Written By: Tom Coash
A small table with two chairs in a bar in Cairo, Egypt.
Ukimwi: Young, black, Kenyan prostitute.
John: Twenty-five years old, white, American oil worker and expatriate.
John, an American expatriate, is sitting at a table at Harry’s Pub, a Cairo watering hole. He has two glasses in front of him—one empty, and the one in his hand full of Johnnie Walker Scotch. Ukimwi, a young, provocatively dressed black woman enters. She seems a bit drunk, goes to John’s table, and tries to catch his eye. She looks at him and at the bottle of scotch.
UKIMWI: You sick?
UKIMWI: You sick man? Look like Juju got you, yeah?
JOHN: It’s my birthday.
UKIMWI: (She sits.) Yeah? Jambo, Mr. Birthday! How many years you?
JOHN: Twenty-five. Big quarter of a century. How old are you?
UKIMWI: Me? Very old.
JOHN: Right. Eighteen?
UKIMWI: I am an old woman. Talking to my ancestors.
UKIMWI: Where you from? Amreeka, yeah?
JOHN: Amreeka, yeah.
JOHN: I’m sorry, I’m new to Cairo. I don’t speak Arabic.
UKIMWI: Jambo! No Arabic. In my country we say Jambo, yeah. Hello, Jambo. Hello!
UKIMWI: Jambo! (Points at other glass.) You wait for girlfriend?
JOHN: (Laughs.) Let’s not talk about it.
UKIMWI: Jambo, Mr. Amreeka Birthday! You give me whisky?
JOHN: What’s your country?
UKIMWI: Whisky, Mr. Amreeka Big Business.
UKIMWI: Sudani?! (Spits.) I am Kenya. I am Kikuyu. Now what you say? You like beautiful African woman, yeah?
UKIMWI: Jambo! Now whisky. (He pours her some whisky, she holds his hand until her glass is full.) Big one, man….
JOHN: Sure, sure. Whoa…okay, okay. How do you say “okay” in Kenya?
UKIMWI: Okay? We say “okay.” What you think? How you say “okay” in Amreeka?
JOHN: Right. Okay.
UKIMWI: Okayyy, Mr. Amreeka. Now we having fun, yeah?
UKIMWI: Now we talking business. Johnnie Walker!
JOHN: Waahid Johnnie Walker.
UKIMWI: (They drink.) So, you trick me, man. You tricking me.
UKIMWI: You say you don’t speak Arabic, then you speaking Arabic.
JOHN: Swayer, swayer…only a little. I have lots of meaningful conversations with bartenders…waahid whisky, itneen whisky…
UKIMWI: Soon I don’t think you from Amreeka, yeah?
UKIMWI: I never meet one Amreekan speaking two languages.
JOHN: I can talk to taxi drivers, too…. (Demonstrates left, right, and straight ahead.) Shemaal, yemeen, ala tuul.
UKIMWI: (Imitating shop keepers, but with sexual innuendoes.) Your Arabic very beautiful, habibi. You come into my shop, buy many beautiful things, yeah? (Leans forward, giving him a good look down her blouse, or some such sales technique.) Special price for my Amreeka? Birthday discount for you. You know how to say “yes” in Arabic, Amreeka?
UKIMWI: Good…you don’t forget this word. This word very powerful.
JOHN: How do you say “yes” in your country?
UKIMWI: Ndiyo. Yes…now I teach you Swahili, yeah? Unafilwa hanithi we!
JOHN: Whoa, ok…unafi…
UKIMWI: This very popular greeting. When you meet Big Men in my country, you say…una…filwa…
UKIMWI: (Laughs.) Yes, yes! Unafilwa hanithi we.
JOHN: Unafilwa hanithi we… (Proudly.) Unafilwa hanithi we!
UKIMWI: (Laughs, shushing him.) You almost kikuyu now. You get many friends you go to my country.
JOHN: How do you say “thank you”?
JOHN: Asante fisi.
UKIMWI: Now, one more whisky.
JOHN: Jesus, you’re really on a mission.
UKIMWI: Mission? What? Like the priest?
JOHN: No, no. You. It means you’re dedicated to something. You’re on a mission…to get drunk. It’s slang.
UKIMWI: Yes. I like this. A mission.
JOHN: Like a secret agent.
UKIMWI: Yes, I am on a mission. Now we having fun, yeah?
UKIMWI: Good…now we drink, later we talk business.
JOHN: Drinks are fine by me.
UKIMWI: No worries, Amreeka.
JOHN: No worries.
UKIMWI: We talk business later.
JOHN: (Laughs.) I don’t think so.
UKIMWI: You don’t like me?
JOHN: What’s your name?
UKIMWI: My name?
JOHN: My name’s John.
UKIMWI: Johnnie Walker.
JOHN: I mean it. Really! John Carlson. So, what do I call you?
UKIMWI: You call me Ukimwi.
JOHN: Ukimwi…I like that.
UKIMWI: I don’t think you will like it.
JOHN: No, I do. It’s beautiful…Ukimwi.
UKIMWI: You remember Ukimwi. When you go to my country and see beautiful African women, you remember Ukimwi.
JOHN: Does it mean anything? I mean, like the Egyptians? All their names mean something. (Ukimwi laughs.) What?
UKIMWI: It means I bring something to you.
JOHN: Like a gift? That’s great.
UKIMWI: For your birthday. Yes, a gift.
JOHN: I like it.
UKIMWI: I make you happy, you make me happy, yeah?
JOHN: Right…so tell me about Kenya.
UKIMWI: Why? You going safari, bwana?
UKIMWI: Into the bush, yeah? (Draws his hand into her crotch.)
JOHN: (Yanks hand back.) Right.
UKIMWI: Take pictures of all black womens with no shirts, yeah? Big tit black women, yeah? You like that?
JOHN: Come on.
UKIMWI: Or maybe you gonna take all our money…all the land from the poor Kikuyu people. That right, Mr. Big Bwana Amreeka?
JOHN: Come on, give me a break, okay?
UKIMWI: What room number you got?
JOHN: Do women wear veils in Kenya? Like here?
JOHN: You know, what do they call it, hijab?
UKIMWI: You want hijab? I wear hijab, but it cost you extra, yeah?
JOHN: Tell me about your family.
UKIMWI: We go to room now.
JOHN: Brothers? Sisters?
UKIMWI: What room number?
JOHN: Mother? Father?
UKIMWI: I do you good, Amreeka. You jig-jig with me, you never forget. I promise you.
JOHN: No, thanks.
UKIMWI: You come inside me, yeah.
JOHN: No, thanks.
UKIMWI: No condom, ok? Skin-skin. (She slides hands together.)
JOHN: Hey, come on….
UKIMWI: I make you feel good, yeah? You big man, yeah?
JOHN: I just want to have a drink. Okay?
UKIMWI: What you come here for?
JOHN: Like I said, it’s my birthday.
UKIMWI: Only drinks…
UKIMWI: Ndiyo. (Pause.) Let me ask you one question, Mr. Amreeka, yeah?
UKIMWI: How come Tarzan, he no fuck with black women? You think he prejudiced against African women?
UKIMWI: Maybe you think Tarzan prejudiced?
JOHN: No…shit, I don’t know.
UKIMWI: Maybe he was a virgin man when he see Jane. Or maybe he doing the monkeys, yeah? Maybe he doing the black women behind Jane’s back. Make little café-au-lait baby ’cause Jane up in the tree with Cheetah, yeah? Yeah?
JOHN: Maybe so.
UKIMWI: Or maybe he think black women dirty, yeah? Like you?
UKIMWI: You don’t want me, Amreeka?!
UKIMWI: You think I’m dirty, yeah? Diseased?
UKIMWI: “What’s your name?” Like we friends.
JOHN: Ukimwi, listen…
UKIMWI: You want to talk my family, my brothers, my mother. How you know my mother? Huh? Maybe you fuck my mother, yeah?
JOHN: Jesus, what’s your problem?
UKIMWI: Now I’m too dirty for you, yeah?
JOHN: I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry! Have a drink…chill out, okay? (She dumps drink on table.) So much for customer relations.
UKIMWI: No good for you! Dirty black woman!
JOHN: You’re a real piece of work, you know that?
UKIMWI: I work with many men…
JOHN: Hey! It’s my birthday! Okay?
UKIMWI: Deutsche, España, Amreeka!
JOHN: If I want to sit here and have a drink, I will.
UKIMWI: I spit on your birthday!
UKIMWI: I spit on you!
JOHN: You’re really whacked, you know that?
UKIMWI: I spit on all Amreekans!
JOHN: Join the crowd!
UKIMWI: I spit on all men!
JOHN: Do you charge ’em extra for that?
UKIMWI: Fuck you good, man!
JOHN: Okay! Men are pigs! Men are assholes! We should all be dead!
UKIMWI: You laugh at me?
JOHN: No way! I agree with you! Christ, I grew up in Texas, the redneck capital of the world. So believe me, I understand what you’re saying. Men can be incredible pigs. But I’m not one! Okay? I’ve had a long day, and now I’m having a drink, and it’s my damn birthday, and if you don’t like it, take a hike. Okay? Otherwise, sit down and have a drink, okay? Yeah? You want a drink? (Picks up her glass and fills it.) Here!
UKIMWI: (Pause.) Why men this way? You explain me.
JOHN: I don’t know. You explain me.
UKIMWI: (She sits. Pause.) Why you come to Egypt?
JOHN: Oil. What about you?
UKIMWI: Work. I want to work with many men. I want to work with many mzungu…foreign men.
JOHN: I thought you hated men.
UKIMWI: Then I go to Amreeka.
JOHN: Land of opportunity.
UKIMWI: I am on a mission, yeah?
JOHN: Tell me something…aren’t you afraid of diseases?
UKIMWI: Me? Why you ask me that?
JOHN: I don’t know. Skin-skin? I heard AIDS is real bad here in Africa…at least down south.
UKIMWI: (Pause.) They call it “slim.”
UKIMWI: The slim disease. It goes by many names.
JOHN: Is that why you came here…to Egypt? Less disease?
UKIMWI: White men bring this disease to Africa. Mzungu disease. I believe this.
JOHN: Not this white man. Scares the hell out of me.
UKIMWI: Is it true only certain kind mens have this disease in America? You know?
UKIMWI: (Pause.) You hear many lies. Many people in the south think that Amreeka has the cure for this, but they will not give to Africa.
JOHN: Not that I know of.
UKIMWI: Maybe it costs much money.
JOHN: If somebody discovered a cure for AIDS, it’d be all over the media, believe me.
UKIMWI: (Pause.) Sometimes I am awake in the night…and I feel the beating of my heart. And I feel my lungs…rising, falling…and I feel the touch of my ancestors’ lips pressed to my ear, whispering…and yes…I am afraid sometimes.
JOHN: Me, too.
UKIMWI: The nuns say that God brought this disease, yeah? To punish us.
JOHN: That sounds familiar.
UKIMWI: My brother say white men bring this slim disease. From Amreeka. To punish us…take our land.
JOHN: Right. CIA.
UKIMWI: My father say witch doctors, my mother say truck drivers. The health workers say use condoms, the missionaries say no sex, the nuns say pray more. What you say, Amreeka?
JOHN: Shit, I don’t know.
UKIMWI: Where I’m from, in my village…some men believe the way to get rid of this disease is to fuck with a virgin. They take young girl, ten, eleven. To be sure, yeah?
JOHN: You’re kidding.
UKIMWI: My father, he believe this.
JOHN: No way.
UKIMWI: You don’t believe me? He give my sister to his friend, a truck driver, yeah? To cure him. For a Rolex watch!
JOHN: You’re serious?
UKIMWI: To know what time it is. Very important Big Man of village know what the time. Sun come up, he look at that big gold Rolex and he know, okay, morning now. Time to shit, time to eat, time to sit on big hanithi ass at the duka and drink pombe. Sun go down, he look at that Rolex and he say, okay, night now. Time to piss, time to eat, time to lie down like pig, grunt, grunt, and sleep. Dream about that big gold Rolex watch. Big hand, little hand. Big hand, little hand.
JOHN: I think I’da cut his balls off.
UKIMWI: My mother strip.
UKIMWI: She take her clothes off…to shame him.
JOHN: I don’t get it.
UKIMWI: She went to him where he sit with the truck drivers…all drink pombe, smack their lips, showing off this gold…this thing. She stand in the road and take her clothes off. Everyone see her and they know. She shame my father, Big Man. They know him now…what he do. One by one the other mens come away from the hut, slide away to the shadows. Not my father. He afraid to come out now. Village watching. One hour. Two hour. Three hour. All peoples watching. My mother…her dress in the dirt…her old skin…her old body. The body that she earned with carrying wood that kept our shamba warm, with working the fields that fed us. Worn-out breasts. Old grey hair on her belly. Naked for all to see. Skin wrinkled like an elephant there in the sun. She shamed him. He ran away out the back, into the bush. Big Man. Why men like this? You explain me.
JOHN: I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.
UKIMWI: Of course not.
JOHN: (Pause.) And your sister? What about your sister?
UKIMWI: Why you no want me, Amreeka?
JOHN: Come on.
UKIMWI: You don’t think I’m sexy?
JOHN: Sure. I just don’t.
UKIMWI: Do you see my naked mother in me?
JOHN: (No answer.)
UKIMWI: In my face?
JOHN: (No answer.)
UKIMWI: Do you feel her here in my hands?
UKIMWI: Are you afraid? Are you ashamed? You going to hide in the bush?
UKIMWI: Then you come with Ukimwi, yeah?
UKIMWI: I change you life forever.
JOHN: Listen, if you need some money. No problem. I’ll be glad to give you some money.
UKIMWI: I don’t want you money, Amreeka. I want you to know me, to know my mother, to know all the women of my village.
JOHN: I told you, no.
UKIMWI: And I told you, Amreeka, only yes. You only say yes to Ukimwi, yeah?
JOHN: You know what? You scare me.
UKIMWI: Come on, Johnnie Walker. Yes to Ukimwi.
JOHN: You do, but I admire your mother.
JOHN: You oughta maybe take a lesson. You know what I’m saying?
UKIMWI: You understand this?
JOHN: My mom was like that, had guts.
UKIMWI: She did this for me…for my sister.
JOHN: Always stood up to my bastard old man.
UKIMWI: Your father bad man?
JOHN: Another reason I came to Cairo.
UKIMWI: You run from your father?
JOHN: No, I didn’t run. I took a plane.
UKIMWI: You joke me, Amreeka?
JOHN: You know, the day I left, I went to his office. Building contractor. Didn’t like it that I was quitting his company “to go work with ragheads,” as he put it. He’s one of those men’s men, you know? When he shakes hands with you, it hurts. That kind of bullshit. Anyway, the day I left, when we shook hands, he broke my little finger. Just like that. Little going-away present. My mom had to be strong to live in that house. Like your mother.
UKIMWI: Strong? How my mother be strong? I told you all her life she carrying wood for the fire. How many years? How many kilometers on her back? This wood…how much wood? How many cans dirty water on her head? How many babies? How many lies of my father? How many insults? How many indignities has she carried? And when she strip her clothes…for the first time, she was strong. When she carried shame to my father, to the men of my village, to the men of this world, she was strong. When she carried the pain from between my sister’s legs and from her mind and from her memories and laid it down at my father’s feet. When she carried that shame to my father, she was strong. Then she was strong, Amreeka. Then she was very strong indeed. (Pause.) There were no tears.
JOHN: I’m sorry?
UKIMWI: She didn’t cry. She didn’t cry, Amreeka.
JOHN: Your mother?
UKIMWI: My…sister. I know she didn’t cry. She bit her lips when it happened, yeah? (Touches her own lips, remembering.) She bit her lips hard and tasted the blood. She was strong, too. And after…her granny, who was dead, came to her by the bed, yeah? And kissed her forehead, and her eyes, and the blood from her lips. And held her. And whispered into her ear. “Why are you trembling, child?” she said. “Listen to me. Listen to me, and I’ll tell you a secret” Only her mother came into the hut then…and she…she never heard what the secret was. She never heard.
JOHN: (Pause.) What happened to her? (No answer.) Are you okay?
UKIMWI: She never heard the secret, Amreeka.
JOHN: I’m sorry. I am. (Pause.) I’ll tell you a secret, if you want. Tarzan was gay.
UKIMWI: What you say?
JOHN: Tarzan was gay. At least, the guy who played him, I mean. He liked men, not women.
UKIMWI: You joke me again, Amreeka?
JOHN: No, no. My mom read it somewhere. We watched a lot of old movies together. (Pause.) I’ll tell you another secret…you asked me why I came here, tonight? ‘Cause I was lonely.
UKIMWI: Poor Amreeka.
JOHN: I wanted to meet someone…just not a woman.
UKIMWI: (Bursts out laughing.) Oh, my God. Hapana!
UKIMWI: Amreeka, you no want any woman?!
JOHN: Maybe another reason I came to Cairo. You know? Take me to the casbah? I think I watched Lawrence of Arabia one too many times.
UKIMWI: I wasting my time with you, yeah?
JOHN: Ironic, isn’t it? Pretty fucking sad, really.
UKIMWI: (She starts applying makeup, getting ready to depart, to look for someone else.) Why you this way? Explain me.
JOHN: Just lucky, I guess.
UKIMWI: You may be lucky, Amreeka.
UKIMWI: I tell you a secret now.
JOHN: “Hanithi we” doesn’t mean “good morning, have a nice day”?
UKIMWI: I’m serious now.
JOHN: You don’t have a sister.
UKIMWI: Huh! You know this?! You understand this?
JOHN: (Pause.) Ukimwi?
UKIMWI: My name not Ukimwi.
UKIMWI: My name not Ukimwi…Ukimwi the name of the gift I carry now to all men. My mission, you say, yeah? Deutsche, Italia, España, Amreeka…
JOHN: Ah, shit.
UKIMWI: You understand? Yeah? Ukimwi…slim… (John nods.) Many names…this gift…from my body, my blood, my spit… (She goes to kiss him lightly on the lips. He turns his head. She kisses his cheek.) You understand this, yeah? Yeah.
(She exits. Lights out.)
About the Author
Tom Coash is a New Haven, Connecticut playwright, director, and producer. He has produced new play festivals around the world and worked for such renowned theaters as the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Actors Theatre of Louisville. His own plays have been produced worldwide and won numerous playwriting awards, most recently, the American Theatre Critics Association’s “M. Elizabeth Osborn Award,” the Clauder Competition for New England Playwrights, and an Edgerton Foundation National New Play Award. Coash teaches playwriting at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Writing Program. Many of his plays are available online at: www.indietheaternow.com.