'SAFE JOURNEY HOME'
A new stage play
By Elizabeth Greatrex
‘Where are you headed?’
‘I’m going home.’
This original stage play is inspired by works such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. In Safe-Journey Home we meet eighteen-year-old Bear.
Bear is a hot-headed, impulsive boy with an ungrateful attitude, much like other boys his age. But unlike all his friends, Bear has never met his real parents. In the past year, he has learned that he was left by his birth mother in a toilet at Paddington station when he was a baby, then adopted, and that his mother was a heroin addict at the time of his birth. Reeling from a heated argument with his adopted parents Chris and Jane, he impulsively boards a train to Edinburgh in the hope that he may find his real mother. On the train he meets Bridget, at face value a quirky, happy-go-lucky Scottish girl, travelling back to her hometown. Through the similarity of having damaged mothers, Bridget breaks down Bear’s defensive nature and helps him understand that the circumstance of his birth does not have to define his life, and that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. This journey is not only a physical one, of travelling from one place to another, but an emotional journey of self-discovery for the protagonist, mostly through the reflection of himself in another character. With punchy and direct dialogue, in a story about the synchronicity of the meeting of two young strangers on a train, the audience are faced with an ordinary setting, an unlikely friendship and moments of poignancy and light-heartedness.
Safe-Journey Home questions, what is it to be loved? Why do we so often take what we have for granted? And how can your perception of life influence it’s reality? This play’s originality lies in its ability to express dark themes in an authentic way through the characterisation of innocent characters. It evokes an optimistic reaction from its audience, while managing to subtly touch on bleak circumstances. The plot leaves us satisfied, but also wanting more.
Night. An empty train carriage.
Stage to dark.
Evocative sound effects of a busy train station begin to play softly, slowly getting louder: announcements for late evening departures, the bustle of travellers, a drunk asking for money, a busker singing, and the slamming of train doors.
These sounds become quiet and muffled as the FEMALE/MALE VOICEOVER intrudes, Their voices should be heard crisply over the other sounds.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: You know I hate it when you do this.
MALE VOICEOVER: What is wrong with you? Can’t you think about anything other than yourself?
BEAR is centre stage, sitting on the train. He is holding a travel bag.
The station sound effects slowly become loud again, and continue for a minute. They soften once again, by the intrusion of the FEMALE/MALE VOICEOVER.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: I didn’t think you would do this…today.
MALE VOICEOVER: Do you even know what day it is today? It’s her birthday.
BEAR grunts. Clearly unsettled by the voices in his head.
He takes headphones out of his travel bag, and puts them on.
The music he is listening to starts to play. The music becomes quiet and muffled as the voiceovers interject once again.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: I’m not going to ring you hundreds of times, so I’m expecting you to call me back.
MALE VOICEOVER: Come home, you’re upsetting her.
How did I get stuck with someone like you?
FEMALE VOICEOVER: You never turn your phone off.
MALE VOICEOVER: Is this the shit that comes with the job of being your ‘father’.
BEAR turns his music up, in an attempt to drown the voices out. The voiceovers still intrude, louder this time.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: Just call me back, now.
MALE VOICEOVER: Before you make thing’s worse. Don’t do anything stupid.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: I don’t want you to do anything dangerous.
MALE VOICEOVER: You don’t know how lucky you got with us. Just call me back.
BEAR holds his hands over his headphones, shutting his eyes. trying to concentrate on the music and ignore the voices.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: I’m so sorry I upset you.
MALE VOICEOVER: If you’re going where I think you’re going, you’re going to be very disappointed.
BEAR turns his music up so loud it is deafening. Unable to take it, he snatches the headphones aggressively off, as the music and voices immediately stop.
TRAIN GUARD VOICEOVER: We are now arriving into Peterborough.
The sound of a carriage door opening and slamming shut.
Enter BRIDGET stage right, running breathlessly onto the train. She sees BEAR and smiles.
BRIDGET: That was a close one! Last train tonight, too.
A whistle is heard to signify the train is pulling out.
BEAR ignores her and puts his headphones back on.
BRIDGET sits near to BEAR with her belongings. She rummages in her rucksack to find a packet of crisps. She then gets up and puts her rucksack in the overhead compartment. Sitting down again, she opens the crisps and starts to eat.
BEAR glances over at the commotion.
BRIDGET gets up again, deciding to take her jacket off, and shoves it in the overhead compartment. She sits down again, and continues to eat her crisps.
BEAR’s body language expresses his irritation.
BRIDGET decides to get up again to get her kindle and a drink from her rucksack. As she pulls her rucksack down, her jacket falls onto BEAR.
BEAR takes off his headphones.
BRIDGET: Oh, sorry.
BEAR: Did you get what you wanted from up there?
BRIDGET: Oh, yeah, just wanted to get my drink.
BEAR puts his headphones back on.
BRIDGET: What you listening to?
I listen to music sometimes, I used to have an I-pod.
BEAR moves a couple of seats away in a huff.
BRIDGET picks up her kindle and opens it. She looks up after a few moments, more interested in BEAR.
BRIDGET: So where are you headed then? Somewhere nice?
BEAR takes off his headphones.
BRIDGET: I said, where are you headed?
BRIDGET: Just wondering.
BEAR: Um, I’m going – I’m going home.
BRIDGET: Oh really, me too. That’s funny, you know right before I got on this train I’d started reading this poem called Homer’s Odyssey. It’s Greek and really old, you probably wouldn’t know it, but it’s about this guy and his ten year journey home after war. Let’s hope it doesn’t take us that long to get/
BEAR: /Listen, I’m kind of tired, I don’t really feel like talking.
BRIDGET: What’s your name?
BEAR: Why would you want to know that?
BRIDGET: No reason.
BEAR: It’s Bear.
BRIDGET laughs softly.
BEAR: Ha. Ha.
BRIDGET: Like Paddington Bear?
Oh, you were actually named after-
BEAR: Yes, after the Bear made famous from Paddington. Fascinating, isn’t it?
BRIDGET: I’m sorry, I just thought it was kind of/
BEAR: /Funny? Yeah, it’s hilarious. I still find it funny after all these years, never gets old really.
BRIDGET: I was going to say, unusual and intriguing. Have you ever read A Bear Called Paddington?
BEAR: I don’t really read a lot.
You read children’s books?
BRIDGET: You should read it. Even though it’s a children’s book it’s still quite charming for adults. He’s a lovable character.
But why were you named after him?
BEAR: Artsy parents.
BRIDGET: That’s not artsy.
BEAR: Look, do you mind just leaving me alone?
BRIDGET: I’m sorry, honestly, I didn’t mean to upset you.
BEAR: I’m not upset.
BEAR walks downstage, he delivers a soliloquy.
BEAR: JusT because I don’t want to talk doesn’t mean I’m upset. Just because I have an unusual name doesn’t make me interesting. Why is this girl so interested? Why does she care? I’m not interested so why should anyone else be? Let alone some stranger on a train. Mind your own fucking business.
And stop eating your crisps so loudly.
The next question I’m probably going to be faced with is where are you from? And when’s your birthday? And what star-sign are you? All the usual small-talk questions that are easy to answer. But guess what?
I can’t answer a single one of those questions.
Tomorrow. My birthday.
That doesn’t even mean anything anymore. Jane always gets excited and makes a big deal out of it, and last year I just wanted to say why are you making a big deal out of a day that doesn’t represent the day I was born? The nineteenth of April 2000. A novelty, really. A day assigned to me just so I would feel like a proper person, with a proper identity.
Jane’s blonde, I’m red-head. She’s short and I’m tall. She’s tanned and I’m pale. She cries at absolutely everything and I can’t remember the last time I cried about anything at all. When I stopped calling her mum she couldn’t understand why, and I thought it was pretty bloody obvious.
I can’t stop thinking of every possibility about who …she… is. About what she looks like and wondering whether I’m wrong or anywhere close to being right. I want to know what she’s like. I want to know what she looks like, what she sounds like. Whether she’s funny. Whether she likes Chinese, or Indian, or both.
I want her to tell me what my birthday is.
If she even knows what the actual date was, whether she remembers. That actually sounds ridiculous now I’ve said it out loud…
How can you not remember the date you pushed a baby out of your body?
And what if he doesn’t know about me?
Did they even know each other? Did they even love each other? Did they have others?
I just want someone to tell me why.
The sound effect of a train going into a tunnel is played.
TRAIN GUARD VOICEOVER: We will shortly be arriving into Newark North Gate.
BEAR is still downstage, having just finished his soliloquy.
BRIDGET walks over to BEAR.
BRIDGET: Are you ok?
BEAR looks at her, then goes back to his seat and sits down.
BRIDGET goes over to get something from her rucksack in the overhead compartment.
BRIDGET: (As she pulls the rucksack down): I’m Bridget, by the way.
What are you eating this time?
BRIDGET: Oh, it’s a sandwich. And a Kit-Kat for after. The sandwich is ham, cheese and pickle. Would you like a little bit?
BEAR: No, no. I’ll just get something from the trolley when It comes through.
BEAR: Actually, yeah, why not. Maybe just a little bit.
BRIDGET hands him one of her sandwiches.
BRIDGET: So I’m guessing you’re going home to Edinburgh, right? I don’t know many people that would want to live at the places in between. Whereabouts do you live in the city? I live there myself, I was just staying with my nan in Peterborough for a few days.
BEAR: I, um, well. Kind of just in the middle bit, you know?
BRIDGET: The middle bit?
BRIDGET: If you’re from Edinburgh why aren’t you Scottish?
BEAR: Well, It’s not exactly a great accent is it?
BEAR: What are you a detective or something?
BRIDGET: You’re not going home then.
BEAR: No. I’m from London.
BRIDGET: I’ve never been to London. What part?
Aren’t you going to ask me why I lied to you?
BRIDGET: I’m a stranger, why wouldn’t you lie to me? It’s easier to lie sometimes.
I know it’s none of my business but, why were you actually named after Paddington Bear?
BEAR: It’s really not that interesting.
BRIDGET: Oh. Ok, then.
BEAR: It’s because that’s where it started.
BRIDGET: Where what started? I don’t get it?
BEAR: Why are you so nosy?
BRIDGET: I’m interested.
BEAR: I don’t know you.
BRIDGET: I’m sorry, you’re right. Forget it. I talk too much.
BEAR: It’s because that’s where I was…found.
BRIDGET: What do you mean ‘found’?
BEAR: In the toilet. At the station.
BRIDGET: What? No way?
BEAR: Not actually in it. If that makes it sound any less vile.
BRIDGET: Not really/
BEAR: /Yeah thought so.
That’s the story I was told anyway.
BRIDGET: Oh, right, Jesus.
BEAR: Might not be true, I guess that is the kind of thing someone would tell you to stop you going looking.
BRIDGET: Going looking for who?
BEAR: You’re a bit slow, aren’t you?
BRIDGET: Your mum?
BEAR: I guess when the hospital was trying to think of a name the only thing that came to mind was Paddington. Makes sense, kind of.
BRIDGET: You don’t look like the sort of bloke that doesn’t have a mum, just saying. With your fresh clothes and your fresh trainers, and you are a bit-
BEAR: A bit what?
BRIDGET: A little bit posh?
BEAR: A little bit adopted. Not posh.
BRIDGET: Either way, you look like you’ve got it lucky.
BEAR: She was from Edinburgh.
BRIDGET: How do you know that?
BEAR: A relative of hers came forward and contacted the hospital to tell them she knew who the baby belonged to when it was advertised on the news. This relative told them my mother’s name, stuff about who she was and where she came from. Eyewitnesses who came forward and said they had seen a woman holding a crying baby in the toilet that day were questioned by the police, and their descriptions of her matched.
BRIDGET: Sounds like you were making yourself quite the spectacle.
BEAR: A red-head, apparently. Mid-twenties. Scottish.
The news got passed onto my parents when I was adopted. This relative said she didn’t want to be involved and I’ve never heard from her either.
BEAR: Then Chris told me everything last year.
BEAR: My dad.
BRIDGET: Oh. Ok. Do you know her name?
BEAR: Amy. Amy McCleish.
BRIDGET: Do you know anything else?
BEAR: I know that she left a bag with me with some clothes in. She didn’t want to leave me with no clothes, obviously.
BEAR: I know that she was an addict.
Part of me thinks Chris made that bit up to scare me off.
BRIDGET: What kind?
BEAR: What do you mean, what kind?
BRIDGET: Does it begin with an H?
BRIDGET: Right. So, what, you’re going looking for her? How does that work? What if you don’t like what you find?
TRAIN GUARD VOICEOVER: We will shortly be arriving into Durham.
BRIDGET is standing downstage, she delivers a soliloquy.
BRIDGET: I’ve known this guy for five minutes, but I already feel like I know him. There’s something about him that I like. He’s got that defensiveness, bitterness, that anguish inside of him that I used to have. I like to think I got rid of that a long time ago. I hate feeling angry, it just eats you up inside.
He’s so naive. For a well brought up boy I would have thought he’d have a little bit more common sense. Going looking for someone like that. What does he think he’s going to find?
Why would you trade in someone who loves you for someone who treated you like you that? It doesn’t matter who’s body you came out of it matters who decided to love you once you came onto this earth.
I’m so happy I don’t have to deal with her anymore. She would always make me feel like it was my fault.
BRIDGET finishes her soliloquy, she remains standing as she resumes her conversation with BEAR.
BRIDGET: I’m the last person to judge, but you’ve got to wonder why you would want to go looking for someone that left you, like that.
BEAR: Doesn’t stop me from being curious.
BRIDGET: Have you got any memory of her?
BEAR: Of course not, I was a baby.
BRIDGET: What are your parents like?
BEAR: Fine. They’re…fine.
BRIDGET: Well, they’ve got to be better than her.
BEAR: Chris is an arsehole. Jane’s nice, she’s…fine.
BRIDGET: Someone must love you enough to buy you those trainers.
BEAR: What, Nike 95’s? Money doesn’t define love.
Do you speak to your mum then?
BEAR: When was the last time you saw her?
BRIDGET: A while ago, I can’t exactly remember.
BEAR: What’s she like?
BRIDGET: Like you say about Jane, she was alright you know, she was nice when she wanted to be.
BEAR: It just didn’t work out?
BRIDGET: It didn’t work out. It’s alright. I feel like even though you’re born into a family It doesn’t mean they’re the people you’re meant to hang around with.
I’m close to my dad. She tried you know, she did try sometimes.
BEAR: It’s Jane’s birthday today.
BRIDGET: Does she know where you are?
BRIDGET: You should call her.
BRIDGET: Because she loves you? She’s probably worried.
BEAR: So what? She’s lied to me my entire life.
BRIDGET: Maybe she was scared.
BEAR: Scared of what?
BRIDGET: Well, if I was a mother, I think it would be pretty difficult to tell your child the situation surrounding their birth. If it was a situation like yours. It would be hard telling anyone that.
BEAR: I’m telling you aren’t I?
BRIDGET: You’re never going to see me again, it’s easier. Who am I going to tell?
BEAR: Yeah, I guess so.
BRIDGET: Plus, I’m easy going, you on the other hand…
BEAR: Maybe I’m not the easiest of people.
BRIDGET: You’re alright.
BEAR leans back and drifts off into his own thought.
The stage becomes dark as a spotlight focuses on BEAR.
A SCOTTISH FEMALE VOICEOVER: I like the name Bear, it suits you. I would have chosen something like that if it was up to me. I wish I could tell you all the reasons I had to do it. I wish you could understand. I’m not a bad person, I just made a mistake. None of it happened like they told you.
They told you that I didn’t want you, didn’t they? They weren’t there, they didn’t know what happened. They’re just two people, Bear, two ordinary people. They’re not part of you. Bad things happen to everyone, don’t they? People make mistakes. Some people make mistakes. I’ve never been given a chance. I deserve a chance, just to know you. To know you…what it would be like?
I love you, Bear./
BRIDGET: /Bear? Bear?
TRAIN GUARD VOICEOVER: We are now arriving into Berwick-upon-Tweed.
BRIDGET: What are you thinking about?
BRIDGET: Which means everything.
BEAR: I’ve never known anyone for as shorter amount of time as I’ve known you who is so interested in what goes on in my head.
BRIDGET: You’re interesting, that’s all.
BEAR: No, I’m not.
BRIDGET: I think you are.
BEAR: I’ve never been described as ‘interesting’. As a liability, sure.
BRIDGET: You just love to put yourself down don’t you.
BEAR: Maybe I think too much.
BRIDGET: About negative stuff.
BEAR: Sometimes it feels like that’s all there is to think about.
BRIDGET: What, are you depressed or something?
BRIDGET: Then what’s the point of thinking like that?
BEAR: I don’t ‘try’ to think like that. It’s just the way I am.
BRIDGET: Change the way you are then.
BEAR: I can’t just snap my fingers and change myself.
BRIDGET: Yes you can, I did.
BEAR: You haven’t had my life.
BRIDGET: What’s so bad about your life?
BEAR: Did you not just hear everything I told you?
BRIDGET: Every word.
BRIDGET and BEAR both get up and walk downstage. They project their lines out to the audience.
BRIDGET: I heard everything, Bear. What do you want? Do you want me to feel sorry for you? Do you want a hug?
BEAR: Why the fuck would I want to hug a stranger. I was fine before you got on this train and suddenly became so interested in my life. Why are you making me out to be such a mug?
BRIDGET: You just need someone to talk you out of it, and it may as well be me.
BEAR: But who the hell are you anyway? I was fine before you got on this train and wouldn’t leave me be.
BRIDGET: I’m going to tell you straight. I think you should turn back.
BEAR: And why is that?
BRIDGET: Because she’s not worth it.
BEAR: But I want to know.
BRIDGET: No you don’t.
BEAR: You don’t know what I want?
BRIDGET: I know what you don’t want.
BEAR: What makes you such an expert?
BEAR turns to BRIDGET: Is your mother some good for nothing crack-head who dumped you and made you grow up into this strong, positive person who has something against mother figures and who isn’t capable of negative thought or being unhappy and who is obviously completely incapable of shutting up and minding their own fucking business?
Spotlight on BRIDGET.
BRIDGET: Just because I’m happy doesn’t mean I’m capable of love. Yes, some of it has stayed with me. But for the most part, she can’t hurt me anymore.
Just because bad things happened to me doesn’t mean I won’t try to stop them happening to you. I know you want to see her, but I wish there was one day when I DIDN’T have to see …her…
Do you know what an average day would be for me, a couple of years ago, Bear? I’d come home and find her lying at the bottom of the stairs, covered in her own liquids. Then, she would look up at me and ask ‘what’s wrong?’ And she would smile. Smile like she didn’t have a care in the world, for herself, or anybody else. Like she was happy that she was doing this to herself, and that she was doing it to me.
When I was younger I would go to bed and cry. I’d cry for hours as loudly as I could, thinking that she would eventually hear me and come.
That somebody would come.
I used to think she would say sorry or tell me that things were going to change. But she never did, and nothing ever changed. For so long I craved just having a mum. People don’t realise all the things someone can miss out on when their mum isn’t there. Silly things, like, a packed lunch. Or, someone to help you with your homework. Someone to talk to when you get upset about a boy for the first time. Someone who you can cry in front of and not be embarrassed, someone who would stick up for you, who would fight for you, who would love you no matter what you did.
Sometimes, I can still hear her, in my head. It’s like she’s crawling around in my brain, telling me I’m a bad person, that I do everything wrong and that I’m going to fail. My mother. A grown woman that I had to look after like she was a baby.
She was selfish. It was all about her. It took me a while to realise that she didn’t really love me. Or love me enough to put me first. Don’t you realise It’s just going to be the same for you? People like your mother and my mother, they don’t change.
I found you interesting because I almost recognised you when I saw you. We’ve never met before, it wasn’t because of what you look like but because of your pain. It was as obvious to me as if you were wearing a bright red jumper. I could see it, because I’ve felt it myself. I wanted to show you that you don’t have to carry that with you. You can let it go, if you choose to. If I can do it, you can too.
You don’t have to do this to yourself.
The TRAIN GUARD enters stage left. He walks across to stage right while announcing a message.
TRAIN GUARD: We are now arriving into Edinburgh Waverly. Thank-you for travelling with Virgin trains, we wish you a safe-journey home.
The TRAIN GUARD exits stage right.
BRIDGET and BEAR step off the train and onto the platform.
BRIDGET: So, I guess I’ll see you then.
BRIDGET turns to go.
BEAR: Wait, that’s just it?
BRIDGET: What’s just it?
BEAR: We’re never going to see each other again.
BRIDGET: What’s wrong with that?
BEAR: I don’t know, it’s just a little strange.
BRIDGET: It’s not strange. I got on a train, you got on a train. Now we’ve arrived at our destination, and I’m going home.
You should too.
BEAR: Will you give me a call sometime?
BEAR: Because we know each other now…a bit. It’s nice to have someone to talk to sometimes.
BRIDGET: But we don’t know each other. I’m a stranger.
BEAR: Yeah. I guess.
BEAR reaches into his bag and pulls out a pen, taking BRIDGET’s hand in his, writing his number inside the palm of her hand.
BRIDGET: Ooh, that tickles.
BEAR: If you change your mind.
BRIDGET gives BEAR a hug.
BRIDGET: You know, what Paddington Bear was always known for?
BEAR: No, what?
BRIDGET: For always innocently getting into trouble. But always trying hard to make things right in the end. He was kind-hearted. He just wanted a home, a family. Isn’t that what all of us want in the end?
BEAR: That’s nice. I’ve never really thought about it like that.
BRIDGET: You’re so lucky, I wish you knew that.
The lighting and sound effects of a loud train rushing by blinds the audience’s vision of the two and blocks out the sound of BEAR’s reply. When the light and sound effects stop, BRIDGET is gone and BEAR is still in the same position.
BEAR sits down on a bench on the platform. He is deep in thought. He reaches into his bag and puts his headphones on.
MALE VOICEOVER: Hey, It’s Dad.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: Darling, It’s Mum.
MALE VOICEOVER: I just wanted to say…I’m proud of you. It hasn’t been easy, all of this, for any of us. You’ve handled it well.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: Even though at first I thought you’d never forgive me. For not telling you. But I hope you understand why I didn’t.
MALE VOICEOVER: We did It for you.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: We’re lucky to have you.
MALE VOICEOVER: Even if you do drive us crazy sometimes.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: We’ll always be here.
MALE VOICEOVER: For the bad.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: And for the good.
MALE VOICEOVER: When you get back we can talk things through.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: Hopefully straighten a few things out.
MALE VOICEOVER: I’ll see you soon, I love you mate.
FEMALE VOICEOVER: I love you, darling.
FEMALE AND MALE VOICEOVER: Bye for now.
The TRAIN GUARD appears.
TRAIN GUARD: Can I help you?
It’s quite late son, do you need help finding where you’re going?
BEAR: No, I’m fine. I’m just…thinking.
TRAN GUARD: Where are you headed?
BEAR smiles out at the audience.
BEAR (to the audience): I’m going home.