Actual Cost

Steve Harper

 

[Manhattan. Saturday. An almost empty subway car. IYANA, black, and B.T., white, both late twenties, sit next to each other. His arm is around her. Both are dressed nicely in business attire. She looks incredible. He looks uncomfortable in these clothes. He stares at her for a beat.]

B.T. We should go back.
IYANA I’m not going to be late. (beat) Honey, did you brush?
B.T. Yes.
  [Beat. Annoyed, he pulls out gum. Pops it in his mouth. Chews.]
B.T. Nobody will notice if we’re late. It’s a big church.
IYANA Aunt Gwenny will notice.
B.T. I’m getting off at the next stop.
IYANA No. I’m not showing up alone, it’s a wedding.
  [Beat.]
B.T. Then you’ll have to lend me twenty dollars.
IYANA I only have—
B.T. How about ten?
IYANA You always—
B.T. ‘Yana—
IYANA Why do you need it? (beat) So you can buy some cigarettes?
B.T. I quit. You know I quit.
  [She smiles.]
IYANA You did, didn’t you? (beat) One bad habit down. You’ll live longer.
B.T. Longer for you. With you.
  [Beat.]
IYANA What do you want it for?
B.T. I have to justify it, like I’m ten? God, ‘Yana—if I hadn’t forgotten my wallet—
IYANA But you did. Too busy watching ESPN. You’re always—
B.T. Not always—
IYANA —addicted. (beat) I’m already paying for your train ride. How much do you owe me?
B.T. Don’t make it about that—
IYANA What do you want it for? (beat) The lottery? (beat) The lottery’s—
B.T. An opportunity—
IYANA A scam.
B.T. It’s my money.
IYANA If you pay me back.
  [MICHAEL enters the car. He’s black, and
clearly effeminate. His clothes look dirty and he’s not wearing shoes. They look up at him for a moment and then look away.
MICHAEL smiles and slowly sits on the same bench as they are—closer to B.T. MICHAEL is watching. They notice. Beat.]
B.T. For weddings—the lottery—marks the occasion—it’s lucky. I play the date and the—
IYANA Number of letters in the names of the—
B.T. Bride and groom. A sweet and important gesture. (beat) If it’ll make you feel better, you won’t get any when I win.Your conscience will be clear. I’ll buy a mansion, you’ll get the basement—the broom closet. (beat) Fine. I’ll ask Greg. He’ll spot me.
IYANA Before or after he says his vows?
  [Beat. They laugh.]
MICHAEL How y’all doing?
  [B.T. nods.]
MICHAEL Always about money, isn’t it?
  [He laughs. B.T. joins in.]
IYANA Not always.
MICHAEL Much of the time, honey.
  [The train slows down and stops. The lights dim and come back. On the loudspeaker an announcement:]
CONDUCTOR Ladies and gentlemen, [static] train up ahead of us, we should be [static] shortly.
  [IYANA looks at her watch. Beat.]
MICHAEL Haven’t eaten in two days. Trying to get me enough to get something to eat—
  [Awkward pause.]
B.T. Sorry, man.
MICHAEL Don’t be sorry. Be generous.
B.T. Left my wallet at home. That’s—we were—discussing.
  [MICHAEL looks at him.]
B.T. Didn’t I leave my wallet at home?
IYANA He left it at home.
  [B.T. shrugs. Beat.]
MICHAEL Miss? Haven’t I seen you around?
B.T. No. (beat) You haven’t seen her around. (beat) He hasn’t seen you—has he?
MICHAEL You ride this train a lot?
B.T. Everybody does.
MICHAEL She does. I never forget a face. You ride this. Right, Miss?
IYANA I do actually.
MICHAEL Well, this is my train, too. So—we’ve seen each other. You seen me—I’ve seen you.
  [B.T. shifts a bit uncomfortably.]
MICHAEL Well, hi.
IYANA Hi.
B.T. Hi.
CONDUCTOR We apologize for any inconvenience. [static] moving [static].
MICHAEL Miss, I’m trying to get myself something.
B.T. She doesn’t have anything.
IYANA Maybe. (beat) Maybe I do.
  [Beat. IYANA pulls out her purse and reaches into it.]
B.T. You’re going to give him—
MICHAEL Michael.
  [He half waves at them.]
B.T. You’re going to give Michael
IYANA If I have something, yes.
MICHAEL I do remember you. Mm hm—generous.
B.T. You said you only had—
IYANA I don’t have any change. Sorry.
  [MICHAEL nods. B.T. relaxes.]
MICHAEL Any bills?
B.T. Look—
MICHAEL I’m hungry. Beyond hungry. It’s a question, okay? She can’t answer an honest question? You underestimate her.
B.T. If she doesn’t have change, then she doesn’t have bills.
MICHAEL Don’t let him belittle you—(She smiles. Beat. To B.T.) She knows people can have bills but not change. That change isn’t the only option. There are other—choices. You know? A dollar—a dollar is a dream.
B.T. You’re—it’s illegal to beg for money.
MICHAEL A dollar is a prayer. You got something against prayer?
  [Beat. IYANA stares at MICHAEL for a moment. She looks at B.T. Beat. She looks in her purse.]
B.T. Iyana—(to Michael) She doesn’t have—
IYANA I might.
B.T. What? Bills?
MICHAEL What do you got against donations, sir? Tithing.
B.T. This is not—
IYANA I don’t—I don’t—no.
MICHAEL A five is good. A five is a sandwich.
B.T. Hey!
MICHAEL A ten is maybe some Chinese food. A ten is ten prayers. Ten dreams.
B.T. Move on!
IYANA B.T.!
MICHAEL Hey, mister man—we’re all out here—we’re all the same. We need to help each other, you and me.
B.T. You can’t help me.
MICHAEL (to Iyana) Why’s he so negative? (to B.T.) What’s the difference between us? We out here working it—It’s hard, right? But all of us—on the train, on the planet. Next one hundred people you see—that’s one hundred people praying.
B.T. God.
MICHAEL Right. To God. For better things. Something’s always coming between you and your actual life, right? Maybe I got more somethings between me and mine. That’s it—the only difference. So I ask for help—
B.T. It’s not your money.
MICHAEL Is it yours?
B.T. Shut up!
IYANA Honey—stop it.
  [B.T. stands.]
B.T. (to Michael) Shut the fuck up.
IYANA Honey.
  [She stands too, puts a hand on his shoulder.]
CONDUCTOR The train ahead [static] clearing the station, we’ll be [static].
IYANA Sit down. (beat) Please.
  [Beat. He looks at her—softens. She gestures that he sit on the other side of her. He shakes his head and returns to his spot next to MICHAEL. He looks straight ahead. Beat. She crosses to the other side of MICHAEL, crouches down beside him. They look into each other’s faces. B.T. turns away in disgust.]
MICHAEL Maybe I’m asleep, you know, sister? Snoring—right here—or in a doorway. Hoping: half a bagel—one whole dollar—ten prayers—twenty—fifty dreams—asking for whatever—hoping for whatever. People getting all unapproachable. I’m getting hungrier. Looking for a hundred—praying—for a million. One at a time if that’s all I get. Anything. One at a time if that’s all there is.
  [She pulls a bill from her purse and presses it into his hand.]
B.T. What are you giving him?
MICHAEL Thank you, honey. Thanks so much.
IYANA Good luck.
MICHAEL God bless you, sister.
  [IYANA returns to her seat. They all sit there a moment. The train begins to move. MICHAEL stands—hovers near B.T.]
MICHAEL You really cute, you know that?
  [MICHAEL winks. B.T. glares at him. MICHAEL exits laughing. Beat.]
B.T. What the hell?
IYANA Honey, it’s over.
B.T. What did you give him?
IYANA He was hungry. We’re not hungry—he’s got nothing—
B.T. You don’t know what he’s got. You don’t know anything about him, but how he looks—smells. Would you give him anything if he was white?
IYANA Oh fuck you. Not everything is affirmative action.
B.T. Fuck you.
IYANA Why are you so caught up in me taking care of you?
B.T. Why are you caught up in taking care of anyone but me?
IYANA That’s ridiculous.
B.T. Your mother, Rosetta, Billy. (beat) I’m getting off at the next stop. (beat) There’s all kinds of hungry ‘Yana. (beat) You want to feed the homeless? You hate that begging shit. But today you bend over backwards for some queer—con man. Dammit ‘Yana—affirmative action. That’s bullshit—Anyone but me. Anyone. (beat) I’m getting my wallet.
IYANA You’re going to show up, right? You’re not going to—not show up.
B.T. I need my money, that’s all.
IYANA God. (beat) It won’t be—I know you’ll find something—
B.T. Don’t.
  [She starts to cry, covers her face.
B.T. turns to her. The train screeches to a stop.]
CONDUCTOR One hundred twenty-fifth street. Transfer for the C [static] trains.
  [The sound of the door opening. B.T. stares at her, then at the door. The sound of the door closing.]
CONDUCTOR Fifty-ninth street next.
  [B.T. stares out. IYANA looks up, upset, surprised that he’s still there.]
IYANA Aren’t you going?
B.T. I can get it later. Won’t stay at the reception. Something.
  [The sound of the train moving. B.T. crosses back to sit on the other side of IYANA. They both stare out, not touching. He pulls out a piece of gum. Offers it to her. She won’t take it. He looks over at her, then away. She looks at him, then away. Then, slowly, not looking at each other, she takes his hand. The sound of the train fills the space.]
  BLACKOUT

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