Three Drops of Blood

Sadeq Hedayat

translated by
Iraj Bashiri

copyright 2000

Just yesterday they moved me to a separate room. Am I completely cured and they’ll release me next week, as the supervisor has promised? Have I been sick? For a whole year now I have been pleading for a pen and some paper but they have refused my requests. I thought that, as soon as I got my hands on a pen and some paper, I could write about so many things... Then yesterday, without my asking, they gave me a pen and some paper--the very thing I had yearned for, the very thing for which I had waited so long!... But what’s the use. I have been thinking since yesterday about what to write. Nothing comes to mind. I feel as if someone stops my hand or that my elbow goes numb. I scrutinize my writing, in between the illegible lines is this phrase: "three drops of blood."

* * *

The sky is blue, the garden is green, and the flowers on the hilltop have bloomed. A gentle breeze wafts the fragrance of the flowers all the way down here. What's the use? I have lost my zest for joy. All these things are attractive to poets and children and those who remain a child at heart. I have been in this place for a year. Every night, until dawn, I remain sleepless because of a whining cat. Its frightful moans and hoarse throat are the death of me. In the morning, what is waiting for me? A devastating injection...I have passed many long days and many very horrible hours in this place. Wearing yellow outfits, during the summer we gather in the cellar, and sit under the sun by the garden in winter. I fail to see any commonality among us. I am as different from them as the earth is different from the sky. However, their moans and groans, their silences, curses, cries, and laughter will continue to populate my nightmares for ever and ever.

* * *

In an hour we will be served dinner. But what dinner! The same old run of the mill yogurt soup, rice pudding, cooked rice, and bread and cheese. Even not enough of that. Hassan's wish is to eat a whole pot full of broth along with four loaves of sangak bread. Perhaps when it's his turn to be released, he will be given a pot full of broth instead of access to pen and paper. He, too, is one of the lucky individuals here. With his short stature, foolish laughter, thick neck, bald head, and callused hands, he is a born porter. His whole constitution, including that foolish look, testifies to his being a born porter. If Muhammad Ali does not stand guard by us at meals, Hassan would blow us all to kingdom come. Then again, Muhammad Ali himself; he, too, is a denizen of this same world. No matter what name they give this place, I say it is a different world than the ordinary. Additionally, we have a resident doctor who, by the grace of God, does not know a thing. If I were he, one night, I would poison the food and, in the morning, arms akimbo, would watch the dead being carried away. In fact, when I first was brought here, this very thought frightened me. I was afraid of being poisoned. I would not touch my lunch and dinner before Muhammad Ali tasted them. At night, I would jump from deep sleep, dreaming that they have come to kill me. All that is very distant and vague now.... only a monotonous memory remains: the same people, the same menu, and the same blue room the bottom half of which is painted in deep blue.

Two months ago they put a lunatic down there in the yard. He ripped his own belly open with a piece of shard, pulled out his guts and played with them. They said that he was a butcher and that he was used to ripping bellies open. Then there was another patient who pulled his own eye out of its socket. His hands were tied behind him. He kept hollering. Blood had dried around his eye. I bet the supervisor is in on all this.

The residents here, of course, are not all like that. Many of them, if they were to be cured and released, would perish. Take Sughra Sultan in the women's ward, for instance. She has made two or three attempts at escaping and, each time, she has been caught. Besides, even though a hag, she adorns her face using whitewash and geranium "rouge." She imagines herself to be fourteen. If she were cured and looked at herself in the mirror, she would suffer a heart attack. The worst case, however, is our own Taqi who intended to turn the world upside down. He faulted women for the world's problems and thought they all must be summarily killed. Then he goes and falls in love with this same Sughra Sultan.

All these, I believe, are of the supervisor's making. He is the lunatic par excellence. With his large nose, squinty eyes, and the mien of an opium adict, he paces up and down at the end of the garden under that pine tree. At times he bends and investigates the place at the foot of the tree. Were those who don't know him to look at him they would pity him. They see a nice, harmless fellow who has fallen victim to a bunch of lunatics. But I know him well. I know that out there, under the tree, there are three drops of blood. I also know that a cage is suspended in front of the supervisor's window. It is an empty cage because the bird it held was caught by the cat. The empty cage is a decoy to lure cats to their death.

Just yesterday, the supervisor chased a tabby cat up the pine tree. As soon as the cat climbed up, he ordered the guard at the gate to shoot it down. These three drops of blood belong to the cat; but, if you ask the supervisor about them, he would attribute them to the screech owl.

The one who takes the cake, however, is my friend and neighbor Abbas. Even though it is less than two weeks since he was brought in, he has become my real buddy. He imagines himself to be a prophet and a poet. He says that achieving everything, especially prophethood, depends on luck. The lucky individual, even if extremely stupid, will eventually climb the ladder of success. The unlucky, even if a most accomplished scholar, will end up to be someone like him. Abbas also imagines himself to be an accomplished tar player. He has built himself a contraption, a tar according to him, by pulling a piece of wire over a plank. He also has composed a poem that he reads to me eight times a day. It seems that this same poem has been the cause for his incarceration. A strange poem or ditty, it goes:

Yesterday, as Abbas and I strolled in the garden, he sang this very song to me. Then a man, a woman, and a young girl came to visit him. Since this was their fifth visit, I had seen them before and, therefore, knew them. The young girl, who carried a bouquet of flowers, smiled at me, indicating that she liked me. In fact, she came to see me. Abbas's pockmarked face cannot attract girls. In spite of all that, when the woman was busy discussing something with the doctor, I saw Abbas take the girl aside and kiss her.

* * *

So far this year, no one has come to visit me and no one has brought me flowers. The last person to visit was Siyavosh. He was my best friend. We were neighbors. Every day we went to the Dar al-Fonun school together and together we returned home. We discussed our assignments together and when we had some free time, I taught Siyavosh how to play the tar. Often, Rukhsareh, Siyavosh's cousin and my fiancee, also joined us. Siyavosh was planning to marry Rukhsoreh's sister. It so happened that just a month before their engagement Siyavosh took sick. I paid him a couple of visits to ask after his health, but each time they told me that the doctor has left strict word against visitations. I insisted on seeing him several times but, when they did not change their answer, I gave up.

I recall it perfectly well. It was one late afternoon around exam time. I returned home, threw my books and notebooks on the table, and went about changing into my other clothes. Then I heard a gunshot. The closeness of the sound terrified me, partly because our house was located behind the ditch and partly because of reports of burglaries in the neighborhood. I picked up the revolver from the desk drawer, entered the yard and listened. Then, from there I climbed the stairs and went onto the roof. Everything seemed fine. On my way back, from up there, I looked into Siyavosh's house. Siyavosh was standing in the middle of the yard in his pajamas. Surprised, I said, "Siyavosh, is that you?

He recognized me and said, "Come on in. I am alone."

"Did you hear the gunshot?"

"He put his finger on his lip as a sign of silence and with his head nodded to me to come over to their house. I went down the stairs quickly and knocked on their door.

Siyavosh himself opened the door. With his head lowered and his gaze fixed at the ground, he admonished me:

"Why didn't you come to visit me?

"Two or three times I asked for you," I said. "I was told that the doctor had forbidden visitors."

"They think I am insane, but they are wrong."

I asked again, "Did you hear the gunshot?"

Without responding, he took me by the hand, led me to the foot of the pine tree, and pointed to something. I looked closely. There were three drops of fresh blood on the ground.

Then he took me to his room and closed all the doors. I sat on a chair. He lit the lamp, then came and sat by the desk across from me. His room was simple, blue with the bottom half painted in deep blue. In the corner of the room there was a tar. Several books and a school notebook were strewn on the desk. Then Siyavosh produced a revolver from the desk drawer and showed it to me. It was one of those old pearl-handled revolvers. He placed the revolver in his pants pocket and said, "I used to have a female cat called Nazi [pronounced naazi, "fluffy"]. You must have seen her. She was one of those ordinary tabby cats with two large eyes that seemed to have been adorned with collyrium. The regularity of the design on her back reminded one of inkblots folded and unfolded. Every day when I returned from school, Nazi would meet me at the door, meowing and rubbing herself against me. When I sat down, she would climb all over me, sniff me and, with her coarse tongue, lick my forehead. She persisted that I kiss her. It seems that female cats are more cunning, more kind and, overall, more sensitive than male cats. Besides me, she liked the cook; perhaps because she identified him with the source of her food. But she did not like Kiyabia, the elderly woman in the house. She prayed and, necessarily, avoided cat's hair. It could well be that Nazi had figured out that human beings are smarter than cats, that they have made all good foods and warm spots their own, and that cats must flatter them to be allowed to share some of their amenities.

However, Nazi's natural instincts came to the surface every time she was given the bloody head of a rooster. She would be transformed into a wild beast. Her claws would emerge and with wide flashing eyes and loud hissing, she threatened anyone who approached her. Then, as if deceiving herself, she acted out her aggressions. Using all her powers of imagination, she would make a live creature out of the rooster head, touch it to make it run, flash, hide herself, sit in ambush and attack again. In short, she would exhibit all the dexterity and the agility of her species with repeated lunges, attack tactics, and modes of retreat. When she felt tired, she would devour the bloody head with a full appetite; she would even spend several more minutes looking for the rest. Then, for a couple of hours, she would forget her artificial civilized ways. She would neither approach anyone nor be coquettish or flattering.

While feining friendship, Nazi was sure to remain wild and secretive, not allowing the secrets of her life to become known. She regarded our house as hers. If ever a strange cat happened to pass by, especially a female, her growls and moans went on for a long time.

Nazi's voice for announcing the time for dinner was different from her voice when she was being petted. Similarly, her growls in cat fights, and her meowing when she was in heat were different in tone. The first was a heart-wrenching yell, the second was a cry of vengeance, while the third was a painful moan indicating a response to natural instincts. It was Nazi's looks, however, that were most meaningful. At times her looks were so human-like that one would ask: What kinds of thoughts and feelings lurk in that woolly head and behind those mysterious green eyes?

That terrible incident occurred last spring. As you know spring is the time when animals go into heat and seek their mates. Perhaps it is the spring air that breathes frenzy and insanity into all living beings. Our Nazi, too, was stricken by the love bug; her whole frame shook and she emitted sorrowful moans. Male cats from all around the neighborhood heard Nazi's moans and came to meet her. After much struggle and many cat fights, eventually, Nazi chose the strongest and the most boisterous of the suitors to be her mate. Of prime importance in love making is the animals' special scent. That is why males that are tame and clean do not move their females. While alley cats, cats on the prowl, thieving cats, emaciated cats, stray cats, and famished cats; in general those cats whose hides have retained their primordial scent, attract the females most. All night long Nazi and her mate sang love songs to each other. Nazi's soft and fragile body undulated against her mate's body, which was, at times, as tight as a drawn string of a bow. This went on all night. Then, in the morning, tired and disheveled, Nazi would return to the room.

Night after night, Nazi's love making deprived me of my sleep. Eventually, I had enough. One day, working in front of this same window, I saw the lovers strolling in the flower garden. Three steps away from them, with the same revolver that you saw, I took aim and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Nazi's mate. I think it broke his back. He jumped up in the air and then, noiselessly, escaped through the corridor. Later I found him dead at the foot of the garden wall.

There was a stream of blood all along the way where Nazi's mate had run. Nazi searched for him for a while until she came upon the traces of his scent. Sniffing the blood, she went directly to the body and, for two days and two nights stood guard over it. Often she would touch the body as if saying, "Get up. Spring has sprung. Why are you sleeping just at the time for making love? Why don't you move? Get up. Get up." Nazi could not fathom death. She could not know that her lover had died.

The next day both Nazi and the carcass of her mate disappeared. I searched everywhere and asked everyone about her; but it was useless. Had Nazi decided to stop being my friend? Did she die? Did she find a different lover? In any event, what happened to the carcass of the dead cat?

One night, I heard the meowing of that same male cat. He whined all night and yelled all the next night. Then, in the morning, all became quiet. The third night, I picked up the revolver again and just shot into this same pine tree in front of my window. His eyes shone in the dark. He let out a long moan and fell silent. In the morning, three drops of blood had dripped under the tree. From that night on, every night he comes here and moans. No one else, however, hears him. They are heavy sleepers, and when I tell them about it, they just laugh at me. But I know. I know that this moaning belongs to the cat that I killed. This meowing has really deprived me of sleep. Everywhere I go, and in whatever room I sleep, all night long, this merciless cat with his horrible throat moans and yells for his mate.

Today the house was empty. I came to the same place where the cat sits at night and moans. I took aim. I could recall the exact place because of the spark of her eyes at night. When I pulled the trigger, I heard the cat moan and three drops of blood dripped from up there. Didn't you see that with your own eyes? You are my witness, aren't you?

At this time the door of the room opened and Rukhsareh and her mother entered.

Rukhsareh was carrying a bouquet of flowers. I rose and greeted them. Siyavosh smiled and said, "Of course you know Mirza Ahmad Khan better than I do. There is no need for introduction. He testifies that he has seen the three drops of blood at the foot of the pine tree with his own eyes.

Yes, I have seen them.

Siyavosh stepped forward, laughed aloud, and pulled the revolver out of my pocket. Then, placing the revolver on the desk, he said, "You know, Mirza Ahmad Khan is not only a good tar player and a poet, he is also a good hunter. He is a marksman.

He then urged me to say something. I got up and said, "Yes, this afternoon I came to borrow a notebook from Siyavosh. Meanwhile, we took some shots at the pine tree over there. But those three drops of blood do not belong to the cat, they belong to the screech owl. You know the story. The screech owl eats three grains of wheat from the property of a minor. At night it screams until three drops of blood fall from his throat to the ground. Otherwise, they might belong to a cat that had stolen the neighbor's canary and had been shot. He could have passed by here. But wait. Let me read my newest composition for you."

I then picked up the tar, tuned it for the lyric, and sang this poem:

When I reached this point, Rukhsareh's mother left the room in a huff. As for Rukhsareh, she lifted her eyebrows and said, "He is insane." Then she took Siyavosh by the hand and together, laughing, they left the room and closed the door behind them.

In the yard, as I watched from behind the windowpane, Siyavosh and the girl embraced and kissed each other under the lamppost.



Sadeq Hedayat's Corner

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