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The cabinet minister's wife.




VASA: (coming in from the street) Zivka, here they come.


VASA: The family.

DARA: I'll withdraw! (Leaves.)

VASA: (opening the back door) Come in! (A complete gallery of various comic characters in old-fashioned dress comes in. The older women, Savka and Daca, wear fezes and libades (traditional velvet jackets; Soja has a small hat adorned with feathers. Aunt Savka, Aunt Daca, Nova, Reverend Father Arsa's son, Uncle Panta and his son Mile, Uncle Jakov, Sava Misic and Pera Kalenic present themselves. They all come to Zivka, the men shaking hands with her, and the women kissing her.)

SAVKA: (kissing Zivka) And you, Zivka, you forgot me.

DACA: (kissing Zivka) Oh, my sweet Zivka, how long it's been since I last saw you. You look so well, ts, ts, ts (spitting)--against the evil eye!

PANTA: Eh, Zivka, I want you to know that no one was so happy to hear about your good luck as I was.

JAKOV: I've come to see you several times, Zivka, but you always seemed to be busy.

SOJA: (kissing her) My sweet little Zivka, of all the family you've always been my favorite.

ZIVKA: (having shaken hands with all of them) Thank you for coming. Sit down, will you. (The elders sit down and the young remain standing.) Forgive me, please, for receiving you all together like this. I can see for myself that this isn't very nice, but you simply can't imagine how terribly busy I am. I had no idea that being a cabinet minister's wife was such a hard task. But you'll come again, God willing, you'll visit me some time again.

VASA: (who remained in his feet, stands by Zivka) Of course we'll call on you again. This is just a ... well, we'll see you again.

ZIVKA: How are you, Aunt Savka!

SAVKA: (somewhat ruffled) Well, I'm fine ...

ZIVKA: Oh, there ... I know why you're cross with me, but don't think I've forgotten you. And you, Aunt Daca?

DACA: Oh, I beg you, my sweet, to forgive me. I've been telling my Christina for a long time: "Let's go to Zivka, we should congratulate her, who else will do it if not the family? And she tells me: "No, mother, we haven't crossed her doorstep for over a year, and she'll say we're rushing to see her now because she's a minister's wife! It's true that we didn't cross your threshold, but that's because you've been spreading gossip about Christina, but I told her: "Well, let people say that we rushed to her because she is a minister's wife, who should rush to see her if not we, her closest kin!"

ZIVKA: And you, Uncle Panta, I haven't seen you for ages, how are you?

PANTA: Well, what should I tell you, Zivka, not too well: everything seems to be turning against me. I said to myself I hope things will begin to clear up for me now you're in authority. I reckon you'll take care of your own kin and support them.

VASA: Of course she will, who else would do it?

ZIVKA: I haven't seen you either, Soja?

SOJA: Strange, for they say I'm being seen too much. You can't please everybody. If I stay at home, they tell tales about me, if I go out, they do the same. If it were people in general, I could take it, but the family, my own family!

VASA: Who else would do it if not the family!

DACA: (maliciously, as if to herself) No one would tell tales if there were no tales to tell.

SOJA: (irritated) Yes, you're right, Aunt Daca; would they slander your house if there were no reason for it?

DACA: The likes of you have slandered it!

SOJA: I may be this or that, but I at least have not taken my school leaving certificate the way your daughter has.

DACA: (jumps to her feet, bursting out) You've taken all the exams in the world, you bitch!

SOJA: (jumps up too, thrusting her face into Daca's) Maybe, but I haven't taken that one.

DACA: Oh, oh, oh, let go of me! ... (Runs toward her to grab her by the hair.)

VASA: (steps between them, trying to put an end to their quarrel) Stop it, aren't you ashamed of yourselves! Can't you talk to each other for five minutes like civilized members of a family! (The other men also come to restore peace among them.)

DACA: Of course, that's what happens when you have the likes of her in the family.

SOJA: Sweep the dirt in front of your own house first, and throw it on others afterwards.

VASA: Stop it, shut up, you two! It's shameful, really, and you pretending to be a minister's family too!

ZIVKA: (to Vasa) There! Didn't I tell you?

VASA: Quite! And they're nagging at me: "Come, Uncle Vasa, take us to Zivka! What for? To disgrace both me and youselves. Go now, each of you two to her own place, and once you go out of here you may tear each other's hair as long as you wish. (The two women return to their respective places.) And you, Zivka, forgive them. Just a small family argument.

ZIVKA: It was hardly pleasant for me, but ... (intent on brushing off the incident) How are you, Uncle Jakov?

JAKOV: Oh, you know how it is when one lives in parts, so to say. The devil only knows what kind of fate mine is: I was educated on and off, bit by bit, I've always been like that--nothing succeeds with me. Yet I've always been comforting myself, saying: "Wait, Jakov, your day must come sometime too! And that's what I'm doing--waiting, what else can I do?

ZIVKA: And you, Sava?

SAVA: (a burly man with a big belly) Don't ask me that--I'm wearing myself out with worry.

ZIVKA: What's eating you?

SAVA: Injustice. I've been a victim of injustice all my life. I'll tell you about it in good time.

ZIVKA: (to Pera Kalenic) And ... (embarrassed) you ... ? (to Vasa) Is this gentleman related to us?

VASA: He says he is.

KALENIC: Of course I am.

ZIVKA: I don't remember you.

VASA: Neither do I! Maybe you, Savka ... (They all stare at Kalenic.)

SAVA: I'm not sure that the gentleman is of our family.

DACA: Nor am I! (several of them shrugging their shoulders) Nor I.

KALENIC: You know, I'm related to you through the distaff side.

SOJA: Well, I'm the distaff side too, but I don't know you.

DACA: (through her teeth) Strange!

VASA: All right, since it's the distaff side, tell us whose son you are.

KALENIC: My mother died twelve years ago and she told me on her deathbed: "My son, I'm not leaving you alone in the world; if you find yourself in need, turn to Aunt Zivka, the cabinet minister's wife, she's your relative!"

VASA: What was your mother's name?


VASA: And your father's?


VASA: I can't remember any Mara or Krsta in our family, for the life of me.

ZIVKA: Neither can I.

KALENIC: All this confusion may be caused by the fact that we weren't called Kalenic before: our surname was Markovic then.

VASA: Markovic? I know even less now.

KALENIC: It doesn't matter anyway. I know that you're my family, I don't deny it. I'd die here this very moment rather than repudiate my family.

VASA: Oh, well, it's not a question of dying, but....

ZIVKA: Well, since the man says....

VASA: Right, since he says so, there's nothing to be done.

ZIVKA: Well then, how are you?

KALENIC: Thank you, Aunt Zivka, thank you for your interest in me. I'm so glad to see you looking so fresh. You're in wonderful shape, Auntie.

VASA: Look, Zivka, you have little time to spare, we all know it, so, if you agree we had better get to the heart of the matter. Go ahead, ask each one of us for our wishes and you'll see what you could do for us.

PANTA: If she won't have things done for us now, there's no knowing when she would.

VASA: Let each one of us tell her what's on his heart, I'll note it down, and Zivka will see then; what can be done--can be done, what can't be done--can't.

DACA: When one really wishes to help anyone, everything can be done, the question is only whether everyone deserves to be helped, for there are people who....

SOJA: (cutting in) I have just one request, Zivka--I beg you to help me pass my final examinations.

DACA: (exploding) There she goes again wagging her tongue.

VASA: Silence, I tell you!

SAVA: Silence, for if I should see red, I'll silence you both easily!

KALENIC: Listen, Aunt Daca and you, cousin Soja. As you see, Aunt Zivka has received us kindly, as is fitting for a family to be received. And we shall now tell her our wishes and beg her to act on our behalf. I'm sure Aunt Zivka will do that. You all know what a kind heart she has. But we, for our part, are obliged to respect both her and her home, which is, in this case, a minister's home. But if we go on as we started, and hurl insults at each other, we'll show that we don't pay due respect to this home. So I'm begging you, Aunt Daca, and you, cousin Soja, to control your tempers.

DACA: (to Savka sitting next to her) I wonder how I came to be this man's aunt.

SAVKA: I've no idea, I don't know him.

DACA: Neither do I.

PANTA: (to Jakov sitting at his side) For God's sake, do you know who this is?

JAKOV: I've never seen or heard of him in my Life.

VASA: Well then, we'd better stop wasting time and come to the point, for Zivka can only spare us a little time.

ZIVKA: Quite true, I've no time. I'm just expecting some important visitors from the diplomatic corps.

VASA: Of course! Here we go! (He takes out a sheet of writing paper.) Now, Aunt Savka, what is it you'd like to ask Zivka for?

SAVKA: (still ruffled) Let Zivka ask me that and I'll tell her.

ZIVKA: Well, Aunt Savka, you're sitting on the top of my head with those two hundred dinars of yours! Leave her out, Uncle Vasa, since she's unwilling to talk to me in a friendly family way, but has to go against the grain all the time.

SAVKA: There's no going against the grain, I just want what's mine.

ZIVKA: All right, you'll get it. Write it down, Uncle Vasa,--she's to be given her two hundred dinars. There!

VASA: (having written it down) And you, Daca, is there anything you'd like to ask of Zivka?

DACA: Well, there is something, for my Christina. I'd like to ask you, Zivka, to have the exam acknowledged and to have the child admitted to the school again for--as it is--she's been left in the middle of the road, so to speak. She made a mistake, I admit it--I beg a certain person not to cough--there, I admit it, but high school lady teachers also make mistakes nowadays, so why shouldn't their pupils do the same? And she didn't make the mistake because she was wanton or fast, as some people are, but she did it for the sake of science. I beg a certain person not to cough!

VASA: Soja, stop coughing!

DACA: For the sake of science, of course! She and a friend of hers, a boy, were preparing themselves for the final examinations; the poor children shut themselves in a room and studied, they nearly killed themselves with studying. And afterwards ... he got a certificate and she remained in the middle of the road. That's what I've been thinking, Zivka--you should issue an order for this affair to be forgotten.

KALENIC: (who feels quite free now and examines family issues as if he had always been there) Did that happen a long time ago?

DACA: Oho, well.... last year.

KALENIC: A year ago. Oh, even greater errors are forgotten in a year, let alone such a trifle. Put it down, Uncle Vasa: it's to be forgotten.

ZIVKA: And you, Jova? You had a stretch in prison, didn't you?

JOVA: Yes, I did, Aunt Zivka, and I thus rendered the State its due, so I think it's right that the State should give me my due.

ZIVKA: How is the State supposed to give you your due?

JOVA: Well--I mean, I should be appointed a civil servant.

ZIVKA: But such a job led to your being sentenced to imprisonment!

JOVA: Every living man errs, Aunt Zivka, and I've paid fully for my mistake. And, believe me, Auntie, I honestly don't regret having been in prison. I learnt many things there, which I couldn't have learnt so easily otherwise. How I wish the authorities would send a candidate to prison first, and give him a job afterwards.

JAKOV: Oh, what an idea!

JOVA: Yes, yes, Uncle Jakov. I know criminal law better than any High Court judge. University professors can never explain criminal law to you as well as can those who were sentenced under it. Every single one of them knows the articles of that law by heart, he knows the intention of every paragraph, and he also knows how this or that paragraph may be circumvented. A man would say, for instance, I've been sentenced according to article 235, in connection with 175a, but mitigating circumstances from article 206 have been taken into consideration. And so on, and so forth--I know all the articles by heart. That being so, why shouldn't the State make use of my knowledge?

KALENIC: Quite! Put it down, Uncle Vasa--to get a job for Father Arsa's Jova in order that the State may be given the opportunity to profit by his knowledge.

ZIVKA: And what's your wish, Uncle Panta?

PANTA: To tell you the truth, Zivka, I wish nothing for myself. I'll go on somehow, in much the same way as up to now, but it's for this child. (Mile, a grown-up boy, stands behind him.) God didn't give him the aptitude for learning--he's been expelled from all schools, forever. He can't stick at any craft, or trade or any kind of job either. So I wanted to ask you to arrange for him to get a scholarship from the State

ZIVKA: But what would he study?

PANTA: Oh, let the State just provide him with board and lodging and then it doesn't matter a bit what he studies. He may study to be a vet if he wishes, or a band-leader, or a professor at the Theological Seminary, or a pharmacist. Whatever you wish, only let him get a scholarship.

KALENIC: Well, the boy being so bright, it would be a pity for the State not to make use of his abilities. Put it down, Uncle Vasa: to grant him a state scholarship.

ZIVKA: And you, Soja?

SOJA: I'd prefer to tell you in private.

ALL: (protesting) Oh, no, you've got to say it in public, like the rest of us!

DACA (louder than the others) If we could all speak in public, then why can't she?

(Vasa gives her a cutting look.)

SOJA: After all, why should I be secretive about it, I'm not asking for anything unsuitable. As you well know, Zivka, I divorced that wretched husband of mine and he's already remarried, whereas I'm still alone, only because the Ecclesiastic Count decided unjustly that he may marry a second time, but I was unfairly denied the right to do the same. Of course, I was bound to lose that suit when they handed me over so young....

DACA: (coughing)

SOJA: to the priests and all the Consistory were squinting disapprovingly at me. Even the lawyer who was defending me said one thing when he was at my place, and quite another at the Ecclesiastic Court of Justice--so, of course, I had to lose the lawsuit. So that's what I wanted, Zivka--to beg you to have that decree set right so that I too should have the right to marry again. There, you see, that's not much to ask; as for certain persons coughing, I don't give a straw for that, because, as they say--dogs bark and the caravan goes on.

KALENIC: This could really be done. The lady feels the urge to marry, but some formalities are in her way. Put it down, Uncle Vasa--cousin Soja is to be married disregarding those formalities.

SOJA: That's all I ask, nothing more.

ZIVKA: And you, uncle Jakov?

JAKOV: I've already told you, Zivka, whatever I try, I never succeed. I should've gotten some schooling when I was younger, but it didn't work. I was a clerk--that didn't work either. I tried my hand at commerce, but that too went wrong. And I've kept on saying to myself: "Wait, Jakov, your day must come too! So it has now, I believe! I thought you could get 'em to grant me some kind of concession--for instance, the permission to cut some State wood down--I reckon, you know, since I failed in everything else, I may succeed with this concession.

KALENIC: You may indeed be successful with it, and it wouldn't cost the State anything at all. The State has not planted those woods, so why should it feel sorry about having them cut. That's quite feasible. Put it down, Uncle Vasa: a State wood to be cut down, for, after all, what kind of a minister's relative would he be if he weren't entitled to have at least one forest to cut down?!

ZIVKA: And you, Sava?

SAVA: I'll be brief, Zivka. I beg you, as my very close relative, to get me a State pension.

ZIVKA: But you've never been in the civil service?

SAVA: No, I haven't!

ZIVKA: Nor in any other kind of service?


ZIVKA: Why should you be entitled to a pension then?

SAVA: (with conviction) Well, as a citizen. So many people get pensions from the State, and I don't see why I shouldn't get one too?

VASA: Yes, Sava, but those who get pensions have served the State, haven't they?

SAVA: Well, had I served it, I wouldn't have come to Zivka to ask for a pension, but I'd ask it of the State. Moreover, why is she a minister's wife if she can't do such a trifling service for her own kin?

KALENIC: This is a little bit more complicated. Put it down, Uncle Vasa: a pension for Uncle Sava, and Aunt Zivka and I will see whether there's any way to arrange it. (Turning to Zivka) Allow me now, Auntie, to present my case. I was sacked from my job last year. Some official papers disappeared from my drawer which prevented an execution, that is--confiscation of property for debts. I don't see why I should be blamed for it, because, after all, documents are documents; a live man may disappear and why shouldn't official papers disappear, too? After all, official papers had been disappearing from my drawer before that, too, but this time an inspector had a grudge against me and nearly initiated a lawsuit against me. But that's over now, and as you can see, I've been patient and waited a whole year for it to be forgotten. I don't know, maybe it hasn't been forgotten yet, but now Aunt Zivka's a minister's wife, she can order the thing to be forgotten. All I'm asking is just that the injustice of which I was victim should be set right by my being received into the civil service again. Only, I have to add this: I couldn't agree simply to being received into the service again without any compensation for that injustice committed against me. I'd have to have a promotion in order that I, too might forget the injustice against me. That's all I demand. Uncle Vasa, put it down, please: Pera Kalenic to be received into the service again, but with compensation. (Peering at Vasa's notebook.) Have you written with compensation?

VASA: Yes, I have.

KALENIC: Allow me now, Aunt Zivka, to thank you on behalf of all the family for listening to our wishes, and to beg you to do your very best to have them fulfilled! As you see, our wishes are modest, and you are in a position to have them fulfilled, so why shouldn't you make your family happy, and have us all remember you with gratitude?

ZIVKA: All right, all right. I'll do what I can. Why shouldn't I?

KALENIC: Well then, allow me to kiss your hand and take my leave, for we've kept you too long. (He kisses her hand, and they all rise.)

ZIVKA: (remembering) Wait, I'll give you each my visiting card to remember me by. (She takes a box from the table and gives each of them a card.) Here, here ... for remembrance.

SOJA: I'll stick it in the frame of my mirror.

JAKOV: Thank you, thank you very much indeed.

KALENIC: Will you, please, give me two?

SAVKA: (after they have all received cards from Zivka) Well now, goodbye, Zivka.

ZIVKA: Well there--don't be so touchy

DACA: (kissing her) Try, will you, Zivka?!

PANTA: I trust God and your kind heart--do that for me!

SOJA: (kissing her) Please, Zivka, do what I asked you, it would be a good deed.

SAVA: Please don't forget me, Zivka.

JAKOV: Only you and God can help me! (All these sentences, just like the ones spoken on their arrival, overlap and cross each other.)

KALENIC: (kissing her hand) Only now do I understand my late mother who told me on her deathbed: "My son, I'm not leaving you alone in the world; if you should ever be in need, turn to Aunt Zivka, the Cabinet minister's wife, she's related to you!"

SOJA: (as they have all moved to the door, trails behind them) If nothing comes of my plea, I'll sit for the final examinations.

DACA: You passed them the moment you were able to walk!

SOJA: Dogs bark and the caravan goes on!

(They go out quarrelling and the moment they have all left the house, cries, shrieks, and the shouting of those trying to calm the angry women are heard.)

zIVKA: (to Vasa who is lingering) Run, Vasa, they're fighting!

VASA: Bitches! (He runs after them.)



ZIVKA: (sinking into her armchair, exhausted) Oh!

ANKA: (running in from the street) Those two cousins of yours, Madam, are tearing each other's hair out!

ZIVKA: Let'em--that doesn't concern me. I'm as tired as if I'd been digging all day long. I'll go and lie down for a while; see that no one disturbs me.
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Author:Prodanovic, Nada Curcija
Publication:Serbian Studies
Article Type:Play
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:Branislav Nusic (1864-1938).
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