“Luba” (Abridged Version)

 

 

 

 

 

Luba

A Play in Six Scenes

 

By Michael G. Kesler

 

Based on the Book

Shards of War—Fleeing To & From Uzbekistan

 

 

 


 

Program Notes:

 

The play portrays episodes in the lives of Luba and her three-years-younger brother Meesha, who had fled their home in Dubno, Poland, in June 1941, ahead of the advancing German armies.  After a year of travel, the siblings settle in Syr Darya, near the Kyrgyz border, where Luba works as a teacher in the high school, and Meesha as a veterinary assistant to Mahmoud, the chief veterinarian.

Time and Place

The events take place between late January and May 1944 in or around Syr Darya, Uzbekistan, a village approximately 100 miles south of Samarkand.  The setting is an elongated room approximately 10 x 20 feet, with a dirt floor and white clay walls.  A movable partition separates the room into two, as needed.  The left half has a table and several chairs in the middle, a metal stove near the entrance, and a sink and water container in the corner of the room.  The other half is barely furnished, at the discretion of the director.


 

 

Characters:*

Luba:  The main protagonist, in her early 20s

 

Meesha:  Luba’s brother, in his late teens

 

Olga:  Cottage owner, in her late her 40s

 

Andrey:  The sergeant, in his late 20s

Ivan: A soldier in his late teens

Draft official:  In his 40s

Soldier:  In his 20s

 

*The play requires a minimum of two women and three men actors, with men actors doubling up as needed.

 

 

Scene 1—Luba/Meesha

Scene 2—Luba/Meesha/Draft Official

Scene 3—Olga/Luba

Scene 4— Meesha/Ivan/Andrey/Soldier

Scene 5—Luba/Meesha/Ivan

Scene 6—Meesha/Luba/Andrey

 

 


 

 

 

SCENE 1:

Late January 1944.

Meesha enters the room, carrying two big squashes.

 

MEESHA

Hi, Lubushka, Galubushka!  Here’s another present for you from your friend, Sarrat.

 

LUBA

Never mind! (very strongly)

 

MEESHA

Are you angry or something?  What bothers you?

 

LUBA

Tie up your horse and give him some water.

 

MEESHA

Hey, is this any way to greet your brother?  What is it?

 

LUBA

Come back and I’ll tell you.

 

(Meesha leaves.)

 

My god, he’s so innocent, so naive.  How am I going to tell him the news?  It breaks my heart….

We were so lucky to find this place of rest….

And now I fear the worst…

He may be gone…and I’ll be left alone…

And what will I tell mom, that I lost him? (she sobs quietly)

 

 

(Meesha comes back)

 

MEESHA

All right.  Spit it out! What are you so upset about?

 

LUBA

Here, read it.

 

(She flings an open letter to Meesha)

 

MEESHA

The military draft people want me?  I thought they forgot me. (He chuckles.)

 

 

LUBA

I got the letter a couple of days ago but didn’t know how to reach you.  In any case, you’re not going.

 

MEESHA

What do you mean?  What do you want me to do?

 

 

LUBA

You told me Mahmoud would give you exemption papers as his essential helper.  Why don’t you go tomorrow to see him and get them from him?

 

MEESHA

Mahmoud is away for two weeks in Tashkent.  He’s now the chief veterinarian of the whole Samarkand region.

 

LUBA

Why don’t you wait out the two weeks?  Go to one of the farms and wait till Mahmoud gets back.  Then he can ask the military draft people to exempt you.

 

MEESHA

Luba, Mahmoud mentioned it in passing a couple months ago.  Meantime, our relations became a bit strained.

LUBA

What?

 

MEESHA

Sorry, I should have told you about it.

 

LUBA

Told me what?

 

MEESHA

Don’t get so excited and don’t be cross with me.

 

LUBA

For heaven’s sake, tell me what happened!

 

MEESHA

Remember the letter Mahdu’s father made me sign.

 

LUBA

You mean about the missing sheep?

 

Yes.  You were right!  As you predicted, a few weeks later people from the Tashkent central office came to take inventory, noticed the missing sheep and drilled the farmers about it.  The chieftain of the farms showed them my letter and they questioned me.

 

LUBA

So what did you tell them?

 

MEESHA

I hemmed and hawed and finally admitted that I was trying to be nice to my hosts and signed the letter.

 

LUBA

So what happened next?

 

MEESHA

Upon my return to Syr Darya the next day, Mahmoud bawled me out and told me that he’d fire me if I do such a thing again.

 

LUBA

I see.

 

MEESHA

I’m sorry about it.

 

 

LUBA

I hope this will serve you well not to trust people so easily.  You thought they were your friends, eh? Anyway, there’s a silver lining in every mishap.  I think he didn’t fire you because he needs you.  All the more reason for you to wait for his return so he can claim that you are an important veterinarian working in a strategic industry.

 

MEESHA

And what if he refuses?

 

LUBA

You’re wrong, wrong, wrong!  Why can’t you wait a few weeks?  What do you have to lose?

 

MEESHA

Luba, you make it sound as if I’m being taken for execution.  I want to go to the army to help fight Hitler.  The news of mass graves, probably of murdered Jews, makes me mad.  Isn’t it time that I kill a few Germans?

 

LUBA

You’re not a killer!  You don’t know how to kill.  You have to hate before you can kill, and you don’t know that either.

 

MEESHA

This country has been good to us.  We’ve been able to survive here, while the Jews in Poland and the rest of Europe are being slaughtered.  I’m healthy, strong, and I need to fight alongside other young people.

 

LUBA

Meesha, you’re healthy, but you’re not very strong!  And you’re not a fighter.  You don’t know how to fight.

 

MEESHA

But Luba, you agree that I’m decent and fair.  I have to be able to live with myself for the rest of my life.  Will you or others respect me if I shirk my duty and go AWOL?

 

LUBA

Your most important duty is to stay alive.  You may be the only male survivor on dad’s side, as well as mom’s side.  No civilized nation takes the sole survivor of a whole family to the army to fight in a war.  Furthermore, you’re from Poland.  You’re not a Soviet citizen.  They have no right to take you to the army in the first place.

 

MEESHA

So what do you want me to do?  Write a letter to Stalin?

 

 

 

 

LUBA

Do you remember what our parents said to us?  Mom asked me to take care of you, and dad wanted you to take care of me.  Is this how you’re going to take care of me, leaving me here in the wilderness?

 

MEESHA

We’ve been together for almost three years.  We shared whatever bread we had, and sometimes I would cheat to favor you when dividing the bread.  When you became ill, I was there for you day and night.  But I cannot dodge my duty.  I don’t think mom and dad would want me to, either.

 

LUBA

I’m older; I can speak for mom and dad better than you. When I was near death in the hospital with typhoid, I fought back because of you.  If you’re gone, I’d have no reason to live.  Do you understand?

 

(She bursts out crying.  Meesha hugs her,

trying to console her.)

 

MEESHA

All right, Lubushka.  I’ll plead with the draft authorities to exempt me because of my Polish citizenship.  If they don’t change the draft order, I’ll ask for a two-week delay so that Mahmoud can confirm that I’m employed in strategic work.

 

LUBA

I hope you’ll keep your promise for mom and dad’s sake.

 

(She gets up to prepare for the meal,

while Meesha washes up also,

preparing for the evening meal.)

 

 

 

SCENE 2:

One Day Later

The left part of the room contains a desk and one chair.  A portrait of Stalin and a Soviet Flag, with a hammer and sickle on it, adorn the front left of the room. The right half, separated by a partition, contains a few chairs.  Luba and Meesha are sitting in the right half. The draft official sits at the desk, shuffling files.  The light focuses to highlight the faces of Luba and Meesha.

 

LUBA

Meesha, I forgot to tell you:  last week Sergey told me that our little plot the school gave me is soon to have a bumper crop of small peas.  The farm will soon harvest it for us and we’ll get rich!

 

 

MEESHA

Ha!  Up to our necks in peas.

 

LUBA

Well, not quite rich, but enough to fill our needs for a whole year.  Would you believe that?

 

MEESHA

Yes, this has been a wonderful place for us.

 

LUBA

Everything is relative.  This village is like an igloo in a blizzard.  Nevertheless, I hope we can stay here until the terrible war’s end.  Then you and I will go back home.  Mom and dad will be so happy to see us.

 

MEESHA

Don’t get so sentimental.

 

LUBA

Meesha, I forgot to tell you something else.  A few weeks ago, I went to Samarkand.

 

MEESHA

What?!  You went where?

 

LUBA

Well, I paid the school secretary a few rubles for a fake permit to attend a conference at the Uzbek Education Department.

 

MEESHA

Luba, you’re a magician.  Watch out, they might arrest you for witchcraft.

 

LUBA

Thanks for the compliment.  I took a train, not a broom.  Would you believe I bumped into Asher Balaban?  Do you remember him?

 

 

MEESHA

Yes, I also remember his father.  He was one of my teachers.  He was a very kind man and I think he liked me.

 

LUBA

Asher was in my high school, a couple of years ahead of me.  He’s a big shot now.  He works for the government, and he promised to help us.

 

MEESHA

It sounds like you’re falling in love.

 

LUBA

Love, shmove.  Get it out of your mind.  But it did make me feel good to know that we’re not the only strangers in this jungle, gasping for life.  Anyway, you’re next in line to see the draft official.  Be careful.  Remember to tell him you’re a Polish citizen, and that the draft order was sent to you by mistake.  Tell them you’re essential in your work as a veterinarian.  Don’t forget.

 

(The draft official calls Meesha’s name,

interrupting the conversation.)

 

OFFICIAL

Your papers, tovarishch?

 

(Meesha shuffles through his papers and hands

over a document to the man, who reads it, a

bit perplexed.)

 

OFFICIAL

What’s that paper?

 

MEESHA

This is my certificate of graduating as a veterinarian.

 

OFFICIAL

I don’t need to know about your veterinary school.

 

(He pushes the papers back at Meesha.)

 

MEESHA

I’m a veterinarian doing essential work here.

 

OFFICIAL

You’ll be practicing your trade when you get back.

 

(pause)

And what’s this paper?

MEESHA

That is my birth certificate.

 

OFFICIAL

What language is that in?

 

MEESHA

Polish.  I was born in Dubno, Poland.  I am a Polish citizen, and I should be exempt from the army.

 

 

OFFICIAL

You’ll take up that question when you get to your unit.  I am here to register you and that’s all.  Now let’s go through your registration quickly.

 

MEESHA

Here are my local-residence papers!

 

 

OFFICIAL

(after reading for a moment)

 

That’s better.  Now we are done –

 

 

MEESHA

I tell you, I’m Polish.  This is a mistake.

 

OFFICIAL

Not my mistake.  If you have a problem, take it up when you get to your unit. Wait in the corner until you are called to board the train.

 

(Meesha angrily goes back to the other side

of the room to rejoin Luba.)

 

MEESHA

Luba, I lost my case. The guy wouldn’t even listen to me.

 

(Luba embraces Meesha and begins sobbing.)

 

MEESHA

(continues)

Luba, Lubushka, you mustn’t cry.  Remember you quoted to me the Russian proverb:   “Don’t worry, don’t fret, good news will reach our street yet?”

 

(Meesha embraces Luba as she quiets down.)

 

MEESHA

(continues)

So, what do you plan to do Luba?  Will you be staying here?

 

LUBA

Give me a chance to catch my breath.  Up until now, I felt secure here, but with you gone I’m not so sure I will.  I’ll have to stay here for a while anyway to collect our harvest of peas.  I’m sure Sergey will help me with that, and Olga is like a sister to me.  She’ll help me.

 

 

MEESHA

And then?

 

LUBA

Maybe I will go to Samarkand if I can save up enough money from the sale of the peas.  The most important thing is for us to stay in touch. That’s the way we have been able to survive.  So please write.  Write every day.  You promise?

 

MEESHA

I will, Luba, I will.

 

LUBA

But listen, if we lose contact, write to Asher Balaban.  Here is his address.

 

(Luba searches her bag and gives Meesha a

piece of paper.)

 

LUBA

(continues)

No matter what, try to get home as soon as the war is over.   I’ll do the same.

 

(Luba is wiping tears off her cheek, then resumes.)

 

Now, what should I do with the horse, Meesha?

 

MEESHA

Take it to Mahmoud.  Say goodbye to Sergey and to Olga.  They have been good to us, and I hope they’ll be helpful to you after I leave.  Take good care of yourself.  Watch your health.

 

 

LUBA

You too.  Be careful. Listen to me:  you may not like to hear this, but mom often complained that you had a way of making your classmates jealous.  You’re about to join the army and you may even be on the battlefield, not in a classroom.  The soldiers, your comrades, will have guns.  Try to get on their good side.  Do not arouse their anger or jealousy.  Too many corpses are found with the bullet holes in their backs, understand?  I love you very much.  You may be the only one I have left in this world.

 

MEESHA

You know, you speak a bit like mom.  And you have been like a mother to me.  I love you too.

 

 

(Meesha and Luba embrace.  Meesha runs

out to board the train.  Nearly in tears again,

Luba turns around and leaves.)

 

SCENE 3:

Same venue as Scene 1

April 1944, three months later.  Olga comes in carrying a plate with blintzes.

 

OLGA

Here, Luba.  Try these blintzes.  They are filled with the jam I made myself to cheer you up a bit.

 

LUBA

Thank you.  You want to fatten me up?  (Chuckling)

 

OLGA

I want to tell you that Sergey and I are sorry for what happened to you last night.

 

LUBA

Sergey told you, huh?

 

OLGA

He said that you had left the market last evening without waiting for him. He caught up with you and found an Uzbek attacking you.  He chased the Uzbek away but he was really upset.  You could have been raped or killed!  He feels very bad about the incident. Luba, you shouldn’t walk home alone, especially in the dark.  You may be smart, but you’re not careful with your own life!

 

LUBA

Please tell Sergey that I’m so grateful to him. You’re right; he may have saved my life.  He’s a wonderful man.  You should be really proud of him.

 

OLGA

He has been good to me.  If only he’d he didn’t drink so much.

 

LUBA

He is a hurt man.  When he landed half-drunk near our door on Christmas, he cried bitterly that he had lost his whole family and he blamed Stalin for it.

 

OLGA

When he’s drunk he doesn’t know what he’s saying.  I beg him to be careful because we both could end up in Siberia.  All we need is for someone to hear him cursing Stalin!

 

LUBA

I’m sure he tries.  He’s really a good-natured man.

 

 

 

 

OLGA

He’s grateful to you and Meesha for taking care of him at Christmas time.  He likes you both a lot. And I do too, so don’t be so reckless about going home from the market with money in your bosom.

 

LUBA

Olga, I have gone through lots of danger ever since Meesha and I left our home.

 

OLGA

Why didn’t your parents come along?

 

LUBA

It is easy to ask, but not so to answer.

 

OLGA

Try!  I’d to like to know.

 

LUBA

Come sit down.  I’ll tell you….  It seems so long ago.  A couple days after the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, my physics professor, a reserve colonel in the Soviet Army, took me aside and urged me to go home and warn my parents to leave.

 

OLGA

Where exactly were you then?

 

LUBA

In a town some fifty kilometers north of my hometown, Dubno.

 

OLGA

So that’s where you studied to be a teacher.

 

LUBA

That’s right.

 

OLGA

I see, that’s why you became so smart. [Chuckling]

 

 

 

 

LUBA

I got on a bus in the middle of the night and came home.  I told mom that we needed to leave, but she scoffed at me:  “You think your professor knows everything?  Napoleon tried to conquer Russia, and he didn’t do so well.  Maybe Hitler will do no better.”  I shouted back “In the meantime, we’ll all be killed!” My dad came home and he also said we should leave, but mom stubbornly refused.  “Do you want us to become vagabonds in a strange country? To live like beggars in our old age? How many Jews can Hitler kill?  A thousand?  Two thousand?” she screamed.

 

OLGA

So what happened?

 

LUBA

Later that day, people poured out on the street in panic.  Rumors spread that the Germans were coming.  People didn’t know what to do – to leave, or stay. A neighbor ran in and begged my parents to send us away.  And so, finally, mom gave in.  She packed two small valises and said, in a voice I could hardly hear, “Go, children, for a day or two, or maybe forever.”  She collapsed, then got up and held me tight, tears running down her face.  “Take good care of your brother,” she said, shivering. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes, as if begging for mercy.  I felt so guilty leaving her.

 

OLGA

And where was Meesha?

 

LUBA

He was saying goodbye to dad.  I turned to them and saw dad give Meesha his golden Longines watch, a wedding gift from grandma.  “Take good care of it,” he said, in a trembling voice.  “It may save your life someday.”  Dad turned to me and said “Take good care of Meesha.  You’re a smart young woman, I know you will.”  And we left.  We met up with half a dozen other young people as night was falling.  We saw a couple of planes over our high school, dropping bombs. A few homes were on fire.

 

 

OLGA

But how did you get from your hometown all the way here?

 

LUBA

There is a saying, a trip of a thousand miles begins with a few steps.  We walked for three nights and three days until we landed near the old Soviet-Polish border.  The road filled with crowds, pressing to cross it. I saw an army truck heading slowly east.  So I asked the driver if we could hitch a ride.  And luckily he let us get on the truck.  The next day we reached Shepetovka, a key railroad junction.  Trains with wounded soldiers filled the tracks and crowds, the station.  Armed sentries were guarding the platform. I grabbed Meesha and we hid in the nearby bushes until we heard a locomotive blow its whistle.  Then we ran towards that train and jumped on it as it began to move away.  We ended up in a car with wounded soldiers, who were very friendly and even shared portions of their food with us.

 

OLGA

My god, sentries could have shot you!

 

LUBA

I knew it was dangerous.  But we had no choice.

 

OLGA

So you came by train.

 

LUBA

A few days later we got to the Kiev train station and had to get off the train.  I thought we’d be stranded there.

 

OLGA

What happened next?

 

LUBA

I spotted a young, handsome lieutenant staring at me.  “Are you Jewish?” he asked me.  I nodded, and he introduced himself, scribbled a note and said “Please take this to my parents in Kirovagrad.  They’ll treat you like family.”  He put us on a train heading east and then left.   A few hours later, we got off the train and found the lieutenant’s home and met his parents.  During our 2-week stay, they were indeed wonderful to us.  The Lieutenant’s mother gave me lots of fabric to barter for food, in case we had to travel farther.

 

OLGA

Why didn’t you stay with them?

 

LUBA

The Germans were catching up.  Our hosts helped us find a train headed for Stalingrad.  Finally we landed in a neighboring town, named Aksai, where I was able to find work as a teacher.

 

 

 

OLGA

What did Meesha do?

 

LUBA

He went to high school. And later he took a course in veterinary medicine. We felt lucky to find a place to stay, but our luck didn’t last.

 

OLGA

What happened?

 

LUBA

Winter came, the coldest in natives’ memory, and we ran out of wood to heat our tiny room.  Meesha ventured out one night and hauled in a stump of wood from the adjoining yard.  Immediately the police came and arrested both of us. They released me the next day, but they kept Meesha for several nights until he confessed to stealing two truckloads of army wood.

 

OLGA

How did they come up with that charge?

 

LUBA

They based it on a false affidavit by our neighbor who wanted to cover up missing inventory.  It turned out she was a Communist Party member and was in charge of supplying strategic material to the army.

 

OLGA

Christ, he could have been sent to Siberia!

 

LUBA

By chance I found a good lawyer to defend him, and the judge gave him only 6 months’ probation.

 

OLGA

You were smart to find that lawyer.  The NKVD have sent millions of people to Siberia for less.

 

LUBA

That was not the last danger we faced.  Later, in the summer of 1942, the German armies were approaching Aksai as they began their siege of Stalingrad.  Meesha was working on a nearby farm as a veterinary assistant.  So I grabbed our belongings and left in a hurry, fetched him, and we jumped on the last train to Stalingrad.  When we got there, we found a frightening scene of bombings, anti-aircraft explosions, and tracers lighting the dark sky.

 

The next morning we learned that a ship, docked at the nearby Volga River, was to leave for the Caspian Sea.  Meesha left me with our belongings and got in a line to get us permits to board.  He came back hours later, terrified, having lost the Longines watch dad had given him when we left home.

 

OLGA

How did he lose it?

 

LUBA

He dozed off waiting in line and a young thief yanked the watch out of his shirt pocket.  Meesha ran after him in vain.  Meanwhile, he lost his place in the queue and we could not leave.  But listen to this!  The ship which we missed hit a mine and blew up and sank with everyone on board!

 

OLGA

Wow, that is some story!  You were blessed, weren’t you?! And how did you get out?

 

LUBA

A couple weeks later we managed to cross the Volga at night in a small boat, which friends rented for us.  Once on the other side, we caught a train and a month later we came to Syr Darya.

 

 

OLGA

My god!  You went through a lot!   I’m glad you ended up here, out of danger.

 

LUBA

You’re wonderful.  I’m so grateful to have you and Sergey as friends. But…

 

 

OLGA

But what?

 

LUBA

It’s Meesha.  I haven’t heard a word from him.

 

OLGA

So what’s new?  None of my friends have heard from their husbands or sons in the army.

 

LUBA

I had a dream last night.

 

 

OLGA

What about?

 

 

LUBA

I saw my mother as on the day we parted.  “I beg you to take good care of Meesha,” she said, embracing me. Her voice was so commanding, as if it came from heaven. “I will,” I said to her.  “I swear I will.”

 

 

OLGA

It’s only a dream.  Don’t take it so hard.

 

LUBA

Mother looked at me with tears in her eyes.  I’ll never forget the look of panic on her pale face.  It frightened me, and I woke up shivering.

 

OLGA

Hey, don’t get so worked up.  I’ve had plenty of foolish dreams of seeing my dead husband, then I wake up, and poof, he isn’t there.

 

LUBA

Meesha and I have special ties.

 

OLGA

It sounds to me as if you have become like a mother to him, huh?  Maybe he might grow up stronger without your mothering.  Have you thought of that?

 

LUBA

You don’t understand how we both survived by being a part of each other.  I have helped him, and when I became ill with typhoid, he saved my life.

 

OLGA

I know he was good to you.  He did what any decent brother would do.

 

LUBA

He stayed with me day and night for almost a month, while I lay helpless and in a coma.  Did you know that?

 

OLGA

I knew you were very ill, but I hardly knew you then and didn’t want to interfere.

 

LUBA

Olga, I was so sick I don’t remember much of what happened, but this stays in my mind:  the fear I had at that time of leaving Meesha alone.  I didn’t think of myself; I just wanted to get well to help Meesha live.  And thanks to his care and love, I survived.  That bound us together.

 

 

 

 

OLGA

You’re a terrific sister.  But having lived through all that, don’t you want to play it safe? Stay here with us.  We’ll take good care of you, Luba.  Don’t put your life in danger again. It’s a jungle out there.  Can’t you see?

 

LUBA

Olga, I am possessed with trying to save him.  My mother’s plea when we parted, to take care of Meesha, haunts me.  I feel it’s my mission to do so.

 

OLGA

How will you do that?

 

LUBA

I must find him.

 

OLGA

How?

 

LUBA

I’ll travel wherever I have to.

 

OLGA

You know, Luba, there are bad men out there on every corner.

 

LUBA

I went to Samarkand and came back.

 

OLGA

We call it “beginner’s luck.”  Do you even know where he is?

 

 

LUBA

He must be in a military training center.

 

OLGA

You think it’s so easy to get into a military center?

 

LUBA

I know it’s hard, but I feel that his life is in danger.

 

OLGA

Don’t put your own life in danger!

 

LUBA

Olga, that is what Meesha and I have had to do ever since we left home.

 

OLGA

I know how smart you are, but you’re also stubborn.  Don’t you remember what happened on your way home from the market at night?  That Uzbek could have raped or killed you.

 

LUBA

Olga, I feel a fire in me, urging me to go.

 

OLGA

Be sure the fire doesn’t consume you. You’re so young and attractive.

 

LUBA (embracing Olga)

I never knew what a true friend you were.

 

OLGA

I’ll miss you very much if you must go.  Can I help you with anything?

 

LUBA

I appreciate it.  I hope I can get a permit from the school to go back to Samarkand.

 

OLGA

Samarkand.  You must have a friend there.  (She chuckles.)  Anyway, tell me when you are ready to leave, and I’ll help with whatever you need.

 

LUBA

Thank you very much. (as she embraces Olga)

 

 

 

 

SCENE 4:

Early May 1944, around noon.

The action takes place in the barracks of the Kattakurgan training base.

Meesha is reading out loud a letter he is writing to Luba:

 

MEESHA

My dear Lubushka:  Nearly three months have gone by.  I haven’t heard from you.  Two weeks ago, I sent the letter to Asher Balaban in Samarkand, as you suggested.  Still, no answer from him or from you.  I’m losing my mind, not knowing how to reach you.  I’m worried about your health.  Please, please write to me.  I have been writing to you every week and often two times a week, hoping that you’d write to me, as we had promised one another.  In a few weeks, we’ll be leaving to join our forward troops in the Ukraine.  I’m so excited to possibly be able to see mom and dad.  But I can’t even see you.  Do you hear me?  Love, Your disappointed brother, Meesha

 

(Meesha puts the letter in an envelope, affixes

it with stamps, addresses, and seals the envelope.

A burly soldier, Ivan, comes into the room and

confronts Meesha.)

 

IVAN

You cheated me again out of my job, you dirty Jew.  Damn it!  You knew I was the soloist while you left to have fun in the clinic.  Now you come back and push me aside like I don’t matter.  Well, I’ll show you that I do matter!

 

(He swings at Meesha, who evades his swing.)

 

 

MEESHA

Ivan!  I didn’t volunteer to do it.  I didn’t want to do it.  Sergeant Andrey asked me to take over.

 

IVAN

You’re a liar!  You’re a Judah!  You have betrayed your comrade, do you know that?  So, here is one that you’ll remember.

 

(Ivan hits Meesha with all force and leaves

the room.  Meesha falls and hits his forehead

against the edge of the desk and begins bleeding

from above the eyebrow.  He touches his brow

and feels the bleeding.)

 

 

MEESHA

 

What an anti-Semite.  I hope I’m not going to lose my eye.  What a terrible man!

 

(Andrey hears Meesha screaming and comes in, and helps stop Meesha’s bleeding).

 

 

ANDREY

What’s the commotion here?  You had another fight with Ivan?

 

 

MEESHA

He was angry that I took away his job as the soloist of our unit.

 

ANDREY

I see.  I warned him to stop his fighting.

 

(Andrey looks at Meesha’s eye.)

 

It will heal, don’t worry.  You’ll have to learn how to defend yourself.

 

(A soldier arrives on the scene, panting with excitement.)

 

SOLDIER

Meesha, do you have a sister named Luba?

 

MEESHA

Yes.

 

SOLDIER

Well, she’s waiting for you at the gate!

 

 

MEESHA

My sister?  That’s wonderful news.  I just wrote this letter to her.

 

 

ANDREY

I want to accompany you to see your sister.  You know, I have warned Ivan several times not to start fights.  Perhaps three days in the stockade will stop his bullying.  Come, let’s go.

 

(Andrey and Meesha leave).

SCENE 5:

A few moments later.

In a room just outside one of the gates to the training center.  Luba and Meesha are facing each other across a small table, with Andrey sitting off to the side.

 

MEESHA

This is my sister, Luba, and (turning to Luba) this is Andrey, my sergeant.

 

ANDREY

I’m always glad to meet a beautiful young woman.

 

LUBA

I appreciate your compliments, but…

 

ANDREY

Your brother has suffered no permanent scars.

 

LUBA

He doesn’t look so good, does he?

 

ANDREY

He’s a smart young man, but he doesn’t know how to fight.

 

LUBA

Maybe the teaching needs to be better.

 

ANDREY

Don’t be cross now.  We try to train our soldiers how to defend themselves.  Well, I wish I had better luck with Meesha, but he ran into a very angry soldier who is a bit on the wild side.

 

LUBA

Maybe you should tame him.  No?

 

ANDREY

I have taken steps to do so.  Perhaps you might work on taming your tongue.

 

LUBA

I understand, Tovarisch Andrey.

 

ANDREY

Do you live in town?

 

LUBA

Yes, I moved here some time ago, but I was away visiting friends in Samarkand.

 

 

ANDREY

I see.  You’re a good sister.  I wish I had one.  You’re also very pretty.  I hope you come back again.  I’d like to get to know you.

 

(Exit Andrey.  Luba turns to Meesha.)

 

LUBA

Now tell me what really happened.

 

MEESHA

Well, there’s a guy in the unit, a Ukrainian, who picks on me.  We had a couple of run-ins, nothing serious.

 

LUBA

But you’re so thin.  And your eyes are sunken.

 

MEESHA

A few weeks ago I became ill with pneumonia and landed in the clinic.  I pulled out of it all right; I’m okay now.

 

LUBA

Why haven’t you written to me, Meesha?  You promised you would.

 

MEESHA

I have been writing to you several times a week, every week.  I haven’t received an answer from you.  I’ve worried so much.  I thought I lost you and that I was the only one left in the whole family!

 

LUBA

I felt the same way.  Do you remember we read Shakespeare’s Hamlet by candlelight?  Hamlet uses an expression that flashes in my mind:  “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

 

MEESHA

Hamlet couldn’t do much about it.  Do you think we can?

 

LUBA

Maybe.  We shall see.

 

MEESHA

So how did you find me?

 

LUBA

I worried about you after you left.  I waited to hear from you, but not a word.   After two months, I decided to leave Syr Darya and start looking for you.

 

 

MEESHA

Luba, what a wonderful sister you are.  But how were you able to come here?

 

LUBA

It’s a long story. Be patient.  Remember, Sergey helped us plant small peas on the little plot of land the farm gave the teachers?  Shortly after you left, the farm harvested the crop and I became the proud owner of half a dozen large bags of peas.

 

MEESHA

What did you do with them?

 

LUBA

Remember you laughed at me when I first mentioned this to you? Maybe I should laugh at you now.  I sold the peas in the market and became rich!

 

MEESHA

How did you do that?

 

LUBA

Sergey came to my rescue.  He took me and the peas, one sack at a time, to the market.  And in the evening he brought me back.

 

MEESHA

Terrific!  What a good man he is.

 

LUBA

But it wasn’t that simple.  One evening he had gotten tied up with some people and I decided to walk home by myself.  Suddenly, an Uzbek sprang out of nowhere and tried to attack me.  I ran and he ran after me.  I was so afraid he would catch me, and rob me of all the money I was carrying with me.  Just then, Sergey caught up with me on his wagon and chased the Uzbek away.

 

MEESHA

My god, the chances you take!  So what happened next?

 

LUBA

A few weeks went by and still no word from you.  One night, I had a dream of our last goodbye to mom and dad.  Mom came to me, looking straight into my eyes and begging “please take good care of Meesha.”  I told her I would. She was so close to me, I could touch her.  I woke up all shaken.  So I made up my mind to find you.

 

MEESHA

Luba, you move me to tears.

 

 

 

LUBA

But—I didn’t know where to go.  I saw the train you had boarded in Syr Darya going west.   I heard of this big military training center near Kattakurgan, and I thought you may have gone there.  But I had no permit to get to the military base.  Luckily the school sent me to a teachers’ conference in Samarkand.

 

MEESHA

Why Samarkand?

 

LUBA

You remember I had seen Asher Balaban? I visited him again.  He found a place for me to stay and be comfortable.  He is a very smart man.  He helped me plan my search for you.  He agreed that you were probably here.  He got me a permit to reach the training center by train and off I went.

 

MEESHA

Luba, I can hardly believe what you say.  What a brave woman you are.  Remember how we used to fight when we were little?  I was stronger, but you knew how to pinch me until it hurt.

 

LUBA

Ha ha ha!  I hope it didn’t hurt too much.

 

MEESHA

You certainly knew how to defend yourself.  I also remember how you used to cheat when we played cards (bursting out in laughter). You always managed to win, setting up new rules as we played on. And you’re still changing the rules.  I’m so proud of you.  So, where are you staying now?

 

LUBA

I came here two weeks ago.  Now hear this, Asher knew of Moniek Sadownik living here with

his wife.

 

MEESHA

Moniek?  Yes, I knew him.  What’s he doing here?

 

LUBA

He buys the food supplies for the unit.

 

MEESHA

How interesting.

 

LUBA

He rented me a small room next to his, very close to the base, and I moved in and began looking for you.  I had almost lost all hope of finding you.  The main office denied that you were here.  But I had an intuition that they were lying and kept coming back daily to look for the troops going out and coming back. One evening, two weeks later, I recognized your voice as the soloist of a group returning to the compound. The next morning, I visited the office, and asked to see you.  I told them that I knew you were here, but they denied it again.

 

MEESHA

For god’s sake!  What the hell is the matter with them?!

 

LUBA

Olga told me before I left that her friend had a husband and a son fighting on the front and she

has not heard from them for two years.  Anyway, I finally decided to wait at the gate where the

soldiers exchange goods and ask if anyone knew you or heard you singing as a soloist

of a unit.  I almost jumped for joy when one soldier stepped forward and volunteered to go to

the barracks and get you.

 

MEESHA

Lubushka, Galubushka, you’re making me cry, hearing what you went through to see me. I’m so happy that you came.  Now, let me tell you something.  When I was in the clinic, ill with pneumonia, I met a young lieutenant who turned out to be Jewish.  He befriended me and took me to the officers’ quarters.  I had a chance to read the latest army newspapers.  One of the articles described gruesome discoveries of mass graves on the outskirts of towns they had liberated.  I seethed with anger reading about it, and I feel stronger than ever to fight the monsters.

(An outside voice announces “Time to return to

your barracks.”)

 

MEESHA

(continues)

I’m sorry your visit is so short.  When am I going to see you again?

 

LUBA

I’ll be away for a week or so in Samarkand.

 

MEESHA

Hey, you found a boyfriend in Samarkand? (He chuckles.)

 

LUBA

It’s none of your business.  I’ll tell you about my trip when I return.  I hope you’ll still be here.  I’m so relieved we had a chance to meet and talk.  I forgot to tell you, you look pretty handsome in the uniform.

 

MEESHA

You look so lovely with your hair quite a bit longer than when I saw you last.

 
(Luba and Meesha embrace, Luba departs,

and Meesha leaves for the barracks.)

 

SCENE 6:

Evening, Mid-May 1944.

In a small room, in a cottage near the military compound.

 

LUBA

I see your face is swollen.  What happened?

 

MEESHA

I’ll be all right.  Don’t worry.

 

LUBA

You’re evading my question.  Did that bully attack you again?

 

MEESHA

Can’t hide anything from you!  Andrey locked him up for a couple of days and when he was released he cornered me and began punching me.  I kicked him as hard as I could, but it was like hitting a tree.  He’s a strong S.O.B.

 

LUBA

It’s a good thing he didn’t bloody your eyes again.

 

MEESHA

He threatened me and said that when we get to the front, he’ll unload his first bullet on me.

 

LUBA

Did you tell Andrey of the bully’s threats?

 

MEESHA

How would that help?  Andrey is not going to come with us.  He will stay here to train the next batch of soldiers.

 

LUBA

Aren’t you afraid for your life?

 

MEESHA

Never mind.  By the way, how were you able to get the permit for me to leave the compound?

 

 

LUBA

Have you heard the saying, “If you’re in a bind and have many qualms, it helps if you grease a few palms?”

 

MEESHA

Very funny.

 

 

LUBA

Not so funny, and sometimes you can end up in Siberia for doing that, but I have become adept at it.  Yes, I bribed an official in the headquarters here and that did it.  However, the permit is only good until ten o’clock.

 

MEESHA

And how did you find this room?

 

LUBA

I told you about Moniek Sadownik and his wife.  Well, I have been their tenant ever since coming here.  Anyway, we have no time to waste.  I have arranged for you to escape from the compound and from Kattakurgan.

 

MEESHA

Do you know what you’re saying?!  At the morning roll call, Colonel Kaganovich, head of the  base, told us we would be leaving for the front.  He pointed at a soldier, a deserter, hanging from a scaffolding.  He warned us that the same fate would come to anyone caught going AWOL.

 

LUBA

I know what I tell you to do is very dangerous, but going to the front is no less so.  I have tried to arrange everything for your safe escape.  All I want you to do is to have a little faith and a little courage.

 

MEESHA

I have never committed a crime, and what you’re asking me to do is criminal, punishable by death.

 

LUBA

Meesha, I know how you feel, but you’re naive.  You think you’ll go to the front, kill a few Germans, and become a hero?

 

MEESHA

I’m going to fight to avenge the murder of innocent people, maybe of our own parents!

 

LUBA

(She gets a small mirror out of her bag.)

 

Here, take a look at your face.

(Meesha looks).

 

MEESHA

I see.  My black and blue marks make me look bad, huh?

 

LUBA

Meesha! You look sick, you look emaciated, you look like you should go back to the clinic, not to the front!

 

MEESHA (Shouting)

Stop putting me down!  I’m a pretty good soldier, damn it!  Andrey tells me so!

 

LUBA

Andrey had no business keeping you in his unit. You’re short and thin  –  and sick! You’re no match for a German soldier!  You’ll probably be sent to clear mines.  You’ll become a minesweeper!

 

MEESHA

Where the hell did you hear that?

 

LUBA

I saw in Samarkand many wounded soldiers with missing limbs from exploding mines.  I don’t want you to be blown up.  I want you to live.  You have a right to live.  You have an obligation to live.

 

MEESHA

I also want to live, as a proud soldier, loyal to the people who gave us refuge.

 

LUBA

Damn it, stop arguing!  We have no time to waste.  There is a train leaving in an hour.  If we miss that train, I may lose you forever.  [She breaks down and cries.]  Please hear what I’m saying.  I want both of us to return home safely so we can be together again.

 

(A knock on the door startles Meesha and Luba.  Luba carefully lifts the window shade.)

 

LUBA

It’s Andrey. (she whispers:)  Meesha, quickly, move to the hall.  Here’s the key.  Lock it behind you and be quiet.

 

(Meesha leaves.)

 

LUBA

Who is it?

 

ANDREY

It’s Andrey, your brother’s sergeant.  Remember me?

 

(Luba slowly opens the door

and lets Andrey in.  Andrey

wobbles, completely drunk.)

 

LUBA

Ah, it’s you.  What brings you here so late?

 

ANDREY

I’m looking for your brother.  We’ll be leaving for the front.  Where is he?

 

LUBA

He’s probably with his unit.

 

ANDREY

No, he’s not.

 

LUBA

You sound very anxious to send him to the front.

 

ANDREY

He and his comrades are going to do their duty.

 

LUBA

Is it your duty to send sick young people to be blown up by mines?

 

ANDREY

Our duty is to defeat the enemy.

 

LUBA

And you think that my brother will help you do it?

 

ANDREY

He’ll do his part as best as he can.

 

LUBA

Tell me, Andrey, my brother serves in the infantry.  I assume that means that he is trained for

hand-to-hand combat.

 

ANDREY

Yes, I have been training all my men hard to do whatever one is called to do in combat.

 

LUBA

And you think he is fit for fighting a German soldier?

 

ANDREY

Unfortunately your brother does not know how to fight.  I have tried to train him, but he’s no

fighter.

 

LUBA

I know.  He was always little for his age, and thin, and he never liked fighting.

 

 

 

ANDREY

I have tried hard to make him a good soldier.  Maybe he’ll do what he has to when facing an

enemy soldier.

 

LUBA

And if not?

 

ANDREY

This is war!  It’s not a picnic.  Anyway, where’s your brother?

 

LUBA

I told you, he went back to the unit an hour or so ago.  Go back, you’ll find him.

 

ANDREY

Would you mind if I rest a bit?

 

LUBA

I wouldn’t mind, but it’s very late.

 

ANDREY

It’s not too late for a kiss or two.

 

(Andrey tries to grab Luba,

but she slips away.)

 

 

LUBA

Andrey, you know when I got up this morning?

 

ANDREY

(a bit incoherent)

 

This morning, ah?  Where were you?

 

 

LUBA

I was in Samarkand.  I met a cousin of Colonel Kaganovich.

 

 

ANDREY

Kaganovich, ah?

 

LUBA

Yes, a cousin of Colonel Kaganovich.

 

 

ANDREY

You’re just kidding me.

 

LUBA

No, I’m not.  How else do you think I was able to find a place here?

 

 

ANDREY

You’re making fun of me.

 

(After a while)

 

ANDREY

(continues)

I like you.  You know, I like you.

 

LUBA

You seem like you come from a nice family.  I like you too, but I’m exhausted.

 

ANDREY

Hey, you talk too much.  Give me a good kiss.

 

(He approaches Luba and she eludes him again.)

 

 

LUBA

How about having a good drink?

 

ANDREY

That sounds interesting.

 

(Luba takes out a bottle of vodka

from her knapsack.)

 

 

LUBA

Here is a bottle of premium vodka, Stolichnaya, and here are two glasses.  Let me give you some.

(Luba pours a full glass of vodka,

gives it to Andrey, turns around and

pours water in her glass.)

 

Here’s to good health and good luck at the front.

 

ANDREY

Nazdrovye. 

                                                            LUBA

Is this the first time you’ll be seeing the front?

 

ANDREY  (quite drunk)

I’m not going.  I’ll be staying here to train other soldiers.

 

LUBA

Oh good!  Then we’ll be able to see each other.

 

ANDREY

I like the idea very much.

 

LUBA

So, maybe you’ll come over tomorrow morning?

 

ANDREY

Yes!  That will be fine.

(after a while)

 

ANDREY (continues)

Give me another glass.

 

(Luba obliges and fills him another

glass.)

 

LUBA

It’s very late now.  I’m very tired.  I’ve traveled all day long.  It’s not easy to have fun when one is tired, right?

 

(Andrey gulps more vodka.)

 

ANDREY

I have been up since early morning.  I’m tired too.

 

LUBA

Then stretch out and sleep a little.

 

 

ANDREY  (very drunk)

Where is your brother?

 

LUBA (softly)

He went back to the unit.  Don’t worry.  He’ll be all right.  You’ll be all right.  Rest a bit.

 

 

ANDREY

Wake me up soon, all right?

 

LUBA

All right, Andrey.  Sleep.
(Luba writes a note to Andrey and places it on the pillow.)

 

(Luba quietly retrieves her things from

under the bed and leaves by the front

door.  She reappears on the other

side of the partition separating the room

where Meesha is hiding.)

 

LUBA  (whispering to Meesha)

We have to leave immediately.

 

MEESHA

Where is Andrey?

 

LUBA

(putting her index finger on her lips)

 

I fed him some vodka and put him to sleep. I left him a note that I went to say goodbye to you and would be right back.

 

MEESHA

So what do you want me to do?

 

LUBA

Take off your military clothes and put on the civilian outfit in this bag.  And do it fast.

 

MEESHA

If we are caught, you’ll be hanged along with me!

 

LUBA

Meesha, you make me want to scream.  We have no time.  We have to leave immediately.  Take off your clothes, quickly.

 

MEESHA

Don’t make me do it.  You’ll be sorry.

 

 

LUBA

You better do what I tell you or we’ll both be sorry.  We are in this together.

 

(Meesha  obeys, as if in a trance.)

 

 

LUBA

(continues)

 

Here is your new passport.  I forgot to tell you, you look much handsomer in these clothes.  Now, let’s run.

 

MEESHA

Where will we go?

 

LUBA

The same place we have gone for the past three years…to someplace safe.  Like all wars before it, this one will eventually end.  We’ll survive.

 

MEESHA

You and I together.

 

LUBA

You and I.  Always together.

 

 

(Luba and Meesha exit as the lights fade.)

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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