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The Hour of the Tramp (Act II)

March 9, 2009 by · No comments

Ekaterina Vitkova

Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography



Scene 1

The view is from the inside of the receptionist desk. The Second Receptionist and the Ice-cream Vendor are standing there. He is surrounded by paper, but it is considerably less compared to that in Act one.

Second Receptionist: I think I liked you better in your vendor’s overalls.

The Vendor: I’m sorry. I can’t help you.

Second Receptionist: You can’t help her either – it’s your fault she was fired.

The Vendor: They didn’t fire her, it was a staff reduction.

Second Receptionist: Oh, yeah! Because all sorts of bores like you want to use the restroom subject to an application, while other such pushy types feel obliged to act upon their follies….

The Vendor: I haven’t done anything bad. I only followed the rules you yourselves made up!

Second Receptionist: You simply made up your mind to act strange, although you were aware of the complete idiocy of the idiotic rules. Ye-a-h, I doubt if beauty will save the world, but I’m sure vanity will ruin it.

The Vendor /points at her toilet articles/: Is that why you’ve displayed a complete beauty shop on your work place?

Second Receptionist: Look, dear! My vanity isn’t at all dangerous for the environment. But your vanity is downright hazardous. That’s one heck of a bat nesting in your belfry. My nail polish is a carefree, innocent angelic stain on the colorful backdrop of life compared to the hellfire that turned you inside out while you were conniving your way to the other side of this desk.

The Vendor: I understand how bad you feel. You have it so much worse than she does. She’s just been thrown out, while they forced competition on you. How horrible! You’re no longer Queen of the Desk. People even prefer coming to that new man, who actually pays attention to them and talks to them instead of hurrying through their issues.

Second Receptionist: Disgusting! There is nothing worse than a climber who offers advice how to do your job. /She begins to collect her things. Her shift is over./…. Nevertheless, I am tempted to ask you something

The Vendor: I’m all ears. What can I do for you?

Second Receptionist: How did you manage to put such a big dent in this damnable stack of papers?

The Vendor: It amazes me you haven’t guessed yet. First, I listen to them and then I explain that this is hardly the desk for them; that they should keep looking for the one that’s right for them. That they shouldn’t despair; that they’ll find it if only they want it bad enough. That there is surely a place where all their pleas will be heard and where they’ll be given a fair reply. But that this is hardly that place. I tell them this like a friend and they understand me. Then they just leave, you understand?

Second Receptionist: I understand two things. First, you don’t do your job, because you ought to just accept the applications. And second, that you mimic your colleagues or, to put it more bluntly, you quote their words as if they were your own.

The Vendor:
That’s right. You don’t learn a craft, you steal it. And as far as your accusations that I don’t do my job are concerned, that’s debatable. Because people don’t need paper, they need understanding words.

Second Receptionist: Really? Then why did you bet on the paper? Perhaps you’re unlike the rest, right?

The Vendor: I didn’t bet. I just knocked and the door was opened to me. Albeit, subject to an application.

Second Receptionist: Well, then I wish you good luck. We’ll see if this is still your desk come next….

End of Scene 1.

Scene 2

The view is again from the inner side of the desk. The Ice-cream Vendor is alone, arranging numerous applications—that have increased. Meanwhile, the former First Receptionist appears in front of the desk. She is out of breath and nervous.

First Receptionist: Please, let me come in for a while!

The Vendor: Come in where?

First Receptionist: There, where you are!

The Vendor: Here, at the desk?

First Receptionist: Yes, yes, at the desk. Please, hurry!

The Vendor opens the door and lets her in. She enters noisily and heaves a sigh of relief. Then she takes off her overcoat and quickly takes the new receptionist’s place, turning her face towards the window. She catches a glimpse of the Tramp in the street and waves at him energetically; he waves back.

The Vendor: What’s this all about?

First Receptionist: Nothing. I’ll explain later. I just have to sit for a while in your place.

The Vendor /looks at her as if she is not all there and begins to talk to her very kindly/: Look, I am really very sorry for what happened. I had no idea that my coming here would mean that someone else would lose their job—meaning you, of course.

First Receptionist: Please, don’t apologize. Everything’s fine. Although, you should know, nothing’s ever really lost in nature. Every new thing is related to something old which goes away. Yet, what’s old should go to some other place, and so on….

The Vendor: Тhat’s right, but I never thought it would happen this way.

First Receptionist: If you had thought that, would you have consented?

The Vendor: No, I don’t think so. But now that the summer is over, I would’ve been out of a job, so….

First Receptionist /while talking, she turns her face either to the window or to him/: Anyway…. It’s already too late. Besides, I don’t want to be on your conscience. To tell you the truth, I should be very grateful to you. I am very grateful to you. I so wanted to escape all this folderol with all of its idiotic rules. Now I’m in harmony with my true self.

The Vendor /relaxes/: Oh, I thought you had come to make a row.

First Receptionist: No, don’t worry. But you’ll have to let me stay a little longer.

The Vendor /surprised/: Why?

First Receptionist: I want people to see that I’m still here.

The Vendor: But you aren’t here any more.

First Receptionist: That’s true, I’m not. /She sees that he is looking at her even more uncomprehending and adds/ The problem is that while I’m in harmony with myself, I’m in disharmony with everything else.

The Vendor: In what sense?

First Receptionist: It’s not customary to just suddenly change one’s status, to be jobless, it’s not the custom to be different than most people….

The Vendor: Do you hear yourself?

First Receptionist: Of course, I hear myself, and I don’t just hear, but I also see myself. I see myself in other people’s eyes. I see their distrust, their doubt—that there’s something wrong with me, that something is not quite normal, that I’m not like most of them.

The Vendor: But that’s ridiculous! Probably thousands of people become jobless every day. Unfortunately, it’s not all that unusual.

First Receptionist: You see! “Unfortunately”…. It’s not normal for you. It’s not normal for anyone. You must have a home, a family, a job, children, friends, enemies, a pet, a car, a lover, a mother-in-law and all the rest. You must have family problems and job problems. Your car has to break down, your children must be disobedient. You have to leave your lover, and so on, and so on. That’s what most normal people are like. One must be like that if one wants to be normal.

The Vendor: If that’s so, it means that there are already quite a number of abnormal people and the world hasn’t come to an end. You see, what’s it matter if one isn’t like “most people”?

First Receptionist: They look at me in a strange way. I can’t bear their eyes. They just drive me crazy. They look at me as if they’re saying: “Look, I know that something’s not quite right with you, but don’t worry. Just bear in mind that I know! What a pity, indeed! … But it’s all right, it’s all right. No problem. I’ll treat you as if everything’s okay….”

The Vendor: Perhaps there’s something like that sometimes, but I definitely think you’re making too much of this. And you’ve most probably got it in your head that way, because you yourself feel that there’s something wrong.

First Receptionist: Not at all. I felt something was wrong when I worked here and did so many useless things. But then I was in harmony with all that was around me. Because when you’re like most of them, they don’t care about the details. But when you’re not, they become very much concerned about them.

The Vendor: But what will you achieve by sitting around here?

First Receptionist: When they see me in my former place from time to time, they won’t understand about the change and they’ll think that everything is the way it was.

The Vendor: How long can that last? Excuse me for mentioning it, but you surely understand that I’m breaking the rules for your sake.

First Receptionist: OK, I understand it alright. Just for a little while until I find a way out. No one will tell on you.

The Vendor: You know that’s not so. You yourself were afraid that you’d be jobless if you broke the rules.

First Receptionist: Yes, I was, but life proved otherwise. The one who breaks the rules kept her job, while I lost mine. Ipso facto, you have nothing to worry about.

The Vendor: That’s not right. I also think that the rules should be observed. Please, don’t take advantage of the fact that I’m obliged to you. That you’re on my conscience.

First Receptionist: I won’t. But please, give me some time. Until I find a solution.

The Vendor: Just be quick about it.…

First Receptionist: I’ll try.

She stands up and leaves the desk.

The Vendor /shouting through the window/: And you know what? Maybe you should find the place where they’ll guide you. Maybe there’s such a place exactly right for you. You simply have to find it. It might not be here.

First Receptionist /only her voice is heard/: Oh, it’s definitely not here.…

A tramp approaches the window.

The Tramp: Good morning. I beg your pardon. do you happen to have any waste paper?

The Vendor: I have, but its not for disposal. Sorry.

The Tramp: Then do you happen to know some place around where they have paper they don’t need?

The Vendor: No, I don’t.

The Tramp: Hey, weren’t you the ice-cream vendor?

The Vendor: Yes, I was, but not any more.

The Tramp: What a pity. You used to sell such nice ice-cream. I loved to buy it from you in the summer when I happened to make a few cents from the waste paper.

The Vendor: Well, now you’ll buy it from someone else. I definitely wasn’t the only ice-cream vendor in the neighborhood.

The Tramp: Ye-e-e-s, things do change. However, time was they used to give me quite a great deal of paper here. Do you really have nothing for me?

The Vendor: Absolutely not. What you see before you here are applications, people waiting for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. You don’t expect me to give them to you to sell for the odd penny, just so you can buy yourself an ice-cream or whatever, do you?

The Tramp: Ah, I see. All right then.

The Vendor: But look, next time I see the boss, I’ll ask him about recyclables.

The Tramp: Next time you see him? You promise?

The Vendor: Absolutely.

He leaves.

End of Scene 2.

Scene 3

The Vendor is alone behind the counter. The paper has grown even higher. He sorts and arranges it, but there is hardly any room for it. The Citizen shows up, but the Vendor sends him away. The Citizen leaves discontented. Meanwhile the Second Receptionist shows up.

Second Receptionist /in a great mood, merrily/: Good morning! Howdy, sweetie?

The Vendor: Good morning. I think you owe me an explanation for yesterday.

Second Receptionist: Me?! An Explanation?! To you?! And what for, if I might ask?

The Vendor: For not coming to work yesterday and making me stay behind the counter all day long.

Second Receptionist: Ha, who made you stay?

The Vendor: Beg your pardon?! All the same, there are working hours here and visitors, who keep arriving, assuming that they will find the desk open during the appointed times. So, instead of behaving impudently, you could simply warn me or make an excuse about it. I won’t be cooling my heels here for your sake whenever the mood strikes you to take off for whatever reason. Of course, unless you have some good excuse you want to share with me.

Second Receptionist: I’ve no intention of explaining anything to you. I didn’t make you work in my place. And I’m not sharing anything with you. In case you haven’t figured it out, we don’t discuss business here. Everything’s in writing. /she looks at the paper/. Holy cow! I see the work’s really piling up. By any chance has your trick with the sweet talking lost it’s effect?

The Vendor: Of course it has effect. But I can’t send them all off. Beyond that, not a single application has been answered, since I came into this office. Given that, how the hell could the paper not pile up?

Second Receptionist: I can see that this job is getting to you….

The Vendor: All right, fine. Since everything needs to be in writing, I’ll put my question in writing. /He starts filling in an application form/.

Second Receptionist:
That’s it. Keep the rules intact to gladden your soul.

The Vendor: I don’t think this is an honest way of settling relationships with others, but since it’s necessary….

Second Receptionist: God, you give in way too easily.

The Vendor /stops writing/: OK, truce. Excuse me for flying off the handle. You know I’m new here; I just didn’t know what to do and I thought that, had I been in your shoes, I’d have called and warned you about my absence. But I’m sure, you had a good reason and I’m not angry with you. Please forgive me.

Second Receptionist /she gives him a very kind smile/: I like you much better this way. You really are a sweetie.

The Vendor: May I ask you something before I leave?

Second Receptionist: Sure, as long as you don’t want to know why I didn’t come to work yesterday.

The Vendor: Not at all. Only, you know, maybe it’s really early yet, but…. I’ve never happened to see your notorious sweet or whatever-you-call-him, boss, as well as those people who all like you and whom you like in return. Actually, to be absolutely honest, there are moments when I get the feeling that I’m completely alone here!

Second Receptionist: Come on, what do you mean, alone! What am I, a statue, by any chance?

The Vendor: No, but I never see anyone else. I don’t know, but still, it can’t be only the two of us, can it? Moreover, all these applications that nobody ever seems to answer. I’ve just started to worry. Most likely, without reason… /he looks at her expectantly/.…

Second Receptionist: To tell you the truth /she looks at him, hesitates for a while/.… I’ve never laid eyes on him either.

The Vendor: I was afraid of that. So you lied to me.

Second Receptionist: No, I didn’t, why?

The Vendor: Well, you told me he had a thing for you and so on….

Second Receptionist: Yes, that’s right.

The Vendor: And how did you know about it, since you’ve never seen him?

Second Receptionist: I feel it, I told you. Didn’t I?

The Vendor /having been uneasily silent for some time/: Is it the same with the others? I mean – the rest of the people who like you….

Second Receptionist /she keeps silent for a while/: Same with rest, yes….

The Vendor: I see. And what makes you think that they… that he or whoever, really exists?

Second Receptionist: You know, I don’t care to think that much. Not that I mind it, but you understand, don’t you…. And what about you, why don’t you leave now? You need some rest. You’re probably tired from yesterday and today. I’m sorry. I’ll see that I don’t put you through that again. Just don’t feel obliged to work on my behalf.

The Vendor: If we don’t work on each other’s behalf, who will?

End of Scene 3

Scene 4

The view is again from the inner side of the desk. The man is again alone. The paper has become even more. The Receptionist comes again and enters without asking for permission.

The Vendor: You look great!

First Receptionist: Thanks. It’s probably because I have more time for myself and I spend longer in the open. One needs to be more often in contact with the sunlight. How about you? You look very pale; moreover, all this paper. It’s too much. You must clear it out. And go more often out in the open. Do you use your lunch break?

The Vendor: There’s no one to eat ice-cream with. In addition it’s a little chilly for that. Please, you’re welcome to sit down. /He offers her his seat./

First Receptionist /sits down/: I can’t stay long today. I have engagements and, to tell you the truth, I don’t feel like sitting here. It’s not that important to me anymore.

The Vendor: Please, stay a little longer. I feel so lonely. I’m even more embarrassed. There is nobody here except me. It’s so empty. As if life has stopped.

First Receptionist: Why? What about the people filing applications? You have a colleague too. What about her?

The Vendor: She’s fine. But we don’t talk much. No talk about business here, right? Besides, we don’t have much in common to talk about. People…. They come and go. Most of them never come back again. They leave their applications and seem to forget about them. Nobody answers them…. Weird thing. Sometimes I wonder why they do it actually.

First Receptionist: That’s right. It seems like the most important thing is to file the application. They don’t care at all if anybody ever answers it.

The Vendor: In fact, nobody answers them anyway.

First Receptionist: And what about you?

The Vendor: Me, what? I can have a word with them, but I can’t find an answer to their requests. The most I can do is tell them that they should look somewhere else, not here.

First Receptionist: There’s something to that.

The Vendor: Really? I didn’t know.

First Receptionist: Wasn’t it the same for you?

The Vendor: That’s how it was. I never thought somebody would reply to my crazy request.

First Receptionist: But nevertheless, they answered you….

The Vendor: Yes, indeed. Unbelievable, but it’s a fact.

First Receptionist: You see!

The Vendor /as if he has suddenly remembered something/: But who answered me actually? There is no one around here, but me.

She is silent.

The Vendor /insistently/: Who?

She keeps silent.

The Vendor: You?!

She remains silent.

The Vendor: Why did you do it?

First Receptionist: To escape from here.

The Vendor: But you can’t.

First Receptionist: Right, because I’m weak.

The Vendor: Why do you think you’re weak?

First Receptionist: Because I can’t accept the burden of the change. Even though I like it. But change gives rise to so many questions that one must answer.

The Vendor: So answer them!

First Receptionist: I can’t. The answers stop me.

The Vendor: From what?

First Receptionist: From being normal. From being like everyone.

The Vendor: And what’s that like?

First Receptionist: You know. They don’t ask themselves questions. It is tiresome and confusing to ask oneself questions. The answers more often than not involve unpleasant surprises. In fact, we all crave some kind of change that, if possible, wouldn’t really change anything…. Apart from some minor details.

The Vendor: Okay, but I have one question. Please, answer me.

First Receptionist: I don’t know if I’ll be able to.

The Vendor: Give it a try.

First Receptionist: OK. Go ahead.

The Vendor: This desk is deserted and empty. There’s no one here, except two people who don’t do anything. Why does it even exist?

First Receptionist: To have a place where people can pose their questions.

The Vendor: And never get answers?

First Receptionist: Then they’ll continue to look for them themselves.

The Vendor: How do you know? They may not continue at all.

First Receptionist: But at least they’ll have posed them.

The Vendor: So what?

First Receptionist: I don’t know. Most probably, nothing. Or maybe something. Everyone figures that out for himself.

The Vendor: Still, one last question.

First Receptionist: And that is.…

The Vendor: What can I do about all this paper, before it buries me alive. There’s nowhere to put it anymore. I think of it day and night. I have nightmares where it buries me and suffocates me, and I can’t escape. I’m terrified it’ll really happen one day and by the time they find me it’ll be too late. Give me some advice!

First Receptionist: Well, I’m not a shrink. Nevertheless, I know there’s always a way out and sometimes it’s in the most unexpected place—the most unexpected solution. What you crave to do most of all, but you don’t even consider doing it.

The Vendor: Like, for instance, break the rules.…

First Receptionist: I don’t know. Look around, think. Perhaps the solution is somewhere right in front of you. It’s probably very simple. It’s important to be open to it. To not pass over it. It’s always there.

The Vendor: All you’ve told me is too general. Meanwhile, the paper keeps closing in on me, tighter and tighter. One day they’ll find me dead under it and they’ll think: “What a fool! He didn’t try to escape. He let himself be buried under piles of useless paper.”

First Receptionist: You said it. I’m sure you know the answer. Just accept it. /She stands up and prepares to leave/.

The Vendor /with panic in his voice/: Please, don’t leave me! Stay a little longer.

First Receptionist: I can’t. I don’t feel like staying. If I’d wanted to stay, I wouldn’t have answered your application. Good bye!

The Vendor remains alone. He sits down on his chair in despair. One of the piles of paper slides down from the abrupt movement and drags down another pile. Everything begins to fall down with a crash. He begins to choke, undoes the collar of his shirt and opens the window. The wind begins to blow the paper all over the room. The entire floor becomes covered with paper. At that moment the Tramp appears at the desk window.

The Tramp: Good morning. Do you happen to have any waste paper?

The Vendor looks at him frenzied, he can’t believe his eyes.

The Tramp: Ah, okie-dokie, sorry. I know you have, but it’s not for disposal. Bye.

He makes a move to leave.

The Vendor: Wait! Don’t move! Weren’t you here the day before yesterday?

The Tramp: I was. And the day before and the day before that. I’ve been around for quite a while. Since before you were selling ice-cream.

The Vendor: Yes, now I remember. Wait, don’t go! What do you need this paper for? Why do you need the money?

The Tramp: It’s winter now. So I need warmth. I’ll buy me some warmth.

The Vendor: How do you buy warmth?

The Tramp: If you fill up my sack, I’ll show you.

He hands the Vendor an empty sack. The Vendor begins to fill it with paper. When the sack is full, the Tramp leaves. After a while, the light of a fire is seen in the distance. The Tramp comes slowly back.

The Tramp: You see?

The Vendor: Yeah. Incredible. I had no idea that all this paper could be of such great use.

The Tramp: Yes, it can, and how. It can even save my life. And not only mine.

He hands him the empty bag again. The Vendor continues to fill it. The fire becomes stronger and stronger. The paper diminishes. At last it is gone completely. Shadows keep coming in flocks around the fire. They become more and more. There is a murmur of voices.

The Vendor /standing upright, alone in the empty room and looking at the fire/: There’s no more paper. So much warmth! So many people! I’m saved.

He puts on his coat. Goes out, shuts down the window and nails two laths on it crosswise. Then he walks in the direction of the fire.

End of Act II

Copyright © Ekaterina Vitkova
Translation Copyright © Valentin Krustev and Peter Cooper

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