Here There Are No People
The speakers all are children. The lines can be shared out in any way between the characters. They may be played by any number of actors.
I don’t want to make anyone sad.
Why would I want to make you sad?
If I did want to make you sad, I would tell you the story of when we got on the boat.
We were having breakfast.
The bombs fell.
When will the war stop?
The house was about to fall in on us, so we all went outside.
We went to see what the bombs had destroyed. It had destroyed our neighbour’s house. But he didn’t die and no one was hurt.
I was very afraid for him.
If he died, I would have no one to play with.
I want the war to end.
We live day by day.
I wish that I did not have to worry about the bombs.
They took boys like my brother, gave them weapons and sent them to fight. My father said ‘we needed to leave’.
My father said ‘we will have a better life’.
We got in the car.
We knelt down so no one could see us as we crossed.
The roads were full of dead people.
There were dead people with no heads or no hands or no legs.
It took three days.
We arrived in a building where we waited for a boat.
I was scared, that’s it.
Why do I have to live like this?
There isn’t another way.
There were two boats.
The first one sailed and then moments later it sank.
The families wanted to return to the shore, but one of the smugglers took out a gun and started firing.
The water was calm when we started.
The boat was so packed with people that my knees were bent to my chest.
I could hear the engine was having problems.
The driver spent an hour trying to fix it, but he couldn’t.
I heard someone say ‘we will all sink’.
The boat wasn’t that rigid.
Waves started to hit the boat.
The boat was full of water and started to sink.
We jumped into the sea.
We didn’t have any life jackets, just a few rubber rings.
I could hear the screaming of children.
There were bodies everywhere.
They were dying all around us.
But we couldn’t help them.
Will anyone help us?
They don’t care.
Men were taking off their life vests and drowning.
Perhaps it was their only choice.
A man approached my mother with a child.
He said ‘please take the baby, I am very tired’. Then he gave up.
I couldn’t swim very well.
I was being pulled under by the current.
Some people took off their clothes to swim better.
I didn’t. Now I have sores across my legs and neck where the clothes rubbed against my skin. We were all swimming slowly.
We were all tired.
My father helped me to the shore.
We were all shivering from the cold.
The entire time I was thinking ‘if I give up I will die’.
So either I make it or I die.
I only had one thought and one option: ‘don’t stop’.
My father was very angry.
The smugglers took our money and left us to die.
We are like cargo to them.
They don’t care if we live or die.
No one cares.
Who is helping us?
Will anyone help us?
Even if I had known the boat was going to sink I would still have made the journey.
Even if I had to swim all the way.
It’s better to die trying than to die back there.
We arrived yesterday.
I am happy because it is better here.
I miss everyone.
There are other children here.
We play with clay and we make houses and we make mud men.
We animate them and pretend they can talk. I ask my mother when we can go back.
She says this is our home now.
This isn’t my home.
I’d like to leave this camp.
We all have dreams.
I’d like to live in a comfortable house, one with warm water. I warm up by the heater.
We don’t have any blankets to cover us, only pillows.
We only have one blanket for all of us.
The wind never stops even if the sun is shining.
No one helps us.
I wish someone would.
It’s quiet here.
I get scared when I hear a car or a plane that is too loud. I dream that something is coming to kill me.
And I get scared, so I decide to stay awake.
I feel that war is coming again.
I just want to be safe again.
I remember everything.
Everything was much better before.
But then war was happening.
I lost everything on the journey, but I have my life. So I am okay. I am just thankful that we survived.
I don’t know what happened to everyone else. I worry for them. My country isn’t the same anymore.
They asked us to leave.
But this is our home now.
This is my home too, isn’t it?
Even if we live in tents on the streets.
They say to us ‘you’re not wanted here anymore’.
But we live here.
Everyone stares at us.
They call us names.
They tell us ‘you can’t be here, you make it dirty here, this place is full of you and we are fed up’. They spray tear gas in our tents while we sleep.
Haven’t we suffered enough?
We came for safety.
My father said ‘we’ll find somewhere to stay’.
I’m not welcome, am I?
Are there people who will help us?
But here, no.
Here there are no people.
This poem is evocative and powerful but also technically assured. The idea that this poem is a play for voices shows the author’s ambition and gestures towards an exciting combination of styles to arrive at a new style altogether. This author has much to offer the future of creativity and so I hope they keep making things. Kayo Chingonyi, Orwell Youth Prize Judge
Noah Robinson is a junior Orwell Youth Prize 2020 Runner Up, responding to the theme ‘The Future We Want’.
What was the inspiration for your piece?
Sensationalised news stories are often detached from the personal impact of events, losing the perspective of those affected. In ‘Here There Are No People’, I wanted to explore the experiences of child refugees, whose’s individual stories and emotions are forgotten amidst the large scale picture. After reading ‘Seven Jewish Children’ by Caryl Churchill, I was drawn to the use of the unattributed lines of dialogue. I choose to use this to create a collective narrative, exploring what a child might go through to reach safety. Although we may not be fully aware of the trauma they have experienced, we can still sympathise with their desire to achieve a better life.
Why did you choose the medium of your chosen form (poem, fiction, essay etc) to communicate your idea about the future?
Plays provide authenticity for unheard voices, drawing attention to often under-represented perspectives. We connect most deeply to human-driven stories and the immersion created from a shared experience with an audience can inspire social change. They can be used to provide a startling reaction to controversial issues and taboo subjects. Grotowski describes the ‘beautiful lie’: something should not be done because it is expected or looks good. Theatre should confront topical reflections and challenge an audience to think, feel and change.
What is your one tip to young writers?
Set rules or constraints. Often when writing, having a particular focus can provide a more fully formed idea. When writing ‘Here There Are No People’, I only wrote about true events or experiences. The dialogue is either verbatim or influenced by interviews with child refugees and news articles. Try to create a challenge, it will push you to create a truly original, and often more exciting, piece of work.
Given the global pandemic, has your idea about the future you want changed since you wrote the piece?
The current situation, I believe, has emphasised the importance of international cooperation and coordination. The refugee crisis is not the responsibility of a single country but of global significance. COVID-19 has shown how mutli-lateral relationships can provide a solution to global problems. Hopefully, this shows how such measures in the international community can create initiatives to tackle future crises.
Which writer/s most inspire you and why?
‘Machinal’ by Sophie Treadwell, ‘Faraway’ by Caryl Churchill, ‘The Doctor’ adapted by Robert Icke and ‘The end of history’ by Jack Thorne, all blur the distinction between personal and political issues, exploring the quiet implications of larger-scale social problems.