Two pillows side by side
By Mirza Jalil
On August 23, I learned that the entrance examinations at the pedagogical technical school in Zakataly were going to start soon. After learning that, I took my daughter and early in the morning on August 24, we headed to Yevlakh station. Along with several other passengers, we got on a bus and reached the city of Nukhi by 11 o’clock. We stayed around an hour at the station and by noon, we got on the same bus and reached Zakataly by 3 o’clock.
I planned to stay at a hotel since I could not remember having any close people there. Besides, I normally prefer to stay at a hotel in order not to bother my friends. Therefore, I said nothing to the porter who, without any offer from me, hoisted my luggage onto his back. I followed him silently together with my daughter.
After we had passed some distance, I asked the porter, just in case, “Where are you leading us?”
The porter replied that we were going to a hotel. I said nothing. We walked along a large shady street and the porter went into the first hotel he saw, but there turned out to be no vacant room there.
We moved on. The porter brought us to another hotel on the same street, but it was under repair.
The porter stood in thought. At last, wiping off the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief, he turned left and soon went into the courtyard of one of the houses nearby.
“Come along,” he told us.
We followed him and entered the courtyard. The porter went into the entrance hall and crossing it, opened the door into the first room. He turned to us and said, “Come in, please!”
We came in. However, it did not at all look like a hotel and rather resembled a detached house.
A boy aged 12-14 came out of the room and told us, “Come in, please.”
It turned out that it was an Armenian boy. The house was Armenian and the family was Armenian.
We were led through the first room into the second one. There were three beds in the room, neatly covered with clean bedclothes, with snow-white pillows and clean summer blankets. There was a big table, covered with a plush tablecloth, in the middle of the room. There was a desk set on the table, with two glass inkpots, pens, pencils, candlesticks, ashtrays and a glass carafe for water. There were many chairs around the table and near the beds. There was a washstand hanging on the wall in the corner, with a soap dish and a towel.
The porter put the things on the floor and told me, “That’s good! You could hardly find a better place.”
It was a hint for me to pay him his fee. I understood the porter, but I still did not know what to do. It did not look like a hotel and it was not a hotel. Therefore, before I let the porter go, I had to solve some issues for myself so that I could act confidently.
Besides the boy, there were two women in the house.
One of them, quite decrepit and bent in an arc, was busy with something in the corner; the other one was comparatively young, around 45 years old or a little bit older.
I put my hand into my pocket to reach for my wallet so that the porter did not think that I was unwilling to pay. Yet I thought it necessary to ask him where he had brought me and whether it was a hotel.
My question received an answer simultaneously from two, even three sides, “Yes, yes!”
The porter, the boy and the younger Armenian woman answered me this way.
It turned out that the apartment belonged to the Armenian family Petrosyan. The apartment owner died several years ago. After losing its breadwinner, the family moved to the first room and furnished the second one for rental. They charge twenty rubles a month for renting the room for one month or one year and one ruble a day for renting it for one day or several days, irrespective of how many persons settle in the room – one, two or three. They charge twenty-five kopeks for each samovar as the coal is expensive in the city. The room cleaning is done by the apartment owners.
I was very content, I even paid the porter extra and he left blessing me. I was content because the apartment and its owners made a very good impression on me. As regards the rent, I decided that I would not stay there any longer after I got my daughter into the technical school, besides, the rent of one ruble for a day is so little that it is not worth mentioning.
I opened my suitcase and took out my towel and soap. My daughter and I washed off the road dust. Then immediately a tray appeared on the table with two glasses of excellent tea. The tray was brought in by the boy. I asked his name. He replied that his name was Ohan. When we sat down to have tea, the hostess brought a vase with jam in one hand and sliced lemon in the other hand. The woman was Ohan’s mother and the hostess of the house. She was so attentive to us that it even embarrassed me a little. For I did not know how I could repay her kindness. I simply could not understand why she took the trouble and whether she tried to show the usual hospitality or expected an extra charge from me for her additional efforts. The cordiality of the hostess reached the point that she sat down next to my daughter, kissed her and put sugar and lemon into her glass and jam on her saucer.
After the second glass of tea, I rose to go to the technical school to find out when the entrance examinations were.
Since it was the first time I was in that city, I thought of taking Ohan with me as a guide. As soon as I expressed my intention, the boy and his mother accepted my offer gladly.
We went out together, found the technical school and found out that I had brought my daughter too early as the examinations were to take place in several days. However, as I had urgent business in Baku and could not stay in Zakataly too long, the technical school manageress agreed to leave my daughter at the school and place her in a dormitory with the other girls before the exams started. If my daughter did not pass the exams for the technical school, the respectable manageress promised to place her in the final class of the elementary school and prepare her for entering the technical school next year.
So, I was satisfied and we decided that my daughter would stay with me that night and would move to the technical school dormitory in the morning and I would go to Baku.
Together with Ohan, I left the technical school and we walked along some streets of the city, and when it was getting dark, we returned home along large and busy central street.
About two hours had passed after sunset. On entering the room, I found my daughter lying on the bed. She turned out to be asleep. However, what bewildered me was that the other bed was made, with not one, but two pillows placed at the head of the bed side by side, looking like it was intended for two persons, not one.
I found it inappropriate and removed one of the pillows. Then I awakened my daughter. With a great effort, she opened her eyes and reluctantly sat up in the bed. I put the second pillow on the bed where my daughter slept, sat at the table and started reading a newspaper.
Ohan’s mother brought me a glass of tea. The lower part of her face was covered with a headscarf. Then she left and came back with a new pillow, put it on my daughter’s bed, put to its place the one I had removed from the other bed and with care placed the two pillows side by side, so I no longer had any doubts that she was preparing the bed for two.
My daughter sat in the bed for a while, looked around with sleepy eyes and then again fell down on the bed.
The Armenian woman left and brought a glass of tea for my daughter, sat down on the bed next to her and whispered something in her ear.
After a while, I noticed that my daughter was fast asleep. Her tea had got cold meanwhile. Once again, I came up to my daughter to awaken her so that she would get up, have supper, make her bed and go to bed, but she again sat up in the bed, rubbing her eyes with her hands, then closed her eyes and fell down on the bed with her clothes on. Ohan’s mother came and tried to awaken the girl. She gently asked her to get up, drink tea and eat something, but the girl was so tired that she preferred to sleep rather than drink tea and have supper.
It was 9 o’clock already. I drank two glasses of tea, ate bread and cheese and wanted to undress and go to bed, but the two pillows placed side by side at the head of the bed kept occupying my thoughts. For what reason did Ohan’s mother put two pillows for me instead of one, and side by side? Besides, she made the large double bed for me. What surprised me even more was that the woman from time to time came up to the bed, smoothed the blanket and the pillows, placed side by side, smiled at me and approached my daughter trying to awaken her.
At last, I told the woman that she was free from taking care of us and could go to sleep and told her to leave a glass of water in the room.
After saying this, I came up to my bed, removed and put aside one of the pillows and was about to undress.
Strange to say! I had diverted my attention for a moment and suddenly I saw two pillows again placed on my bed side by side and the Armenian woman standing at the door, looking with a smile and even playfully at my daughter who was in a deep sleep.
Sakes alive! Oh my God, why doesn’t this woman go to sleep? For I was in the courtyard a little while ago and saw that Ohan and his old grandmother were sleeping. So why doesn’t this woman go to sleep? Let us assume that whether or not to go to sleep is her own business, but why does she so persistently put two pillows for me side by side? Am I not alone? Who will be sleeping next to me, for whom does the woman put the second pillow, and is there anyone else here besides me? Only my daughter, but according to the Armenian and our customs, the daughter should not sleep with her father in one bed. There is no one else here besides my daughter, with the exception of the hostess. But she will not lie next to me!
The woman left, but did not close the door. Frankly speaking, I did not understand the woman’s intentions.
I was far from suspecting her of something. Judging by the apartment and the family that lived in it, the woman was not at all like a purchasable one or a bawd who could fall in love with a 58-year-old man like me.
So, who will be sleeping with me in that bed with two pillows placed side by side?
I admit that when the woman, with the lower part of her face covered with a headscarf, stood at the door and looked at my daughter with a playful smile, a suspicion crept into my mind.
Truly, I have met very few light-minded Armenian women, but who can guarantee such a thing? Everything can happen in this life!
But in all fairness, I was not prepared at all for such or, more exactly, any kind of love affair. If, against all expectations, Ohan’s mother decided to come to me, I would apologize to her for a number of reasons. First, I am a married man. Second, I need to know the moral qualities of the woman I meet for the first time, no matter how attractive her appearance is. Third, I am already 58 years old, so such things cannot give me great pleasure anymore.
Meanwhile, I was being overcome by sleepiness as I was very tired after the trip. I don’t know where I found the courage, but I closed the door tightly and noticing a big hook on it, I locked it tightly to the ring. Then I undressed and went to bed.
By 9 o’clock the next morning, I took my daughter to the pedagogical technical school and by 11 o’clock, Ohan brought me a bus ticket from the bus station. I decided to go to Nukhi and spend several days there. I said goodbye to the hosts, paid for the room and went out to the street.
Ohan lifted my suitcase and walked beside me.
I looked at the boy and remembered his mother. The two pillows, placed side by side, started occupying my thoughts again.
I will part with Ohan in ten or twenty minutes as I parted with his grandmother and mother. And who knows whether or not we will ever meet again. So, if during the remaining minutes I solve the question that interests me, then everything will be clear, but if not, then it will remain a riddle for me.
Suddenly a miracle happened. If someone who believes in foresight were in my place, he would certainly say that invisible threads run from one heart to another; he would claim that the Armenian boy was told from above what I wanted to know. In a word, when we were about to leave, Ohan asked me in a confused manner and feeling shy, “Is the girl whom you took to school today your 'hars' or your daughter, master?”
I would like to inform my readers that I know Armenian quite well and in Armenian “hars” means “bride” or “wife.”
“Why do you ask?” I said.
"I and the mom argued the whole morning," Ohan replied. "The mom said that the girl is your 'hars,' while I said that she is your 'akhchik,' daughter."
At Ohan's words, I, as they say, bit my finger and said, "Can an old man like me have such a young 'hars'"?
The most striking thing was that it looked like Ohan was surprised at my words and he replied shortly, "He can!"
I laughed and the Armenian boy said, "In Zakataly, old Muslim men have even younger 'hars' than your daughter. Really!..."
When I was getting on the bus, I became worried for some reason. I remembered the two pillows placed side by side and the Armenian woman came to my mind. Placing two pillows at my head, side by side, Ohan’s mother thought, and maybe keeps thinking now, that the 13-year-old girl is my wife. She made the bed for us to sleep together, hugging each other.
I did not know what to do. I thought of taking Ohan aside and instructing him to convey that to his mother, but I gave up the thought.
The bus horn distracted me from my thoughts. I held out my hand to Ohan and took my seat on the bus. Again, I wanted to call up Ohan and tell him that it is a shame to take an old man’s daughter for his wife, but I failed to do so because while I was thinking about it, the bus had already moved and twenty or thirty steps were separating me from Ohan.
I was in a heavy mood for a long time on my way.
So, the Armenian woman took me and my daughter for a husband and wife because there are many such husbands and wives among the Muslims in Zakataly!
It’s a shame!