A Play by Andrew J. Muller

The Scene: A hillside above a small village in a remote part of Eastern Europe (somewhere like Romania but unspecified).

Cast: Journalist
Old Man


Ext: A wooded hillside on a wild, stormy night. A man is struggling up a muddy path towards a small wood-built house with a flickering light in the window and smoke emerging from the chimney in erratic swirls due to the weather.

The man walks up to the house and raps on the door, hunching up against the foul weather. The door opens and an elderly man peers out into the darkness.

Old Man: (with an East European accent) Can I help you?

Journalist: I think so. Could I come in for a few moments?

Old Man: (Letting him inside) Yes, of course, forgive my rudeness, it is no night to be out on the mountain.

Inside is small and cramped and cluttered with the detritus of the old man’s life; unwashed pots, abandoned piles of laundry etc. There seems to be only one room which contains everything but the toilet (bed, kitchen, living space etc). The only light is from the log fire and a small lantern hanging from a hook in the ceiling. The Old Man waves the journalist to a big old chair positioned by the fire.

Old Man: Warm yourself by the fire, my son. I’ll put on a pot of coffee. You drink coffee?

Journalist: Yes, yes, of course. Thank you.

Old Man: I have no milk I’m afraid, so it will have to be black.

The Old Man turns away and moves into the kitchen area of the room and, with his back to the Journalist, begins to make the coffee in a large tin stove-top coffee pot.

Old Man: So, what brings you up here on such an unpleasant evening?

Journalist: (shedding his heavy coat and warming his hands by the fire) I rather think that you are the person I have been looking for.

Old Man: (a shade of suspicion in his voice) Me? I can’t think what I could possibly offer you, young man.

Journalist: I’m a writer. I came here to research an article for my magazine. We are running a feature on the secret services in the former Eastern Bloc countries. I spoke to people in the village and they said you knew about those days.

Old Man: That’s what they told you?

Journalist: Yes. Is it true?

Old Man: (almost to himself) They said nothing else? Hmm. (then at normal volume) Oh yes, I know about those times. They were hard times. Hard times.

He brings over the coffee pot and takes two chipped mugs from a cupboard.

Old Man: Here, have some coffee, it will help take off the chill.

Journalist: Thanks. (Gingerly he sips the hot liquid) Mmm, that’s good. So tell me, have you always lived here?

Old Man: Yes, man and boy, like my father and his before him. We were shepherds, we took our sheep up the mountain in the spring and stayed with them all summer. It was a good life, but poor. My son did not wish to stay here to tend the sheep after I had grown too old. So I had to make do. Find other ways to survive.

Journalist: So how do you survive?

Old Man: Huh! Barely, that’s how. These days nothing is valuable. Not even information.

Journalist: Information?

Old Man: Isn’t that what you deal in, young man, information? But what is it really worth? Can it bring you food on the table?

Journalist: Well, yes, it keeps me solvent, keeps me alive.

Old Man: (dismissively) But does it really mean anything?

Journalist: People are interested. Interested in what happened here in those days. Was your son still living here then?

Old Man: At first he was here, yes. But he went away. It was a harsh place to live, once you had decided where your loyalties were … well, it could make the difference between life and death.

Journalist: Did your son have other loyalties then?

The Old Man leans back in his chair and his face falls into shadow.

Old Man: Other loyalties. Yes. Yes, he had other loyalties. In many ways he betrayed me and everyone else he knew.

Journalist: By leaving the village?

The Old Man gets slowly to his feet and walks across to the window, staring out into the storm tossed night. He is silent for a while, as if trying to formulate his answer or gather his feelings.

Old Man: No, not by leaving. It was his betrayal which meant he had to leave. There wasn’t any choice in the end.

Journalist: (Intrigued) Tell me more. How did he betray you?

Old Man: There are certain things that should remain unsaid. Even now.

The Journalist stands and walks over to the Old Man.

Journalist: But this is what I’m here for. I’ve travelled right across Europe to find someone with a tale like yours. I can’t leave until you tell me about it.

Old Man: (with anger in his voice) Why should you have to know? It was twenty years ago. Times have changed, people no longer respect information, they treat it as tattle told by old women over their washing. Why should I tell you something that will bring it all back?

Journalist: Don’t you see? If you tell me everything there is just a chance that we can track down the people that made your son betray you, bring them to justice. Maybe stop it happening somewhere else.

Old Man: And what if I don’t want that? What if I just want to forget it ever happened?

Journalist: Forget your own son?

Old Man: (very quietly) Yes.

The Journalist is about to say something, then he stops and walks back over to the fire and sits back down in the chair.

Journalist: I can’t say I understand you. There is a chance to find the people who forced your son to leave the village and yet you don’t want to take it. Surely if it can help to bring the people who were in those secret services to account it is worth trying.

Old Man: Perhaps I don’t want to recall those days. They were dark days. No one knew who you could trust. Could I trust my own son? He betrayed me and everything I believed in. I have no son.

Journalist: (Confused) Everything you believe in? I thought … I thought he had been taken by the secret service.

Old Man: He was, yes.

Journalist: Then … then …

The Old Man walks to the door to the house and bolts the door.

Old Man: I told you. Told you there were things that should remain unknown. He betrayed me, certainly. He was trying to bring down the government, a dangerous, sick mind. He had to be removed like a cancer. He could not be allowed to infect any of the young people in the village.

Journalist: You said he was taken away. How did they find out?

Old Man: He could not be allowed to remain here. It was a choice, he either had to die or be taken away. I chose for him.

Journalist: You turned him in?

Old Man: For a journalist you are very slow, young man. Yes, I turned him in and would do so again. He was no son of mine. I’ve kept this secret for twenty years now, and I will keep it until the day I die.

Journalist: But … but they would have executed him. You sent your own son to his death.

The Old Man rounds on the Journalist angrily, raising his voice and holding a shotgun in his hand.

Old Man: I told you I have no son. He was an abhorrence to me, a waste of half my life bring him into this world and for what? For what? To have him try to destroy everything we had worked for all those years. To take away my freedom? No, it could not be allowed. They took him away into the forest and he didn’t come back. It was more than he deserved. It was a waste of a bullet. I would have seen him hang, you can always re-use the rope next time you need it.

The Journalist rises to his feet and backs away from the Old Man.

Journalist: The people in the village don’t know, do they? After all these years.

Old Man: No, they don’t know. (He raises the shotgun and points it at the Journalist) And they aren’t going to find out now.

Journalist: Wait! That isn’t necessary. If I promise not to tell, will you let me go?

Old Man: Don’t treat me like I’m an idiot. I am old, not stupid. You told me yourself, it is your job to spread information. Well it was information which killed my son and it is information which must be stopped. Too much information is not good for you, boy.

The Old Man pulls the trigger and both barrels fire (close-up of barrels as they fire).

Pull back to exterior view of house in the storm with old man silhouetted in the window, he lowers the shotgun.


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