Wednesday Afternoon at the Burger Cafe

A tiny cafe decorated in primary colors and a few items of well-placed kitch. On the left is a window and a glass door leading to the street. On the right is a counter and glass case displaying drinks. On the back wall is a sign saying “Have a Nice Life.”

Mark enters from the left. He pauses briefly just inside the door to exhale wearily and scan the room. He walks to a table in the center of the room and sits. He picks up the menu on the table and begins to examine it while running his hand through his hair anxiously.

Vera enters through a door behind the counter wearing an apron. She scans the room quickly and sees Mark but exits again just as he looks up.

(Note: all underlined text is spoken in Polish.)

Mark: [raising his hand tentatively] Excuse me…

Sophia enters wearing an enormous, frizzy blond wig and a gold lamé jacket. She sees Mark and approaches him cautiously. She stands behind him for a moment, until her presence makes him look around. She walks around the table and places her hand on the chair opposite him.

Sophia: May I sit down?

Mark: [puzzled, but also a little pleased] Sure…

Vera: [entering and coming out from behind the counter] Sophia! Darling! [She stands beside the table, her back to Mark, as Sophia gets up to kiss her on the cheek.] How are you feeling?

Sophia: [sitting down again] Tip top, Vera! I feel great!

Vera: But Jerzy says you are skipping your sessions? You must go, you must!

Sophia: Vera, we have talked about this.

Vera: But it is absurd!

Sophia: Please…

Vera: [leaning down to kiss Sophia again on the forehead.] My sweet stubborn girl. [A slight pause.] Oh, I have to tell you that Ivan misses you like you wouldn’t believe. Won’t eat his dinner!

Sophia: Oh, he’s spoiled rotten! I used to feed him steak every night.

Vera: I will pick some up on my way home.

Sophia: [putting her hand on Vera’s arm] No, no, don’t go to any trouble! It’s too expensive. The canned food is perfectly fine.

During this conversation, Mark appears uncomfortable. At first he watches the two women, then he picks the menu back up and pretends to study it.

Vera: [looking over her shoulder at Mark] What’s his story?

Sophia: [looking at Mark appraisingly as he looks up] I don’t know yet.

Vera: [still looking at Mark but leaning towards Sophia, sotto voce] American’s make me nervous.

Sophia: Bring him a burger. He looks hungry.

Vera nods, walks around the counter and exits.

Mark: Did you just order me a burger?

Sophia: Yes. You are hungry, aren’t you?

Mark: You have no idea! The waitress wouldn’t give me the time of day, but the thing is I’m vegetarian…

Sophia: Oh! [laughs, then shouting] Vera! Make it a veggie!

Vera: [from offstage] Ay! Americans!

Mark: [to Sophia] Thank you!

Mark and Sophia look at each other uneasily for a moment.

Sophia: I know you think I’m some crazy Polish bitch.

Mark: No, not at all!

Sophia: [aside] Americans are always so polite. [normal voice] But I just like to talk to people, get out of my head and into someone else’s. You know?

Mark: I can understand that.

They again look at each other uneasily for a moment.

Mark: So, um. So, may I ask, what’s with the wig?

Sophia: No no no. You! [reaching her arms towards him] I want to know your story. You are American, right? Where did you live in America?

Mark: Yes, American. [slight pause] Can I ask, is there a giant sign over my head saying that I’m American? Everyone here seems to know just by looking at me.

Sophia: Yes! [sweeping her right arm over her head] Giant neon sign: “American!”

Mark: [laughing and hitting the table with his fist] I thought so! Anyway, Hawaii. I came here from Hawaii a month ago…

Sophia: No! Hawaii? With the beaches? And you came to Poland … why?

Mark: Very good question, Sophia. Excellent question. By the way, I’m Mark [extending his hand].

Sophia: [shaking his hand] Pleasure to meet you, Mark.

Mark: Anyway, I think it is your turn to share.

Sophia: Oh, me? My life is boring. I work in this cafe, I live down the street…

Mark: Oh, you work here?

Sophia: [inspecting her fingernails] Well, I did, I did.

Mark: But I meant about the wig, that was my question.

Sophia: Your turn!

Mark: Oh, I see how it is. [leaning back and folding his arms] There is some secret about the wig…

Sophia: No, no. No secret! If you must know, I just like wigs. They are fun. It is boring, you see? My life is so boring.

Mark: Well, okay, I’m sorry to press about the wig. I’m just curious. Tell me this: how do you speak such good English? I teach at an English language school here…

Sophia: I lived in New York for three years. My father worked at the U.N. And my mom’s American, so …

Mark: See, that’s not boring at all. I love New York.

Sophia: [with contained passion] I hate New York. [looking at Mark apologetically] I mean, for an American New York is wonderful, I’m sure. For a Polish girl whose friends are in Katowice it is terrible. And boring.

Jerzy enters wearing a tattered denim jacket and a knitted hat. He sits at the table with Sophia and Mark in the chair facing the audience, his hands in his pockets.

Sophia: Hi, Jerzy. Be nice.

Jerzy looks at Sophia, then at Mark, and then back at Sophia.

Jerzy: Is this the guy?

Sophia: No! Mark, this is Jerzy.

Mark: [holding out his hand and smiling, in stiff but correct Polish] Pleased to meet you.

Jerzy: [mimicking Mark’s insincere smile and shaking his hand] What’s up? [turning to Sophia, his smile vanishing] Who is this guy?

Sophia: [forcing a pleasant smile] He’s just a guy.

Jerzy: [to Mark] You know she’s only 16, you sick fuck? Also, she has a boyfriend … [turning to Sophia] … who’s an asshole. [back to Mark] And she just ran away from home to live with him.

Mark looks confused. He seems to be trying to calculate a difficult sum in his head. Sophia is examining her fingernails again.

Jerzy: [to Mark] You speak any Polish or what?

Mark: Just a little.

Vera enters.  She places a veggie burger in front of Mark without looking at him.

Vera: [to Jerzy] Fries?

Jerzy: You can read me like a book, Vera.

Vera sighs and exits while Jerzy stretches extravagantly. Then Jerzy gets up suddenly and exits to the left. Mark begins eating his burger voraciously while Sophia watches him.

Sophia: How much did you understand?

Mark: [between bites] Um… 16? Boyfriend? [chews thoughtfully] Something about running away from home?

Sophia: Very good, mister language teacher. My story in a nutshell.

Jerzy reenters, zipping his pants. Sophia looks at him in disgust as he sits.

Jerzy: What?

Jerzy removes his hat and places it on the table. He scratches his head, which is completely bald. Mark is chewing his last bite of burger and wiping his hands on a napkin. His eyes widen involuntarily as he looks at Jerzy’s head. Jerzy notices this and a smile spreads across his lips.

Jerzy: [leaning his head towards Mark] Would you like to rub it for good luck? [a theatrical gasp] You don’t know, do you? You mean you didn’t ask about her wig? [disbelief] You didn’t think it was real, did you? [reaching for Sophia’s wig] Let’s show him!

Sophia slaps his hand away and gets up from her chair.

Sophia: Don’t you dare!

Jerzy: [slumping back in his chair, to Mark] I’m curious to see if it’s grown back. [conspiratorially] She’s been skipping her sessions, you know. Her father begged me, begged me!, to talk some sense into her. But she doesn’t listen to me either.

Vera enters with a basket of fries. She sees Sophia standing stiffly and looking down.

Vera: [furiously at Jerzy] Out! Outside! Here, take your fries. [shoving the basket into his hands]

Jerzy: [grabbing his hat and allowing himself to be pushed towards the door] Okay, okay, I’m going. See ya, Mark!

Vera embraces Sophia and kisses her on the forehead.

Vera: He’s an animal. He’s right, but he’s an animal. Sit. Don’t you want anything?

Sophia shakes her head while lowering herself into the chair.

Vera: [indicating Mark] Ask him if he wants anything else.

Sophia: Vera, he speaks Polish.

Vera: [to Mark] You speak Polish? You want anything else?

Mark: A beer, and fries, please?

Vera: [quite pleased] Coming right up!

Vera takes Marks empty plate and exits. They sit in awkward silence for a minute.

Sophia: You know … I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone eat a burger that fast!

They both laugh.

Mark: I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.

Sophia: Really? You should be ashamed. You should take better care of yourself.

Mark: And you … should go to your sessions.

Sophia winces.

Mark: Sorry, it’s none of my business.

Vera enters and puts the fries and beer in front of Mark.

Mark: Thank you.

Vera: [to Sophia] This one is not so bad.

Vera exits. Mark eats a fry and pushes the basket towards Sophia. She shakes her head and ends by looking at the wall.

Sophia: I put up that sign when I worked here. “Have a nice life.”

Mark: Ah!

Sophia: Everyone tells me I’m stupid, but the chemo is not nice, and it’s not a life.

Mark shrugs and eats and drinks his beer.

Sophia: So, what were you doing that was so important you forgot to eat all day?

Mark: [shrugging again] Working. And drinking.

Sophia: Ah! When in Rome, huh?

Mark: Something like that, I guess. [a short pause] To be honest, I’m beginning to feel about Katowice the way you feel about New York.

Sophia: Blasphemy! Katowice is heaven on Earth!

Mark: You know … [pointing to the sign] I don’t know how that sounds in Polish, but in America “have a nice life” is the kind of thing you say to someone you don’t care if you ever see again.

Sophia: Really? [looking at the sign again]

Mark: Yep. I think … [a soft belch] … I think you should aspire to something a little better than “a nice life.”

Sophia: [crossing her arms] Oh, like what?

Mark: I don’t know … a full life … an honest life …

Sophia: A long life?

Mark: Well … yes. If you have the choice. Most of us don’t.

Sophia: You’ll live longer if you drink less and eat more.

Mark chews on that for a few seconds.

Mark: Touché.

Jerzy: [poking his head in the door] Is she gone?

Mark and Sophia look at him as he saunters in and sits down.

Jerzy: Vera is worse than my mother. [slapping Mark on the back] I thought you were Sophia’s boyfriend at first! I haven’t met him but I know he’s an asshole because he wouldn’t let her bring her cat!

Sophia: He’s allergic!

Jerzy: He’s not allergic. He’s an asshole. [to Mark] You’d let a girl bring her cat, wouldn’t you?

Mark: [confused] I don’t understand.

Jerzy: [to Sophia] He’s a smart one, your friend.

 

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