Characters in the play:
One bunk bed lies along right wall, one along the left one. The former is slightly higher than the latter. One closet lies next to the right bed, one next to the left one. The latter is slightly higher than the former. One small dressing table lies next to the left closet, a small looking glass and refrigerator next to the right one. The center of the stage is bare. Cribage is sleeping peacefully on the left bunk. Hollow is sleeping restlessly on the right one, shifting about uneasily, as one having a bad dream. He stirs, tosses, turns, and finally falls, screaming. Lands with a thud.
Hollow (crawls in circles, weeping and wailing. Stops. Rubbing his head): I’m awake. (Stands up) Where am I? … Who am I? (Scratches his head) Is that my resting place up so high? (Considers. Fearfully, to himself) I shouldn’t be asking so many questions… (Loudly, to the heavens) Should I now? (Softly, to himself) No answer! No wonder: that came out a little more boldly than I’d intended… (Loudly, to the heavens) I hope I haven’t offended you… I didn’t mean to… forgive me if I did… forgive me… please forgive me… I promise never to do it again! Ever! (Starts weeping again) I’m dying! Help me! (Runs to right closet, frantically tries opening it, it doesn’t budge) I’m going to die! (Fixes his hair in front of the looking glass) I’ll die of vanity! (Tries opening the fridge, it doesn’t budge) Of poverty! Of hunger and thirst! (Beats his head against the bed post) if boredom doesn’t kill me first! (To himself, a eureka moment) Something to do! I have to find something to do! (Claps his hands triumphantly. Laughs. Loudly) It’s as simple as that! All I have to do is find something to do! (Looks around, trying to find something to do. Finds nothing. Frustrated, to the heavens) Give me something to do! (Instinctively bites his fingers. Clears his throat. Submissively) Give me something to do… pleeeease… (He keeps looking up expectantly. Nothing happens. Sobs.) Pleeeease give me something to do. (He keeps looking up expectantly. Nothing happens. Sobs. To himself) Nobody loves me. (Cribage stirs. Hopefully, to the heavens) Someone to do? (Cribage covers her ears) No? (Continues sobbing. Starts coughing like an old man. Clutches his chest, and then his arm) Heart attack! Heart attack! My heart! Help me! Save me! Please! I beg of you… (Writhing on the floor) All right! All right! Don’t save me. Let me die, but save my heart! My heart is innocent! (Cribage tosses, turns, and falls, screaming. Lands with a thud. Hollow stops writhing. To the heavens) Thank you! Thank you! Someone to do… something with! Thank you!
Cribage (crawls in circles, weeping and wailing, as Hollow watches, delighted. Stops. Rubbing her head): I’m awake. (Stands up) Where am I? … Who am I? (Scratches her head) Why is my bed not higher? Why am I off it and here instead?
Hollow: You are here to keep me occupied… preferably happy… and to protect my heart. You’re my ribcage.
Cribage: Now I remember! I’m Cribage!
Hollow: And I’m Hollow. Nice to meet you. (Extends his hand, Cribage takes it.) What do we do?
Cribage: I don’t know. I’m hungry.
Hollow: (jumps excitedly) I was just dying of hunger and thirst myself! We seem to have a lot in common…
Cribage: (Offended) You ate without me?
Hollow: No, I didn’t eat at all.
Cribage: That’s impossible: you’d have died!
Hollow: I suppose I did. (Considers) I must have! How else do you explain it?
Cribage: I’m starving. (Pointing to the refrigerator) Maybe there’s something to eat in there.
Hollow: Maybe. But there’s no key.
Cribage (patronizingly): Find it for me. (Hollow nods, looks about for three seconds, turns to Cribage, shrugs, defeated) No silly! Not like that! Make an effort! (Pointing to Hollow’s bed) Go check under those covers.
Hollow: (unenthusiastically) All right. (He takes half a step, slips, falls, and starts crying) I can’t! They won’t allow me! (Cribage looks at him skeptically) Try, and see for yourself. (Cribage takes two steps towards Hollow’s bunk, he trips her, she falls and frowns. Comfortingly) It’s all right. You can cry if you want.
Cribage: You tripped me.
Hollow: No I didn’t. (Small pause) I can if you want (small pause) I think it’s a great idea. Your best so far. (He extends his hands to take her clothes off. She slaps them away. Begrudgingly, to the heavens) You had to make it challenging!
Cribage: Not strip! Trip! Trip!
Hollow: Oh that! That wasn’t me, honestly. That was done by (drops his voice to a whisper, pointing to the heavens) their will.
Cribage: Liar! It was you!
Hollow (slaps her. Angrily): Everything is! (Drops his voice to a whisper) Done by their will. (Angrily) Dare you deny it?
Cribage (whimpering): No! No! I dare not!
Hollow (whimpering): Me neither. (Pause, where both sob) We won’t accomplish anything with selfish intentions.
Cribage: What do you suggest?
Hollow: Let’s blow ourselves up!
Cribage: Let’s intend to feed each other.
Hollow: Whose idea is more selfless? I say mine.
Cribage (in a resigned tone): Yours.
Hollow (triumphantly): Ha! Let’s do it then… go on… make a bomb!
(There’s a knock on the door, at hearing which Hollow and Cribage become wide-eyed, as if in a trance. They shake their heads vigorously, stop simultaneously, and assume more conventional expressions)
(barking) Your password?
Filmy (offstage): What?
Hollow: I said—
Cribage: What do you want here?
Filmy: My parents sent me here to learn all about the high book. (Pause) But I want to watch Bollywood movies. That’s what I want. Can I get it here?
Hollow: Who’s paying? You or your parents?
Filmy: My parents, of course!
Hollow: Very good. Now why have your parents sent you here?
Filmy: I just told you: to learn all about the high book.
Hollow: Which edition?
Filmy: The latest, of course.
Hollow (to Cribage): Do we have that one?
Cribage: We don’t have any of the high books.
Hollow: We’ll have to order it straight away— High Books! How many of them are there?
Hollow: Four! (Glancing at the heavens) It took them that many to make up their minds?
Cribage: At least…
Hollow: At least! That’s ridiculous! (Considers) We’ll have to resort to plan B.
Cribage: As usual: plan B should be plan A.
Hollow (As he reaches under the closet next to his bunk): Poor kid. (Procures a key) He’s been brainwashed by those heathens. (Opens closet and rummages inside) If anyone has the right to brainwash him, (putting on a fake beard, and pocketing a pendulum) it’s us. (Adjusts it in front of he looking glass).
Cribage (following a similar procedure with her closet, except procuring a full-body hijab in lieu of the beard. In a muffled voice): Joo. Jeshijes, pajents joe what beshd fod chair jilden.
Hollow: What? How many times do I have to tell you, I can’t hear a word you say through that thing!
Cribage (removing the scarf from her face): I said, ‘True. Besides, parents know what’s best for their children.’
Hollow: Certainly! It’s one of the great paradoxes of life. Now put that thing back on. God forbid he should find you attractive. (She puts the scarf back on) Go sit in a corner and read something. (She sits in a corner and starts reading her palm. Hollow makes towards the door, considers, stops, reopens closet, procures marker, goes to Cribage, scribbles whimsically on her palm) It’s permanent; it should last the session. (Replaces marker, checks his appearance in the looking glass, sighs with a sense of finality, opens the door. Enter Filmy)
Filmy: Hello. I’m Filmy. (Extends his hand)
Hollow (Ushers him in without taking his hand) Come, come… please take a seat.
Filmy: I don’t see a seat.
Hollow (bites his knuckles despairingly. Thoughtfully): Ah! You observe well (Smiles, a eureka moment) but not well enough. Look again.
Filmy (looks again. Shakes his head): Is it invisible?
Hollow: The ground, Filmy, the ground. In order to understand the high book, you must first learn simplicity. Please, take a seat— on the ground— make yourself comfortable.
Filmy (sitting on barren center stage): But this isn’t comfortable at all.
Hollow: In order to grapple with the high book, you’ll have to reconcile with notions far less comfortable than that.
Filmy (Impatiently): Where is the high book? I don’t see any books here.
Hollow: Patience! It’s a virtue you evidently lack. Now… are you comfortable?
Filmy (forcefully): Yes.
Hollow: Good! (Pause)
Filmy: Is there anything else I need to do before we can start with the high book?
Hollow (tentatively): Yes. (Filmy sighs irritably) This is the best part though. And, the last step before we finally begin our reading!
Filmy: All right, what is it?
Hollow (procures pendulum and swings it before Filmy’s eyes): Simply this: watch the pendulum as closely as you can… shun out every other object in your line of vision…. By focusing solely on the pendulum… now… your limbs are loosening… your eyelids are growing heavy… watch it oscillate this way and that, that way and back again… yes… yes… that’s it… (snaps his fingers right in front of Filmy’s eyes, which don’t blink. To Cribage) Get the jacket.
Hollow: Of course! Why else would I ask for the jacket?
Cribage: Do we have to?
Hollow: Yes, Crib. He’s the only witness. (To Filmy, as Cribage opens her closet and brings over a bomb jacket) Can you hear me? Stick your tongue out and nod if you can (Filmy sticks his tongue out and nods) Give me my fee (he hands over a key) now put this on (he puts on the bomb jacket) Good! Step outside, and when you’re at a safe distance from us, Push the red button, the one that says ‘activate.’ After that, close your eyes and count to seven, when you wake, you should be in heaven. That reminds me: Crib, the disclaimer! (Cribage goes to closet, procures disclaimer, hands it to Hollow, who puts in Filmy’s pocket) There! Now we can’t be held liable in the higher courts if you end up in hell. It’s a long term protective measure. Be sure to show it to everyone if you feel the sensation of heat in the least. All set! You can now be on your way. (Exit Filmy) A good beginning.
Cribage: Couldn’t agree more.
(Hollow walks to the refrigerator, inserts key, opens it, takes out a plate of food and puts it on the table which, Cribage has procured along with two chairs, in the meantime from the closet, and set in center stage. They sit down to eat, when another knock is heard on the door.)
Hollow (Irritably): Who is it?
Fulmee: Yes, my name is Fulmee. I’m here about the car.
Hollow: Oh yes! The cart!
Cribage: No silly! He said car, not cart!
Hollow (to Fulmee): What’s that you say? Car or cart?
Fulmee: Why car, of course! Why on earth would I want a cart?
Hollow (to Cribage): But I only have a donkey cart. Do you think he’ll notice the difference?
Cribage: Let me see. (Hollow procures donkey cart from his closet) Oh no. He’ll never buy that!
Hollow: Why not?
Cribage: It needs an engine.
Hollow: Engine! That’s ridiculous! Where am I going to get an engine? (Considers) We’ll just have to resort to plan B.
Cribage: As usual: plan B should be plan A.
Hollow: Yes, but then we’d have just the one plan. We shouldn’t put our eggs in one basket unless we have decoy ones. So plan A is as essential as plan B. (Hollow and Cribage turn the carts back to the audience center stage. Cribage exits into the closet. Hollow opens door for Fulmee, and ushers him in) Welcome, welcome, please wait just a moment while my sales partner gets ready.
Fulmee: Really, I’m not looking for anything fancy, just a small car: something that can squeeze through the traffic in rush hour.
Hollow: Nothing fancy? We have just the thing for you!
Fulmee: Oh, is it a Chevy; I love Chevys!
Hollow: Better yet, and better yet cheaper yet, let me present to you the latest and most refined model, of the Immortal, immemorial, evergreen Donkey Cart!
Fulmee: What? Donkey cart? What do you take me for, a fool? No way am I buying that! (Marches to exit)
Hollow (with salesman like persuasion, blocking Fulmee’s path): Wait! Think of the tradition! The history!
Fulmee: At the expense of what: the trendy and the contemporary? No thank you. I don’t want to buy it. Get out of my way before I have to use force.
Hollow (procures pendulum and swings it before Fulmee’s eyes. Speaks rapidly): Watch the pendulum as closely as you can… shun out every other object in your line of vision…. By focusing solely on the pendulum…
Fulmee: Stop waving that thing in my face! And get out of my way. (Enter Cribage from the closet, supposedly wearing nothing much under a large overcoat)
Cribage: Stop harassing the charming gentleman, Hollow. (Hollow stops harassing the charming gentleman. Fulmee turns to Cribage)
Fulmee: Thank you, I— (his jaw drops as she parts her robe a little with her back to the audience)
Cribage (seductively): I must apologize for this imbecile’s behavior. He’s too overbearing for our own good. Now, how may we be of help?
Fulmee (staring at her cleavage): However you want…
Cribage: This cart (seductively running her finger down a portion of the cart) is more efficient than any car you’ll ever find. (Shows him part of her legs) look, for instance, at its arms. Strong and muscular, much like you own, and yet, ever so light on the back… (Circling the cart sensuously) and so it is with all of its features, visibly exquisite, practically best suited to their purpose… now you tell me, what ass would not want this for a cart? You want to buy this cart, you want to buy this cart, you want to buy this cart…
Fulmee: I want to buy this cart. I’d love to buy this cart. I have to buy this cart.
Cribage: Good. Fee please, then you may take it and leave. (Fulmee hands over a key to Cribage, assumes the position of the donkey on the donkey cart, and exits)
Hollow: Well done, my little Crib, sumptuously done! (Blows her kisses. She waves the key triumphantly in Hollow’s face, makes for the refrigerator. Hollow trips her, she falls, looks accusatorily at him. He shrugs and points to the heavens. She hands him the key. He goes to the refrigerator, accesses it through the key, procures a much larger meal from it, and puts it on the table. They sit down to eat, when)
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Filmy (offstage): One… two…
Fulmee (offstage): Quick, step away! There are no beaks on this thing!
Filmy: three… four…
Fulmee: Hey! Donkey cart headed your way! Step back!
Filmy: five… six…
(A loud explosion is heard, mingled with piercing screams. It dies down. All is quiet. Hollow and Cribage look at one another, shrug indifferently simultaneously, and start eating. A knock is heard on the door, followed by arguing noises.)
Hollow: Who is it, and what’s wanted?
Fuelus Brothers: We’re the Fuelus brothers, and we want the truth!
Hollow: Oh we have plenty of that! Come on in!
(Enter the Fuelus Brothers, one a bearded man in Shalwar Kamiz, the other a clean shaven man in a suit) Make yourselves comfortable. (Bearded Feulus sits on the barren center stage with a wince, and Shaven Feulus on one of the tables before Hollow and Cribage’s meal) Now, please be more specific. The truth is a vast, all encompassing subject. Which portion of it would you like to—
Bearded Fuelus (pointing to Cribage as she slips into the closet): Who was that?
Hollow: My wife.
Shaven Fuelus: Are you ashamed of her that you hide her from us?
Bearded Fuelus: It is a sense of shame that prevents him, but not one an ignoramus like you could possibly appreciate.
Shaven Fuelus: I see you’ve resorted to your customary way of explaining your beliefs… (To Hollow) and he calls me an ignoramus! (Loudly, to Bearded Fuelus) Well if I’m an ignoramus, you’re a fucking monkey!
Bearded Fuelus: And there you are: borrowing all your ideas from Darwin. (Disgustedly) Ugh! Darwin! Can’t come up with something original?
Shaven Fuelus: I would if I wasn’t afraid of it blowing up in my face!
Hollow: Enough! I’ve heard enough to understand your requirements. Except one minor detail: who’s paying?
Shaven Fuelus: We’re paying for ourselves.
Bearded Fuelus: We’d never want to pay for each other.
Hollow: I see… please step outside, and my associates will call you in one at a time. The truth cannot be borne by two people at once.
(Exit the Fuelus brothers. Enter Cribage from the closet, wearing a news reporter’s attire, and a stack of papers tucked into her armpit)
Cribage: Plan B?
Hollow: As always. Shaven Fuelus, please step inside.
(Enter Shaven Fuelus)
Hollow: Now, please state explicitly what you want to know.
Shaven Fuelus: Well, as my brother and I were walking past your agency, we heard a massive explosion just a few feet away from us. That’s common enough, yes, but then the most extraordinary thing happened: I recalled feeling my brother push me towards the area just moments before the explosion. (Bracing himself) What I want to know is if he’s the one responsible for it. And if he is, whether or not it was intended to cause my death.
Cribage (At once): Yes and yes. He caused it for the express purpose of your death.
Shaven Fuelus: I can’t believe it! But why? Why would he do such a thing?
Cribage (uncertainly): Isn’t it obvious?
Shaven Fuelus: Well what should I do?
Cribage: Send him inside, sir, and we’ll deal with him for you.
Shaven Fuelus: Thank you!
Cribage (smiling patronizingly) Don’t mention it. It’s our job: we report, you abide.
Hollow: For the small sum of one key.
(Shaven Fuelus smiles entranced. He hands Hollow a key, and exits. Cribage dons her full length hijab again. Enter Bearded Fuelus)
Now, please state explicitly what you want to know.
Bearded Fuelus: I want to know why my brother was acting so suspiciously, and why he insisted on stopping by here first.
Cribage (mumbling through her scarf): Ish are go do do wida domin. He shausher ish shoe shrame shoe.
Breaded Fuelus: But why would he want to frame me for a bombing he caused?
Hollow: He’s jealous of your lovely flowing beard. Believe nothing else. Nothing else makes sense.
Bearded Fuelus: Well what should I do?
Hollow: I have a taveez that will protect you form his evil eye. Crib! Jacket! (Cribage gets bomb jacket. Hollow hands it to Bearded Fuelus) That’ll be one key. (Bearded Fuelus hands Hollow a key, and puts on the jacket) If you feel your brother eyeing you malignantly, push the red button, one which says ‘activate.’ And everything should be all right.
Bearded Fuelus: Is that the way prescribed in the high book?
Hollow: Why else would I recommend it?
Bearded Fuelus: Thank you (Exits)
Hollow (sighs, relieved. Flops himself on chair, wipes sweat off his forehead. Cribage sits down next to him): I need a break.
Cribage: Me too.
Hollow: All right then. Come on. You know the drill.
Cribage: Can I go first this time?
Hollow: You have my permission. (Cribage turns to retrieve pendulum, Hollow trips her, shrugs, points to the heavens) Seems I’ll have to go first… again. (Starts swinging pendulum) Watch the pendulum as closely as you can… shun out every other object in your line of vision…. By focusing solely on the pendulum… now… your limbs are loosening… your eyelids are growing heavy… watch it oscillate this way and that, that way and back again… yes… yes… that’s it… (snaps his fingers, Cribage doesn’t blink. Ordering her) You will not wake till there’s a knock on the door. You will always hand over the keys to me. You will always be subservient to me. You will sleep with me whenever I want, and when it’s your turn to do me, you will not go against anything I have told you. Now… your turn. (she takes the pendulum and starts swinging before Hollow’s face. Curtain.)
Saad Sultan, the author of this play is a Lahore based student of English Literature