ACT FOUR – EDUCATION
[Inside the house. Nigel’s future mother and father regard the baby, now changed and in a basket.]
Nigel’s Mum: I think we should keep him.
Nigel’s Dad: Another one? That makes eighteen now! How many more children do you need?
Nigel’s Mum: Only because you made me get my tubes tied.
Nigel’s Dad: For the last time, I don’t care IF childbirth is the ultimate high – it’s nine months between fixes and costs us twenty years each time! Besides, if we accept this coloured child as our own, we’ll have everyone treating us as a day care centre for their unwanted brats!
Nigel’s Mum: But adopting an indigenous child would be good publicity for the organization, husband.
Nigel’s Dad: Perhaps. [thinks about it] And I suppose he IS pretty cute. And even if he turns out to be the, er, black sheep of the Yang dynasty, he won’t pull the wool over our eyes. [laughs slowly] Did you get that joke?
Nigel’s Mum: Yes. It was atrocious.
Nigel’s Dad: I’m sure the PR department can make it funnier. Yes, we shall keep him. He like the others may eat us out of house and home, but would we really miss what it takes to fill their little bellies? Down to business. Does the child have a name, wife?
Nigel’s Mum: Yes. Apparently he is “Norman.”
Nigel’s Dad: Norman? You can’t call him Norman!
Nigel’s Mum: Why ever not?
Nigel’s Dad: Normal Norman? Can you imagine the shame and humiliation he’ll suffer with such a dull name! Besides... I’M CALLED NORMAN!
Nigel’s Mum: ...so you are. I completely forgot. But the mother’s wish was for Norman.
Nigel’s Dad: The mother was clearly not fit to look after the child. Call him something else beginning with N. It has to be easy to shout to get his attention.
Nigel’s Mum: Mmmm. N...
[Nigel’s mum pulls out a copy of 2027 BABY NAMES BY JOHN SMITH.]
Nigel’s Mum: Napoleon?
Nigel’s Dad: Too French.
Nigel’s Mum: Nash?
Nigel’s Dad: Stupid. Sounds like he grinds his teeth.
Nigel’s Mum: Nassir? Nate? Nathan? Nathanial?
Nigel’s Dad: All too pretentious.
Nigel’s Mum: Neil?
Nigel’s Dad: He’s not a hippie.
Nigel’s Mum: Neilson?
Nigel’s Dad: Nor is he the son of a hippie. Not any more.
Nigel’s Mum: Nelly? Hang on, that’s a girl’s name. Nelson? Neven? Neville?
Nigel’s Dad: Any others?
Nigel’s Mum: Newelle? Newman? Newton? Nic? Nicholas? Night?
Nigel’s Dad: Night? What sort of stupid name is that?
Nigel’s Mum: Noah? Noel? Nolan? Norm? Norris? Norvin? Nye?
Nigel’s Dad: Anything else?
Nigel’s Mum: Nigel?
Nigel’s Dad: It’s the least ridiculous name there?
Nigel’s Mum: Apart from Nuala.
Nigel’s Dad: Nigel it is then. He shall be Nigel Yang!
[Apocalyptic music. Lightning flashes.]
Nigel’s Mum: [cheerful] Ooh, it’s raining again! That’s a good sign that the drought has broken.
[Caption: TWO MONTHS LATER. A slightly more grown baby Nigel, now in an expensive silk kimono and nappy, sits with several other small children around a large TV, staring uncomprehendingly at the screen, which shows a news program.]
TV: ...making this the third triathlon that Christopher Skase has won by a clear majority. Mr. Skase puts it down to his sheer persistence and fine physical health which he suspects will let him lead a long and happy life. In other use, noted philanthropist Sir Norman Yang OBE has a new addition to his already impressive immediate family. This time he and his wife Oyuki Mashimi Yang have adopted an Aboriginal baby that was left on their front doorstep two months ago. After a brief bomb scare, it was determined the baby, a boy, was in fine physical health and that the Yangs were suitable adoptive parents. The baby boy, named Nigel, is doing fine and expected to emphasize tolerance and equality in Australian society. Some sources say he may indeed be the poster child for next year’s Year of the Patronizing Bastard...
[Back at Bert’s house, Christie is munching some CCs as she enters the living area. Not noticing what the item is about, she idly switches the channel and sits down to watch Hey Dad!]
[At the Yang Household, baby Nigel is sitting next to another baby, an Asian girl. They watch the TV with wonderous expressions.]
Voice 1: Oh, Doctor, what’s happening?!
Voice 2: It’s these new TARDISes, Betty, I just can’t get the hang of them... they’re all plastic...
Voice 1: Oh, I think... we’re going to crash!
Voice 2: I know. Just you wait, the whole FRONT of this thing is about to cave in...
[A loud crash. The two infants flinch.]
Voice 3: Let me in! At once! I must see our king!
Voice 4: He, uh, he doesn’t want to be disturbed...
Voice 5: Arr, what is it? Can’t you see I’m trying on a new suit? Can you SEE... the HAIRS... on my CHEST!?
Voice 3: ...magnificent, sir. But I have urgent news, Dr Who has landed on our planet!
Voice 5: Impossible! We’ve disguised it as 17th Century Europe!
Voice 3: But, sir, it’s true. Here, I have a photograph of Dr Who leaving his ship...
Voice 5: [yawning] Look, I don’t want to talk about the Doctor, I don’t want to SEE the Doctor, understand? And as for YOU, turtle-head, wipe that stupid smile off your face and straighten your moustache...
[The Asian baby laughs.]
[A rather flabby, toothy Yang (Uncle Miko) walks past a wall calendar and tugs off the date: 3 MARCH, revealing 4 MARCH underneath. Soon, that date falls away, then another, and another, until the whole calendar is used up. Pull out to see Yang standing next to the empty calendar, a huge pile of dates on the floor, boggling with surprise.]
Miko: What the hell is wrong with this shitty calendar?
[Caption: THREE YEARS LATER. We see a very large group of Asians are gathered for a group photo. Nigel’s Mum, Dad and Uncle Miko are there along with countless others. Children are at the front, eldest and tallest at the edges, youngest and smallest at the middle. The photographer checks the focus.]
Photographer: And... smile?
[All smile. The photographer frowns.]
Photographer: Hang on. Just one thing needs fixing....
[He rushes over to the front row of children, plucks toddler Nigel out of the group and rushes to place the infant over to the camera.]
Photographer: Right. Now, that’s much better. You press the red button, OK?
[The photographer runs over and fills the gap in the crowd left by Nigel, pulling a stupid face and making bunny ears of his fingers. The photo is taken.]
[Caption: ANOTHER YEAR LATER. We see this framed portrait is up on the wall of the verandah. A slightly older Nigel’s Mum and Dad are talking as they take tea on the lawn. The butler serves tea.]
Nigel’s Dad: Tch. You would have thought that with all Nostradumas’ predictions proved wrong, society would stop fussing about the apocalypse and concentrate on more important concerns?
Nigel’s Mum: Such as, husband?
Nigel’s Dad: That it is 1992 and there are still children living in poverty, wife.
Nigel’s Mum: But not ours, surely?
Nigel’s Dad: Indeed. But there is more that material poverty. I think it is time for the next generation of the Yang clan to begin their education immediately.
Nigel’s Mum: But they, none of them are yet old enough to attend school.
Nigel’s Dad: Which is why we should begin now. [puts down paper] Have Auntie Kyota begin instructions on their heritage...
[Elsewhere, a now four-year-old Nigel is in a park, flying kites with three other children of the same age – a cute girl called Beriniko; Kenji, a rather big boy; and Akiro a very short girl with long hair.]
Beriniko: Hey, Kenji? Want to play Haiku?
Kenji: Hike who?
Akiro: It’s a like a song except it doesn’t make sense. Or rhyme.
Akiro: Um... ah, who cares?
Beriniko: Me neither.
[A grey-haired aunt approaches them.]
Kyota: Come, children. Today we begin to learn the ways of the world.
[A little later, the five sit on a hill, the children listening to Kyota talking.]
Kyota: At the start of time, there were the two gods, Izanagi and Izanami and they worked together to create the whole world. But to ensure that the people of the world could see the beauty of their creation, Izanagi plucked out his own eyes. They became the sun and the moon. His sight was sacrificed so the whole world could see. Then Izanagi and Izanami touched and became one, forming the Islands of Japan.
Akiro: Auntie, does this mean that god is blind?
Beriniko: But he plucked out his own eyes!
Kyota: Yes, but he has Izanami to guide him.
Akiro: But he IS blind.
Kyota: According to Japanese mythology...
Nigel: [bored] Who cares?
Kyota: Nigel! Have you no interest in the rich heritage you are part of?
Nigel: [defensive] ...I just want to play with the kites.
Kyota: Then go, then!
[Meekly, Nigel rises and walks off.]
Kyota: But, be warned – ignorance is its own downfall!
Kenji: What’s “ignorance” mean?
Kyota: Give me strength.
[Dropping her accent, Kyota takes out a walkie talkie and speaks like an Aussie.]
Kyota: OK, that fell on its belly. On to phase N for Nigel...
Kenji: Cool! A walkie-talkie, can I have a go?
Beriniko: No, me!
[Over the hill, Nigel wanders through the park, alone. He stops as he sees a glowing Yin-Yang symbol.]
[Weird voices are heard.]
Voices: I am Yin. I am Yang. I am darkness, I am light. The earth, the sky, I am moisture, I am heat, and all things feminine and all things masculine, together we form the Tao. We are inseparate, we are interdependent, an endless procession.
[Nigel swallows, nervous.]
Voices: There is ebb, there is flow, there is give, there is take, every saving has its cost. Toa is all.
[Nigel wails and runs off. The glowing symbol vanishes. Nigel’s dad and Uncle Miko emerge from the bushes with a cheap plastic projector torch thing.]
Miko: Well. Another Yang child runs off in terror.
Nigel’s Dad: I can’t believe this. He didn’t even notice he shares his name with half the Tao!
Miko: He didn’t wet himself. That’s an improvement on the last twelve.
Nigel’s Dad: Indeed. Well, wait for Beriniko to arrive and we’ll try it on her.
Miko: Aw, come on, brother. I’m hungry.
Nigel’s Dad: You’re always hungry, Miko.
Miko: Maybe if you actually paid for lunch once in your life, I might sate my appetite, you cheap son of a whore.
Nigel’s Dad: Don’t call me cheap, you oriental bastard!
[They soon start fighting. Nigel’s dad smashes the projector over Uncle Miko’s head.]
[Nigel, Beriniko, Akiro and Kenji stand on a hill in front of Uncle Tetsuma, a very calm bald man with a long beard and, bizarrely, a Seth Efriken accent. They all have wooden swords.]
Tetsuma: Bushido is the way of the warrior. Zen is the Bhuddism of the warrior.
Beriniko: Is Zen not Bhuddism all on its own, Uncle Satsuma?
Tetsuma: [totally losing it] IT’S TETSUMA! NOT SATSUMA! I AM NOT A PIECE OF FRUIT! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, YOU STUPID CHILDREN?!
Akiro: That is not answering the question though, Uncle Satsuma.
Tetsuma: SATSUMA?! I AM NOT A SATSUMA! WHY PEOPLE KEEP CALLING ME THAT! I HATE IT! TWENTY-NINE YEARS I HAVE SUFFERED THESE JOKES! WHY? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME? DO YOU WANT MY SOUL TO BLEED IN SHAME?!
[Akiro starts to weep.]
Akiro: I am sorry, Uncle Testy-sumo.
[Tetsuma growls in frustration.]
Tetsuma: As I was saying. In the art of swordsmanship, perfection can only be achieved when the heart is untroubled by thoughts of you and me.
Nigel: You mean, when you’re dead?
Tetsuma: No, I mean when you have no thoughts at all!
Nigel: Sounds like being dead to me.
Tetsuma: Life and death do not come into it. Your opponent’s swords do not come into it! There is nothing!
Kenji: Nigel is right, this sounds very much like being dead.
Akiro: Yes. If you are dead, you cannot lose a swordfight because you cannot be killed.
Beriniko: Who would want to sword fight with a dead person anyway?
Tetsuma: Ahem?! All must be emptiness.
Nigel: Like being dead.
Tetsuma: No. There must not even be the very thought of emptiness.
Tetsuma: You must be one with your sword. There must be no blocking. All must flow. You must try by not trying. You must do by being.
Kenji: My head aches.
Tetsuma: Come. Empty your minds and attack me.
Nigel: But we do not want to attack you, Uncle Satsuma.
Tetsuma: STOP CALLING ME THAT YOU LITTLE BASTARDS! I’LL BLOODY KILL YOU ALL!
[Tetsuma swings his wooden sword at Nigel who screams and runs. Tetsuma chases after him but Beriniko dives on his back and starts whacking his on his head with her sword. Tetsuma falls and Akiro and Kenji rush over and start beating him up as well. A Rodney-King style bashing occurs. Nigel cautiously runs back, kicks Tetsuma in the head, then runs away again.]
[A battered and bloody Tetsuma is on a gurney being carried into an ambulance. Nigel’s mum looks disapprovingly down at the four children.]
Nigel’s Mum: Obviously you are not meant to be warriors this early in your lives. We shall try spiritual meditation instead, shall we?
[The children nod shyly.]
[Nigel’s mum leads them all to another part of the park where a pi-shaped wooden arch is up on the hill. Crows sit on them.]
Nigel’s Mum: This, children, is the Torii. It is a source of dark power. Toriis normally lead to religious shrines but some lead to other places, beyond the world of men, perhaps even to Yomi, the Underworld, the Land of Gloom.
[The children stare at the arch nervously. Beriniko takes Nigel’s hand.]
Nigel’s Mum: Look on it with open minds, but do not let it cast its spell over you. It mesmerizes like moonlight on water or waves breaking along a deserted beach. Dwell on the negative and Yomi will receive you. One must be pure of heart to pass through and remain in this world. Simply clear your mind of all negative thought and be at peace with yourself. You first, Kenji.
[Kenji walks up to the Torri then freezes.]
Kenji: But, mother, Ben Elton says all Torris are evil.
Beriniko: Especially their leader, the evil Thechar.
Nigel’s Mum: Ben Elton is English. What does he know of the inner mysteries of reality?
Akiro: He’s friends with Alexei Sayle.
Nigel’s Mum: ...point.
Nigel: This seems humungously dangerous. We should stick to flying kites.
Kenji: Yes. That we are good at.
Beriniko: No one ever gets sucked into the Underworld flying a kite.
Akiro: Not even Charlie Brown.
Nigel’s Mum: Look, I shall go first, to prove it is possible.
[Nigel’s mum walks slowly through the arch, but trips on a pothole and falls over. The children scream and run off in terror. Nigel’s mum sighs.]
Nigel’s Mum: Right. Public school education it IS, then.
[Caption: LESS THAN A YEAR LATER. A posh car is driving up a steep hill. There are two large schools on either side of the road. The quartet are in the back seat. Kenji is smiling idiotically, but the others are all tense and anxious. Nigel’s Mum is in the passenger seat while the butler drives.]
Nigel’s Mum: You see, children? That is the high school for where the children go when they finish at primary. It is just across the road so no one has any difficulty changing locations. Is that not innovative.
Akiro: [miserable] This is where it all starts.
Nigel: [trying not to panic] Yeah. What does?
Akiro: School. Like Degrassi Street Junior High School Blues!
Beriniko: [fearful] Homework. Teachers. Bullies. Exercise. Exams.
Nigel: Suicidal students. Failed pop groups.
Beriniko: Drug-pushers who don’t have drugs, just vitamins and rat poisons.
Akiro: Safe sex. Car crashes. In no time at all we’ll be at the school disco dancing with our worst enemy who’s just been diagnosed with AIDS before the school burns down and all our loved ones die in a car accident and all the interesting people get recast for similar characters!
Nigel: Bhudda in blender! You’re right! We’re stuffed! Completely stuffed!
Beriniko: The moment the teachers aren’t looking, we’ll be bound hand and foot, forced to wear our underpants on the outside and roll bananas through hallways using only our noses...
Akiro: Never! DEATH FIRST!
Nigel: [doubtful] Yeah?
Kenji: Hey! There are seagulls here!
[The others immediately are distracted.]
Beriniko: Hey, can we give them chips to eat here?
Akiro: That one’s only got one leg!
Nigel: And that one’s all brown and spotty! [sighs] Aren’t you worried, Kenji?
Akiro: Give him a moment, Nigel, his brain isn’t as fast as ours.
[They wait and Nigel, Beriniko and Akiro silently count down from three. When they reach ‘one’, Kenji blinks, whimpers and then starts to scream in terror.]
[Nigel’s mum leads the quartet across the playground and into a building. The atmos is like being taken into a death camp. Nigel is struggling to control his breathing. Kenji is now catatonic. Beriniko and Akiro try and help out their brothers.]
[In the reception office area. Nigel’s mum is talking to a teacher.]
Nigel: They’re gonna split us up. I know they’re gonna split us up.
Akiro: Yes. That way we can’t unite our forces and defeat them.
Beriniko: Why are they doing this to us? We didn’t do anything wrong.
Nigel: It’s the vase, isn’t it? They’ve found out!
Akiro: It was an accident!
Nigel: An accident YOU had!
Beriniko: It’s impossible. We super-glued it all together. No one could ever spot the cracks.
[We cut to the vase. It’s been shattered and glued back together very badly, with parts inside out and none of the colours matching.]
Nigel: Unless someone squealed!
Kenji: [zoned out] We’re beyond recriminations now. Beyond everything.
Akiro: Yes! Remember, everyone, the Red Dragon will still awake! The next century BELONGS TO US!!
Nigel: Who cares about a century? It’s here and now that matters!
Beriniko: Yeah... maybe there’s a fire alarm we can set off and run for it?
[A short teacher with yellow-white hair approaches, with a tall thin woman with brown curly hair.]
Teacher 1: Hello, Akiro. Hello Kenji. We’re going to be your teachers.
Akiro: [hisses] Try bribing them!
Teacher 1: I’m Mrs. Webb. And this is Mrs. Webby.
Nigel: ...you’re kidding, right?
Akiro: The chances of that coincidence are ridiculous.
Teacher 2: I know, funny, isn’t it? Come along.
[Kenji is meekly led away. Akiro is vocal.]
Akiro: I don’t care what happens now! I REGRET NOTHING! [long pause] OK, I regret a few things...
[Nigel and Beriniko are left alone. They hug each other in fear.]
Beriniko: Don’t worry, Nigee, I’ll take care of you.
Nigel: Yeah. Look, if we can get past that desk we can sneak outside, maybe catch a taxi...
Beriniko: Yeah. The airport’s near here, isn’t it?
Nigel: We’ll head to Japan. Cousin Kurasowa can help us out.
Beriniko: What if he doesn’t?
Nigel: Then... then we’ll tell everyone HE broke the vase.
Beriniko: But... he didn’t.
Nigel: This is no time for fiddly details, Benny. Now, when I say run...
[Two more teachers arrives.]
Teacher 3: Ah, you must be the new students for today. Which one’s Nigel?
Beriniko: Don’t tell him, Nigel!
[The teachers laugh.]
Teacher 3: I guessed Nigel was the boy. Come on, I’ll show you round.
Nigel: Only if my sister comes too.
Teacher 4: I’m sorry, Nigel. She’s in a different class.
Beriniko: I don’t want to be.
Teacher 3: It’s the school rule. Otherwise children would stay with their siblings and not open up intellectually and emotionally to new students.
Nigel: [weakly] ...that makes sense. Kind of.
Teacher 4: Come on, Nigel.
[The teacher leads him away. At first he goes quietly, then he realizes what’s going on and turns and tries to escape, but Beriniko is being lead away as well.]
Nigel: Benny! Benny!
Beriniko: No, Nige, don’t struggle! Don’t let them hurt you! You submit, you hear?
Nigel: [losing it] BENNY!
Beriniko: I’ll find you! I promise I’ll find you! No matter what! No matter what!
Beriniko: WHEREVER THEY TAKE YOU I’LL GET YOU BACK!!
[Beriniko sags as Nigel is dragged out of sight.]
Teacher 3: [soothing] It’s all right, you can see him again at Little Lunch.
Beriniko: When’s that?
Teacher 3: In two hours.
Beriniko: Oh. [shouts over her shoulder] See you at 11 o’clock, then!
[Classroom. A large group of children are up against one end of the room as Teacher 4 organizes some Year Six students into arranging tables. We see the latest arrivals having to sit at the front, watching. Most hug their schoolbags, bar one thoroughly absorbed in TMNT Adventures # 11. Nigel sits between a surly, scruffy boy and a smaller, nervous looking boy biting his own fist. Trying to fight his rising hysteria, Nigel sings unsteadily to himself.]
Nigel: [shaky] ...gonna take a lot to drag me away from you... there’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever doo...
[The surly boy slowly turns to glare at him. Nigel grins nervously, trailing off.]
Nigel: ...I bless the rains down in Africa... ahem.
[Nigel finally falls silent. The surly boy turns to glare ahead once more. The nervous boy feels the tension.]
Dave: Heh. Kinda like being in a bank, huh? [silence] You know.
Surly Boy: Yeah. About as useful, too.
[That kills the atmos stone dead.]
Dave: I’m... I’m called David Mitchell Rest...
Surly Boy: And I don’t care at all so shut up.
[A redhaired girl behind them frowns.]
Phoebe: You don’t have to be so mean.
Surly Boy: Don’t I? [temper rising] How do you know? [turns to look at her] I might have a damn good reason! Have you thought of that?!
Phoebe: [mocking] “And I don’t care at all so shut up.”
[Some weak laughter from the other kids.]
Nigel: Hey, er... what’s your name, sorry?
Nigel: Phoebe. Yeah. Um. When do we get out of here?
Surly Boy: Three o’clock.
Nigel: [surprised at him answering] Er, when’s that?
Surly Boy: Not damn soon enough.
Dave: I wish I was still at home.
Nigel: Me too.
Phoebe: Me three.
[More muttered agreement.]
Surly Boy: Well, it’s a pity we don’t have any choice, huh? We’re stuck here. Get used to it.
[Conversation dies horribly once more. Teacher 4 returns.]
Teacher 4: All right, so we’ve had the tables lined out and on each table is your name, all the numbers and letters of the alphabet to help you. But first, I know how scary it can be to start school for the first time, so we’re going to have a buddy system. That means two students have to look after each other and help them get used to the new way of doing things. Understood?
[All except the surly kid reply.]
Kids: Yes, Miss.
Teacher 4: All right. [checks clipboard] So, who wants to be first?
[She looks at Dave, who is the latest arrival.]
Teacher 4: What’s your name then?
Dave: David Mitchell Restal, Miss.
Teacher 4: OK, David. Let’s see... your buddy is... [checks] Johan Disreali Morok...
Dave: [stunned] JD?
[The kid finally puts down the Ninja Turtle comic he was reading.]
Jadi: What? [sees Dave] What?! David! What are you doing here?
Dave: You can talk! [so relieved] Aw, man! I didn’t know you were coming to this school as well!
Jadi: Yeah! My mum and dad must have made sure we both came here!
Dave: Yeah, [sighs] why do they never TELL us these things?
Teacher 4: Oh. You know each other. Oh well, we can let that slide...
Nigel: I know someone who could be my buddy, Miss, she’d be brilliant.
Phoebe: [blushes] Oh, thanks.
Nigel: Um. [embarrassed] Actually, I meant my sister, Beriniko...
Teacher 4: I’m sorry, Nigel, your buddy has to be from this class. And we’ve already chosen you one.
Nigel: [beaten] Have you?
Teacher 4: Yes, it’s Theodore Klyn... Klyngiro... Is there a Theodore in here?
[The surly boy rolls his eyes and raises his hand.]
Surly Boy: [patronizing] It’s pronounced “Kline-ge-row-fell”, Miss.
Teacher 4: Klyngirophel, right. OK, Theo, you and Nigel are now buddies.
[The surly boy and Nigel exchange looks. The teacher continues assigning buddies.]
Theo: Just when you think you can’t hit rock bottom, someone throws you a spade.
Nigel: [miserable] Pretty much...
Beriniko: I hear you call my name and it feels like home.