a literary and visual arts journal
An Octopus Ate My Best Friend And Love
SHE – 20-30 year old woman
HE – 20-30 year old man
BOY CHILD – a young boy, 6-7 years old
GIRL CHILD – a young girl, 6-7 years old
THE STRUCTURE – A person wearing a cardboard box
SHE 2 – 20-30 year old woman, dressed the same as SHE
SHE 3 – 20-30 year old woman, dressed the same as SHE
(Crowd noises. SHE and HE are on opposite ends of the stage, paper cups in hand, slowly making their way to the centre, while greeting different people.)
HE: So are you Christian as well?
SHE : No
HE : Then?
SHE : Purple. You?
HE: Yeah. But I think maybe brown also, blueish maybe.
Have you ever planted a mango tree?
(GIRL CHILD rushes in with a paper boat starts playing with it on HIS toes, like each toe is a wave.)
SHE: I ate the mango first. Then we washed it. Then she took me down to the muddy area, we took off the blanket of mud and tucked the seed in.
HE: Is it still there?
SHE: Yeah it’s really tall.
(BOY CHILD comes to HER and places his palms on her eyes to ask her to close them. BOY CHILD places something on her palm, and closes her fist and whispers in her ears, then leaves to go and start playing downstage together with the GIRLCHILD.)
SHE : How old were you?
HE : A baby I think.
(They split a sandwich and finish eating it silently.)
SHE: Do you know this one?
(SHE starts a slow movement which grows into a bigger muscle memory style movement, which HE soon joins, they complete the movement.)
HE: OK do you know this one?
(Begins humming and she joins, remembering.)
SHE: That’s nice.
(THEY lean against each other, standing. The standing lean grows into a sitting-leaning. From this, they then lie next to each other. From the lying, the movement becomes womb like. They stay like this for a few moments. HE wakes up as if suddenly exhaling.)
HE: I have something. I have something.
(HE pushes THE STRUCTURE in.)
SHE: You’re leaving ?
HE: I will miss you like my (searches) *throat noises*.
SHE: Do you have to? Do you have to. Do you have to? (Silent whisper to herself, all over the stage, but not to him.) Can’t you stay or I go with you?
HE: But we can’t get in with our clothes on.
SHE: But can’t you stay? But we can just go without….
HE: I don’t know if you understand - we can never have our clothes on again...
SHE: What does it matter? It’s just us right, we’ll know the truth. We’ll flip it on its head...
HE takes her hand as they prepare to jump.
(Their voices in the dark as if people talking through heavy breeze.)
SHE: So .. we know the truth even if no one else does right? We will always remember it?
HE: Hold tight.
(SHE is sitting on the floor. She has few more layers on, BOYCHILD and GIRLCHILD are clutching on to her. HE is sitting on the floor opposite her, checking his own hands and arm movements.)
HE: I think I am someone who doesn’t need to have kids. Like I actually don’t want kids.
HE: Why would we have to have kids?
SHE: That’s true. It’s not for everyone. It’s interesting too isn’t it. It would be a good active step, like a decision, towards our plan of subversion.
The GIRL CHILD looks like she needs to go to the loo. SHE gets up to take her to the loo (offstage). SHE squats near the wings as if being supportive towards the child’s efforts to to poo/pee offstage.
*The sound of water rising, something sinking.*
Toy hands, legs and a dress are thrown at her and SHE holds these and walks to centre stage. Her body looks liquid, as if about to wilt to the ground. She tries to stay up. She slowly wilts to the ground.
HE runs up to her as she is losing her balance)
HE: No-no-no-no-no. Ok-Ok-Ok-Ok-Ok-Ok-Ok-Ok.
HE holds SHE, kisses her many times.
HE: It's ok.
(SHE starts to come awake slowly).
HE: You ok? You ok?
(As SHE slowly becomes more conscious, HE moves a bit away from her. She is completely engrossed with examining the pieces of the toy.
He watches her for some time. BOY CHILD comes to him. He feeds boy child, washes boy child's face.)
SHE: It was so cold. (Not looking at him.) The water was deep. It was blue then it was black. When I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t breathe.
(HE continues cleaning up and getting BOY CHILD ready.)
HE: Was the water cold?
SHE: It was so cold . And it was deep. It was blue then it was black. When I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t breathe.
HE: It looked very blue.
SHE: At first. But then it was black. And it was so cold and deep. When I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t breathe
HE: You stopped breathing for a bit there.
SHE: I couldn’t breathe, really I couldn’t breathe. It was blue then it was black. It was so cold . The water was deep.
(HE stands downstage, holding the BOY CHILD by the hand, as if they are leaving. SHE looks at HIM finally.)
SHE: Oh yes sure. Sure, ok. I understand. It’s ok. You go, I’ll come when I wake up.
(HE leaves with the BOY CHILD towards the back of the stage. SHE is trembling and keeps wearing more and more layers. Later she gets so cold she puts parts of THE STRUCTURE on her. Then she makes herself stiller and stiller and puts leaves and birds on herself, humming the same song on repeat. He and boy child look at her before they exit, while she closes her eyes.)
(HE skips in, clapping, jumping, as if to excite a dog.)
HE: How are you?
(SHE breathes and nods slightly, looks peaceful. HE examines her. Looks at her body especially. He begins to do some stretching exercises.)
HE: You know I was thinking I want you to accept me for who I really am.
(SHE breathes and nods more obviously, looks somewhat more active, her toes are starting to move, but she is still balancing THE STRUCTURE.)
HE: I am someone who needs more, needs to be free. Let’s make our own version of this thing. Like free ourselves up, you know this whole thing it's like a societal expectation, we don’t have to subscribe to it.
SHE: I like that. I like it. Interesting idea. Yeah, I think so too.
(SHE seems energised, starts taking the extra layers off, goes down to most basic layer. She is about to step out of the clutch of THE STRUCTURE and stamp on it, when he intervenes.)
HE: Whoah whoah, whoah Stop!!!
SHE: What happened?
HE: What are you doing?
SHE: I thought we agreed. This thing is what keeps us from being true to each other. Our true, free selves. It’s always been just us. Let’s just break this thing. We don’t need it.
HE: That’s not what I meant!! We need this. I meant like this.
(HE gives her THE STRUCTURE to hold, and then takes the hammer and hammers at her feet.)
HE: Like let’s free ourselves.
SHE: Why do we need it?
HE: We can both have each other, We don’t need to be alone.
SHE: I am not talking about being alone.
SHE: Think about it, we can flip this thing on its head, like we’ve been flipping everything until now. It’s supposed to be an act of moving away from, an act of rejection in some way, but we do it to become closer and truer, so that once again it’s just us! We can subvert..
HE: Stop with the subversion!! There is no fucking subversion. This is it. There was no subversion ever, This is the actual thing. There is no bigger irony. It’s real, don’t you get it?
SHE : What about what you said in the clouds?
HE: I thought it’s your way of coping with change..
SHE: Breaking this can fix it. (SHE runs to break it again and HE stops her.)
SHE: : Why not?
HE: Look why can’t we stay within this and free each other.
(THE STRUCTURE is trying to eat her knee.)
SHE: I get heavier and you get lighter and it is eating me and I need I need I need. I lost my shoulder, I lost my hair I want to remember.
(As SHE is saying this, SHE 2 and SHE 3 enter stage, push HE offstage.)
SHE 2: I am betrayed and angry.
SHE 3: Or I don’t fucking care. I just need to get rid of this shitty fucking thing. I can’t hold it anymore.
SHE 2: They won’t let you.
SHE 3: Even if we both agree to. As grown ups.
SHE 2 : So I need to kill him.
SHE 3: Or he kills me .
SHE 2: Or I do something horrible to him.
SHE 3 :Or he does something horrible to me.
SHE 2 : Or we can have a pact to make it look like one of us has done something horrible so we can just get rid of this thing.
SHE: It won’t work. These pacts obviously don’t work. They melt.
(A look of eureka on all their faces. They converge center stage with hairdryers. They direct the hairdryers with the sound towards the boxiness of the structure. The box melts and SHE 2 and SHE 3 exit. From inside THE STRUCTURE, the person emerges, moving like liquid.)
THE STRUCTURE: Subversion. Subversion. SUB VERSION. Subvorzhon. SUBMORZHON. Submersion.
*Sounds of something sinking*
THE STRUCTURE: God it’s dreadful how similar they sound.
THE STRUCTURE, now with liquid movements, unboxlike, slowly wraps around her like an octopus.
Juhi Jha is a theatre maker in New Delhi, India and makes dark, quiet, intimate and thoughtful theatre inspired by real life. Her most recent theatre project, Irada Kuch Aur Tha was about harm and violence in institutions of care and reform. She is part of the team that runs Project Motley, which concerns itself with resilience building through the arts.