blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2010  Vol. 9  No. 2
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from The Fallen | Rooftops    
a monologue and introductory commentary

“Rooftops” originated in 2000, after my time working with a non-governmental organization in post-war Bosnia. I had gone to Sarajevo to volunteer with the returning and refugee populations and to bear witness to this tragedy. Returning and The War Zone is My Bed, two plays written after my experience, focus on the participants and survivors in this conflict: the photographers, journalists, soldiers, and women who were the victims of systematic rape.

The Fallen, my newest play from which “Rooftops” is taken, tells the story of the children born from the rapes. Anais’s monologue in “Rooftops” begins with memories of Bosnia, the rooftops of Sarajevo, and the cases now being presented at The Hague. Her story grew in a cafe in Trieste while I listened to the stories of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia and at the Tate Modern Museum in London as I circled a sculpture by Jean Fautrier.

The Fallen has been read at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn as part of the Epic Theatre’s Passion Play Festival and at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey. The play will be presented in Los Angeles in 2011. The following introductory note for the play, with an emphasis on the “Rooftops” monologue, also appears in the 2011 Seagull Catalog.

I stand before Jean Fautrier’s sculpture, Head of a Hostage (1943–1945). I circle the swollen head—its gouged eyes, hollow cheeks, and burnt skin. At first, the subject appears lifeless and soulless, empty. Propped on a stand, it calls me. Despite its silence, the head speaks, without a voice. How many secrets had this hostage heard in World War II Paris? In the past? Present? In Rwanda? In Srebrenica? In Baghdad? Kabul? There are people to whom secrets are told. Perhaps this hostage was one of those who had heard many whispers and had been sworn to secrecy until death, only to be symbolized, memorialized, and placed on view in this room. He has been stripped of his identity and what remains is unidentifiable. The head could be anyone and everyone. Who was he before the deluge? Before being stripped to the core that never spoke?

He could be the torturer or the tortured, the soldier in the ski mask, Anais’s father.

I think of Kalinovik, a town in Bosnia where a local school was used for rape.

In this monologue set on a Sarajevo rooftop, Anais is a teenager, conceived in a Kalinovik rape. With the files dusted off, the trials pursued, and the massacres remembered, the voices from Kalinovik eighteen years ago speak and are finally heard. Overlooking her city, Anais speaks below for her mother who has lost her voice since Kalinovk. Anais will later visit the Tate Modern where she will find herself drawn to Fautrier’s sculpture. She will circle it, and while searching for the subject’s identity, seek her own.


Character:     Anais—fourteen–year–old girl from Sarajevo
Time:             2008, dusk
Setting:         A Sarajevo apartment rooftop

(ANAIS is smoking cigarettes on the rooftop of her Sarajevo apartment building. It is dusk. She speaks to the audience.)

I don’t want to go downstairs, yet. I’ll have to. I can’t stay up here, though I’d like to. I like listening to the traffic, and crying babies, and fighting couples, and the clamoring of pots and pans of dinner being prepared . . .  and the call to prayer. I like hearing that the most. I don’t know why. I don’t participate in it, never have, but it just sounds . . .  like a call for stillness, quiet, despite its reverberations, despite its volume . . .  it’s very . . .  still, and it’s calling everyone who hears it to be . . .  still. I like being still. I don’t like moving. I could sit for hours in one place, one position, and never be bored, and never be sore, and never be . . .  wanting . . .  anything. My teachers and my mother call it laziness. I’m not lazy. I just don’t know why everyone’s in such a hurry, so . . .  unsatisfied with where they are. Why does everyone have to go somewhere else? Why is it a sign of . . .  progression or maturity or necessity? Why can’t I just be left alone? My mother moves around a lot. She doesn’t like to be still. If she’s still, then she has to listen, she has to hear . . . me, when I ask her questions she doesn’t want to be asked. She’s not bad or sad, just . . .  distant, too quick, too fast. Too fast to speak to me, tell me what I want to hear. But I don’t know what I want to hear. I think I do, but maybe I don’t, or I can’t. Maybe it’ll be too bad or too sad to hear. I think I already know; I just want to hear it from her. She doesn’t know I sit up here, surveying this not-so-happy city, while she’s downstairs. I like my city, though. I’m not bothered by all that’s missing; that’s no more. I don’t care. I don’t know what it was like before, so it doesn’t bother me. I have no comparison. Lucky me. This is what I know, and it’s mine. She thinks I’m with some guy. I think she would prefer if I were. Yeah, there’s someone and someone else and someone else. No one’s special, but they’re there, when I want them to be there. I just don’t want them now. I sometimes crawl close to the edge, and then stand up, and pull my arms up above my head, look out onto my city, and close my eyes, and imagine what it would feel like if I jumped. Would I keep my eyes closed or opened? Would I hold my breath? Would I scream? Would I curse? Would I cry? Would I regret jumping? I wouldn’t know. But I think she would, my mother. Because I think she’s come close to it, without ever having said a word about it. I think she had considered it, perhaps attempted it, not just through a rooftop in Sarajevo, but …through another way. I don’t hate her or even blame her. I don’t even know if I’m right. It’s just a feeling I’ve had, especially here. Maybe that’s why I’m not afraid of being up here. I even find it, comforting, because I know. I know something I’m not supposed to know, and I’m not afraid of it. I want to know more about that time, from her, not from YouTube or Google images, but from her, her words, her voice. There was only one moment, one story, and it wasn’t even about rooftops, but pork. She used to go with her family to the seaside in the summer. One of the last times they went, before things started, or before people couldn’t ignore what had already started, she told me about a restaurant they would visit each year and how they would make sure nothing they were ordering had pork. This last time, they weren’t going to that restaurant, but to another. She asked why, and her father told her someone who had worked at the restaurant had purposely thrown tiny bits of pork into the food of people like her family, my mother, maybe me, whatever I am. Maybe it wasn’t true, the pork story. Maybe it was just a rumor. True or false, her story scared me, because it was more than putting a gun to someone’s head; it was really hating someone, in a place so deep and so hidden, that it’s all come out now and this is how it’s revealed. Glances. Yes. Words, perhaps. But would I know it . . .  that hate? Would I feel it? A few years ago, my school offered a trip to Italy. I was studying Italian, and I really wanted to go. I had never gone anywhere, and although I liked being here and I liked being still, I really wanted to go on that trip. The school was offering scholarships to kids whose dead fathers were war heroes. I had always assumed mine was one. Why wouldn’t he be? He would have to be, right? I never knew him, never had seen pictures of him; he was never here, never there, but he had to be good. I had never envisioned him as anything else. I had never asked because . . .  I had never had a reason to ask. My image was so clear; there was no purpose in anyone altering it. It had to stay the way I formed it in my mind and in my heart, when I had a heart. Ha. Ha. All the students needed was documentation . . .  a certificate or a letter. All of them had it, except for me. I asked her. She said she didn’t know where it was. I looked through every drawer, every box, under every pillow, under the carpet, even under the rocks on this roof. How stupid I was! I couldn’t find it anywhere. Everyone else had theirs. Oh well. I couldn’t go. That was that. After that, I knew. I knew and I lost my heart. I knew without her telling me. I had always thought her name was his name was my name. I had assumed because there was no relative left to tell me otherwise. Neighbors who were here, who remember . . .  that time, don’t talk. They do, but not to me, not about this. They know better, because it, too, happened to them, and to their daughters, and to their sisters, and to their wives. They talk, but not about this, about everything else, but not this. Most of my classmates went to Italy for eight days. I stayed here. They returned, and I never wanted to go anywhere again. I was angry at them for going and leaving me here. I was envious they could go. I was angry at my mother for not having that piece of paper telling me who I was, and that everything about my existence was . . .  good. But I didn’t have that paper, neither did she, because it didn’t exist, because the image I had created in my head was false. So I listened, and asked, and read, and researched, about that time, before I was born, about Sarajevo, about women like my mother and rooftops like this one. A year later, I asked her. I just asked her if she was one of those women I had read about, one of those, victims, ashamed, punished, and would that make me . . .  one of those . . .  children, not wanted, not wanting to be born, but forced to be, as a reminder, as a joke. How do you hurt someone, really hurt someone? By being the reflection of the perpetrator, the torturer, the soldier in the ski mask, my father. Whoever he was. She wouldn’t answer. She just looked straight at me, without saying a word, and that told me everything. I am sure. I know now. She had been on this rooftop, humiliated, shamed, raped. What stopped her? Why hadn’t she fallen into my city? Why be still around all that noise? Why not escape from it? Escape from her reflection of him . . .  the nightmare . . .  me.

(The call to prayer from a local mosque is heard. ANAIS crawls to the edge of the roof, stands, closes her eyes, and holds her arms above her head. She stands still. The call is over. ANAIS opens her eyes, puts her arms down, steps back, takes a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, and lights up a cigarette. ANAIS looks into the audience, smoking her cigarette. Lights Dim.)  end

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