Written By : Aram Haigaz
Translated By: Varak Babian
There was a time where Hollywood produced lovely, sensible films. Interesting films. Sometimes I would head out to watch them and unwind. Or why not; maybe even enjoy myself.
Nothing like that exists now. The talented actors from yesteryear don’t exist. No more artists striving to be apart of something special. Being introduced to a good film now a days is nothing close to a miracle. Tastes have changed, much like the moral code. Most of the screens display some variation of lust or flesh.
I can understand being bored of many, or even most, things- I can even tolerate it. But to be bored of the arts? That, I not only do not understand- but can’t offer forgiveness for either. That’s the reason why months will have passed by before I step foot in a movie theatre. Though the other members of my family don’t share my sentiment. They go often, especially the kids.
When they return home, I act interested and inquire about the film. If my daughter has enjoyed what she’s seen, if she says “Dad, it was great, you have to definitely go see it…” that means- I’ll definitely not be going.
Our tastes are different, so very different.
I haven’t abandoned all hope. I’m sure I won’t end up being sympathetic to her inclinations, but perhaps one day she’ll reflect back and start to judge just like her father.
On the other side of fence, stands my wife. Trustworthy. Even though we’ve co habituated for several years, I haven’t been able to fully comprehend her. (I mean which husband has? A lifetimes worth of research is simply not enough to fully grasp this fickle topic)
And sometimes, before I’m even able to form a sentence, she’ll say…
“Before they stop screening that film, you should definitely make time to go see it. Don’t miss it, it was a good one.”
I often act on her suggestion. I’ll carve out time in my schedule to see the film before the theatre stops running it, and I never end up being disappointed.
Sometimes, I’ll even be so pleased, that I’ll actually thank her for her recommendation.
About two weeks ago, she came home one evening and shared some news.
“The Drake (the name of a theatre that mostly plays double bills) is playing a great film. Tomorrow’s the last day. Make sure you go see it. Don’t miss out. It’s two pictures. One of them is nothing to write home about, but the other one is great. If you get there by 2:30, you’ll be able to see the good one from the start. You won’t be forced to sit through the bad one and end up cursing your spirit until it turns black.”
Don’t put too much stock in her “cursing my spirit” talk.
During the rare occurrence where we actually sit side by side at the movies, I’ve been known to occasionally storm out halfway through a film’s screening. Maybe even muttering “Sons of bitches, wasting my time and money by serving up this colossal stupidity” under my breathe. That’s the worst thing she’s ever heard me say. Believe me, she’s far from ever hearing a proper display of swearing.
I ask her a simple question.
“What’s it about? What themes are behind the film?”
“You’ll experience them first hand tomorrow. It’s interesting. The cinematography’s powerful. It’s really quite good, beautifully shot. The acting is top notch as well.
“My, such praise. I simply won’t be able to sleep wrestling all the anticipation.”
The following day, greeted by a cold and damp morning, I find myself in front of the theatre at the recommended time. There’s a long, winding line by the entrance. Further proof that the film will surely be worth it, I convince myself and contently, enter my place in line.
Two women with flowing blonde hair reaching their slender waists, like flowers in wild fields, wait directly in front of me.
I take a glimpse and gander behind me, and spot a woman with what seems to be her two young children. The kids look like they’re about eight and ten years of age, respectively.
She seems impatient. I say that because I notice her open up her large handbag, and use multiple fingers to count the required amount of money needed to purchase three tickets. She got the money sorted and squeezed it in her palm. She now places her purse carefully under her arm, and turning to her children she promptly tells them to zip up their jackets.
“Lola, Lilly, zip up please, you’ll catch a cold. I don’t have the time or energy to take care of a couple of sick kids.”
The truth is I’m feeling cold as well, but my compassion is triggered, and when the time came for me to purchase my tickets, I offer them my place in line.
“Miss, go ahead…I insist…, I can’t help but notice the little ones are shivering. I hope it’s warm in the theatre.”
“Thank you so much! I haven’t had a chance to buy their winter coats yet. When we left home, I didn’t realize how cold it was outside”, explains the woman through a forced smile.
Following their mother’s example, the children offer their own individual thank you. They smile sweetly and head on inside.
With benevolent induced satisfaction filling my heart, I buy my ticket and march inside. Navigating the theatre’s entrance, as my eyes recalibrate to adjust to the dark, I notice three of them head towards the right corridor. I gravitate towards the middle. On the account of me being far-sighted, I count back about twenty rows from the screen, and make my way to the corresponding aisle. There’s an empty seat on the far right, which I make my own.
The loud music stops floating around the spacious rooms impressive arches, and the grand screen greets the crowd with a rural, countryside scenery. Even though I’ve wondered through similar settings before, I have never witnessed such images first hand.
Just this beautiful scenery alone was worth the price of admission.
Shortly after, the screen depicts clouds greeting the horizon. Dark, dense clouds. The clouds plot in unison and decide to invade the skies. Rain scatters across the lake.
My God, My God! Can there be a more beautiful sight than the unassuming lake experiencing rainfall from above? Ideally, the air isn’t filled with unwanted noise. The rain doesn’t come down quite so ambitiously abundant, tame enough not to quell lightning’s surge. From the heavens, light reflects from the corners. Through ashy skies, droplets glisten like suspended silver strings.
It’s true: echoing much of the beauty on screen, sunsets are also beautiful. So too are fields of wheat, billowing under the lukewarm breezes of summer. And in the spring, when the water overflows, and the snow on top of mountain summits fracture, sending babbling streams below.
I won’t deny, all of these are beautiful. But on a summer’s day, the way heavy rain interrupts the lake’s peaceful water…nothing matches this beauty.
Suddenly, I sense someone standing over me. Breathing on the back of my neck. Surveying my face.
“Do you need to pass?” I ask, trying to mute my frustration. I pull back my legs, and compress myself to allow space for a newcomer to move by.
“No, I don’t need to pass.” Says the woman’s voice.
“I don’t know how to say this, but… please Mister, please give back my money.”
“What money? Who’s money? What money are you talking about?”
“The money I’m assuming you took when we were chatting in line.”
“When we were in line, I took your money? When we were chatting?”
“Yes sir, please… Give it back”
“Are you sure you’re speaking to the right person?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Weren’t you the one that offered your place in line to us?”
“Yes, that was me. Was I wrong to do so?”
“So then, what?”
“So then it was you who stole my money. When I was in line, I had twenty-three dollars on me. I spent three dollars on tickets. I’m supposed to have twenty dollars left. I’m missing that twenty dollars”.
“How am I to blame for your situation?”
“Sir please, I beg you… me and my children beg you, give back our money. We’re poor, unlucky people. It’s not often that we’re able to attend a play, or see a film. I was told that the film being screened today was good intentioned and pure. For my children’s sake we decided to make a day out of it. Especially my eldest, it’s her birthday today. All I wanted to do was make them happy. That twenty dollars was a full week’s worth of bread and milk. Please, please, I beg you…Please sir, give back the money.”
Before having the opportunity to respond, I feel a warm tear drop on my hand.
I’m overwhelmed. God all mighty, what have I gotten myself into?
I raise my head and look towards them.
In three of their sets of eyes, reflecting under the screens brightness, glistening tears can be seen.
“Pleaseee, pleaseee, Mister..”
“Miss”..I barely get the word out without succumbing to my own tears.
“Not only did I not steal your money, but I do not possess the ability to do so even if I wanted to steal it. I did not know that you had any sort of money on you, how would I have known?
“I opened up my purse right beside you, right in front of your eyes when I was trying to pay for the tickets.”
“Yes you did open it…but don’t the three of you collectively have 6 eyes? And yes it’s true, I offered you my place in line, but I did so with no ulterior motive. I heard you advise your children to zip up their jackets so that they wouldn’t catch a cold. This is how I’m getting compensated for my good deed?”
“But apart from you absolutely nobody was ever near me after that moment in the lineup. So what, my money just disappeared? Sir, give me back my money. I promise not to make a big deal out of it. I won’t tell a soul, I won’t complain to anybody. It’ll be a secret between you and me. Nobody will ever know anything.”
“Are you trying to say that…”
“I promise, I promise on all things sacred, nobody will ever know anything.”
“You have such a big heart lady, so compassionate. Yet you continue to hurt me with your accusation. So you still believe that I’m a notorious swindler? That’s fine, believe what you must. And believe me, I feel bad for you and your children, because you say your misplaced money would have bought you a weeks worth of sustenance. I assure you, if I had that amount of money on my person, I would hand it over with no reservation …but I don’t. And just to quell any lingering doubts that you might have, I suggest… no, I insist that we make our way to this establishment’s appointed manager and request that they thoroughly search me. And if they were to find more than the dollar fifty that’s on my person, I promise for every extra dollar that they find, I’ll give you a hundred dollars. What do you say? Do you accept my proposal? You don’t have anything to lose.”
After noticing her hesitate, I grasp her forearm and say.
“Whether you’re convinced or not, we’re going to speak to the manager. Either they or any other witness should hear your testimony. Maybe we can even luck out and find a police officer to speak to.”
As our conversation takes place, the usher, who has finally gotten wind of the impromptu dialogue taking place between the theatre’s patrons, quickly makes his way towards us . Stern questioning commences.
“What’s going on here?”
Instead of answering his question, I utter “You finally decided to join us, ayy?”
He lets out another question.
“You couldn’t find any other place to air your spousal grievances?”
“Come again? What do you mean spousal? Thank the heavens that she’s not my wife.” I immediately regret my heavy-handed statement.
“This lady and I share no such connection. She was a stranger before I met her in the lineup to purchase tickets for this film. She’s accusing me of stealing her twenty dollars.”
I let out my own Ahh, surprised at his reaction.
“Listen, either both of you shut up and remain in your seats, or follow me to the office.”
While making direct eye contact with the lady who has hurled accusations my way, I answer “That’s exactly what I suggested. All of us should follow you to your office.”
On the walk out of the hall, the two children start sobbing. Surely being scared of the unknown.
I feel bad for them.
Leaving the theatre, we are guided towards a door located on the right side of the lobby. Behind the impressive, heavy mahogany table, thick cigar in mouth, lost in a dense cloud of smoke, waits an obnoxiously overweight man with tired eyelids.
The usher eloquently relays the reason for us being there. The man behind the desk intently examines the newcomers that are presently taking up space in his office.
After an assertive point in my direction, the man behind the desk offers the opinion that: “This man doesn’t really look like a thief. ”
I bow slightly at his direction. “I thank you for your honorary opinion.”
“I don’t care if he looks like one or doesn’t, he stole my twenty dollars.” The woman is now in tears.
“Here? In my theatre?”
“I don’t know where! Probably outside by the cashier, when we were waiting in line for tickets.”
I ask the fat man if I can voice a question.
“Go for it.”
“Examine me, search me top to bottom.” I raise my arms up to the skies.
“Are you crazy? I don’t have that right. I’ll end up getting in trouble that I don’t need.”
“I give you permission.”
The fat man doesn’t respond to my request. He turns to the lady and asks if she would like for him to call the police. Foreshadowing his offer, he places his fingers on the phone. Ready to pick up and dial as soon as given the green light.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know anything! I don’t know anything! What am I supposed to say?!?”. Tears stream down the woman’s face.
“C’mon now, don’t cry. Just know that without proof, you’ve laid a heavy accusation on this fellow. Who if I understand correctly, was just trying to help you and your kids out? I just don’t have the right to search him. I can get in serious trouble.”
“ You won’t, I give you the right!”
He ignores me.
“I don’t know, I just don’t know. What I do know is that a whole weeks worth of my living expenses is gone. Gone right in front of this theatre. It’s gone, it’s gone! And now I don’t know…how am I supposed to feed my children?”
“Do you have anybody who could help?
“No I don’t…I don’t have anybody…I’ve been separated from my husband for fifteen years now. It was the courts decision that all he is required to give us is twenty dollars a week. He’s not a wealthy man by any means. He’s often unemployed. He has minimal income to work with.”
The man turns to the crying woman. “ How many years have you been separated from your husband did you say?”
“But your youngest daughter is barely what… eight? nine?”
“Yes, she’s 8.Well, because sometimes my husband comes spends time with me because he misses me so much.”
I’m forced to bite down on my lip to restrict a chuckle escaping.
The fat man preps another question for the crying woman. “When you left your house today to come here, how much money did you have on you?”
“Twenty three dollars and some loose change, from which I used three dollars to buy our tickets. I also bought a pack of chewing gum for the kids.”
“And how much money do you have in your possession now?”
“Apart from some loose change, nothing.”
“Will you allow me to check your purse?”
She removes her plastic purse from the snug spot under her arm.
The man takes the purse and dumps its belongings on the sprawled out newspaper on his desk.
“Well”, he says, “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”
On the table now rests a silver hoop with three keys, gum, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, matches, a gold coloured container of rice powder, a mirror, a mascara stick, lipstick, a comb, tweezers, three buttons, an address book, a pencil, a handkerchief, stamps, an empty perfume bottle, shoelaces, eyeglasses, worn out postcards, a bottle of vitamins.
In other words, enough items to start a variety shop.
The man examines the items, and I imagine him letting out an internal snicker. He collects the purse from the far side of the table, and slowly lowers his vantage point inside it.
The inquiry doesn’t last long. From the depths of the stained, dirty purse, he pulls out a creased green piece of paper. He flattens the paper in front of the woman’s bewildered eyes and asks.
“Is this your misplaced money?”
“I can’t believe it- Yes! Yes it is! When I was inside in the dark and checking my purse to find the money, because you know, that money was for a full week’s worth of groceries, it must have fallen inside the lining. How could I have not noticed it? And I blamed this gentleman, who now I ask for forgiveness in front of all of you. I’m…I’m ashamed and I beg for all of your forgiveness. Especially this gentleman…”
She points her trembling finger in my direction.
“ How could I be so dense, so stupid. You have a right to hate me, to curse me, to file charges against me. Dear God how could I be so stupid, so irrational. I swear on my children that it wasn’t done with malice. I want you all to believe me. You believe me right?”
Her disgruntled stare takes turns greeting all our faces. And while her regret and sorrow continue to runneth over, I slowly leave the room and return to my seat inside the theatre.
I’m forced to sit through the film I was advised to skip, so that the picture I was forced to walk out of could re start, and I would be able to finish viewing it in its entirety.
In the midst of everything that had happened, the only thing that inspired any kind of positivity was the scene with the calm lake being pelted with heavy rain drops. I got to see that scene twice.
Sometimes, as I walk the streets or when I partake in grocery shopping, I run into that same woman. She ignores me when I cast looks in her direction. She pretends to not know me at all.
If she were to ever summon the courage and greet my eyes without blushing, she would realize that I hold no ill will towards her.
If she ever summons an advanced level of courage and questions me about the smile which I often greet her with, I have a prepared response waiting.
Perhaps you’ve predicted it. It has to do with the estranged husband who “sometimes misses” his wife.
But then sometimes I think that even if such an opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t have the courage to be so straightforward.
* This short story is translated from Aram Haigaz’s Armenian short story ՙԱպահարզանէն Ետք Մարդիկ Երբեմն Կը Կարօտնան Իրենց Կիները՚ from a collection of Haigaz’s short stories titled ՙԵրջանկութիւն՚.