By Shabnam Kheyrulla
– Let’s play again.
– Again “Armenian-soldier”?
– Yes. It is the most interesting game.
– Ok. But I will be the “soldier” this time. Because how long can I be the “Armenian?”
– How can you be the soldier? How old are you?
– I will turn four
– And I am six. So, I will be the “soldier.”
– But why…?
– Because the “soldier” should always be older and stronger than the “Armenian.”
It was a fair shortcoming, so Natik had nothing else to do but be the “Armenian.” He took his toy gun and silently came back to his part of the “battlefield…”
Just like it is for all children these days, the favorite game of Sabina and Natik is the war game, “Armenian-soldier” in the children’s language. The reason is that this game is probably the closest to reality. Of course, these children know nothing about reality yet. But as the saying goes, “ashugh sings about what he sees.”
The game “Armenian-soldier” made its way to the kids’ lives from television, adults’ conversations, spread its roots deeply and they did not understand yet that the game would grow with them, who knows, maybe its influence would decrease, but it would never disappear, would never go away from them. The game, the product of imagination of children who are unaware of many things, did not have any special rules. According to the children, the “soldier” can only be one of “our people,” they wear a green uniform, they are friendly and brave and are afraid of no one. “Armenian” is Armenian – according to the children, he can never be a soldier. The children imagined the Armenians as longhaired, bearded, cruel and savage people.
The four-year-old Natik, who was absolutely unlike that character, had to be the “Armenian.” Although he was tired of being the “Armenian,” he was not tired of the game. Maybe because each military program and reportage the kids watched on TV added new components and details to their favorite game. One thing was unchanged in the game: it always had the same end – “the “soldier” was the winner!”
It is the most heated moment in the fight. The “Armenian” is in the “trench,” he hid behind the bed. He knows that he is going to be shot and the “fight” will come to an end after that. To prolong the “fight” as far as possible in that interesting game, Natik tries not to come out from behind of the bed. The “soldier” Sabina is absolutely confident of herself. Fearing nothing, not hiding and standing up straight, she comes up to the place where her brother hid, holding a gun in her hand. On seeing it, without looking up, Natik directed his gun towards Sabina and opened “fire.”
– You died, Sabina!
– No, I did not die. The bullet did not hit me.
– No, I shot you. Then at least become wounded.
– I will never be wounded. I have a “bullet-proof vest” on”!
– Then I will take aim at your head. Look, this way…bump, bump…
– I have a “helmet” on my head. Your bullets do not hit me.
– Where is your helmet? You could at least put on a hat.
– What do you mean? Do you want the soldier to die?
The fair objection made Natik think. His sister’s deception was indeed justified. Can the soldier die for good? What about Natik? Does it mean that he will never be the winner? Never. Of course no as long as he will be the “Armenian.” The child did not understand the notions of “patriotism” and “nationalism” and did not know that those feelings prevailed over his individuality in his heart at that moment.
– Bump, bump, bump! You died, Natik! The “soldier” won. Hurrah!
March forward! March forward!
Natik, who was just defeated, started singing the march with his sister, as if nothing had happened. The march was the children’s favorite song. Both Sabina and Natik knew the words of the march by heart, unlike such children’s songs as Jujalarim and Doll.
A knock at the door interrupted their singing. Apparently, they have guests. They both looked out of the room.
They are not mistaken – their neighbor, madam Aliya, has come on a visit. The children were always happy when madam Aliya visited them. That friendly woman never forgot about Sabina and Natik and always brought them sweets. Perhaps today will not be an exception. The children knew that after greeting the elders, madam Aliya would ask how they were doing and then would call the children. Until that moment, they could play the “Armenian-soldier” once again.
– Natik, I am going to count to ten. Go into the trench quickly! One, two, three, four…
– I am ready. You also hide.
– Why? I am the “soldier.” The “soldier” is not afraid of the “Armenian,” therefore I do not hide.
– Do you know what I am going to do? – Natik said, frowning.
– I will throw a grenade and you will die.
– Natik, Sabina, come here! – the mother called them to the kitchen.
Although they did not like abandoning the game in the middle, they ran to the kitchen. The mother was making tea for the guest. Seeing that the children were waiting for her to say something, the mother caught Sabina and Natik and spoke in a low voice so that no one could hear her:
– You see, children, that we have a guest. Please don't play your war game in the presence of our guest, will you?
They had never heard such requests from their mother or such a serious tone in her voice, maybe the mom knew an important secret that they wanted to know. The children looked at each other in surprise.
– Why, mom? Are our voices heard too loudly? Do we disturb our guest? - Sabina asked.
– No, daughter, your voices are not heard too loudly, but they are audible. You know, I have to tell you something. Your game may hurt madam Aliya hard.
The children did not understand one thing. Why should madam Aliya be offended by their game? Sabina asked her mother in surprise:
– But why, eh?
– Because madam Aliya is Armenian. Your game, your cries…
The children stopped hearing anything from that moment on. The heaviness of the news the kids heard made an expression of incomprehension appear on their faces. That expression of incomprehension simultaneously showed surprise, fear, distrust, hatred and regret. Sabina and Natik thought the mom was mistaken in some way. For there was a huge difference between the longhaired, bearded, cruel, savage Armenians and their friendly, joyful and affable neighbor, madam Aliya, who loved them so much. Now, the children could not blame madam Aliya for her attitude to children and her good attitude to that family in general and … could that be a justification?! Both Sabina and Natik wanted it very much and wanted to find justification for madam Aliya. For instance, it came to Sabina’s mind that only the Armenian men are savage, while the women look like madam Aliya. Indeed, when it was about the Armenians, she only imagined images of bearded savage men and never imagined Armenian women. Maybe there are no Armenian women at all! But no, the mom said quite clearly, “Madam Aliya is Armenian!”
Sabina remembered and replayed her mother’s words in her memory and drove away the thoughts that came to her mind: “The Armenians are savage, they are our enemies, just like madam Aliya.”
At the moment when she made that final decision her mother came out of the kitchen holding a tray with tea in armud glasses1 and sweets. The children looked at each other in surprise, trying to understand it. Natik whispered in a low voice and fearfully:
– Doesn’t the mom know that the Armenians are our enemies?
– She does know.
Sabina lowered her head, as if ashamed of her mother’s action.
– Why is she let into our house, Sabina?
– I don’t know, Natik, I don’t know.
– Why does the mom bring tea for her?
– I don’t understand.
– Do the Armenians look like her, Sabina?
Natik was disappointed with his sister’s vague answers. He thought that his sister, two years older than him, knows everything. Natik wanted to ask something again, but madam Aliya’s voice was heard coming from the living room:
– Come here, children. Look what I have brought for you.
The children looked at each other in embarrassment to decide what to do next. Their looks said clearly, “I will not go!”
Madam Aliya called the children again. This time, Sabina said resolutely:
– I will not go to her!
– Neither will I. – Natik joined his sister.
– You know, Natik, we will not even eat the chocolates she brings us.
– Of course. – Natik agreed to his sister’s offer.
The mother seemed to understand the reason why the children did not come to the living room. Therefore, she made her apology on the pretext that the children felt shy. The children were now watching madam Aliya, secretly casting a glance at the living room. They were speaking in whisper, using such words as “she” or “Armenian” instead of the friendly form of address “madam Aliya” they had been using so far.
– Suddenly Sabina cried as if she had found answers to all the questions:
– I understood, Natik, I understood!!!
– Speak a little bit quieter. - Natik said cautiously.
– Do you know why she is like this? - This time it was she who lowered her voice.
– Because she is a “spy.”
– A spy! She behaves in a friendly way, brings us sweets in order to know the secrets of our soldiers and report it to the Armenians.
It seemed that the thought sank deeply into Natik’s mind.
– It is true, you are right, sister. But the grandmother, the grandfather, the mother and the father – don’t they understand this?
– Probably they do not understand. They should be told about it.
The program “News” started on television. Everybody at home fell silent waiting attentively to hear what the newscaster would say. Pleased with their conclusions, the children also stopped talking.
They were taught to keep quiet during the “News” program. That program had some interesting moments for the children – military news! The program started with that news. The newscaster announced that four of our soldiers had been killed. The enemy also suffered losses.
The children were interested to see the guest’s reaction to the news. Her reaction did not keep them waiting long. Madam Aliya was upset to hear the news and started cursing her congeners, calling them mean and ungrateful.
But the children were not surprised anymore. For they were sure that she is a “spy” and this is the way a “spy” should speak…
Neither Natik nor Sabina knew that the “spy” was one of the thousands of Armenians residing in their country. The children did not know, either, that this Armenian woman had changed her religion and then name, in good time. Whether she had done it out of fear or she had indeed given up her nationality was not known even to the grownups. There was one thing the Armenian woman could not do – change the vicious blood of her nationality running in her veins. That powerlessness left only one way out to madam Aliya, who felt shy, – to swear and curse her congeners everywhere and whenever there was such opportunity. She was tortured by agonizing doubts in her heart.
– What if they do not believe me? They may even think that I am a “spy.”
– Let’s play, sister.
– I don’t want.
– Let’s play “Armenian-soldier.”
– I said that I don’t want.
– That game is not interesting.
– But you played it before.
– I am not going to play it anymore.
– Are you afraid of being defeated?
– Don’t be afraid, I am not going to shoot you. You are a soldier. The “soldier” never dies!
– No, he will die.
– Because now there is a “spy.” He informs the “Armenians” of all the secrets of the “soldiers.” The “soldier” will be defeated…