Hovhannes Tumanian: Gikor

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GIKOR


There was dissent in the household of Hambo, the peasant. He was for taking their twelve-year-old son Gikor to town to find him work so that he would get on in the world. But his wife would not agree. “I don’t want to throw my innocent child into that unjust world,” she wept. But Hambo would not heed her. One calm, sad morning his family and the neighbours accompanied Gikor to the edge of the village, kissed him on both cheeks and saw him off on his journey. His sister Zanny was crying, and little Gallo was lisping: “Gikol, where’th you going, Gikol?” Gikor kept looking back. He saw them still standing at the edge of the village, and his mother drying her eyes with her apron. He ran along beside his father, occasionally racing on ahead. Then one time when he looked round, the village was already hidden from view behind the hill. From then on, Gikor kept lagging behind. “Come on now, Gikor my lad, come on, we re nearly there.” Hambo kept calling to his son as he strode on, with a bag over his shoulder, containing bread and cheese and a few plugs of tobacco. In the evening, when the mountains were already behind them, the village caine into sight once more in the distant haze. “That’s our house, isn’t it Dad?” Gikor said pointing to the village, although their house was no longer visible. They spent the first night in a village with an old friend of Hambo’s. The yellow sarnovar hissed away at one end of the divan. A young girl clinked the glasses as she washed them, and prepared the tea. She was wearing a pretty red dress. Gikor made a mental note that when he earned some money in the town, he would buy a dress like that for their Zanny. After supper the host and Hambo leaned back and talked, puffing at their chibouks. They spoke about Gikor. The host praised Hambo for sparing no effort to have his son get on in the world. Then they went on to talk about the war, and the high food prices; but Gikor was so tired he fell asleep. The following day they reached the town. There they put up with an old ostler and the next morning went down to the market. “Hey, Uncle! Are you putting that boy into service?” a merchant inquired from inside a shop. “I am, to be sure, good master!” replied Hambo, pushing Gikor towards him. “Let me have him then. I’ll take him on,” proposed the merchant, who was called the bazaz Artem. So Hambo put Gikor into service at bazaz Artem’s house. The terms were that Gikor would keep the house clean, wash the dishes, clean the shoes, take lunch to the shop, and carry out similar odd jobs for a year. After a year bazaz Artem would take him to the shop as an apprentice and Gikor could thus gradually work his way up. “I won’t pay anything for five years,” said bazaz Artem as they discussed the terms. “To tell you the truth, it’s you who ought to be paying me to have your son trained. The boy knows nothing!” “How could he know anything, kind master?” replied Hambo. “If he did, I wouldn’t have brought him here. That’s why I brought him—so’s he’d learn something.” “He’ll learn. He’ll learn everything! And he’ll learn it well! That fellow Nicol from your parts who has opened up his own shop learnt all he knows from me. But in the end he stole a couple of spoons and one or two other things. “No, good master, this boy wouldn’t steal. If he ever does such a thing, I’ll come and throw him into the River Kura myself, I will.” “Well, if he’s honest, we’ll make a man of him!” “That’s what I want, kind master, to make a man of him. To have him learn languages, learn how to read and write, how to behave; to understand people, so that he won’t be worthless like myself in this world! He’s a bright lad. He’s been to our village school and knows one letter from another. But, please, look after him well. He’s a stranger here and young and innocent!” Bazaz Artem reassured Hambo and went outside ordering in a loud voice: “Bring tea and some food for these good people.”

Father and son sat in bazaz Artem’s kitchen. “Now, it’s up to you, Gikor lad. Let me see what sort of a boy you’ll turn out to be! You must behave so that. . .so that. . . . Well, I’ll be danged if I know meself!” sighed Hambo and filled his chibouk. Meanwhile Gikor stared around him curiously. “Dad, haven’t they got fire-places here?” “No, they use stoves. There, that’s one over there!” “Haven’t they got any threshing-floors either?” “These are townsfolk, my lad. They don’t do threshing like us in the country.” “Where do they get their bread from then?” “They buy it for money. They buy bread, and butter, and milk, and yoghourt and wood, and even water for money!” “Wou...!” “Yes, this is Tiflis, lad. If you keep your wits about you, you’ll learn a lot more!” “Dad, have they got a church here?” “’Course they have. They’re Christians like ourselves! Now, listen to me: don’t you go stealing anything. They might leave some money about to try you out; don’t you go near it. If you do pick it up, take it to the master or mistress and say: ‘Whose money is this? Someone must have dropped it here on the floor.’ If you don’t...” “Are there policemen here too, then?” “’Course there are! Now, don’t you go wandering about here and there. And don’t throw about any money that might come your way. There s a thousand and one things we need at home. Look after yourself well. Cover yourself up properly at night, so you won’t catch cold! If you get the chance, send us a letter with anyone that comes here from our parts!” As Hambo counselled his son, between puffs at his chibouk, Gikor was dozing off. “They’ll give you scraps of dry bread and the left—overs from their meals to eat. There’ll be times when they’ll have their food and not give you any. But you mustn’t take no notice: that’s the lot of a servant. . . . But the days will go by and before you know it they’ll pass. ...” Hambo continued with his advice, but Gikor was already fast asleep, nestled up against his father. He had seen so much that was new to him during those two days that he was completely exhausted. The shops full of fruit, all the different-coloured fabrics piled up like haystacks, all sorts of toys, the groups of children going to and from school, the carriages speeding along one after the other, the caravans of camels, the donkeys loaded with vegetables, the street-vendors with trays on their heads—all the roar and bustle, the sounds and cries had mingled and were buzzing in his head. And weary from it all, he had fallen asleep leaning up against his father. Meanwhile, bazaz Artem and his wife were arguing. She was complaining that the servant-boy was green and wild, straight down from the mountains, while her husband was delighted to have found an unpaid servant for a few years. “He’ll learn. He won’t stay as he is!” he was saying to his wife. “He’ll learn, child, don’t upset yourself so!” pleaded bazaz Artem’s aged mother. But Madame Natto would not be persuaded. She cried and cursed her luck.

Gikor was sitting alone in bazaz Artem’s kitchen. He was already in service. He wore his master’s old hat, which came down to his ears, his old shoes and a blue shirt. Thus transformed from head to foot, he was sitting and wondering why he had left their village for such a place, and what he should do now. At that moment Madame Natto came in. Gikor continued to sit where he was. The mistress said something, but Gikor either did not hear or failed to understand. “I’m talking to you, you little savage!” Gikor was confused and broke out in a sweat. He wanted to ask her what she had said, but did not have the courage. The mistress went out angrily, saying: “To the devil with these savages, who come here and become a menace! I tell him something and he neither moves nor utters a sound!” “It’s all over,” Gikor thought. “But how quickly!... And how badly it ended!... What am I to do now, and with father gone...?” He had considered the whole affair at an end, when that kindly old woman, bazaz’s mother, came in, dressed in black and talking to herself. “Why don’t you stand up, my boy, when your mistress comes in?” she advised Gikor. “When you are asked a question, you should say something.... It really won’t do.” The old lady was addressed by all as Mother. Mother would teach Gikor what to do, how to light the samovar, clean their shoes, wash the dishes, and so on. Everyone except old Mother was nasty to him. The “apprentices” in the shop were always making fun of him, pulling his nose, hitting him on the head and ramming his hat down over his ears. But he could bear all this. What he could not bear was the hunger. At home, whenever he was hungry, he used to go and help himself to some bread and cheese, and eat it as he went off to play, or else put it in his pocket and go to the fields, and then, when he felt like it, sit down under a tree or beside a spring and eat it. It was different here. No matter how ravenous he was he had to wait until mealtime; and even then the others had to finish eating before he could begin. That cursed hour would be so long coming that the poor boy would be in agonies, his heart in his mouth. Having been patient once, twice, ten times, he began to cast his eyes around the kitchen to see if there was some morsel or other to eat, in order to allay his hunger until it was time for the meal.

At first, he would put in his mouth whatever he could find: a dry crust of bread, a nibbled bone, or any other leftovers. But after a while he thought of looking in the kitchen cupboards. Then he took to pulling out pieces of half-cooked meat from the saucepan! But supposing they caught him red-handed? How terrible that would be! What would he do then? And Gikor began to think of running away. But where could he go all alone? Not knowing the way, not knowing anybody. Besides, his father had worried so much, had talked to him and advised him: “The days will go by, son, and before you know it they’ll pass...! And his father’s hoarse voice now sounded inside Gikor’s head: “The days will go by... they’ll pass... they’ll pass...”

The bell rang. Gikor sprang to his feet. He had been told that whenever the doorbell rang, he was to see who it was and what they wanted. He went out onto the balcony and looking down saw a gentleman and several ladies standing at the door. “Here, who are you, eh?” he called down. They looked up. The ladies laughed, while the gentleman adjusted his spectacles and asked. “Is your mistress at home?” “What’s your business?” asked Gikor. The laughter below increased. “You’re being asked whether she is at home or not!” the gentleman snapped. “What would you be wanting her for?” Hearing the raised voices, Madame Natto came out. “You little perisher! Go and open the door—at the double!” she screamed, and began cursing both Gikor and her husband. But soon the guests appeared and she advanced to greet them with a smile: “Oh, hello, hello! What a nice surprise that you should drop in like this!” “Where did you dig him up?” asked the gentleman, sizing up Gikor from head to foot. “What, have you taken a fancy to him? You can have him if you like!” said the hostess joking1y, and the visitors went inside laughing. Madame Natto hurriedly sent Gikor off on an errand and herself immediately followed the others inside. After the inquiries as to one another’s health, the guests related the whole story of their arrival. “Oh, he’ll be the death of me!” complained Madame Natto. “If only you knew how I have to suffer through him! I keep saying that we should turn him out into the street, but you know what Artem is like. He says, ‘It’s a shame, he’s oniy a peasant boy. Let him stay; he’ll hardly eat us out of house and home. He’ll learn!’ But when? He’s quite worn me out!” “Oh, don’t talk about the servant problem, it’s quite impossible!” all the other ladies chimed in. Then they chatted away for about half an hour, about this and that, about servants, and about news in the town. They were still in the middle of their conversation when Gikor came in, hot and sweaty. “I have brought the fruit, madame!” “Very well, that will be all!” said the mistress blushing, and the guests laughed. “Madame, the master said that cherries were dear and there was no need to get any!” This caused some of the guests to burst into gales of laughter, which they tried to suppress with their handkerchiefs while others, in order to cover up the hostess' confusion confirmed that cherries were indeed very expensive and that no one would dream of buying them at that time of year. Besides, they protested, there was no need for her to go to any such bother. The hostess, blushing to the roots of her hair, tried to put matters right somehow. “Goodness knows what my husband said. I’m sure this idiot misunderstood him!” “May God strike me down if I tell a lie!” swore Gikor, thus clinching the matter.

After seeing the guests off, Madame Natto talked loudly and angrily to herself as she cleared the fruit from the table. She swore at Gikor, enumerating his misdeeds one by one, and cursing her luck and her husband. “My dear child, he’s green. He’ll learn! Why do you upset yourself so? Oh, God, when will Thou come and take my soul unto Thee...?” sighed old Mother. “I’ve had enough! If he’s green, you can go and sort him out between you! I’m not your slave, you know!” replied the daughter-in-law, raising her voice even more, and she continued grumbling and cursing until her husband came home. As soon as she heard her husband’s footsteps, she began to cry and to shout louder, knocking about the pots and pans. “Throw him out, I say! I’ll do the servant’s work myself! That’s what comes of saving! If you pay wages, you get a proper servant! I’d rather do a servant’s work as well than get upset like this every day!” “What’s happened?” asked bazaz Artem, stopping in the middle of the room. “I’ll tell you what’s happened: you ye made me look a fool in front of people! That’s what happened!” his wife flew at him and told him about the incident with the cherries. “What!” exclaimed bazaz Artem. “Why, the...!” “Oh, Lord!” sighed the kind old woman, shuffling about helplessly. Artem called Gikor and he entered the room, with his heart pounding. “Come closer!” Artem shouted. Gikor was terrified by the man’s fearsome expression and stood rooted to the spot. “I told you to come closer!” This time Gikor made to move, but still remained where he was. “You stupid oaf! I told you to go and tell you mistress that the cherries were dear. Not to blurt it out in front of the guests!” “I...I...told the mistress...” Gikor stammered, but the words were not yet out of his mouth when a blow struck him on the face. He saw stars, his head struck the wall and he fell to the floor. Bazaz Artern started kicking him, all the time repeating: “Cherries are dear, are they...? Cherries are dear, are they?” Old Mother, shaking all over, intervened and tried to pull away her enraged son. She was joined in her efforts by his wife, and the children began to scream; whereupon, bazaz Artem stepped back panting and still repeating: “So cherries are dear, are they...?” and glaring furiously at Gikor, who was huddled up in the corner, trembling like a leaf and groaning piteously: “Oh, mother, mother...oh, mother...”

Seeing that Gikor was hopeless as a servant in the house, they took him to the shop. There he had to deliver goods to customers, fold up rolls of fabrics, keep the shop clean and, when he had nothing else to do, attract customers.

One day Gikor was taking lunch to the shop. Looking run down and pallid, and dragging along in boots that were far too big for him, he made his way across the bridge with the dinner-can. He stopped and looked down: the River Kura reared up and struck against the high wall of the caravanserai, foaming, swirling and eddying, then raced away subdued and swished on under the bridge. A green boat was floating about near the bank. There were two men in it, one of them casting a net, the other steering the boat. “Now he’ll bring it in!” Gikor said to himself and stood there watching the fishermen. The net came out of the water empty. “Now this one is for my luck “ said Gikor as the net was cast again. His luck also turned out to be empty. “This one is for our Zanny’s luck.” But this time too it came out empty. “And this one for Gallo’s luck.” Gallo was also unlucky. “And this one...” But at that moment, a clamour arose at the gates of the caravanserai. A Persian was making a monkey perform as he chanted.

“Hey now, monkey, come on. Freeze your neck like a post! Now hump your back like an old man! Now dance away like a youth!”

A dense crowd had gathered around the Persian and others were running up from all sides. Gikor ran up too. He tried to squeeze between the people and get to the front, but he could not. He craned his neck, stood up on tiptoe and strained to see what was happening in the middle. “What’re you pushing like that for, you little brat! Go wherever you were sent!” barked some young fellow and struck him on the head. Gikor suddenly came to his senses and rushed off to the shop.

That evening Gikor sat huddled in the kitchen. The tears had not yet dried on his face, his cheeks still stung from the master’s blows, and the mistress’s shouts had only just died down, when Vasso, one of the shop assistants, came in whistling. Noticing Gikor, he stopped immediately and, assuming a serious expression on his otherwise roguish face, asked, threateningly: “Did you delay at the club, you little savage? Or did you have important business to attend to with the governor of the province, eli?” Gikor did not even raise his head. “Well, come on, let’s hear what you’ve got to say for yourself?” Gikor remained silent. “Do you hear me? Where were you today, eh? Did you want me to starve to death or something?” As he spoke he gradually approached Gikor, then stopped and suddenly struck him on the head. The little boy protected his head with his two hands and pressed himself against the wall. Vasso was about to hit him again, but bazaz Artem’s voice was heard from outside. He had returned home. “You’ll see what he’s got in for you now!” threatened Vasso. “They’ll kill me now,” thought Gikor and his poor little heart sank with terror. Bazaz Artem had already given him a sound beating in the shop and now only ordered that he should be given no food,so that he should know the meaning of hunger. The danger had passed. Gikor calmed down, although he could hear the mistress s voice screaming: “But why do you still keep him? Throw him out and let him get lost! Throw him out...”

Gikor curled up, pulled the blanket over his head and hid there. “0 moonlit night, I have no sleep, He who sees me thinks I have no home, alas, no home...” Vasso sang as he ate his supper. From time to time, Gikor peered out cautiously from under his blanket, stole a glance at him and again closed his eyes. He had not had a bite to eat that day, he had been beaten and had cried his heart out, and now he was lying there hungry and unable to sleep. “Well? What’s the matter? Can’t you sleep without something inside you, eh?” remarked the mischievous Vasso and gave Gikor a piece of bread and some cheese. “There, take it and eat it under your bedclothes. Only don’t let the master see you!” Gikor snatched the bread and cheese, thrust his head back under the bedclothes, and as he chewed his mind went back to their home, to the days when he used to play freely in the fields, and eat to his heart’s content; of those evenings when his parents used to quarrel about taking him to town... his mother would cry, not wanting to let him to go. . . “Oh, dear mother, how well your heart knew what would happen!” sighed Gikor as he munched the bread and cheese under the bedclothes, his ears pricked in case the master came in. And in the morning he was back at the shop again. Gikor stood at the shop-door calling out for customers and loudly praising the quality of their goods. “Why’re you standing there mum? Call out, boy, call out! Your mouth isn’t full of water, is it?” “Come along, this way now! This way. . .!“ Gikor called out. Inside the shop, they split their sides with laughter. The shop assistants told him he should drag customers into the shop, and taking their words in all seriousness he would often seize some passer-by by the clothes, drag him roughly and persistently towards the shop and not release him until the man lost his patience. Then Gikor would go back to his place and call out again. On hot summer days, after standing at the door for a long time, he would sometimes fall asleep sitting on one of the piles of material in front of the shop. Then, either his mischievous friends or the neighbours would hold some snuff under his nose: and he would fly to his feet sneezing. The tradesmen, limp from the heat, would be greatly amused, while bazaz Artem, after laughing heartily, would shout at him: “Asleep, eh, you little savage? Call out!” “Come along, this way now! This way.. .!“ Gikor would cry out. One day, as Gikor was calling out for customers, two peasants came out of a shop opposite. He ran across to them and threw his arms round them. “Hey, boy, I would never have recognised you! Well, well, well!” one of the peasants exclaimed with astonishment and turned to his companion: “Know who he is Bagho?” “I would have known him by his eyes!” boasted the other. Gikor had indeed changed greatly. He had grown very thin, and his clothes were different too. He had changed practically beyond recognition. “Hey, boy, he’s turned into a proper townsfellow?. Just look at his clothes and what a fine young lad he s become!” said the two peasants with admiration. “Well, well! See what Hambo’s done for his son! And our boys back in the village are tending swine!” Meanwhile Gikor was bombarding them with questions: “How’s my mother? How are the children? Why didn’t father come? Has our cow calved yet? Has anyone died in the village?” “They are all well and send you their love,” replied the peasants. “Ghoukas Souknants died and the old woman Bodjourants, but the rest are well.” “But why didn’t my father come?” “He wanted to, but how could he? He’s the only man in the house and he’s got all the work to do!” “Didn’t they send me anything?” “They’ve got nothing to send you; you know what your home’s like, don’t you? And food has been short this year. Your father has only just managed to make ends meet. What do you expect from them? Now, if you have anything, you send it to them. They need money; they haven’t got a kopek between them.” “Have any of the family been ill?” “No! But the Mirzans’ shed collapsed on top of your cow, Dzaghik, and she died.” “Dzaghik died.... “Your poor mother cried so much her eyes were swollen.” So saying, one of the peasants brought out a letter and gave it to Gikor, adding: “Anything else? We’re going back now and we won’t be seeing you again. If you’ve got anything to send your mother or your sister, we’ll take it back with us. “How can I send them anything, I don’t get any money yet! Only...” “Only what?” “Only... I want to go back with you. I miss our viilage and the family, and...” “Now, now! And we thought you had become a man and learned something! What sort of talk is that? You’re living like a master here: your clothes are new, your hands and feet are clean! If you can find a place for our boys, we’ll bring them to town too! They say, ‘A swine’s head was put on a rug and it rolled back and fell in the mud’: that’s just about you!” The peasants admonished him thus, wished him well and departed. When they had left, Gikor retired to his corner and opened his father’s letter. “The city of Tiflis, “My dear son, Gikor, “We are alive and well and wish you good health too, amen. Much love from Dad, Mam, Zanny, Mossy, Mikich and Gallo, amen. Our dear son, Gikor, I must tell you that things are very hard with us and they are pressing us for taxes and we have no money; your Mam and Zanny have practically nothing to wear, and we are really in the straits. Gikor, love, send us a few rubles and a letter about yourself! Dzaghik has died and your Mam and Zanny are almost naked.” Gikor read the letter and pondered as he stood there, worrying about home. The words in the letter seared his heart: “your Mam and Zanny are almost naked.... We are really in the straits. “Call out, boy! What have you been doing out there? Have you fallen asleep?” they shouted from inside. “Come along, this way now! This way...!” cried out Gikor, standing at the shop-door.

Winter came. An icy snow-storm blew noisily over the town. It whistled and howled through the streets. lit darted into corners, looking for the poor and the unclothed, seeking forlorn children, away from their homes. And it found Gikor. He was wearing a thin blouse, as he stood at the shopdoor, calling out: “Come along, this way now! This way...!” The malicious cold came and whistled through his bones, like an invisible sword. Gikor shuddered. Emaciated and enfeebled as he was, it was enough. He took to his bed.

Gikor lay ill in bazaz Artem’s kitchen. Old Mother would go in several times a day, muttering to herself. “What would you like, Gikor, my son?” she would ask. “Water...!” Mother would give him some. The sick boy would take hold of the tumbler with trembling hands, gulp it down greedily and ask for more. “This doesn’t cool my heart, Mother...! I want some cold water from our springs, Mother...! I’m going home. I want my mother....” Bazaz Artem was worried. He looked about and found someone from Hambo’s parts, and sent word for him to come. Meanwhile he took Gikor to the city hospital. There were many patients there, lying in rows. They groaned dolefully and stared up at the ceiling with their glassy eyes. Gikor was laid among them. There his father found him. “What’s the matter, Gikor, my boy?” Hambo inquired painfully. In his fever Gikor was unaware of his father’s presence. “Gikor, my dear, I’m here. . .! It’s your father.. .!” The sick boy did not hear him. He was raving, “Mikich, Zanny, Dad, Mam...!” “I’m here, Gikor love. Your Mam’s sent me to take you back home.... Won’t you come? Mikich and Zanny are standing on the roof right now, watching the road for you; What do you say to that? Say something, Gikor love...” “This way! This way...!” cried the sick boy, uttering disjointed words and laughing in his delirium.

Two days later, Hambo was on his way back to the viilage. He had buried Gikor and was returning home. Under his arm, he carried his clothes, so that his mother could cry over them. In one of his pockets they had found a handful of shiny buttons, bits of coloured paper, pieces of material and a few safety-pins. He had evidently collected and kept these for his sister Zanny. Hambo walked on deep in thought. It was not so long since he had gone to the town with Gikor along that same road. Here was the place he had said, “Dad, my feet are sore.” And there was the tree under which they had stopped for a rest.... There was the place he had said, “Dad, I’m thirsty....” And there was the fountain from which they had drunk. Everything was there, everything except him. The following day, as Hambo was crossing the mountains, the village appeared in the distance. Outside the village Mam, Zanny, Mikkh, and Mossy stood waiting, and little Gallo called from his mother s arms: “Come on, Gikol, come on...!” 1894




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