Nov 30, 2004

To Burn

(To Burn)
A two-act play.
Khaldun of the Atlas, a griot
Hassan Al Khittabi
Hicham, his son
Miriam, Hicham’s step mother
Claudia, Hicham’s fiancée
Laila, Hicham’s Moroccan girl friend
Lehan, Hicham’s sister
Yassine, Harragah lord
Loubna, Laila’s best friend
Zineb and Samye, two cousins
In the house of Hassan Al Khittabi and in the streets outside.

Act 1, SCENE 1

Griot: (He appears wearing a water seller’s hat, a snake around his neck, a drum on his back, a banjo on his hip, and various goods, trinkets and a leather water bag. He stops, all the while beating a tambourine on his thigh.

Well? Did you hear what I said? Yes? No? (In disgust) You have no idea. As soon as I tell you something, you forget…. But then, if you didn’t forget, how could you stand it? And if you didn’t forget, where would I be? Who would I tell stories to?

(Pause. Looking at someone in the audience. Pointing.)

Hey, I know you. Last year. Lap dancing in Marrakech?
You’re probably thirsty from all the debauchery…. There’s water in here somewhere. (Takes a drink out of his leather pouch) I’ll drink for the both of us. After all, I’m doing all the work.

(Drinks. Looks at someone else.)

You remember me. Khaldun of the Atlas, first cousin of the mad Sultan twice removed, (standing one leg making the face of a madman) I am myself at 11:59 p.m. At my darkest hour, but my fortunes are always good. I never lie to you. You can trust me. Everything is fine; otherwise, you’re dead. Right? Good fortune is always true. Sit a bit, I’ll tell you what matters.


You have time to kill, right? Sure, you have your whole life…. And what a life it will be… (Considering someone in the audience for a moment) You’ll win the visa lottery. For sure. Or what do you want? You can have anything….

(Pointing at someone in the audience)

I know what you want… A villa in Casa, and you know where I mean, close to the Mosque of Saud, near Aindiab. It’s yours. Tennis court, guards, fabulous parties. Next year, I promise. It will happen; I never lie. Tell all your friends I said so.


Don’t I know your dreams? But forget all that. All stories have the same end.

(Drifting off for another moment)…

Remember what Rumi said… ‘Out there, beyond right or wrong, there is a field… I will meet you there.’

(He stops. Plays on his drum.)

I know the way there; follow me.

(Bangs on his tambourine. Then, silence. He starts to gather his stuff to leave.)

But wait; let’s not go yet. It’s hot in here. I’ll tell you another story.

(Pause. Arranges himself.) You’ve heard of rags to riches; what about rags to rags? A story without riches, but a lot of sex. Just as good, no?
Here is where the story takes place, on a dirty little back street in a misbegotten town sur Le Plateau des Phosphates. Not a neighborhood you would ever know.

(Pause, the loud sound of trains)

Can you hear that? Phosphate trains. The country’s heart beating. (Slaps his chest fast to make the sound of a heart beating. Pause)
Can you smell it? A little sour, and sooner or later you’ll die of it, but people here don’t care, it pays enough to die in poverty and disease. Why not? Someone has to do it.

(Curtain slowly opens, but not all the way, the music of Nass El Ghiwane.)

The house of Al Khittabi, built in 1910. Now, a stop over for ghosts without work. (He plays something on his drum.)

Look at his picture. Good looking, wasn’t he? A real movie star. But you wonder, with all the pain he suffered, 30 years breathing phosphates. And then to prison. Why? Because he was a socialist. What could have possessed the man, you say? What bug of humanity must have bit him? Well, when he got out of prison he didn’t look like a movie star, I can tell you that. “We’ll teach you the meaning of history,” the rascals said. “You want to be Sisyphus? Ok then, here’s your stone.” And they made him ‘sit on the bottle.’ You know what that is, right? And that wasn’t’ the worst of it. And when he got out his wife bought him dark glasses so you couldn’t see his face. (Pause) But that’s another story….

(Plays a tune). Here is what I wanted to tell you: He had a son, who became a harraq…. You know, an adventurer. The ones who would rather work 3 shirts in an Italian condom factory than stay here and talk on a street corner all days. Harraq. To Burn. Right? To b urn I call it unfulfilled desire. They call it freedom.

(The griot is interrupted; there’s a commotion. curtains open wider: In the alcove light you notice a man about to light a cigarette. He wears a gray suit and tie, and large dark impenetrable glasses. He looks sinister. Two women appear, arguing but no sound. A tableau. The griot unwinds the snake around his neck: Audio up)

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