The Elevator - by Noran Alaa Morsi
Lama - 22 year old college student
Sara - Lama’s single mother. 48 years old
Hamed - Sara’s brother. 40 years old
Mohamed - 23 year old college student
Youssef - Lama’s 14 year old brother
Elevator in the family apartment building in Dokki, Cairo
6:45 pm on a Tuesday
Madinet Nasr - Busy Cairo neighborhood 30 minutes from Dokki
Fatta - popular Egyptian dish
Haram - forbidden religiously
El Sahel - Egyptian North Coast (popular holiday destination)
Shaleh - Cabin
Walahi - I swear
Ya Haram - Poor thing
Ala ra’yek - as per your opinion
Eh - What
Ya Raby - Oh God
Elhamdullilah - Thank God
(Lama and her mother, Sara, are stuck in an elevator of their building. Sara is a single mother who lives with Lama and her younger brother, Youssef. Lama had just come home from college and Sara was picking up takeaway for the family’s dinner. She hadn’t been cooking food herself for a while. They’ve been stuck in the elevator for 15 minutes.)
Sara: You know we wouldn’t have been in this mess if you just called the repair man last week like I told you?
Lama: (sarcastic) You’re blaming me, oh that’s just great!
(a beat) I had work! And why do I have to do it? Why couldn’t you? You know I hate talking on the phone.
Sara: You never do anything useful, Lama.
Lama: (muffled complaints)
Sara: (with a glimmer of hope) Don’t you have your portable charger? Maybe that can charge my phone.
Lama: Youssef borrowed it last night. I’m sure he’s going to lose it.
If he does, you’re buying me a new one, by the way, you know that, right?
Sara: Whatever, Lolo. Does your phone still have no service?
Lama: Yes. If it did I’d tell you.
(a few seconds of silence)
Lama: Mama, how long do you think we’ll be stuck in here?
Sara: I don’t know, baby, Hamed said he was on the way. But he was in Madinet Nasr, so it could be a bit.
(Lama sighs and slides down to the floor where she sits cross legged.)
Lama: What’s that smell, what’s in the bag?
Sara: It’s a macaroni casserole, I bought it from the Syrian lady who makes homemade dinners down the street.
Lama: Ahh, her food is always the best. (beat) Mama, why do you never cook?
Sara: Uhh. I don’t know. (pause) I haven’t really felt like it since your dad..you know. He used to love my cooking. You and Youssef didn’t really seem phased by it - so I haven’t really felt motivated.
Lama: I don’t think I can even remember what your cooking tastes like.
Sara: I used to make this fatta. It was delicious. It had chicken, yellow rice and this spicy tomato sauce that would burn your tongue off but it was so delicious. (a beat - her face turns to sadness) It was your dad’s favorite.
Lama: Dad this, dad that. We’re still here, mama. Cook for us. Please. This is literally the opposite of what other people’s kids ask for.
Plus, it’s not like Dad would help us in a situation like this.
Sara: Lama, your dad isn’t a bad person.
Lama: Are you serious? I know you haven’t seen him in a while - did you literally forget everything?
Sara: Lama - good people can do bad things.
Lama: Yes, but dad isn’t one of those people.
Sara: What do you mean?
Lama: (She’s looking up to her mom who’s standing beside her) Mama..you know why I stay till 8 pm at uni every Wednesday? (pause - she looks away from her mom and starts ranting. She can see her through the elevator mirror) It’s not because I have “Track” - do you even see me with a workout bag? Sometimes I feel like you don’t even care about me. (pause - she takes a breath) It’s because I have therapy.
(there’s silence in the elevator. Sara sits down in front of her daughter)
Sara: ..What? Why is the first I’m hearing of this, Lama? (pause) Therapy..why?
Lama: Well, since you like talking about dad so much..It wasn’t okay that he talked to me like that. My body, my hair, the way I ‘talked to boys’. I was 15 mom, you know, that shit builds up.
Sara: Ok ok, calm down.
Lama: Look it’s not like you’ve been that supportive either.
Sara: LAMA! When have I ever said anything unsupportive?
Lama: You don’t have to say it. (pause) Shoot, I had an assignment to send.
(She unzips her backpack and takes out a paper)
(She reads to herself under her breath)
Due by online submission by 7 PM on October 23.
(She puts the paper down, still holding it.)
Sara: Was it an important assignment?
Lama: It’s whatever.
Sara: Let me see (she pulls the paper from her daughter)
Lama: (pulling it away) It’s not important
Sara: (pulling it again and getting the paper) Lama, let me see.
(pause to read)
(Sara stands up)
Intro to buddhism. What the hell is this?
Lama: (hesitant) It’s a class I’m taking. It’s a collateral requirement.
Sara: Collateral? Collateral for what? Atheism? What the hell is this, Lama?
(Lama gets up and paces around the elevator)
Lama: See, SEE, this is what I’m talking about. You’re sooo closed-minded. You think learning about something else means I’m an atheist. And the tragedy is; you’re even better off than dad.
Sara: But, but Lama this is..this is not what we do. We’re Muslims. What these people do is..it’s..kufr.
AND, we’re paying for this class! 30K per class, was it? That money is haram.
Lama: (Takes the paper back) And I’m just supposed to live in a bubble? Not know what anyone outside our little mosque does? Use this little invisibility cloak around my head to teleport myself to Heaven and that’s it?
Sara: (Angry) LAMA..(pause to understand) Invisibility cloak? Is this what this is about?
Sara: This was your own choice! We never forced you to do it!
Lama: Mama..every single day I come home from college and you tell me to push my strands of hair in. You tell me my pants are too tight and that I look like a slut. You tell me my top is too transparent. Mama, compared to my friends I dress like a nun. Actually, compared to literally everyone I know. (pause) Do you ever think of how hard this is for me?
(There’s silence in the elevator, Lama sits down)
(Lama starts to fold a paper plane out of her assignment paper)
Sara: Lama. I’m sorry you feel like that. But, you’re pleasing Allah..you should be happy about that. The other girls might be happy with their hair now but they won’t be in the..(Lama cuts her off)
Lama: No, there, there it is. You’re so judgmental. You can’t make black and white judgements on people like that. You just can’t.
Sara: (Sighs in hopelessness)
(moment of silence as Sara sits down. She notices Lama folding the paper plane)
Sara: (suppressed laugh as she remembers) When you were seven we’d go to El Sahel during the summer. One time it was really late at night and all the electricity cut off in our little shaleh. You were so little, you started freaking out and crying. The only thing I could find was a small candle to light up the room. Nothing could stop you from crying till your dad tore up a newspaper and started making you a paper plane. You were mesmerized, it was like he turned off a switch.
(Lama’s slight smile turned into a contained laugh)
Lama: You have this thing, Mama, where you only remember the good memories. Walahi, I wish I was like that.
Sara: Ya benti. Life teaches you that. You can’t dwell too much. (beat) Tab, since we’re stuck here, why don’t you tell me something about your life? We never talk..how’s university? How’s everything?
Lama: It’s fine..
Sara: Oh, come on. Give me more!
Lama: Um. I had a quiz today, I guess.
Sara: And..how did you do?
Lama: It was okay. I couldn’t study last night from all of Youssef’s talking on the phone with his friends. He’s SO loud.
Sara: I’ll tell him to shut up today. What else, how’s Mariam? Salma? Dania?
Lama: They’re okay. Can we eat that Macaroni now?
Sara: No, khalas, Hamed’s probably almost here. Plus, Youssef has to eat too. Come on, tell me something!
Lama: Well, (she thinks to herself for a few seconds) Dania’s been fighting all week with Mohamed. I feel like they’re gonna break up.
Sara: Oooh, I love drama, give me more (trying to fit in with Lama.)
Lama: Drama sucks. Anyway I think he’s just been gaslighting her. He keeps telling her he’s not been talking to other girls then he literally keeps flirting with all the girls at school. He’s disgusting.
Sara: Why is Dania still with him? She’s a smart girl.
See, this is why I’m against dating. Our religion says it’s wrong and see - God is never wrong.
Lama: Whatever, Mama. It’s just that (gets slightly emotional) Mohamed is the first guy that Dania actually felt loved by. They’ve been together for two years. It’s not that easy to cut someone off.
Sara: Poor Dania. Tab, enty, what would you do in this situation?
Lama: (becomes defensive) I don’t know ya mama. It’s so far-fetched but I guess I’d be in a lot of pain..
Sara: Ya haram.
I don’t understand these kids. They get together and break up, get together and break up. Why the hassle?
(Lama lets out a laugh)
Lama: It’s so hot in here.
Sara: Ahh, they should have some ventilation here or something.
Lama: Well, ideally, no one would get stuck here
Sara: (laughs) yeah, Ala ra’yek.
Did you see that video I sent you?
Lama: Which one?
Sara: The one about Indian accents.
Lama: Ahh, I remember.
Sara: Wasn’t that the funniest thing ever?
Lama: Umm..no. That was racist ya mama.
Sara: Racist? Racist eh? It’s a joke. We’re Arabs, we know racist.
Lama: No, it’s racist. You’re making fun of him because of his accent!
Lama: So, it’s racist.
Sara: They worship cows anyway, they’re a bunch of boneheads.
(Lama gets up and starts pacing around again)
Lama: Yaaa raby. You can’t say that!! It’s not like we’re perfect. Let people live.
Sara: I don’t know what they’ve been teaching you in college, you’ve become so strange. How can you look at them and think what they do is normal? (pause) Ohh, right it’s your Buddhism class, you’re a Buddhist now aren’t you. (sarcastic laughter) Heh, you’re brainwashed.
Lama: What the hell? You’re crazy! I start looking at others like human beings and suddenly I’m a buddhist.
Sara: Maybe you’re gonna start smoking weed. Oh, might as well take off your hijab then.
Sara: Oh, sorry, your “invisibility cloak”, my bad.
Sara: What? Am I lying?
(Hamed opens the elevator door)
Sara: Oh God, finally! Hamed! Elhamdulillah! The food is cold.
(Hamed moves to the right. Mohamed is there..he was standing behind Hamed. He had come for a surprise visit to Lama. He doesn’t know what Lama’s mom looks like.)
Mohamed: Lama, I’m so sorry - come here. (he hugs her)
(Lama and Sara are shell-shocked.)