Inspired by Rod Serling’s television series, The Twilight Zone, I wrote this ten-minute play as my final project for a creative writing class in 2011 at a college in the San Francisco Bay Area. To my surprise, this story was one of a few actually performed by student actors at an annual event. I am very grateful for the experience and for those who helped me make it happen. I learned so much from the instructor (at some point, I should blog about that experience). If you take the time to read this short play, thank you. Time is a precious thing and it is an honor you spent some of it with my work. Someday, I hope this story is turned into a graphic novel or short movie.
POOR FELLOW by Elizabeth Griffin (March 2011, All Rights Reserved)
Character, Adrian: A simple, well-groomed man in his late 40s wearing plain colored clothing. He's a bit fidgety, a little nervous, easily excited, and a grand storyteller.
Character, Daniel: A calm and confident man in his mid-30s. He's well dressed.
Setting: Furniture and decor are similar to a cafe or coffee house. The stage lighting slowly fades from warm tones to cool colors by end of the play.
Adrian is sitting at a table in a quiet cafe. He is deep in thought, holding a cup of coffee with both hands. He looks up just as Daniel walks in.
Daniel Hey Adrian. Nice to see you today. How are you?
Adrian Oh, hi! Just got my cup of coffee, so I’d say, pretty good.
Daniel Mind if I join you?
Adrian looks past Daniel, bobbing his head from side to side.
Adrian Um, no, I don’t mind. My brother is meeting me here, so until he arrives, that’s fine.
Daniel Great. The coffee any good today?
Adrian Eh, not good, but not bad.
Adrian calls out into the room.
Adrian Can my friend get some coffee, please? One sugar. One cream.
Daniel Thanks, Adrian. Have you been waiting long for your brother?
Adrian Think I’m a little early but he shouldn’t be too long.
Adrian looks at his wristwatch.
Daniel Weather's very nice this afternoon.
Adrian I hadn't noticed.
Adrian sits quietly, sipping his coffee.
Daniel You know, we’ve probably got enough time to finish that story you were telling me about last week, the one about you and your brother bicycling around the world.
Adrian Oh yeah, we were talking about that. Where did I leave off?
Daniel I believe you two had just passed the border of Turkey.
Adrian Ah yes, Turkey.
A woman with long, dark hair wearing a noticeably red apron brings a cup of coffee to the table and sets it in front of Daniel on the table. Adrian looks up at her, smiling
Adrian Thanks Azra. Alright, let’s see. My brother and I stop at the first coffee shop we see after passing the border – best coffee I’ve ever had, by the way.
Adrian takes a sip of his coffee.
Adrian I can almost imagine the rich taste still. Never had anything like it. Anyway, while my brother and I are mapping out the most scenic ride through Istanbul to Ankara, a waitress interrupts us. She asks if we are the two men who arrived on the bikes left outside in front of the café.
Daniel Someone took your bikes again?
Adrian That’s what I thought too, but no, she's just interested in chatting. She pulls up a chair and sits down. She asks us where we are from and where we are going. I tell her we are Americans, brothers, in fact, traveling the world on our bicycles…
Adrian pauses, looking at his wristwatch.
Daniel Did you tell her about the pikeys that stole your bikes?
Adrian I did. Said she worried me when asking us about our bikes, but we laughed about it. We chatted for hours, and when it was time to leave, she warned us to be careful. 'The roads are very dangerous,' she told us.
Adrian That's what she said. But neither one of us thought anything of it. I mean, we'd been warned often about the dangers of riding bikes through rural areas. We were even warned about the pikeys in South England, but it didn't matter, didn't stop us. Young men think they're invincible.
Daniel Young men certainly do think they're invincible.
Adrian So, we’re riding our bikes through a green, hilly area of farmland, a really amazing landscape, and we stop to take a break under some trees in the shade. Our backs are against a tree, and I’m practicing this billiard ball manipulation magic trick just to pass the time.
Daniel You do magic?
Adrian Oh yeah, back then, it just was a hobby of mine. Anyway, as we're sitting there, we see this man with an eye patch running down the hill in front of us about fifteen yards away, and he's waving a Colt .45 revolver. This sounds funnier than it is, believe me, but this guy looked just like a pirate out of a movie – striped colored pants, white torn button up, dirty brown vest, leather boots...
Daniel And an eye patch?!
Adrian Haha, insane right? My brother and I jump to our feet as the guy gets closer, and he's yelling pretty loud, motioning for us to sit back down.
Adrian Tell me about it. At the time, I almost couldn't believe it. We just stood there, sort of in shock. I mean this guy was really pissed, and neither one of us could understand what he was saying, but the gun in our face made whatever point he had pretty damn clear.
My brother is trying to apologize, but the man doesn’t understand, nor does he care for that matter. He's pointing the gun at us then at our bikes, getting angrier, throwing his hands up in the air like he can't believe the situation either, and I'm imagining he's probably thinking, 'damn foreigners.'
Adrian Yah, well, he points the gun at my brother, then at me.
Adrian is holding his hand up in the air, mimicking a pistol.
We're both sitting on our knees with our hands up in the air, scared shitless. My brother says, 'wait, wait, wait' which makes the guy point the gun in his face as he thumbs the hammer.
Adrian pauses, noticing that Daniel hasn't touched his coffee.
Adrian You haven't touched your coffee.
Daniel Coffee?! Don't worry about the coffee, what happens next? Keep going!
Adrian When I heard the click of the gun, I let my head hang, like this is it, our trip ends here with a man who smells like sheep shit. I am staring at the grass, thinking of death by land pirate, when I see the billiard balls on the ground.
I yell 'please' and point to the ground. The Turk looks at me funny, his face all pinched up, and I say 'please' again. I slightly lean forward, reaching for the balls, my eyes fixed on his. 'Please.' I motion that it's safe and I slowly lean over to pick 'em up. I stand up and he steps back a few, gun still pointed at my brother. I run through the trick – one ball appears, one disappears. Two balls appear, two disappear. Three balls appear, three disappear. Four balls appear.
Daniel Were you shaking?
Adrian You better believe it! Was never so scared in all my life!
Daniel Oh, I believe it!
Adrian So, the shepherd is quiet for a good 10 seconds after I do the trick, dumbfounded by what he just saw. He squints his eyes at me then signals for me to do the trick again, waving the pistol. One ball appears, then disappears, the same thing. I go through the trick again. And again.
Daniel And again?
Adrian And again. You never perform a trick twice in a row, but in this case, I made an exception. Must have performed the trick ten times before the guy cracked a smile – a big smile. All three front teeth hanging out in the air.
Adrian He motioned for me to get back down on my knees, and he waved his hands about, sort of like 'stay here'. He points back to the hill he came over, like he's going get a friend.
He's walking away from us, gun pointed at the ground where we are kneeling, then turns around and runs up the hill, shouting what sounds like a name. My brother and I sit still, mouths hanging open. As he reaches the top of hill, the guy looks back at us for a few seconds, turns, waves his hands about like 'hey, come over here' then runs out of sight.
I look to my brother and he looks to me, and without saying a word we both grab our bikes, hop on and pedal as fast as we could, never looking...
The woman in red drops a tray nearby and the crash startles Adrian.
Adrian What time is it?
Daniel Half past noon.
Adrian looks at his wristwatch then back at Daniel.
Daniel That's an amazing story, Adrian – a magic trick saved your lives.
Adrian calms down.
Adrian Yah, a magic trick did save our lives.
Adrian picks up his cup of coffee.
Adrian After riding our bikes for hours through Turkey, we finally stopped at a bar. We didn't talk much all, just walked right in, sat down and ordered beers. I finally said, 'Holy shit! Did that just happen?' He laughed, and said, 'I've never been so happy to see you do a magic trick.' He raised his glass of beer and said, 'Here's to you, brother, my very own Harry Houdini!’
Daniel Is he man or is he devil?
Adrian Haha, that's exactly what he said.
Adrian rests his coffee cup on the table, tilting it back and forth.
Adrian See, my brother is the oldest, and he always took care of us. For the first time, I took care of him. I took care of us.
Daniel I imagine he was pretty proud of you that day.
Adrian I think he was.
Daniel shakes his head in disbelief.
Daniel Such an amazing tale. I assume the rest of your trip went smoothly?
Adrian Yah, nothing even close to what happened that afternoon. Damn. That day could have ended so differently.
Daniel But it didn't.
Adrian No, it didn't. I never really practiced magic tricks after that.
Daniel How come?
Adrian Just sort of felt like, that was it, that was the reason I learned magic. Haha, how could I follow a performance like that?
Daniel Yah, I can understand that. Not many people discover great purpose in their hobbies like that.
Adrian No they don't, that's for sure.
Adrian stirs in his seat as he studies the time on his wristwatch.
Adrian Maybe I should call my brother. He's late. Got a quarter?
Daniel Adrian, you know there isn't a phone in here.
Adrian Maybe I'm earlier than I thought.
Adrian fusses in his chair some more.
Daniel Tell me about how you got into learning magic.
Adrian Uh, um, my father. Every Saturday all three of us would visit this little magic shop next to our favorite pizza place where we'd eat lunch afterward. My brother never showed any interest but I did, so each time my father would buy me something new to learn.
Daniel What's the first trick you ever learned?
Adrian Cups and balls.
Daniel I'm not familiar. How does it work?
Adrian It's an easy trick with three plastic cups – one red, one yellow, one blue – and three balls. You place the cups upside down in a row on the table one by one. You place one of the balls on the center cup, and you stack the other cups on top, trapping the ball inside, and magically, the ball travels to the bottom and is revealed on the table under the bottom cup. You do it over again until all three balls appear under the bottom cup.
Daniel I'd be fascinated to see that.
Adrian First time I saw it performed as a kid, I thought it was amazing. Knew it was just a simple trick, but couldn't figure out how it was done.
Daniel Things that seem most complicated tend to be the simplest.
Adrian Yah, you're right. When I figured how it was done, I was surprised to see how easily my eyes were tricked. The mind sees what it wants to see.
Daniel Interesting point, Adrian.
Adrian What time is it?
Daniel I just told you the time not too long ago.
Adrian looks at his wristwatch.
Adrian Maybe I missed him while we were talking. He might not have seen me sitting here with you.
Daniel Adrian there is no reason to worry.
Adrian I don't understand what's keeping him. Maybe I was late?
Daniel You are not late and you are not early.
Adrian looks back at his wristwatch but he's not wearing one.
Adrian Where's my watch?
Daniel You're just confused. Adrian, how long ago has it been since you saw your brother?
Adrian Where is my watch?
Daniel Adrian, when did you see him last?
Adrian Uh, well, last week. No. I dunno, recently. We spoke recently and I was to meet him here at the coffee shop. Today.
Daniel Adrian, you are not in a coffee shop. We are not having coffee.
Adrian What, what do you mean? You've got coffee right there in front of you. I order you a cup of coffee. One sugar, one cream.
Daniel No Adrian, there is no coffee, and you're brother orders one sugar, one cream. You know that.
Adrian Azra brought you coffee. Azra brought me coffee!
Daniel Azra is the woman from the coffee shop in Turkey. We've talked about her before.
Adrian places both hands on the table, palms down.
Daniel Adrian, we meet every week. You know this.
Adrian I've run into you a couple times here and there, but we don't meet.
Daniel We do meet, and sometimes we talk about you and your brother traveling the world on your bikes, and other days we talk about what happened, but you're always waiting for him. You've got to stop waiting for him.
Adrian It's cloudy outside. Maybe it's raining? He might be stuck in the rain.
Daniel Adrian, it's the middle of August. I told you the weather was nice today.
Adrian Well, I haven't been outside.
Daniel sighs, readjusting himself in the chair. He looks to Adrian who is staring back and forth at his wrist and the door.
Daniel You see what you want to see, Adrian.
Adrian looks up at Daniel.
Daniel Contrary to what most people say, life is very black and white. I believe that only when you lose focus and direction does the world around you appear to be gray.
Adrian tips his coffee cup back and forth.
Adrian You said that last time.
Daniel I did. Do you remember?
Adrian I do.
Daniel We've talked about this before. Many times. I know it's difficult, but if you don't focus on the black and white of reality, you will always be lost in the gray of your imagination.
Adrian It's very difficult.
Adrian looks down at the table, staring at his coffee cup. He touches the cup.
Adrian But it feels so real.
Daniel I know it feels real. Very real. But just like in your magic tricks, what looks complicated is really very simple. You should understand that. Just like the cups and balls, once you realized how it was done, you were able to see the reality of the situation.
Adrian It's just a trick?
Daniel A trick you are in control of, Adrian.
Adrian rubs his left wrist, feeling for a watch.
Adrian It's been... such a long time.
Daniel And you've been here awhile.
Adrian I was waiting for him once. Waiting in a coffee shop.
Daniel stands. He picks up the cup of coffee in front of him on the table and walks out past a nurse entering the room. She doesn't see Daniel, and he doesn't acknowledge her. Another nurse with a tray of medicine walks in and stands beside her.
Nurse 1 Poor guy. He sits here all alone each day. Won't talk to anyone but himself.
Nurse 2 Very tragic. He'll start therapy again next week with Dr. Bedienbach.
Nurse 1 Poor fellow.