It's Not Personal 



Stephen LoweThe piece was written and performed within a day at the Nottingham Playhouse prior the evening performance of Brecht's Mother Courage. The aim was to "lock away" the writer to discover a piece from surfing that days newspapers that signified "courage". I came across a tiny paragraph in a south asia English newspaper. There was to be a planned peaceful march in Myanmar in support of Hung San Sun Kiya, the democratically elected leader of what was then named Burma, who had been under house arrest since the military take-over. The article simply stated that leading members of her organisation were being "questioned".


All of the following text is read by the actor, including the stage directions. He/She simply sits at a small table to deliver the piece.

He enters the room. He has all his props, pens, papers. He likes to appear relaxed. He is relaxed. This is just a normal day. No problem. He carefully places his watch on the table. He could of course as easily time this interrogation on his wrist but somehow it seems a clearer gesture.

Five minutes.

He smiles.

For five minutes you are your own God. You can choose your own fate.

His voice is even, unforced. When you have the power there's really no need to growl. He prefers the whisper to the wail. The wailing he will willingly leave to others.

We have spent a lot of time together. I've learned to like you, in many ways even to admire. In different circumstances, if we met on distant shores, we might discover a similar taste in wine, play chess, the outcome delightfully uncertain. But this is work. I'm sure you understand. It's nothing personal.

We have been here before, me with my words and you with your silence. But now you must understand this is the last time. This is the time of choice. Between life and death. Lies in the palm of your own hand. You must decide. How?

Oh, don't worry, I no longer need names, times, details of your secret march and your Buddhist banners of peace and the photos of that woman you claim as some kind of democratic demagogue…. No, others have already spoken, broken the silence, poured forth lists with such speed as though they were creating the ideal shopping trip. Which in a way for us they were. I don't expect you to add a forgotten item. No, you are rare, but I've seen shadows of you before, preceding you. Preparing me.

No names. No information. All I ask is that you just speak to me. Ask me what the weather is like above ground? I'll tell you the truth. Then you can go and test it for yourself. Just walk through the door. Or ask me my name. Tell me yours. Of course I know it already so what's the pain? Just speak one word and you are free to go. One tiny word, one little breath, one shaping of the tongue, one whisper. Freedom. Sunshine. Children. The certainty for you that you have betrayed no one. For me that I have redeemed you from a needless death.
It was a generous offer. He was himself amazed at how this wanton use of power worked almost like an aphrodisiac. Silence. First frown clouding the sky.

What is the problem? Your silence made sense before- your life weighed in the balance of others, one sacrifice for many, but now… what is the point? Why would you rather die than concede a simple breath to me? That's arrogance, monstrous egoism, the madness of a would-be saint convinced their God is ready to swoop them away in his arms from out the jaw of flames? But you don't believe that. You don't even care for martyrs. You Buddhists would hardly light a candle in their names.

The second frown clouding the sun. It's suddenly overcast. He lies.

The sun is shining. Your children are waiting. Just say GOODBYE. No, it's not egoism, nor are you insanely brave. You are human, I've witnessed your fear of pain. Is it the shame, do you believe I'll say you named names, that you and yours will become pariahs, that all this is just some machiavellian plot on my part?

He leans forward. Looks into those eyes. If the eyes are windows to the soul, he's falling into infinity. He pulls back.

So this act of courage is not for your benefit, your death will not encourage others. You have no famous relatives or friends. Who will notice? Then who is this silence for? There's only you and me here, only you and I will ever know if you spoke, what word you spoke. Only you and me.

Slowly the dawning. Or is it a revelation seen at sunset.

For me? This silence is for me? This act of defiance that could cost your life? No, you…

And now he too is trapped in silence, as though he's tumbled down into this infinite well and struggles in the freezing waters for words to build a raft of hope.

How… how dare you! How dare you die for me! You are insane, you imagine that.. in some way.. this… that it will change me to, no, let me exact, that you are offering me the possibility of change, the choice indeed between my own life and death, the choice of change, to what, to become like you, weak, powerless, to what , to be some…

Now he can hear. Now in the silence he can hear everything.

How dare you do this to me? Hate me. HATE ME! I command you!

He looks around, away, searching for what, avoiding what, all there is is a watch that does not stick but still steals the time.

Five minutes. You understand I am as good as my word, as good as… I won't ask you again to.

He rises.

Enough. Goodbye.

He turns away. He half turns back. He gestures, it's as though he's left some half-remembered thing behind here and he blindly scoops the air to search for it. He stares into the palm of his hand. Long ago a peasant measured out his lifeline one bean for every year. His time is not yet. He nods, shakes his head, the move so indistinct it could be either or both at once.

He sits again.

Just one word spoken and I could have let the sound just fade away, as I let you disappear into the day. But now silence. Silence will remain. Silence will never go away. It has no beginning, it has no end. I WILL NOT CHANGE.


Will I?

Silence. He tries to go away.

The end.

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