Why Spiridon Was Late

CHARACTERS: NEACSU SPIRIDON: sixth grade pupil, the head of the Pioneer Unit VICA: Neacsu Spiridon's classmate, pupil on dutyMARIANA: classmate of Vica and SpiridonA WOMAN: 30-35 years oldTHE TEACHER: 28-30 years oldPUPILS: Neacsu Spiridon's schoolmates The setting is a schoolyard. On the right-part of the stage there are some stairs leading to the door opening to the school building. To the right of the stairs, a pupils' news board on two wooden legs. On the left, to the back of the stage, the fence of the yard and a little gate. Beyond the fence, there is a borough street. In the left corner, near the stage lights there is a simple seesaw, made of a board nailed on a log. When curtain is up, there is silence on the stage. It is an early summer morning. Vica appears in the doorway; he is a twelve-year old pioneer and has a bell in his hand. VICA (rings the bell two or three times, then with the face lit up by a secret thought, hurriedly climbs down the stairs, puts his hands in his pockets and stops in front of the news board. He reads the notices. A noisy group of children dash through the door and they disappear either through the gate or to the left-hand backstage. Two of them mount the seesaw and start to teeter-tooter, shouting both at the same time: "one, two, three." Mariana appears in the doorway. Without seeing her, Vica takes one hand out of his pocket and slowly tears away one of the notices on the news board. The two playful children stop and look indignantly at Vica. It is clear they disapprove of the boy's deed.) MARIANA (furiously, she climbs down the stairs and goes to Vică): Vică, what are you doing? Why have you torn the notice?VICA (turns to Mariana, waving mockingly the notice): It is no longer valid. (The two children resume their game: One, two, three) You have to make room for Spiridon (Cocky) As you have probably found out, today his clock stopped, too. Hence, Mariana, I will be honored to…MARIANA (sternly): That is not for you to decide. Give me the notice. (Vică obeys) You are mean, Vică(She is about to turn her back to him)VICA: I am not mean. I am just principled. Why? Just because Spiridon is the head of the pioneer unit, aren't I allowed to criticize him? Well, I am! Wasn't he late? Yes, he was…MARIANA (biting her lips): He was late only once, this morning. While you…FIRST CHILD (from the seesaw): You are the ace of the latecomers…SECOND CHILD (from the seesaw): Not the ace! The worldwide champion…VICA (Furiously, stepping towards the seesaw): Shut up, you brats, or else I'll show you how to behave…THE CHILDREN (both at a time): If you can catch us(They both make wry faces and then they run backstage)VICA (to Mariana): Are you enjoying this?MARIANA (laughing): Well!VICA (stepping menacingly towards her): Stop laughing, or else…MARIANA (she defies him with dignity): Be my guest…VICA (disheartened): You criticized me at the meeting… you also slandered me in the article on the news board. (Looking into Mariana's eyes) Yesterday Spiridon scolded me in front of the first-graders…MARIANA: This is not true. Even if you had been late, he proposed that you should be on duty today.VICA (infuriated): This is because he wanted to teach me a lesson. Thanks, but no, thanks. (He turns his back to her) MARIANA: Perhaps due to Spiridon you came on time to school today.VICA: I could bet you would say that to me. (Turning to Mariana) Well, maybe you should know that… due to Spiridon I was about to miss school the entire day. But my conscience wouldn't let me. Only to spare him the joy to boast about having reformed me. (Scratching the ground with the shoe) But my conscience wouldn't let me do it. I had promised I wouldn't be late anymore. So, here I am… (He suddenly beams. He takes a pen out of his pocket) It is yours. I know you are good at writing. Won't you scribble down a short article to pin it down here? (He points to the news board) This empty space is waiting for your masterpiece. (He whispers) Get down to work.MARIANA (stamping her foot, ironically): "My conscience" won't let me. VICA (angrily): Well, well! I got it! You don't want to criticize Spiridon! You are not keen on calling him a demagogue. You are ashamed to put down on paper that on top of being late, he came to school without his schoolbag and he was as quiet as a mouse when he was asked by the teacher where his notebook was!MARIANA: No, I am not ashamed, as you claim, and maybe I will, but first we have to find out…VICA: If I had happened to forget the notebook at home, I would have got a four in the school register as big as myself. But him… well, because Sir Spiridon is the unit's head, the teacher let him get away with it.MARIANA: What do you mean? You are unfair.VICA: What did she say to him? I didn't hear a thing.MARIANA (concentrated): She gave him a stern look.VICA (mockingly): Thanks.MARIANA: Yes, she did. She stared him out and this stare was more meaningful to Spiridon than a four. (Changing her tone) Vica, you used to be a good friend of Spiridon's.VICA: I used to, but I stopped yesterday at noon. What, aren't I allowed to do that? MARIANA: You proposed that he should be the head of the unit.VICA: I did. I will be the one to propose that he should be replaced.MARIANA: You won't see it happening.VICA: Because you don't want to. MARIANA: Maybe. (Stepping closer to Vica) Why don't we talk to him?VICA: No way. (Ironically) I am not good at teaching lessons.MARIANA (unnerved): Stop it!(Calmly) We have to find out why he was late. He has to tell us honestly.VICA: And if we do, will you write about it? Will you reprimand him in writing?MARIANA: I will. If I have to, I will.VICA: Alright, then! (Spiridon appears in the doorway)MARIANA (without seeing Spiridon, talking to Vica): Maybe he was late… VICA (sees Spiridon, coughs to make Mariana aware. Then aloud, nudging Mariana): As I was saying, when Columbus reached the seas of China…SPIRIDON (calmly): Columbus never reached the seas of China. (Climbing down the stairs)You are mistaking Columbus for Marco Polo…VICA: I know that much, Mr. Latecomer!(For one second Spiridon stares at Vica)MARIANA: Spiridon…SPIRIDON (calmly): Mariana, today at four in the afternoon the dancing brigade has the rehearsal…VICA (ironically): Make sure you won't be late, Mariana. The head of our unit will be late, anyway(Spiridon stares at him again) Well, I have been there before. I know what to be late is like. It is enough to be late once…MARIANA (to Spiridon): Why were you late today?VICA (mockingly, not giving Spiridon the time to answer): Come on, darling! Why don't you say anything? I am on duty and you have to report to me. (Imitating) "Dear comrade, I was late because the alarm clock…" Or maybe you have better reasons…SPIRIDON (to Vica): Maybe I do.VICA: Shoot it! We are all ears. (He puts his cupped hand to his ear) Our gramophones are fully functioning. Let's hear!SPIRIDON: You are mean! Don't worry, I will explain myself.VICA: Maybe in the far future.SPIRIDON: Maybe today.VICA: I do believe you, comrade!SPIRIDON: Better say you don't. (He steps away) VICA (to Mariana): Mariana, everything is clear. (Offering her the pen again) Come on, do reprimand him in writing! Don't leave! Spiridon, don't leave! Watch comrade poet writing about you. (Spiridon climbs the stairs. He turns around, watches Vica as if saying: "Well, Vica! You have misunderstood everything! I didn't play truant! I didn't play truant! I didn't!," then he goes on his way) Of course, he is not pleased to see people writing about his being late. (Following Spiridon) Spiridon… (Spiridon goes out the door. In front of the gate a woman in her early thirties appears; she carries a schoolbag) THE WOMAN: Pray, is this school no. 4?MARIANA: Yes, it is.THE WOMAN: Then I have come to the right place. (She opens the schoolbag and reads the name on a notebook) I am looking for a pupil. His name is… his name is…VICA (recognizing the schoolbag, whispers to Mariana): This is Spiridon's schoolbag.THE WOMAN (looking at Vica): Yes, that is his name. (Reading) "Neacsu Spiridon, the sixth grade, elementary school no. 4."MARIANA (rushing to the woman): Where did you find this schoolbag?THE WOMAN: Well… (She can't find her words) VICA (getting closer to the woman): Of course… on the lakeshore, at the fishing place…MARIANA: Vica, get serious.VICA (ignoring Mariana): Or on the football field…THE WOMAN: No way. He forgot it at our house.MARIANA: A, I see. You are probably relatives and he paid you a visit and…THE WOMAN: No, we are not relatives.MARIANA: How did this schoolbag get to your house, then? VICA: That's easy to guess. The owner threw it at some cherries in the cherry tree and missed and broke this lady's window instead…THE WOMAN (scolding him): Instead of talking nonsense, you'd better take me to the boy to give him the schoolbag. And thank him.MARIANA: Thank him?!VICA: What for, I pray?THE WOMAN: Just because. He did me a lot of good. But for him, my mother might have been dead by now. (Mariana and Vica start) She has a weak heart, my poor mother. She had an attack while in the street. This boy, Spiridon, brought her home. He ran and called the doctor. I found out all this when I came back from work. (Wholeheartedly) I want to meet him and thank him.MARIANA (impressed): That explains everything! THE WOMAN: A very kind-hearted boy. (Looking inside the schoolbag) He may have needed some book or some notebook during his first classes.MARIANA (whispering, as if to herself): He did, indeed.THE WOMAN (pointing to the schoolbag): He forgot it on the chair. He was probably in a hurry, afraid that he may be late for school.VICA (startled, rushing to the woman and taking the schoolbag from her): Spiridon… (He hurriedly climbs the stairs) Spiridon(The teacher appears in the doorway)THE TEACHER: What are you doing? Aren't you going to ring the bell?VICA: I am, teacher, I am(Raising the schoolbag above his head) This is Spiridon's schoolbag. You know(Embarrassed) His notebook is inside. (He starts ringing the bell) Mariana… Mariana, you must write for the news board(He keeps ringing the bell) To your classrooms, pupils, to your classrooms. (Children start gathering around him. He raises the schoolbag higher, above his head, towards them) Do you know whose schoolbag is this? It is Neacsu Spiridon's, of the sixth grade. Neacsu Spiridon. Neacsu Spiridon saved a human life…VOICES: A human life? When? Where?VICA (keeps ringing the bell, visibly touched): Yes, he did… he saved a human life… to your classrooms, pupils, to your classrooms. You will soon find out all about it. Tineretului, 1963

by Vintilă Ornaru (b. 1927)