Foreign Gifts

A Play in One Act

Nina Kossman

Artwork by Jensine Eckwall


SONIA (eleven years old)
RAYA (seven years old)

The characters can be played by children or by female actors in their early twenties, preferably short and slightly built.

An apartment in Moscow. A minimal set. A dinner table and two chairs. On the table are two plates: one plate is clean, the remains of a recent meal are on the other. In the beginning of the play, both SONIA and RAYA are in the same ("Soviet") part of the room. RAYA is sitting at the table in front of the plate with an unfinished meal. SONIA is standing next to her.

SONIA:  Finish what's on your plate.

RAYA:  Don't want to.

SONIA:   You must.

RAYA:  Who said.

SONIA:  Mama said.

RAYA:  What will she do?

SONIA:  What will she do if what?

RAYA:  If I don't.
What will she do if I don't finish.

SONIA:  She'll slap you.

RAYA:  No she won't.
(She pauses.)
No she won't.
She won't slap me.
(She pauses.)
She never slaps me.
You're the one she slaps.

SONIA:  No she doesn't.
I'm the oldest.
When Mama isn't here, I get to be Mama.
(She pauses.)
Finish what's on your plate.

RAYA:  What if I don't?

SONIA:  You've got to eat. If you don't eat, you won't get big.

RAYA:  That's not how she says it.

SONIA:  Yes it is.
Yes it is how she says it.

RAYA:  Is not!

SONIA:  Is too.

RAYA:  Is not!


RAYA:  I don't want to play this game.
It's a stupid game and I don't want to play it.

SONIA:  It's not a game.
It's for real.
She wants you to eat your food 'cause you've got to be big for real. If you don't get big, nobody will see you. You may be right there with all the rest of them, but they won't see you. They won't even think you're a person. They'll just think you're—

RAYA:  I don't want to be a person.
I like being ME.
What's so great about being a person?

SONIA:  I'll be a person 'cause I eat what they give me.

RAYA:  I don't want to be that kind of person!
I want to be the kind of person that eats what she wants.

SONIA:  You won't get to be that kind of person. 'Cause you won't grow.

RAYA:  Is the world made up of people who eat what they don't want to?

SONIA:  Spit out that gum.

RAYA:  It's not done yet.

SONIA:  It doesn't matter.

RAYA:  There's still some sweet in it.

SONIA:  It doesn't matter.

RAYA:  I want to chew till the sweet is gone.

SONIA:  If you don't spit it out, you'll get blown up.

RAYA:  Who said?

SONIA:  I said.

RAYA:  What do you know?
You don't even have some gum.
You're just jealous, that's all.

SONIA:  I'm not jealous.
I'm a teacher.

RAYA:  No you're not.
You're a girl.
You're a girl like me.
You're my sister.

SONIA:  When the teacher isn't here, I get to be her.

RAYA:  No you're not.
(She pauses.)
You're not her.
You're you.

SONIA:  Spit out your gum or you'll be blown to pieces.

RAYA:  How come I didn't get blown up yet?

SONIA:  It takes time. It may be a slow bomb. In some candy they put a slow bomb.

RAYA:  Who?

SONIA:  Foreigners.

RAYA:  Why do they put a bomb in candy?

SONIA:  I told you lots of times.

RAYA:  Tell me again.

SONIA:  Tell you what?

RAYA (louder):  Why do they put a bomb in candy?

SONIA:  'Cause they're foreigners.

RAYA:  What's that mean?

SONIA:  They're not like us.

RAYA:  So what?

SONIA:  Cause they hate us.

RAYA:  But why do they hate us?

SONIA:  'Cause they're not like us. They want to be like us but they can't.

RAYA:  Why?

SONIA:  You'll know when you go to school.

RAYA:  Why do they hate us?

SONIA:  'Cause we're not foreigners. We're us.

RAYA:  I'm not us. I'm me.

SONIA:  When you go to school they'll tell you. They'll tell you that you are us.

RAYA:  But why do foreigners hate us?

SONIA:  Cause they're capitalists.

RAYA:  What's that mean?

SONIA:  They're capitalists. They only think about themselves.

RAYA:  They're thinking about us. They're thinking about us when they put bombs in the candy. Ha-ha. Got you!

SONIA:  Not funny.

RAYA:  Is too.

SONIA:  Is not.

RAYA:  Is too.

SONIA:  Is not.

RAYA:  Anyway, this isn't candy. This is gum.

SONIA:  So what.

RAYA:  They can't put a bomb in gum. You'd chew right through it.

SONIA:  They have special bombs. They feel like gum. But then three days later—

RAYA:  It's not true.

SONIA:  Is too.

RAYA:  I don't want to play this game.

SONIA:  I know someone who got blown up.

RAYA:  Do not!

SONIA:  Do too.

RAYA:  I said I don't want to play that.

SONIA:  I know someone who chewed American gum.

RAYA:  Who?

SONIA:  A girl.

RAYA:  What girl.

SONIA:  A girl from my class. She chewed American gum and got blown to pieces.

RAYA:  How many pieces?

SONIA:  Doesn't matter.

RAYA:  Does.

SONIA:  Does not.

RAYA:  I said I don't want to play that game. I said!

SONIA:  You started it.

(She pauses. RAYA is thinking.)

RAYA:  What's her name?

SONIA:  She doesn't have a name. She's dead.

RAYA:  What was her name then?

SONIA:  It's gone. Your name goes away when you die.

RAYA:  Not my name.

SONIA:  Yours too.

RAYA:  I'll always be me. Even when I die.

SONIA:  No you won't. Not when you die you won't.

RAYA:  How do you know? You're not me.

SONIA:  I know 'cause I go to school.

RAYA:  So what.

SONIA:  They tell us things.

RAYA:  How do they know? They're not you.

SONIA:  That's stupid.

RAYA:  But how do they know about you? They're not you.

SONIA:  'Cause they're teachers. They know.

RAYA:  They know about them. They don't know about you.

SONIA:  When you're a grown up, you don't know about you. You know about other people.

RAYA:  I don't want to be that kind of grownup. I want to know about me.

SONIA:  You're a capitalist.

RAYA:  Am not.

SONIA:  Are too.

RAYA:  Don't want to play this game I said.

SONIA:  You're a capitalist 'cause capitalists only think about themselves. They don't care about others.

RAYA:  So what.

SONIA:  If you don't think about others, you'll get sent to America.

RAYA:  So what.

SONIA:  You'll never get to see Mama again.

RAYA:  Mama won't send me away.

SONIA:  Yes she will.

RAYA:  No she won't. I know.

SONIA:  She won't want to but she'll have to.

RAYA:  How do you know?

SONIA:  'Cause that's what they tell us in school. If you're bad, they send you away to America.

RAYA:  I won't go.

SONIA:  You'll have to.

RAYA:  I won't go.

SONIA:  You will.

RAYA:  In a little package?

SONIA:  What?

RAYA:  They send you to America in a little package?

SONIA:  It's not a package. It's a box. Looks like a shoe box only bigger.

RAYA:  Maybe it's a coffin.

SONIA:  It's not a coffin. It's a box.

RAYA:  I don't want to sit in a shoe box. I won't have any air.

SONIA:  They make special holes for you. So you can breathe until you get there.

RAYA:  Then what?

SONIA:  What?

RAYA:  What happens when you get there?

SONIA:  They take you out of the box and take you to a factory with lots of other kids.

RAYA:  Then what?

SONIA:  What what?

RAYA:  Then what they do?

SONIA:  They make you work, that's what, stupid. They make a slave out of you.

RAYA:  Not out of me.

SONIA:  You're not so special.

RAYA:  Yes I am.

SONIA:  If they want to make you into a slave, they will.

RAYA:  I won't let them. I'll run away.

SONIA:  Can't run away from America.

RAYA:  Yes I can. I can run back home.

SONIA:  Can't run away from America, stupid. America's in the middle of a sea.

RAYA:  I can swim it.

SONIA:  No you can't. You don't know how to.

RAYA:  I'll learn.

SONIA:  You'll drown. You'll drown and Mama won't even know where you are.

RAYA:  I'll dig a tunnel.

SONIA:  Can't dig a tunnel from America to here. It's too far.

RAYA:  So what. I'll dig it all my life. Until I'm big like Mama or your teacher.

SONIA:  You won't get to be that big. They won't give you enough food.

RAYA:  So what.

SONIA:  Can't grow without food.

RAYA:  I hate this food anyway.

SONIA:  In America it's even worse.

RAYA:  Who said?

SONIA:  I just know.

RAYA:  They never sent you there. How do you know?

SONIA:  I just know.

RAYA:  They never sent your teacher to America. How would she know?

SONIA:  She knows.

RAYA:  Does not.

SONIA:  Does too.

RAYA:  Don't want to play this game. (Pauses.)

RAYA:  Maybe I want to go to America. Maybe it's not so bad being a slave if they let you chew gum.

SONIA:  They won't let you chew it there. They send it from there to here so you chew it and get blown up.

RAYA:  Maybe over there they make good gum. Without a little bomb inside. So their own kids don't get blown to pieces.

SONIA:  No, there's no good gum.

RAYA:  Yes, there is.

SONIA:  You're starting it.

RAYA:  What?

SONIA:  It. You're starting it. You're starting it, and then you say you don't want to play this game.

RAYA:  Am not.

SONIA:  Are too.

RAYA:  You're the one starting it now.

SONIA:  Wasn't me. Was you.

RAYA:  I wish we had a box.

SONIA:  What for?

RAYA:  To put me in.

SONIA:  We don't have it yet. Mama will bring it from a store.

RAYA:  Let's pretend. Let's pretend we're putting me in the box.

SONIA:  Okay. You go in.

(RAYA lies down in the middle of the room, on the "border" between the "Soviet" part and the "American" part. She brings her knees up to her chin and wraps her arms around her legs.)

SONIA:  You in the box yet?

RAYA:  Yeah.

SONIA:  Can't talk if you're in the box.


You still there?


Okay. I'm sending you off to America.

(SONIA bends down as though to lift the box, then stands with her arms outstretched, as if carrying something heavy.)

Hold on.

RAYA (still crouching):  Are you sending me by ship?

SONIA:  You're not supposed to talk. You're in the box.

RAYA:  Are you sending me by ship?

SONIA:  By truck, by ship, and by airplane.

RAYA:  Alright.

(SONIA pushes the imaginary box away from herself, into the other—American—half of the room.)

SONIA:  There you go. That's where you go if you want to chew gum.

RAYA:  When do I get to America?

SONIA:  Wait five minutes.

(They wait about forty seconds, or maybe a minute.)

RAYA:  I see it! I see America.

SONIA:  You can't see it. You're in the box.

RAYA:  I see it through the little holes.

SONIA:  The little holes are for air.

RAYA:  They're for seeing too.

SONIA:  That's not right. That's not how you sit in the box.

RAYA:  That's how I sit in the box.

(She twists her body out of the imaginary box and stands up in the "American" side of the room.)

Hello! Hello!

(She is waving and blowing kisses.)

I see them! I see capitalists and foreigners! Hello!

SONIA:  You're not supposed to like them.

RAYA:  They're giving me whole bags full of chewing gum. Every kind of flavor. Strawberry. Lemon. Chocolate.

SONIA:  You're not supposed to take them. You're supposed to say no. Gum is a capitalist thing.

RAYA (chewing gum even more passionately than before):  That's not what they say.

SONIA:  They lie a lot 'cause they're foreigners. You're supposed to say no.

RAYA:  Don't want to say no.

SONIA:  Get back in the box.

RAYA:  Why?

SONIA:  They're sending you back. That's why.

RAYA:  That's not why. It's because you want me to go back.

SONIA:  Mama wants to see you. Don't you miss Mama?

RAYA:  Sure I miss Mama. But I don't want to get back in that box!

SONIA:  Well you will.

RAYA:  No I won't.

SONIA:  I'm putting you back in.

(SONIA lifts an imaginary box, puts it down near RAYA.)

SONIA:  Get in.

RAYA:  I won't.

SONIA:  I said get in.

RAYA:  I'm staying where I am. I like it here. I couldn't breathe in the box.

SONIA:  You had the little holes for air.

RAYA:  Not enough air. I need more.

(RAYA makes loud breathing noises)

SONIA:  But what'll I tell Mama? It's me she'll be angry with.

RAYA:  You can come here too, you know.

SONIA:  I'm not a traitor.

RAYA:  What's a traitor?

SONIA:  Somebody who leaves our country. Like you.

RAYA:  I didn't leave. You sent me away. So I'm not a traitor.

SONIA:  What about Mama?

RAYA:  She can come here too.

SONIA:  This box is too small for Mama.

RAYA:  It's not. It stretches.

SONIA:  Anyway, she won't—she's a mama. Mamas don't go into boxes. (Pauses.)

RAYA (dreamily):  I like gum . . .

SONIA:  So stay there! All by yourself. Stay there for good.

RAYA:  You should've let me chew it there.
(Worried.) What will I do now? All by myself.

SONIA:  It's your own fault.

RAYA:  Is not.

SONIA:  Who's starting it now?

(RAYA thinks; comes to a decision.)

RAYA (decisively):  Alright!

SONIA:  Alright what?

RAYA:  I won't stay in America.

SONIA:  I told you.

RAYA:  All because of the gum. (Pauses.) You think I care about gum more than about mom?

(She spits out the gum.)

SONIA:  I told you.

RAYA (imitates Sonia's voice):  I told you, I told you!

(She switches back to her normal voice.)

It's not fair!

SONIA (proud of herself):  I'm the winner!

RAYA:  No you're not!

SONIA:  Get back into the box!

RAYA:  Why should I? I've spit out the gum already!

SONIA:  You're still in America. You have to get back. Get back home.

RAYA (thinks, then puts hands on hips):  Want to know what I think? I think you're stupid, Sonia. That's what I think. (Swinging her arm, gesturing at the room.) There's no such thing as America. We made up America.

(She bends down to erase the word "AMERICA" scribbled on the floor with chalk.)

"America" is our game!

(As lights begin to dim, RAYA erases the word "AMERICA" completely.)

That's it! No more America! See?

SONIA (quietly, as though mumbling to herself):  They'll send you to a factory. They'll make a slave out of you . . .


translated from the Russian by Nina Kossman