26 September 2005
Yasmine, sister of Anike
Maniaka, the Raja
Nadim, son of Maniaka
Tok Seth, a seer
Wanang Seri, wife of Maniaka
Chorus, of not more than five representing elders and hangers-on
Guard, also something of a fool
Boy, Tok Seth’s ‘seeing eye’
Wanang Seri’s maids-in-attendance
Place and Time: Merang before the arrival of Islam
The stage, which should be semi-circular, is set low with two steps leading up to it. At the back of the stage there is a central double-leafed door set two steps higher than the stage. At the back of the stage, there is an open exit on the left and on the right.
Gamelan music. The music comes on when the lights are turned down between scenes.
When the lights are turned up Anike is seen sitting on the floor of the stage slightly to the right of the central door. The scene is a room in Anike’s house. The lights should be low to suggest the early hours before dawn lit by several oil lamps. Yasmine enters through the central door. Anike rises to greet her as Yasmine steps onto the level of the stage. They embrace and then walk to the place where Anike was sitting.
Yasmine speaks as they walk.
YASMINE (In a disturbed state, tinged with outrage)
After he chased Sirat into the crowds at the day market,
cornered and hacked him into a blood-soaked mess,
he could not let him die unmolested where he fell,
wheezing among the rubbish and the overturned stalls
abandoned by the vendors.
They reach the place where they are to sit. Yasmine continues speaking as Anike invites her to sit down.
Wira was almost a brother,
yet he hauled Sirat tied by the heels up against a tree.
Wira was driven by such cold fury or a lust for violence
he could not be satisfied with Sirat dead?
Almost a brother, yes. But a brother is nothing
if one exists only for one’s king.
YASMINE For months I was troubled
by a deep foreboding about Sirat, but I had not expected this.
And I became ill with dread when I heard how he dragged
our Raja by his ears and kicked him with his hangers-on
down the palace steps. He banished all restraint
on his turning night into day and day, night
with riot with the palace women. Awake and in my sleep,
I could not help but see our brother dead. And now he is.
Anike, we cannot leave him there to dangle
in the open, naked to the eye of day
that sees him bloat into a monstrous balloon.
We cannot have him turn in any passing wind
that breathes off his spoiling gut thick, offensive gases
of decay and spew it on all who pass him by.
The sun will soften and ferment his skin
into a greyish green so it spreads like mould
in patches beneath a buzzing lace-work
of glistening black and bottle-blue dung flies
fighting to nest their larvae in the jellied blood.
Pauses. Struggles to continue.
O Sirat, my brother… I do not know what I feel.
Before daybreak, and a curious crowd, let us cut him down
and carry him back for a burial proper to his rank.
Anike remains silent for a while before she responds.
ANIKE (In a subdued voice)
It was not from rage or a lust for violence that Wira
made a hanging carcass of Sirat. The Raja himself,
who summoned Wira to do his murderous work,
demanded this outrage. Wira was to have our brother
carved, stripped bare and hung from a tree by the city gate,
then left there to mature into a sack of waste for worms
to sprout white as fresh taugeh from the skin
and cleanse him till they leave nothing in the air but bones.
His intent is to have the foul fermentation
stuff up the nostrils of every man, woman and child
for months no matter if they are in the streets
or in their houses. No one will be spared the stench.
This is to make any man pricked by thoughts of bad intent
against him see himself with Sirat on that tree.
Our Tuanku has declared that any who dares cut
our brother down to bury him, with or without
our customary rites, will die by a long keris thrust
slowly from the shoulder bone deep into the heart.
He will himself, later in the morning, proclaim
on the palace steps an edict prohibiting, on pain
of death, retrieval of the dead man for burial.
Shifting uneasily in her position.
I did not know this. I mean about the edict.
That is why I have you here at this strange hour.
This is something that we have to talk about.
Let me understand this. It will be a crime
to bury Sirat?
Our Raja will proclaim it so.
I can almost hear now what you will say.
There is something that we must do.
Rises to her feet. Takes one or two paces and turns around. Her voice
Yes, cut him down,
is it not what you want to say?
Waits a few moments for Yasmin to calm herself and resume her seat.
You have just said
Sirat is your brother. He is ours, yours and mine.
His nakedness is our nakedness, his shame, our shame,
as much as if we ourselves were made to hang mutilated
and naked by his side. What Wira has done
is an outrage directed not only against us.
He might as well, at Tuanku’s word, have gone out
to disturb the bones of our nenek moyang in their graves.
YASMINE (In a weak voice.)
I hear you as in a dream…
You know what needs to be done,
even if it were not out of love for our brother
it should be out of anger. Tuanku has gone too far.
YASMINE (Desperate to convince Anike)
You know our Tuanku. He is a man who sees a slight
even from a courtier caught smiling behind his back.
Wira himself he ordered killed, when a few words
breathed by Kermit Wijaya into his ear
made him see Wira naked on successive nights
with Melati and others among the maids-in-waiting
inside the lascivious confines of Wira’s curtained bed.
He is just a vain, coarse and insecure little man.
You remember how the Bendahara deceived him,
how the old man loved Wira as a son and had him
sent to hunt and fish in the fastness of his dusun
deep in the hills. Only when our Raja sighed with regret
he no longer had Wira to rid the palace and the world
of our brother was he told the truth. How shameless
you said, our Raja was, laughing as he clasped Wira
to him to receive him back from the dead.
Yes, how shameless, and we now see, how utterly vicious
in revenge. I cannot bear to think what he can do to us.
This makes it a harder test for us to prove ourselves
true sisters and worthy daughters to our forefathers.
Will you help me… ?
To bury Sirat and add one more affront
to His Highness? Our brother molested his person,
kicked him in the rear for all his own court to see,
and then enjoyed his women.
For all that,
Wira does not deserve to suffer further wounds,
wounds more mortal than those Wira hacked through to his bones.
(Emphatically) With his butchered body he has paid Tuanku in full.
This was a crime Tuanku could not leave unpunished.
Sirat’s affront not curbed by harsh but lawful punishment
would show to the people how toothless Tuanku
has made the law. It calls out to other Sirats
to shame him again, to do worse than make him
fly down the palace steps. Our city’ s order
is like whole marble. Our defiance of him will open
a crack in it and, so, destroy its wholeness.
Ours will be the hands that do it if we undo
what Wira has done to set right Sirat’s crime.
This only one instance of our Tuanku’s excess;
maybe we should bear it if preserves the larger good.
If that is what you think, I shall not need you then.
You have made your choice. Go on and live and be
whatever you choose to be. I will bury him.
If that is a crime, it is a crime sanctioned both by duty
and a sister’s love. A crime our datuk nenek will surely bless,
a crime that will set our brother Sirat’s soul at peace.
If I must die for it, then I must. I am ready
if I am to be displayed with Sirat in his shame,
for I am certain my crime will turn that shame to honour.
You seem to have forgotten Nadim. The love he bears you
has taken such deep root, it is, as I see it,
as if your spirit has been engrafted onto to his.
Your death will be a double death, for by it
he will surely lose the very inmost sources of nurture
of his life.
I know. Tell this to Tuanku, his father.
As surely as he wills to kill me, he will have willed
the death of his own son.
You will not care then?
Even if your double death will bring about a third?
The Permaisuri loves you as if you are already her daughter.
She will surely not endure …
I can feel her pain, even now.
But what cries out to be done has numbed, for me, all pain.
I do not feel things the way you do, Anike.
I cannot feel that way even if I try.
I do not know if the stone that weighs me down inside
is grief, or fright or outrage at Tuanku. I know only
I am too weak to defy him. His decree seems cruel to us,
but Sirat must also bear the consequences of his acts.
That is your reason – Tuanku may be right – go then.
Tuanku must protect the city’s order, for the people’s good.
Anike, I really am afraid.
You need not be. You are on the safe side of the law.
Rises on her knees ready to leave.
No one will hear about this. I promise, Anike,
I will not breathe a word of this to anyone.
No, go and tell it to everyone. Run to our friends,
go into the streets, stop every passerby you meet
and tell it them. Yes, even shout it from your verandah.
I would not want Tuanku to punish you when all of this
comes to light, and he finds out you knew of it all the time.
Are you not the slightest bit afraid, like me? My blood
is already running cold. And you, all on fire.
Perhaps I am afraid, but I am angry. Anger has no fear
Surely you cannot do it. You are only a woman
I do not know it cannot be done till I have done
all I can and find out I do not have the strength…
Go now! Go! I am beginning to resent what you say.
I am even beginning to hate you for it.
If you speak on and on like this, the dead too will hate you.
Go now and leave me to mourn
as I prepare to go out to bury my brother.
The women rise to their feet. They clasp hands. Yasmine embraces her sister as she takes leave. She leaves by way of the central door.
YASMINE (As she exits) My foolish misguided sister.
How futile her defiance. Yet hers is a greater love
than mine, for soon it sends her out to die.
Anike leaves by way of the right of the stage.
Enter Chorus from the left. The lines for Chorus to be divided between two or three speakers who will speak individually. The individual from Chorus who speaks may be an elder or a hanger-on. Chorus speaks in unison as a group only when indicated.
CHORUS (An elder addressing the audience.)
There are those among the people who mutter to themselves
Sirat’s crime against the Raja is blessed by the claims
of brotherly love and duty of disobedience
to an unjust king. But many are troubled that
he had too readily crawled at the Raja’s feet,
exulted in the favours, the largesse, and the gift
of the disgraced Wira’s keris from the royal hand.
When Sirat had the palace, he had the state,
but he made himself ruler among the palace women.
His acts of governance were in riot and carousing
day and night. Throwing himself with a passion
into the sweaty embrace with the maids in-waiting,
he made a sty of the royal bedchamber
and of the throne room a shambles by battles fought
with the women with flowers, cushions and perfumed shawls.
When confronted by Wira come back from the dead,
he slaughtered the screaming women that he might lay waste
and keep forever for himself his erstwhile kingdom.
Then holding his entrails in place with a tightened sash
around a breaking wound Wira opened in his belly,
he charged into the city streets, into the market place
and cut a swath through those who could not run from him,
for by that carnage he would leave a great and lasting name.
And Wira? Many among the people sing aloud his praises
for unquestioning devotion, and acclaim him a hero
for putting an end unaided to rebellion
though he slaughtered by it a brother-in-arms, a friend
at the bidding of an insecure, capricious king.