Maqbool’s Fourth Cousin

 

Refugees never quite leave their past behind.

 

Proposal for the one hour ‘Family Matters’ Drama

Writer:

 

Sammy Ringer

 

The poor souls are treated as ‘nameless numbers on a list that was afterwards mislaid’.

Boris Pasternak

Outline

Close up of a batsman and commentary reveals it’s Australia vs Pakistan. Pull back to reveal two men watching television; Ralph (Anglo) and Macca (Afghan). Macca becomes more distressed as he watches.

The batsman hits the ball but the sound is wrong. It is more like a rifle shot. Then another. Ralph is oblivious to Macca’s distress. The cricket goes on but Macca is now in a dark place. Inside a truck or perhaps a shipping container. The shadows of too many people crowded together. A low moaning and a metallic banging on the side of the container, then gunfire. A man – perhaps Macca, huddles with his head between his knees, shaking.

A roar. The Pakistani batsman is out. Macca blinks and then flinches as Ralph bangs him too roughly on the shoulder.

In the kitchen, Patricia (Macca’s mother-in-law) calls out for them to ‘keep it down’.

The rest of the family (Lanie and her and Macca’s two daughters) come running in to see what has happened in the cricket. Patricia calls out to turn it off, lunch is ready.

Later that night, Macca mixes up a concoction and makes a face as he drinks it. Lanie asks if it’s his tummy again? He hasn’t had that problem for ages. Their closeness seems well worn but Lanie gives him a hug and gently rubs his stomach - there is a moment of softness as she teases him into a smile.

We see Macca’s ID card, which he swipes to enter the office. It doesn’t work the first time and Macca’s discomfort seems out of proportion. As he swipes we hear a litany - “Maqbool Khamoosh, Hazara, father Mubarek Ali, mother Aziz Khamoosh, Hazara…”

This foreign language overlaps to familiar Australian greetings as Macca enters the office. ‘Howas’yre weekend? Catch the Swans?’… Here at last is normality.

Lunch time in the park. A small group of them play touch football, with great enthusiasm but little skill. They grunt. They yell at each other. Overweight and underfit, they sweat and swear and fumble. Macca makes an agile block and run but there’s a large man coming straight for him. He just has time to yell ‘Johnno! Wrong way!’ when he’s brought down. Back in the office, we build on the very ‘Australian-ness’ of Macca. A popular and totally integrated man who hardly seems Afghani but for the soft burr of this voice and his name.

There’s an old sedan parked in front of his house that night.

Inside, the children are openly excited and Lanie’s slightly awkward about the guest – the local Mulla, dressed in full traditional garb.

There’s a touch of wariness in Macca’s greeting.

The Mulla carries a letter.

Frowning, Macca reads out – a 4th cousin, Moorad Saikal, is detained at Woomera. He asks Maqbool’s help in having his appeal for refugee status reviewed. The Mulla received it through the refugee support group he runs.

Macca hands the letter back. He doesn’t think he can help. He has no memory of this cousin. The Mulla is obviously upset by this response. Pressures him to try to remember. With obvious unhappiness, he presses the letter into Macca’s hand and leaves.

There is an awkward silence at the dinner table. The girls giggle about ‘the man in the dress’. Lanie tries to shush them but Macca seems far away. The girls ask what happened to his face and he snaps out of it and gives them a story about a 7 foot man in his office who tried to beat him up. The girls laugh at his tall tale but Lanie looks concerned.

As they wash dishes, Lanie asks him if he thinks the man’s really a cousin. There’s a touch of guilt in his response. He stopped trying to track down distant family years ago. It seemed hopeless. Lanie makes a sympathetic remark – how strange it must be not to know where your family is…something in his unspoken reaction stops her saying more.

In the empty office, Macca distractedly works at his computer. His work mates ask if he’s up for another game of touch footy. He says no. He takes Moorad’s letter out of the drawer and sits looking at it. He starts to work again but again is distracted by the letter. He looks at the letter again – is it Macca’s voice or Moorad’s that reads the words? Family killed, the village flattened. A journey out of Afghanistan. Hiding in Pakistan and journeying to Indonesia. Macca types ‘Dear Moorad’ – but that’s as far as he gets. He frowns and looks at the note on the back of the envelope – ‘Refugee Support Group, 18 Bonnython Rd…’

Macca follows the Mulla into a meeting of the Refugee Support Group - there are a number of obviously non-Islamic people present. Macca generates a lot of excitement – he is the first in the group to have an actual relative incarcerated. They discuss Moorad and what can be done. The group are experts at getting reports on detainees and finding lawyers and there’s even a protest bus on the way.....Macca’s discomfort grows as they speak. What are the proper channels they can go through? Their laughter is derisory and Macca’s alarm grows, most especially when a young supporter mentions bolt cutters. The Mulla gets them back on track but Macca’s way past his comfort level. He snaps that if it’s that hopeless, there’s nothing to be done and leaves.

Lanie is dressed and ready to go out but there’s no Macca. Patricia who has arrived to baby-sit doesn’t try to hide her irritation - her chipping away at Macca has been going on for years. Lanie defends Macca and tries to appear bright when she tells her mother it doesn’t look like she’ll need a baby-sitter after all.

When Macca finally arrives, Patricia is leaving. He hardly acknowledges his wife or his mother-in-law and goes straight to his room. He lies on his bed staring at the family shots which line the walls. Memories are flooding back - his daughter’s face are dirty. They sit in the dust playing. Macca sits under a makeshift tarp in blinding sunshine. A distinguished looking older man sits next to him. The man folds and refolds a piece of paper before asking ‘ Will you help?’ Lanie sits on the bed and touches him – his stomach again? Macca doesn’t respond and Lanie’s concern is obvious when she asks him not to shut her out.

The Mulla introduces Macca to a lawyer, Brian. We catch only snippets of their lunchtime conversation as we move from their table to the kitchen where a smorgasbord of ethnic types work frantically. Brian mentions the cut on Macca’s face and he has to explain again. Over desert, Brian looks at the papers the Mulla has supplied. It doesn’t look good. Afghans are being sent back in droves, willingly and forcibly. Moorad’s case has gone through all the appeals bar the highest - a reprieve from the Minister. And that doesn’t look too crash hot at the moment. Macca probably expected this but he’s deflated nonetheless.

Brian offers to help with the appeal to the Minister, for what it’s worth…

Brian pulls out a small file and gives it to Macca – some background, with web pages and background on similar cases.

After Brian has left, Macca looks at an Asian looking waiter. The sounds of the restaurant fade and he sits in a shabby office. An Asian looking man looks over his papers and frowns. Shakes his head.

Macca is in a dark room, stark and empty. His head is held down onto the table. Something hits his body, once twice. He groans but we cannot hear him.

Macca is in a dingy room. A middle eastern man faces him, doesn’t seem to notice his badly bruised face. The man holds up a photograph and says something. Macca nods and counts out bills.

In the restaurant, Macca pays the waiter and leaves.

In the office, Macca is chided for being late with a report. Not like him. They’ve just been shortlisted to tender on a major project and they’re expecting 110% from everyone. What the hell is going on? Mid life crises already?

Macca’s desk is piled with files. Some of it’s work but mostly it’s to do with Moorad. A colleague asks him something about the tender but Macca isn’t listening. He jumps up suddenly, he’s discovered something important, something they missed. He has to go.

In his office, Brian listens with courtesy but resignation. Macca has been through all the files on Moorad and he can’t believe the decision that was made. The original interview was a joke, the translator spoke Arabic, not Pashto…when his cousin mentioned a particularly nasty form of torture, they noted it down as ‘haemorrhoids’ - Macca would go on but Brian cuts him off. The Minister will only look at new information, not mistakes that may have been made. For the first time, Macca seems to be aware of the impossibility of helping his cousin. He tries again – his cousin was tortured! Who can guarantee his safety if he goes back?? Brian would like to be kind but he’s busy...

Patricia and Ralph’s backyard. Contrast the above with Patricia’s concern over the cut on Macca’s face. Ralph jokes about old men still playing touch footie. This devolves into discussion about Patricia’s ‘little problem’ with her varicose veins. Macca seems to retreat from the conversation. Waits for a pause and then announces the news about his cousin. The girls chip in with excited talk about the funny man in the dress. They mimic his accent but Patricia and Ralph are not laughing. Patricia looks for some polite way to respond – this is very unfortunate, isn’t it? Is he one of those queue jumpers? Ralph reminds everyone that Moorad is Macca’s family. Patricia replies – only a fourth cousin.  She doesn’t even know any of her 4th cousins. Just how close are they really.

The dynamics of this family are now laid bare. Ralph tries to pacify, Lanie retreats and Patricia waits to see if her barb hits home. It does.

All of Macca’s repressed guilt and anger surfaces. He squares up to Patricia, says one word in Farsi and leaves. Quietly, Lanie gathers the girls and follows her husband.

In his study, Macca reads Moorad’s letter once again, then signs his reply and puts it in an envelope. The setting sun bounces off the walls…it is blindingly sunny. A younger Macca sits under a makeshift tarp with the distinguished looking older man we saw before. This man is speaking the words from the letter – ‘I’d rather die than be sent back. I’d rather die than rot here for the rest of my life…’ Macca takes the man’s hand and murmurs ‘Professor…’

Lanie holds Macca’s hand. She tries to apologise for her mother but Macca responds Patricia’s always looking to find the worst in him. Lanie responds that she’s looking to find the him in him – the man she knew. Where’s he gone?

Macca fronts his boss. He wants a week’s leave. His boss laughs – in the middle of a tender? No way. Macca insists – it’s a family matter. His boss probes – is someone dead? About to die? When Macca shakes his head, his boss asks exactly what it is. Macca doesn’t want to say. His boss apologises but turns him down. If it’s really serious, Macca should put it in writing.

That night, Lanie tries once more to get through to Macca. He too seems on the point of opening up but the moment is ruined when Lanie discovers he’s taking a sickie to fly to SA and Woomera. Lanie threatens that she may not be here when he gets back. If they can’t make decisions together, what’s the use of them being together?

Fighting tears, Lanie lets it all out. She’s afraid he not Macca anymore! She’s afraid when he doesn’t talk to her! She’s afraid this cousin is going to…

Macca finishes the sentence – turn him into some sort of wild fundamentalist Muslim?

Macca waits patiently as a guard checks his papers and motions him into the search area. With natural sound behind, we follow his wordless journey into the detention centre. The buildings are stark, the grounds treeless. The faces are a mixture of hope, interest and anger. Children play with toys in the dust or simply sit. In fact, most simply sit - there is little else to do. It is more depressing and daunting than any jail.

Moorad is smaller than we may have thought. He is a quiet man with reasonable, basic English. The hopelessness of his situation is written on him. He is almost afraid to hope that his ‘Australian’ cousin can help. A guard remains in the room through this all.

Macca takes notes as his cousin tells more of his story. Occasionally, the two speak in snatches of Farsi and Pashto. Moorad actually laughs at Macca’s terrible accent. Macca asks him if he’s afraid to go back. Moorad laughs bitterly - his region is now ruled by a Pushtun warlord. He’s a Hazara. He’d be safer under the Taliban. His village is rock and dust and his uncles are dead. He has no family, no way of making a living and many enemies. Aware that he shouldn’t give him too much hope, Macca tells him they will fight. Moorad pulls out a small and wrinkled photograph and presses it into Macca’s hand. Macca looks at it and fights back tears. The two embrace and Moorad asks his cousin – ‘Do they hate you also?’

Macca has a small camera. He is about to take a photo of his cousin when the guard steps in – not allowed. Macca gives the guard his camera and asks him to take a photo of he and his cousin. Glancing over his shoulder, the guard does this.

Late at night, looking drained, Macca lets himself into the house. He is surprised Lanie is up to meet him. She wants to give him a chance – will you talk to me? For the first time in their marriage, Macca cries. For the first time, he is able to tell his story - the parts Lanie doesn’t know. We see the relief on her face as he finally lets his defences down.

His family back in Afghanistan were fairly well-to-do. Thus his education. He got involved in politics at University and was detained for 3 months. His family were able to bribe his way out of prison and get him to Iran. Here he stayed with a large group of Aghanis waiting to have their immigration processed or find a boat to smuggle them. Many had been waiting for years. One of them was an Afghani Professor. An academic - one of his heroes.

The story’s simple – Macca had the money to get processed. The Professor didn’t. Macca bribed his way to Australia. The professor, faced with repatriation back to Afghanistan, committed suicide.

Years of repressing these memories show on Macca’s face as he speaks. Lanie is both touched and relieved – is this what has been eating away at him all these years? She holds him. He has more to tell her – his name is not Maqbool Khamoosh. For a moment Lanie looks shocked, then she bursts out laughing – what is it? Smith? Even Macca sees the humour in this.

Having burned through his fear and guilt, Macca is determined to do something. He is going to go to the press. He will expose himself so the government can see what hypocrites they are. Lanie goes into shock – he can’t – think of their family- what if he gets sent back or imprisoned? He says he has to risk it. he has to try. Lanie asks if there is any other way? Macca says no. Lanie points out quietly that he has made a choice. Macca responds that there is no choice.

As they embrace, Lanie tells him she scared.

But Macca is reborn. With mounting excitement, he calls Brian and says he’s going to go to the media – with the whole story…Brian cuts him off. The hard reality is the Minister considers people going public a form of blackmail. It will probably go against Moorad, not help him. Macca is stunned. He lowers the phone and slowly comes to the boil. He’s helpless! He throws the phone down, then smashes it against the desk, over and over.

Lanie shushes her frightened daughters and tells them to stay in their room. She enters the study and faces her husband - but the man is a stranger. His eyes are red. He stares through her. He holds what is left of the phone, rocking back and forth.. When his wife speaks he stands and faces her, almost threatening. He pushes the crinkled photo into her hand, ‘My family. Have I been so helpless to save them?’ is all he can say. Lanie frowns at the photo – she doesn’t understand. As she tries to touch him he yells out ‘I am NOT helpess!’ Fearful but determined, she reaches for him – but he has snapped. Pushing her hand away, he. lets out an anguished yell and throws the hand piece, which smashes a photo of Lanie and the girls. In the background, we can hear the girls screaming in fear.

There is a stony silence at the Wood’s house as Lanie moves in with the girls.

Her father comforts her. He knows how very hard all this must be for Macca – and for her. But – its gone too far. Leaving his job…one of the girls pipes in that Daddy broke the phone but Lanie’s look silences her.

Macca wanders around his empty house, fighting tears.

Lanie sits alone in her parent’s backyard. Patricia moves to join her but Ralph shakes his head.

At home, Macca is on the phone. Patricia tells him Lanie’s out with the girls. They won’t be home till late.

But as Macca hangs up, we see that Lanie is on the verandah, talking with her father.

Ralph is at least more honest than his wife. He’s not fond of the Muslims and all their yabber and suicide bombers…but Macca’s different. For the first time, Lanie actually argues – is he? Does he need to be? Is that the condition for accepting him? That he’s totally scrubbed up to be a middle class Australian? Lanie snaps - she’s sick of apologising to her mother for getting pregnant and marrying a wog. Ralph asks – do you love him?

Lanie approaches the Mosque with obvious nervousness. For a time, she simply watches. When the Mulla appears and recognises her, she turns and hurries away.

Macca blinks, slightly stunned by the flash of cameras. We catch snatches of the news broadcast. ‘Having waited three days….Mr Khamoosh, who claims he is an illegal immigrant, has taken up a silent vigil outside Parliament House and refuses to move until his cousin’s appeal…Federal police have been called…’

Lanie and her parents sit in front of the television, watching the broadcast. Patricia is horrified, Lanie sad, but Ralph watches with growing interest.

On tellie, Macca is taken away by a policeman. He does not resist. All Patricia can think of to do is shoo the girls away so they can’t see.

Macca in a holding cell. Moorad, watching the news, goes crazy with joy. The guards rush in and move him to isolation.

Macca looks up as they come to release him, Brian is there. Macca has been bailed. Moorad remains in the small cell.

In the bedroom, Lanie has Macca’s prayer beads. She holds them. She has made a decision.

Macca calls Lanie on his mobile. She’s so relieved she can hardly talk but manages to tell him she loves him. Macca asks her to hug the girls. Lanie says she misses him - he can come home now.

Macca says it has only just begun and we see Lanie’s fear and her growing understanding. She reminds him of a time years ago when little Samia was sick and he drove her from one doctor to another and then sat in the hospital 6 hours until she was seen. Macca had almost forgotten the incident but Lanie hadn’t.

Lanie moves the girls back home. Patricia helps her reluctantly. Now is the time these two should bear their hearts to each other. Patricia changes the subject.

Brian looks uncomfortable as he faces the press. Mr Khamoosh has asked him to read a statement…it’s actually a letter…

Macca approaches the steps once again.. He holds the appeal file in his hand. He sits.

At home, there is a loud commotion. The two girls scream out for mum and nana to see – Daddy’s on TV again!

Lanie watches. Patricia hovers unhappily in the background. The girls are excited – they want to know why Daddy’s going to jail!!! Lanie says - because he wants to help their Uncle – she looks pointedly at her mother but there is no reconciliation here yet.

Brian clears his throat and speaks - Mr Khamoosh entered the country with false papers 11 years ago. He will maintain his vigil until such time as the Minister puts him in detention or accepts the appeal of his cousin. Mr Khamoosh is on a hunger strike during this wait. Mr Khamoosh is aware that he will be arrested for trespass. If he is jailed, he will return here on his release. Again. And again. Until the detainees are given a voice. Mr Khamoosh has given him a statement he wishes read out:

The following begins in Brian’s voice but then fades to Macca’s.

“Mt Dear Cousin,

I am one of the lucky ones. Then, one day, you arrived to show me just how lucky I really was.

Macca sits without expression.

I have left my past but you cannot leave yours. You have shown me that none of us can ever really leave our past behind.

Moorad runs his finger over a letter as he reads to himself.

I have a voice but did not talk. I have a conscience but did not use it.

A small crowd gathers around Macca.

When they hid you away from us, I turned and did not want to see.

In Macca’s office, a young man shouts out to Johnno to come and have a look at the news.

When you cried out in pain, I did not want to hear  When they took your rights and called you ‘illegal’, I did not lift a hand

Macca sits in a cell.

When they sent you back to torture and death, I did not lift my voice. When they raised the razor wire, they raised a hardness in the souls of the people who should protect you.

In the Bowls Club, Ralph motions a bit of silence as he watches the TV monitor.

When they took your voice, they took our own, When they took your face and your story, they stripped us of our need to be human

Macca walks towards the steps and sits down again, a file in his hand.

When we show you  no compassion, we lose compassion for ourselves. When your children cry in their prison, the future of our own children is less certain.

There is dead silence in Macca’s office.

When you reach the end of your strength and throw yourselves on the wire, we are moved that much farther from the compassion which was once there.

A reporter pushes a mike at Macca but he does not speak.

When we turn away from those fleeing fear and death, we lodge these things in our hearts, like steel.

Lanie is fighting back the tears. Even the two girls are silent as they watch their father on TV. Patricia moves to put a hand on her daughter’s shoulder.

When we are told to fear you, we must also begin to fear our neighbours, our family and even ourselves

Two policeman approach and, almost gently, lift Macca.

What is the use of my material comfort if I can’t enjoy it for the sound of suffering?

Patricia and Lanie look at each other without words.

What is the use of my freedom if I allow others to be imprisoned?

Moorad sits with the letter, unmoving.

What is the use of laws if they do not protect the helpless?

In the rain, Macca walks towards the steps again.

What will we tell our children when they ask what you did ?

At the Bowls Club, Ralph yells our for shush – and the room quietens.

What will we tell our God when he asks us what we did?

Two policeman confer. One begins to move towards Macca and then stops, talking into his radio.

Though I may not save you, I will not sleep like an honest man until I have tried.

At the Bowls Club, Ralph’s smile broadens. He looks around at the blank faces of his mates. ‘That’s my son-in-law’ he says.

On the steps, someone in the crowd yells out ‘Go back where you came from!’

Moorad rises, puts the letter in his pocket and looks at the blank wall.

Lanie puts the framed picture of her husband and Moorad on the mantle. Walks towards the back door and looks out at her daughters on the lawn.

The policeman move in. Macca doesn’t move.

In Macca’s office, a loud cheer erupts.

Moorad sits in the isolation cell.

Like you, dear Cousin, I shall sit until justice is done.

The policeman confer and move towards Macca.

I shall sit until the hearts of this country are opened again.

Lanie faces her mother. She pulls out the small, wrinkled photo Macca gave her before he left. Patricia looks at it and frowns – two young girls- so much like her own two granddaughters. Lanie nods. Moorad’s daughters. Patricia’s eyes widen in shock as she realises. These two girls are probably dead.

Look, they come to hide us away.

As the police remove him, Macca moves so he can’t be hidden from view.

But we shall not be hidden.”

This newscast blends to another – a protest in Brisbane. We see Lanie and the girls with placards supporting their father. Ralph is there as well and as we pull out, we see Patricia also.