Language Rooms  by Yussef El Guindi (from: The Selected Works of Yussef El Guindi)

Act 1, Scene 1

A room. A large Plexiglas box. The Plexiglas container has wheels, allowing it to be moved. It is covered with a cloth, and is positioned upstage. There is also a shopping cart with assorted items in and around it. There is one chair.
Ahmed and Nasser stand. Nasser holds a clipboard.
Short beat, then:
Ahmed I'm sorry, what?
Nasser opens his mouth to reply; instead, he gestures and moves towards the corner. He puts the clipboard down on the chair.
Ahmed Why? Just tell me.
Nasser (starts out in a half whisper) I will. (Nods towards unseen camera.)
Ahmed What about it?
Nasser (re: camera) It's on.
Ahmed I don't care.
Nasser Well I do.
Ahmed How do you know it's on?
Nasser I don't, so.
Ahmed (pointing to the other corner) They have one up there as well.
Nasser It was moved into the hallway.
Ahmed No it wasn't, when?
Nasser This morning. They uninstalled it.
Ahmed That's not the last remaining camera.
Nasser Would you just come over here, please.
Ahmed (moves to him) We had twenty-five new cameras shipped in. They're covering all corners now, literally, in most rooms.
Nasser Actually they've been cutting corners. With this new budget?
Ahmed When?
Nasser For a few weeks now.
Ahmed I didn't hear of this. Why?
Nasser We aren't exactly on anyone's Christmas list. As far as the higher-ups are concerned we haven't come up with any breakthrough information for a while. Or to quote an e-mail forwarded to Kevin, the word on us now is that we're—"infertile."
Ahmed Infertile?
Nasser It was the heading of the e-mail.
Ahmed Infertile as in how?
Nasser As in not coming up with any useful information.
Ahmed We've had non-stop blabbers since we've come here. Because of us I might add. Our addition has increased the blab quota.
Nasser Apparently it hasn't been considered good enough.
Ahmed What do they want, translations of our translations? And what was the info on the Best in Show plot? What was that? That was just last month.
Nasser There's some skepticism about that now.
Ahmed That was real. I extracted that information. Those (suddenly conscious of the camera, whispers:) two arrogant bastards at NSA who had dogs in that show should be damn grateful. I saved them and their pooches from going splat up into the rafters.
Nasser That communication is now regarded as dubious.
Ahmed Oh, bull. There was a plot. That dog show was going down.
Nasser The consensus now is it was more of a slur against that agency than any real intention to blow up the D.C. dog show. You know, as in—getting back at the "sons-of-bitches." "Ibna Kalb"?
Ahmed You know what this is: this is like my last job. Having your best work dismissed, and getting no credit for what you do.
Nasser Anyway. So.—
Ahmed (interrupting) I take that jab personally, "infertile." I work overtime.
Nasser (continuing) So, as you can see, it's not just—fingers aren't being pointed at anyone in particular. The pressure's on all of us. Which might explain people's shortness of—temper. And words that start getting used like—"sympathies." And—"suspect." I think was the word, that was used.
Ahmed So … you're bringing this up because of… . You're bringing this up because of—me in particular?
Nasser No. But. There's a lot more scrutiny. There's an unofficial evaluation going on; nothing major. They don't want morale to dip, but—I think there's a lot of (touches finger on tongue then holds it up) that going on.
Ahmed What?
Nasser (again touches finger on tongue and holds it up) That. Finger in the wind.
Ahmed What wind?
Nasser Wind, in general, evaluating.
Ahmed Wait a minute—wait a minute, are you—making this up?—I don't think I—(moves away from him) I don't think I believe you.
Nasser Why would I make this up?
Ahmed I don't know. I don't know why you would make this up. You're pulling my leg. This is candid camera. The guys are watching. Oh "no camera up there," who are you kidding. (Goes to a corner to inspect for a hidden camera.)
Nasser Ahmed.
Ahmed You're a known prankster. You made me eat those fish eggs. Tapioca indeed. Where is it? Where's it installed? There's going to be a gotcha at the end of this.
Ahmed jumps on top of the chair to take a closer look at an upper corner.
Nasser You're a trained interrogator: look me in the eye. Do I look like I'm pulling your leg? I'm trying to be a friend.
Ahmed (slight beat) So tell me who spoke to you.—About me?
Nasser Not important.
Ahmed gets off the chair at some point.
Ahmed So I can address it.
Nasser It's not about names.
Ahmed Who told you my—my sympathies? Suspect? Those were the actual words?
Nasser No, there's just a—. Not even that, no.
Ahmed You stopped yourself, what?
Nasser There's just some—question as to where your—you see this is why I have to be careful with you because if I said "loyalty," for instance, you'd flip.
Ahmed stares at him.
Nasser It's like walking on a mine field with you, one wrong word and boom.
Ahmed "Loyalty"?
Nasser There you go, flipping.
Ahmed I'm not flipping. Does it look like I'm flipping?
Nasser I hope not because I'd like to speak rationally about this.
Ahmed That's in question? My loyalty?
Nasser That's not what I said.
Ahmed You said it.
Nasser I said "if" I used that word.
Ahmed You used it.
Nasser I'm un-using it.
Ahmed (walks into camera range; to the camera) Loyalty?
Nasser Erase the damn word.
Ahmed Oh God. I'm getting that nauseous feeling again. You work your ass off to fit in and all you get is this in return. I dropped out of college to help out.
Nasser I don't think it's anything specific so much as a general question of—affiliations.—Sympathies. (Reacting to his expressions.) Stop with the faces.
Ahmed The more you speak the worse it gets.
Nasser Are you going to let me talk?
Ahmed stares fixedly at him.
Nasser It's nothing. It's more a—er, an aloofness, on your part. Keeping people at a distance, you know. Not quite—fitting in, like you said.
Ahmed Not fitting in?
Nasser You don't fit in as much as you think you do. You do. But: not as much as you think you do.
Ahmed Did someone talk to you? Kevin? Is this water cooler talk? More than one person?
Nasser Not a consensus yet, no, but you need to address this. Questions like "what's up with Ahmed?" are coming up.
Ahmed "What's up with Ahmed?"
Nasser This is a small compound. We're on foreign soil. People get very clannish. Very team oriented in a situation like this. Feeling, you know, that everyone should stick together.
Ahmed How am I not sticking?
Nasser Like I said, you're—
Nasser at some point starts putting items left around the room back into the shopping cart. Among the items Nasser picks up: hammer, nails, a screw driver, duct tape, a dildo, rope, head phones, and several bars of soap.
Ahmed I go out of my way to stick.
Nasser A smile and a wave doesn't cut it. At the mess hall. Or in the showers. And why is it you never—why don't you ever shower with us? You always wait until everyone's done.
Ahmed That's an issue?
Nasser Little things, they add up.
Ahmed I'm sorry, I'm shy. I'm not comfortable being naked in front of other guys. I don't know what to do when George wants to hold a conversation without any clothes on. Like I'm supposed to ignore that.
Nasser Why can't you ignore that?
Ahmed Because he's naked.
Nasser You have conversations with naked people all the time.
Ahmed That's different. They're blindfolded.
Nasser Well you may want to get over your inhibition, because it's becoming another little wedge.
Ahmed I don't believe this. That's the reason?
Nasser No, just—you're never around. It was the Super Bowl for chrissakes, and you weren't there.
Ahmed I knew that would bite me. I miss a game and I'm suspect. I'm sorry, I hate sports. A bunch of over-muscled men seeing whose dick is bigger.
Nasser You really have an issue with that don't you?
Ahmed What? Dicks? Am I not supposed to have an issue with that?
Nasser I'm just saying. The small things will trip you up. Look, just hang out more, okay? (Perhaps tapping him on the chest with the dildo.) Participate.
Nasser throws the dildo in the shopping cart. He picks up a small carton of opened milk, which he'll first smell, then drink from.
Ahmed That's easy for you to say … Mr. laid-back Nasser. Mr. guy's guy. If you weren't the only other Muslim on this compound, you know, I think I might actually resent you. Because you're a bit of a suck-up, you know.
Nasser Ahmed, there's nothing personal about this. Pass the bat. And the honey.
Ahmed I'm just saying. It's as if they can only like one Muslim at a time, and you're it. The designated Muslim. And I get to be the piñata. I think that's the psychology. I really do. I think you know that and play off of it.
Ahmed goes to a corner to pick up the bat and pot of honey. He will give the bat to Nasser at some point. Nasser starts picking up phone books, other heavy books to stack in the shopping cart.
Nasser This is normal life, Ahmed. If this was any other job, and you didn't go with the flow, people would have a question mark next to your name. Stop living in your own world.
Ahmed Office politics strikes again, great. So—what? I behave accordingly and problem solved?
Nasser That would be a start. And—Kevin wants to see you.
Ahmed Kevin? Why?
Nasser I'm—not sure. (Turns to face him.) Look:—
Nasser is interrupted by the sound of a thud. They both turn to the Plexiglas box. Slight beat.
Ahmed Don't tell me there's someone in there.
Ahmed and Nasser move to the box. They yank the cloth off. The box is empty.
Ahmed Thank God. I'd hate to think I was becoming absent-minded as well.
Nasser stares at the empty box. Ahmed registers Nasser's look.
Ahmed The noise probably came from the pipes.
Nasser Look:
(up close to Ahmed)
you need to get it together. I'm serious. Don't screw up. Because if you do, I get the rebound crap from that and I've worked too hard for you to mess it up for me. You can't just be yourself here. We have to fit in. Do you understand? (Then:) And if Kevin asks—. Look, if he asks about your interrogation of Khaled… . Never mind.
Ahmed What?
Nasser Never mind, it won't come up.
Ahmed What about the Khaled interrogation?
Nasser Just think before you mouth off, okay. Really: think.
Ahmed I do; I will. Don't worry.—Thanks for being a friend.
Nasser picks up the clipboard. Ahmed glances at it.
Ahmed Who's being brought in?
Nasser (picks up the tool box and bat) Some guy from the States. Connected with that mystery sheikh who's on the run.
Ahmed Ah, home grown. My favorite kind. Wait: I think Kevin mentioned this guy to me. A grocer or something.
Nasser And don't forget the honey. Don't eat it all.
Ahmed I won't.—Wouldn't want to steal from the government.
With one last look at Ahmed, Nasser exits with the shopping cart. Ahmed looks at the honey. He dips his finger into the pot, then sucks on it. Lights fade on Ahmed. Transitional sounds.
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