Later in the morning. Lights turned up to show Bendahara and Chorus still on stage without the crowd. Guard enters from the left dragging Anike with him.
Why have you dragged this woman here? Have you taken leave
of your senses? Do you know who she is?
She is betrothed to Nadim, heir to the throne.
You may well have dragged in your future queen
You will answer with your life for manhandling her like this.
Guard still holds on to Anike who stops stuggling. She slouches and hangs her head looking at the ground.
I caught her. I caught her scrabbling the ground for mud
to cover the rotting corpse. Where is Tuanku?
I have brought him the ‘man’ he wanted me so much to find.
Maniaka enters by the central door.
CHORUS (A hanger-on)
Tuanku is here now.
MANIAKA (Surprised, shouts)
What is happening here? (To Guard) You! Unhand her.
Why is she in such a wretched condition like this?
You will answer for this outrage. But first, where is the man
I told you to bring me?
He holds on to Anike.
She is the ‘man’ you wanted, Tuanku.
I caught her. It was I who caught her burying the body.
That is why I brought her here. She acted alone.
This shows that none of us on the watch has taken bribes.
MANIAKA (To Anike)
Is it true what the man says? You buried the body?
Yes, it is true.
Oh! I cannot believe it.
Turning to Guard.
Tell me from beginning to the end,
exactly what happened, and let me judge
Guard lets go of Anike, and walks a few paces away from her and addresses Manianka.
I stumbled my way back, confused and frightened.
(Ingratiatingly) You know how we all hold you in awe, Tuanku.
Anyway, I went back to tell the others of Tuanku’s demand
that we find the man who cut Sirat down and buried him.
Otherwise, we would be the ones to be blamed for the crime.
By then the others had already recovered the body
from its shallow trench. So I had us all together heave it up
against the tree and tie it again to a low bare branch.
The sun then was white hot in the sky. In the growing heat,
the dead man’s already softened flesh gave off light fumes.
They curled up into our nostrils with such a sting, we gagged
and vomited all we had eaten in the morning – tosai and all.
But we still had our arms about him and set our shoulders
to raise his torso up. We did this so we could tie him
and let him dangle from the tree again. We pressed our cheeks
into the stinking mess. Why? Because we also were tied to him
by duty and our fear. We dared not even move too far away
to begin again our watch and arranged to go by turns
to a stream nearby to wash. Before the first man
to the stream was done, the day darkened. Banks of black cloud
broke into rain and poured down on us in great torrents.
It was as if a flood-gate had opened up in the sky.
Out in the open in sparse belukar, lightning blinded us.
The added terror of the thunder in its after-flash
drove us running to the city gate for shelter.
No one would be out and about in such hellish weather,
we thought. When the rain abated, we went back to that tree
and as we approached it, we saw through the ground mists
from the rain that clearly it was the tree that was naked.
The body was no longer hanging there.
Someone had stripped it of its ripening fruit.
He turns and points at Anike.
Then I saw her, kneeling by a mound of mud.
She had with her a small knife and a kerchief-ful of flowers.
With cupped hands, she was scooping more mud
off the ground to add to the mound, and all the while
she was sobbing. The sound she made was not quite human.
It was soft and low, yet it struck me more deeply
than any sound an animal would make. We ran towards her,
shouting as we ran, but like a giant bird in brood
she did not scare. She stayed crouched, silent now, by the mound.
She was not afraid of us at all. I was the first to grab her.
She fought us, kicking and scratching. She fought us
not because she wanted to run away. She was angry
that we dared lay hands on her. We had to hold her, Tuanku,
that I might bring her here and let her tell you
she buried Sirat by herself, that my companions of the watch
and I have no part in it and are wholly blameless of the crime.
MANIAKA (To Anike)
Is all this true?
ANIKE (Not looking at him)
You deny nothing then? That you are alone in this?
I deny nothing. I buried my brother, Sirat.
MANIAKA (To Guard)
You may go
Guard leaves by way of the left side of the stage.
Did you not hear of my edict prohibiting anyone
on pain of death from tampering with the body?
How could I not hear of your edict? You made
a public proclamation of it and told all who were there
to hear you to spread the word to everyone else in the city.
Did you expect me to make an exception in your case,
counting on your ties with my son and eventually to me?
No, I did not. And I do not now.
Then why did you commit this crime, defying me,
undermining by it my authority and the power
of the state? Have you no fear of dying?
She straightens up and turns to face Maniaka, her fear muted
You have used the power and authority of the throne
not as a bulwark by which you defend,
as a king should, your people against invading forces
of disorder, lawlessness, and ruin You used it as a prop
and scaffold to raise and hold you standing high
in false kingly majesty to awe your people
into fearful mute obedience. Justice was on your side
when you ordered Sirat killed. But when you have Wira
string him up to dangle from a tree to rot, dripping with fluids,
to offend the eyes and noses of all your people,
you have traduced justice and turned it into
a petty vengeful malevolence.
Approaches Maniaka and raises her voices, but does not shout.
Your edict is a sham.
It does not serve nor secure the peace and order
of our great city but only to salve your anger at Sirat.
He dared show the people, to your utter shame,
they have a weak, untrustworthy and capricious king.
Pauses. Her tone is now calm.
I observe a higher law, that which is founded on
a sister’s love and a duty for the safekeeping
of the honour of our house. Most of all, it is founded
on a subject’s right to ignore unjust, self-serving laws
of king and government. By your gross desecration
of my kin, you have taught me what dying means.
So where is the fear of dying when I have died to life.
I do not live so long as Sirat’s spirit is not appeased
and the honour of our forefathers not restored.
Do I confuse life with death and death with life
and so seem foolish to you? It is you who are foolish,
a king too foolish to know the meaning of his acts.
This is a woman from a willful and rebellious stock.
Her brother Sirat was full of himself for his prowess
in killing proven in his many fights for Tuanku
where he left the field squishy with the bleeding dead.
We knew the father too. He once slapped me in a rage,
and when he did not get his way with the old Tuanku,
he dared to turn his back and walk away in anger.
This is a woman who yet has much to learn.
Yes, she is hard, she shows me a will like iron,
but the keris made from the stiffest iron is the keris
that most easily breaks. She has committed a double crime,
first to defy me, then to fling it in my face by boasting.
For what she has done, she cannot go unpunished,
else I am not king. A daughter by marriage,
even a daughter closer still by blood cannot be allowed
to undermine the law and so set anarchy loose
upon our city. Yet it is because of ties of blood
she has done what she has done. She has said as much.
Pauses as a new thought comes into his mind.
Ah… The same blood that flows in her veins flows
in Yasmine’s too. Yasmine must also be in on this.
Go, some of you, arrest Yasmine, bring her to me.
You should find her cowering in her house.
What a nest of vipers have I stumbled on.
And to think that I almost let them graft themselves
onto my house and let their blood mingle with mine
to bring forth generations of venomous creatures
down the line. Now is the time to clean them out,
else what rebellions, what upheavals to our people
they will plot if left in the darkness of their hole.
What I have done I have done only by myself.
Yasmine has no part in it. When you have me killed,
you have your so-called justice. In doing more
you will repeat with me the malevolence you showed
in shaming Sirat and will further expose yourself
as the frightened, suspicious little man you really are.
You only look fearsome in a mirage of yourself as king.
Look at all these people here. They would praise me
for upholding the dignity and honour of the dead,
for ripping off sham justice which you use to cover
your petty vindictiveness. But fear has frozen them
into a living death, benumbed of all feelings of shame,
of expression in their eyes, of bodily gestures,
of speech to say it is right to resist an unjust king.
Anike, you are totally alone in your delusion.
No. If fear has not frozen up their tongues
and constricted their throats in its cold grip,
they will surely speak up for me , even sing my praises.
They do not speak as they have no need to defend themselves.
Guilt makes you wag your tongue to make some noise
to distract yourself from having to face up to your guilt.
To honour the dead is not guilt. Ask them.
Ah, but I forget… These eunuchs cannot speak.
What honour your dear brother ever had, he lost it
when he betrayed my trust in him as my fighting man.
Instead, he cast me out of my own palace, turned it
into a baboon’s domain, with him as the only male,
killing all others who would not be scared away
and humping any female willing and on heat
Sirat was my brother. As a sister who loved him
I honour him. I honour him for his courage,
for daring to haul you bodily down the perch
you call a throne when he saw not a king on it.
He saw an insecure little man, fearful of being dislodged,
fearful of his baubles and his women being taken
by another perhaps more fit to be king.
Sirat was a man. Heaven alone may judge him
for his excesses – certainly not you, not Wira,
blinded by stupidity, not seeing you through that veneer
of your play-acting kingship for what you are.
I tire of all this talk. If you are going to have me killed,
have your henchman do it quickly. That is all.
Honour your brother then, not here, but in hell.
CHORUS (A hanger-on)
See, here comes Yasmine.
Yasmine enters under guard from the leftt.
Her tears are a sister’s tears,
tears for a brother dead, for a sister she cannot save,
and for herself, drawn with her sister into the abyss.
You too, Yasmine. Were you not with her, ignored my edict?
Now I have discovered a whole nest of vipers,
smoked them out from the cracks and burrows under my house
that they be scotched in the light…
No, Yasmine! No!
You have no part in this. Say you have no part in this.
Yes, I have. I knew what you were about to do.
I did nothing to stop you and I said nothing.
You did nothing to help me. You cannot help me now.
I understand now the meaning of your intent
when we spoke together. I have to join you now,
accept punishment for my share of the burden of guilt.
Only Sirat and the gods who rule over the dead
know it was I who gave him the honour of a burial.
You were not with me. You cannot claim a share in the act.
If you die for it now, you die a wholly useless death.
I need to be with you as my duty to Sirat demands.
Do you refuse me, Anike?
You will not diminish my death.
What shall I do when you too are gone?
Turn to Maniaka. Take back all your claims to so-called guilt.
Perhaps out of kindness, perhaps out of caprice
he will offer to take you in.
You are mocking me now.
If I laugh at you, it is mirthless laughter
Is there nothing I can do then?
There will be those who will praise you, though you choose to live.
But we are both equally guilty.
Say no more, Yasmine.
I am no longer of this world. I belong with the dead.
MANIAKA (To Chorus)
Look at these two girls. One has lost her mind.
As to the other, I do not know that she has one.
YASMINE (Turning to Maniaka)
I was in a fog for the confusion you caused me
with the shame and fear for the unspeakable horror
you would wreak upon my sister. I still cannot see
the way ahead, how I should go on living without her.
She is already dead. Perhaps you will live.
I see that you claim to be guilty when you are not,
notwithstanding your silence.
She is your son’s bride.
I thank the gods that her blood will not be mixed
into my line to give me a bastard brood of serpents.
I shall ensure that my son will take care not to sully
the bloodline of our royal house. Your city shall have kings
like me in long succession to maintain its glory.
Poor Nadim, how your father wrongs you.
There will no more pointless talk about my son
You will deprive him of this girl?
Death will take this creature and render him blessed release
from her poisoned graft.
CHORUS (An elder)
Then she will die?
How brilliant! Enough of this fools’ talk.
(To Guards) Take them away and see that you guard them well.
They are but women. Even a strong man will fight to tear
at his restraints when death’s cold breath blows down his neck
Anike and Yasmine leave under guard by way of the left side
of the stage.