GOODBYE, BIRD BY ARAM PACHYAN


Detailed Synopsis

Part 1

Goodbye, Bird begins with an unnamed narrator flicking through his journal. He has written that he is 28 years old on every page of his journal to remind himself that he hasn’t accomplished much in his life.

We soon discover that he was discharged from the army some time ago and is now back home trying to get his life back together. He has been working at an office to earn enough money to buy a gun to shoot his former commanding officer. Now that he has earned enough, he is quitting his job.

As he clears his desk and sees a photograph of his ex-girlfriend, he is reminded of her and in his thoughts he goes back to a sexual experience he had with her. He doesn’t remember her as a person; he only remembers her body and how it felt against his.

After this short episode, the narrator is back in his room, lying in bed, and groping under his bed to find a bottle of whiskey. Instead of a bottle, he thinks he is touching the bald head of his former commanding officer. This sends him into a flashback of his time in the army when he was beaten and abused by his commanding officer for laughing during a morning formation.

He also remembers the commanding officer killing a cat to punish the soldiers for keeping it. The narrator himself has a cat, which he has called Bird, because he dearly respects cats.

The narrator is now thrown back further in his memories to the time when he was leaving for the army. He is standing by the bus that will drive him to the military base and he is saying goodbye to his family. He remembers getting on the bus and the first time he has to march.

The marching brings him back to his life now as he walks down the streets of Yerevan (the capital of Armenia). He sees the sights and hears the sounds of Yerevan. Thirsty, he stops at a newsstand and asks the saleswoman for a glass of water. As the woman extends a glass to him, she digs her fingers into his hair and he is reminded of his ex-girlfriend again.

And then he finds himself back to reality, walking down the street. He puts his hand in his pocket and feels a sunflower seed. The seed reminds him of a time when he picked up his cat, Bird, and went to the beach, instead of his office.

At the beach, he was stopped by a little beggar boy who asked him for money, but the narrator, deep in his delusion, imagined the little beggar as a pirate. Unfortunately, the narrator only had two coins in his pocket, which he gave to the little “pirate” and got a sunflower seed in return. This he put in his pocket and cherished forever.

He left the beach, got on a bus, and went to a cafe. The cafe for him was the only public place where he thought he could observe people and allow people to observe his insanity.

In the second chapter, the narrator returns to a childhood memory he had of his friend Sahak. Sahak had been one of the less popular children in his courtyard who died by drowning in mazut (a type of thick black oil) as a child. Remembering Sahak and thinking about the army, the narrator is convinced that Sahak would not have been able to survive the army. He would have been beaten and spat on. Worse, the soldiers and officers would have turned him into “Mickey Mouse.”

“Mickey Mouse” was the nickname given to one of the soldiers in the army who was the most abused, the most debased, and the most excluded. Nobody with any dignity wanted to be in the position that Mickey was in. Mickey is made to clean all the dirty areas of the military base, such as the toilets, and he is treated as a vermin.

The memory of Mickey brings the narrator back to a moment when he was one of his abusers. He remembers taunting Mickey and his mother who had come to visit. Mickey had been minding his own business, but had been stopped by “Cardinal Gugo,” a soldier connected with the commanding bodies through nepotism and therefore a leader among the other soldiers. Cardinal had been with his gang, which included the narrator.

Cardinal humiliates Mickey in front of his mother and then turns to his mother and humiliates her, too. Meanwhile, Cardinal’s gang joins in on the taunts. When Mickey’s mother tells them to take care of each other and asks them why they don’t call Mickey by his real name, Cardinal responds by saying that everyone is reborn in the army and as such receives a new name. He points at each of his gang members and tells her their nicknames: Zizu, after Zinedine Zidane, because he scored a nice goal once; Bird, who is a strange type of bird, because he reads books and wants to be poet; Taxi, because he carries everyone around; and a soldier who will remain unnamed so he doesn’t get arrested, because he procures porn films for the base and screens them on weekends.

From the context, we can deduce that the narrator of the novel until now has been Bird.

The gang leaves Mickey and mother, but not before throwing a tomato at Mickey’s mother’s face.

“Bird” is now in his sniper’s nest where he’s supposed to shoot enemy soldiers and snipers, but instead he is contemplating suicide. He is questioning the purpose of armies and wars, and he wonders what his life would have looked like if he didn’t have to be in the army. He then considers what it would be like if he shot himself in the head. Who would find him? Probably a commanding officer, and that commanding officer would probably go through his pockets to find a suicide note of sorts, and the note would explain how everyone is guilty of his suicide.

After remembering his suicidal thoughts in the army, Bird sees himself walking into an underground bunker, where he remembers the soldiers eating puppies. They would wait for the mother dog to give birth to puppies, and as soon as they were old enough to crawl out of the nest, the soldiers would pick up the puppies one by one, slaughter them in front of their mother, and eat them. The soldiers would do this every few months when the mother dog got pregnant. Only one of the soldiers, “Black,” can’t stand the puppies getting killed. He runs away into the forest every time the time comes to kill and eat the puppies.

Bird is back in Yerevan parking Cardinal’s car in front of the cemetary where Sahak is buried. He finds Sahak’s grave and realizes that it hasn’t been visited in a long time. Standing over his grave, Bird recalls Sahak’s birthday party when they were children. He remembers Sahak being lonely and somewhat eccentric. Three months after his birthday, Sahak drowned in mazut and there was no one to help him.

Bird is back in Cardinal’s car and he’s driving it around Yerevan. To Cardinal, his car was his home and everything else, therefore Bird sees the car as Cardinal’s coffin. Instead of visiting Cardinal at the cemetery, he decides to drive around Cardinal’s car as Cardinal probably drove it the day before he was taken to the army.

As he drives around town, Bird remembers how he met Cardinal. Bird had just got out of the military hospital after recovering from pneumonia and was still weak. He had shuffled to the mess hall and sat down at one of the table. Suddenly everyone had gotten up, because Cardinal had walked in. Since he didn’t know Cardinal and had not energy to do anything, he remained seated.

Later that day, Cardinal had called him to the yard to threaten him, but when Bird noticed Flaubert’s Madame Bovary under Cardinal’s arm and asked him if he had read it, Cardinal suddenly changed his mind about Bird. Bird had been the only person he had met that had also read Madame Bovary. This was Cardinal’s only and favorite novel.

Bird and Cardinal spend the next few months reading passages from the book to each other, enacting certain scenes and generally talking about their understanding of some of the characters.

Then one night, Bird is woken up by another soldier to find out that Cardinal was stabbed to death right before he was going to be discharged.

Bird is back in the present driving around Cardinal’s car as he soaks up all the sights and sounds of Yerevan.

The passage ends with a flashback to an emergency in the army, when all the soldiers are urged into the bunker and Bird has to take up his weapon and run to the sniper’s nest.

Part 2

The second part of the novel is narrated by the unnamed soldier who procured pornographic films for the base. It begins with the soldier wondering how the comb that was in his pocket fell on the bathroom floor.

He remembers buying the comb from a little store, but he somehow can’t figure out how it fell out of his pocket that one time that he went to the bathroom. He didn’t see it fall, but he did hear a splash when it did. He lit his lighter to see where it had fallen, he shook it dry, and put it back in his pocket thinking nothing of it. This scene makes no sense to him, however, and he plays it over and over again in his head, changing a small detail every time, trying to erase the truth and remember only what he wants to remember.

What he does not want to remember is the fact that someone in another stall saw him pick up the comb. It was the act of picking up the comb that drove him out of Cardinal’s gang. After getting caught, he gets rejected from Cardinal’s little gang and his fate becomes that of Mickey Mouse.

Unable to stand his destiny, the unnamed soldier goes to the military hospital where Aram, an old neighbor of his, is recovering from chickenpox. Even though Aram is quarantined and not allowed any visitors, the unnamed soldier convinces the doctor of the hospital to let him see Aram.

As he visits Aram and sits on the edge of his bed, he waits for Aram to cough so that he can swallow even just one drop of Aram’s contagious spit. The soldier leaves knowing that he has taken in enough of Aram’s virus to get sick, too. This way, he’ll be able to sit out his army conscription in the hospital and won’t have to face the humiliation that Mickey faces every day.

Some time after his visit at the hospital, he is diagnosed with chickenpox and taken to the hospital.

His time at the hospital becomes a constant replay of what happened in the bathroom when his comb fell and he picked it up, something he knew no one should ever do, because the bathroom floor is dirty, and the only person who is allowed to pick anything up from the bathroom floor is Mickey. Moreover, Cardinal had been waiting for a new victim to humiliate for some time now. He had already gotten bored of Mickey. The comb falling seemed to be the perfect excuse to debase another soldier.

As the disease progresses, the soldier becomes more and more disillusioned, thinking about how his life would have been had he not picked up the comb and how his life had been before he had come to the army. When he begins to recover and knows there’s only so much time left until he is thrown back into the everyday life of the army, he begins to seriously lose his mind. He cannot face the humiliation and life that Mickey experiences every day, so he takes syringes, fills them up with whatever he can, and shoots them into his chickenpox blisters.

He injects his body with so many drugs that the doctors find him wrapped around the foot of his bed, dead, tightly holding a comb in his hand.

Part 3

The third part of the novel is told from the perspective of Zizu. He is walking down a path through a forest that is filled with mines. The reason he’s taking this great risk is to meet with Mickey Mouse.

A few months earlier, Zizu accidentally dropped a photograph of his girlfriend in the bathroom sink, and the only person who could salvage it was Mickey. The unspoken rule at the army is that anything that is dropped anywhere in the bathroom automatically belongs to Mickey, because only Mickey is allowed to touch dirt.

Zizu makes sure that no one sees Mickey salvaging the photograph. Zizu also makes sure that no one sees him visiting Mickey every night to see the photograph under a dim light. Although Zizu has asked his girlfriend to send him a new photograph, it’ll take some time to get to the base. In the meantime, Zizu secretly visits Mickey every night.

One day, Zizu finds out that Mickey is going to be sent to the front to dig a trench with the rest of his unit. Mickey’s camp will only be a few kilometers away from Zizu’s, so Zizu makes a deal with Mickey to meet him halfway the two camps. In order to get to the meeting point, however, Zizu has to cross the dangerous forest.

As Zizu crosses the forest, he gets blown up by a mine. His ghost doesn’t realize that he’s dead and continues on the path to meet Mickey. When he reaches Mickey, Mickey only sees a shadow, but no person.

Part 4

In the fourth and final part of the novel, we are back with Bird. Bird is dead, presumably from suicide, but he’s reliving the last day before going to the army over and over again.

He goes to the marketplace to buy fruit as he did every day before he went to the army.

At the marketplace, he meets his favorite fruit-seller, Nara. Nara tells him that he comes every day to tell her that he’s going to the army, but she doesn’t understand why he does that. After all, he’s already been to the army. Are they taking him again?

Nara leaves at one point and Bird follows her. Later, he’s walking to her house. When he reaches her door, Nara lets him in, has him take a seat, and offers him homemade pastry. They drink and they dance. Bird sees Nara’s craziness, but he’s not completely sane himself either.

Unable to handle her insanity through his own insanity, Bird leaves Nara behind in her own world and steps outside into his own. He walks out feeling the world at his fingertips. The novel ends with Bird flying from one sea to the next, free as a bird.