Banana for the Bereaved

Cheta Igbokwe

BEREAVED, 25, enters a dimly lit stage donning a long-sleeved shirt and trousers. He proceeds to switch on a brighter light. Positioned at the centre of the stage is a portrait covered by a veil, accompanied by a tall candle stand holding a lit candle. Towards the far right, there is a washing hand bowl with a dry towel placed beside it. Placed at intervals on a long table, 10 feet away from the portrait, are 12 envelopes. Underneath the second envelope rests a shoebox. Adjacent to the envelopes lies a bunch of bananas, concealed within a black nylon bag. Behind these items, a chair and a waste bin can be found. BEREAVED uncovers the portrait, revealing the image of his 62-year-old mother. He proceeds to light the candle, fixating his gaze upon it, before making his way to the bowl to wash his face and dry his hands. Moving forward, they observe the items on the table, silently counting with their fingers, and take a deep breath.

BEREAVED: Theophilus! Theophilus! Tell me the sources of these items. [Examining them as he walks around them without touching them]. 12 letters! A box under the second letter and a mysterious object wrapped like a human head. Did I not say I am drenched with worthless condolences and meaningless gifts? Theophilus! Mother hired you because of your name. She had read somewhere in the Gospel of Luke, where the author-evangelist addressed a certain Theophilus as “Most Excellent Theophilus.” And she heard that your name means “Friend of God.” But both Mother and I would learn that there is nothing excellent or friendly in you, Theophilus. Nothing! Except for the fact that you have suddenly shown so much love for my mother after her passing, isolating yourself and crying even more than the bereaved. 

[BEREAVED touches the chair and drags it to himself.]

BEREAVED: Mother is dead. [Stands and begins pacing around the room.] I don’t want to sound like Meursault from The Stranger, but… Mother is dead. I won’t say it again, because saying it out loud makes it feel too real. Unlike Meursault’s mother, mine didn’t die alone in a retirement home. She passed away at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where she was receiving treatment. And because relatives aren’t allowed in the unit, I didn’t get to be there for her final breath. People have been offering their condolences, saying…

BEREAVED AS SYMPATHISER: Your mother’s love for you was so strong, she spared you the pain of watching her pass. Her final act was to protect you from that sorrow.

BEREAVED: This makes no sense. 

BEREAVED AS SYMPATHISER: It does. 

BEREAVED: It does not. 

BEREAVED AS SYMPATHISER: It does. 

BEREAVED: Quiet!

(Silence.) 

BEREAVED: I never saw her take her last breath, I only received a doctor’s message, like Meursault’s experience, cold and detached, saying…

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: I’m afraid we have some devastating news to share with you. Your mother suffered a fatal cardiac arrest and passed away. 

BEREAVED: No, doctor, it can’t be true. She can’t be gone.

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: I am sorry.

BEREAVED: You are sorry for nothing. Press her chest! 

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: Remember it is my job. 

BEREAVED: Press harder. 

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: I know my job. I am sorry. 

BEREAVED: Take me to my mother! She will awaken at the sound of my voice. I am her son. 

(Silence.)

BEREAVED: You see, I am not different from Meursault; neither of us witnessed the final breath of our mothers. 

BEREAVED AS MEURSAULT: You are not like me. 

BEREAVED: Meursault!

BEREAVED AS MEURSAULT: You did not abandon her; they simply wouldn’t allow you in. 

BEREAVED: Meursault!

BEREAVED AS MEURSAULT: I buried mine, and the next day, I was out there, keeping my appointments.

BEREAVED: Meursault!

BEREAVED AS MEURSAULT: And I smoked beside her corpse. 

BEREAVED: Meursault! Meursault! Meursault!

(Silence.) 

BEREAVED: Mother is gone, at the young age of 62, only two years after retiring from public service. She left just as my life was beginning.

(He sits down and takes a deep breath.) 

BEREAVED: Theophilus! Non-Excellent Theophilus! Come out here and stop crying more than the chief mourner. You’re evading your responsibilities by pretending to be in tears. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Please allow me to grieve. My mother is no longer with us.

BEREAVED: She is my mother, not yours.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: I was financially dependent on her. No more money every 29th. My mother is gone.

BEREAVED: Are you truly shedding tears for her passing, or are you mourning the loss of your income?

[Silence.]

BEREAVED: Theophilus! Theophilus!

[BEREAVED stands up and picks up the first envelope, then reads the message from a sympathiser aloud.]

BEREAVED AS FIRST LETTER: Take heart. God knows the best. 

BEREAVED: You think you sound spiritual when you bring in God to your matters that do not concern Him. God knows the best (he repeats mockingly). So, what is the best? To lose my mother, just shortly after losing my father, while you keep yours. 

BEREAVED AS FIRST LETTER: That is not what I mean!

BEREAVED: What do you mean?

BEREAVED AS FIRST LETTER: I can’t explain it. 

BEREAVED: Then you should have kept your mouth shut. 

[Silence.]

BEREAVED: How can you say something that you can’t explain?

BEREAVED AS FIRST LETTER: But God is All-knowing. Um… He sees, He hears, He feels…

[He folds the paper and throws it into the wastebin at his feet. He picks up the SECOND LETTER, opens it, and reads.]

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: Please accept my sincere condolences.

BEREAVED: There is nothing sincere about your condolence because these are the same words you tell all the bereaved people you know.

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: Does it matter?

BEREAVED: They won’t tell you all of this. I am sharing it because I am the one going through it, wearing this heavy shoe, and I know where it pinches.

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: What is your shoe size?

BEREAVED: And why do you ask? Don’t you understand proverbs?

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: Answer me!

[Silence.]

BEREAVED: Size 12. My shoe size is size 12.

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: Check the box.

BEREAVED: What box?

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: Check!

[BEREAVED uncovers the item and finds a shoe. He smiles, goes back to his seat, and wears it.]

BEREAVED: It fits perfectly. Exactly size 12!

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: I see…you love it, don’t you?

BEREAVED: (smiling) Oh, yes! (Still admiring the shoe.)

BEREAVED AS SECOND LETTER: So, you see, if you wear your shoe size, it won’t pinch you.

[Silence.]

BEREAVED: (Begins pulling off the shoe.) You must be mad. 

(Picks up the THIRD LETTER and reads.)

BEREAVED AS THIRD LETTER: What a huge loss!

BEREAVED: I already know how huge my loss is. Reminding me of it only shows your insanity. “What a huge loss!” (says mockingly). How does this help me as a grieving person? Should your condolences make me feel better or make me better understand the depth of my misery?

BEREAVED AS THIRD LETTER: That’s not what I mean.

BEREAVED: Because you hardly think about the things you say.

BEREAVED AS THIRD LETTER: This is not what…

BEREAVED: Because you have hands to write anything.

BEREAVED AS THIRD LETTER: (confrontational) Because I can’t afford to say nothing.

[Silence.]

BEREAVED: (Sits) I am deeply wounded by what you could afford to say.

BEREAVED AS THIRD LETTER: I doubt…

BEREAVED: What? What are you doubting?

BEREAVED AS THIRD LETTER: Show me this wound. Show me your wounds if you are greatly wounded. 

BEREAVED: What?

BEREAVED AS THIRD LETTER: And allow me to put my fingers to know the depth.

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the FOURTH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS FOURTH LETTER: Such is life.

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the FIFTH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS FIFTH LETTER: I received the news of your mother’s death with rude shock.

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the SIXTH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS SIXTH LETTER: May God grant you the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the SEVENTH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS SEVENTH LETTER: We shall all leave this world.

BEREAVED: Why haven’t you left yet?

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the EIGHTH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS EIGHTH LETTER: This must be a sorely tragic moment in your life.

BEREAVED: I already know.

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the NINTH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS NINTH LETTER: Hold your heart!

BEREAVED: I can’t even touch it. 

(Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. 

Picks the 10TH LETTER, opens and reads.)

BEREAVED AS SYMPATHISER: I know how this feels.

BEREAVED: No, you don’t, my dear.

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the 11TH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS 11TH LETTER: Very, very sad.

BEREAVED: Very, very, very, very sad.

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin. Picks the 12TH LETTER, opens and reads.]

BEREAVED AS 12TH LETTER: It is well, brother.

BEREAVED: It is not well!

[Folds the condolence letter and throws it into the waste bin.]

BEREAVED: (in resignation) All sympathisers are alike. Nothing in their heads.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: You have one more item on your desk.

BEREAVED: Theophilus, how is my problem your business?

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Mother shattered our hearts.

BEREAVED: Or shattered your pay?

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Let’s not go there.

BEREAVED: No pay for you this month-end.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: You don’t say, Master!

BEREAVED: I am not your master, I did not employ you; I am just 25. And Mother is dead. (sobbing.)

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Yes. And she died on the 29th of January, a month-end, when I had completed my service for the month.

BEREAVED: Oh, yes, 29 January 2022, a dark Saturday morning.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Very dark. Now, my pocket is darker. I trust you will brighten it, Master, with my pay.

BEREAVED: She is at the morgue now.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Yes.

BEREAVED: (sobbing) Go there and take your pay from her.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: You don’t say, Master!

BEREAVED: Mother is dead (sobbing).

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: 29 January, a month-end. 

BEREAVED: A dark Saturday. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: May our hearts not be so dark.

BEREAVED: Mother’s heart was pure.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: And she paid all her dues. 

BEREAVED: She is still capable of paying. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Where?

BEREAVED: In the morgue. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: But her eyes are shut. 

BEREAVED: Force them open. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Master!

BEREAVED: Mother is dead (sobbing).

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: 29 January. 

BEREAVED: Death has made herself cheap. In the past, the mere sight of a widow or widower in black clothing would strike fear, but now, almost every family has either a widow or widower among them. My mother is gone (sobbing.)

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: 29 January. 

BEREAVED: Nothing is left. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Except the last item. 

BEREAVED: Sympathisers are all the same. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Open it. 

BEREAVED: It’s not an envelope. It resembles a human head. Could it be my mother’s head?

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Mother would want you to open it, and if it contains money, she would expect you to use it to pay off her debts. 

BEREAVED: Mother is dead (sobbing).

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: She died of cardiac arrest at the intensive care unit. 

BEREAVED: Doctor!

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: She would like you to open the item. 

BEREAVED: Doctor!

BEREAVED AS MEURSAULT: You gave her everything till there was nothing else to give. 

BEREAVED: Meursault!

BEREAVED AS MEURSAULT: Open it. 

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Open it.

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: Open!

[Goaded by the pressure, BEREAVED goes to the table and opens the item.]

BEREAVED: Banana!

BEREAVED AS SYMPATHISER: Banana for the bereaved.

BEREAVED: (Smiling, picks banana and eats. Breathes in deeply) This is good. Mother must be smiling because I am smiling.

BEREAVED AS SYMPATHISER: What can you say?

BEREAVED: Sympathisers are not alike.

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: What can you say?

BEREAVED: Theophilus, sympathisers are not all the same. Some foolish ones demand payment, while the wise ones bring offerings, like bananas.

BEREAVED AS DOCTOR: What can you say?

BEREAVED: Doctor, sympathisers are not all the same. Some foolish ones say, “We’ve done all we can,” but the sensible ones bring bananas. 

BEREAVED AS MEURSAULT: What can you say?

BEREAVED: Meursault, bereaved people deserve banana. As a fellow sufferer, Meursault, I offer you this banana as a gesture of solidarity and support

[To the audience, while holding a banana and swinging his right hand.

BEREAVED: If you’ve ever felt the ache of loss, the weight of grief, you are my kin. Whether it was a loved one near or far, a sibling, spouse, child, friend, or foe, or even parents, like me, we share a bond forged in the fire of sorrow. This banana bunch, like our grief, springs from a shared source – death’s cold hand. So, if you’ve known loss, join me in this communion of banana… 

[BEREAVED extends a banana towards the audience.]

BEREAVED AS THEOPHILUS: Hold! Master, Death has arrived to render judgement. 

BEREAVED AS DEATH: I see you are trying to catch fellow-feeling from people whom you call fellow-sufferers. But I must tell you, not even this community of bereaved people can console you because every grief is personal. (Pointing at the audience) Every grief is personal. Every drop of tears from the eyes of a weeping person is of different concern. Why you weep for your mother is not the same reason your mother’s servant weeps, not the same reason her enemies weep. My judgement is this: the scarf worn by the woman sitting in front of you in church will always remind you of your mother’s scarf, because she folds it in the same way – on two strong layers. Your attention will wander from the preacher’s sermon, and you’ll feel an urge to hug her from behind, even though her face isn’t your mother’s. You’ll find comfort in the familiarity of her back. Later, in the market, a woman who wants to sell you peppers will finally agree to your desired price, and her gap-toothed smile will remind you of your mother. You won’t even notice when she finishes arranging your purchase. You’ll return home, but the thought of cooking will be too much to bear. A gap-toothed smile echoes in your memory, a reminder of your mother’s loving presence. Every middle-aged woman with glasses brings her to mind. When pockets are empty, her words whispered in your ear – “This is the face of broke” – and her gentle palm-slipped naira notes bring solace. Mothering Sundays now feel like a curse as friends share stories of their living mothers, their prayers answered. Each Christmas feels like a funeral, a reminder of the void where your mother’s warmth and love once were. Her kitchen, once filled with fried chicken and red stew, now lies empty and still. It’s only when you step into her bedroom, surrounded by her belongings – bags, clothes, shoes, lipsticks, watches, necklaces, bed, and pillow – that the weight of your loss truly settles in. Silence fills the space where her presence once was, a painful reminder that she’s forever gone. (Silence). Can you muster a question? No, for questions require hope, and hope has deserted you, leaving only the stark reality of your loss. In this void, inquiry feels futile, a fleeting thought that vanishes like a wisp of smoke on the wind. 

[More silence.]

[BEREAVED, with a heavy heart, slowly approaches the flickering candle, and with a gentle breath, extinguishes the flame. As the light dwindles, the darkness consumes the space.] 

CURTAIN

 

Cheta Igbokwe is an MFA candidate and Graduate Instructor at the University of Iowa, USA. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Literary Studies from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he edited The Muse Journal, Number 48. His play, Homecoming, won the 2021 ANA Prize for Drama and received a nomination for the 2023 Nigeria Prize for Literature.

 

*Image by Fabrizio Frigeni on Unsplash

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