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Spring/Summer 1994, Volume 11.2

One-Act Play

 

Lewis Nkosi

The Black Psychiatrist
A One-Act Play


Lewis Nkosi was born in Durban, South Africa, in 1937. Educated in Zulu, then missionary schools, he observes that his was "the last generation " to receive their education before apartheid mandated special, government-run schools for black South Africans. Those who argue that it is dangerous to give the oppressed a sound education were proven right in his case. As a journalist/intellectual in the 1950s, he joined other blackwriters reporting on the reality of apartheid in the townships around Johannesburg. In 1960, he was granted a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard. Did that please the South African government? Hardly. Initially he was refused a passport. Then, the legal sleuthing of a good friend uncovered a law that would allow Nkosi to leave if he would sign away his right ever to return. He left, assuming the exile would be temporary, that things in South Africa would surely change. Things did not; the years that followed shaped themselves into a rich Odyssey as he studied, taught, and wrote his way from Harvard to London to Sussex to Zambia to California to Poland to Wyoming, where he has been since the fall of 1991. His exile ended dramatically when he flew back to a post-apartheid Johannesburg in December of that year to attend the New Nation Writers Conference. Where is home to him now? Wherever two or three like minded souls gather together, be it in Paris or Laramie, to talk about things that matter: justice, language, ideas, love, friendship, books.

His publications are many and varied, including the well known novel Mating Birds, Tasks and Masks, a study of African literature, the play The Rhythm of Violence, an extensive body of short fiction and critical essays, as well as the forthcoming novel, Underground People, to be published by SERIF Publishers in London and Ambo Publishers in Amsterdam this autumn.

Read more work by Lewis Nkosi published in Weber Studies: Vol. 11.2 (interview),   Vol. 14.2 (fiction).

 

The consulting room of a psychiatrist on Harley Street. The walls are bare, white, unadorned except for a single Zulu cowshield hanging on the back wall with two Assegais lying across its center in the form of an emblem.

The room must have a feeling of narrow confinement; the windows are permanently closed and set high up as though in a prison cell. There is also a door leading out to the waiting room. This door is kept shut.

Furniture consists of a couch and stool next to it. There is also a desk and chair at which, as the play opens, a handsome young black psychiatrist in his thirties, is sitting, studiously working through a pile of papers and notes.

Otherwise, the room is bare, with a stripped austerity that borders on the puritanical.

Time: One late morning in summer.

The door bell rings.

Kerry: Come in!

A white woman in her early or mid thirties opens the door and walks just inside the door, then hesitates. She is pretty, blonde, and wearing a soft shirt dress that is slit right down the front and is secured around the waist with a belt. Her body has that ripe, mature appeal of women over thirty. The woman smiles engagingly. Dan Kerry gets up from his desk.

Woman: Dr. Kerry?

Kerry: Yes.

Woman: Dan? Dan Kerry? Kerry: That's right.

They stand facing each other. Kerry: Please, come right in.

The woman comes walking in that fine splendour of women over thirty blessed with good earthly flesh on their bones. The woman pauses.

Woman: Dan Kerry? After all these years! How astonishing! Kerry: (Puzzled) Astonishing?

Woman: Yes. I mean if you really are the Dan Kerry.

Kerry: (Wryly) Well, I sincerely hope I am the Dan Kerry.

Woman: Of course, you are! (She wanders about the room.) Oh, Dan, it's simply marvelous! The room I mean. just as I imagined it would be: bare, naked, empty. Simple, uncluttered space for your immense soul to roam in.

Kerry: (Perplexed) Mrs… eh…?

Woman: Gresham. Gloria Gresham. (Pause. She turns around from her wanderings and faces him, smiling with immense understanding.) Of course, you don't remember me. I don't blame you. It's so long ago! I myself had forgotten until I came across your name in the newspapers. I couldn't believe it was really you! But there it all was: "COLOURED SOUTH AFRICAN ACHIEVES INTERNATIONAL FAME: FIRST EMINENT BLACK PSYCHIATRIST TO PRACTICE IN LONDON'S HARLEY STREET." Well, I was absolutely bowled over just seeing your name in print! (Slight Pause.) Anyway, how does it feel? To be the first eminent psychiatrist of your race, I mean?

Kerry: I'm afraid I'm not the first, Mrs. Gresham.

Woman: Oh, yes you are! In Britain that is. You most certainly are! Don't be modest, Dr. Kerry! Believe me, it never pays to be modest. No one respects you for it.

Kerry: I'm not modest.

Woman: I've read everything about you. I almost feel I know you. Kerry: (Mystified) You just said you did?

Woman: What?

Kerry: Know me. Woman: Did I?

Kerry: Yes. You suggested we've met before.

Woman: Oh, yes! So I did. (She laughs self-deprecatingly.) So I did indeed! (Pause. Kerry gets impatient.)

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, is there anything I can do for you?

Woman: How can I know that? I don't know the limits of your talents, do I? Of your capabilities, I mean. (Pause) I can't simply say straight off, can 1, whether or not you can help? All I can say is, I'm prepared to try you. (Pause) There are so many quacks in Harley street these days, one has to be careful about whom one can trust. (Pause) Oh, I don't mean you, of course! So far as I can tell, your qualifications are of the highest standards. (Pause) Your qualifications are impeccable. Beyond any question or doubt. All your patients testify to your tremendous skill, to your personal warmth. They say you have a certain touch. (She laughs sexily.) The touch of the sun, I suppose. There must be many women, Dr. Kerry, white, middle-class women like myself, who find the idea of a personal encounter with you positively overpowering. (Pause) Do you know, my sister has been going to one psychoanalyst now for twenty years without any appreciable improvement in her condition. She must have paid a fortune by now. I've told her she ought to try someone else for a change. Someone like you, Dr. Kerry: someone from a different background who's not afraid to show a little personal warmth!

Kerry: (Cautious) Personal warmth… Well, yes-there's nothing wrong with a little personal warmth in a Doctor of Mental Health so long as it doesn't get too personal. (Pause) You said just now you wanted to read everything about me. Why did you want to read about me?

Woman: Oh, I don't know. To re-live the past, I suppose. (Pause) You men are so quick to forget. It's one gift you all seem to possess, forgetting.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, are you sure you're not committing an error? 

Woman: Why should I commit an error?

Kerry: Because I don't think I've ever set eyes on you before ... In fact, I'm (he hesitates) I'm almost certain it's all a mistake.

Woman: Ah! Almost but not quite sure, are you, Dr. Kerry?

Kerry: No one can be absolutely sure about something like that. (Pause) Anyway, you've said nothing so far which proves we've ever met before… 

Woman: (Her tone suddenly hardens) Of course, we've met before! (Suddenly laughs suggestively) I'd say we've done more than meet, Dr. Kerry! I'd say you and I have enjoyed what you might call ... very intimate moments.

Kerry: I beg your pardon!

Woman: Oh, dear. I hope we're not going to adopt that kind of tone all of a sudden.

Kerry: I don't think I've ever set eyes on you in my whole life!

Woman: I mean, it's not as if I'm making impossible claims on you-yet. I haven't come here accusing you of paternity for my child or anything of the kind, have I?

Kerry thinks the woman possibly mad. He watches helplessly as she begins another walk-about in his consulting room, looking the place over. Finally she stands in a far corner, hands behind her back, leaning against the wall.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham—!

Woman: Gloria. Please, call me Gloria.

Kerry: (Heavily sardonic) If you prefer it!

Woman: I prefer it. (Pause) Gloria. That's what you used to call me. By my first name. (Pause) Your voice had a certain gentleness then which I can still remember. It had a certain quality-how shall I put it-of hushed joy. Perhaps because it was spring. (Almost hugging herself with the pleasure of that memory). Oh, how I recall that spring! The jacarandas were in full flower as I remember. Everywhere was the smell of jasmine. You said if we didn't meet again you'd always remember the smell of jasmine.

Kerry: That's absurd! I've never had anything to do with you.

Woman: (Angrily) How can you be sure? You men are so forgetful about things like that. Birds of passage is what you are!

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, I'm absolutely certain I've never had the pleasure

Woman: (Rudely interrupting) Pleasure is most certainly what you had! Listen. (Softly) I suppose you don't really remember anything.

Kerry: Remember what?

Woman: You know what I mean.

Kerry: No. I don't know what you mean. (Brief pause. Kerry decides to move with tact.) Mrs. Gresham, did you make an appointment with my secretary for this interview? (Smiles apologetically) I'm afraid I'm always in a kind of tizzy at this time of morning.

Woman: That's not what they told me. Far from it. (She turns to smile) They said you'd be cool and efficient.

Kerry: Cool and efficient?

He looks at her with foreboding. 

Woman: That's what they said.

Kerry: Who's they?

Woman: People who know of your capabilities. (Kerry goes toward his desk and begins to lip quickly over the pages of the appointment book.) Please, don't bother to look in your diary, Dr. Kerry. The truth of the matter is, I didn't bother to make an appointment.

Kerry straightens up. Kerry: Ah!

Woman: I took the liberty of coming—(Smiles)—unannounced, as it were. 

Kerry: I see. (Pause) Well, that is slightly unusual, isn't it, Mrs. Gresham?

Woman: I like to think of myself as slightly unusual, Dr. Kerry. (Pause) I've always thought of myself as somewhat unusual. That's how in my own humble way I always like to think of myself.

Kerry: Don't we all, Mrs. Gresham. (Kerry seems uncertain what to do next.) Look, Mrs. Gresham, I don't mind dealing with your problem...

Woman: Ah, now you're getting annoyed with me, Dr. Kerry.

(Coming toward him)

Kerry: I'm not getting annoyed.

Woman: You are though… just a little bit.

Kerry: I can assure you I'm not. (Pause) Not yet anyway.

Woman: Ah, that's nice. (Pause) Slow to anger, are you, Dr. Kerry? 

Kerry: In my profession I have to try and keep calm.

Woman: Keep your cool as they say.

Kerry: If you wish to put it that way, yes.

Woman: All the same, I think you're intrigued by me. Wouldn't you say you were just a little bit intrigued, Dr. Kerry?

Giving the woman complete appraisal. He seems greatly impressed by her powerful sexuality.

Kerry: Well, yes. I would say, quite intrigued. 

Woman: (joyously) You are?

Kerry: Well (Slight pause) Wouldn't any man? 

Woman: (Sharply) What do you mean by that?

Kerry laughs flirtatiously

Kerry: Well. A splendid woman of dazzling good looks waltzing into your office at 10 o'clock in the morning without so much as an appointment.

Woman: I see. (Slowly) So you think I'm dazzling, do you?

Still carrying on in the spirit of a harmless flirtation.

Kerry: What man wouldn't! (Laughs) As a matter of fact, I don't mind admitting: it's not very often that one gets a visit from a woman of such obvious good…

Woman: (Suddenly hard) Stop it! 

Kerry: What?

Woman: I said, stop it! 

Kerry: Stop what?

Woman: Whatever you think you're doing! (Small silence) just what game do you think you're playing, slobbering over me like that?

Kerry: Ah, wait a minute now, Mrs. Gresham.

Woman: I mean it! Trying to cajole me. All this pep talk about sex! (Slight pause) Christ, I'm hardly in the room for five minutes and you're already trying to sex me up.

Kerry: Now, look, I think you're being bloody unfair! 

Woman: Am I?

Kerry: Yes. I was merely trying to pay you a compliment.

Woman: What for? You are a psychiatrist, aren't you? You're not here to chat up women, are you?

Kerry: I was doing nothing of the sort!

Woman: I'm warning you, Kerry! I don , t care if you're black and South African and have been oppressed for as long as anyone can remember. This is not South Africa. Here you're just another psychiatrist, a professional man, like anybody else. No favors. You're supposed to perform your duties like anyone else without fear or favor.

Kerry: You're not here to lecture me on my duties.

Woman: As long as you don't start anything funny with me! God, I hate being chatted up by complete strangers!

Kerry: Complete strangers! Only a minute ago…

Woman: (Cutting him short) Never mind what I said a minute ago! (Pause) Just because you're black you think you can get away with murder. Well, you won't!

Kerry: What are you talking about? Woman: Chatting me up!

Kerry: I never chatted you up. Mrs. Gresham, if you please. May I make a simple observation. I think you're obsessed with being chatted up.

Woman: Calling me 'splendid' and 'dazzling'. Do you always pay compliments to women who come to see you? Is that what you do up here? Sweet-chatting women on the National Health Service?

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, let me put it this way. I'm sorry if I annoyed you. Okay? I apologize! I didn't mean to be offensive.

The woman smiles dazzlingly. She sits down on the chair next to the couch. Casually she lifts one leg, inspecting her stocking, then the other. Delicately she uses one foot to remove first one shoe, then the other.

Woman: All right. I forgive you.

Kerry: (Not placated) And now if you don't mind, I'd like to get on with my work.

He goes to sit at his desk.

Woman: Ah, now you're angry. 

Kerry: I'm not angry.

Woman: Yes. You are. I've made you feel… very bitter. You're bitter. 

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham...

Woman: You shouldn't be. It only confirms what they all say about you. 

Kerry: Who?

Woman: White people. They say you all have chips on your shoulders.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, I don't care a damn what white people say about us! 

Woman: There you go again! Being bitter I mean! Bitterness will get you nowhere!

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, please, listen carefully to me. This has gone on long enough! In all fairness, I must now ask you to state your business. Or ask you to leave.

Woman: Business? (She gets up from stool and sits on the couch as though testing it.) You are a psychiatrist, aren't you?

Kerry: Yes. Of course. (Pause) What I mean is: why did you come here? Did a G. P. send you to us.?

Woman: No one sent me. I came of my own free will. (She smiles dazzlingly). Being of sound mind and…. No, I suppose that's not strictly true, is it, Dr. Kerry? You don't think I'm of sound mind, (Pause) do you, Dr. Kerry? You think I'm mad but—(She raises her knee to rub it against the inside of her right thigh)—but beautiful. Don't you, Dr. Kerry?

Kerry: Please, let's not get back to that subject again.

Woman: Come on! Admit it, you think I'm beautiful, don't you, Dr. Kerry? 

Kerry: I'll admit you have very striking good looks.

Woman: You think I'm sexy?

Kerry: I'm not going to be led into making any more statements of that kind again.

Woman: (Sweetly) Nevertheless, (She lies on her back on the couch) you think it. That's what you think. You think I'm sexy!

Kerry: As a general observation, yes.

Woman laughs. Woman: As a general observation?

Silence. Kerry comes and sits on the stool next to the couch where the woman is lying.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, will you please listen to me? I'm a very busy man, Mrs. Gresham. I have many patients in my practice. So I must ask you to cooperate in order to save us as much time as possible. You haven't told me why you came to see me.

The woman remains moodily quiet. Silently suffering.

Woman: I came to see what you have become. An old friend. Do I need a reason to come and see you? 

Kerry: Who are you? (A desperate try) Are you by any chance a friend of Dr. Barlow's? 

Woman: Who is Dr. Barlow? 

Kerry: A South African heart surgeon. 

Woman: Where does he live?

W, Kerry: Maida Vale.

Woman: I don't know any Dr. Barlow.

Kerry: Sorry. I just thought that possibly I might've met you at his house.

Woman: You didn't meet me at any Dr. Barlow's.

Kerry: I thought I might've done…

Woman: Done what?

Kerry: Meet you…

Woman: (Incredulously) At Dr. Barlow's?

Kerry: Yes. (The woman laughs. Kerry gets annoyed.) What's so funny?

Woman: Nothing.

Silence

KerrylWoman: What?

Kerry: I'm sorry. You want to say something.

Woman: Does he throw nice parties?

Kerry: Who?

Woman: This Dr. Barlow.

Kerry: I don't know what you'd call 'nice'.

Woman: Interesting then. (Pause) Are his parties interesting?

Kerry: I suppose so. (Pause) One always meets the most extraordinary people there.

Woman: I see. (She gets up from the couch and wanders around the room again.)

Is that why you think you might've met me there? Because you think I'm odd? A bit off my rocker? (She swivels around) Is that what you think?

Kerry: No, that's not what I meant at all.

Woman: What did you mean then?

Kerry: Well, nothing offensive, really.

Woman: But you do think I'm odd, don't you? At the very least, extraordinary?

Kerry: No.

Woman: You think I'm ordinary then?

Kerry: In a nice way, yes.

Woman: What's the nice way of being ordinary?

Kerry: Being 'normal'. That's what I meant.

Woman: You think I'm normal, do you?

Kerry: So far as I can see, yes.

Woman: A woman with normal capacities?

Kerry: Let us say, I see nothing wrong with you.

Woman: You find me adequate?

He laughs self-consciously.

Kerry: Now, wait a minute. Is this some kind of inquisition or something? (Pause) Anyway, you must please try to understand. When I use the word 'normal', I'm not employing it in a strictly professional sense here. (Pause) I mean, in my kind of profession one is soon made forcefully aware that beneath the surface, people aren't quite what they seem at first glance.

Woman: So you wouldn't give me a clean Bill of Health? Is that it?

Kerry: I wouldn't put it quite that way.

Woman: How would you put it then?

Pause. Kerry gets up from stool.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, I'm afraid this conversation is getting us absolutely nowhere.

She sits down on the stool next to the couch again. Casually she lifts one leg on to her other knee, elaborately inspecting her stocking, smoothing here and there. Then the other leg. She then sighs and begins to remove stockings. Kerry is greatly alarmed.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham! 

Woman: Yes.

Kerry: You can't do that in my consulting room! 

Woman: I can't do what?

Kerry: Remove your stockings! I can't allow you to remove items of clothing in my consulting room.

Woman: I'm afraid I've got to take them off. It's sweltering in here. I feel as if I'm centrally overheated. Besides I always ladder my stockings under severe emotional stress. I ladder them at the rate of at least one pair a week. (Soft and vulnerable.) I must be going through a difficult phase in my life.

Kerry: Why do you think so? Anyone can ladder their stockings.

Woman: Not as often as I ladder mine. I don't know how I manage it. I must be going through a crisis in my life. (Pause) All the same, I'm not entirely without hope. (Pause) It's just a phase. I keep telling myself. It will soon pass. Meanwhile, I ruin quite a lot of things, mainly material possessions of which I'm unhappily surrounded-a sign, no doubt, of an immense spiritual wastage going on within.

Kerry: Wastage?

Woman: Yes. Lately, I've developed an extraordinary capacity for unhappiness.

Kerry: Is that so?

Woman: What do you mean, is that so? Kerry: Why, nothing.

Woman: You're just like my husband. You respond to mental suffering with one resounding clich6 after another.

Kerry: Well, I'm sorry.

An embarrassed silence ensues.

Woman: My husband is having an affair with another woman, Dr. Kerry 

Kerry: Is that so?

Woman: (Irritably) Oh, for heaven's sake!

Kerry: I'm sorry. (Pause) What does you husband do, Mrs. Gresham?

Woman: He's a chemist. An adulterous chemist, Dr. Kerry. He thinks I don't know he's sleeping with that Wilkins woman. Some common tart he picked up in the Midlands to work as his assistant in the laboratory. (Pause) God, what a joke! All these late nights he keeps in the laboratory ... (Snorts) Always on the point of some major breakthrough. (She laughs sardonically) What a charade! Thinks I don't know what he's up to. Always on the point of some astounding breakthrough which the world of chemistry has simply but just simply been waiting for! (Pause) Have anything to do with my husband, Dr. Kerry, you'll hear of nothing else, but near-breakthroughs. They should award him a Nobel Prize just for the late nights he keeps in the laboratory. And the near-breakthroughs, I never heard of so many near-breakthroughs in my whole life.

Pause.

Kerry: That's hardly an unusual state of affairs, Mrs. Gresham. 

Woman: God, you're boring!

Kerry: You may not like it, but it's the truth. The history of scientific research is littered with failed hopes and wasted ambition, with near-misses as you call them. At all times scientific research is characterized by squandered opportunities and dissipated insights.

The woman laughs scornfully.

Woman: My God! Do you always talk like that? 

Kerry: What do you mean?

Woman: The way you talk… like a newspaper editorial.

Kerry: (Irritated) I talk exactly the way I have always talked. She laughs, then quickly stifles it.

Woman: Ah, forget it! It's my husband we're talking about. His brilliantly staged adulteries. I suppose if I wanted, I could divorce him. (Pause) It would be the easiest thing to do. He doesn't even eat at home anymore. God, how many times have I cooked something real special for him and when he comes home he can't eat because he's already dined with that slut he consorts with in his laboratory. (Pause) I could divorce him. Only we are so compatible, Dr. Kerry. Sexually, I mean.

Kerry: Listen, Gloria,—

Woman: Fair is fair! I mean give credit where credit is due. My husband is exceptionally good in bed. He's a real technician. I can hardly keep up with him…

Kerry: Gloria, you didn't come here to advertise your husband's sexual prowess.

Woman: Am I embarrassing you?

Kerry: Nothing embarrasses me. You forget I'm a trained psychiatrist. 

Woman: I just thought you were. A little embarrassed.

Kerry: I listen to hundreds of stories like yours everyday. Frankly, some c them are greatly exaggerated. Especially stories about sexual performance. I can always take them with a pinch of salt.

Woman: You think I'm exaggerating? You don't know my husband. regular sex maniac, he is. Why do you think he needs another woman? 

Kerry: That I can't say. I don't know your husband, Mrs. Gresham.

Woman: Well, I'll tell you why. One woman is not enough for him. He needs more than one woman to satisfy him.

Kerry: How long has this been going on?

Woman: Oh, I don't know. Five, six months, maybe years. (Pause) I mean, it not as if I'm inadequate or something, is it? Some men have found me more than adequate. I've had more than one testimonial from men who've found me terribly adequate.

Kerry: I'm sure you're very adequate, Mrs. Gresham.

Woman: I have a good body. Men still turn their heads when I walk down the street.

Kerry: I'm sure they do.

Woman: As a matter of fact, I've always had a problem with men. 

Kerry: Oh? What kind of problem?

Woman: In the Underground, in buses, wherever there are crowds, men always try to run their hands over me. Sexually harassing me.

Kerry: Is that a fact?

Woman: They always try to feel me about. It's most embarrassing.

Kerry: Did you tell your husband all this? That men are always trying to feel you?

Woman: Tell my husband? What for? What are you talking about?

Kerry: It may do your husband a lot of good to know some men desire you. Most husbands like to compete.

Woman: You don't know my husband. He thinks I invite men to touch me, to feel me about.

Kerry: Surely, that's a very unreasonable attitude.

Woman: Of course, it's an unreasonable attitude. My husband is a very unreasonable man, Dr. Kerry. And now he's having an affair with his assistant. What shall I do, Dr. Kerry? Shall I take a lover? What am I supposed to do?

Kerry: Those occurrences, Mrs. Gresham, are not as unusual as some people might think, especially among married couples of a certain age-group. I all a question of boredom.

Woman: What about me? Don't I get bored? What am I supposed to do? Take a lover? Is that what I should do?

Kerry: That I'm not qualified to say.

Woman: What are you qualified for then?

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, my brief doesn't run that far. I'm not here to give advice on matters of an ethical nature. I'm here to help those of my patients who are suffering from severe emotional stress to such an extent that they are incapable of living a full normal life. Consequently, I'm unable to advise you as to whether to take a lover or not.

Woman: I want to be happy. Why don't I deserve to be happy?

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, it is not given to most of us to be happy. Merely to be able to cope with our unhappiness.

Woman: Why do psychiatrists talk so much crap? (She gets up from the chair.) It's so hot in here! Do you always keep the window shut like this?

Kerry: Yes. I'm afraid I have to have complete silence when I'm with a patient.

Woman: August is a terrible month. I ought to go away from here. (She sits on the couch.)

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham…

Woman: That's what I ought to do. Go away somewhere nice with a bit of a breeze and a cooling ocean. (Pause) I've often dreamed of the sea, you know, always the same sea, with golden sands and fringed by nice palm trees with bright green fronds trembling in the breeze…. Sometimes there are people bathing on the beach, disgraceful men waddling about in the nude; sometimes it's just fishermen, simple peasants with hard calloused hands and faces burned to black cork by the blazing sun. Then it's me who's swimming in the never-never. Showing off, I suppose. Being provocative. And there are always these men, running after me, trying to get their hands on my twat.

Kerry: On your what?

Woman: Twat. Oh you know what I mean.

Elaborately she lifts both legs onto the couch and lies on her back, her knees raised, so that the two flaps of her skirt fall apart, revealing soft glossy thighs. Kerry steals another glance, then drops his look.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, I can't allow you to lie down on that couch like that. 

Woman: Why not?

Kerry: Anyone can walk in here and a fine sight they'd see, a psychoanalyst with a young woman lying on her back, exposing her legs all the way up to her undergarments.

She lets one knee drop.

Woman: Please, don't fuss, Kerry. One would've thought after all the experiences you've had, the sight of a woman's nether-garments would be no more disturbing to you than the glimpse of a rose-bush would be to an experienced gardener.

Kerry: Mrs. Gresham, this is not exactly a rose-bush, is it?

She laughs

Woman: Do I embarrass you? You needn't look if it embarrasses you. 

Kerry: That's not the point. 

Woman: What's the point then? 

Kerry: There are certain regulations a psychiatrist has to observe. 

Woman: Bend them! 

Kerry: What? 

Woman: I said, bend them!

Kerry gets up quickly.

Kerry: Oh, no! I'm doing nothing of the sort! I'm not getting myself into trouble over a patient and a married woman at that.

Woman gets up wearily from the couch. She walks toward Kerry and scrutinizes his face.

Woman: How you've changed. You never used to be so timid. What have they done to you? In South Africa you used to be so bold, prepared to snatch your opportunities wherever they offered themselves. Here I am, with a lot to offer you. I thought, given half the chance, I could remind you who you are, where you come from, some of the things you've done-things you've forgotten about.

Kerry: Listen to me, Gloria. In your life you've obviously known someone who bears some remarkable resemblance to myself, somebody you might have been very fond of, but I am not that persona. I've never seen you before in my life. Will you please get that into your head.

Woman: Of course I should've known people forget very easily these days. It's their last-ditch defense against unhappiness. How can I blame you? I myself had forgotten you. (Slight pause) I'm just as guilty as you are, I suppose. I too had forgotten you until I came across your name in the newspapers, and, as I say, it all came back to me again, the soft thud of your bare feet that day in the stable, the soft sound of your voice like the gentle hush in the rain; then your hands about me, your hot breath on my face, it was all so vivid, so astonishingly alive for me again. For days I couldn't sleep. I was really living in a dream-world of those childhood years in the bush, on a lonely South African farm, when to be loved by you seemed the very heaven on earth. (Pause) And the suffering of those years-all the frustrations which kept us apart for so much of the time. Again I ask myself: after all that pain, the agony and tears of frustration, how could I have forgotten you? (Pause) Do you know when you went away I tried to kill myself? I tried to take my life. One evening when my parents were away from the farm and the servants-your mother and the boys on the farm were out in the fields, I jumped into the lake and tried to drown myself.

Kerry: Gloria, this is an absurd invention. Look, I'm sorry to have to say this, but I think you suffer from very serious delusions.

Ignoring him she continues

Woman: I would've drowned too, had it not been for some passers-by who happened to see what was happening. They dragged me out just in time. (Returns to the couch where she lies facing the wall.) My stomach was full of water. They had to pump it out by the gallon.

Kerry sits on the side of the couch, patting the woman sympathetically. Kerry: Listen, Gloria, I'm sorry you nearly drowned.

She turns quickly, flinging herself into his arms, embracing the startled psychiatrist.

Woman: Oh, my darling! Why did you let them take you away from me? Why did you let them? Why? Why? Why? (Pause) Why didn't you fight? Why didn't you murder them? Why didn't you murder me and murder yourself? Why did you let them separate us? Why didn't you let them murder us instead? Why did you let them murder freedom?

In panic Kerry disentangles himself from her embrace. Jumps off the couch. 

Kerry: (Breathing heavily) Now, that's enough!

She goes after him. 

Woman: Why didn't you take me with you? 

Kerry: Look, you're making a mistake! I was never your lover!

She pauses, draws back.

Woman: You're denying me. After all that happened to me? After all the pain and misery?

Kerry: You're mad! I've never seen you before. (Laughs nervously) I know you! This is a game, isn't it? You're inventing all this? You're trying to test me? (Pause) It's all part of your reconnoitering service for your sister, isn't it? Well, you can tell her, I'm safe, I'm not mad.

Woman: Dr. Kerry, please.

Kerry: All morning you've been playing games with me. 

Woman: For goodness sake! Calm down.

Kerry: You think I don't know what you're up to? 

Woman: You're upset.

Kerry: Anymore trouble from you and I'm going to have you thrown out of here.

Woman: Sit down. (He sits on the couch) That's better.

Kerry: One call to the police and they'll be here in five minutes. 

Woman: Lie down. (He lies down) And try not to upset yourself.

She sits on the couch next to him. Holding his hand. With great difficulty, Kerry calms himself. Longer silence.

Kerry: I don't know how you can go around saying things like that about people. (Bluffing) Five minutes and they'd be here.

Woman: Who?

Kerry: The police. You don't want to mess around with me.

Woman: No one is going to do you any harm. (Silence, then sternly.) Dr. Kerry, you must learn to face up to facts. Only through acceptance of one's life and history lies the path to health and happiness.

He half rises in violent protest. 

Kerry: Don't you start trying to talk to me as if I'm the one who is ill.

She gently presses him down back to the couch.

Woman: No need to get excited. You needn't feel ashamed, of your past. That's what I'm here to tell you.

Kerry: I'm not ashamed of my past! 

Woman: Don't be.

Kerry: You're not my bloody psychiatrist for a start. (He lies perfectly still. Silence.) You come here making all sorts of allegations that can have absolutely no basis in fact and you expect me to be calm! (Pause) What a ridiculous suggestion! We've enjoyed the most intimate of human relations? What nonsense! You can't produce a scrap of evidence to support your absurd allegations.

Woman: Can't I?

Kerry: All you do is make elliptical references, allusions, allegations. No proof! Not a scrap of significant evidence!

Woman: (Sweetly) I told you my name.

Kerry: (Laughing scornfully) Your name! What has a name got to do with it. 

Woman: Everything.

Kerry: You're mad! I should've known the moment you walked through that door. You're as mad as a hatter!

From her sitting position on the couch, she lies back next to Kerry. They both lie on their backs, their hands clasped on their stomachs.

Kerry: Listen, Gloria, we can't be intimate here, like this. 

Woman: Why not?

Kerry: I told you before. It's against the regulations, that's why. 

Woman: For goodness' sake, Kerry, cut the crap!

Kerry: What?

Woman: I said, cut the crap! Who do you think you're fooling? You think I don't know who you are? What you do?

Kerry: I don't know what you're talking about.

Woman: You know exactly what I'm talking about.

Kerry: If you cause any trouble, I can have you removed from my consulting rooms, I'm telling you. All I have to do is pick up the telephone.

Woman: I'm sure you wouldn't be that foolish.

Kerry: What?

Woman: You wouldn't dare. I know too much about you.

Kerry hesitates.

Kerry: What do you mean you know too much about me?

Woman: Go on! Call the police! They'll probably have you removed first before they remove me. (Pause) You think I don't know what you've been up to.

Kerry: (Uncertainly) I don't know what you're talking about.

Woman: You know very well what I'm talking about.

Kerry: I'm not going to lie here and bandy words with you all morning. He gets off the couch.

Woman: Communist trash! 

Kerry quails.

Kerry: What did you say?

Woman: Pretending you're all clean and innocent!

Kerry: (Trying to palliate her) Look, Gloria, I don't know what tricks you're up to, but you're making a great mistake there. You're barking up the wrong tree, if I may use the expression. I don't know what kind of information you have in your possession, but 'communist', well, let me be frank with you; I think you're committing a very grave error there.

Woman: You think I don't know what you do? The places you've been. Boy, I could show you files on your activities which would make your hair stand on end.

Kerry: Files? What files?

Woman: I could have you deported any time I wanted. By tomorrow afternoon, you could be back in Johannesburg.

Kerry: You think you can frighten me? You're wasting your time. Everyone knows what I do. I am a psychoanalyst. I have a license to that effect.

Woman: What about your other activities? Eh, Dan Kerry? What about your secret underground activities?

Kerry: Such as?

Woman: You belong to several questionable organizations. 

Kerry: I belong to professional bodies.

Woman: But some not so professional. (Pause) The A.N.C. for instance? An organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the white government of South Africa.

Kerry: Who told you all this? Who sent you here? Are you from the South African Special Branch? You're from South African Security, aren't you?

Woman: Of course, you never publicize the fact, naturally.

Kerry: Who sent you here? The National Front? British Fascists?

Woman: You're merely one of the back room boys. The theoreticians of the movement.

Kerry: Look here, Mrs. Gresham… 

Woman: (Sweetly) Gloria, please.

Kerry: Look here, Gloria! You can't intimidate me. If you think you can come in here without any appointment and intimidate me; if you honestly think you can do that kind of trick, you have another thing coming. I don't care who sent you, I have means of protection. I can defend myself.

Woman: (Sweetly) Why don't you make it easier for yourself? Confess. 

Kerry: Confess to what?

Woman: You went to China and Moscow for indoctrination classes.

Kerry: England is supposed to be a free country. I have nothing to confess to you.

Woman: You were wined and dined at the Old Peking Hotel in Moscow. They went to considerable trouble to entertain your delegation.

Kerry: (With sharper irony) Is this a free society, or isn't it? Why can't I come and go as I please without attracting the attention of individuals like you? Woman: My God, you're funny!

Kerry: We'll see who'll come out laughing. (Pause) You come budging in here and think you can intimidate me. I'm sick up to here of you and your fantasies.

The woman lies with her knees raised provocatively. Kerry turns his face discreetly away from her exposed legs.

Woman: Fantasies? Like I said, the things I know about you could make anyone's hair stand on end. The Russians will not easily forget you. (Snigger) God, no! You disgraced yourself horrible during that trip, Dr. Kerry. It's no good denying it. For instance, at a party held in the Kremlin in honor of your delegation, you got drunk; outrageously, inexcusably drunk! (Smiling) You vomited on the steps of the Kremlin, Dr. Kerry. They had to hold your bloody head up like a barrel of whiskey just in case you spilled more of your vomit over everyone else,

Kerry jumps up. 

Kerry: You're mad! I've had enough of you! I want you out of here!

Kerry rushes to the door which he tries to open. The door seems locked from outside. He rattles it violently in a kind of suppressed panic. The woman laughs. 

Woman: You're wasting your time. Even your door is locked. (Pause) Kerry, you're locked in your own mental prison.

Kerry: Is this part of your plan? You and your powerful friends? You think you can scare me? (He goes to the telephone and tries it. The line is dead. He taps rapidly on the telephone bell.) I'll call the police! You'll see! (He taps again.) Running a protection racket, are you? You think you can go around scaring people, innocent citizens … putting undue pressure on innocent citizens… menaces and demands?… Well, you won't get away with it… what happened to law and order around here?… You wait until I call the police! 

Woman: Call the police? (The woman laughs) How? The telephone wires are cut. You and I have been sabotaged!

Kerry: Holding me hostage, are you? You could go to jail for this. They could put you away for twenty-five years in jail for this!

Woman: I thought you might appreciate a few urban guerrilla tactics from your own textbooks. Isn't this what they taught you in Moscow and China? 

Kerry: What are you talking about?

Woman: First, the lines of communications must be disrupted. Then follows the take-over of a carefully selected number of public installations, the most important centers of power. The police and radio stations, the Military headquarters and other Government buildings.

Kerry is frightened.

Kerry: Who are you? Who are you with? Why don't you say who you are with?

The woman ignores his questions.

Woman: You're not even good enough to hold your liquor. Vomiting all over the steps of the Kremlin. They should've sent you home.

Kerry: That's it! This is libel! I've warned you before. This is easily definable in law as a defamation of character. You could get sued if you're not careful!

The woman laughs good-humouredly.

Woman: Sued? What are you talking about? Kerry: I mean it.

Woman: For telling the truth?

Kerry: (He reflects a little) Listen, how do you know so much about me? Why don't you say who you're working for?

Woman: (She smiles cryptically) I told you I knew everything about you.

Kerry: (In a bored tone) It's no crime to vomit on the steps of the Kremlin.

Woman: Perhaps. But as a guest you shouldn't've done what you did. (Pause) And there was something else, too.

Kerry: What do you mean?

Woman: In the by-passes of those dim corridors, with the sound of tinkling glasses in the background, your blood humming with Vodka and lust, you met Madam Voronsky; a pert little blonde with an unusually slinky figure, and despite her repeated efforts to repulse your advances, you managed to put your arms around her. You were both hidden away from the light and you put your hand inside her dress. She spat on you. You still went ahead with your drunken attempts on her virtue. She had to be rescued by security guards and the scandal was only hushed up in the interest of fraternal and socialist solidarity. (She laughs scornfully)

Kerry: I've had enough! Why don't you get out of here! You've no business in my premises!

Woman: As you can well imagine the Russians weren't fooled by you. They knew you were unstable, undisciplined, lustful, partial to women and strong drink-in short, a liability. Your talk of spontaneity, of a truly liberated socialist man, untrammeled by bureaucratic control was just another guise to mask your unbridled sensualist appetites. A disruptive force which could only threaten any carefully established social order.

Kerry: (Flatly) Okay. I'll admit I was for spontaneity in human relations. I was for freedom and joy. I was for openness and friendship and not for terror and repression. I thought, and still think, that socialism is about confidence in the future of men…

Woman: (Sharply interrupting) What about women?

Kerry: …and women. I thought socialism means constructing a society in which men and women live in peace and freedom. A society in which the human eye has a sharp, enduring, penetrating gaze in which a person's face absorbs the sun like a sponge; the mouth is curved with joy and the chin is a little stern with pride. I thought for once we should re-possess our thoughts, rescue ourselves from the suffocating imbecility of our present society of social strife, of dog eat dog, of wildly fluctuating stock exchanges, of property sharks, and the whole bunch of fat-assed, tight-assed swindling pimps, the 'buy-and-sell' international brigade. (Pause) Above all, I was for love. Yes, I was even for the sensual love of man by woman and woman by man. I never denied it.

A suspended silence. The woman slowly drops her knees and looks at Kerry as though with genuine fondness. She sighs and stretches her arms to him. Kerry crawls into her arms and for a while they lie on top of each other. Motionless. Then slowly they kiss. They fondle. They groan and roll on the couch. They grapple and roll off the couch to the floor. Then silence. A few minutes later Kerry jumps off her and starts to brush himself up quickly.

Kerry: You realize I could go to jail for this. Taking advantage of a patient who comes to me in trust and confidence.

Woman: God, after all that speech-making. Well, I give up. 

Kerry: I think it would be better if you left.

Woman: Now that you've had me.

Kerry: I didn't have you.

Woman: You've just had me! What are you talking about, you didn't have me? 

Kerry: Look, if you're going to adopt that attitude, I feel I've been had as much as you.

Woman: Let's not split hairs.

Kerry: You must please leave now.

Woman: Bloody hypocrite! You were no better in South Africa. 

Kerry: What do you mean?

Woman: You used me and then you threw me away when it suited you. All I wanted was a token from you, not of love but of friendship in memory of a fond alliance.

Kerry: Don't start that again! (Scornfully) God, how you go on about what I once was to you.

Woman: It's the truth!

Kerry: (Flaring up) The truth! You don't know what truth is!

Woman: You can't face up to your responsibilities! You think you can just shrug me off as though I didn't exist, but I do! I'm your memory! I'm what you're trying to forget about South Africa, but you won't forget me! I won't allow you to! You can't forget my suffering! And the others? What about those others left behind? Are you going to just shrug them off too?

Silence. Kerry walks about. Kerry ponders. Kerry sighs. The woman watches him keenly.

Kerry: All right! All right! You want to talk about it. Let's start from the beginning. In the first place the white girl I was in love with was not named Gloria. She was called Nina. Nina Joubert.

Woman: What's in a name? Anyone can change a name. 

Kerry: She was a brunette, not blonde like you.

Woman: Oh, for God's sake! Don't be trivial! (Silence) Why can't you be frank with me?

Kerry: You want me to be frank with you? Okay, just this once I'll be frank with you. Remember, you asked for it. (Pause) Right? Okay, let's admit you and I were lovers. You see, I couldn't go on seeing you because your father found out about us. He made it sound like a great scandal, his pure-white daughter holding hands with the coffee-colored son of the house-maid, the old fake! They all became very excited about it. Threatened to get my mother and me off the farm. God, what damn hypocrisy! What I didn't know then and what you obviously don't know now, is that our affair was totally unacceptable in more ways than meets the eye.

Woman: (She laughs scornfully) If you mean because of the apartheid laws? Save your breath.

Kerry: By any other laws it was completely unacceptable. 

Woman: (Suspiciously) What do you mean?

Kerry: I'll tell you what I mean. (He goes and stands at the window, his back turned on her) Your father, Gloria, is also my father. For a long time Old Joubert was sleeping with his black maid in the backyard. I am the result of that squalid union.

A suspended silence. Then woman the explodes. 

Woman: You're a liar!

Kerry: There are ties of blood between us. 

Woman: You're a bloody liar!

Kerry: Oh, yes, Old Man Joubert, bloody tyrant and White Supremacist Extraordinaire was not above mixing it with the maid in the kitchen. Isn't that what they used to do in slavery days after all?

Woman: I don't believe you!

Kerry: Oh, I see. Who was being so brave a moment ago and asking me to accept my history. How about you trying just a wee little bit to accept some of your history. Why don't you seize the opportunity with both hands. Grasp at the chance.

As though her legs fail her, she sits heavily on the couch. 

Woman: It's all lies! You're a damned liar, Dan Kerry!

A small pause while she sobs.

Kerry: I see. It was all very well when you were dishing it out to me but when the shoe is on the other foot you scream 'lies'. How about your facing up to the facts for a change?

The woman moans. Kerry waits. 

Woman: Are you…

Kerry: Look at the curve of my chin. Look at the dip of my nose. I don't say the evidence is irrefutable. Not by any means. But even you can see in the offspring the traces of your father's-our father's-diabolical seed. Here, feel those arms. I'm nerved with sinews. Of steel of black mortar mixed with the blood of Dutch immigrants. My mother was a poor ignorant girl out of the bush when she came to work for your corrupt, rotting family. She never knew what she had let herself in for. The midnight knocks in the servant's quarters. The demands for late-night cocoas and hot-water bottles. (Softly) Your damned father. Our father used her, old Johannes Joubert. Do you understand that? He took advantage of his position as an employer. That was rape. The result was me. I'm your past! Why don't you accept me!

The woman puts her head down and rams her fingers into her ears.

Woman: (Trying to be calm) Are you suggesting my father was betraying my mother with a house-maid? Are you going to stand there and repeat such libellous lies?

Kerry: (Angrily) I'm suggesting nothing of the sort. Woman: Then what are you suggesting?

Kerry: It wasn't your mother Old Joubert was betraying, you cow! It was my mother he betrayed! (Calming down) It was my mother he exploited. A poor ignorant girl out of the bush, she came to work for your damned family a young woman unaccustomed to the ways of white men, full of goodwill and trust-and your damned father (Softly) our father-used her.

Woman: God! The deceit! The humiliation. I don't think I can stand anymore. 

Kerry: Can't you?

Woman: No!

She sobs

Kerry: Then get out and stay out! Next time you'll know better than to come budging in here, turning up a lot of stones! (He laughs scornfully) I wanted to re-live the past. There are usually scorpions under rocks.

 

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