The cast consists of one actor who will play all the roles.
Characters in order of appearance
Hajja Souad: Main character, 80 years old
Mahmoud Abu Daia: Souad’s Father, 45 years old, Palestinian farmer from Aqqur Village
Little Souad: 11 years old
Mrs. Cunningham, 55 years old, wife of the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem Sir Alan Cunningham, British High Commissioner in Jerusalem
Ellian: Orphan Child and Hajja Souad’s adopted son, married to Basma
Basma: Ellian’s wife and Ghassan’s mother
Ghassan: Ellian’s and Basma’s son, Hajja Souad’s grandson
The action is set in: Shuja’ia in Gaza City during a limited Israeli incursion to destroy tunnels between Israel in Gaza in March 2017, and in Aqqur Village near Jerusalem, Jerusalem House, Hebron & various locations in the Gaza Strip.
Sounds of a sewing machine, mixed with the sounds of war – gun fire and bombs. Lights come on Hajja Souad’s shop. She is working at her sewing-machine. The electric light flickers overhead. She looks up at the light, shakes her head and curses under her breath. The telephone starts ringing. She gets up slowly and starts searching for the phone amongst piles of material. She finds the phone and answers it.
Hajja Souad: (shouting) Ah shit, it’s you again. Why don’t you bloody fuck off? I mean you have a habit of fucking off so why don’t you try it again now….What? No, I’m not going to leave Gaza, I’m not going anywhere…Besides, your bloody tanks are everywhere. Your freaking army will have to kill me first.
She slams the phone down.
The constant drumming of bullets and drones and helicopters is getting on my nerves now. Let’s have some music instead.
She turns on the radio, Arabic music plays.
Ah…That’s better…If tonight’s the grand finale, at least let’s have some decent music for the Big Send-Off. I’ve even made myself a new shroud for the occasion … well, nearly finished, another hour or so, just to stitch in the final seams and … signature touches.
Well, business has dried up recently. Not like three years ago during the war on Gaza. Back then I was selling close to a hundred shrouds a day. I was making a fortune! But now business is not so booming. I get to make a few occasionally – when a fisherman is shot dead by the Israeli navy in the middle of the Med. Too bad that the bodies are often washed away so their families have no need of a shroud from me, they have nothing to bury.
But three years ago, I could hardly keep up with the demand. I ended up selling yards and yards of cheap crap to customers too grief-stricken to know the difference. “Oh yes, finest organic Palestinian muslin, hand woven in Gaza by virgins from the purest East Indies cotton (fairly traded, of course) – that’ll be a thousand shekels. So sorry for your loss.”
Well, what’s the alternative? Tell ‘em the truth? “That’ll be ten shekels, madam. That’s right, ten shekels, I know, ever so cheap isn’t it? Well, that’s ‘cos it’s made of polyester, yes, five shekels a roll from Yazji’s Superstore, yes, ‘fraid so, ‘cos there’s no muslin left. All stocks exhausted, demand being so high, you know. Well, yes, if I’d known in advance I could have ordered extra supplies from the tunnel traders, but on this occasion I’m afraid the Israelis neglected to inform me of their plans … yes, I know, most unprofessional of them. Ah well, better luck next time. Oh, it’s your last child, is it? Oh, I am sorry, well, perhaps you’d like to place an advance order for your grandchildren?”
It’s what I do. I make money when people die. But now and again, I make a signature shroud just for me. Like this one I’m making now; inspiration descends, you hit a run of lucky stitches and you end up with a really pukka, grade A, 24-carat burial garment and you think, “Hamdullah, it’s all been worthwhile: The Nakba, the Occupation, the Siege – everything. Just for this: a shroud to make you proud.”
Tonight may be the night to finally wear it. I can almost hear the Israeli tanks moving across the border. I better be ready for their royal arrival. They’re coming to destroy some smugglers’ tunnels which they apparently forgot to bomb three years ago. And they’ve chosen to do it today. On my birthday! 83 years young today! How kind of them to provide some genuine fireworks to mark the occasion – F16 rockets no less!
I better finish my shroud quickly. It’s a fine piece of work. It would have made her proud, my seamstress tutor. Who knows, if I’d followed her, I might have made it big in Paris or Milan – fashion shrouds for the Vogue catalogue, Gucci corpse couture to knock you dead, designer grave garments by Gianni Versace.
Well, we do what we can with what we have …
She comes across a small shroud for a baby.
What a waste! Well it wasn’t my fault he called his hulking big
three year old a ‘baby’. How should I know? He comes to me bleating and bawling “Oh, my baby has died…my baby was killed.” I told him to join the queue and come back in an hour. I made a baby shroud, medium size, and he came back, paid the bill and off he went. The next thing I know, his extremely large cousin with an extremely large hairy belly comes into the shop and demands a refund. “Pull the other one,” I said. But he glares at me and shakes his finger. “I will burn your shop down if you don’t give me the money back … we had to bury the kid using a duvet cover!”
Who cares what they buried him in? Not the kid, that’s for sure.
Not that I advertise this opinion to my customers, of course. “A burial shroud is like your wedding dress and christening robe rolled into one …A shroud is a once-in-a-lifetime investment, you only wear it once, so you’d better make sure it fits comfortably. Your last opportunity to make a good impression – last pose for posterity, so don’t scrimp on the fabric. You can’t take it with you, so why not go out looking like a million dollars? Male or female?”
“Is there a difference?” they say. Bless them, some grief-struck relatives are such dozy fuckers.
“Lakan, of course. We women have more to cover so we need more cloth, which makes it more expensive … you don’t want to show your wife’s hair to strangers do you? No. Then another hundred shekels will save your dignity.” Bless them, they always pay up.
I do offer a discount sometimes. (She holds up some cheap cloth). For example, if you choose this fabric – buy one, get one free
“But I don’t need two, only one member of my family has died.”
“Listen, habebi, we’re all going to die. Allah has provided two guarantees for this – the Angel of Death and the Israelis and before you ask this is not pure cotton, hence the lower price tag.” In fact it’s not cotton at all, it’s polyester.
How are we supposed to get cotton in Gaza? Since the fucking Egyptians destroyed the tunnels, there’s barely a scrap to be had, But I have my ways. I buy it from old Abu Shihada, down in the old market in Gaza City, another indefatigable octagenarian like me, and he gets it through Refaat, the mechanic on Salah Elddein Street. Cotton from a mechanic, eh? Only in Gaza.
Well, Refaat the mechanic orderd parts for his workshop through an Egyptian dealer, who smuggles them through his tunnel into Gaza – wrapped in cotton. Mohammed the middle-man picks them up in Rafah, delivers them to Refaat the mechanic, who sends the cotton on to Abu Shihada, who sends it on to me in Shujai’ia on a donkey cart. Finest Egyptian cotton – after that exotic transit, stinking like something the cat dragged in. The combined stench of engine oil and donkey shit is … uniquely offensive, so I have to boil it and beat it and scrub it and scour it til my hands ware as pink as a lobster. I add the soap, water, electricity (when we have any) and labour to the overheads. Import duties. That’s why cotton shrouds are expensive in Gaza.
And these tunnel traders – phew! If you think I’m hard-nosed, you should see these guys. Supply-side economics – greedy bastards! Supply and demand. They demand all right, whatever bloody price they feel like. Talk about a captive market. Can you blame me for trying to make an honest shekel dressing corpses?
The last batch of cotton arrived stuffed full of pills. I said to Abu Shihada, “What are all these pills? You going into pharmacy?” He turns a deep shade of pink and starts paying very close attention to something stuck on the end of his walking stick. Eventually he mutters something inaudibly. I said, “What? Niagara?” He coughs and splutters and mutters again, right in my ear, like a wheezy old pig. “Sshh!” he says, all panicky, “not so loud.”
“What’s got into you, Abu Shihada? Are you in trouble?”
“It’s Refaat the mechanic,” he hisses, “he’s trading … naughty pills.”
“For the resistance.”
“Well, why do you think we have so many babies in Gaza? Every time they kill us, boom-boom, we make ten new babies. Reproductive resistance. It’s a numbers game. So we need the pills to keep up the …”
“Abu Shihada, you dirty old goat! Shame on you, filling my respectable cotton shrouds with Viagra! Go on, take it away! We don’t want any dead men’s erections round here, thank you very much!”
Only in Gaza.
Another benefit of the cotton shroud, of course, is the natural look. Au naturel. Even the most hideously disfigured corpse looks better in cotton. It gives that al fresco. Holiday demeanour, as if you weren’t dead at all, just lying on the beach enjoying the sun in your new summer frock.
And cotton decomposes quicker, in case you need to use the grave again. It’s most unsightly when you open your deceased uncle’s grave and find leftovers of polyester shroud everywhere. And buying a new grave is out of the question for most people these days. Gaza’s a very small strip of land, you know, and the ground’s getting absolutely chocka block. So okay, I tell my customers, you’re paying a bit more for the quick-rot cotton number, but in the long run you’re saving money. Unless you decide to cremate, but then everyone’ll be up in arms –“Oh, good Muslims don’t cremate blah blah yadda yadda, allah-hu-akbar …”…Good job most of my customers are real conservative beardies. They believe this shit.
The women normally ask me for a discount straight away, crying and wailing they’ve lost so many loved ones, they’ve got no one left, they can’t afford it …
“I am sorry, I am not a charity. This is my business. Go to Hamas and ask them for some cotton, they never buy from me, they must have their own source, maybe the Iranians or someone. Go and wrap your granny in a Persian rug.”
Sometimes they refuse to leave, and just stand there, weeping, and I always give in. Can’t be doing with all this weeping. I don’t want to hear women crying in my shop.
The electric lights flickers again and then cuts out completely.
Ahmed Masoud is an award winning writer and theater director who grew up in Palestine and moved to the UK in 2002. His theatre credits include The Shroud Maker, (London 2015, recipient of many awards and currently playing for the 70Palestine activities in London), Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea (London and Edinburgh 2009), Escape from Gaza (BBC Radio 4, 2011), Walaa, Loyalty (London 2014, funded by Arts Council England). His debut novel is Vanished – The Mysterious Disappearance of Mustafa Ouda (2016), which is also been translated into Spanish. Ahmed is the founder of Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre (2005) where he wrote and directed several productions in London, with subsequent European Tours. After finishing his PhD research, Ahmed published many journals and articles including a chapter in Britain and the Muslim World: A historical Perspective (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011)”