When Essey abandons home and elopes at a young age she never anticipates to come across the issues she finds herself having to deal with. Years of neglect from her family and all kinds of abuse from her husband turn her into someone she barely recognised in the mirror. Her fight for the freedom she so desires turns things for the worst when she demands that her brother, who later takes his own life due to the guilt, help her with easing her heart’s biggest desperation.
Essey is seated at a diner in Scottsville, having finished her meal without even enjoying it. She constantly checks her phone, jointly, for the time and perhaps new texts, while talking to herself out of frustration and fear. Enter a young man donned in all-black and walking in as if he’s wishing the shadows would swallow him up. He never looks up from the floor while walking, and from the table as he sits down.
ESSEY: I’m not supposed to be here, you know that, but here I am! Because I thought you’d pop the pimple that’s been bothering me for ages [leans in and whisper-yells] How the hell is he still alive? What do we keep agreeing on? Huh?! [She waits, hoping to get a response out of him. He finally looks at her eyes, for a brief second, before averting his eyes back to the table] Oh I know that look, don’t tell me you’re still planning? What are you planning that’s taking so long? You might as well start planning what you’re going to say at my funeral because wow, guess what, I am not going to see the light of day tomorrow.
[She takes off her sunglasses to pinch the bridge of her nose, somewhat fed up and tired of not being able to get a single word out of him so far into the conversation].
ESSEY: REGINAND ZEBLON SITHOLE! Please listen to what I’m about to say and listen carefully, this man is not the man you think he is! He looks for the littlest things to be upset about every day; upset enough to put his hands on me so he needs to go… How many times must I tell you this is not a love story! Stop expecting a happy ending! Stop thinking you know what’s good for me! I admit, you and moms were right okay! How crazy of me, rushing to dig my own grave by marrying a monster…
REGGIE: [His gaze is still stuck on the table top, following his fingertips as he traces the tablecloth designs] Report him. He’ll get arrested.
ESSEY: Oh?! Do you honestly- let me ask you this- do you really believe I haven’t tried to get this man arrested? I tried damn it! Twice!! He came right out and told me straight to my face that he’s not going anywhere, and I paid for my attempts harshly. Y’ know with the way things are going I wouldn’t be surprised if I tried to kill him myself and he came back from the dead and told me he’s got connections on the other side because this man has friends everywhere. High places; low places; dodgy places- [she reaches over table and grabs his forearm, her chapped nails digging into his flesh] –that’s why I couldn’t just trust a random stranger with this job, that’s why I was counting on you to do just this one right thing in your life and save me! [She let’s go of his arm violently, and looks around] Do you know why I took the risk and came out of the house today? I’ll tell you why!! It’s because I was trying to groom myself for my husband’s death! I was looking forward to spending the rest of this day in candle lights, heck I’m even having a fuckin’ mattress delivered for me to sit on once I find out you’ve taken care of this little issue, but instead of getting the news I thought would set me free the bastard calls me and asks how my day is going, says he can’t wait to be home from work [she points to her designer leather wristwatch] It’s 4p.m already, was he not supposed to die earlier today?, So then? Why is he on his way home?! Or are you enjoying this? It pleases you to see people looking at your sister the way that they’re looking at me now? If you say you don’t then why is he still alive? Or are you scared? You’ve been living this bloody life of crime for as long as I can remember but when it comes to helping me out you’re scared? …I can’t believe I’m asking this but are you in business with my husband?
REGGIE: [Shakes his head]
ESSEY: Does he have anything on you?
REGGIE: [Shakes his head once more]
ESSEY: Then?! You keep saying no to my questions but you’re not doing anything to make me not ask them in the first place [she sighs heavily, giving up] Fix this, because I’m not doing this to myself anymore. I’m going to get up from this chair and walk around town until you fix this, I am not going back to that house, not while this man is still alive [She gets up] Fix it! And you’re paying for my meal [she walks out muttering incoherent complaints and insults under her breath].
Essey is preparing to go to an urgent meeting called in by her husband’s family and lawyers, which will be held at the office of one of the senior judges assigned to her husband’s murder case. This is to conclude all matters regarding her husband’s intestate passing as well as for her to answer all the questions her in-laws might have, but on her way out she’s confronted with her mother’s presence. The long blue dress clinging to her body sweeps across the floor with every step she takes as she looks around the modernized living area
ESSEY: Oh hey let yourself right in, look I don’t have much time to spare because I was on my way out
MRS SITHOLE: [Looking around the house in awe]
ESSEY: You know you could’ve just asked for a tour of the house
MRS SITHOLE: [Absentmindedly] So this is where you married yourself off to
ESSEY: So you’re going to collect all the dirt outside and dump it in here… Come on!
MRS SITHOLE: [Finally facing Essey] That husband of yours and his family still owe me
ESSEY: [Rolls eyes] Here we go again
MRS SITHOLE: I don’t remember him ever coming to ask for my blessings or your hand in marrying, he never paid i-lobola... I don’t even know what you looked like on your wedding day
ESSEY: I sent you the pictures and videos
MRS SITHOLE: Oh yes an entire mother in supposed to be pleased with that
ESSEY: [She shoves her phone, wallet and sunglasses into her handbag as she keeps checking the time] Mah please… Why are you here? What did you mean on the phone when you said you know what I did?
MRS SITHOLE: [Heavy sigh] I never saw you at the funeral
ESSEY: Sit I’ll pour you some lemonade
MRS SITHOLE: [Looks at Essey without a word]
ESSEY: Suit yourself [She walks to the kitchen and her mother follows closely behind her, still looking around. The older lady keeps fighting the urge to touch things, feel the textures and smell the scents].
MRS SITHOLE: This place must be a piece of work to keep maintained
ESSEY: Which makes sense for it to stay maintained, just not with me in it
MRS SITHOLE: [Frowns as she accepts the glass of cold lemonade Essey offers to her] It hasn’t even been that long since your husband’s funeral
ESSEY: Yup, and these bills are still due so what’s your point?
MRS SITHOLE: [slams her glass onto the table] When will you stop acting like nothing is wrong? I just buried your brother damn it! And you weren’t there
ESSEY: [shrugs nonchalantly] You weren’t at my husband’s funeral either so…
MRS SITHOLE: [Tears brimming her eyes] I needed you during that time
ESSEY: You know what just shut up! Because I also needed you but you never showed up! You always have me messed up because I don’t even understand why you hate me so much
MRS SITHOLE: I don’t hate you, I just hate the type of lifestyle you lead
ESSEY: Why can’t you look past it and be a proper mother? Are you not supposed to give me unconditional love?
MRS SITHOLE: [sighs tiredly, her body leaning on the counter for support] If it means me abiding by your bullshit, no, I do not have to be a ‘proper’ mother
ESSEY: Alright, well I hope I crash the car just so that you get to live your happy life without me in it to bother you
MRS SITHOLE: Yazi Mntanami (You know, my child)* I know I wasn’t asked this and I know it’s not part of our current conversation, but if I were to change anything about you it would be your surprising stupidity because hones-
ESSEY: Listen I won’t stand here and watch you bully me like this old woman! Let me tell you something, I’m not scared of you anymore. I’m not scared of your church and its ‘prayers’, I’m not scared of your crippling fear of judgement while being the biggest initiator of it! If you think I’m going to stand here and gladly accept your hypocrisy then you got another thing coming your way because I am not fifteen anymore. You don’t even know my motivations for doing and saying the things I do yet you expect me to worry about yours? Not anymore, mah, not in this life
MRS SITHOLE: Baby just let me help bring you closer to the Lord-
ESSEY: I’d rather burn in hell, than be close to you again. I’d like to come back with you gone by the time my meeting is over, so you’ll see yourself out.
[She walks away, leaving her mother standing alone in the kitchen area]
We’re first introduced to our main character at a diner, where she basically forces and emotionally blackmails her brother into killing her abusive and highly-connected husband for her. She comes clean about the living situation at their mansion and later walks out with the intention to do absolutely anything rather than going back to the house.
The second time we see her, she’s on her way to meet with her late husband’s lawyers (the deed has been done; she’s found her freedom and she’s relaxed into this state of dangerous fluidity, where nothing bothers her anymore. Not even her brother’s passing). Her mother tries to talk about their apparent issues but Essey isn’t having any of it, she pushes herself so far into the point of no return, she feels justified being rude and insensitive towards her sole surviving family member.
The mention of a mattress and candles refers to the practice, popular in Indigenous African beliefs and traditions, of avoiding sitting on chairs or benches if you’ve lost a loved one closest to you (could be a love partner, child, sibling or a parent). You’d also make use of lighting candles around the house (or at a specific area in the house) as a way to pay your respects.
The mention of i-lobola references another popular practice of members of the male partner coming to visit the female’s family to pay a bride price after having asked for their hand in marriage. It is believed that your wedding day, and your life as a married spouse, is doomed for all of eternity if your husband never visited your family and paid, either in the form of live cows, gifts for each family member or cash (it depends on what the family asks for). The fact that Essey got married without her family present to give their blessings is what made her mother believes her daughter was going to suffer and thus never wanted anything to do with their problems; which is what makes Essey feel like she was left for dead by her own family. None of them wanted to lend an ear or a helping hand, other than her brother, Reginand.
The husband never makes any appearances throughout the duration of this short play for various reasons; one of them being the author’s fear of creating a perpetrator mask or face. Being abusive has no look, has no scent. It has been found that we, as a society, like to box and label thingS therefore that man who goes to church every Sunday cannot be, say, a low key drug dealer, when in fact he is one. The author wanted to give the reader their own chance of building up the husband character based off of what they’ve been given by the rest of the characters in the story, maybe even give him a name as well.
Finally, this piece is titled ‘The Last Call’ not because people make phone calls throughout the play, but because Essey has taken it upon herself to give the last call (or order, or instruction) about her husband’s fate. She’s also taken, inadvertently, the last call about her brother’s fate as well; and lastly, her mother’s.
By: Zayah Lee-Wrights
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa