
I ran, I flew, felt the earth beneath my feet
the air on my hands,
but maybe that too was but a dream.
They always caught me again, immediately,
and make me repent every way they could.

(she sticks the last strip of paper inside the fridge and sits inside it herself)
In the end I surrendered.
Or that’s what I had them believe.
So they believed everything I said.
I withdrew into a point within myself
that nobody could reach.
slowly I floated into
absolute immobility:
the pain became bearable, or else I didn’t notice them,
what remained of life became a distant backdrop.
I waited.
blood pain spittle sludge
flowed away from my light .
I became the star of the brothel
the magical little girl paying her debt,
the gifts for her mother
working night and day without complaint.
i waited. I waited…
It all happened so suddenly
my uncle came and said I was no longer either fresh or healthy
I could return home or die in the streets,
which is one and the same thing.
The karmic debt was honoured
the other will never be,
but there are so many more little girls… an infinity of them.

This is the last gift for my mother.
She needed a fridge to be really happy
because everyone in the village has one except her.
She doesn’t need it, she won’t open it and will soon forget it,
but she’ll be very happy while the revelries last.
And when the neighbours leave
there’ll be only the two of us left, alone, together…
even if she’ll never know.
She who has never preserved anything.
For the rest of her days
she’ll preserve Siri and her story
(she huddles into the fridge, tucking her knees up beneath her body)
I implore you, my sisters,
fasten and seal these doors hermetically.
Don’t cry.
Today is a feast-day
because Siri is returning home, forever.

(Darkness. Deep sigh)

The end