A play dealing with temptation and importunities of women, opening the grosser side of a woman’s passion. A comedy of propriety woven with threads of studies of prudery. A tyranny of conventional propriety looking into the flaws of both the moral and judicial system in the so-called high society. A play of morality and integrity, carnal love and true love, honour and dignity.
Solicitations of Abbou, a young servant by a married woman, Nana her master’s wife. He’s tempted but all the more striking is his consciousness of the divine presence which to him is the ultimate sanction of morality. His persisting integrity exemplifies higher power-a world’s influence might invade but would not touch the upright. He does not falter; he rejects her innuendoes and solicitations willy-nilly.
But she takes her revenge-doesn’t take his rejection lying down. The covetous wife turns the tables on him by asserting the opposite of the truth. Makes a covert appeal to the jealousy of the men-servants against the hated Abbou, and to the fears of the society women, whom she represents as unsafe from insults. The women all agree that no man has a right to resist their solicitations. Beauty is spurned. Her distorted account of facts has the desired effect on her husband. And there is the threat of prison for Abbou, and the company of the vilest of men, instead of the caresses of beauty in high places.
But the Judge, her husband, can read through their solicitations, and have been busy all along with another similar strange death-row case, a perfect parallel to the false accusation by his Wife to his own servant. Where two brothers living together and the wife of the Elder Brother, accuses the Younger Brother falsely. The Elder seeks to murder the Younger. But being at last convinced of his innocence, he slays his Wife instead.
All these happens against a background of the domineering presence of Big Mama, the Judge’s mother, and who is not only in bad books with Nana, but also is soliciting lobbying, and helping a covetous lass, Minnie, to get married to her son.
**P3-11 Act I Scene II (the little tittle-tattle in Judge’s House.)
[Immediately the judge makes exit, the other servants come out as if they had been waiting for him to leave]
SERVANT I: We heard everything you told master about us Mr. Perfect. Don’t even think of lying to us, you cheat.
ABBOU: Now what is it?
SERVANT II: You accused us falsely. You a go say Papa and me is lazy and you is hardworking.
ABBOU: But of course, that’s the truth! Why you have not cleared raking out the leaves in the courtyard.
SERVANT II: You know say the jacaranda is flowering and shading leaves and there is a whole lot every second falling down. The tree should be cut down.
ABBOU: What job will you have then, if the tree is cut down?
SERVANT II: I saw him sweeping the leaves, when you were busy reporting him.
ABBOU: In two places at ago, huh? Is that how you heard me talking with master? Were you not standing idle in the hallway instead of working?
SERVANT I: I was sweeping the leaves in the hallway...
ABBOU: The hallway was already swept by Susu, you lying goose. How many times must I tell you not to fool me? I know you were eavesdropping when you should have been working, that’s why you are lazy. Work is the only path to self-advancement! I will never get tired of repeating this to you. Our master inspires us with a taste of work, teaching us humility and firing us with ambition.
SERVANT II: You a go think a go be smatter than us but, [he gestures with a clenched fist] I go tell you something prince charming, your days are numbered.
ABBOU: Are you threatening me?
SERVANT I: Ever since you brought your chatty-chatty mouth, one week ago here, we have had no peace of mind.
ABBOU: Find peace within. You know my father instilled in me a love of hard work. Experience has shown me how the key to success is forged by patience and perseverance. You are paid to work, not to complain.
SERVANT II: And you are paid to lord over us, right? To find faults at everything we do and a go say?
ABBOU: Papa, what did I assign you to do this morning? Didn’t I ask you to look for a plumber if you cannot clear the sewer yourself?
SERVANT I: I take no orders from a servant like me.
SERVANT II: Who selected you to be the president of assignments?
ABBOU: Listen, you never fixed the overflowing sewer. Now the whole system, starting from the kitchen will be clogged and you will have a Big Ma on our necks
SERVANT II: Why don’t you teach Susu how to use the kitchen sink Mr. Professor of Sewer technology? [SUSU enters]
SUSU: Shhhh!! Susu this, Susu that! Don’t I ever get tired doing this and that, Mr. Bossman?
ABBOU: No one’s giving you any work.
SUSU: Ssshh… And why are you hollering like idiots and spreading malicious rumours about my precious name?
SERVANT I: Wow! My beloved shushing Susu. Come to shush us again that Mrs. Grundy is fart asleep-ing, huh?
ABBOU: Before I forget, Susu, her medicine is ready. Master just brought it. It’s in the kitchen cabinet...
SUSU: Susu, this, Susu this, I’m tired, so, why is my name being mentioned from ungodly uncouth lips?
SERVANT I: You will realise that my lips are one in a million once you finally allow me to plant a kiss on your cheeks.
SUSU: I never kiss frogs on principle, or kissed by them.
SERVANT I: I’m not a frog, I mean ,yes, I am the frog who’s waiting to be kissed and turned into prince charming just kiss away [Blowing a kiss to SUSU]
ABBOU: I will remain a frog if I were one.
SERVANT I: You call me frog Abbou? [Angry and enraged with a fuming chest heaving] Am I a frog? I am going to beat the living Jesus out of you. Son, don’t make me angry.
SUSU: Shhhhh! Stop shouting, you will wake up Big Ma.
SERVANT I: I can’t let this beautiful beast call me frog. [Ready to fight] Show me scales in my body, you bloody fool...
SUSU: Shhhhh! Stop croaking. [Abrupt silence, there’s groaning and snoring] Look what you’ve done? [SUSU goes into Big Ma’s room, returning a few seconds very nervous and agitated] Now you’ve done it.
SERVANT I: I’ve done it?
SUSU: I warned you. You woke her up.
SERVANT I: [Sheepishly] woke her up?
SUSU: If there is a stroke, we know who is to blame. She looks bad. Wait for the worst [The groaning increases]
ABBOU: [Dismissing the servants] You get back to work.
[Exit servants. SUSU busies herself with the bottle of medicine. A lot of movement in and out of the sitting room to clean the glass, fetch a spoon, measures out the medicine add water, etc, etc.]
ABBOU: [alone in the sitting room, goes into a monologues muses and a soliloquy, when SUSU finally goes to the kitchen] This is the kind of house I’ve been employed to streamline. And you can see a lot of sluggards. And I am supposed to fire them to work. But what do I get in return? Envy and jealousy from the men servants. Do I have peace with the women folk? No. Susu and her importunities. She wants me to marry her. Then the mistress and her solicitations, I am ever on my watch when I’m alone with her. For Susu, I can play a teasing game with her just to test my prowess of seduction! Chat to her and I can read the adoration in her face. She’s dazzled. She’s in love and she’s ready to submit to all my whims. But I have the decency not to go too far. I know how to keep a firm hand on myself, like any respectable fellow who is aware of what he is doing. But the mistress of the house? For the few days I have been in this house, she’s laid traps for me. It’s not that I am immunised against passion, but how can I ignore all the meaningful suggestive glances in my direction? How can I avoid all the barricades set up to capture me? [Sadly] my heaven is darkened by clouds of mistrust. It were better I had an ugly face so that they would not bother me.
[SUSU comes back] How’s she doing?
SUSU: I was worried that you would be gone.
ABBOU: How is she doing?
SUSU: Of course, sleeping.
ABBOU: I had better go call the doctor
SUSU: Don’t go yet…
ABBOU: No. I’m just making a confirmation.
SUSU: She’s now asleep and there’s still one and half hours before her appointment.
ABBOU: Then I should perhaps be looking for a plumber to fix the sewer. Papa has simply refused to do it.
SUSU: Come on now, stay with me a while. Don’t you want to be with me even for a second? I know you have your eyes on beautiful Minnie but I’m not complaining. All I want is to have a word with you.
ABBOU: Susu, this is not about you. Why are you tortured by pangs of jealousy?
SUSU: Because you are so shifty, slippery as eel, no one can tackle you even in a phone booth. I’ve always looked for such a chance to be alone with you, but you always find a way to dismiss me...
ABBOU: Listen! There is work to be done...
SUSU: And you have succeeded in keeping your feelings under control and repressed all my growing romantic affection by impression of superiority and pride. Have you no emotions, prince charming?
ABBOU: I have emotions. I also have a high concept of dignity inspired by my father who always extolled me the honour of our ancestors. I have the heritage of pure Kikuyu, those who have forged the fame of Africa, those who have conquered the ocean to make their fortune...
SUSU: You have no time for anything but your work. That’s why the others are have nicknamed you Mr. Robot
ABBOU: That’s why I keep my distance to prevent any hurtful whispers of ‘here goes Mr. Robot.’
SUSU: You have no time for girls. That’s why they’ve nicknamed you ‘The Priest.’
ABBOU: When I feel myself, I’m beginning to fancy any girl, the honour of my ancestors makes me fiercely determined to whip any emotional attachment in the bud. For me, all women are selfish and pretenders. I draw back from any temptations.
SUSU: You don’t say! You can imagine all the gossip about you and the sly sniggers this would inspire! You are a queer one. Wait until you hear this.
ABBOU: Even when I’m attracted to a girl, I take refuge behind an armour of aloofness which shelters me from their evocative suggestive fleeting looks.
SUSU: But that attitude is an escape. You will never be any the wiser if the world you live in is impervious to tittle-tattles…
ABBOU: No, I’m just on my guard. I talk politely to girls here and even sometimes help them with their work but I never show any particular interest.
SUSU: [teasing] Is that why you never look straight in the eyes of the mistress when you talk to her? For fear of being ensnared by that little seductive sparkle which would blow up your first-rate resolutions?
ABBOU: You have no idea of the torment I have to endure in the hands of women. That’s why I’m wary and idealistic. I fear feminine wiles, which divert many youths of the neighbourhood. The adventures and misadventures of my friends encourage me in my uncompromising attitude. I’m simply not interested in women. They are flighty and irresponsible, ready to lie and deceive [SUSU closes her eyes as BIG MA enters, ABBOU moves away to the corner and stands still.]
SUSU: [she kneels, still closing her eyes, carried away] I am so very much in love with you. Whenever I think about you, I never sleep. I don’t eat. Now I have spent a whole week without eating any food. [Yawns] I am dying for you. My heart is internally bleeding ...[Opens her eyes and realises her mistake that she is addressing BIG MA, gets up and looks embarrassedly shocked] Oh my God! Oh my God!
BIG MA: Get up you sick girl. What a foolish declaration and after feasting on my biscuits and chocolates, but tell you what? That won’t do, men don’t like women with flappy breasts like worn out socks. Get up your sorry ass and get me my medicine.
SUSU: I’m sorry Big Ma. I was carried away by love...
BIG MA: Love? Since when did hens pretend to crow? It was our place to be wooed during my time. Now the hens are busy pretending to be calling the sun out of bed. I guess the tables have turned—soon the cocks will begin to cluck.
SUSU: I will get your medicine. It’s already mixed. I promise this will never happen again [She goes to the kitchen to get the medicine]
BIG MA: Who cares? This is the third time since your prince came to work here; barely a week ago. And where is the heart of prince charming?
BIG MA: Don’t you love her?
ABBOU: Of course yes, as a sister, not what she’s thinking.
BIG MA: That’s what you all say, let me warn you, I have no intention of you ruining my girl. Relations between servants are unheard of in this house. You understand that?
ABBOU: I’m not interested in any of the girls Big Ma
BIG MA: Then why is there such a big talk about you?
ABBOU: There is no defence against loose talk.
BIG MA: It’s your looks?
ABBOU: What about my looks?
BIG MA: Your good looks bewitch all women. Listen, you realise I don’t want to lose her. I’ve had her for only three months now—the longest period a girl has been with me. I’m tired of training new ones every time.
ABBOU: I am not interested in any of these girls.
BIG MA: Nowadays, she leaves me to my breakfast trays and rushes off to her bath to be in time with the keep-fit programme on TV. She now has an extra reason, a lover in her life to retain a supple, graceful body. Then comes the important choice of what clothes to wear. How should she look today for prince charming? The instinctive desire for a woman in love, to look her most beguiling. She wants to ring the changes daily on her appearance. She spends all her allowances on toiletries and make-up which she uses discreetly to enhance the sheen of her hair or add a touch of colours to her lips and cheeks. She even gives off a faint aroma of eau –de –cologne, probably snitched from Nana...
ABBOU: [Worried look] She does all these for me?
BIG MA: Oh, don’t be such a naive young man. Yesterday didn’t you notice her sensational looks in her white shirt and trousers with a turquoise serf? Then this morning, a very full brown dress with matching shoes that sets off the colour of her eyes. And now! Do you know why she is taking too long getting my already mixed medicine? Yes, she is flicking through hanger after hanger in her wardrobe. ‘Prince charming is wearing this shirt,’ she says, then our clothes would match.[Enters SUSU in a red attire]
ABBOU: [laughs at the realization, and exits] Excuse me, I must attend to an urgent business...
SUSU: Your medicine Big Ma, I had to mix again.
BIG MA: I see too that you had to mix match your clothes, again. Nothing seems appropriate, huh? Nothing able to bewitch your prince charming? What has my love sick lass done finally? She’s decided on a red print dress with pattern of tiny leaves…
SUSU: The full brown dress is soiled, Big Ma [giving her medicine]
BIG MA: Is that another reason to coquettishly swirl your full bottoms and strut in that tight fitting jeans? [She drinks; half winces her eyes out and hesitates]
SUSU: You have to take everything! I am not swirling. Are you all right Big Ma?
BIG MA: And loosening your shinning hair for your sweetheart to scrunch up fondly no wonder!
SUSU: [calling] Abbou! You better call the driver, we should be going.
BIG MA: Listen you shrew. I have noted with despair your irritability and withdrawal. I have an intuitive feeling that some important event has occurred in your life. And don’t think all my feminine wiles cannot discover anything.
ABBOU: [Coming in] you called my name. Is everything okay?
SUSU: Have you made that confirmation?
ABBOU: That is what I am doing and I have told the secretary to hang on a second. Is anything wrong?
SUSU: Yes, I think we should be on our way. Big Ma is getting upset with every passing minute.
BIG MA: How can we go when I am not yet ready? I can’t use my own bathroom. The sink is clogged again.
ABBOU: You can use Nana’s bath tab. I think it is still running good.
BIG MA: Why should I when I have my own? If my son is not able to repair, a clogged system let me know because the last time I checked he was still a judge of the district court. And since his childhood, my son always wanted to get his family out of the depressing atmosphere of clog. He always wanted to get away from polluted dust and air that reeks of stopped-up drains. My son grew up in a decent house free from insidious draughts causing chronic bronchial infections. Let me know if my son cannot repair a simple clog, and I will do it myself…
ABBOU: ...ok Big Mama, you can use yours. Susu, will give you a hand. I am waiting for the plumber to get here [to SUSU] please you have to mop the water after she finishes, you understand? [Looking at them impatiently] Are we done here? The secretary is on hold [he leaves]
SUSU: She can take a bath when we come back from the doctor, can’t you Big Ma?
BIG MA: I’m still a societal lady, my charming sweet lady. I’m still in charge of my modesty. How can I appear before my doctor with all these filthy flesh?
SUSU: It is the same doctor and it is the same flesh you have been presenting, and I can say he’s never given you a second look…
BIG MA: Mind your manners my good lass. I won’t mind presenting my carrion had I washed it a good ten times like yours this very day.
SUSU: You don’t say, you too have some aah … (she clears her throat teasingly) you know… with the doctor?
Big Ma : You watch your manners young lady. You aspire to provoke me. And that will be the end of you in this house. Go and get my bath ready this instant.
SUSU: Yes Ma’am [curtsying]
BIG MA: Go on. What are you staring at?
SUSU: I am … [going towards upstairs]
BIG MA: Not that way [points at Nana’s bathroom]…..in there.
SUSU: Can I ask you a question Big Ma?
BIG MA: What now?
SUSU: Why don’t you like Nana’s bathroom? Or Nana for that case, I mean…
BIG MA: I would mind my own business if I were you. But since I’m not, I will tell you this much, I don’t like filth –in whatever form. I know when I see one so prudish as to disrespect my person. Now get my bath ready… [Calling] Abbou!
ABBOU: [comes in] Yes Ma’am.
Big Ma: I need to fix myself a cup of cappuccino, without cream, two…
ABBOU: [Snapping] little sachets of sweeteners, absolutely no sugar, a cube of skimmed milk, in your favourite cup, 30 0C warm… I’ll get it Big Ma [Makes to go]
BIG MA: [she nods her head approvingly] Hold on, there’s something else I wanted to ask you, aaaah….aaaaah……..what was it ?[Makes to remember, but dismisses him by waving her right hand] don’t bother, I will ask you when I remember.
ABBOU: You need not strain yourself Big Ma .
BIG MA: Strain! But you know strain’s my middle name…
ABBOU: Okay, whatever, I’ll fix your cappuccino.
BIG MA: [she changes her mind] No! Let me do it myself. ABBOU: Don’t strain Big Ma, trust me with your cup Big Ma, don’t have always to do everything yourself.
BIG MA: I need you to be here just in case I remember. It’s important. Oh, yes! The table covers, why are they blue today when they should be white?
ABBOU: Oh, those? They are at the minister’s. Nana recommended them for tonight’s party.
BIG MA: What are you talking about?
ABBOU: The baby naming, women stuff, you know, you’ve been unwell Big Ma.
BIG MA: Why was I not consulted in that recommendation committee?
ABBOU: It was thought you needed an absolute rest.
BIG MA: I know it’s that witch. She wishes I were dead.
ABBOU: You were excused because of your illness.
Big Ma: This visit to hospital is just another check-up, for God’s sake…
ABBOU: but still no one could take chances..
Big Ma: My sickness is just an excuse. Now you get me that cappuccino before I get sicker. [ABBOU exits, she pauses ponders, and then goes into a brooding soliloquy] This is it. I am a no longer ‘somebody’ in my own son’s house [She grumbles] What a daughter-in-law? A real wife respects for tradition and is willing to give her in-laws their dues. What haven’t I done to initiate the witch on her social conventions expected of her? Haven’t I explained to her the wife’s relationship to her husband’s family? [she stands and walks about, still in a monologue] Go and visit your parents –in-law alone without your husband, they will appreciate the trouble you have taken and the fact that, no one is behind you, forcing you. From time –to-time, send Old Gary dishes that you have prepared specially for him. We have a saying, ‘the mouth that chews is always grateful to the hand that provides.’ Always have a coin ready or better still, a bank note, to help your visitors on their way, especially if they are your in laws… [she pauses, looks at the framed picture of her son on the wall, deep in thought] Don’t forget to give your parents –in –laws something new to wear at their anniversaries and new year holidays. Your husband’s brothers and sisters also expect handsome presents.
Don’t shut yourself in your room brooding when your husband is entertaining his friends. A cheerful welcome from you would be your triumph card if outsiders try to break your marriage. The good turns that pals can do are incalculable, compared with the damage they’re responsible for. A pal is sacrosanct; he has certain recognized rights and his advice is always needed.
An inhospitable wife wraps her husband in a tissue of ridicule. Watch your step! The Senior Judge is important. He is proud too! I have considered the obstacles that could hamper your progress along the tortuous paths of this society.
I can’t insist too much on the need to give. Here, more than anyone else giving solves many problems. [gets scornful]
But my grand daughter –in-law claimed that she wore herself out trying to follow my hard-to-follow instructions! That habit prevailed. [Imitating Nana, pausing to wave her right hand from time to time] ‘I can’t be a right-handed in old age,’ she said, ‘it can be traumatic to modify one’s behaviour to aspire a completely different goal. If you leave your habits at the threshold of a house, they will run after you if you don’t hurry back for them.’
And so it was not long before she forgot my advice. She never particularly relished the idea of having to distribute money every day [Imitating] ‘My husband’s cronies lingers on in the sitting room until I am forced to turn them out… this is not an old-cloth dump!’
And the meals that she prepared for old Gary on Saturday evenings caused the whole neighbourhood to laugh in her face [imitating an imaginary neighbour] “One chicken in a soup –stew for your husband’s father!’’ [She can’t help herself laughing] What can she be thinking of? For a father- in- law, one cooks at least five chickens!
And how could I invite my women friends to show off my daughter-in-law’s generosity? My friends would be flabbergasted at the sight of one miserable chicken swimming in a lake of sauce! [Brightening up from her laughter]
But I have a surprise for you witch. You may have given up on the Saturday’s meals, [imitating] ‘extravagance beyond my comprehension.’ You witch, don’t you know if you do nothing you understand nothing? Money that’s earned is meant to be spent [Loudly cursing] You’re sitting on my son’s money. I’ll find the means of dislodging you someday… [SUSU’s entry interrupts her meditations.]
SUSU: Big Ma, why are you doing this to her? By your selfishness, you are driving your son to eventual disaster and simultaneously, you are killing another woman’s daughter, as Nana also, has a mother. I’m completely opposed to what you are planning and I know nothing can justify your self-interest
BIG MA: Shut up this instant you lass!
SUSU: Nana has attempted the impossible trying to please you, but you laugh at her face. You discourage any attempt of corporation. You reject her even without knowing her. Why? Because she is childless? Or is it because she comes from a a different tribe or her aristocratic roots? [thoughtful] Her childlessness is the only reason you’ve got for hating her? I can’t see anything else you can have against her.
BIG MA: [Giving her a withering look] Goodness gracious me? I can’t believe my own maid can be so impertinent. I’ve heard that children of today no longer respect their elders. Other people have spoken about it. But, to listen to such impudence from my own grand –daughter, at my own expanse! I’m not having any of that. I must put my little insolent lass in her place –her place being that of a child who has no right to interfere in grown-ups business.
SUSU: I’m just voicing my concern …
BIG MA: Shut up your accused plagued insolent gullet! Who asked for your opinion, you little snotty-nose? You are just a nanny and nannies are not paid to have opinions. And what if I can’t stand Nana with her barrenness? You want my opinion? Well, I’m ashamed I don’t have a grandson. Go and tell her so. Go and rot with your Nana. [Calling] Abbou! Abbou!
ABBOU: Yes Ma’am?
BIG MA: Pack up Susu’s things as soon as I come out of the shower! This time she’s overstepped her bounds and...
ABBOU: Why is that so?
BIG MA: ‘Cause she is leaving us.
ABBOU: But who will accompany you to the hospital? You need her help Big Mama.
BIG MA: [Giving in, reluctantly] Okay, when we come back from the doctor, remind me to notify my son about her dismissal from service.
ABBOU: Yes, Big Ma. Your shower’s getting cold..
BIG MA: [rising] Big Ma can’t have silly nosey girls around her—even be they distant relatives. We need not keep her after all, prince.