This monologue is by Iman Qureshi, taken from My White Best Friend, a collection of letters from some of the most exciting voices in the UK and beyond, edited by Rachel De-lahay. It was originally co-curated by Rachel and Milli Bhatia for two critically-acclaimed monologue festivals at the Bunker Theatre in 2019.
Iman Qureshi is an award-winning writer for stage, screen and radio. Her breakout play The Funeral Director (2018) won the Papatango New Writing Prize and premiered at the Southwark Playhouse. Her short Home Girl was selected for the 2019 BFI Flare Festival.
The Passport Thing by Iman Qureshi
To my love,
I know you’re excited about going on this romantic holiday together, but please forgive my clenched teeth and sweating palms – it really isn’t personal.
I am excited, I promise, even though I look positively petrified.
In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to binge-watch multiple episodes of Air Crash Investigations the night before a long-haul flight.
The seatbelts feel too flimsy,
and are these elusive oxygen masks, that they assure us will just drop from above, even real?
Is there truly a life jacket under my seat,
and what good will it do when about seventy percent of our journey is over land, and not sea?
Surely it’d make more sense to store a parachute under there, or perhaps a giant bloody trampoline.
Why has no one thought of that before?
And where the fuck is the drinks trolley?
The least I can do is get absolutely trollied on mini Smirnoffs and Gordon’s gins.
Because here’s the thing that’s been on my mind.
I should warn you – it’s pretty macabre, so I hope it’s okay that I’ve written it down on this cheery holiday postcard I picked up from the airport.
This thing is.
If this flight were to go down now, our bodies would be claimed by different countries.
Your beautiful body that I have loved with my own would be taken West, while my charred and embarrassingly unshaved limbs would be dragged East to a country I have never really known.
Don’t look at me like that, I just didn’t have time to shave.
I promise I won’t just let myself go now that we’re – you know. I just ran out of time with packing and all.
Besides, I’ll have a five o’ clock shadow down my shins by the time we actually get to a pool anyway, so really I couldn’t have planned it better.
Yes, yes I know you feel obliged to say, you don’t mind hairy legs.
But I know that your standards of hairy are really talking about that light blond fluff that you have on your own white girl legs, and it can hardly be called hair.
Anyway. Where was I?
Right – when this plane crashes and we die,
you will be buried on British soil,
or cremated perhaps
– yes I think you’d prefer that –
scattered over the countryside where you grew up,
or into the South coast seas where you’d swim in the summers.
Or perhaps even just along the dusty disgusting South London street that we’ve lived these last five years,
your ashes blowing down alongside the grit and grime and dog shit that those fucking yob owners have again neglected to bag and bin.
Did you email the council about that, darling?
You said you would.
I’m not nagging.
if we crashed now,
and died on this here flight,
all our friends would attend your wake,
play the songs you loved,
Radiohead’s ‘True Love Waits’
or Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’
– what a miserable yawn-fest of a funeral it would be.
But then they’d remember moments they shared with you.
The time you ate a whole raw lemon as a dare.
The time you got up in the face of a teenage kid who was trying to mug you and, so astonished was he to see a petite white girl transform into a terrifying hulk, that he gave up and ran away.
The parties you lit up,
The broken hearts you comforted,
The laughs you engendered,
The smiles you threw at strangers,
The seats you gave up for old ladies on the tube
– fragments of you in the form of stories that live beyond.
Perhaps the only missing piece would be me.
Me and my green passport would be lying limply in a morgue in Pakistan,
I hope you’ll accept my apologies
– I won’t be at your funeral to tell all your guests how much I loved you.
How I’d love running my hands through your hair, even though you hated it and said it made it tangle.
Or how I loved tickling you till you cried and kicked me off.
Or how I had loved kissing your temples, at the exact point your hair met your face, where that clean fresh smell of your skin was the most delicious.
Because I’d be on the other side of the earth,
Being buried in a graveyard I’ve never seen,
In a city that was never home,
By strangers who share a share of the blood that once ran through my arteries.
I’d be buried in an umrah shroud that was never my own
Because I have never been for umrah.
And prayers I hardly know would be recited over my grave in a language I could no longer speak.
All this in a country where our marriage would never be recognized.
Our relationship never acknowledged.
Our love never known.
And as these anxious thoughts crash through my head, I look at you, fast asleep beside me, snoring into your travel pillow, which I am now regretting not buying too.
Two for twenty, a con, I’d said, smugly.
‘Fine,’ you’d replied, forking out the twelve for your own. ‘Your funeral.’
Ah the drinks cart – finally.
Yes I would like one. A vodka please.
One to take the edge off or two to knock me out?
Make it three to quell the rising nausea which accompanies my blind fear that this plane is about to careen out of the skies,
hurtle earthwards, and smash across the Saharan desert in a way that is in actual fact a lot less romantic than the scene in The English Patient where Ralph Fiennes aka Voldemort gathers up Kristen Scott Thomas’s limp body from a plane crash, carries her to a cave and makes love to her lifeless corpse.
That definitely happens by the way.
In the book anyway, if not the schmaltzy Hollywood film.
Because that’s real love.
And trust me, the book is way better.
Okay so maybe just the two vodkas please, yes, sure, that’s fine.
Knock back a couple of shots.
I don’t mind dying really.
That’s the funny thing.
It’s not the dying that scares me.
It’s the dying abroad, that’s a problem.
The passport thing, and a thing you will never really understand.
Being born in the place of your nationality,
of your parents’ nationality,
and of their parents’ nationality.
Having no attachment to anywhere other than where your little red book says you’re from, having no immigration queues,
no scrutinizing looks,
no suspicious questions,
no unnecessary checks,
no random searches,
no seized baggage,
no restrictions on where you can live and for how long and how much you must earn,
no bits of archaic jingoistic versions of history you must learn to pass tests on what it means to be British.
No questions about whether you can bring your children
or what benefits you can claim
and what languages you must speak,
and how you’ll benefit the economy,
and generally an expectation that you must be a citizen more upstanding than all the other citizens who are given their rights of citizenship by birth.
No wonder you’re so fucking fast asleep, that even that screaming baby and bowel-clenching turbulence didn’t wake you.
Your life is fucking blessed, really.
I know I sound angry,
and perhaps sometimes I am angry.
Sometimes I am angry that I have jumped through hoop after hoop to be with you,
but you can just be.
Sometimes I am angry that you don’t understand.
Sometimes I am angry that you’re angry on my behalf without knowing what it feels like, what it actually feels like to be discriminated against.
That’s what it is.
It’s legal discrimination,
Because at the end of the day,
The country in which we have both spent the majority of our lives
Views us differently.
The country that we both call home treats us differently.
And deep down,
deep deep down,
I can see you think that’s okay.
That it’s understandable.
That it’s necessary.
And that really hurts.
I know this isn’t the postcard you expected me to write you on our honeymoon.
But here it is.
At the end of the day, my love,
as we set off on our honeymoon,
with wedding rings on our fingers,
our marriage certificate in case we need to prove our relationship to get free champagne,
and our bikinis and sun screen
– Factor 50 for you, and a mere SPF 10 for me, because at least I have melanin to my advantage –
this is what I really wanted to say:
You might think our love is free of borders
– that is your privilege,
to be able to claim identity in the borders within which you live your life.
But in fact, our love is policed daily,
by those borders that seem so invisible to you.
So as we fly at five hundred miles an hour across the borders that have been carved onto this globe,
and I sweat
and inhale and exhale into the paper bag in the front pocket of my seat
Know that it’s not for fear of flying
Or even dying
For fear of being divided.
And as I watch you blink awake and fiddle with your in-flight entertainment and adjust your seat back
I want you to know that though I love you across those borders
sometimes, it’s difficult
when you don’t see quite how hard they have been for me to navigate.
And if we do go down,
and if it is the end,
I have one real wish
and I hope it’s not too much to ask:
I hope souls in the afterlife are not policed as severely as bodies in this world.
I hope the afterlife knows no borders, no immigration queues, no customs stamps or luggage conveyor belts.
Because if that’s the case then even if my corpse was taken East, let me assure you that my soul would dig.
Dig through the earth,
right from the soils of Pakistan,
tunnel through Afghanistan and the Middle East,
swim up the Red Sea and into the Suez.
From there my soul would carry on,
across the Med,
right up the Bosphorus that divides Europe from Asia,
and burst onto the banks of your continent.
From there it wouldn’t stop,
carry on burrowing,
through Eastern Europe,
under and around the remnants of the Berlin Wall,
before making the final stretch across the English Channel.
And my soul would do this, darling,
travel all that way,
evade all those borders in death as in life,
all to be with yours, my love,
all to be with you.
Happy honeymoon, my darling.
I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with you. However long – or short – that life may be.
With all my heart.