Lilit KarapetyanI love that man, the one sitting sadly at the crucifix, with his legs crossed. He carried the high-quality oak cross up to the mountain where Adam’s head was buried, the emblem of sin. “He is a miracle man,” said his twelve friends after the subsequent successful deal.

They were with us everywhere. Hardly had we finished breakfast when we heard Hovhannes’s voice: “My teacher,” said the young man who wasn’t yet nineteen. And he left the mint tea unfinished, hurried out and said, “See you in the evening,” and again he refused to put on the new shirt.
My neighbour often invited me to drink coffee with her and sometimes she confessed her secrets and complained that her husband got anonymous calls and wandered at night and came home late.
But I trusted my spouse; his work was connected with a great number of friends he had known for years. We lived together at H’s house, one of his friends. Although he was a silent man and rarely talked about him, I knew he loved money and was sometimes surprised when he didn’t demand any for rent. It proved the boundless love of all those men, women, children and sick pensioners who surrounded us or hosted us. People gave him the most sincere smiles, donated assortments of sweet tropical fruits on the most beautifully embroidered table cloths. Surrounded with such love I always remembered the words he said to me once: “I don’t love your body, I love your soul.”
Now he was busy with the problems of the hermits and wouldn’t be back for several days. Taking into consideration the difficulties of the roads and the lack of vehicles he suggested that I stay at home and keep busy with the decoration and improvement of the garden.
I was planting seedlings in the garden in the morning when my neighbour came out to the balcony and started to nibble sunflower seeds. Then she told me every detail of the fierce row she and her husband had had the previous night. She was surprised I hadn’t heard anything. The woman was especially sorry about the broken Chinese vase, a present from one of her distant relatives. She pointed at the bruise on my leg and asked indifferently if I had fallen down, and then continued her speech insisting that she could no longer bear the brutality of her husband.
The same thing occurred the following three nights: the same noise, combined with the low cry of the woman and the loud bang of the entrance door, when her husband left the house.
I woke up feeling pain all over my body and noticed new bruises. I was sure that something was happening to me while I was sleeping but it wasn’t sleepwalking. Even during the hardest times I never lost my common sense and generally I didn’t suffer from such illness.
Hovhannes called unexpectedly and informed me that the current problems of the hermits had been dealt with and soon they would visit me. Hovhannes told me joyfully about all those events and miracles that had happened to them; with apparent amazement he told me about his skills, talent and kind-heartedness. Everybody was hungry; they had only tasted manna for the last few days. With a hearty appetite they ate fried mangostaan and spinach; nothing was left on the plate but the chicken.
After his trip I lost his trust in me. He saw the bruises on my body and suspicion crept into his mind. I didn’t know anything because I was always fast asleep, so I couldn’t repent or confirm my actions.
He didn’t bring any souvenirs for me from the desert; moreover he donated to the dwellers all the new clothes he had bought. He said that the network of shops didn’t yet exist and the people there had to survive in half-naked conditions. His work meant a lot of travelling because each step of his activity was firmly connected to the other. Sorting out the problems of the desert anticipated more, even greater transactions. H started to visit us more frequently. They had long discussions although he always seemed quiet and silent with me. We played domino or table tennis. Every time I welcomed him with the same expression: “Feel like home.”
“I’m at home,” H would answer.
The faded walls of the house and the worn-out covers of the sofa and the armchairs made it necessary to go to the fair; although he had said earlier that the linen cover would be enough for him, he relented eventually.
The variety of household goods, the women fanning themselves with newspapers, the crush and the bargaining made the place feel like a real bazaar. We got lost in the labyrinth of colourful clothes and chose routes where we felt the fresh and cool air. A woman who sold trousers approached him and pulled forcefully at his clothes.
“My God,” she shouted.
In a second, a crowd of women surrounded us. As a sign of grief the saleswoman tore her clothes and revealed her gender.
“My son suffers from AIDS. Heal him.” She kneeled down and held his legs pressing into him with her whole body. We made our way through the crowd and could hear their accusatory and apologetic remarks; at last we appeared in the underground passage. Even there it was obvious that the people needed him: there were beggars playing the accordion, and notices written on the walls with coal pencils: “Don’t kill me, Good Lord!”
“They need me,” he said and blessed everyone and every notice.
On the opposite side of the underground passage, on a hill, was the Cathedral of Lusavorich. In the evening the servants lit torches to illuminate the low stairs to the Cathedral. A little further on were the children’s carousels and cafés. People smoked and drank beer there. When it got dark the colourful lights of the carousel illuminated the sky and the flying swans and plates arrived from other planets, like a rainbow.
Although I was eager to taste Coca-cola and chocolate ice-cream, I had to stop. He couldn’t stay indifferent to the beggars who were begging for money with their outstretched caps, and the drunken vagrants. A man confined to a wheelchair looked at the sky and murmured something with his dry lips.
“Stand up and walk!” he said to the man. His voice was so loud and imperative that everybody there was stunned. The man was taken aback, trembled from fear and stared at us. He didn’t understand why he had to stand up and walk. He thought we were policemen cleaning the public places from suspicious elements, like the deacon who had recently thrown a beggar out of the church, cursing and kicking him.
We were embarrassed again. But then I relaxed because the man suddenly jumped up from the wheelchair.
“Who are they?” he shouted, and ran away. From time to time he looked back to be sure that nobody was chasing him because it was forbidden there to be confined to your wheelchair.
He was excited because of the man’s behaviour. He turned and left the place slowly, walking solemnly up the stairs to the Cathedral of Lusavorich. The photographer took his photos and asked him to pose; he wanted to take different and presentable photos. He especially wanted to portray the relationship between the religious people and the church.
I didn’t follow him. I went to the café to eat ice-cream. I enjoyed the ice-cream, slowly playing with the spoon. Children were shouting cheerfully on the carousel boats and horses; the clowns were selling balloons.
“Why didn’t you follow me?” he asked.
“Because I love the murderer children more than the stones of the church.”
He was usually peaceful after long prayers, but that day he was so aggressive he shouted at the waiter and demanded that he forbid smoking and stop selling beer. He smashed the transparent popcorn machines, ran to the carousel attendants and shouted at them to stop it. Nobody dared to approach him. There were mostly women and children, and they stood aside frightened. Then he rushed to the cash-box; what he did there was like plunder. He punched the window and shouted that the park belonged to the Cathedral of God and they should leave the place immediately and hand over everything which creates sin, the tickets and the money from the sales.
We were arrested. The investigator said that it could be considered as a gang attack but he also thought it would be applicable to register it as a public order violation. We were liable to pay damages to the amount of the minimum salary. Our crime didn’t make a big impression on the investigator. The fact that the cash-box of the park had been attacked caused him only to smile: there were so many banks around, they deserved to be robbed.
Anyway, we spent one day in the police department. He was no more rebellious or intolerant. He sat calmly, and was even indifferent when we were told that we would be released.
“Will you really not do anything for the sake of belief?” he asked me.
“I would donate my kidney to the church, put it in a vessel and bring it to the altar, but only for your sake. You see, I only trust you because this is your will.”
His twelve friends met us at H’s house, the place where we had settled recently. First came Hovhannes who hugged him happily.
Before having supper they all prayed, made thanks that the misfortune had passed, and prayed to keep everybody protected from any possible evil. “And lead us not into temptation . . . Amen.”
He was exhausted after so many incidents. I brought a tub of hot water, put it in front of him to wash his feet and noticed the first scratches. He smiled gently; even tried to prevent me with a lazy gesture. Then I bent down and dried his wet feet with my long auburn hair.
After that first incident with the police they started to meet in secret to encode the documents relating to the issues they discussed. The meetings were frequently held in the evening, under the veil of darkness. The venue was mostly in the outskirts of the city, where night lights hadn’t been installed because of the lack of funds. I was afraid of the dark, until now. Darkness makes it almost impossible to feel the people, see the motion of objects in the distance or near you, feel the desire of inanimate objects. I concentrated all my attention and tried to listen for footsteps approaching secretly, the eruption of a volcano, news about war, the crash of the planets. There was only silence.
Everything was ready for him to come home : clean linen, a selection of different snacks and a freshly baked raspberry cake. I didn’t take any contraception. If I have a girl I will call her Christine, in his honour, and I won’t allow anyone to call her Ciso or Piso, for short, because a cat is the handkerchief of God.
It was midnight, and the light which I had left on in the corridor was bothering me. I called Hovhannes several times on his cell-phone, but he was unavailable. The bruises on my body, the fear and another fierce row at my neighbours’ were agonising; and I was waiting for his return. With my half-open eyes I could hardly read the message from Hovhannes: “We are having supper. We’ll be late. Go to bed.” So, he knew about the mysterious supper, and that I was waiting for him, and that I was in the bedroom in my night gown and I hadn’t taken contraception . . .
I fell asleep. Somebody was pressing my body, part by part. I could feel the continuous pressure of a tool; I found out later that it was the hoof of our neighbour’s pig. I threw away my blanket quickly and saw the pig smelling the new bruise on my belly with its wet nose. When it saw I was awake it fled wheezing to the garden. The men who emigrate from their country, the women who had miscarried for the third time, the pig and me, we all live during the same period, close to each other and know each other. I took the pig by its ears and beheaded it. I sinned. I hid the body in the bushes and came back. I saw H’s silhouette fading in the darkness of the garden. Had he been there all the time?
It rained hard and watered the vegetation in the garden, cleaning all the footsteps and the bloodspots on my slippers. Even the dead body of the pig vanished after the rain. I thought that it was more likely that I hadn’t killed any pig and I hadn’t seen H’s silhouette.
Something unpleasant had happened during the supper. As far as I could understand he had had an argument with one of his partners. He didn’t tell me the real reason; he didn’t want to go into details of the unfortunate episode.
He only kissed my forehead and in a sad voice he said his eighth aphorism, “Don’t kill,” or something like that. He went into the bathroom afterwards and prayed in isolation for a long time.
At about nine o’clock policemen demanded that we open the door immediately. They warned that if we didn’t, they would break down the door and start a fire, at first at the belly, as a warning, then at the head. Without paying attention to me and without explanation, they arrested him for violation of the law of the country. The supreme law of the country stipulated that “from this time on, rape and murder are considered criminal actions that carry the death penalty.” In the appendix the names of five or six people were listed who had bothered us during the last two decades; who had been heard about, and talked about too much, who had been blamed and whose deaths had illegally been demanded; they would be crucified, according to the law.
The news about his arrest soon spread throughout the country. His partners felt terribly sorry, especially Hovhannes; he kneeled down, covered his face with his hands and wept. Everybody expressed their sympathy, they promised to do everything possible or even impossible to release him because it was the greatest injustice of the time and showed the incompleteness of the legal system. They were going to crucify a man who helped beggars, who healed the crippled. Eventually it became clear that he had been accused of killing a pig. The investigator announced that there were witnesses and reliable evidence. They had even found the dead pig; the murderer had mercilessly beheaded the victim. For the last time the policemen took him home in handcuffs. The investigator demanded to be shown the place of the crime and hear the details of the case. They hadn’t found the murder weapon, which misled the investigation. The investigator preferred to have the facts at hand, along with the fingerprints of the real murderer.
“Come on, speak! You son of a bitch!” shouted the investigator angrily.
“I am the son of Man,” he answered.
“You mean you’re innocent?”
“You said that.”
The investigator didn’t pay any attention to me. He was confident that crime was the privilege of men; that women only betray and eventually become street women. He didn’t even hear my broken voice as I confessed broken-hearted, sitting on the couch. Then his soft and warm body landed on my knees.
“What are you going to do after his crucifixion?” asked the investigator playing with my hair. “I will always welcome you.”
He didn’t look into my eyes. If he had he would have caught the epicentre of my eyes . . . the eyes of a criminal.
A lot of people gathered on the day of the execution. They came to see how strong the country’s law was and how they would be treated if they broke the law. His friends were among the crowd, in the first row, except H; he wasn’t there and nobody knew anything about him.
The accused was carrying his cross towards the mountain where the emblem of sin and crime was buried, the head of the pig. The big metallic cross was raised and his wet body, fastened with special belts, swung overhead. At the most crucial moment the wires, which were stretched around the cross, due to the flexibility and ingenuity of the human mind, were switched to the electrical current. He trembled several times, but he didn’t die. I heard the justified wheezes of the pigs; there were so many around me! Hovhannes held me in his strong arms, and we cried together. My tears fell down my freckled face.
One of the policemen gave him water with a sponge, and another decided to stop torturing him and put him out of his misery. He levelled a rifle at his heart but misfired and only wounded his rib. The crucified was a vegetarian. He helped the poor and healed the sick. He was crucified for our sins and for my sin. After his death the relatives of the pig would take revenge on me, the investigator would chase me and the traitor would wait for me at home. I got a message from H: “He was the only one I loved. Now I feel terribly lonely but I am rich. I’m waiting for you in our house.”
When he was dying a violent storm started and blew away the hats of the people in the crowd. The sky became gloomy. Hovhannes, who was standing in the right-hand corner of the composition, got permission from the policeman to take the bloodless body down with the help of a ladder. The glittering light with gilded circled frameworks flooded his wounds, leaving only his face in the shade. I laid him down on my skinny knees, raised my palms in the manner of an orant, exposing me to the people and the sky, and let them read my destiny.
I mourned the death of the hero, disavowing again and again.

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