– a play in four parts –
The Young Man
about Čašule’s work
Jelena Lužina: Conquering the Freedom
Biljana Crvenkovska: Kole Čašule: Absurdist and/or Antiutopist
In the year of 1921.
All characters and happenings are fictitious.
Any similarity with those existent then is
accidental and unintentional.
Down there, through the field, midst willows,
to this heart of mine
All is night and knife in my back rammed
Centuries of knives from alien hands did
not scare me,
I am daunted from a moment of fraternal hand
in my hind.
Ante Popovski, а contemporary Macedonian poet.
Desolation-framed in them.
Yet everything is there:
paintings on the walls
heavy double curtains over the windows
cases resembling coffins put up against the walls
incongruous leather arm chairs
sheepskins scattered on the floor
an earthen Genoveva
a lamp put off to one corner
pressed by its dark-violet cover.
Frozen fingers of light
are slaughtered on the skins.
a suppressed feminine resistance.
The door is opened.
In the desolation she is
Neda and immediately he –
NEDA: And now, I beg you – go away. (Ivan closes the door and enters. It is clear the previous love game hasn’t satiated his desire, and he wishes to go on.)
NEDA: Ivan, dear… be good. Be careful. Ivan, I’m afraid.
IVAN: Afraid? Of him? Of your husband?
NEDA: Ivan, please.
IVAN: Forgive me. I had no intention of offending you. (Goes to her. Obviously he wants to correct what he wronged.)
NEDA: No… No… No… No, darling. (Af first she resists, tries to free herself from his steel embrace, to separate from his breath, but with no success. Then, unexpectedly and in a wild rage, she starts to cover his face, his neck, with feverish kisses. Her words are mumbling, they resemble lost, torn cries.) IVAN: (Initially he gives way to these kisses, even tries to play with them, but soon he becomes conscious of Neda’s acting strangely, unexpectedly, and he takes her head in his hands, trying to look in her eyes): You are crying?
NEDA: No. No. Don’t look at me. (She is totally absorbed in him. For a while they remain quiet. Then Ivan talks. His voice is different now, warm, worried, and he is pensive, staring somewhere in front.)
IVAN: Oh, you. Do you remember the dinner at Ivanov’s? I had just come from the front, still coarse and rude, with my entire soul soaked in blood and totally unaccustomed to the pale faces of Sofia, with her female toilets and perfumes… I entered the salon enraged because I let them drag me to that senile reunion of worn-out politicians and “patriots”, nauseated by them and firmly decided to get drunk to unconsciousness… Then I saw you. You were sitting in one of the corners of the salon, alone, frightened. And I, I was a soldier-a being ignorant of the existence of solitude… Do you remember what you answered me when I approached you? “I offer you – silence” – I had said…
NEDA: I answered you? I only know I closed my eyes and… Ivan, dear, don’t leave me.
IVAN: You know very well I won’t.
NEDA: Ivan. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of Lukov.
IVAN: You-are afraid of Lukov? Impossible! What reason could you have to be afraid of him?
NEDA: Ivan, your leader Lukov-is after me.
IVAN: After you?
NEDA: I can feel him around me like a ghost. Sometimes it seems all the shadows and darkness in this home are his allies… as if they were persecuting me. Ivan, I feel a whole iron ring tightening around me! Ivan, why does Lukov prepare every single action in my home? Can’t the organization find another home for that purpose?
IVAN: Calm down. These are only your strained nerves.
NEDA: It’s not my nerves. You know yourself all of Sofia says that he strangled Kostov simply because he spoke back?
IVAN: Not only because of that. After all, forget that once and for all. Don’t think about it.
NEDA: How? Tell me, how?
IVAN: (confidentially): Lukov received orders to organize the assassination of Gjorche Petrov in the nearest future and with hundred per cent accuracy. (After glancing around, whispers) I know for sure this action was assigned to him as a last chance to-save himself. If he doesn’t manage it-he’s finished-for good.
NEDA: (shocked from what she heard first, seems not aware of Ivan’s last words): Ivan, why Gjorche Petrov? Why, he’s the only one we’ve gotten left. (In a scream) Ivan, what’s happening to us?
IVAN: Don’t ask. Never ask anybody what you just asked me. (Hides his look from Neda) … And don’t ask me-why? (For the first time confiding in her with resignation.) Nowadays, my beloved, you can survive only if you don’t ask, if you are ignorant of everything, if you lack eyes and thought for all of this happening around us. Try to believe me…
NEDA: Darling… (Absorbed in him. Now it’s she that is calming him) … Of course I believe you. You are the only reason that keeps me alive. Sometimes it seems I live only for your visits. (Ivan kisses her. A long devoted kiss.)
NEDA: What would I do in this world – without you? (Passes her fingers through his hair. For a while there’s complete silence. Then, acquiring the force of a shock, the doorbell rings) Oh, my God! (The ringing is repeated. Ivan pulls out his revolver. Takes up a position of defence facing the door. Aware of his action, Neda stands in front of him, as a shelter. With the third ringing, at last Milka’s voice can be heard.)
MILKA’S VOICE: Neda, it’s me.
IVAN: Open the door. Don’t be scared. Just let her come in. The rest is my business. (Kisses her. Neda, in fright kisses back. They go out. Pause. After a little while, through the same door enters Milka.)
MILKA: Is your husband coming soon?
NEDA: He said he’d be back earlier.
MILKA: Never mind. We’ll have time for a cup of coffee. Warm some water. I brought coffee. Real coffee, I swear. I bought it contraband from a soldier of the Macedonian regiments. He assured me he stole it from the British army supplies. What’s the matter? You’re somewhat pale. Are you ill?
NEDA: No, no, I’m not. (Goes toward the kitchen.)
MILKA: The coffee… (Neda returns and takes the coffee. Goes out, but the kitchen door is left open.) (Milka gets up and goes to the kitchen door. The dialogue is partly spoken there, then Milka comes back and sits down, but now on the closer arm-chair.)
MILKA: That husband of mine went off again this morning. He’s preparing some demonstration in Pernik. I swear, sometimes I feel I did not marry a man, as all women, but-politics, the whole world politics. (Pause) … Does that husband of yours still inquire about me? Does he bother you about my visits?
NEDA: (returns with the coffee): No. He hasn’t mentioned you recently. (They sit down.)
MILKA: I swear, if I didn’t love him so much, I would have taken such revenge – that he’d never forget me.
NEDA: (interrupting Milka’s talk): It smells wonderful.
MILKA: I’m telling you – genuine Brazilian coffee… If you just saw the wretched guy that sold it. The very image of death. And the poor man tells me he was a shoemaker before the war, had a store, a wife, children. Now – only another homeless vagabond persecuted on the streets of Sofia like a rabid dog. One of those that demonstrated last week in front of the Royal Palace. Macedonian. As if though, all the darkness of this world were created for us, the Macedonians. That’s why I’m mad at my man: Macedonian, a slave, alien here and everywhere in the world, wants to make a world revolution. And that is where I find your husband right: he’s interested in Macedonia and nothing else. Two weeks ago, my man comes back from Plovdiv and says, “Get dressed, I’ll take you to this place.” Can you imagine: he took me right up to-who do you think-right up to Gjorche Petrov. (Neda is startled. Obviously shocked with the mention of Gjorche’s name.)
MILKA: Yes. Yes. To Gjorche Petrov. To see for yourself, he said, that he hasn’t given up Macedonia. Have you ever seen Gjorche Petrov?
NEDA: When I vas little.
MILKA: One is speechless in front of him. And one wishes to keep on listening to him forever. He gave me a little book to read. There’s an article of his in it about two Macedonias. I cried as I read it. Do you want me to give it to you?
NEDA: No. Not now – it’s too late.
MILKA: I didn’t mean now myself. Tomorrow morning I’m going downtown. What do you say about both of us slipping furtively out of here, just the two of us, roving around the town, as when we were girls? What’s wrong, Neda? I’m speaking all this time, and you seem to be so far away from here?
NEDA: Nothing, nothing. I’m listening.
MILKA: No, you are not. What’s the matter? What happened?
MILKA: (offended): It’s up to you. Lately I don’t know how to talk to you. Either you’re mad at me, or something has gone wrong… Or, maybe, these visits of mine…?
NEDA: Everything’s all right. It’s just my headache. That’s all.
MILKA: I don’t believe you. Is it something with your husband? These last couple of days many people roam about your house.
NEDA: (interrupting her): I beg you, don’t ask me any more. (A tense, uncomfortable pause takes place, a moment when all words appear unnecessary. The silence is broken by the noise of an automobile, stopping in front of the house. Neda, frightened, runs to the window. Looks. Turns around.)
NEDA: It’s him.
MILKA: Well, I’ll be leaving. I’m coming tomorrow at nine sharp! Be ready. (Tenderly embraces Neda and departs.) (Neda sees her out, then in haste puts away the coffee cups. While Neda is in the kitchen, the key is heard in the lock. Enters Neda’s husband Hristov, and then Lukov.)
HRISTOV: (continuing the conversation he was having outside): What do you think, Mr. Lukov… wouldn’t it be better if I talked to her first? (Neda enters.) Good morning, darling. How are you?
NEDA: Fine, thank you.
LUKOV: Good morning, Mrs. Hristova?
NEDA: Good morning. Please, take a seat.
LUKOV: Thank you. (Sits.) (Neda goes out.)
HRISTOV: Mr. Lukov, just one more thing… How should I say… Is all of this, is it… to be done, precisely this way?
LUKOV: (domineering and ironically): Mr. Hristov, should I take these words to mean you’re giving up? I categorically refuse to do so. But… if you keep on insisting on questions and explanations, I will be forced to report to Ivanov that – you are giving up, and he can consider the whole matter once more?
HRISTOV: No. By all means not. You know very well my respect for Ivanov and how I take his decisions? It’ll be the way he decided.
LUKOV: I think that will be most desirable. The time today does not bear discussions, but exerts action. Action is the only proof that Macedonia is alive, struggling. (Neda comes in with brandy.) I should hope your honourable wife shares my opinion?
HRISTOV: Of course, of course.
NEDA: Help yourself. Would you like some coffee? It’s not pure, but…
LUKOV: No, thank you. (Neda is on her way out.)
HRISTOV: Honey, how should I say… Stay here…
NEDA: I wouldn’t want to disturb you.
HRISTOV: No. No. On the contrary. We need you. Isn’t that so, Mr. Lukov? (Neda sits down confused. A short, but tense pause.)
HRISTOV: (Endeavors to find the right word to begin with. His whole effort turns into a mumbling, made up of disconnected words): Honey… How should I say… You know…
LUKOV: Mrs. Hristova, your respected husband and I are here concerning a very important matter. Matter of historical importance.
HRISTOV: (relieved): Yes. Yes. Historical for our cause. Precisely because of that matter, I will have to, I must… again… go on a trip and stay there ten days or so… or maybe less, right, Mr. Lukov?
HRISTOV: In that time, my dear, you mustn’t worry about me, I… how can I explain… I will be safe and, … after all, the Central Committee will take care of everything. Yes… and Mr. Lukov, of course. Right, Mr. Lukov?
LUKOV: Yes. Of course… Of course…
NEDA: I don’t want to be left alone here. I’ll come with you, too. If Mr. Lukov should need our home, it’s at his disposal-after we leave. (Hristov tries, fearfully and secretly to signal her, not to speak that way.)
LUKOV: (still domineering and ironically): I’m sorry, Mrs. Hristova, but your presence here is – indispensable, because the whole action could be brought into question.
LUKOV: (interrupts her): Have patience, Mrs. Hristova, and… some more confidence. Please – listen to us. Our task is of such a nature that it requires of your husband, precisely because he is one of the most outstanding workers in our legal movement, not to be involved in it. On the other hand, it is necessary that you be at home all the time your husband’s away.
NEDA: I don’t understand – why?
LUKOV: Some matters, Mrs. Hristova, will become clearer to you, later!
HRISTOV: (pleadingly, pulls Lukov to the side): Mr. Lukov, what if I talked to her in private?
LUKOV: Good. (Looks at his watch.)
HRISTOV: No. No. It won’t take long.
LUKOV: All right.
HRISTOV: I do thank you. If you wish, this way, please. (Both exit. After a little while Hristov returns. He closes the door carefully and pulls Neda to the opposite corner of the room. All during their talk, he can feel Lukov constantly looking toward the room where he left him, and he reacts to every noise. At first, he looks at her eyes and then, powerlessly, begins to caress her. There is something extremely desperate and sad in his frightened caress.) (Neda covers her face and presses her head against his chest.)
HRISTOV: What can I do? Who asks me anything? They called me again to Ivanov. What could I tell them? You know yourself what happened, just a week ago, to Popov. He tried to oppose them and… and he left four orphans behind. Honey, I beg you, understand me. If I offer resistance, they’ll pull me away from you. What do I need life for, after that? Honey, please. Just this last time. They promised they’d leave me alone. Have courage, just once more. And don’t be scared, I… I won’t be far, I won’t… no… (A noise can be heard from the room where Lukov was left. Hristov is petrified at this, and all of a sudden, begins to talk loudly, raising his voice, so that he can be heard by Lukov) Besides, aside from that, we must be proud, proud we were chosen, precisely us and our home for such a historical task and…
NEDA: Stop it, please. (An automobile horn is heard from outside. Lukov enters. Neda and Hristov separate reluctantly from each other.)
LUKOV: I apologize. I’m sorry, Mr. Hristov, but the automobile cannot possibly wait any longer. You know yourself…
HRISTOV: (Stands lost and paralyzed, repeatedly nodding.): Yes, yes, yes… (Lukov goes to the hanger where Hristov left his coat, and gets it for him.) (Hristov obediently gets dressed. Takes his hat, and for a while it seems he’ll go out just like that. However, he comes back, faces Neda, speechless, but bends down to kiss her hands and exits. Exits, with no force in him to turn around.) (Lukov sees him to the door, locks it, and returns immediately.) (Neda goes to the door.)
LUKOV: (Stops her with his words, just before she exits.): I do not like pretence at all, Mrs. Hristova. And I’m enraged when someone makes me play a – fool. Sit down. (Neda sits.)
LUKOV: (Remains standing. Makes a short, but accentuated pause.): You know very well that I know – everything. And that precisely because of that, any attempts at fooling me are disgusting. (Neda tries to say something. Lukov interrupts her, sharply, rudely.)
LUKOV: Please. As yet I haven’t finished. (Pause) … I think that once – and categorically at that – I forbade you to see your neighbour? Even more, to receive her – here! How can you account for the last visit of hers? The last one…?
NEDA: She comes of her own will, and I’m not able to close my door to her without any reasons and drive her out…
LUKOV: I’m sorry, Mrs. Hristova, with or without reason – that woman must not be in any way connected with you… or your home? (Neda is silent. Pause.)
LUKOV: First of all, do you know that woman?
NEDA: We’re friends from childhood. We’ve been next door neighbours for two years now.
LUKOV: And, surely you’ll say this woman is “cordial, open-hearted, darling?”
LUKOV: (Pause. Then Lukov walks around the room. Initially, these are slow circles around Neda, but with time they become smaller, until he comes to the point which is the centre of the circle, immediately behind Neda. After a short stop, Lukov starts his moving along the same path, but now in the opposite direction): All right. Now will you let me paint the true portrait of this woman? Firstly, this woman has an unhealthy… past. She comes from a family of our political enemies – communists? She is married to one of their most active leaders. Her, her frequent visits to this house have – an informative purpose.
NEDA: She doesn’t inquire about anything and… and I couldn’t believe she’d do that against me…
LUKOV: (waiting for her to finish): Mrs. Hristova, you are not asked to believe, but… to obey and follow orders. (Pause.) After all… Can’t you see that this woman’s visits fall precisely in moments when you have encounters of – intimate character? (Neda is astonished at what she hears.)
LUKOV: (Satisfied with the effect of his words, dominant and cynical again.): Do not force me, Mrs. Hristova, to speak out loud things that go against my good manners. If it became necessary, I could even mention names and details…
NEDA: (sharply): Please.
LUKOV: All right, now. I’m totally disinterested in those – intimate visits of yours. They are your personal business. I would not have mentioned them at all if – you hadn’t forced me to? They are not at all in accordance with my principles, or with the moral code of our organization. Your respected husband is an eminent name among the Macedonian emigration and we care not to allow for any shadows that could do him harm. As for his incapacity to be your husband, in the sense you’d want…
NEDA: Mr. Lukov.
LUKOV: (Observes her. Then, magnanimously.): All right. Don’t provoke me again, though. (sits) And now let’s get to work. There will be certain preparations for an action in your home. That is all you should wish to know. These preparations must remain secret at the price of our lives and yours as well. Tonight, four of my men will, secretly of course, move in.
LUKOV: I’m sorry. I’ll be the fifth. You know three of them, the fourth will be a stranger. Your task is never to speak to him about anything. In no… (The doorbell is rung. But this time the ringing has a pattern). (Neda stands up. Seems as if she’ll go to the door.)
LUKOV: I’m sorry. It’s our men. I’ll get it. From now on, the opening of the door will be exclusively our care. You may leave. (Neda goes to the kitchen.)
LUKOV: (stops her with his word): And… and you will come here only when I call for you. (Neda exists.) (Lukov checks his revolver, and only then does he go to the door. After a little while he comes back. He’s furious. He is followed by Ivan.)
LUKOV: Well, this is real rubbish. What do they think? Later, of course, Lukov will be the only culprit! (Pause. Lukov tries to calm down. Goes and carefully closes the door through which Neda went out and checks if she is eavesdropping.)
IVAN: Krstyu simply said the Young Man couldn’t make the afternoon train, but he’ll catch the night one. Frankly, I did not inquire any more, because you know him yourself.
IVAN: What else could I do but leave Metodi waiting for the night train. Do you think they could upset our plans?
LUKOV: Why not when we fool around so much? They could get rid of us the moment they’d like to. That’s exactly why I wanted that Young Man to arrive in the daytime. All terrorists, according to some stupid rule, arrive at night. And all of them are caught, killed or imprisoned again – at night. Only respectable citizens travel with the afternoon trains.
IVAN: You don’t suggest they’d dare to wait for the train, to take him off and…
LUKOV: Why not? Wouldn’t we do the same thing if it were their guy? We would. Why then, shouldn’t they? I don’t take all these security measures for nothing. They could even have the guts to break in here, kill us, and… of the assassination – nothing.
IVAN: Where’s Fezliev then? Probably lying drunk somewhere.
LUKOV: He does not get drunk when he knows he shouldn’t.
IVAN: I couldn’t care less, but you have some unacceptable weak spot for Fezliev.
LUKOV: (angry and irritated): All of us have impermissible weak spots. Precisely because of such a weak spot, a while ago you would have been found here – pants down.
IVAN: Let me explain.
LUKOV: I detest explanations. I did not send you to her to… (Points to where Neda is, to the kitchen.)… I did not send you to her to act like an emotional fool, but to make her dependent on us and our silence. And don’t gamble with your life. After all, nothing can stop me from sending someone else, today even, to her. Say: Metodi!
IVAN: Cut it out. For God’s sake, she’s a human being. What gives you the right to speak like…
LUKOV: What? What? Should I take this as a sign of a gentlemen fallen in love? And instead of him getting her, she traps him? Wonderful. I can really see you’re tired of life. God damn it, what does this idiocy mean?
IVAN: That it’s no way to deal with and talk about people…
LUKOV: (interrupts him rudely): I don’t want to hear another word. It’ll be just as I say, or the outcome will be clear. Perfectly clear. Do you understand? (Ivan tries again to say something.)
LUKOV: I don’t want an answer. (sits on the sofa) Where are the newspapers?
Translated by: Ilija Čašule