A sketch in one scene by Peter D. Wilson
ANNE. A capable, practical professional woman in her mid to late twenties, probably on the way to higher management. She normally keeps her feelings under close control, which however does sometimes slip.
BARBARA. A rather younger professional, competent in her speciality but less worldly than Anne, with whom she is nevertheless sufficiently familiar for a measure of light banter to be accepted.
An anonymous international airport lounge; time, late 2002.
Peter D. Wilson
Seascale, November 2002
Copyright © 2002, 2016
(The Tannoy announces "Will passenger MacDonald for Amsterdam please report to gate number 24 immediately, as the flight is now closing." )
(Anne and Barbara enter, Anne smartly dressed as for a business meeting and carrying a briefcase, Barbara casual but with a laptop computer. They choose seats, then Anne stands briefly to peer at the departures screen on the "fourth wall.")
ANNE. Thirty minutes’ delay. Could be worse.
BARBARA. At least it’s a relief to get rid of the luggage.
ANNE. Why on earth do you bring so much? It’s only a three-day meeting.
BARBARA. Yes, but you never know what sort of occasions will arise.
ANNE. Somehow I don’t foresee much in the way of glamorous evening entertainment.
BARBARA. I don’t want to miss out if there is any going. And in any case I don’t want to turn up in a suit that looks as though I’ve been sleeping in it.
ANNE. Choose the right suit, and it won’t - even if you have.
BARBARA. Well, I’m not the one who always nods off after lunch.
ANNE. Always?! Come off it. Once or twice, perhaps - after a heavy night.
BARBARA. I don’t think you realise how often it is.
ANNE. Then for goodness’ sake give me a prod any time you see me napping. It could be seriously embarrassing.
BARBARA. (Teasing) I shall, don’t worry.
ANNE. Anyway, to get back to the point, I don’t like to be parted from anything I’ll need at the meeting - I’d stick to hand baggage alone if it were possible. Remember that time in Vienna when the man from Brazil apologised for turning up looking like a lumberjack because his luggage had gone on a world tour and never caught up with him.
BARBARA. That was exceptional. I’ve never had anything go astray.
ANNE. Talk about tempting Providence! Remember the story Bill told us on Wednesday.
BARBARA. I missed that. What was it?
ANNE. Well, he was behind a particularly cantankerous customer at the check-in, giving the clerk hell. When his turn came he asked the girl where this character was going. "Trinidad - but his luggage is going to Tokyo."
BARBARA. I wouldn’t say I was particularly cantankerous.
ANNE. Far from it. But accidents do happen. I’ve been lucky - the only time my luggage was missing it had been put on the next flight to the same destination. You can’t count on that.
(The Tannoy again announces, more emphatically, "Will passenger MacDonald for Amsterdam please report to gate number 24 immediately, as the flight is now closing.")
ANNE. Why is it always passengers for Amsterdam who seem to go missing?
BARBARA. I did hear of one for Brussels once.
ANNE. There must be something about the Low Countries.
BARBARA. (Almost giggling) I get a picture of a very staid New York couple, descended from the original Dutch settlers, heading back to some dreary ancestral town, and the husband deciding at the last minute that he’d rather kick up his heels in Paris instead.
ANNE. "MacDonald" doesn’t sound particularly Dutch.
BARBARA. Perhaps it’s his wife who’s the old colonial.
ANNE. That’s possible. And maybe the husband’s preoccupied with the whisky in the Duty Free.
BARBARA. That sounds a lot more likely. Oh, will you keep an eye on my things for a while? Shan’t be long.
ANNE. Topping up your own supplies?
BARBARA. No, just a precaution.
ANNE. Only teasing. Go ahead. I’ve a couple of calls to make.
(Exit Barbara. Anne checks her diary, then takes out a mobile phone and dials.)
ANNE. Sid? … It's Anne. Sorry to bother you, but in the rush to prepare for this trip I forgot that Bob was away when it was arranged, and didn’t think to mention it yesterday. There’s a section meeting tomorrow; would you give my apologies? … Thanks. You’re a brick … Oh yes? The chance would be fine thing! Cheers. (She dials again.) Hello, Mum. … Yes, no problem. Traffic was pretty bad, but we’d left plenty of time. We’re in the departure lounge now … A half-hour delay so far - could be worse. How are things with you? … But you need to get out more. Don’t turn down an opportunity just because - … Oh yes, he said that was a possibility. Now look, you’re not to worry … Yes, of course, but they wouldn’t be sending him if they thought there was any real danger. I’m sure he’ll be all right … Yes, I know the situation’s different now, but it hasn’t hotted up yet, and by all accounts it’ll be months before it could - plenty of time to get him out in case of trouble … Yes, I will. ’Bye. (Barbara returns.) That was quick.
BARBARA. No queue. Oh, and I think I’ve solved the MacDonald mystery.
BARBARA. The missing passenger. A rather elderly woman dashed out just as I got there and dropped her bag on the way. I picked it up for her - that was the name on the label. (Examining a finger) Damn! I’ve broken a nail. And my file was confiscated at the security check.
ANNE. I did warn you. (Fishing in her handbag) Here, I’ve an emery board.
BARBARA. Thanks. (She attends to the damage and returns the board.) But what use would a three-inch nail file be to any terrorist?
ANNE. Hmm. You might be surprised. (Moving behind Barbara and pressing a metal-bodied pen to the back of her neck; speaking in an unnaturally deep voice) Can you tell what it is that I’ve got here?
BARBARA. Don’t! It gives me the creeps. What is that?
ANNE. (Reverting to a normal voice) Just a pen - which may not be mightier than the sword, but in this case as effective as a gun so long as you think that it is one.
BARBARA. And so long as you don’t need to fire it.
ANNE. Of course.
BARBARA. Better not tell the security people.
ANNE. No, I should hate to lose this. It’s rather special.
BARBARA. I’m surprised you risk it, then.
ANNE. A mistake. I forgot it was in this bag. And to be honest I never thought of pretending it was anything else until now.
BARBARA. May I see?
ANNE. Certainly. (She passes it over.)
BARBARA. What an odd shape.
ANNE. Apparently it represents a Japanese nuclear fuel element - in miniature, naturally, though the button at the top is supposed to be the same size as one of the actual pellets. It was given to Dad when he retired. I kept it after … (She breaks off in a sudden and uncharacteristic moment of emotion.)
BARBARA. (After a moment of anxiety while Anne recovers) Yes, I can see why it’s precious.
ANNE. Sorry about that. It doesn’t usually take me so hard.
BARBARA. Nothing to be sorry for. It’s perfectly natural. I’d be more worried if it didn’t hurt. You were pretty close to him, weren’t you?
ANNE. Yes. Best pals, and all that. I still think occasionally, "I must tell Dad about that - he’d love it" - but I can’t.
BARBARA. Perhaps you should save it up for when you meet again.
ANNE. Do you believe we do?
BARBARA. Plenty of people I respect think so.
ANNE. Not quite the same thing. To me, it somehow seems too much like wishful thinking.
BARBARA. Yes, but wanting something to be true doesn’t necessarily make it false.
ANNE. I suppose not. Oh, this won’t do at all. I’m getting thoroughly maudlin. (A moment’s pause) Barbara -
ANNE. You had some connection who was involved with UN weapon inspection, didn’t you?
BARBARA. Yes, an umpteenth cousin so many times removed - I never could work out the exact relationship.
ANNE. How did you meet, then?
BARBARA. We just happened to be fairly close neighbours, and his son dated me occasionally in a rather platonic way. Nice lad; I did wonder sometimes … But he went off to a job half way across the country, and met someone else. What of it?
ANNE. Did he ever say anything about how dangerous the job was?
BARBARA. Why on earth do you ask?
ANNE. I just phoned Mum. She’s worried because Uncle Jim is being sent to Iraq in the new round of inspections.
BARBARA. O lucky Jim. I can’t say I particularly envy him. But I think you could safely tell your mother not to worry.
ANNE. I did, but I doubt if it helped. She’s no fool, and after all, what do I know about it?
BARBARA. Well, Jack said he got on fine with the people he actually dealt with. The ordinary folk there are just as decent and reasonable as anywhere else - more so than in some places he’s been, a lot nearer home. His contacts apparently regarded the job as one where they were all more or less colleagues together.
ANNE. I don’t think that’s quite what Mum’s worried about. The high-ups aren’t likely to take the same view. What happens if the military decide to use the inspectors as hostages?
BARBARA. These days, that could happen to anyone, anywhere.
ANNE. In our present circumstances, that isn’t very reassuring. I don’t think Mum would altogether appreciate it.
BARBARA. Probably not. (After short pause.) Eureka!
ANNE. What is it?
BARBARA. I’ve just thought of how to finish that third presentation I was worried about.
ANNE. Then get it down before you forget.
BARBARA. Yes, I’d better. (She opens and starts her computer, waits for the opening sequence to finish, then selects her program and starts to type.)
ANNE. Fancy a coffee?
BARBARA. That’d be nice - thanks.
(Exit Anne. Barbara continues to type, with occasional pauses for thought, amendments to work already done, etc. Anne returns with two cups of coffee, handing one to Barbara. Suddenly she sneezes, and slops her own drink, splashing her suit. She fumbles in her bag for a tissue to mop up the mess.)
BARBARA. Will it stain?
ANNE. I’m not sure. I’d better see if I can clean it up. What a pest!
BARBARA. Well, I hate to say it, but now you see why I don’t wear a business suit for travelling.