(a brief scene for the stage)
WILLIAM GALLANT………………an Education student
XAVIER BIRD…………………………..a Cree hunter, a Canadian war veteran
(The stage is split evenly into two halves by a wall or a curtain that runs front to back. WILLIAM inhabits one half of the stage. He is standing, and may roam around his side of the stage throughout the scene. He is in his late 20s. He wears a collared shirt and dress pants. The other half of the stage is inhabited by XAVIER and a TRANSLATOR. XAVIER is a Cree hunter from Moose Factory, Ontario and a veteran of the Canadian Army, having fought in World War I in France and Belgium. Unlike WILLIAM and the TRANSLATOR, XAVIER is seated and wearing the traditional dress of his people. The character of XAVIER was created by the Canadian author Joseph Boyden and featured in his novel Three Day Road. XAVIER speaks basic English and can understand some of what is said in English, but for the purpose of this meeting/conversation, he has enlisted the help of a translator. It should be understood by the reader that each time WILLIAM speaks, the TRANSLATOR will relay the information to XAVIER in the Cree language. If XAVIER decides to respond, he will do so in Cree and the TRANSLATOR will speak this response aloud in English. All three characters face the audience throughout the scene.)
I’m so happy you agreed to speak with me with Mr. Bird.
He asks that you call him Xavier.
Alright then. (pause) Xavier. As I wrote in my letter, I am in the Education program at the University of Prince Edward Island…
Abegweit, he says.
Yes of course! The Mi’kmaq name for the island is Abegweit. I’ve lived here my whole life and I want to stay here and teach.
He wishes to know what you are going to teach your students.
Well I am specializing in Chemistry and English, but I’m leaning more towards English.
(XAVIER laughs deeply)
(WILLIAM is hurt) Why is that funny?
(XAVIER speaks when he is done laughing)
What can he help you with? He knows nothing of chemistry, and clearly he is no expert in English if he requires a translator to speak with you!
(WILLIAM is flustered) I know it may sound strange, but there is a lot that can be done in an English classroom. I really think you could help me.
(XAVIER’s expression becomes serious, he speaks)
As an English teacher, I will have a certain amount of freedom. I can encourage creativity and critical thinking. I can give the kids a chance to explore who they are, and how they might fit into the world.
How will you accomplish this?
(pause) I’m not entirely sure yet, but I know that I want to guide them towards stories of our own country…of our own region and our own backyard.
He says, of course they must know their own story.
But that’s just it Xavier, most of the students don’t know that these stories exist. (pause) I know that you were educated in the traditional way of your people, but our system is nothing like that.
He says, I hope your school is not like that awful place where my friend Elijah was sent. The residential school.
No it’s not like that. I mean, there is a teacher at the front of the class and kids sitting at their desks but (pause) the abuses those children suffered (pause) you wouldn’t see anything like that where I’m going to work.
(XAVIER is silent for an extended pause, then speaks)
He wonders what stories the children would learn if not their own?
That’s a good question. We read a ton of Shakespeare. (pause) Um, he’s a playwright from England, died about 400 years ago…
(XAVIER gives a grunt, seemingly of disapproval)
…novels about racism in the United States..novels about the American Dream…
He doesn’t understand.
I guess I don’t either, but it took me a long time to see things this way. Because those plays and those books are considered to be brilliant works of art — classics. They’ve been hammered into our brains. (pause) And you know, most of them are great, and the kids can get a lot out of them, but there has to be more of a focus on our own writers and our own words.
Xavier has a question for you.
By all means.
Will you tell his story? Of his time at war with Elijah? Of his journey home with his Aunt Niska? When he was broken and battling an addiction to morphine?
I will Xavier, absolutely…with your blessing of course. (pause) Yours is the kind of story my students need to read and discuss right now. I learned next to nothing about Aboriginals in Canada when I was growing up. It was all surface level, a few sentences in a Social Studies book. (pause) But I believe the next generation is going to get a deeper picture of what your people went through. At least I hope they will.
(XAVIER seems contented with this answer, but remains silent)
(after waiting and hearing no response) It’s more than just what happened to you Xavier. I wanted to speak with you because I think we are alike in many ways.
Well, I feel like I have known versions of Elijah in my own life. I’m drawn to these wildly talented characters who take foolish risks that I wouldn’t take. People who believe in themselves in a way that I can’t understand. They play the heroes while I play the silent companion, much like you did with Elijah.
Elijah was a good man. Like a brother to me. But those nuns scarred him. And the war changed him. He became obsessed with personal glory. I couldn’t bring him back.
I don’t think there was anything you could have done Xavier. It was too late. But I wonder if I could make things better for the next Elijah.
How will you do this?
(pause) That’s what I wanted to ask you. What would you have said to a young Elijah? Not as his friend but as his teacher?
(XAVIER waits 2 pauses before speaking)
Elijah was my best friend, but he didn’t know who he was. He grew up between two different worlds and he was lost. I had a home to come back to, but he did not.
And you think that understanding his own identity would have changed things?
He says, of course it would have. It would have changed everything.
(WILLIAM is silent. XAVIER breaks the silence)
He wants to know if there are people in your community who tell stories?
Yes, there are all kinds. We have poets and filmmakers and songwriters and painters, anything you can think of, we’ve got it.
Then that is where you must start.
Yes but what if the kids don’t follow me there?
(XAVIER whispers something to the TRANSLATOR then stands up. They both walk offstage.)
I mean I love the local stuff, but it might not go over. And I’ll probably have the principal and the parents wanting to know what the hell I’m up to. (pause) What if I can’t inspire them? (pause) Xavier? Are you still there? I was hoping you would stick around a little longer…
(stage lights to black)
(end of scene)