Dramatic Texts >> Hagop Baronian >> Honorable Beggars

HONORABLE BEGGARS by Hagop Baronian, translated by Jack Antreassian

Characters
APISOGHOM AGHA
LANDLADY
MANUG AGHA
PRIEST
MATCHMAKER

THE BEGGARS:
EDITOR
PRIEST
POET
PHOTOGRAPHER
DOCTOR
TEACHER
WRITER
LAWYER
ACTOR
PRINTER
BARBER
CLERGYMAN

MINOR CHARACTERS:
FIVE PORTERS
AGHAWNI
WAITER
THREE GUESTS AT RESTAURANT
PHOTOGRAPHER'S SECRETARY

Act I
A man is standing on the dock at Galata, having just gotten off the steamer from Trebizond. It is 1870 something. {The author can't recall the exact year, or the day for that matter, thinking that it might be September 31, until he remembers that September has only thirty days. He does remember that} the man is stout and of medium height, and bundled in a long, heavy overcoat. {The author prides himself on the simple beginning of his tale, and on how resolutely he has resisted the temptation to make it more sensational by opening, for example, with a gale roaring in the harbor, or with a huge crowd surging excitedly toward the square in Galata, or with the police apprehending a beautiful young girl, and attaching such other dramatic details with which writers like to enliven their stories. He may have said all these things, but he does not because on that day there is no wind, no crowd, no rain, and no girl in the hands of the police. Such truthfulness should excite the complete confidence of the reader, and dispel any doubts he may have.} This traveler, Apisoghom Agha, is endowed with a pair of large black eyes, a pair of thick long black eyebrows, a pair of large ears, {and a pair of noses . . . no, no, only one nose of course, though it could serve for a pair, so confusing is its size and the varied directions it seems to take}. He has the kind of look in his eyes that would prompt any enterprising director to jump at the chance of casting him in one of his plays, any time the role of an idiot becomes available. As soon as his trunks and bedding, wrapped securely in burlap, are safely on the dock, he pulls out his purse, pays the boatman, and shouts for a porter. Five of them leap to his side {and, according to the established custom of the capital, there is no doubt that if he had called for five porters, twenty-five would have sprung up before him.}

Scene I
The dock at Galata. PORTERS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and Apisoghom Agha.

PORTER 1 (placing a foot on one of the trunks)
Where are you going, Agha?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Number Two, Flower Street, in Pera.
 
PORTER 1
Good. I know the place. Flower Street in Pera. It's a fine neighborhood.

(He picks up the trunk and starts walking off.)

PORTER 2
I know where it is, too.

(He grabs another trunk and goes down the street after him).

PORTER 3
I go to Flower Street every day.

(He sweeps up the man's bedding and runs off before the last word is out of his mouth. All this happens so quickly that the traveler, now thoroughly confused, does not know which porter to keep track of, and so loses track of all three).

Apisoghom Agha (screaming, stamping his feet):
This is disgraceful. Where did they take my trunks and bedding? What right did they have to interfere in my affairs? It’s positively shameless, picking up whatever they see and walking off with it.
 
PORTERS 4 and 5
We’re familiar with Flower Street, too, Agha, give us something to take.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
The devil take your Flower Street, and you along with it.

(The two porters laugh as they leave. As Apisoghom Agha gets ready to go after his trunks, the EDITOR of a local Armenian newspaper, a tall dark man with small eyes and a forced smile, approaches him, extending his hand in greeting.)

EDITOR
Are you Apisoghom Agha? When did you arrive? On which steamer did you travel? How are you? How is your brother? How are local Armenian affairs in Trebizond? How much does bread cost there now? Has it rained recently inyour city? Ah, my dear Apisoghom Agha . . .
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I am Apisoghom Agha, I’ve just landed, I came on a Turkish steamer, I’m very well, my brother is well, too, Armenian affairs are fine in Trebizond, the price of bread is one piaster, we have had no rain recently.
 
EDITOR
I’m so sorry for not having been at the steamer to welcome you. Please forgive me. They wrote from Trebizond that you’d definitely be here sometime this week, but— 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Such things don’t matter to me. 
 
EDITOR
Our capital city should consider itself fortunate to have such an honorable figure, such a gracious young man, such vigorous intelligence—
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
My trunks— 
 
EDITOR
Such a kind heart, proud spirit—
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
The por—
 
EDITOR
Such a patriotic individual—
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
. . . ters—
 
EDITOR
Patriotic, knowledgeable, educated—
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
. . . took my trunks—
 
EDITOR
. . . civilized—
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
. . . and went off—
 
EDITOR
. . . noble, modest, and handsome man in its midst.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
There’s nothing like that in my trunks.

(He walks about in search of the porters.)

EDITOR
You don’t know me, but I’m well acquainted with your family. Your blessed father was a subscriber of my newspaper. He was a very good man. He helped the needy. He found suitable husbands for unfortunate girls. He had sympathy for everybody who approached him. Men like him should live a long time. But what can one do? Death is pitiless, and always takes the good ones and leaves the bad ones here to work their evil on our people. But let us talk about other things. Were you comfortable on the steamer? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Very comfortable. I ate, drank and slept royally.

(He tries to move off rapidly.)
 
EDITOR
If you’d been inconvenienced in any way, I’d have written about it in tomorrow’s paper, and made the company aware of its offense.

(He runs to keep pace with Apisoghom Agha.)
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you.
 
EDITOR
May I ask you, please, how old you are?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Forty.
 
EDITOR
You are a merchant, I believe.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Yes. If you intend to issue an identity card for me, there’s no need. I already have one.
 
EDITOR
No, no, it’s not that at all. In my paper tomorrow I’m going to publish news of the noted merchant, the eminent Apisoghom Agha who’s arrived in the capital from Trebizond, and whose linguistic and mercantile accomplishments are well known to all our people. You speak Turkish, I believe? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No.
 
EDITOR
French?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No.
 
EDITOR
English? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No.
 
EDITOR
German?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No.


EDITOR
No matter. I’ll refer to you as a linguist and praise you for all your outstanding achievements. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (starting to slow down)
Do you print the names of all visitors to Constantinople?
 
EDITOR
Almost all of them, if they’re eminent figures like you.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
How about those who leave the capital?
 
EDITOR
We write about most of them, too, if they’re important national figures.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Very well then, print my name. I’m considered important, too. Back home, I’m the owner of fields, vineyards, cows, and oxen. Print that, too.
 
EDITOR
Don’t worry. We’ll print it all as a debt of conscience and justice.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I have two or three servants. Can you put that in your paper some place?
 
EDITOR
Why not?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I’ve a gold watch and chain, too, but I didn’t wear them because I was afraid they’d be stolen on the steamer. Would you want to mention that?

(He is now almost oblivious of his vanished belongings.)
 
EDITOR
There’s no need to say anything like that.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Very well, but put the other things in so everybody will know about me.
 
EDITOR
That’s just what I’ve in mind.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
In large letters . . .
 
EDITOR
Rest assured, in the largest letters we have . . .
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
You only write about the wealthy people who come and go from the capital, isn’t that so?
 
EDITOR
Of course.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
If you write about the poor ones, too, I don’t want my name—
 
EDITOR
By no means. We don’t pay any attention to them at all, not even if they were to donate a thousand pounds for the construction of a school.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
You mean, then, that you wait here every afternoon to see what rich people arrive and depart, and then print their names in your paper? There’s no question, then, that I’ll read my name in your paper tomorrow?
 
EDITOR
No question whatever. Give me your address so I can have a copy sent to you by post.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Number Two, Flower Street, in Pera.

(The EDITOR takes a paper from his pocket and adds Apisoghom Agha’s name to his subscription list, nodding as he does so.)

 
APISOGHOM AGHA
You’ll send me a copy first thing in the morning.
 
EDITOR
Toward evening. Our paper is printed in the afternoon. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
How happy I’d be if you could print tomorrow’s paper in the morning. But no matter. I’ll wait . . . as long as my name appears in large letters.  
 
EDITOR
Don’t worry about that at all. I’ll send the paper tomorrow night with an acknowledgment. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
With an acknowledgment? I thought you said that it would come by post. Who is this “acknowledgment”? Does he know my address? 
 
EDITOR
The acknowledgment is merely a piece of paper on which it is written that I received from the honorable Apisoghom Agha one and a half pounds for a year’s subscription. It will entitle you to receive our newspaper for a year. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
You’re going to write about me for a whole year? 
 
EDITOR
No, but you’ll be a subscriber for a year by paying me one and a half pounds.  
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
One and a half pounds . . . that’s a lot of money . . . won’t three-quarters of a pound be enough? 
 
EDITOR
 Editors don’t bargain over subscription rates.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Oh, all right, send the paper with that acknowledgment you’re talking about. I’ll arrange something.
 
EDITOR
I hope you don’t think that I came to see you just to get a subscription. It’s not the case at all. That would be demeaning. My visit was nothing more than a gesture of friendship.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
That’s obvious.
 
EDITOR
Don’t ever let it enter your mind that this man came to see you for the purpose of snatching a pound and a half from your purse.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I won’t.
 
EDITOR
Because there are some greedy editors who descend on visitors to the capital and rob them by making them subscribers. I can’t bring myself to do such things. It’s against my nature. I want to be able to live as an honorable man.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I understand . . . you want to live as an honorable man . . .
 
EDITOR
I beg of you not to mention this meeting to anyone else. There are wretched, unprincipled people who’ll distort things deliberately in order to attack my person.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I see . . . they’ll attack your person . . . .
 
EDITOR
Let me ask you, can I be reproached for anything I’ve done? I came to welcome you and promised to publish your name in my paper. And as a concerned and interested Armenian, you wished to subscribe. I beg of you, tell me, did I squeeze your throat to force you to subscribe?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No, no.
 
EDITOR
Did I point a gun at you?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Never.
 
EDITOR
Did I wave a knife in your face?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No, but do others get subscribers by pointing guns or waving knives?
 
EDITOR
That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that you subscribed freely and willingly.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Yes.
 
EDITOR
And I behaved quite properly.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Without any doubt.
 
EDITOR
I didn’t behave like those miserable editors who, as soon as they learn a stranger’s in town, rush to his house to get a subscription.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Those creatures have no right to attack you . . . don’t worry about my telling—
 
EDITOR
I’m grateful to you. Good day,  Apisoghom Agha. Come visit our office one day. We can have some coffee together.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I will. Don’t forget to write about me in tomorrow’s paper.

(The EDITOR exits. Apisoghom Agha muses aloud as he continues on his way, his mind a jumble of thoughts.)

APISOGHOM AGHA
I didn’t think I was as important a man as this EDITOR seems to feel. But of course he must know better how big a man I must be, since he’s an EDITOR and well educated. Everybody who reads about me in the paper tomorrow will get all excited and will want to see me. I have to wear my Sunday suit, and my gold watch and chain. I should have brought my servants with me. But how was I to know? Everyone will find out tomorrow that an important man has come to Constantinople, noble, educated, a linguist. And the women will say to their husbands, “Let’s arrange a match with our daughter.”And the husbands will answer, “Will  Apisoghom Agha accept her? He’ll want a girl from a rich family.” The answer will upset the women, husbands and wives will start quarreling, and they’ll have a big fight, but why should I care? My name in the paper will serve at least one good purpose; it’ll help me settle the matter of finding a rich girl right away. That’s all I came to Constantinople for anyway . . . marriage.

(While Apisoghom Agha talks and wanders aimlessly, beguiled by his musings, one of the porters carrying his belongings and apparently lost, bumps into him.)

PORTER
Look out there.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What the devil? Oh, it’s you. Where did you take my belongings?
 
PORTER (as he continues walking)
You should be careful about what you’re doing.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I could have used that advice before . . . come back . . . my trunks . . . (He gets up and runs after porter.)

{The porters, of course, had never seen nor even heard of Flower Street but, following the example of certain people who make a great pretense of knowing what they do not know and who are quite numerous in our community, had ventured to assure Apisoghom Agha that they did indeed know where Flower Street was located. The audacity of the porters is not as reprehensible as the boldness of those men who, having studied cooking, deem themselves qualified as critics; having done a bit of surveying, pose as astronomers; having tended two geese and four cows, involve themselves in educational issues; having had one child, hold forth on the first ever born on earth; of all those, in short, who speak endlessly on subjects altogether foreign to them. Yes, their temerity is far more offensive since criticism, astronomy, education are surely more complex than the identification of Flower Street, which one can determine simply by asking someone. And the porters, asking directions of everyone they come upon, do indeed find Flower Street without much difficulty; whereas there are lecturers we all have listened to who, even after speaking for seven or eight hours, are incapable of finding the street they are looking for and keep wandering aimlessly in shady lanes and blind alleys, dragging their innocent audiences with them.}

Scene II

At the entrance to Number Two, Flower Street. porters 1, 2, 3, and Landlady

(When the porters knock, the door is opened by the Landlady, on whose dark, long face time has drawn as many lines, in its compassionate effort to improve it, as the EDITOR of Masis slashes through a short paragraph, be it someone’s obituary or another’s wedding announcement. The porters drop their bundles inside the door and start wiping their perspiration.)

LANDLADY
These must belong to Apisoghom Agha.
 
PORTER 1 (continuing to wipe his face and head with a black handkerchief .)
He didn’t give us his name.
 
LANDLADY
What kind of man was he?
 
PORTER 2
He was wearing a large overcoat.
 
PORTER 3
Black.
 
LANDLADY
Black?
 
PORTER 3
Yes, black but nice . . . anyone hugged and cuddled like that wouldn’t be cold in winter.
 
LANDLADY
What kind of talk is that? What do you mean “hugged and cuddled?” I’m not the kind of woman you can talk to in that manner, do you understand?
 
PORTER 1 (spreading his handkerchief on chair to dry)
I didn’t say anything wrong. What’s the harm in saying “hugged”?
 
LANDLADY
What can be worse than that?
 
PORTER 1
Why should we bother our heads with such fine points?
 
LANDLADY
I’ll see that you bother. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.
 
PORTER 1
But what harm can come from “hugging”?
 
LANDLADY
I have a husband. Why should I be hugging someone else?
 
PORTER 1
A husband is one thing; this is something else. Let’s say that you went out some night in winter. You can’t hug your husband in the street. But this you can take on your back.
 
LANDLADY
Apisoghom Agha?
 
PORTER 1
The overcoat, Madam, the overcoat. How would it be possible to put Apisoghom Agha on your back?
 
LANDLADY
You’ve been talking about an overcoat all this time?
 
PORTER 2
Of course, what did you think?
 
LANDLADY
I thought you were talking about hugging Apisoghom Agha.
 
PORTER 1
God have mercy, dear God, have mercy.

(He pulls handkerchief off the chair,)
 
LANDLADY (Calmed by the explanations, she reasserts her position of authority.)
Take these trunks and bedding upstairs.

(The porters pick up their burdens, but are stopped before they reach the first step of the staircase.)
 
LANDLADY (shouting)
Have you come from the hills?
 
PORTER 2
No, from Grand Avenue.
 
LANDLADY
I know you came from Grand Avenue. How can you go up in those canal boats you’re wearing? Look what you did to my floors! I broke my back cleaning them just today.
 
PORTER 3
What can we do? We have no other boots.
 
LANDLADY
Why are you standing there staring at me? Take them off, take them off!
 
PORTER 1
Don’t shout, Madam, don’t shout. We’ll take them off.

(They take off their boots, which turn out to be cleaner than their feet.)
 
LANDLADY (screaming)
You’re going to go up with those feet?
 
PORTER 1
We have to, we haven’t got any others.

{Plaintively, as though ashamed that poverty had prevented them from having more than two feet, and as though the rich could have four, five, even six of them.}
 
LANDLADY
Come down. I don’t want you to go upstairs. Put the bags down. I’ll take them up myself.
 
PORTER 2
Fine with us. 

LANDLADY(muttering to herself while she rubs the first step with a wet cloth)
Ah, curse that husband of mine. He doesn’t go to work, just sits in the coffee house all day arguing about Armenian politics. And I have to rent out rooms to strangers and get into predicaments like this.
 
PORTER 2
Madam, should we wait? 
 
LANDLADY (still muttering)
If he had any sense at all, I could be living the life of a queen. I have no children, no other worries. But all he thinks about is electing this representative or defeating the other. God knows where all those representatives come from who are the cause of all our misery. But what’s it to you? Let them do what they want. Have all the problems of our country been left in your hands?
 
PORTER 1
Madam, pay us and we’ll be off. We don’t want to hang around for nothing. 
 
LANDLADY
Come back tomorrow.

(The porters, accustomed to hearing the word “tomorrow” every day, trail out of the house.)

Scene III
In the front room. The Landlady, Manug Agha, then AGHAWNI

 
LANDLADY (continuing to grumble)
He’s always after his politics, and it doesn’t even enter his mind that we might need bread to eat, or butter, or rice; that we need wood or coal for the fire to cook. He doesn’t bother about such things. He leaves in the morning, before the light of the sun gets through our window, and comes back after dark. Our guest has arrived and will be here within the hour. He’ll be hungry, of course. I’ll have to serve him something, and there’s nothing in the house. If only he would bring some meat and fish with him when he comes home at night, we might have some food in the house. But no, we have nothing but politics in this house, politics every night . . .

(She is still muttering to herself when a man, about seventy years old, who has opened the door with a key, enters and greets her with a smile. It is her husband, Manug Agha. His forehead is wrinkled and protruding, and his face gives the impression that someone is strangling him. Manug Agha barely crosses the threshold before his wife confronts him.)

Where have you been all this time, for God’s sake?

MANUG AGHA
Don’t even ask, Woman. We finally finished work at our council today. The election will be this Sunday, and I must say that all the candidates are fine upright men. Toros Agha offered me a few drinks and was after me to support his candidates. But I voted for my own people, since they entertain me with raki every night, and are good and honorable men, and don’t steal from the treasury like others I can name, and the school— 
 
LANDLADY
This is no time for that kind of talk. Hurry down to the butcher for some meat. 
 
MANUG AGHA
Toros Agha got very angry and won’t play cards with me anymore. Well, he doesn’t have to. 
 
LANDLADY
Don’t you hear what I’m saying? Hurry!
 
MANUG AGHA
Then I’ll just play checkers with Deacon Mardiros after this. 
 
LANDLADY
We can talk about that later,  
 
Manug Agha.
Go get some meat from the butcher. 
 
MANUG AGHA
What about the trouble the Deacon had? His wife came within a hair’s breadth of dying last night. 
 
LANDLADY
What happened? 
 
MANUG AGHA
She gave birth to a baby boy, but she had all sorts of problems. Therewere four midwives and sixteen doctors, and all of them together were barely able to save the child. 
 
LANDLADY
Poor woman. 
 
MANUG AGHA
Go visit her tomorrow. 
 
LANDLADY
I will. Now you go and take care of the meat. 
 
MANUG AGHA
Must we have that meat tonight? 
 
LANDLADY
Of course. Apisoghom Agha’s trunks and bedding have already arrived, and he himself should be here any minute. 
 
MANUG AGHA
Are you telling me the truth, Woman? 
 
LANDLADY
Why should I lie?
 
 MANUG AGHA
All right, then. I’ll go and get us a good cut of meat.

(Manug Agha has barely taken a few steps out of the house when his wife shouts after him.)
 
LANDLADY 
Manug Agha, Manug Agha. (Manug Agha re-enters.) What are we going to cook the meat with?
 
MANUG AGHA
You can cook it with potatoes or beans.
 
LANDLADY
No, no. That’s not what I’m talking about. We’ve no coal. Get some coal, too.
 
MANUG AGHA
All right.

(He turns to go out again.)
 
LANDLADY
Manug Agha,  Manug Agha. (He comes back in again.) We can’t do with meat alone. Buy a little rice, too, for pilaf.
 
MANUG AGHA
That’s a good idea, Woman. I’ll get some rice, too.

(This time manug agha runs out of the house. He is about to move offstage when he hears his wife shouting after him with all her might.)
 
LANDLADY
Manug Agha, Manug Agha.
 
MANUG AGHA(returning, his impatience showing in his face and voice)
What is it now?
 
LANDLADY
For the love of God, why do you rush out like a steam engine? My throat is sore from shouting. We have no onions or salt, and you ought to buy some oil for the lamps. We can’t leave the poor man in the dark.
 
MANUG AGHA
All right, all right. But tell me everything we need all at once, and I’ll get them. You’ve called me back a hundred times.
 
LANDLADY
We need a water bottle, too . . . And I have nothing to wrap around my head, no shoes to wear. How can I greet Apisoghom Agha in this condition? 
 
MANUG AGHA
Let’s get the food now; we’ll worry about your clothes tomorrow.

(He slams the door behind him when he leaves.)
 
LANDLADY
Manug Agha, Manug Agha. 
MANUG AGHA: (muttering, moving toward stage left)
Scream as much as you want. I’m not coming back another time. (As he is about to move offstage, he hears a woman’s voice calling after him. He pauses.) If you’ve nothing better to do, go on screaming after me all you want.

(He keeps muttering as he turns to move offstage. The calling continues. Deacon Mardiros’s ten-year-old daughter, aghawni, enters stage right.)
 
AGHAWNI 
Manug Agha,  Manug Agha. (Manug Agha continues on to stage left. AGHAWNI nears him and, out of breath, manages to shout his name one last time.)  Manug Agha.

(Still no response. In one last burst, she rushes offstage left after him, pulling him back onstage by his jacket.)
 
MANUG AGHA (without turning)
Let me alone, Woman.
 
AGHAWNI
I’ve something to tell you. 
 
MANUG AGHA
I’ve no time to listen. I can’t even remember what you told me before, and now you’ve still more to tell me.
 
AGHAWNI
I just wanted to ask you where the midwife lives. 
 
MANUG AGHA (Realizing it is not his wife following him, he turns.)
Aghawni, was it you running after me?
 
AGHAWNI (gasping)
Yes, it was. 
 
MANUG AGHA
How’s your mother? (AGHAWNI is still out of breath.) Why don’t you say something? How’s your mother? Is anything wrong? (AGHAWNI can only gasp.) I’m going to burst with curiosity. Say something. Is this any time to heave like that? Tell me how your mother is.
 
AGHAWNI (still gasping)
Mother is well, but the baby won’t take her milk. The midwife—  
 
MANUG AGHA
Very well, my child, I understand. You go home now. I’ll get the midwife to come over.

AGHAWNI exits stage right and Manug Agha stage left, looking for the midwife’s house. On practically every street he stops to chat with friends, informing them about the baby born to Deacon Mardiros’s wife, discussing the elections, or relating the news of  Apisoghom Agha’s arrival.{It has been a long established tradition for many living in eastern Anatolia to go to France or Germany for an education, and to Constantinople for a wife. And we already know that Apisoghom Agha has come to Constantinople for no other purpose but that. After his collision with the porter, Apisoghom Agha inquires of passersby for directions to Flower Street, since this is the first time he has come to Constantinople, and a friend in Trebizond recommended that house as a comfortable place to eat and sleep. The friend wrote to Manug Agha accordingly, a week in advance. Following such instructions as he is given,  Apisoghom Agha enters one street and emerges from another, walks up a dead-end
street, curses, and turns back, all the time suspecting that the porters have run off with his belongings, though he had been assured of their honesty by many people. After tramping through the streets of Pera for about an hour, Apisoghom Agha finally succeeds in finding Flower Street, which should not be confused with the street of the same name that was reduced to ashes in the Pera fire of 1870 something. This street was named Flower because flowers could always be seen in the windows of the houses there.} Apisoghom Agha approaches Manug Agha’s wife, who is not known to him and who is waiting out front for her husband’s return.

Scene IIII
Manug Agha’s house on Flower Street. Apisoghom Agha, Landlady
 

APISOGHOM AGHA
Can you tell me which house is Number Two?
 
LANDLADY
This is it. Welcome, Apisoghom Agha.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Did they bring my bedding and trunks?
 
LANDLADY
Yes, they did, Apisoghom Agha, some time ago. Come in. If you wish tomrest a moment, you can sit here and catch your breath.

(She leads him to a small foyer.)

APISOGHOM AGHA
Yes, I am very tired. I would like to rest a while. 
 
LANDLADY
Do just as you please,  
 
Apisoghom Agha.
The house is yours. Rest as you would at home.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you.

(She leads him to a small room, holding a lamp that begins flickering because the oil is low.)
 

LANDLADY
How have you been, Apisoghom Agha? How’s everyone at home? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Everyone’s well. 
 
LANDLADY
May they always be so. And how are your children? Are they going to school? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I have no children. 
 
LANDLADY
How’s your wife? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I have no wife either. 
 
LANDLADY
You’re not married, Apisoghom Agha? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No.
 
LANDLADY
Well then, we must find you a pretty girl while you’re here.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I do have such a purpose in mind, but first I would like something to eat. I haven’t had anything since early this morning.
 
LANDLADY
Of course,  Apisoghom Agha, of course. I’ll have your dinner ready very soon.

(She leaves, opens the outside door and stands on the threshold waiting for Manug Agha who, it will be remembered, was running about looking for the midwife. Alone in the room, Apisoghom Agha picks up a book and begins leafing through it. But because it is impossible for a man to read a book when he is hungry, just as it is impossible for him to write one, he puts it down, especially since his stomach keeps reminding him that it is his body, not his mind, that needs nourishment. He begins pacing.)
 

LANDLADY (re-entering the room)
I beg of you, Apisoghom Agha, make yourself as comfortable as you would in your own house. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I’m not uncomfortable, only hungry. And I’d like to eat. 
 
LANDLADY
Dinner is being prepared; it’s almost ready. (She leaves to resume her vigil in front of the house.) 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (mumbling to himself )
What kind of woman is this? She tells me to be comfortable and keeps me hungry. Can a hungry man be comfortable? 
 
LANDLADY(returning)
Just look upon me as your sister or daughter. Don’t hesitate one bit. Ask for whatever you want, and I’ll be happy to bring it. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you. 
 
LANDLADY
I wouldn’t want any guests in my house to be the least bit uncomfortable. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I quite understand. Right now there is nothing I need besides dinner.
 
LANDLADY
Dinner is almost ready, so don’t worry about that at all.

(Further elaboration is interrupted by the doorbell. She rushes out, expecting to admit her husband, get the things he brought, and begin preparing the long delayed dinner. It is not her husband, however, but the local parish Priest.)

Scene V
The Priest,  Landlady, then Apisoghom Agha
 
PRIEST (as the door is opened)
Greetings, Madam. 
 
LANDLADY
Bless me, Father. 
 
PRIEST
How are you? Well, I pray. 
 
LANDLADY
Well, thank God. 
 
PRIEST
I just ran into Manug Agha and he told me you had a visitor, so I thought I’d drop in to say hello. 
 
LANDLADY
That’s good of you. Please come in.

(She leads him to the small foyer where Apisoghom Agha is still preoccupied with his hunger. Apisoghom Agha gets up when he sees the Priest.)

PRIEST
Greetings, Apisoghom Agha.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Bless me, Father.
 
PRIEST
When this humble sinner heard of the arrival of your benevolent eminence, he hurried over to inquire about the esteemed well-being of your most devout person. How are you, Apisoghom Agha?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Well.
 
PRIEST
May you always be so. May the Lord grant heavenly rest to your departed ones, and to the living a long and blessed life.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you. And how are you, Father?
 
PRIEST
Don’t ask about our well-being. It is these times we should be worried about. May the Lord God keep you from all danger and evil. When the people are well, the Priests rejoice.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
It’s so, Father.

(He cannot take his eyes off the door, through which he expects his dinner to be brought.)

PRIEST
The times are very bad. The people are burdened with much suffering, and their piety seems to be declining steadily day by day. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
That’s so. 
 
PRIEST
But what is there to do? What can we do besides be patient? As the Holy Bible says, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.” Matthew 10:22.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
How true. 
 
PRIEST
If we are not patient, we will seethe with anger, and as the Prophet says, “If you become angry, yet do not sin.” Psalms 4:5.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (not having heard anything that has been said, but annoyed by the Priest’s presence since his only concern at the moment is his dinner)
Without question.
 
PRIEST
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Deuteronomy 8:3

(The Priest takes his snuff box from his pocket and inhales a pinch in each nostril, and then extends the box to Apisoghom Agha.)
Have some.
(Apisoghom Agha takes a couple of pinches.)
That’s hardly enough to have any effect, Apisoghom Agha. I beg of you, take some more. Snuff is not harmful. (Apisoghom Agha takes another pinch to end the matter, hoping that the guest will then be content and leave.) Why don’t you take a good pinch, Apisoghom Agha? You hardly took anything at all.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you, Father. I don’t use it as a rule.
 
PRIEST
I beg of you. Don’t refuse this humble sinner. Surely you can tolerate some more
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (aside)
Yes, but not of you. (He takes another pinch.)
 
PRIEST
The Prophet David says that, “As for man, his days are like grass.” Psalms 103:15.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
He says that about snuff?
 
PRIEST
No, about us. And we have to labor and help others in this brief and transient life, succor the poor, and sometimes pray for the repose of the souls of our dear ones.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
By all means.
 
PRIEST
We must be prepared to go whenever we are called.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
At any time.
 
PRIEST
This humble sinner is going to venture to ask something of your gracious person, and I hope you will not refuse since this humble servant is well aware of your unbounded goodness and generosity.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What can I do for you?
 
PRIEST
May God keep His inexhaustible treasury open and available to such magnanimous people as you.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you.
 
PRIEST
May He return a thousandfold every one you give, and a million for every thousand, for the glory of our sacred church and the betterment of our people. What I would like to do is have a service next Sunday for the souls of the departed members of your family. Forgive my audacity, but it is my duty to remind people always not to forget their dead.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
You’re right, Father.
 
PRIEST
Let me know if you agree, and I will make the necessary arrangements. And don’t think that the cost will be excessive. Two pounds will take care of it all. And, of course, there will be a special announcement in church that day that the service is for the repose of the souls of the deceased members of Apisoghom Agha’s family.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I’d be grateful.
 
PRIEST
Not at all. It’s no more than our duty.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Here are the two pounds for the service.
 
PRIEST (extending his hand for the money)
There’s no hurry. You don’t have to give it right away.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No, no, please take it.
 
PRIEST
Only because you insist so much, I will take it. I have no wish to break your heart. Bless you. May God keep your house prosperous and your purse full. May He fulfill your every wish, endow all your work with success, and protect you from all misfortune.

(The Priest says good-bye and departs.)
 

APISOGHOM AGHA
At last I’m free of him. All I have had is trouble since I set foot in Constantinople. I was hardly off the boat when some EDITOR chewed at my ears for two hours. I managed to escape him, only to run into a thousand other difficulties before I found this house. Here I wanted only to catch my breath and eat something. And the woman of the house seems to have one mission in life and that is to starve me. She keeps running in and out, begging me not to worry about a single thing besides my own comfort. And as though that were not enough, now this man barges in, forces me to take snuff, tells me all about the prophet David, manages to get two pounds out of me, and leaves. I’m glad of that at least. And I had to go through all this on an empty stomach. Why aren’t they bringing my dinner? Are they going to keep me hungry all night? It’s a disgrace. (As Apisoghom Agha goes on muttering, the lamp, whose light is already feeble because the oil is running out, flickers one last time and dies, leaving the guest in darkness.) This is the last straw. Either I must pick up my things and go somewhere else or I have to call that woman and give her a piece of my mind. I’m not used to this sort of treatment. Back home I have two servants always on call. They set the table early and tend to all my needs. Why should someone accustomed to servants have to put up with these inconveniences?
 
LANDLADY(as she opens the door):
What happened? Did the lamp go out?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (trying to restrain his increasing anger):
Yes, it went out.
 
LANDLADY
Don’t let it bother you, Apisoghom Agha, it’s our job to see to such things.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Yes, yes, but I’m hungry and I can’t wait much longer. 
 
LANDLADY
Don’t let anything at all upset you. Leave everything to me. I’ll attend to it. I don’t want you to be disturbed. (She runs off to the neighbor, returns with oil and relights Apisoghom Agha’s lamp.)

(Not very long after the light comes back on, Apisoghom Agha is confronted by yet another visitor, a young man who doesn’t appear to be a merchant or a banker; nor does he look like an artisan or a laborer. What he looks like, finally, is something that doesn’t look like much of anything. He is barely past thirty, with blue eyes and blond hair, and a short beard, which in the capital is a sign either of mourning or of  poetry. His clothes are so old as to excite the interest of antique dealers. If, however, his clothing is repulsive, there are attractive qualities in his face. He is a  POET.)

Scene VI
Apisogham Agha and the Poet
 
POET (in a loud voice, as he enters)
Honorable sir, I’m Your Eminence’s servant.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (recoiling, apprehensive)
What is it? What do you want?
 
POET
Honorable sir, as soon as I learned of your arrival, I hurried over to place before your feet the most profound expression of my respect and admiration.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (thinking that the man perhaps had brought him a gift of slippers)
At my feet? Very well, put them there.
 
POET (removing his hat and leaping on the table)
Thank you, most exalted sir.
(The spectacle thoroughly confuses Apisoghom Agha, who wonders what in the world the young man is up to. The POET pulls out a paper from his pocket and, looking straight at Apisoghom Agha, intones with all his might.) Ladies and gentlemen . . .
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (Startled by the sudden explosion of sound, he bolts from his chair and, unable to contain himself, shouts excitedly.)
Who is this man? An idiot escaped from the asylum? Or one about to be committed?
 
POET (lowering his voice a little)
The Armenian nation is undertaking a great celebration today dedicated to our bravest hero—
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What are you talking about?
 
POET
There was a time when the darkness contended against the light, ignorance against knowledge, the past against the future, the revolutionary against the traditional, the sword against the pen, hatred against love, fire against water, meat against vegetables. Now those times have passed. They are the past, and we the future. They are darkness, and we are light. They are ignorance, and we wisdom. They are the sword, and we are the pen. They are hatred, we are love. They are fire, we water. They are meat, we vegetable. They are cucumbers, we apples. They are the thorn, we the rose. Gone, gone are those centuries when mankind rocked back and forth, back and forth, in the cradle of ignorance. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What’s on your mind, my boy? I haven’t done anything to you. What do you want from me? Go make your speeches to those who have disturbed you. 
 
POET (continuing his speech)
Yes, man was tormented, humiliated by pitilessn tyrants and had no one to go to, nowhere to protest.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (beside himself, muttering)
God have mercy, God have mercy. It looks like we have a lot more to suffer yet. I can pull him off the table, but he’s a madman. He may pull out a gun and shoot me.
 
POET (oblivious to Apisoghom Agha’s consternation)
And when knowledge blossomed and drove out ignorance, as light did the dark, as love conquered hate, the pen the sword, the future the past; then, yes, at that very instant . . . yes, I say at that very time, only then, was it understood that words like mankind, people, nation were not intended simply to take space in dictionaries but were words stamped indelibly, in letters of iron, on all minds, spirits, and hearts.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I beg of you, Friend. Get down from there, and let’s see what the matter is.

(The  POET is trembling so violently on the table that Apisoghom Agha is afraid the lamp will topple. His patience gone, he shouts.)
Get down from there.
 
POET
I beg of you, don’t scold me.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Get down, or else.
 
POET
Don’t break a heart that beats so warmly for our people.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Whatever you have to say, come sit here beside me like a civilized human being, and say it. What’s the point in climbing on tables? 
 
POET
I beseech you, allow me to finish. You can’t imagine how emotional I get when I make a speech. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Get down.

(The POET gets down and sits on the chair indicated by Apisoghom Agha.)
Now tell me what’s on your mind. 
 
POET
I beg you, don’t be angry. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
But what do you want? Tell me. Now! 
 
POET
Don’t treat me with such cruelty, I’ll kiss your feet. My heart’s so full. You’ll make me cry. (He starts to cry.) 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What’s there to cry about? 
 
POET
Your servant wants to serve his people with his writing. But our people treat their writers with ingratitude and contempt.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Is that my fault?
 
POET
No, not at all; if anything, you are altogether innocent. I’ve written some patriotic poems . . . exquisite pieces . . . beautiful lines in which imagination,memotion, spirit, excitement, take wing and soar.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Good, but is that any reason to cry?
 
POET
Our people don’t recognize the value and significance of my poems. They dismiss them as puerile exercises and abandon their author to starvation and neglect.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What am I supposed to do about it?
 
POET
I beg you, be gentle with me.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What have I done to you?
 
POET
I was going to plead with you.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What? What? Tell me quickly.
 
POET
Don’t shout, if you have any mercy at all. You’ll make me cry again (He begins to cry.)
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Good Lord, give me patience.
 
POET
My problem is this. I would like to print the speech I read to you.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Go ahead and have it printed. Is anyone stopping you? Has anyone tied your hands?
 
POET
I was going to beseech your graciousness to pay for the printing costs.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Why? What reason in the world could there be for me to give money for your speech? Who has heard of such a thing? Someone is going to print a book for his own benefit and expects Apisoghom Agha to pay the costs?
 
POET
I beg you, my heart is already broken. Don’t open any new wounds.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Open what wounds? Go about your business, my friend, you have been nothing but trouble to me.
 
POET
Do you know how painful it is for a writer to hear such words? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I don’t know and, what’s more, I don’t care.
 
POET
A poet’s heart is very delicate. It can be hurt by even the mildest rebuke. I’ve written a poem on just that theme. I’ll read it to you.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I’ve no time to listen to poems.
 
POET
Don’t be harsh with my poem, I beg you. I worked on it for two months, and you don’t even want to listen to it. And when I see it demeaned in this manner, my dignity is wounded. Please don’t say anything bad about my poem. Please allow me to read it to you once.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I didn’t come here to listen to poems.
 
POET
I’ve written a tragedy, too. Perhaps we can go over that together.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No, no. I’m hungry. I must have my dinner now.
 
POET
Fine. I can deliver a lecture on food.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I’ve no time to listen.
 
POET
I beg you not to speak those words again. There are no harsher words for a writer. How painful it is to create this work and then be told that there’s no time to hear or read it. Most honorable Sir, treat our authors with kindness.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Shall I arrange a seat for you on top of my head?
 
POET
I’ll kiss your feet, don’t make fun of me. Why should you place me on your head?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What else am I to do? Must I give you my purse to prove my kindness to our authors?
 
POET
No, only enough to print my speech.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
How many pounds will that cost?
 
POET
Four should take care of it. It’s really not much. You will be my patron. And I’ll put your name in a dedication at the very front of the book.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
On the cover?
 
POET
Yes.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Why?
 
POET
So everyone will know that the book was printed with your money.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
All right, all right. (He takes four pounds from his purse and gives it to the POET who praises him a thousand times and leaves. Apisoghom Agha calls after him.) Isn’t it possible to put the names of my servants on the cover, too, and also to add that Apisoghom Agha owns cows, sheep, donkeys, and farms in his city?
 
POET
The things you mention belong more properly to pastoral poetry.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I don’t understand.
 
POET
Poems can be written on that theme. If that is your desire, I can write one.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What would I do with a poem?
 
POET
We’ll have it printed in a newspaper.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Will they print it?
 
POET
Why not? If you give them half a pound, they’ll print it forty times.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Good. Write it then.
 
POET
It’ll be my privilege.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
But it has to be something good.
 
POET
Of course.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Everybody has to like it.
 
POET
Certainly.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Will you bring it to me tomorrow morning?
 
POET
Tomorrow morning? What are you saying? It’ll take at least a month.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
One whole month?
 
POET
At least. It may be easy to read a poem; writing it is another matter. A beautiful poem will take two months at the very least 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Really? 
 
POET
Yes, but I’ll try to finish it in a month. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
What a difficult thing it must be. 
 
POET
What did you think? I have to wait two months for my muse to come and inspire me. A poem can’t be written without the muse. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
And if the muse doesn’t come? 
 
POET
She has to come. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Is there any way to write her a letter or something and persuade her to come earlier, so you won’t have to wait two months? 
 
POET
She comes on her own. She doesn’t need any letters, most honorable Sir. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Where does she live? Is it very far? 
 
POET
Very far, but she will come. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Over land or sea? 
 
POET
No, my gracious Sir, no. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Who can this strange creature be? Where will she be coming from? Tell me. Maybe we can think of some way to get her here sooner. If we were to give her one or two pounds, would she come this week? 
 
POET
Yes, yes. For two pounds it may be possible to arrange the matter; the muse will get here in a hurry, this week even. 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Write to her at once, and give her my special regards. Tell her Apisoghom Agha wants to see her.
 
POET
On my honor. Good day, Sir. I am most grateful to you. I remain the servant of Your Graciousness and beg you to accept the assurances of my deepest respect. I am the most humble servant of Your Eminence.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Good, good.

(The POET finally departs, {having promised to summon his muse for two pounds, something others do for much less. At the present time a muse’s wage is less than a carpenter’s. It will be observed that Apisoghom Agha forgets his hunger whenever someone promises to get his name in the paper or announce it from the altar, and that he opens his purse and rewards anyone who agrees to spread his name in public. Vanity is a kind of hunger, too, that people satisfy with money. Vanity, regarded by some as a vice and by others as a virtue, can be found in abundance in all classes of
our people and makes Apisoghom Agha even forget momentarily about his hunger and worry only about the poem. Will it be the way he wants it to be? Will the muse come in a few days? And if she doesn’t come, will another one be found? He is reviewing these questions in his mind when} the Landlady comes in. It is already four o’clock.)

 
LANDLADY Dinner’s ready. Please come in, Apisoghom Agha.

Scene VII
The dining area, adjacent to the kitchen. Manug Agha, Apisoghom Agha, then the Landlady

(Apisoghom Agha is greeted by Manug Agha who is busy placing chairs around the table which has at last been set.)
 
MANUG AGHA (pointing to the head of the table)
Please sit here, it will be most comfortable for you.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Please, after you. (They sit.)
 
MANUG AGHA
Forgive the delay in serving dinner. You can dine at any hour you choose hereafter. There were urgent reasons this evening that prevented us from getting things ready on time. I will tell you about them later. How are you, Apisoghom Agha?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I’m very well.

MANUG AGHA
We’re very pleased. How is our friend in Trebizond?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
He sends his special regards.
 
MANUG AGHA
May the bearer of the tidings flourish. May I offer you a glass of raki?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
One glass only. (He takes a glass from Manug Agha and swallows it in one gulp, the raki that is, not the glass.)
 
MANUG AGHA
To your good fortune, Apisoghom Agha.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you.
 
MANUG AGHA
To your health.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
And long life.

(Manug Agha mixes his raki with water and drinks it in four sips, toasting the guest each time.)
 
MANUG AGHA
While my wife finishes her preparations and brings in our dinner, we can talk and pass the time. Would you like that,Apisoghom Agha? 
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (in a tone that leaves no doubt that it would be far better to eat first and talk later)
Yes, of course. 
 
MANUG AGHA
Just listen to the things I had to go through today. I’ve been involved with a representative’s election campaign for the past few weeks. Now you must be saying to yourself, “What’s the representative’s election to you?” But we really can’t be indifferent, Apisoghom Agha. If I’m not concerned with the public interest, and you’re not, and he’s not, who’ll there be to look after things? To say, “What do I care?” is very bad. That’s an excuse for everyone to withdraw, and the public interest is neglected. I think that everyone should take as much part as he can in public work. Let’s have another drink, Apisoghom Agha. It’ll whet our appetite.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
It’s not my habit to drink more than one.
 
MANUG AGHA
But the glasses are small, and remember that the Constantinople air gives raki a special flavor.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Very well.

(They drink another glass to each other’s health, before Manug Agha resumes his discourse.)
 
MANUG AGHA
This morning, on my way to the coffeehouse, I ran into my friend Melkon Agha, an honorable man, but no more so than you. This Melkon Agha was married to the daughter of Bartoghimeos Agha who, from the old days, was always pointed out as a good man, hospitable, patriotic, and kind. And he had a lot of stores in the marketplace, from which he earned considerable income. In a few years Melkon Agha’s wife passed on, and he later married saddler Nigoghos’s daughter who had several brothers, one of whom served as a secretary for Ampagum Agha. This Ampagum Agha had a son who lost a lot of his father’s money gambling and, in the end, ran off to Russia. This boy was the child of the brother of the grandson of the sister of Bishop Markar. The other brother is a goldsmith, a tall, good-looking man. A third brother was unemployed for a long time, altogether without means, and was on the verge of starvation, but then was elected representative and in a year or two got back on his feet. To make a long story short, after Melkon Agha married Nigoghos Agha’s daughter, he enjoyed a very comfortable life for a few years. But then his luck changed, misfortune followed misfortune, and he lost everything he had. I’ll bring him here one day so you can see for yourself what kind of man he is. He has a brother, too, who is a master watchmaker. He used to live in Büyük Dere,(A suburb of Constantinople) and later in Üsküdar, (The quarter of Constantinople on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus) and still later in Kum Kapi, (A quarter of Constantinople on the European shore) where he was unable to stay for very long either. And I don’t know where he is now. Still, he was an excellent watchmaker. Toros Agha wouldn’t entrust his watch to anyone but him to clean. Do you know Toros Agha? He’s a different kind of man altogether. Let me tell you a story about him and see if you think it’s possible to find a man like this anywhere on earth.
 
LANDLADY (her head appearing in the door)
Shall I serve dinner now?
 
MANUG AGHA
Be patient a little, Woman. Let me finish what I’m saying, and then bring it in. Isn’t that so, Apisoghom Agha? We must have a little time to talk. If you feel I’m boring you, please say so.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
How can you think such a thing, but—
 
MANUG AGHA (interrupting)
This Toros Agha is a furrier, may his ears be burning, and lives a very comfortable life with his family. Whatever he needs in his house—food, clothing, furniture—he buys with his own hands; he trusts no one but himself, may his ears be burning. He will buy a piece of meat from the butcher, and weigh it as soon as he gets home, and without fail he’ll find it an ounce or two short. Then he rushes back to the butcher, gets into a heated argument, and doesn’t leave until he gets an additional couple of ounces of meat. This is the sort of man he is, may his ears be burning. One day, this Toros Agha, may his ears be burning, took his watch to have it cleaned and, after lengthy bargaining with the watchmaker, agreed to pay fifteen piasters, but on one condition—that the work be done in his presence because Toros Agha, may his ears be burning, not trusting anyone, as I said, was afraid that if he left the watch there, something might be stolen from its works or that the watchmaker would deliberately damage something to create more work for himself, as many watchmakers are not above doing, especially when business is a little slow. The watchmaker took this as an insult to his honor and got very angry. If you were in his place, wouldn’t you?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (not having heard a word of the story, his thoughts on nothing but dinner)
I certainly would.
 
MANUG AGHA
Toros Agha, may his ears be burning, was in turn enraged by the watchmaker’s anger and said some very harsh things, which he really shouldn’t have said. Isn’t that so?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (mechanically, agreeing in the hope that this will bring the story to an end, and hasten the arrival of his dinner)
That’s so. That’s so.
 
MANUG AGHA
The watchmaker threw Toros Agha out, may his ears be burning, and Toros Agha, may his ears be burning, refused to leave, considering such behavior somewhat beneath his dignity. If you were in his place, you wouldn’t leave either.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA (not knowing what place he was in or out of )
I wouldn’t leave either.
 
MANUG AGHA
Then the fight really began. The watchmaker slapped Toros Agha, may his ears be burning. Toros Agha, may his ears be burning, punched the watchmaker. In the circumstances, I think there was nothing else he could do. May I kiss your feet, Apisoghom Agha, tell me, could he have done anything else?
 
Apisoghom Agha (suddenly)
You make it with tomatoes here, too?
 
MANUG AGHA
Tomatoes?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Yes, in other places they make it with tomatoes.
 
MANUG AGHA
The watch?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Which watch?
 
MANUG AGHA
Toros Agha’s watch.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Who is Toros Agha?
 
MANUG AGHA
Then you weren’t listening to my story?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I was, of course I was. I was listening very carefully.

{But his question about tomatoes made it clear that his mind was going from soup to tomatoes, and from tomatoes to how soup was made with rice in Constantinople, and that he was paying no heed at all to Manug Agha’s rambling. He had a perfect right not to listen to his host’s long speech, especially on an empty stomach. There are people in the world who think they have the right to grab someone by the nose and talk his head off for hours. There are others who think so highly of what they have to say that they make a special point of hunting down people to listen to them, and if they can’t find volunteers, are willing to pay people to do so. Some even have listeners on monthly retainers. The author has been trapped in such situations on occasion, pretended to listen, all the while thinking about other matters, giving agreeable answers to all questions, saying, “That’s so,” when asked, “Is that not so?”; acknowledging, “That is true,” when asked, “Is that not true?”; responding with, “You are most certainly right,” when confronted with, “Am I not right?” All in the hope of bringing the talk to an early conclusion. The trouble starts when your tormentor begins to ask the sort of question to which answers cannot be arranged so easily, and a judgment is satanically forced on you. After a long and tedious story, of which you have not heard a single word, he may, for example, suddenly ask: “Now you be the judge, was Margos Agha right, or Giragos Agha?” What can you say? You have no idea about the issue in question, and you may never have even heard of Margos Agha or Giragos Agha.
There is also the matter of your tormentor’s feelings, which you can hurt irreparably by picking the wrong man. The author has found a way out of this, too, with answers like these: “The matter should be resolved amicably”; or “Yes, but who is right indeed?”; or “What’s the use? You can’t do anything with an unreasonable man”; or “Yes, but I ask you, tell me if you can, which of them is right?”; or “Why do you insist on an answer, my friend. It is as clear as two and two make four.” Many have been satisfied with answers like these, but there are those not so easily put off who seem prepared to turn you over to the police if you do not say right out whether it is Margos who is right or Giragos. To escape from their clutches, it is best to mention some urgent business, just remembered, and rush off. The author has noticed lately that this sort of action sometimes actually encourages the talkative, and has been forced to put politeness aside and say: “Sir, for listening to you for two hours, I think I am entitled to two pounds. I will not accept even one piaster less than two pounds.” One man offered half a pound, which was refused with righteous indignation, the rejection itself serving to stop all further talk. The same man later found two people who agreed to listen to him for a quarter of a pound each. You have to envy some of our newspapers which, instead of paying their readers, are actually paid by them. Apisoghom Agha would not behave in this manner; and when with his talk of tomatoes he revealed that he had been less than attentive and had heard nothing the lecturer had been prattling about, he tried immediately to cover up his discourtesy, by insisting: “I did. I listened very carefully.” Should he have said this? Obviously not. He should quite simply have said: “ Manug Agha, look here, my friend, when someone begins to speak, he should not set conscience aside. I have been hungry for eight hours and feel no real need to know whose son Mardiros Agha is, or whose father Kevork Agha is, or that the watchmaker slapped Toros Agha, and that Toros Agha hit him back, may all their ears be burning. He should respond unhesitatingly in this manner not only to a social bore but also to the priests who preach for four hours for the sole purpose of speaking at great length and are offended if even one of the faithful dares to leave the church during the marathon, for whatever reason. The author made a point of this to a bishop on one occasion, as he was leaving church after delivering a five-hour sermon. “Where are you going. Your Grace?” “I perspired a great deal during the sermon and must go and change my clothes. Where are you going?” “I am going home to change my clothes, too.” Since that time the bishop’s sermons have been mercifully brief. Apisoghom Agha could not summon such audacity, and Manug Agha felt encouraged to continue, addressing himself first to the question of the tomatoes.}
 

MANUG AGHA [with sudden gusto]
We use tomatoes in soup, in pilaf, and in all sorts of meat dishes, but never in watches.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you. So you do use it in soup. That’s what I wanted to know.
 
MANUG AGHA
Do you like soup with tomatoes?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
I like it with tomatoes.
 
MANUG AGHA
Good. Let’s get back to the story now. Where were we? Oh, yes, Toros Agha. He’s a strange man, that Toros Agha, may his ears be burning; he has a lot of strange stories. They’ll keep for another night. It’ll be a nice way to pass the time. Not to go on too long, I ran into Melkon Agha this morning—
 
LANDLADY(entering with food)
Here it is. Eat it while it’s hot.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Yes, yes. Let’s eat now. I’m starving.
 
LANDLADY
Please begin.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Thank you. (He leaps in the air as the first spoonful barely touches his lips.)
 
LANDLADY
It must be too hot. Please excuse me, Apisoghom Agha.
 
MANUG AGHA
Drink some water, quickly, Apisoghom Agha.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No harm done, no harm.
 
MANUG AGHA (scolding his wife)
Madam, why aren’t you more careful about how hot the soup is? 
 
LANDLADY
I beg you to overlook our shortcomings tonight.
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
It’s nothing. Please, nothing at all.
 
MANUG AGHA
While the soup is cooling off, I can at least fill the time by telling you about all that’s happened today. 
 
LANDLADY
Manug Agha, don’t pester Apisoghom Agha so much this evening. Maybe he’d rather not hear these stories.
 
MANUG AGHA
I only want to help him pass the time. I don’t want him to be bored.
 
LANDLADY
Save it for another night. Tired as he is, how can he listen to you?
 
MANUG AGHA
I’m sure it’s a pleasure for Apisoghom Agha to hear about our nation’s affairs
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Yes, a great pleasure. But as your wife says, maybe we can leave it for tomorrow night. I really am very tired. 
 
MANUG AGHA
Of course, however you wish. But our council’s doings are very amusing. If Melkon Agha were here, he could tell stories that would split your sides. 
 
LANDLADY
The soup is cool enough now.

(As soon as he hears these words, Apisoghom Agha falls upon the soup with his spoon.)
 
MANUG AGHA
How about another raki, Apisoghom Agha?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
No, thank you.
 
MANUG AGHA
Madam, pour Apisoghom Agha some wine.
 
LANDLADY
Manug Agha , you’re saying some very peculiar things tonight. Whoever heard of drinking wine with soup?
 
MANUG AGHA
And why not? Let’s see if he’ll appreciate our vintage.

(The woman goes out and brings in the meat dish. Apisoghom Agha eats with such an appetite that he begins gulping down the meat without chewing it.)
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
Praise God. We’re full and content again.

(He makes the sign of the cross, while murmuring the Lord’s prayer, then rises, looking for water to wash with.)

 
LANDLADY
You wash after dinner?
 
APISOGHOM AGHA
If there’s water.
 
LANDLADY
It’s not our custom, but I’ll bring some for you to wash with.

(Apisoghom Agha washes and dries his hands. Lights dim in the parlor. With a lamp in her hand, the Landlady leads him to a room on the second floor, above the dining room area. A true measure of its size can best be communicated by saying that the width of the room matches Apisoghom Agha’s height. The bed is in front of the room’s only window, which opens on the street. The furnishings include a chair, a
small square table, a small mirror, a pitcher of water and a glass, and a comb and brush. As soon as he is in the room,  Apisoghom Agha crosses himself in a prayerful manner. Then he quickly undresses and throws himself into bed.)


Scene VIII
 Apisoghom Agha’s bedroom.  Apisoghom Agha alone
 
APISOGHOM AGHA: (muttering into the pillow) I know what I will do from now on. I won’t see anyone at all. I don’t like the people here at all. They either want to get their hands on your money or talk your ears off for two hours. What have I to do with any of them? I came here to find a wife. If I see a girl I like, I’ll ask for her hand. If I am accepted, I’ll take her and go home. And if I am not accepted, if I’m not . . . but why shouldn’t I be? Can they find anyone better? If that paper prints some nice things about me tomorrow, they’ll all beg me to take their daughters. But what will I do with more than one? I’ll pick a very nice one, make all the arrangements, get engaged and then married right away.

(Having so decided everything to his satisfaction, he goes to sleep.)

 

END OF ACT 1


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