(Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the stealthy movements of a fugitive, enters a small, nondescript Catholic church in South London. Before letting the door close, he looks behind him as if he fears someone has been tailing him, someone from whom he is desperate to escape. Tony sports a fake mustache and wears the somewhat rumpled outfit of an ordinary laborer. Since it is a Saturday afternoon, only a handful of people are present inside the church. Tony removes his tweed cabbie cap. Hestands in the nave, inconspicuously as possible, and scrutinizes his surroundings.
(When he’s certain no one has recognized him, he slides into one of the pews opposite the confessional and silently prepares himself.We hear the soft, indistinct exchange between the priest and a penitent. After a few minutes, the penitent, a woman in her thirties, leaves the confessional and walks toward the altar to perform her penance. Now it’s Tony’s turn. He enters the confessional, closes the door behind him, and kneels facing the screen between him and the priest.)
Priest: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tony: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been many years since my last confession.
Priest: Tell me your sins.
(There is a long pause as Tony struggles to find the right words with which to begin his confession.)
Priest: May the Lord, who is always present in our hearts, help you to confess your sins with humble sorrow and a true desire to repent.
(The silence from Tony’s side continues.)
Priest: Trust that the Lord is with you and loves you and that his infinite mercy will surely absolve you of your transgressions however great or small they may be.
Tony (begins reciting the last part of Psalm 38 from the King James Bible):
“For in thee, O LORD, do I hope:
thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.For I said, Hear me,
lestotherwise they should rejoice over me:when my foot slippeth,
they magnify themselves against me.
“For I am ready to halt,
and my sorrow is continually before me.
For I will declare mine iniquity;
I will be sorry for my sin.
“But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong:
and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied.
They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries;
because I follow the thing that good is.
“Forsake me not, O LORD:
O my God, be not far from me.
Make haste to help me,
O Lord my salvation.”
Priest: Psalm 38. I know it well. Is there anything about that particular psalm that moves you to recite it?
Tony: The “iniquity” to which the psalmist refers.
Priest: His iniquity or yours?
Priest: Please go on.
Tony (once morestruggling to speak): I…
Tony: I… (clears his throat) have conspired…
Priest: Go on.
Tony (after another lengthy pause followed by a deep sigh): I have conspired in the commission of a…
Tony:(another deep sigh)…a terrible crime.
(Before responding, the priest, sitting on his side of the confessional, shifts his position. His movements and the nonverbalsounds that accompany them suggest the priest is in great discomfort, both physically and spiritually.)
Priest: What is the nature of your…offense?
Tony (spoken sotto voce):Murder.
Priest: Excuse me, but I didn’t quite catch what you said.
Tony: I said…(pausing once again)
Priest: Take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then try again to tell me the particular nature of your wrongdoing. And remember, the Lord is with us. He is always with us. By his light, you will see the truth, and the truth shall set you free, no matter how heavy the burden that weighs on your soul.
Tony (screwing up his courage): I saidMURDER, Goddamn it! Murder!
(Tony Blair’s outburst resounds throughout the church. The congregants are visibly disturbed and frightened. Some fear for their lives and hurry toward the exit, perhaps believing a terrorist is in their midst. Others turn toward their neighbors and in hushed tones share their concern. An old man seated near the altar turns around and, leaning over the back of his pew, offers a few reassuring words to those still present:)
Old man: Relax, friends. It’s just some fellow making his confession.
(An elderly woman sitting behind the old man gives her response. She is wearing a hearing aid and speaks in a louder-than-normal voice:)
Old woman: For a moment, I thought he sounded like Tony Blair.
(The congregants can’t help but overhear what the woman has said. Some of them laugh out loud at the sheer preposterousness of her remark; someone of Blair’s stature and notoriety would never willingly visit a church in the middle of a workday without an entourage of journalists and security personnel. And to imagine him coming here to confess his sins is just too ridiculous to even consider. The laughter is contagious. Soon everyone is joining in, each giving his or her own impression of Tony Blair making a confession. There seems to be no end to the misdeeds they can imagine him owning up to.
(In the midst of the general uproar, a young woman enters the cathedral. She quickly scans the interior and then sits in an empty pew near the back of the nave.
(Outraged by this highly indecorous laughter of the other congregants, a quite earnest young deacon, rushing up to the pulpit, demands that theybehave in accordance with the sacredness of this space. After a few final chortles andsnickers, the people regain their composure and settle down into prayerful silence.
(No one seems to have noticed the woman in the back, who has recently arrived and is sitting alone. Her stern demeanor and the tenseness with which she holds herself suggest she may be concealing something, perhaps an explosive device.)
Priest (to Tony Blair): You were saying.
Tony (softly, as if spoken by a very young child who knows he has done something terribly wrong and is afraid the very Earth will open up and swallow him whole): I conspired with President Bush to cook up a pretext for invading Iraq and to foist it upon our respective people through public speeches, addresses to Parliament, and with the aid of a pliant, subservient media.
(Another long pause as the priest struggles to come to grips with what he has just heard and to formulate an appropriate, Gospel-worthy response to what the former Prime Minister has revealed in the privacy of the confessional.)
Priest (realizing the identity of this penitent): Are you fully aware of the consequences of your actions?
Tony: I am.
Priest: What are they?
Tony: What does it matter what they are. I know what they are. You know what they are. The entire world knows what they are. I didn’t come here to recite what is common knowledge.
Priest: Then why are you here?
Tony: I wish to be forgiven. Absolved of my sins. I want to awaken each morning with the lightness I so often experienced as a child when nothing weighed upon my conscience or darkened my view of the world.
Priest (a tad testy): Do you know what you have done?
Tony: Of course I know.
Priest: Then tell me.
(A long pause ensues.)
Tony: Very well, Father, since you insist on humiliating me…
Priest: That is not my intention. I merely wish to know exactly what I am forgiving you for. I want you to tell me the truth. Quite frankly, Mr. Blair, I am not at all certain you truly grasp the magnitude of your crime.
Tony: May I remind you, Father, that you are a servant of God—not a member of the judiciary.
Priest (out of patience): And may I remind you, Mr. Blair, that as the former PM, you perverted our legal system in order to secure a spurious justification for attacking a sovereign nation. By serving as an accomplice of the messianic former president of the United States and going to war on the basis of lies, you betrayed the trust of our people and are guilty of the most serious offense a head of state can commit—treason.
(Tony Blair is no longer able to contain his rage, which has been steadily growing in response to the priest’s unprecedented and unorthodox condemnation. Tony exits the confessional, flings open the adjacent door, and confronts the priest. The two men square off in full view of the congregants and the young deacon, who is too stunned to do anything more than witness what is about to take place.
(If one looks closely, one might detect a look of utter disbelief on the faces of the saints, whose representations in stained glass, wood, and marble sanctify the church’s interior. Even the crucified Christ, suspended above the altar, is moved to open his eyes and watch with deep reluctance the blasphemous behavior of the priest and Tony Blair, who has seized the priest by his immaculate white collar and is about to smash him in the face with his raised fist.)
Priest: Mr. Blair, release me at once.
(Blair keeps his fist raised at the ready. He is trembling violently, straining to control himself.)
Priest (attempting with both hands to break Tony’s grip.): Sir, your actions are inexcusable. This is a house of God, not some execrable backstreet pub only fit for ruffians.
(Tony comes to his senses and releases the priest, who adjusts his collar and cassock.)
Priest: Our business here is through. I suggest you leave at once before I summon the police.
Tony: Not until I get what I came here for.
(He turns toward the congregants, who have been staring in wide-eyed amazement at the altercation that is now abating.)
Tony (to the others): My fellow parishioners, this ordained servant of God, whose office I hold in the highest respect, refuses to perform his most sacred duty. I have come here out of the purest of motives and desire nothing less than forgiveness for whatever errors or mistakes I have committed. But as God is my witness, instead of absolution, your “good shepherd” threatens me with arrest.
Priest: As God is my witness, sir, I am also a man, an ordinary human being, and in that capacity, I can only condemn you for what you have done.
(The congregants gasp in response to the priest’s admission. His refusal, or inability, to perform the Sacrament of Reconciliation is beyond the pale of their experience.)
Tony: Then I pity you, Father, for your weakness and your betrayal of the vows you are sworn to uphold.
(Tony removes his fake mustache, smoothes his hair back, and again faces the congregants, all of whom now recognize him.)
Tony: Yes, my friends, I am indeed your former Prime Minister. And yet, despite the sacrifices I have made for our country and the many benefits that resulted from my tenure, here in these blessed surroundings, this holy shrine in which we have come together to worship and revere the Almighty, I am treated with nothing but disdain.
(Tony puts his cabbie cap back on and prepares to leave.As he approaches the rear of the nave, the mysterious woman who has been sitting by herself slowly stands and blocks his path.)
Woman (with a distinctly Arabic accent):Mr. Blair, may I speak with you?
Tony: Not now. I have to be somewhere.
Woman (preventing him from walking past her): Don’t you recognize me, Mr. Blair?
Tony (looks carefully at her): No, I haven’t a clue as to your identity.
Woman: My name is Noor.
Tony: Sorry. I don’t know anyone named Noor.
Woman: My name is Majeeda.
Tony: I thought you said your name is Noor?
Woman: I am alsoMajeeda and Hawra,Amira, Amal, Karima, Layla, Intisaar, Dunya, Rana, Rasmiah….
Tony (beginning to suspect something is terribly amiss): I…I don’t understand.
Woman: I am all the women and all their sons and daughters you made to die in my country.
Tony (pushing her aside): Out of my way!
Woman: You did not give us freedom to choose life or death. But that is the choice I am giving you.
Tony: I don’t have to listen to this, Noor, or whoever you are.
(The woman stands between Tony Blair and the exit. She extends her arms out in front of her, with both hands closed.)
Woman: I give you the choice you did not give to my people. Choose! Life or death.
Tony: And if I refuse?
Woman: Then I will make the choice for you.
(Like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, Tony is immobilized with fear. He stares at the woman’s two fists, one of which, if chosen, could result in his immediate destruction.
(As the standoff between him and the woman continues, stage lights fade to black. Three beats of silence. The Rolling Stones’ song “Gimme Shelter” begins playing—very softly at first then gradually increasing in volume. The song continues playing to the end.)
George Capaccio is a writer and activist living in Arlington, MA. During the years of US- and UK-enforced sanctions against Iraq, he traveled there numerous times, bringing in banned items, befriending families in Baghdad, and deepening his understanding of how the sanctions were impacting civilians. His email is Georgecapaccio@verizon.net. He welcomes comments and invites readers to visit his website: www.georgecapaccio.com