Characters Discussed

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The husband

The husband, Bahadir Effendi, a retired train conductor (“ticket inspector”), sixty-five years of age, who has been married for nine years to Madame Behana. During that time and especially since his retirement on a modest pension five years ago, he has devoted exclusive attention to an orange tree in the garden of their home. Underneath his precious orange tree resides a lizard called Lady Green, whom only he can see and for whom he professes love. Bahadir and his wife appear to have no relatives or social acquaintances. He seems content to care for his tree, never disagrees with his wife, and says he has lost the habit of being worried and perturbed. His philosophizing, hypothesizing, and inattention to his wife (he admits to the detective that he has thought about killing her) lead to his arrest at the end of act 1 for the murder of his wife, who has disappeared. After Behana returns home, a philosophical motive leads him at the end of act 2 to kill her for real. He feels no guilt thereafter and decides to risk ultimate arrest and possible execution for the sake of his tree, which can be much nourished by burying her corpse under it.

The wife

The wife, Madame Behana (or Bihana), Bahadir’s wife, a woman sixty years of age. She has white hair and always wears a green dress. Bahadir is her second husband. Behana thinks and talks constantly of Bahiyya, the daughter she can never have. As a young woman of nineteen, she acceded to her first husband’s request that she have an abortion. She had named the anticipated girl Bahiyya early in that pregnancy. Later, when their circumstances improved and they wanted children, Behana discovered that she could not get pregnant again. At the death of her first husband, who was a real estate broker, she inherited the house in the Zeitoun suburb of Cairo where she and Bahadir live. When talking with Bahadir, she speaks only of Bahiyya, and he only of his orange tree. Behana has been gone for three days when the play begins and returns shortly after the beginning of act 2. As oblivious to Bahadir’s needs and character as he is to hers, she refuses to respond to his insistent queries about where she was during her absence from home. Bahadir grabs her by the throat to force words out of her, and she dies. Before Bahadir can bury her under his orange tree, however, her corpse disappears.

The maid

The maid, a day servant for nine years to Madame Behana and Bahadir Effendi. She returns to her own home each evening to care for her old and blind husband. The play opens with her conversation with the detective, who is investigating Madame Behana’s disappearance. The maid recalls for the detective a conversation between Bahadir and Behana, which, when acted out for the detective, gives a sense of the curious relationship of mutual inattention and self-centered misunderstanding between the married couple. In act 2, the maid answers a knock on the door and is startled to see her mistress, Madame Behana, back home after everyone, including the maid, had assumed that Bahadir had killed her.

The detective

The detective, a plodding police investigator who reaches conclusions on the basis of suspicions and circumstantial evidence. After conversations with the maid and with Bahadir Effendi early in act 1, he concludes that Bahadir must have found his missing wife unbearable and, consequently, killed her. Led further by Bahadir’s hypothesizing, a mode of thinking with which he cannot deal, he assumes that Bahadir has...

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buried his wife’s corpse beneath the orange tree in their garden. When Bahadir subsequently does kill his wife and calls the detective to inform him of the crime, the latter again misconstrues the ambiguous statements he hears and advises Bahadir to continue with his gardening and to expect his wife to return sooner or later.

The conductor’s assistant

The conductor’s assistant, a lazy young man from Bahadir’s past who used to sleep on the job at every opportunity. He appears in a scene recalled by Bahadir when describing his railway conductor’s career for the detective. The assistant tells Bahadir of the latter’s own sleeping or fixed gazing on the job. Bahadir used to stare out of the train window and count the trees rushing past, saying that he wanted this tree and that.

Children’s voices

Children’s voices, a hundred schoolchildren on the train described by Bahadir to the detective. They sing: “Oh tree climber, bring me a cow with you./ Milk it and feed me with a silver spoon.” Bahadir also sings, but changes the second line to “Bring me a tree with you.”

The dervish

The dervish, a wise and prescient man on the train whom the conductor’s assistant reports to Bahadir as not having a ticket. When Bahadir accosts him, he presents his birth certificate as his “ticket for the journey.” When threatened with arrest, he produces ten valid tickets out of the air. Then, when Bahadir conjures him up in the present while talking with the detective, the dervish states that Behana’s fate is to suffer death one day at the hands of her husband for a philosophical reason. The dervish later appears just as Bahadir is about to bury his wife’s body beneath the orange tree. He will not turn in Bahadir, however, because he can act, he says, only when Bahadir wants him to.

Lady Green

Lady Green, a beautiful green lizard (unseen by the audience) that Bahadir says he has known for nine years, ever since he set foot in his wife’s house and garden. According to Bahadir, she disappeared when his wife did and reappears when his wife does. After killing his wife, Bahadir discovers Lady Green dead, in a hole under the orange tree.




Critical Essays