Chapter Four: Anahid Uncle Bedros took us to a restaurant in the Armenian section of the city after the ceremony. There were musicians setting up in the corner. I had never eaten in a restaurant before. There was only one restaurant in my village and it was really only for the travelers. I racked my brain for a reference of what I was supposed to do in a dining room of strangers. It was not exactly proper for a young woman to be in a place like this, but Uncle Bedros had no home to have a dinner and he certainly did not know how to cook. People turned to look at us when we crossed the threshold. I tried to hide behind the men. It was not safe to be noticed this way. It was also embarrassing to be gazed upon like a carnival oddity for the fashionable, white dress that was not even mine. The owner greeted Uncle Bedros with familiarity and when he heard this was a wedding dinner, his face lit up. He grabbed Nishan by the shoulders as if he were his oldest friend and coaxed me forward to kiss the back of my hand. The news of the wedding party of the Armenian from America spread through the restaurant. As we sat down, there was already food being placed before us. Men left their tables to come congratulate us on our nuptials, each sending another bottle of wine after returning to their own dinners. I was given a wine glass and asked to drink every time another stranger gave a toast to the bride and groom. I took small sips, as I did when I was nine years old at family Christmas and Easter dinners. I thought about my how my cousins would crowd around a makeshift table made of saw horses and planks, yet covered elegantly in a damask table cloth, with candles and a cut crystal centerpiece. Each child would get a small glass of red wine at these huge, formal dinners, in order to drink as Jesus and his disciples did. This wine didn’t taste as bad as the Christmas wine I recalled. The men drank glass after glass. Other men came to sit with us, regaling each other with stories of their own betrothals, referring back to the women who waved from the tables across the room. The women in the dining room were not dressed up too much. They talked together and sat comfortably in this establishment, as if they’d been here a thousand times. One old, grey-haired woman held my hand with her gnarled fingers and whispered in my ear, “God be with you, child. You have done well to marry the American and leave this land.” She did not dally in conversation, but gently padded my shoulder and walked away. I decided it was all right to relax a little bit. I began to take larger sips of the wine with each toast. Why not? I was now a married woman, just like them. Then, there was music and more people. All of these people who didn’t even know us when we walked in the door were celebrating like we were their own. It didn’t make sense, but I knew I was expected to participate. I don’t recall the last time I was allowed to dance, but the steps came back easily. It is good that the traditional Armenian dances don’t involve facing a partner or a man’s hand on your waist. I danced in the line, pinky fingers intertwined with my new husband on one side and a stranger on the other. Each song, led by an oud player and shouts of the singer, went faster and faster as the song drove on. Bedros clapped and sang and took all the credit, which he deserved. Finally, I had to sit. The noise of the room became an echo on my eardrums. I leaned back in the chair, resting my head on the tall back, just for a moment.
Chap Five: Nishan He didn’t know what time it was when Bedros stopped dancing and started laughing uproariously, pointing toward their table. When they turned to look, there was Anahid, slumped back in the chair, napping through the din, with her mouth hanging open, a lock of sweaty hair plastered across her forehead and her cheeks flushed pink. It was not a very demure site. Nishan went to her and gently put his hand under her chin to close her mouth. She started at the touch, but then immediately crossed her arms on top of the table and rested her head in the crook of her elbow. He smiled at the crown of her brunette hair and motioned to Bedros that it was time for them to leave. They got her to her feet and steadied her between them, as they guided her out to the street and into a hired carriage back to the boarding house. Once inside, Bedros returned to his nervousness. He paced the floor of the hallway, watching as one of the sisters and Nishan took Anahid up the stairs. Nishan looked back down at him from the landing. Bedros stuttered, “There may be no blood.” “I know,” Nishan replied. The two men’s eyes met. “I swore three times at the church – under your blessing, my brother – to keep her,” Nishan finally said. “Yes,” Bedros said, almost to himself. “Yes, of course.” Yet, he made no move to leave. They laid Anahid atop the made bed, still in her wedding dress and the boarding house proprietor pulled a lace-edged handkerchief from her sleeve, wiping Anahid’s forehead and temples before returning to the parlor. Nishan sat in the chair next to the water basin and sighed. He watched Anahid’s belly rise and fall in the light of the kerosene lamp. He examined her face from his perch – the dark eyebrows and baby skin. He listened to the whistle of her nose as she neared a state of snoring, yet never quite got there. He could also hear Bedros’ baritone voice through the floorboards for another half-hour before he, himself, dosed against the cushion of the chair back. Her voice woke him in the darkest part of the early morning. She seemed to be still asleep, but was talking urgently in both Armenian and Turkish. Her hands grabbed at the air fiercely as if desperate to catch the dust floating there. He could not make out what she was saying. Her speech slurred and changed rhythm unnaturally. Suddenly she yelled, “No, Mama!” Then caught her own breath, opened her eyes and stiffened. Then just as suddenly, relaxed corpse-like into the mattress, as if landing with a thud from a great height. Nishan held his breath during this short display, not sure what to do. Should he wake her? Was she hallucinating or just dreaming an obvious nightmare? He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, now investigating her breathing and the twitch of her hand, wondering how distressed he should or shouldn’t be at this stray cat who was now the vessel of his future. In the morning, she startled him from his place on the chair again by popping up, straight-backed to a seated position on top of the intricate lace bedspread. She likely felt dizzy and sick to her stomach from the wine. Her confusion was short-lived and her face settled into an ambiguous understanding that the marriage had not been consummated.
## To Be Continued ##
Garinè B. Isassi is the award–winning author of the novel Start with the Backbeat and a recovering journalist. She grew up with one foot in Texas and the other in New Jersey. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, she is a lover of music, chocolate, and altruistic sarcasm as well as a writer of post-punk humor. Additional publications of fiction and creative non-fiction include the past Patch/AOL weekly column, Mom in the Middle and inclusion in the 2021 anthology, This is What America Looks Like. Garinè is proud of her Armenian American heritage and often draws upon that experience in her writing. She currently lives in Maryland near Washington, DC, where she works full-time in marketing communications. She is the Gaithersburg Book Festival Workshops Chair and on the organizing committee of the Washington Writers Conference, sponsored by the Washington Independent Review of Books.