Where Were You Until Now?/ Karine KHODIKYAN

By Karine KHODIKYAN

Translated by Aramazd Stepanian

It was the thirty-first day of the war. 

We never did find out which day it was when war transcended everything. We were living and not living, heart grindingly, occasionally hopeful, always anxious… Life before September 27th seemed to have been voided, but because life went on, we adapted a new timetable, imposed from the battlefront, where now and then, a sliver of our previous life would timidly slide through, making the nightmarish hours ever so briefly bearable. Why hours?! Because day and night had morphed into each other, because the news from the battlefront was always untimely. 

It was the thirty-first day of the war.

I was on my way to meet my girlfriends. It was the first time after September 27th that the four of us were meeting— in a coffeeshop no less. Up to that point, only the telephone calls would save us— by exchanging encouragements and sympathy. I confess, I am going with a felonious guilt complex; there’s a war over there and me… a coffeeshop… Some young people in the street were collecting food and cigarettes for our soldiers. I still see them, two girls, arranging the dry snacks in boxes with such care. I placate myself: it’s alright, you’re out for an hour, an hour and a half, you’ll have your coffee and you’ll get back to networking… And you really do need to see your friends.

A little while ago, you were giving encouragement to the girls and the women you were networking with, now your friends will give you hope… and that way we will endure until… when?

So glad I’m at the entrance of the coffeeshop. Those days there were a few words that induced terror in me, “until when” were among them.

The coffee had gone cold already. Our enthusiasm of the first few minutes had gone cold too. Words were exchanged, with everyone eyeing their Facebook… Lusiné’s phone rang, disrupting the unusual-for-us silence.  It was her daughter Marishok… Finishing the conversation, Lusiné hung up and said: “And now I am going to tell you something fantastic, and you Khodikyan, you listen well, as you’d be writing it”. I nodded yes, but I didn’t occur to me that I would really write it anytime soon.

So Marishok’s friend, let’s call her Naré, loves a boy, let’s call him Narek. And why shouldn’t we call them by their real names… I’ll tell you the reason at the end of the story.

So Naré, the daughter of a fairly well known and prosperous family in our city, loves Narek. Narek is from middling strata, has a motorcycle instead of a Mercedes, clothes himself ‘creatively’, and as if that’s not enough, he has long hair! They fell in love before the war and met mostly in secret, until one day, when Narek is seeing Naré home, her, driving by, see her beautiful daughter, with… Not a stitch of anything brand-name on him, he rides a scooter, and he’s got hair that covers his ears… “Wa… Is he a boy?”

And what’s the family decision? You can guess! Practically and Rome and Juliet tale.

All wars are alike in their brutality. All combatants are different in their love.  

A few days into the war and Narek volunteers and heads for the front. Naré awaits for and receives the precious SMS-s. Then, silence…

I won’t write this down, you imagine what our heroine is going through. Waiting, days, hours, minutes, seconds… Until she receives the news, Narek is in Yerevan, in the hospital. And absolutely no need to write how she dashes to the hospital, reaches the door of his room… and is not allowed in, they have to prepare the girl, you see. Almost lifeless, buried under the trench debris after the explosion, somehow transferred to Goris, from there to Yerevan, operated upon more than once, Narek has lost his ability to speak. They can’t even tell if he is able to recognize people, or if he can hear, or at least to know where he is. The girl, clenches her fists, walks in and approaches the bed… Narek, staring into middle-distance. Her Narek, shorn of his hair, head bandaged, thin, almost unrecognizable Narek. Narek, who seemed to glow whenever he saw her. That Narek, he doesn’t recognize her…

There is a petrified silence in the room, to be shattered at any moment, by the (so far) pent up sobbing of the boy’s mother. The seconds turn into minutes, and the feeling that those minutes can turn to hours and days begins to take hold, and the silence shrouding the soldier will become heavier…

And Naré seemed to have turned to stone, in such a way that you’d think even if the minutes turned into hours and days, the girl, having found her soldier, won’t be moving from the spot…

All wars are alike in their brutality. All combatants are different in their love.  

That’s why, after some minutes dense as hours, Narek looks up, and in a regular, everyday voice, as if after an absence of only a few hours, asks Naré:

Where were you until now?

I know this story’s unexpected end. But I won’t tell it. Because they still have a difficult road ahead, which they’ll have to negotiate. And I don’t if they will. Because as fantastic as the story of Narek’s return from the war-induced silence is, it is equally factual. And life is not a fairytale where three apples fall from the heavens. Narek still has to learn to live like us. Naré must be able to live in Narek’s war silence… That’s why I won’t give you their real names. But I’ll follow up on their strengthened by war, and made very fragile and uncertain by same war, love. I’ll follow while in my mind pleading with the gods of peace, to turn this story of War into a story of Living.

End

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