History &
& Alphabet
Youth &
Feasts &

By Sempad Shahnazarian

Chapter Nine 

empad had a mandolin that he played every now and then. Ever since the two rooms had been rented he had been playing it more often. He didn’t know why! He guessed it was because there was a girl in the house, a beautiful high school girl.

  One day as he was playing, he heard footsteps on the stairs. He went on playing until the footsteps came nearer and stopped on the landing. He stopped playing and looked in the direction of the landing. She looked at him and at the mandolin with a pleasant smile on her face.

  He invited her to sit with him. She sat by the window and asked him to play a piece for her. 

  “I am not much of a musician,” he said. “I only took a few lessons from an Italian teacher before I entered the army.”

  “I would like very much to learn to play it,” she said, blushingly.

  “I can teach you what little I know,” he said, feeling somewhat relaxed. 

  He explained to her certain elementary rules. He told her the names of each string, then after playing the scale, he let her do the same. She was very excited and he could see in her eyes a fascinating glow of enjoyment. Her mother’s voice came from the second floor. She had just come home from work. The girl got up unwillingly and on her way down met Maria on the stairs.

  “You had company, Sempad?”

  “She was up here for a moment,” he said indifferently.

  “I have your certificate, now. Your name is Garo from now on. Don’t forget it. The Chief of Police was my husband’s friend. I am going to ask him for a favor. I am going to tell him that you are my brother and that you are afraid to go out because of the troubles the Armenians are in now. I am going to try to get a permit for you so that you may go out, once in a while, and take in a little fresh air and sunshine. You’re getting a little pale.”

  One day, he had a very high fever. Maria was worried and had gone out to get him some medicine. After she had left the house the young girl, whose name was Dikranouhie, cautiously opened the door and walked to his bed where he was breathing heavily, half asleep, saying: “How do you feel, Sempad?” Noticing the perspiration running down his face and wetting the pillow, she took her red scarf out of her pocket and was wiping his face, neck and chest, just when Maria happened to come up the stairs and stopping on the landing she cried out: “Hey! What the hell are you doing over there?”

  Dikranouhie was surprised and frightened. She turned around and said calmly: “The poor boy is sick. He has a high fever. Can’t I even give him a glass of water?”

  “Get out of his room and stay out!” she shouted violently.

  She left her scarf on his chest and walked out, extremely upset.

  Maria walked into his room and began laughing hysterically. She went to her room and came back with a mirror in her hand and held it so that Sempad could see his face in it and said: “Look! Look at your beautiful face.”

  He looked in the mirror and in spite of his fever he began to laugh because the red dye from the scarf had made a perfect clown out of him. His face, his nose and neck and chest were all dyed a bright red. Sitting on the edge of his bed, Maria took a wet towel and wiped the red away. She let him drink a glass of Tahn, diluted yogurt, gave him some medicine and put an ice-bag on his forehead.

  “You will be all right by tomorrow,” she said.

  By the way, I saw the police Chief today. He told me to take you to the police station and introduce you to his men so they may become acquainted with you and take care of you. He also told me that you must not leave his district. As long as you stay in his district you should have nothing to worry about. Tomorrow morning we will go there and get acquainted with them.”

    Dikranouhie and her mother had learned about that mysterious appointment. The following morning when they saw him with Maria on the way to the police station, Dikranouhie cried out, in anguish: “If you are doing this because of me, we will be glad to move out of here and never see you anymore. It’s horrible to put that innocent boy’s life in danger for nothing.”

  Maria told Sempad not to pay any attention to her and not to worry.

  They went to the station. The Chief introduced him to his men, saying: “He is my friend; take good care of him.” He, then, turned to them and said: “It’s a nice day. You can stroll around for a while before you go home.”

  They left the station composed and relaxed. The sky was blue, the air cool and delightful. The streets were full of civilians and soldiers and they walked silently and distressed, smiling every now and then to brighten their inner gloom. Moments afterward, when they returned home, they saw Dikranouhie and her mother standing at the window, wiping the tears from their eyes.

  Months rolled by, dark and dreary, punctuated by enchanting moments of glowing delight. He stopped playing the mandolin. He spent most of his time lying on his bed next to her room, thinking about his dangerous situation. He was also reflecting about his readings. His mind was soaring with poetical creations, his colorful visions, and his restless imagination. He was trying to analyze the hidden structure of his mind, its correlation with his heart, the essence of their contents and their possible mutual effects. Could there be any fundamental physiological difference between love and sexual craving? Are gratitude and other protective impulses similar to the sensations born of love. None of these so-called moral attributes can give you wings to fly. They pull you down to Earth. 

  They make you calculate, earnestly, to cope with difficulties, to walk on the ground and feel the hard reality beneath your feet. Love is the heavenly liquor that intoxicates you. It covers reality with a mist, creates a new world, new colors and new forces incompatible with earthly existence. On the basis of these deliberations he concluded that he was in love with Dikranouhie and had only gratitude and protective inclinations toward Maria.

  He began to write poetry and hand it secretly to her. He looked upon her as a shred of cloud sailing in the blue Heaven. Her hair seemed like the air before the bursting of a hurricane. Her eyes were like the sparks shining through the apertures of clouds at night and her voice sounded like the bubbling of a fountain in the hollow of a cliff, clear, sunny and refreshing. To these purely immaterial pictures followed sensations he received from his sister’s scarf, which kept haunting him. He could actually feel the warmth and fragrance of Satenik’s hair, the glow of her eyes, the softness of her tiny hands and the charm of her voice and face. He always felt as if that piece of material were actually a living part of her beating harmoniously with his heart, inundating his soul with irresistible impulses of revenge: How could he continue to live in peace when he always pictured, in his mind, the bloody hatchet falling, cruelly upon the heads of his brother Arsen, upon the heads of his father and mother and upon his people...Hiding like a coward here wasn’t the reason for his desertion. He tried hard to cross over to Bulgaria to join the Allies, in vain. A ray of hope, however, kept flickering in his soul.

   It was his tenth month of hiding. The papers were full of conflicting news. The Dardenelle Straits were still being bombarded by the English fleet. The French and German front represented a hellish picture of explosions on hills covered with thousands of bodies. Russian and German clashes and bloody battles were continuing.  Russia advanced into Turkey all along the Caucasian front aided by the thousands of Armenian volunteers from as far as Baku and had occupied the eastern vilayets, Van, Moush and Erzeroum. The English and French forces were battering the Turkish army in the South, preparing the ground for new and independent governments on territories taken away from the Turks.  In all of these territories, Iraq, Arabia, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, blood was flowing and millions of human beings were being killed.

  In this atmosphere of international bloodshed Sempad was hiding in a little frame house and at the same time he was planning to get out of Turkey so that he might join the Allied forces against the greatest criminal on Earth.

  One day, on one of his walks at Taksim he bought a Turkish newspaper and took a seat under a tree on the boulevard and began to read.

  He had been sitting there for about an hour, enjoying the beautiful day, when to his great surprise he noticed two police officers questioning people who occupied seats there. He looked around and became alarmed when he realized that he was outside the limits of the district within which he was permitted. With fear in his heart he acted as if he were absorbed in his reading, when one of the police officers stood in front of him.

  “Effendi! Mister! he called. Sempad kept reading as if he were unconscious of his presence.

  “Effendi!” he repeated, this time harshly.

  “Yes!” he answered and looked at him calmly.

  “Your identification paper, please!”

   He quietly took it out of his pocket and handed it to him.

   He looked at it for a moment, and asked: “What is your name?”

  “Garo!” he answered, unperturbed.

  “Let’s go!”

  “Go where? It’s time for me to go to work.”

  “Come on, let’s go,” he said, raising his voice.

  “I must go to work, now.”  he said as if annoyed by the whole thing. At this, the police officer grabbed his arm and shouted angrily: “Let’s go!”

  He joined a group of suspects and they started walking down the main street. Crowds of people watched them pass, when he heard Maria’s voice among the crowd, calling his name: “Garo! Garo!” He spotted her, jostling the people and moving with excitement. She followed them to the entrance of the Central Police Station and cried: “Don’t worry Garo.” She, then, disappeared.

  He was taken upstairs to a doctor’s office. He was asked his name and his age. The doctor looked in his mouth, then examined his hands and without any further questioning and disregarding his identification paper, he jotted down that he was about twenty years old and was fit for military service. He prepared a certificate for him and they took him down to the ground floor through a dark corridor, opened a massive door, pushed him in and shut the door. It was dark inside. He could hardly see anything. He stood there petrified for a moment until his eyes began to see, as if through a mist, and began to distinguish things in the interior. It was a spacious room with dirty plaster walls and no furniture. The floor was littered with dirty looking people. On the wall facing the door, someone had written in heavy black letters...Dungeon!

  The people were lying on the floor, back to back, like corpses...no air...unbearable stench...Some were asleep...others stared at the ceiling. Someone suddenly stirred on the floor, struggled into a sitting position, blinked and with the back of his hand rubbed his eyes looked again and suddenly yelled: “Sempad!”

  He approached Beto and whispered into his ear that his name was Garo, now. Beto understood what happening. He was not wearing his Kurdish clothes anymore. Sempad told him his story and Beto told him his. The two were somewhat in the same fix.

  They were littered on the bare floor like pigs for several days, with a bowl of soup a day. One morning, a police officer came in with a sheet of paper in his hand and began to read the names of about twenty of them.  He read Sempad’s name, as Garo, then he read Beto’s name. They struggled up to their feet went into the corridor and stood in line. Three soldiers armed with rifles and fixed bayonets moved them outside.

  The streets were deserted in the early morning hours. They were walking down Taxim Street, worried and hopeless when Sempad heard Maria’s voice: “Garo! Garo!”

  In a way, he was glad they were going to treat him as Garo and send him to the army as a newly drafted man. What if they know who I am? What if somebody recognizes me? he thought to himself. From the pavement, he again heard Maria’s voice: “Don’t worry, Garo! Don’t worry!”

  At the entrance to Headquarters, he saw three men dangling on a scaffold with a piece of cardboard attached to their chests displaying their sentences. One’s tongue stuck out like a swollen liver, another’s eyes bulged out, dreadfully.

  The group went through the gate into a very large rectangular courtyard. A stone stairway led them up to the second floor, which had a long line of offices, with guards at all the doors. They were all distributed to different departments.

  The guard pushed Sempad into a spacious office with three desks occupied by a high-ranking officer and two secretaries. He stood at attention in front of the desk near the entrance, worried. Before questioning began, Maria had come in with tears in her eyes.

.   “He is my brother. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He is just a young boy. Please...please let him go!”

  The secretary, disregarding her supplication, began to question Sempad.

  “What is your name?” he asked him.

Chapter Nine  - Continue >
Updated 20 June, 2000 Contents.......
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