Diana Hambardzumyan
I saw him for the first time when I was toothless in my mother’s belly. I was all scrunched up, moving around anxiously, and I thought it might be this man with a mustache. I wished that it was me in his place, munching on an apple. Right in my mother’s belly I dreamed that, when I am born, I would get a set of teeth: white, strong, and even. People gathered around my mother, and they couldn’t take their eyes off her swollen belly. From one man’s nose the blood was flowing like a fountain. My mother was sticking gauze in that man’s nose, one piece after the other, and he was lowing like a cow. At the same time, the palm of my mother’s left hand was resting under her breast where her huge belly was, right on top of my head. I was waiving my cord to let my mother know that I was going to behave until she stopped that man’s bleeding nose. Every day, a couple times per day, my mother did the exact the same thing. She put someone’s bloody head on her belly, right by my mouth. She reached into a container of smelling salts for another person, who jumped away from the smell and hit my mother with his hand and leg right under her belly on my heart. Another person fell on the ground senseless, his saliva foaming in his mouth. My mother stuck her two fingers into the man’s mouth so that she could pull on his tongue to prevent him from choking on it. When the man regained consciousness, he bit my mother’s fingers with all his might to show that he still had life inside him. My mother collapsed from the pain, her legs weak, and turned sideways such that her belly struck the sharp corner of a table, hitting me right on my forehead. How do I know what my mother is doing? I could only see that the people around my mother were not taking their eyes off of her belly. One man with a black mustache looked for a moment at my mother’s breasts and noticed that my mother’s shallow breathing became faster. He immediately thought that, if his breathing slowed, my mother’s breathing would normalize. I don’t know how, but I felt that a man with a beard was worried that he was going to lose someone, and he became pale. The muscles on his dimpled tummy plunged deep inside him and stayed there, almost like he forgot to exhale. I felt that with my closed eyes inside my mother’s belly. The right side of her belly’s thin layer was getting warmer from the mustached man’s palm. He bowed in front of my mother’s belly and pressed his face on my mother’s hard naval, right by my mouth. I offered my face to the mustached man from inside so that his fingers could touch my nose. I wanted him to scratch my nose really well because I didn’t know where my fingers were. The mustached man was playing with his thimbles on my mother’s belly. My mother’s blood started running really fast. I moved happily in her belly, and the mustached man scratched my nose for me.
Finally, the blood of the man who was lowing like a cow began to coagulate. My mother collected a whole tower of bloody bandages in a bag and walked away delighted. The gathered crowd couldn’t take their eyes off of her narrow hips. My mother touched her belly with the palm of her hand right where my shoulder was. She patted my shoulder to let me know that I deserved an award.
I still remember the lowing man’s voice, and I can say how I found out that the man was lowing. Two days ago, when my mother was passing by a half-ruined church, a cow lowed. She blessed herself, then opened her palm on her belly right by my eyes, and I woke up from my sleep. The cow by the half-ruined church lowed; when the sound went into my ears, my mother thought, “Poor cow, its belly is swollen; soon it will die.”
My mother and I went to the hospital in the twilight. Bughdan, the driver of the ambulance, called and told her that a Turkish girl ate an apricot, and she swallowed the pit without chewing on it. The hard, sharp pit was stuck in her trachea. Bughdan, the driver, was screaming in the midst of the city’s sweet sleep: “I think the kid is dying. I am already at your place. The ambulance is facing your building. You had better hurry. Doctor Karamyan is washed and waiting for you.” My mother rested her right palm right on my head; I twisted my cord twice to let her know that I was going to behave. I wanted to tell her that she needed to put her clothes on and throw her shawl over her shoulder so that she wouldn’t catch cold and that I would behave.
The lowing cow, the dying Turkish girl, and the man who was losing blood brought the mustached man’s palm to my mother’s swollen belly and told me, “It is him; don’t go too far.”
I saw him when I came out of my mother’s belly and meowed like a kitten. I fell right into the midwife’s hands. He was standing by the threshold and smiling under his mustache because he knew that it was going to be precisely me who would hang onto the midwife’s bony wrist with my eyes closed. I saw a lady with wide hips for the first time. My mother’s hips were narrow and my head hardly got out of that narrow space. My body was blue; my cord was wrapped around my neck really tightly. My mother was so weak that, when she saw me, she didn’t even make a sound. She looked at my swollen eyes and assured me that she was with me. Then she closed her eyes.
Even the cat’s meow got to me inside my mother’s belly, once before the dawn and once when it got dark. This cat put up with a lot; it was under my grandmother’s bed in Tbilisi when my insomniac mother used to turn from one side to another and put her left palm on her swollen belly right by my shoulder. I kept the cat’s meow in my mind so that, one day, when I fall from some height, I could remember the sound and repeat it so that the hand that would catch me would hold my back the way one holds a blanket under a mulberry tree when mulberries fall on it.
And that day, when I was not embarrassed that people opened my swaddle and took my shirt off to bathe me, I saw the black-mustached man under my nose, kissing my feet and hands. When his gaze reached my forehead, a tear dropped from his eyes and fell right into my eye. I did not have any doubt that the black-mustached man was the one who I was looking at for a long time in my mother’s belly. When his tear mixed with mine, I kept it with me, even until today. When it gets cold, I close my eyes, and I can see the one who was kneeling in front of my mother’s belly. I can feel my mother’s palm right on my heart.
The mustached man was in bed; I squeezed apple juice and held it close to his toothless mouth. He looked at me and explained without words that life is as hard as a walnut; my teeth couldn’t take it. I cried without shame.
Bagpipes played, drums sounded, and reeds blew. You are standing at the threshold and watching me walk away. I know you: You are the ones who are going to stay.

Translated by Lusine Mueller

Share Button