There were four of us: Andranik, Gurghen, Ashot and I, and we lived in the center of Leninakan on Azatutyan avenue. It’s not enough to say “lived”…as if every day, at home or outside our childhood grew up with us. Up to the wildness, very happy were the days of our childhood. Our friends’ party was a children family where Her Majesty, the Carelessness reigned.
The eldest of us was Gurghen, Gugo, as we called him. Perhaps, that was the reason why he didn’t take part in our noisy games, naughtiness and never-ceasing fights. Gugo, by nature, differed from us: serious, self-absorbed, and extremely sensitive, to tell the truth he was a little cowardly. Ando, Ashot and I were fond of sports, active games, and Gugo – lived in his inner world, devoting himself to music. His skinny, rather thin figure was somehow given a particular decency by spectacles, under which were carefully hidden his frightened and sad eyes. Though Gugo was older than us we undertook his security and did it with great pleasure. Gugo did very well at school. Not to go against the truth, I must say that in the matter of lessons he was our irreplaceable and the only protector. Gugo had a sensitive and kind heart, and he always tried to improve us with the help of music. Could I ever forget the evening when he invited us to his house for his solo concert? The dark of the room knelt to the light of the candles, and we fascinated by Gugo’s violin charming music, forgot for an instance about the time, about ourselves… So great was the moment, and Gugo was really perfect in this greatness.
I don’t remember which of us after that party nicknamed him “Armenian musician Yanko”. Hence, nothing troubled us, so we enjoyed the sweet days of our carefree childhood and youth. We didn’t realize how the ruthless years rolled over, when we became of age. Both in the street and at school our party was always super in all improprieties as well as in all good deeds. And again our Yanko stood apart. Every time he tried to keep us from usual disorders, and every time he would wave his hands and say; “It’s no use dealing with such nuts”. This «stupid» was so careful and shy that he would never try to raise his eyes and look at just a single girl. And if any of us said anything about girls, Gugo would retrieve to a corner, and at least smile indulgently, or go away. Why we were attached to him, I cannot say, but we felt in need of him Gugo seemed to be the conscience of our party, and due to his mild character he became the “peace dove” and the” scapegoat”. He enjoyed everybody’s respect and love.
When we left the secondary school, each of us continued his chosen way. Gugo, our brilliant musician Yanko, to everybody’s surprise chose the profession of a builder. However, we started a new page of our life, a student’s life, which put an end to our carefree and tireless childhood.
We used to gather together during students’ years, too, remembered still freshly breathing pure days of our childhood. But the time formed its peculiar interests for each of us, which gradually reduced our meetings.
After acquiring profession each of us went to find his way in life. Fledglings left their home nest… Sometime later we already had our own families. Gugo got married, too – quietly and noiselessly. We certainly went to congratulate our friend. Gugo received us in the due manner with his indulgent smile and didn’t forget to say, “It’s a custom, there is a need to smoke a chimney”. As if he felt guilt and wanted to atone for the sins. His wife, opposite to Gugo, was merry and light-hearted, and we all thought that they lived in harmony. Gugo and Anna soon had two children: a boy and a girl. Sometime later Gugo got a new apartment in one of high-storied buildings in “Textile” district. He was already a workman, a road constructor and worked out of town. As for the others – Ando, Ashot and I married by love, and we already started to build the home nest for our children.
Then came December 7, 1988. Darkened the eyes of Heaven, everything turned upside down. During the seconds, the disastrous earthquake reduced most part of Armenia to the ground. Again Armenian land howled with pain, thousands of houses, villages, and towns were leveled to the heap of ash. The destructor didn’t spare our native town Leninakan-Gumri either. This is which time that the land and the sky of Armenia wore its black, this is which time that tormenting wounds of thrice crucified Armenians soared, this is which time that fear horrified the eyes of Armenians. The whole world was shocked by the grief of Armenians, the whole world was surprised by the willpower of Armenians, and the whole world rushed to help.
That cold winter day choked us with its suffocating warmth. What was going on…! The God stewed manna in the depth of the earth with very blood of Armenians. The pain made the mounts numb, the hills bent, and in terrible rush became feverish the land of my ancestors. The opened abyss raised its hands and appealed to life for innocent victims. But how could the earth not scream? It was not able to host so many guests at a time. You are merciless, godless God of Armenians! How could you in 47 seconds permit the hell be the master of our heavenly land? That “unbidden” guest had gone leaving behind mourn and wail, nightmare and suffering, ruins and pains. A heap of debris was made of our street; with one wave of the hand the destructor erased the light pictures of our childhood, the home of our bright days. We met together in our street. It wasn’t the old street we knew, it was hell. How to tolerate such pains, how our eyes didn’t go blind, how our ears didn’t go deaf at loud screams and silent whines. Yes, we didn’t go blind; we didn’t go deaf, just on spite of godless God.
With ferocious cold-heartedness we got to work. There wasn’t anybody who wouldn’t have losses. At first, from a heap of ashes we collected Gugo’s parents’ almost seared bones and spontaneously committed them to the earth. From under the ruins we took out his two children: little innocent kids got choked together with their grandma. Indescribable was the sorrow of everybody. And tears in Gugo’s eyes became lakes of blood. We searched at work and in nearby stores, but couldn’t find Gugo’s wife, Anna. Up to the end of the day we searched, found dissected bodies, and handed them to the “fortunate” relatives. Yes, it was luck to find a body of the relation, to have a grave of a son or a parent. Nobody noticed it got dark. We all became a clench of a fist from pain and exertion. When we were not able to move in the dark any longer, we lit a bonfire and surrounded it. We sat smoking and talking about our “progress”: who found more bodies under ruins and handed them to their relatives.
Gugo smoked silently beside me. He tried to smother the pain of his soul in cigarette smoke. We failed to find any if his relatives alive. In one day our Gugo became an orphan. His gray face, as it was, seemed paler in the flames of the fire, and now it became transparent. This unmerciful night was lazy to wake up, and we had so much to do. I had to take a bottle of vodka occurring just at my side, poured in the glass and turned to my friend, “Take, have it, it will cure the pain inside”. But, what to cure? Vodka just numbed our already paralyzed brains. We smoked, drank and burnt in the fire our sorrowful souls.
Unexpectedly Gugo addressed me, “I have something to tell you, let’s move up a bit away from the fire”. It seemed that words and phrases were frozen in his mouth. His face became thick of strain. Gugo told me something terrible and asked that nobody should know about it. He heard that his wife had had a love affair with somebody, but he did not believe. Now he wanted me to go with him; perhaps we would find her there. I thought over the information with difficulty but immediately followed him. With the help of a hand torch, we somehow felt our way to the man’s house, which was close to the cathedral. Beside the ruins, the bodies were covered with sheets. I went a little forward carefully examining the lifeless faces. Under one of the sheets I recognized Gugo’s wife, Anna. She was completely naked. My heart shrank for my friend. Without saying anything I rapidly covered her body and asked Gugo if there was any sign to help recognize his wife in the pile of unrecognizable human bodies. I had a secret hope that Gugo wouldn’t recognize her. Unfortunately he didn’t need any signs, he saw her at once and became numb. He found her, but his eyes became darker. The smoke choked my friend in pain. In great excitement we returned to the fire. Until morning I tried to convince him to bury his wife’s body beside his children, that beyond all, she was Mother of children. I tried to kill in him the offended feelings of proud Armenian man, persuaded to collect all his man will, to put up with inevitable, and carry out the true human deed, not to separate her from kids. Maybe I was saying those words easily at the moment without realizing the severity of the occasion… But Gugo remained adamant to my persuasion. I did not know how else to coerce him, to make him give in. Only at noon, he agreed. So, we went for Anna’s body. Oh, how loudly the crows croaked that day! Nobody had ever seen so many crows gathered in one place. Ah, evil-prophecies, do you also want to poke the eyes of Armenians’? You were late. God blessed the ravager to have done his evil deed. But, perhaps, you flew to come and mourn with us for Armenians’ ill-fate? Accompanied by crows’ croaks we reached the ruined building of the bookstore near All Savior cathedral. For a moment I was frozen with awe: the bodies covered with sheets, disappeared. We were told that unidentified bodies had been taken and buried in common grave. Gugo seemed to feel good. He hardly grunted through his teeth, “Maybe that was right, perhaps it was God’s blessing that pure and true remained the resting place of my children “ I did not know what to say. I silently hugged my friend, melted in his pain, and we were united, became an entity, became one…
Like all other days, that deadly day also passed. For some days, I hadn’t seen Gugo Once at sunset I met him near their demolished house, he was looking for something. He looked oppressive: completely exhausted, unshaven, blurring eyes seemed to burst out of his eye-sockets. Having noticed me he began speaking weakly.
- I live out of town, near my working place in a cold and deserted hut. During the day I speak with my kids and my parents. They were merciless – only one picture was left. Later, when they are tired of my conversation I am looking forward to the dark and then I climb the hill and howl like wolf at my heart’s content. Now, this is the only music I can play…Whether Gugo spoke to himself or told me, I cannot say.
To have all in life and in seconds lose everything.
A week later I met Gugo again. Having noticed him from afar, I tried to avoid meeting him, so as not to re-open his irrevocably unhealed wound. But Gugo came, stood face-to-face and looked into my eyes, “Well, brother, don’t you want to notice me? A poor man and an unlucky one are not supposed to expect compassion from friends and relatives, are they?” I was baffled because of my disability, being powerless to find the right words to calm my suffering friend in his inconsolable state.
A month later, after our last encounter, I learnt with an endless pain in my heart that our poor Yanko, whom the evil fate kissed so passionately was taken to Moscow asylum with the help of Russians.
How could a man having such a tender soul endure that pain? How could his sense and brain not be distorted? I left for Moscow. I couldn’t help seeing Gugo. With a beating heart I directed my steps to Kakhovskaya street, to the asylum. But I had better not have gone and seen…
An exhausted and shaven-headed man in a long robe was brought to my presence. On his face were wandering his blurred and lifeless eyes. I hardly recognized my friend, hugged him and kissed… All my attempts fell flat when I tried to convince him that it was I, his childhood friend. My words were lost upon him. His lips trembled and murmured some strange words. Gugo stood before me like a ghost who personified his reflections only at that very moment, a torn up reflection which had a life, and who was the expression of hope and belief. Gugo… My dear Gugo, my robbed friend, my deprived Yanko. Will you ever regain your consciousness? Will you ever repair your damaged paternal nest?
With heavy heart, I left Gugo. I felt so guilty before him. couldn’t I help, keep him from self destroying? I rushed to the nearest bench near the hospital lake and cried bitterly, giving way to my sorrows through tears which were so difficult for a man to pour out.. I was crying for Gugo, for Armenian losses, for myself; in that distant city my childhood friend, Yanko, abandoned me. I was crying and the passers-by nodded their heads in sympathy without probably realizing that in tears I was slaughtering my childhood…
Years passed. Again it is December 7. It is a warm winter day. Memories come over the town; snow in big flakes pours onto my town, and my memory makes up pictures in my window. I am not able to come to an agreement with my past. My heart and soul endlessly wander in debris of ash piles… And my soul always cry from pain – what happened, how are you Gugo?
More years passed. I had a difficult and tiring working day. I had a phone call from Moscow and was informed about Gugo’s death I don’t know what happened to me…Again my suffering heart began to beat alarmingly, the reflections of the past again darkened my mind, again the pain of losing strained my soul.
My friend Gugo had lived seven years after the earthquake, actually breathed seven years; seven years maddened with pain, he even did not feel the taste of bread, he did not recognize a physical pain…
Absorbed in sorrowful reminiscences, I did not notice my taking the video camera and spontaneously took out the film. Brutal disaster, the earthquake, not only made Gugo unhappy, but also disrupted logic in blurred brain, erasing the whole film of life – the history.
I threw the film into the stove. A handful of ash was added from the burnt film, and at the cemetery of a far away city, there is a small hill – a nameless tomb of Gugo.
Translated by N Mnatsakanyan.