Aramís Funeral
by William Michaelian

Aramís funeral was a very big affair, and also very confusing. There were at least a thousand people, maybe two thousand, and it took all day. For me, Aramís death was a big relief. He deserved to die. What right did he have to steal from people, and to make them miserable? What right does anyone have? None. But some people thought just the opposite. They said Aram was a great man, a true philanthropist, and they were sad because there would never again be anyone else like him.

Aramís only son was there, also his widow, the lovely Aghavni, which, translated from Armenian, means dove. In Aghavniís case, though, the dove looks more like a vulture. Talk about a nose. On the other hand, their son, Alvin, is a perfect gorilla. Alvin is a fine boy. I give him credit. Every year, he said he was going to try out to be a professional field goal kicker. Every year he said this. Alvin is four and half feet tall and four and a half feet wide. I saw him kick once. He could kick the ball an amazing distance. Two steps, boom, sixty yards. Sixty-five yards. Seventy. But he couldnít hit the broad side of a barn. Now he has gray hair and heís a stock broker with a Cadillac and an ugly wife, Seta. Together they look like a pair of bulldozers. They were sitting there at the graveside, fidgeting. Who fidgets at a time like that? Where did they have to go? Back to the office? Alvin even checked his watch. Well, sure, I can understand, he hated his father probably even more than I did. When the priest dropped a handful of dry clods on Aramís casket, I was sure I noticed a smile ó on the priestís face and Alvinís. Aghavni wailed. What is this? I said to myself. This woman doesnít know how to wail. Wailing takes years of practice. Aghavni has never wailed a day in her life. Oh, she said, oh, as if sheíd eaten too much watermelon.

It was sweltering. Thatís one thing I hate about Fresno. I hate everything else, too, but the heat here is too much. Still, itís home. In the summer, you save money by frying your eggs on the sidewalk. They lowered Aram into the ground like a wax dummy, afraid he was going to melt. Everybody come to the hotel, the priest said, weíre having dinner. They could have had it at the church hall, but Aram hated the church, so Aghavni paid a fortune to feed everybody at the hotel. Aram hated the priest, too. He hated all priests. And they returned the favor. It was quite an arrangement. So after he was buried we all got in our cars and drove to the hotel. At the hotel there was a big room filled with about fifty rows of long tables. There was wine, cheese, pretty hotel girls, everything. We had big steaks. Everybody was happy, eating a good meal, getting even with Aram. Before long, Aghavni started getting cheerful. She forgot about her wailing. And Alvin proposed a toast. Pleasant journey, Pop, he said, pretending to be touched. Thanks for everything. Weíll miss you, blah-blah. It was a big joke, which is what made it so fitting.

Then somebody said, Letís talk about Aramís life. Sure, I said, why not? Heís dead now. What can he do? So then another man stands up and clears his throat. I am Nish Torigian, he says. I own Nishís Radiator Shop on Belmont. And I think, what is this, an advertisement? I remember Aram very well, Nish Torigian says then. He helped me get started in business. I needed two thousand dollars. Nobody in my family had that much money. So I asked Aram, and he said, my boy, Iíll be happy to lend you the money. On the spot, he wrote me a check for the whole amount. Later, when I tried to pay it back, he refused to take a penny. Your success is payment enough, he said to me. Please, say no more about it. Can you imagine? So, I thanked him and we shook hands.

Nish Torigian sat down. Everybody was quiet. Then another man stood up. I am Oscar Derderian, he says, and then he tells a similar story. Without Aram, there is no way I would be standing here today, he says. I needed money, so I asked Aram, he says. Aram is a saint, he says. When I tried to repay him, he refused. Your success is payment enough. Please, say no more about it.

It was amazing. The only difference was, Aram gave Oscar Derderian three thousand dollars instead of two thousand.

Oscar Derderian sat down. Again, everybody was quiet. Then another man stood up. And another. And another. And they all told the same story. After about an hour, it looked like Aram was responsible for starting every Armenian business in Fresno. Car dealerships, jewelry stores, pizza parlors, mortuaries, bakeries, printing shops, the list was endless. How can this be, I said. All my life, everybody hated Aram. Did Aghavni pay these people, or am I dreaming?

Finally, somebody said to me, Missak, why donít you say something? Tell us what you remember about Aram. Me? I said. I donít remember a thing. Of course you do, somebody else said. Donít be shy. Go ahead.

So, I stood up. What else could I do? I never asked Aram for money, I said. Now I hear all this, I wish I did. This made everybody laugh, even vulture Aghavni, field goal kicker Alvin, and ugly Seta. Still, I said, I do remember something. This happened when I was a kid. I was selling newspapers downtown, yelling the headlines, when I see Aram walking toward me on the sidewalk. He was wearing a beautiful gray suit, and a big gray hat with a white band. Coming from his vest pocket, there was a gold watch chain. For me, maybe ten, twelve years old, I think here is the richest man in the world. And I started to wonder what it was like to be rich, so rich you donít have to go to work every day, you only have to get up in the morning and ride your bicycle, and maybe go fishing. Then Aram comes to me on the sidewalk and he gives me a nickel for the paper. What is your name? he said, and I told him Missak. Missak, he said. Thatís a good name, the same as my father. So I asked him, Where does your father live? This made Aram smile. My father has been dead a long time, he said. He died in the old country. Oh, I said. Iím sorry. And Aram told me, Donít worry, say no more about it. Then he said good-bye and went into his office building, which was about twenty feet further up the street. About five minutes later, Iím still standing there selling newspapers, when all of a sudden a big black typewriter flies out the window of Aramís third-floor lawyerís office and lands on the sidewalk. Then I hear someone shouting. It sounds like a big argument. There were two voices. Aramís and someone else. First they were speaking in Armenian, then English, and then more Armenian. At the top of his voice, Aram says, You will pay me for that typewriter, you son of a bitch, or I will sue you. And the other person, he says, You will pay me for my vineyard, you son of a bitch, or I will sue you. Then they argued some more. Pretty soon, everything got quiet. I picked up the typewriter and put it by the door of Aramís building, then started selling papers again, all the time waiting for someone to come out. Finally, when I had only one paper left, they both came out. And you know, I couldnít believe my eyes. Aram had his arm around the other manís shoulder and was talking to him like an old friend. Then Aram pointed at his typewriter sitting on the sidewalk and started laughing. There are plenty more typewriters in the world, he said to the man. Letís say no more about it. About this time, Aram saw me standing there. Missak, he said to me, come here. I want you to meet my brother, Zaven. Zaven, this is Missak. And Zaven and I shook each otherís hand. Now, Aram could tell that I was curious about what had happened in his office. So he said, Missak, my brother and I are business partners. Today I traded my typewriter for his vineyard. Then he bent close to my ear and whispered, Please, say no more about it. Right then, I looked at Zaven. He wasnít looking at me, or at his brother, but somewhere off into the distance. And he was wearing the saddest expression I had ever seen. They walked to the corner, then Aram went one way and Zaven went the other. The rest of my life, I never saw them together again.

I sat down. Everybody was quiet. Aghavni was very angry. Alvin looked at his watch. Seta ate a leftover pickle. Pretty soon, another man stood up. He said, my name is Aslan Bedrosian. Thirty-five years ago, Aram stole my property. Now I am old, and I have forgiven him. But that doesnít change the truth. Then he sat down. Another man stood up. This man said the same thing. Finally, after listening for another hour, it turned out that there were as many people cheated by Aram as there were helped by Aram.

So. There was a big argument. People wanted to know, was Aram a benefactor, or was he a thief? It was the priest who settled it once and for all. In front of everybody he said, Not a single one of us is all bad or all good. Those of you who received kindness from Aram, you should be grateful, and you should continue to think of him as a good person. Those of you who were cheated by Aram, you, too, should be grateful, because at least you are still alive. Do not judge him, because that is Godís business, not yours. Then he smiled and wiped his forehead. Now, he said. God knows, all of us are tired. Especially me. So, letís go home. And please, say no more about it.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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