The beginning of IL B L8, a short play in two acts written for three actors and a grand piano, first published in IMPRINT issue 11.
Evening in a living room decorated with Asian antiques, a grand piano, a bar, ballet shoes and a violin. Enter MAN in designer clothes wearing slippers followed by JO, a blond woman, dressed casually.
MAN: Would you mind taking your shoes off?
(JO balances on one foot trying to untie ankle strap. MAN grabs her arm.)
JO: Thank you. I’ve got it.
MAN: Are you sure?
(JO kneels down to untie straps.)
MAN: You found your way here alright?
JO: Yes. I took a tram and walked up.
MAN: In high heels?
(JO smiles and hands over a shoe.)
MAN (while JO removes another shoe): I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you have beautiful golden hair. Are you cold? I can adjust the air con.
JO: If you could, please. I always forget to bring a sweater. It is so warm outside.
MAN: For now, you just wait until February. (Exits with shoes.)
(JO roams around, then heads purposefully for the piano and plays few staves. Enter MAN.)
MAN (drops Japanese wooden sandals): I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s terribly out of tune. (Closing lid.) It’s the humidity. There is another piano in my room.
JO: Oh, I’m sorry. I should have asked.
MAN: The sandals are for you. (Pouring Martini in two glasses.) Would you like to have a drink first?
JO: No, thank you. (Walks awkwardly in wooden footwear towards window.)
MAN (holds out a glass): Just a drink.
JO: I better not.
MAN: You are over eighteen, aren’t you? (Drinks from his glass, puts her glass down.) If it wasn’t for the fog, you could see the skyscrapers and the harbour.
JO: Well, I’ve seen both, but I’ve never been in a house on a cloud before.
(MAN finishes his drink.)
JO: Shall we play?
MAN: Do you hear that?
JO: I don’t hear anything.
MAN: Silence. It’s so noisy there, people swarming everywhere, but here – it’s so quiet and peaceful. That’s why I chose this place. There are no neighbours. It’s truly private, which is rare in this city. No one will disturb us.
JO: When I walked up here I noticed the air was so clean. You are fortunate.
MAN (sits on the sofa): It’s a little piece of heaven.
JO (sits by the piano): I was thinking we could start with a sonata.
MAN: A sonata? (Fetches her glass.) Look, Hannah, Johannah. I appreciate the effort, but it’s not necessary.
JO: Everyone calls me Jo. How about we start then with something you are familiar with.
(MAN sets her glass on the piano.)
JO: Just bring me any sheet of music and we can–
MAN (placing hand gently on Jo’s shoulder): Not necessary. Oh Johannah, I’m not the least interested in playing. It would be such a waste to have a girl like you as my piano teacher. (Sits beside Jo.) I’m sure you are much more talented with the sheets that have nothing to do with music.
JO (stands up): Excuse me?
MAN: In the line of business you’re in, you’d have to be?
JO: Are you suggesting that I’m a prostitute?
MAN: I hope not.
JO: Good. Because I’m not. I wouldn’t have sex for money.
MAN: Everybody has sex for money. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It only depends whether you look at it as a short-term or a long-term investment.
JO: Is that so. What about love?
MAN: That’s a gamble, not an investment.
MAN: A prime example of a long-term investment with a high risk. And I don’t gamble. I’m sorry if I offended you. It’s one the oldest professions, probably second only to gathering. What bothers me is, well, I just don’t like the idea of sharing. I’m more of a collector, if you will; an owner-type rather than a rental-type.
JO: A collector? O-kay, I’ll just give you back your money, and be on my way.
MAN: Now, what would I do with the money? Look around you. I don’t need it. I can always get more money. But you, you do need the money, or you wouldn’t be offering piano lessons.
JO: Well yes, but I wish to earn the money.
MAN: You’ll earn it. I promise you.
JO: No, I’m not interested.
MAN: Ten thousand?
JO: I’m leaving.
MAN: Enough of this already. Just give me a figure.
JO: No, I’m not going to have sex with you.
MAN: You’re not? So, you have been wasting my time this entire evening? I could sue you for false advertising, you know.
JO: False advertising?
MAN: Do you seriously believe people in this city would pay you for piano lessons when they can hire a concert pianist or an over-achieving winner of any of the numerous competitions held each year?
JO: I might not be a concert pianist, but–
MAN: But what? Surely you must know what a girl like you is hired for?
JO: Well, I do know now. Thank you for the valuable insight. I’m sorry about the whole misunderstanding.
MAN: No, not good enough. I don’t like it when people waste my time.
JO: Neither do I.
MAN: That’s the attitude.
JO: Could you get my shoes, please.
MAN: I could, but I won’t. Negotiation was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?
JO: I’m sorry, what?
MAN: What can I say? I lied. I have no intention of paying for your services.
JO: I have to go now.
MAN: So soon? Are you looking for this (Mobile.)? You have another missed call.
JO: When did you…
MAN: Oh, it’s your mum. She’s probably wondering where you are. Mothers are like that. They worry too much. We cannot have the poor woman thinking that something might have happened to you, now can we?
JO: I’ll call–
MAN: No, it’s too late to call. Just a text. How about “I’ve lost my ruby slippers that take me back home to Kansas, but don’t worry. I’ll find them.” A little optimism goes a long way, don’t you think? Or “I’m all alone with a big bad wolf, but he is awfully cuddly.” Nah, mixed messages never work. I think you should keep it short and simple, “I’ll be late.” (Sending text.) There. Crisis adverted. (Slips mobile back in his pocket.)
JO (quietly): What do you want with me?
MAN: Isn’t it obvious? Whenever you are ready, I’m ready.
(JO sits on the piano stool.)
MAN: Oh, don’t start to bawl. It will only make your face blotched.
MAN: You sure you don’t want a drink? (Slides her glass towards Jo.) Or I could make you a nice cup of Oolong tea. (Walking to the bar.) Well, I cannot force you, but it would do you good.
(JO charges to the door.)
MAN (fixing a drink, back towards the audience): The doors are locked, and to save you from the trouble, I should tell you that the windows are reinforced to withstand even the fury of a typhoon.
(JO slumps on the floor.)
The full short play, IL B L8, on page 177 of IMPRINT issue 11, the annual anthology of Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society.