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The Hour of the Tramp (Act III)

July 1, 2009 by · No comments

Ekaterina Vitkova

Photo: Robert Swier



Ice-cream Vendor
First Receptionist
Second Receptionist


The setting is on the outer side of the receptionist window, which is crosswise with two laths. In front of it can be seen the bench. A citizen carrying a sheet of paper in his hand is walking towards the window. He tries to look through the window, knock at the laths, seeks to find some inscription, but fails and helplessly sits down on the bench. After a while the Second receptionist arrives. Noticing the nailed window she halts abruptly and stands motionless for a while. When she spots the man on the bench and sits down next to him.

Second Receptionist: Good morning.

Citizen: Good morning.

Second Receptionist: Have you been waiting long?

Citizen: Sort of.

Second Receptionist /looks at the window/: Was that window nailed when you came?

Citizen: Uh-huh.

Second Receptionist: Also no one else’s been around.…

Citizen: Unh-unh.

Second Receptionist: Did you have a look inside? Can you see anything?

Citizen: Nope.

Second Receptionist: Or anybody?

Citizen /curtly/: Didn’t you hear me? There’s nobody in, I told you.

The Second Receptionist stands up and begins to walk looking nervously around.

Second Receptionist: And did you see a young man passing by? He’s tall, and sweet like ice-cream.

Citizen: How do I know who passed by. Many people pass. Besides, I’m before you.

Second Receptionist: Before me, where?

Citizen: In the queue, that’s where!

Second Receptionist: O-o-o, I’m not queuing.

Citizen: No, then why are you asking me questions?

Second Receptionist: Well, no reason. I was just passing by and wanted to see what’s going on.

Citizen: Well, nothing’s going on. As you see, it’s not functioning.

Second Receptionist: Then why are you queuing?

Citizen: Because it’ll begin to function some time.

Second Receptionist: You think so?

Citizen: I don’t think, I’m waiting instead.

Second Receptionist: Ah, well, then I’ll wait too.

Citizen: Didn’t you say you were just passing by?

Second Receptionist: I was, but not any more. That’s how it is. I’ll have to file a request.

Citizen: Then you’re after me.

Second Receptionist: Right, I’m after you.

Citizen: That’ll do.

They sit silently on the bench.

Citizen /breaks the silence/: What a huge screw-up /he makes a loud sound/.

Second Receptionist /startled/: What?

Citizen /points at the window/: Well, it’s work hours, but they’ve shut it down! There’s nobody here!

Second Receptionist: Yes, indeed. That’s weird. …

Citizen: I’ll say, it’s weird! Everything they do is like that. They don’t give a crap for people. It’s happened to me before. I arrive during reception hours, but there’s nobody. Only difference is, there were no nailed 2X4s across the front. While now they’ve even boarded it up…. Can’t anyone force them to keep the rules, after all!

Second Receptionist /uneasily/: There isn’t, there isn’t anyone.

Citizen: Well, if there isn’t, they should at least hang a sign: WE WON’T KEEP THE RULES, WE WON’T ACCEPT YOUR APPLICATIONS. GET AWAY FROM HERE. FUCK OFF! That’s the sort of sign they should hang!

Second Receptionist: They’ll hang one, yeah right. Nice sign they’ve hung: two boards crosswise. Instead of putting two words across a sheet of paper – two boards. They’ve crossed us all off.

Citizen: Just take it easy. They’ll open at some point, but they love to wreck my nerves. Can’t be otherwise. That‘s the way it is according to their rules: first they wreck your nerves, but after that, who knows, they may even provide you with good service.

Second Receptionist: Well, it’s not exactly like that….

Citizen: Come on, not exactly…! Don’t you tell me! I’ve been to all the desks. It’s the same everywhere.

Second Receptionist: Then why do it?

Citizen: Why, why…. Because I want to follow the rules. I have my job and want to have it done. And I have questions, of course, because one can never know all their crazy requirements. But you know what’s funniest of all?

Second Receptionist: What?

Citizen: They don’t know them either! Ha-ha-ha!… And they keep sending you off from desk to desk. You wait. You wait and wait for some time after you’ve filed the application and then you receive a very official letter in which they write that in fact they can’t answer you and you better go there-and-there….

Second Receptionist: If they too don’t know the rules, then why obey them? Obviously, you could just as easily not.

Citizen: A-ah, no, you can’t. If you don’t obey them, there’ll always be somebody who knows them and who’ll hold you responsible. That’s also part of the rules. It’s like that, you know /points his finger heavenwards/. Everything you do, every single action – it’s all recorded.

Second Receptionist /thoughtfully/: Recorded, you say…. And I thought they liked me.

Citizen: What, who?

Second Receptionist: Nothing, nothing, doesn’t matter.

At that moment the Ice-cream Vendor enters.

Second Receptionist /jumps abruptly and walks towards him; whispers/: They’ve closed it.

The Vendor: When?

Second Receptionist: Perhaps last night. It’s empty inside. There isn’t a single sheet of paper. They’ve cleared everything.

Citizen /to the Ice-cream Vendor/: She’s the end of the line. You are after her.

The Vendor: After her for what?!

Citizen: For the desk, what else!

The Vendor: Far as I can see, it appears to be closed.

Citizen: What’s it matter! Hmm, not for the first time! Once it’s closed, it’ll open.

The Vendor: No, it won’t open.

Citizen: It’ll open.

The Vendor: No it won’t.

Citizen: It will open!

The Vendor: How do you know?

Citizen: Experience, man, experience.

Second Receptionist: That’s right. Something unforeseen may have happened and they may open it later.

The Vendor: Judging by your standards, for instance, someone might simply have decided not to go to work, right? However, there is a small detail here. As you can see, the window is closed from outside, not from inside. So it’s not dependent on your precious person.

Citizen: Exactly. All desks open sooner or later. And they don’t depend on any individual.

The Vendor: So, is there any use of them?

Citizen: In what sense?

The Vendor: In the sense – are they worthwhile?

Citizen: I don’t know if they’re worthwhile or not, but can you imagine having no desks at all. Where would we file our applications then?

The Vendor: And what exactly do you ask for in these applications?

Citizen: For various things.

The Vendor: And do they reply to you?

Citizen: They both reply and don’t reply. But that’s not important. What’s important is that there is a place where you can ask. One should always know that there’s a place where one can ask.

The Vendor: I don’t see the use of asking and not being answered, but you know best.

Citizen: Yes, exactly. I do know best. And it’s none of your business how they answer me.

The Vendor: It’s not my business. That’s right! It’s not my business! Thank God!

Second Receptionist /to the Vendor/: But you don’t seem to be very upset by the closed desk.

The Vendor /ironically/: How did you guess?

Second Receptionist: Wasn’t that hard.

Citizen: You two know each other?

Second Receptionist: Vaguely. But now we’re simply in the queue.

The Vendor: I’m not in the queue.

Second Receptionist: Really? Then what are you doing here?

The Vendor: Just passing by.

Second Receptionist /suspiciously/: Or maybe you’ve returned to the scene of the crime. You were the last one to have been here, so you know what happened. You’ve gone over to the wrong side of the law, haven’t you!

The Vendor: I didn’t go the wrong side of the law. I went beyond it, if you can see the difference.

Second Receptionist: We’ll wait and see….

At that moment the First Receptionist enters. She looks around surprised.

The Vendor: Well, here we are, all together finally!

Citizen /points at the Vendor/: He’s the end.

First Receptionist: The end of what?

Citizen: The queue. But what’s with you all? You going to the cinema, or what?

First Receptionist: I was just passing by…. What happened…? /she nods in the direction of the window/.

Second Receptionist: What’s happened is that now we’re all like you. We can form a support group.

The Vendor: So you won’t feel any different.

First Receptionist: All I wanted was sit down there for a while

The Vendor: You can’t any more. It doesn’t function. It’s closed now. Finita la Comedia!

Citizen /to the Receptionist/: Don’t listen to them. Of course, it functions. I’m sure it’ll open soon. There are still some rules left.

Second Receptionist /mockingly/: Hope dies last.

At that moment some noise is heard from inside the building. Somebody begins to unfix the boards from inside. They fall down and the Tramp appears behind the desk.

Citizen: Aha, that’s it. Now let’s see who’s right and who’s wrong. /He runs towards the window pointing at the rest/. They’re after me.

The Tramp: Easy, man, wait a little. There’s time for everybody.
Citizen /happily/: All right, all right, I’ll wait.

The Tramp: But what do you have in you hand? Is that all you’ve brought?

Citizen: That’s all. One little page – that’s all.

The Tramp: Well, there’s no sense. That’s too little. Come when you have more.

Citizen: Are those new rules or what?

Meanwhile, the Tramp takes a sign from the inside and hangs it in front, above the window. It reads: TRANSFER STATION.

The Tramp: It’s not worth it until you’ve accumulated at least a kilo. I’m posting the price list right now. /He produces a sheet of paper and sticks it in front next to the window./

Citizen: But what’s this, this should be a desk!

Second Receptionist: What’s going on here?

First Receptionist: Where’s the desk?

The Ice-cream Vendor watches cheerily from a distance. The Tranp goes outside and joins the rest.

The Tramp: The desk is gone. It vanished. Like that, in one night – phe-e-ewt! And it’s gone…. hee-hee-hee! But what’s the matter with you, or are you pretending to not understand?

All keep silent and watch him.

The Tramp: This desk hasn’t really existed for a long time. It’s dead. There’s nobody. Just you, who pretended that it existed. Or perhaps you believed that it existed.? Anyway. You may have believed. You may have not believed. But I’ve been watching for quite some time. We tramps have a nose for the abandoned, discarded, thrown out useless things. We have a sense about what they are and where they can be found. This thing here had been thrown out a long time ago. I’ve just been waiting to see how long you would last. You were the first to give up /he points at the Receptionist/. You were the second /he points at the Ice-cream Vendor/. You showed the greatest powers of endurance /he points at the Second Receptionist/ I like you. This job is the same as all those useless knicknacks around your house. You keep them for years, just waiting to see if you’ll ever need them. But you don’t really ever need them. They just take up space. Finally, you throw them in the garbage, but not in the cans, rather somewhere near them. Because you believe that they might be of use to someone, and because you feel sorry to part with them. As if you’ve left a smidgen of yourself there, beside the garbage can. And then our time comes. The hour of the Tramp. We know what to do with the useless things.

The Vendor: So, now what?

The Tramp: Well, now you’ll see how a useless thing can be of use. You’ll see how many people will come here and will carry away the collected waste. And it’ll become cleaner and cleaner here…. When it gets warmer, bring your vending machine and come around. We’ll keep each other company during the day.

The Vendor: And will I be allowed to…? /He points at the door of the building./

The Tramp: Of course. What could be more natural than that?

First Receptionist: Are you sure no one will hold you responsible for this?

Tramp: As sure as I am that no one would have held you responsible if you had broken the rules. If you like, you can come and sit behind the window. You won’t be in my way.

First Receptionist: Really?

Tramp: Really. There’s nothing more simple than that. You’ll only change your job…. /he laughs/.

Meanwhile the Second Receptionist begins to act provocatively, obviously with the purpose of drawing the Tramp’s attention.

The Tramp: How about you? Do you want anything from me?

Second Receptionist: I want you to like me!

The Tramp: This will be the most pleasant part of my duties. Because I do like you.

Citizen: And what about me? What shall I do? I thought that at least here they’d accept my request and reply to me. I want the rules to be observed!

The Tramp: There is no sense coming back before you pile up at least one kilo.

The Vendor: Maybe this isn’t your place.

Second Receptionist: You have to look for it!

First Receptionist: You’ll probably find it …

Gradually they walk away from him. The curtain falls down and he remains alone downstage.

Citizen /spreads out his arms helplessly/: What shall I do? Where shall I go? Then he looks at the sheet of paper on which his request is written, unfolds it, looks upwards and begins to read:

Citizen: „Dear Sir/Madam, I am addressing you in connection with the unlawful closure of a desk where I have always filed my applications. It was the nearest and the most convenient place for hundreds of people, who used to regularly file their pleas here. It was close to a small park where one could wait, if need be, and where they even used to sell ice-cream in the summer. Surprisingly and without any warning, as well as without instructions about opening another desk suitable for filing all kinds of applications, it was closed down by an unknown person, whereas that other unknown person changed its designation turning it into a trash recycling center. Kindly see that immediate measures be taken, so that the desk be reopened in accordance with its intended purpose, i. e. to accept the people’s appeals. If worse comes to the worst, be so kind as to assist us in our appeals being accepted even below the kilo level. I deem it an extremely unacceptable circumstance that you deprive us of a place where to file applications. I want the rules to be observed! Assign an inspection of the case and reply to me a.s.a.p…..”

His voice gradually fades away as if somebody has muted the microphone. He continues to talk, but nothing can be heard. The lights dim and eventually go out completely….

Photo: Robert Swier


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

Categories: Frontpage · Modern Times


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