Me and Him
(based on Us and Them by David Campton)
How odd. I felt sure there was someone here. Just a minute ago. There’s still a trace of an echo. I could have been mistaken, though. They come and go. Well, it’s my job to wait and see. I may have to wait some time. But there’s nothing I can do about that.
Time passes. Listen. Footsteps coming from this direction. And more footsteps coming from that direction. Something is about to happen. I must make a note.
Party A from the East. Party B from the West. Worn out with traveling, they come to rest. At first they are too exhausted for words. Gradually, they look around them, at first critically, then with growing admiration and delight. But too taken with their own concerns to notice each other.
A: It’s a good place.
B: Yes, it’s a good place.
A: Better than any place I’ve seen.
B: It’s a good place alright.
A: To pause at.
B: To stay at.
A: To make my own.
B: Forever and ever.
A: This is my place.
B: I took long enough to find it.
A: It was a long journey.
B: It was worth every day I searched.
A: It was worth every mile I tramped.
B: Look at it.
A: Just look.
B: Look here.
A: Look there.
Of course, they could have commented on the natural advantages of the place – such as the average hours of sunshine, the mean rainfall, the geological structure or the chemistry of the topsoil. They’ll find the words in time. But next they notice each other.
They look warily at each other. Nothing to comment on there. It’s the usual pattern. Any minute now, they will face up to each other.
B: Who are you?
A: Who are you?
B: I’ve come a long way.
A: I’ve come a long way.
B: I want to live here.
A: I want to live here.
B: I won’t let you drive me away.
A: I don’t want to drive you away. Isn’t there enough room for both of us?
B: There IS room for both us.
A: You could have all you see from there to here.
B: You could have all you see from here to there.
A: Let’s agree.
B: It’s always a good thing to agree.
A: That you take that stretch of country with all its natural amenities, grazing rights, hunting rights, fishing rights, arable land and mineral deposits.
B: And that you take that stretch of land with all its amenities etc etc etc
A: Yes, furthermore. For the benefit of both parties …
B: Does that include me?
A: It includes both of us. That a line be drawn.
B: A line?
A: A line. That a line be drawn to mark the place where my land ends and your land begins.
B: Ah, yes. I was about to add that a line be drawn to mark the place where your land ends and mine begins.
A: Good fences make good neighbours
B: Good neighbours make good fences.
A: Shall we mark it now?
B: Why not?
I don’t know who gave me this job. I seem to have been doing it as long as I can remember. Not that I’m complaining – someone has to do it. The record has to be kept – one day someone may learn from it…
A: It’s a good line.
B: Though I say it myself.
A: I don’t know.
B: Are you criticizing my line? What have you got against it?
B: Chickens? What have chickens got to do with it? You got chickens on the brain?
A: I know something about chickens, I do. There’s not much you can tell me about chickens. I was brought up with chickens. And I’ll tell you this. Chickens can’t read.
B: Chickens can’t read? What difference does that make to this line?
A: None at all to your line. No use putting up your ‘Beware of the Bull’ signs. No use sticking up your ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ notices. The chickens go where they want to go. No use drawing a line and expecting the chickens to stay on this side of it. Or on that side of it for that matter.
B: True. That’s a point. I never saw a chicken reading. Or taking any notice of a line. But what does it matter where the chickens go?
A: Oh, if it doesn’t matter there’s no more to be said.
B: Good now we can get on with it.
A: But what if it should be sheep? Or horses? Or cows? Rabbits?
B: Alright, what do you want? Schools for animals?
A: What we need are fences.
A: Thick enough to stop cows from breaking through.
B: High enough to stop chickens from flying over.
A: Good walls make good neighbours.
B: Good neighbours make good walls.
A: Shall we build walls?
B: Before we do anything else.
I won’t say they’re right. I won’t say they’re wrong. It’s my job merely to record events. Events speak for themselves. They wanted a wall. They’ve got a wall. Neither of them can see over or through or round. That’s a wall.
A: That’s a wall. That ought to last.
B: Nothing we need to learn about making a wall.
A: Are you there?
B: I’m here. Are you satisfied?
A: Everything went according to plan. What now?
B: We settle down.
A: We settle down. It’s good land.
B: It’s very good land. We’re lucky.
A: I’ve got a good neighbour.
B: I’ve got a good neighbour. It’s a good wall.
A: Good walls make good neighbours.
B: Good neighbours make good walls
A: Good-bye then. There’s work to be done.
B: Good-bye. Must get down to work.
Nothing left but the wall. And the chickens on each side of the wall. And the sheep on each side of the wall. And the cows on each side of the wall. And the horses on each side of the wall. And the people on each side of the wall…
It’s a busy life – and the great advantage of being busy is that it occupies the mind. Working keeps thoughts under control. Thoughts run wild more easily than sheep. Thoughts can fly higher than any chickens. In fact, walls make thoughts fly even higher. But as long as thoughts are kept under control, there’s no harm done. Except that there comes a time when all the chickens have been fed: all the cows have been milked: all the sheep have been rounded up – and thoughts are free to stray…
A: I wonder what he’s doing over there.
B: I wonder what he’s doing over there.
A: He’s not like me.
B: He’s not a bit like me.
A: I’m on this side of the wall.
B: He’s on that side of the wall.
A: Fancy living on the other side of the wall.
B: Imagine wanting to live on the other side of the wall.
A: When you could be living here.
B: Fancy not wanting to live here.
B: He’s got some funny ways.
A: I’ve got funny ways, too.
B: I’ve got funny ways, too.
A: But his ways are funnier. Over there.
B: If he’s got ways I don’t know about, they must be funny ways.
A: Still, as long as he’s on that side of the wall, it doesn’t matter.
B: It doesn’t matter as long as he’s on that side of the wall and I’m on this.
A: He’s very quiet.
B: He’s quiet.
A: What has he got to be quiet about?
B: It’s unnatural.
A: It’s unusual.
B: It’s disturbing.
A: It’s abnormal
B: It’s not as it should be.
A: It’s enough to make your hair stand on end.
B: It’s enough to send shivers down your back.
A: Just thinking about it.
B: Just wondering.
A: What is he up to?
B: What’s he doing behind that wall?
A: He could be doing anything behind that wall.
B: He wouldn’t.
A: Not that.
B: I wouldn’t put it past him.
A: Not him.
B: He’s not to be relied on.
A: He wouldn’t
B: I wouldn’t do it.
A: I wouldn’t.
B: I’m not like him.
A: I think he’s wicked.
B: He’s wicked.
A: Wickedness spreads.
B: Wickedness creeps.
A: Well, as long as he’s wicked on his side of the wall
B: How long will he go on being wicked on his side of the wall?
A: It’s a high wall.
B: It’s a thick wall.
A: He can’t interfere with me.
B: What can he do to me?
A: He could be making plans now.
B: He could be spying on me now.
A: Perhaps I ought to check.
B: I’ll have a look.
At this point, there is always the temptation to shout ‘stop’. But it’s a Recorder’s job to record, no more, no less. They’ve taken the first steps, you see. After the first steps, the rest follow naturally. All a recorder can do is to record. They climb to the top of the wall and…
A: It’s a good job I looked!
B: I caught him at it!
A: Caught in the act.
B: But why was he doing it?
A: Why would he want to do it?
B: That’s only half the story.
A: That’s only the tip of the iceberg.
B: He’s up to no good.
A: He’s ready for something.
B: I must be ready for him.
A: Anything might happen.
B: He’s not like me.
A: He’s bad.
B: He’s cruel.
A: He’s ruthless.
B: But couldn’t I forget what’s happened?
A: Couldn’t I make allowances?
B: If I want to be made into mince meat.
A: If I want to wake up with my throat cut.
B: But what can I do?
A: What’s to be done?
B: One thing’s certain.
A: There’s no doubt at all.
B: I can’t live here any longer with him just there.
A: I’ll either have to fight or move on.
B: Either he goes or I go.
A: It’s me or him.
A and B: Him!!
B: But we’ve got the wall.
A: But there’s always the wall.
A and B: Pull it down!!
It’s odd: even sensible actions that would never be taken in the cause of peace are taken in the name of war. Like all pulling together. Like breaking down walls. But the result isn’t the same. As for instance…
(They fight and go to leave)
Now, is there anything to add before I draw the line? No. I had a feeling there might be. Like the last spark in a dying fire. Like the last syllable of a fading echo. Ah, I thought as much.
A: You could stay now
B: No, I can’t stay, now.
A: It’s good land.
B: It was good land.
A: I didn’t want to…
B: If only I hadn’t.
A: But you
A: Me, to
B: It was the wall, you know
A: The wall was to blame.
B: The wall.
A: The wall.
B: We should have made it stronger
A and B: It was the wall.
I don’t want to know any more. It’s all down here. Over and over again. History. The record is kept because someday, someone may learn from it. Now I’m required elsewhere. Oh, this is all so monotonous. Someday. Somewhere. Someone. Is it possible? Hah!
(Slams book shut)