The Butterfly and the Smile

The last of my dreams this morning was a strange short film. A form of classroom globe, white like mothers’ milk and transparent like a pure glass floating in a dark space weightlessly and shiningly. But this translucent small UFO was lubricant like a jellyfish as it kept on shaping and reshaping its perfect rounded body.

I tried to hold it between my palms like a Gypsy Rose would hold her crystal ball and just in that moment the globe became a tubular circle with a large hole in its middle, resembling a ring doughnut glazed with cream.  Then pointing dots appeared, pulling spikes from the upper surface and forming a queen’s royal crown. Finally, when I was almost touching it, it crumbled and disappeared into nothingness. I opened my eyes from that dreamy dark space into a cloudy sky pregnant with rain.

Moments later, sitting on my couch with a coffee in my hand, I was chasing away my dream looking into the open space through the windows of my balcony. I saw another strange thing and I rubbed my eyelids to make sure I was awake and this was not another dream.

A white butterfly, pure white like a pure snow petal with the size of a large pallet of a master painter was flying in the dark and cold sky reminding me of the white and clean handkerchief my grandma kept at hand in her worn black leather purse. Strange morning, I said to myself. I wanted to take a closer look at this flying oddity of a giant butterfly.  I opened the door and stepped out but the graceful flight that had invited me to step out into my balcony shied away and vanished into oblivion. Raindrops started falling, I took a deep breath from the cold wind and went back to my warm couch and my morning sips.

Seconds later, when I had half drunk my sweet drink, I got a message from my brother in Boston that said, “Mother now is resting in peace”.  This message from thousands of miles away at once shook me, gave meaning to this morning’s extraordinary experience and sent salty tears into my unfinished drink, I wanted to sit down and grasp all this…. I looked for my notebook, for my pen to write something… Holy paper where have you disappeared, I said and thought about a mother’s life, mother meant endless stories; a dense past layered between black and white ends, immeasurable details in my head with blazing speed, if she could’ve seen me, she would have been smiling and say “You look like the effendi who lost his donkey in bazar”.

 
Smiles, she did them all her life but the best unmatchable one was her last when my brothers Raffi, Njteh and I stood above her head at midnight when I had just arrived home on my last visit and woke her up gently from her sleep unsure if she would recognize me as her mind had been slipping in out of serving her reality. She opened her eyes with a smile making me believe in angels for once. She looked at us carefully one by one gathering strength, finding the words and composing a perfect sentence saying “Oh my, sons you have come home, the three of you look so wonderful together standing above me” and closed her eyes and went back to her medicated sleep.

Humble mother, so few people know your glorious past as a daring teenage girl in Aleppo’s ultra conservative Armenian community acting in the plays of “The Valley of Tears” and “Extinguishing Lanterns” and dancing in the Armenian folk dance ensembles when girls were not allowed to be on stage.

Strong mother, so few people know how you defended us from our fanatic and racist neighbors, how many people know how you were attacked by a bearded men when father was away and I, a little fragile boy shouting my lungs out at the father of the girl I had kissed as a game children play in merry and harmony.

Mother, how many people know that you worked and toiled all your life and gave support to everyone who needed help. How many know how you took me from door to door to ask neighbors to be my tutors for my Arabic homework wishing I will become a better person than yourself.

How many know that you tailored my school uniform all night in the candlelight. An orange, few chestnuts, a peach and apricots purchased with savings you managed from time to time. How many people know how father and you tailored gowns for every gracious woman in town to make them shine on the dancing floor of Aleppo’s Mogambo nightclub.

When I unleashed anger I remember how you laughed at me and said “Grow up, learn how to govern anger”. And with your laughs and vivaciousness you gathered friends and foes, strangers, neighbors and acquaintances, young and old and made them laugh with you in your palace that was your kitchen.

“Is the man you were talking to an acquaintance”? I asked her, as she loved talking to anyone who crossed her free time.  “I just met him, he is shopping for his family like we are” she said. And when I asked her why she talked to strangers she said, “He is a human and lives on earth. How could he be a stranger”? Smiling assuredly pushed her full shopping cart ahead and pointed at a cellophane wrapped rotten French blue cheese, her favorite, before leaving the supermarket.

With her relentless humor and a life long smile she defeated everything and everyone.   Hate, sadness, tarnished memories, bad news did not brood with her well even when she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. Her sadness and unease lasted the distance between the doctor’s clinics and the parking lot. She took out her anger on the seatbelt and yelled “This stupid thing again, it is the law, law, does the law know about my back pain”! But quickly propelled a smile “That’s a funny old doctor you know? Next time I’ll bring a nice gift to him, he is Jewish, maybe he likes baklava” she said. Astounded I asked her how she could be angry, smiling and be funny at the same time. “My name is Arshaluys- Twilight, and light is what I give everyone with my smile day and night, rain or sunshine. Humor is the can that walks you through life; anger, I don’t know what is it good for”.  She had a sentence or two for every occasion that sounded like timeless proverbs like, “If you say what you want freely, you will hear what you don’t want unwillingly” or “The line between pride and humbleness is slimmer than your tiniest hair” always with smiling face.

Her last angelic smile was a punch line, it was her way to quit life, and she did it again for one last time. I held her cotton soft hand and kissed her forehead smooth like baby skin, I knew this would be our last goodbye, a farewell that had arrived before its time.  The person who taught her children how to be independent, free, righteous and many, many other principles and values will depart through the same gate everyone else will.

Now that you rest next to your husband tell father of the last seven years we spent without him, what was good, bad and in between, he will call you by his favored star names and you will make fun of him “You give me this name to make yourself feel like Gregory Peck” and then both of you will role your sparkling eyes and giggle like you did in your younger days starting singing “Yeraz- Dream”.

Mother….  My ability of grasping what was becoming past second by second halted when I was at last with my pen and notebook, a white page pure like one mother’s love and I wrote only six lines;

 

“Today I’ll burn incense and be silent

Today I’ll mourn and light candles

Today her last smile once again

I’ll see through the tears in my eyes

Today is a holy day, a day of feast

Forever my MOTHER to the soil I gave”.

 

And so it goes…

 

Nigol Bezjian

January 28, 2014

Beirut      

 

Picture on top by “Blu Lebanon”   

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