The Ways of the World

A Comedy in One Act

Characters:

WANDERER – A ragged looking man, in his 60s

PHILOSOPHER – A fashionably dressed man, in his 30s

MADMAN – A shabby young man, with a wild look in his eyes

HOUSEHOLDER – A pragmatic middle-aged man, dressed in formals

Setting: A park, peaceful and picturesque

Time: A pleasant afternoon

WANDERER (comes walking down the pathway): All my life, I’ve been a drifter. I’ve seen men, women, children, birds, and beasts, come and go, all busy living and dying. And as sure as the earth revolves around the sun, I come back to the same questions. What am I? What is my life for? I still know not the answers.

PHILOSOPHER (sitting on a bench, gets up): Hello, sir! You look like a man of experience who has found it of no use.

WANDERER (smiling): G’day, sir! You speak the truth. The more I drift, the farther drift the answers to my questions.

PHILOSOPHER (as a matter of fact): That is the nature of illusions, my friend. The world is but a fleeting fancy between the beats of our hearts.

WANDERER (with conviction): Yet the more my heart beats, the more I fall in love with it. My affection for life increases by the hour.

PHILOSOPHER: You’re in the deep throes of existence. It’s the way Nature keeps us tied to our miserable days without wanting to kill ourselves.

MADMAN (comes running down the pathway, waving his hands in the air): Heigh ho, my worthy comrades! Did I hear misery and death together? Once I felt there was joy in non-existence. But since this wonderful madness engulfed me, I dread nothingness. There are too many empty heads in the world.

PHILOSOPHER and WANDERER (together, in one voice): Welcome, friend, welcome!

MADMAN (excited): Only the other day I had the thought how good it is that men have minds! No skin or bone to confine their one precious possession! How free to spread wings and fly into each others’ feelings and fancies! No doors, no walls, no borders! Nothing but instantaneous energy connecting everyone together! But when I tried telling this terrific truth to others, they just laughed! Then I noticed how hollow were the heads that shook with laughter! No wonder the wise say empty vessels make more noise!

PHILOSOPHER (with a flourish): Ha! Your lunacy has taken you to places the Wanderer himself has never seen!

WANDERER: My travels have borne me to countless lands I never knew existed. But still, I know less of Life today than even on the day I was born. Yet I love life now more than I ever did!

PHILOSOPHER: The bee flits from flower to flower sipping sweet nectar wherever she goes. And although her hive is full of honey, her desire for the flowers never ceases.

MADMAN (with a thrill in his voice): Honey! Yes, honey! It’s like my own madness! All the bitterness of the world cannot lessen the sweetness inside me! They spit and spew the fire of hatred on me but the rain of my tears quenches it all instantly!

HOUSEHOLDER (comes strolling down the pathway to the place where the three characters are standing and speaks to the Wanderer): Hey you! Take this coin. I always keep coins in my pocket to give alms to folks like you. I bless your existence, for how would I feel good about myself otherwise?

MADMAN (bursts into hysterical laughter): Ha Ha Ha!

HOUSEHOLDER (with disgust): Keep that lunatic away from me! His presence is like the stench of a rotting corpse that has no place in the cemetery. Be gone, crazed man! (motions him away)

MADMAN (sad and happy at the same time): The bitterness of the world! The more it pours on me, the sweeter I become! Like a fresh jar of sugar in which cane juice is being poured continuously!

 

HOUSEHOLDER (smirking): See? What nonsense he mumbles to himself!

WANDERER (holding the coin): Thank you, sir! People like you make me aware of how blessed my life is.

PHILOSOPHER (with a twinkle in his eyes): Ha! I believe his coin reminds you of the freedom you have and he doesn’t. What is the life of a householder but an unceasing burden he refuses to realize! Better is the slave’s life for he can at least see the chain that enslaves him.

HOUSEHOLDER (enraged): How dare you compare my life to a slave’s? The mercy of my coins is what keeps idle fools like you alive. If you used your hands as quickly as your lips, you would have built a castle fit for a king by now!

MADMAN (dreaming): Speaking of castles, none have a bigger or better castle than mine. For what is more glorious than a castle in the air, which the storms of neither man nor nature can ever destroy?

WANDERER (thoughtfully): I’ve seen many castles in my wanderings. Enormous palaces with chambers vast as the heavens, and filled with glittering jewels like the stars in the night sky. But in those palaces, I felt emptier than when I stood under the naked firmament. For the company of men and beasts who make life worth living was missing within those walls.

HOUSEHOLDER (with disdain): You’re a fool. What do you know of fellowship? You who are too selfish to have a family to care and nourish for in this journey of life! You cannot divine the bliss of such palaces!

PHILOSOPHER: A palace is a tomb erected on the murdered bodies of a million beings. So many trees felled and cleared for mere land! Birds and beasts driven from their homes! Slain as they fled in terror! Their God-given rights stolen from them! To be happy within such walls stained with blood is a sin.

HOUSEHOLDER (sneering): The very air you breathe is colored by the blood of the innocent. Don’t pride yourself on your opinions. You sit in your ivory tower and think highly of yourself as you look down on others below who do the dirty work of survival for you.

MADMAN (jumping): Survival? Try wearing my shoes for one day. You’ll know what survival is! Ha Ha Ha!

HOUSEHOLDER (furious, pointing finger at the Madman): Who let this man out of the madhouse? He’s dangerous! If he doesn’t leave, I will. Remember, I’ll make sure he goes back inside! (turns to the others) I’ll get rid of you all, make the streets clean and the parks safe again for simple decent folk like me to walk in the broad daylight. When I return, I swear, none of you’ll be here! (rushes away and out of the park)

MADMAN: Ha Ha Ha! Sometimes I don’t know who’s the real madman!

PHILOSOPHER: You’ve got an excellent point there, my friend.

WANDERER: I’ve encountered many men in my wanderings, but none so sane as our friend, the Madman. Insanity stalks the streets, while sanity lies imprisoned within walls. What do you say, my dear Philosopher?

PHILOSOPHER (shrugging): All I can say is the ways of the world are strange indeed!

MADMAN (dancing): Ha Ha Ha! I knew it! Ha Ha Ha!

(Curtains close as the WANDERER and the PHILOSOPHER join the MADMAN in his merry laughter and dancing)

End


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Beryl Zephyr

An occasional writer but a regular thinker, Beryl sometimes fiddles in speculative fiction. He sees both humour and tragedy in everyday events and is extremely concerned with the fate of other creatures trapped in the monstrous march of 21st-century human civilization.

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