Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #7)

When thirteen-year-old Annie accepts Petros’ proposal of marriage, his family requests a picture of his betrothed. Annie’s Uncle Dikran insists on a professional photo. To obtain such, both her uncle’s family and hers must travel to a town that has an Armenian photography shop. The closest town that has one is Chemeshgadzk, five miles away. Since this is Annie’s first experience away from her home area, several incidents in that town alarm her. 

“Our selected day of travel in late June proved to be dusty, hot, and uncomfortable. Even the picnic in the shade of a poplar grove along a stream didn’t help much. I entered the strange town with a sense of foreboding.

It had been market day. Since we arrived after the midafternoon ezan, vendors of the bazaar were taking down their displays and folding up their awnings. Most of the shops facing the town’s Centrum had already closed their doors. A group of Turkish boys hung around the fountain. As we passed, I heard hissing. When I turned to look, one boy threw a cucumber and another an egg. They shouted at us. “Gavurs, dirty gavurs!”

I looked at Uncle Dikran and Hyrig. Both men drove our carts on, completely ignoring the boys. I turned my head away, shame rushing up my neck and over my face. My brothers frowned, but walked on, not reacting at all, either. How could those hooligans treat us that way? I thought. What have we ever done to any of them?

After Uncle Dikran locates the photography shop, Vartan, the shopkeeper, gives Annie time and a private place to change her clothes and fix her hair. With his camera on a tripod and flash powder on his pan, he takes many photos of Annie as she stands in front of a painted scene.

“When Vartan had finished, he said, “I can have both the negatives and the photos ready for you by noon tomorrow. Where had you planned to spend the night?”

“At the inn,” my uncle said.

Vartan stroked his beard. “Better not take your donkeys and carts to the inn’s stable. Put your animals with mine. I’ll feed them and put the cost of their fodder on your bill.”

“Fair enough. Thank you for your kindness. See you tomorrow.”

Later that evening, there was knock on the door of our room in the inn. When Hyrig opened it, Uncle Dikran and his whole family came in. “It’s stifling in these rooms. Let’s sleep on your roof,” he suggested.

When Hyrig worried out loud about Mayrig being too pregnant to climb ladders, she reassured him. “I’ll be careful. You come up behind me. I should be all right.”

After we had all spread out our sleeping mats on the flat roof above our room, Uncle Dikran locked our bedroom door and put out the lamp. He climbed up the ladder, pulled it quietly up after him, and replaced the roof hatch.

In the middle of the night, I awoke to voices speaking Turkish. Peering over the short wall around the roof, I saw a light flickering through the windows below us.

“They’ve all gone,” one voice said. “How did they sneak out?”

“Missed our chance to rob them!” another said.

Clapping my hand over my mouth, I stopped my scream. I lay shaking, wondering if any of the rest of my family had heard. But all slept on. Had Uncle sensed a threat and taken steps to protect us without us even being aware of what he was doing?”

On the heels of this scare, Annie has a dream that warns of things to come–that are much, much worse. Although she doesn’t understand what it means, she shares the vision with her family and her best friend Nazli.

In her diary, Nazli describes her shock at seeing the fulfillment of Annie’s dream during the summer of 1915.

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