(Because of the fragmented structure of the book, below are chapters 2 and 4 of Liberation Movements, following Libarid Terzian’s story.)
It is eleven at night, Tuesday the twenty-second of April, 1975, when Libarid Terzian climbs out of the Trabant in front of Departures. His wife, Zara, and Vahe, his five-year-old boy, help him with the sticky trunk. It’s far past his son’s bedtime, but he lets Vahe, struggling and tottering but proud, carry his small suitcase to the curb while he kisses Zara. She’s teary again, as if she knows something she shouldn’t, and for an instant Libarid fears she does know.
“You’re going to be exhausted when you land,” she says, sniffing.
“Can always depend on the People’s Militia choosing the cheapest and most inconvenient transportation.”
She gives him a wet smile. No, she knows nothing—this is just the weepiness you grow accustomed to when your wife is a traditional Armenian who’s never believed she could be European.
So he kisses her, gives Vahe a hug and a pat on the back. “You’re the man of the house now.” Vahe likes this at first, but suddenly it seems to frighten him, and he clutches his mother’s hand. That quick movement hurts Libarid somewhere in his throat. He wishes he could bring the boy along, but that’s just not possible. Not yet.
He clears his throat and waves briefly as they drive off into the blackness, south toward the Capital. Once they’re out of sight, he takes a packet of Carpat,i from his pocket and lights a cigarette. Zara hates it when he smokes.
He doesn’t yet feel the freedom but knows it will come, clearing away this melancholy. On the plane, or maybe not until he’s lost in the winding back streets of Istanbul, finally loosed from the chains of matrimony.
A taxi pulls up to the curb, and from it emerge a man and a woman. The man is very large, nearly bald, with a small, flat boxer’s nose, like the most dangerous lumpenprole he’s ever seen. But it’s the young woman Libarid has trouble turning away from. Her features are very delicate, and the combination of long black hair with pale blue eyes—he can’t stop staring as her companion takes their bags from the trunk and pays the driver.
Libarid steps on his cigarette, opens the glass door to the airport, and smiles. She smiles back as she enters. Her big companion, whose flat face is riveted by acne scars, only frowns.
A sign over the Turkish Airlines desk announces that check-in for the 1:00 a.m. flight to Istanbul isn’t until midnight. He has an hour, so he carries his bag to the gift shop, where behind a counter a sixteen-year-old girl sits on a stool, focused on the crossword puzzle in her lap.
“Excuse me,” says Libarid.
She says to the crossword, “Yeah?”
Without looking up she reaches to the wall of shelves behind her and grabs a package of fifty sheets, then places it on the counter. “Fifty-four korona.”
“A pen too,” he says. “And an envelope.”
She sighs and finally looks at him. She drops from her stool and climbs a wooden step-ladder to canisters of ballpoint pens. She peers down. “How many?”
“Two pens, one envelope.” Then: “No. Two envelopes. I might mess up one.”
The girl is not amused by his indecision.
Libarid finds a seat among rows of other travelers in the waiting area. By a high window facing the street, an Orthodox Jewish family stretch out in silence on their bags, the children dozing; in other chairs sit more crossword players. But what he notices is two rows ahead of him—the beautiful pale-eyed woman and her companion. They don’t speak to each other, but the big man sometimes looks around, as if he’s protecting her.
Libarid’s procrastinating, and he knows it.
So he takes out the writing paper, uncaps the pen, and writes,
My dearest Zara,
No, that’s too misleading. He flips to a fresh sheet.
He stares at that, repeating the two words in his head until they become a stream of nonsensical syllables. Then he places another clean sheet on top.
And isn’t sure how to proceed from there.
Two rows up, the woman pats her companion’s knee, points to a far corner, and speaks. She must be whispering, because Libarid can’t hear a thing. The big man nods and walks with her to the tiled corridor that leads past pay phones to the bathrooms.
Libarid takes the two-toned pamphlet from his bag: interpol international conference on crime and cooperation in istanbul, 23-26 April 1975. Emil Brod—Libarid still can’t bring himself to call his younger friend “chief”—explained his understanding of the conference. “Brano feels the invitation’s largely to seduce us in the East to share more of our resources.”
“You’ve got a wife and child. You’re the safest bet.”
Emil winked at him. “But as far as you’re concerned, it’s a vacation interrupted now and then by dull lectures.”
He was right. Out of four days of presentations, there’s only one that provokes any interest from him: a Swedish delegate, Roland Adelsvärd, on “The Encouragement and Harboring of Terrorists by Various States.” Otherwise, it will be a long four days.
Leading, though, to a lifetime of freedom.
When he looks up again the woman is at the end of the tiled corridor, at the pay phones. She speaks into a receiver, nodding, and then places a hand on the wall for support. As if the conversation is very emotional. Then she hangs up, takes a breath, and dials a second number. This call is without emotion, and brief. Once she’s done she turns quickly and smiles just as the big man appears, hiking up his pants. He guides her back to their seats, a hand on her elbow.
At midnight, Libarid puts the letter, which hasn’t progressed beyond the first word, into his bag and joins a long line at the Turkish Air counter. Halfway up are the woman and her companion. Perhaps because she feels him staring, she turns around fully and settles her pale eyes on him.
Sitting at Gate 7 among yawning travelers, Libarid chain-smokes the rest of his Carpat,i and writes only five sentences to his wife:
For someone who weeps so much, it’s strange to me how deeply you hate sentimentality. But you do. You call it “fake emotions”. So I won’t pad this with sentimentality. I’m leaving you.
Then he stares through the large windows at the midnight darkness where lights seemingly unattached to planes take off and land. He wonders, again, about the mechanics of later getting Vahe out, and for the first time realizes he’s been fooling himself: He’ll never see his son again.
On his way down the corridor to the duty-free shop, he spots the woman again. She’s speaking with a tall, mustached man who’s holding a black briefcase and sweating. He’s visibly nervous, though the woman is calm, her smile serene.
In the shop he finds one other customer—the woman’s big companion—also buying cigarettes. The oaf smokes Moskwa-Volga. He ignores Libarid as he leaves.
A little before one o’clock, they board, and Libarid takes his window seat in the twentieth row. He’s relieved, as they all are, to finally be on the plane. Across the aisle from him, the nervous mustached man with the briefcase is sitting down. Then Libarid hears a voice:
“This is me.”
It’s the woman, settling into the seat next to him.
Her companion is nearer the front of the plane, unaware that she’s passed him, but then he figures it out. He pushes through people to get back to her. Without speaking, she shows him her boarding pass. The man looks dumbly up at the seat numbers, then holds out his own boarding pass to Libarid. He says, “I need to switch seats with you.” He has the clotted voice of a deaf person.
“I’m comfortable here,” says Libarid.
The man leans closer, forcing the woman back into her seat. This man could break most of the people on the plane in half. “I insist.”
“So do I,” says Libarid.
The man places a big hand on Libarid’s headrest. “Don’t be a nuisance, comrade. Not unless you want the Ministry for State Security on you. I’m here to protect this woman.”
Libarid pauses, unsure, but then the woman touches his thigh with the side of her hand, just briefly, and it strengthens him. He says, “I’m a lieutenant in the People’s Militia. That tough-guy talk may work for the peasants you usually run into, but not with me.”
The man recoils slightly, maybe surprised, then looks at the woman. “I’ll be seven seats up.”
“I know,” she says.
Once he’s gone, Libarid, flushed, asks if he’s really from Yalta Boulevard.
“Don’t worry about him,” she says.
Libarid stops worrying. “He’s protecting you?”
“Protecting, watching—it’s all the same, isn’t it?”
Libarid points out that it’s strange for the Ministry to send a deaf man to watch over someone; it doesn’t make much sense. The woman smiles, her pale eyes slits, and eludes him with a question. “When did the Ministry ever make sense?”
The lights dim, and they take off. She closes her eyes as Libarid takes the opportunity to look closely at her face. He lights another cigarette and feels the old pull of his checkered youth, when he had many women, before he settled down. He wonders if he’ll return to that checkered youth. Probably.
Though he’s leaving his family, something in him believes it’s immoral to try anything yet. It’s too soon. It would prove with scientific accuracy that he never had any respect for his wife, his marriage, or his family in the first place.
So Libarid peers past her to the nervous man. He’s worse now that the vibrating plane is airborne: sweaty and pale, wiping his mustache and staring at a book he’s obviously not reading. Libarid notices that on the cover are the squiggly characters of his own native language. The Bible. Libarid leans over the dozing woman and gives a high whisper. “Parev!”
The man looks up at him, almost terrified.
“Nice to see another Armenian face,” says Libarid. “And don’t worry. The pilot may be a Turk, but he knows what he’s doing.”
The man nods, a little stunned. “Aayo—yes, I’m sure he does.”
Then he goes back to his Bible, and Libarid looks out the window at blackness.
Eyes still shut, the woman says, “He’s not afraid of flying. He’s afraid of dying. Everyone’s afraid of that.”
Libarid turns to her. “Just trying to help him out.”
She doesn’t answer. She opens her eyes. “Are you happy?”
“That’s a strange question.”
“You’re married. You have a son. I’m just wondering if that makes you happy.”
“Then why are you leaving them?”
Libarid stares a moment into her pale blue eyes, which remain steady, watching as he tries to comprehend this. The letter. She must have seen the letter. While he was buying cigarettes, she must have gone through his bag. But Libarid has been a militiaman for over thirty years. He knows not to give her the reaction she wants. He clears his throat. “What makes you think I have a wife and son?”
“It’s the way you walk,” she says. “Married men have a certain confidence that’s not for show. Single men who look confident do it for show.”
“And a son?”
She raises her shoulders. “Again, the walk. Biologically, you’ve accomplished what you were born to do. You have someone to carry on your name. As for you leaving them…well, you’re freeing yourself from the guilt of affairs by leaving. It’s obvious that if I gave you the chance, you’d fuck me in a second.”
“What a mouth.”
She smiles, and it seems like an honest smile, as if she’s been fond of Libarid for a very long time. She settles her head in the seat again.
“So who are you?” he asks.
“Me? I’m nobody. But my name is Zrinka.”
He ignores this. “Why are you going to Istanbul?”
“The Interpol conference, just like you.”
“You’re a militiawoman?”
“Hardly.” Zrinka pauses. “But I have a feeling I won’t make it to the conference.”
“Oh, we’ll both make it. Your friend will make sure. I’ve got a couple friends too, waiting for me. My chaperones.”
“Don’t worry,” she says. “You’ll lose them. I know it.”
“You think you know everything.”
“I have a knack for suppositions. For example, in about ten seconds that man next to us—his name is Emin Kazanjian—is going to walk to the toilet. But he won’t make it to the toilet.”
“What are you talking about?”
Zrinka closes her eyes as if there’s no need to see, and Libarid looks over just as the nervous man sets aside his Bible and gingerly takes his briefcase from under the seat. He carries it slowly toward the bathroom in the front of the plane. Just before he reaches it, though, he stops and turns around, looking at faces. At that moment, three men, spread throughout the plane, get up as well and move to the aisles.
Libarid, understanding now, allows himself a curse: “Oh shit.”
That’s when Emin Kazanjian shouts.
“Your attention, everyone! This plane is being taken over by the Army of the Liberation of Armenia!”
Everyone gasps. The three other men pull out handguns.
The hijacker raises his briefcase. “There’s a bomb in the baggage compartment, and I’m holding the detonator. So no one move!”
Despite all this activity, what Libarid notices is that Zrinka’s eyes are still closed. Then she whispers:
“See what I told you?”