Sunday, 19 June 2011

Someone's at the door - A silent play

(I am a member of the Dramatics Club of IISER Kolkata, named AARSHI which means a mirror in Bengali, and there we occasionally script our own plays. This is a silent play that I came up with.)

The curtains rise.

The scene is set in the drawing room of a modest household. The furniture consists of a couch in the center, facing the audience, a couple of chairs in one end of the stage and a table in the other. In the background is a massive clock. To the side with the chairs, is the main door of the house.

The clock tolls 6 pm as the wife dressed in her nightgown is seen sitting on the couch, again and again looking at the door with anger and impatience. She gets up, goes into one corner, brings back some vegetables and sinks back onto the couch. Her eyes still fixed on the door, her face twisted in reproach and contempt, she starts chopping the vegetables rather vigorously.

The door bell sounds, shattering the silence of the house. The wife gets up eagerly, knife still in hand and takes a couple of hurried steps towards the door. But she stops, her hands on her hips, while her face lights up with some sinister idea. She waits and does not make a move towards the door. A minute later, there is another buzz of the bell. The wife continues to stand in place, with her satisfaction-filled smile widening every second. After about half a minute more, the door bell sounds again, now for a longer time, reflecting the obvious impatience of the ringer. The wife waits for one more round of ringing before moving towards the door, in the confident steps of someone who has triumphed, and has no desire to let the moment end quickly. She reaches the door and opens it with a fast movement of her one hand, the other hand brandishing the knife. She retracts a few steps with a gasp of surprise and bewilderment as she sees the young boy standing at the door. It is obviously not the person she had presumed it to be. The boy in the meanwhile is more than just surprised. He is visibly scared and is staring wide-eyed at the large knife in her hand. So-much-so that he forgets to hand over the stack of ironed clothes that he is carrying in his hands. The wife gathers her wits and shoving a 20 rupees note into his hand from the purse hanging besides the door on a hook, hurriedly takes the clothes from him and shuts the door on his still bewildered face. She moves back into the room, keeps the clothes on the table and slumps backwards onto the couch. She sits there a while, seeming to contemplate the fool that she has made of herself. After a minute or so, she gets up and shakes her head vigorously, as if she is trying to literally shake off the unpleasant experience. She paces the floor in short bursts of energy, pausing for long in between, thinking, and then resuming the pacing. She seems to steadily calm down and regain her composure.

Just as the clock strikes 7 pm, she seems to be struck by another idea. She walks over to the phone kept on the table, picks it up and dials a number. A few seconds later, a woman’s voice, which can be heard clearly by all, says, “the number you are trying to reach, is currently not reachable. Please try again later.” She drops the phone back into its cradle, regaining her initial anger and impatience. She walks back to the couch and resumes her vigorous chopping while glancing at the door again and again. She continues to chop for a while, muttering angrily under her breath all the time. She finishes chopping the vegetables and moves over to the table, placing them there, when the door bell sounds once again. She starts once more for the door, clearly very anxious to open the door. But a couple of steps later, she stops, the sinister smile appearing on her face once more, and she pauses. About a minute passes and the bell sounds one more time. The expression on her face suddenly changes, her confidence falters and she seems to have changed her mind. She moves towards the door, before looking down at her hand which is still holding a knife. She turns back and places the knife on the table before walking hurriedly towards the door. Just outside the door, she smoothes her gown, and tucks the few strands of free hair back into her bun, before carefully opening the door. This time too, it seems the person at the door is not the one she had been expecting as she gives out a loud gasp of surprise and clasps her hand to her mouth in disbelief and fear. The man at the door viciously pushes his way in, shoving her inside and slamming the door shut. With a somewhat awkward movement of his hand, he pulls out a swiss-knife from his coat pocket, flips it open, and points it at her throat in a threatening way. She is still too shocked to react and does not move while he brings the blade close to his lips and then imitates an action of slitting his own throat. She seems to understand and does not make a sound. He advances a few steps towards her but sways wildly and staggers forward, regaining his balance at the last moment. He moves closer to her staring into her bewildered eyes and flashing a crooked grin. She takes back a few steps, covering her nostrils with her hand, unable to withstand the odor of alcohol, throwing him a look of intense disgust and loathing. She observes that he seems to be very lean and weak, maybe hasn't had food for many days, and is clothed in tattered rags. He obviously has some problems navigating, and is swaying wildly from side to side. Unable to stand steadily on his own feet, he is constantly groping for some support.

But finally, managing to push her far into the room, he steadies himself against the couch and stands holding his knife to her throat. He points at the scant ornaments that line her neck and her wrists. She silently removes her thin gold necklace and her gold bangles from each hand and holds them up to him. He points towards a napkin lying on the couch. She understands and silently moves towards the napkin, all the time throwing scared glances around, looking for an escape route. She places the ornaments in the centre of the napkin. The man laughs a silent laugh and points to her earrings. She takes those off and places them onto the napkin. The man indicates her to tie the knot and just as he does so, loses his balance and stumbles down. She grabs this opportunity, quickly leaps towards the table and grabs the vegetable knife from there. She turns around to find that the man is still struggling to get on his feet.

She walks up silently to the man holding the knife in front of her. The man, still sitting on the floor, absentmindedly puts up one hand, in the hope that she might help him get up. But on looking up, he realizes that the situation has taken a turn against him and manages to get up on his own. He looks at the knife in her hand then at his own and back at her’s. The fact that her knife is way larger than his, seems to hit him now. Both just stand rooted in place, at a clear loss of what is to be done next. She too is looking down at her knife, as if unable to believe the kind of situation that she is finding herself in. She takes a shaky step towards him. He staggers one step backwards. She takes one more step forward and he moves another step back, obviously feeling threatened by her. She makes a sudden rapid rush at him and stops the knife just a few inches short of his chest. He hurriedly scampers off, stumbling and falling all his way and rushes out the door. She runs after him and slams the door shut the moment he is out and bolts it from inside. She walks back to the couch, drops the knife on the seat and collapses besides it. She holds her head in her hands and seems to shake. She’s sobbing silently. She continues to sob for a while before she calms down and wipes away her tears.

The silence in the house is shattered by the ringing of the door bell. She jumps up with fear and backs off against the wall which is farther away from the door. The bell rings again. She walks slowly back to the couch and picks up the knife. Her hand is shaking badly as she approaches the door. Just then, the clock strikes 8, making a loud sound. The knife drops from her hand onto the floor with a resounding clang, only making her further aware of the fact that she is all alone in the house. She is now shaking from head to toe. Her face is mortified with fear. She bends down and picks up the knife again. The knife is unsteady in her hand. But she holds on to it as if it were a lifeline. The doorbell sounds once again, longer and it seems to her, louder. She moves to the door and cautiously opens the door. Once again, the man at the door is not the one whom she thought it is. He is dressed in a shirt and pants, complete with a necktie and an overcoat. He enters the house and gives her a light hug. He removes his coat, puts it up on the peg near the door and walks up to the couch and sits on it, leaving her standing right where she was. He loosens his necktie and stretches his feet in front of him, saying casually, “Hi darling! I’m very sorry to be late. I know I promised to be home early today but I got held up in the traffic. So, what have you been up to? Anything exciting happened today?”

The curtains fall.

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