It seemed to him, that since his arrival in Boston, someone had been following him. Right at Logan Airport, just as he had come out of the movable square-shaped tunnel into the Delta Airlines’ terminal, a middle-aged man of medium height, wearing dark glasses cut in front of him, bent his shoulders politely and asked:
“Are you Minas Minasian?”
“Yes,” answered Minas Minasian.
“Was the Los Angeles-Boston flight a comfortable one?”
“Yes, but why? Who are you?”
“I’ve been assigned to make sure that you have a pleasant stay in Boston.”
At that moment, the stream of travelers started moving forward from the left and right glass-paneled enclosures. Minas Minasian bent down to push his two bags out of the way. When he raised his head, the stranger had vanished.
He was now standing in front of the squarish, four-story building on Stuart Street, and he couldn’t believe his eyes. There, where the “Hairenik” publications used to be housed, stood a restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, “Santori,” heavy iron doors, hermetic curtains. Right in that corner used to be Rouben Darbinian’s “cell,” next to it, near the door, his own office, when he was a student and the world was an endless ladder towards unknown adventures. And the strange thing was, that this cube-shaped building had maintained its independence amidst the multi-storied towers rising impudently around it. They had cleaned up the walls, given a modern aura to the roof, stylized the windows and yet, somehow, the structure had preserved its Armenian character. It seemed, any minute, the brown entrance door would open and the sidewalk would echo the voices of Simon Vratsian, Malkhas, Hamastegh, followed by Gourgen Mkhitarian, Merouzhan Ozanian, Vardges Aharonian and other elder and younger editors…
“Come on in,” invites the gentle, modulated voice of the pale Japanese host.
“I’m here just…”
“We were expecting you.” The same stiff politeness.
“I’ve worked here, long ago.”
“We know about you. Your presence is a great honor to us.”
Minas Minasian was close to feeling faint. It seemed to him that he was transported to some kind of Shintoist temple. The soft lights bathed his face. The smell of a nameless incense gave him an unusual sense of serenity. The dining hall was full of guests and yet one could hear only the subdued murmur of their conversation. The atmosphere was damp with the smell of the sea. He searched for the other smells, of ink, paper, of books and Armenian bodies, the smells of breathing and speech that had plastered the smoke- stained walls. In those days, Boston was the center of the Armenian intellect. The “Hairenik” was the shining beacon on the shore of the Atlantic. From Boston, light spread over the world. On the near by Shawmut street, was the “Baikar” editorial office which he visited once in a while, drank a cup of coffee and rejoiced, that they were all Armenians, wrote in Armenian and kept the faith in Armenia’s future unshaken.
“Are you Armenian or American?” spoke a smooth-cheeked, neatly dressed man, who seemed to be the restaurant manager.
“I’m Armenian and American,” answered Minas Minasian.
“Are you able to maintain both identities?”
“Yes, one is the extension of the other.”
“How so…?”
“One is the completion of the other. Together, we achieve totality.”
After Los Angeles, Boston was an old revolutionary. This is where America’s history and experimentation with democracy had started. In truth, this is where the concept of a United States was born. This is where the American Revolution had exploded. Nevertheless, Boston was the most European of American cities, European not only in form and structure, but more so with lifestyle and inclination. Boston is a wonderland of contradictions. It is both conservative and liberal. It is both introspective and outgoing. After Los Angeles, Boston is a self-contained fort. That doesn’t mean, however, that Los Angeles lacks character. It is so vast and so venturesome, that it has not yet managed to organize and acquire a particular identity. Los Angeles is the extension of the Great American Dream.
He couldn’t tell, was it him, that had changed, or the city? Things like this happened to Minas Minasian quite often. He was happy, that the city of his youth had progressed and become beautiful, but at the same time, he felt sadness at the sight of deformations affecting familiar buildings, squares and streets. For days, he’d been wandering around in vain, looking for the narrow, crowded stores and restaurants of Washington Street, where in his student days, he had worked as a cook, making coffee and hamburgers. Nothing was left of the notorious Sculley Square. It was at that exotic quarter of cabarets and nightlife, that he had for the first time seen a naked woman on stage and remained shaken with excitement till daylight. Sometimes, on weekends, he and a few friends went to that former red-light district, and like famished wolves, inhaled the women. Sculley Square. The shortest route from university to life. But, how to explain this dark and complicated complex, that since childhood has nestled in my soul, destroying my life? When I have a child, I will bring him up in such a way, that he will be immune to all those social and psychological ailments that have restricted my life and happiness. Let him be free and independent. Let him be natural as nature and shame-free as God. It would have been better still, if I had given birth to myself and started all from the beginning. Maybe that way, I would have spared myself the nightmare of loneliness.
He took Arlington Street, crossed Boylston, entered the Public Garden, stood on the edge of the bridge spanning the pond and watched the shimmering water. He felt a touch on his shoulder. He turned around. It was a woman, with fine features and big dark eyes. He hesitated a moment. The woman was so youthful, he felt the proximity of death, the mad rush of his years towards termination.
“I knew you’d come,” spoke the woman, pouring her unabashed affection on him and the city.
Minas Minasian hesitated. The woman’s eyes reflected the allure of the Garden and Boston.
“I am Nadia, your neighbor and admirer, when you were a student of architecture.”
What’s being staged must be the theater of the absurd. He has no knowledge of such a woman, particularly when she could be his daughter. He prepared for non-existence.
“I have waited, and still wait for you,” said the woman.
“Excuse me, but you’re mistaking me for someone else,” said Minas Minasian, feeling the stiffening of his countenance.
“Minas,” gushed the woman like a fountain, “it’s me, Nadia! What’s happened to you?”
“I’m meeting you for the first time!”
“But, the telegram…” bubbled the woman again.
“What telegram?”
“The telegram you sent,” continued the woman.
An undescribable sadness blanketed Minas Minasian, a sadness that momentarily turned into panic. Instinctively, he touched his forehead furrowed with creases. Wasn’t it better never to have been born? I am the hostage of my own life.
“You know, Minas,” continued the woman, “I was hardly ten, when I wanted to conceive your baby?”
“You must be mistaking me for someone else…”
“Even now, I want to be impregnated by you,” the woman went on, approaching, reaching, caressing his genitals.
Boston’s soot covered brick buildings, left over from the close of the 19th century, reminded him of Dublin, the bridges over the Charles River, Amsterdam, while the array of austere buildings rising on Beacon Hill, Athens. City is constant history, he thought, and I, a mere blink in that history. His favorites were the old quarters, particularly the Irish inhabited Rocksbury, Dorchester, South Boston and Charlestown areas. He loved the Irish. Like Armenians, they were emotional, fatalistic, stubborn and somberly romantic. They drank well and wrote ferocious poetry. In Boston, he felt Armenian, Irish, international. But all of that was an excuse. Minas Minasian had come to find his past, to reconstruct, to complete. And that’s why, every day he went and stood in front of the 212 Stuart Street building and waited for the arrival of the old and the new monks. It was the Diasporan Armenians’ embassy in the New World. Everyone who came to America had to pass through Boston. Those people… typesetter, editor, field worker or bookkeeper—the chosen few of Parnasus, toiling and sweating all day long, created Armenian newspapers and books with their life blood. In fact, they created something out of nothing. Those people… Those impractical, helpless idealists, shut away in stuffy cubicles, kept alive the faith in Armenians and Armenia by putting one word upon another. And many other things…
That wasn’t the issue, but the fact, that Minas Minasian now clearly saw how his familiar world turned upon itself and enveloping time and space in its carpet-like, endless bed- sheet, threw it, so to speak, into the lap of history. Entire generations were lost forever within the folds of that carpet. Some, by luck or by willfulness, remained hanging by the threads of that universal carpet, than came down tumbling into the colorless net of our times, stunned and demented. And they remained, just so.
Now he was standing on the squares of the city they had built, not recognizing anyone. New people had come, had destroyed the old people’s houses and built glass towers in their places. Yesterday’s people weren’t around. They were gone, they were all gone and the city was empty of dream and meaning. And the yearning that he felt was the yearning of familiar faces, darkened walls and the Old World accents still heard in the New World. The call and laughter of the loud, Stuart Street Armenians were not there. The Solar System had played some amazing games and all of a sudden the aspect of the world had changed.
As if that weren’t enough, now, day and night he was being hounded by that ultimate woman’s love, which at this point had turned into a chronic pain, and as distance increased, she became more immutable a presence. Minas Minasian decided not to love any more, because one love was enough for eternity, after that, God willing, something will come up when nothing happens. At that moment, when the seashells of Boston Bay soared towards Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop, he noticed, that he was alone in the harbor’s asphalt whiteness. Not only that, he also noticed a dark shadow between the pillars of the wharf. Every time he looked back, the shadow would have advanced behind another pillar. In life, sometimes an interlude comes about when men, disregarding all danger and threat, throws himself into the jaws of the unknown. Who are you? Yelled Minas Minasian, what do you want? He then surged and reached the pillar, there was no one behind it, he proceeded to the hall, rushed out of the hall, looked all around, couldn’t find anyone, turned back, just as he was setting foot on the pier, a dagger pierced the wall an inch above his head.
He couldn’t remember where he had parked the car. He couldn’t recall his state registration number. He knew it was light blue, with some rust spots. Giving up, he got on the subway Green Line at the Symphony station, changed to the Red Line at Park Street. The train came out into the daylight, crossed the Longfellow Bridge, for a moment filled its metallic lungs with sunshine and rushed on, this time through the entrails of Cambridge, dusky and humid.
“Go away, while you have time!”
“Are you talking to me?” inquired Minas Minasian.
“Leave everything and go away!”
“Who are you,” shot back Minas Minasian, scrutinizing the bony features of the tall, black-suited man standing beside him. He was also swaying with the motions of the moving train.
“It’s not important,” continued the man, “each minute may be crucial.”
“But this is my home, my city! Why this warning? What do you want from me?” he said, feeling the gradual numbness of his senses. What’s happening with this city? What’s happening with me? If it’s time to leave, I’m the one who decides when!
“I don’t understand you at all!” continued Minas Minasian, “And I find your interference preposterous.”
“Please, don’t ask questions, since there’s no time,” spoke the stranger with the same urgency in his voice.
“I don’t even know you!” He said.
“Don’t go home. Get off at the next station and hurry to the airport!”
“I’ve never met you in my life!” He spoke almost to himself.
Approaching the Harvard Square Station, for a brief moment the subway lights went out. There was a muffled commotion. It seemed to Minas Minasian that the curtain was down, and on the stage, in the dark, the experienced actors were rearranging the furnishings and scenery of the new act. He felt the weight of a heavy heel on his left foot, than he heard a choking sound, followed by the flapping of giant bat- wings. When the lights came back, screams of terror exploded in the car. The tall man in black was spread on the floor, stabbed and near death.
Taleat has reached his goal. A whole nation, hitting the streets of the world, is searching for its past, forgetting the present which—deprived of life—cannot become the past. Now the yearnings have hardened so much that the Armenians are standing at the crossroads staring at the tips of their shoes. They don’t know whether they’ve arrived or they’re on their way. More and more, Minas Minasian was convinced that he was going insane. It seemed to him, that every day his soul was flowing out of his body, pouring into the Charles River, and on to be mixed with the waters of the ocean. And the waters of the sea never reach Armenia. He was now looking for the traces of his past in the winding streets of Boston, who had shut away their secrets and thrown the key into the sewer. In fact, he was facing a city that no longer recognized him. The steamroller had come and flattened everything. History had exploded long ago and the dust was just settling. Minas Minasian had changed so many homes, that he no longer knew the address of his house. He proceeded along the riverbank, walking westward towards land’s end.
Boston, December, 1991
Translated by Tatul Sonentz

Hacob Karapents

Hacob Karapents

Hacob Karapents

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