December 10. It was a foggy day and the remembrance of other similar birthdays, including those old songs in Armenian played many times and out-of-date. December 10. It was a Friday, as usual, and I picked up the phone. No one in the world dials 71-12-10, the whole world knows that “the selected number is out of service or out of the coverage area”. December 10. I put that homeland ballad from the beginning of the 80’s: …blue way and white nights of our lost Erevan, tralali, tralala… on the Russian record player.
It was soft, it was strong. It was a long time since any music band had reminded me that it was possible to sing like this, kissing the lips of the microphones still not in stereo, undressing the acoustic sex of the guitars, barely touching the cymbals of the percussion: pure scratch of the acetate or the staff and a pull from almost 20 years inside the speaker, from the depths of its sound or its muteness.
I was a child in 1984, but I still remember it well. Not only the melody, but also the blue ways and the white nights of our beloved Erevan. There in Armenia: not at the end, but at the beginning of the world.
We were traveling in a bus. I was 12-years-old and I was departing from my homeland for the first time. The family was traveling to Moscow and it was on the next seat where I met her. She, the only love of my life whom I never had the shame to say that I loved. She, and her ambiguous name: Ipatrik. She was 15-years-old and had very short hair. Red. And her eyes. Her eyes: what to say finally, her gaze was like suddenly discovering the rest of reality. The remains of the reality.
Night was falling. It is a saying, in my homeland night never falls completely. The sun only hides, but it doesn’t get entirely dark. The sky turns red, like her hair, and then orange, and then yellow and then planet green and then bright purple and then white and then even more white, almost mercury and that means that it is already past 12:00 and midnight begins to fade directly into dawn. Nameless rainbow. Just in that color, without color; the bus stopped in her village, Añipemza and she got off without my knowing. I saw her stumbling toward my seat with the ticket still in her hand, desperately looking for the number 666. And then I saw her suddenly sitting next to me. She looked directly in my eyes and started to cry. And that was the beginning of my no story with an unpronounceable word pronounced ipatrik.
The rest was the love and the sound of love in the languid voices of the Asbarez group, amplified today in mono by the speakers of my Russian record player and those of that interstate bus: …blue way and white nights of our lost Erevan, tralali, tralala… …your name is the light of the soul, although war takes us so far that memory can’t reach…
That’s how the two vocalists of Asbarez sang: red-haired, like the night already dead and you. That’s how I sang for you, in an inaudible voice so low, of course, just pure confusion before your older girl pouts. And so I stole or invented for forever that sleepless scene of socialism of the heart, in 1984.
And you know what? I have never been as real as when I heard that song, that thirty years later seems to sound the same on my acetate disk, but is missing the half bite that, when you finally stopped crying you offered me:
“You want it?” and you took the first bite.
An apple. I had never bitten a bitten apple. I was disgusted or I don’t know what. And that disgust was the most delicious sensation that fits inside an Armenian man who had just turned twelve-years-old and discovers his first woman three years — almost a lifetime — older.
An apple. A bitten apple. An apple bitten by you, Ipatrik. And all this is like part of a dawning in Euroasia, the great razed continent. By the first great war, two short for us to realize what had happened. And by a precarious peace afterwards, too long for us not realize what was still to come.
“Thank you,” I said, between formal and embarrassed by the surprise and the saliva.
And you smiled, and almost pushed me by the neck to force me to swallow the pieces. Exactly, baby food. A half digested pulp that you gave me tongue to tongue directly from your mouth, that smelled like alcohol more than apple. And it tasted just like the bitter salt of all your fifteen-year-old tears, though I didn’t yet know your age. You tasted like virgin saliva and fermentation, the milk of a future mother, and the memory that is impossible not to love.
…Why are the white nights so short if the blue way is so long?… now sang the two singers from Asbarez. I felt dizzy, but never in the universe did I stop kissing you. Not even to swallow. Until from so much happiness and lack of oxygen I suppose I passed out. Or something like that and no less ridiculous.
The bus arrived at the border with Grusia and you stayed there. I read it in Georgian in your eyes made from instantaneous and real cider. That would be, in any case, your small stateless homeland; since I don’t think you belonged to any lips or place. A sign announced that Tbilisi: our beautiful academic-industrial capital was 10 kilometers from there. And, since then, that was all my orientation I had to look for you until today. Do you understand where my pain comes from and my indolence towards Georgia: my envy, my longing, my jealousy?
Ipatrik made me look outside, through the Calobar glass. The turnaround looked blue, although the whitish night and the two-voice choir of my speakers in mono:…white nights that no blue way is able to reach, without coming or going from our lost Erevan, tralali, tralala…
–Every time you are so alone and you always will be, every time you have a secret love and you always will have, every time you turn twelve years older, and perhaps this will happen in your life up to twelve more times, every time you find a bitten apple disgusts you although you want to be disgusted, every time you swallow saliva with fifteen-year-old tears and your thirst is not quenched, every time someone looks deep into your eyes and still you cannot see yourself, remember that my name was Ipatrik and that always, whatever the color of the sea or the mud, I will continue loving you from seat 666 of an interstate bus from a country that disappeared.
I couldn’t hear anything any more. I would only let her broken voice ring and ring in my Armenian ears, mixed with a homeless ballad from the Asbarez group. I was still in trance. It’s that no one ever spoke to be like that before. It’s that no one had ever spoken to me before.
Ipatrik let her eyelids fall, heavy as curtains, and with them also closed our non-story of love, or at least of the word love. Ipatrik stretched the gloved index finger of her left hand toward me and warned me:
“Don’t look for me there,” and signaled then with the same finger towards somewhere outside the window, toward the empty turnaround or the ambiguity of a fragile border between the mimetic republics of Georgia and Armenia.
And she jumped up from my side, suddenly. Just as she had some, almost without my noticing it. Ipatrik, I-patrik: the one with no homeland, I decomposed the name to better pronounce it in a low voice… blue way and white nights of our lost Erevan… The melody was soft, it was strong: a pain and a relief at the same time. Isn’t love the same as the only impossibility to love?
The bus started. Grusia inside first and Russia inside after, up to the same heart of the great capital: Volgograd, Kuibichev, Kazán, Gorki and the Citizen Station in Moscow. Days and days and nights and nights of travels without you. My parents would look at me with sarcasm and would smile:
“You are not that young,” my father Armenak would tease me.
“You have graduated ahead of time from TV heart-throbs,” my mother Takuji would tease me.
And they would sink back and spy on me again from the back seat. And I also smiled at them, assuming the comical price of the situation. I knew I would be miserable for life, hiding it from my parents, incapable of overwhelming them because in the end they would laugh together. Because we were going to the hospital. Because Armenak my father was afraid that he was dying — once again — as it was his custom throughout a long and sorrowful life to the end without the any diagnosis of illness.
And so I smile at them both today, both recently deceased, incapable of telephoning anyone on this birthday of the Armenian records on the Russian record player in a neighborhood called Lawton on the outskirts of Havana, city on the outskirts of an island called Cuba, nation on the outskirts of an unconnected history.
December 10. Among the memory of other similar birthdays, a bit unfocused by a certain ancient haze, often out and outdated during the real Fridays of the world. December 10. And, as usual, my mobile 71-12-10 started to ring: endless ring-rings that by some miracle I decided to answer, not to be discourteous on my birthday. And just in case it might be her, appearing again, symmetrically, from any phone in any address book or guide of my memory of the world: I-pratik.
It was a wrong number. It was just the Asbarez disk. Isn’t every call, in the end, a wrong number? The silence was thick, unbearable, suicidal. …Although the war takes us so far that…
7 November 2013