A radio drama
Hussein Lakhani: Algerian, late 40’s, North African accent
Mustafa Ben Kabir: Algerian, late 30s, North African accent (in his twenties in earlier scenes)
Cafe owner: 50s, French accent
Khadija Lakhani: Algerian, late 30s, French accent
Abdullah Moussa: Algerian, 21 years, North African accent
Emanuela Gerard: 40s, French accent
Albert Gerard: 40s, French accent
Philippe Gerard: 20, French accent
SCENE 1. MARSEILLE, MAY 1969
60’S RADIO MUSIC PLAYS QUIETLY AND CONTINUES. A LORRY GOES BY IN THE ROAD. STREET NOISES
HUSSEIN LAKHANI: (TELEPHONE VOICE EFFECT) When you get off the ferry in Marseille you will find La Rose D’Alger – the Rose of Algiers – not far from the main market of Noailles. She works in the kitchen. Take the road leading from the port; it is less than a kilometre. But I do not know how my sister will greet you.
A SHOP DOOR IS PUSHED OPEN, THE MUSIC GETS LOUDER, THE STREET NOISES STOP AS THE DOOR CLOSES. THE RADIO MUSIC SWITCHES TO A SPORTS COMMENTARY. MEN LISTENING TO FOOTBALL. FADE DOWN
MUSTAFA: Salaam aleikum.
CAFE OWNER: Bonjour, monsieur! Vous voulez quelque chose? Merguez, frites? Couscous? Coca-cola?
MUSTAFA: Khadija Lakhani? She works here?
CAFE OWNER: (CALLS OUT) Khadija! Khadija!
KHADIJA: (DISTANT)J’arrive! (CLOSE) J’arrive! Oh! (PAUSE) (SLOWLY)Mustafa Ben Kabir.
KHADIJA: You were dead.
KHADIJA: You died in prison.
KHADIJA: In prison in Algiers.
KHADIJA: Then – you have come to kill me. But I swear to you, it was not I that betrayed you.
MUSTAFA: I was released under the 1958 amnesty. I was fighting under Amirouche in the mountains, so I did not return to Algiers. But I could have. If I wanted to kill you, I’ve had 12 years to do it.
KHADIJA: Everyone believed I betrayed you. But I did not. I would have preferred death.
SCENE 2. INTERIOR: A FARMHOUSE NEAR MENERVILLE, ALGERIA. 1957
1950’S MUSIC FROM A CRACKLY RADIO. AN ANNOUNCER SPEAKING IN FRENCH, GIVING A WARNING ANNOUNCEMENT
EMANUELA: (DISTRESSED) Philippe! Philippe! Albert!
PHILIPPE: Maman! Are you alright?
EMANUELA: Ah, thank heavens you are safe!
ALBERT: We went to the orange groves to clear the irrigation channels of the Isser, but,
PHILIPPE: The orange trees have been cut down, Maman! All of them, lying on the ground, dead. Every single one.
EMANUELA: My God.
ALBERT: It is the work of the fellagha rebels. The trees of my great grandparents. Planted by Charles Gerard, a hundred years ago. But, they will grow back. The roots are still strong.
EMANUELA: It will take years.
PHILIPPE: But even if they grow new branches, the fruit will be small and bitter.
EMANUELA: On the radio it says the rebels are on the road from Menerville. A farmer’s wife was murdered, her throat cut, her belly cut.
PHILIPPE: We must leave, Papa. We can’t stay here any longer.
EMANUELA: There is nothing for us here.
ALBERT: This is my land. Algeria is my life. Where will I go if I leave here? Philippe, how will you survive if you abandon your inheritance? Philippe, what do you say?
EMANUELA: My son. We must live. Even if we live in poverty, life is the most precious thing of all.
ALBERT: But without land, that life is barren. Philippe.
PHILIPPE: We must go, Papa, I’m sorry.
ALBERT: It’s a coward’s way. Well-
EMANUELA: Phone the police station in Menerville. We are not allowed to drive along the road except in convoy.
ALBERT: (GOES TO THE PHONE) (CLOSE – LIFTS RECEIVER, TAPPING AT THE APPARATUS) Hello? Hello? (PAUSE) Hello? (REPLACES RECEIVER) It’s dead.
SCENE 3. INTERIOR: A GARRET IN THE KASBAH OF ALGIERS. 1957
A MAN IS INTONING QUIETLY ISLAMIC PRAYERS. DISTANT STREET NOISES.
ABDULLAH: She is not coming.
MUSTAFA: What time is it?
ABDULLAH: Ten past eleven. She is always here by ten. Something has happened.
MUSTAFA: (MOVES TO AND OPENS TRAP DOOR) Aunt! Aunty Salima!
THERE IS A MUFFLED RESPONSE FROM A WOMAN COMING UP THE STAIRS BELOW
MUSTAFA: Aunt! Send Hamid to find out what has happened to Khadija.
ANOTHER MUFFLED RESPONSE- NOT VERY ENCOURAGING
ABDULLAH: Hamid! That boy is useless. You may as well send a mosquito.
MUSTAFA: Something must have happened to her. Maybe she is ill.
ABDULLAH: Listen, the casbah is surrounded by French soldiers. They will have captured her at one of the checkpoints. She could not keep doing this for long, stealing from the hospital to bandage us.
MUSTAFA: She is brave. She will not be captured.
ABDULLAH: They will arrest her. And then she will sing like a little bird.
MUSTAFA: She will not betray us. I trust her with my life.
ABDULLAH : (SPITS) No one can be trusted. Not even you.
MUSTAFA: But she…
ABDULLAH: You think because she has washed your wounds, she will not betray you? You think that because she has nursed you, she will not betray you? You think because you have pressed her gentle, healing hand to your lips, to your heart – oh yes, I saw you do that even though our religion forbids it – you think she will not betray you?
MUSTAFA: She is strong and she is pure. She will not betray us.
ABDULLAH: Well I tell you, the soldiers will pump water into her belly by a funnel, and when it is full they will stamp on it. And then it will be the electricity. And then they will violate her with broken glass. And then she will not be strong, and she will not be pure, and she will betray us.
MUSTAFA: Do you think we should move from here?
ABDULLAH: It is already too late. Listen.
COMING CLOSER: MARCHING, YELLING IN THE STREET, BANGING ON DOORS, DOOR IS BROKEN DOWN, AUNTY IS PROTESTING BUT PUSHED ASIDE, BOOTS CLATTER UP THE STAIRS, BANGING ON THE TRAP DOOR
ABDULLAH: It is too late.
SCENE 4. EXTERIOR: THE MENERVILLE ROAD, ALGERIA
CAR ENGINE, OLD AGRICULTURAL FRENCH CAR, WHINING ALONG A BUMPY ROAD. CONTINUES UNDER:
EMANUELA: Can you see anything on the road?
ALBERT: Looks clear. The soldiers were along this way a couple of days ago. They’ll have cleared it.
PHILIPPE: How far is it to Menerville?
ALBERT: Another fifteen kilometres. Not far. Half an hour maybe. We’ve left our land behind at any rate.
EMANUELA: And our donkey. Our poor donkey.
PHILIPPE: Why did they kill our donkey, Papa?
ALBERT: I don’t know. The rebels are full of a senseless hatred. They hate everything, even the innocent. They would butcher a baby.
EMANUELA: What’s that?
ALBERT: Just some stones on the road, it’s nothing.
EMANUELA: Stones! Albert! Oh my God, they’re shooting – Albert –
ALBERT: Get down! Philippe! Get down!
GUNFIRE, CAR SKIDS TO A HALT, CRASHES, ENGINE STALLS. GUNFIRE CONTINUES, BREAKING GLASS
EMANUELA: Albert? Albert?
EMANUELA: (DYING) Albert?
PHILIPPE WHIMPERS QUIETLY IN HIDING. THE REBELS ARE CALLING TO EACH OTHER AND THEN THERE IS THE SOUND OF A HELICOPTER. MORE GUNFIRE IN SPORADIC BURSTS. PHILIPPE WHIMPERS. HE GASPS IN FEAR AS THE DOOR OF THE CAR IS WRENCHED OPEN.
FRENCH SOLDIER: (CALLS OUT TO THE DISTANCE) We’re too late. Two dead, sir. And – hey! Come on kid, before they come back for you. Your parents?
PAUSE – PHILIPPE WHIMPERS
FRENCH SOLDIER: Not any more, eh? Come on, we’ll take you back to camp. Look, we’ve been chasing these fellagha for a week. They ambushed a platoon up near one of the douars and wiped them out. Come on kid. Let’s go. It’s still dangerous. When the road’s cleared, we’ll come back and give them a decent burial.
SCENE 5. INTERIOR: THE ROSE D’ALGER CAFE, MARSEILLE, MAY 1969
1960’S MUSIC IN THE CAFE, FADE DOWN
KHADIJA: I was tortured. But I did not betray you. I will never forget that windowless cell, the thirst, the heat, the stench and the cries of people being slowly put to death. Constantly I was taken from the cell to that basement. I would shut down my thoughts. I know nothing, I will say nothing, I thought, it is very simple.
MUSTAFA: I was in that same basement. I felt the same electrodes, screamed as you did through clenched teeth, was plunged to the edge of drowning in the same filthy water.
KHADIJA: My dress was full of blood. I was so ashamed of being helpless, of being naked, of their disgusting language. It was so unbearable that I despaired of living.
MUSTAFA: And you gave nothing away?
KHADIJA: No! I would never betray you. I don’t even know why they released me.
MUSTAFA: And yet the soldiers came straight to the trap door. All the rooms that were around that courtyard, yet they ignored them and came straight to our hiding place. Someone had spoken.
KHADIJA: I would not have even been caught if it had not been for the bandages.
MUSTAFA: The bandages?
KHADIJA: You sent word to bring extra bandages from the hospital. Another man had come in who needed help. The soldiers found the bandages at the checkpoint.
MUSTAFA: There was no other man.
KHADIJA: Hamid came the night before, to my uncle’s house, and said you needed more bandages.
MUSTAFA: I sent no message.
MUSTAFA: It was Hamid who betrayed us both. He went missing, that boy. When I came out of jail he had left the casbah.
KHADIJA: I could not stay in Algiers. I had shamed my family. Even though the shame was not mine. I was no longer welcome. I could not marry. In 1962 my brother sent me to Paris, under a false identity.
SCENE 6. EXT: THE PORT OF ALGIERS
MAY 1962. STEAMSHIP ‘LE KAIROUAN’ SOUNDS ITS HORN. SEAGULLS. PEOPLE SHOUTING, CHAOS. CARS, BOXES BEING LOADED WITH A THUMP ON THE DECK OF A SHIP. HORN SOUNDS AGAIN
PHILIPPE: Algers la Blanche. Look at it, like a white crystal glittering above the blue sea. So beautiful, and so full of death. What is your name?
PHILIPPE: I thought you were one of the Arabs. A Kabyle. But you have a French name. I am Philippe.
KHADIJA: I have lived all my life in Algiers.
PHILIPPE: Time to leave? Like so many others? A year ago, Marie, these refugee ships were full of music. Couples danced, walked on the deck smoking cigarettes as the noise of the band floated away into the dusk. I travelled on here with my family; we went to Marseille and took the train to Paris. We were once Parisians, you see.
KHADIJA: And your family?
PHILIPPE: They are nothing now. And yours?
KHADIJA: Massacred. I have no-one here. I am going to Paris.
PHILIPPE: Look at that man down there on the dock! He thinks he can bring a car on the ship! There is not even enough room for all the people who want to get away from here. Hah! He despairs. I tell you, if all I were leaving behind was a car I would be happy. Paris, you say? And what will you do there?
KHADIJA: I am a nurse, I will find work. In a hospital maybe. They have hospitals in Paris?
PHILIPPE: Naturally. You know, we should travel together. I’ll take care of you.
KHADIJA: And what business have you in Paris?
PHILIPPE: Oh, this and that. I’m a journalist, free-lance. I’m researching the arms trade. You’d be amazed how the rebels get their arms. Lille, Geneva. Prague. The Bosphorus, trans-shipping off Syria. Then here.
SCENE 7. INTERIOR: LA ROSE D’ALGER, MARSEILLE, 1969
MUSTAFA: So, Khadija. Twelve years have passed. I have a good job, in oil. When I found out you were here, I obtained your brother’s permission to marry you. But he said you must also consent.
KHADIJA: I cannot go back there.
MUSTAFA: You are already married? Without your brother’s permission?
KHADIJA: No. But much has happened.
MUSTAFA: What could have happened? You have a job, right? You do not have to work here in Marseille, Khadija. I have a good job in oil, and I have a fine apartment in Algiers which, inshallah, will be your dowry.
KHADIJA: Do you know what it is like to be all alone in the world? With no family?
MUSTAFA: Well, I left my family many years ago. I lived in the hills and the rebels taught me to fire a rifle. They taught me to kill. Even in the freezing winter we could not return to our homes. The cold ground was my bed and my family was the fellagha.
KHADIJA: What could I do? I could not fire a rifle. I had to find my way alone in France.
MUSTAFA: What are you trying to say?
KHADIJA: I have a son. Raoul.
MUSTAFA: Raoul. And his father?
MUSTAFA: So, you are a widow.
KHADIJA: Philippe Gerard was in the Red Hand. I did not know. I met him on the ferry from Algiers, he said he was a journalist.
MUSTAFA: And he is dead.
KHADIJA: After he was killed, I found out he had been trained by the French to track down the arms dealers who were supplying the rebels. So I can’t go back to Algeria. We will be in danger, Raoul and I. We live quietly in Marseille, no-one bothers us. It is safer here.
MUSTAFA: I was released under an amnesty. Sometimes, you know, there has to be an amnesty. Or people will go on killing each other.
KHADIJA: I can’t live there.
MUSTAFA: Do you remember when you dressed my wounds, in that hiding place, and I took your hand and kissed it, and held it to my heart?
KHADIJA: I have never forgotten it.
MUSTAFA: Nor have I. And can you now say that you don’t want to see me any more?(PAUSE)
MUSTAFA: Our religion forbids courtship. But I will return here each day until you give me an answer, either way. It’s your choice.
2 thoughts on “Orange trees”
Powerful stuff, well done