The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse by William Saroyan
The story is set in Armenia which was a part of the Soviet Union. The mountains of Southern Caucasus roll over to this tiny land-locked country. Armenians have long been in the crosshairs of the Turks. They endured extreme brutality and genocidal attacks by Turkish army. Turkey, lying to the west of Armenia is reluctant to admit that it perpetrated the shameful invasion of Armenian villages that left one and half million Armenians dead and scores maimed.
Who are the characters ….
Aram… A young boy from a poor family with a fascination for horse riding
Mourad .. He is Aram’s elder cousin. He is a jovial boy, and fancies horses. Sadly, his family is too poor to afford one.
Khosrove .. He is the uncle of the two. He is irascible, and brushes off things without applying any thought. He has a large frame.
Zorab .. He is Mourad’s father. He was a normal man by temperament with no eccentricities like that of Khosrove.
John Byro.. A local farmer who is a family friend of Aram. He owns a white horse, but temporarily loses it to the cunning duo of Mourad and Aram.
All these characters belong to the Garoghlanian tribe famed for its unsullied record of trust and honesty.
It was 4am. Mourad, mounted on a beautiful white horse, appeared near the window of the room of Aram, woke him up, and asked him to come out if he wanted to ride a horse – a long held, but unfulfilled desire of both.
Aram, still sleepy, was incredulous, and took a while to realize that he, in fact, was looking at Mourad sitting on a real fine white horse. However, he feared that Mourad had stolen the horse, breaking the noble time-honoured tradition of the Garoghlanian tribe. But, the thrill of riding a horse was irresistible. He reasoned that it was not stealing if one took someone’s possession, but did not sell it for commercial gains.
For Aram, it had been a bewildering few moments. He was aware of the reputation of honesty and trust his forefathers had nurtured despite their grinding poverty. When just staying alive had appeared such an uphill task his ancestors never wavered from their path of righteousness, nor did they do anything deceitful. The tribe had clung to its values at great cost. Even now, both Aram and Mourad’s families were battling poverty, but they had remained steadfast in their resolve to stick to their reputation.
He sprang out of his bed, dressed up and sat behind Mourad on that white beautiful horse. Seated on the horse back, the duo raced past the sprawling vine yards, orchards, irrigation ditches and country roads. From their house in Walnut Avenue to Olive Avenue, it took just three minutes. In glee, Mourad erupted into full-throated singing. Clearly, the two cousins were greatly elated.
Mourad was a bit crazy by nature. This trait ran in the family. His uncle Khosrove was crazy, too. He was dismissive of anything and everything that happened or said around him. With reckless disdain, he used to brush aside everything as matters of little consequence. Khsrove was a massively built figure, and his hotheadedness was well known to everyone in the San Joaquin Valley. Criously, Mourad’s father Zorab had no such eccentricities.
After some time, Mourad asked Aram to get down, so that he could get his chance to ride solo. Aram agreed, but wanted to know if Mourad would let him to have the same thrill. Mourad agreed.
Soon, Mourad was off to a flying start. After a brief solo ride, he returned. Now, it was Aram’s turn. After a little prodding, the horse raced ahead with Aram on its back, but it went in a different direction. Unable to control the horse, Aram fell to the ground, and the horse appeared to be lost.
The two boys fanned out to the nearby areas to locate the horse. Happily for them, it didn’t take more than half an hour to locate the horse.
It was already late in the morning. There was no way they could take back the horse to its stable without being detected. The two decided to keep the horse in hiding for the day. Mourad appeared to be superbly confident about the right place to hide the animal.
It became clear to Aram that Mourad had been taking out the horse for an early morning ride for quite some time, and had evaded the owner’s eyes thus far. That day was one rare days in which Mourad had felt tempted to call Aram.
The possibility of being discovered haunted both of their minds. Mourad asked Aram to say that it was their first ride, and nothing more, so that the crime was considered not very grave. It would be passed off as one-time offence, rather than a habitual crime.
The horse was left in a deserted vine yard belonging to a farmer named Fetvajian.
With the horse left behind, the two cousins began to walk back home leisurely. Mourad began to boast about his horse riding skills, and his uncanny ability to tame horses.
Aram reached home and ate his breakfast. Uncle Khosrove dropped in for a chat. Then came the farmer John Byro. He began to grumble about losing his horse. He was sad. As usual, Khosrove scoffed at John Byro for being so agitated by the loss of his horse. Khosrove’s irritation hurt John Byro. Aram’s mother stepped in to mollify Byro who appeared miffed by Khosrove’s dismissive comments.
For Aram, John Byro’s visit was quite unsettling. With fear gripping his heart, he ran to Mourad’s huse. Sitting under a peach tree, Mourad was bus tending to the ruptured wing of a bird.
Aram knew the horse will either be found out and seized, or will be voluntarily surrendered by Mourad. Either way, the way, the horse would be gone and the morning rides will come to a stop. Aram told Mourad about John Byro’s visit. But, he pleads with Mourad to delay the return of the horse till such time he learns riding properly. ‘If needed, the horse could be retained for a year, if needed,’ suggested Aram.
Mourad was the least inclined to listen to Aram’s suggestion. He told Aram he couldn’t be a party to an act of stealing, that was against the grain of the Garoghlanian community. He said, the horse must go back.
Finally, Mourad agreed to hold back the horse for six months. The injured bird was successfully tended. It flew off.
The horse stayed in the barn in hiding. The boys came for their early morning sessions. But, mastering the horse proved to be an elusive skill for Aram. The horse refused to heed Aram.
One morning, on their way to the Fetvajian’s deserted vineyard, the duo ran into John Byro. It was a tense moment for all three. John Byro looked at the horse very intently, and asked Mourad about the horse’s name, assuming that Mourad was its real owner.
‘Its name is My Heart,’ said Mourad confidently. John Byro was almost sure that the horse was his, but he wanted to double check. He opened the horse’s mouth and examined its teeth. Again, he arrived at the same conclusion. He was about to accuse the two cousins of stealing, but the impeccable reputation of their families fr honesty stopped Bro from charging the two cousins of theft. He said, rather grumblingly that the horse must be a twin of his stolen horse.
The two cousins knew it was time to return the horse. Early next morning, they went into Byro’s vineyard and left the horse behind. While leaving, Mourad pured his affection on the horse. Surprisingly, the dogs in the yard behaved nicely with the two trespassers.
Next day, John Byro came in a cart to Aram’s house. The cart was drawn by the horse that he had lost and miraculously found. Byro had no bitterness or anger in his mind. His horse was in better shape, and had become more well-mannered. When Byro was explaining these things excitedly, Khosrove, in his characteristic way, asked everyone not to make fuss over the lost-and-found incident.
[An edited version of this post along with questions and answers will be posted soon.]