Everyone knew the lonely and silent Beglar. Even he did not remember how old he was. All his memories, lived and unlived years were left in the past. And only he knew why he was still alive. The 90s war had taken away his eye, taking away also the desire and the meaning to look at the world. All his loved ones were gone: his young wife and the three-month-old son whom he had seen only for two or three times. The enemy’s missile had left nothing to look at; only the wife’s body torn into pieces. One eye was enough to see, understand and mourn all this. His son was missing. Hope was coming and fading away with the sunlight and dark nights, leaving a bitter sadness in the mouth. He was orphaned for an uncertain period of time. He was not leaving the ruins; he couldn’t believe that things were never going to be the same again. One day, when he was lying exhausted in the part of the destroyed house where his son’s crib used to be, he had a dream. He saw Hasmik in the guise of Mother of God holding her child. She bent over him and whispered, “Mikael has a birthmark on his leg, just like you. A big mole with two smaller ones nearby. Do not leave our son alone.”
He flinched. He stretched his arms to hug the vision which seemed to be so real but only caught the weightless ashes flying in the air. His heart was fluttering and it seemed it was up, in his head, beating inside from one side to the other like a bell without a clapper in the bell tower. He rapidly uncovered his right leg and as if for the first time saw the birthmark he had forgotten. A big mole with two smaller ones nearby. For the first time he wanted to cry, but he couldn’t. He only howled like a wolf, neither intending nor being able to articulate any word. The fragments of resurrecting hope brought meaning to his life. “It was not a dream. I felt Hasmik’s breath, her scent. No, it was not a dream. My Mikael is alive.”
What came after was harsh. His son was everywhere and at the same time nowhere. It was not easy to find the three-month-old baby even with the rare birthmark on his leg. He searched everywhere, knocked on all doors, but along with every closing door the hope to find the only consolation was fading away. And one day he came back and decided to stay in the destroyed town – alone and silent.
He did a carpenter’s job, helping the displaced settle in, whereas he found his shelter in the attic next to his destroyed house, which was more than enough for him. He lived being kind to everyone, looking at how others lived, raised children and grandchildren, until the new war came to devour those children.
The war was different. In seconds the peaceful blue of the sky was turning deceitful and every new ruin in the place of houseblocks, every new hollow distorted the surface of the earth. In between the missile attacks he was finding out that there was nearly no infighting. It was a war of technologies, money and power. But he knew one thing well. He knew his enemy whose superpower, besides assassinating women and children, was the ability to flee and escape. But one could not see the end of that war, which was taking away the lives of his small country’s brave sons. Those who were persistently beating up the enemy.
Every time he heard the air alarm and went down to the basement, he felt himself as a rat: an old and useless four-legged animal. He was dying to dream a new dream, wherever young Hasmik would grant him a new hope and meaning of life.
“Come and lie to me once more, but tell me, tell me what to do. Young blood is being shed. My heart can’t bear it. And tell this to your God. Or maybe he went blind just like me?” And one day the “rat” running in the basement suddenly stopped, calmly opened the door and went up the stairs.
The town was empty. He looked up. The sky was empty as well.
He lit his cigarette from the fire of a burning house and slowly moved forward on the shaking ground.
“Come over here, hit me, maybe it will calm you down, unrighteous. Why do you keep me alive all this time? Don’t you regret the bread I eat, the air I breathe? You, unrighteous…” Then he cursed and all of a sudden changed the direction he was walking in. The draft board was not far. The missile attack stopped, as he reached it.
“I came to ask you to take me to the war instead of a young soldier. I can fight with one eye. I will fight. If you don’t take me there, I will go by myself.”
They got angry with him, tried to persuade him that he could help them there if he wanted to. He agreed. But when he learned that he was to make coffins, he got mad, cursed again, threw the papers piled on the table in the air, but…
A nice-looking girl working in the municipality, looked in his eye, her voice trembling:
“Uncle Beglar, there is nobody else. Whom should we ask, please, tell us?” He had nothing to say.
In the bustle of the hospital, he didn’t even notice how he appeared in the morgue. He was to work in the next room. He worked day and night, until someone came in. It was the doctor’s aide of the morgue.
“Uncle Beglar, I am going to the frontline. There are enough coffins for now. Now you are going to do my job.”
He didn’t catch it.
“What? What am I going to do?”
The aide took him to the next large room, and they stood silent.
There was a shapeless mass of halted, amputated bodies on the biers and tables. His knees buckled.
“I know, uncle, but I should be there now. You must help our boys, our honorable boys. They are not merely bones and muscles.”
“What’s your name, my boy?” his voice trembled.
He had never seen a faint-hearted morgue assistant in his whole life and now he was ashamed of his weakness.
“Tell me what I am to do.”
He thought he had lived a long life and seen hell. He was wrong. He only knew that he had to give a shape to what he had on the tables. The open coffins with bottomless mouths were waiting for them.
In the streams of fading and intensifying light and water, he washed, cleaned the bodies blended in dust, blood and guts. He was moving, putting and assembling them in the wooden boxes he had made. Then he closed them hammering the lids on which he glued the papers attached to the bodies. He wondered how he did all that. He worked like a strained mechanism, trying not to look at the dead bodies, until he realized that he was exhausted, he couldn’t go on like that.
Two empty coffins were left.
He decided that he had to finish the work on them and only then have a little rest.
There were two bodies. Beglar had realized that he was to decide their quantity by heads, not to be mistaken and not to lose the count.
Those were young boys, maybe 26-27 years old.
Their faces were surprisingly clean and calm, though you could hardly differentiate what was the mixture down the waist.
He washed, cleaned all that was left in the military uniforms with unexplainable and unique care and started to assemble the last parts of bodies in the coffins.
Suddenly his glance was caught by one of the legs. His heart stopped beating. There was his birthmark on it. A big mole with two smaller ones next to it. He pressed that piece of leg with his trembling hands and shouted.
“Miko, Mikoooo, my son…”
Then again like a mechanism he started placing the leg in the first then in the second coffin, trying to understand whose leg it was. It seemed to belong to both of them. He couldn’t think rationally anymore. Beglar’s tears ran down his eyes, and he just left the leg with one of them. He kissed his sons’ foreheads, closed the lids, glued the papers and went away. On the way home he remembered an important thing.
“Did I hammer my Mikos’ coffins, or…?”
Was he walking or flying?
His body was light, far from the ground, traceless.
He went down to the basement, took a bottle of mulberry vodka, made a bitter sip and closed his eyes.
The place where the soldiers were being buried was far. The pain of the mother who lost her child was undepictable. But suddenly the heaviness of grief made the hands carrying the coffin unable to carry it anymore. A piece of a leg fell out from the clumsily closed coffin. The procession moaned and cursed the coffin maker.
Only the mother saw the mole on the leg and tearing away the veil, shouted. “This is not my Narek… Narek didn’t have such a mole. Narek is alive, do you hear…?” The air was heavy.
The blue planet sleeping in the stardust didn’t stop.
The world was the same and the sky was empty again. Only an angel with broken wings was flying close to the ground. A drop of hope was falling from his only eye from time to time on a small, forgotten piece of ground. The heart of the burned ground was being filled with relief.
—Translated by Anna Baghramyan