EXT. A EUROPEAN
VILLAGE IN SHAMBLES - EVENING
streams through a yawning window in the only standing wall of a bomb-gutted
building. The entire village is in ruins. Here and there an upthrust chimney
marks where a house has been. A thin, dusty mist hangs low, covering everything.
Beneath the lone
standing wall, JURGEN (9 years old)) sits on the ground, his eyes closed.
CLOSE ON JURGEN
A shadow falls
across Jurgen's figure, and he realizes someone has come up silently and is
standing before him. He blinks a little and sees before him TWO BENT, POORLY
He risks a quick
glance above the bent legs and glimpses an OLD MAN (70). The Old Man carries
a large knife and a woven basket. His fingertips are dirty from digging in
So, you're really sleeping, heh?
into the sun shining through between the Old Man's legs.
No, I'm not sleeping. I have to stand guard here.
I see, that's probably why you have the big stick there?
Jurgen pulls the
stick to himself and grips it tightly.
Well, what are you guarding then?
I can't tell you.
The Old Man sets
the basket down on the ground and wipes the knife blade back and forth on
the seat of his trousers as he speaks.
Probably money, right?
No, it's not money. Something very different.
Well, what then?
I can't tell. Just something else.
Well, don't then. And of course I won't tell you what I have here in the basket either.
The Old Man folds
the knife shut and nudges the basket with his toe.
I can imagine what's in the basket. Rabbit food!
Tarnation, yes! You sure are a smart fellow. How old are you?
Well, imagine that, only nine. Then of course you must know how
much three times nine is?
(stalling for time to think)
Sure. That's really an easy one. Three times nine, right? Twenty-seven.
I know that one, too.
Right. And I have exactly that many rabbits.
You can see them. Many are quite young, too. Do you want to?
But I can't. I have to stand guard.
Always? At night, too?
At night, too. Always. All the time.
Since last evening.
But then don't you go home at all? You certainly have to eat.
As if in answer
to the Old Man's question, Jurgen overturns a large flat stone. In a hole
beneath it lies a half loaf of bread and a tin tobacco box.
Oh, I see you smoke. Do you have a pipe?
I roll. I don't
The Old Man stoops
down over his basket and fidgets with the contents.
Too bad. You could have come and looked at the rabbits. Especially the young ones. Maybe you could have picked out one for yourself. But of course you can't leave here.
No -- no, no.
The Old Man picks
up his basket and stands up straight.
Well, if you've got to stay here -- that's too bad.
He turns to leave.
Jurgen speaks up quickly,
If you won't tell on me -- it's because of the rats...
The Old Man's bent
legs step back a step.
Because of the rats?
Yes. They eat the dead. Eat people. That's what they live on.
Who said that?
And now you're guarding the rats?
No, not them!
(then, very gently)
My little brother. He's lying under there. There.
to a crumbled wall with his stick.
A bomb hit our house. The light in the cellar went out. And he
was gone. We called again and again. He was much smaller than
I am. Only four. He must still be there. He is so much smaller
than I am.
A four-beat silence.
Yes, but then didn't your teacher tell you that rats sleep at night?
No. He didn't tell that.
Well, what kind of a teacher is he if he doesn't even know that.
After all, rats sleep at night. At night it's safe to go home.
They always sleep at night. As soon as it gets dark.
Jurgen pokes at
the debris with his stick and the Old Man bends down to talk closer:
OLD MAN (cont.)
You know what? I'm going to hurry on and feed my rabbits, and when it gets dark, I'll come back to you. Maybe I can bring one with me. A little one, what do you think?
All those little rabbits. White ones and gray ones.
I don't know...If they really sleep at night...
The Old Man clambers
up over the remains of the wall and out onto the street. He answers from there:
Why naturally they do! Your teacher should be dismissed if he doesn't even know that.
suddenly and turns toward the Old Man who is hobbling away down the street
on his bent legs.
Could I really have one? A white one maybe?
see. But you'll have to wait here in the meantime. Then I'll
go home with you, alright? After all, I'll have to show your father
how to build a rabbit hutch. He'll need to know that.
Yes, I'll wait. I still have to stand guard until it gets dark. Sure, I'll wait.
the Old Man walking away down the road, his basket swinging excitedly back
and forth on his arm.
And we have some boards at home too! Packing crate boards!
But the Old Man is too far down the road to hear this last. His small bent figure silhouetted in the setting red sun all but dissolves into the shimmering misty dust.
him until he disappears over a rise.
©1979, 2007 by E. J. Campfield. All rights reserved.