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from the March 2006 issue

from Alive in the Mortuary

The setting is inside the mortuary of a hospital in an African country at war, Angola. Two corpses are covered by white sheets.

In the original play, the text in italics is spoken in English, and otherwise the text is spoken in Cantonese.

Scene One

[The curtain opens, pitch black darkness, the sound of banging on doors.]

Dr. Li: Damn! Damn! Damn! [banging on the doors] Open the door! Sam! Sam! Are you guys there? Open the door! Shit ---

[Lights up, an exhausted old doctor, a Médicins Sans Frontières volunteer wearing a surgical gown, has his back to the audience, facing the door; silence]

Dr. Li: Shit! What am I supposed to do? Surrender to those bastards like all you cowards? Sam! All of you! In the name of these bodies! Open the door!

[Shouting at the door]

Open the door! Open the door . . . . . .


[Sits down in exhaustion, takes deep breath; looking at his watch on the left wrist, he suddenly calms down.]

Pulse: 14 beats / 6 seconds, averaging 140 per minute, for a patient with IHD & hypertension, this is a critical moment. At this moment, angina radiates from the heart to the left arm and left chin, with occasional arrhythmia and significant SOB, rough estimation of BP is 160/120 mmHg. The worst thing is, if this doesn't kill me now, I would be sent back to HK as good as dead.

Shit . . . . . .

The optimum treatment now will of course be hospitalization. A first class hospital bed would be a good choice, if not, lying in a king's size bed for a month or two in May Tower could be another option.

Get some fresh air, together with a tolerable amount of exercise, attempting to live what is known to be the ideal healthy lifestyle . . . . . .

Hmm . . . . . . or maybe drive to Repulse Bay in my Porsche, to eat foie gras; then in the afternoon, if I felt like it, I could go to seminars at the HKU, then in the evening, I'd go to Dr. Hui's ball . . . . . .

But my wife reminds me of my cholesterol-level, so I don't have much to eat at the party. I am hungry when I get home . . . . . . maybe I stop for some chicken congee in Shatin on the way back, or have a bowl of noodles in Wanchai, or go to Kowloon for Chiu Chow food, or have a snack in Tai Po, or at least go to Water Street for congee with fried dough sticks* . . . . . .

The last thing in the world is ending up in an unknown country like Angola. Bloody hell, I have been working for 2 weeks non-stop, standing for 38 hours, not even eating a biscuit. Watching you bastards kill them again. What kind of world is this? Huh? 25 years of war, aren't you sick and tired of it? I just saved you from a wound from government land mines, then you get killed by guerillas just outside my door! It's fine if you want to waste my time. But aren't you fucking tired? Don't you guys think it's pointless?

[Dr. Li looks at one of the corpses, and makes the sign of the cross.]

I've never done this kind of thing. Firstly I'm not religious. Secondly I've always had better things to do. [starts to pray] Heavenly Father, here lie two of your faithful believers, also a devoted couple . . . . . . I say they were faithful because they were injured on the way to your church. I know they were devoted to each other because before the husband passed out, he was still comforting his badly injured wife until she was pushed into the OT, when he himself had had his leg blown off. It proves that the psychological state directly influences the physical state of a human being. When he woke up from his operation, I was still operating on his wife.

He asked Sam to push his wheel chair outside the OT to wait for his wife to come out.

The operation took 38 hours. When I came out of the OT, I saw him waiting at the door. I asked Sam, why isn't this patient resting in the ward? Sam said he was waiting for his wife. I told Sam this is the OT, if he wants to wait he must wait in the ward. This was the first time I scolded Sam. The man had just been operated on, he was weak. I can't allow a patient to wander about after an operation. I think this African man knew that I was scolding Sam even though he didn't understand English. I could see something in his eyes when I was shouting at Sam. He was muttering "sorry sorry" to me.

[The sound of open fire.]

If you shot her while she was in a coma, she wouldn't feel a thing. But him, how did he feel when he saw his wife shot in front of his eyes. For someone conscious, I cannot imagine how it feels to have a red hot bullet going through the left temple, through the brain and coming out the other side. I have witnessed a lot of tragic situations. But only a few have upset me . . . . . . maybe I'm exhausted . . . . . . or maybe I treasure most those who have stepped one foot through death's door. May be this man's love for his wife moved me . . . . . . or may be I'm just too involved . . . . . . I screamed in fury! Stupid! It was absolute madness! Why waste time walking for ten miles to come to the hospital? Why struggle to crawl and beg others to send you here? For what? I don't blame you. I even thank you. I thank you for reminding me how useless I am. Thank you for telling me that for the past 38 hours, the past two weeks, and the past few years, I was just working for nothing. There is nothing more base on earth than humanity! Men are like barbaric devils that have invaded and destroyed this heaven. And so-called international aid volunteers can only watch. We cannot change this world . . . . . . or may be we . . . even . . . make it worse. If we hadn't opened our camps and hospitals here, then no patient would be taken hostage. If all of our MSF doctors just sat at home and watched TV, you might have peace after a furious war, and rest in peace after suffering your injuries.


My chest is about to explode! Please tell me that we have been too naïve. This was not my expectation.

One by one . . . . . . one by one . . . . . . No reason to be here any more. I don't want to stay here.

Sam! Let me out! I have to talk to them. Sam! Damn it! You are fired! Open this door! I'm the one in charge here! I'm ordering you, OPEN THE DOOR!

[A young man suddenly comes out from behind the curtain and stands on a chair with a piece of paper in his hand.]

Jeff: Down the cliff I flew over the forest. Dry leaves brushed against my feathers; claw-like branches scratched across my back. My instinct guided me towards the sky. The ocean rushed up to my face. I stretched upwards to avoid the waves. Then on towards the sky I reached while I felt the ripples on my toes. Leave far behind, the forest that had trapped me, across the frozen sea beneath . . . . . .

Dr. Li: Who the hell are you?

Jeff: [Shocked as he jumps down from the chair.] Who the hell are you?

Dr. Li: [Looks around.] You . . . . . . have you been here all the time? Why didn't you show yourself?

Jeff: I . . . . . . I was making a poem . . . . . . when did you come in?

Dr. Li: Making a poem? With the mess out there you are . . . . . . making a poem? Do you know about catastrophe ? Don't you know what chaos is?

Jeff: No big deal. This sort of chaos happens every day in a hospital. You get used to it . . . . . .

[Still playing with paper in hand]

Dr. Li: You! --- who are you? Why are you hiding in here?

Jeff: Me? I'm --- wait a minute. You came in, I should be asking who you are.

Dr. Li: How dare you speak to me like this! I'm the one in charge here!

Jeff: So what? Doesn't mean you can just come in and shout at me. You are not welcome. Go away . . . . . .

Dr. Li: . . . . . . wait . . . . . . you speak Cantonese?

Jeff: Obviously.

Dr. Li: What I mean is --- how is it that I didn't know there was another Chinese here? I know there is a new guy coming to the engineering department . . . . . . but you shouldn't be here . . . . . .

Jeff: You keep talking nonsense and refuse to go. I've never met anyone so rude . . . . . .

Dr. Li: You --- which department do you belong to? Who is your supervisor?

Jeff: Hey! One, since I came back from England 4 years ago, I have spent a lot of time practicing speaking either pure Cantonese or pure English. Please don't talk to me in a mixture of languages. If you would prefer me to speak in English, I shall speak to you in perfect English. If you want me to switch the channel, just let me know, alright? ---

Dr. Li: Alright ---

Jeff: I haven't finished yet. Two, I hate people asking me who my supervisor is --- Because a) what I do may not necessarily reflect my supervisor's opinion. b) If there is any problem, I am the one responsible for the matter concerned, not my supervisor. c) . . . . . .

Dr. Li: What are you talking about, what's this... a, b, and c . . . . . .

Jeff: I'm sorry. For years now, since childhood, I like to stress the important points in my conversation.

Dr. Li: [Keeps looking around.] Is there another exit?

Jeff: . . . . . . if we have the chance to discuss something more complicated, you will find me using Roman numerals I, II, III, IV as the big headings. Then Arabic for smaller headings. 1a, 1b, 1c etc for further subtitles. And the smaller cases will be put into i), ii), iii) . . . . . . so forth

Dr. Li: That's insane! I have never understood engineers . . . everything is . . . so . . . mechanical.

[He takes away the pencil in Jeff's hand and start screwing it into the keyhole.]

Jeff: Hang on, engineering isn't all mechanical, it's more complicated than that!

Dr. Li: But its still mechanical engineering

Jeff: Hey, What are you doing?

Dr. Li: [Still trying hard to push the door open.] What the hell do you think I'm doing?

Jeff: Sharpening a pencil maybe.

Dr. Li: Unlocking it of course! Give me a hand . . . . . .

Jeff: You don't have the key?

Dr. Li: Obviously . . . . . .

Jeff: I don't want to get out. You can leave if you like.

Dr. Li: Why? You don't care about the mess out there?

Jeff: Strictly speaking, I don't belong here anymore. What's happening out there has got nothing to do with me.

Dr. Li: God! You just want to stay here and do nothing? Don't you know how to give a shit?

Jeff: Up to this point there is nothing here that I would miss anymore. I have packed all my belongings, ready to fly back to the UK. I'm just waiting for my friend to take me to the airport. Oh, give up. You know there is no way to open this door.

Dr. Li: . . . . . .

Jeff: According to the law of mechanics, 1) the way you open this door, 2) the mechanics of this door, 3) your ability including: 3 a) your age, 3 b) the weight of the door compared to your weight and . . . . . .

Dr. Li: Oh! Shut the fffffff--- don't make me swear.

[Jeff takes out a book and starts reading]

I'm telling you, you better shut the hell up. If God intended to lock us up together, I want you to keep silent for the rest of the time.

Jeff: What are you talking about?

Dr. Li: I said I want you to keep quiet . . . . . . Silence!

Jeff: You are saying that we are locked up together?

Dr. Li: That's right. But the key point is that ---

Jeff: Wait, wait . . . . . . I have to make myself clear. You and I are separate entities, nothing to do with each other. You are the only one who has been locked up here. Not me.

Dr. Li: Aren't you locked in here too?

Jeff: No! No one can lock me up. I've chosen to be here.


Dr. Li: God! Have I been locked up with a schizophrenic? If we don't call this being locked up then we must be caged up, packed up, buckled up or may be fucked-up . . . . . . forget it. I am not talking to you anymore. Silence!

[Dr. Li tries to sleep on the table.]

Jeff: You ---

[Jeff is too angry to say a word. He keeps walking here and there until he decides to show something to Li.]

Hey, I want to show you something. See? Library card, Student ID card . . . . . . and all these cards . . . . . . Watch! [Jeff walks to the door. With one of the cards, he opens the door and then closes it immediately. Li is shocked]

Dr. Li: What are you doing?

[Jeff shows him all his cards]

Jeff: I can open the door with this one . . . . . .

Dr. Li: What did you just do?

Jeff: And this one . . . . . .

[Jeff uses another card to open the door again, and close the door before Li can reach it.]

Dr. Li: Open it! I'm ordering you --- open the door!

Jeff: I was never locked up. You see, I'm quite familiar with the structure of doors and locks. It's impossible to ---

Dr. Li: Stop bullshitting! Just open the door!

Jeff: Why don't you try it yourself?

[Jeff throws the cards to Li and walks away with satisfaction.]

Dr. Li: Damn!

[Li tries several times but he fails to open it like Jeff had. He looks at Jeff.]

Jeff: Silence . . . . . .

[Jeff mocks Li by ignoring him. Li is furious.]

Dr. Li: Fine! Keep your silence! It's OK for me to stay here. I won't beg you or do anything to make you open the door for me. But listen and remember this:

While you fly over your forest, all those hands reaching out to you for help would collapse in your silence. While you glide between the trees, all those souls would be trapped in your silence, if you want to hear the beating of a weakening heart, please do continue with your silence.

Jeff: Hey hey hey. I have met old men like you before, but never this bad. You have not only invaded my privacy but also disparaged my poem without my invitation. This is ridiculous. You came in here all by yourself and now you blame me for not letting you out! I'm telling you. I would be more than happy to kick you out before you drive me crazy . . . . . . [Jeff walks to the door unwillingly]

Dr. Li: Now that's better. An adult like you should be aware of the consequences of your silence.

Jeff: Are you sure that you don't want to take a nap? It looks like you came in here to do that.

Dr. Li: Open the damn door . . . . . .

Jeff: Give me my cards then . . . .

Dr. Li: What cards?

Jeff: The cards! Where are they?

Dr. Li: Well . . . . . . they were in my hands a few minutes ago.

Jeff: So where are they now? Don't tell me you pushed them out when you were trying to open the door.

Dr. Li: What?

Jeff: The technique is that you should hold the card tight when you pass it through the slot. Otherwise it will slip out. I'm sure you've lost all my cards now.

Dr. Li: What the hell are you talking about? What do you mean by passing it through the slot? I think I dropped one of the cards on the floor.

[Both of them start looking on the floor.]

Jeff: That's it. I've given all of them to you. I can't get out now . . . . . .

Dr. Li: It's all your fault! You should have opened the door at the beginning for me!

Jeff: Stop moaning? Look for that damn card.

Dr. Li: SHIT!

Jeff: What?

Dr. Li: Arhhh --- I think I might have kicked it out through the gap accidentally.

Jeff: Bloody hell!

[Jeff tries to reach his hand under the door.]

That's it! All those hands reaching for help must collapse, all those souls will be trapped, and the weakening heart will definitely stop beating!

[Pause. Li holds his chest in pain and faints onto the chair.]

[Jeff rushes to Li to see if he is alright.]

Jeff: Hey!!

[Lights out.]

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