Jailbird

Atar Hadari

Characters:
PAUL
GUARD—a Japanese jailer
JOHN—in three different costumes

Setting: A door with a spy-hole in it. A bed. A potty. A guitar. No color whatsoever. The light is of interior fluorescents after hours. 4 a.m. PAUL is on the bed. The spy hole opens.

GUARD
Please be upstanding, prisoner 45723. Breakfast.

PAUL (lying down)
None for me, thanks.

GUARD
Please be upstanding. Bacon and eggs. Three slices of toast. Beans. Cup of cha. A right royal fry up guvnor, an’ no mistake.

PAUL
No hungry yet lar. Thanks for the early wake up call for the tour bus.

GUARD
Please be upstanding. Prisoners of the Tokyo prison service.
Always decent, always sober, always smart, well presented, productive.

PAUL
Whoa . . . we get a tea break, or what?

GUARD
Cup of char. Two sugars. Just how you like it. Guvnor.

PAUL (sits up wearily)
Thanks very much.

(Spy-hole clicks shut. Lock disentangling. Door swings open. A trolley with a tray on it. PAUL approaches gingerly, looks each way, takes tray off trolley. Door slams shut.)

PAUL
What’s your hurry? What’s your hurry?
(Pause) Ta very much. Cuppa char.
(sips) Not a bad cuppa tea lar.
But I suppose you’re not far from China, eh?
Not far from China, eh? (Pause) Suit yerself.
(Sits and examines plate.)
Beans. Who knows where from. Malaysia probably.
Who’d eat a can of beans from Phnom Penh?
Toast. Three slices. (bites one) Not bad.
Better than the Ratskeller in Hamburg.

(Keys rap on the door. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.)

PAUL
Go ‘way. Don’t want any.
(RAP RAP RAP, on door.)

PAUL
I’m eating it. Not ready for lunch yet.

JOHN (off)
Open the door you gobby shite.

PAUL (rises to look through hole)
What?

JOHN
You heard.

PAUL (looks at cup)
Is this Maharishi tea?

JOHN
Open the door, Paul.

PAUL
It’s a prison, mate. You’re on the outside. You open it.

JOHN
Not that simple, mate, is it?

(JOHN passes through door.)

PAUL
How the fuck did you do that?

JOHN
Good tea, innit? (taps brow) It’s all in your mind, mate.

PAUL
Why’re you wearing that suit? You said I looked like an arsehole in that suit.

JOHN
You still do.

PAUL
I’m not wearing it lar, you are.

JOHN
Am I? All in the mind.
(takes a slice of toast, bites)
It is better than the Ratskeller.

PAUL
I thought so.

JOHN (sips tea)
No cigarette ash in the coffee either.

PAUL
It’s tea.

JOHN
Fuck do I care what you’re drinking? You got a light?

PAUL
They searched me on the way in here.

JOHN
Ain’t that a shame. Want a fag?

PAUL
I’m gasping.

JOHN (pats pockets)
I’m out. Sorry.

PAUL
Who the fuck are you?

JOHN
Me.

PAUL
You don’t wear those suits anymore.

JOHN
Don’t I? Then why do you?

PAUL
I’m not wearing a . . . you never run out of fags!
(JOHN disappears, possibly through trap-door)
Where have you gone? Are you the tea?

JOHN (off, amplified)
No I’m the coffee! Wake up and smell it!
(Echoes slowly fade away.)

PAUL (bangs on door)
John!

(Door locks disentangle. Door opens.)

GUARD
Prisoner 45723. Finish breakfast?

PAUL
Yeah, fine.

GUARD
You mop up all your bean sauce with your toast?

PAUL
Yeah, fine.

GUARD
You finish all you tea?

PAUL
Yeah great, every drop.

GUARD
Write song.

PAUL
I beg your pardon?

GUARD
Prisoners neat, tidy, productive, well fed.
Well fed mean productive.

PAUL
It’s only toast! You don’t get “Sgt. Pepper” on toast you know.

GUARD
You want crumpet?

PAUL
I don’t believe I’m having this conversation.
It’s like Brian all over again. I’m not a machine!

GUARD
You want rice, stir-fry, black bean sauce?

PAUL
I’m not an oven you stuff coal into it, you get fire.

GUARD
Glass of wine? Maybe a little bit lemon lime?

PAUL
I give up.

GUARD
We had Jerry Lee Lewis here not long ‘go. He wrote wonderful song.

PAUL
Yeah? Called?

GUARD
Great Balls On Fire.

PAUL
Think he may have had a bit of that one worked out before he got here.

GUARD
No! Cheeky buggah.

PAUL
Yeah. Lotta that about.

GUARD
You. Be productive. Lunch time, half an hour.

(GUARD goes, door locks.)

PAUL
I don’t lay eggs by the pound, y’know. I’m not a duck.
You won’t get foie gras by fattening my liver.

(JOHN appears in white suit and gold rim glasses, long hair.)

JOHN
Poncey get.

PAUL
What? What’s the matter with you?
Least you’re out of the suit.

JOHN
Foie gras my arse. That what you eat on the money from your in-laws?

PAUL
Linda makes the money mate. All my royalties are still tied up with Apple.
And you. Where are you?

JOHN (taps head)
Right here, mate, right here.

PAUL
Are you a delirium tremens?

JOHN
No Paul, I’m just fucking brighter than you,
As usual.

PAUL
You got a fag?

JOHN
Sure.
(Takes cigarette out and lights it. Puffs.)
Oh I’m so sorry. That was my last one. You want a puff?

PAUL
Nah. S’ alright. I’m fine.

JOHN
Really. Have a sniff?
(blows smoke rings at him)

PAUL
I’m fine. I’ve gone without a joint for days sometimes.

JOHN
Really? Anytime since Reagan took office?

PAUL
I’m a big boy. I’m fine.

(JOHN puts cigarette out in his hand.)

JOHN
You’re a blade of grass in the wind, mate. You always were.

PAUL
What’re you?

JOHN
I’m what makes you real.

PAUL
You’re not there.

JOHN
That’s right mate. So what are you?

PAUL
I’m fine. I tried to leave that weed with you you know, before flying here.
Yoko said you were out.

JOHN (blows smoke at him)
Don’t blame the wife. Bend over little blade, bend.

PAUL
Fuck off.

JOHN
We’ll see how you last the night. First there’ll be lunch.
Veggie burger for little Linda’s best boy?

PAUL
I’m fine with toast, actually. Good to lose some weight.

JOHN
Don’t fancy a grapefruit, slice of guava, fricassee of lentil,
Whatever you eat nowadays?

PAUL
What does Yoko make?

JOHN
Reservations and tea.

PAUL
You should feel right at home. Pull up a bench.

JOHN
Don’t mind if I do.

(They sit.)

PAUL
You’re getting wear out of that suit. I’ve seen you wearing it on telly.

JOHN
Have you? What about this one?

(snaps fingers and lights turn suit orange)

PAUL
Fuck. How did you do that?

JOHN
All in here mate. You better change your mind instead.
Who wrote that? You or me?

PAUL
Me.

JOHN
Liar. You always say you did the good bits.

PAUL
I did! And I turned up with songs and said let’s do it.

JOHN
Only cos you had songs.

PAUL
If I didn’t you’d never have opened your bloody notebook and finished a thing.

JOHN
I had a notebook though mate. What did you have? Accounts.

PAUL
I’ve got a book of poems.

JOHN
Ponce. “Paperback writer.” You thought I was a pratt for writing Edward Lear. What makes you different?

PAUL
I’m old.

JOHN
Not dead mate, not yet. Not yet.

PAUL
Blimey, makes you a bunch of laughs that bird.

JOHN
I’m not the one in prison, Paul.

(JOHN falls through wall and disappears.)

PAUL
John? John! Not again.

(BANG BANG BANG BANG, on door. Door opens.)

GUARD (appears)
Lunch time! Coteau of roast suckling lamb, basted with honey, ginger and tiny clove of garlic in between its tiny feet. Just likea you mummy used to make in Liverpool.

PAUL
I’m vegetarian mate. Said so on my visa application.

GUARD
Said you no smoke dope no more either.

PAUL
Yeah well. I’m sorry about that. But I don’t eat meat.

GUARD
Yeah well, you don’t smoke.

PAUL
I’m not at the minute.

GUARD
Go on. It full of meaty goodness.

PAUL
Don’t touch it mate, honest.

GUARD
You want it little fluffy tail to have stop wagging in vain?

PAUL
Turns my stomach.

GUARD
One minute gambolling on hill-top, munching grass.

PAUL
It’s Tokyo here mate, I brought me own grass.

GUARD
Next minute. Chk. (makes throat slit motion) Roast with very nice garlic cloves. Just so Mr. Beatle Paul can say . . . uh, not peckish now?

PAUL
Listen–you worship things here?

GUARD
Once–Emperor. Now, Sony.

PAUL
Just like back home. Only back home I live in Scotland. I’ve got a farm. I’ve got lambs like this hopping across my window in the morning.

GUARD
Very juicy. Succulent, rubbed with garlic and ginger.

PAUL
My kids play with them.

GUARD
I play with you. You still taste good dressed like mushu pork.

PAUL
Is that your immigration policy?

GUARD
Cheese sandwich?

PAUL
No pickle.

GUARD
You write first verse yet?

(Pause)
PAUL (sings)
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed to far away . . .
What do you think?

GUARD
Too sentimental. Like earlier work. With four eyes.

PAUL
What, John?

GUARD
Him.

PAUL
He put you up to this?

GUARD
Excuse please. To what?

PAUL
He outside that door, listening?

GUARD
Only people outside door, 2,000 fans no going get Beatle
Cos you smoke grass, not eat meat. You eat meat on grass.
Not smoke a grass, you play for million fans, all over Japan.

PAUL
Drag isn’t it?

GUARD
You could say. Big drag. You very stupid Beatle.

PAUL
John put you up to this, didn’t he?

GUARD
Me only know one Beatle in prison.

PAUL
Let me guess.

GUARD
He no play drums. You write something good. Get cheese sandwich.

PAUL
Slice of tomato too much to ask?

GUARD
Fans want slice of you. Show me you hand?
(PAUL shows his hand.)
You got old man’s fingers. Yellow. Smoke like train.
You eat lamb outside window. Forget how it gambol. Much better for health.

PAUL
I’ll tell my doctor.

GUARD
Tell you self.

PAUL
Any chance of a cigarette?

GUARD
Don’t touch it, guvnor.
You write “She was just seventeen . . . she never be no beauty queen . . . ”

PAUL
That was my line. John said, “And you know what I mean . . . ”

GUARD
He should get out more. Get a life.

PAUL
I’ll tell him.

GUARD (sings)
Now I never dance with another
Ooh
Since I saw her standing there.

(GUARD goes.)

PAUL (calls after him)
Can you play base? I think I’m looking for another band.

JOHN (appears, in T-shirt with red stain, dark glasses)
Is that what you’re looking for?

PAUL
Fuck you scared me. Can you knock?

JOHN
Testy. It’s just me y’know. I thought you wanted things to be just like old times.

PAUL
What’s the matter with your chest?

JOHN
“It’s me John, I’m downstairs with me guitar, can I come up?”
Like I’m still living with me Mum.

PAUL
She does her hair like her.

JOHN
Bollocks. I’ve got a baby, man. We’re not kids.

PAUL
So you said. What’s the matter with your chest?

JOHN
Flesh wound.

PAUL
Are you . . . ?

JOHN
What?

PAUL
Am I having a premonition or something?
You were fine at the Dakota last week.

JOHN
I’m fine now.

PAUL
You’ve got a hole the size of Texas in your chest.

JOHN
Oh that. Only my heart boy, only my heart.

PAUL
You didn’t mind then, about me coming round?

JOHN
I just think it’s amazing you talk your way through
Anybody in the world. Come around any time. We could even record.

PAUL
You wanna record?

JOHN
Do you?

PAUL
I miss a good tussle over a lyric.
(sings) She was just seventeen . . . she’d never be a beauty queen . . . ”

JOHN
They don’t write them like that anymore.
Thank Christ.

PAUL
Say the word.

JOHN
What’s the word?

PAUL (holds out hand)
Friends?

JOHN
It’s all in your head man. All in your head. You wanna make music with me, you couldn’t get someone to hold the bag? Is being in here what you want?

PAUL
I didn’t want to be on tour, man.

JOHN
What did you want?

PAUL
A different band.

JOHN
You can’t be in that band anymore, Paul.

PAUL
I know. I think I just . . .

JOHN
Said goodbye.

PAUL
No, I just . . .

JOHN
No me, Paul, me. You can come round. Any time. I just won’t be much fun.

PAUL
Why not?

JOHN (touches his chest)
Blood. Fame.
It’s all gone when the morning comes.
You can have my guitar.
Think of me once in a while, old friend.

(Locks open, JOHN disappears.)

GUARD
Cheese sandwich. No pickle. Slice tomato. You write song?

PAUL
Not a word.

GUARD
Write check. Refund ticket sales for million fans.

(GUARD gives PAUL checkbook. Pause)

PAUL
OK. Haven’t got a pen?

(GUARD gives him pen. PAUL signs check on GUARD’S back.)

GUARD
Now go home.

PAUL
That’s it?

GUARD
You no write, you no eat. Oh, one thing.

PAUL
What’s that?

GUARD
You have phone call. Transatlantic.

PAUL
Who from?

GUARD
Local girl. Live in New York. You know her.

PAUL
Yoko? What’s she have to say?

(GUARD hands PAUL phone on trolley. PAUL holds phone to ear. Hears news. Puts phone down.)

GUARD
You want cigarette?

PAUL
No. I need a friend.

(He picks up the guitar.)
(sings)
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arrive . . .

Blackbird fly
Blackbird fly
Into the arms of the dark, black night . . .

(Blackout.)

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