Cities and the Dead 1
(POLO and KHAN alone in their garden. POLO is using his hands to describe the stones in a bridge, one by one forming an arch.)
POLO : Thus is the bridge constructed.
KHAN : But which is the stone that supports the bridge?
POLO : The bridge is not supported by one stone or another, but by the arch that they form.
KHAN : Then why do you speak of stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.
POLO : Without the stones, there is no arch.
KHAN : Without the arch, there are no stones. Tell me of another city.
POLO : My lord. Moving on from Leandra -
(POLO leaves the garden.)
POLO: - seventy miles into the eastern desert, lies Melania.
(The town square at Melania. The citizens of Melania enter: a MOTHER with a CHILD, an angry old MAN and a witty young MAID. KHAN joins them as a bragging SOLDIER. Each has a prop or an item of costume that distinguishes their character: the costume is as much the character as the performer - perhaps more so.)
POLO: At Melania, every time you enter the square, you find yourself caught in a dialogue.
(The following dialogues flick in and out of each other.)
MOTHER : No you can’t have that. How about a nice piece of fruit? Fruit’s good for you.
CHILD : Fruit’s yucky.
SOLDIER: He was as big as that tree there and about twice as wide, but I didn’t care. I just got out my sword - like this -
MAID : It’s not very big, is it?
SOLDIER: It’s quite big.
MAID : I’ve seen bigger. There was a soldier through here just last week. He had one twice as big.
MOTHER : Fruit is not yucky. It’s got vitamins and things.
MAN : Will you stop talking with that over developed slab of beef and take me home, girl.
MAID : Take yourself home, or have you forgotten again?
MAN : The cheek of the girl! I’ll have you sacked for that. I will.
CHILD : It’s got worms and pips and horrid things in it.
SOLDIER: So I pulled out my sword, and I sliced him in two, right down the middle. Then his mates all start coming at me, don’t they.
MAN : Will you do what I say?
MAID : Will you shut up? I’ll put castor oil in your tea again. I will.
MAN : Wanton girl. And what are you looking at?
POLO : Please forgive me. I’m only a traveller, just passing through.
MAN : Well keep on passing.
(The SOLDIER and the MAID are getting amorous. The CHILD is watching.)
MAN: Nosy buggers, you travellers.
POLO : I meant no offence.
MAN : Well I do. Piss off.
MOTHER : Stop staring. That’s not nice.
MAN : And you can cut that out. Take me home.
MAID : I’ll see you later.
MAN : Home.
CHILD : What were they doing?
MOTHER : Never you mind.
(The SOLDIER becomes the KHAN again.)
POLO : Melania’s population renews itself: the participants in the dialogues die or move away, but the roles themselves are reassigned. At times, a person may take two or three roles -
(The MAID retains her maid costume and takes on one identical to the mother’s.)
POLO: - or one role may be doubled, multiplied, assigned to a hundred.
(The KHAN becomes the SOLDIER. He hands a sword to the CHILD, who casts his child costume aside to become another soldier, his mother’s SON. The MAID is pregnant. The old MAN is dead and gone. The MOTHER is watching her son, proudly.)
MAID : Ow!
MOTHER : A kick? You get used to them. He’s letting you know he’s healthy.
MAID : He could find a gentler way of letting me know.
SOLDIER: About turn! Very good. Perhaps without dropping your sword?
SON : Sorry.
SOLDIER: Sorry, sir!
SON : Sorry, sir!
MOTHER : You must be upset about the old master - especially now.
MAID : It’s alright. It’s not his.
MOTHER : Heaven forbid. It really lets you know though, don’t it. And they grow up so fast.
SOLDIER: Present arms!
MOTHER : It’s not very big, is it?
SON : Mother!
MOTHER : Well it’s not.
MAID : The size doesn’t matter. It’s still just as dangerous.
POLO : And sometimes, great Khan, you see yourself, just another of the roles, doubled with another.
(The old MAN becomes a TOURIST.)
SOLDIER: And what d’you think you’re looking at?
TOURIST: Forgive me. I’m a traveller. Just passing through.
SOLDIER: Yeah, well just keep on passing.
TOURIST: I meant no offence.
SOLDIER: Well I do. Piss off.
POLO : And then you know to move on, before you consider too deeply whether the role copies you, or you the role. But the city itself goes on. The participants in the dialogues die one by one, and those who will take their places are born -
(Image: the MAID gives birth to the TOURIST, who becomes the CHILD.)
POLO: When one changes role, there is a series of changes until all the roles have been reassigned -
(The roles change again. The SOLDIER becomes the old MAN, the SON the SOLDIER, the MAID the MOTHER, the MOTHER the MAID and the TOURIST the CHILD.)
POLO: - but meanwhile the angry old man goes on replying to the witty maidservant, the mother still cajoles the child, even if none of them keeps the same eyes they had in the previous scene.
MAN : Will you take me home!
MAID : Will you be quiet? Or I’ll steal the batteries from your pace maker again.
SOLDIER: So I whipped me sword out - like this -
MOTHER : My! That’s a big one. Is it sharp?
SOLDIER: Should be. Cut clean through him in one go, it did. ‘Course, then I had to deal with his mates.
CHILD : Mum!
MOTHER : Yes, dear?
CHILD : Can I have an apple?
MOTHER : Eat your chocolate.
CHILD : Chocolate’s empty calories. Don’t you know that?
MOTHER : Apples’ve got pesticides on.
MAN : I used to be a soldier.
MAID : No wonder we lost the war.
MAN : Wanton girl!
(The MOTHER and the SOLDIER get amorous.)
CHILD : And you can stop that for a start.
MOTHER : I’ll see you later.
(The MAN becomes the KHAN. POLO and he are back in the garden. POLO demonstrates with his hands the positions of each stone in the bridge, one by one.)
POLO : And thus is the bridge constructed. But which is the stone that supports the bridge?
KHAN : The bridge is not supported by one stone or another, but by the arch that they form.
POLO : And that is why I talk to you about stones.