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06/06/2014

Hotel de la Paix

Steve Waters

From fact to fiction, January, 2014. Draft 2

A ringtone for a telephone; kind of Arabic in feel.  A woman stirs in sleep, the ring tone goes off.

                                                VOICE ON PHONE

Were you asleep?

                                                WOMAN

Mmm.

                                                VOICE

I’m sorry.  I forgot the time difference.

                                                WOMAN

It’s fine.

                                                VOICE

I can call back.

                                                WOMAN

No, no I am awake now.  I’m fine.  I need a cigarette.

                                                VOICE

Have one.

                                                WOMAN

You can’t smoke in the rooms here.

                                                VOICE

Open the window.  Smoke on the balcony.  I expect you have a balcony.

SHE sighs.  Pads to the window.  Opens it. The sounds of a European city – trams, distant bells, traffic.

                                                WOMAN

It’s still snowing.

                                                VOICE

What can you see?

                                                WOMAN

A lake.

                                                VOICE

A lake?

                                                WOMAN

Yes.  A lake.  And mountains.

I presume they are mountains. The tops are covered in cloud.  Apparently beautiful,  in sunlight.

The man coughs.

                                                VOICE

I very much hope you are enjoying the view.

                                                WOMAN

Of course not.  Of course I am not enjoying any of this.

Pause.

                                                VOICE

OK. We received your summary.  Well done.  Very satisfactory so far.    Any concession suggests they have legitimacy.

                                                WOMAN

OK.

                                                VOICE

Make sure the word ‘transition’ is never used by the representative. The word does not exist.  Nor the word ‘opposition’; if he’s forced to, he will say ‘so-called opposition’.

                                                WOMAN

OK.   What is the agenda today?

                                                VOICE

They will want to talk about prisoner release.  They will try and widen this to prisoner conditions to smear the Government.  Avoid the term ‘prisoners’, stick to ‘criminals’, or better, ‘terrorists’.  They’ve circulated some document to the Western press appearing to be from the Government.  Do not acknowledge the existence of the document.

OK?  Are you still there?

                                                WOMAN

Yes.  I’ve read it.  Clearly – a forgery.

                                                VOICE

Of course.

                                                WOMAN

I just wondered…

                                                VOICE

Actually, sorry, I have to go.

                                                WOMAN

Is it perhaps possible to speak to my husband?

A sigh at the end of the phone.

                                                VOICE

He’s fine.

                                                WOMAN

You’ve seen him?

                                                VOICE

Look, I’ll call you in an hour.   Your briefing will be ready by then.  Have some breakfast. Laughs.  I bet the breakfast is fantastic.

                                                WOMAN

It tastes burnt.  Everything tastes of smoke.

                                                VOICE

Enjoy it while you can.   Don’t get psychological on us.

HE’s gone.

Now the shower noise.  The WOMAN showers, gasps. SHE hums a tune.

A knock on the door.  A loud knock no the door.

From within the shower.

                                                WOMAN

One minute!

SHE switches off, puts on her robe.

A knock again.

One minute, please, OK.

                                                MAN muffled.

Madame, I am ready for you.  We are late.

Now the lift; the MAN and the WOMAN. The floors are intoned in French and then English.

                                                MAN

How do they sleep in these beds?  So wide you cannot see the other side! A family of ten could sleep in these beds.  And the sheets are thin as paper, and the air conditioning goes whine whine whine.

                                                WOMAN

Adjust it.

                                                MAN

OK.  ‘Adjust it’.  OK.  Good morning to you too.

By the way do you think that blouse is appropriate?

                                                WOMAN

It’s none of your business.

                                                MAN

Do up the buttons.

                                                WOMAN

Do I comment on your clothes?

The MAN laughs.

Do you have a cigarette?

                                                MAN

I thought you quit.

                                                WOMAN

I just need something in my hands.

                                                MAN

I know the feeling.

HE laughs.

Tried to smoke in my room last night.  Set off the alarm.

It is not a crime to smoke!

                                                WOMAN

It is a crime.  In this country.

The lift door opens.

                                                MAN

Wait, madame, wait.

One of their people. He should be on this floor at this hour.  There is an agreement.

The gentle pinging of the door.

They should have vacated the hotel an hour ago.

                                                WOMAN

He looks so old.

                                                MAN

Do you know him?

                                                WOMAN

No.  No, I…I think perhaps he just – overslept.  Yes.

                                                MAN

If you know him you must pass on his name.

The breakfast room. They sit at a table. A hubbub of cutlery and chatter; Mozart very faint.

                                                MAN

Every variety of egg – poached, boiled, scrambled. Every type of meat: bacon, sausages, cold meats.  Or cheese: smoked cheese, creamed cheese, feta cheese.  May God forgive me.

HE tucks in.

Is that all you’re eating?

                                                WOMAN

I find it all tastes…I don’t like the taste.

                                                MAN

Let me get you a coffee at least. Sitting with an empty plate!

                                                WOMAN

The coffee is so weak.

                                                MAN

Ask the waitress, they make you one special.

What are you mooning at – Madame you need to concentrate today!

                                                WOMAN

You get no sense of the height. The way the cloud rests on them, like a great weight, it pushes the sky down to the lake.   If only the cloud would lift.

                                                MAN

What’s to see but rock and snow?

Now another man moves closer.

                                                MAN 2

Good morning.  May I join you?

                                                MAN

What do you want?

                                                MAN 2

I simply said ‘good morning’.  Is a greeting now an offence?

                                                WOMAN

Not at all.  Good morning.  And now goodbye.

                                                MAN 2

Very good, keep it up, we might almost seem like ordinary human beings from an ordinary country, acquaintances meeting on holiday perhaps.

                                                MAN

Do not insult this lady with your insinuations.

                                                MAN 2

You surely remember me?

                                                WOMAN

Why – why would I know you?

                                                MAN 2

She was always brighter than me.   A brilliant linguist.

                                                MAN

This is a clear breach of protocol.  I will talk to the manager.  Madame, I suggest you go to your room.

MAN walks off.

                                                MAN 2

How do you like Hotel de la Paix?  Costs an arm and a leg.

                                                WOMAN

This conversation is not appropriate.

                                                MAN 2

So let us talk as strangers at breakfast.  Pass the butter, please.

I mean really, I need the butter.

SHE does. He spreads it on some toast.

Sleep so badly here.  Glued to the television through the night.  A cure for homesickness don’t you think?  Footage of your old mosque used as an arms dump, your old school a detention centre.

How about you, did you sleep well?

                                                WOMAN

Not especially well, no.

                                                MAN 2

Bad dreams  perhaps?

Silence.  Now he pours out some tea.

Now the sugar if you will.

                                                WOMAN

Please leave.

                                                MAN 2

This is the last free place. Or do you wish me to go hungry?

HE laughs.

OK, so it’s true then?

                                                WOMAN

What is true?

                                                MAN 2

Starvation is now Government policy.  In the prisons, in the besieged towns which are in effect prisons.

                                                WOMAN

I do not accept what you allude to; I only note your abuses of combatants and non-combatants.

                                                MAN 2

The difference is for us we don’t have any prisons as such. Your abuses are rather more organised, right?

SHE stands up.

Please don’t get up on my part.

                                                WOMAN

I’ve finished my breakfast –

                                                MAN 2

You’ve eaten fresh air.  Isn’t it a patriotic duty to eat?  All these loyalists in here feeding their faces, eh.

                                                WOMAN

OK, you compel me to get security.

                                                MAN 2

Your colleague’s on it.  Not faring too well.

Isn’t this quite amazing?  That I can simply talk to you.

Back home I’d have already been arrested.

The return of MAN.

                                                MAN

OK, OK, stand up, stand up.

                                                MAN 2

Is there a hurry?  Oh, are you filming me now?

                                                MAN

Stand up leave your food, stand up and leave.

                                                MAN 2

Put your camera down, I’m well known to your spies and my family are mostly dead so you cannot hurt me.

                                                WOMAN

Put, put it away.

                                                MAN

The delegations remain separate at all times.

                                                WOMAN

Put the camera away!

                                                MAN 2

Nearly done.  Toast is a bit burnt.  Crunching.  You’ve played a good hand.  Everything blocked, every word subject to dispute.  I see you whispering into the ear of your boss.  Supplying him with the words – why are you so frightened of the word ‘transition’?  Why will you not accept the world ‘opposition’?  A masterstroke to say we don’t even exist –

                                                WOMAN

You don’t exist.  You don’t represent anybody.  You don’t stand for anything.  You only kill and destroy and then you play the victim, when your country is the victim, your country!

                                                MAN 2

I was shocked to see you here.  I still remember you as a real human being.

                                                MAN

OK, enough, enough, joker, here –

                                                MAN 2

Right, so now you’re grabbing me.  Do you have the right to grab me here, huh, you goon, huh, you fascist?

In the scuffle a chair falls over.

                                                WOMAN

Stop it stop it – or we will have you –

The hubbub in the room falls quiet.  Only Mozart.

                                                MAN 2

Now, there, everyone’s looking at us.  My countrymen.  Good morning!  Sorry to disturb your breakfast.

But OK, as I have your attention, may I suggest a toast – to absent friends, perhaps.  Absent as in dead.   A toast to the 130,000 dead,  ladies and gentlemen.  Mmm.  Orange juice.  Freshly squeezed.

Now in the car.  A crackly skype conversation.

                                                VOICE

…for ‘prisons’ read ‘detention centres’; refute the word ‘torture’; concede the word ‘interrogation’  –

                                                WOMAN

Is there evidence of their field executions we can use?  Oh, hello – you’re…seizing up.  I was saying –

                                                VOICE

…no ‘soldiers’; the photographs are not from a verifiable source and can be dismissed; refer to their deployment of snipers –

                                                WOMAN

Yes we emphasised the question of snipers in the – hello?

Now just an indeterminate noise.

The signal’s gone.  I said the signal’s gone.  Hello?  Hello?

Why aren’t we moving?

                                                MAN

Police.

                                                WOMAN

Is it security?

The window winds down – there’s some noise of a melee, klaxons. HE sounds his horn; other answer.

                                                MAN

No.  Our lot.  Pro-government rally.  A good bunch.

                                                WOMAN

OK.  Good. It looks good, the numbers look larger.

                                                MAN

Good people.  From my city.

                                                WOMAN

Excellent, the press are there too.

                                                MAN

Men, women and children.  Let the world can see their eyes, their tears, hear their cries. You could not fake that love.

                                                WOMAN

Oh, you can fake anything.  In the right circumstances.

The window goes up.

If I say something to you will it go no further?

The MAN lights up.

                                                MAN

How can I make you a promise like that?

                                                WOMAN

No.  You can’t.  May I?

SHE takes the cigarette, inhales and coughs.

Thank you.  Maybe then I can ask you something?

                                                MAN

Of course. If I am allowed not to respond.

                                                WOMAN

Your choice.

                                                MAN

Ask away.

                                                WOMAN

The document.  About the prisoners.

                                                MAN

Pay no attention to these things. It’s propaganda.

                                                WOMAN

Of course.  The source – it seems to have come from within Government.

The man sighs.

It seems to be a leak; of an actual internal report.

                                                MAN

These things are easily faked.  You fake the letterhead, you photo-shop some pictures – it is a common strategy.

                                                WOMAN

I handle a lot of official documents –  this looked – authentic.

                                                MAN

An inside job then.   Some traitor who will be found out.

                                                WOMAN

The pictures – they seem very…real.

                                                MAN

Stop this.

                                                WOMAN

Prisoners, clearly prisoners.  With scars on their throats, from ligatures.  Emaciated – torsos.

                                                MAN

Of course not, you are talking ignorantly now!  I request that you stop this conversation!

                                                WOMAN

Where would be the necessity?  To actually starve them?

                                                MAN

Do we waste our little food on traitors?

                                                WOMAN

How could this be deliberate?

                                                MAN

We are all hungry now.  They have stopped the food coming, they have prevented the harvests.  Fine, let them go hungry.

                                                WOMAN

You see every bone, every bone beneath the skin.  You could even count them.

                                                MAN

Madame, I will have to report this conversation!

More car horns; the traffic is starting up.  Now the car moves.

 They drive in silence.

I despise this city.  The buildings are laughing at us.  Everything is glass and steel and new.  The streets are too broad.  The pavements are too wide.  The people sit in cafes all day long and do not talk to each other.   Everyone is rich and everyone is fat and everyone is foreign.

                                                WOMAN

Oh, I like the buildings.  I like to see smooth facing without any trace of bullet damage.  I like to see glass intact in window frames, as if it could never be shattered. I like the cleanliness and the good order.  I like the cool considerateness of the hotel staff and the fresh towels and sachets of soap and the fresh sheets every day and the chocolate left on your pillow.  And I like the children safely making their way to school without a trace of fear or hunger on their faces.   I like the peace.  Oh, I very much like the peace.

The car slows.

Will you report this conversation?

Pause.

MAN

What conversation? OK, here we are.  A little late.

The car pulls to a halt.  They stop.

                                                WOMAN

OK.  Papers, briefing, glossary, purse, pencils, phone.

They get out of the car; the doors slam. The alarm goes chuck-chuck. The MAN breathes in the air.

                                                MAN

It is too damn cold to live!

The WOMAN receives a text.

                                                WOMAN

Wait.

                                                MAN

No.  Keep moving, we are late now.

The crunching of gravel as the MAN walks on.

                                                WOMAN

The morning session’s cancelled.

                                                MAN

Keep moving.

                                                WOMAN

We are instructed not to attend. We are instructed not to talk to anyone.  We are informed we have no position on this situation.

The morning is free until further notice.

                                                MAN

Cancelled?

                                                WOMAN

Yes.

                                                MAN

In the name of god!  I mean, when do we go home, huh?  We should never have come here. I said, I said we should never have come.  Huh?  They’re making monkeys out of us, they’re making women out of us. I swear – I –

HE breathes hard. The WOMAN is walking away.

OK, sorry, I lost it.  OK, you need to come in.  I’ll drive you back. I have to take you back.

                                                WOMAN

It’s fine.  I’ll walk back myself.

                                                MAN

Come on, what do you mean you’ll walk?

Now please, madame, back in the car, please.

The chuck-chuck as he unlocks it again.

We go back to the hotel. We stay in contact.  We do not mix or engage with anyone outside the delegation – hey!  Hey!

Still she walks, now off the gravel onto snow.

You are walking on the gardens now.  You are not permitted to walk there.  Madame, please allow me to offer what protection I can.  Madame.

                                                WOMAN

Look.  The cloud has lifted off the mountain.  The snow looks so…white. On the peak.

                                                MAN receding.

Come back.  I cannot – come back.  Do not make me report this –

                                                WOMAN

Covered in fresh snow!  Did you ever see so much snow? Look.

The sound of her feet crunching in the snow and her footsteps.

 

END OF VERSION TWO:

                                                WOMAN

‘Withdraw from all further talks’.

                                                MAN

Keep moving, please.

                                                WOMAN

We are instructed not to attend talks. We are instructed not to talk to anyone.  We are informed we have no position on this situation.  The delegation will return home on the first possible flight.

 

                                                MAN

Withdraw from talks?

                                                WOMAN

Yes.

                                                MAN

In the name of god!  We go home, now, with nothing, having achieved nothing?  We should never have come here. I said, I said we should never have come.  Huh?  They make monkeys out of us, they make women out of us. I swear – I –

HE breathes hard. The WOMAN is walking away.

OK, you need to come in.  I’ll drive you back. I have to take you back.

                                                WOMAN

It’s fine.  I’ll walk back myself.

                                                MAN

Come on, what do you mean you’ll walk?

Now please, madame, back in the car, please.

The chuck-chuck as he unlocks it again.

We go back to the hotel. We stay in contact.  We do not mix or engage with anyone outside the delegation – hey!  Hey!

Still she walks, now off the gravel onto snow.

You are walking on the gardens now.  You are not permitted to walk there.  Madame, please allow me to offer what protection I can.  Madame.

                                                WOMAN

Look.  The cloud has lifted off the mountain.  The snow looks so…white. On the peak.

                                                MAN receding.

Come back.  I cannot – come back.  Do not make me report this –

                                                WOMAN

Covered in fresh snow!  Did you ever see so much snow? Look.

The sound of her feet crunching in the snow and her footsteps.

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