Out of the Wings

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El censo (c.1957), Emilio Carballido

The Census, translated by Elizabeth Guerrero


REMEDIOS is trying on a dress. DORA is helping her; HERLINDA is on the bed cutting fabric; CONCHA is using one of the sewing machines. The clothes REMEDIOS was wearing before are hanging on a chair.
Sample text

REMEDIOS: Well ... I look a bit busty, don’t I?

DORA: (Worried.) No Madame Remedios. It fits just right, it looks really elegant.

HERLINDA: That mirror really distorts the image; we need to buy another one.

REMEDIOS: Does the dress ride up at the back?



HERLINDA: It doesn’t ride up at all. Concha doesn’t know anything about fashion.

REMEDIOS: Well, to me it seems it’s riding up...

(HERLINDA goes up to her and yanks the skirt down hard.)

HERLINDA:  There we go. Very nice. Now it really looks very nice.

DORA: It’s a French design.

(The bell rings. DORA goes and opens the door.)

REMEDIOS: I really think it’s just right. How much more do I owe you?

HERLINDA: Twelve pesos.

REMEDIOS: I’m going to wear it now.

(DORA comes back terrified.)

DORA: There’s a man from the government!

HERLINDA: What does he want?

DORA: Don’t know.

HERLINDA: Well, ask him.

DORA: Shall I?

HERLINDA: Of course.

(DORA exits.)

HERLINDA: When would you like to have another dress made Madame?

REMEDIOS: Well, we’re all having to tighten our belts at the moment. We’ll see.

HERLINDA: We’ve just received some wonderful fabrics, you can’t even imagine, Madame Remedios.


HERLINDA: Beautiful. There is a yellow brocade fabric... (Opens the wardrobe) Look, feel it; pure silk.

REMEDIOS: Oh, it’s so lovely. What about that cherry-coloured one?

HERLINDA: It is charmeuse silk. They were brought from the United States. I haven’t shown these to anyone else yet.

(CONCHA indicates with looks and gestures that this is not true. ‘Yeah right! They’re from round here’ REMEDIOS watches her, rather amazed.)

REMEDIOS: From the United States?

(CONCHA insists: ‘No, no they’re from round here.’)

HERLINDA: Yes, a nephew of mine smuggles them for me.

(DORA enters, in a frenzy.)

DORA: He’s come from the Office for National Statistics! And he already knows we make dresses. Hide those fabrics!


DORA: He’s carrying lots of papers.

REMEDIOS: Papers! Oh God, you’re done for! Aren’t you registered?

DORA: Where? Oh no Madame, the thing is-

HERLINDA: (Elbows her) Of course. Dora doesn’t know anything. She is always on another planet.

DORA: Oh... yes, we are registered.

REMEDIOS: I read they have become really strict. I feel sorry for you. I’m out of here, don’t get me involved in any of this. Goodbye. OK? You’ve got a whopping  fine coming!

(REMEDIOS exits. She takes her other dress on her arm.)

HERLINDA:  Why did you have to tell that woman...

DORA:  Mother of God, what do we do?

HERLINDA: Did you leave him outside?

DORA: Yes, but I closed the door.

HERLINDA: You are our niece, got it?

CONCHA: What? Yeah right!

HERLINDA: Save your lip for later. Look, you are our niece, and here we only make our own clothes…

DORA: And what about the sign on the street?

HERLINDA: ...and clothes for our friends. And that’s it!

DORA: Hmm, I don’t think that...

HERLINDA: Hide that dress! (The one on the bed.)

(There is a knock on the door.)

THE CENSUS TAKER: (Outside.) May I come in?

DORA: (Almost shouting.) He’s inside already! (She collapses into a chair.)

(HERLINDA hesitates for a moment, opens the door.)

HERLINDA: (Firmly.) How can I help you sir?

CENSUS TAKER: (Takes a step forward.) Good afternoon. I’m from the...

HERLINDA: Can I ask; who let you in?

CENSUS TAKER: The woman that just left said that...

HERLINDA: Because this is a private property, and to stroll in like this is an illegal violation of human rights.

CENSUS TAKER: The woman that just left told me to come in and...

HERLINDA: Sir, get out of here!

CENSUS TAKER: Excuse me but...

DORA: Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

HERLINDA: (With a flourish.) Get out!

CENSUS TAKER: (Recovers confidence.) Wait a minute. You are kicking a census taker from the Office for National Statistics out of your house? And before witnesses?

HERLINDA: Well, not so much as kicking you out, but... I didn’t give you permission to enter!

CENSUS TAKER: Look, I’ve had enough of this. The tailor threatened me with scissors, at the tortilla shop they insulted me. You see these pages? They are warrants. If you refuse to cooperate, I will report you.

HERLINDA: But what exactly do you want?

CENSUS TAKER: I want to include you in the census. What time is it? (Looks for the clock.) It’s so late! (From memory, very hurried.) Currently throughout the whole country the Industry, Commerce and Transportation census is taking place. I am one of the people in charge of conducting the census in this borough.  On this ballot it says, (He takes over a table, and gets his papers out) that all the details are confidential, and may not be used as evidence for audit or...

HERLINDA: So this is from the Treasury.

CENSUS TAKER:  No madame! Quite the opposite! (Hurried.) The Office for National Statistics and the Treasury have nothing to do with each other. A census is useful for...

HERLINDA: But you just spoke about the Treasury.

CENSUS TAKER: To explain that they have nothing to do...

HERLINDA: (Friendly, feminine.) Well, this isn’t a dressmakers, or a... Look, the girl is my niece. (Discretely to DORA.) Give me five pesos. (Loudly.) She is my niece, and the lady is my sister-in-law, and I’m...

DORA: What did you want me to give you?

HERLINDA: (Indicates ‘five’ with her fingers.) We’re just a regular family.

(CONCHA shakes her head in contradiction. The CENSUS TAKER doesn’t see her.)

CENSUS TAKER: (Getting his pen and paper ready.) A small family-run dressmakers.

HERLINDA: (Less discretely.) Five pesos!

DORA: Huh? (Goes to the wardrobe.)

HERLINDA: No, it’s not a dressmakers... Dora! (She gets in between her and the wardrobe.) Honestly, don’t let us waste your time...

DORA: (Horrified by what she was about to do.) Seriously, what was I thinking? But... (Scared, looks at everybody.) Concha, haven’t you got...? What do you want five pesos for?

HERLINDA: (Furious.) No reason...I don’t!

DORA: Maybe Paco might...(Exits.)

HERLINDA: Bless her, she’s so stupid. Excuse me for a second.

(HERLINDA after DORA. CONCHA quickly approaches the CENSUS TAKER.)

CONCHA: Yes, this is a business and we sew a lot. And over here, look, it’s filled with fabrics, and they sell them. They say these are gringo fabrics, but they buy them locally, in La Lagunilla. They pay me so little, and I’m not allowed to join the Union. Can you sign me up to the Union?

CESUS TAKER: No, I can’t, and... I don’t know. Which union?

CONCHA: Well..., don’t know. If I knew, I would sign myself up. Are there many unions?

CENSUS TAKER: Yes, lots. There are ones for musicians, for sweepers, for drivers, for ... there are lots and lots.

CONCHA: Nah. None of those...

CENSUS TAKER: (Discretely.) You would fall under the seamstresses’ one.

CONCHA: Oh, really? Let me write it down. As soon as I join them, I’ll go on strike. That skinny woman is horrible. She fired Petrita yesterday, because her boyfriend got her... (Mimics a pregnancy bump.) She couldn’t sew anymore. She couldn’t reach the sewing machine. And she forced me to shave my hair off. Imagined that I supposedly had nits. Lies. Not a single one. Then she drenched me in DDT and it burned!

CENSUS TAKER: Oh, you didn’t have any? (Backs away, and scratches nervously.)

CONCHA: Not even one. (HERLINDA enters.)

HERLINDA: What are you getting up to over there?

CONCHA: Me, nothing. I was telling him that this ain’t a business.

HERLINDA: Listen, young man (Extends her hand.), as you can see this is a respectable home and... (She gives him a knowing smile and winks at him.) that everything is alright.

CENSUS TAKER: What’s this? (HERLINDA slipped him a ten pesos note.) Ten pesos?

HERLINDA:  For the trouble. Goodbye. I’ll show you out.

CENSUS TAKER: Excuse me, Madame...

HERLINDA: Mademoiselle, even if it is a bit more of a mouthful.

CENSUS TAKER: Miss, this is called bribery. Who do you think you are? Take it back. This would be enough to report you and have you put behind bars. I will pretend this didn’t happen, but you are going to give me your details right now. And hurry up, please. (Looks at the clock, he sits down, and pulls out a pen.)

(HERLINDA’s legs are shaking; sits on the chair. She is now terrified.)

CENSUS TAKER: ‘Trading as’ name?


CENSUS TAKER: Under whose name is this business registered?

HERLINDA: It’s not registered under anyone’s.

CENSUS TAKER: Who is the owner of all this?

HERLINDA: The head of the house is Francisco Ríos.

CENSUS TAKER: (Writes.) How much raw material gets consumed per year?

HERLINDA: (Horrified.) Raw material!

CENSUS TAKER: Yes. Fabrics, threads, buttons. How many spools of thread do you use per year?

HERLINDA: Two or three.

CENSUS TAKER: How is that possible! (Dora comes in, she sees the ten pesos on the table, faints)

DORA: Jesus!

CENSUS TAKER: (Shakes his head.) We will have to calculate it… Do you do any assembly work?

HERLINDA: No, Sir. We sew.

CENSUS TAKER: That’s right. But do you use someone else’s fabric? Or do you sell fabric?

DORA: (Offended, defamed.) Of course not. Why would we sell fabrics?

HERLINDA: We don’t sell.

CENSUS TAKER: Could I see what is inside that wardrobe?

HERLINDA: In there?

CENSUS TAKER: (Aggressive.) Yes, there.

HERLINDA: Our things: clothes, dresses …

DORA: (Self-consciously.) Underwear.



HERLINDA: Private things.

CENSUS TAKER : Well, let me see them. (Truculent.) That’s full of fabrics, isn’t it?

(Dora screams. Pause.)

HERLINDA: (Looks at CONCHA.) Judas!

(CONCHA smiles to herself, looks down. DORA starts to weep silently. HERLINDA draws her hand across her brow.)


The Census by Elizabeth Guerrero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 8 August 2011.

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