SAVING SARKIS

PROLOGUE

Constantinople, 1915

Armen Begosian woke to the sounds of his wife’s weeping in the nursery and the soft whimpering of his infant son, Sarkis. For a few seconds, he wondered how he’d been able to sleep the last two hours. He shot out of bed, stumbled to the window, and stared through a slit in the heavy velvet drapes to the street below.

Terror gripped him. The gendarmes were still there; they’d been tailing him for the last week. He left the bedroom, walked down the hall and entered the nursery. Varteni had placed a brown felt bonnet on their son’s head, and tied the bow under his chin. She picked up the sleepy infant and held him close, shooting an accusatory glare at her husband. “We could have done something. Anything! I can’t do this. I won’t.”

He gazed at his sleeping son and, for a moment, Armen didn’t trust himself to speak. Instead, he leaned into his wife, putting his hand on the dozing newborn, kissing his cheeks, breathing in his baby scent. He brushed a shaky hand over Varteni’s hair. “If we bring Sarkis with us, we condemn him to all those rumors of an uncertain fate.” He fought to quiet the helpless raging inside. “If Sarkis goes with the Alexakis family, there’s hope. If we take him, who knows? We have an idea what awaits us. We have no control. We’ve made a plan. Let’s keep to it.”

He turned and made his way to the stairs. His hands trembled as he reached for the banister; he felt his heart would certainly fail. The authorities expected them at the dock at ten o’clock. It was now nine. He had no idea what to expect, or where they’d be taken.

 

The stairs behind him creaked. He knew Varteni followed. Bright sunlight streamed into the living room, giving the space a rosy hue. He felt the strange juxtaposition of his seething fury and the glorious brilliance of the morning. Armen started at the soft knock at the door, catching his breath. Varteni came into the foyer with baby Sarkis. His gaze locked with hers, and she nodded. She walked into the living room and sat on the divan. He opened the door.

 

Theodore and Neoma Alexakis struggled with a baby carriage as they came into the foyer.

“Good morning!” Theo almost shouted. “Fine day, isn’t it?”

Theo shut the door, passed in front of his friend, and whispered. “They’re still out there, Armen.”

“Yes, I saw them.”

Neoma spotted Varteni in the living room and rushed to her. Varteni reached out with one arm and embraced her friend. The two women sat and watched the sleeping baby.

Armen crossed to the front window of his home. Theo followed, and stood next to his friend, staring through the crack in the drapes. “Did you talk to a lawyer?”

 

“I went to the authorities, but they don’t listen,” Armen whispered. “I tried to secure legal representa- tion, but was told there was no recourse.” He peered over Theo’s shoulder at the two men on the corner. “Our priest advised us to go along with their demands.”

 

“What?”

“Because the authorities promise this is a temporary action for the protection of Turkish citizens.” Armen turned away from the window. “I also took that summons to three men in my church. They’re established businessmen like me. Not one of them had received the notice! Only me!”

 

Stunned, Theo looked at his friend. “What do you think it means?”

 

“We’re being ordered out of Constantinople to be relocated. There’s no question as to the consequences of disobeying! You know what’s happened to Armenians over the last twenty years,” he hissed. “The massacres, kidnappings… .”

 

“But why you and not all of the Armenians living here?”

“It’s my store, that’s what it boils down to, Theo. They want the store.” He shook his head and fumed. “This is my fault. I’ve endangered my son and my wife, because I cared more for my business. Why did I put off leaving? I saw trouble coming, but I never thought it would come to this, ever!”

His lucrative jewelry shop, Treasures of the Golden Horn, was located in the Grand Bazaar, the fashionable tourist shopping area in Constantinople. The small showroom, well known and respected for the high quality of gems Armen Begosian bought and sold to other jewelers, had earned the respect of his peers.

 

Neoma rose. “I, I think it’s time.”

The parents of 10-day-old Sarkis held each other and kissed their son goodbye. Now it was Armen who pulled away gasping for air, struggling to regain his composure.

Theo followed him into the foyer. He passed his wife and they exchanged a worried glance.

 

Neoma reached out to Varteni, stroking her arm. “Varteni, tell me what you’ve packed for Sarkis.”

Varteni  stood  and  placed  her  son  into  the   baby carriage. “You have all his clothes, his blankets.” She lifted the small mattress of the buggy to reveal a small bundle. “And here is our family Bible, and a collection of some family photographs.”

 

Neoma smoothed the top of the baby’s head with a soft pat. “I found a wet nurse, like I promised. Angeliki Pappas.”

 

“It breaks my heart to think of another woman… .”

 

“Another woman who will feed your child, and nourish him,” Neoma soothed, stroking the back of her neck.

 

Varteni nodded miserably. “You’re right, you’re right.” The two women gazed at the sleeping baby.

With worried strokes to his mustache, Theo reassured his friend. “Don’t worry. Little Sarkis will want for nothing.”

 

Armen leaned close to his friend. “You’re moving back to Crete? That’s the plan?”

 

“Yes, we’ll stay with my cousins. We leave in less than a week. You have the address.”

 

“Your brothers have all moved to the United States…”

 

“That’s true. I told you we’d join them there eventually. They’ve been sending money for my parents’ move.”

 

Armen’s eyes clouded over. “The United States!”

 

“I’ll wait to hear from you at the address I gave you. We’ll leave for the United States as soon as we can get the money together. It might take a few years.”

 

Armen was silent for a moment, the corners of his mouth turned down. He took a steadying breath.

 

“If we don’t return, if you don’t get a letter from us in the years while you’re in Crete… you go on.”

 

“I’ll leave a forwarding address with my cousins when we leave for America.”

 

Armen gripped Theo by the shoulders. “You’ll raise my son as your own?”

 

Theo nodded, his eyes misting over. “I’ll raise Sarkis as my own.”

 

“Thank you, Theo. We’ve been so worried; I’ve heard nothing from my family in over six months. It frightens me, but it helps knowing that you and Neoma will protect our boy.”

 

Theo clasped his friend’s neck, leaned in, and whispered, “You’ll be the one protecting him. You’ll be the one to love him. You’ll be the one to teach him! Don’t think the worst!”

 

“The worst?” Armen shook his head. “We have no idea what the worst is. That’s why we chose you and Neoma to watch over Sarkis.”

 

“Just while you are away,” Theo reminded him.

 

“Yes.” A huge sigh escaped Armen. “Just while we’re away.”

 

Armen and Varteni gave their son a final kiss. Standing with stoic resolve, they waved goodbye from the window. They held their breath as they watched their Greek neighbors and their precious son pass with ease under the watchful eye of the Turkish police stationed at the corner.

 

Varteni fled upstairs. Armen would wait a few minutes, collect his wife, and then they’d leave to report to the officials.

 

Sighing, he gazed down at the tiled entryway. He knelt, and tapped on the floor, listening. No hollow sounds.

 

He stood, and walked up the carpeted stairs three feet from the bottom step. Turning, he looked down at the tile. No one would ever know. No one would ever guess.