To celebrate the launch of The Things I Would Tell You (Saqi Books) we have an exclusive extract from the short play ‘Battleface’ by Sabrina Mahfouz.
Sabrina Mahfouz is a British Egyptian playwright, poet and screenwriter. She was awarded the 2014 Fringe First Award for her play Chef and her first play, Dry Ice, was directed by David Schwimmer. Her poetry has been performed and produced for TV, radio and film, including in the recent Railway Nation: A Journey in Verse on BBC2. Mahfouz has an essay in the award-winning The Good Immigrant and has published eight works of drama with Bloomsbury. She lives in London.
Camilla (a journalist) and Ablah (a cosmetic doctor specialising in facial rejuvenation) are having an interview chat in a spare room at Ablah’s clinic.
Ablah: I’d estimate you’re thirty-three years old, from the depth of the fountain of lines between your eyebrows. You take your job extremely seriously, working until the light late hours – revealed by the shade of dark skin under your eyes.You haven’t been joyously happy for a while – the laughter lines around your mouth don’t match your age. You don’t eat well.You drink too much coffee. It gives you palpitations, but you drink it anyway because – because of this dedication to your work. And there’s something else, something I can’t quite put my finger on. You’d have to sit under my lamp for a proper analysis.
Camilla: Wow. That was – amazing. I feel… naked.
Ablah: Accurate, then?
Camilla: I had no idea all that was right here, on my face.
Ablah: Most don’t.
Camilla: So you really are the best.
Ablah: Well, no – maybe, one of.
Camilla: Why do you do what you do, Ablah?
Ablah: I love it.
Camilla: What exactly do you love about it?
Ablah: The possibility.
Ablah: When a client comes to see me, they’re hoping to rediscover their possibility. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to help them do that.
Camilla: How do you do that?
Ablah: I allow time to be pulled back inside a person’s being.
Camilla: Quite a feat.
Ablah: When they look in the mirror, they no longer see trauma, or disappointment, just…
Camilla: So in a way, medical facial rejuvenation is like… therapy?
Ablah: Yes, except cheaper, faster and far more effective. Trust me on that.
Camilla: I will.
Ablah: And how about you Camilla, why did you become a journalist?
Camilla: To meet the most interesting minds I possibly could without having one myself.
Ablah: An unfair assessment, I’m sure. I always felt the world could be changed with words.
Camilla: Do you write?
Ablah: I did. Years ago. Just… silly things, really.
Camilla: Like what?
Ablah: Poetry, mainly. I was an angry young woman!
Camilla: What were you angry about?
Ablah: The world being so far from what I wanted it to be.
Camilla: What did you want it to be?
Ablah: It was just… the usual stuff you feel before reality and responsibility take over.
Camilla: No poetry any more then?
Ablah: No time for that, probably quite fortunately.
Camilla: Do you find time to do anything outside of work?
Ablah: Hardly, it’s non-stop these days.
Camilla: I suppose the Best Botox Award helped with that?
Ablah: Maybe, but demand for these procedures has been increasing steadily for a long time.
Camilla: Why do you think that is?
Ablah: Hope. Despair. People need to be in control of something. Plain old vanity. So many reasons.
Camilla: Do you miss cardiology?
Ablah: Um. Well. I haven’t asked myself that question for a long time.
Camilla: Perhaps that means no, then?
Ablah: Actually, I probably do.The urgency of it,the absolute life or death of it – that, maybe I miss that.
Camilla: I imagine it must be quite something, to save a life?
Ablah: There’s nothing else that even comes close.
Camilla: So why did you leave?
Ablah: It was hard, as a single parent. The night shifts, the emergencies. Cosmetics was more manageable, back then.
Camilla: And more lucrative I bet?
Ablah: That side was appreciated too, but it took a long while to get this clinic to where it is today.
Camilla: What about your family now?
Ablah: What about them?
Camilla: Do you get to spend time with them?
Ablah: Not… as much as I’d like.
Camilla: Are they proud of the reputation you’ve achieved?
Ablah: I hope so. Sorry, how much longer do you—
Camilla: Not long, I know you’re busy. I really appreciate your time.
Ablah: No problem.
Camilla: You said you have children?
Ablah: I have a son.
Ablah: Yes, Nasim. How do you – how do you know that?
Camilla: I met him.
Ablah: You met him? Where?
Camilla: At a party.
Ablah: But how did you know – how did you make the connection –
Camilla: He told me all about his famous Botox doctor mother from Shepherd’s Bush, it had to be you.
Ablah: He told you about me?
Camilla: You sound surprised.
Ablah: I – we… we’ve had a…
Camilla: He mentioned things have been a bit difficult.
Ablah: To say the least.
Camilla: He also said things are looking up, between you.
Ablah: You had quite an in depth chat for a party, then?
Camilla: It was a Ministry party, for those who’d served in Iraq.
Pause. Ablah takes this in.
Ablah: And what would a journalist for a high-end lifestyle magazine be doing at such a party?
Pause. This is the opening for Camilla to reveal herself. Change of tone, etc.
Camilla: Ablah, the reason I need to speak to you today is far more important than to write a feature /on you –
Ablah: You’re not writing a feature on me?
Camilla: No, I’m not.
Ablah: What exactly are we doing here then?
Camilla: We need to discuss something very important with you.
Ablah: ‘We’? I can only see you, here, Camilla. What is this, what do you want?
Camilla: World peace and national security.
Ablah: How sweet.
Camilla: I’m serious, Ablah.
Ablah: You’re not a journalist.
Ablah: Who are you?
Camilla: You’ll always know me as Camilla.
Ablah: I really dislike games. At school, I used to pretend I had my period every single week in order to avoid playing any kind of game.
Camilla: Funny. PE was my favourite subject. Always thought I’d grow up to be a runner. Look, I apologise for the underhand method to get you talking to me. We just find it’s easier than an unexpected knock at the door.
Ablah: ‘We’, who is this ‘we’?
Camilla: We need you, Ablah. We need your talent and we need your insight, nobody else will do.
Ablah: Again, oh my, I’m not understanding exactly who ‘we’ is?
Camilla: I work for a section, a special section, of the Ministry.
Ablah: The ministry as in the ministry?
Camilla: We’ve been searching for someone who fits your profile for a while now.
Ablah: My profile? The ministry? I mean—
Camilla: When Nasim mentioned you I—
Ablah: Just hold. The hell. Up. I don’t even know where to begin with—
Camilla: I understand it’s a bit of a shock, but your cooperation is paramount to—
Ablah: Shock? I thought I was spending my lunch hour being interviewed by Gun magazine for God’s sake and now it’s – I don’t know, what is this?
Camilla: As I was saying, when Nasim mentioned you I—
Ablah: That, that there, I just – When you say Nasim mentioned me, do you mean he just mentioned me, as in passing conversational mentioned, or do you mean mentioned me as in…
Camilla: Conversational only. He doesn’t know about this meeting.
Ablah: What – why was he even at a Ministry party? He didn’t ‘serve’ in Iraq, he was a bloody mercenary.
Camilla: We couldn’t survive without them these days, Ablah, although nobody says mercenary any more, it’s private security mostly.
© Sabrina Mahfouz 2017
To read more visit Saqi Books.