Lights turned up to suggest time approaching sunset.
The scene is the front of the palace. Messenger enters from the left.
I have been sent back ahead of the others
with news of the calamity that has overtaken
Raja Maniaka. The court and the royal household
must be told, before he is brought back by the men,
of this day’s deaths, of how he was stricken,
overcome by the terrible thought that he had caused
the deaths of his children by his very own hand.
Though in much confusion ourselves, we tried to calm him
as he covered his face with both his hands
and wailed, ‘I have killed them! I have killed them!.’
But he did not see or hear us, for to him
we must have seemed less than the shadow of smoke.
He is now himself a walking dead man.
His mind is no longer present in this world.
Bendahara with members who are not at to cave to witness
Anike’s entombment enter by way of the central door.
You are back early. It must be serious.
We can see bad news has written itself on your face.
They are both dead, Nadim and Anike.
Tuanku is now beside himself with grief
and blames himself for being the cause of their deaths.
CHORUS (An elder)
Tuanku killed them?
Nadim died by his own hand,
driven out of his mind at seeing Anike dead
when he and the men broke through into the cave.
How clearly Tok Seth had seen it all!
CHORUS (An elder)
Look, there is the Permaisuri. She must be told the news.
Wanang Seri enters with maids-in-attendance by way
of the central door.
I have already been forewarned of disaster.
I went to the temple to consult our mother Vati,
for I was anxious to know what was to unfold
out of the troubles that have come of Tuanku
having a light ear for malice voiced against those
close to him. As I was making my offering of flowers
at the altar, I heard a voice whisper such things
the horror of which made me faint at the feet of my maids.
I have heard it before, and I brace myself to hear
with fresh pain what I think you are about to tell me.
Then I will speak plainly. There can be no comfort to you
if I blur the edges of the truth of what happened
when we went with Tuanku to free Anike from her tomb.
Sending the others on, Tuanku went first with the priests
to see to the dead man being released with care
from his hanging shame, and to the ravages
from the hand of Wira, and putrefaction being repaired
for the sister’s eyes when she comes to place him
with restored honour in the receiving earth.
When the prayers and sprinkling of holy water were done,
we – for I was with Tuanku – went on to the tomb
expecting to see the men chatting and laughing
as they attack and level the mound of boulders
that made a tomb out of a wide fissure in the precipice.
We found them standing in twos and threes
staring at the hole they had opened into the darkness
as if dumb struck by a spell. And from its depths
someone was howling inconsolably from pain and grief.
The elders and hanger-on murmur among themselves
and exchange uneasy glances.
When Maniaka heard it, he broke down and wept,
‘Am I a prophet too? I seem to have seen this coming
even as we were making our way up here.’
Then he turned to me, ‘Run. Quickly. Go in there.
See for me and tell me if it is only the gods playing
a cruel joke on me. Tell me that is not Nadim.’
Inside the cave I found Anike cradled in Nadim’s arms.
He was still weeping and howling, stopping only
to shout curses at his father for taking away his bride.
Anike was dead. She hanged herself with a shawl
she had twisted into a long rope and slung
across an overhanging spur of rock.
Some others who by then were also in the cave
stood helplessly by as they could do nothing to console him.
Then Maniaka appeared. His face turned whiter
than the limestone of those hills when he saw how his son
was mortally struck down by grief. He fell to his knees
crying out ‘My son! My son! What have I done to you?’
Nadim looked up, crawled to his father, and spat in his face.
He drew his keris, lunged at his father, but missed.
And wholly out of his mind with rage and grief,
he sank the blade into himself. He reached for Anike
but failed to touch her as he died. She eluded him
even in death, it seems.
Wanang Seri leaves by central door followed
CHORUS (A hanger-on)
Permaisuri has left us without a word.
What does this mean?
Her grief must have cut so deep
she would not wish to give way to it in the presence
of this gathering. She must have gone to her rooms
to mourn in private attended only by her maids.
She did not look right. I fear something is amiss
I will go in and see.
As Messenger leaves by the central door Maniaka enters
from the left with his men behind him bearing Nadim’s body.
CHORUS (An elder)
Here comes Tuanku. He has brought home after him
as bitter fruit of his vindictiveness, pride and folly,
scion of the royal house, hope and future of our people, dead.
Nothing you say can touch me anymore.
You see before you the truly blind man, one who stumbled
from one darkness into another and deeper darkness
where furies await fathers, like me, who kill their sons.
I have been the fool, not you, Nadim. Your only fault
was that you had a fool for a father
who killed you before he woke up to his foolishness.
Too late, Tuanku. You have awakened too late.
Tok Seth clearly saw it all. And I the blind man
did not reach out for his hand to lead me to the light.
All that I saw in my blindness was gold – gold
that shone more brightly than the truth he offered me.
I would give up all the gold I have if it could ransom me
from this darkness where the gods, as Tok foretold,
would let loose furies to flay me for the murder of my son.
Messenger re-enters by the central door.
MESSENGER (Addressing Maniaka.)
Your present sorrow though hard to bear is but the first
of a double sorrow that has befallen your house.
What more is there to add to sorrow for my son.
The Permaisuri is dead.
I had thought I had already died to the world
for the killing of my son. Yet I find am still of the world –
enough still of the world to suffer yet another death.
Tell me you are not Death’s messenger come to announce
more grief to our household. Tell me it is not true.
Tell me the Permaisuri lives.
See where she lies.
Messenger swings the central door wide open to show the body
of Wanang Seri within.
Oh horror! A son lies dead beside me. And now this!
Insatiable death, must you even take her too?
She knelt before the household altar and cried out
for her sons, an elder one long dead and now Nadim.
Then she cursed you, their father and their murderer.
She slipped a small knife from her sleeve and, before her maids
could stop her, drove it into herself between the ribs.
Even as she was dying, she laid the full burden of guilt on you
for the death of her sons.
I am guilty. I alone am guilty.
What else can I feel other than sorrow but guilt.
I am beginning to find even the sun hateful
for it draws out slowly the remaining hours of the day.
Lead me in. Let darkness deepen.
Let me contend with my furies in its depths
where the hours pass quickly without the wearying sun.
If there is a best in evil, it will be best
that it comes quickly and comes quickly to an end.
Let these be my last hours and let them pass quickly.
and let there not be another day for me after this night.
Let your concern only be with this day. We do not decide
how many days we have to endure. That is in other hands.
I ask only that I be spared another day. I ask no more.
Ask nothing. The gods will not hear.
They will change nothing.
But I ask only for
easeful forgetfulness in death; even that is denied me.
Yet how easy it was for me to bring about
the deaths of my wife and sons. I have come to the point
where all that had mattered, matters nothing at all to me.
I am at the point of nothingness that is close to death.
What I have done is done. I can do no more
or even pray to the gods to have it changed.
Such days as will dawn for me after this night will dawn.
I do not know what more I can do but endure.
Lead me in then. I will smile the day I see death face to face.
Maniaka enters the central door led by the men and followed
by Bendahara with Chorus leaving one among their number
behind. The door closes after them.
CHORUS (An elder)
A king has cause to fear his people
when he has assassins at court to uphold the law.
The lights begin to dim but do not go completely out.
down the steps of the stage and goes up the middle aisle
that cuts through the audience area and continues to address
the audience as he heads towards the main auditorium door.
He goes at his own pace and pauses now and then as it suits him.
And by that law the people have to fear him,
and fear closes off the people.
His own law thus gives him cause to fear
as he then cannot see into the people’s hearts.
He cannot know if there are those
who are made so fearful they go beyond fear
and, being beyond fear, have lost the fear of death.
He may see them though he can still not know them,
when they, from being pushed beyond fear,
invoke the sanction of a higher law
and raise themselves into the open to flout the law.
If his people have lost the fear of death,
how then can a king threaten them with death?
And if he is thrown into the confusion of his fear,
how can he seize them and dare put them to death?
Even in their utter weakness, those whom a king would seize,
will bring him to ruin and upon him destruction
in many mysterious, many unexpected ways.
Chorus pauses. Surveys briefly the audience from mid-aisle.
Resumes speaking as he continues towards the auditorium
Wake now and rouse yourself from the past hour’s reverie.
After you have long gone out from here
into our common dream of the world,
may you never have to be driven beyond fear.
May the fear and death our players led you through
vanish for you in the common dream,
but let the redemptive spirit
you met among the shadows abide with you
to chasten any ambitious king
who would be the law, the state and more than king.
Good night, sharers in our common dream.
Go hence with the assurance
none of your kings will dare tempt you,
when the spirit is everywhere present and everywhere with you.
Chorus bows out through the auditorium door.
WONG PHUI NAM
Copyright © 2006 Mohammed Razali Wong Phui Nam