Ex Yu

1996

EX – YU

(a scene for the theatre)

by Goran Stefanovski

Canterbury

 

 

Work commissioned by

Tricycle Theatre Company, London

 

 

 

CAST:

 

MAYA, 18

NIKOLA, 50

MARTIN, 30

WAITER, 65

FATHER, 60

 

A SEPARATE ROOM IN THE RESTAURANT OF WHAT ONCE MUST HAVE BEEN A GRAND HOTEL IN A PROVINCIAL TOWN IN EX-YUGOSLAVIA. EX-IMPERIAL DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR CLASH WITH CONTEMPORARY NEGLECT AND POVERTY. A COLD WINTER EVENING. NIKOLA AND MAYA ARE SITTING AT A TABLE IN THEIR COATS. NIKOLA IS A STURDY PEASANT. MAYA IS A LIVELY TEENAGER. A BOTTLE OF RED WINE IN FRONT OF THEM. THEY RAISE GLASSES.

 

NIKOLA

 

To your father. (THEY DRINK.) I’m sorry he shot himself.

 

MAYA

 

Whenever I pass by this hotel, I have a feeling he’s inside reading his newspaper and drinking coffee. This was his favourite place.

 

NIKOLA

 

What’s wrong with the heating in here?

 

MAYA

 

There is no heating. Energy rationing. When I was a child my parents would bring me here for dinner. I would look at the chandelier in the lobby and think I was Cinderella. Now the hotel’s full of refugees huddling in cold rooms.

 

NIKOLA

 

What did you want to talk about?

 

MAYA

 

I don’t know really. I just wanted to meet you.

 

NIKOLA

 

How did you find me?

 

 

 

 

MAYA

 

I asked around. Some people from your village showed me where you lived. Thank you for coming into town to see me in this weather.

 

NIKOLA

 

It happened in the early days of the war.

 

MAYA

 

Four years ago.

 

NIKOLA

 

You must have been a kid then.

 

MAYA

 

You actually saw him do it?

 

NIKOLA

 

Yes.

 

MAYA

 

Please tell me about it.

 

NIKOLA

 

Tell you what?

MAYA

 

What it was like.

 

NIKOLA

 

What is it like to blow your brains out with a gun?

 

PAUSE.

 

MAYA

 

Where were you at the time?

 

 

NIKOLA

 

Right behind him.

 

MAYA

 

I mean, what was the place?

 

MAYA PRODUCES A MAP. SHE PUTS IT IN FRONT OF NIKOLA. NIKOLA LOOKS AT THE MAP.

 

NIKOLA

 

That’s the general area. (PUTTING HIS FINGER ON THE MAP) But it’s 50 kilometers across.

 

MAYA

 

Would you be able to recognise the place now?

 

NIKOLA

 

No way. (LOOKING AT THE MAP) Impossible.

 

MAYA

 

You were mobilised at midnight.

 

NIKOLA

We travelled all night. At dawn we got off in wheat fields somewhere. Unharvested, scorched crops. Very hot September it was. They told us we were at the front line. (PAUSE)

 

MAYA

 

And?

 

NIKOLA

 

What?

 

MAYA

 

What happened when they called you up?

 

NIKOLA

 

How do you mean?

 

 

 

MAYA

 

When they called you up, you just went to war?

 

NIKOLA

 

Yes.

 

MAYA

 

Nothing stopped you? Nobody stopped you?

 

NIKOLA

 

Who could stop me?

 

MAYA

 

What did your wife say?

 

NIKOLA

 

She packed some food for me.

 

MAYA

That was it?

 

NIKOLA

 

That was it.

 

MAYA

 

Did you shoot?

 

NIKOLA

 

Did I shoot?

 

MAYA

 

Did you shoot?

 

NIKOLA

 

I did.

 

 

 

MAYA

 

Did you kill?

 

NIKOLA

 

I didn’t let them kill me. (PAUSE.) Everybody killed.

 

 

MAYA

 

My father didn’t.

 

NIKOLA

 

True. Your father didn’t kill anybody. (PAUSE) Anybody else, that is.

 

MAYA

 

And the enemy that everybody killed? We lived together in – what was that catchy phrase – “Brotherhood and Unity”. They used to be us.

NIKOLA

 

Used to be, yes. Then they became the enemy. Do you know they have skin between their toes? Like ducks. Did you know that?

 

MAYA

 

No.

 

NIKOLA

 

They’re not as fully developed as we are. They’re a primitive tribe. I’m glad we’ve cut ourselves free from them.

 

MAYA

 

Did it have to be so bloody?

 

NIKOLA

 

Do you like pork chops?

 

MAYA

 

I’m not hungry.

 

 

NIKOLA

 

I mean, you have eaten pork chops and sausages in your life? Yes. And have you killed a pig in your life? No. You see, I have. You can’t cut the pork chops and sausages off the pig without blood. You can’t be nice about it. Winter comes, you want food, you slaughter a pig. And pigs, when you kill them, they squeal. Are you sorry for them? Perhaps. But you are also hungry.

 

MAYA

 

You can choose to be a vegetarian.

 

NIKOLA

 

Not if you sweat in the fields, you can’t. You can choose to be a vegetarian if you sit and read books all day long.

 

MAYA

 

That’s my father for you. Too many books. Too much thinking.

 

NIKOLA

 

What was there to think about? He should have taken up arms and fought like a man.

 

MAYA

 

But it was an ugly civil war.

 

NIKOLA

 

So?

 

MAYA

 

There wasn’t one clear issue about it.

 

NIKOLA

 

He was a teacher of history. He should have known better.

 

MAYA

 

What does fighting like a man mean?

 

 

 

 

 

NIKOLA

 

What does killing yourself mean? My country called. I took up my gun, like my father before me. I believe in God. I trusted the authorities.

 

MAYA

 

And what if they are a bunch of gangsters?

 

 

NIKOLA

 

And what if they aren’t? You’ve got to trust somebody.

 

MAYA

What about my mother? (PAUSE) She’s one of them. I don’t think she has skin between her toes, but she’s one of them. (PAUSE) The primitive tribe.

 

NIKOLA

 

Is she?

 

MAYA

 

(NODS.)

 

NIKOLA

 

Oh, well. Now it makes sense, doesn’t it?

 

MAYA

 

What?

 

NIKOLA

 

It all makes sense.

 

MAYA

 

Does it?

 

NIKOLA AND MAYA LOOK AT EACH OTHER.

 

 

 

 

 

NIKOLA

 

Sorry.

 

MAYA

 

No, I am sorry. (PAUSE.) What does this make me?

 

NIKOLA

 

What?

 

MAYA

When my father is one of us and my mother is one of them, what does it make me?

 

NIKOLA

 

One of us.

 

MAYA

 

How do you know?

 

NIKOLA

 

The father’s line is what matters.

 

MAYA

 

Are you sure?

 

NIKOLA

 

Yes.

 

MAYA

 

Oh, good. (PAUSE. SHE DRINKS.) You buried him on the spot?

 

NIKOLA

 

“Buried” him is not the right word. We didn’t have time to dig too deep. It was a makeshift grave. We had to move on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAYA

 

And Martin helped you? The young man who helped you dig – his name’s Martin. I located him too.

 

NIKOLA

 

You’ve done your homework, haven’t you? He was one of those deserter bastards. There was no one there to court-marshall them.

 

MARTIN COMES IN. HE HAS HAD A FEW DRINKS TOO MANY.

 

MARTIN

 

Good evening! Hi! Hello! I’m Martin.

 

MAYA

 

Martin! Hello! I’m Maya.

 

 

MARTIN AND MAYA SHAKE HANDS.

 

MARTIN

 

I’m late.

 

MAYA

 

Thanks for coming. This is Nikola.

 

 

NIKOLA AND MARTIN SHAKE HANDS.

 

MARTIN

 

Haven’t we met before? It’s murder out there.

 

MAYA

 

Still snowing?

 

MARTIN

 

Snowing? The sky has collapsed. Icy sleet and wind.

 

MAYA

 

Would you like a glass of wine?

 

 

 

MARTIN

 

Absolutely. (HE SITS DOWN)

 

NIKOLA

(TO MAYA) You didn’t tell me he was coming.

 

MARTIN

 

It’s pitch dark on the main street. There are horse carts stuck in the snow. Steam coming out of the beasts’ nostrils.

 

MARTIN DOWNS HIS GLASS. HE POURS HIMSELF ANOTHER ONE.

 

MARTIN

 

Cheers! (PAUSE) Well?

 

MAYA

 

Well.

 

MARTIN

 

You’re just like I imagined you.

 

MAYA

 

Is that good or bad?

 

MARTIN

 

How can you tell? You were talking, I interrupted you. Time for the serious stuff. Where are we? The general subject is war and peace. (TO NIKOLA) Did you have a good war?

 

PAUSE. NIKOLA DOES NOT REACT. MARTIN DRINKS.

 

MAYA

 

What do you do, Martin?

 

MARTIN

 

What do I do? I don’t do much. I’ve retired here to the provinces. Convalescing. Reading comics. Post-traumatic disorder. My mother makes me chicken soup with dumplings.

 

 

 

NIKOLA

 

Nice.

 

MARTIN

 

I know.

 

NIKOLA

 

Who kills the chickens? (PAUSE. THEY LOOK AT EACH OTHER.) Do you kill the chickens?

 

MARTIN

 

She buys them at the butcher’s. Do you still do yours manually?

 

 

 

NIKOLA AND MARTIN LOOK AT EACH OTHER. PAUSE.

 

MAYA

 

What is your line of work?

 

MARTIN

 

Was. Computers. I worked in the capital. I engineered software viruses.

 

MAYA

 

You’ve been pretty hard to get hold of. I left messages.

 

MARTIN

 

My mother has orders to vet callers. I keep aloof like a sultan. I sit in my room behind closed curtains and play on my Gameboy.

The irony is, I came here to keep a low profile. But what do you know? They start mobilising the provinces first. They gave me a gun, shoved me on a truck, told me I had volunteered! I made a stink. They said fight or leave. I left.

 

NIKOLA

 

Deserted!

 

 

 

MARTIN

 

Deserted. Thank you. I ran to find someone to surrender to. I got on a freight train. Walked across the border. Then Europe took me in. I know some English. I emigrated to swinging London.

 

MAYA

 

Wow!

 

MARTIN

 

Yes! I went sightseeing. Lunar House in Croydon – the immigration theme park. Choice council estates in Crawley. A grand tour of the streets of London Town. I did the washing-up in radical chic left restaurants. Watched the intelligentsia smoke, eat, drink and discuss moral issues all at the same time. They kept asking me: What can we do, what can we do? They felt ever so guilty about our war. More than we ever had. I went to seminars and symposiums about us: The artistic challenge of cultural diversity. Is multiculturalism still possible in the Balkans? I went to theatres which put on little plays about our problems. I was hot property in London. But only for a short while. As the war ended, my popularity waned. I returned home.

 

NIKOLA

 

Whoever granted you amnesty?

 

MARTIN

 

Now I’m waiting for the next war to put me in the spotlight again.

 

 

MAYA

 

You refused to fight. Did you have any doubts about it?

 

MARTIN

 

It was the right thing not to fight in that war. Yes. (PAUSE) No. There isn’t any thing I would fight for, any cause I would defend. Isn’t that rather selfish? Yes it is. Would I still think the same if I had children? Yes I would. My parents didn’t care much when they passed the buck on to me.

 

 

 

NIKOLA

 

Poor boy.

 

MARTIN

 

There is something I would fight for, though: instant gratification of my whims. Pleasure I wouldn’t give up without a fight.

 

MAYA

 

But you can’t be that selfish. You helped bury my father.

 

MARTIN

 

Oh, that was a pleasure.

 

MAYA

 

Why didn’t he join you and run?

 

MARTIN

 

He must have been uneasy about the old luggage. Patriotism and all that bullshit. Not full of it enough to fight, not empty of it enough to run. (TO NIKOLA) Yes? You were going to say something?

 

NIKOLA

 

Sod off.

 

MARTIN

 

I thought so. I don’t blame you. You’re on automatic pilot. People are hierarchical animals. Do you understand what I’m talking about?

 

NIKOLA

 

No.

 

MARTIN

 

(TO MAYA) I think we’re doomed. What are you going to do? Study history like dear papa? Try not to repeat his mistakes?

 

 

 

 

MAYA

 

Do you think he was a moral man?

 

MARTIN

 

Moral? That word rings a bell. What does that mean exactly?

 

MAYA

 

It means: ethical, right, good, pure, honest, proper, upright, honourable, decent, respectable, virtuous, righteous, principled, scrupulous, incorruptible, noble, just. That’s what it means, exactly!

 

MARTIN

 

Touche!

 

MAYA

 

Why do you think he did it?

 

MARTIN

 

Wrong diet. He liked novelty dishes: democracy au gratin, justice flambee, equality surprise. Mad scientists invent those specialities in Western laboratories. Your father’s refined palate suffered in this backwater inn, where the preferred cuisine is still one of manual butchery and cholesterol. You don’t seem impressed with my explanation.

 

MAYA

 

You’re trying hard to be cynical.

 

MARTIN

 

Yes.

 

MAYA

Why?

 

MARTIN

 

It gives me a kick.

 

 

 

 

MAYA

 

Trying to care might also do the trick.

 

MARTIN

 

Not really. I’ve tried a bit of that. Care about what, anyway?

 

MAYA

 

About erections! About men having erections as they rape little girls! How come they have erections? What gives them an erection? What the hell is it in them that gives them an erection?

 

MARTIN

 

Why ask me? I’ve never raped anybody. Ask him. (POINTS TO NIKOLA)

 

NIKOLA

 

You are asking for it, aren’t you?

 

MARTIN

 

You think this whole war was about you and your papa, don’t you?

 

MAYA

 

Well, I’m sure it wasn’t about you and London Town.

 

MARTIN

 

We buried him for you. He’s gone.

 

MAYA

 

Not for me, he isn’t.

 

MARTIN

 

He’s dead, dear. His blood splattered all over my shirt!

 

NIKOLA

 

Shut up!

 

MARTIN

 

I wasn’t talking to you, hero!

 

 

 

NIKOLA

 

If it splattered over anybody’s shirt, it splattered over mine!

 

MARTIN

 

You told him: “Come on teacher. Lead us into battle! Show us the way! Tell us this is a holy war, or you are a traitor and a coward and you’d better shoot yourself”.

 

NIKOLA

 

That’s a lie!

 

MARTIN

 

That’s what you said.

 

NIKOLA

 

I said nothing! I was sitting down having my bread and garlic for breakfast. You said: “Come on, Mister Historian, explain to these peasants this war is dirty. Tell them to refuse to obey commands. If not, you’ll be responsible for the massacre.” You gave him the bloody idea.

 

MARTIN

 

You moron!

 

NIKOLA

 

What did you say?

MARTIN

 

You illiterate, homicidal moron!

 

 

NIKOLA GETS UP READY TO FIGHT. MARTIN GETS UP. THE WAITER COMES IN AND LOOKS AT THEM.

 

MARTIN

 

Hit me! Hit me!

 

NIKOLA RESTRAINS HIMSELF.

 

 

 

 

NIKOLA

 

They told me I should leave. Please go home, they said to me, you’re too old to fight. But I stayed. I have three sons and seven grandchildren. One of the sons is missing. And you are playing with words! If I hit you, I’d knock your bloody head off.

 

HE SLOWLY GOES OUT. PAUSE. MARTIN AND THE WAITER SIT DOWN.

 

MARTIN

 

Well, I’ve had my kicks for today! (HE DRINKS UP HIS WINE.) Some of my nationalist compatriots in London broke one of my ribs and two of my teeth. I have a daughter of five. My wife won’t let me get anywhere near her. My ex-wife, that is. About suffering they were never wrong, the old masters. How it always happens while someone else is fucking about.

 

HE GOES OUT. PAUSE. THE WAITER SITS DOWN.

 

WAITER

 

Men!

 

MAYA

 

I know.

 

WAITER

 

Who’s paying?

 

MAYA

 

The women, as usual.

 

 

 

THE WAITER SCRIBBLES DOWN HER BILL. SHE GIVES HIM MONEY.

 

MAYA

 

We were talking about my father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAITER

 

I knew him well. You know, if you’re a decent human being, there are two things you can do in a war. Shoot yourself, or go mad. Your father shot himself. We others, we went mad. (HE COLLECTS THE BOTTLE AND EMPTY GLASSES). It wasn’t particulary hard for me this time, though. I still hadn’t recovered from the last war.

 

THE WAITER TURNS HALF OF THE LIGHTS OFF.

 

WAITER

 

We’re closing in a minute.

 

THE WAITER GOES OUT. MAYA IS LEFT ALONE. PAUSE. SILENCE. MAYA’S DEAD FATHER COMES IN. HE IS WEARING A WHITE, SUMMER SUIT AND A SUMMER HAT. HE HAS THE LOOKS AND MANNERISMS OF AN ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR. HE IS CARRYING A CUP OF COFFEE IN ONE HAND AND A BRIEFCASE IN THE OTHER. HE PUTS THE COFFEE DOWN ON THE TABLE AND THE CASE ON THE FLOOR. HE TAKES HIS HAT OFF. TAKES A NEWPAPER FROM HIS POCKET. HE SITS DOWN, PUTS HIS GLASSES ON, LOOKS AT THE NEWSPAPER. PAUSE. MAYA AND FATHER DON’T LOOK AT EACH OTHER.

 

MAYA

 

I’m trying my best, but it’s not easy. The data is hard to come by. Documents have been destroyed. Witnesses give me contradictory stories. I travelled some of the way by bus, and then I walked. Men in various uniforms stopped me at check-points. There was one long stretch of land I wanted to investigate, but the UN wouldn’t let me. They say it’s a minefield now. They’re digging for mass graves. (PAUSE) Then the snow came. (PAUSE) But I’ll find you, minefield or no minefield. (PAUSE) Why did you do it?

 

FATHER

 

(SIPS HIS COFFEE. READING HIS NEWPAPER.)

 

MAYA

 

You don’t want to talk about it.

 

FATHER

 

(HE TURNS A PAGE. PAUSE.)

 

 

 

 

 

MAYA

 

I stumbled upon a book. I don’t understand any of it. Categorical imperative. Absolute universal law of moral conduct. Humanitarian society based on reason and free will.

 

FATHER

 

Immanuel Kant.

 

MAYA

 

That’s the one!

 

FATHER

 

Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten.

 

MAYA

 

The book is still lying open on your desk.

 

FATHER

 

Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics.

 

MAYA

 

Don’t tell me you remember the year of the first edition?

 

FATHER

 

1785.

 

MAYA

 

(MAYA SHAKES HER HEAD IN AMAZEMENT.) Why, father? Was that a choice or an accident? (PAUSE) Dad?

 

FATHER

 

Do you have a boyfriend?

 

MAYA

 

No.

 

 

 

 

 

FATHER

 

(LOOKING AT HIS PAPER) How’s Mum?

 

MAYA

 

She’s coping.

 

FATHER

 

Take care of her, won’t you?

 

MAYA

 

I will.

 

FATHER

 

And take care of yourself.

 

MAYA

 

I will.

 

FATHER

 

Do you hear me?

 

MAYA

 

Yes.

 

FATHER

 

Go now.

 

PAUSE. MAYA RESOLUTELY GOES OUT. FATHER TURNS A PAGE. BLACKOUT.

 

 

 

 

 

CURTAIN