PEPO by Gabriel Sundukian, translated by Ervant Megerditchian
ARUTIN ZIMZIMOV, a rich merchant, sixty years old, medium height, stocky build, ruddy complexion,
round face, heavy eyebrows, and trimmed mustache. His short gray hair is dyed jet black.
He wears a European costume, white shirt, colored collar, vest and trousers, black coat,
derby hat, watch and chain, and carries his pocketbook inside his vest pocket. He sports a
colored silk handkerchief and worry beads. His
speech and motions are slow, and he appears
to be an honest man.
EPEMIA, ARUTIN'S second wife, thirty years old, a
handsome woman with auburn hair. She
wears a beautiful European-style sky-blue
dress, Georgian hat—a flat cap from which a
white veil, attached with a silver pin, hangs to
her waist. She is adorned with a gold watch
and chain, many rings with precious stones on
her fingers, and a red band round her neck.
Her speech and motions are quick and full of
life. She walks smartly and quickly.
PEPO, a fisherman, thirty-five years old, tall, strong,
muscular, broad shoulders, regular features,
short black hair growing low over his forehead,
thin eyebrows and mustache. He has two suits
of clothes. One for everyday use, like that of a
Georgian workman, is dark and plain with
wide trousers, tucked in woolen leggings, and
a narrow silver girdle. He wears a reddish brown Caracal hat (with bent top),
made of the fur of the Asian lynx, and carries a red cotton handkerchief. The
other, his best suit, is in the same style, made from more expensive material.
His walk is firm, his voice sweet but forceful, and his speech and personality
very pleasant. Most often he wears a hat.
PEPO’s widowed mother, fifty years old, medium height. She wears a
Georgian ladies costume, black mantilla on the back of her head, a plain
black dress, cut high in front, and a simple black shawl. When outdoors she
wears a sable wrap.
KEKEL, PEPO’s sister, eighteen years old, medium height, long black hair, fresh attractive
features, a sweet voice and modest demeanor. She wears a handkerchief
and veil on her head.
GIKO, PEPO’s relative, sixty-five years old, medium height, slightly bent, has gray
hair and a mustache, and is close shaven. He wears a Georgian costume,
white shirt with black edges,wide blue trousers, plain woolen belt, black
shoes, and Caracal hat dyed black with its top bent back. He always carries a
cane, a snuffbox, and a large blue handkerchief. His walk, speech, and all his
motions are very slow. He stutters profusely throughout.
PEPO’s friend, twenty-five years old, a bit shorter than
PEPO with a ruddy
face and handsome features, dark hair combed over his forehead, thin eyebrows
and mustache, and sparse short beard. He wears showy clothes like a
carefree Caucasian redneck young blood, a large Caracal hat dyed Baku-style
blue, and a loose-fitting red silk shirt,wide blue (or black) trousers, tucked-in
woolen leggings, and a broad silver girdle embroidered with gold thread. His
handkerchief is as beautiful as it is large. His voice is gruff and speech coarse.
Very often he keeps his hat on.
GIGOLI, ARUTIN'S store salesman, twenty-five years old. He wears a white Georgian
costume buttoned in front, a narrow silver girdle, and a skullcap that is often
in his hand.
SAMSON, ARUTIN'S butler, eighteen, with long black hair combed in the latest
style. He wears a Parisian shirt open in front, a white bandoleer slung across
the shoulders with five silver cartridges on each side, close-fitting trousers, a
silver girdle with dagger and small box on the side, black shoes in the latest
mode and nicely polished. He is always hatless.
TWO OTHER SERVANTS, Employed in Arutin’s house, hatless, wearing white
gloves and dress suits.
The action of the play takes place in Tiflis, Russian Transcaucasia, 1870
The scene is set in a multipurpose room in an old-fashioned house. Poorly furnished,
it contains a china closet with shelves, one window, and three doors-right, left, and back center. At left, there is an immovable high takht, covered with a rug and
cushions. At corner right is a kitchen table with a colored table cloth and a clothesline hanging above it. On the china closet shelves are old-fashioned copper, wood,
and clay pots, and various shaped wineglasses. A few chairs complete the room’s furnishings.
SHUSHAN (seated on the sofa, knitting stockings )
Didn’t you hear me?
KEKEL (seated on the chair near the table busy sewing, takes another thread from her scrap bag.)
Just let me finish this first, Mama.
Leave it, rest a while; finish it later.
I can’t, Mother. The customer will be here soon.
Devil take him! It’d be okay if only he were a more generous man!
That’s the way it is, Mama. If I don’t have things ready before he comes, he
won’t pay in full. You know he’s a man without a conscience.
You’re going to go blind. You didn’t sleep a wink last night, and then you
started work before dawn.
What can we do, Mama? It’s not easy for poor people like us to make a living.
That’s enough, Kekel! Damn our luck! We’ll get by somehow.
Right this minute, Mama. As God’s my witness, there’s only a little more.
I couldn’t sleep, thinking about you and your brother. You with your
problems and your brother with his worries. (Pause, then to herself ) I wonder
why he’s so late? I hope nothing’s happened to him.
KEKEL (anxious to placate her)
You mean he’s never been out all night before,
He usually comes home by early morning. But it’s almost noon now,
and there’s no sign of him.
Maybe he’s busy in the market.
God willing, you’re right, my child! My heart’s uneasy. Who
knows? Maybe the river rose and swept him away. Maybe he jumped in to save
someone and drowned.
Now Mama, why are you talking like this?
If anything happens to him, we’re lost.
In God’s name, Mama dear, stop worrying. He’s not a child. All your talk’s
only upsetting me.
What kind of a life is this? (She looks up.) Oh, Arutin! May Almighty
God be your judge.
(Footsteps are heard offstage.)
I think he’s here, Mother!
Is that really him? (Shaking her head) No!
KEKEL (also listening)
Oh, it’s only Giko!
The Same, GIKO
GIKO (He enters by center door, wearing a hat and with cane in hand, stuttering.)
G-good m-morning to y-you!
Good morning, GIKO! Come in!
KEKEL (She stands and nods to GIKO. To herself )
I dropped a dish towel this morning. I knew someone was going to come. (She sits and resumes her work.)
GIKO (sitting on a chair close to SHUSHAN
How are y-you? A-Are things g-good?
Thank God, we’re still alive!
Thank G-God! Where’s Pepo? Isn’t he home y-yet?
No! Any news?
Y-yes! I have.
I knew it. May I go blind! What news have you brought?
It isn’t such good news, Sh-Shushan
SHUSHAN (more frightened)
What is it? Has he drowned?
( KEKEL drops her sewing and stares at them, more frightened.)
Who’s drowned? What are you talking about?
He hasn’t drowned then?
GIKO (crossing himself )
For the love of God, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Last night, around midnight, he took his net and went to the river, and
he hasn’t returned since.
G-God bless your soul! You frightened me for a minute! He’s not afraid of
drowning. A river wilder than our own Kura couldn’t drown him.
Then what news were you talking about?
Out with it, for the love of God!
W-wait a minute! Have a little p-pa-tience! The Lord have mercy on your
mother’s soul. God has written a lot of things on people’s brows, sometimes
h-happiness, sometimes s-sadness. (He takes his snuffbox from his vest pocket.)
KEKEL (to herself )
Whatever he says is always disturbing.
Sadness! That’s what God gives us, morning, noon, and night.
What can you do, Sh-Shushan
? Our fate’s in God’s hands. Both s-sadness
(yawning) and h-happiness. (Yawning again, he inhales some snuff.) Hum,
hoh. A man’s affairs go as G-God wishes.
So be it! What can we do?
That’s so, Sh-Shushan. This morning I heard some bad news. I was uneasy so
I went to see your future son-in-law and talked to him face to face. (To
He asked about you and sends his compliments, KEKEL! (
KEKEL bows her head slightly to GIKO, dries her tears and continues sewing.) He said he misses you a lot. (He inhales more snuff and splutters.)
KEKEL wipes her eyes again.)
You’ve worn us out waiting for you to get to the point. In Heaven’s
name! Tell us what you’ve got to say and be done with it!
Okay, okay. Shushan
(Inhaling snuff ) Heavenly, believe me! Hum! When
God created men, He gave them patience, too. (Wiping his nose with a handkerchief
Oh, you and your sayings!
GIKO (inhaling snuff again)
Hmm. I was going to say that . . . (building into a
sneeze) that . . . (He sneezes.) Achew! (About to sneeze again) A-a-a (He
sneezes.) Achew. Oh, ho, ho, ho, ho, some snuff this. You s-see, I sneezed
twice. That’s a sign of good luck.
Long life . . . (About to sneeze) . . . to, to, to, y-your family. (He sneezes.)
Oh, damn you and your gibberish.
That one was for good luck and a half more (About to sneeze ) and this, this,
this. (He sneezes again.) That’s double luck. At this rate, there’ll be no end to
my good luck.
What are you blabbering about? Luck has nothing to do with sneezing.
Luck’s in the hands of God, Sh-Shushan
. (He puts snuffbox in his pocket.) It’s real nippy, this cursed stuff. Still it’s a thousand to one I’ll sneeze with the first pinch. I don’t think they gave me the usual snuff. Everybody’s in a racket
! (He again takes the snuffbox out of his pocket and
opens it.) I’m afraid it’s been cut with something. (Examining the snuff ) But I
can’t see anything wrong with it. Shushan
, your eyesight’s better. (He shows
the box to SHUSHAN).
SHUSHAN (to herself )
Damn your eyes.
KEKEL (to herself )
I can’t stand it anymore.
Take a look, for the love of God!
(to herself )
This is just too much! (She takes the box and examines it.) It
looks all right to me. But, for the love of God, give us the news you have.
You’re killing us with your stalling. (She puts the box on the couch.)
Why are you in such a hurry? Let’s wait till PEPO gets back so we’ll all hear
what I have to say. (Continuing to wipe his nose.)
KEKEL (to herself )
I see, now. He wants to join us for dinner! (To SHUSHAN) He
thinks we’ve plenty to eat, so he’s come to scrounge.
(to herself )
Aih! (To KEKEL) Watch your mouth or you’ll break out in
spots. (To GIKO) Out with it. Give us your news.
I will, Shushan
. (In a low voice) Send your daughter out for a minute.
She’s busy with her work and won’t hear. Tell me quietly.
It’d be bad if she overheard, Shushan! You don’t know what Khikar (putting
his index finger on his forehead) says about such things.
Khikar? Who’s this old fool Khikar? How did he get mixed up in all this?
(GIKO bursts out laughing and then begins to cough.)
SHUSHAN (to herself)
May you roast in hellfire if you don’t tell us.
GIKO (continuing to cough)
Khikar . . . (He coughs.) . . . was a philosopher. (He coughs.)
PEPO (singing the first verse of a song off stage)
Wine is from Damascus grapes,
Come share with me its rich, full blend.
KEKEL (running to the door, full of joy)
It’s Pepo! Pepo’s here!
The same and PEPO
PEPO (He enters by the center door, with his hat on, in his working clothes, sleeves
turned up above the elbows, carrying a net on his shoulder and a red handkerchief
full of live fish hanging from his belt in front. He continues singing the song.)
Wine is from Damascus grapes,
Come share with me its rich, full blend.
Brandy is from Persian grapes.
Raise your glass and drink, my friend.
Heaven help us, PEPO! We’ve been worried sick wondering where you were.
What’s the matter with you? You go off and then disappear.
Ha! If I didn’t go off and disappear, we’d need manna from heaven
to eat. Ooh, GIKO! You’ve come at the right time. I’m going to treat you to
some trout. But if you drop any of your snuff on them, you won’t even get a
whiff. (He draws out a big fish from his handkerchief.) You see! (Patting GIKO’s
cheeks with its tail) Oh boy! Look at that, will you!
Hey! What do you think you’re doing? (KEKEL laughs.)
Take it easy! This is no time for practical jokes! He was about
to say something!
PEPO (retying the handkerchief and laughing)
About to say something? I’d say he
was talking like hailstones, showering word after word. (He grabs hold of
GIKO’s left hip and shakes it vigorously.) How are you, Giko? How are you?
My, oh my! You’ve got a hand of iron.
Did you think something had happened to me? I’m not decrepit
like you. (Giving handkerchief of fish to KEKEL) Now! Take those and put them
in water. And make a good fire. (In a low voice) We’ve enough wood, haven’t we?
KEKEL (happy, softly)
We’ve enough for two more meals. (She takes the fish.) Shall
I fillet them?
No! No! No! Kakuli asked us to wait for him. He loves to fillet fish. (Taking
the fish that was in KEKEL’s hand) Look at this frisky one, will you? He must
have been hiding at the bottom. Take them away. I’d give my life for those
beauties. If the fish weren’t free, who’d give them to us? (Tapping his vest pocket and in low voice to
KEKEL) Don’t worry, Kekel. You see, I’ve money, too. I sold ten rubles worth in the market.
That’s why you were so late.
Yes! I’d like to go fishing tonight, too. You see, God’s been good to me lately.
Oh, Pepo! You work too hard and long for us. (She goes out the door to the
left, taking with her the sewing bag and handkerchief of fish.)
The same without KEKEL
What else can I do? Giko! Tell me! What’s best, money or health?
It’s better to have both if God grants it.
You’ve lived all these years, and still you don’t know that God doesn’t dole
out money. If God gives a man health, the money follows. (Opening the net)
Did I get this with money? (He slaps his chest.) Let this heart tick on. (He
bends, examines the net, and laughs.) What a net this is! I’ve cast it so many
times, but it’s still in good condition. The best spot for fishing on the Kura is
Peter Morev’s place. When I throw my net, zoom, zoom, the frisky fish leap
into it. If people had any sense, they’d do nothing but fish. Casting your net
into the water and drawing it out makes your heart pound with excitement.
Life and death pulses before you. And at night, you converse with the stars, as
the moon hovers over your head like a fluttering moth. And when you’re done
and come home, you feel so good as you lay out your wet net. (He throws his
net over GIKO’s head, as he speaks.) Giko, what a wonderful fish you make! All
we need is a big pot to cook you in. (He laughs.)
What the devil’s gotten into you, Pepo?
GIKO (throwing off the net)
You frightened me, my boy! What sort of joke is this?
PEPO (folding the net)
We have to have some fun sometimes.
You seem so excited today.
PEPO (spreading the net on the line)
What am I supposed to be? Half-baked stew
like you, inhaling snuff all the time and chomping my words like a camel
chewing Turkish delight? (He laughs.)
Ooh, Pepan, my dear boy.
No more jokes. I told you before . . . listen! My heart’s racing!
(To PEPO) He’s heard some bad news about your brother-in-law to be, I’m sure.
Bad news? What is it?
Sit down, Pepo! Bless you!
I’m okay as I am. Go on, tell us.
No! It’d be much better if you sat.
Oh, merciful God! (He takes a chair and sits.) All right. I’m sitting.
Wait a minute! We can’t work things out if you’re going to get irritated. We’ve
got to think and plan ahead. (Looking for his snuffbox) What happened to my
snuffbox? It was right here.
PEPO (finding the box and handing it to GIKO)
Here! Take it. I know you can’t say
a word without taking a pinch.
GIKO (taking some snuff )
You see, Nephew! This morning I smelled a rat. (Inhaling
snuff, to SHUSHAN
) Hmm! Word is, they’ve found another girl for your son in-law to-be!
Damn our luck!
(Alarmed, PEPO emits a prolonged cry.)
Yes! And the new fiancée is a very good girl, they say, and her dowry is much
more than you promised for Kekel. (He inhales snuff again.) Hmm.
Heavens! Will you stop taking snuff? (Snatching the snuffbox, he
spills some into GIKO’s palm and pushes it up his nose.) Here, take your fill!
Oh, oh! My snuff! What a crazy creature you are! (He puts the snuff back into the box.)
On my soul, Giko, you won’t get out of here alive if you don’t tell us everything
Just give me a chance.
Heavens! You’re confusing him.
Come on! Hurry up!
Yes! I was going to say that . . . What was it I was going to say? I’ve forgotten!
PEPO (to himself in a low voice)
Oh, what pain and grief you are.
Yes! I heard that news this morning!
Damn it! What kind of a man are you? You already said that. Then what?
Oh yes! Then, I went to confront your brother-in-law to be, but he wasn’t at
home. Then I went to his store. What do you suppose I saw? That hustler, Mrs.
Natale—you know, the matchmaker—whispering to him. Seeing that, I bit
my little finger. (He puts his little finger in his mouth.) I thought it looked serious,
so I waited awhile, and as soon as that devil left, I approached him and
grilled him in detail.
And what did he say?
Just a minute! I’m telling it in order, don’t you see?
PEPO (raising his fist)
Giko! Watch it! As God’s my witness, you’re going to get it!
GIKO (drawing himself back)
Stop mixing me up!
(impatiently rubbing her knee during this conversation)
What’s gotten into you, PEPO?
First, he pretended not to hear, then he broke down and confirmed what I’d
heard earlier. I can say by all that’s holy, I almost swallowed my tongue.
May the earth open up and swallow him!
Are you going out of your mind or playing games?
Upon my soul it’s true!
So what did he say then?
He said, “I like Kekel very much, but since things haven’t come to a head,
what can I do?”
SHUSHAN (striking her knees with both hands and referring to the fiancé)
Just listen to that cad!
What does he mean, “things haven’t come to a head?”
Just that. He said, “Why don’t you give me the dowry you promised?” (Sighing)
Who said we won’t give what we promised? Do you mean to tell me he
doesn’t know why we haven’t paid him yet?
“How long do I have to wait?” he asked.
Is he waiting? Who’s telling him to wait? Why didn’t he ask for his money?
Let him ask. When we get it, it’s his! (To herself, looking up) May God be your judge, Arutin!
What he says is that he wants a girl, not a headache. (He shakes his head.)
We discussed all this a hundred times. Where to go from here?
That’s just it, Pepo! He says, “The matter could drag on for a year, and I can’t
wait any longer. I want to get married, right away. (He cries.) I’ve sinned, Oh, Lord! It’s all my fault!
In a word, Giko, he’s jilting Kekel.
So that’s it?
If we don’t come across with the money, the deal’s off.
Just like that?
PEPO (He jumps up angrily from his chair, leans forward, strikes his fist to his palm,
and speaks out to the brother-in-law to be.)
You’ll get what’s coming to you.
(He goes to GIKO with open arms.) What did you say to him after that, Giko?
GIKO (Drawing back, he stands up.)
Tell me what I was supposed to say.
PEPO (moving toward him)
Couldn’t you get across to him that we’re honest?
GIKO (pulling back)
Ah! Of course I did!
PEPO (moving forward again)
GIKO (eyes averted)
Then? He just repeated himself.
PEPO (pressing forward)
And you went along with that?
GIKO (turning away)
PEPO (nearing him)
Why didn’t you use your head?
GIKO (He gradually reaches stage right but finds no way out)
Ah! May your father
rest in peace! How could I top what he said?
So you didn’t say a damn thing?
Pepo! Control yourself! That’s no way to talk.
Oh Pepo, I told him what I’ve already said. I said, “Wait until Arutin pays up,
then you can get married.” “Or,” I said, “Get married now and then get the
money from Arutin yourself.”
Then he gave me an ultimatum and said, “I’ve no head for headaches. If you
can bring me the money today, I’ll marry her tonight. I’m a man of my word.
Oh, Giko! As if that’s something to boast about. Saying, “I’m a sensible man,
I’ve read the wise man Khikar’s writings from beginning to end.” Is that all you could do?
But (He coughs.) What have I done wrong? (Intensely coughing)
With friends like you, who needs enemies?
Pepo! What’s gotten into you?
PEPO (leaving GIKO)
Nothing! I’ve got to see the man and get the story straight.
SHUSHAN (She stands.) Wait here for me, Pepo! Let me go and see that bitch Natale
first. (She puts on her cloak and goes out in hurry.) Giko! Come with me
for the love of God and help me out of this corner. (She exits by the center door.)
GIKO (severe choking cough, to himself. )
Working with you’s a real headache. (He
PEPO (as GIKO leaves)
And we took you for a man.
PEPO alone, after a brief silence
So you want another girl! Over my dead body! (Silence again, then to himself)
No PEPO! You’re a decent guy. You like things straight and businesslike. Your
brother-in-law isn’t in the wrong! You made him a promise. You have to keep
to it. That’s all! You must give him the shirt off your back if you have to, even
if it kills you, but you have to come through. But how am I going to produce
that damn money? Who’ll lend me such a large sum? (Looking at the walls)
Who’d give me anything for what’s in here? If I mortgage the house and try to
sell our furniture and clothing, what would I get for them? Not even half what
they’re worth. This is it—the end! This is what you wanted, Arutin. You’ve tormented
me long enough, and now I’ve come to this. That’s it! I’ll be disgraced
in people’s eyes. How am I going to face my friends after this? What’ll they
think of me? (He throws his hat on the floor.) I spit on your honor!
PEPO and KEKEL
KEKEL (entering door left, confused.)
What’s up, Pepo?
Nothing! (Lifting his hat and shaking it clean) Nothing! What did you think
could be up?
Why are you trying to conceal things from me? (Crying) I heard. I know all
about it, Pepo!
PEPO (putting his hat on)
What did you hear, Kekel?
KEKEL (in anguish, drying her tears with a handkerchief)
I heard, PEPO dear. I heard Mama and GIKO talking as they left the house just now. He’s jilting me.
Have patience, Kekel! Have patience! God is merciful.
If He’s merciful, why’s He been so hard-hearted to me. We were engaged
and congratulated by everybody. That man kissed me in public, and now he
discards me. Did God create me to be a useless rag thrown in a corner? Am I
dust under everyone’s feet? Where’s my honor? (She cries and dries her tears.)
Kekel, there’s no need to cry.
KEKEL (continuing to cry)
I’d rather be dead and buried. How am I going to face
my girlfriends after this? They’ll all gossip about me. They’ll ridicule me and
laugh at me. (Sobbing, she dries her tears.)
PEPO (embracing her)
Kekel! Oh, my dear!
Tie a stone around Kekel’s neck, Pepo, and throw her into the Kura. How
can I go on living after this?
Cheer up, Kekel dear! All this is only a question of money. We’ll find it, no
matter what. If Arutin doesn’t give us what he owes, I’m going to sell everything.
I’ll beg and borrow, but I won’t desert you.
No! No! PEPO! I heard that the money is due today, and who would lend it
to us so quickly? And besides, you’ve already pawned yourself to the hilt. If it
weren’t for money, I wouldn’t be in this disgrace. (She cries.)
KAKULI (behind the stage)
I’m better off dead! (Drying her tears, she runs out of door left.)
PEPO (slapping hands on knees)
Your Pepo’s luck has run out, Kekel! (He sits on
couch bemoaning his fate)
PEPO and KAKULI
KAKULI (Hat on, he enters from center door, holding a handkerchief full of provisions
in one hand and carrying a half-gallon wine bottle in the other.)
I’ve got some wine here, a wine to turn your head! Believe me, that took some
Just in time for a party
You think I can’t tell? I’d know you even if you turned on a spit.
We’ll talk about it later, okay?
Hey! Have you been going out with those louts again? Steer clear of them,
if you know what’s good for you.
They don’t let me alone.
Let’s drown your worries in a glass. I used to worry all the time. But now
(tapping the half-gallon bottle), say no more. I’ve found a way to deal with
them. When I see a drinking horn, that’s it. (He drinks long and deep, directly
from the wine bottle and starts to sing.)
My dearest, don’t cry I pray.
Give only a day to sorrow.
For whoever locks a door today,
PEPO (shaking his head and in a low voice reciting the last line of poem)
Shall open it tomorrow.
KAKULI (He continues singing and finishes.) Shall open it tomorrow. Don’t cry!
Now! (Raising the half-gallon to PEPO) Drink! It’ll cut your miseries like a
You’re full of headache and pain. Hmm! I see you’re in a damn rut. You’ve
got some damn big problems plaguing you today. How big are they? (He puts
the laden handkerchief and half-gallon on the table and raises his hands to his
head to indicate horns.) My God, look here! Let’s play leapfrog.
I’ve no time for jokes, Kakuli. Leave me alone for the love of God. They’ve
got us by the throat. (He stands up.)
What’s the trouble?
Nothing could be worse. He’s breaking off with my sister.
Your brother-in-law to be?
As God is my witness!
That son of a bitch. (To PEPO) Let’s go and give him a good beating, Pepo!
I’ll give him such a shot he’ll spin like a top. You see! I kept telling you, Pepo.
You’d no business getting mixed up with a merchant.
It’s all over, Kakuli! What’s the use of rehashing it? The point now is if we
don’t give him what we promised immediately, he’s going to announce his engagement
to another girl tonight.
Wrap it up then. (He unbuckles his silver girdle.) If you’re short, throw this
in. It’ll net a hundred rubles. (He holds up the girdle with his left hand.) Otherwise,
PEPO (displaying his right fist)
I have this! That’s all I have to offer.
Those amount to nothing, Kakuli. You know very well we’ve promised a
thousand rubles, and that cursed Arutin keeps putting me off.
I’m giving it to you straight. We’ll never get a cent out of that guy, till we
beat his belly like a drum.
Oh, Kakuli! You settle everything with your fists.
If he really owes you, why wouldn’t he shell out? (He puts on his girdle again.)
What do you mean “if he really owes” me?” Am I a liar? It’s just that I can’t
find the damned iou.
What iou? That’s news to me!
You mean I didn’t tell you?
Yes! We had a note from Arutin, and now it’s lost.
No, PEPO. The only thing I knew was that the vulture owed your father
money. But this is the first I’ve heard of a note. How did it get lost?
God only knows. It’s a long story.
What’s the use?
Here’s how the story goes. My father had some money and invested it with
him at a good rate of interest. My father kept the promissory note so close to
his chest that, while he was alive, I’d say I’d seen that damn note maybe twenty
times. About a week before his death, the poor man had the note in his
hand. After his death, we opened the strongbox, but no hide nor hair of the note.
Why, PEPO! Could it be that Arutin stole the note.
Don’t be stupid. How could he have gotten into our strongbox?
Who stole it then, PEPO?
If I knew who, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Maybe your father “took” it with him.
We thought so, too. While dressing him for the wake, unbeknownst to us,
the note could have been in his clothing.
Oh Pepo! Wait till you see what’s going to happen to Arutin in the next life.
Four pairs of devils will put the note in front of him. I’d go to hell myself to see
that show. (They laugh.) Pepo, never mind the joke! Search the house again. It may turn up.
What are you talking about? We already turned everything in the house upside down.
Does that “buffalo head” even know that the note is lost?
He must know. That’s why he’s not paying.
Doesn’t he know he owes you that money?
Of course, he knows!
Then he should cough up.
Take the cotton out of your ears and get it straight, will you! The man said,
“I can’t remember anything.” And on top of that, he said, “My books don’t
show a record of such a note. Bring me the note, and I’ll give you the money.”
Upon my soul, PEPO, as sure as I’m standing here, I’ll have it out with him
in the morning. There’s no other way. Leave it to me. When he comes back
from his gardens and orchards in Ortajala with his hands behind his back like
this (He puts his hands behind his back and walks a few steps like Arutin.), I’ll
beat him so hard, he’ll holler louder than the guy selling ice in the street.
You’re lucky, Kakuli. You’ve no sister to marry off.
That’s no problem. I wouldn’t have run after a merchant like you did. I’d
have given her to a friend, even a happy-go-lucky fellow like me. God created
us like birds, who work and eat a day at a time. Why think about tomorrow or
the next world?
All right! All right! Don’t strain yourself. That’s enough. Go clean the fish.
Then we’ll sit back and have a few drinks. Afterward we’ll see what God gives us.
Right! That’s my specialty! But where’s the table? I want to lay out the food
first. (He takes hold of the handkerchief of food.)
Just a minute! (He pushes sofa cushions to one side, takes an old-fashioned
blue table cloth, wooden spoons, and a few plates from the china closet.) Here!
Bring it here! (He spreads the tablecloth on the takht and puts the food on it.)
(Kneeling on the floor, he pushes his hat back on his head with his arm,
opens the bundle, takes out some dried fish, green vegetables, flat bread, and
cheese preserved in sheepskin and puts everything on the table.) Look at this variety
of food! Here’s some flat bread and fish for you. (He folds the empty handkerchief.)
PEPO (inspecting the cheese)
How about these greens? (He takes a green leaf and shakes it.) Look at this!
It’s like velvet!
You’re a good man, Kakuli! Let me get some glasses.
KAKULI (jumping up)
Ha! That’d be a damn shame. Whoever heard of anyone
drinking wine like this from glasses. Think of your soul. (He fixes his hat on his
head and gets the half-gallon bottle.) Why don’t you bring those glazed clay
mugs, so while we drink we can see our saintly reflections in them? (He puts
the half-gallon on the table.)
I know what you want. (He goes to the china closet and brings two mugs, a few
wine glasses and a silver-trimmed wooden pitcher.) Here’s a mug for you. Take
this one, too, if you want. (He arranges them on the tablecloth.)
KAKULI (lifting the wooden pitcher)
I’d die for you, Pepo, my friend! What a sport
you are! You’ve got style! That’s all there is to it. (Raising it to his lips as if to
drink, to the pitcher) Oh my nightingale, your gurgling song is like a serenade
to me. (Kissing the pitcher) Lay your problems on me, PEPO.
Would that I had none, and we’d both have it made.
KAKULI (indicating the pitcher)
If a man adopted a child like this, it would raise his
spirits out of the doldrums. (He puts the pitcher on the table.)
Fine! Get going and prepare the fish! I’ll take care of these.
I’ll cook you a fish that’ll get you into the spirit.(GIKO, hat on, cane in
hand, and SHUSHAN
, with sable wrap, enter by the center door.)
The same, with GIKO and SHUSHAN
Hello, Mama! (PEPO looks at SHUSHAN
Bless you, my son!
Hi, Giko. (Coming forward, winking and whispering to PEPO) Is this the
best guest you could find?
Hold on! (To SHUSHAN) What news?
(KAKULI goes behind GIKO, imitating him inhaling snuff.)
What would you expect? May the ground open up and swallow me! If
we can’t produce the money by tonight, PEPO, it’s all over. (To herself ) Oh
Arutin! May you get what’s coming to you. (She takes off her sable wrap.)
There’s no hope he’ll cough up today, and who else would trust us? I arrived in
time to catch that bitch Natale. She was bringing the last offer from the girl’s
father to our cad of a son-in-law. Devil take him!
Mama! What do you want from the guy? Are we going to give him what we
promised or not? He’s decent enough. Why should he take the fall? If we take
him for a ride, nothing’s sacred anymore. How many times did I tell you,
Mama? Wait till we get the money before announcing the engagement? But
there was no way I could persuade you! You said, “No problem, Arutin’s not
going anywhere, he wouldn’t take advantage of us.” Now, Mama, I’d like to see
you try to get him to fork over the money.
GIKO (With a long sigh, he takes a seat near the table.) Oh, for that note, how did it
get lost? (He slaps his knees.)
Enough Giko! If you don’t stop, there’s no telling what I’ll do to you this
minute. If you hadn’t poked your nose into this business, we wouldn’t be in
disgrace now. To hell with money and the wretch who dreamed it up.
Oh PEPO, my boy! You don’t know how my heart races. What can I do? What
can I say? Why don’t you finish me off, so I can be free.
Don’t give me that stuff, GIKO. You see I’ve got problems galore heaped on
my head! And you pile more sorrow and anguish on me? Think about that before
you go shooting off your mouth.
GIKO (sighing deeply)
Oh dear, oh dear! (He dries his eyes with his hands.)
Hold it, PEPO. Wasn’t there a witness to the debt?
Are you some sort of wise guy? If that’d been the case, we wouldn’t be in this mess now.
What the devil am I if not a witness? But what’s the use?
PEPO (to KAKULI)
Let me set you straight. The scoundrel says a witness’s testimony doesn’t count.
KAKULI (to himself, shaking his head)
Bullshit. In that case I’ll have to shake him up a bit.
That blackguard gave us short shrift the day we went to claim the money.
He said, “I can’t remember. My books don’t show a record. If I gave you a
promissory note, bring it in and take your money.”
He’s pretending it never happened? A rich man like him shouldn’t be so
small! What’s a thousand rubles to a well-heeled big shot like him? If he wanted
to, he could make us a present of it and never miss it.
You’re right. He’s insulting us right to our face.
Let’s see if that’s the lay of the land. (In a tearful voice) I’ll go to him; I’ll
kneel before him; I’ll burst out crying and pray for the longevity of his family.
I’ll take an oath that if we later present the note, he can have his way with us.
I’ll even sign a release before ten witnesses. He has to die some day. How can he ignore his soul?
Wait, wait, Mama! I’ll go! I’ll be back shortly. Till then, rest easy.
Have something to eat first.
No! I couldn’t swallow a spoonful till I see him. Where are my good clothes?
I put them in the chest yesterday.
Shall I come, too, PEPO?
No! You’ve got your hands full. I’ll be back soon. (He exits by door right.)
You know best. (Striking his chest) Oh, Arutin! I’ll be damned if I don’t
beat you to a pulp! You’ll see. (He exits by center door.)
GIKO (sitting close to the table, inhaling snuff )
Hasten your judgment, Oh Lord!
SHUSHAN (sitting on takht, drawling)
Oh God, You send some people carts full of
wood to burn, while we haven’t a straw to start a fire.
Yes, yes, Shushan.
Blessed be the Lord’s dominion. He gives wealth to those unable to enjoy it and denies us
our daily bread. Glory be to Him! His will be done. Perhaps that was written on our forehead.
GIKO (approaching the table)
And yet God is merciful, Shushan! (Taking a piece of
dried bread, he shakes his head.) There’s this. We’re not starving. (He puts the bread back.)
Damn your nonsense! (To GIKO) How is God merciful to us
when we’ve been carried away by this flood? If that godless charlatan invents
new lies again today and refuses to pay his debt, God only knows what will
happen to us. My poor girl’s wasting away day by day. How can she keep body
and soul together? (She cries.) My poor KEKEL, the sunshine of your life has left
you. Instead of a wedding gown, they’ll carry you off in a funeral shroud. (She cries again.)
GIKO (Sobbing, he exits by he door left, drying his eyes.)
Oh, my God!
(PEPO enters door right, wearing his hat, best suit and girdle, coat half-buttoned, and
belt in his hand.)
Have something to eat before you go.
I don’t deserve bread. (He puts on his belt.) Bread is meant for the likes of
Arutin. If I were to eat bread, then what would he eat? Are we equals that we
should eat the same food? (Bitter laugh)
It’s a black cloud has darkened my day! (Drying her tears, she exits by door left.)
PEPO (buttoning his coat)
On with it,
PEPO! Lick the ground and kiss peoples’
boots. Grovel in the dirt before them. Let them walk all over you. Who are
you? What are you? Call yourself a man? You’re just a doormat. You’re not human.
You’re made for human consumption. You’re tormented night and day.
Stay up till dawn, struggle with the wind and rain, freeze in the winter cold
and burn in the summer sun. Go earn your bread and support your mother
and sister. What sort of life is this? It’s a dog’s life. You’re just like a dog ferreting
around for food. Where’s the human dignity in that, PEPO? (Pause) To be a
man, you’ve got to rob people. Got to cheat the poor and murder suckers like
me. Make them shed tears of blood for the 25,000 they owe you and make
money out of their tears and use the money to build lavish houses and live in
them like a lord with horses and carriages and twenty-five servants like me in
attendance. Then I’d say you were a man,
PEPO, and anything that a man
could want or took your fancy, you could come up with. Everybody would
bow to you, respect and honor you, and cut each other’s throat so your honor
would rest on them. (He exits center door.)
End of Act 1