The Umbrella Man

July 21, 2010

(As told by the Umbrella Man to L (of the running fame)-whose command of both Russian/English languages leaves little room for error.)

The story goes as such: He was raised in a conservative family in a village outside Ismailli center. He wasn’t particularly well educated, but grew up speaking Russian as his native language. The ideas and thoughts of the Russian writers were shockingly different from that of the Azerbaijani’s. He rebelled in school, at home, in general. He was independent. He and his father quarreled, typical. There was a girl he loved, of course. As a gift, she gave him an umbrella, a luxury item. But his family had different ideas and forced him to marry a relative. The fall out was devastating. The new bride was hateful. The groom miserable. The girl he loved had to marry someone else. Slowly over the years the sharp pain went away, leaving misery. He walks through Ismailli now, age somewhere between 70-80. People make fun of him, say he is weak in the head and has foolish thoughts; expect for the whispers, no one talks with him besides my students. He speaks only Russian now. He said to my girls: ‘I like your teacher, she is different, she is from American and she is here to help you. I have had sadness in my life, but I know that you are good students, you will be happy. Always study. Read books. Think your own thoughts. Go after your wishes (dreams). Listen to your teacher. Don’t listen to what people say about you or the American girl, they talk about me too.’ He often will pause on a bench, open his umbrella and sit for hours. Somehow there is a connection. On overcast days he can be found standing in front of the abandoned carpet factory, umbrella open, eyes half closed.

L was thrilled the first time the man told her the story and henceforth, its considered a lucky day if one sights the Umbrella Man. Ever since Song Zang and the emptying out of the school yard he now sits in the shade on a concrete block.  Many days, angry beyond reason, I’ll pass through the town center, only to be greeted by Umbrella Man, who will pause in his daily rounds of benches and factories, to either flash a grin and thumbs up or bring his hand to his heart and nod, bending a bit at the waste, to greet me, respectfully, kindly, enduringly. I like to imagine what he is thinking, or what we would talk about, if by chance I spoke Russian. I like to think that the thumbs up is a way of saying: ‘I know, they think I’m odd too, but we know we are the smart ones!’

%d bloggers like this: