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Vol. 4, No. 4

The Stolen Child
by Amanda Beesley

Scene Two

From this point on, ILISHA and ELLIOT periodically slip in and out of the past, acting out what they remember. ILISHA is lying on a blanket, sketching.

ELLIOT: [to audience] So as you can see, despite Ilisha's flu and my anxiety about seeing this place again after so many years, our first week with Esleen was almost perfect. Ilisha painted and played with the kids, and Esleen taught us how to make chapati over the fire. [He pauses, picks up a book.]I guess you know what happens next. [He begins to read.]

ILISHA: Where's Esleen, hon? I've barely seen her all day.

ELLIOT: With the baby. He's been crying a lot.

ILISHA: Poor thing.

ELLIOT: Babies always have something to cry about. That's why they're called babies.

ILISHA: Maybe he doesn't like us.

ELLIOT: Maybe he doesn't like you. [to audience] For the next three days we barely saw Esleen, and on the morning of the next day, which happened to be the day before we were supposed to leave, we found that Esleen had gone. We were standing out in the yard, trying to figure out what to do, when a man suddenly appeared in the doorway of the hut.

ILISHA: I am Michael, he said. You are welcome here.

ELLIOT: Thank you. I am Elliot. This is Ilisha, I said. Your home has been very comfortable. But Michael, where is Esleen?

ILISHA: She left early with our son, he said. He is very sick and he needs the doctor.

ELLIOT: Did you take him to the clinic in town?

ILISHA: Yes, the clinic.

ELLIOT: You'll pardon my asking, but is there a real doctor there?

ILISHA: Yes. Even there. Now excuse me, he said. I must go to town.

ELLIOT: And he left. We watched him go.

ILISHA: [to ELLIOT] Is it possible that . . .

ELLIOT: No. A virus takes a good two weeks to manifest itself.

ILISHA: Well, it's been ten days.

ELLIOT: Babies don't get the flu.

ILISHA: For God's sake, Elliot. What do you know about that? What could possibly make you an expert on children except perhaps the fact that you are completely opposed to having them? Or that you bought a birthing chair last time you went to Africa?

ELLIOT: [to audience]The baby was in the hospital and all I could think about was our flight to the coast the next morning. I know it sounds terrible, but to me it seemed excessive to postpone our time on the beach to deal with Esleen's sick baby. I swear, that's what I thought. I didn't think about Ilisha sick in bed back in New York or about the way she was holding that baby out in the yard. I didn't think anything.

ILISHA: Did something cross both of our minds that day in the yard? A flicker of something? Recognition?

ELLIOT: That maybe you . . . we were being careless?

ILISHA: No. I didn't think of it. I felt better by then.

ELLIOT: Well, I don't know about--

ILISHA: The hut was full of smoke. I wanted to help him.

ELLIOT: Help him?

ILISHA: Yes, help. In the same way you thought it would help to buy them that expensive high-powered flashlight to use around the farm, only they can't afford the batteries. So then you promised to mail them batteries every year, but then one year you'll forget, and then what?

ELLIOT: [to audience]We were alone on the farm and it was raining. [The lights dim.]

ILISHA: Do you think they blame us?

ELLIOT: No, of course not.

ILISHA: Why don't we call the big hospital in the city?

ELLIOT: Impossible.

ILISHA: Why?

ELLIOT: Ilisha, please.

ILISHA: What's wrong with you, Elliot?

ELLIOT: Fine. Let's walk fifteen miles to the nearest pay phone, which doesn't work, and then try to communicate in a language that neither of us knows to find out if there's anything we can do for the child's symptoms, which we haven't seen firsthand.

ILISHA: The baby is very sick.

ELLIOT: Hang on, Ilisha. This is not going to turn into anything. It just feels scary because we're far away from home. That's all.

ILISHA: Elliot, you know when you're walking along the street at night and you look up to some random window, and at the moment you look at the window, that split second, the light goes on inside?

ELLIOT: Yeah.

ILISHA: What do you think that is? A coincidence? Don't you always wonder if there's a connection? [to audience] That day I wrote postcards to all my friends, saying we were having a wonderful time and that we were leaving for the coast the next day. I didn't know what else to do--if everything turned out all right, I wanted the cards to have gone out.

ELLIOT: We stayed in the hut all day. The rain had us bleary-eyed. At about five the dog started barking.

ILISHA: News at five.

ELLIOT: I stuck my head out the door and saw Esleen walking slowly into the yard, baby clutched to her chest. Michael hovered behind her, holding an umbrella over them. They looked tired.

ILISHA: We ran outside. Esleen, are you all right?

ELLIOT: Yes, she said. I am well.

ILISHA: And Gabriel?

ELLIOT: He received an injection at the clinic. May the Good Lord do the rest.

[The lights fade to black. A spotlight picks up the couple in the center of the stage.]

ELLIOT: Sometime during the night the baby died. Esleen was in a daze. Her sisters and friends all came to the farm to help. They bustled around, cooking vats of soup or stew and talking in low voices. No one paid any attention to Ilisha or me. We packed up our stuff, said goodbye to no one in particular, and walked out of there.

[ELLIOT walks off, leaving ILISHA alone.]

ILISHA: It's ironic, really. I'd brought an entire pharmacy with me: antibiotics, water purification tablets, snakebite antidote, aspirin, Pepto-Bismol, Ex-Lax, temporary tooth fillings, not to mention all the shots we had before we left. And here was this little baby, soft and dumb, able to protect himself from everything these drugs were meant to protect me from, and he ends up with the damned flu. Or not. Whatever it was, he was gone. So we left. What else could we do?

Curtain

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