Maba – One day without you
I am writing a new play which was about the hostile environment post Brexit. It’s about a family arriving in Brighton from abroad without a visa. Here is the opening scene. It feels like the play I was born to write. Watch this space.
Maba the Play
Karen is 18 years old, her appearance is striking, she is tall, five foot ten, slim with brown eyes, hair styled, straight with a slight curl, not afro. She is still financially dependent on her parents but gets a job in Brighton in the Pavilion gardens café within days of arriving in Brighton. Her family come from North Africa but they settled in Greece seven years ago because her parents thought they would be allowed to practice as doctors more easily there than in the UK. Karen’s Mum was also a sun worshipper and Greece was nearer Africa.
It helped that they could see Africa on a clear day across the Mediterranean. It helped them feel connected with their relatives who did not have mobiles or landlines. Leaving Africa meant leaving your homeland but it also meant leaving elderly parents. Would they ever see them again? Their Aunts and Uncles and all their friends in the village who were honorary aunts and uncles. In their naivety, they thought they would visit on the first anniversary after they left, seven years later they had no official right to remain in Greece, their passports were temporary for a year at a time and they were not allowed to return to Africa throughout the application process. They spoke to their family every morning from their balcony across the Mediterranean and every evening, a deep peace washed over them as they felt the greetings flooding back from Africa and watched the first stars twinkle. One day, their parents would visit. One day they would go home.
Like Ruth, Karen enjoys their solid family life, their parents have a good marriage and are unconditionally loved with very few insecurities but like Karen, her parents drummed into her the importance of education. Neither daughter had boyfriends at school, no-one knew much about Emmaus and his life but Karen suspected drunken parties. She worried that Emmaus did not feel as if he belonged in his family. In Greece, he sought sanctuary with his friends, drinking to dull the pain of disapproval from his father.
As the eldest, Karen prepared dinner when the parents were working. She was less carefree than her siblings because she learned early that life was full of responsibilities. Homework had to fit around the family because her Mum held evening clinics in Greece and was the main breadwinner. Mum was the senior partner in a good medical practice. Karen was conscientious and worked hard. She had a good circle of friends but they were mainly female in Greece so she had little contact with men. She was very close to her Dad who favoured her over her brother because he lacked purpose. Both parents thought Karen’s brother, Emmaus was irresponsible and their father was ashamed of him. This was never discussed but impossible to hide. Emmaus was creative, his father was an analytical scientist.
Karen was a pleaser and her most important role was to please her parents. After all they had sacrificed time and money to give her and her siblings the best. Even the move to England was to secure their futures, so the kids could go to University and then get good jobs. All three children knew it was of paramount importance that they contribute to British society and pay their way. They had learned English from pop music and American films.
For the parents it was harder: they were older, too old to start again for the second time, they asked themselves, aged 50? But their children’s excitement and the optimism of youth, calmed their fears and every day was a new day. They often woke at dawn and sat in the morning sunshine on their balcony watching the sunrise in silence holding hands. They had done this all their married life before they had any of their children.
It was easier for the parents to work in Greece where they were qualified Drs but Dad lost his job due to redundancy. Their application for the right to remain in Greece had been in limbo for seven years. The authorities claimed to not have received the first six applications, although they acknowledged receipt of every one. The average waiting time for citizenship since the crash was ten years. In despair and with great sadness at leaving their friends and the sunshine, they had made the long journey across Europe, hitch-hiking after they were mugged at 2am on a train in Northern France.
Dad had just taken out all of his savings to transfer, upon arrival, at Dover into an English bank account. Mum and Dad also had their passports stolen by the thieves who had overheard their children’s conversation on the train about their parents’ medical careers and the family’s plans. Mum opened her eyes and saw a fellow African disappear out of the carriage. He spoke their language and may have been one of their own. She wept silently watching the family fortune disappear before her eyes. Her husband woke up and as he cuddled her, he said: “We have each other. Perhaps he needed it to feed his family.”
“What about our family Mum cried? It will probably be used to feed a drug habit.”
“I know.” Dad said. “We will manage. We have always managed.” Mum took Dad’s hand and he pulled her towards him, brushing the tears quietly from her eyes but they kept flowing. Mum was terrified now and angry about the injustice. Their life savings. Dad retained his equilibrium. She leaned closer into him and remembered, as she did every day, why she married him. He said little but Amr was a man of great stature who kept his own council and worked, hard graft every day for his family. If only he could reach Emmaus. Fresh tears washed over Sima’s face and she asked in a whisper, how far they were from England. “Two hours from England but we need to clear immigration and that may take a week.”
“Will we need to forage in the jungle that used to be Calais, sifting through other people’s wasted Baba?”
“No,” Baba said firmly. “We don’t need food for three days and I have enough water for at least a day. We will not beg. Not now, not ever. We will clean hospitals, in Calais if we have to. Karen has a little more. Sleep now, Maba. Just sleep.”
“Maba?” Mum grinned. Her new name. Every African takes a new name when they start again in a white man’s land. It’s better than suffering the mispronunciation of their given names.
“Maybe England will be easier even if it is cold and damp, Baba?”
“Yes it will. We are together, we are family and this is our new life, Maba,” Baba said.
“I ask you only one thing, Baba.”
“Try to love your son, for who he is, not who you want him to be. It’s the only thing that will transform his life.”
“Of course. I try every day.” Baba said.
“Try harder,” Maba said. “Try harder for me, for Maba, try harder for me.”
Maria (The Play) is a recording of the live performance which took place on Easter Saturday, 31 March at the Mayday’s Studio in Brighton as part of the Hove Grown Festival. It lasts just shy of twenty minutes.
You can read Simon Jenner’s review of the play for Fringe Review here.