Jaz

(A woman.
Her head shaved perhaps.
Naked perhaps.
A gun.
Bullets.
An identification slate.
Jazz [a single instrument]
which, from time to time,
pierces/is pierced
embraces/is embraced
by the woman’s voice.)

Jaz.
Yes Jaz.
She has always been called Jaz.
Jaz.
She doesn’t know anymore.
Simply Jaz.

No.
No.
No.

Earlier.
This morning.
In a public bathroom.
China Blue Square.

My girlfriend.
My friend.
I’m not here to talk about myself but to talk about Jaz.

No.
It’s Jaz who didn’t want to.
But we see each other often.
Mostly at my place.
Not really.
Some temp work.

It’s not easy to talk about that yourself.
Shame and guilt I suppose.
In a public bathroom of China Blue Square.

A maid’s room on the sixth floor.
Due to the difficulties encountered
in delivering the mail
to the building listed above

because there’s no toilet in her room.
The one in the hall is out of order.
Everything is neglected even the—
therefore we ask that you make
the following improvements.

No janitor.
On the corner of Golden Yellow Street.

The first time
Jaz unclogged it.
The second time too.
The third time she didn’t do anything.
Let someone else unclog it.

Since this morning Jaz wonders too.
No one took it upon themselves to unclog it.
No she left it alone.

But they kept going.
Until the bowl was full and overflowed.
The neighbors kept going anyway.
All shitting wherever they could.
It then overflowed from the bowl
plastered the entire hall
tumbled down the stairs.
From bottom to top.
For more than two weeks.
From first floor to sixth floor
no one was complaining.
Yet from the street and
the buildings nearby
the smell was unbearable.

Very odd.
A sort of no man’s land in the middle of the City
clear and standardized labeling
of all the mailboxes
using block letters
the mayor and the police and
those who keep the records of the book of the dead
everyone is waiting for
everything to rot and collapse on its own.

But they are mistaken.
For as long as Jaz lives there
the building will keep standing.
I know.

Crazy things.

One summer
someone shot killed
somebody in the building across the street.
The shot came from Jaz’s building.
Nobody ever figured out who or why.

No.
She doesn’t think about moving.
I suggested it but she refused.

About her.
Very little in fact.
Jaz almost never talks about herself.
Very little.
I even wonder
if Jaz is her real name.

She owns her room.
Like everyone else in that building.
An inheritance.
An aunt.

The bare minimum.
A room almost empty.
Jaz doesn’t own anything
Doesn’t hold on to anything.

Nothing in any case that
could be locked in a coffin.
By choice.
Because of what happened
at the death of Oridé’s grandfather.

Oridé.
A friend of Jaz.
Jaz’s friend.
So beautiful she could wake the dead.
They lived together for a while.
At Jaz’s place.
Jaz has always lived on Golden Yellow Street.

The custom of the City.
That the dead be buried
with one of their objects.

Anything.
A lipstick
a nail file
a credit card.
There are some who have been
buried with their bank.

Their coffee pots
their saucepans
their vacuum cleaners.
Some had their kitchens
rebuilt in their graves.

Their pens
their books
their paintings.
The worst are those
who get incinerated with
rare masterpieces.
Their cars
their helicopters
their planes.
From there the idea of building
an airport in the cemetery.
For the dead.

Their houses
their private suites
their buildings.
For some time now
in the circles where
it is decided who is going to die
there are rumors that
one of the accountants of
the book of the dead
wants to be put into the ground with the City.
Cemetery included.

At the death of Oridé’s grandfather
everyone realized
that he didn’t own anything.
No lighter
no cane
no eyeglass
not even an ID card.
Nothing.

It was the first time
and to this day the last
that such a case was seen in the City.
Everything that had helped him in his life
from the buttons of his shirt
to the laces of his shoes
everything had been rented or borrowed.

Oridé suggested that they bury
her grandfather with her.
But the police and
the mayor and
those who keep the records
of the book of the dead
refused.

The grandfather was thrown to the fish
in the river that surrounds the City.
As dictated by custom.

Jaz was inspired by these things
and set out to make her life a challenge.
To live with no future no past.

Perhaps.
Yes.
But the Board new locks
on all the mailboxes to ensure
the security of the mail
quit a long time ago.

A total mess.
The approved and completed work hadn’t been paid for.
Jaz showed them to me laughing one day.
Minutes from the general Board meeting.
Like for example:

ARBÉ Management Company reminds us that a detailed statement, for the period closing on 12/31/1999, was sent to everyone prior to the convocation of the present meeting. Please note that there are seven outstanding balances. MR. KOABLÉ: (15 178.13 francs), MR. BARLET: (19 735.51 francs), MR. and MRS. XINGJIAN: (15 117.90 francs), MR. LÉKÉMA: (18 000.05 francs), MRS. de KERMABON: (13 131.31 francs), MISS ZAMBONI: (23 791.94 francs), MR. and MRS. LANSMAN: (19 003 francs), and many others above 5000 francs: MR. WITTORSKI, MR. MEUNIER, MR. BENGUETTAF, MR. and MRS. COHEN, MRS. CÉZAIRE, MR. ISHERWOOD, MRS. BLHIN, MR. and MRS. MATSHUMOTO, the Countess of ROUGEMONT, Guru MAHARAJI, MR. and MRS. DIABATÉ, MISS YLACHA. Shareholders give the property agent power to recover the amounts due, including through use of legal justice.

But justice never entered this building.

Jaz has always paid.
Until the Board abandoned the building.
Jaz is like that.

From now on Jaz goes down to
the public bathroom in China Blue Square.
Not always.
She disciplines herself and
her body finally understands
that there are things
it cannot ask of her.
On a newspaper.
She throws it in the garbage in the morning.

A diarrhea after midnight.
Never.
No.
She goes down only
when absolutely necessary.

Except on Sundays.
In the mornings.
Religiously yes.
Her body has developed the habit that’s all.

Because afterwards she wanders.
Jaz likes to wander on Sunday mornings.
When the City sleeps the hours away
and the streets are still empty and peaceful.

He must have noticed that.
A week perhaps.
Or a month.
Probably.
Maybe even since
the day the toilet clogged up.
That’s why he came to wait for her this morning.

Once.
On the stairs.
I was going up to Jaz’s room.
I can’t say he does.
At first glance nothing whatsoever.

Rather ordinary.
Thirty-three years old I would say.
No more.
A little boy.
Six seven years old.
Jaz told me he was married but I’ve never seen her.

No.
No.
No.
I’m not here to talk about myself but to talk about Jaz.

In fact she should have.
Because of what had happened on the stairs.
Of their building.

Jaz was coming back from the grocer’s shop.
He was waiting for her on the stairs.
Jaz thinks he was waiting for her.
Because of his eyes.
They were imploring her and defying her at the same time.
Perhaps.
Given the circumstances she felt
he could only look at her
the way he did.
Possibly.
But there’s no doubt he was waiting for her
that he had rushed there
after seeing her come out of the grocer’s shop.

I don’t know.
No doubt because of her beauty.
It’s obscene how beautiful Jaz is.

A lotus.
Jaz is a lotus.
In that building new directory
with all renters and shareholders
listed in alphabetical order
where
one squelches in his own shit
Jaz rises like a lotus.
It’s her presence that illuminates it
and maintains it in a semblance of humanity.
Is it why she refuses to leave.
It’s more for Oridé I think.

Oridé.
Jaz’s friend.
So beautiful she could wake the dead.

Not anymore.
Oridé died from knowing she was beautiful.

On the Boulevard of Burning Incense.
A stretched hand
open like a prayer
under a closed sky.

Oridé stops in front of the hand
who sings psalms for a coin.
Oridé looks at the hand.
Attentively.

A hand accustomed to being stretched.
Filth lies in a bed of creases.
Being dirty the nails lower their eyes.
Plague thoroughly consumes the index.

A few passers-by stop
dazzled by the image of
the girl so beautiful she could wake the dead
frozen in front of the expecting hand.

Already the first drops of rain
fall on the Boulevard of Burning Incense.

“A coin” sings the hand.
Oridé unbuttons her blouse.
Two buttons.
Oridé takes the hand kisses it
then rolls it
between her blouse and the hills of her breasts.
With her right breast she caresses the hand
with her left breast she caresses the hand.
Oridé slides the hand
on her stomach
around her navel
down to the moist intimacy of her offering
to this source
where no other man’s hand
has ever drunk.

It had to be.
To respect the other’s pleasure.
It had to be.
Above all a gift is dialogue.
It had to be.

The crowd grew
around what in the rain
the girl so beautiful she could wake the dead
offers to the plagued hand.

Oridé rebuttons her blouse.
Expectation stretched again in front of her.
But the hand doesn’t beg anymore
it demands.

Oridé walks away.
The hand cries out.
Oridé comes back.
“Now my coin” says the hand.
“But I’ve already given you everything,” says Oridé.
“My coin.”

Oridé is crushed.
She runs down the Boulevard of Burning Incense
her mind clouded with shame
runs across
the rainy City
all the way into Jaz’s arms.

The coin.
That’s what killed her.
It’s the coin that killed Oridé.

The next morning
Oridé wore a mask.
As one takes the veil.
Something most ordinary.
A white mask bought in a store.

At first to see her
walk around with this mask
the City smiled this directory
being essential for the delivery
of registered parcels
money orders and telegrams

later no.
Because Oridé didn’t wear it
one two or three days
she wore it until the end.
Every night
Oridé removed the mask
to offer her beauty to Jaz.
To Jaz alone.

One night however
the mask resisted.
Oridé fought.
To no avail.
Jaz hung on to the mask.
To no avail.
Oridé and Jaz circled the mask.
To no avail.

Oridé died as the clock struck twelve
asphyxiated by the white mask.

The next day Jaz shaved her head.
A custom long fallen into oblivion.
The lover shaves her head at the death of the loved one.

Every year
on the day of Oridé’s death
Jaz shaves her head.

A lotus.
Jaz is a lotus.
Often on the street
people stop us to
thank her for being so beautiful.
One day
in the valley of Jehosaphat
a man threw himself at her feet
covered them with kisses and
trembling said to her
“Don’t be afraid.”
A little.
“Don’t be afraid.
I want to thank you.
You are God’s erotic testimony.
For such beauty is only possible through Him.”

I who often had the privilege of seeing her
naked
I know the amazement of
the man in the valley of Jehosaphat.

She’s my friend.
That’s not important.
It’s not important.
No relevance.
I’m not here to talk about myself but to talk about Jaz.

Yes.
His pants were down.
Around his ankles.

He was caressing it.
Probably.
Jaz didn’t tell me.
She mostly talked about
this thing both tensed and relaxed
in the man’s eyes.
Like the Christ’s face
on the stained-glass windows of a church.
Those are Jaz’s words.

He said nothing.
He only looked at Jaz while
between his legs
his fingers kneaded his desire.

No nothing
no swear words.
Not even.
No insults.
Only this vertical look
while his hand was moving up and down
his erected insolence.

His eyes were imploring Jaz to watch him
do that
to embrace him with her admiration
or even her disgust.
Especially her disgust.
In a way.
Jaz’s presence was an endorsement of his pleasure.

But it’s an aggression.
It’s always an aggression.

I think so.
She mumbled something like
“You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I can’t imagine Jaz yelling at him.
Jaz is very calm.
Too calm.
I now realize that
I’ve never seen her angry.
As if
nothing is worth getting angry over.

At a loss.
He suddenly seemed at a loss.
To hear Jaz react like that no doubt.
He got scared.
Not at all.
He needed this urgency this cold panic.
Fear had ripened his pleasure.

In those moments
one doesn’t glance at a watch.
Jaz doesn’t wear a watch.
No more than five seconds
even if talking about it gives the impression
that she was quietly sitting on the balcony
watching him do that.

Especially since the groceries
fell from her hands
and the Starking apples
rolled all the way to the installation of a shared mailbox
of large dimensions
(600 X 500 X 110 minimum)
which can be locked and where
the bottom of the stairs
the Starkings rolled all the way to the bottom.
Jaz went down to retrieve them.

He wasn’t there anymore.
He had disappeared.

On the fourth floor.
Jaz lives on the sixth floor.
It’s the top floor.
He does too.
No relevance.
I don’t.
I’m not here to talk about myself but to talk about Jaz.

A flash.

Once.
Six months ago.

A few days before
what happened on the stairs.
He had offered his toilet to Jaz just in case.
On that floor
He’s the only one with a toilet…
He must since he offered it to her.
Jaz refused.
Because she couldn’t see herself
knocking on the door of the man and his family
every time.

Why should she have talked about it with his wife.
Jaz had refused to give
the slightest importance to this incident.
Besides the man didn’t bother her anymore.
He wouldn’t even greet her
if they happened to pass each other on the stairs.
As for her
Jaz had wiped from her memory
the man with the Christ’s eyes
waiting on the stairs
his pants down around his ankles.

Until this morning.

Jaz went down
like every Sunday morning.
He was waiting.
The man.
Jaz.
She thought the bathroom was occupied.

It didn’t occur to her.
They are public bathrooms after all.
The sign indicated vacant.
He didn’t either.
Since the incident on the stairs
they hadn’t greeted each other.
Or said anything at all.
Why should she have been careful.
She had erased him from her memory.
One or two days after.

No eye contact.
Jaz is like that.
Because she didn’t expect
to see him or not to see him.
Erased.

She put a coin
in the slot
the door opened
and she felt brutally pushed inside.
By the man.
He immediately closed the door behind them.

No.
She didn’t scream either.
Because she didn’t understand what was happening.
The mind stalls in those moments.

“Get undressed,” he said to Jaz.
The voice wanted to be soft
and the tone a bit obsequious.
He all but added please.
Strangely.

A knife.
A kitchen knife.

At first yes.
Obviously.

Bios

Koffi Kwahulé

Koffi Kwahulé is a playwright and novelist originally from Abengourou (Ivory Coast). He studied at the Institut National des Arts in Abidjan, at L’École de la Rue Blanche (Paris), and at the Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris) where he earned his doctorate in Theatre Studies. He has written more than twenty plays including Cette vieille magie noire (recipient of Grand prix Tchicaya U Tam’si, RFI/ACCT 92); La dame du café d’en face (recipient of Prix SACD-RFI 94; Theater Zuidpool, Anvers, 2004); Bintou (TILF, 1997); Fama (Francophonies de Limoges, 1998); Les créanciers (Théâtre forain, 1998); Village fou ou Les déconnards (Avignon Off, 1998; recipient of Prix UNESCO du MASA 99 in Abidjan); Jaz (Teatro del Fontanone, Rome, 2000); P’tite-Souillure (recipient of Lauréat of Journées d’Auteurs de Lyon, Festival Frictions, Dijon, 2002); Histoire de soldats (Glob’Théâtre, Bordeaux, 2002); Big Shoot (Festival Verse Waar, Chassé Theatre, Breda, 2005 and Théâtre Denise-Pelletier, Montréal, 2005 ); and Il nous faut l’amérique (Palais de la Culture, Abidjan, 2005). His plays have been published by Editions Théâtrales, Lansman, Actes Sud-Papiers, and Acoria, and have been translated in several languages.

Chantal Bilodeau

Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator originally from Montreal, Canada. Her plays include Pleasure & Pain (Magic Theatre, Theatre La Gruta in Mexico City), The Motherline (Ohio University, University of Miami), Tagged (Ohio University, Alleyway Theatre), as well as several shorts that have been presented by Brass Tacks Theatre, City Theatre Company, The Met Theater, Philadelphia Dramatists, Raw Impressions, and Women's Project & Productions. She has been supported by Association Beaumarchais and Étant donnés: The French-American Fund for the Performing Arts, is a recipient of a Katherine Cornell Award, and has been a fellow at Lark Play Development Center, the Dramatists Guild, and Women's Project & Productions. She has translated plays by French-African playwright Koffi Kwahulé (commissioned by the Lark), Congolese playwright Pierre Mumbere Mujomba (commissioned by Villa Aurora), and Jean Cocteau (commissioned by Théâtre Soleil Levant in Switzerland). She currently lives in New York City, and may be reached at chantal1402@earthlink.net .

Jaz. Copyright (c) Koffi Kwahulé, 2000. English translation commissioned by and developed at Lark Play Development Center, New York City. Copyright (c) Chantal Bilodeau, 2007.