The southbound bus rolled into the Fresno Greyhound Depot at daybreak. Armen stretched as he stood up, picked up his textbook and notepad, and stepped up the bus aisle with his hands stepping from seat to seat. After claiming his pack, he picked up a Sunday Bee, sat down against the depot wall, and scanned the front page. He looked out across Broadway, and dug out the classifieds. After locating the jobs section, he slid a pen out of his notepad’s spiral binding and circled several ads. He paused and crossed out several of the circles. He looked out across the quiet street, got up, and heaved on his backpack.
He walked up to Fulton Mall with the fat Bee in his right hand and his notepad and book in his left, and he followed Fulton to Armeniantown, where his old church had stood before it burned down. He half-expected the old Armenian Presbyterian church to be there still. The orthodox church was still standing nearby, laid out like a prostrate crucifix in the old world style. He ambled toward the exotic edifice, dropped his pack, and sat on the steps to read the news.
After some time, the church doors opened, and people began to appear for services. Armen lifted up his pack, and ascended the steps. Aware of his long black hair and thick Armenian beard, he apologized in Armenian to one of the greeters at the entry for his appearance, and asked for permission to attend services with his backpack, explaining that he’d just returned from college. The old man seemed to recognize him, or something about him, smiled, and welcomed him in.
Armen’s seated himself in the second row from the back, and read the Armenian and English text that arched above the altar: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” He settled back into the pew for the service and liturgy, absorbing the warm incense and Armenian chants. The great saints overhead basked in the mingling firelight of the candles inside and the sun outside. The church interior glowed as though it were a great brick candelabrum ablaze. He felt the ancestral Armenian love of fire arise in his veins, and leaned back like a sun worshiper on a hot park bench. He nearly spread his arms along the back of the pew, but then thought better of it.
After the liturgy, he picked up his pack and hiked up Ventura Avenue and First Street, and navigated the massive grid to his grandparents’ home in the prematurely aging heart of the city.
He wasn’t surprised to find his parents there. It was Sunday, after all. But they were all surprised to see him. It was not as though he never called, but he didn’t always publish his itinerary—not that he didn’t want people to know where he’d be; it just didn’t occur to him to inform them. He’d figured the Dorahs would have made some kind of announcement on his behalf.
It wasn’t easy for them to encounter each other. When the Adroushans had lost Cindy they lost Armen’s company, though he at least was still within a three-hour drive, at the end of a phone line or the door of a post office box. Face-to-face, neither parents nor son dared speak of Cindy. Siran’s face spoke volumes. She seemed to have aged ten years. Their throats would lock up whenever a conversation threatened to approach Cindy’s memory, and they feared the feelings that would be laid bare if she might be mentioned among her survivors. It was difficult amid strangers, but it was a terror among loved ones.
That evening, Armen returned to Slough City with his parents and moved into his old room. As expected, the house was haunted, so he had to get out whenever he could. He didn’t resent his mother for her grief, but that only made it harder for him. He didn’t waste any time before approaching the Dorahs regarding finding Sam.
Armen expected that his best chance of finding Sam would involve finding Walker first. He drove the old pickup up to the Lewis Camp Trailhead and headed up the Little Kern. He found Walker several days later at Mulkey Meadows, near the edge of the Great Wall. The cowboy didn’t have any knowledge of Sam’s whereabouts, or at least he wouldn’t confess any. Armen was disappointed, but he’d been prepared for this likely contingency. “Look,” he said, “I’m sure he’s fine so long as you’re on the Range—” He looked at the cowboy’s face for clues. Was Sam okay? He continued. “—but come Autumn, he’s going to need my help.” The cowboy kept his poker face. Armen went on. “I don’t need to know where he is. He needs to know where to go for provisions. All I ask is that you give him this, and tell him to take it all if he wants more.” Armen handed the cowboy a map that indicated several drop points in the area, each indicated by a triangle and a date. He had two copies on him; one for Walker and one for Sam. He had no intention of giving up his hunt for Sam, but he didn’t want the cowboy to know that. He stayed with the cowboy for three nights, hoping that Walker might reveal something or that Sam might happen by. After he left the cowboy, he camped on a ridge nearby and watched the meadow from above. After several days of that, he headed down to Golden Trout Creek where he could fish. If he ran out of food, he’d have to head out. After a week of petite creek trout he headed down into the Big Ditch where the fish would be more filling. The next morning, he found the cowboy’s copy of the map on the edge of his fire ring, under a river rock paperweight. He took that as a cue to move on. He hoped it meant that Sam had got the message. It was enough of a sign to take back to the Dorahs.
It appeared that Armen had guessed right. The provision packs were being collected and tidily cleared out. After a year of monthly drops, Sue returned from college and volunteered to take over for Armen. She insisted that he go to college. She said that she could drop supplies as well or better than he could, and that he needed to get on with life.