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'Monopolia' by Ani Arzoumanian

May 07, 2020


By Ani Arzoumanian


'Monopolia' by Ani Arzoumanian

Nineteen-year-old pre-med student and volunteer firefighter Ani Arzoumanian's explores Armenian village life and the emotions associated with goodbyes in her h-pem exclusive entitled "Monopolia." 

“Hey! It’s my turn. Quit cheating your way through the game!” Ararat slaps Davit’s hands away from the dice, giving him a suspicious look. Davit holds his hands out in innocence, his mouth failing to conceal a grin. A clock is heard ticking in the next room. 

Ararat throws a three and a two. It’s his turn to grin at Davit, who is busy double and triple counting the spaces. Ararat moves his piece over to “Chance” with confidence, and quickly grabs the top card, covering it with his hands so that no one else can see. He had had the foresight, many years ago, to write full translations on each card, so that he could enjoy the game we had gifted him without an English speaker present. We all look at him, waiting for a reaction. All of a sudden, he jumps up and out of his chair with a happy, half-crazed smile on his face. I smile back.

I always liked his smile, it was genuine. It was a sign of happiness in a world of poverty, corruption, and uncertainty, one that is a rare find in this poor Armenian village. His smile reminded me of our shared past, of all the exciting, dangerous stuff we used to do as kids, like crawling through poisonous bushes to retrieve the village’s only soccer ball (that Vlad must have punted from behind my house’s fence), or disappearing in the tall mountainous grass to catch grasshoppers that, in case you were wondering, can bite. We did many safer things, of course, like binge watching "Star Wars" on the crappy, old DVD player that the other kids thought was magical. In a way, it was.

"Monopolia" (Digital art: h-pem)

In that moment, I forget about everything. The game, the country, the war. I forget about the time that doesn’t exist, and the time that is quickly running out. I concentrate on one thing, and that is the pure emotion of the moment. 

Co-lect wan hun-dread do-lar!” Back to reality. I concentrate on the game and, having learned from previous experience, I reach for the chance card and double check. I nod at the others, all of them also suspicious of fraud. “He’s right.”

Next it’s Vlad’s turn. He rolls doubles, two fives. He’s sitting right next to me, smelling like tobacco and acting like the coolest kid in town. The truth is, the kid’s sick. He’s been smoking since he was 13, and looks to weigh about 45 kilos, which is probably the same weight as all the semushka (sunflower seeds) he’s eaten over the past six months. He leans back and has the nerve to put his arm around me. He motions to Sarine, my twin sister, to move his piece. He’s feeling confident, having already counted the squares, knowing that he’s won big time. I push his arm off my shoulder in time to see his piece land on “Free Parking." He wins about 300 fake Monopoly dollars in that move and is eager to spend it. He goes again, lands in jail. I nudge him playfully, though I know he’s broken.

The poor kid has been bullied by even his closest friends throughout his lifetime for his lack of athletic and mental capabilities. The effect? He turns to tobacco and alcohol to get him through life. He’s become so physically ill that the army cannot draft him. He has been disadvantaged from day one and has only managed to dig himself a deeper hole. I feel badly for him but have no real way of helping.

It’s Davit’s turn. I watch as he jumps from property to property, buying everything from his seemingly-unlimited supply of Monopoly money. Wait a minute…

Davit isn’t the only thief in town. Actually, quite a few of the kids in this town have committed some form of theft, and understandably so. They own close to nothing, no soccer balls for playing outside of school, no monopoly boards, no Wi-Fi. Few households own a computer or a television set. Running water is a luxury. Most of the kids we know are malnourished from lack of healthy foods. The women are obese from sedentary lifestyles and a diet of mostly bread and potatoes, the men look frail and sickly due to smoking. And yet Davit has only ever stolen Monopoly money.

And now, as I look around the table at these three boys, the anxiety and the fear comes rushing back. It is 11:34, and my dad said to be home by 11:30. Tomorrow we take a morning flight out of Armenia and leave behind the village and our friends. As my sister and I say our goodbyes, I cannot help but feel like I will never see them again. The war with Azerbaijan is producing daily casualties and it is very possible that my friends will die before the next time I see them. Between now and next summer, they will be drafted into mandatory military service. They too must be feeling the same, knowing that next summer we’d be coming back to a village without them.

The next day, we turned our backs on the village and these boys and headed home to America. The summer was officially over.

If you enjoyed "Monopolia," you'll love Ani's h-pem submission "Tales of a volunteer firefighter" (Chapter I & Chapters II-III)! 

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