Mamikon: A Story of a Lonely Soul
I met him in February 2009, when after spending almost two months on the roads of Siberia, I was finally hitchhiking back to Moscow. It was getting dark when I got off the truck near the town of Tulun. Having no wish to walk through the town, I decided to stay near the petrol station hoping to hitch my next ride quickly. The strong and cold winds (it was -30°C) made it almost impossible to stand on the road. I had no hot tea left in my thermos, nor I had any food left. To stay warm, I had to jump and move constantly, and judging by the expression on the faces of the few passers by, I must have been leaving an impression of someone insane. I guess that’s what you call a person who hitchhikes to Siberia in winter, second winter in a row. He came out of the darkness, a mid-aged man dressed in military clothes, and walked in my direction.
“How many kilometers?” the man asked and smiled as he approached me.
“I’m coming from Irkutsk now, going to Moscow, hitchhiking back home,” I replied and realized that my answer had nothing to do with his question.
“Moscow? But it’s very cold here these days.” He looked surprised.
“I got used to it.”
The stranger took a long look at me. I noticed deep sadness in his big black eyes.
“I see,” he said, and added after a little pause. “Would you like a cup of hot tea?” I agreed happily.
“But you wait here first. When I give you a sign, you quickly run to me,” he said and walked towards the iron gates of the nearby forestry. When he reached the door of his hut, he waved his hand, and that was the sign for me. I lifted the backpack and ran to him. The dogs welcomed me with loud bark.
“Don’t be afraid,” the stranger said, “These dogs can do nothing but bark all the day.”
We entered the hut. He pointed at the bench in the corner.
“If you are tired, you can sleep here. I guess, you have a sleeping bag with you.”
“Oh, no. Thanks! I’ll just have a cup of tea and then I’ll go back to the road,” I answered, but it wasn’t the answer he was expecting to hear.
“What do you mean? Stay here, we’ll go to the village a little later, you can take a shower, and I’ll give you some food to eat. In the morning, I’ll take you back to the road. Stay here. I’m not going to let you out. Go sleep now.”
His words left me in confusion. I didn’t know how to react or what to say, but then I found an excuse for my departure, saying that there are friends in Tomsk waiting for me to arrive on Friday, so I have to hit the road no matter if it’s night or storm outside. He sat on a chair, lit a cigarette.
“I can live alone in the taiga for many years,” he then said. “I’ve already lived in the taiga. It’s just that some relatives need money, that’s why I’m here – working. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even come here. Can’t get along with people. I feel very bad here. I want to be back in the taiga. I want to live with nature. No one is trying to cut your throat for money there. Evil lives here.”
Without even expecting me to say a word, he then continued.
“Tell me now, can you survive in the taiga? You will die there. But I can. Once I’m done with the things here, I’ll return back to the nature. And I don’t care about their oil, gas and money, and all those people involved in it. They are not humans. Beasts. They know no God. Where are you from, by the way? You don’t look Russian at all.”
“I’m from Armenia. I study in Moscow,” I answered.
“From Armenia?” He looked at me and asked in Armenian: “Would you like to drink vodka?”
From his look and his accent I could guess he was Armenian, too, but still it was quite surprising.
“No, thanks,” I also switched to Armenian, “You live here?”
“Yes, right here,” he answered and laughed.
He took a short pause, then began to sing a song from an Armenian cartoon about Puypuy the Mouse. “I am Puypuy the Mouse, la la lalala.”
For a moment, I thought I’m dreaming and all this is not real. But it was.
“Do you remember there was this cartoon called “The Mirror”? “There’s a devil in the city. A devil in the city.” Remember? A good cartoon, a right one. I’m just running away from devil. Running as far as I can.”
“Are there many Armenians here?” I asked.
“Yes, many. A lot. Almost everyone. The second Armenia, that’s how we call Tulun. We have people of different backgrounds here. Local Russians are mostly the descendants of those exiled to Siberia, all sorts of criminals and other people who were not pleasing the authorities. But we all are like a fist here. The life and the conditions are harsh in these areas. If we don’t stick to each other and live together, we’ll lose the battle.”
The water in the kettle was already heated. He offered me a cup of black tea, then got some lavash (Armenian flatbread) from his bag and gave it to me. “I didn’t bring much food with me today and I already ate everything. So, only lavash is left for you. Don’t feel shy. Eat, eat. And drink tea. You’re coming from a far place.”
I ate the lavash and drank the hot tea, and that was the best tea in the world to me, and the best lavash. While I was eating, the stranger was asking questions about my job, my study, about my trips, parents and about many other things.
“You live in Moscow you said? If I write a letter to the President, can you pass it to him?”
“Well, I don’t think I can pass it to him personally, but yeah, I can send it to him via post service. You want to write a letter?”
He got a blank sheet of A4 and a pen and was about to start writing, but then he put the pen down.
“But what do I write? I don’t need anything from him.”
Drinking the tea, I realized I still didn’t know his name, nor he knew mine.
“I’ll return to the taiga. I like it there. Trees, plants, fresh air. No evil there. When have you been to Armenia last time?”
“Three years ago. And you?”
He scratched his nape, but didn’t say a word. He was breathing slowly.
“And your parents? How is it that they let you wander alone in Siberia?”
“They got used to it.”
“Yes, man can get used to anything very fast.”
He lit another cigarette. I was finishing the second cup of tea, thinking about my parents. The stranger was walking back and fro, hands crossed at the back.
“Maybe you could stay here tonight, hmm? And I’ll take you to the road tomorrow.”
I checked the time. It’s been two hours already since I entered the hut of the stranger.
“I’m sorry, but I really need to be in Tomsk by Friday. Sorry.”
“OK, no worries. Only you know what’s best for you. But I’ll give you my cell phone number. Call me when you arrive in Tomsk. And you also give me your number. Who knows, maybe one day I will be in Moscow, and we can meet.”
He wrote down his name and the phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to me. I followed him and wrote down my number and my name on another piece of paper. We were reading. The names. But none of us said a word.
We didn’t speak out our names that evening. What for? Did it really matter at that moment? I didn’t care, nor did he. Two strangers coming from one nation, each one following his own Road, crossed paths on a far Siberian land. Two strangers. None of us really knew where we were going to and why we were on the Road. The two hours in that hut were enough for us to find strength to continue our Roads. Alone again.
“If you don’t get a ride, just come back here, I’ll take you home, and tomorrow you can continue your journey.”
“Thank you very much.”
“No need to thank me. You better come back one day. I’ll take you to the taiga with me.”
“We’ll meet somewhere, I’m sure. Take care and goodbye for now.”
“Don’t forget to call me from Tomsk.”
“Can I take a photo of you?” I asked before leaving.
“What for? It’s not important,” he said.
Ten minutes later I was already discussing the financial crisis with a driver from Abakan, Khakasia, but I was still thinking about Mamikon. Early in the morning of the next day I arrived in Tomsk. I got the piece of paper out of my pocket and tried to call him. Only then I noticed that one numeral was missing in the phone number, and that Mamikon made a mistake while writing it down for me.
I never received any calls from him. It’s been 10 years since we met, but I still remember the feeling of sadness and loneliness when I looked into his eyes. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross again… someday… somewhere.