”Another happy day” is a real story. Heard in Zorani, as told by Mrs. Rodica Codrea, born Oproni, ”Another happy day” tries to render through humor what must have been an extremely stressful and difficult period for the family of Serafin Oproni, Rodica’s uncle, who would later become her adoptive father.
Being one of the 5 heads of family who refused join the collective farm in Zorani, Serafin – a peasant and World War I veteran in the Austro-Hungarian army, taken prisoner by the Russians – managed to show the strength of character and the intelligence needed to resist the intimidation tactits that the Romanian peasantry was being subjected to by the end of the collectivisation process.
As I was myself present in the very room where the discussions between Serafin and a comission formed by important personages from the village and a Party activist probably took place, while Mrs. Rodica was telling the story of how her uncle/ future adoptive father was holding firm and calmly opposing the facetious threats of the apparatchik, I tried to imagine the scene. It is a story of decency and human spirit fighting against the abuse and chicanery of a brutal, arrogant and condescending totalitarian state. The fact that, in the end, Serafin Oproni managed to outplay the collectivisation process by adopting his own niece (with her parents` consent) in order to be able to keep hold of his land, speaks about the subversive and playful spirit through which a Romanian peasant managed to avoid the machinations of the Communist state by using its own weapons against it – its own legislation. It is a bit o personal history that merits being brought back to life.
SERAFIN – a peasant from Zorani
EVA – his wife
THE FATHER DUMITRU – the village priest
PARASCHIV – the village teacher
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL
TIME and PLACE
A peasant house in Zorani. Evening. 1956. 3 years after the death of Stalin, towards the end of collectivisation.
A room in the house. A table, a bench, three chairs. A water jug. A rushlight. An icon. Some photos on the wall. Evening is coming on.
SERAFIN is reading Scânteia (the Communist Party newspaper) and smoking with his feet on a stool. EVA enters and slams the door shut, bolts it and leans on it. She crosses herself.
EVA: What are we to do Serafin? What are we to do?
SERAFIN: What`s the trouble?
EVA: They`re coming with the Collective! They`re on our street! And they’re coming for us!
SERAFIN: Let them come.
EVA: I’m not letting them in!
SERAFIN falls silent and keeps reading
EVA: Did you hear what I just said?
SERAFIN nods, wets his finger and turns the page.
EVA: And you’re silent! Just sitting there, reading!
SERAFIN: What else should I be doing?!
EVA goes to the window. Sticks her head out.
EVA: God help us get rid of these people! Look at them coming. The teacher Paraschiv, the Father Dumitru and another one with a big red ledger, dressed in a suit. A stranger!
SERAFIN keeps quiet. Watches her.
EVA: Say something Serafin! Stop staring and say something!
SERAFIN(after a moment’s silence): I’m hungry.
EVA: You’re thinking about food?!
SERAFIN: Enough Eva! Enough! Shush! Calm down.
EVA: I can’t. I can’t!
EVA: My soul’s aching and I’m afraid.
SERAFIN: Ain’t the devil as black as he’s made out to be. We’ll come to an understanding, as men do.
EVA: There’s no understanding with their lot. You’re either with them, or against them. With the Party or not at all. With the Collective or going to hell with nothing to show for it.
SERAFIN: They’ll not take a thing. Go on, put the soup on. I’m hungry.
EVA: May the Holy One help us Serafin, ’cause I don’t know how we’re going to get rid of their lot!
SERAFIN: Leave it to me. We’ll find some sort of understanding amongst ourselves.
Knocks on the door.
SERAFIN: Go put the soup on.
EVA exits. SERAFIN unbolts the door open. SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL enters with a cocky attitude and sits on SERAFIN’s chair slapping the red ledger down on the table. THE FATHER DUMITRU and PARASCHIV, the teacher, enter after shaking hands with SERAFIN, smiling at him apologetically. They all sit. SERAFIN is left standing. SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL smiles politely at SERAFIN, taking out an inkwell and a fountain pen from his suit pockets.
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL: Sit down comrade!
SFC: On a chair!
There are no empty chairs left. None of the men sitting seem to wish to give theirs away. SERAFIN pulls at the bench dragging it along the floor, loudly.
SFC: Comrade! Please!
SERAFIN(sitting after arraging the bench, making even more noise): Please excuse me.
SFC: You read Scânteia?!
SERAFIN: I do.
PARASCHIV: The comrade is from central.
FATHER DUMITRU: The comrade honours us with his presence.
SFC: The comrades are too kind.
PARASCHIV: Not at all comrade.
SFC: Comrade, please!
FATHER DUMITRU: But comrade, there is no inconvenience. Not at all!
SFC: Comrades, please! (clears his throat) If… (clears his throat again)
FATHER DUMITRU: Perhaps the comrade has thirst?
SERAFIN(barking): Eva! Bring țuica and glasses.
Uncomfortable silence. SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL smiles a horribly affable smile at SERAFIN, who ignores him, rolling a cigarette. FATHER DUMITRU plays with his prayer beads. PARASCHIV is exploring his fingernails lost in thought. EVA enters with a bottle of țuica and some glasses.
EVA: Good evening! Please, help yourselves.
EVA curtsies awkwardly and exits uneasily, without reply. SERAFIN stands and starts pouring.
SERAFIN: Welcome to our house.
SFC: It’s good to be here.
They clink glasses.
FATHER DUMITRU: It’s good!
PARASCHIV: God bless!
SFC: Comrades. Now that we know each other, let us…
FATHER DUMITRU: Lord! It’s so good! Pfuu!
SERAFIN: Hungry father?
SFC: Comrades. Let us…
FATHER DUMITRU: Just a lil’ bit…
SERAFIN: Eva! Bring soup, the people are hungry!
EVA heard in off manipulating dishes.
SERAFIN: Don’t you like it?
SFC: I do.
SERAFIN: From my orchard.
SFC: From his orchard.
FATHER DUMITRU: He has an orchard.
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL opens the ledger and writes.
SFC: Orchard. One item of.
SERAFIN: Yes, I own one. (lights up watching him)
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL gets out a cigarette case and plants a cigarette in his face. PARASCHIV jumps with a lit match but SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL ignores him while watching SERAFIN.
SFC: Have you any clue as to why we’re here?
SERAFIN: Not a one.
The match is burning up but SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL hasn’t lit up yet. He holds. And then lights up.
SFC: Aha. Aha. I see. Well, you’ll certainly find out then, won’t you?!
PARASCHIV: The comrade has come here with best intentions.
FATHER DUMITRU: The very best of intentions.
SERAFIN: Dumitre, is the drink good?
FATHER DUMITRU: Of course!
SERAFIN: Have some more.
SFC: Comrades, let’s not overdo it.
FATHER DUMITRU: Perhaps later Serafin.
SERAFIN: And what am I supposed to do? Drink by myself before dinner?
SFC: What do you know about collectivisation?
SERAFIN: Not much.
SFC: How so?!
SERAFIN: ‘Cause I’m not really interested!
SFC: Not really interested?!
SERAFIN: Not really.
PARASCHIV: What comrade Serafin is trying to say is that…
SERAFIN: Sir, let me just say it. I’m not that interested because I do not wish to join the Collective.
SFC(smiling and murmuring): Does not wish to join the Collective. Would you look at him. My my.
FATHER DUMITRU: Comrade Serafin is a man of strong faith in his own opinions.
SERAFIN: Well is it mandatory?!
PARASCHIV: No, but it’s recomendable!
SERAFIN: And what’s so recommendable about this whole Collective business!? It doesn’t seem like much to me!
FATHER DUMITRU: Come on Serafin, calm down, we’re not here to kill you.
SERAFIN: You’re here for much worse! You’ve come to take my land.
SFC: Would you look at that! Man, it’s getting really hot in here all of sudden Comrade Serafin. Pretty damn hot.
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL stands and takes off his jacket. He has a gun holster strapped over his sweaty shirt. He unbuttons his collar and pours himself a glass. Remains standing. FATHER DUMITRU and PARASCHIV pour themselves a glass each as well. SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL raises his glass. EVA enters with the bowl of soup and four plates over the bowl, towels and spoons in the plates. She sets the bowl on the table, notices the gun and freezes..
SFC(toasts): For the Communist Party!
FATHER DUMITRU: The Party.
Nobody drinks. Silence.
SERAFIN: Set everything down Eva and go gather up the chickens.
EVA barely manages to let go without tipping anything over, fixed on the gun. She curtsies and exits. SERAFIN stands and sets the table..
SFC: Won’t you join our toast?!
SERAFIN: What for?
SFC: For the health of the Party.
SERAFIN: Let’s hope it doesn’t fall ill! (raises his glass and drinks)
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL drinks spitefully and slams the glass on the table. The others drink too. The four are still standing. SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL stares at SERAFIN. Smiles at him.
SFC: Smile. Why aren’t you smiling?!
SERAFIN: Well there’s nothing funny to smile at.
SFC: I know your sort.
SERAFIN: Do you?
SFC: The sort that play dumb with their sly peasant faces, but we took care of that. Or knocked all their teeth in.
SERAFIN: I’d like to see you try, sir. You think I’ve never seen a gun before? I’ve been at war. And was a prisoner of the Russians in 1916. And came back whole.
SFC: Careful I don’t shoot you.
SERAFIN: Careful you don’t shoot yourself. And stop gawking at me with that pencil pusher mug of yours, sir. You’re in my house, I welcomed you in, I served you drink. Let’s eat some soup. You tell me what you want, I’ll tell you what I want and maybe we can come to an understanding. My woman’s scared half to death, I have a sow with diarrhea and a lot of work to do tomorrow. I have much on my mind. And too little time to spare. So either shoot me or convince me. Or at least stop tripping me up more than you already have! (he sits and ladles himself some soup)
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL sits down quietly. He writes something down in his ledger. Ostentatiously. The teacher serves the priest and then SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL. They eat in silence.
FATHER DUMITRU: May the Lord bless this soup. And your wife.
PARASCHIV: It’s good.
SERAFIN: Used to be fattier.
PARASCHIV: So much fattier than now.
FATHER DUMITRU: Yes yes!
SFC(hurt): What are you implying comrades?!
PARASCHIV: Nothing comrade. Just noticing.
SFC: Noticing what exactly?! This is subversion against the State!
SERAFIN: He was just saying my wife used to make the soup a lot fatter. Not any more, ’cause it’s attacking my liver.
FATHER DUMITRU: Yes. His liver.
Silence. They eat.
SERAFIN: Making my liver ache since the Communists bled this coutnry dry.
SFC(slammind the spoon on the table): Enough!
PARASCHIV: Come on Serafin, take it down a notch, please.
SERAFIN: Keep your trap shut Paraschiv, and eat. You can lick the comrade’s boots afterwards, belly full and conscience clean.
SFC: I’m taking you straight to the Militia!
SERAFIN: Call the press as well. Leak it to all the newspapers.
SFC: Comrade Serafin!
SERAFIN: All the papers are good for anymore is wiping your ass clean with them, anyway!
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL jumps and pulls out his pistol. FATHER DUMITRU hides under the table. The teacher freezes. SERAFIN keeps eating as if nothing has happened. Silence.
SERAFIN: Won’t you rather sit? Or at least put a magazine in that pistol before threatening someone with it. People took axes to the face for much less around these parts. And you’re all by your lonesome here, far away from central, and in the woods nearby there are a lot of ravines where you can slumber. Peacefully.
SFC: Are you threatening me?
SERAFIN: Me? God forbid!
SFC: If you don’t collectivise, we’ll take everything. Eveyrthing! And we’ll throw you in the street. You and all your kin.
SERAFIN: Sit down man and let’s have a talk. Simmer down. Let’s not blow our tops off. I’ve had this room whitewashed just this spring.
FATHER DUMITRU(from under the table): Let’s calm ourselves down comrade!
SFC: Have him retract his words agains the Party and the Organ of the Press.
PARASCHIV: He retracts them.
FATHER DUMITRU: Retracts them, yes!
SFC: Let’s hear him.
PARASCHIV: Come on Serafin, stop playing the loon.
SERAFIN: I retract them.
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL fall down exhausted onto the chair, holsters his pistol. Drinks from the water jug. Long gulps. Night is coming on. SERAFIN lights the rushlight. He’s finished eating.
FATHER DUMITRU(coming out from under the table): Let’s drink and eat like Christians! God bless.
SFC: Easy on the idolatry father, religion is the opium of nations.
FATHER DUMITRU: But it’s also a beacon for lost souls. Like the Party.
SFC: The Party brings us the light.
PARASCHIV: From the East.
FATHER DUMITRU: Amen!
SFC: Thank you for the meal.
SERAFIN: I hope you enjoyed it.
SFC: So comrade Serarfin. Let us resume.
SFC: Let me present to you the advantages of joining the Collective.
SFC: What you mean why?!
SERAFIN: I am aware of the advantages. I’ve seen my neighbours benefiting fully.
SERAFIN: I’m not impressed. It’s too much work.
SFC: One can’t have work without bread and, of course, there can be no bread without work, you see.
SERAFIN: But it seems to be a lot of work for a little bread. I prefer my condition as it is. I know how much I have to put in for what I get out of it. Your model seems to me a tad volatile.
SFC(laughs copiously): Comrade Serafin, the country is going through some changes. The capitalist model is on its way out. We’re a Marxist-Leninist economy now. Centralized. From the State. The State gives to all and all give to the State and no one’s left out. You see.
SERAFIN: However it may be, I’m not convinced.
SFC: Well maybe you didn’t let youself be persuaded.
SERAFIN: And if there’s no way you can persuade me?
SFC: I’ve told you before. We’ll take everything. Look here comrade Serafin. You have no children. ‘Cause we know. We know everything.
FATHER DUMITRU: Eva poor woman didn’t give you any children.
SFC: You have a nephew, his wife and their daughter. And that’s it. You either join the Collective or the little one will end up in a state orphanage. We’ll kick her parents out of their house if we put our mind to it, and the State takes everything away. Cows, pigs, child included.
SERAFIN: Well now, how the State thinks of everything!
SFC: If that’s the way it was thought up!?
SERAFIN: And what if I don’t want to?
SFC: Think about it. You’ll want to. They all want to, when they think about it and do the math..
SERAFIN: I was never any good at math.
SFC: The State covers that aspect of didactic schooling as well, don’t you worry. You’ll want to.
SERAFIN: No I won’t.
SFC: Yes you will.
SERAFIN: Will not.
SFC: Will too!
FATHER DUMITRU: Come now comrades, you’re getting riled up again.
SERAFIN: I’m nobody’s comrade!
SFC: Don’t worry, you will be!
SERAFIN: Wanna bet?
SFC: I’ll wager your 8 hectares of land you currently own. I have the papers right here. Look. All you have to do is sign. And that’s that. If you don’t, we’ll keep having these discussions weekly. Daily if we have to. Until I’m fed up and I make a phonecall at Central, and they’ll come take you in the Black Mariah. Come to take you away for good!
SERAFIN: That remains to be seen, my good sir.
SFC: There’s nothing left to see. You either join us or you’re raus on your ass! We’ll throw you out of your own house.
SERAFIN: We’ll see.
Silence. SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL thinks it over, changes tactics.
SFC: Comrade, I can somewhat sympathize.
FATHER DUMITRU: He’s not our enemy.
PARASCHIV: He’s passionate, our Serafin.
SFC(softens up): I can understand well. I can! The Romanian peasant and the land are one. He loves his land. That’s what the People’s poets are also saying. Everybody has a purpose in the Popular Republic. I have a purpose. As an activist. And activists make sure the Pary line is kept. The rudder ruddered, the boat running straight. Help me. And I’ll help you. I can understand you don’t want to lose what you love dearly. But I also love dearly. I love the Party. You love the land. But the land is the State’s, the peasant is the State’s. And the State’s the Party’s that wants the best, that sees far away into the future. The Party is spotless. Help me keep the Party untarnished. It’s not becoming, an important man such as yourself giving such a negative counter-example now that everyone knows from which direction the wind is blowing.
FATHER DUMITRU: Of course.
PARASCHIV: Damn straight!
SFC: You see? Let’s reach an understanding. Now. From the top. Where is the wind blowing from?
SERAFIN: It’s blowing from the direction it’s been blowing since forever, from where it rains baloney and where pigs fly or walk on their hind leg dressed up in suits.
SFC: You dare insult me, comrade?!
SERAFIN: No! You’re insulting me, you muppet! With your three cent pen and all this cheap freakshow you’re trying to put on people. Get out of my house and take your two monkeys with you! Or I’ll lose my temper!
SERAFIN: I’m showing you the door, sir. Good night!
SOMEONE FROM CENTRAL gathers his things while trying to keep his dignity.
SFC: Then I bid you good night! Tomorrow, same hour?
SERAFIN: I’ll be expecting you, sir.
SFC: Well then. Bon soir! (exits)
PARASCHIV: You really stepped in this one, didn’t you Serafin?
SERAFIN: Keep you trap shut Southerner! I know what I’m doing. ‘Cause I caught on quick to what you lot are doing.
PARASCHIV: I’m with you, you know. But stop playing the crazy man, you’re scaring me! Wait up comrade, I’m coming. (exits)
FATHER DUMITRU(pouring himself a glass): God Serafin, you’re a mad dog!
SERAFIN: What can one do fahter? One does as one knows.
FATHER DUMITRU: Slyer than a fox, you are.
SERAFIN: What’s that one’s game?
FATHER DUMITRU: Eh! He’s a someone, one of those ones. One amongst many. We have to put up with him until he fills his quota. His ass is teetering because there are others in the village who won’t collectivise. Walks about with his pistol and scares poor Christians and we play along. Either I go under the table or Paraschiv does, each by turn as he taught us. And the weaker willed fall for it. Poor bastards.
SERAFIN: Everything’s backwards.
FATHER DUMITRU: That’s the state of the world my son. Backwards. What will you do? He wasn’t lying, you know. If he can’t convince you he’ll make a phonecall to Bucahrest. And they’ll come for you. They’ll take everything. Your kin will be left with nothing and you’ll be sitting in a puddle in Jilava Prison.
SERAFIN: I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’m not giving up my land.
FATHER DUMITRU(thinking): There might be a way.
SERAFIN: Let’s hear it.
FATHER DUMITRU: Seems you don’t have children. But you do have a niece.
FATHER DUMITRU: So let’s say you adopt her. I know someone in Făget who can help with the paperwork. We keep coming by, you haggle with us until the adoption papers clear. And then you’ll rid yourself of the louse.
SERAFIN: Father, you’re no fool!
FATHER DUMITRU: No. But in times like these it’s not healthy being a smart ass. Maybe only in private. Well! I’ll be heading out, it’s late.
SERAFIN: Good night!
FATHER DUMITRU: God bless. (exits)
EVA enters with a basket. SERAFIN rolls himself a cigarette.
EVA: What did you tell them?
SERAFIN: I’m not joining the Collective.
EVA(crashing on a chair): You’ve ruined us.
SERAFIN: I have a plan.
EVA: What plan?
SERAFIN: I’ll tell you tomorrow. (puts out his cigarette) Come on! To bed! Tomorrow’s another happy day.
SERAFIN puts out the rushlight
ANOTHE HAPPY DAY theatre plays was initially published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. 2017-2018 book.
Photo credit: Iulia Cotrău