On The Face of It - Summary

This is a play where two characters, Derry and Mr. Lamb, interact with each other. Both had met with an accident that had caused irreparable damage to them physically. Mr. Lamb has a big garden that had plenty of trees, mainly apples.
In the first scene, Derry is seen entering the garden stealthily. However, Mr. Lamb notices him and Derry is startled when he asks Derry to mind his steps and not step on the apples as he might trip on them. He introduces himself to Derry who is quite nervous and said that he thought it was an empty house and did not expect to see anyone there.
Mr. Lamb tries to calm him down by speaking in a relaxed manner and saying that the house is empty as he is out in the garden and it was too beautiful a day to stay indoors.
But, Derry’s panic did not go away and he wanted to leave. Mr. Lamb stopped him and said he did not mind if anyone came into the garden and that is why he always kept the gate open and Derry did not have to climb the garden wall to enter.
Derry’s panic changes into anger as he realized that he was being watched and he said that he did not come into the garden with intent to steal. Mr. Lamb said he believed that it was only the young kids who would think of stealing from the garden and since Derry wasn’t a young kid, he was definitely not there to steal. Derry reiterated that he had come in the garden just to be there.
Derry asked him if he knew who he was. Mr. Lamb said he could see that he was a thirteen year old boy. Derry told him that he was fourteen and again started to leave. When Mr. Lamb again said that he should not be afraid, he replied that he wasn’t afraid and it is actually others who are afraid of him. Mr. Lamb asked him for the reason and he said that he could see that everyone was afraid of him no matter who they were. They just pretend not to be but they are. He explained that he could see their feelings on their faces that they thought he looked ugly and terrible and pitied him but he knew that they did not pity him and were just afraid and pretended to pity. In fact, when he looked at himself in the mirror, even he felt afraid of himself.
Mr. Lamb started talking about apples, oranges and the jelly he used to make from them and about how good they looked all ripe at that time of the year. Derry asked him why he changed the subject and without waiting for an answer replied to it on his own that people always did that with him. He said that he did not like to be with people because of that.
Mr. Lamb said that he thought Derry got burnt in a fire of some kind due to which his face got disfigured. Derry said that it wasn’t fire but acid that had spilled on his face and had eaten up all the flesh there. He asked Mr. Lamb if he is interested in knowing more about it and Mr. Lamb replied that he was interested in everything and everyone. He asked Derry to look beside the far wall and tell him what he saw. Derry replied that it was rubbish bit Mr. Lamb asked him to look closer and he replied that it was just some grass and weeds. Mr. Lamb said that they are just green plants growing like any other plant but people call them weeds and differentiate between them and other plants but he did not feel that way and just took it as another life growing in the garden.
When Derry said that he and Mr. Lamb were different, he said that there isn’t much difference as Derry had a burnt face while he had got a tin leg. That was the only difference apart from their age. Derry grew inquisitive and asked him why he had a tin leg. He replied that it got blown off some years back and after that some kids used to call him names like ‘Lamey-Lamb’ but it never troubled him. Derry said that it was easy for him as he could put on trousers and hide and nobody would see it and wouldn’t stare. Mr. Lamb said that some people stare and some don’t and even the ones who stare soon get bored as there are other more interesting things to stare at than his leg. At that, Derry said his face was one such thing but Mr. Lamb said that he was talking about apples and weeds or other things like sunflowers growing in his garden. It was just a matter of perception for him like the story of the beauty and the beast. Derry said that he had heard of that story and various other fairy tales that say that it what you are inside that matters and not your physical appearance but he did not agree with them.
He, further, said that no one except his mother kisses him and even she does that because she has to and she does it on the other side of the face not on the burnt side so he doesn’t care about even her kisses. Mr. Lamb asked him if it mattered to him that he didn’t kiss anyone else, referring to girls his age. Derry replied that no girl would ever let him kiss her as he would never look any different. Mr. Lamb told him that it depends on how he looks at the world around him.
Then, Derry asked him if his leg hurt and he said that it is made of tin so it doesn’t but it did when it got blown off. Derry asked if it hurt at the point where tin ended and he replied that it did every now and then but it did not matter much to him. Derry again went on the offensive and said that people often gave him example of other people who would not complain about their pain and don’ feel sorry for themselves and had often been told to think about people who have been blinded or have to live in a wheelchair and have suffered more than him and forget his pain. Mr. Lamb said that that was all true. Derry said that his face would not change by any of those things. He, then, told how one day a woman looked at him on the street and whispered to another woman that he had a face that only a mother can love.
Mr. Lamb asked Derry if he believed everything that he heard from others. Derry said it was a cruel thing to say and since he heard it, he felt bad. At that, Mr. Lamb asked him to stop listening to such things if he felt bad. Derry said that he found Mr. Lamb peculiar as he said peculiar things. Mr. Lamb said that he liked to talk and have company but he never forced anyone to stay and the gate was open if Derry wanted to leave. But, Derry did not want to leave anymore. Mr. Lamb realized that and started telling him about how he heard humming and singing of bees when other heard buzzing, which meant that his thoughts were different from others. Derry said that he liked the garden when he looked over the wall and entered due to it. Mr. Lamb said that he would not have entered had he seen him in the garden. Derry replied that he wouldn’t have as he doesn’t like being with people as they stare at him. Mr. Lamb told him to lock himself up in a room if he felt so just like a man did once as he was afraid of everything and everyone like being run over by a bus, of deadly germs, of lightning striking him, or of slipping on a banana skin. Derry asked if he stayed there forever and Mr. Lamb replied that a picture fell off the wall on his head and he died. Derry found that unexpected ending funny. Then, he asked Mr. Lamb what did he do all day long and he replied that he sat in the sun and read books and his house is full of them. Derry noted that there were no curtains on the window and Mr. Lamb said that he wasn’t fond of curtains as they shut things outside and inside and he liked to hear the wind. Derry said even he liked the same and even liked the sound of rain on the roof. Mr. Lamb said that meant he could still listen to meaningful sounds. Derry said that even his parents talk about him and worry about what would happen to him and what would he be able to do looking like that. Mr. Lamb chided him lightly and said that he is just like everybody else with his limbs intact and with a tongue and a brain, which meant he could work better than most if he put his mind to it just like he did. Derry asked him if he had any friends and he replied that he had hundreds as everyone who came to his house, to sit in front of the fire or to enjoy apples, pears, and toffees, was a friend to him. Derry said he wasn’t a friend but Mr. Lamb said he was as he hadn’t done anything that would make him think otherwise. Derry said he thought so as Mr. Lamb did not know anything about him, not even his name but he replied that it did not matter to him as you don’t become a friend by telling someone your name. Mr. Lamb said that he could tell him his name if he wanted or not if he didn’t. He said his name was Derek but he preferred Derry. He said that he might never visit the garden again and so he wouldn’t remain a friend. Mr. Lamb did not agree with him but Derry said that it made people irrelevant. Mr. Lamb did not agree to that either and Derry said that there are people that he hated. Mr. Lamb said that his hate would harm him more than a bottle of acid as acid could only burn his face. There are worse things that could happen to a person like burning oneself away from the inside. Derry said that when he had come back from hospital, one person had said that it would have been better if he had stayed at the hospital, amongst people like himself. Mr. Lamb asked him if he felt he was just like any other person with a burnt face. He said that he just looked like them but he isn’t exactly like them. Derry asked how did he come up with such thoughts and he replied that he watched the world, listened to it, and thought. Derry said that he would love to have a place like that garden for himself and a house with no curtains. Mr. Lamb said that his gates were always open for him but Derry said that it wasn’t his. Mr. Lamb said that whatever is his is Derry’s if he wanted. Derry asked if he could visit there even when Mr. Lamb wasn’t available and Mr. Lamb said he could though there might be other people around too. Derry was a bit hesitant at hearing that and Mr. Lamb told him that it shouldn’t matter to him. Derry said that the others would run away on seeing him. Mr. Lamb said that they might or they might not and it was upon him to take the risk. Derry said the risk was Mr. Lamb’s as he would lose all his friends due to him. Mr. Lamb said that the kids still called him ‘Lamey-Lamb’ but they weren’t afraid of him and used to visit his house and play. It is so because he isn’t afraid of them. Derry asked if he lost his leg during the war (referring to the Second World War) and he said that he did. Derry asked how he climbs on a ladder to get the apples down from the trees. Mr. Lamb replied that he has learnt it over time by practicing it. Derry said that if he fell and broke his neck, he would lie on the grass and would die if he was alone. Derry said that he could help him with collecting the apples and Mr. Lamb said he was okay with it if Derry wanted to do it. Derry said that his mother would want to know about his whereabouts if he would spend some time there even though he wasn’t a small child anymore. Mr. Lamb said that it was because they worried about him and asked him to go home to inform them. He said it was a long distance and Mr. Lamb said that he was a strong boy and could cover that easily. Derry again said that his parents wouldn’t let him leave again if he went back home. Mr. Lamb said that Derry himself wouldn’t come back. Derry retorted that Mr. Lamb did not know what he could do. Mr. Lamb said that he could not tell Derry what to do and it was his own choice. Derry said his parents tell him what to do and Mr. Lamb replied that he doesn’t have to agree to what is told to him and he could take his own decisions. Derry said he wanted something to call his own but he did not know what. Mr. Lamb said that he could find that out by waiting, watching, and listening. Derry asked if the other people who came to the garden spoke to him and Mr. Lamb said that some did and some didn’t. Derry said he didn’t believe that people used to come to his house and he was here all by himself and nobody would care if he was dead or alive. Mr. Lamb said that he could think whatever he wanted. Derry asked for names of some of them and Mr. Lamb said that names do not matter and got up to go to tend to the bees. Derry called Mr. Lamb crazy and Mr. Lamb said he was just making an excuse for not coming back and he even used his burnt face as an excuse to get away from other people. Derry got infuriated and shouts that Mr. Lamb was just like others as he either felt sorry for his face or was frightened of it or thinks that he looked ugly like the devil. Mr. Lamb did not reply to anything and just went to the bees. Derry spoke to himself quietly and agreed that Mr. Lamb did not think so and then shouted that he would go home to inform his parents and would come back.
Mr. Lamb spoke to himself and the bees that everyone says that they would be back but they do not.
In the next scene, which is set at Derry’s house, Derry’s mother told Derry that she had heard things about Mr. Lamb and Derry said that she shouldn’t believe such rumours. But, she told him that he cannot go back to the place. He told her that there was nothing to be afraid of as he is just an old man with a tin leg and lives in a house without curtains and that he just wanted to go there to sit and listen to things like the singing of bees and to his talks. He said that Mr. Lamb talked to important things that he wanted to think about. His mother told him to just stay at home and think there. Derry said that he hated it at home. She said that she didn’t blame him for saying such things as his circumstances can make a person behave that way. Derry said that his feelings had nothing to do with his burnt face and he didn’t care about it. He just wanted to go back to the garden to look at things in a new manner and to listen to things. She tried to stop him from going but he runs out of the house saying that he wanted to go.
In the third scene, again set at Mr. Lamb’s garden, Mr. Lamb is seen trying to catch hold of some apples on a tree while on his ladder and loses balance to fall to the ground along with the ladder. Right at that moment, Derry entered the garden saying that he had come back as he had said intending to make Mr. Lamb hear what he was saying. He sees Mr. Lamb who had fallen to the ground and kneels beside him. A silence signifies that Derry realized Mr. Lamb was gone and he again said that he had come back as he had said and started crying.


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