Published in 826CHI's A Record in Space chapbook
On Good Friday, Mama and Auntie Karineh made choereg. They braided the little loaves as the sunlight streamed through the kitchen window, bouncing off the blue and yellow tiles to light their faces. Lily sat on one of the leather-covered bar stools, watching them with her dark eyebrows furrowed. The smells of meat and spices and nearly-baked pastries threatened to take her back to the mythical homeland she had never seen, but she fought it. With all her ten-year-old strength, she fought to stay grounded in America, in her world of pizza and fourth grade and North Face fleeces. She got up reluctantly when her mother asked her to get the black caraway from the pantry.
Lily spoke barely above a whisper as she padded towards the pantry in her pink bunny socks. “None of my friends make choereg.”
Aunt Karineh looked at her sister. Anahit sighed and turned to her daughter.
"Your grandpa Ara,” she said, "Was a genocide survivor."
Lily remembered grandpa Ara. He had died when she was four, but she held on to bits and pieces of his memory. The smell of spices and cigars and Armenian brandy. His white beard and silver cross pendant. And one word. “Hayaghjik.”
As Mama began to tell her story, Lily couldn't help being pulled back in time, to a two-story house with intricate Armenian rugs on every floor. A family of five eating lavash, the traditional Armenian flatbread, before their Good Friday dinner. An ominous clamor outside that brought Tamar to the four-paned front window. She looked outside, then back at her husband. The fear jumped from Artur to his son Ara, to Suzanna and little Nune like an electric charge.
"What is it?" Artur asked.
Tamar couldn't get past the knot in her throat to answer, but her husband already knew. They had thought about making plans for months now, but with the slow-footed reluctance of people who couldn’t imagine needing them, they hadn't made any.
Artur got up. "Out the back door," he said. "Now."
Tamar's maternal reflexes kicked in as she grabbed a roll of lavash and her nine-year-old daughter, and ran.
Ara followed his older sister Suzanna under the apricot tree and into the field behind their house. He looked back at his bedroom window, calling out to him from the second story. He wished he could have taken his book. He felt Suzanna’s hand pulling at his and turned back around. Neither of his parents had looked back, but it was already too late. They heard a shout from behind them.
“Ermeni!” A gruff voice shouted at them in Turkish. The soldier’s mustachioed face scowled at them. He was looking at Tamar, and Nune, who held tightly to her mother’s hand. Ara’s eyes were glued to his little sister, but Suzanna knew what was happening, so with a choking sob she gathered her resolve and ran. Ara felt himself pulled behind her, and turned away.
They ran as fast as they could towards the orchard, their last hope. The soldier’s shouts followed them as they ran into the trees, but years of hide and seek led them to a little cave hidden by bushes and fallen tree branches. Nune’s favorite hiding spot.
Lily looked up at her mother. Anahit had fallen silent. It was Aunt Karineh who broke the silence.
“We make choereg on Good Friday to remember Tamar and Artur and little Nune, and all the hateful, angry people, who made sure that they would never make choereg again. We make choereg to meet that hatred and anger with pride, and love. We make choereg because we are Armenians—we’re survivors. Understand, Hayaghjik?”
There was that word again. Hayaghjik. My Armenian girl.