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The Premiere

Photo by Nazik Armenakyan
16/06/2016

 

 

Sometimes your dreams come true.  It’s happened to me at least once in my life.

For years I had had an irresistible urge to be on stage.  I was prepared to perform in any play, any role.  I had met with directors through other people, or without any introduction.  But they had all turned me down, for one reason or another.  One would say, you know, there’s no part for you in my production; another, what are you doing in the theatre, any way? Aren’t you an engineer?  Things like that.  With every rejection, this inexplicable urge to reach the stage grew, as a result of which I became worn out by nervous trembling.  A relative took me to a psychiatrist, who examined me and said, it’s nothing, it’ll pass, and prescribed some pills.  Three months on the pills cured my fixation, and for three years now my mind had been calm, and I hadn’t been trembling.  I had gotten a job in a friend’s shop, recharging batteries.  I had saved up a little money, and was thinking about getting married.

That September evening, as was my habit, I had bought that day’s News, and was about to read the last page, when an announcement caught my eye, and I was stunned:  “At the Opera House, tonight at 8:00, the premiere of The Last Resting Place.  All who wish may take part as both spectator and performer.  See yesterday’s News for details.”  Opera, no less…  I had stood in front of the mirror for hours, singing different arias and admiring myself.  But I had never managed to reach the stage.  All my requests to the director of the Opera had been turned down for the simple reason: “Dear Sir, your voice does not meet our standards.”  And now, how easily “all who wished could take part”.

It was seven o’clock.  There was no time to get the previous issue of the paper, to find out about the terms.  I ran home quickly, shaved, and put on the good suit my friend had sent from France, which I’d often regretted only having ever worn twice.  By ten minutes to eight I was at the Opera.  A crowd of about 450 or 500 people had gathered in clusters near the entrance.  I thrust myself into the crowd, purposefully elbowed my way through to the main entrance, and pushed on the door.  It was locked.

“Don’t knock yourself out!  You think we’re just hanging out here?  If it was open, we’d go in, wouldn’t we?”  a short bald man standing fast by the door said, looking at me sideways.

“Well, why don’t they open up?” I asked.

“It’s already time, but there’s no one in the building to open up,” the bald man answered, and spat, “What a country…”

“They’ll open up, come on, they haven’t run away!” someone said from the side.

“Maybe the show was being delayed for some reason, and we had to wait.  I moved away from the door a little, and leaned against the wall.  At eight sharp the groups came together, and out of the crowd there arose numerous hands shaken at the entrance in discontent.  People near the door pounded on it with their fists; it echoed dully.  The building seemed deserted.  There was no response from inside, no movement.  I was getting a little worried.  What if there wasn’t going to be any premiere?  What if somebody showed up and said it was postponed?  But the people’s growing discontent gave hope that they wouldn’t stand for it.  I was encouraged when I expressed my worry out loud, and it kindled all around me cries of, “It can’t be postponed! Today!  We might not be around tomorrow!”  “We’re not your playthings!”…  A little in front of the entrance, a short man with a short, neatly trimmed beard, and a narrow-brimmed stove-pipe hat on his head cupped his hands around his mouth and began to shout,

“People!  People!  Let’s wait another half-hour.  There’s no point breaking down the door!”  This call calmed people a little.  The same opinion was passed around from one person to the next.  Leaning against the wall, I realized that in all the commotion, half an hour had gone by.  And now there were more fists, and more pounding on the door.

The din was increasing.  Shouts of “Open the doors!” and “We demand that you open up” became curses: “You sons of bitches!” “Open up or else!”  A little while later, calls to break down the door started to dominate.  The man in the hat shouted at the top of his lungs to those gathered around him, who seemed the most intent on action, that there was no need to break down the door, that sooner or later they would open it, we only had to figure out how.

“You’re right.  What do they call you?”  I asked, and extended my hand.

“Vagho.”  He shook my hand cordially, then cupped his hands around his mouth and called to the people again, “I promise you that the doors will open today!”

“Vagho, let me ask you something.  Does it matter who opens the door?”  I said.

“No.  As long as he works at the Opera,” he answered quickly, without looking at me, and turned back to address the crowd.  “People, if the door gets opened, does it matter to us who opens it?”

Widespread cries of “No!  It doesn’t matter” came in response.

“Listen, I know the Opera watchman, he lives around here,” I shouted in Vagho’s ear.

“Calm down!” Vagho said in a contemptuous tone, then asked, “Who is he?”

“The Chin.  He’s been the Opera watchman for twenty years!” I answered excitedly.

Vagho turned back to the crowd:

“People, there’s someone here who knows the Opera watchman- The Chin- he lives near here.  What do you think?  Should we go bring him here, to open the door?”

Again they cried in a single voice, “Let’s get him!  Let’s get him!”

Around Vagho, advice began flying.  Not a single suggestion could be heard above the noise.  It stopped when Vagho began to speak.

“We’ll bring the watchman here in an organized manner.  I propose that we send a group of five people.  Do you agree?”

From all sides came sounds of agreement.

“Alright, you’ll be one of them,” Vagho said, patting my arm.  “We need four more.  Who wants to go?”

A few volunteers came up to him.  Pointing, Vagho quickly selected two women and two men, and commanded, “Introduce yourselves and go.”  We all reached across and shook each other’s hands.  The women, Rita and Anoushka, both plump, were friends.  One of the men announced, “They call me Blue Eyes.”  He looked to be over forty, with bulging blue eyes and white whiskers.  The other was a young man, with slicked-back hair, called Samo.  We were about to go when Vagho stopped us:  “Wait, wait!”  He took a piece of paper and a pen out of his breast pocket, and started taking down information about the members of the group.  When it was my turn he said,

“We know your name- it’s Hendo.  Last name and address.”

“But what do you need to write that down for?”

“Just in case.  To be on the safe side,” he said, smiling.

I dictated my name and address, but I still couldn’t help asking,  “In any case, I don’t understand why you’re writing it down.”

This time Vagho answered without smiling, harshly, “So if it turns out you’re lying, we can hold you responsible.”

I was a little scared.  What if The Chin had been fired, or happened to be out…  But there was no time to worry.  Shouting,  “Make way!  Make way!” our group cut through the crowd, and quickly found ourselves on the street.

We hadn’t gone a hundred meters when Rita spoke.

“Do we have far to go?”

“No, a kilometer, kilometer and a half at the most.”

And without saying another word, we reached The Chin’s house, in a ramshackle building with three or four doorways and a round, narrow yard.  Out from under some steps up to the second floor charged a huge dog, teeth bared in anger.  Blue Eyes pulled at my sleeve.

“Should I kill it?” he asked, smiling slyly, and lifted the side of his coat, revealing a gun in its holster under his left arm.

“No.  No shooting.”  I pulled his coat closed again, and ignoring the dog, quickly climbed the stairs to the second floor.  At the end of a long corridor with a balcony along it’s left side, was The Chin’s apartment.  When I got to the door I looked back; they were walking towards me quickly.

“The Chin lives here,” I told them, and knocked on the door.  There was no response.  I knocked harder.  Again, silence.  We rained kicks and blows on the door.

“Alright, I understand,”  we heard from behind the door.

“So if you understand, why don’t you answer the door?”  Samo said, scornfully.

“The door opened, and The Chin faced us, rubbing his eyes.

“What’s going on, it’s the middle of the night, am I dreaming?” he said, the prominent mass of his jaw moving from side to side.  Right above his chin, at first glance, there appeared only a pair of little round eyes, but if you looked at his face carefully, trying to find his nose, you could make out little nostrils under his eyes.

“What do you mean, the middle of the night, you mole?  It’s nine o’clock!”  Samo said out of the side of his mouth, taking the armhole of The Chin’s sleeveless undershirt between his thumb and forefinger, and shaking it from side to side.  “The people are waiting for you!”

“What people, are you crazy?”  The chin stepped back, moving his jaw.

“I’ll show you crazy!”  And Samo grabbed The Chin by the back of his neck and dragged him out of the apartment.  “Come on, come on, who else do you think is going to open the Opera doors?”

The Chin took a few stumbling steps and moved his jaw.

“Nobody told me anything.  When they give the order- that’s when I’ll come and open the door.”

I held up my hand to stop Samo and gave Blue Eyes a nod.  Blue Eyes smiled, and took out his gun and held it against The Chin’s forehead.

“You come open the door or I’ll blow your brains out,” he threatened, his eyes narrowing cruelly.  The Chin’s light gray face turned paler, and he stammered weakly, “Alright, alright, I’m coming.  Just let me get dressed.”

“Make it fast!”  Samo said, and dragged him inside by the arm.  A few minutes later, Samo pushed The Chin back out again.  The Chin had put on a suit and tie.

“The director doesn’t let you work unless you’re wearing a suit,” he said, noticing I was looking at him up and down.

Rita and Anoushka took The Chin by the arms from either side.  I led the way, and signaled to Samo and Blue Eyes to take up the rear.  In this formation, we set off for the Opera.  In the yard, the dog was stretched out, asleep, and when we passed him, he didn’t move a muscle.  It was already dark in the street, and a light rain was falling.

“It always rains this time of year,” came Blue Eyes voice from behind.

“What time of year?”  I asked, turning to Rita.

“What do you mean, what time of year, kid?  If you don’t know that, what are you doing here?”  It’s the start of the theatre season, isn’t it?” she answered with disdain.

At the Opera, the crowd greeted us with applause.  A few people came up and tried to pull The Chin away from Rita and Anoushka, but they didn’t succeed.  The women rudely pushed the interlopers away, without a word.  We made our way up to the entrance, through a parting in the crowd.  Vagho shook our hands one by one in welcome, and then addressed The Chin.

“And where have you been, Sir?”

“Where else?  I was home.”  The Chin moved his jaw, frightened.

“If you were home, why didn’t you come open the door?”

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know that there was no one here to open up.”

“Well alright, alright.  Open the door now.  We’ll deal with you later,” said Vagho, and taking The Chin by the shoulder, went to the door.  The Chin obediently took a large, 30-centimeter-long key out of his breast pocket, and with two hands, twisting his body as well, turned it twice.  Vagho was the first to go in.  Behind him, the crowd jostling, invaded the Opera house.  Carried along in the rush, I found myself  in a columned, rectangular lobby.  Here, men, isolated in corners or by columns, and women, squatting in the middle of the lobby, started to urinate.  Taken by surprise at this scene, I looked around, embarrassed.  I caught Samo’s eye as he stood by a column.

“I’ve been holding it since yesterday to piss here,” he said with a blissful sigh.  Rita and Anoushka were squatting side by side, with smiles of pleasure on their faces, pissing.  I felt obliged to try and urinate on a column myself, by I couldn’t bring it off.  After a few minutes, the hall smelled sharply, and the floor ran with streams of urine.  Dejected, I went into the auditorium, where people had started to come, one by one, after performing their acts.  The auditorium was illumined by a huge chandelier hanging from the middle of the ceiling, floodlights shone on the curtain closed across the stage.

People took tools out of their bags and pockets, screwdrivers, pliers, and other things, and in pairs, started dismantling the chairs bolted to the floor.  I didn’t have a tool, so I couldn’t take part in this act, either, and I felt uncomfortable being there without a tool.   Out of place in this operation, I left the auditorium.  From the lobby, I went up the stairs to the balcony.  No one had come upstairs yet, and I felt freer.  My view from the balcony encompassed the entire operation going on in the auditorium.  They had already dismantled the first row of chairs, and were taking them out of the hall.  I was seized with an irresistible urge to urinate on the workers.  I stood at the railing, and let my urine go on the heads of three people at work under the balcony.  Two of them kept dismantling chairs, paying absolutely no attention to the splashes.  The other one looked up, and seeing that the urine came from me, said, “Hey, buddy, can’t you see I’m getting wet.  Do that someplace else!”

“I can’t.  I like it here,” I answered.  He went back to his work without another word.

Well, I finished urinating.  Now I had actually become a participant.  Still, I wanted to play a more active part in the process, although I didn’t know what to do.  But what if I went to see the director?  Years before, It was true, he had refused to give me work, but now the situation was a little different.  I went into the hall and walked straight to the director’s office.

“Hello.  Is the director in?” I asked the secretary in the waiting room.  She answered with a polite smile, “You may go in.  He’s free.”

In the office, I found him sitting at a large desk, with his head in his papers.  I went in, and the door slammed shut behind me.  He lifted his head at the sound, and seeing me, leapt out of his seat.

“I’m so glad to see you,” he said, his face glowing, and came and shook my hand.

“Do you really remember me?” I asked happily.

“Of course I do.  At that time I couldn’t be of any help to you.  You know, those were difficult times.  We had to select our artists through a somewhat senseless process.  And then the committee had final approval.  And if it was decided, forgive me, that a certain artist didn’t have enough talent, that was it.  Not only I, but our entire leadership would be fired.”

“But, to tell you the truth, I don’t know, or rather, I haven’t been informed, of the details of today’s proceedings.  In short, I don’t know what to do…”  I tried to explain my situation to him.  The director understood at once, and cut me off.

“Wait, wait.  Now I’ll give you a role that you’ve never dreamed of your entire life.  I well know that you deserve it more than any of them”.  And he went to his desk and pushed a button.  The secretary came in.

“Call Tata,” he directed, and after the secretary left, cordially continued our conversation.

“How good it is that you have come.  We were wondering who we could trust with this part, and frankly, we hadn’t been able to find ant appropriate candidates.  And all at once, who, if not you?

The door opened, and a beautiful woman came into the office, in a wig of white curls, and a short, low-cut white dress.  The director motioned her toward us.

“Come, darling,”, and with his arm around her, he approached me and asked, “Do you recognize her?”

“Well, I think…”  I tried to guess, but the director didn’t let me.

“May I introduce one of the brightest stars of our theatre- Tatevik Benyaminovna Tadevosian.”

“Of course. It’s an honor to make your acquaintance,” I said happily, kissing her hand.

“We must hurry,” said the director, and addressed me.   “Now then, today, you will be Tata’s partner.”

“How nice.  And what must I do?”  I asked, a little surprised.

“Nothing much.  I’ll tell you,” the director answered, and bowed slightly in the singer’s direction.  “And you, my precious?”

“I think it’s nice, too,” the woman said, with a faint smile.

“Now then, you and Tata…” he stammered for a moment, and then announced quickly, “You are to have intercourse with Tatevik Benyaminovna on the stage.”

I was shocked.

“What!?”

“What do you mean, what?  Do you think I’ve forgotten how you once begged for a part on bended knee?  There’s no time.  Tell me quickly- do you agree or not?”

I looked questioningly at Tata.  She was standing by the window, silent.  When our eyes met, a polite smile crossed her face, and her pronounced cheekbones grew flushed.  I was filled with desire, and said simply, “Yes”.

“Well, let’s go,” said the director, and taking our arms, led the way out.  We walked left out of the waiting room, down a long, narrow corridor.  At the end, we climbed some stairs, and found ourselves backstage.  The stage was dimly lit.  The curtain still hid the auditorium.

“Well, let me see you, no formality,” the director said, rubbing his hands together, and left us in the middle of the stage, while he himself took four or five steps backward.  Embarrassed, I looked at Tata.  She smiled pleasantly, and reached out her hand.  I put my arms around her, and lowered her to the floor with ease.  I lay down as well, unbuttoned my pants, then took off Tata’s stockings and the rest.  Before turning over onto Tata, I looked around me.  Only the director was on the stage, a few steps away, a smile on his face, nodding his head in agreement.  Tata’s thighs opened before I touched them, and her fingers slid my member into her warm opening.  At that instant, the curtain started to open jerkily, and a well-known symphony resounded.  I shuddered and jumped back.  I stood up and the music stopped at the same time.

“Thank you for your first performance.  You finished a little soon, but that’s nothing, next time you’ll do better,” said the director, coming up behind me and putting his hand on my shoulder.  Tata remained stretched out on the floor.  The curly wig had fallen off, and her brown hair was spread across it.  I reached out my hand to her.

“Thank you.  What matters is that you took off my wig,” Tata said in a low voice, leaving my hand hanging in the air.  Behind me, the director pulled at my elbow

“Don’t worry.  Tatevik Benyaminovna likes to relax like this after a performance.”  He led me aside, and then knelt down next to Tata, took a readied syringe out of his pocket, bared the needle, and injected the contents into Tata’s arm.

“What’s that for?” I asked, surprised.  The director pulled the syringe out, got to his feet, tossed the syringe off to the right side of the stage, and then, without taking his eyes off Tata, said in a gentle tone, “It’s so she can rest.  The poor thing has been working so much this year that she’s completely worn out.”

In front of us, the curtain had opened on the auditorium.  Two rows of chairs were left, which seven or eight people were casually dismantling.  The chandelier in the center had been lowered to the balcony level.  All of a sudden, I saw that there was someone hanging from the chandelier.

“Look!  Look!”  I screamed, appalled, gesturing toward the hanged man.

“Don’t worry.  You’re new at this.  You’ll get used to it.  To tell you the truth, I was against this scene at first, myself, but there was nothing I could do about it,” the director said, and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder.  “Well, let’s go.”

Walking down the narrow corridor, he asked, “So how was it?  Are you pleased?”

I evaded the question.

“I’m just very tired.”

“Alright, now you can rest.”

When we got to the waiting room, he indicated the couch.  “Lie down here and have a rest,”  and he directed his secretary, “Pussycat, cover the gentleman up with something.”

I was really very tired, drained, and I fell asleep as soon as I lay down- I don’t remember if I even thanked them or not.  When I woke up, the waiting room was already filled with morning light.  The secretary wasn’t there.  I went to the director’s door, it was locked.  I left the waiting room.  There was no one in the lobby, either.  It was empty.  My footsteps echoed.  The double doors of the entrance were wide open.  I went outside.  In the Opera square, the chairs were piled carelessly on top of each other, in a huge heap, over which the long carpets had been spread, crossed.  Well, now what should I do?  Maybe I ought to go back to the theatre.  But there was no need to hurry, and it occurred to me to buy a newspaper.  I walked to a nearby kiosk.  The papers had just come in.  I bought The News, and this time, contrary to habit, I looked at the front page.  Right under the masthead, two large photographs of Tata and The Chin were printed side by side.  I immediately looked at the caption.  Waves of horror ran through my body.  It said:  “Yesterday opera singer Tatevik Tadevosian and her life’s companion , opera administrator David Sahakian, better known to society by the nickname, The Chin, were found dead.  According to early reports, they had committed suicide.  The editors wish to express…”  I froze for a moment, and then I rushed to the Opera House.  The entrance door was  closed.  I pushed- it didn’t open.  It was locked.  I started to pound on the door with my fists.  I heard someone’s voice off to the side.  “Take it easy, can’t you see I’m sleeping?”  Near the door, lying curled up against the wall, was Vagho.

“Why is the door shut?” I shouted angrily.

“You sucker, the premiere was over a long time ago,” he murmured lazily, and with a comfortable sigh, closed his eyes.

 

Translated by Melissa Brown and Samvel Mkrtchian

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