The First Stone
Written and Translated by Miriam Yahil-Wax
Volume 6, Issue 4 (Fall 2017)
A play is born: The First Stone
In the summer of 1993, I was on my way to a shopping center. To avoid the heavy traffic, I took a country road. Passing by a Eucalyptus grove, I caught a glimpse of something white. Wondering vaguely what it could be, it didn’t seem important enough for me to stop and check. That evening on the news it was reported that the body of an Arab woman was found in a Eucalyptus grove. I felt guilty for not having stopped for the white thing. She was a person, a young wife, murdered in the name of “family honor,” as it turned out. In my imagination, she came to life, submissive, voiceless. I had to give her a voice and make room for her in our collective consciousness. Attention had to be paid to the human being that she was. What was her name? How did she die?
It annoyed me that the media dismissed her murder with the glib excuse of “family honor.” Why are we so casual about the killing of women by members of their own family? I needed more information. The case soon became old news, the media made no further mention of it. What was her name? How old was she? Where was she from? Who killed her? I did not stop for her. I will tell her story, make her death matter.
There are several cities in Israel in which Jews and Arabs live together: Haifa, Acre, Jaffa, and Nazareth. The Galilee population is also mixed, Arab towns and villages next to Jewish ones. The murdered woman came from a small village in an area called The Triangle, in the middle of Israel, which is all Arab. I learned this from my friend the Israeli-Arab actor Salwa Nakara. She too was appalled by this predicament of so many women in her society. We joined forces and continued the research. First, we approached our colleagues in the theater, Israeli Arab artists, then Israeli Arab women professionals, social workers, lawyers, and university professors.
The statistics were staggering. El Fanar Organization estimated in the 80’s that there were forty such murders every year. Some years it was fifty or more. The numbers are inconclusive because families covered for their male members involved. I used to think only uneducated, helpless women in rural areas fall prey to this awful practice. In my first interview with an Arab woman with a Ph.D., a distinguished social science professor, I realized that was not the case at all. She too was forced to live by rules dictated by her husband’s family. The character of Muna Haled, the lawyer in The First Stone, is based on her humiliating experience. The other character in the play, the victim Fatma Izzat, is a composite of several women whose stories I found in Police files in the course of my research.
All the Arab Israeli artists and academics Salwa and I interviewed condemned this barbaric tendency. At the time, however, none of them dared to say so in public. Things have changed in the twenty-first century. Today, Arab women and their supporters demonstrate, speak, and act. Yet the change within Arab society is still to come. Until it does, the bloody practice continues.
I wrote The First Stone in Hebrew. It was translated into Arabic by my former student and present Head of Theatre Department at Haifa University, Masud Hamdan. Salwa Nakar performed it in Israel for Jewish and Arab audiences for a number of years. The reception by audiences and critics was warm. There was great coverage on TV. Israeli Arab newspapers, however, were critical of the exposure of their society’s “dirty laundry” on stage. The show was invited to Morocco and played there to rural audiences that had never seen a play before. Theatre does not change the world, but sometimes it changes a few minds.
Miriam Yahil-Wax, 2017
Dr. Miriam Yahil-Wax is a writer, translator, and dramaturg. Her book The Missing Chapter was published in October 2016 (Carmel Publishing LTD) and is in the process of being translated into English. Her previous book, Nordau to Nasdaq (Amazon, 2012), was translated into six languages. The First Stone, her play about an abused Arab woman won the Teatronetto Award (94) and is debuting in English here, in The Mercurian. The Shit Path, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was a finalist in the Mobil Playwriting Award (89). She is a published writer and critique, and the award-winning translator of some 50 plays and novels. As dramaturg of Gesher Theatre, a bi-lingual company (“One of the more remarkable companies in world drama,” according to the London Times), she translated Stoppard’s Rosencranz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Gorky’s The Lower Depths, co-adapted and translated Doestoevsky’s The Idiot, Babel’s City: Odessa Stories into Hebrew and English (Stoppard into Hebrew). Her Israeli-German adaptation/translation of Schiller’s Intrigue & Love was the main event at the Schiller Festival 2001. “The best dramaturg I had in fifteen years of directing.” (Leander Haussman, director, Berliner Ensemble). She collaborated with J. Sobol on Gesher’s Village and directed his The Jerusalem Syndrome at Haifa Theatre where she also co-founded the Arab Stage and the Children’s Theatre Festival. In Israel and in the USA, she collaborated with Joe Chaikin (“friend and mentor”).
Her translations include works by Charles Dickens, Carson McCullers, Doris Lessing, Peter Carey, John Le-Carre, Louis de Bernieres, Doktorow, Joyce Carol Oates, John Guare, Sean O’Casey, Moliere, Adamov, and Turgeniev.
Dr. Yahil-Wax is currently dramaturg of the Jerusalem Khan Theatre. Formerly a lecturer in drama (Stanford, UCSC, Haifa University), Artistic Director of the National Theater for the Young & of Haifa Theatre Festival, she also lectures in Translations Studies at Tel Aviv University Porter School of Cultures.
Dr. Yahil-Wax holds a Ph.D from Stanford University in Drama, and an M.A. from Tel Aviv University in English & American Literature.
The First Stone: A Play
“The writers and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery… He stood up and said: He who is without sin let him throw the first stone.” (John 8)
Muna Haled, 33, lawyer
Samir Haled, her husband, 46, lawyer (nonspeaking part)
Time: The 21st century
Note: The play can be performed as a mono drama
An empty living room in a modern apartment in Nazareth. Hand crafted tiled floor. All furniture has been removed. A door to the hallway, another to Samir’s room. A window, next to which hangs a black court cloak. Twilight.
Off, loud noises of heavy objects being moved. Instructions exchanged in whispered Arabic, then laughter.
Enter Muna Haled barefoot, wearing a house dress, carrying a briefcase in one hand and papers in the other. She instinctively hoists the briefcase to a table top only to realize there is none. Clearly agitated she stands confused in the middle of the space.
Noises off continue. Suddenly, she shouts.
Muna: Go ahead, take their beds away too! So what if your grandchildren sleep on the floor! Take everything, you miserable leeches! (To herself) Not a chair, a stool, not a pot left in the kitchen… (Shouting again) You want the paper cups as well? Take them! Not there, that’s the garbage! Actually, why not take it too while you’re at it! You primitive lot! (Noises off. Goes to Samir’s door.) They’re dragging out our bed now, Samir. What the hell… we didn’t have much fun in it lately…ha, ha, ha.
Noises off louder. Muna takes a step, then stops.
I will not be a sniveling slave like the other women in this family… I will not plead with them… blood suckers…
Exits to Samir’s room. Noises off die out. Muna’s voice:
They’ll be gone soon, Samir, nothing more to take. Try not to worry. Let’s make the best of our time together, what’s left of it. (Door slams) At last. Back to work now. I’ll hear you, I always do. My concentration is shot. You can listen to me preparing.
Re-Enter Muna. Failing to compose herself, she slumps on the floor cross-legged. After a moment she opens her briefcase, reaches into it anxiously, grabs something, changes her mind, takes out a cigarette, lights it with trembling fingers. She then pushes briefcase aside, opens her laptop, plugs it into a socket, inspects a document. It’s the wrong one. Searching, mumbling to herself, she finds the right one.
MUNA: There! (Curses in Arabic under her breath.)
“Q: Ahmad Izzat, you left your own wedding to look for your cousin Fatma, the plaintiff. Why?
Ahmad Izzat: I saw her parents come in, and she wasn’t with them, though they promised to bring her.
Q: You are referring to the plaintiff.
Ahmad Izzat: Yes, Fatma. I invited them all, in person, to make peace between them, a ‘sulha,’ at my wedding. But they didn’t bring her, Fatma. So, after the ceremony, I went to get her. I had to climb in through a window—they kept her locked inside—my festive shirt tore—she was lying on the floor, Fatma, black and blue from the beating. She smelled of chlorine. I think she was passed out. I raised her head and she began to vomit. She came to, she opened her eyes and said—
Q: What did the plaintiff say, Ahmad?
Ahmad Izzat: “they left me for dead…” she said.
Q: Who did? Who did she say left her for dead?
Ahmad Izzat: Her parents, she said. They forced it down her throat, the chlorine, she said, left her for dead, came to my wedding.
Q: Did the plaintiff say anything else?
Ahmad Izzat: No, she passed out again, I ran to my car and rushed her to the hospital… the car was decorated with flowers… there was no ‘sulha,’ my wedding was ruined…”
Muna addresses the audience:
Tonight, my life is literally being pulled out from under my feet, but I can still do my work. Lucky me. My name is Muna Haled. I am a defense attorney as is—was—my husband Samir. We have our own law firm here in Nazareth, which I have kept going by myself since Samir has fallen ill. And now his family—well, you can see for yourself what his family is all about.
Her cigarette butt burns her fingers. Unable to find an ashtray, she wavers between crushing it on the beautiful floor and throwing it out the window. Sniggering, she opts for the latter. Resuming her work, she makes notes on the screen. Then, lighting a second cigarette, she fishes a paper document out of the pile. “Case No. 234. Indictment.” Reads.
“Accused number two, Leila Izzat, the plaintiff’s mother, sat on the plaintiff’s chest and pinned the plaintiff’s arms between her thighs. Accused number two proceeded to stuff a dish rag into the plaintiff’s mouth Accused number one, Shaheen Izzat, the plaintiff’s father tried to strangle her with his bare hands. The plaintiff struggled free. Accused number one chased the plaintiff, caught her, and dragged her back by the hair. Assisted by Accused number two, Accused number one proceeded to shove the plaintiff’s head into a water basin several times until she nearly fainted. While in that state both Accused pinned her down on the floor and poured chlorine down her throat…”
This prosecutor loves gory details. He will do anything to turn this into a political trial… It will be his making if he succeeds in defaming our entire society.
My clients’ testimony—Accused number one and two, Fatma Izzat’s parents are my clients—their testimony was that the plaintiff tried to kill herself on her cousin Ahmad’s wedding night after they decided to leave her behind… They are pleading not guilty. I believe my clients… I do… I must… the plaintiff admits that she had tried to take her own life twice in the past… and Ahmad’s testimony, he sounds honest but—Isn’t it odd that he should leave his own wedding to look for his cousin? Unless… unless he’s not telling the whole truth. Perhaps he had a special relationship with her. Perhaps he was conspiring with her to frame my clients and so free her from their custody and possibly from her awful marriage as well in one fell swoop…
Samir would say: Romantic nonsense, Muna dear, tall tales of Arabian nights, where is the evidence? Stick to your original line of defense… If only he could speak again…
Muna returns to the laptop on the floor, begins typing.
“The family has always been the cornerstone of our society, as well as the nucleus of most civilizations… A married daughter who leaves her husband, any husband, causes serious harm to her family. A family whose honor is thus tarnished will suffer the consequences for generations to come. The community will ostracize it, prospects of marriage would be lost, business connections severed. It is the parents’ right to demand, even coerce, such a daughter to resume her marital duties… “
Looks for something among the papers, finds it.
“An independent sociological research claims, quote: ‘81% of Arab women regard beating as an acceptable way of dealing with marital problems…”
Tosses research flying across the stage.
“As for the alleged attempted murder…” Bad term… Replace with attempted suicide.
Picks up the tossed research.
I will establish reasonable doubt as to the circumstances of her—suicide attempt. The circumstances of her ‘Accident,’ it could have been an accident. Left behind, she was depressed, confused, in a moment of desperation, she drank…
Off, voices arguing in Arabic. Muna rises and looks into the hallway, then hurries into Samir’s door.
They’ve come for you now, Samir.
Wiping a tear, she goes to the window. Noise of heavy dragging. She runs into Samir’s room. Violent arguing in Arabic.
What are you doing?! Where’s the ambulance? Don’t you dare touch him! He cannot be loaded on to a pick-up truck like a piece of luggage! He’s your son, for the sake of Allah! What kind of people are you?! No! I said, don’t touch him!
Get out of my house! Yes, it is my house till tomorrow morning! Read your own injunction. One of you can read, surely? Now get out! Have some self-respect at least! Animals!
Door slams shut. Silence. Re-Enter Muna, walking backward. She is pulling Samir in a wheel chair which she places facing upstage. In his lap and on chair are objects she rescued. As she arranges him and lifts his limp hand, a note pad falls to the floor. She picks it up.
Your miserable plotting parents. I thought they brought you this to facilitate communication. You were still able to scribble, then. I believed they made frequent visits because they cared and wanted to ease my burden, I couldn’t be with you all day and work… the children were overjoyed, especially Jihan, while all they were after was your signature … the sly, sneaking cheats… Stupid, stupid Muna… I am living proof that an educated woman can be utterly stupid …
You poor man, you suffering, brave man… it’s not your fault…
Muna begins to tear up the notepad. Samir heaves a sigh.
No? I shouldn’t tear it up? Why not? All it contains is your signature in Arabic and in Hebrew. That’s all they must have been doing during their visits here, make you practice your signature. Nothing else is legible. Illegible scribbling. Illegible. Here’s a ‘D.’ More Ds. That’s new. Why did you start scribbling Ds? What does it mean? Here’s a K, K I understand, I think, K-is for “Keep?” I can’t keep you. They have custody now. They’ll look after you properly, they must, they’re your family, after all, O, Allah the Merciful… who am I kidding…
Muna fishes a framed item from Samir’s lap.
“Muna Haled, registered attorney at law. License number:… Signature: Amos B.Weiner, Judge, State of Israel, 1983.”
Luckily, you slept through the looting. You missed the sight of them gloating as they tore down Jihan’s cherished star-posters, calling her immoral… The red book case she bought with her pocket money? They pulled it apart like savages… It’s of no use to anyone, can’t be reassembled, they destroyed it out of pure spite … Is red forbidden by the Koran? Jihan couldn’t stop crying. She isn’t tough enough, our daughter. She’s afraid. She knows the easiest thing for a young woman to lose in our society is her reputation… but that one silly poster could be the cause… She’s a woman now, you know, our little Jihan, as of today of all days. Isn’t life a bitch? Can you write ‘mabruk’ for her? I’ll add the full blessing. (Tries to put pen in his hand.) Does D stand for ‘Darling’? Or perhaps for ‘dysentery’?
Muna laughs shyly. To Audience.
That’s what I thought I had the first time it happened to me. I thought I had caught dysentery. I ran crying to Mom but she said it’s just “the curse,” “impure blood,” and I must keep myself very clean. I used to sneak off to the bathroom and even wash the floor after—I was so ashamed… What nonsense. Our body is not impure, Great Allah gave it the most important role in nature, to create life. I will have a serious talk with Jihan, tomorrow.
O, Allah, where will we find ourselves, tomorrow…?
Let’s say you scribbled D for ‘darling daughter,’ OK? And I’ll say this is your way of saying ‘mabruk’ to her. Agreed? Agreed.
She gently straightens Samir’s drooping head.
It’s goodbye soon, eh, Samir? When they come back with the ambulance… Our last night together… Well, not exactly… Surprise me, please… Say ‘Goodbye, Muna,’ as a farewell gesture… Or just scribble a whole word, any word, on your cursed note pad, give me some hope—please…
Please speak. Mumble. Whisper. Yell at me. You never yelled at me, what kind of husband are you? I miss the sound of your voice so…
Muna takes a suit off the wheelchair and dusts it off.
Majdi’s 16th birthday that was the last time you spoke. Remember?
I left our office early that day to finish the preparations for his party, and rushed in to tell you the judge granted you a postponement and wished you a speedy recovery… We thought it was a passing illness then—but that terrible day—our son’s day of celebration—when I teased you, “Help me get you dressed, Samir, Majdi’s friends are coming,” you went limp and joked: “Who’s carrying who in this family, I wonder,” you said. Your smile went crooked and your eyes went dead. And stayed dead ever since. You kept mumbling “discuss, discuss” I thought you meant the case we were working on in court, I put the file in your hands, but you dropped it. “Discuss” you kept saying… I still don’t know what you meant, counselor… or if you were even speaking to me anymore…
Muna looks around for a place to hang the suit, finds the window handle. Goes back to the laptop—it’s off. Reaches for the light switch. Tries again—nothing. Shaking her head and cursing in Arabic she unplugs the laptop.
Two hours of battery left, max. Venom, not blood, runs in their veins.
It is getting dark. Muna exits and re-enters with candles, matches, empty boxes. After arranging candles around the laptop, she kneels beside Samir, helps him drink water and then leans her head against his knees.
Addressing audience, sotto voce.
“Nothing serious,” “a prolonged respiratory disorder,” “he’ll be up in a day or two.” After a fortnight went by the tune changed to “an unforeseen complication,” “doctors are not prophets,” “try talking to him,” “mental physiotherapy…” we did talk, I mean I did. I’ve been talking my head off at him for—a year now. Never about the misery we’ve sunk into, of course, never about how our money was running out, or that I had to sell my jewelry, or about his parents refusing to help pay for the one experimental treatment that could possibly give him hope. I swallowed my pride and asked them, then, that one and only time, before I had any idea what plot they were hatching… And I kept lying to him. And stayed positive, keeping up this phony mental cheer both for his sake and mine…ha, ha, ha.
Fishes out a flask from her brief case turns her back to Samir drinks quickly, hides flask. Addressing Samir.
Did you even notice, when I moved to the living room to spend the nights within earshot of you? Not that there was anything to hear, but it was at night that you scribbled, and I thought if only I catch you at it, in a lucid moment of scribbling, then I could—you could—what? Counsel me, counselor…? Did you even feel it was I who was changing your diapers, never let anyone else touch you, knowing you’d be mortified at the thought—Did you smell me? Catch a whiff of my perfume, perhaps, which you had chosen for me?
Counsel me, counselor. What am I to do? Fight your family once again for custody of you? How can I after you signed yourself over to them, along with everything else…
Muna weeps, then re-examines note pad. Lighting a cigarette, she sets it aside and resolutely goes back to the laptop.
Duty calls. Work, Muna, work, you need the money.
“Prosecutor’s cross examination. Izzat, Ali. Brother of plaintiff Fatma Izzat.
Q: Did you see the plaintiff being beaten when she lived at home, before her marriage?
Ali Izzat: I don’t know anyone called Plain—
Q: The plaintiff is your sister, Fatma. Did you see her being beaten before she was married?
Ali Izzat: Ah, yes, yes. She never wanted no marrying, so he beat her some.
Ali Izzat: Him.
Q: Let the record show that the witness pointed at Accused number one, Shaheen Izzat, the Plaintiff’s father. Continue.
Ali Izzat: She said she don’t want no marrying at 14, I’m in school, she said. He beat her some more and gave her to the old guy. He said woman don’t need no school to obey husband like his mother. She dead, his mother. She goed out two times all her life, one, she married and goed to husband house, two, she die, and go to her grave…
Q: Fascinating. What happened on the night of your cousin Ahmad’s wedding?
Ali Izzat: He beat Fatma to stay home. He not want show runaway wife in public, he say, she stay home, she is our shame.
Q: You and your other sisters went to the wedding?
Ali Izzat: And He and my mother too.”
Muna addresses audience, dryly, as if in court.
Note: The brother, the eye witness to the departure from the house, doesn’t mention any attempted murder. In fact, he supports his parents’ testimony. I find it strange that he never refers to his father as “father,” always as “He,” the poor illiterate fool… Still, he’s an ok defense witness. What else do I have…
She opens another document on the screen, pauses, takes another quick drink from her flask, then reads from the screen.
“The roots of the anomaly lie in the fact that for the Arab male to have sexual experience is considered a source of pride, while for an Arab female to have had sex means she is promiscuous and no one will marry her. Arab women are seen as instruments of male pleasure and/or his property. A man may practice polygamy or extramarital relationships, he may pursue a woman and seduce her with promises of marriage, but if she yields to him he will refuse to marry her, as she is no longer a virgin…”
This was sent from the battered women’s shelter, where she is staying now, the plaintiff, Fatma. It is run by “The Support of Arab Women organization.” They must have put her up to it. How else would a peasant woman ever dare to challenge… I never knew we had women’s organizations. When did this happen? I wonder where they get the money for all this research and law suits…
Our young women do need advice, that’s for sure. We mothers don’t encourage them to ask questions because we were taught not to by our own mothers. But times are changing.
Come to think of it, who could I have asked about—relationships, even if I could find the courage to? My mother? She would’ve hit me with a slipper or treated me to some crap like the “impure blood” nonsense… I had no more knowledge at eighteen than this Fatma had when she was forced to marry a man thrice her age. Unlike her I was raised in the city, I could read, yes, and I read voraciously, so I had a general idea, but was I always able to distinguish fact from fantasy?
She kneels beside Samir, touches his hair lightly.
I decided to ask you, my beloved. I waited impatiently until our wedding night to pop the question. But then in the excitement and fear… I—couldn’t… I kept praying you would tell me, instruct me, I was so young, but you never did. Nor did you ever ask me how I felt, after. Why didn’t you then? Ever? You still can… Better late than never… eh, Samir? ha, ha, ha.
No, seriously. You were 30, I was 18. Did it never occur to you to talk, ask, about—it? You probably still think it’s a preposterous idea. Poor Samir, it’s not your fault either. It’s strange that you were not curious, though, about my feelings.
Drinks from her flask, hiding it.
Nothing. No feelings. I felt absolutely nothing. And it made me very happy because I expected some horrible I don’t know what. Women talk, you know! Among themselves… To feel nothing was a blessing, or so I thought at the time…
Muna drinks, openly now, drinks again. To Audience:
I can’t believe I’m telling him this. It feels good, though, well, it’s not the whole truth. Later on, I discovered that alcohol makes me feel something quite—pleasant in bed. I can’t bring myself to say the actual word. So there, that’s the whole truth—Cheers!
Gazing at the laptop screen, she muses.
What did Fatma Izzat feel? Six pregnancies she had, her first child was born when she was barely fifteen. What did her pathetic husband know about—sex? There, I said the word. What did Samir know? In our society, boys learn the facts of life in the streets, in the sewers. Samir’s father had never shown affection or talked to his children…
What did you feel with me, Samir? Did you enjoy—it? You never said. Was I—any good? We had such long talks about our future, you supported my wish to study law and join the practice, but we never ever spoke of our feelings, what a strange couple we are…
Here I am accusing and missing you at the same time. A paradox…
Samir twitches restlessly. Muna looks at him, adjusts his position, reaches out to pat his head. He twitches again.
What is it, Samir? Are you tired? Do you want to go back to your room? This emptiness feels strange to me too… But I feel better with you here. Do you mind? Here, listen to this, it’ll take your mind off—things. (Reads)
“Prosecutor’s cross examination of the plaintiff, Fatma Izzat…
Fatma: It was my cousin Ahmad’s wedding, he invited me to have ‘sulha.’ I was in my parents’ home from the night I ran away to them. Locked up. And He— (Let the record show that the Plaintiff pointed at Accused number one, her father.) He beat me every day. My sisters said, pity you did not die when you tried, kill yourself now, the blood will cover the shame. The sisters and Ali went to the wedding, then He said to She (Let the record show… her mother.) ‘hold her.’ She sat on me and He strangled me…
Q: So you keep saying. Why did you run away from your husband? He provided for you.
Fatma: Husband beat me all the time. When my first girl baby was born, husband beat me. When three girl babies he hit me with an axe. At night he threw me out to sleep with chickens. When I had baby boy, he beat girls. No more. I took the children and ran to the parents. He said I am whore and shame—”
Then she addressed the judge, directly. Took us all by surprise. (Reads on.)
“Fatma: It is not right to give me pain. It is not right to kill me. It is not right to throw me out. I am not a used chair… I came here with the help of organization. Only I came. Other many wives in the shelter, they say divorce is worse than death, never go to court. My sisters, they cursed me, they took my children. They said He and She are in prison because of you. I am Whore. I am Shame. I am not.”
Muna sees her own reflection in the laptop screen, holds it up like a mirror and is shocked at her own state. She drinks. To Audience.
Two hundred cases of battered women were reported over the past two years and only this one reached the courts. Extraordinary, isn’t it? All the other 199 went back home… knowing there will be another round of humiliation and violence and possibly murder, still, they went back home. Because divorce is worse than death… and family honor is more precious than one daughter’s welfare, so my clients honestly believe. In leaving Fatma behind, they had no criminal intent, they were acting within an ancient code that says female offspring are—dispensable and, when transgressing, should be sacrificed to save family honor.
Noticing Samir had fallen asleep, she wheels him off. Re-entering she remembers something, searches laptop and finds it.
“The woman, suspected of adultery, was put into a hole in the ground with just her head showing… Her aging father, who was invited to cast the first stone, missed… Both her sons missed too, poor bastards… The Sheik and the rest of the village aimed well… The woman’s head was nearly severed from her shoulders, her skull was crushed, the brains spilled out. At night, wild dogs tore off the head…”
Iran, not long ago. It’s legal there. What reminded me of it, I wonder, it’s irrelevant to my case…
Off, sound of ambulance arriving. Door opens. Voices in Arabic.
They’re back, Samir. I am so so sorry.
She exits to Samir’s room. Sounds of dragging, crashing. Muna cries out. Pause. The ambulance takes off. Pause. Re-enter Muna, weeping, face bleeding. She slumps by the laptop, fumbles on keyboard, wipes tears and blood, drinks.
“I’m not a used chair,” powerful image, bravo Fatma… “It isn’t right to throw me out,” you said, I am being thrown out too, you know, legally. It is right, Fatma, take it from Muna Haled, Attorney at Law. I, fine lawyer that I am, never looked into my own affairs, ha, ha… an Arab woman first, a lawyer second… An Arab woman trusts material things to her husband…
Did he cry for me, when they took him away? Did he cry for himself, perhaps? Perhaps he had a sense of what he had done, what he had allowed be done to us. Or not. One doctor, the Jewish guy told me the truth about his condition. “Your husband will never be as he was before and you”—I—“must think of your”—my—“future.” “Think of your future, Madame,” he said in the singular… “your future.” He said it so naturally, so rationally, like a diagnosis… Then he referred to the “childhood epilepsy” that “probably caused”—the illness, assuming I knew about it. But my heart skipped a beat because at that moment I realized that you, too, had deceived me…
Exhausted, Muna lies down on the floor, staring at the note pad.
D again. Not M for “mabruk” or L for “love you?” Just D. For “death?” “Damn?” Or for “deceived?” “door mat?” “drunkard” … No, you never knew, never saw me drink… the used chair had a secret of her own, not as bad as yours, Samir, though a terrible vice in a Muslim woman… A used chair, to be thrown out when it ceases to serve…
Addressing audience, drinking continuously.
In Egypt, the law says a woman is not entitled to alimony if she suffers from a disease that makes her “useless” as a wife…? I have been very useful, twenty-four hours a day useful, but Samir’s family is throwing me out, penniless, nevertheless… What does the law in Egypt have to say about the husband becoming useless, Your Honors…? What…? Nothing in the law about that? (Drinks.)
Muna falls asleep. Time passes. It is nearly dawn. Off, the Muezzin calls to prayer: “Allah Akbar.” Muna laughs in her sleep and wakes up. She is different, rested, calm.
I had this funny dream. Once I asked my old schoolteacher, why is Allah always referred to as male. He sent me home with an angry note to my father, whose answer was that Allah is a spirit, not a body, therefore, neither male nor female. My father was a clever man, Allah rest his soul. My teacher disagreed with my father and insisted it is unfit to refer to Allah as female because females are inferior to males. Why? I persisted. Because Woman was made from Man’s rib! He replied. The inferior creature was able to persuade the superior one to seek knowledge and defy Allah? I developed my argument. That is the power women have, my teacher fumed, the power of evil… In real life, I bowed my head and sat down. In the dream, I laughed in his face…
Muna sits up. Off, the Muezzin repeats his call over and over. The sun rises. Church bells. She examines the note pad closely. Suddenly, she makes out the message. Long pause. Finally, she rises, takes off her house dress, puts on her suit and black court cloak. She neatly gathers her laptop and papers into the brief case, the rest of her belongings into a bed sheet which she ties up in a bundle. She stands erect, brief case in hand. Then, with her free hand she picks up the bundle, hesitates briefly, and places it balanced on her head. She kicks aside the empty flask and stands still.
The lights go down on her and come up downstage on a grave.
Muna steps into the light, covering her head with a black scarf.
“Divorce,” you wrote. That’s what the D stood for. That’s what you’ve been trying to tell me. You did have a sense of what you allowed to be done to us, and you regretted it. Had I understood your message and gotten a divorce, I would have been rid of your family. You were trying to set me free. That’s what your silent eyes were screaming which I thought were dead. That’s what your sighs and twitches meant. It turns out I was the blind and dumb one. I understood your good counsel too late.
But I am free now. You did set me free though not the way you intended… not the way I wished…
I have my self-respect back. And professional respect too. You didn’t get to share my success, my love, it happened after your—passing. I got the Izzats, a suspended sentence. I did it with arguments I am now deeply ashamed of, but I won.
Our children enjoy a new kind of independence, the kind that comes with responsibility. They work after school and are so proud. We live in a tiny studio apartment for the time being. We are poor but I am much in demand of late, so there’s hope…
At the hospital, they said you should have been brought in sooner… And I deluded myself that blood is thicker than greed… I should have fought for you, instead of for my deceitful clients…
A screen appears. Muna turns to look at it. Slides run in silence.
“Slide number 1: Personal Data: Izzat, Fatma. Sex: Female. Age: 22. Status: Married. Height: 165 cm. Weight: 55 kg. Eye Color: Brown. Hair Color: Brown.
Slide number 2: Cause of death: Strangulation. Broken esophagus. Cessation of heart and lungs.
Slide number 3: Weapon used: Serrated blade, six inches long, wooden handle
Slide number 4: [Drawing of human torso with laceration on chest left]
Slide number 5: [Drawing of human torso with laceration on chest right]
Slide number 6: [Drawing of human abdomen with multiple lacerations.]
Slide number 7: [Drawing of human face with multiple lacerations.]
Slide number 8: [Fatma’s face and neck. Rope mark on neck, face cut up.]
Muna Haled removes the black scarf.
“Father beat her a little much,” her brother testified… “they tried to poison her,” said Ahmad the cousin who came too late… she was beaten and raped a little by her husband, then strangled a little by her parents, and shortly after I got them off with a suspended sentence they went back home and cut her up a lot. This time she died. This time they went to jail. Their new attorney is appealing.
Fatma’s face on the slide screen fades out slowly.
We are like the desert, at night the shapes of the sand dunes change, a bit of dew here and there, a flower or two, but underneath it all, if you just scratch the surface—it’s exactly the same: Cold, dry, and dark…