Lissabon

Zachary Karabashliev

Illustration by Hong-An Tran

A: Young Man
B: Older than A
C: Older than B
D: Older than C
A GIRL

A spacious room, perhaps an abandoned warehouse. High above the stage there is a row of windows, bricked in where the glass panes should be. Upstage there is a large double gate. A and B: well dressed and tightly tied up to two plain chairs. They can move by hopping around on the chairs. A telephone on a small table. A long cord hooks the telephone up to one of the walls.

I.

A: I've got the feeling I'm in Lissabon.

B: (scanning the space) This must have been a lumber mill.

A: What about you?

B: What about me?

A: Don't you get the feeling you're in Lissabon?

B: No.

A: I've got the feeling I'm in Lissabon.

B: I've never been to Lissabon.

A: Me, neither.

B: So how can you get the feeling you're in Lissabon if you've never been to Lissabon?

A: I've got the feeling that I'm in a place I've never been to.

B: (looking around) Definitely a lumber mill. A wood-working shop. So why Lissabon?

A: Why not?

B starts hopping towards the gate with the chair.

A: Watch out for the cord.

B doesn't pay attention to A's words, but nevertheless skirts the cord, careful not to trip over it; gets close to the gate, listens, tries to peek through a narrow slit. He hops over to the telephone and looks at it for a while, then hops back to where he started.

B: It's not Lissabon.

A: Where are we then?

B: I have no idea.

A: Then maybe it is Lissabon.

B: It may be, but it's not. It's an industrial zone. (Beat.) When did they bring you here?

A: Before they brought you.

B: How do you know?

А: When I woke up you were here. Before I fell asleep – you weren't. Hence – they dragged you in while I was sleeping.

B: (beat.) What you're saying makes sense.

А: Thank you.

B: You're welcome.

A: So why are you here?

B: For the same reason you are, I suppose.

А: Which is...?

B: Come on, you've gotta be kidding.

A: No.

B: Why are you asking me?

A: I need to know.

B: Why do you need to know?

A: I've got to figure out if you're with me or against me.

B: There's no way I could be against you.

A: Oh yes, there is.

B: Oh no, there isn't.

А: Oh yes, there is.

B: I can't be against you. You and I are locked up in a lumber mill.

A: So it seems.

B: Yes, that's exactly how it seems.

A: But it may seem so only because THEY want to seem so.

Pause.

B: Meaning?

A: Oh, you know what I mean.

B: (looking up as if following a flying bird.) That pigeon must have gotten in here from somewhere... (Going back to A's last statement.) What are you trying to say?

Pause.

A: Not everything is what it seems.

B: Truer words have never been spoken.

A: Thank you.

B: (he starts moving with his chair) That over there is a Sliding Table Panel Saw. Custom pneumatic. It's not one of the newer computer models, I can tell that just by looking at it. It's not digital.

A: (looking up at the bird) It might be a pigeon, but it might also be a mourning dove.

B: (moving with his chair) Yep, it's electronic. Late eighties.

A: How do you know that?

B: I was a carpenter. In the eighties.

A: Before you moved up?

B: And long before I fell.

A: You'd have been better off if you'd stayed a carpenter. In a lumber mill. (Imitating the sound of the saw) B-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j.

B: (correcting him.) D-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j.

A: (mimics jamming) Dja-ja-ja-ja-ja-ja-ja-ja-ja-ja.

B: (downshifting, slowing to a stop) R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r. (Closes his eyes.) I loved the smell of wood. And every single board smelled different.

Pause.

A: I get thirsty a lot.

B: You haven't stopped talking, that's why.

A: No, I meant in principle. In principle, I get thirsty a lot. Not now, not at this moment. I am not very thirsty at the moment, but after a certain amount of time passes – I get thirsty. And when I get thirsty...

B: Got it. (Nods at the telephone) When will they call?

Pause.

A: They said they'd call.

B: When?

A: Last night.

B: But it's today already.

A: No, they said that... Last night, they said that they would call. They didn't say they would call last night.

B: Aha! So, last night they called to say that they would call.

A: Correct.

B: And do you believe them?

A: Yes. What about you?

B: No.

A: Why not?

B: Because I haven't seen their faces.

A: Me, neither.

B: Well, there you go.

A: But I don't have any reason not to believe them.

B: Why not?

A: Because I haven't seen their faces.

B: No one has seen them.

A: No one here has seen them. Which doesn't mean that no one has seen them.

B: No one has seen them means that no one has seen them. Those who have seen them are no longer with us.

A: Bullshit.

B: (looks around the space again, hops upstage with his chair, examining the place) People have worked here, have lived lives, had families, taken lunch breaks, hung pictures of naked ladies inside their lockers; smoking was allowed in designated areas, they have had power outages, told dirty jokes, they have had to meet quotas, they have dropped bars of soap, their buses have been late, rain has fallen, birthdays have been celebrated...

A: (to himself) Total bullshit.

B: It's not bullshit. These machines were run by human beings. Which...

A: (yelling) SO NO ONE HAS SEEN THEM?!

B: Oh, you're still stuck on that, are you?

A: NO ONE?

B: Why are you yelling?

A: Are you trying to convince me that THEY don't exist?

B: I'm not trying to convince you of anything at all.

A: Lemme get this straight: you and I are here, but THEY don't exist?

B: All I was trying to say was...

A: So what am I doing here with you in this warehouse?

B: Lumber mill. (A beat) Just because you are here with me doesn't mean you are with me.

A: The fact that I'm with you doesn't mean that I am with you?

B: Exactly.

A: (sarcastically) Whoa, that's deep.

B: You might be one of them, for example.

A: One of THEM?

B: Why not?

A: So why am I tied to a chair just like you, if I'm one of them?

B: To spy on me.

A: (a pause.) What's your sign?

B: See – here we go.

A: No, seriously, what's your astrological sign?

B: I was born with the sun in Asshole.

A: I knew it.

B: Fuck these signs. Just tell me what they told you.

A: I told you – they said they would call.

B: Anything else?

A: They said that when they call, I've got to be completely ready, so we don't waste any time.

B: What did they want from you?

A: A lot.

B: Like how much a lot?

A: A lot of lot.

B: Do you have a lot of lot?

A: Everybody here has a lot of lot.

B: (a beat.) Right. And?

А: Ha! What's with the interrogation? I wonder if you're not really one of THEM? You showed up after I did.

B: Don't be ridiculous.

A: (staring at him, expressionless. A beat.) Oh God.

B: What?

A: I started getting thirsty.

B: See.

A: Do you know Ivan?

B: Ivan who?

A: This guy, Ivan.

B: I know two... three Ivans – Ivan Petrov, Ivan Ivanov and Ivan Kostov.

A: How old are they?

B: The three of them?

A: The sum of their ages, divided by the number of letters in their names and multiplied by three, equals the number of hours, which has to be divided by 365 and...

B: (to himself.) After all these years – childhood, youth, maturity, career, business, family, kids, risks, after all these CHOICES...

A: ...multiplied by the square root of the sum of...

B: ...I wake up in a lumber mill, tied to a chair, in the company of a...

A: (smacking his lips) A thirsty man. I am getting thirsty. Thirst hovers over me like a gloomy vulture.

B: (to himself) What am I doing in this...

A: Lumber mill.

B: Lumber mill. With this... individual.

A: This ever-more-thirsty individual.

B: I've got the feeling...

A: That we're in Lissabon.

Pause.

B: (moving with his chair.) I've got to do something.

A: There's nothing you can do.

B: Something must be done. But for this, I need one very simple favor from you.

A: At your service.

B: One extremely simple favor.

A: I'm all ears.

B: Shut up.

A: Pardon?

B: Shut your mouth.

A: PARDON?

B: We have to get away from here, before they call. But you need to shut your mouth.

А: How?

B: Using silence.

А: No, I mean how will we get away before they've called?

B: I don't know yet. I can't concentrate because of you.

А: (murmuring, mimicking.) I can't concentrate because of you, I can't concentrate because of you. Is it my fault he's here? Is it suddenly my fault?

B: Shut up.

А: Will you take me with you?

B: No.

А: Why not?

B: Did you come here with me?

А: No.

B: Well then, why do you expect to leave with me?

А: Every man for himself, huh? Egotist.

B: SHUT YOUR TRAP!

А: I will shut it.

B: Shut up.

А: I am shutting up.

B: Thank you.

A: There, I shut up. (A beat.) You won't hear another word from me.

B: I hope not.

A: You don't need to hope so. I am shutting up and even if you beg me...

B: I won't beg you.

А: I will not utter a word.

B: Good.

A: I am shutting up, I'm all silence.

B: (raises his hand to signal "enough")

А: I just want to let you know. Even if you beg me, or threaten me, or cajole me, I will simply not...

B: SHUT! UP! SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!

А is startled at first, then annoyed; he turns his chair with its back to B.
B, jumping with his chair, approaches the gate.

A: (turns his head to see where B is going) Watch that cord.

B reaches the gate, careful not to trip over the cord. He is looking for a way out, a solution, salvation, an answer, anything
at all. He finds nothing. He hops away from the gate and circles around the stage. He stops by the telephone and looks at it for some time before going on. A follows his trajectory. B goes over to what he thought was a saw. He looks it over. He finds a rough surface, turns his chair and starts looking for a way to cut the rope tying his hands.
A jumps away from B. The telephone rings in fits and starts – not a normal ring, but rather as if someone is jiggling the cord, making the ringer sound intermittently. That startles B and he stops. A jumps in panic and his chairs tips over. A is on the floor, and (as we will find out soon) has defecated in his pants. B jumps over to the telephone, but the telephone is silent. B follows the cord with his gaze and sees that A has hooked the cord around the leg of his chair, which is causing the ringing – when he moves, the phone rings.

B: What was that?

А: (starts whimpering)

B: What was THAT?

А gestures 'Maybe it was THEM,' but doesn't say it.

B: (Jumping closer to A) Did you do this? Did you trip over the cord?

A whimpers and whines.

B: What if you've disconnected the thing?

A shakes his head "no".

B: How will THEY get a hold of us if you disconnected it?

A shakes his head "I didn't."

B: And enough of your vow of silence. (He scans the area carefully.) What if THEY have been somewhere... nearby this whole time time?

A nods "Yeah, what if..."

B: What if they're watching us?

A nods yes.

B: No, you've clearly decided to piss me off.

A shakes his head "no, no."

B: So what then?

A shrugs "what then?"

B: (going closer to A) You... You know more than you're telling me. You were here before I came. So tell me. (He looms over A.) Tell me what's going on. Where are we? Why are you silent like a... (He makes a face, catching a whiff of some bad smell. Then he realizes the source of the stench.) What have you done, man!? Did you shit your pants!? (Bursts into laughter.) You shat your pants? No way. You really shat your pants! (More laughter.) I was gonna... And he shits in his pants. Ha-ha-ha-ha!

A ashamed, on the floor, tries to turn onto his other side so he won't have to look at B.

B: So now what?

A is silent, ashamed.

B: Now what? Tied up. Knocked down. Thirsty. And soaked in shit.

A jerks away, ashamed.

B: And a vow of silence on top of everything. (B jumps away from A.)

A whimpers.

B: What was that?

A moans.

B: Go on, keep moaning.

A: M-m-m-m-m.

B: What do you want?

A: M-m-m-m-m-m-m.

B: You want to get up?

A: (nods yes) M-m-m-m-m-m.

B: M-m-m-m-maybe you want help getting up?

A: (nods "please") M-m-m-m-m.

B: M-m-m-m-m-maybe not.

A: (his whole body says "why?") M-M-M-M-M-M-M?!

B: I want to hear it first.

A: (in a hoarse voice) What do you want to hear?

B: I want to hear what you want.

A: I want to...

B: What's the magic word?

A: Come on, help me.

B starts moving away from A.

A: C'mon, please!

B: Ask me nicely.

A: Please.

B: (turns his chair towards A) See, that wasn't so hard.

A: Do we really have to pay?

B: (jumping towards him) Has anyone ever left this place without paying?

A: So we all have to pay, huh?

B: We all have to pay.

A: Is that what THEY said?

B: No, that's what THEY didn't say.

Pause.

B: But we can try to get away.

A pause lasting for not less than 12 seconds.

A: (turns his chair the other way.) Know what? I can't take it anymore.

B: What?

A: This... This.

B: This what?

A: This here. In this... lecture hall... in this warehouse.

B: Lumber mill.

A: Lumber mill. Whatever. I can't take it.

B: Cut the crap.

A: I can't.

B: You're here because you can. (A beat.) So now let's figure out how to get you on your feet.

A: No. I want to lay here.

B: We'll get you on your feet. You'll have to sit in your own shit, but, well... it'll bring back childhood memories.

A: Leave me alone.

B: I can't. That's the problem.

A: Leave me alone.

B: I can't leave you there fallen over, with your pants full of shit, tied up...

A: And thirsty.

B: And thirsty.

A: I'm okay down here.

B: (over A) C'mon.

A: No, really. I'm fine.

B: C'mon. Get up.

A: That whole hurdle race, the climbing, the descending. Then – the dragging. And THEM looming over us, the whole time. I'm tired. And dying of thirst.

B: We'll find a way to get out.

A: Why are THEY doing this?

B: We'll get out.

A: Do you think it's a test?

B: I think it's bullshit.

A: I'm tired. What's your name, by the way?

B: It doesn't matter what my name is.

A: True.

B: It's not like we're getting married.

A: No, sirree. You always tell me to shut up.

B tries to find a way to help A to get up. A doesn't cooperate.

B: C'mon, get up.

A: You're boring.

B: C'mon, up and at 'em!

B struggles to lift A's chair against A's will a few more times.

B: One, two... (B loses his balance and falls down next to A.)

A: Ha ha!

B: Very funny.

A: (laughing.) It's not funny.

Both of them are on the floor, head to head.

B: I almost hurt my head.

With rapid shrimp-like movements, B reaches the gate and manages to scramble back to a seated position.

A: Hey!

B: Did you see how I did that? Now you can do it, too. Come on.

A: (with changed voice) Hey, I have to tell you something. Hey...

B: Just put your chin up like this...

A: Hey, hey... just listen. I have to tell you something very important about...

B: You can't keep lying there on the cold concrete floor, man. Get up.

A: Something very important. (Motions B to come closer.)

B: We'll get up on the count of three – one...

A: Hear me out!

B: One and a half.

A: I have to tell you.

B: Two.

A: You have to know that THEY are...

B: Th-r-r-r...

A: THEY... (Suddenly from his vantage point on the floor he sees something near the ceiling and is paralyzed by terror.) U-u-u-u-ugh... (He starts trembling. His teeth start chattering. He starts shaking.) THEY.

B: What?

A: A-a-a-a-a-a-g-g-g-g-g-h-h-h. (He tries not to look up toward the ceiling. He shakes his head frantically.)

B: What did you see?

A: (squeezing his eyes shut) Nothing.

B: What do you mean, nothing? (He goes to look up, too.)

A: (terrified) NO-O-O-O!

B: What is it?

A: (stuttering) D-d-d-d-do n-n-n-n-not l-l-l-l-l-l-l-look u-p-p-p-p t-t-t-t-t-there!

B: Why not?

A: (having difficulty speaking.) D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-don't.

B: Come on. Let's get up. We'll find a... (He is looking around and turns to look up again.)

A: (terror) N-n-n-n-n-n-n-no!

B: What was that?

A: N-n-n-n-no.

B: Ok, fine, I won't look up there then. Let's get you up now.

A: (with a mixture of terror and resignation) L-l-l-leave. Me. Alone. D-d-d-do not l-l-l-look up there.

Come on now. Come on. Outside it's...

A: (last efforts) Don't look up there. Promise!

B: I promise.

A: G-g-g-g-get out.

B: How?

A: O-o-o-o-outside is...(A final gasp.)

B: Lissabon?

FADE OUT

translated from the Bulgarian by Zachary Karabashliev



Read the original in Bulgarian

Zachary Karabashliev is a Bulgarian screenwriter, playwright and novelist. His novel 18% Gray, (18% Сиво, Ciela Publishing) published in Bulgaria is a bestselling title with nine printings. It won the prestigious Bulgarian Novel of the Year 2009 Award given by the Edward Vick Foundation, and was a finalist for the renowned literary biennial Elias Canetti Award. It was published in France by Editions Intervalles in June 2011 and is scheduled for publishing in the US in 2012 by Open Letter Books. He sold the film rights of 18% Gray and wrote the screenplay. His collection of short stories Brief History of the Airplane (Кратка история на самолета, Ciela Publishing) won the 2009 Helikon Award, established by Bulgaria's largest bookstore chain. His story "Metastases" was short-listed by the editors at the American publisher Dalkey Archive Press for inclusion in Best European Fiction. His recent book Recoil (Откат, Ciela Publishing), a collection of plays and dialogues, came out in 2010. His latest project, a children's book called Fairytale (Приказка, Ciela Publishing 2010), is co-authored with Silvia Karabashlieva, and illustrated by storyboard artist Iva Sasheva. His stage plays Sunday Evening and Recoil have won the most prestigious Bulgarian theater awards and have been produced at major theater venues. His stage play Lissabon was presented as a staged reading at the Martin E. Segal Center in New York in November 2011, followed by a discussion about his work, issues of translation, and the challenges faced by Bulgarian theatre today. His work has been translated in French, English, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Serbian, Hungarian. He resides in San Diego, California.



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