THE FOOD-GIVER (A Play By JRS)

Cast:

The Hungerer

Darkness (a figure wrapped in a dark cloak)

The Food-giver (compassionate, angelic)

An Off-stage Voice (Heard before the Kingís retinue and crowd appear on stage)

The King

The Thinker

The Merchant

The Hunter

The Crowd (3 Ė 6 individuals, including two at times specifically designated as C1 and C2)

Optional (Fruit-bearing maidens: only for large audiences. See the last paragraphs of the play for directions and explanation)

 

Props:

Including, but not limited to:

Appropriate wardrobe for all

An ornate, impressive fruitbowl filled with fruits

Sword (Kingís)

Coins (gold appearance) and jeweled ring (Kingís)

Table with bouquet of flowers

A simple chair

A bigger, fancier chair on rollers

A whip

A barrel

A telescope

A net

A long pole with a flattened head (which can be improvised)

2 powerful lamps whose light can be focused on particular objects

A cane with a curved end, such as is used to pull unwanted characters off the stage

A bag and large case for wares (merchantís)

Two combs, a hand-held mirror, a magnifying glass, a nail file, a hammer, nails, glue, a heavy large book, 3 medicine vials, chocolate (merchantís wares)

A plate (merchantís)

A paper (blueprint of Hunterís plans)

 

Setting:

The stage, not much required. The play may open with only a simple chair which the Hungerer will sit in at times, and a small, light table on which is a bouquet of flowers.

 

THE PLAY

 

The Hungerer stands as Darkness enters.

Hungerer: I have always suffered. Every bright day, every sunny day, every cloudless day that my life was blessed with has frightened me, because I knew it wouldnít last. Summer is always chased by autumn, which is the barren fingertip of Winter reaching for all things green. Light does nothing more than rent a room from Darkness. Heís the curse of sensitive people.

Darkness advances slowly, gracefully, like a dancer, hands rising up to expand his cloak, and increase his size.

Hungerer: Look at that! He comes. Like an eagle spreading giant wings, an eagle of tears. Like an eclipse blotting out the sun of her kiss - Saraís: my most cherished distraction, my deepest cut. He is the grammarian of our most precious verbs Ė celebrate, dance, sing, embrace - he is the one who gave them all a past tense. But I honor the great heroes who stand tall like sunflowers in the razed fields of history. They taught me to care, though nothing matters. They taught me to love though Life is a dead-end. I resist. [Hungerer steps forward, protectively seizes up the bouquet of flowers as Darkness moves towards it, to take it.] In spite of you, I shall love what is beautiful! [Darkness now begins to slowly pursue the Hungerer, the two move as in a dance, the one slowly retreating and avoiding, the other following.] And this is my life. Appointing myself to be the mother of all things doomed. I will gather the orphans into my arms and be for them a star-filled sky, a sun, a river, and an orchard. The stone stays where it is in the ground when you fall, but I will come. I will come running to you. I will turn you into gold, by crying. [At last Darkness seizes the flowers and pushes the Hungerer away. He begins to leave the stage. The Hungerer hits him from behind, pulls him, tries to stop him.] Stop! Let them stay! Doctor, doctor! What do you mean there is nothing you can do?! Give them back! "One Moment in Annihilationís Waste, One moment of the Well of Life to taste- The Stars are setting and the Caravan Starts for the Dawn of Nothing Ė Oh, make haste!" [1] [Darkness continues to go, he is too strong to recover the flowers from.] Who can defeat him? Who can change his mind? Who can soften his heart? I fight back with philosophy: "Remember that thou art an actor in a play, and of such sort as the Author chooses, whether long or short. If it be his good pleasure to assign thee the part of a beggar, a cripple, a ruler, or a simple citizen, thine it is to play it fitly. For thy business is to act the part assigned thee, well: to choose it, is anotherís." [2] But still, I cannot accept it. My impotence arms itself with a lance, I charge through the darkness like a knight, battling the windmills of things I cannot change with poetry: "Bred to a harder thing than Triumph, turn away, And like a laughing string whereon mad fingers play amid a place of stone, Be secret and exult, Because of all things known that is most difficult." [3] Like a little dog barking out the window, I accost the beast of reality. I shape laments into arrowheads and fire them into the air which cannot be wounded. [Darkness is gone, now, the Hungerer is exhausted and depressed. He staggers back into a chair and collapses into it.] Sometimes itís too much to bear. How do I do it? How can I go on? I sit down in the chair of misery, self-pity, and exhaustion. Where else is there to sit? I leaf through pages of the ancient Stoic, Epictetus, but I am like a porcelain vase from the Ming Dynasty trying to be a stone. I skin the Buddha like a deer, and wear his hide when I go out into the rain, but somehow, the water always gets through. Jesus tried to help me, but I only felt the nails in his hands, and the cross above my bed killed Sara. I hid in the crowd of church-goers who swarm over the plain of sorrow like a giant herd of wildebeest, defeating contempt with numbers, sacrificing the personal for safety; I thirsted to death in the middle of the ocean. I swear, I was ready to quit this world, but my heart just kept on beating, my lungs just kept on breathing. They knew there was more to come. One night, when I was sitting alone in a dark room, watching a candle gasp its final breaths of light, he came: the Food-Giver.

As the Hungerer sits in the chair, beautiful choral music is heard coming from offstage. Slowly, gracefully, the Food-Giver enters, carrying an appealing bowl of fruit.

Hungerer: Who are you? What are you? Father? Mother? Are you an angel? Who are you? [Looking at the fruit.] For me? For me? Who are you? [The Food-Giver motions for him to take a fruit. The Hungerer does and begins to eat.] Itís delicious. Itís wonderful. I Ė Iíve never tasted anything like this before in my whole life. [Starts to cry.] Itís beautiful! I didnít know such food existed! The woman who I saw, years ago, kneeling by the statue of the Virgin in the Church, praying, crying with joy, saying "Thank you. Thank you blessed mother." I wanted to feel like her, but I couldnít. I couldnít get there. I wanted to break into her heart, like a bank robber, and steal just a little of the faith Ė just a few pennies of the faith, that made her glow; I could see ecstasy trashing the sorrow in her eyes; thoughts or prayers or visions, like vandals of light, running around and pillaging a lifetime of pain, smashing everything heavy and dark inside or her. I wanted so much to feel what she was feeling, on her knees, by the statue of the Virgin, but I couldnít. But now Ė but now, in my own way, after years of living on the other side of her eyes Ė I can taste it! This food! It is like a raindrop from Heaven. Who are you? What are you? [The Food-giver begins to go, smiling and backing away.] Are you an angel? Are you going? [Understanding that the Food-giver is going away.] Will you come back? Is this the only time? Will you come back? [The Food-giver smiles.] I know from that smile that you will return. That smile that melts the snows of winter and lays them, as water, at the feet of a world that wants be green. You are a part of my life now. Because I longed! Because I kept on longing, and kept on pouring longing into the cup of life until it ranneth over with an answer. Because I cried until my eyes were washed clean, clean of the dust of my self-denying mind. Because I refused the food of lies, and let myself suffer from hunger, until the food of my own truth was all that was left! Thank you! Thank you! How can I ever repay you? [The Food-giver is gone, the music stops.] I will repay you by living, with commitment. Not as a ghost drifting without will from room to room in a house of distractions, a house of treasures that are like a bullet to the head. I will repay you by loving others as you love me. I have been saved. I have been transformed. In the middle of the cold night, I have built a great circle of logs, but I am still only striking the match that will start the fire. Because I am not alone.

Off-stage Voice: Beware the wind! Beware the wind! The match is so small! The wind comes blowing in from all the world.

Enter the King, the Thinker, the Crowd, the Hunter, and the Merchant.

Hungerer: I am not alone.

Crowd: All hail the King! The King is here! All hail the King! The King is here! All hail the King!

The Hungerer folds his hands together, and bows respectfully to the King. The King acknowledges his gesture.

King: Greetings. You are the Hungerer? The one who is said to have received the fruits of the Food-giver?

Hungerer: I didnít know it was known.

King: You would have wished that it was not?

Hungerer: A young colt just born can barely walk. Though it will one day run with consummate grace, in the first moments of life it can hardly stand.

King: We are men, here, not horses. The one who is said to have received the fruits: is that you?

Thinker: It is to the King you speak, and to the King you answer. Only the truth will do.

Hungerer: Your Majesty, if it were so, would it be a transgression?

King: No, no, of course not, my dear subject, my dear friend. To believe you have received fruits from the hand of the Food-giver is no transgression. We live in a free society here. I know well that the lord who demands that the whole world think like him diminishes his strength a million times. The lion who says everyone must be a lion gives up the sky, for he has lost the bird; he gives up the ocean, for he has prohibited the fish; he gives up what lies beneath the land, for he has disowned the worm. Our beliefs, here, have no boundaries. I am not here to crush freedom, but to champion it. My scepter presides over liberty, and my sword defends it. I merely wish to know what you have found. Consider me to be like the Three Kings, chasing after a star, to see what lies beneath it. What infant Ė what miracle?

Thinker: Are you the one?

King: We are not here to punish a transgression, nor to collar an outlaw. We are here because we are curious Ė like cartographers, eager to fill in missing places on the map.

Thinker: You have received fruits from the hand of the Food-giver?

Crowd: Answer! Answer!

Hungerer: Well- yes. Yes I have.

Crowd: [Laughs, for to them this is a silly and absurd thing, and talks within itself.] Yes! He has! He says he has! Shhh! Donít be impolite! He can believe whatever he wants to! Itís a free country. [Laughs again] He says heís seen the Food-giver!

Thinker: And those fruits that you received from the Food-giver Ė youíve eaten them?

Hungerer: Yes, as a matter of fact I have. [Crowd laughs again, and everyone in the kingís party seems somewhat amused.] Why, was I not supposed to?

King: Oh, no, of course you could eat them! If the Food-giver offered them to you, I suppose it would have been discourteous to refuse. [The crowd laughs again] [A bit sarcastically:] In your place, I certainly would have done the same. Who would ever dream of saying no to the Food-giver? [To the Thinker:] Talk with him, will you?

Thinker: This Food-giver? Did he bring the fruit to you in a golden bowl? [The crowd continues to snicker, or otherwise react, throughout the interrogation]

Hungerer: I donít recall. There was a light. I think it was the fruit itself that was shining. [Trying to remember.] I think there were carvings on the bowl. Pictures from Greek mythology or perhaps something more like one of Durerís woodcuts, with angels and phantoms of the apocalypse, or illustrations from Miltonís Paradise Lost. No, wait, that book was in my fatherís library, I remember the pages were on the verge of falling out, and the carvings were on grandmotherís fruitbowl Ė when I was a child, we used to pick crabapples from the trees out in back, and weíd keep them in the bowl until she was ready to make a pie. She made such wonderful pies. And she told such wonderful stories about growing up in her times. - All I remember is the light. A feeling, like something inside my chest was thawing, like springtime was coming to my heart; a wetness on my cheeks. There seemed to be a kind of music in the air, and light was all around. Every hair on my head was standing up; my skin was covered with goose bumps; but there was a warm feeling inside my fear, my fear of the unknown, and then a euphoria and suddenly the anomaly was as familiar as the sun shining in the sky. Itís always been there, you just need another eye to see it.

One member of the crowd pretends to drill a hole in his head.

Crowd: [C1] What the hell are you doing? [C2] Drilling a hole in my head.

[C1] What for? [C2] Making a socket for another eye. [They laugh.] You think I need another mouth, too, or can I eat the magic fruit with the one I got? [More laughter.]

Thinker: Did the fruits the Food-giver gave you, by any chance, resemble the crabapples that your grandmother gave you?

Hungerer: She used them in the pies she baked.

Thinker: Did they at all resemble those crabapples?

Hungerer: No.

Thinker: How were the fruits the Food-giver gave you different from the crabapples which you ate when you were a child?

Hungerer: They were bigger. Sweeter. Softer. More perfect, there were no wormholes, no gashes from falling. They were shining. As I ate them, it seemed I was eating them much longer than should have been possible; though they fit in my hand, their substance was endless, like boundless space caressing every planet and every star in the universe, they were far too generous to allow me to finish them; their exquisite taste remained so long as I shuddered with delight, like an eternal torch burning on the altar of my tongue.

Thinker: Fruits you bit into with your mouth, with your teeth - and swallowed Ė but could not finish? [The Hungerer nods. The crowd looks within itself, they give the spinning-finger-by-the-head sign for "nut."] You know, in daydreams I have captured tigers, I have ridden unicorns. I have beaten not one Goliath, but two, and Salome and Cleopatra fought to have me as their man. Candles of the mind do not burn out. There is no wax as enduring as fantasy, it lasts as long as our needs. What luminous tapestries I have woven with the stuff of daily life, kidnapped and painted gold! [Before the Hungerer can reply, he raises his hand to "shhh" him and continues:] What about the Food-bringer himself, pray tell? What does he look like? Have you seen paintings of angels in the church? Does he look like that? Did the books your grandmother read you before you went to bed have pictures in them? Were there pictures of fairies, of sprites, of elves? Does the Food-giver look like any one of them? Is he powerful with long white hair and a beard like God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Is he young and virile like a statue of Apollo, naked with a marble crotch? Is he boyish and charming, like Cupid or a page boy? What does he look like?

Hungerer: It is hard to describe him. As he came to me, he was behind the fruits that were shining. He too seemed to shine. There was an aura, a radiance, I remember most of all a smile, he was a smile dragging a form. There was love, so much love, he was melting from the love inside him, it would not let his substance be a barrier between us. His body was more feeling than matter. It was too sincere to allow us to remain separate.

The crowd looks at each other with exaggerated, perplexed faces, they scratch their heads in puzzlement, then give the crazy sign again.

Thinker: Have you ever felt this way around a person? A protective father? A doting mother? Your kindly grandmother who made the pies?

Hungerer: I have loved before. I have been cherished in the middle of storms. I have, in the midst of being rejected and scorned, been held tightly by arms whose passion was not a ruse. But I have never felt love so expansive, so complete, so absolute, as that brought by the Food-giver. I have been loved before by soft drops of rain that shatter on the rocks, never by the sky that is falling on my head. Never by the noose of stars around my neck. Now I understand. Calamity is only a scratch on the surface of love. We are loved, even as we bleed. The wisdom is in the taste Ė in the fruit. The love.

Thinker: Youíve had a lonely, hard life, havenít you?

Hungerer: I used to think so. Now I understand. When I am suffering and overwhelmed, I sit and wait for him to come, and he comes. And I eat the fruit he brings. I understand. The hole in the earth remains, but I understand. Look at my hand Ė the skin is cracked from the weather, it is chapped, it is rough. But I think itís beautiful, like a country of sincere men.

Thinker: My grandmother Ė I had one, too, you know Ė lost her husband when she was only thirty. He was a sailor and he drowned in the sea. She spent the rest of her life on the shore, talking to him. She couldnít bear to be without him, you see, so she imagined he was still alive. You should have heard the conversations they had. Iíd hear her talking like this: "Now you be careful going out to sea. They say there might be a storm this afternoon. We have enough money to pay this monthís bills. What? Who cares what the other fishermen think? Let those who have no wives be brave. Yes, Iíll mend your socks. Yes, theyíll be finished by the time you get back."

King: When I was a boy, I was afraid of the dark. I had toy soldiers, knights on horses, given to me by my father. I set them up around my bed at night to protect me, I built a wall of fantasies around my weakness. Now [he points to the sword at his side], I have a sword. [He pulls it out, and points it in the Hungererís direction.] Feel it. [He does, retracting his hand.]

Hungerer: Itís sharp!

King: Itís real. A real sword to fight real enemies. Iíve left behind the phantoms who used to terrify me, shapes of the night I let run off with pieces of my mind. And Iíve left behind the warriors of smoke I conjured up to fight them. No more phantoms, no more angels. No more demons, no more gods. Just me and my sword. Feel it again. [The Hungerer does] Material. Substance. Iron. [He moves away from them and slashes the air with his sword.] No more invisible enemies! [He feels his sword blade.] No more helplessness. No more incense burning under the nose of impotent idols. I take full responsibility for my own defense. I am a king. [He sheaths his sword.]

Thinker: In a barren land, in the north, there is a scarcity of wood, and sometimes stone. The people make tools and weapons out of whale bone and seal bone. They say necessity is the mother of invention. They use animal bladders to make balloons and tie them to their lines, to prevent harpooned whales from diving to the depths of the sea. The whales are worn out by the drag of the balloons, they cannot escape their pursuers. Who, whose greatest challenge was to pick the fruit from trees, would ever think of something like that? Up there, in the freezing north, they make houses out of ice, they turn the very element that is destroying them into their shelter. Amazing! Necessity is the mother of invention. You need something and you invent it. Starving people invent new ways to get food, poor people invent new ways of getting money, sick people invent new ways of healing. Seeds, medicines, machines all come from emptiness. Lonely people invent a friend. Disconsolate people invent gods.

The crowd claps its hands and gives some BRAVOS! The kingís party is pleased with its presentation.

Thinker: You are a very lonely man, arenít you? What ever happened to Sara?

Hungerer: Intersecting lines. [They look at him, wanting him to continue.] For that one point in space and time that we met, it made sense. It was perfect and it was necessary. But our souls were traveling on different paths. We couldnít give up who we were. We had to continue on our separate courses. But we couldnít forget that point of love as we moved apart. Iíve carried it with me ever since, like a ball and chain.

Thinker: And there was no one else to take her place?

Hungerer: I built a fence around me, made from her tears. I couldnít do that to anyone else. My soul is like a thorn. I donít want to draw in another Maenad of high ideals and make her white skin bleed.

Thinker: So you have chosen solitude. [Hungererís silence is tacit agreement.] But you cannot bear it. You are no Atlas. So you have called upon the Food-giver, to support the earth of the principles that are breaking you upon his shoulders. You have found someone new to love you. As the poem goes: "The cry of the stag is so loud in the empty mountains that an echo answers him as though it were a doe." [4] This time, love comes without a vagina, such a devilish device to snare a life! So you rescue ecstasy from the unreliability of human companionship, and establish your supremacy over it by hoarding it within yourself; like Teresa of Avila you cry out in the throes of something dancing in your own mind, you take light, not flesh, to be your lover. You secede from the world by expanding your imagination, you turn yourself into a continent. Invented rivers run through the parched landscape of your needs, watering them with things that are not real, you turn the world into a garden by empowering your mind to replace it.

Again, the crowd cries out with BRAVOS!

Hungerer: You said that you came here out of curiosity. To hear talk about the Food-giver. To find out what I believe in, not to take it from me. You said this was a free country.

Crowd: Itís a free country! Itís a free country! Believe what you want!

Hungerer: I believe in the food-giver.

The crowd laughs. The Hungerer looks at them disapprovingly.

Crowd: Itís a free country! Itís a free country! Believe what you want. [The Hungerer turns back towards the Thinker and the King. The crowd laughs again.]

Hungerer: It seems to me you are trying to dissuade me from my beliefs. Am I wrong?

King: Oh no, we have no desire to take away your beliefs. You have every right to believe what you want.

Crowd: You have the right to believe the moon is made of cheese! You have the right to believe a broken mirror is seven years of bad luck! You have the right to believe a fairy hid your keys! You have the right to believe your grandma came back as a duck! Itís a free country. You can believe whatever you please!

Thinker: Here, the conscience reigns supreme. The King merely patrols the prerogatives of the individual. He is your advocate. You can believe whatever you want.

Crowd: You have the right to believe the sun is a golden chariot driven by a boy! You have the right to believe sea serpents lurk beneath the trade routes! You have the right to believe Santa and his elves make all the toys! You have the right to believe the Food-giver brings you fruit! [They laugh.] Itís a free country! You can believe whatever you want! [They laugh.]

Hungerer: Why is it I cannot help but feel that you are trying to dissuade me from my belief?

The king and thinker and rest of the kingís party look at one another. Finally, the merchant steps forward with a plate.

Merchant: Here my dear friend. Why not try something from this plate? This is what the rest of us eat. Here, Iíll give it to you at a bargain price. Only 30 copper pieces. Look at the spread. Now thatís a good value. Go on, try some.

Hungerer: The plate is empty.

All those in the kingís party look at each other, bewildered.

Merchant: But I can assure you, itís quite full. This is what we eat.

Hungerer: Thereís nothing there.

Merchant: My dear man. Itís a veritable feast. Here. Right here. [Points to different items on the plate] This sumptuous morsel, baked to just the right degree of tenderness, basted in its own juice. And these here, filling and delightful, a perfect complement. And for sweetness, over here Ė not so rich as to instantly satiate, but pleasing, an alluring taste that does not ambush one before the joy of eating it can be fully appreciated. And for those who crave extremes, who thrive on the fringes of flavor, there is this fiery sauce that separates the mice from the men, that propels the audacious feaster forward to new heights of experience.

Hungerer: There is nothing here. My heart sees an empty plate. This food cannot sustain me. [Looking at them all.] Your food cannot sustain me.

The merchant backs away from him, stunned.

Merchant: Only 30 copper pieces.

Hungerer: What the Food-giver brings costs nothing.

Thinker: Hardly so. You have paid him a lifetime of misery, pain, and loneliness. That is the cost of the fruit he brings. He would not bring it to you before you had cried your eyes out.

Merchant: This is only 30 copper pieces. Not a single tear. I donít understandÖ

Hungerer: I believe in the Food-giver. I have eaten his fruits. Now that you know my belief, I think you can go. You have got what you came for. I see that you are trying to dissuade me from my beliefs, and I do not plan to give them up. They are dear to me. When I was dying, none of you came. When I was sinking into my sorrow, into the quicksand of a heart that didnít know how to turn itself off, you stayed away, you danced on cold stone floors and turned your backs on the black flowers to make love. I heard you crying out like cats in the night while I wrestled with planets falling out of the firmament; while I tried to patch over broken windows of religions, shattered by stones they themselves threw, to keep out the freezing wind, you kept yourselves warm with stolen goods thrown into the fireplace, stolen hearts, stolen countries. You didnít come. The Food-giver came. You donít have to believe in him. You never believed in him, and you never will. You donít need to. You can live without a context. You can rest on vertical walls like flies. I need a home in the night. I canít live on a glass of wine, no matter how ingenious. I wonít backtrack to please you, I wonít go back to pointlessness. I used pointlessness to find him. Now I will stand by him.

Crowd: Headstrong! Headstrong! A danger to the kingdom! The kingdom of flesh, the kingdom of iron! Our laughter lacks teeth, he is rooted by madness to a mad idea! Our laughter lacks teeth! [C2] Here, the laughter whip! [He produces a formidable whip.] We must laugh with vigor! He sits on the arms of the scarecrow! [Others in the Crowd:] Whip him! Whip him! Make him bleed with scorn! Make him bleed with contempt! Make him bleed with derision! Scar his back forever! Bring him back to us!

The crowd begins to laugh aggressively, with great volume. The whip is cracked and smashed onto the ground at the Hungererís feet.

King: [Gesturing that the persecution should cease.] Please! Stop! We have not come to take away his beliefs by force. It is a free country.

Crowd: [Hisses like a collective snake, then backs away] It is a free country! A free country! A free countryÖ

King: We have come to offer him another perspective.

Thinker: One that is healthy Ė for him, and for the community.

King: One that is better for him, and for all of us.

Hungerer: My lord, I donít understand. You have said that my conscience belongs to me; my mind; that to believe in the Food-giver is my right. I do not intend any of this as an act of sedition. Do you view it as such?

King: Oh no, of course not. Treason is not the problem. I have horses that are brown, lustrous with sweat; and white, and gray-white, like a blizzard by the sea; and black as pieces of coal; and spotted brown and white, as though they would be all things in the world, or couldnít make up their mind. I ride them all. They are all my horses. I donít care about the color of a horse, as long as I can saddle him. You pay your taxes. You work. If our kingdom was invaded, you would stand up for it and fight. Your mind belongs to you.

Hungerer: So, my lord. What, then, is the problem?

Thinker: Best not to think of it as a problem. Problems generate resistance. Think of it as an opportunity. Think of our skepticism as an opportunity.

Hungerer: An opportunity for what?

Thinker: To grow. To mature. Childhood ought not to last forever. The fairies, the elves. The books of spells, the magic wands. Itís not how the world works. Magic must give way to sweat, dreaming to doing. Otherwise, the world stagnates, waiting for ĎAbracadabraí to take effect, waiting for ĎOpen Sesameí to open the heavy doors that men must open for themselves. My friend, in the old days people lived in mud up to their ankles because they thought someone would come to lift them out of it. They waited their whole lives to be rescued. Now we know that it is up to us to save ourselves, to make our cities shine. To prosper, everyone must participate, everyone must toil, everyone must think.

Hungerer: I work as hard as the next man. The Food-giver is not my genie, I donít sit above the mine where I work rubbing a magic lamp, or kissing an enchanted ring, I go down the dark, stale tunnel like everyone else with my pick and bag in hand. I use my back and my arms, I chip away at the hard rock to contribute my ounce of self-negation to humanity. The Food-giver does not promote passivity, it is he who keeps me on my feet.

Merchant: [To the others.] May I say something? May I say something here? [They assent.] To prevail in the world, one must live in it. Imaginary worlds are always poor refuges, my friend, they leak, the cold water of reality always finds a way in. Blind men are helpless in the world; if they are not careful, they will fall into a hole and break their leg, or plummet down a stairway and smash their head, or slip into a river and drown, or be struck by a speeding carriage as they cross the street. Men who spend too much time inside themselves are blind in their own way. Their eyes, focused on nonexistent gardens, lushly vegetated with wishful thinking, fail to see the barrenness of the fields around them, they do not plant seeds.

Hungerer: Or buy garbage.

Merchant: Prosperity needs all of us.

Hungerer: One to profit, one to be his steppingstone. As I told you, I am contributing. Though I think you have turned the world into a great circus of wasted motion, I am participating, because I am a realist. I do not believe the Red Sea will part before me, there is no way to the Promised Land but through the toll gate at your command. The Food-giver gives me the strength to bear the detour. [After a moment:] It seems to me that you want me to abandon the Food-giver so that I will eat your food instead.

Merchant: You will starve, eating food that is not real.

Hungerer: His is the food that sustains me.

Merchant: I am concerned.

Hungerer: That you will be poorer by one stomach.

Merchant: You are hopelessly cynical.

Hungerer: On the contrary, I believe.

Thinker: Heís right, heís not cynical. If only he were more so.

Crowd: Heís not cynical, heís a fool! Heís not cynical, heís a fool!

King: [To the Hungerer:] Please, it is not about harnessing your mind to empower and enrich ourselves. Your mind belongs to you. It is only that, well, frankly, your way of thinking is not a good example to others.

Hungerer: Your Majesty, I believe in the sanctity of community, I believe in the ideals of brotherhood and good citizenship. Tell me how I am harming others. I do not wish to. What am I doing wrong?

King: My friend, please believe me when I say that I respect your beliefs. I do not agree with them, but I respect them. Didnít a philosopher once say, "I disagree with your opinion, but will defend, to the death, your right to have it"? Well, I feel the same. We all do. All of us.

Crowd: We will defend, to the death, your right to disagree with us. [They laugh.]

King: But what troubles me is that there is a big difference between deciding which is your favorite color Ė red or green or purple or blue Ė and what is reality, itself. I mean [lifting up his hand] is this a hand, or is this not a hand? [Takes out his sword.] Is this blade sharp or is it not? [Points up] Is that the sky [points down] and is this the ground, or not? [Puts his sword away. ]To make wise decisions in the world, to survive as a people, we must remain somehow connected to the world as it is, we cannot fly away into the heavens, wander off the trail of reasonable thinking, stray completely from our common sense. We cannot cut loose from the perceptions that bind us to the earth without jeopardizing our very existence! Supposing others come to follow your example, to believe in things that are not there, and to live their lives as though they were? Imagine! Children with imaginary wings leaping off of roofs and crashing to their deaths! Soldiers with imaginary weapons attempting to defend our nation, delivered to disaster and carnage! Young women accused of serving imaginary demons , burned by fearful ignorance as witches: victims of our ability to believe in the impossible! Magicians taking the place of inventors, priests replacing machinists, masses in the church attempting to move the wheels of a broken world with prayers, while civilization rots! Dark ages, poverty, "where are the angels? Where are the angels?" Compasses abandoned, north and south are wherever you want them to be! Thousands refusing to eat, waiting for the Food-giver to bring them food that does not exist: starvation! "And Famine shall stalk the land!" My friend, how damaging is your integrity! How damaging!

Hungerer: Your Majesty, as I have said, I live in the world as it is, I survive in the world as it is. It is the Food-giver who gives me the strength to do so. I am no lemming headed for the sea. I ask for no followers, I seek no influence, I merely seek the right to live by my own perception of the truth. And I feel, if I may say so, Your Majesty, that you are making an assumption when you criticize me.

The crowd is stunned by his audacity, but the King is grand enough to remain unphased.

King: By all means, tell me what it is.

Hungerer: You are assuming that I am wrong. That I am deluded. But I do not believe that I am. You blame me for not living close to reality, but I tell you that I am living in the very center of reality. The Food-giver is real. How can I be teaching others to cling to illusions, when what I believe is true?

Everyone in the kingís party looks at each other, stunned, they had believed they might be making progress.

Crowd: Holy Shit! Can we say that? He really believes it! Holy Shit! Can we say that? We shook the branches of the idiot tree, and he didnít fall out! Now what?

Merchant: [To the Thinker:] Say something. Youíre the thinker, here.

Thinker: Intellectuals are useless at times like this. You need a hammer.

Crowd: Does anyone have a hammer? Does anyone have a hammer? We need to pound some sense into his head! [C1] Itís a free country! [The rest of them:] Does anyone have a hammer?

King: Good. Fine! Very well, then. Very well. I am reassured that you are a good citizen, and that you care about the future of our country. You would never, intentionally, cloud our vision or soften our minds, never, intentionally, destabilize the clarity that progress depends on, or undermine the logic that preserves the ability of peoples to survive in a world as complicated as ours has become. You mean well, you are merely simple and mistaken.

Hungerer: My experience has shown me that I am not mistaken. I do not know if my experience applies to you, but at the point where I meet the Universe, this is the reality: there is a Food-giver who comes to me whenever I need him. A Food-giver who makes my life worthwhile, who drives the Darkness away.

King: Fine. Fine. But you agree that it is not prudent nor healthy to believe that unreal things are real? [The Hungerer does not answer, but looks at him.] Would you be willing to put your belief to the test? To subject it to an empirical investigation?

Thinker: Yes, an empirical investigation!

King: To search for evidence? To seek definitive proof, one way or the other, that the Food-giver either exists, or does not exist?

Crowd: Yes, proof! Proof! Prove it! Prove that the Food-giver exists! Prove it! Prove it! Come back to us!

King: You seem to be reasonable. You seem to be responsible. Why not submit our little dispute to a test? Letís stop this game of "Yes he does", "No he doesnít", and devise a way to find out if the Food-giver actually exists, or if he is just a figment of your imagination.

Hungerer: I already know he exists.

King: Fine, then, you know, but not the rest of us. If he does exist, surely we could all benefit from that knowledge: think of it, the joy, the peace of mind, the sacred fruit. Surely you would not wish to hoard it all for yourself? Surely you would share it with us?

Crowd: Clever, clever! This is why he is king!

Hungerer: I have shared the knowledge with you.

King: But not in such a way that we can believe it. Help us. Help us to believe! Let us conduct an experiment, let us construct an examination that meets our standards of proof, that shall help us to join you in bliss. Do not exclude us! Do not shut the door of paradise in our face! Introduce us to the Food-giver, bring him here so that we may prove to ourselves, through the rigorous techniques spawned by our skepticism, that he is real! You need not be alone in the world, win us over so that we can stand arm and arm with you: turn mockery into gratitude! Let the jester be transformed into the revered pioneer!

Crowd: Clever, clever! This is why he is king!

Hungerer: I do not need to be a pioneer.

King: Think of us. Think of us. Your peopleÖ

Hungerer: [After a while:] What is involved in this test?

King: Oh, not much I think. [Pointing to the Hunter:] He will know.

The Hunter steps forward.

Hunter: Can you tell when the Food-giver is about to come?

Hungerer: Yes. I can sense it. I can feel it in my bones. I hear music. A light appears in the other room.

Hunter: Good! Good! We can set up an environment which allows us to detect his presence. All you will need to do is tell us when he is coming, and allow us to be there. Before that, weíll need to bring in some equipment and make a few changes to your house, but it shouldnít be too much of a disruption. Will you agree?

Hungerer: I donít know. The moments that he comes are sacred, privateÖ

King: Please! If this is real, do not hoard such a treasure for yourself! [The king takes out gold pieces from his coat, and throws them around the stage. People run after the coins.] Here! This is some of my treasure, given freely to the people! [Takes off a ring from his hand.] This ring, with a ruby and a diamond in it, joined together like Siamese twins, is worth all those. [He casts it aside.] I have shared my treasure. Now share yours.

Crowd: What a great king! Now share yours! Now share yours! [As he hesitates.] Please! [They kneel, begging.] Please!

Hunter: Our methods shall be very respectful of your beliefs. But I must have full control of the experiment. If the people are to be convinced, the experiment must be rigorous.

Merchant: We live in an age of cheats and liars, con-artists and rip-offs. Not that I would know anything about that! It breeds skepticism. Therefore, the experiment must be rigorous. To bring the people back to spirit, the proof must be over the top! I will never believe in a God who tip-toes, or an angel who whispers! God must write "I Am" on the mountain with fire, angels must kiss me on the lips! If I am to believe in the unicorn, he must gore me!

Hunter: Modern times require robust proofs. Souls are out of practice. Modern flowers do not believe in hummingbirds hovering gently beside them. To save us, you must knock us out. I need full control of the experiment.

King: Loyal subject, dear friend of mine, will you give him full control? For our sake?

Crowd: [Kneeling once again.] Please! Please! Please! Please!

Hungerer: All right! All right! Iíll do it. Iíll cooperate. Tell me what is is you need from me.

Hunter: Donít worry about a thing! This is going to be easy. [To the Crowd, which will now serve not only as spectators but as his assistants.] Get the chair. [One or more of them go off stage to get it.] First thing is a special chair. The special chair. I invented it myself, with a little help from my friends at the university. Itís rigged with a spring balance underneath. Youíll tell us when the Food-giver hands you the fruit. Weíll check the balance to see if we can detect the additional weight of the fruit in your hands. Itís a very delicate balance, it could detect the presence of a grape. Of course, youíll have to be properly seated in the chair, with both feet off the floor. [They come back in rolling the chair onto the stage.]

Crowd: At last! At last! Some way to get past "Yes he does", "No he doesnít." At last! At last!

Thinker: Ah, for the blessings of objectivity! I am faster than a horse until we have a race! I am stronger than a lion until we fight!

Crowd: Ah, for the blessings of objectivity! Pop the balloon! Pop the balloon! Waiter, thereís a fly in my soup! The fly of a myth! The fly of a lie! Pop the balloon! Pop the balloon! Ah, for the blessings of objectivity!

The chair is in place. The Hunter motions for the Hungerer to sit.

Hunter: Go ahead. Sit down. Relax.

Crowd: [C1, who has stepped away from the rest of the crowd:] I am a dummy! Duhhhh! I believe anything! Up is down and down is up! The moon follows me wherever I go. If I bury all my money in the ground, tomorrow Iíll have a money tree! I am a dummy! I believe anything! Duhhhh! [C2 steps forward with a cane, wraps it around his neck, and pulls him back to the crowd. He and the rest of the crowd say:] Come back to us! Come back to us!

King: Nations that are not wise perish: sleepwalking nations among wolves! Let the ghosts be banished, let the demons be sent into exile! I would kill an angel to defeat a demon!

Thinker: Ah, for the blessings of objectivity!

The Hungerer is now sitting in the special chair.

Hunter: Good. Perfect. Now we need lights. There is too much darkness here. Let us illuminate this obscure world you live in, let us dare to look at the emptiness.

Merchant: Not empty. Filled with delights! [He opens up a case he has beside him.] Behold! A mirror for half a piece of silver. A file for your nails, only two hundred copper pieces; a magnifying glass for three quarters of a piece of silver, for you to find every crack in your heart that needs to be repaired. A hammer, nails, and glue, to put your heart back together. Here, a book, a book of diseases, a catalogue of every one of them, from scurvy to smallpox to beri-beri to cholera to the bubonic plague. As an act of good will, I offer it for free. Here, [he begins to display a variety of vials] an assortment of remedies. This one, for only one piece of silver, can heal you from the bite of a rabid dog. This one, for two pieces of silver, can cure the gout and rickets at the same time, even before any symptoms appear. This one, for only three pieces of silver, can reverse the symptoms of leprosy. You will not have to go around searching for a saint to kiss your rotting flesh. Here we have a golden comb, a perfect gift for the ladies. If you love women with long hair, they will worship you forever for a gift like this, for only one-and-a-half gold pieces. This comb here is best for the ladies with curly hair, those charming cascades of ringlets which they must battle with like dragons. This comb will vanquish bad hair days like Hercules, for only two pieces of silver.

The king gives the merchant something for the comb.

Thinker: I thought the kingís queen had straight hair.

The king winks at him, and puts his finger to his lips (making the gesture of "Shhh!").

Crowd: Oh great king, oh magnificent king, oh sly, sly king! Such a virile man deserves a treat. [They form a line and in unison wink at the audience, and also give the gesture for "Shhh!"] Good times are on the way!

Hunter: The lights?

Crowd: [Returning to task.] Oh yes! The lights! [Some of them run off stage to get the lights.]

Hunter: [To the Hungerer.] Comfortable, no? The chair? [The Hungerer does not respond.] Not so bad after all, eh?

Members of the crowd return with two lamps. The Hunter directs them in placing them, one pointed at the Hungererís face, one pointed outwards to illuminate what lies beyond him.

Hunter: Perfect! Now, turn them on!

The lights go on, the Hungerer covers his eyes and retracts from the glare.

Hunter: Perfect!

Thinker: Banish the shadows that give birth to myths! Darkness is the womb of absurdities! Let there be light!

Hungerer: I canít see! Youíre blinding me!

Hunter: Youíve spent too long in the dark.

Hungerer: My eyes! Itís like they were being stabbed with a knife! Like hot irons, just out of the fire, were being thrust into them!

Thinker: Bats hide in caves during the day and come out at night. So it is with our nightmares! Expose everything to reason! Shine the light into his eyes! Save the world!

Crowd: Save the world! Save the world!

Thinker: Seize it from the hands of fools!

Crowd: Seize it from the hands of fools!

Hunter: Perfect. In this light, if the Food-giver is to come, he will be perfectly visible to all of us. We wonít be able to construct him from the sounds of a mouse creeping around the house, or a squirrel on the roof, or a gust of wind that blows through the curtains, everyday occurrences which our wishes latch onto, and our imagination runs wild with. [He motions for members of the crowd to go off stage and get something else.]

Thinker: We shall drag the night into the day. The creatures of the deep sea shall be brought to the surface. Seeing them shall make them harmless.

Hungerer: You speak of the Food-giver as though he were a threat. He is no monster, I tell you. He is a savior, he is a friend.

Thinker: He is a threat because he is not real. He trains us to be gullible, and being gullible, we are easily wounded. The fiercest demons are those who, by loving us, lower our guard, exposing us to things they cannot protect us from, because they do not exist!

King: [Handing a feather to the Hungerer.]

Hungerer: What is this? I canít see.

King: A feather. [He steps back and draws his sword.] Defend yourself!

Hungerer: Is that your sword?

King: Defend yourself!

Hungerer: With what? A feather!?

King: The Food-giver is like that feather. My friend, as long as you believe that the feather in your hand is the equal of a sword, a shield, you are in danger! It is for your own good that you give up your belief; it is for our own good that we stamp out the fire before it spreads! [Members of the crowd return with a barrel. The Hunter motions one member to go off stage to get something else.]

Hunter: Now we have light. Next Ė the cement! My good friends, pour the cement!

The crowd begins to empty the contents of the barrel into a designated space in front of the Hungererís chair.

Hunter: Here. Right here. [He gives one of the crowd members a piece of paper, a blueprint.] Do you see? Six yards by six yards? [Explaining:] To reach our friend, here, the Food-giver must cross this space in front of the chair, which we will maintain with wet cement. He will leave footprints which we will be able to measure. Concrete evidence Ė [ The crowd laughs.] Sorry, but inadvertent punning runs in the family.

Thinker: Ah, for the blessings of objectivity!

King: No more "Yes he does", "No he doesnít."

Crowd: Ah, for the blessings of objectivity!

Hunter: [The crowd member who went off stage returns with a net and a long pole.] And finally, to complete our investigation, we have this: a net with which to catch the Food-giver should he appear, just like a fish from the sea. We will believe in him when we see him, when we catch him in our net, and drag him up to the surface where we live. And here, in this hand, a pole, with a sharp, shallow edge. Should our friend, here, report the presence of the Food-giver, I will not only cast the net at him, but thrust at him with the pole like this [he thrusts into the air, spins around, jabbing everywhere.] The blade is not profound enough to make a deep puncture, but it is designed to draw blood, and the surface, here, has an adhesive coating which will collect and keep the bloodstains, as further proof of the Food-giverís existence.

Hungerer: No, this is too much! You ask too much! The Food-giver is my friend, I canít let you do this to him!

Hunter: [Puzzled by his reaction.] The blade is not profound. We are only collecting a blood sample. Objective evidence.

Hungerer: Itís a spear.

Hunter: No, itís a sample-taker.

King: A spear is to kill. A sample-taker is to save. To save us from our lack of faith. We cannot believe as easily as you. This is what we require to be saved.

Hungerer: I donít understand. You go back and forth between abhorring the Food-giver as a destructive myth and longing for him as savior. Do you want to see him or donít you?

King: If he is real, we want to see him. We would be glad if he exists. The only reason we seem to be opposed to him is because we do not believe he exists, and we do not want to believe in something that is not real.

Hungerer: He is real, and this is sacrilege, to treat him with such disdain and cruelty!

King: If he is as loving as you say, he will forgive us. He will understand, and show us that he exists in the way we need him to show us. For only a brief moment of discomfort, he will transform the world, he will win us to his side.

Hungerer: It is not his nature. Why do snowflakes melt when they land in the desert? Why donít rabbits roar like tigers? Why arenít mice as big as elephants? Why donít magnets attract objects made of wood? Why does the most beautiful thing in the universe move in utter silence Ė or does it? Are we deaf to anything that does not shout, that does not explode like a cannon, or thunder like gold coins pouring out of a bag onto a table? Dogs hear symphonies that are beyond us.

Hunter: That is what this experiment is about. So that we may hear like dogs .

Hungerer: We would never learn to walk, if what we wanted was always in our reach. Perhaps a footprint would kill our soulís walking.

King: Letís see a footprint, first, to know if thereís any point in walking.

Hungerer: I donít like the spearÖ

Hunter: [Correcting him:] The sample-takerÖ

Hungerer: Or the net.

Hunter: Itís just a net.

Hungerer: This is sacred.

King: For you, not us. Make it sacred for us, too.

Hunter: Years ago, there were legends of terrible sea monsters with many arms; no one but ignorant sailors believed in them. Then, one day, men of learning caught one in a net. It was not the monster sailors had thought it to be, neither was it the delusion the wise men thought. It was simply put, a new creature to be added to the inventories of zoology: the giant squid. Do not underestimate nor disparage the net, my friend, it could change history.

King: As a loyal subject, you must play your part. As a compassionate brother of your countrymen, you must lead us to the water which you drink. We are thirsty, my friend. Guide us to what you see! Be valiant, be generous! Risk the fragile fire of your personal candle, walk with it through the wind to us!

Crowd: Very, very clever king! With the lever, you move the rock. With the right words, you move the stubborn heart, you bring the patriot of strange ideas into the range of your weapons!

Hunter: Very well, then, weíre ready! How about it, then? You will cooperate?

Thinker: He said he would, and he is a man of his word.

Crowd: You promised! You promised!

King: Yes, he agrees. Proceed!

Hunter: Very well, then. All we have to do is wait. Will you tell us when the Food-giver is coming?

Hungerer: I will.

Hunter: Do you think he will come soon?

Hungerer: I donít know.

Hunter: Could you find out?

Hungerer: I can only wait.

Hunter: [Not happy with the answer.] Very well, then. Weíre here. Just keep us posted.

Hungerer: I will.

The Hunter motions for everyone to take positions. The crowd stands around, monitoring the cement; one member is given the pole. The Hunter motions for another one to go off stage and he comes back with a telescope, and begins to peer around. Some members of the crowd say "Shhh!" to each other. After some time:

Hungerer: You know, I have trouble taking a shit, even when the door is locked, if I know there are other people in the adjoining room waiting to use the bathroom.

The Kingís party looks at each other, puzzled.

Hunter: Have you ever considered eating prunes?

Hungerer: This is sacred!

Hunter: If the Food-giver exists, he will appear. If he does not appear, it can only mean he does not exist.

Merchant: Weíve already been here some time. You know, time is precious. I have two customers interested in buying the same carpet.

Thinker: If you have business to take care of, maybe you should leave.

Merchant: What? You must be kidding! If thereís a new competitor on the block, Iíve got to know! [After a moment.] Once I had a pet turtle, it took hours for him to walk across the room.

Crowd: Shhh!

King: [In a soft voice:] Please, donít disturb him. We donít want to give him any excuses. Either the Food-giver comes or he doesnít.

Crowd: Shhh! Shhh!

Hungerer: I feel him. With all these lights, with all this pressure and hostility masked as solidarity, itís like being constipated, like trying to force a shit out of your ass. This is sacred, and yet, it just reminds me of being constipated, and trying to force a shit out of my ass! [He groans like a man on the toilet.] Heís coming, but itís so hard. So hard to get him to come, like this! This is no way to treat him. No way to thank him. To throw the soft footsteps of my greatest treasure to the beasts of materialism!

King: Excuses!

Crowd: Excuses!

King: If he does not come, it means he does not exist.

Hungerer: He is coming. [The choral music begins.] He is coming, but it is so hard to get him here, under these circumstances! It is like making love to your wife when she has a terrible headache and feels sick to her stomach, and she tells you no, but you climb on top of her anyway; you rape her. She is your wife, so it canít be rape, yet even so, you rape her. [To all of them:] For you, Iím praying in the dirt. Such a struggle! Heís coming. Can you feel it?

Thinker: I think you are imagining this.

Hungerer: You think! Can you feel?

Thinker: [To the others.] Heís not well.

Crowd: Touched in the head. [They give the crazy sign.] Oooo! Touched in the head!

Hunter: [Peering intensely with his telescope.] I donít see a thing! Just stars and planets, and the great black void licking them with its tongue of darkness! This little world weíve made underneath the emptiness, suckling at the bosom of nothing.

Merchants: Nothingís there! Donít worry, I can fill the void!

King: If the Food-giver does not appear, he does not exist.

Hungerer: So sublime! So intimate! The trust, the sacredness! This is like making love in the middle of the street with the whole town watching! You have turned me into a whore! There are moments of need, moments when the bridge appears like a ray of light, but this! This is imperious! Thou shalt not tempt the lord! Verily, it is an evil generation that seeketh after a sign! Caress me when my soul has earned it with devotion and with need; sinner, to make holy things jump through hoops! Vanity, pride, to turn divine whispers into a circus!

King: If the Food-giver does not appear, he does not exist.

Thinker: Heís having an episode.

Crowd: Touched in the head! [Gives the crazy sign.] Oooo! Touched in the head!

The food-giver appears from off stage.

Hungerer: Heís here! Can you see him! Heís coming this way!

Excitement. But no one else sees him.

Crowd: Where? Where?

Hunter: I see nothing.

Hungerer: Nonetheless, he is here.

Hunter: Are you saying your eyes are better than this telescope?

Hungerer: He is here. It is so hard to get him to come this way.

The Hunter thrusts the telescope into the hands of the king, and seizing his net, casts it to the floor. He rushes to the net to examine it.

Crowd: Nothingís there!

He tries again.

Crowd: Nothingís there!

Hunter: Quick! The pole! [He seizes the pole from the crowd memberís hand, and begins to slash around with it through the air. The Food-giver, who is showing signs of distress from the glare of the light, and who has already been surprised and offended by the net casts, must now begin to retreat as the Hunter thrashes around with the pole.] If heís there, weíll find him! He wonít escape!

Hungerer: Please! This is too much!

King: [Looking through the telescope.] I can see other planets with this. I can see the craters and ridges of the moon, the red spot of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn Ė but I cannot see the Food-giver! I can see things hundreds of thousands of miles away Ė but not something right in front of me, in the very room I stand in? I did not become a king by having such poor vision!

Hungerer: Please! Stop! This is an offense!

Hunter: The blade is not profound!

Thinker: If we find nothing, what you cherish most in life is nothing but an illusion!

Hungerer: This is not how the divine relates to man!

Crowd: Poor, poor fool! He is about to learn that he is not special! He is only a fool!

Hungerer: We are all special.

Crowd: Not like you. [They give the sign for "nut."] Oooooo!

The Food-giver has now retreated off stage and the music, which was played at a lower volume not to disrupt the conversation, has stopped. The Hunter stops slashing and examines his spear. Everyone but the Hungerer gathers around him to look. Dramatically, they part as he makes a sweeping gesture with his hands, like Moses parting the Red Sea, and steps out from among them.

Hunter: There is no blood on the collector. Not a single drop of blood. No proof of a real being. [To a member of the Crowd:] Look at the cement.

Everyone goes to the cement and stoops around it to examine it.

Crowd: Nothing! Nothing at all!

Hunter: No footprint. No evidence! What about the scales?

The Thinker goes to bend down by the chair.

Thinker: The indicator gives no sign that there was any addition of weight throughout the alleged visitation.

Hungerer: There is no trace of any kind. Whatever happened did not take place in the outside world. It took place inside him. In his mind.

King: He dreamt it all.

Thinker: "The cry of the stag is so loud in the empty mountains that an echo answers him as though it were a doe."

Hunter: It was a purely subjective experience with no objective reality. There is no Food-giver.

Thinker: He is a delusion.

King: A fantasy.

Hunter: A myth.

Thinker: A by-product of loneliness and insecurity.

Hunter: A hallucination.

Thinker: A creative act like writing a novel.

King: Donít use my world to write your novel. Keep the pages of your fiction locked inside your drawer!

Hunter: The proof is irrefutable! The Food-giver does not stand up to the light of day; he does not survive the scrutiny of clear thinkers!

Crowd: Crazy! Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!

King: [Silences them with a gesture of his hands, and offers another word:] Imaginative. [Reminds them:] We live in a free country.

Crowd: We live in a free country!

Hunter: The food-giver does not exist.

King: Donít rub it in. He knows. [To the Hunter:] The lights. [The hunger goes to turn off the lights.] Heís had a hard day.

Thinker: Heís alone again.

King: Not alone. He has us. Real men of flesh and blood who care for him : enough to tear him away from falsehood. Heís not alone.

Merchant: Thatís right, he has us. [Being gentle.] Here, here. [Going to a bag.] A chocolate. Only half a copper piece. Here, my friend. You can pay me later. [He puts the chocolate into the Hungererís hands.] Only 5 % interest.

King: [Supportively:] Welcome back, my friend. Welcome back to reality. [To the others:] We donít disrespect him, do we? No, heís a very sensitive man, his beliefs were not a sign of foolishness, so much as a sign of the depths of his suffering, he needed armor the rest of us do not need. For him a mosquito bite was like the thrust of a lance. Let us be kind to him. Compassionate. Let us make it easy for him to return.

Thinker: Itís also true, he has a grand imagination. We should respect that. How wonderful. He should apply himself to literature. Perhaps he is the next Cervantes, the next Rabelais.

King: Welcome him back. Welcome him back to the fold.

Crowd: [C1] I know his boss, our boss at the mines. Heíll be glad to know that our friend, here, does not believe in the Food-giver. Would you trust someone with such wild beliefs to work with you down in the mines, where the slightest mistake could cause the cavern roof to collapse and bury you all alive? No, thank God his head is on straight. [C2] I know Alana, the barmaid. Sheís a beautiful, warm-hearted buxom woman with long brown hair as soft as silk, she has a voice thatís like a lullaby, and hugs strangers in the most innocent way, she canít help herself. Sheís seen him [points to the Hungerer], and she told me that she likes him. But sheís been worried about his peculiar ideas. She wants to have a family one day, and you donít want people laughing at your children. [To the Hungerer:] Should I tell her that youíve given up those strange beliefs, that youíre once more an eligible bachelor, that youíve come back to us?

Thinker: That it was just a phase? One of those charming aberrations of the complicated?

Hunter: [Less forgivingly:] The simple.

Crowd: [C2] Should I tell her that youíve come back to us?

King: Of course you should. Heís a reasonable man, and weíve proved beyond all shadow of a doubt that the Food-giver does not exist.

Thinker: Does not exist.

Hunter: Does not exist.

Merchant: Does not exist.

Crowd: Does not exist.

King: He has no choice but to believe such convincing proof. He will join us now. He will come back.

Thinker: It may not be easy at first. He may waver, at moments. He may hear a waft of music, see a glimmer of light on the edges of his eyes, feel the tinge of something precious from his past that he feels nostalgia for, but has irrevocably outgrown. He may feel something strange and otherworldly approaching at moments when his eyelids are heavy and his thoughts are deep. But he will wake up almost instantly from the dream, shut it out, drive it from his mind like an enemy because he knows it cannot be true, and he is a friend of the truth. He will board his windows shut against the lie that degrades his intellect, throw stones at it. He will not let himself succumb to something he knows is absurd. Like a child who withdraws its hand from a hot stove, he will withdraw from angels and God because they burn his self-respect; he is an intelligent man, and will not suffer himself to eat at the same table as fools.

Crowd: He was such a fool! Such a great, big fool!

King: [Reminds them:] But now heís not. Now he deserves respect.

Thinker: We must help him in his struggle to return. To the amazing, challenging, world we live in, the real world! Filled with wonders equal to our most vivid fantasies!

King: There are no diamonds that weigh a thousand pounds, but there are diamonds. Small as they are, they shine more brightly than those that are a hundred times their size, but do not exist!

Thinker: At times he may waver, but we will help him to stay the course. We wonít let him fall off the wagon.

Crowd: If he tries to eat one of those imaginary fruits again, weíll whip him! [One of the crowd members cracks the whip. Then they all begin to laugh, raucously and horrible. The Hungerer covers his ears.]

King: [After a good while, the king gestures for them to stop.] Welcome back, my friend. To family.

All: To family.

They pack up all their things, pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other, happy with their success, take the special chair out from under the Hungerer, and finally leave him alone on the stage. He walks around. After a while, Darkness appears again, walking on the stage.

Hungerer: You? You remain. They have turned the fruits that gave me life into a source of unbearable pain. They have taken away my last defense against you. The things they use to keep you away, bring you to me. If I eat the fruit that once made me able to withstand you, they will come with their whips. Laughing, mocking, despising. They are mad in their own way; they will not tolerate madness in any form but their own! Laughing, mocking, despising! [He clutches his head.] I am garrisoned! They have left towers of archers inside me to kill every angel who appears! With swords of experiments, they hack my soul to pieces. If I am true to myself, they will put me on an island, and every friend will sail away. I live in exile. We who look up at the sky live in exile. [To Darkness:] With what, now, will I resist you? Come, then, finish me off. I am helpless, at your mercy. The darkest days of my life have returned. Once more I have fallen into the deepest pit. I am too clear-thinking to be happy.

From off stage, the music of the Food-giver returns. Darkness looks back in surprise. The Hungerer watches. Slowly, the Food-giver begins to return with the bowl of fruit.

Hungerer: No! No! Go away! Your fruits are like blows to the face, like scourges, like whips. They will not let me eat them! [The Food-giver continues approaching. The Hungerer clutches his head.] They are inside me now! They will not let me eat the fruits! Your fruits mean exile! Banishment! Pain! I will not cast myself off the cliff of intelligence into the valley of fools! I will not kill myself just to be happy! The laughter! The pain! The loneliness! Go away! I wonít let myself believe in you, because they donít believe in you! [Sobs:] I canít believe in you! Iím a man of reason now. [The Hungerer collapses, fetal-like, onto the floor. The Food-giver stands above him, looking at him with tenderness. Finally, he takes a fruit out of the bowl, and bending down, lies it near him, on the floor. Then he gets up, and slowly, as the music continues to play, comes down into the audience with his bowl of fruits, offering them to the spectators. At this time, additional speakers around and behind the audience may be turned on, surrounding and immersing it in music. Depending on the size of the audience, the Food-giver may be joined at this time by a column of young women wearing white tunics, each carrying a bowl of fruits. It is the choice of each of the spectators whether or not to take one of the fruits.]

THE END

Notes:

[1] Omar Khayyam (as translated by Edward Fitzgerald, First Edition), The Rubaiyat, verse XXXVIII.

[2] Epictetus (as translated by Hastings Crossley in The Golden Sayings of Epictetus), CLX, p. 136.

[3] William Butler Yeats, from "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing."

[4] Otomo No Yakamochi, translated by Kenneth Rexroth in One Hundred Poems From The Japanese, page 92.

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