Characters: Old Woman, First Man, Second Man

(In the foreground, a public toilet stall. The reader cannot know this; it is a secret between the writer and the characters. Old Woman, the toilet lady, stands before the wall. In her left hand she holds a paintbrush, in the right, a large crayon. Sunk in thought, her head leaning to one side and the tip of her tongue between her teeth, she writes something on the wall. From time to time she steps back to contemplate what she has written, and smiles with satisfaction. Next to her is an old can of paint. Now and then, shadows appear on the walls to the left and right accompanied by murmuring voices and noises. When this happens, Old Woman quickly dips her brush in the can and rapidly paints over what she has written. While covering over her writing, she starts swearing loudly.)

OLD WOMAN: Cussed, shameless critters! Scribbling all kinds of things, wasting the pencils their parents buy them with hard-earned money! They’d be wasting their brains too, if they had any. Has God forgotten to punish people like this? (Shadows appear on the walls, Old Woman quickly paints, but as the shadows and sounds vanish, she starts writing again on another part of the wall. With her lips she spells out what she is slowly writing. Again shadows, again painting over.) To drag Shakespeare through the mud like this, on the excuse that it’s just poetry! Have they no fear of the Lord? He ought to make their fingers drop off! They hold nothing sacred. Seems like they learn how to write just so they can scribble things like this on the walls. But write home to their parents? Months go by without a letter. Mom and Dad can wait forever to get two lines, but for this they’ve got time. For letters they’ve got no pencils, for this they’ve got plenty. Oh, punish them, Lord! (The shadows disappear. Old Woman writes again. She even starts making drawings – it cannot be made out what kind. Shadows again, painting again.) And these drawings! Why don’t they go to an art academy? Of course, there they’d have to pay tuition. Here they can fool around for nothing. My God, these drawings! It’s enough to make you want to throw up! (The shadows disappear. By now Old Woman is talking to herself, more quietly, even while writing.) The supervisor could come in any minute, so I’ve got to make sure there’s plenty of fresh paint on the walls so he can see there’s lots of work here. And no one’s been writing anything for quite a while. I’d get bored except for this – and the supervisor would get mad if there was nothing to paint over. (Shadows, quick brushwork.) If only once I could grab one of these punks, I’d drag him straight to the police station. Either you’ve got morals here or you don’t. Or maybe their pencils should be taken away from them. They should be frisked when they come in, then have their pencils returned when they leave. (The shadows disappear. She writes again. When finished, she seems a bit tired, and drops the pencil in her apron pocket. She steps back to look at her work, and fails to notice the two men who have entered and are standing behind her.)


OLD WOMAN (startled): Oh, My God! (She reaches toward the wall with her brush, but Second Man grabs her arm.)


OLD WOMAN (to First Man): Gosh, is that you, Mr Supervisor?

FIRST MAN: Of course, who else?

OLD WOMAN: I was just painting over these… Goodness me, old woman that I am, it makes me die of shame to read these things.

SECOND MAN: Just leave it alone. (Steps to the wall, reads.) Very good! (Enjoys what he reads.) What rhymes! Terrific! (To First Man.) Do you know what a poetic metaphor is? Well, here’s one. (Points.) Have a look – or do you already know about this sort of thing?

FIRST (a bit intimidated): No. (Steps to the wall and reads, but clearly still does not know what a poetic metaphor is.)

SECOND: Whoever wrote this has genuine talent! I’m telling you. I have a nose for these things. It would be a good idea to track down whoever wrote this. Maybe he could be sent to some school.

OLD WOMAN: Well… I see your point… But if it’s forbidden…

SECOND: How much talent is wasted in this way! Because when you come down to it, this is a form of folklore, like jokes. So many nameless creators! (Looks at Old Woman.) Wouldn’t you say?

OLD WOMAN: Er… yes.

SECOND: And then there’s this talk about a crisis of poetry! Don’t you find it significant that young people put these things in verse rather than prose? (Steps to the wall.) How aphoristically concise!

OLD WOMAN: If only it weren’t so dirty it makes you pass out. And I don’t even read this stuff because my glasses are broken, and when I paint over the drawings I practically shut my eyes.

SECOND: This is what we need. This moment of sincerity. We’ve got to get hold of it.

OLD WOMAN: I’ll paint over it anyway, because I can’t bear looking at it.

FIRST: Don’t paint over it. That’s forbidden. From today on it’s forbidden. (Looks around.) Is there any besides this?

OLD WOMAN (baffled): No.

FIRST: Why isn’t there? Because you painted over it that’s why. I’ll have you penalised for painting over it. Who told you to do that?

OLD WOMAN (frightened): Don’t you remember? You told me yourself, Mr Supervisor. You said you’d withhold some of my pay if I didn’t paint over it. Isn’t that what you told me, Mr Supervisor?

FIRST: That was then. What was then, was then. Now it’s different.

OLD WOMAN: Well, I just can’t understand this now.

FIRST: It doesn’t matter if you understand. Just don’t go painting over it. Understand?

OLD WOMAN: No. Two years ago you even said you’d fire me if I didn’t paint over it.

FIRST: I ought to penalise you right now for this.

OLD WOMAN: My God! For what?

FIRST (gravely): You painted over the graffiti.

OLD WOMAN: One year ago, at the time of the blackouts, you ordered me to do it three times a day.

FIRST: That was then. Now it’s like this.

OLD WOMAN: A month ago you said five times a day.

FIRST: From now on, no painting. From now on… (Looks at Second Man.)

OLD WOMAN: I understand.

SECOND: Explain it to her.

FIRST: Yes, sir. Of course. (To Old Woman.) Here’s how it is: last year you had to paint, now you don’t. Clear?


FIRST: On the basis of Ordinance nineteen dash twenty-four dash two hundred fifty-three, issued by the Governor, the Municipal Public Works, and the Citizens’ Hygiene Institute, you were directed to paint over the graffiti. This is no longer in effect. So no more painting over. Understand?


FIRST (to Second Man, by way of explanation): The old lady’s always been a little thick-headed.

SECOND: Never mind, I’ll explain it to her. These verses are written on the wall not by mature, grey-headed people, but by the youth. Do you understand that?


SECOND: When a young person writes these things, he’s alone. Do you understand that?

SECOND: And when that young person is here and all alone – he’s sincere. Are you still with me?


SECOND: Well, we, who collect all sorts of things, are interested in this moment of sincerity, when youth writes the innermost things about itself on the wall. When youth reveals itself in the free play of the imagination… You understand that, don’t you?

OLD WOMAN: I understand.

SECOND: That’s why there’s to be no more painting over. We’ll come and read what’s there, and only then will you paint over it, to make room for others to write on the wall. Understand?


SECOND: So no scrubbing, scraping, brushing, painting. Understand?


FIRST: You see, the picture my colleagues and I get of today’s youth depends on you. This is no small thing, my dear. You’re a patriotic woman. Let everyone see we’ve got a young generation. This is no small thing. The image of an entire young generation, an entire youth! (Pats Old Woman’s shoulder encouragingly. The two men exit.)

OLD WOMAN (stunned): But… the young people… are on the front… or in correctional institutions… (Suddenly straightens up, takes out her pencil with a certain pride, steps to the wall, mutters.) Now like this it’s different.. This makes sense. My Lord, it makes sense this way… (Pause.) In their place. (Pause.) In place of a generation… My Lord, an entire young generation… (Continues writing.)


Translation by Eugene Brogyányi

(The present play by Géza Páskándi were published in A Moment of Sincerity. Nine Plays by Polis Publishing House, Cluj – Kolozsvár, 1999.)

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