Saturday, February 12, 2011

The King of Shades

(Stage in darkness. Spotlight shines on the middle of the stage. The Stranger, dressed in a large trenchcoat and a fedora, walks into the light.)
Stranger: Say, you look like you need a pair of shades. Now don’t give me those glazy eyes, young fellas. It’s almost bedtime, you say? My outfit is tacky, eh? (Chuckle) But don’t let all that fool you. I’m just a simple salesman who’s found his niche. I see people who need my shades all the time – in fact, I see a whole lot of them right now. My shades aren’t normal, you see. They don’t just make you look all fancy and posh – they can change the way you see things, the way you feel, how you think, and more. You don’t believe me? Take a look at some of my other customers... (lights fade out)

Act 1, Scene 1
(Office Setup – three desks, a larger, more elaborate desk on Stage Left (SL), and two simpler desks in the middle and on Stage Right (SR). The desk at SL is separated by a door from the other two. Spotlights on the simpler desks at the start, showing Dory seated at the middle desk, typing feverishly at her laptop. Pam walks in from SR, looking more relaxed as she puts her stuff on her table.)
Pam: Hey, Dory! Did you manage to go back home at all last night? (Dory doesn’t respond) Dory? Dory!
Dory: (Snaps out of her mania) What is it, boss? Oh, hey Pam. How was the club last night?
Pam: Oh, the usual. I met this one guy though; he wouldn’t stop trying to ask me out! It was embarrassing how hard he tried. He even kept waiting for me outside the girls’ bathroom, you know!
Dory: (Very unfocused on Pam’s words) Poor thing.
Pam: I finally had to resort to pepper spray, but he was so harmless! I felt so bad afterwards, but really, I couldn’t think of anything else to do!
Dory: You seem to have recovered though.
Pam: Yes, a hot shower and a blueberry waffle took care of that. But never mind me - were you in office the whole of last night again?
Dory: I didn’t have a choice. Mr. Khya wanted me to finish compiling that massive report of his by the time he gets here!
Pam: But you can’t keep going on like this! How long can you cope before you OD from caffeine, or stress, or something even worse?
Dory: I really can’t afford to lose another job, not again! I just have to adjust to Khya’s working habits, and I’ll be fine.
Pam: No you won’t, Dory! You’ll either kill yourself or turn into a lifeless robot! Please don’t do this to yourself, it’s painful to watch you waste away day by day!
Dory: It’s painful to me too, you know! I’m not doing this because I...
(Khya enters from SR)
Khya: Pamela, Dorothy.
(Spotlights switch to SL desk as Khya walks to his office. After he settles down, Dory picks up some files and walks in)
Dory: Here are the...
Khya: (cuts in) I don’t see a steaming cup of coffee in your hands, Dorothy. Don’t take too long. Oh, and leave those files on my desk, will you?
Dory: Er, yes, boss. (Leaves files on desk and scampers out)
Khya: She should do something about her forgetfulness. I can’t have her so disorganised, can I? Hmm... (picks up files and starts flipping through) Ah, she’s done it again. Always so good with the first few pages, and then the quality starts to fade later on. Really, Dorothy, how many times must I talk to you about this?
(Phone on desk rings, Khya picks it up)
Good morning, Khya Soo Cheng speaking. Mr. Golong! How may I be of service, sir? Yes, I’ve finished the report on the market analysis as you requested. Oh, not at all, sir, I didn’t lose any sleep over it. Quality is better than quantity, right? Haha, of course I wouldn’t forget that, sir. I can give you the report anytime today, sir, at your convenience of course. I think you will be very interested in some of the trends I’ve noticed in our target group...yes, this evening will be excellent. I will see you then, sir. Good day to you too, sir.
(Puts phone down)
Excellent, excellent. If I can impress him enough this evening, then that exec post in Mr. Golong’s department is all but mine. Ha! Take that, Xin Chia! You won’t be so smug when I’m earning thirty percent more than you! Ah, the corporate ladder, it’s such a...
(Phone rings again)
Good morning, Khya Soo Cheng speaking. Hello, darling. I’m fine, how are you? Work is excellent; do you know that I’m this close to getting a promotion again? I know, it’s really great! I’ll be one of the most important employees of this company in a matter of weeks! ...yes, I know what day it is today. It’s Thursday, 15th of September. Oh, it’s today? This evening? Well, I won’t be able to make it, I have an important presentation to make! Yes, I’m aware how much Danny is looking forward to it, but I just can’t make it today! I’m sure the award ceremony will go just fine without me being there. Well, if you had reminded me earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have made other arrangements. I’m sorry, honey, the best I can do is to take you and Danny out for a celebratory dinner tonight. I really wish I could do something about it, but I can’t. Goodbye.
(Puts phone down just as Dory walks in with the coffee)
Dory: Here’s your coffee, boss. Latte with extra milk, and one spoon of sugar.
Khya: You know, I sometimes wonder about your memory, Dorothy. How is it that you remember so well how to make my favourite coffee, and yet forget when to give it to me?
Dory: I’m sorry, boss. I’ll try not to forget tomorrow.
Khya: Good. Now, I was going through the files you compiled, and (Dory spills coffee on Khya’s sleeve while putting the mug on the table) AAAAAAAH!
Dory: Oh no, I’m really sorry, boss! (whips out a tissue from her shirt pocket and starts to wipe the spill on the table)
Khya: (Pacing around the table) My shirt! Look at that ugly stain on my sleeve! Ah, how could you be so careless, Dorothy?
Dory: I’m really sorry, boss!
Khya: Being sorry doesn’t make my shirt any whiter, does it? Really, Dorothy. And my report is half done! Do you know how messy the second half of it looks? Why couldn’t you maintain some consistency in your editing?
Dory: (still cleaning) I can fix it before lunch if you let me, boss.
Khya: I’d fire you right now if I had the time to go hunting around for a new secretary. Argh! (runs out of the office. Dory looks lost and on the verge of tears as the lights fade out)

Act 1, Scene 2
(Bathroom scene. Khya is washing his shirt sleeve at the sink, muttering and cursing to himself. One of the stall doors opens, and the Stranger comes walking out towards the sink)
Khya: Great, now my hair dye is fading away too! What a horrible start to the day: my report is still unfinished, my newly bleached shirt is ruined, I’m missing my son’s awards ceremony and now my hair is off colour!
Stranger: Hmmm, that does seem like a bad start to me.
Khya: Tell me about it. Ugh, this stain just won’t go off!
Stranger: Has a nice smell though. Mmm, coffee, is it?
Khya: (turning to look at Stranger) Hey, who are you? I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you a client?
Stranger: Me? (Chuckles) I’m not buying, I’m selling.
Khya: Selling? Where’s your merchandise?
Stranger: (gestures to his coat) In here.
Khya: (looks suspicious) Are you selling...drugs? They’re illegal! I – I’m not interested!
Stranger: Calm down, sonny. These aren’t drugs – although they might have the same effect...
Khya: (making motions towards the door) Um, it was nice talking to you, but I really must get back to work, I have a –
Stranger: Report that you need to give this evening to your boss, Mr. Golong?
Khya: (freezes) How did you – why are you spying on me? Did a rival firm send you? Did Xin Chia...
Stranger: Relax, Khya. I heard you rambling on about it while you were attending to your shirt sleeve just now. Trust me, the last thing I want to know about are your petty office disputes. I’m just here to help you out – with my shades. Take a look. (Takes out a pair of sunglasses)
Khya: This is not the time –
Stranger: On the contrary, this is the only time you have. Tell you what, try these on for now; if you don’t like them, just return them to me. What have you got to lose?
Khya: You expect me to wear sunglasses during work? What do you take me for? I’ll look absolutely –
Stranger: Cool? Confident? In control? Go on, there’s only the slightest chance it will completely change your life.
Khya: Alright! I’ll do it if it means you’ll stop bothering me. (Takes the shades and wears them. Lighting turns blue, and stays blue until end of scene) Wow, these are really intense! I I supposed to feel a bit light-headed?
Stranger: That’s normal, not to worry. This is my cue to go, so have a nice day, Khya Soo Cheng. (leaves)
Khya: (still looking a bit unfocused) Everything looks different, for some reason. It’s not just the colour. I feel like these sunglasses are – no, that’s crazy talk. I should get back to work. (leaves as the lights fade out)

Act 1, Scene 3
(Office Setup, same as earlier. Lighting is still blue, but gradually starts to fade to normal until end of scene. Pam and Dory are both at work, Dory a little more frantic. Khya walks in from SR)
Dory: Boss! I’ve almost finished the report proper! I can give it to you by lunch if –
Khya: No, don’t rush it. (pauses) I won’t need the report until tomorrow anyway. Take it easy, Dorothy; work on it at your own pace, so that you’ll do a better job of it eventually.
Dory: (mouth agape) Boss, are you –
Khya: And don’t worry about the coffee, it was a minor accident. My shirt could probably use some colour anyway (laughs)
(Dory stares in shock as Khya walks into his office. Spotlights off on SL)
Pam: (also looking surprised) Khya has interesting taste in shades. I wonder where he got those from. The blue suits him somehow.
Dory: You know, if it wasn’t for the coffee stain, I’d swear to God that Khya isn’t in his office right now.
Pam: (laughs) Come to think of it, his hair looked a bit different. It had more black than his usual brown, I thought.
Dory: Well, whoever it is in there, I already like him a lot more. (Collapses in chair as lights switch from the rest of office to Khya’s desk. Khya looks pensively at the phone before picking it up and dialling)
Khya: Hello, can I speak to Mr. Golong, please? Tell him this is Khya Soo speaking. Of course. Ah, Mr. Golong. Yes, the report is on its way. However, something urgent has come up which I need to attend to, and I felt that...Yes, sir, I’m afraid it’s quite urgent. It’s a personal matter, which I can’t go into detail about right now. Don’t worry, sir, I will have the report ready very soon. Of course sir, I will let you know beforehand the next time. Yes, I know how important this is to you, sir. I won’t let you down. Have a nice day, sir.
(hangs up and dials again)
Hi Fang, it’s Khya. Look, I’m sorry about earlier, work was getting to me and I didn’t think things through. I can make it for Danny’s awards ceremony after all! Oh don’t worry about that, I postponed it, and Mr. Golong didn’t mind at all. Yeah, I’ve had a change of – well, to tell you the truth, I really don’t know. Suddenly, my priorities have been shuffled around, and I, I see how much things really matter to me. I shouldn’t be so obsessed with promotions and money and all these superficial things, when I’ve got a family who needs me to be there for them. I’m ashamed it took me so long to realise this, and I want to make it up to you and Danny. So I’ll see you at the ceremony then? Excellent. Goodbye, darling.
(hangs up as lights fade out)
Act 2, Scene 1
(Bedroom scene; the room belongs to Cho, a teenager who is celebrating her birthday tonight. She and two of her friends, Mai and Gloria, are sitting on her queen-sized bed in the middle watching the end of a movie on Cho’s TV at SL. There is a desk with a mirror on top at SR. The colour theme of the room is various shades of pink.)
Gloria: Oh, isn’t Jacob just so dreamy?
Cho: Jacob? Ugh, how can you not see the most perfect cream puff right in front of you? Oh, how I wish I was Bella...
Gloria: Maybe not at this moment, though. That hospital looks spooky!
Mai: All hospitals are spooky!
Cho: Wow, Edward looks so delicious in that lighting.
Gloria: *Sigh* you have way too much herd mentality. You just like Edward because every other cool girl on the block does. Me, at least I’m unique.
Mai: Right, and you have no feelings whatsoever for Edward. You’re horrible at lying, Glo (Mai and Cho giggle)
Gloria: Okay, I’ll admit, he’s not that bad. But I’m still more of a sucker for jocks than emos.
Cho: Are you calling Edward Cullen EMO? He’s a vampire, Gloria! There’s a HUGE difference, you know. Vampires are already dead, so they don’t want to kill themselves. And they have superpowers, like flying and stuff. AND they’re a lot cooler. Emos are just so pathetic in comparison!
Mai: Oh look, they’re at the prom. Do you think they’ll...
Cho: Oh, I hope not, Mai! I’m already jealous enough of whoever Bella is, I just –
Gloria: Shhh! They’re talking!
(All three girls hug variously shaped cushions while staring intently at the TV screen in silence. They randomly gasp/croon every now and then)
Mai: Wow, I can’t wait to watch the sequel.
Cho: Yeah, me too. Although I hope they change the music next time, all this Linkin Park is annoying.
Gloria: I find it catchy though (starts singing ‘Leave out all the rest’ by Linkin Park off-key)
Cho: Hey, I’m going to get more cake and cookies.
Mai: Yeah, about that, do you have anything that doesn’t have strawberry jam in it somewhere? I mean, we know you love the stuff and all, but it gets a bit icky after the sixth mouthful, you know?
Gloria: More like the third with me.
Cho: Fine, fine, there might be some chocolate fudge around. (smirks) You girls are so lacking in taste. (leaves)
Gloria: I’m surprised we’re not lacking in taste buds after that strawberry overdose a few hours ago.
Mai: Well, it’s her cocaine I guess. No wonder she’s so giddy all the time.
Gloria: I’m feeling giddy myself from the sugar rush.
Mai: So what now? Shall we – oh look, that cute reporter guy is telling the news tonight!
Gloria: *Sigh* they should get more people like him to tell the news. We might actually be more interested in it then.
(Cho walks in with a plate of food)
Cho: So girls, I was thinking, after this we could – why are you watching the news?
Mai: Nathan’s telling the news tonight! Oh, those curls make me swoon...
Gloria: Never mind the hair, look at those eyes! *sigh*
Cho: I guess he’s alright. Anyway, who’s up for some cards after this?
Mai: Cho, you should watch the news more often. You could learn a lot of stuff about what’s going on everywhere.
Cho: But why? The news is what happens to other people. I’m sitting pretty over here, and I love it. I’ve got loads of money, awesome parents who are always watching out for me, and cool friends to hang out with. Why should I depress myself with all those wars and poor people and stuff?
Gloria: Yeah, you don’t have to worry about the things us mere mortals need to know about, do you?
Cho: (playfully punches Gloria) Hey, don’t make me sound so ignorant. You know I’d help you out if you needed it. Now come on, let’s finish this chocolate fudge and strawberry ice cream before it gets all drippy and cold!
Mai: More strawberry? Cho, you are something else.
Gloria: I’m surprised your head doesn’t look like one already.
(All three girls laugh as the lights fade out)

Act 2, Scene 2
(Same bedroom, but this time it’s empty. Spotlight only on SR, rest of the room is dark. Cho is heard off-stage saying goodbye to her friends before entering at SR)
Cho: Wow, that was a really awesome birthday party! I wish it was my birthday every day. (Looks in the mirror on the desk) Now let’s see if the lip gloss Mai gave me is as good as she says. (Starts putting on makeup. In the meantime, the rest of the lights switch on to reveal the Stranger sitting on Cho’s bed)
Mmm, it looks fabulous! Mai, you are the girl! Oh, she’s going to be so hyper when I wear this to the mall tomorrow! (Cho turns around and sees Stranger) AAAAAAAAAH!! Who are you?
Stranger: Happy birthday, Cho. Don’t worry; I’m not here to harm you.
Cho: How did you know my name? Are you a stalker? Look, if you want money –
Stranger: (Chuckles) I’m not after money either. I just wanted to give you a birthday present. You’re turning, what, sixteen today?
Cho: Fifteen. I don’t look that old! Do I?
Stranger: Of course not. You look just right. Anyway, here you go. (Shows Cho a small wrapped-up box) I’ll keep this on the bed, if that’s all right with you.
Cho: Yeah, sure. Are you a friend of my Dad?
Stranger: Hmmm, maybe I am. What’s his name?
Cho: Mr. Golong?
Stranger: Ah, Golong. Yes, the name rings a bell, but I just can’t place it... (Looks around) this is a very bright room. Very, very bright.
Cho: You’re freaking me out, old man. How did you get into my room? The window’s way too high to reach from outside.
Stranger: Nothing a rope and a hook can’t fix. Well, I’ll be off then. (Gets up from the bed and walks towards SL) Enjoy the shades – you might need to get used to the colour though.
Cho: Shades?
Stranger: Ah, slip of the tongue. Oh well, you got me. They are shades. I’m sure you have several pairs already, but nothing like mine, I assure you.
Cho: And why is that?
Stranger: You’ll have to wear them to find out – and I hope you like them very much. Good night, Cho. (Leaves through SL)
(Cho watches him leave for a while before running to the box and ripping it open. She pulls out a pair of very stylish shades)
Cho: Hmmm, they’re definitely not Bucci. They’re not Ray-Ban. They’re not even branded – but they don’t look too cheap. Really interesting shape, but the colour – ugh, what was that man thinking of, giving me green-coloured shades? They’ll clash with all of my clothes! Hmmm... well, it’s late, and all that ice-cream is making me drowsy. Maybe I’ll try them on tomorrow. (puts the shades on the desk) I wonder who that old guy really was... (leaves through SR as the lights fade out).

Act 2, Scene 3
(Mai and Gloria are standing in the middle, waiting for Cho to join them. They are inside a mall, but spotlights are only on them, so no props required)
Gloria: Wow, can she take any longer to get here? All these mall ah-bengs are creeping me out.
Mai: She said she had something special to show us – some fancy thing her uncle gave her. Oh, and she loved my lip gloss! I told you it was her colour!
Gloria: Alright, you win. I wonder what she thought of my present...
Mai: You can ask her when she’s – oh, there she is! And look at those –
Gloria: Green shades? Are you sure that’s Cho?
Mai: Well, I could be wrong, but don’t you think it’s an uncanny resemblance? And look, she’s waving and walking...towards us...
(Cho walks in from SR. Lighting immediately goes green, and gradually fades back to normal until end of scene)
Cho? Those shades look...good, actually.
Cho: I know, right? I wasn’t really sure whether to try them on or not, but they rock!
Gloria: Yeah they do. So hey, there’s an awesome sale at Benny-Ts, we should hit that joint first –
Cho: Hang on, I need to make a call first. (dials a number on her mobile phone) Hello, is that Gavin Chang from the Niem Vui Vietnam YEP team? This is Cho speaking. Yes, I wanted to make a contribution to your fund-raising project, AND join the expedition also. Yes, I understand that you will be building houses for homeless people in the middle of the jungle. I’m sure! I want to help out as much as I can. Yes, I might need some outdoor survival training – I’ve never done this sort of thing before. Cool! Let’s meet up tomorrow evening. See you later! (Hangs up. Mai and Gloria look stunned)
Mai: What... was that?
Cho: This friend of mine at school was talking about this youth expedition to Vietnam a few days ago, and I saw the email today morning, so I thought I’ll lend a hand!
Gloria: I thought that stuff happened to other people...?
Cho: ...and I’m not stopping there! I’m looking for any projects that are helping out in Sumatra or Samoa as well! You know, the earthquake and tsunami victims! It’s so awesome what I can do to help! I feel like I’ve just burst out of this bubble I’ve been in all these days, and I’m seeing people around the world who could use some support from the people who can afford it. Like me! Now come on, let’s hit that sale, girls! (hops off stage)
Mai: I think I had too many sweets last night. I’m hearing things...
Gloria: I say someone’s abducted the Cho we know and put this...this humanitarian in her place.
Mai: Well, we’d better watch out in case she starts giving money to random people on the street. The economy’s in a weird enough state as it is.
Gloria: She’s not become stupid, Mai. She’s just... mental. In a good way. I hope.
(The two of them look at each other wearily before scuttling off stage as the lights fade out)

Act 3, Scene 1
(Two people at a small table in a park, playing chess. Both look very academic. One is Mughardevi (Mug for short), a professor with a large briefcase by her side. The other is Raja, a researcher-type person in a labcoat)
Raja: So how was the lecture today, Mug? Did your students grasp the concept of biological defence systems?
Mug: I wouldn’t know; they never asked questions, as usual. But the subject matter is hardly anything like rocket physics – if they have problems distinguishing a basophil from an oesinophil, then there is very little I can do to help them. Your rooks are too exposed, Raja – you don’t want that to happen at this stage of the game.
Raja: They are? They look well-protected to me. How do you plan on breaking through my pawn and bishop network?
Mug: Perhaps like this? (moves a piece and cuts another from the board, causing Raja to look surprised) You always underestimate what knights can do. Now, the most likely course of action you’re going to adopt is to shuffle your rooks around while I bring in more pieces to threatening positions, and that will end up with you losing too many important positions.
Raja: So is there any point in going further then? I suppose you’ve already planned out how this game is going to end, you old pro, you.
Mug: I didn’t say you had lost. You can still win if you play very, very carefully. Now go on, I have a lot of paperwork to complete after this, and you know I don’t like to leave a chess match unfinished.
Raja: Alright, Mug, as you wish. (Continues playing) So I suppose you won’t be attending the get-together at the Raffles golf course this evening? It would be a good opportunity to mingle with the classier staff at our university.
Mug: I don’t really care for social mingling, Raja. Or golf, for that matter. Pursuits such as those lack meaning to me – they don’t really improve my intellect or analytical skills in any significant way.
Raja: Not everything has to be about work, Mug. I know you’re making excellent progress in the research we’re doing on stem cell applications, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pause for a breather every now and then. Oh dear, you’re really messing up my side of the board, aren’t you?
Mug: You didn’t give me a lot of choice, Raja. There aren’t that many ways I can play and keep you in the game without resorting to utterly stupid moves. Check.
Raja: Can I just give up now? It’s quite obvious you’re just going to check me until I’ve got nowhere to hide.
Mug: You don’t know that yet, Raja. You can still manage a stalemate, at the very least. It’s not what you would want to hope for, but at least you don’t lose.
Raja: I don’t want to continue if the best I can achieve is a stalemate. I think I’ll just give in. Once again, it was nice playing with you, Mug. You really should consider the golf course meeting. The paperwork isn’t going to destroy itself if you do, and the university hasn’t imposed any deadlines for our work as of yet.
Mug: I will think about it. You know how I am with procrastination. Until we meet again, Raja.
Raja: Goodbye, Mug. See you at the lab. (leaves)
(Mug opens her briefcase and pulls out a large file. She starts flipping through the pages, before pulling one out and writing on it. While deep in thought, the Stranger walks in and sits in the chair opposite Mug. He waits for her to notice, but she’s too engrossed with her work. The Stranger then clears his throat, but to no effect. Finally, he leans forward)
Stranger: Good afternoon, ma’am. Mind if I treat you to a game?
Mug: Hmmm? Oh, hello. You are...?
Stranger: Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood. You seem like a nice enough lady, and I was in the mood for some chess. You don’t mind, do you?
Mug: Well, I had some work I was going to do now...
Stranger: I’m sure one little game won’t hurt it.
Mug: (hesitates) All right, but just one game.
Stranger: I’ll take black. (starts setting the pieces)
Mug: Do you play often? I should let you know, I take this game quite seriously.
Stranger: On and off. I’ll try to give you a fight, but I doubt I’ll be any good.
Mug: Do you work at the university? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.
Stranger: I visit every now and then. So, what do you do here?
Mug: I work with stem cells and their applications. Are you sure you want to open like that?
Stranger: The conversation or the game?
Mug: Your bishops will become very vulnerable if you do that. Oh, I’m sorry, force of habit. I usually give comments to the opponent while I play.
Stranger: That’s fine. Maybe I’ll learn something. So, what else do you do?
Mug: What else? I don’t follow.
Stranger: You work with stem cells, and you play chess. I’m sure you do both pretty well, from the looks of things. What else do you do?
Mug: Well...I don’t have that many other interests, really. Your style of playing is quite unorthodox, I must say. It doesn’t seem to be very effective, though.
Stranger: Hmmm, that’s no good at all. Not at all.
(An awkward pause as they both make a few more moves)
Stranger: Have you heard of a bucket list?
Mug: I’m aware of it, yes. A list of things you want to do before you die. I heard there was a film about it, though I never got around to watching it. Check.
Stranger: The name’s misleading, I think. It gives the feeling that you need to be terminal before you write a list like that; that you need to kick the bucket in a few weeks in order to start on the stuff in the list.
Mug: Hmmm. Mate.
Stranger: Well, will you look at that! Took me completely unawares there, you did. Beautiful. Now I must give you a token of congratulations. (Pulls out a small box from his coat) I think this should do.
Mug: If you must. Do you mind if I get back to my work? I really must finish this as soon as I can.
Stranger: Of course. Have a good day, ma’am; I’m glad we had this little meeting. Enjoy writing your bucket list. (walks away)
(Mug starts writing some more in her file. Then she pauses, squints up at the sun, and then considers the box on the table. She slowly starts to open it and pulls out the shades as the lights fade out)

Act 3, Scene 2
(A lot of people standing amongst some coffee tables with cocktails and snacks on them. In the midst of all the chatter, Mug walks on stage with her shades on. The lighting changes to an orange hue, which slowly starts fading until the end of the scene. Mug approaches a group of three people in the middle of the stage)
Mug: Hello, Devban. It’s nice to see a familiar face here.
Dev: (taken aback) Mughardevi? This is very much a surprise. Are you here continuing your stem cell research?
Mug: Oh please, Dev. I thought I would take a small break from work, and perhaps meet some new people. Such as your two friends here.
Dev: Oh, yes. The shock of seeing you here has robbed me of my manners. Mughardevi, this is Alvin Chang from Applied Mechanics, and this is Fei Long Lian from Risk Management. Friends, this is Mughardevi Ganeshan from Life Sciences.
Alvin: Nice to meet you, Mughardevi.
Mug: Please, call me Mug or Devi. It’s probably easier to pronounce.
Fei: So you’re working on stem cells, if I heard right? It has always been a fascinating topic to me.
Mug: It is to me as well. The potential of the technology is almost endless. As you know, stem cells are the most basic of cells, the ‘tabula rasa’, before they develop the specific features of other cells. So really, we are dealing with a blank slate on which we can write almost anything. Extremely fascinating!
Fei: Exactly! Oh, you must tell me more about it sometime later. I think Dev is getting a little bored with our discussion.
Dev: Not at all. Is anyone interested in trying out a few rounds of golf while there’s still some light left?
Mug: You can count me in! I’ve never tried it before though, so I don’t think I’ll be any good.
Alvin: It’s simple enough, Mug. I’m sure you can learn while playing. I think I saw a golf cart somewhere nearby; let’s see if we can borrow it for our little session.
Fei: Oh, I’ve always wanted to ride around in one of those! Let’s go and take a look then, Alvin.
(Alvin and Fei walk away)
Dev: So, Mug, is there any reason for the sudden interest in golf? I hardly remember you ever being this social.
Mug: Neither do I, actually. I had some kind of epiphany this afternoon; that I wanted to try out different things from my usual grind of research and chess matches. It’s almost as if I’m trying to finish the items on my bucket list, if I had one. It’s quite a strange experience for me.
Dev: And for me too. Well, it’s good to see that you’re more outgoing and trying new things. I was beginning to wonder if you were a robot sent back from the future, after seeing your work ethic.
Mug: Oh look! I think it is Alvin and Fei waving to us from that golf cart over there. Let’s go, shall we?
(Lights fade as they walk off stage)

Act 4, Scene 1
(Two people sitting at a bus-stand. One is Phai, a recent poly-graduate wearing very dirty-looking clothes. The other is his elder sister, Pam from Act 1)
Pam: So how was work today, Phai? Today was your shift at the Elephants at Work and Play exhibit right?
Phai: Yeah, it was. Nothing special happened though. Chimmy was a little more playful than usual, so that got a few laughs from the crowd.
Pam: Little more playful? Meaning what, exactly?
Phai: She kept spraying water on the mahouts, myself included. It made some of the other elephants a little jittery for some reason. But yeah, nothing special came out of all that.
Pam: I see.
Phai: Yeah.
Pam: Have you spoken to Mum and Dad yet about going to university? They’ve been trying to reach you for days now. It’s as if you’re trying to avoid them.
Phai: I’m not ready to talk to them about it...
Pam: When WILL you be ready, Phai? You’re a grown man with a chance at a decent education, and what are you doing? Cleaning elephant dung every day for a living! I don’t suppose you’re looking for other jobs either, are you?
Phai: No...
Pam: And why not?
Phai: Because I don’t have a good resume, all right? I barely passed through poly, and I don’t think I can make it into university. And I like where I am right now, I like working with animals!
Pam: You like rolling around in jungle muck all day, do you? Having to visit that shady laundry place everyday just to wash the soil off your clothes? Being paid barely enough to have two meals a day? You like all that?
Phai: Yes! (pauses) No, I don’t...
Pam: I can’t keep pushing you like this, Phai! You have to make changes for yourself. There’s no shame in asking Dad to help you out with university fees or work. I really don’t know why you think you’re only good for working at the zoo. (looks up) My bus is here. Please try and build some confidence in your abilities; I don’t want to see you waste your life away like this. Goodbye Phai. (leaves)
Phai: Ugh, I can’t take much more of this. (Gets up) Why can’t things work out for me just once? Is it too much to ask for a decent life of peace and quiet? Without people yelling at me every now and then for whatever reason they can cook up? Why can’t I be left alone, to live my own life the way I want!
(Sits down again. A frustrated silence follows)
Oh, who am I kidding, Lin is right. I can’t live like this any longer. I need to make changes; I need to go to university, or get a better job than looking after elephants all day long! I just wish I could do something about it... (lights fade out)

Act 4, Scene 2
(Inside a laundromat. Three washing machines in the background, a bench with some laundry baskets on it in front. Phai is loading clothes in the machine on SL when Fei from Act 3 walks in from SR)
Fei: Ugh, what is that awful stench? It smells like a zoo in here!
(Phai glares at her as she slowly walks towards him)
Excuse me, dear. Did you by chance see a tall, white-haired person come in here? He had glasses on, a small beard, and was probably wearing brown clothes.
Phai: No, I didn’t see him. I came here only a few minutes ago.
Fei: Okay. Goodbye then. (runs out)
Phai: *sigh* (continues loading clothes)
(The Stranger walks in from SR with a basket of clothes. He and Phai both walk over to the bench and sit down at the same time)
Phai: Hope you don’t mind the smell, sir.
Stranger: Smell? Oh, I have a cold, so my nose isn’t very receptive right now.
Phai: Huh, lucky you.
Stranger: What’s troubling you, son? You look like you’ve got an elephant square on your shoulders.
Phai: Nice choice of words, old man. I’ve got a dead-end job at the zoo, and a life that I’m barely able to lead. I just finished a diploma at Singapore Polytechnic with average results, and I have a family that expects me to match their high levels of accomplishment. I feel like a failure and a loser.
Stranger: Only that bad, huh? Hmmm...
Phai: Only that bad? How much worse can it be?
Stranger: I doubt you’re in the mood to hear any of it, son. Right now, I feel like you could use a little help. Have you thought about university?
Phai: Yeah, and I can’t do it. I’m not like my sister – I’m not that smart or hard-working. And I’ve heard stories about how brutal university is. I don’t stand a chance in hell.
Stranger: Stories aren’t always true. Even when a lot of people believe in them. But never mind that – why can’t you change your job? You seem like a capable fella to me.
Phai: In these times? Undergraduates from NUS are having a hard time finding new jobs! How do you expect me to do any better? I’m not as capable as you make me out to be.
Stranger: Oh, I’m usually a good judge of people. I’ll tell you what, I’m feeling a bit generous right now, and I want to help you out, so I’m going to give you something to solve all your problems. And it won’t cost you a bit. (reaches inside his coat)
Phai: Hey, what are you – I don’t want any drugs! (Backs away)
Stranger: Is it the coat? ‘Cos everyone thinks I’m a drug dealer for some reason. Calm down, kid. I’m only giving you these. (Shows a pair of shades) They’re not illegal, don’t worry.
Phai: How are those going to help me?
Stranger: You’d be surprised. Go on, try them. They’re quite snug.
(Phai hesitantly takes the shades and puts them on. The lighting changes to red, and stays red until the end of the scene. The Stranger slowly leaves while Phai is overwhelmed by the effects of the shades)
Phai: Wow, this is really cool! But I still don’t see how this is going to – hey, you forgot your clothes, old man! Hey! Where’d he go? (Continues looking around as the lights fade out)

Act 4, Scene 3
(One desk on stage at SL. Sitting there is Mr. Ganeshan, Phai’s boss. He is reading the newspapers when Phai (wearing the shades) walks in from SR. The lighting turns red, and then slowly fades back to normal until the end of the scene)
Mr. Ganeshan: Phai Teng! This is a bit unexpected. What brings you here?
Phai: Good morning, Mr. Ganeshan. I’m come to tell you that I – that I will be formally quitting my employment here in two weeks.
Mr. Ganeshan: Really? Why is that? You are one of our better workers here – is it to do with the working conditions you have right now?
Phai: No sir, the quality of this place has nothing to do with my decision. I have...found another place at which I will be working. It’s more convenient for me, and is closer to the direction of the future career I plan on pursuing. Also, I may be admitted to university in a few months, so I want to prepare for it. I hope this is enough notice for you to find a replacement for me, sir.
Mr. Ganeshan: Well, I must say that this is a bit abrupt from you, Phai. However, if you feel that you have better prospects elsewhere, then it would be inhumane for me to force you to stay here. I accept your resignation, Phai, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. I have a feeling that the elephants will miss you very much though.
Phai: Not as much as I will miss them, sir. I will visit whenever I can. I’m sorry if I this was too sudden; I wanted to inform you in as personal a manner as I could.
Mr. Ganeshan: Don’t worry about it, Phai. I know that you’re a good boy, and you probably have much more potential than your credentials show. Now then, is there anything else you want to tell me?
Phai: Not really, sir. I guess I should go back to the elephant cages now.
Mr. Ganeshan: Very well then. Goodbye, Phai Teng.
Phai: Goodbye, Mr. Ganeshan.
(Lights on SL fade out. Lights on SR remain as Phai walks in to the light. He takes out his mobile phone and makes a call)
Hey, Pam! It’s Phai. Listen, I did it. I quit the job at the zoo! I know, I know, I couldn’t believe it either! I really don’t know where I got the courage from, but it feels good. Yeah, I applied to a few other places, so here’s hoping something works out. Yeah, I spoke to Mum and Dad too. I still feel bad for having to ask them for help though. I know they wouldn’t hesitate at all, but still... It’s strange, isn’t it? I was so afraid before of making a change to my life, so afraid of screwing up, and now – now I feel like I’ve been lazy, playing it safe and not daring to move forward. Alright, I’ll stop preaching. See you later Pam.
(hangs up as lights fade out)

(Stage in darkness. Spotlight shines on the middle of the stage. The Stranger walks into the light.)
Stranger: Amazing what a little change of perception can do, isn’t it? These people you saw, they were from different walks of life, and they were facing very different problems. Some of them didn’t even know they had a problem in the first place. But now, their minds have been opened, and they’re becoming better people for it. Do you think I’m meddling in places I shouldn’t be? That I shouldn’t decide who needs what? Fine. I’ve seen the results of my handiwork. I know I’m doing the right thing here. But I’m not going to push you. All I’m going to do – is offer you a pair of shades.
(Holds out a pair of shades as the lights fade out)

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