The Phone: A One-Act Play by Irene Lau

For those who miss the little things in life
And those who talk as if they haven’t

Setting: Two public telephone booths stand alongside Nathan Road, one of the busiest roads in Hong Kong. On one of the booths is a sign saying ‘Out of Order’.

Lights on. The booths are unoccupied. A Filipino MAID enters with a plastic bag of coins. She wears a sweater and an ankle-long dress of dark colours. She approaches the booth, places the little plastic bag on top of the telephone and starts her long-distance call.


She continues her chitchat in Tagalog when HUSBAND enters and queues up after her. He frowns as he sees MAID talking non-stop adding coins one by one. He checks his pager again and stamps his feet in impatience.He strolls to and fro between the kiosks and stares at the out-of-order sign on the other telephone booth. He tries that phone, and soon puts down the handset roughly. After some time, MAID leaves. HUSBAND hurries to make the phone call.

Yes, Ling, it’s me. Oh, what’s the matter? You left an urgent message… Oh, I’m on my way back! I had a meeting – you knew about it already. What? Where am I? I’m in the street!… Why late? Oh one of those Filipinos was making a damn long distance call . . . (raising his voice) Cheating you! My god… oh my god… certainly not. . . (he pauses for several seconds) Don’t holler like that!

GIRLFRIEND and BOYFRIEND enter, walking hand in hand. They wait behind HUSBAND for the phone. They whisper to each other.

I say – I’m not… Hey, don’t roar at me again! I told you – I’m not hiding anything! (he notices the couple queueing behind him and lowers his voice) Don’t have such an imagination! I say . . . (he pauses for a few seconds) We’ll talk when I’m back, all right? . . . What do you want? Somebody’s waiting for the phone… Okay, okay… be back in half an hour, alright?

HUSBAND hangs up the phone, sighs deeply and leaves. BOYFRIEND smiles at GIRLFRIEND

Hope you don’t do that to me after we’re married.

GIRLFRIEND (punching his arm)
What idiot would promise to be your wife? Shhh, keep your voice down. (she dials a number). Well Mom, yes… I’m leaving school now . . . yes . . . coming back. Where am I? Hm… Hennessy Road. Yes, I’m in Causeway Bay…about to take the MTR. Yes, of course I’m alone.

BOYFRIEND (laughs secretly and speaks softly)
Ha! You liar . . .

GIRLFRIEND (puts her hand across his mouth and shakes her head)
Alright, I’ll be quick, right . .. I’ll be careful . . . yes . . . bye Mom. (she hangs up and turns to BOYFRIEND) I told you to shut up. What if my mom heard your voice!

BOYFRIEND (jokingly)
Ha! How could she? I can’t even hear what I’m saying!

GIRLFRIEND (angrily)
You – are – just- making – excuses!!

She turns and leaves.

BOYFRIEND (chases after her)
Oh, wait a second, darling…

BOYFRIEND leaves at the same time that HOUSEWIFE and MAN enter from separate directions. MAN bumps into BOYFRIEND, who gives him an angry look in return. HOUSEWIFE takes advantage of the situation and rushes toward the public telephone.

Hi, Mrs Wong. You know how I managed to phone you so quickly? . . . No, no . . . I didn’t jump the queue… Ha, I can run faster than a man… ha, that’s right.

She glances back. MAN waits for her and gives and her and annoyed look. HOUSEWIFE turns back, slowly.

Ha ha… that’s it. Ha… right. He’s stupid… Ah yes, the shop, right at the corner, remember? Yes, the earrings and necklaces are on sale! Ask your husband to go with you . . . Ha, that’s true . . . Then ask his money to go . . .

MAN clears his throat repeatedly

Oh… is it? I must try that… You’ll go with me, won’t you? How about tomorrow… yes, afternoon tea. The usual restaurant. Today? That’s great… You bought the new currency? Ha, me too! What’s the name? Europe New Union?. . . I can’t remember, either.

MAN makes louder sounds. The HOUSEWIFE looks at him with a victorious smile, and turns again. She laughs into the phone

Your guess is correct! Absolutely. . . Oh . . . did you hear the “beep”? We’ve talked five minutes already! Got to go. . . ha. . . yes. . . or I’ll be cut off, you know. . . okay, see you later.

HOUSEWIFE leaves. MAN lifts the phone, holds the receiver between his chin and shoulder and then searches in his pocket for coins. He frowns and pulls out a small leather change purse and searches inside it.

Oh shit! God damn it!

MAN kicks the kiosk hard. Another YOUNG MAN enters. He picks up the phone after MAN leaves.

YOUNG MAN (in an annoyed tone)
You hung up the phone before I could finish! I know I’ve said something wrong, but you’ve got to respect me! (he holds the phone away from his ear and listens for twenty seconds) Okay, I know, I’m wrong again!… Yes I know… I shouldn’t have shouted… Jessie, come on. Please don’t cry… okay? Please… I’ll come pick you up… No? Oh no… please… don’t be angry with me… I’m sorry for that…

MAD MAN and GIRL enter one after the other. YOUNG MAN notices them waiting behind him

There’s a lot of people waiting. I’ll pick you up then . . .(raising voice) What?… It’s not on purpose! I’m not telling lies! There’re already two people queuing up . . . (lowering his voice) Okay, okay. . . Jessie?. . . Jessie! Hello? . . . Are you there? Oh. . . Shit! (speaking to himself) Hung up again!

YOUNG MAN leaves

MAD MAN enters the booth and presses the numbers without inserting any coins. GIRL watches in disgust and steps back.

Hello… Yes… This is Pizza Hut… No, it’s the Mongkok Police Station. Who are you?. . .(smiles to himself) From heaven? You’re in heaven? Have you seen my wife and children? They’ve all gone to heaven! No… no? (laughs bitterly) They’re all nice and kind.. . . They should be in heaven, unlike me . . . (he pauses a while)I’d only go to hell . . . that’s why they jumped. . .

(GIRL looks scared, her eyes wide open. MAD MAN is murmuring too quietly to hear)

MAD MAN (shouts suddenly)
Oh!! I won’t talk to you! You’re cheating me!

MAD MAN drops the phone and runs away. GIRL watches MAD MAN leave. She picks up the phone and examines it for a few seconds.

GIRL (speaking softly)
Hello! Jimmy? Oh. . . I’m in Tsim Sha Tsui, yes, Nathan Road… Oh, you know what – I just saw met a cuckoo… you know, that kind of man… He’s really insane… He was talking on the phone. . . yes, before me. . . with nobody! He looks like a beggar. . . yes of course, and smells. I’m so. . . frightened. . . Yes, I know. . . I know you’re here. . . “there’s nothing I fear”. . .(she sings a few lines of “My heart will go on”, theme song of the movie Titanic)

Two boys enter, separately. They are followed by a family of three: DADDY, MOMMY and SON

Oh honey. . . I miss you too. . . What’re you doing? Oh, writing poems! You great writer! . . . That’s for me? Oh. . . no, I wouldn’t believe it . . . What did you have for lunch? . . . Basically nothing? Oh . . . How could you. . . ? I’ll look after you next time . . . (She blows a kiss)

I miss you darling. I’ll phone you soon . . . as I come home, okay? . . . Bye.

GIRL leaves, humming the song she has just sung.

BOY1 (watching GIRL)
Oh, what a bitch! (he picks up the phone) Mom, yes, it’s Ming. I’m not coming home for supper. Yes. . . I’ll be late. . . Yes. . . no. . . no. . . yes. . . Bye!

BOY1 hangs up the phone and leaves. BOY2 picks up the phone.

Hello John. Yes, Samuel. I need the past paper of Economics. . . which year? What do you have?. . . hm. . . 95-96 please. Yes, only the MC part. Could you photocopy it for me? Thanks!… Oh? Chemistry?… Yes. . . I have that. . . but the answer is at home. Yes, I’m at Nathan Road something. (he nods) Alright, I’ll phone you at home. You try it first, it’s tricky. . . and yes, cool.

BOY2 hangs up the phone. DADDY picks its it up.

DADDY (inserting the coin)
Mommy, what’s the number?

MOMMY (grins)
You always forgot. . . 23423411.

Hi, it’s Herbert, Father. We’re coming for dinner. Yes… No problem, your favourite beer, right? Fine, I’ll get it… Jane? She’s here… of course she’s here.

DADDY gives MOMMY the phone

What’s that, dad? Yes, we’ll come back early. . . Oh. . . don’t tell me to buy or bring you anything – tell Herbert. . . Ha. . . I’m not spoiled. I used to be like that!. . . Talk to Billy? We’re in the street. . . you’re stirring things up. . . Alright, okay. . .

MOMMY passes the receiver to SON, about three. And she uses her eyes to indicate that DADDY should insert another coin

Grandad! Yea. . . Bill . . . Billy. Billy learns a song, shall I sing to you?

SON sings ‘Row, row, row your boat’, but the words are difficult to recognize. MOMMY takes back the phone.

Alright Dad, we’ll talk when we get there. Bye.

The three leave and YOUNG MAN enters.

Oh Jessie, don’t hang up on me again this time. Listen to me first . . . I apologize. . . But it’s really very hard to find a phone here. . . I will.. . . May I pick you up somewhere?. . . Oh please don’t . . . oh. . . no. . .(raising voice)I’ve done all I can! What else do you want? (silence for several seconds). . . Hello? Hello? Jessie? (He throws down the reciever and leaves)

The two telephone booths stand still on the stage. The receiver of the phone that is not out of order swings. It soon stops and hangs motionless

VOICE (off stage)
Hello? Hello? What’re you talking about?.

~Irene Lau Oi-yan (Hong Kong)


Return to Scenes: Poems and Stories of Everyday Life (Asian Voices)


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