Plays

Hector & Andromache*

* This dramatic script appears in Laksmi Pamuntjak, The Diary of R.S.: Musings on Art (Jakarta: Kata Kita, 2006)


“… and the rest of Asia … unceasing fame:
Hektor and his friends bring a sparkling-eyed girl
from holy Thebes and everflowing Plakia –
delicate Andromache – in ships on the brine
sea; many gold bracelets, fragrant 
purple robes, iridescent trinkets,
countless silver cups, and ivory.”

Sappho, Fragment 44 
(transl. Diane Rayor, 1991)

 


Dramatis Personae

ANDROMACHE, Only daughter, mother of Astyanax

HECTOR, Firstborn son, husband of ANDROMACHE

PARIS, Brother of HECTOR

PRIAM, Father of HECTOR and PARIS

HECUBA, Mother of HECTOR and PARIS

ARIADNE, ANDROMACHE's best friend

ACHILLES, Only son, a prince without a princedom

FIGURE IN A CLOAK, Sealer of Fates

CHORUS

WOMAN, HECTOR’s Secretary

Hector & Andromache

ACT 1

A mansion with sky-high ceilings and rooms too large to be of any mortal use. It is morning. A spiral stairway rises from the centre hall towards a domed skylight. Everything is damask and leather, with the dining table decked for breakfast in old blue-and-white Sevres china.

CHORUS
A firstborn prince enters his parents’ house. 
This, as they say, is where everything began.

But since every beginning is a repetition, 
it starts with myth and ends with myth.

HECTOR stomps in with nary a greeting. HECUBA is sitting at her end of the dining table, nursing morning coffee by herself.

HECTOR
Where’s Paris? Where’s that no good priss of a brother of mine?

HECUBA
Oh my. No hugs, no hellos.

HECTOR
Where’s your son? Still asleep while his wife earns 
a living?

HECUBA
Why don’t you just sit down first, have something? Keep your poor old mother company. I haven’t seen you for, what, a week.

HECTOR
What is a week in a lifetime?

HECUBA
From a month of sulking to … this. What’s gotten into you? Come now. It’s not becoming, whatever this is.

HECTOR
And it’s becoming, what you’ve let him become?

HECUBA
Hector, have a heart. It wasn’t as if there were a lot of choices. All we knew was that youthful passions have to be stemmed. That was all that we went by. It’s the root of all evil. He’s young, she’s young. We would have done the same if it had been you, or your brothers.

HECTOR
(Gives his mother a contemptuous look) Paris wasn’t looking for any of it. He wasn’t looking for support.

HECUBA
He would not have survived without it.

HECTOR
What happened was a family decision. The solution, as it was, was a family decision. He never meant for everybody to pay. And yet everybody decided to pay. So don’t tell me it’s any particular person’s fault now.

HECUBA
Look at you. Charging into the house like some wounded animal. You’re the one who seems to have a bone to pick with your brother. All we did was try to save him. Absorb his sin, contain it. We did everything a family should do. The buck stops here, within these walls. And what do you do? Stir things up like a … juvenile.

HECTOR
But look at what your protection did to him. He can’t even live life to save it. Meanwhile you’re feeding her to the lions that had it in for her in the first place. What then is your point? Was there ever a point?

HECUBA
How can this be a concern of yours, Hector? You have your own household to take care of.

HECTOR
This has everything to do with my own household. Collective decisions leave individual traces. All of you agreed on integrating her into our lives. It was hardly a phase. It’s a commitment.

HECUBA
But you chose to further the cause. That was not in the narrative. (Sharply, now) She is not yours. Stick to your lot.

HECTOR
What I am trying to say, mother, is that it is my problem. She is our problem the way she was when you all decided to take her on, in the name of honour. My brother is my problem the way he was when he let you all in on her.

HECUBA
You. I. You seem to have bailed out of ‘we’.

HECTOR ignores this as he paces around.

HECUBA
How is your wife?

HECTOR
She is saying the most incredible things.

Hecuba
As will most people in due course, if you do not learn to keep your passions in check.

HECTOR
I cannot forsake my work for cheap gossip. Helen is good. She is damn good at what she does. She has the right to a career, a second wind. And I will support her. It is still more honourable for a woman so neglected to be offered protection from a man in my capacity than none at all.

HECUBA
That’s what you think.

HECTOR
Besides, you will figure out something in no time, right? You’ll make it look as if this too was part of what things are supposed to be—an unspooling of history.

HECUBA
How dare you. How dare you suggest I condone this untoward behaviour in the name of unity. What do you take me for, you with your winged words, a son, a son, no more.

HECTOR
It is our fault we fight, since you brought forth this maniacal predicament. This, this curse. Yet you do nothing, nothing, say nothing, to bring the situation to date.

HECUBA
(Darkly) Yes, I am your mother but it was to your father that I bore you and I see so clearly now how it is that you are your father’s son—putty in the hands of beauty like all of you.

HECTOR
For now I’d be happy to see my brother awake. He has no business being alive if he could not even accord the sun the respect of mortals.

HECUBA
Be gentle on your brother. He and you were conceived in the same womb, in the darkness and secrecy that belong only to me.

HECTOR
He doesn’t deserve her.

HECUBA
And what makes you think you do? She too will make mincemeat out of you.

HECTOR
Now I must find Paris.

HECUBA
(In a tone that causes Hector a double-take) I met this clairvoyant the other day.

HECTOR turns around.

HECUBA
(Ominously) In her words: All will be for naught. Your heroism that means everything to you will mean nothing. For she is never ours to begin with, and for that we will all pay a dear price.

HECTOR
(Half feigning interest and half nervous) Oh, and what might that be, that dear price, how much?

HECUBA
She will flee your arms and into those of your slayer. It is written in their hands.

HECTOR stops dead in his tracks, and, after quickly regaining his composure, stomps off.

 


ACT 2

The house of HECTOR and ANDROMACHE. Mid-morning after a storm. The debris of the previous night’s bacchanalia is now impastoed on ANDROMACHE’s face, and HECTOR, slumped on a chair at the kitchen table, wears the expression of wanting to be anywhere else.

CHORUS
Time passes as moments 
both distilled and deleted.

In the wake of water, 
things announce themselves

as if renewed. The soil that 
has become part of them

is now the dank 
of well-aged wine.

The air has something in it 
that they breathe: secrets,

phantom lives, dream cities. 
The streets are longer,

the houses multicolour. 
Inside, shapes, scents and

sounds draw each other out 
and soon become clearer,

in themselves 
and one another.

ANDROMACHE is presently at the sink, looking out. The window offers an escape, like an intoxicant. But she sees only a mirror: herself looking back at her.

ANDROMACHE
(Walking towards Hector, who is at his computer) How goes it?

HECTOR
It’s going.

ANDROMACHE
How much more to go?

HECTOR
There’s never really telling, with these beasts.

ANDROMACHE
But why.

HECTOR
The world is fickle. Your opinion today matters nothing by tomorrow.

ANDROMACHE
Would you like some coffee?

HECTOR
No. Thanks.

ANDROMACHE
(Still hovers) It’s not like you haven’t nailed the outline.

HECTOR
Right.

ANDROMACHE
Does she write at all?

HECTOR
Huh. What’s that?

ANDROMACHE
She. Does she write like you?

HECTOR
Who?

Andromache is silent.

HECTOR
(Shifts slightly) Nobody writes like me.

ANDROMACHE
Yes, of course, she does not write op-eds.

HECTOR
(Tries to sound casual) But I guess she’s quite good. (Waits) Generally.

ANDROMACHE
You guess? You are the one who assesses her.

HECTOR
It’s very collective. It’s not just me. The system does not allow one person to be so powerful.

ANDROMACHE
Oh, come on.

HECTOR
Well, turns out she has a knack for legal investigations.

ANDROMACHE
How fantastic.

HECTOR
Yes, isn’t it? I’m quite surprised myself. Though of course she deals mainly with her departmental editor. A one-time prosecutor.

ANDROMACHE
Yes, of course she would. A knack for unearthing truths.

HECTOR
(Tries to sound casual) This case she’s working on, it’s going to be big. Parliament has apparently taken the bill on limited dual citizenship seriously.

ANDROMACHE
How poetic.

HECTOR
(A tad annoyed) It’s a breakthrough.

ANDROMACHE
I thought it wasn’t an issue.

HECTOR
Our existing laws do not recognise this, Andromache. Didn’t you know that?

ANDROMACHE
No.

HECTOR
Well, FYI, there are lots of problems with the custody of children of transnational marriages if the parents divorce. If mothers like you are married to a foreigner, they can be accused of kidnapping their own children if they insist on raising the children here.

ANDROMACHE
Mothers like me. Yes, ultimately it’s all about fathers being able to confer citizenship on their children and not mothers. Fathers … not mothers. Right of the blood and the blood is male.

HECTOR
Okay, so now all of that is changing.

ANDROMACHE
And she’s into all of that, is she? In the name of the father. But then, of course, she should know a thing or two about it.

HECTOR
(Tiredly) Please.

ANDROMACHE
This must have followed from her vague days in those garden variety women’s organisations.

HECTOR
This is as much about effective lobbying as anything. You’ve got to give it to them.

ANDROMACHE
Is that legal?

HECTOR
What? What is?

ANDROMACHE
Reporting and lobbying.

HECTOR
What makes you think that? She’s of course no longer with those women groups.

ANDROMACHE
(Sceptically) Oh. Well then. That’s good.

HECTOR
Spin me something else, will you? But not this. There are no special considerations whatsoever, even if she’s my sister-in-law. And she’s really doing well.

ANDROMACHE
Of course, one of the less lauded tangents, presently unforeseen no doubt, will be how to retain the mother’s own citizenship should she choose to. Or rather, how to sidestep all the expensive paperwork to secure one’s own so-called right of the soil. I wonder whether … (Pauses, but not for long) people … would see the irony.

HECTOR
(Starts drifting) Um.

ANDROMACHE
Would they, you think?

HECTOR
Um. Who knows. They might.

ANDROMACHE
Do you suppose Astyanax will ever want to follow in your footsteps?

HECTOR
Do you think he might?

ANDROMACHE
The little guy already talks like a writer.

HECTOR
A good or a bad one?

ANDROMACHE laughs.

HECTOR
(Gaily, hopeful that ANDROMACHE is in a better mood) To think that you are only as good as your parents.

ANDROMACHE
(Her face suddenly darkens, and her mouth collapses into a tiny purse) Seeing that some parents don’t deserve their children.

HECTOR realises his misstep, keeps quiet and awkwardly goes back to his computer.

ANDROMACHE
(Also tries to rein in her mood swing) Though we can safely ay the intelligence is a given. The child certainly sees, feels more. Sometimes I am certain he can sense my bad mood even with such little data.

HECTOR
Well, that can be a good thing. It means he is capable of great empathy, of doing altruistic things.

ANDROMACHE
Yes. I wonder. Sometimes I turn around and see him watching me like an old soul reincarnated.

HECTOR
(With some resolve) It may not turn out so bad, then. I mean, when the time comes.

ANDROMACHE
The time for what?

HECTOR
Why, to tell him, of course. The truth of him.

ANDROMACHE
Are you saying what I think you’re saying?

HECTOR
How many times have we gone through this?

ANDROMACHE
But it’s still out of the question.

HECTOR
I don’t believe you’re still resisting what is only common sense.

ANDROMACHE
I just can’t believe it. It’s too much for you, isn’t it? How many times do we have to become saviours, Hector? Saving her by saving your brother, and now you want to save her again by saving her son. The tension between the body and the phantom are just too strong now, isn’t it? You can no longer hold the two together; you have to save her too.

HECTOR
Are you going mad?

ANDROMACHE
You can do whatever you like with Helen. I’ve always been able to see her: a woman of many faces who wishes to end up as poetry. But Astyanax is my child. My child. That is the beginning and the end of the story.

HECTOR
You and I had an agreement. You and I, nobody else.

ANDROMACHE
Yes, but your entire family has a different mind.

HECTOR
Which is so wrong, can’t you see?

ANDROMACHE
“There was a saviour/ Rarer than radium,/ Commoner than water,/ crueller than truth.” That was a poem I learned in my childhood. I have always wanted something that was not that for myself and mine. So please don’t fret. Besides, I’m part of the family, aren’t I?

HECTOR
You and I are family. I thought we had agreed on writing our own narratives.

ANDROMACHE
But what to do. And yet, I must choose the lesser evil, Hector. One day, she too will have her truth, which, she will pleasantly find, has nothing to do with him, as he has become my child. No … far from that. What will happen is: she will have her mother take her towards her other mother, her real mother, and she will realise that she too had a double. And that’s when she will finally understand that being double is a sort of destiny too.

HECTOR
The last few years, I’ve been telling myself: my mother’s interest is power, power, power. And now, you …

ANDROMACHE
Oh. Let’s not make this banal. There comes a time when all women converge to become birds of a feather—it is to be expected.

HECTOR
And yet you exclude her.

ANDROMACHE
That is part of it, deciding what is our ransom and what is not.

An ugly silence falls between them and fills the room with its venom. Three, four, five minutes—HECTOR strides out of the room. No more than five seconds later, ASTYANAX’s voice resounds from the other room: “Mummy!”, “Muuummy!” ANDROMACHE does not answer. Lights out.

 


ACT 3

Afternoon in the garden of PRIAM and HECUBA.

CHORUS
Truly the anger of Hera 
the mother is grown out of 
all hand nor gives ground.

It is the same disease 
that afflicts a wife, or so 
Hector feels, being infatuated

with the idea of familial 
duty and suffering. But 
somewhere in another corner

of this house of cards, a father 
and his son have escaped lunch 
to steal a quiet moment.

PRIAM sits on a bench; PARIS paces around awhile before settling down next to him.

PRIAM
What a long face for a season of joy. What ails you this time?

PARIS
My wife. Or at least I think it is.

PRIAM
(Amused) Most men have worse ailments.

PARIS
She has been having visions.

PRIAM
(Laughs heartily) She has been having visions even before she met you. From the start we knew you were not her match.

PARIS
What an oddly cruel thing to say.

PRIAM
But you never minded. You never minded all that you couldn’t help, which was great, and you know what, son, it worked to your credit.

PARIS
Father.

PRIAM
(Chuckles) In fact, your conviction on this one, the one and only one you ever had, did us all in.

PARIS
(Ignores this) But I too have been having visions.

PRIAM looks at his son fondly and waits.

PARIS
There was one in which she dreamed of a hero pushing on towards something like a scorched earth. With folly the gall of high noon, she said. Or something like that. Anyway, I then saw the same dream too, the next day, only that my eyes were like those of nocturnal birds, the sort that sink away into darkness … Somewhere people were gathering, they were chanting something. But there was a madness that didn’t suit them, maybe because they had so little of splendour to enjoy in the first place …

PRIAM
If that is all, I’d say it’s a rather beautiful vision.

PARIS
But of course, it’s not all. Suddenly, gone were the palaces, the jewels, the chariots of war. All razed, ravaged, no more. It was then that I saw her, resplendent in pose. All golden, all angular, propped up on a giant urn whose mouth just about accommodated her perfect, rounded bottom.

PRIAM
Was she alone?

Paris
(With a smile that feigns bewilderment) Funny you should say that …. But yes, she was alone … and what were faceless silhouettes had by now receded into the depths of something not of this world. And yes, father, it was all rather … how shall I say it … peaceful. Like some unexpected eternity. Maybe even something like happiness. And then, all of a sudden, there was she and he, just she and he, coming towards her. Just as it should be. Like some beautiful cosmic balance.

PRIAM
(Murmurs dreamily) Did she offer any interpretation of it? Did you check this against any other dream she might have had after the first one?

PARIS
(Silently ponders this) Yes. Yes. I must have.

PRIAM
(After some consideration) Your mother thinks there’s something amiss with Hector.

PARIS
Helen speaks a lot about him. No. Allude is the word. She alludes to him a lot. It’s as if, as if she cared. You know what I mean? Well, of course I wouldn’t know. But suppose it’s true. That would only be natural, wouldn’t it?

PRIAM
(Evasively) It’s still within the family.

PARIS
(Sighs) At any rate, she seems contented with work. Rises every morning at dawn, drinks coffee, showers and disappears before day alters the sky.

PRIAM
How do you know she is happy?

PARIS
I don’t know. I might be wrong. But she just seems distant, in a way that tells me this is finally about her. People, people don’t look dopey and starry-eyed when they are really happy, you know. If you’d been so unhappy for so long, you would be embarrassed, wouldn’t you, about showing that you’re finally happy?

PRIAM
I wouldn’t know. Can’t say happiness is my purview.

PARIS
Yes, but you’ve always liked her. You’ve liked her long before Hector ever did.

PRIAM
That may be so. But some people just don’t know how to be happy. Or they are afraid to be happy.

PARIS
Maybe there is a land out there. A land that believes that happiness brings misfortune. All this at a price, they’d say, the people who live there. Sometimes I think she comes from that land.

PRIAM
Her sort of beauty is a sort of fate. It drives people mad. And death, death is always involved. It’s tough, no doubt, learning this, seeing it ever clearer as you go along. You should know how that feels, being a thing of beauty yourself. That’s why they always say two beauties do not a match make. Each understands the pain of the other too much to not let go.

PARIS
It’s certainly … paralysing.

PRIAM
You know there is something of her you will never own.

PARIS
She was never mine to own. You knew this, and yet you forgave her. You forgave her before you ever knew her.

PRIAM
What is there not to forgive? Her whole life is a double bill of guilt and repentance. Imagine asking this of the world. One way or the other people will fold over in her wake, ruin their lives, wreak havoc in others, become so unforgivable so as not to remember who started it, whether they are the source or merely the avatar …. Believe me, there will be blood. The agency is no more important. People, whole families will still suffer.

PARIS
And so it is lost, the hot press of living.

PRIAM
My advice? Make something of yourself. There is still time. Don’t hang on to that which is not yours to begin with. This is no time to feel ….

PARIS
I love her.

PRIAM stares at his son.

PARIS
I love her in the way that I am still surprised, on certain mornings, to see her sprawled on my bed, my bed instead of some other man’s … the way I am still surprised, not without a degree of fascination, that despite our drifting apart, she still wears my name the way she wears her own words … And yes, I love her.

PRIAM
Don’t we all?

PARIS
And yet he’s always the better man.

PRIAM
(Quickly) Every man is a better man who does not steal what is not theirs to start with … but Hector is ultimately the victim of his own lack. And not just him, it’s all of us, really. None of us is any match for her and the place she came from.

PARIS
(After long consideration) And you would suppose this man who is destined for her, is?

PRIAM
I may be old-fashioned, which is why I believe in some sort of destiny. But my time is soon up, my son. It is you who has to carry on living. (Motions to leave)Come now. Your mother is waiting. Let’s leave this … this … for another dawn.

End.


ACT 4

At the house of HECTOR and ANDROMACHE.

CHORUS
And so, grief catches up with 
envy and a woman’s life 
has been turned into 
a question mark.

But virtue works in funny
ways. And this, this is a 
place where even the most 
trained dogs would lose

their quarry’s trail,

so violent was the scent of 
diffuse guilt even if 
like any woman so born,

she wears her dignity 
in the curve of her mouth.

ANDROMACHE is back in the kitchen, hovering over ARIADNE, her best friend, who is having coffee. She is none too steady on her feet.

ARIADNE
And so where were you when they married them off? Were you already part of the family?

ANDROMACHE
Oh, it’s the usual thing, of course. They handpicked me over others, Hector was such a god, shining with strength and virtue, and there was this waiting and waiting. I was always half in the family, waiting. Waiting for the optimum moment to say ‘I do’. Waiting to be inducted into the family. Waiting for our son, and always with a smile. Agreeing with everyone it’s just a little test. Nothing more than a little test, because we are blessed. And those who are blessed are ever tested, to show that our love is unlike any other. And I, I was picked because I am the one who waits, eternally.

ARIADNE
The comparison is too trite, I agree.

ANDROMACHE
(Absentmindedly) Yes, yes, though the thing is, people forget them just as easily as they make them happen. You know what I am saying?

ARIADNE
No, people do not forget what they’ve built.

ANDROMACHE
Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. People forget. Or they choose what they remember, until they forget what they choose to remember. They tell it over and over again, this is what happened, and each time they tell it something is twisted, or bent out of truth, because language cannot reproduce events, it’d better not try. So they would say, of course, there’s no other way, they so loved each other, it was horrible what the previous husband did to her. He was a lout, a wife abuser, or he would be, given time. But Paris, our glorious son, saved her. We saved her. You see what I mean?

ARIADNE
How did you feel about it? It couldn’t have been easy for Helen … her, I mean.

ANDROMACHE
Me? I almost felt sorry for her then, for not getting much in the bargain, the way I felt sorry for myself, a watcher, a pawn, never my own person. You’d almost think they knew they were flawed, the way they took whatever they could from other people and called it their own.

ARIADNE
Clearly, this is what you want to remember of them.

ANDROMACHE
(Dreamily) I remember what Hector told me, we were still in love then. He said that for all her mystery there was a, what was the word he used … complicity … yes, a complicity about her. He remembered that moment very well.

ARIADNE
They say it was a moment of instant love if ever there was one.

ANDROMACHE
They. Who are they? Instant love was what I had with Hector. You see though that it doesn’t guarantee anything.

ARIADNE
You’re not making it any easier on yourself.

ANDROMACHE
Hope is an overrated virtue.

ARIADNE
Yes, but what else do people do?

ANDROMACHE
Better to make peace with pain. Sleep with it, talk to it, trust it as you would love someone. If it gives you unexpected joy, treat it as a bonus. At least you’ll live with one certainty, and one that is truly yours. That’s what love has taught me.

ARIADNE
And you think she’s just a poseur?

ANDROMACHE
(Brushes Ariadne’s question aside) Anyway. That moment, as I was saying. The one etched in my husband’s—my husband’s—mind. There was a flushing, a wanton ruddiness almost, in the way she laughed in Paris’s face when he stared her down from behind his cup. My husband called it a closed open invitation …

ARIADNE
Perhaps …

ANDROMACHE
(Through gritted teeth) It was an offering.

ARIADNE struggles to say something but fails.

ANDROMACHE
I know what you’re thinking. It was what my husband wanted to see.

ARIADNE
I should think that everybody brings a little bit of him or her own to what he or she sees. No losses cut there.

ANDROMACHE
Well, they weren’t all play for the imagination. Some were plain facts. She was conscious for much of them, relished them even, as the air of liberation must have been sweet indeed.

ARIADNE
She is beautiful. A famously beautiful woman. The stuff of myth. (Laughs) At least, she is not unique …. People see all the omens, the phantasm, everything else first before the real person. There is the: “But we’ve known her all our lives!” All men thought they were promised her in life, and those who did encounter her call themselves lucky. We all want her to live up to her reputation. And now she’s coming out into her own ... (Her voice trails off)

ANDROMACHE
Do you think, then, that it deserves envy?

ARIADNE
Is that even the right word?

ANDROMACHE
It is certainly more than jealousy.

ARIADNE
(Thinks a while) I am no astute moralist. Does it matter?

ANDROMACHE
Maybe. There … there certainly is that, much more than jealousy. (Becomes quiet)

ARIADNE
Well, just don’t bash yourself, all right? It’s different than good character if that’s what you’re worried about. Andromache The Good.

ANDROMACHE
(Ponders this awhile) Some philosopher used to say there is no virtue without practical wisdom and no practical wisdom without virtue. Maybe goodness too is overrated, or it doesn’t really exist.

ARIADNE
Perhaps you should rest your mind. Just ... chill. There really isn’t any proof, you know.

ANDROMACHE
But I know. I just know. And it’s not so good, this not knowing but knowing. It drives you mad.

ARIADNE
It’s not as if they have had working trips out of town, or even stories requiring both their presence. He’s too high up. They may share a few lunch breaks together, perhaps a coffee break here and there. But what can you do? They are in-laws.

ANDROMACHE
(Flinches, as if Ariadne’s words hurt) You see. I don’t know how to say it like it is. It’s not so much about me loving Hector, or the idea of Hector ever leaving me. It’s her beauty. It scares me. It scares the life out of me. It’s like … a kingship without a kingdom. She carries this beauty within her and that’s all there is to sustain her anywhere she goes.

ARIADNE
Then maybe you are Goodness and she is Beauty and there will always be an unbridgeable distance between the two of you.

ANDROMACHE
But can’t you see, the world really isn’t like that? More often than not, goodness only comes as an afterthought. Beauty is really what sets everything off, sets things on its course. Goodness is always a solution, not an impetus.

ARIADNE is rendered silent.

ANDROMACHE
It is never a muse.

ARIADNE is still silent.

ANDROMACHE
The only two options for Beauty, really, are to get reabsorbed into the Good, or to be left up in the air like some nasty spell. How do you trump that sort of power?

There is a pause of about one and a half minutes as both are assailed by private thoughts.

ARIADNE
What do you intend to do?

ANDROMACHE
I don’t know.

ARIADNE
I mean, about your jealousy …

ANDROMACHE
I really don’t know. It’s funny, I’ve read some wonderful stories in which characters who are more than ordinarily perceptive are precisely the jealous ones.

ARIADNE
You have a beautiful boy. Surely he’s ….

ANDROMACHE
(Tearful now) Yes, he is. He is all of life.

Light fades, leaving only silhouettes.

 

 

 


ACT 5

The same house. ARIADNE has left, and HECTOR has just returned from work. Husband and wife are back in the kitchen.

CHORUS
It is late afternoon now. 
Outside, the dark is rushing, 
raw, like air dying to be shed.

Bright clouds scud fast in 
the wind, drive shadows across 
where there will be moon.

There is something in the lightless 
warmth that empties inside out,
as if declaring all that went on

before a false alarm. 
Mood passes, and you are 
only visitors of each moment.

The cold hugs inside in.
The day seems to begin 
and end in rain.

ANDROMACHE turns away from the window.

ANDROMACHE
(Not turning as she rewashes glasses with stubborn stains) Last night. You were about to say something.

HECTOR
(Dreamily) I was?

ANDROMACHE
Your father caught you, as it were, before you nearly said it.

HECTOR
Said what?

ANDROMACHE
He’s sharp, I must give it to him. Been around the block. He would just know.

HECTOR
Priam. The perfect sage.

ANDROMACHE
(Sighs) Yes. I should think I am grateful to him. (Pauses for a good while) And yet he is loved by all strangers.

HECTOR
I am sure he’ll be pleased with that. The perfect sage. Ha!

ANDROMACHE
Funny how you always come up with the right words …

HECTOR
Eh? What’s that? I’m just stating what everybody knows.

ANDROMACHE
Anyway. As I was saying. He caught you.

HECTOR
What’s this?

ANDROMACHE
In fact, do you, do you really suppose beauty is forever?

HECTOR
Certainly it’s not beauty that lasts forever. But what has that got to do with my father?

ANDROMACHE
Is that how people change, you think?

HECTOR
What’s that?

ANDROMACHE
Is it the same way you used to want action all the time, give me give me give me, and now you only want silence?

HECTOR
I don’t …

ANDROMACHE
Or … is that the same as how you can think a person beautiful one day and no more the next?

HECTOR
Andromache. Really.

ANDROMACHE
No. Maybe you should tell me.

HECTOR
But I thought we were talking about my father and how he had … caught me, whatever that means.

ANDROMACHE
You know what I’m talking about.

HECTOR
(Impatiently) Okay. So let’s have it. Let’s have it the way you want it.

ANDROMACHE
(Hesitant now, jolted by Hector’s tone) The main thing is, he could see it, everybody could. He interjected because he knew. Or maybe he knew what people would think. Or both.

HECTOR
He. Who is he? And who is everybody?

ANDROMACHE
For the love of God. Must you?

HECTOR
But really I don’t get any of this.

ANDROMACHE
It was just before coffee was served.

HECTOR
By then almost everybody was drunk, oblivious.

ANDROMACHE
People are not made oblivious by wine.

HECTOR
Ineffable, then. Ineffable what happens to man during such times.

ANDROMACHE
On the contrary, they say it brings out the best in excellent people. You were about to make a fool of me.

HECTOR
(Irritated) And you’re saying my father’s excellence prevented me.

ANDROMACHE
(Steeling herself with resolve) Deiphobus was rattling on about remembering for the sake of remembering. What do you guys call it? Some fancy-pansy name. Anamnesis, whatever. Anyway, who cares. We all hated that part. The song and the singer both. Such a show-off, that other brother of yours. But there was great banter going on between him and your father.

HECTOR
(Making a big production out of remembering, not without irony) Melancholy is indeed a wilful act.

ANDROMACHE
I resent that.

HECTOR
So there was great banter between two über-talkers, each trying to one-up the other. Big deal. You would offer, presently, that it was all the elevating work of wine. While to me it sounds like any goddamn other day. So where was I in this picture?

ANDROMACHE rubs her forehead, says nothing.

HECTOR
Or how, exactly, did my father save me? Or save you? Or is saving the right word?

ANDROMACHE
Stop it. It was at the instant Deiphobus mentioned the wound, that the wound can only be healed by the spear which made it, that your voice sprang forth … I mean, as in there was only you, everybody’s eyes and ears were on you. Just you. And everybody knew it was about her.

HECTOR laughs it off, but waits.

ANDROMACHE
He said it again, loudly, and in German. And he sang. He wanted us to know he knew his Wagner.

HECTOR
And I suppose everybody—charming, this faceless in number—found this act so sublime they actually forgave me.

ANDROMACHE
It was philosophy that saved you … and her, from having a story.

HECTOR gazes silently at her, looking impressed.

ANDROMACHE
And you know what, suddenly, just like that, all of us in the room became Parsifals, innocent fools all. Okay, we agreed, let’s regenerate ourselves, from life to life, but let’s agree to never lose hope in miracles, okay? Okay? Because old wounds do not heal, they never will, you just live with them. So you see, at that instant, when people think, oh, this is about all of us, you were no longer special.

HECTOR
(Heaves a heavy sigh) And thank God for that, then, don’t you think? (Gets up)It’s getting on two in the afternoon. I’d better go back to my papers. Do you fancy going anywhere today?

ANDROMACHE
(Ignores this) Yet strangely you wanted hers, her wounds, to heal. I am not sure which called more for Priam’s divine intervention, that particular part or just the whole hangdog lovesickness of it all.

HECTOR starts pacing.

ANDROMACHE
(Closes her eyes) I used to wake up realising I either had many names or none at all. And I didn’t mind it one bit. Now I want that feeling again.

HECTOR
(Turns around and regards her carefully) Dear wife. Lay them, your parents, to rest. Can’t you see I’m here? I’m not going anywhere.

ANDROMACHE
(Frustrated) Don’t bring my parents into this. Their life, as their death, was theirs. Now they are dead and what I am feeling right now about this … us … has nothing to do with my grief about them. Just when can you stop thinking outside of family, Hector? For once. This … is about us.

HECTOR
(Visibly angry now) We’ll end this conversation here, Andromache. Okay? Okay? You don’t know yourself.

ANDROMACHE closes her eyes. Again, silence falls between them.

HECTOR
(Wearily, after a while) Just tell me, what can I do? What can I do to make it easier?

ANDROMACHE
(Fights tears) What makes you think she is the only one allowed such a divine wound?

A long pause now. ANDROMACHE hardly dares to move. HECTOR stops pacing. Both are stricken by the finiteness of their bodies. She casts a quick look at the framed infinitude that is the sky outside and feels her body tucking in.

HECTOR
(At long last, with feigned tension) There’s this new play, have you heard, about a middle-age woman who’s sent back to earth in various reincarnations? Somebody told me, I forgot who it was. Every time she is reincarnated she kills herself.

ANDROMACHE
(Still looking out the window) There, you see, you don’t even know when to use your comic relief anymore. This whole humour rapport. Where has it gone now? (Her voice trails off) That’s just the saddest death.

End.

 


ACT 6

Late morning at HECTOR’s office. Paris is waiting for HECTOR. He glances at the paraphernalia on the L-shaped desk: desktop, phone, ashtray, little antiques, notepads, photos of wife; son; wife and son; him, wife and son.

CHORUS
There comes a time in the life of brothers
when one shows himself 
for what he should be and 
the other for what he truly is.

But somewhere in that schism 
the line between erastes and 
erómenos, lover and beloved,
often becomes blurred.

HECTOR strides in, mirthless and businesslike.

HECTOR
Paris. It’s good of you to come. (Sits down) But I don’t wish to waste my breath.

PARIS
Wouldn’t dream of asking you to, brother.

HECTOR
You want coffee?

PARIS
(Jokingly) I’m wired already, thanks.

HECTOR
(Laughs a tad mockingly) People meters are costly to install, as you know, even more costly to run as they’re always on. Self-service really is the only way.

PARIS
The responsible way, one might add.

HECTOR
(Laughs) Ha, what do you know? But then you’ve always been the unsung talent.

PARIS
Whereas you, brother, are actually made for radio broadcasting.

HECTOR
(Genuinely amused now) What sudden, prolific revelations.

PARIS
Yes, I see you, I see drab, crowded, smoky rooms, where most of the characters are surly, tight-lipped men with white shirts and slicked-down hair, milling around with thought lines like waves on their foreheads, never smiling. Don’t know how to smile. This (Looks around, appraising the surrounds) will do, but radio is more you.

HECTOR
(Laughs again, louder this time) Had it in for the ’50s, eh? Besides, have you ever seen the inside of a radio station?

PARIS
Don’t have to if you can imagine one.

HECTOR
(Tapping the desk with the butt of his pen, making quite a show of shaking his head) Yes, yes, just so. Always imagining. There is a word for someone like you, I am sure.

PARIS
Really? What’s that word?

HECTOR
(Regards his brother quietly, and decides not to proceed) Besides, radio broadcasters are only in love with their own voices. They are no leaders.

PARIS
As opposed to big-gun newspaper editors whose job is to spin a morality tale out of every story? We should drink to that.

HECTOR
I do need a drink, but that’s for later. Paris, there is …

PARIS
(Ignores this, keeps his good cheers, looks around) So where do you keep my wife? You see her more than I do, as I’m sure you know.

HECTOR
Funny, that. How I saw it coming. But you just refuse to see, don’t you? You put on your blinkers. That’s all you do.

PARIS
Don’t insult me. You are the worse hypocrite if there ever was one. I trusted you. Everybody trusted you.

HECTOR
I have saved her. From you.

PARIS
(Swings around angrily) Is that what this is?

HECTOR
Yes.

PARIS
You fell for her even then. Gone, sick, crazy in love since the day I begged you to meet her and me the first time. And to take us in, which you did for weeks—me, her and her white, swollen belly. No sooner had you glimpsed that skin than you dropped. A tiger wounded by a dream.

HECTOR
Respect your wife, damn you.

PARIS
The belly, too, that must have been part of it. The many times she must have unloosened her covers and stroked the life inside. The many times she must have reached for her sex in its filmy shrub of fur ….

HECTOR
Damn it, Paris.

PARIS
How many times have you looked at her, Hector? How many times?

HECTOR
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

PARIS
I could kill you for that.

HECTOR
And I could kill you. This is not about me, okay? At first I didn’t want to have to ask you to come like this. But I have to. There are two things … and all to do with love.

PARIS
Oh, and what suddenly makes you an expert? Look at you. You look lovesick, brother, and people are saying but of course, it is the mark of unrequited love. What use do I have for such an inept display?

HECTOR
Oh, now it’s people again. People are saying. You know what, I’ll tell you what people are saying: People are saying she is alone and unloved. People are saying our family, the one who aided her in the disgrace of two young lovers, is now indifferent to her. People are saying you are indifferent to her because you and she are both … (Flinches at the inevitable word)

PARIS
Come on, say it. Say the word. Whores. W-h-o-r-e-s.

HECTOR
You said it.

PARIS
Besides, people will always be saying something about Helen. The sad thing is: there was a time that I felt I knew nothing about how she felt. And what little I knew was subject to doubt. In those days I used to have visions of her secretly standing in wait for that brute, that ex-husband of hers, like in some secret pact between two devils, to whisk her away from me when I no longer please. And in all of that, you were my rock. You were so pure and heroic—inviolable. You and your perfect beginning.

HECTOR
I wish there was some humbling way to say there is no perfect beginning.

PARIS
Well said for once. Look where you’ve landed now.

A WOMAN appears at the door. It is Hector’s secretary.

WOMAN
Everything okay here, sir? Need anything—coffee, lunch perhaps?

HECTOR
No, we’re doing all right, thanks.

WOMAN
(Stares at Paris) By the way, Ms Helen told me to say hi to both of you. But she’s got to run.

HECTOR
Oh, yes, sure. I wonder what story she has to run to. (Rummages through his papers nervously, in search of a phantom reporter’s schedule)

WOMAN gazes at HECTOR knowingly, before disappearing.

PARIS
It can’t be too good what even your secretary knows.

HECTOR
(Wearily) There’s a lot of talk in a place like this, and not just about me and her. Your wife has elicited a lot of … shall I say interest … in her being, not to mention because of your … own reputation.

PARIS
Oh, now it’s about me and my reputation.

HECTOR
Paris. You had a past. Your marrying a woman just as beautiful and as troubled as you does not diminish the distance between now and then in the slightest.

PARIS
What are you doing? Are you justifying your closeness to her? Because of my absence?

HECTOR
Yes. In other words. Besides, how difficult is it to appear with her for all to see? Some people would die for the honour.

PARIS
You hypocrite.

HECTOR
No. Listen to me. If you start showing up with her a bit, the noise will die down. And everybody will be happy. Andromache will be happy, which will take care of a lot of things.

PARIS
My household doesn’t exist to serve yours.

HECTOR
No. Please. Listen to me. Let’s be rational, shall we? There is something called responsibility, even if that may sound cumbersome to you.

PARIS
Oh. You’ll always have an edge over me on this one, and you know it.

HECTOR
Oh, spare me your self-pity. Our father is a bit like you.

PARIS
In that he thinks you’re the best thing that has ever lived?

HECTOR
He believes that everything that happens to us has nothing to do with us. It is only a variant to some grand original design, he thinks, and should just be accepted, accepted without question. Okay, so we’ve indulged him. And we’ll survive him again and again. But guilt, guilt is not something we are condemned to live with. We can do something to get over it.

PARIS
I did not come here to be lectured. I have lived.

HECTOR
That’s precisely what responsible people would never say.

PARIS
What is this? (Stands up, paces a little, but sits down again) Why don’t you spare me … this … this … self-righteousness.

HECTOR
No, because that’s the truth. So please act your part, okay? What I’m going to say might all sound like connubial nonsense to you, but look around you. People not only expect joint appearances. They admire them.

PARIS
(Impatiently) You’re using me as a buffer, right? Is that not what you’re doing? I am your endorsement so that you can carry on with my wife with impunity. The caring brother-in-law. (Pauses and gazes at his brother long and hard) Is she telling you something?

HECTOR
Why don’t you grow up?

PARIS
She is, isn’t she? Just like all of them. They’re all the same. They tell you, oh, things are okay but not that okay, and if you just … stroke me in the right place I’ll probably tell you more.

HECTOR
Look, I am not interested in this, okay. You could spin me this sort of inanity way back when, when you were still chasing disasters like some kid out of boarding school.

PARIS
But then you’re always such a bore. So afraid of things going wrong.

HECTOR
Go back to her, Paris. So much blood has been spilled already. Make an honest person out of yourself.

PARIS
I wonder. Is that how it was, your first time with that girl from school, the one with the grave eyes and tremulous lips, who used to scramble up to the pavilion roof near our house after playground hours? You disappeared for three days, and when you came back you said you had sinned.

HECTOR
But I didn’t sire an innocent life out of wedlock.

PARIS
Watch it.

HECTOR
No, you watch it. (But quickly softens)

PARIS
You just couldn’t help wanting to save them, could you? Girls everywhere. Orphaned, cast off, disgraced. That girl in our back yard. Andromache. Helen. Other people’s wives, if you could.

HECTOR
(His voice trembles) You were fucking someone else when you whisked Helen away from her husband, you little shit. Don’t think I didn’t know.

PARIS
Yes, it almost calls into question the paternity of the kid.

HECTOR’s expression is unknown even to himself. His fingers curl, hands rolled into fists, lungs half-filled.

Paris
Oh no, no, this part is not even yours to play.

HECTOR
As sure as I am alive, you do not deserve them. Both wife and son. Sometimes I think your sort should not be let loose to wander on earth.

PARIS
But I will prevail, Hector. Long after you’re gone. And one day you will thank me for saving you.

HECTOR
(Harshly) I forgive you that tiny arrogance because I love her. I love … Helen. But I do not forgive you for Astyanax. (Motions to gesture Paris to leave) Or for blinding our father.

PARIS
(Registers the shock, pauses awhile, and mockingly, decides to brush this aside) How you must have envied me my sense of purpose … each time.

HECTOR
And just how long the afterimage pulses in you, brother. I don’t believe you realise you have quite aged since. But here’s the thing ….

PARIS looks agitated but refrains from saying anything. He waits.

HECTOR
Astyanax is not well. Neither is Andromache. These are … linked.

PARIS is quiet.

HECTOR
This thing she imagines me having ... there is a selfishness there. But I love her, my wife. I love her, for there is not a day that I am not reminded of our first meeting however faraway it all seems, an age away, when we were still innocent, if … if that is the word. Which I doubt.

PARIS still waits.

HECTOR
I was no younger than you, come to think of it. The only difference was that I waited, was made to wait. The wisdom of our elders. But it was just like what I imagined yours was, she was … languorous and jaunty at once. Those halters and tight jeans, high-heeled sandals. Everything a woman of a lifetime is supposed to be.

PARIS
(Betrays the first hint of tender emotions) You know I’ll do anything for Andromache …

HECTOR
But she has cracked … like the best of them.

PARIS
We had predicted this.

HECTOR
But not the boy. We never knew what would become of the boy. But then: “They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” Remember? Children are not their fault, even if they think they are. That was the one thing I learned from Andromache that made me feel that I had another family: me and her. And that was a glorious thing.

PARIS
Well. It’s a poem you’d like to think has all the truth you ever need. But it’s not an easy one.

HECTOR
No. Time is a treacherous thing.

PARIS
(Stricken) But this love my … your son has for Andromache. It’s rather … severe?

HECTOR
I don’t know how to describe it. He’s like this young plant growing at the side of a vineyard. That’s how she nurtures him.

PARIS ponders this.

HECTOR
I’ll tell you. Let me tell you. There was this moment at home, when everything was bright and chipper, and she was making a pot of tea, and he was sitting behind her in the kitchen, his legs dangling. He was all of three, and active, but he loved watching his mother, especially at breakfast time. Suddenly there was this loud bang and the sound of something broken, and I screamed, “Everybody down!!!” like they do in the movies, and there I was down, waiting, shivering, thinking the ghosts of what I do have come to claim me. It seemed ages until I remembered them, whether they were hurt, whether they were okay. I pawed my way to where I saw them last, and saw both of them huddled up in a corner, him shielding her instead of the other one, shielding and clambering over her so completely even if he was only a tenth her size.

Silence.

Paris
What do you expect me to do?

HECTOR
She refuses to tell him. Not now, not ever. And no, I don’t think it’s just a passing phase.

PARIS is numb.

HECTOR
What I have come here for is to ask for your grace and generosity. It will never be enough, I know, my capacity to repay you and Helen. But the theme has not changed. It is for the child. (Pauses) Who knows … maybe it will change some day. But right now, it means everything to Andromache’s happiness.

PARIS
From that day on, I have let go. You know that. But I can’t speak for Helen.

HECTOR
Will you talk to her? Or should I? Or maybe we should both go.

Paris
(Quietly) Do you remember that day? Do you remember that day at all?

HECTOR
The first thing I remember? Cigarette ringlets. I was blowing cigarette ringlets into the sticky air. I was standing at the door, watching the corridor. There were runnels of people, walking, staring, talking in circles, and I had wished they were blowing cigarette ringlets like me.

PARIS
(Laughs) You thinking cigs, and all the while I was the one …. Anyway. It was a rather formidable building. I saw all these judges. Old and young. Skipping a beat, you know, but just kept going. They see this all the time, I told myself: families torn asunder, reunited, transformed. These irreversible life sentences. But the women … the women were something else.

HECTOR
I know there is something in you that is familiar with loss. Maybe because you acquire things so easily …

PARIS
Maybe I numbed myself. Or it was more about fear. And fear often makes a coward out of the weak.

HECTOR
What’s weak, what’s strong. There’s one in the other.

PARIS
Still. It’s strange. I did think it wouldn’t be … uncomplicated. But it was always for later, like a question for another time. You do know what I mean.

HECTOR
It probably weighs more on Andromache’s mind than mine.

Paris
But so here we are.

HECTOR
Yes. The time has chosen. But I’ve often thought this was the only practical, sensible solution. I’m not saying the right one, but there really isn’t any solution that brings happiness to all. And I must say I have liked that feeling. I have liked that feeling a lot.

PARIS
It’s strange. I’ve looked at father and mother and I’ve despised them for endorsing all that had gone on. Do this for the child. This is all about the child. It took me some time to marry Helen, yes. I could see how it was expedient. But some of my friends told me it was plunder, what you and Andromache did.

HECTOR
It couldn’t have been easy, I know.

PARIS
But then when I do see him, the boy, which is not often, I am afraid to disrupt that happiness.

HECTOR
Do you and Helen talk about it?

PARIS
No. No … it is not possible when you have been so rent. We practically stopped where we started.

HECTOR
Would it be too much, what I am asking?

PARIS
Consensus is easier to reach when the two parties suffer equally.

HECTOR
I know there seems no … fairness to this. (Pauses) Again, what will we do with Helen?

PARIS
(For the first time in that brief thaw looks agitated) But if I go along with this, what have I got left then? How would I ever know the truth of you and Helen?

HECTOR
Just, please, whatever you decide. But let us not sit our parents down again and see that … humiliation.

PARIS
But how do you live with this duplicity, Hector?

HECTOR
I just cannot go through another of those sad, gawky, attenuated silences. Because after that how do you deal with the noise? The stories we hear. Of people we love never going out, about them pacing around the house not saying a word to anyone, inciting fear all around that they would never talk again. No. I will not allow that.

PARIS
You have your kingdom. Your family. Isn’t that what you told me? Yet Helen and I are trapped, in the house that marriage is not meant for. We have to live with the past while you have his future.

HECTOR
Please. We have an understanding.

PARIS
(Stands up, moving towards the door) But you know what, I don’t know how to reach her. As I said, you see her more than I do. My mind is made up, it is her decision. But you should not and will not talk to her. I forbid you.

HECTOR
Well … I think I can live with that.

PARIS
(At the door) By the way, that father I was supposed to have blinded. (Pauses meaningfully) Well, just so that you know, he told me that he once had this dream.

HECTOR thinks of Hecuba, and a certain déjà vu. He keeps quiet.

PARIS
He was exiled, this master-builder, who had two little sons, on some island he had never seen in other dreams. A while after that, his wife died and all that he could do was to remember her, as best he could, through the marriage of dough and water, and bury her likeness under a potted plant. He told his eldest son: Look after your brother. And so they grew up. But then one day, he received from his younger son the head of his elder. He turned to the sky, whose full weight lay upon the breast of his dead wife, and asked: Why?

The stage is suddenly full of shadows. People like stains dissolve into the greyness.

 


ACT 7

 

ACHILLES waits in a deserted al fresco café. It is like a scene out of de Chirico: a plumb silhouette in the centre of looming grey facades. The silent electric blue suggests the last gasp of dusk.

A FIGURE, heavily cloaked so as not to be discernible to the audience, sits quietly on an adjacent chair, though quite removed from ACHILLES.

CHORUS
And so, like blood orange, 
myth sliced into a million 
segments reflect each 
other, a beautiful, moist fan:

and they stick on us, one by one,
like pigments of the same skin.

But there are always winners and
losers, on earth as in heaven,
and too often the stage looks
as though they were one.

Spotlight on ACHILLES and FIGURE IN A CLOAK.

ACHILLES
I presume you know what I am here for.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
What are you here for?

ACHILLES
To claim what is mine, of course.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Which would be?

ACHILLES
The girl. It’s always about the girl.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Ah, yes. Mustn’t forget the girl.

ACHILLES
The girl is like the drug. The guys get a handful, but there are too many of them around. These pills, they break them open, they fill the syringe with their fluid. These days they’re smarter because they don’t share. But how do you help these things? Some are even forced to share, and they just take it and call it responsible. Inevitable. Life. All those things ending with an ‘e’. Have you heard of that mad Frenchman who wrote a 278-page book without a single ‘e’?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Yes, i.e. glorious psychobabble, though there is one ‘e’ in ‘psychobabble’, which, well, figures.

ACHILLES
As I was saying. Here they are, they get so hyper they scarf down those pills until the day the ultimate girl arrives, and they all have to have her. But she is no snooty beauty, she obliges them all, and soon they start to inject her juice, draw out the blood, then push it back, and draw it out, over and over again.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
I’d say they are all obsessed with the needle.

ACHILLES
Yes, you stop thinking how dangerous it is. But there you have it. Often there is a problem with the needle. So they help each other, help each other get the hit.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
And is there anything left of the girl?

ACHILLES
They say her essence remains pure.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
And the reason you know?

ACHILLES
Because you once let me in on a secret.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
There have been too many secrets in my lifetime. You may want to remind me of this one.

ACHILLES
The fact that there were two acts. One is the usual story of greed, in which a man larger than life steals half of a woman’s night to impregnate her with his holy sperm, after which he gives her back to her husband with whom to do his part as he pleases. The other is the less usual one, of which the first act may or may not be a cameo. The same man does the same thing to another woman, only with darker and craftier desires involving a swan, an eagle and a rape, from whose stain this girl is supposed to have hatched.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Describe this girl to me.

ACHILLES
She looks a bit like that actress in Alias.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
And which one are you entitled to? The real or the double? Which one is the real, which one is the double?

ACHILLES
She is both. All in the same egg. Unbearable to men, and perhaps even to you.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
So, what else did I tell you?

ACHILLES
You told me that she is my bride.

FIGURE IN A CLOAKloak
And how do you feel about that?

ACHILLES
It’s been a drag, the hushed phone calls, fake destinations, poker face before D-day. Talking zigzag like a saw-toothed blade. But I suppose it’s better than all that official courtship, the ceremonies, the certified shopping together as a couple. Besides, we are better trained than most, even more so than that pathetic husband of hers, in the art of deception.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
You have no compulsion to consider her child?

ACHILLES
By all accounts, he is in safe hands.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
But you may not know what is inside her head. A mother’s head.

ACHILLES
She tells me that her half-sister, Beauty, tries to seduce her husband from time to time. Whisks him away from a deal gone sour, once, only so that he doesn’t get whacked. Covers for him when he has to pay up a debt. That sort of thing. Apparently Ms Frisky extends such favours to many young men with his sort of looks—frat boy pretty, not enough time at their mother’s milk. So what I think is happening inside her head, is that children are a scandal.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Well, then. I wish you all the best in life.

ACHILLES
Don’t you want to see what she looks like now?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
I will recognise her anywhere, I am sure.

ACHILLES
You can always stay. In fact, why don’t you stay? It would almost be like a homecoming.

Spotlight on CHORUS.

CHORUS
Yet there is a difference, between
up there and down here, and
it is often the shade of dun 
ascending into blue.

When asked its name, it
simply gives it: Laughter, 
whereupon it looks up and 
down, not sure where to pin

itself for all to wear. But
it soon realises how it 
cannot possibly dry up the
tears of Andromache,

wipe the blood of Hector
from his mother’s sight, 
or absolve Paris from his 
greed and his unseeing.

Still at the same place. It’s dark out now, the only light coming from inside the building, through the window behind him. ACHILLES keeps looking at his watch. The FIGURE IN A CLOAK seems to have receded into the shadows. He sits there, as still as stone.

ACHILLES
Do you suppose she is playing a trick on me?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Surely she knows you are not one to play tricks on.

ACHILLES
(Smiles, self-satisfied, after some thought) I often 
think that if I were Hector, I would have just poisoned his brother and married his hot downy darling. As for his first wife? How on earth do they presume to prevent these things? The thing with Hector, or men like him, it’s all about knowing when to do what and what to do when.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Guilt is a powerful thing.

ACHILLES
He has not known how to love.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
As opposed to yourself, you mean? And you think that makes one capable of feeling less guilty?

ACHILLES
Isn’t this why Helen and I are a match made in heaven?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Just so.

ACHILLES
Of course, if I were her husband—that little fairy—I would not have given up the boy. A sure disaster—giving up your flesh and blood to an elder brother who talks in terms of what’s right or wrong and whose wife is infertile.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
What puerile cruelty.

ACHILLES
Is it?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
You don’t think so?

ACHILLES
I am speaking from experience.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
You are an only child. So is Hector’s wife. Is that what you really mean?

ACHILLES
(Laughs) Perhaps. No. Well. Actually I was thinking more about some of those girls I’ve bedded, yes all the virgins too … of course, they’re never really the same. Sometimes I just love playing with them, as one would with a younger sister. And sometimes I see them in my dream—those eager eyes and apple cheeks, thousands of them stalking me to my bed—and I am one of them.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Well, you do have rather splendid hair.

ACHILLES
(Can’t help but toss his hair in self-mockery) And did I love them all? Do I love the children some of them bore me on the sly? Do I love Neoptolemus, for instance? Oh, that was youth all the way, of course, not unlike what Helen and Paris had. The difference is that my real parents are divorced, and as I am sure you know, a single working mother cannot wreak so much damage on her only son’s life!! (Laughs heartily as he wags his finger playfully at Figure in a cloak) But what an appealing thought nonetheless, Andromache and I. Sharing something in common. Nature’s enfant gâté!

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Both of you are also here on a bonus.

ACHILLES
(Ponders this, then laughs, harder) I suppose you’re right. She did escape that big accident, the one that claimed her parents. But only by a hair’s breadth.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Some people say she really has no love left but for the boy. Not even for her husband.

ACHILLES
And how does that explain me, lover of women?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
But you’re half not of this world, aren’t you? Listen to the way you laugh.

ACHILLES
I’m beginning to enjoy this.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Andromache, on the other hand, is very much of this world. She cannot see the sort of irony only the gods can see. Her parents died, while she escaped. A son was given to her; his own parents are inept. So the woman dries up and the mother takes over. She loves her husband all right, but no, there is this new life to open, and that takes another life closing.

ACHILLES
(Amused) So you think I do not have a conscience?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
I wonder whether you really understand though, what it means, the gift of laughter.

ACHILLES
Nobody likes to be weighed down.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
(Chuckles) Weight is not for those who glow so with light.

ACHILLES
I have always thought the real balance, with me at least, lies in being able to love both—boys and girls.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
You think that was love, what you had with the boy who died? No, at the back of your mind you had known there was somebody else meant for you.

ACHILLES
When love is in excess, it brings a man no honour …

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
… Nor any worthiness. And you believe that?

ACHILLES
You think it’s love what Paris feels for Helen?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
You think it’s love what you feel for Helen?

ACHILLES
How do you tell what you really believe in and what you’re capable of? And how do you tell which is more you?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
And so you laugh.

ACHILLES
The only person for whom I can name my feeling is my mother. But this girl, this girl I think I love. I see her, I see me, and that is really a kind of Eden.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Yes, I can certainly hear the music.

ACHILLES
(Laughs lightly) It does not seem to beckon her any nearer. Can you predict what’s going to happen?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Whether she’s coming or what’s going to happen next?

ACHILLES
There’s no question about the first option. Of course she is coming.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
You people think I can foresee everything. No, that’s for poets and sages. I just create and watch. (Pauses) Besides, you may change with this one. Seeing that she is your true intended.

ACHILLES
And yet, the object of my affection has not graced me with her presence. What is the time now?

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
It’s 7.15.

ACHILLES
You want a beer?

Spotlight on CHORUS.

CHORUS
So it hangs there, laughter,
in that penumbra, waiting. 
Until a bolt of thunder 
shakes the wall loose and it

finds itself locked in
the blaze of Zeus’ eyes. 
Do not despair! he laughs,
for you are in my dominion,

and hence forever. But
I have seen, in the infinite
jest of my realm, what my
hubris means in the lives

of mortals, taken to the limit. 
I have given them Helen 
and Achilles: my flesh and 
blood. Phantoms both, a

darting flash. But a wound 
unto man for eternity.

Still the same place. It’s late. ACHILLES is gone. The lights are all out save the spotlight on Figure in a cloak. His face is still not visible.

FIGURE IN A CLOAK
Did she appear? Of course she did, eventually. But like a true lady, both ancient and modern, she took her time.

They went somewhere, to a hotel room most likely, out, out of the way. She looked as lovely as her fame justly granted, though I thought she was a little ashamed to see me. She didn’t drink, just took a sip of water, and barely said a word. A flash of smile, a clipped hello, and nothing much else. Women are so hard to read.

And yes, they are my children. 

Which simply means that I have seen them in another life, and in another world, where the rites were so different you would instantly know that you are not in it. Of course there was variety even in that other place in time, and each had its own little do’s and don’ts. 

In the case of Achilles, there was the city of X, for instance, where the love between men was gently tolerated and even allowed to thrive. Not a day, I tell you, went by without some sort of a contest taking place to win so-and-so. 

Of course, the resulting couple would have to vanish deep into the country, never to be seen again. Yet their families could not help admitting to some semblance of prideful longing when the array of finery they kept in the living room—ceremonial gifts from their son’s lover—gazed back at them with a lewdness that was not ungentle. He was a great hit here, though he never stayed with one boy for long. 

It is no surprise that he much preferred the City of Y, where he could play out his golden-haired godliness out in the open and leave traces of his semen everywhere, from which the young, eager ones could pick his scent.

Yet in all those places, Achilles has always felt obliged to conquer in order to sing. Yes, he has always liked to sing. But he conquers through a wild, giddy, spontaneous delight of touching whatever it is that takes his fancy. Looking at him it may all seem a sport to him—to be pursued and end in good cheer. 

It is no secret that he has never been my favourite. 
For there is something about Achilles that is unpindownable, erratic: a sudden grace in adversary, a single brutal stroke during a truce, that sort of thing. His temper, his impetuosity, is almost worthy of us. 

And there is something about him that was born in the beauty of flowers in the meadow—before the girls that is, before the girls that often caught my eye, the soft lips of their sweet inviting pouches begging me to fold back, discover them. It was as if he wanted to say to me that there is something of mine he is not afraid of, something he may even challenge—all because I didn’t want him. (His mother, on the other hand, whom I had spied from on high, against her will, I might have loved, for there’s nothing more erotic than a woman you cannot have, and not because she didn’t want you).

Of course I need not waste too much energy on this little effrontery. What he doesn’t know, of course, is the short life I’ve written on his hand. Shorter than most men cut in their prime. And, to add to the irony, it will be Paris who delivers it—the death blow. Some freak accident, as is only fit, because the largest newspaper in the country will suddenly find itself mute; and as these things go, where there is no cue there is no story.

The problem with Achilles, he is just as fleet-footed in his displeasure as in his speed in pursuing it. Often he needs a push to go the necessary mile. I know deep down he’s envious of Paris—“that little fairy” he tells us, with a brusque toss of that hair—but nonetheless the only man as gorgeous and as princely as he is. We’ll see how well he’ll handle the terror of death on his doorstep. We’ll see how mortal he is underneath that skin.

But did I tell you?

By now the whole city is abuzz with news of the wife of Hector’s brother filing for a divorce. What the city does not know is that the decision has so shocked Hector that he has offered, in spite of his wife’s and his mother’s tears, the return of Astyanax to his sister-in-law in the hope of getting her to change her mind.

I can tell you off the bat that Helen’s decision has nothing to do with Astyanax, or with Paris, or even with Achilles for that matter. This much was also hinted at by the women in the family, but as they say, tears make a very poor argument. 

Still, this has to be said, however callous it may sound. If I had to sire but a single mortal son, I’d rather it be Hector. 

Hector may be everything that Achilles isn’t: less quick on his feet, less decisive, thus far more predictable. Yet there’s something heartbreaking about his heroism, about the twin weight of suffering and loss he feels he has to shoulder and does. And for what? For posterity, of course. So that humanity may prevail even if nothing is ever fair, much less forever. Or something like that.
The last I saw of Hector, he was sitting in that kitchen of his, where some of the most caustic exchanges he’d had with his wife had taken place. Andromache, child in tow, had gone in a cloud of silence that left him bereft, even if he knew that one day she would come back. And that she would be the last person who closed his eyes.

Of course, he wasn’t sure—couldn’t be sure—of anything. He knew that when something like this happened, it couldn’t just be because of something he, or anybody else, had done. He was not sure of anything. But he was proud nonetheless of being able to assume responsibility, because they say that really is the one true thing people remember you by. Neither could he permit humility before the gods, for he is too proud, even for that.

As for the guilt he preached about to Paris that day in his office? He only mentioned it because his life was full of it the way Achilles’ is full of god. And thus, in Hector’s savage embrace of life’s perishable joys, he has been blind to the lifeblood of tragedy. He has failed to see sacrifice and marriage as one. (Arguably, his kid brother has had the better of it, though it has been whispered to me more than once that he too might have been semi-divine.) 

Achilles would never have made that kind of mistake, precisely because he’s neither much of a man nor the other. Granted, he’d sell his grandmother or slit someone’s throat as a brutal act in itself than as a means to impress or curry favour with us. But he would never have taken marriage so seriously. He would never have taken the kid in, or tried to love a wife under such false pretenses. He would never have cared and in so doing invited his own ruin.
But I’ve always enjoyed his beauty, just as I have Helen’s.

The many times I’ve watched her, which is more than I can say about my other daughters, I’ve fallen in love with her, over and over again. The other day I spied her in her cubicle at work. She was typing out her article in a contented frenzy of self-containment. She was at her most beautiful because she was alone, and despite the necessity she has become to men, that was how I created her: alone, unique, eternal. Beauty over necessity, that was my goal.

Of course she’s not in love with Achilles, just as she’s never been in love with Paris or that pig of a husband of hers, the one before Paris. It wasn’t long after their wedding night, the distance between mild excitement and a strange kind of non-feeling, that she’d come to resent Menelaus, and longed for a Paris. 

Similarly, no sooner had she allowed Paris to bring her into the sanctuary that was Hector’s house than she began to realise it was going to be much of the same, even without the beating and the possessiveness, because life was always going to be this or that way, especially for a woman like her, and all she could do was to learn to be happy in the silence of her own thoughts. 

And yet I believe that if she has loved, truly loved, it is Hector. For he is the only one who has watched over her with downcast eyes and loved her not for himself. I’ve already seen her empty out the tears she has saved for him the day he dies, a few years from now—so much more than she is able to shed for her incumbent husband.

Yes, it’s true: where I come from, it’s not always what it’s made out to be. It is not all fun and play and mischief, a place that reeks only of power, food and semen. Still, I wish they had not lured me so often onto earth. For it is only here that I have come closest to weeping, for the things man has to endure.

Spotlight on CHORUS.

CHORUS
Still, there are times when we 
see Him cast a long gaze

over the plains, as if they
were the bedrock of an

ocean where Beauty had
surfaced and drowned.

For indeed He’d seen it: the 
gold lining her face like

eyelet lace was in fact 
tears that caught the sun.

And when Achilles walked
towards her, in that buttery
summer day heat, she didn’t 
say, “Love me, or kill me,

brother.” Rather, she gnawed 
away at his avid mouth and 
received his iron core of grief 
in the hollow between her breasts.

Together they sat like that
as the wind pummelled the 
sheets. The lemon scent of 
spring, and the birds were back.

Lights out. Curtain.


2006