This version of the play was first performed at The Bread and Roses Theatre, London, on 1st November 2015. Directed by Laura Jasper with Shala Nyx and Lydia Lane.
AMIRA – Girl of about seventeen.
SHAZNAY – Girl of about sixteen.
It is night. On the edge of London Bridge. It is a concealed spot. London sings behind them. The Shard and river somewhere.
AMIRA waits alone with a backpack. Checking her phone and looking anxiously around.
Enter SHAZNAY out of breath carrying a sports bag.
AMIRA : You’re late.
SHAZNAY: I’m sorry
AMIRA : The last train won’t wait, ya know
SHAZNAY : I thought we were meeting at Whitechapel tube?
AMIRA : I whatsapped you ages ago. It was too obvious there. This is safer. We can get the train straight from London Bridge.
SHAZNAY : I had to wait till my baby brother fell asleep.
AMIRA : Why?
SHAZNAY : I wanted to kiss him goodbye . . . without him knowing I was leaving.
AMIRA : I was worried you’d changed your mind.
SHAZNAY : Never.
AMIRA : (Annoyed.) Did you not listen, Shaznay?
SHAZNAY : What?
AMIRA : Ali said no head scarves. Why you wearing one now?
SHAZNAY : Not until we get to the airport.
AMIRA : Take it off now. You look bait. He said dress normal. We must be prepared. You never know who may have been watching us.
SHAZNAY begins to take off her headscarf.
SHAZNAY : No-one’s seen anything.
AMIRA : They can monitor ya internet easy now, ya know?
SHAZNAY : I deleted everything.
AMIRA : What if they’d been watching all our conversations. Or if someone at college overheard us and snitched? There always be snakes, Shaznay. We gotta be careful till we get there.
SHAZNAY : I have been, Amira. I promise you. I just forgot.
AMIRA : Don’t fuck this up for us.
SHAZNAY : I won’t.
AMIRA : Here’s your new phone, get rid of the sim.
They begin changing over old phones.
SHAZNAY : You’re my best friend . . . I’m just scared.
AMIRA : Scared?
SHAZNAY : Now it’s actually happening
AMIRA : How long have you known me, Shaz?
SHAZNAY : Since like . . . for ever.
AMIRA : I love you like a sister, you know that?
SHAZNAY : Yes.
AMIRA : And you trust me yea?
SHAZNAY : With my life.
AMIRA : Then believe me when I say, tonight, we’re doing something more important than anyone could ever dream of round here. We’ve been chosen. Little Shaznay and Amira from crappy Tower Hamlets . . . chosen.
SHAZNAY : I guess.
AMIRA : When they find out what we’ve done. Where we’ve gone. We’ll be remembered.
SHAZNAY : Remembered?
AMIRA : Our name’s gonna cut deeper than that Shard building up there in the sky. That Shard be nothing but splinters compared to the cuts we’re gonna make. We’re doing something courageous tonight. Something divine.
SHAZNAY : You think so?
AMIRA : I know so. We’re sacred. (Beat.) Come on, we should get to the station.
SHAZNAY : But the flight doesn’t go till morning?
AMIRA : It’s the safest route. We’ll get to Gatwick tonight and stay up, do our morning prayers and take that first flight. By the time the sun goes down tomorrow we’ll be on the edge of paradise.
SHAZNAY : But I thought they said it would take a day’s travel from Istanbul?
AMIRA : (Angry.) This is what worries me about you, Shaznay. Ya don’t eva listen. Ali said a chaperone will meet us at Istanbul and take us to the border.
SHAZNAY : What about the safe house in Konya first?
AMIRA : No need for that anymore. You’d be lost without me, you know? They’re gonna get us straight to the Syrian border now. He can’t wait to see you.
SHAZNAY : I’m nervous.
AMIRA : (Excited.) Buzzing you mean. Ain’t you always felt like me, Shaz? Wanted to get away from here. Always trying to fly. Well now we can. Just you and me.
SHAZNAY : Do you think they’ll be others our age?
AMIRA : The state be young, Shaz. You seen the Sisters Instagrams who’re already over there. There’s a whole youth movement. (Reflective.) I knew he’d like you. He took a shine to you straight away online. Your future husband Ali will take us over the border.
SHAZNAY : Sounds weird when you say it like that.
AMIRA : We’re gonna be like Arabian princesses riding in on Hussein’s horse.
SHAZNAY : We’ll stay together though, won’t we? You won’t leave me?
AMIRA : Of course we will. They’re building a whole community out there. Not just wives and mothers, but Doctors, engineers, builders. A pure state.
SHAZNAY : Ali’s a fighter though.
AMIRA : Shaz, you’re so lucky. I wished he had wanted me. He’ll be martyred. The Caliphate has called us. We’ll be greater than that Joan of Arc. I’ll be Amira of Arabia.
SHAZNAY : I do believe. I do. It’s just leaving my brother behind. I feel….I feel so ashamed.
AMIRA : There is no shame in sacrificing this life. Listen, the power we now hold. The two of us. We’re gonna bear the next generation of kings. It’s amazing…Away from all this shit …what we got here?
SHAZNAY : We have our families.
AMIRA : This will be a historic war. God’s role on earth is final. They will see the light.
SHAZNAY : And what if they don’t?
AMIRA : Then they must atone their sins. Now come, the train leaves in 15 minutes.
AMIRA begins to leave.
SHAZNAY : What did you tell your Mum? . . . Before you left her.
AMIRA : Just like we discussed with Ali. That I’m crashing at Katie’s this weekend. Simple. You told yours the same, right?
SHAZNAY : Yea.
AMIRA : Let’s go then.
SHAZNAY : Can we just wait a minute. (Looking out.)
AMIRA : It’s like you want to fuckin’ stay here, Shaz?
SHAZNAY : No . . . no, I just wanna look a minute . . . See! The river be full tonight. And I know it sounds stupid saying this now, but, I’m gonna miss . . . all this . . .
AMIRA : What?
SHAZNAY : Like . . . London.
AMIRA : You are kiddin ain’t ya, Shaz?
SHAZNAY : No . . . I mean . . . it’s all I’ve ever known.
AMIRA : This land is full with curses and Kuffirs.
SHAZNAY : I’ve always loved the river . . . grandad took us down there as a holiday from E14. Remember that summer when we hung out down there? He always said that it was that water that brought him here . . . You know? The family. . . It’s weird, now we’re fleeing it.
AMIRA : We could have only been like twelve Shaz.
SHAZNAY : But do you remember what we found that summer? Down by the Thames.
AMIRA : Of course.
SHAZNAY : Do you remember what it did?
AMIRA : Yes.
SHAZNAY : Do you still have it?
AMIRA : No . . . No . . . not anymore.
SHAZNAY : Oh . . .of course. . . (Pause.) I did love that summer though. Before grandad died and the market down Bethnal Green and that, we were all like proper happy then . . . At least it felt we were.
AMIRA : (Hard.) Your a proper fool that’s what you are sometimes, Shaznay. You see how unwelcome we are round here. You see what they say of us?
SHAZNAY : I know it’s changed. That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I’m here.
AMIRA : Them man march up through our homes round here now, girl. The EDL, Britain First, all a’them hate us, you know that? The government and everyone. They hate us here. They blame us here. We don’t even exist anymore.
SHAZNAY : It’s just hard leaving my baby brother, Amira. I can’t imagine not seeing him again. He looked like an angel when I kissed him. Surely he’s pure in all this?
AMIRA : Of course. (Softer.) Of course. But we are lionesses in a land of cowards.
SHAZNAY : (upset.) I’m going to miss him so much. How’s he gonna grow up around here without me to look out for him. (Beginning to cry.) He’s just a little boy, Amira.
AMIRA : (Holding her shoulders.) Stay strong. He may join us when he’s a man over there.
SHAZNAY : This will destroy my family.
AMIRA : There is only one law. The law of God. (Beat.) So did you pack everything on the list?
SHAZNAY : (Composing herself.) Yes. Yes, I think so.
AMIRA : Nothing suspect.
SHAZNAY : Yea, lip gloss, underwear, Ipad…. And bras.
AMIRA : (Smiling.) Lots of bras.
SHAZNAY : (Half laughing.) Tons of bras. What’s their big problem with bras?
AMIRA : I don’t know but that’s what her Blog said, their bras ain’t no good out there. And your boots?
SHAZNAY : Well, they’re not proper boots, like.
AMIRA : She said the desert be cold come winter. Colder than back here.
SHAZNAY : (Reaching round her neck.) My necklace…..(Panicked.) Where’s my necklace?
AMIRA : What?
SHAZNAY : My necklace I always wear. My grandad gave me and my brother the same.
AMIRA : Maybe you packed it in your bag?
SHAZNAY : No, I always wear it. With the silver emblem. It’s all I have left of him.
AMIRA : Check your bag?
SHAZNAY starts hurrying through her small bag in a panic throwing things out.
SHAZNAY : It’s not here. It’s not here. Shit, I never forget to put it on.
AMIRA : You wouldn’t have put it in your pockets?
SHAZNAY : No, I always have it.
AMIRA : Let me help.
SHAZNAY : I‘ve already looked in there.
AMIRA : I’m sure it’s somewhere.
SHAZNAY : I always have it on. (Emptying the bag now.)
AMIRA : Let’s go through it on the train, Shaz. We need to get going.
SHAZNAY : No, I need to find it now.
AMIRA : We haven’t got time for this.
SHAZNAY : (Remembering.) Shit ! . . . Oh shit.
AMIRA : What?
SHAZNAY : It’s in the bathroom. I had it in my hand when I kissed him goodbye. Then I took my toothbrush and left it on the side, fuck, why didn’t I put it on.
AMIRA : You sure you haven’t got / it.
SHAZNAY : I’ve / fucking checked already.
AMIRA : Chill out, Shaznay.
SHAZNAY : I’ve got to go back for it.
AMIRA : Now?
SHAZNAY : Yes.
AMIRA : You can’t.
SHAZNAY : I have to.
AMIRA : It will take you an hour to get there and back.
SHAZNAY : If I’m leaving my brother for ever then I must have that necklace.
AMIRA : We don’t have time.
SHAZNAY : (Pleading.) I’ll run all the way. We can get a cab.
AMIRA : We need this money. You know how much a cab to Gatwick is?
SHAZNAY : We’ll get a bus to Victoria. Trains go late from there.
AMIRA : We have no time and can’t waste what little money we have on cabs.
SHAZNAY : Just wait here. I promise you. I’ll run all the way. We’ll get a –
AMIRA : Don’t play with prophecies, Shaznay. This is bigger than a fuckin’ necklace.
SHAZNAY : I won’t go without it.
AMIRA : You have to.
SHAZNAY : I can’t.
AMIRA : What you think you’re Abraham now? You holding that shaking throat of Ishmael and bricking it now? Disbelieve the signs of God then slew the prophets unjustly. You don’t say no to God. You don’t say no to me. We’re in this together. This is my future too. Don’t fuck this up for me. After everything I done for you. Forget your past and necklace. Erase it, girl. Now put the shit back in your bag and let’s fuckin’ go.
SHAZNAY starts putting her things back into her bag.
SHAZNAY : I’m sorry.
AMIRA : It’s all right. Remember what Ali said. We’re doing a sacred act.
SHAZNAY : No, I’m sorry. I’m not going.
AMIRA : I can’t do it alone.
SHAZNAY : It doesn’t feel right anymore.
AMIRA : It’s not what we planned. Please?
SHAZNAY : Just tell them I ran away or something.
AMIRA : After everything we’ve been through. You’re backing out now?
SHAZNAY : I need the necklace.
AMIRA : You know what I’ve left behind? Everything. Fuckin’ everything . . . And the one thing I packed? After I kissed my Mum goodbye. After I held my Dad’s hand the final time. The only thing I thought about bringing?
SHAZNAY : No?
AMIRA : What we found that summer. By the Thames.
SHAZNAY : (In awe.) You still have it?
AMIRA : I wanted to surprise you at the border. It’s the first thing I packed. (Upset.) I’m hurting too, Shaz. I’ve made sacrifices too. (Pause.) But I need you to come with me. I’m frightened on my own. So you can either run back to E14 and let those feet fade into silence, or you can run with me and let them sing, let us roar into Utopia.
SHAZNAY : I’m so scared, Amira.
AMIRA : And so am I, Shaz. So am I. But we’ll never have this again . . . and we’ll never be as young as we are right now.
So are you ready to run?
SHAZNAY : With you; I’m ready to fly.
© Simon Jagger