He smiled and asked, “How many kilometers?”
His accent confirmed my guess. He was an Armenian.
“I’m now coming from Irkutsk, but I’m from Moscow, hitchhiking back home,” I replied and realised that my answer had nothing to do with the question.
“From Moscow? But it’s very cold outside.” He looked surprised.
“I got used to it.” Humans can get used to everything. Cold weather comparing to wars and killings is just nothing. My thoughts were far ahead of me. The stranger took a long look at me. I noticed deep sadness in his big black eyes.
“I see… Would you like a cup of hot tea?”
I agreed happily.
“But you wait here first. When I’ll give you a sign, you quickly run to me,” he said and walked towards the iron gates of the forestry. When he reached the door of his hut, he waved with his hand, and that was the sign for me. I lifted the backpack and ran to him. The dogs welcomed me with loud barking.
“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 he didn’t like my answer at all.
“What you mean? Stay here, a bit later we’ll go to the village, there you can take 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 out. Go sleep now.”
I was quite confused and didn’t know what to say as I didn’t expect him to act like that. 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 taiga for many years,” he then said. “I’ve already lived in 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 taiga. I want to live with nature. No one is trying to cut your throat for money there. Evil lives here.”
I was even more confused, and just stared at him. But he continued without even expecting me to say something. Well, I hardly could find any words to speak them out.
“Tell me now, can you survive in taiga? You will die there. But I can. Once I’m done with the things here, I’ll return to taiga. 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. Studying in Moscow in the university,” I answered.
“From Armenia? Would you like to drink vodka?” he asked in Armenian.
“No, thanks,” I also switched to Armenian, “You live here?”
“Yes, right here,” he answered and smiled.
And then he sang a song from an Armenian cartoon about Puypuy the Mouse. “I am Puypuy the Mouse, la la lalalala la.” I kept staring at him and couldn’t believe that it was happening in real.
“Do you remember that cartoon? “The Mirror.” “There’s Satan in the city. Satan in the city.” Remember? A good cartoon, a right one. I’m just running away from Satan. Running as far as I can.”
“Many Armenians here?” I asked.
“Yes, many. A lot. Almost everyone. The second Armenia – that’s how we call Tulun. We have plenty of different people here. Local Russians are mostly the descendants of the exiles. Well, you know, those people 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 living conditions are cruel. All should stick to each other and live together. Otherwise we’ll lose the fight.”
The water in the teapot 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 saying, “I didn’t take much food today with me and I already ate everything. So I only have lavash 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 an A4 paper and a pen and was about to start writing, but then he put the pen down.
“But what can I write to him? I don’t need anything from him.”
I kept drinking the tea and looking at the guy while he was speaking. I still didn’t know his name. And he didn’t know mine.
“I’ll return to 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 I was in the hut with the stranger.
“I’m sorry, but I really need to be in Tomsk by Friday. Sorry.”
“OK, no worries. Only you know what’s better for you. But I’ll give you my cell phone number. Call me when you’ll be in Tomsk. And you also give me your number. Who knows, maybe one day I will be in Moscow.” 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? Does it really matter what are you named? I didn’t care about that, nor did he. Two strangers coming from one nation, each one following his own Road, suddenly met on a far Siberian land. Two strangers. None of us really knew where we were going and why we were on the Road. But our Roads crossed there in Tulun. We met for two hours. And that was enough for us to find strength to continue walking our Roads. Alone again.
“If you’ll not get a ride, just come back here, I’ll take you home, and tomorrow you can continue your trip.”
“Thank you very much.”
“No need to thank me. You better come back one day. I’ll take you to taiga with me.”
“We’ll meet somewhere, I’m sure. Take care and goodbye for now.”
“And don’t forget to call me from Tomsk.”
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. And I never received any calls from him. But maybe that’s how it should be. I know one day we’ll meet again.