Colonel Pilate

Aleksey Scherbak

Artwork by Ellen Blom

ROSE, the journalist, sits on a bench near the headquarters fiddling with her tape recorder, guarded by the SERGEANT. RED, MOUSER, and PROFESSOR are walking along, having been relieved from their posts. They notice ROSE and come to a stop.

PROFESSOR (sitting down near the SERGEANT):  That's hot. (Nodding toward the journalist.) Have you taken her prisoner?

SERGEANT:  There's a no interaction directive.

MOUSER:  Interact with us...

SERGEANT:  With you?  About what?

PROFESSOR:  We're taking Red to the med get a tooth pulled.

SERGEANT:  Josephina will yank it out...

PROFESSOR:  Since when have they been letting communication guys guard people?  You boys never even go on watch.

SERGEANT:  When there's an important mission—they only trust the best.

MOUSER:  Hey, kid—let's not get carried away.

PROFESSOR:  And what have the best heard recently?

SERGEANT (softly):  We captured the demolition man.

MOUSER:  No shit?!

SERGEANT:  They're dragging him here.

MOUSER:  Alive?

SERGEANT:  Seems like it...

MOUSER:  I wish I'd been there!

SERGEANT:  What for?

MOUSER:  You gotta rip those guys apart on the spot!

PROFESSOR:  Oi! Pour me two glasses of blood!

RED:  Hey, are we all going to the med unit or am I flying solo?

PROFESSOR:  You go, go on... (Sings.) Josephina, love of my life...

RED:  Maybe she'll give you a pill.

MOUSER:  So they just walked up and captured him?

SERGEANT:  How would I know.

RED:  Well, are you guys coming?

PROFESSOR:  Say hi to Josephina.

(RED silently exits.)

ROSE:  Excuse me, young men...

SERGEANT:  We have a no interaction directive.

ROSE:   Yes, I understand, but...It's not like I'm going to tell anyone. Have they captured someone important? Maybe you'd like a cigarette? (Begins to rummage in her field bag.)

PROFESSOR:  Money works better.

ROSE:  How much?

MOUSER:  Oh, forget it. You waiting for the colonel?

ROSE:  Yes.

MOUSER:  Well, he'll tell you himself.

ROSE:  And if he doesn't?

PROFESSOR:  He'll tell you—he'll tell you. They've been pursuing the guy for six months; how could he not boast.

ROSE:  He's that dangerous?

SERGEANT:  Listen, warriors! They're gonna beat my brains out.

ROSE:  I won't tell...

SERGEANT (waving his hand):  Uh-hunh.

MOUSER:  What paper are you from anyway?

ROSE:  A loyal one.

PROFESSOR:  Are you married?

ROSE:  Divorced.

PROFESSOR:  Basically, a man goes walking around the world. He walks and walks. They say he's quite young. But there's an old woman right behind him. It's just that she shows up the next day. Sort of like Death. Well, then...

MOUSER:  Yeah. And angels come flying in right behind her.

PROFESSOR:  Well, if we're gonna talk seriously...A guy appears in a village. What he's doing there, nobody knows. But right after he leaves—there's an explosion. Maybe an IED in the road, our guys are blown up, or maybe a grenade flies into the local admin offices, or a car loaded with TNT explodes. And then the old woman shows up...

ROSE:  And what if they're different people? A coincidence...I mean, there's no way with everyone knowing about him that they wouldn't catch him...

SERGEANT:  It's the same guy. The demolition man. Read the description—it's the same guy.

ROSE:  But you just said—after he leaves...

PROFESSOR:  Well, that's just it. It's mysticism. And that's not all...

MOUSER:  You mean his hands?


SERGEANT:  That's a lie! When I was laid up in the hospital, I heard all those stories. There's nothing to do there, so people sit around—banging out fairy tales. Like there was this one mortar man...These idiots forgot him during a test flight. He fell asleep at his outpost. The choppers took off, he wakes up—nobody. He says he climbed up into the mountains, surrounded himself with stones and then he sees—something like six people moving in from the valley...

MOUSER:  Where are you going with this?

SERGEANT:  Just listen. (To ROSE.) Are you interested?

ROSE:  Of course.

SERGEANT:  All of them, he says, are in black. Even the caps on their heads are black. Well, that's it, he thinks, I'm sunk. He starts toking on the final joint of his life. And it's right about then that the choppers come back for him. But he's already high, he's seeing rainbows. The guys in black instantly hide, it's like they were never there. Mercenaries. Experienced. They pull him off the mountain. But he's totally stoned. They say to him, "What the hell were you doing up there?" And he says, "I was sending out smoke signals." (Laughs.)

ROSE:  Excuse me, but what about his hands?


PROFESSOR:  They say he has no hands. Well, I mean, no fingers... (Holds up his.)

ROSE:  How on earth does he blow things up?

MOUSER:  Wish I could tell you...

ROSE:  And the old woman?

PROFESSOR:  I think they made up the old woman.

SERGEANT:  No, they didn't make her up. Comes every time. What does she care? They've got nothing on her. She says she's searching for her grandson.

PROFESSOR:  Very spooky story. (To ROSE.) Perhaps you'd like a rapid evacuation? It just so happens that I'm not married either. And I've always liked older women.

MOUSER:  Please forgive him—he doesn't have enough money for Josephina...

ROSE:  Who is this Josephina?

PROFESSOR:  The woman our military comrade just left to go see. She works in the med unit.

ROSE:  Is that also a bit of mysticism?

PROFESSOR:  No. It's the most real thing that exists...

SERGEANT:  Now you're going to give away the most important military secrets!

PROFESSOR:  Some secret. I bet Bangladesh is the only one who hasn't been to see her!

ROSE:  Bangladesh? Who's that?

PROFESSOR:  He's this local imbecile who hangs out around the barracks. We give him food.

ROSE:  Why "Bangladesh"?

SERGEANT:  He's a total dirtbag!

ROSE:  You guys are fun.

PROFESSOR:  Ha! And do you have kids too?

ROSE:  A son. Just a little younger than you.

PROFESSOR:  So why did you get divorced?

SERGEANT (to PROFESSOR):  Oh, come on!

ROSE:  We'll talk about it later, okay?

(PROFESSOR shrugs his shoulders. MOUSER doesn't say anything. The SERGEANT laughs silently.)

Did he set off a lot of bombs?

PROFESSOR:  Probably about thirty.

ROSE:  And...

(She's unable to finish. The MAJOR approaches, and the soldiers and ROSE stand up.)

MAJOR (to the SERGEANT):  I thought I gave an order.

MOUSER:  We just got off duty.

MAJOR (to ROSE):  Let's go, the Colonel is waiting.

(ROSE winks to PROFESSOR and exits, following the MAJOR. The soldiers shoot her parting glances.)

PROFESSOR:  Who gets to sleep with you, my sweet one?...What a scent! Better than the mess hall.

SERGEANT:  Watch her go snitch...

MOUSER:  Don't worry, that type doesn't snitch. (To PROFESSOR.) Well, now what? Should we go or wait until they bring him?

SERGEANT:  Listen to this, these landmine guys told me a good one...

PROFESSOR (pointing somewhere):  Hey, look, Bangladesh is presenting himself. Speak of the devil...Bangladesh! Come here!

SERGEANT:  Fine, I'll tell it to you later.

(A middle-aged ragamuffin approaches, stops about a yard from the soldiers, and smiles.)

PROFESSOR:  Bangladesh, have you ever been to see Josephina?

(He remains silent but smiles, nodding in the affirmative.)

MOUSER:  Be careful, if Red finds out, he'll tear your head off.

(BANGLADESH comes nearer, he strokes MOUSER's submachine gun with his finger.)

SERGEANT:  Back away from the weapon.

BANGLADESH (backing up a step):  It's shiny.

MOUSER:  How many times have we told you not to hang around the premises. You come at lunchtime.

(BANGLADESH, still smiling, doesn't move from his spot.)

PROFESSOR:  All right, we're outta here. We'll get a bite to eat and come back. (To BANGLADESH.) When a group arrives—run to the mess hall and tell us. Got it?

PROFESSOR:  We'll give you some sugar.

(The soldiers and the SERGEANT exit. BANGLADESH sits down on the bench and stares straight ahead with a fixed gaze.)

The COLONEL's office. ROSE and the MAJOR are there, along with the COLONEL. Everyone is standing.

COLONEL:  Hello.

ROSE:  Hello.

COLONEL:  So, you're the one?

ROSE:  Yes.

COLONEL:  Tea, coffee, something stronger? Have a seat.

MAJOR:  May I go?

COLONEL:  Call me when they arrive.

(The MAJOR nods and exits.)

ROSE:  My name is Rose.

COLONEL:  A fitting name. Sit down...So what'll it be?

ROSE:  Coffee. (Takes a seat at the table.) I didn't sleep during the trip. How should I address you?

COLONEL (turning on the electric kettle):  By my rank.

ROSE:  Were you recently promoted?

COLONEL:  A hundred years ago.

ROSE:  Will you be made a general soon?

COLONEL:  Depends on the interview. If the commanders like me—perhaps someday I will. But if you report falsehoods...Want sugar?

ROSE:  No, thanks. I'll report the truth, just as you tell it.

COLONEL (placing a mug on the table and sitting opposite her):  Something to eat?

ROSE:  No, thank you.

COLONEL:  Watching your figure?

ROSE:  I'm just not hungry.

COLONEL:  You know, back in the academy the sergeant-major of our company said, "It's always easier for a bullet to find a plump body!" And then he'd go steal from the food supplies. Even then, he was worrying about our lives. A good man. True, he was fat as a hog. But then, he never went into combat...

ROSE:  This isn't your first war, is it?

COLONEL:  Are we starting the interview? (Doesn't wait for an answer.) Third.

ROSE:  So every one we've had—you've been in?

COLONEL:  That's how it's turned out.

ROSE (opening a notebook, turning on her tape recorder):  Tell me a bit about yourself, please...Just to get started.

COLONEL:  No, you first. Why did you choose this particular spot? There are lots of units, and colonels are a dime a dozen...

ROSE:  Well, as I understand it, not too long ago you distinguished yourself. And you continue to...The general recommended you. He said that you have the most difficult sector now.

COLONEL:  We've got a normal sector, like all the rest. I was born...Basically, I was born. School. The military academy.

ROSE:  That is, you voluntarily...

COLONEL:  That is, a stipend, a uniform, and a lack of brains. Perfect for the army. Don't write that down.

ROSE:  Okay.

COLONEL:  Right after the academy—my first war. And they just keep coming. What else do you want to know?

ROSE:  Your wife? Your kids, if you have any? What do they think about all this? Are they proud of you?

COLONEL:  I have kids. Two of them. I had...a wife.

ROSE:  She couldn't bear the burdens of military service?

COLONEL:  She couldn't bear the boredom while her husband was away. Don't write that down either.

ROSE:  So, then, what can I write?

COLONEL:  My kids hardly ever see me, so I don't know if they're proud of me or not. Just write...what everyone writes.

ROSE:  Okay. Do you feel that your service, the privations and the burdens, are for the good of our homeland?

COLONEL:  Well, how could they not be? Of course I do.

ROSE:  Do you consider this a just war?

COLONEL (laughing):  I thought you were with the loyal press...

ROSE:  Would they allow me to come here if I weren't...

COLONEL:  Of course. Look, if I start to debate what's just and what's not...I'll think about it when I retire. I'll sit down, stretch out my legs, have a drink and...when I'm out fishing. You see, a soldier doesn't have to think. A soldier has to execute military commands. As soon as he starts to think...It's a bloody mess. And I'm not a fan of that.

(The CAPTAIN enters without knocking.)

COLONEL (to ROSE):  Here. The Captain can talk about these things better than I can. With quotes and statistics. He's the head of the intelligence division. Ideology is his specialty.

(The CAPTAIN nods to ROSE and approaches the COLONEL.)

CAPTAIN:  Have you been informed?

COLONEL:  Of course.

CAPTAIN:  What should we do next?

COLONEL:  When they arrive—we'll sort things out.

CAPTAIN:  Have they told the commanders?

COLONEL:  Not yet. And don't you go running over there on your own. We need to sort things out. Or did you already?

CAPTAIN:  I came straight here.

COLONEL:  Well, don't go running off. (Points to ROSE.) Would you like to assist me?

CAPTAIN:  I should prepare for the interrogation.

COLONEL:  Go prepare.

(The CAPTAIN nods and exits.)

Where did we leave off?

ROSE:  With the bloody mess...

COLONEL:  Right, well then...


BANGLADESH is sitting in the same position. The LIEUTENANT walks up to him and stops. BANGLADESH doesn't pay any attention to him.

LIEUTENANT:  Who are you?

(BANGLADESH smiles in silence.)

LIEUTENANT:  Can't you speak?

BANGLADESH:  I'm waiting for sugar.

LIEUTENANT:  What are you doing here? Who let you in?

BANGLADESH:  The good soldiers. They destroyed my home, now they feed me. Give me sugar. Let me look at your pistol.

LIEUTENANT:  Which soldiers? What are their names?!

BANGLADESH:  They told me to run to the mess hall when the group gets here.

LIEUTENANT:  I'm asking you, who lets you in?

BANGLADESH:  Everyone. They killed my children, my mother, they even killed my cow. So everyone lets me in. Do you have a warm jacket?

LIEUTENANT:  If I see you here again—I'll kill you myself! Understood?

BANGLADESH:  And the sugar? They promised me sugar.

LIEUTENANT:  Just get the fuck outta here! Or do you want me to arrest you?!

BANGLADESH:  They told me to run to the mess hall...

LIEUTENANT (grabbing him by the collar and shaking him):  What the hell, are you playing the fool? Or do you not understand plain speech?! (Releases him.)

BANGLADESH (sitting down):  Son, I know four different languages. I was a teacher.

LIEUTENANT:  Who are you calling son?! I'm an officer to you!

BANGLADESH:  You're all children to me now. They killed mine...And a man needs children, so he has someone to care for. He needs a mother too. But then you also have women working here...There's Josephina...

LIEUTENANT:  So you're not gonna go on your own?

BANGLADESH:  No. I'm very busy.

LIEUTENANT (glances around, takes his pistol out of its holster and puts it up to BANGLADESH's head):  How about now? Or shall I blow your brains out?

BANGLADESH:  I still won't go. I can't even see your pistol.

(The LIEUTENANT hides his pistol and shoves BANGLADESH, who tumbles to the ground.)

LIEUTENANT:  Well, okay. Just lie here! I'll take care of you later. There's no time now... (Exits.)


RED is sitting in a room of the medical unit with JOSEPHINA, a fit, young-looking woman.

JOSEPHINA (taking a drag on a cigarette):  Well, why so quiet all of the sudden? Keep going.

RED:  Then I went and asked them to take me into the army and send me right into the war. Well, naturally, they immediately examined me, checked my health...Do you know how healthy I am? I can lift a bull no problem. One time at this dance club these townies showed up, you know the type...And, well, basically, we got into a fight...So I...Well, if it weren't for my uncle, he's a sergeant in the militia...I broke two guys' arms, one nose, two jaws and dealt out a bunch of other bruises and scrapes. There was a list five pages long.

JOSEPHINA:  You're strong. But you've got to brush your teeth...

RED:  I brush them! I can't figure out why it hurts.


RED:   Often what?

JOSEPHINA:  You brush your teeth.

RED:  Yes.

JOSEPHINA:  Needs to be more often. I bet the country girls chased after you. Yeah?

RED:  Why just country girls? There was one city girl too.

JOSEPHINA (pointing to his jaw):  How is it? Getting better?

RED:  I don't feel any pain at all...

JOSEPHINA:  So why haven't you gotten married?

RED:  Why get married before you join the army? She'll go sleeping around and then point the finger at you.

JOSEPHINA:  Tell me another story, you big sledgehammer. I haven't been out in the country since I was a kid. (Extinguishes the cigarette and begins to stack bandages and instruments.) What kind of food do they have there?

RED:  The same stuff as they have in the city, just...well, usually, without all the packaging.

JOSEPHINA:  So why did you ask to be sent into the war?

RED:  Why not? I think that if you join the army, then you have to go to war. I don't see the point of just joining. But if there's some benefit...

JOSEPHINA:  For whom?

RED:  For everyone. Now if you take some four-eyed city slicker, he can't handle it. They're weak. My grandma says—it's from all the car exhaust. But not me, I even kinda like it.

JOSEPHINA:  Killing people? Maybe you're a psycho and just not admitting it?

RED:  Hey, I haven't killed anyone yet.


RED:  Well, they're our enemies, after all.

JOSEPHINA:  Oh, of course they're our enemies. You're frightened, my little one. How did you deal with the girls, when you're so shy?

RED:  Just fine. It's not hard to deal with them, you grab them firmly, and that's it. Women love strength in their men.

JOSEPHINA:  Did your grandma tell you that too?

RED:  It's the truth.

JOSEPHINA (approaching him and stroking his hair):  Okay, okay. Don't be offended, you're my little ladies' man, aren't you?

RED:  Well...well, yeah, sort of.

JOSEPHINA:  You shoot her a look, and you're married. Then you'll remember that she offended you, and you'll hit her...Peasant style.

RED:  Oh, come on, Jose—

JOSEPHINA:  It's Anna! They stuck me with that nickname!

RED (timidly):  Have you ever been married?

JOSEPHINA:  No. I'm still a virgin. Of course, there've been lots of proposals, sometimes even two in the same day, but...marriage, it has to be taken seriously. What do you think?

RED:  I totally agree.

JOSEPHINA (looking out the window):  So...your comrades are coming. Either to fetch you, or they also want to propose. I don't know who I should marry. I guess I'll stick with you. You haven't changed your mind?

(MOUSER and PROFESSOR enter the room and make themselves at home. MOUSER immediately plops onto the bunk while PROFESSOR struts around JOSEPHINA.)

PROFESSOR:  May God bless you.

JOSEPHINA (to MOUSER):  What's with the lounging? Can't you see we're having an intimate conversation?

PROFESSOR:  Red, you really should have stayed with us. The journalist is quite sociable.

JOSEPHINA:  The journalist?

MOUSER:  Yeah, she's at the Colonel's. Conducting an interview. (To RED.) You could have come to the mess hall...

RED:  Who wants to eat with a tooth like this?

PROFESSOR:  We know all about your tooth.

MOUSER:  Perhaps we've interrupted something?

RED:  Of course not...

JOSEPHINA:  Yes, you have! Our fate had almost been decided...

PROFESSOR:  Red! The drinks are on you! It looks like we saved you from Fate!

MOUSER (to RED):  My advice to you—don't rush. Josephina, of course, is as good as they come, however...It might be that I want to marry her too.

JOSEPHINA:  Was it a peaceful night, my grooms?

MOUSER:  It was all right.

JOSEPHINA:  So why aren't you going to bed?

PROFESSOR:  They caught the notorious demolition man, they're bringing him in.

JOSEPHINA:  The guy with no hands?

MOUSER:  They're bringing him in—we'll see for ourselves.

JOSEPHINA:  And the old woman? Did they detain her?

PROFESSOR:  Not yet, it seems.

JOSEPHINA (to RED):  Did you know about this?

(RED nods in the affirmative.)

Why didn't you say anything?

(RED shrugs his shoulders.)

I'll go take a look too.

MOUSER (rising from the bunk, to RED):  Okay, enough with your proposals. Let's go, or we'll miss the whole thing.

JOSEPHINA:  You can see from the window...

PROFESSOR (glancing out the window):  No, we're going...Bangladesh is sprawled out there, he needs his sugar...

(PROFESSOR and MOUSER exit. After dawdling a bit, RED follows them out.)


The COLONEL and ROSE are sitting at the table.

COLONEL: ...So this one soldier, a machine-gunner, runs out from his cover...But they had already hauled out a non-recoiler, a non-recoiling field gun...Basically, in thirty seconds we'd be done for...But he runs out, stands straight up and lets it rip from his belt...While he's making them keep their heads down, the whole group runs out and takes up positions. And the choppers got there in the nick of time. Now that's a heroic deed. The guy saved his group.

ROSE:  He survived?

COLONEL:  Without a scratch. You know, sometimes it really does seem that bullets act rationally. They won't touch the brave ones. Although mostly it doesn't make any sense...

ROSE:  And how did it all end?

COLONEL:  Like I said, the helicopters got there in time.

ROSE:  And this machine-gunner?

COLONEL:  They've recommended him for a medal...You know, glory, honor...A higher rank. Is there anything else? I mean the main thing is this: he saved his own life and protected the others. He destroyed some enemy forces. That's about it.

ROSE:  You know, this question has always consumed me—what exactly motivates someone, is it...Well, I mean he was there by himself...standing straight up?

COLONEL:  I don't know, I'm not gonna lie. Each person has his own motivation. One does it out of fear, another out of idiocy...Don't write that down. It's very hard to determine. That's more your job—to make it sound good. After all, we've come here to wage war, not to explain it. The better we fight, the more of us go home alive. I mean why did you come here? For the money?

ROSE:  Well, not just—

COLONEL:  Adrenaline? Although...for such a beautiful woman—

ROSE:  Look, Colonel, in order to explain it to you, I'd have to tell you my whole life story, and, as I understand it, our time is limited.

COLONEL:  There's no rush.

ROSE:  Can you tell me about any other incidents...?

COLONEL:  Incidents? The major who brought you here...During one operation he carried an old man out of a burning house. Eh? Granted, they don't give medals for such really happened. A heroic act?

ROSE:  Of course.

COLONEL:  And if both of that old man's sons were fighting against us? And they had landmines hidden in the house? Eh? After we dragged him out, the whole place started to blow up! We learned about the sons later. Screw it, this war is a complicated thing, you can't jump into it and figure it all out. Everyone is right. Though we're somewhat more right.

ROSE:  Why's that?

COLONEL (smiling):  Because there are more of us...How about let's put ideology aside, let the politicians deal with that, okay?

ROSE:  If you say so. I have another question. It's sort of personal. If they were to send your son into the war...How would you feel?

COLONEL (shrugging his shoulders):  I don't know. It's kinda scary to think about...Do you have kids?

ROSE:  A son.

COLONEL:  I would, if it were up to me, of course, make it so they couldn't take the children of any men who had already fought in a war. That's truly fair, because if—

ROSE:  What about military dynasties?

COLONEL:  Well, yes...That's right. The dynasties. Dynasties—they're a fine thing in books or in peacetime. I don't know...It's like you're scared for your own. They're just kids and they're—soldiers. It's too soon for them...

ROSE:  And on the other side?

COLONEL:  The same story...They send even younger children into battle. You look at them and you think of your own kids. You want to just spank them, and then you remember how bloody their hands are...Basically, it's a complicated question. I pity them, and I pity us. There's still a human being inside me, not just a soldier.

(The LIEUTENANT enters cautiously.)


COLONEL:  Come in, come in. (To ROSE.) This one, by the way, is almost a son to me. I remember him as a little boy, carried him on my shoulders, and now look what an eagle he's become! The son of a friend of mine. My best friend. (To the LIEUTENANT.) Explain to the press why you guys come to the war and, so to speak, continue your fathers' business.

LIEUTENANT:  My grandpa also fought...

COLONEL:  There you go! A dynasty!

ROSE:  Can you explain it?

LIEUTENANT:  Well, what? There exists a certain profession—

COLONEL:  In your own words. (To ROSE.) He's fresh out of the academy, it still has a grip on his mind. When we were that age, his poppa and me... (To the LIEUTENANT.) Go ahead.

LIEUTENANT:  Well, okay. I...In school I decided that I'd become a soldier. And that's how it turned out.

ROSE:  And your mom?

LIEUTENANT:  What about her? You could say that she's also in the service.

COLONEL:  His mom is amazing.

LIEUTENANT:  Just take a look at people today, at the youth. I know from my classmates. Few of them will amount to much. Our homeland doesn't really mean anything to them. Wherever they can get a salary, that's their homeland. I was raised a different way.

COLONEL:  Ha! We have a future after all!

ROSE (to the LIEUTENANT):  Aren't you scared?


COLONEL:  He hasn't had time to get frightened yet. All those fears, they show up later. If you talk with him privately at some point, maybe he'll open up to you... (To the LIEUTENANT.) What did you come for?

LIEUTENANT (looks silently at ROSE):  I wanted to ask about something.

COLONEL:  Ask away.

LIEUTENANT:  There's a vagabond here...

COLONEL:  You mean Bangladesh?

LIEUTENANT:  I don't know.

COLONEL:  Don't you touch him, the crippled one. Got it? Don't you ever touch him! Let him be. He's like a son to this regiment. He's made himself a dugout here, the men set him up with a cookstove, they feed him...

LIEUTENANT:  But what if he's gathering intelligence?

COLONEL:  The only thing he's gathering is stale biscuits from the dumpster. He's been dehumanized; let him live.

(The LIEUTENANT wants to say something, but he's not able to: the CAPTAIN rushes into the office.)

CAPTAIN:  Forgive me for interrupting. (To the COLONEL, quietly.) The group is approaching, they'll be here in five.

COLONEL (to ROSE):  Again we didn't get to finish. You know, here's what I think: shall we take you back, to the division headquarters? It's calmer there, they'll give you a bunch of statistics. We can arrange transportation...

ROSE:  Well...Could I take a look at this demolition man?

CAPTAIN:  Who told you?

ROSE:  Well, Captain—

CAPTAIN:  If I had my way...

COLONEL (to the CAPTAIN):  Secrecy is sort of your department...So what now? (To ROSE.) Stand anywhere outside there. Just don't ask him questions, it's not allowed.

ROSE:  I understand.

COLONEL:  Lieutenant, you escort the girl. And keep back the soldiers so they don't gather around. This isn't a circus.

(The LIEUTENANT salutes and starts to exit with ROSE.)

COLONEL:  Well, let's go take a look at this monkey.

CAPTAIN:  This crocodile...

ROSE stands near the staff headquarters. Some distance away, the SERGEANT, MOUSER, PROFESSOR, and RED quietly talk among themselves. BANGLADESH sits on the ground behind them, looking in the other direction. JOSEPHINA comes up to ROSE.

JOSEPHINA:  Good afternoon, ma'am.

(ROSE nods.)

Are you the one from the newspaper?

ROSE:  I am.

JOSEPHINA:  Is this interesting?

ROSE:  Yes, of course.

JOSEPHINA:  They say so many different things about him...Maybe you hear he's this big beast, but then they bring him in and it turns out he's a little shrimp. Does that kind of thing happen?

ROSE:  It probably does.

JOSEPHINA:  I work in the medical unit here. I want to get a look too.

ROSE:  Nice to meet you. Is he going to be here soon?

JOSEPHINA:  When the music starts—that means they're here.

(ROSE looks at her questioningly.)

(Smiling.) It's a little tradition we have. If a group is heading off to battle or returning from the front—they play music.

A march.

ROSE:  Isn't that dangerous?

JOSEPHINA:  Well, who could hear it, there's not a soul within five kilometers.

ROSE:  Ah-ha...

JOSEPHINA:  So what do you write about, ma'am?

ROSE:  About whatever I see. They say he's got no hands?

JOSEPHINA:  Maybe it's true. The officers were saying that he might teach people how it's done. Are you going to write about me too, ma'am?

ROSE:  Perhaps I will.

JOSEPHINA:  Don't think that I just—I've got a medal. And I think they're gonna give me another one. The Captain promised.

ROSE:  Okay.

JOSEPHINA:  How about, after we see him, let's go over to my place at the medical unit. Is your newspaper distributed nationwide?

ROSE:  Even internationally.

JOSEPHINA:  Can you include photos?

ROSE:  Well, they haven't really given me permission to take any here...

JOSEPHINA:  I can give you one of me. In uniform, with my medal.

ROSE:  Okay.

JOSEPHINA:  You see, I'm not just...I want my former...husband. I want him to see it. And then let him keep turning his screws at the factory.

ROSE:  It shouldn't be a problem.

JOSEPHINA:  So we've agreed, ma'am?

ROSE:  Are you the one they call Josephina?

JOSEPHINA:  Actually, it's Anna. This one officer...Well, basically, he started to get jealous...Well, you're a woman, you understand. He got drunk. "You're a slut," he says, "a true Josephina." Napoleon had this girlfriend named Josephina.

ROSE:  Ah, love...

JOSEPHINA:  And it stuck. But I'm not offended anymore.

(A loud march begins to play.)

(The CAPTAIN and the LIEUTENANT lead the detainee into the COLONEL's office. He is a young man.)

COLONEL (to the officers):  Let him sit.

CAPTAIN (to the detainee):  Sit down!

(The young man sits on a stool.)

COLONEL (standing there examining him):  Let's see your hands.

(The young man extends his arms, which have no hands.)

COLONEL (to the officers):  Have a seat. (To the LIEUTENANT.) That includes you.

(They sit on either side of the detainee. For some reason, the LIEUTENANT keeps his hand on his holster.)

(To the young man.) Can you understand us? Relax your arms already.

CAPTAIN:  He understands...

COLONEL:  First name?


COLONEL:  Last name?

ALI:  I don't have one.

COLONEL:  How's that?

ALI:  Last names come from your family. My family's gone.

CAPTAIN:  He's educated. We taught him at our own expense...

LIEUTENANT (setting a book on the table):  Here. That's all he had on him.

COLONEL (takes the book, flips through it, becomes disturbed):  The Koran?

ALI:  No. The Decameron.

CAPTAIN:  A joker.

COLONEL (to ALI):  Start talking.

ALI:  Give me something to drink.

(The LIEUTENANT looks questioningly at the COLONEL. Seeing him nod, he pours water from the tea kettle into a mug and sets it to ALI's lips. He gulps it down. After allowing him to drink, the LIEUTENANT sits down, ready to suppress any dangerous movement.)

COLONEL:  Does water from the hands of an infidel taste good?

ALI:  Water is the same everywhere.

CAPTAIN:  Talk about the bombings.

ALI:  I don't know anything about any bombings. I walk around, people feed me. Your guys came flying in and brought me here. What is there for me to say?

COLONEL:  Tell us, where did you learn to make bombs? Who was your instructor? Who coordinated your actions?

CAPTAIN:  If you don't tell us—it'll be worse. We'll take you outside the base and shoot you like a dog.

ALI (smiling):  Do it.

COLONEL:  You're linked to more than thirty bombings. Were you counting them? When did you blow your hands off? A long time ago?

ALI:  A long, long time ago.

CAPTAIN:  Do you teach the others?

ALI:  I don't teach anyone. And I can't make bombs. I never learned.

COLONEL:  Do you regret that?

ALI:  No. What's the point? As soon as your nation decides to leave us alone, we'll—

CAPTAIN:  Who's behind these bombings?!

ALI:  I don't know.

CAPTAIN (to the COLONEL):  He's not going to talk.

COLONEL:  Why not? We have enough time. And enough facts. And ultimately you can't run away from the facts. Right, Ali? Everyone you capture here is "Ali."

ALI:  It's a popular name.

COLONEL:  You know there's going to be a trial. Despite everything, we're a democratic country. There'll be witnesses. Do you realize that your own people turned you in?

ALI:  Yes.

COLONEL:  They're sick and tired of this war. Yet you all keep bombing...

ALI:  I've never bombed a single person. Or taught anyone how.

CAPTAIN:  Then how do you explain—

ALI:  I don't know, you figure it out.

CAPTAIN:  Don't interrupt! Then how do you explain the fact that wherever you appear, there's an explosion. People perish. Your own perish too. Don't you pity them?

ALI:  I pity all of the people.

COLONEL:  Do you have any relatives?

ALI:  Close ones? Only my grandmother.

LIEUTENANT (with heavy significance):  The old woman...

COLONEL:  Have you been hiding a long time?

ALI:  I don't hide. I walk in the open. I don't cause harm to anyone.

CAPTAIN:  Then why did it take us so long to get you?

ALI:  I don't know. You've got me now...

COLONEL:  You don't want to talk to us?

ALI:  I'm talking...

COLONEL:  Perhaps you're ashamed? Perhaps one on one?

CAPTAIN:  Give him to me for an hour or so...

ALI:  I don't understand why you've linked these explosions to me. The whole country is full of explosions. Are they all my fault?

COLONEL:  You don't have to worry about the whole country. Talk about yourself.

ALI:  I've said everything.

COLONEL:  So what happened to your relatives?

ALI:  Your men killed them.

CAPTAIN:  And you're the kamikaze-avenger? Soon there won't be a single one of you left.

ALI:  Yes, there will.

COLONEL:  That sounds more like the truth. Go on.

ALI:  They'll always seek revenge. Our people have that in their nature.

CAPTAIN:  Oh, screw your people!

COLONEL (to the CAPTAIN):  Hold on.

ALI:  You didn't have to come here.

COLONEL:  That's understood. Let's return to the explosions. Perhaps you deliver orders of some kind? Or...or give them a secret sign?

ALI:  Yes, you've found the commander...

CAPTAIN:  "I don't know, I wasn't there, I wasn't involved..." Okay, the guys at the top will sort this out.

ALI:  That's fine by me.

COLONEL:  Maybe you do the preaching? Inspire others to fight the infidels? You must need the Koran for something, right?

ALI:  The Koran is for me alone.

CAPTAIN (laughing):  By the way, how do you turn the pages?

ALI:  With my lips...

CAPTAIN:  And when you need to go? You also use your lips?

ALI:  If you're born from a mule, you don't turn into a human being.

CAPTAIN (springing up):  What?!

COLONEL (calmly):  Sharp tongue.

CAPTAIN:  I'll cut that tongue out right now!

COLONEL:  Later. (To ALI.) You mean to tell me you've never been detained, even for not having documents?

ALI:  Who cares about some cripple? I don't have money, there's nothing to steal...

CAPTAIN:  He's lying, the bastard, it's all lies!

COLONEL:  I know. (Pause.) Let me try to have a real tête-à-tête conversation with him, alone. I'll call you when we're done.

LIEUTENANT (rising):  Should I stay by the door?

COLONEL:  What for? We're just going to sit here peacefully. (To ALI.) Or if not...we'll be lying on the floor. Right?

ALI:  In this house, you're in charge.

(The officers exit. The COLONEL sits down opposite ALI.)

translated from the Russian by John J. Hanlon