The Battle for the Garden

The back of a one-storey house, which is divided down the middle into two equally-sized maisonettes. This can be clearly seen by the colour of the walls: the left half is painted in pale-yellow, and the right half is white. Both halves have two pairs of windows on the ground floor and a wide balcony on the first floor. At the moment, the doors of both balconies and all the windows are closed and all the curtains are drawn. At first glance, the curtains on the yellow half of the house are different from the curtains on the white half.

Unlike the house, the back garden is not divided into two halves. It stretches undivided for the whole length of the house and it is only separated from similar gardens to the left and right by a hedge. As usual in spring, the garden is covered in scattered groups of different flowers. Approximately in the middle of the garden, clearly standing out from the other species of flowers, there is a bed of very beautiful tulips.

For a while, the garden remains completely deserted, and then a dog’s head appears through the hedge on the left. For a few moments it looks cautiously at the nearer half of the house, and then slowly and with difficulty it drags its body, which is unexpectedly small compared to its head, into the garden. It is a small, thickset dog, a dirty yellow colour, with short legs and a small tail. Its unattractive appearance is increased by its right back leg, which is unnaturally twisted to one side. At one stage in the dog’s life it had been broken and then the bone had mended all crooked, so that it was now completely useless when he moved along. Hopping on three legs, but managing to go round the flower beds, the dog goes over to the right-hand side of the garden. There it sits on a patch of grass where there are no flowers, its head raised towards the balcony above him.

As if reacting to the dog’s persistent stare, the door of the balcony on the white half of the house quickly opens. A young man in army uniform with epaulettes appears on the balcony.

OFFICER: Where are you, Sheppy, my boy! What are you up to?

SHEPPY (wagging his tail): Woof!

OFFICER: It’s as if you always know when the coast is clear. I’m now standing at the window on the other side, and I can see her when she goes. I said to myself: “Sheppy’s already registered it.” Well done. You were born for a scout platoon.

SHEPPY: Woof! Woof!

OFFICER: Gosh, I’m sorry. I was so busy talking that I forgot your food. Here, it’s coming.

The man disappears from the balcony, and then returns carrying a chicken bone with some meat on it. He throws it onto the grass next to Sheppy, who immediately devotes all his attention to it.

OFFICER (resting his elbows on the balcony fence): Eat away, my king. She won’t be coming back yet.

WOMAN’S VOICE (from inside the house): Who are you talking to?

OFFICER: With Sheppy. The king always knows when the old woman isn’t here.

A young woman comes out onto the balcony.

WOMAN (leaning on the fence next to him): You ought to take it to him in front of the house. You know how it gets on her nerves when you throw it here.

OFFICER: I couldn’t care less if it gets on her nerves. Half the garden is ours. I can feed a whole pack of dogs here if I want to.

WOMAN: But she insists that the whole garden belongs to her.

OFFICER: She can insist on whatever she likes. We’re not fools. What, does she think that just because we’re tenants, we’re morons?

WOMAN: Why don’t you tell her that when she starts shouting up at us?

OFFICER: I’m not mad. The other day I saw how she threw a stone out of the garden. A stone nearly as big as my head – she tossed it over the hedge as if it was a marble. She’d have smashed me into tiny pieces.

WOMAN: What sort of captain are you if you’re frightened of an old woman?

OFFICER: To start with, I’m only a lieutenant. Secondly, one should always avoid open battle when the enemy is stronger. In such a case other methods come into play – guerrilla warfare, ambushes, diversions…

WOMAN: For example?

OFFICER: For example, taking advantage of the enemy’s preoccupation on the front, meaning when the old woman isn’t here, for assisting rebels who are helping in the background.

WOMAN: You mean Sheppy?

OFFICER: Precisely. We’re allies in the battle against granny.

WOMAN: You weren’t exactly allies when we arrived. He was always growling at you.

OFFICER: Yes. Once he tried to bite half my leg off, but I wisely resorted to a speedy withdrawal. There was something about me that really annoyed him.

WOMAN: It was because you were new and unknown to him.

OFFICER: Exactly. He didn’t know which side I was on, the allied or granny’s. But as soon as I began to supply him with ammunition, we signed a peace agreement.

WOMAN: You should try the same with granny.

OFFICER: You mean throw her chicken meat?

WOMAN: Don’t be silly. Just say good morning and speak to her nicely when you see her. Perhaps she too is unpleasant simply because we’re new and she doesn’t know what to expect from us. From the time that morning I asked her whether she needed anything from the shops, she’s been far more pleasant towards me. Think up something similar, instead of running away the moment you set eyes on her.

OFFICER: No way! I’m not going to negotiate with the enemy! (Shouts theatrically.) Death to the enemy! Down with granny! Long live Sheppy!

WOMAN (smiles at his chanting, but then immediately becomes serious): I’m just saying that when you talk with her a bit, she’s not so bad.

OFFICER: What’s not so bad about her? The very first day, we hadn’t even settled in properly and she comes to tell me that the garage, even though it’s on our side of the house, belongs to her. And she hasn’t even got a car!

WOMAN: But nor have we.

OFFICER: I know we haven’t. But just imagine if we did have one… The garage is hers, the garden is hers – it won’t be long before she annexes our bathroom as well. She just takes over everywhere, like an animal.

WOMAN: Don’t be like that. She’s an old woman, she lives on her own – nobody comes to visit her. It’s not strange that she’s a little – well – unusual.

OFFICER: All right, I suppose you’re right… It can’t be easy being old and alone.

WOMAN: No, it’s not (Turns towards him and snuggles up to him.) That’s why we two will never allow ourselves to be left on our own.

OFFICER (puts his arm around her): No, we won’t. We’ll give birth to a dynasty, like that couple from the Bible.

WOMAN: Which couple?

OFFICER: I can’t remember what they were called. They had as many descendants as there are stars in the sky.

WOMAN: I agree. And by then we’ll have a house that’s our own, and only ours. A house full of children.

OFFICER: Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren… It will be a whole army. I shall be the general.

WOMAN: What about me?

OFFICER: You can be the minister of defence.

WOMAN: We’ll be a real state.

OFFICER: Of course. We’ll declare independence. We’ll send our weakest grandchild to throw stones at passers-by, and when they trample him underfoot, the big powers will be on our side.

WOMAN: That depends on the circumstances. Perhaps the big powers will join the passers-by.

OFFICER: You’re right. First one must study the political situation well. Perhaps we’ll have to be satisfied with autonomy.

WOMAN: But broad autonomy.

OFFICER: The broadest possible.

They kiss. After a long kiss they separate and once again lean on the fence. Sheppy has now finished eating the meat and is now chewing the bone.

WOMAN: Even so, you must admit that her flowers are beautiful.

OFFICER: I do admit it. It’s quite incredible that they are the fruit of her work. Anyone would think that a good fairy lives here, and not a witch.

WOMAN: Stop that, she’ll hear you.

OFFICER: No she won’t. Not while Sheppy’s here. He can smell her when she’s a kilometre away… You know what? Perhaps she likes flowers because they’re so different from her. And she hates Sheppy because they are so similar. I get the impression that there’s something wrong with one of her legs. It’s as if she limps a bit.

WOMAN: Then is it that she doesn’t like you because you’re similar as well?

OFFICER: It’s possible. There is something military about her. Something of the sergeant major in her. But we’ll overthrow that military dictatorship, won’t we, Sheppy? Look how the king is crunching away. I must give him a little more.

He goes into the flat and when he comes back he throws Sheppy a whole chicken leg. Sheppy immediately gets down to work.

WOMAN: That was your lunch.

OFFICER: It doesn’t matter… Just look at him crunching away. Look, if I’d capitulated to your persistent and persuasive artillery fire and stopped eating meat, I wouldn’t have any supplies left for the allies. Just imagine if I’d thrown him boiled potatoes. He would immediately have joined granny.

WOMAN: Yes, but he can’t eat potatoes and we can. Primates are generally herbivores and, in the worst case, omnivores. They eat the occasional egg or something similar. You could start off like that. And I’d buy a little meat for Sheppy.

OFFICER: Forget it. You forced me to stop eating beef and veal, because cows give us milk. I’m not giving way another inch. I shall fight to the last man.

WOMAN: But why?

OFFICER: What do you mean, why? A vegetarian officer? They’d throw me out of the army before you could say Jack Robinson.

WOMAN: No they wouldn’t. You wouldn’t have to tell anyone. If you’re not sorry for the animals, then think of the price of meat. When our descendants as numerous as the stars arrive, we’re going to have to feed them.

OFFICER: You know, that had occurred to me, too. The plan to start a dynasty isn’t perhaps the best idea. What with the economic crisis, global warming, the approaching shortage of oil, water, food… Why should we put additional pressure on an already overpopulated planet? Better to adopt a couple.

WOMAN: Are you serious?

OFFICER: As serious as I can be. Let’s go to the correction centre and adopt a couple.

WOMAN: You mean the home for abandoned children?

OFFICER: No, I mean the correction centre. We’ll pick the three greatest ruffians. And let them loose down in the garden. Then we’ll see what granny does when they side up with Sheppy. Then she’ll have to put a fence down the middle. It’s not odd that so many countries have changed their national army for mercenaries.

WOMAN (laughs): What a fool you are. For a moment I thought you were being serious… Do you know, before I met you, I thought that military personnel had no imagination at all.

OFFICER: That’s strange. I thought the same about vegetarians.

WOMAN (laughs again): Your sense of humour has saved you, because otherwise I’d have left you ages ago. I should have had to. There could be no justification for me, a pacifist and vegetarian, living with a meat-eater who on top of that is a soldier.

OFFICER: On the subject of soldiers, what’s the time?

WOMAN: I haven’t the faintest idea.

OFFICER: I’m probably already late. You’re keeping me talking on purpose, so that they’ll fire me. And then you’d cut meat out of my diet completely. I’m off. Sheppy, farewell! Don’t let the enemy surround you! Be off as soon as you’ve eaten it.

He rushes back into the house. His wife follows him and closes the door.

For a while, Sheppy crunches the second bone in peace. Preoccupied with the bone, he does not notice granny who has appeared on her balcony on the left half of the house. In this case, it is impossible to write “the old woman” instead of “granny”. The word “old woman” has too many associations with fragility and weakness, which here is quite obviously not the case. She is old, but quite obviously a strong and robust woman. With her fat, thickset body and large, powerful arms, she could easily come out top in a wrestling match with the lieutenant. Her grey, short and almost masculine haircut, together with her rosy and healthy face and thick spectacles that make her eyes look unnaturally large, all give her a truly frightening appearance.

GRANNY (notices Sheppy): What are you doing here, you freak! So you’ve come here to stuff yourself, have you? Be off with you! Do you hear what I say? For fuck’s sake get out of here!

Under an assault of swearwords, Sheppy jumps back a few metres and starts to bark angrily at her.

SHEPPY: Woof! Woof! Grrr! Woof-woof! Woof!

GRANNY: What do you want, you cripple! Be off with you, do you hear? So, you won’t eh? The fuck you will…

She raises her hand, as if she is going to throw something in Sheppy’s direction. At this, Sheppy runs, as fast as his broken leg will allow him, to the hedge and disappears into it.

GRANNY: And don’t come back, you freak! I’ll show you… (She leans over the balcony in the direction of the white half of the house.) I know who throws you bones! So that I have to clean up after you!

There being no reply or reaction, granny returns to her normal position. Then, after taking a further good look round the garden, she goes into her flat and closes the balcony door. Soon after this, the window below the balcony opens, but the curtains remain drawn.

For a while, the garden remains deserted and then the lieutenant’s wife appears in the gap between the house and the fence. She goes quietly to the remains that Sheppy has left behind, collects them up in a piece of newspaper and leaves as quickly and quietly as she can.

The garden is empty again for some time. Then, through the hedge on the left side appears an unshaven man in his forties. His cautious movements and quick glances in the direction of the house, remind one of Sheppy’s entry. Carefully avoiding the flowers, he goes to the tulips. He bends down, but at that moment the curtains over the open window are pulled back and granny appears.

GRANNY: Go and pick tulips from your own garden, you mother-fucker!

MAN (quickly stands up, not having picked anything): I’m not picking tulips.

GRANNY: What are you doing then, you ruffian?

MAN: I – er… I’m looking for medicinal herbs.

GRANNY (rather confused): Looking for what?

MAN (more confidently): Medicinal herbs. My mother’s sick and I want to make her some tea.

A short pause.

GRANNY: Fuck off, for God’s sake! Be off with you if you don’t want me to call the police! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You steal tulips and then start taking the mickey. You useless bum.

MAN (moves towards the right): What are you shouting about? I just wanted one tulip.

GRANNY: Sow your own tulips and then pick them, you bum! (The man leaves through the gap beside the house. Granny shouts after him.) If I see you once more, I shall call the police immediately! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!

Granny remains a little longer at the window, looking towards the right, and then closes the window and pulls the curtains to. This is followed by Sheppy once again poking his head cautiously out of the hedge. He comes into the garden and walks across it, this time jumping right through the flower beds. He stops right by the tulips. His leg being broken, he doesn’t have to lift it up and just moves his body to one side. He waters the tulips and then, in as dignified a fashion as possible with three legs, goes towards the hedge and disappears into it.


Originally published in BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian) in Par grama drama (A Few Grams of Drama) in 2010. Translated by Timothy John Byford. Translation copyright by Kosta Tadic.