By Nancy Farmer
Reader’s Theater Edition #4
Excerpted and adapted for reader’s theater (or readers theatre) by Aaron Shepard, from the book The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, Orchard, New York, 1994
For more reader’s theater, visit Aaron Shepard’s RT Page at www.aaronshep.com.
Story copyright © 1994 Nancy Farmer. Script copyright © 1995, 2002 Aaron Shepard. Adapted and distributed by permission of Nancy Farmer. Scripts in this series are free and may be copied, shared, and performed for any noncommercial purpose, except the texts may not be posted publicly without permission.
PREVIEW: Tendai and his sister Rita get a taste of traditional village life, but only one of them is pleased.
GENRE: Science fiction
CULTURE: African (future), Zimbabwean
THEME: Traditional values
READERS: 6 or more
READER AGES: 12–15
LENGTH: 10 minutes
ROLES: Narrators 1 & 2, Rita, Tendai, Garikayi, Spirit Medium, (Old Woman), (Villagers)
NOTES: Nancy Farmer’s The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm is a 1995 Newbery Honor Book. For best effect, place NARRATOR 1 at far left, and NARRATOR 2 at far right, as seen from the audience. Harare is pronounced “ha‑RAH‑ray,” sounding like “hurrah ray.” Zimbabwe is pronounced “zim‑BOB‑way.” Tendai is pronounced “TEN‑di,” sounding like “ten die.” Garikayi is pronounced “GAR‑ee-KAH‑yee.” Chipo is pronounced “CHEE‑po.”
NARRATOR 2: Surrounded by a huge wall that keeps out the city, the people of Resthaven choose to live as Africans lived for thousands of years—in small tribal villages, raising their own food, and following the ancient traditions.
NARRATOR 1: Into this haven stumble three children of a high government security officer—the boy Tendai, his younger sister Rita, and their little brother Kuda. They were kidnapped on a trip through the city, and have just escaped from a toxic waste dump, where they were enslaved by a monstrous woman called the She Elephant.
NARRATOR 2: Now, while they wait for their chance to go home, they enjoy the beauty and idyllic life of Resthaven—or at least, Tendai does. Rita has a different view of it.
* * *
RITA: (upset) It’s all right for you. You’re a boy. You get to lie around listening to stories. I have to scrub the floor, wash clothes, sweep the courtyard, and . . . and . . . air out the babies’ bedding. It’s so horrible! Can’t you ask for the holophone so we can call Father? Nobody listens to me.
NARRATOR 1: Rita was hiding in a tiny clearing surrounded by thick bushes. She had a heap of disgustingly dirty mats that Tendai assumed was the babies’ bedding.
TENDAI: (in a low voice) They won’t listen to me either. I’ve been trying for days.
NARRATOR 2: By the rules of Resthaven, Tendai wasn’t supposed to be with Rita. Boys his age didn’t keep company with girls before getting ready for marriage.
RITA: They will so. I hear them talking. “Oh, the new boy’s so clever. Oh, he’s a wonderful story teller.” They think you’re the greatest thing since fried mice. (shudders) Did you see those poor little creatures that first night?
TENDAI: Our ancestors ate them, and we’re not vegetarians.
RITA: Our ancestors ate them, but our ancestors’ wives had to kill them. You should have heard their little squeaks.
TENDAI: (squeamishly) Don’t tell me.
NARRATOR 1: The reek of the babies’ bedding was overpowering. Tendai wanted to help her with it, but that certainly would not be allowed.
RITA: And speaking of wives, what about the second wife of Garikayi, the chief? Do you know how old Chipo is? Fourteen! And she’s eight months’ pregnant!
TENDAI: Keep your voice down.
RITA: I’ll keep my voice down if you keep your ears open. Garikayi’s first wife hasn’t had any children. The Spirit Medium said she might be a secret witch. He said witches eat their babies on the sly. Have you ever heard anything so stupid?
RITA: (lowering her voice) Garikayi married Chipo when she was only twelve, but she didn’t get pregnant till now. You can bet he’s anxious about it. He doesn’t have any children. It’s considered a disgrace. So you wouldn’t believe the fuss they’re making over her. She’s loaded down with charms and rubbed with ointments. If she so much as opens her mouth, someone puts food in it.
TENDAI: So what’s the problem?
RITA: Who do you think they’ll blame if something goes wrong with the birth?
NARRATOR 2: Tendai stared at her. He could tell that something worried her deeply.
RITA: (urgently) This is a village. No antibiotics. No doctors.
TENDAI: Women survived for thousands of years without them.
RITA: Some of the women, you stupid boy. Oh, why do I even bother to explain? Chipo’s too young! You may be in love with traditional life, but women and babies used to die in those wonderful old-fashioned villages. And think about this: I’m loaded with all kinds of work except one. They don’t let me help with the food. And you have to eat out of special bowls that no one else will touch. Do you understand?
TENDAI: (shocked) They think we might be witches?
RITA: You got it. Witches put things in people’s food. None of them will really trust us till the Spirit Medium says we don’t have witch blood in us. And he won’t do that until Chipo has her baby.
NARRATOR 1: Tendai stood up.
TENDAI: I have to go. The other boys will be looking for me to help with the cattle. But I’ll make a plan.
RITA: Get us out of here!
NARRATOR 2: Tendai stepped quickly from the thicket and ran off. He realized that, despite his promise to Rita, he hadn’t the slightest idea what to do.
* * *
NARRATOR 1: The next morning at dawn, Tendai was wakened by two high ululating cries. Chipo’s baby had been born, and it was a boy.
NARRATOR 2: Tendai got up and followed the other boys to a big camp fire where the villagers were gathering. He searched the crowd for Rita, but she wasn’t there.
NARRATOR 1: On a stool sat Garikayi, the chief. Next to him sat a man Tendai had not seen before. The man had a hard, bitter face and bloodshot eyes. He wore many charms, and he grasped a walking stick carved in the shape of a serpent. It had to be the Spirit Medium.
NARRATOR 2: People talked in low voices and hugged themselves against the chill of the morning. Gradually Tendai became aware that all was not right. Surely people should be rejoicing. But instead their mood seemed anxious. Was the baby deformed? he wondered. Was Chipo dead?
NARRATOR 1: An old woman emerged from a hut. Carrying a bundle, she approached the stools where Garikayi and the Spirit Medium sat. She unwrapped the blanket, and an outraged yowl arose from the baby.
GARIKAYI: (pleased) He’s strong!
NARRATOR 2: The Spirit Medium inspected the infant as the villagers looked on nervously. It was clear he was not fond of children, or at least not of this one. He frowned as he studied the wrinkled little face. The moments passed.
SPIRIT MEDIUM: (grudgingly) He’s one of us.
NARRATOR 1: A sigh went around the crowd.
NARRATOR 2: The villagers all smiled, and the anxious feeling was gone.
GARIKAYI: (joyfully to all) I have a son!
NARRATOR 1: Suddenly a pot crashed. Someone screamed. Everyone froze.
NARRATOR 2: Tendai heard the wailing of a baby—another baby.
NARRATOR 1: A girl emerged from the same hut. It was Rita! And she, too, carried a bundle.
NARRATOR 2: Rita marched up to Garikayi, who looked as though the sky had fallen on him. She held out the second bundle.
GARIKAYI: (upset, waving her away) No! No!
RITA: (insisting) It’s your daughter.
GARIKAYI: I do not accept her. She is an accursed twin.
RITA: (getting excited) She’s perfectly healthy. The midwife was going to kill her.
GARIKAYI: It is a weak, unnatural child. It will die.
RITA: Listen to her! She’s not weak! (close to tears) Oh, I won’t let you kill a tiny baby!
SPIRIT MEDIUM: (dryly) Twins are evil. They are against God’s order.
RITA: No baby is evil!
SPIRIT MEDIUM: One must die and be buried under the floor of the hut where it was born.
RITA: (screaming) So of course it’s the girl who has to go! Let’s throw the girl away. She’s no good! She’s worthless! You’re all a bunch of vicious! . . . male! . . . chauvinist! . . . PIGS!
NARRATOR 1: The Spirit Medium raised his walking stick to strike Rita. But Tendai wrenched it away. He flung the stick in the fire, and it burst into flames.
NARRATOR 2: The crowd gasped in horror.
SPIRIT MEDIUM: (pointing at Rita and Tendai) Grab them!
NARRATOR 1: The villagers pounced on the children and held them fast. Someone snatched away the infant. Someone handed a club to Garikayi.
NARRATOR 2: The chief stood over them a long, long moment. Then his face suddenly contorted with anguish. He threw the club away and tottered back to his stool.
SPIRIT MEDIUM: (dryly) Take these little hyenas to the punishment hut.
NARRATOR 1: Tendai and Rita were dragged along, then shoved through a door into darkness.
NARRATOR 2: For a while they sat trembling in silence.
RITA: (shakily) Thank you for sticking up for me.
TENDAI: (gently) Tell me what happened.
RITA: I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I just had to watch. I’ve never seen a newborn baby. I sneaked up to the door, and there he was, all wet like a fish. Then she was born. The midwives began to argue, and Chipo started to cry. One of the women went out to tell Garikayi.
TENDAI: So he knew.
RITA: They all did, except they pretended not to. They don’t like to kill babies.
TENDAI: Who would?
RITA: They think twins are caused by witchcraft. There’s a good twin, and an evil one they have to get rid of. The midwives decided to take the boy out to Garikayi and leave the girl alone with a midwife. You understand? (sighs) I heard them say it was important for the baby to be quiet. If she cried, everyone would know she was living. They couldn’t pretend she was stillborn.
TENDAI: But everyone knew.
RITA: Of course. It’s like the hamburgers we eat at home. We know a cow was killed to provide them, but we don’t like to think about it. We pretend they came just from the pantry. Well, the villagers pretend the evil baby was born dead.
TENDAI: How did you save it?
RITA: They all went out except Chipo, who was too weak to stand, and one old woman. She got a handful of ashes to fill the baby’s mouth.
TENDAI: How horrible!
RITA: But I bopped her on the head with a pot. Then I grabbed the baby and pinched her. She howled then all right. They couldn’t pretend anymore she wasn’t alive.
NARRATOR 1: Rita shivered violently and burst into sobs.
NARRATOR 2: Tendai hugged her and rocked her back and forth. He knew this wasn’t how a traditional brother behaved with a sister. But he was proud of Rita—and thoroughly sick of village ways.
Read the book!
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
By Nancy Farmer