(Mathew Neely's address to the US senate on May 18, 1928 in June Goodfield, Cancer Under Siege, London: The Scientific Book Club, 1975:169).
It is early morning. Dawn breaks slowly into a hospital room to reveal two patients sleeping on two separate beds. The room has all the usual hospital paraphernalia. On the shelf to the left of stage is placed a conspicuous framed portrait of a well-built boxer in gloves. He is smiling confidently. The room is clean and neat. However, it is noticeable that the corner to the right is more cheerfully arranged than the one to the left. On the left (i.e. left of stage) there is a tangible note of despair in the rather careless manner in which things are placed. All of a sudden the patient on the right corner, Mr. James Ebo, wakes up with a start. He is a sick-looking man in his late forties. His apparent ill health does not, however, belie his humorous disposition. He studies his surrounding, looks out of the window and begins to smile gleefully.
James: (making the sign of the cross): Thank you Jesus for yet another beautiful morning. Darkness has come and gone but I'm still here alive and happy and grateful. I'm sick with this despicable disease but I'm still living. Many have died from very common ailments but I am still here. I pray you Lord to lead us through this day so that we may witness yet another glorious dawn tomorrow...
(He looks at his roommate and it occurs to him that he could be dead).
Oh Lord I hope he has not ... Mr. Dawan! Chris!
(Chris turns on him angrily. He is a lean but ferocious looking man in his late thirties. He has an expensive housecoat on).
Chris: I have told you time and time again to pray for yourself. Do not involve me in that pathetic ritual with your Lord. I “have not...” whatever you mean by that. And I have nothing to thank anyone for. I have a right to life. You have a right to life too. So tell your Lord to stop infringing on your right to life. Your Lord is killing you slowly yet you thank him every morning for sparing you another day. Ask him to leave you alone altogether.
(James looks at him complacently, smiles and continues with his prayer).
James: Lord we thank thee for giving us yet another day. We glorify your mighty name Oh Lord...
Chris: Stop! You thank Him for giving you yet another day? Of what use is this day that he has given you? Or any other day for that matter? You thank Him for another day of pain and anguish, of horror and disease? You can barely stand on your two feet; you lie there on the bed like a vegetable and thank your Lord for it. You should take your own life while you still can. I look at you and I see the kind of vegetable I must not become. I look at you and I tell myself I'd rather take my life by myself than give this disease the pleasure of doing it. I'm only waiting ... bidding my time. I will take my life myself before I become like you.
James (disapprovingly): You are contemplating suicide?
Chris: I am not. I have contemplated suicide.
James: That is a mortal sin. Only God who gave you life should take it when it pleases Him.
Chris: He has infringed on my right to life so I shall deny Him the right to take my life.
James: There are worse things in life than death.
Chris: Yes, because death kills life and sets one free from the pain of living. As a matter of fact, death sometimes is glorious.
James: You know something, Chris. In spite of your blasphemy and cynicism, I really would miss you … in heaven I think.
Chris: You will miss me in heaven?
James (smiling): I do not suppose you can crash your way to even as far as the gates of heaven. I am not quite sure that it is the sort of place that the violent taketh by force. Yes, Chris, I shall miss your company. Of course I expect to be thoroughly pre-occupied with celestial pleasures, but I guess I just might have time enough to miss your company, if only momentarily.
Chris: You are surely going insane too. There is no such place as heaven. And even if there were you would only carry your decaying self there. 'Celestial pleasures' indeed. As it is on earth, so it is in heaven. Do you not know that?
James: I don't know that.
Chris: Well, don't draw me into your silly talk. I need to think.
James: What do you always think of?
Chris: I think of dying and death. And if I were you I'd be doing the same for you are closer to death than I am.
(James thinks awhile as Chris stretches himself on the bed and turns his back on him. There is a brief flash of despair on his face. Soon he lies back and smiles).
James: Now Chris, let's talk about dying and death.
Chris: I said think, not talk.
James: Well ... it's all the same to me...
(James begins to cough gradually. The cough becomes more severe and painful. Chris gets up in alarm to help him but soon the coughing abates. After a while James becomes very still. Chris looks at him pitiably).
Chukwuma Okoye teaches African Theatre and Dance/Choreography in the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He has written a number of plays, most of which have been performed at the Arts Theatre of the University of Ibadan. His only published play We the Beast won the ANA Drama Prize in 1991. He has also published a collection of stories entitled The Paradox of Being.
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