SWEET BASIL By Krikor Zohrab Translated by Tatul Sonentz
The Armenian Weekly http://www.hairenik.com/armenianweekly/fea02170701.htm Feb. 17, 2007 Page 8
I. Right away I loved her thick hair, and sitting nearby, I kept watching the black pile gathered on her snow-white nape gleam under the scattered gas-lamps of the garden in luxuriant yet muted reflections at which my gaze remained glued.
The things that her hair related to me with its modest yet disturbing quality’right there, on that hill !
From a distance, my gaze followed its graceful contours, curvaceous waves, tiny, unruly strands’rebellious as all children running away from the comb’fidgeting and coming down with springy twists.
Little by little, I established an intimacy with them ; I knew them, I almost conversed with them.
The most pleasant surprise occurred when her face turned towards me. Beautiful ? Not necessarily, but a strangely engaging and gracious appearance, with weary and moody eyes, as if she had remained where she had tripped and fallen.
Was that the reason why her eyes lingered on me for a long while ? I don’t know, but it was clear to me, that her gaze scrutinized me thoroughly ; it sized me up, evaluated, above all, taking note of the admiring and somewhat besotted look in my eyes. Of course, she seemed satisfied with this examination, because the appearance and quick fade-out of a smile on her intensely blushing face was immediate, like the fading rays at sunset that melt away leaving a lingering glow on the horizon.
II. The longer we remained there, we felt our hearts more united by the bonds of an unspoken intimacy. There were mature people around us, the father, perhaps uncles. Obliged to maintain a guarded stance in their presence’particularly in that evil-minded crowd that now filled up the Mohurdar Garden’she could not turn towards me as often as she wished, and each time that she did find the opportunity to look my way, I could read on her face the torment of a restrained urge to turn her gaze towards me.
I was facing the coveted creature dreamed of in adolescent fantasies, the symbol of all my wishes, basking there, in her mysterious magnetism.
She could’if she so chose’not look at my face or smile at me ; it wouldn’t have mattered, I would still love her, follow her and be bound to her memory. Her idol-like indifference wouldn’t have shaken my devotion in the least.
But I already felt lucky ; I had a strong feeling that she was not indifferent towards me, and my own disquieting thoughts ran through her mind, as well.
She had taken on a dreamy, distracted look and she kept staring at the sea which unfolded like a smooth, creaseless blanket, over which’munificent in her fullness’the moon sprinkled gems of glittering diamonds, while in the stillness of the summer night, the trees surrounded us, motionless up to their tremulous tops. It seemed as though the air summoned us to a marvelous fantasy, to which, both of us surrendered with no sense of time.
III. It was near midnight, when the crowd started dispersing ; the moon was gone. They also got up ; an imperceptible nod, a form of private farewell’the sweeter for its exclusive meaning reserved just for the two of us.
I followed them from a distance, and on the way, I saw her lovely head turning back as if to look for someone.
They proceeded at an even, slow pace and I could hear the father’s voice in the surrounding peaceful silence, a firm, commanding voice, demanding obedience.
I already felt sorry for her, wondering what she suffered at the hands of a stern father’a budding flower under the shadow of a rigid tree, protected, no doubt, from ravaging winds, yet deprived of enough sunshine. Elsewhere, there are others in the open air, alone in snow and severe weather, to which adversities and pleasures are meted out in equal abundance. Which of those is the more fortunate ?
I felt, that this was a girl used to retiring into a cage. Her timid demeanor convinced me of that. Who was she ? Where did she live ? These questions tormented my mind as we slowly got nearer to what must have been their home.
Finally, they stopped in front of a newly built house, in the vicinity of the Catholic Friars School. A diminutive maid, lantern in hand, opened the door. I took yet another step to get closer and to have a parting look at her. The father entered first, then, in order of age, the others followed. She entered last and I was left alone, 10 paces away, in the darkness of the street.
Then I watched the house undetected : Its front looked on the Kush Dil slope and the creek running through it. It had a certain rural, country look. On the right side, in the corner room with the best view, suddenly a light appeared and I could see her from the street, now with her hair down, she came to the open window for a moment to gaze at the Moda Bay nestled in its tightly packed, earthen slopes.
Then, the light went out and suddenly all fell into darkness.
IV. What are you thinking, you, with your head in your hands, sitting at your window, with the breeze gently stroking your hair, as I watch from here the shiver running through its strands ?
Are you thinking of the boy you met in the evening, the anticipated stranger to be encountered sooner or later, who, from the very first moment will seem to you like an old intimate friend—just like me, here, standing by the wall, thinking of you.
By now, weary of the monotonous immobility, I walk up and down the street, my eyes fixed on your window above. What do I expect from you ? A simple word, a sweet sentence, a tangible proof of our shared attraction !
In the dark, I cannot make out the face, covered by the hand on which her chin rests, but I can see the contour of her hair clearly ; she is standing there in silence, not venturing to utter the first word.
And I, no less timid, dare not speak, fearful of spoiling this beautiful reverie and losing her.
Now, the air gets cooler, and I hear from the surrounding streets the resounding staffs of the night watchmen on the pavement, announcing that it is seven o’clock.
Above, she waits, still as a statue, and below, here I am, happy just looking at her. Lights glistening on the horizon fade away gradually, the night becomes clearer and, in the distance, the deep blue of the sea, having lost its former brilliance, spreads like a black mantle on a boundless casket.
In the majestic serenity surrounding me I feel transported to another world, a pristine, peaceful land, where she and I are the sole inhabitants, with the entire universe left to us.
The roosters call, rivulets of light stream from the east, the beautiful hair is still up there, at the window, the way it was ; the breeze caresses the tresses, making their small strands quiver. Outside, the light swells, crests and inundates all ` it is sunrise.
Although drained, I do not regret the sleepless hours spent here ; she is in front of me at her window, sleepless, dreaming, like me.
I remain like that a while longer, watching ; suddenly, the cascading black hair assumes a clear, distinct shape to my eyes’that of a healthy growth of sweet basil, erect in its dark red flowerpot, shuddering in the morning breeze.
Was that it, waiting for me in the open window until morning ? I am stunned ; how could I not see it ? I feel foolish, and angry for having demeaned myself so.
V. Now that years have gone by since then, I bless you, little bunch of sweet basil, for that night-long bliss’a lot more than any other close friend has ever given me.
You assumed the face of a girl to conquer me. You did well ; I do not regret the tender passion I heaped upon your tiny leaves.
Let morning come and pour around me the callous certainty of its rushing light, as it will.
To me, you are always her thick, beautiful hair.
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