BĂRĂGONE: DROPIA EXPRES

CHARACTERS:

THE LITTLE GIRL

THE WOMAN/ THE MOTHER

ŞPAC/ 1ST MAN

COCLITU/ 2ND MAN

MÜLLER/ 3RD MAN

BROASCĂ/4TH MAN

MACARCIUC/ 5TH MAN

A VOICE ON THE MEGAPHONE

TIME:

Once.

PLACE:

Someplace between here and nowhere, passing through no particular place.

Silence.

The light has a fairy-tale quality to it, a night with a full moon giving off light as the sun. One can hear the wind blowing on the plain. And the cawing of crows in flight.

THE LITTLE GIRL: The people wake up in the middle of the night, when the moon is full.

Silence.

THE WOMAN: The moon was so big, it seemed as if the sun was rising in the middle of the night.

TLG: It’s full of stars. I don’t know how to count yet, but I try. I raise my eyes to the sky and I try. Then I get bored and I look around.

TW: All of a sudden that weird light in the street is filled up with shadows. The shadows of trees. Of houses. Of people.

Sounds of footsteps in the dust.

A VOICE ON THE MEGAPHONE: Take what you can fit into a suitcase and to the station with you!

TG: To the station with you! The station! Someone is yelling at us, telling us to go to the station.

TW: There was this young man. A soldier or a Militia man, I don’t know. Some were being waited in front of their houses by a man from the Securitate of by a boachter. Boachter, meaning a man in a suit, a clerk.

TG: I can’t keep my eyes open I’m so sleepy. I’d sleep a little while longer. Just a little. (she yawns)

Silence.

AVOTM(suddelny): Bring buckets! Buckets! Buckets! Buckets and suitcases! That’s what you bring!

TG: I open my eyes, but it seems like I’m dreaming.

THE MEN enter, dragging their legs. They are all dressed the same, in pants and coats made out of sack cloth. Some are barefoot, some have shoes. They each carry a suitcase and a bucket.

BROASCĂ: Iu ducu noi?

MÜLLER: Wohin gehen wir?

ŞPAC: The hell’s going on?!

COCLITU yawns loudly.

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainian): Keep quiet boys, soldiers are coming!

MÜLLER: Seid still!

ŞPAC: Shush!

BROASCĂ: Soldiers are coming.

Jackboots can be heard in the dust.

The MEN stand to. Keep quiet.

TW: They gathered us in the street and took us to the station in marching step. In silence.

The MEN march in silence. They are sleepy.

COCLITU yawns.

BROASCĂ(whispers): One-two. One-two.

MACARCIUC(louder, in Ukrainean): One-two. One-two-three. One-two.

ŞPAC: Left-right, left-right-left.

MÜLLER: Eins, zwei. Eins, zwei.

COCLITU(yawning): One two. One two.

MÜLLER: One two one two.

ŞPAC: One two three four. One two three four.

COCLITU: One two. One (yawns) two.

The MEN march but they don’t enjoy it. The start complaining.

ŞPAC: Did you see they took our IDs and stamped them?

MÜLLER: O.D. O.D. O.D. It says O.D. on it.

BROASCĂ: What does O.D. mean?

AVOTM: Because of the Titois menace, you will be given Obligatory Domicile. Obligatory Domicile.

ŞPAC: Obligatory where?

COCLITU yawns again and gets the MEN out of rhythm. They stumble and stop.

THE WOMAN: Keep the rhytm and stop all that yawning someone was barking at them in the dark.

AVOTM: Keep that rhythm!

COCLITU: What? Is yawning forbidden now or what?

AVOTM: Someone hit that guy so he keeps his mouth shut!

THE WOMAN claps her palms powerfully. COCLITU takes the hits.

ŞPAC: Why are you hitting him? What did he do to you?

ŞPAC also mimes getting hit.

Silence.

MÜLLER massages his jaw. ŞPAC sniffs. The other MEN look away, ashamed.

THE WOMEN: Come on! The man in the darkness was saying. Come on!

AVOTM: Come on! Go! Go! Go!

The MEN shuffle their feet. A bit faster. Slaps are still heard. The MEN gasp and shuffle their feet as fast as possible.

THE WOMAN: The people ambled along. Ripe with sleep. They looked about to drown in that weird light. The walked with difficulty as if something was weighing on them. Flattening them under a huge weight. It looked to me as if we were walking on the bottom of the ocean.

THE LITTLE GIRL: I am small. I am 5. I am sleepy and I don’t understand what is going on. Father takes me in his arms.

THE MEN(whispering, holding the suitcases in their arms): All will be well. You’ll see.

THE WOMAN: Father’s cheek was hot, there where the soldier had hit him.

THE LITTLE GIRL: It’s summer but I’m shaking. I’m shaking. It’s warm outside but I’m shaking.

The MEN walk and talk:

ŞPAC: What are they going to do to us?

COCLITU: Where are they taking us?

ŞPAC: They’re taking us to the station.

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainean): Taking me away again! I just got here and now they’re taking me somewhere else! I can’t take this anymore! What kind of life is this? What life is this?! Get up and go there! Wait a minute, that’s not good! Go there! The Austrian leaves it to the Romanian. The Bolshevik comes and takes it away from the Romanian. The Romanian leaves and comes back with the Nazis, the Russian runs off. The Germans lose, the Romanians betray and turn communist! And me!? What do I do? Get out of here, what are you doing here?! Can’t you see nobody wants you? Go where you please! Go to the Banat (in Romanian) And from here where are you going to send me?! Where are you carting me off to this time?! Didn’t I suffer enough?! I’ve been on the road since 1940! All my life I’ve spent on the road! A life lost on the road!

COCLITU: Stop all that yacking!

Silence.

MÜLLER: Look at all the people!

BROASCĂ: Oh boy! They want to get the whole village on the train.

Sound of steps, voices, babies crying. The sound of a cattle car lock opening. The noises are cut abruptly.

Silence. Noisy crows. Steps. Silience.

AVOTM: Atention! Hello! Hello! Based on the Decision of the Council of Ministers nr. 344 from March 15 1951, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, through decision nr. 200 orders: the dislocation of populations from the western border with Yugoslavia, starting from Beba Veche (Timișoara district) to Gruia (Severin district) up to Turnu Severin (Gorj district). The localities will be liberated and of the dislocated and sanitized of citizens of the following categories: first state peasants, middle state peasants, kulaks, Germans, inhabitants of the Banat, Aromanians, the ones from Bukovina, the ones from Bessarabia, Serbians, Southerners, Bulgarians, those who fought alongside the fascists, the legionaries, the pentecostals and the other deviant cults, those who have family members who fled across the border, the ones with relatives in prision, subversive elements, dangerous elements, elements that could turn dangerous, enemy elements, smugglers, vagabonds, bandits, exploiters, thieves, carriage drivers, tavern owners, former landowners, factory owners, carpenters, pharmacists, peope with glasses, people with beards, people with mustaches, former owners of property, actors, people with big noses, poets, people with missing teeth, postmen, workers, bald people, doctors, teachers, priests and old women that can’t keep their mouths shut. And fat people! Attention!

The MEN stand to attention.

AVOTM: Raise your bags!

The MEN raise the suitcases over their heads.

THE WOMAN: They got us into the cattle cars.

The MEN raise a leg. The MEN lower a leg.

The sound of the lock of the train car being driven in.

Darkness.

THE WOMAN(whispering): I’m scared.

Silence.

The MEN shuffle about. They sniff.

ŞPAC: It smells of petrol. And whitewash.

MÜLLER: They cleaned.

COCLITU: Cleaned what?

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainean): Cow shit.

BROASCĂ: This is a cattle car.

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainean): They’re humiliating us.

ŞPAC: You can say that again.

Silence.

MÜLLER: Hat jemand einen Streicholz?

COCLITU lights a match. ŞPAC takes out an oil lamp. The MEN light the lamp. They gather around it.


Silence.

MÜLLER: What are we going to do?

BROASCĂ: Tsi ni featsi?

ŞPAC: Drop the aromanian! Speak so we can all understand!

BROASCĂ: What are we going to do?

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainean): I feel like hitting my head against the walls! Oh God! Where the hell am I going to end up this time, I don’t know what we’re goig to do. (he continues mumbling as the other lines run)

COCLITU(to ŞPAC): What’s he saying?

ŞPAC(shrugs): What am I, an expert?

COCLITU: Aren’t you from Moldova?

ŞPAC: I am a Romanian from Bessarabia. He is a Ukrainian from Bukovina. You’re the only one from Moldova here! What don’t you get?!

MÜLLER: But what is he saying?

BROASCĂ: He’s complaining probably.

MACARCIUC: I’m complaining, I’m complaining.

MÜLLER: We’re all complaining.

BROASCĂ: That’s just how Romanians are.

The MEN fall silent.

Silence.

COCLITU: What does Bărăgan mean?

ŞPAC: It’s where they’re taking us.

BROASCĂ: But why, did we do anything wrong?

MÜLLER: That’s what they say.

MACARCIUC: Who says?

COCLITU: Them.

MÜLLER: They.

ŞPAC: Who?

MÜLLER: You know who.

BROASCĂ: Those?

ŞPAC: Those who?!

COCLITU: A bunch of those… Those each and every one.

Silence.

BROASCĂ: It was better before.

ŞPAC: Eh! Thieves then! Thieves now!

COCLITU: Don’t worry, the Americans are coming.

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainean): It would be something if the Americans were to come.

ŞPAC: There’s no Americans coming.

BROASCĂ: At least there’s no war on…

Silence.

MÜLLER(gets out a loaf of bread): Does anybody want some bread?

The MEN share bread, eat in silence.

THE LITTLE GIRL: I get a piece of bread and I quiet down. I fall asleep.

The MEN eat in silence and then lie down and fall asleep.

The light comes back on.

THE WOMAN: They kept us for 6 hours on the tracks, in the train cars, without leaving.

AVOTM: In the majority of cases aid was organized for those waiting in the station. They have water and milk, tea and biscuits for the children.

TW: They kept us there and didn’t give us anything.

AVOTM: The people are kept in the shade.

TG: It’s hot in the train car.

AVOTM: There is a doctor present.

TG: I start falling asleep. We are all drowsing. We barely move. Some get sick.

THE MEN(whispers): Someone from Comloșu Mare died in the traincar, from the heat.

AVOTM: The population is well. A team from the UTM is selling cigarettes.

THE MEN (whispered): Apparently a Militia man went to a kulak and instead of bringing him in, they got drunk together. In Nerău, Militia man Bobu told kulak Fleșeriu to run away, because he was his godfather.

AVOTM: Naturally, some mistakes were made.

THE MEN(whispered): Those people are going to steal everything from our houses.

AVOTM: There are fears, mistrust and rumors. Two of the dislocated fled from Şemlacul Mare but returned of their own accord. The people ready for departure are either happy, scared, indiferent. Some are in a bad mood even if it was announced that they would be traveling for free.

THE MEN(raise their voices): Why aren’t we leaving?! What do you want?! For us to die in these cattle cars?! What is the meaning of this?! What are you doing to us?! Booo! (they yell etc.)

AVOTM: There are wagons for Lenauheim, but there is no locomotive.

The MEN start cursing and yelling, hitting the buckets, making noise.

TW+TLG: Enough! Stop it!!!

The MEN calm down, sit on the suitcases and buckets etc.

Silence.

AVOTM: Comrade Belmustaţă reports: Spirits are calm, there is no tension. 7 skinny pigs were exchanged with 7 fat pigs. In Sculea a kulak attacked a Militia man with a pitch fork but calmed down after two shots were fired. The cadres were given trucks, drivers and 1000 lei in spending money. The citizens that stayed behind in the village are quiet and sent to work. The barley is being harvested. It is summer. It is beautiful. No one has manifested themselves. The trains are leaving. The operation is over.

The whistle of a railroad worker sounds, then we hear the sound of a steam powered locomotive, the sound of a train starting to move.

AVOTM: Wave godammit to show you are happy to leave.

THE MEN wave.

AVOTM: Smile a little, dammit! And repeat after me: Bă-ră-gan, Bă-ră-gan, Bă-ră-gan!

The MEN say Bărăgan in the rhythm of trainwheels in motion. Then the actual sound comes in. Then it lingers in the background.

The MEN speak to the audience:

1ST MAN: I was playing rummy with my wife, doctor Cohn and the teacher. We did this every night. And we could hear them passing by in a car. They stopped on the street. One could hear the car doors. And steps on the gravel. Passing below our window. They would take one person or another away. We kept quiet. This was in the begining of 1951. Then it turned peaceful. They didn’t take anyone away anymore. In June 1951 the freight cars showed up in the train station. We thought they were for storing the harvested cereal. But they were meant for us. They woke us up in the middle of the night, with armed soldiers with automatics waiting for us at the door. Come one, they told us. At the train station, the president of the Popular Council – an illiterate person – was waiting for us. When she saw us she lightly said: What?! You too?! As if it wasn’t her who made up the list.

2ND MAN: My name is Mixich Franyo, nicknamed Hodi in my native village, after a nickname my father had. I was born in Checea in 1919 and had a happy childhood and youth. My ancestors came to the Banat in 1801 from Turopolje, Croatia. My family is atested since the year 1366, having a nobiliary title. In 1950, along the border with Yugoslavia a 3 metre high barbed wire fence was erected and the strip of land in front of it was mined. The party activists call me a chiabur. I consider myself a good person. Chiabur, as far as I know, means criminal in Turkish.

3RD MAN: Sunday, 17th of June 1951 was the Pentecost. A holiday. On the football field we played cup matches. There was a hora in the yard of the church. The gypsies were playing their drums. I was on the football field when the 5 PM train from Timișoara stopped on the track in the bend before the village. Soldiers got out of the train and they spread out in the wheat fields. I thought the war with Tito was starting.

4TH MAN: In the evening we started noticing new faces in the village. Soldiers and civilians. We noticed a soldier in front of our house. I was watching him, he was watching me. I tried talking to him, but he told me to shut up and go back inside.

5TH MAN: At around 5 AM we woke up to a Militia officer holding a gun knocking on our front door. He came inside together with a sour faced clerk and a soldier with a rifle with bayonet attached.

TLG: I am 5 and I don’t understand any of it.

TW: I am 73. It’s been more than 60 years since then, and I’m still trying to understand.

1ST MAN: We left two Cormick reapers, a Derick ripper, two mechanical rakes and four ploughs.

2ND MAN: Three ploughs, a Melichar reaper.

3RD MAN: A Diehl seeder. Two harrows with chains.

4TH MAN: 3 wagons.

5TH MAN: A carriage.

1ST MAN: Tubs and barrels made of wood.

TG: My dolly. I forgot my dolly.

1ST MAN: We were waiting for the inventory comission.

2ND MAN: When they arrived, files under their arms, it showed they weren’t in the mood to catalogue everything.

5TH MAN: We were promised compensation.

3RD MAN: The mayor was dicating whatever came to mind.

2ND MAN: Compensation my ass!

4TH MAN: In our village they only dislocated the poor.

5TH MAN: The mayor was a Hungarian and a rasist. The only deported the Romanians and the refugee colonists from the Cadrilater, the Bessarabians, the Serbians and the Southerners. They drew up different lists.

1ST MAN: The vice-mayor was German. The Militia man was Romanian. They received money to change the names on the lists. The rich stayed in the village.

2ND MAN: I was sorry for the animals. I untied the horses and the cattle so they could roam.

3RD MAN: I opened the doors of the pig sties. When we left the house we left the door and yard gate open.

TW: A girl kept asking me where I was going. I told her I was going out into the world.

The sound of the train wheels is heard.

THE MEN: Bărăgan, Bărăgan, Bărăgan…

TLG: There are a lot of people in the train car.

TW: There were 5 families on the train. Şpac- Romanians from Bessarabia, Macarciuc – Ukrainians from the Bukovina. Coclitu were from Moldova. Broască were Macedonians from the Cadrilater. And Müller, meaning us – Swabians from the Banat.

TLG: The men talk.

THE MEN huddle up. They talk.

MÜLLER: This is a disaster… We’re left with nothing.

COCLITU: We came to the Banat with nothing. We’re heading God knows where, having nothing. Same thing.

ŞPAC: At least we have each other.

THE MEN nod.

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainean): What if they deliver us to the Russians?

ŞPAC: They’re not giving us over to the Russians.

COCLITU: What would the Russians want with us?!

ŞPAC: It’s happened before.

MÜLLER: Our neighbors were deported to Siberia in ’45. It happened the same way. In the night. Like us now. Maybe they’re lying to us. Maybe they’re taking us somewhere else. Maybe they’re really taking us to the Bărăgan, whatever the Bărăgan is.

Silence.

BROASCĂ: What nonsense!

MÜLLER: Tell me about it! What are we to do with the old?! With the children?! With the preganant women?! With the sick?!

ŞPAC: Shut up!

MÜLLER: What are we to do_!

COCLITU: Be quiet! We’ll manage…

MÜLLER: How?! How the hell are we going to manage?!

BROASCĂ: Yeah!

COCLITU: Stop talking about it. Wait and see what happens.

BROASCĂ: Bulltshit!

MÜLLER: A mountain of it.

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainian): Please, settle down!

ŞPAC: How can you just sit there and say that?! Quiet down?! Are you calm?!

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainian): I am not calm. How can I be calm?! How?! (in Romanian) But I prefer suffering in silence. I’m tired of fussing about. What will be will be. We’ll arrive where we will. Same thing. (lies down and closes his eyes)

Silence.

ŞPAC: These Ukrainians! We’re about to pop. And he falls asleep..

MACARCIUC(with eyes closed): You know what happened on the 1st of April 1941?

COCLITU: On Fool’s Day?

MACARCIUC: On Fool’s Day. In Chernovitsi obslast. In 1941.

ŞPAC: Please, don’t tell the story.

MACARCIUC: Oh yes I will. I will. The road is long. Always it is long. Why not tell stories?

ŞPAC: Do what you want. But this isn’t a story for children. It isn’t one for adults either. You know what? I say cover your ears. Go ahead and tell it. Tell it. It’s on you! See how many are willing to listen.

ŞPAC covers his ears. He watches the others that are waiting for MACARCIUC to tell the story.

TLG: Father tell me to cover my ears. Then he turns to listen to the story. I don’t obey him. I want to hear the story. The whole train car listens.

MACARCIUC: It was the 1st of April 1941. I was on top of a hill, sitting in the shade. The border was in the valley below. The new border. We hadn’t gone anywhere, but it had been a year since we weren’t in Romania anymore. We were in the USSR. We had stayed put, it was the borders that had moved. Me being an Ukrainian it was all the same. I had no country. I don’t have one now. (he sighs) It was a beautiful spring day. It was quiet. And they came bearing white flags and a cross.

MÜLLER: Who?

ŞPAC: The Romanians. (to MACARCIUC) Please, stop telling it!

COCLITU: Go on, tell it!

BROASCĂ: It’s not like we have anything better to do.

MACARCIUC: There were rumors going around that the Russians would let the Romanians cross the border into Romania. In front there were the Russian border guards. The Romanians were around 2000 in number.

MÜLLER: What about the Russians?

MACARCIUC: Maybe 20. With guns and horses and 4 machine guns.

BROASCĂ: And?

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainian): They met, started yelling at each other. The Romanians at the Russians, the Russians at the Romanians. The Romanians in Romanian, the Russians in Russian. The Russians were motioning to them to go back. The one with the cross was motioning them to keep going. The Romanians walked behind the man with the cross. They were walking and singing. At firs they though they would let them pass. There were a lot of Romanians. Very few Russians. Then something popped in my eardrum. It was like I had gone deaf. The Russians had started shooting into the Romanians. Only smoke and flames could be seen. Slaughter. The wounded were moaning while the others kept firing and yelling in Russian.

TLG: I can’t understand what he’s saying but I’m all ears.

Silence descends.

COCLITU (whispered): Yeah… and?!

MACARCIUC(in Romanian): I was sitting there watching how they were falling on top of each other, in a faint and piling up, wriggling and howling while the Russians were firing their machine guns. They fired them until the barrels were hot. Two soldiers were pissing on the barrels in turns to cool them down while the officers were counting the dead and wounded. The wounded they threw into pits and buried them alive under manure. The ones that escaped were tortured by the NKVD. The dead they left there to set an example. Then I don’t know what happened because I went home.

TLG: I want to go into my mother’s arms. So she can put her hands over my ears. But mother is not looking at me, she isn’t moving, not noticing me. She seems stuck.

TW: Mother was asking the men to stop telling ugly stories. But she was doing it with her eyes. Without being able to speak out.

ŞPAC: Tell him to stop!

MÜLLER: And what did you do?!

MACARCIUC: I tried to erase it from my memory. I didn’t sleep for a whole week. And then I was to my own affairs. Even now I sleep badly. But I sleep. Sleep is sleep.

MÜLLER: And didn’t you do anything about it?!

COCLITU: What could he have done?

BROASCĂ: Maybe he could have done something…

ŞPAC: Tell’em, what did you do?!

MACARCIUC: I asked myself what was more important – that they are dead, or that I am alive?

Silence. The MEN think about it and nod, approving.

BROASCĂ: What a mess!

MACARCIUC: Let’s enjoy being alive. And keep quiet. It’s all written anyway.

Silence and tension. The MEN are touched.

MÜLLER (hysterical): I have to get out of here! This is a mistake! It must be! I want to go home! Not here! Home!

ŞPAC: Settle him down, he’s waking up the newborns!

BROASCĂ: He’s right! It’s not fair! And look at how crowded it is in here. What are we?! Animals?! I am a human being! Human! Make the trains stop! Stop it or I will choke! Make room, I can’t breathe! I want out!

COCLITU: What’s gotten into you?! What about when they dragged you out of your homes! Didn’t say a thing then, did you!? Instead of taking up a pitchfork or an axe, you just signed the papers as fast as you could! Shame! All for pancakes, none for war!

ŞPAC: Aren’t you the big bad fighter for justice?! You were this close to entering the Militia man’s behind by how many times you used the word comrade in the same sentence, all the way to the station!

MÜLLER (hysterical, to himself): We need to write to the Red Cross. To the Americans! We need to do something!

COCLITU(taking ŞPAC by the collar): What did you say?

BROASCĂ: What are you, drunk on cold water?! We are all cowards here! What’s the point?!

MACARCIUC(in Ukrainian): Stop it! Why won’t you let a man sleep! Settle down.

MÜLLER (unemphatically): We’ll all die in this cattle car!

THE MOTHER (ripping into them): Enough! Enough! The children are getting scared! Stop it!

MÜLLER flips out. THE WOMAN slaps him.

THE MOTHER: Contain yourself man!

MÜLLER: Forgive me…

THE MOTHER: It will be allright, you’ll see.

THE WOMAN holds MÜLLER in his arms. The other MEN settle down.

THE WOMAN: Mother quiets them down. Mother quiets us all down. The women find things to do. The men fall silent. The men are silent. The train goes. It goes. Goes. I sleep. Sleep.

The sound of train wheels.

The light fades. The oil lamp is the only light. The sound of train wheels quiets down.

The MEN are sleeping.

TLG: Mother? Mother?

THE MOTHER: Hm?

TLG: Are you sleeping?

THE MOTHER: Go back to sleep.

TLG: Can I join you?

MOTHER: Come.

THE MOTHER holds THE LITTLE GIRL’s head in her lap, strokes her hair.

TLG: Where are we going?

MOTHER: Far away.

TLG: Why?

MOTHER: Because some adults thought it would be best.

TLG: Why?

MOTHER: Because they think they know better. Because they feel what they do is right.

TLG: But it isn’t, is it?

MOTHER: No it isn’t.

TLG: Then why do they do it?

MOTHER: Fear. They are afraid.

TLG: Why?

MOTHER: Because these adults are angry on a lot of things in this life. They are sad and unhappy and mad. Afraid of their own shadows. Or of people like us that did them no harm. They don’t even know us..

TLG: Then why are they sending us far away?

MOTHER: Because some of them believe that we will hurt them one day.

TLG: Why?

MOTHER: Because these adults that do harm think that everyone is like them – as evil and scared. They believe the only way to live in this world is by doing evil to others before the others can do evil back.

TLG: And they think this is good?

MOTHER: Yes. They do.

TLG: I feel like crying.

MOTHER: Why?

TLG: I feel sorry for them.

MOTHER: Don’t cry.

TLG: I won’t. But can I be sad?

MOTHER: Yes. You can.

Silence.

TLG: Mother?

MOTHER: Yes?

TLG: Is it true that if we would smile to these evil people and gave them a hug and tell them that we don’t mind they did to us what they did, that then they would become good? Isn’t it so?

Silence.

MOTHER: Go to bed my love. We have a long way to go.

MOTHER sings a lullaby. TLG falls asleep.

The sound of train wheels gets louder. The light fades completely. The lamp is extinguished.

The train stops.

AVOTM: Express train nr. 1951 from the Banat heading towards the Plain of the Bărăgan will pass through and stop in the following alphabetic stations: Brateș, Bumbăcari, Dâlga, Dropia, Ezerul, Fundata, Lătești, Măzăreni, Movila Gâldăului, Olaru, Pelicani, Răchitoasa, Rubla, Salcâmi, Schei, Valea Viilor, Viișoara și Zagna. All destinations are final and mandatory. The discolated must disembark. The state has given. Now you make it happen! Good luck, outlaws!

The sound of the lock on the train car, the door slides open. The light comes on suddenly. A white light, blinding almost, which then relents.

The MEN watch the horizon.

1ST MAN: Where’s the village?

2ND MAN: This is it.

3RD MAN: This is no village. It’s a field full of weeds and wooden stakes.

4TH MAN: They’re making fun of us!

5TH MAN: You think?!

AVOTM: Each must build a house. Who doesn’t build one will be considere a saboteur.

1ST MAN: We have no tools.

2ND MAN: We haven’t got shit.

3RD MAN: We have no shade.

4TH MAN: We have no water.

5TH MAN: At least we have land.

1ST MAN: Land as far as the eye can see.

5TH MAN: We’ll manage somehow.

2ND MAN: Stakes with numbers and stakes with letters.

1ST MAN: The number is the house. The letter is the street.

3RD MAN: Dropia nr. 677.

4TH MAN: Rubla nr. 45.

5TH MAN: Pelicani nr. 1.

1ST MAN: C Street.

2ND MAN: F Street.

5TH MAN: A bunch of morons just put their finger on a map and decided for others without thinking about it.

4TH MAN: The put our cemetary in the swamp. Idiots!

1ST MAN: Teohari Georgescu can kiss my ass. And all the rest, just fuck them!

3RD MAN: The animals are scared.

4TH MAN: They let me bring 2 horses along. All they do is sit around a barrel all day. The barrel’s also from home. The horses are familiar with the barrel. Everything else is foreign to them.

5TH MAN: The dust is so thick you are buried in it up to your ankles.

1ST MAN: It’s like stepping on embers.

MOTHER: In the afternoon I throw water over the dust and just lay there with my face in the moisture so I can breathe.

TLG: Mother made me a rag doll. I call her Pupa. She’s my baby.

2ND MAN: I’m not building a house.

3RD MAN: The ones in Fetești, where I go looking for work, call us Koreans. We call them blackies. We’re joking, what’s there to do?! We are as miserable as they are.

4TH MAN: It’s like another planet.

5TH MAN: They speak a different language.

1ST MAN: Blackie means horse in their language.

2ND: The blackies aren’t that bad.

3RD MAN: With some you get along, with some not so much. But they’re people all the same.

5TH MAN: I don’t like it here.

1ST MAN: The Banat is still leading the way!

2ND MAN: They brought people from all over the country here. There are also political prisoners here.

3RD MAN: General Antonescu’s widow is my neighbor. She’s a nice old lady. She works as a cleaning lady in the hospital in Slobozia. Teaches my boy French for a loaf a bread a week.

5TH MAN: The former minster of finance clears weeds in the Galaţi train station.

2ND MAN: We’re starving but work until we drop.

4TH MAN: We just finished building the tavern.

1ST MAN: In our village of Dropia, the mayor is a kind hearted Gypsy. You can get along with the man!

5TH MAN: In Rubla the Militia man is a former legionary. He meets with others at night in Spieler’s mud-brick house and they sing legionary songs until morning.

MOTHER: The men work from dawn till dusk. Us women make adobe for bricks.

2ND MAN: It pays 12 lei for a working day. I am now working at drying the grain. I stuff my boots with grain and take it home.

TLG: I help mother with the adobe. I step on the mud. It is hot and it sears the soles of my feet.

1ST MAN: The goons from the Securitate have me spying on the others. I receive 500 lei and I am employed with the IAS in Călărași. All is well.

2ND MAN: There’s still a rumor floating around that there will be war with Tito. If that’s so, then I will become a partisan and wait for the Americans.

4TH MAN: Cărăgel has a radio hidden in a straw hut, somewhere out in the fields, around the marshes of Pelican where there’s not a living soul for mules. We go there each Sunday at dawn and listen to the BBC. I don’t know any English, but we hope they are saying positive things.

3RD MAN: Some have it good, some bad. They all manage somehow. Some are born, some die and time passed.

TLG: Old woman Ana of Păun has died.

The MEN make a long table out of a plank and the suitcases, they sit. Cross themselves.

THE MEN: May God rest her soul.

TLG: Is old hag Ana in heaven now?

MÜLLER: Yes, in heaven.

COCLITU: At least she’s escaped the torture.

ŞPAC: Come on, it isn’t that bad.

MACARCIUC: I’m stil surprised we had enough planks for the coffin.

BROASCĂ: Good thing she was a small woman. All thinned down.

MOTHER: Couldn’t have weighed more than 40 kilos.

COCLITU: She was fat enough when she came here though.

MÜLLER: We all used to be fatter.

Silence.

ŞPAC: How long are they going to keep us here you think?

BROASCĂ: We just arrived.

COCLITU: This whole Tito business will blow over and…

MACARCIUC: And what if it doesn’t?

MÜLLER: Then we hang around for a little while longer.

ŞPAC: We stay.

MÜLLER: Tell me Coclitu, aren’t you going to build a house?

COCLITU: Why should I?

BROASCĂ: They’ll charge you with sabotage and take you away to the Channel.

COCLITU: My ass!

BROASCĂ: Coclitu’s an optimist. He thinks they’ll let us return.

COCLITU: I just want to show to them that I don’t agree. Because if I do build my house then it means I’m submitting. If we would all gather and go to the Militia man and tell him we won’t be building our houses, that would be something.

ŞPAC: Yeah. They’d take us all to the Channel.

COCLITU: Shut it Şpac, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

ŞPAC: I don’t, do i?! Listen to this one!

COCLITU: Well you don’t.

ŞPAC: Tell him Müller, what we heard in the station in Slobozia, you were there.

MÜLLER: Let Macarciuc tell it, he heard it better, he was closer.

ŞPAC: Tell him Macarciuc, so Coclitu can get it into his big fat head.

COCLITU: Let’s hear it then.

Silence.

MACARCIUC(to MÜLLER): Tell the girl to cover her ears.

MOTHER covers the GIRL’s ears.

MACARCIUC: We were at the station bar. And I was talking to this Militia man. Or the Militia man started talking to me, because he was drunk. Müller and Şpac were with me. But they were mostly silent. (in Ukrainian) I’d better keep my mouth shut…

ŞPAC: Tell it man, so they all know!

MACARCIUC: He told me what happend to those that don’t build houses. It seems they have informants in every village and they know who isn’t working on their house.

COCLITU: Bullshit.

ŞPAC: Tell him what happened next.

MOTHER: What happened?

MACARCIUC: We got out of the bar and headed down a footpath behind the station, passing the Militia post.

MÜLLER: In the back of it was the field.

MACARCIUC: They had build cages there. Like those for dogs.

ŞPAC: Listen to it Coclitu! Cages! Like for dogs.

MACARCIUC: Only they were made of sheets of tin. Like tin cans.

Silence.

COCLITU: And?!

MÜLLER stands and covers the MOTHER’s ears.

ŞPAC: And they were screaming from the heat. Do you get it?!

BROASCĂ: Come on now, really?!

COCLITU: Who’s they?

ŞPAC: What do you mean who’s they?

MÜLLER: Saboteurs.

MACARCIUC: Optimists who refused to start building their houses.

ŞPAC: They put them in the oven.

MACARCIUC: Them and their neighbors that coulnd’t convince them to stop plotting. A field full of tin cans with people yelling inside them. Then going silent. Then yelling again. Until the sun went down.

Silence.

COCLITU: I don’t believe it.

Silence.

MACARCIUC: Get your head out of you ass and build your house! Otherwise we’ll all be punished.

Silence.

ŞPAC: Did you dig that well?

MACARCIUC: You dig out two shovel worth of earth and hit water. No good.

BROASCĂ: It’s salty. Not even the animals can drink it.

Silence.

MÜLLER: They buried old woman Ana in water too.

COCLITU: Damned place. I wish we would leave it sooner.

BROASCĂ: All in good time.

The light fades. THE GIRL and THE WOMAN take their initial places.

TLG: I am growing up. Autumn comes around.

TW: We finished the house before the cold set in. We have a room and a kitchen. 7 of us are sleeping in that small house.

TG: Father and my brothers are sleeping in the room. I and mother sleep in the kitchen, on the stove. It’s warm and nice.

TW: The rains start. The dust turns into mud.

TG: The mud is so big! I sink my feet into it and when I get them out it’s like I’m wearing lacquered boots. Only it’s not lacquer. It’s mud.

TW: The frost sets in. The wind was blowing so hard we thought it would cut us in half.

TLG: I don’t go out much. My skin is burning from the wind. My lips are cracked. It’s so cold I can hardly breathe.

TW: We have no firewood. We stuffed the oven full of weeds and thistles. Wagons and wagons of thistles we put on the fire.

Light goes up.

1ST MAN: In February 1952, the stabilization came.

2ND MAN: We found out that money would be changing.

3RD MAN: I had saved 25,000 lei. I bought grains for all of it. I stuffed my house up to the frame of the window with wheat and barley. We were sleeping on it. We slept on it all winter, but we ate. We ate our fill.

4TH MAN: We went to the tavern. We closed it down. We drank Secărică –  a sort of yellowish swill and Izma cognac, some mentholed crap. All the village was in the tavern. The blackies came and drank with us and we swore the communists all night long. Then we sang drinking songs.

5TH MAN: Some were stupid and saved their money. My aunt had 250,000 lei saved, but she didn’t tell anyone.

1ST MAN: Come next day, they closed everything down. Only the exchange centers were open.

2ND MAN: I went to exchange 10,000 lei. I got 10 lei back.

3RD MAN: They tricked us all!

4TH MAN: Some wanted to commit suicide.

5TH MAN: After that they showed up in the village and took those who couldn’t make the quota to the cultural home. To be judged by the others. They were too sick to work the land or too poor – they didn’t have money to buy the extra grain to fill the quota.

1ST MAN: The activists called us, so we could point at the kulaks. They made us chant.

2ND MAN: Death to them! Death to them!

TLG: Death to the kulaks!

TW: We didn’t know what we were chanting then. It had gotten into my head, I was singing it while playing with my doll. Death to them, the kulaks!

1ST MAN: They made us chant.

5TH MAN: I was ashamed of what was coming out of my mouth.

3RD MAN: I was nauseaous.

4TH MAN: I was embarrassed.

1ST MAN: I was sick of the Romanian language.

THE MEN(murmuring, then louder): Death to them, death to the! Death to them, the kulaks!

AVOTM: That’s it! Louder! I can’t hear you! Yes!

THE MEN start venting their anger, they gesture, swear etc.

TG covers her ears. TW covers her face.

They are unleashed.

AVOTM: Comrades! Comrades! Please! Hello? Hello?! ENOUGH!!!

Silence.

TW: Then, the coming year, something happened.

Silence.

AVOTM(said, trembling): Comrades, I must sorrowfully inform you that Comrade Stalin is dead.

Silence.

THE MEN don’t understand at first, then they smile and gesture without making noise.

AVOTM: I understand that you are sad comrades. Sad! Very sad! And that you are crying.

Silence.

AVOTM: Cry godammit!

THE MEN whimper, sniff.

AVOTM: Harder, with more emotion! I don’t buy it comrades! I want to see tears, and snot! You there! Pull at your hair a little! You there! Rip your coat off! I want to see pain.

THE MEN follow orders.

AVOTM: I want to hear your suffering for Comrade Stalin!

1ST MAN: It hurts.

2ND MAN: I can’t take it!

3RD MAN: I’m stupid with pain!

4TH MAN: I’m mournin, oh my God!

5TH MAN: My soul aches!

1ST MAN: My soul aches even more!

2ND MAN: Why did you leave us?

3RD MAN: What are we to do without you?

4TH MAN: What a good man he was!

1ST MAN: If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have turned out the way we did!

THE MEN: Our souls ache so much! That even Stalin can die.

TLG: Would Stalin be happy if we gave him a flower?

AVOTM(spent): Good job comrades! Today is a day off, a day of mourning. Sit at home and suffer in silence.

THE MEN gather and cheer in silence.

TW: There was great happiness for a couple of days in Dropia, even if the people didn’t show it. But you could feel it in the air. Everything became easy again.

THE MEN whistle merrily.

1ST MAN: We got used to it, didn’t we?

2ND MAN: We have houses, a church. And a cemetery.

3RD MAN: We have a tavern.

4TH MAN: We have a village.

5TH MAN: Check out what happened to me last night. I was walking home from Pelicani, across the fields. I pass a cross-roads and I see a naked child. I say to myself it must belong to the blackies and I want to talk to it, thinking it was lost. The little one was saying nothing. I shrug and keep on. The child takes after me. I stop and turn. He stops and watches me with bulging eyes. Sniffs at me like animals to. This is no child, I tell myself.

1ST MAN: You were drunk.

5TH MAN: I was, but listen.

2ND MAN: It was Satan.

5TH MAN: That it was! But I really wanted to see Satan, have a chat. So I asked: How’s it going Satan? Did the communists deport you as well?!

4TH MAN: And?!

5TH MAN: And Satan started whooping and spining like a spinning top. And then he bolted for Pelicani.

3RD MAN: Not even the devil is what he used to be since the communists!

THE MEN laugh.

TG: People are happy. They gather at night in the yard and tell stories by the fire.

TW: They talked of superstition and witchcraft. The local women were witches, it was said.

3RD MAN: I stopped by the bank of the Danube because night had caught up with me on the road. I made myself a bed and was about to fall asleep, but the moon was full and I couldn’t, I was merely drowsing. I hear the water murmuring. I get up and what do I see? 7 naked women bathing in the Danube and singing to the moon. Such a beautiful song it broke your heart. It was hot. And they were calling for rain.

4TH MAN: We were gathering hay one afternoon and stacking it in the wagon. I go up to trample it and I see snakes. Big and fat, as long as an arm. But they weren’t biting. They were tame.

2ND MAN: Before Christmas the Militia man from the village asked me to take him to Rubla because he had business there. We reach Rubla and I stop the wagon in front of a house. The militia man goes off to do his business. A citizen approaches me, coming out of the house I had stopped near, asking me to come in and eat because I’m scaring his mother. The citizen was the prosecutor from Călărași. So I leave the wagon, the Militia man shows up and starts making a fuss, I come out with the prosecutor. The Militia man doesn’t know what to think. Thinks I’m from counter-intelligence. Since then I do what I want from Măzăreni to Răchitoasa. Nobody dares say anything to me!

5TH MAN: Did you know what I noticed? These blackies have no clue how to slaughter pigs! They gather, 20 men, and get drunk and then just jump the poor animal with pitchforks and axes and picks. Haven’t seen something like this in my whole life! I helped a blackie slaughter a pig like in the Banat, with a snout noose and a cut to the neck. Since then I slaughter pigs for the whole village and I am friends with everyone.

TLG: Winter passes, spring comes. Our house is overgrown with peas and not far away in the field there is a lilac forest me and mother planted.

TW: There were cotton bushes and thistles as far as the eye could see.

TLG: Thistles so big, like a wagon wheel or a tractor wheel.

TW: The wind blew bringing up the dust which swirled and I sat on the porch and watched the thistles roll down J street in Dropia.

TLG: Summer passes, autumn comes.

TW: 1953 went by, so did 1954. In the winter of 1955 it was really bad. The snow was so high and the storm so powerful that we were buried in snow from Christmans to New Year’s and couldn’t get out of the house.

TLG: First the door got covered, then it passed the windows. Not even the stove works anymore.

The light fades.

TW: We were all huddled into each other, under the duvet.

The whole cast covers itself in a big white sheet. One can only see silhouettes now.

TG: The cows died of hunger. The horses ate the wood of the feeding troughs. We just sat there telling stories.

TW: We told stories. We told a lot of stories.

TLG: A neighbor dug us out. Then we helped dig others out.

TW: That’s what it was like back then. People helped each other.

TLG: A man comes and tell us we can return home.

TW: Us Swabians left. Others stayed in the Bărăgan. I don’t know what became of them. I lived through all this. I’m 73. It is an unhappy memory, of which I understand nothing. Good that it passed.


END.


BĂRĂGONE: DROPIA EXPRES theatre play was originally published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. 2019 book.

Photo credit: Diana Bilec

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