Benjamin Hewitt’s New Short Story – Sunrise Over Cappadocia

Sunrise Over Cappadocia

by

Benjamin Hewitt

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I’m watching my niece’s primary school play and nobody knows i’m stoned. The one hundred and fifty costumed children in years 5 and 6 – who fill the stage, five rows of seats either side of it, and an area of the floor in front – are singing a pop-y musical number to re-introduce the play after the interval. Most of them are out of tune. The twenty rows of audience members clap along robotically.

The Year 6 teacher playing the piano stops, and the audience cheers. The children rearrange themselves.

One group of about 20 children – dressed as peasants – position themselves on the floor space and pretend to dig vegetables into the ground. They are wearing pieces of fabric that the hot year 3 teacher with a textiles degree made. On the stage maybe half as many children are stood behind a cardboard cut-out of a castle.  From the A4 folded programme i read that these are the various members of the feudal aristocracy that governed Cappadocia in the 6th century.

The idea of historical or artistic information being communicated through a school play initially seems pointless to me, then I consider that every professional stage team needs to have put on an amateur production first at some point, and to an audience as well, in order to progress. Everything is about progressing gradually in steps – in time, in skills, in space – and I wonder whether a lot of societal problems are caused by people trying to skip steps. Or are they caused by people rebelling against artificially created steps that should actually be ramps, or level plains…I reckon school plays romanticise acting as the vital, enviable career kids have always seen it as, despite it being, in general, not that important to the general operation and progression of society.

A Year 6 child who is meant to be Alexander the Great is now battling with another child who is meant to be from one or multiple non-specified Arabic countr(ies), according to the programme.

Nobody knows I’m stoned because I took a long walk around the reservoir next to the school during the interval. It doesn’t matter too much if I still smell. I’m not anybody’s parent so being found out wouldn’t be detrimental to the child’s reputation. It might make my niece’s peers think she’s cooler. I settle with this idea, and find myself almost hoping that I do get found out, and that it eventually has a positive impact on my niece’s early social life and potentially her confidence in later life.

I’m very, very aware right now that I’m not in Ancient Cappadocia. I’m actually watching children with limited intelligence dressed up as historical individuals that they never knew. I am aware that the children care primarily about whether they get to sit by their friends at the side of the stage, or whether they get enough stage-time. This awareness makes everything much more enjoyable for me. I like not being absorbed into the world of the play. Maybe it’s important to always be an objective individual looking at the scene as it is, in protons and neutrons. These are children acting on a stage, after having rehearsed this play because their curriculum recommends they put on a production to aid creative and team-based development. Right now on the floor space in front of the stage, those children are not an actual gang of kings siding with a non-Cappadocian country against the invading Roman army.

According to the programme Nicolas Cage said that he liked Cappadocia after acting in some film or other that used it for a location. I guess the producers saw the vast rockfaces and beautiful orange plains as a photogenic backdrop for explosions. Maybe they thought that a black motorbike might look good speeding down a barren hillside, if filmed at 10,000km from a helicopter.

The play is much shorter than I remember school plays being as a child. Maybe, in addition to things spatially seeming much larger when you are a child, time also seems stretched out. I wonder why. Maybe a child’s mind receives information at a slower pace and so time appears to go slower.

The Ottoman Empire are now marching across the stage, though the Empire is in fact the Year 5 class that my niece is in. I can see her there in the toga that my sister made. She’s on call tonight at the hospital, so i said i’d come. I hope she knows the things her mum has had to do to provide for her. She waves at me from the stage, as does another kid to their family member(s).  Some people in the audience laugh. I wave back at my niece and smile. I give her a thumbs up.

Behind the stage is a cartoonish NHS poster reminding children to eat five fruit and vegetables a day. I stare at it for a long time, thinking that it’s hard to believe any other place or time exists or existed, when i’ve grown up, like my niece, in English primary school assembly halls like this one. At the end of Homage to Catalonia Orwell talks about the ‘deep, deep sleep of England’, I always remember that.

The Year 6 teacher on the piano breaks into Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen, and everyone in the audience starts clapping rhythmically. The Ottoman Empire are chased off the stage by a hoard of children dressed as marathon runners. All the 150-odd children take their places and start jogging on the spot to represent the Runfire Cappadocia Ultramarathon that takes place there every year in the present day. This is the last scene. I check that my jacket with my bud in it is still under my chair, then look up and give another thumbs up to my niece, who I realise is looking at me and smiling.

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