By Sadeq Hedayat

Translated by Iraj Bashiri
Copyright, © Iraj Bashiri, 1984

I. Mehdi Zaghi

What terribly cold weather! Although I have spread my overcoat over my feet, it seems to make no difference... It really was freezing in the alley! It is not colder than last night though. I wonder whether last night the cold air came in through the broken window or through the crevice in the door. The smell of the kerosene was even worse. Abbas began to complain, "We are catching our death of pneumonia!" He was by the window distributing types into the cubbyholes. No, it doesn't bother me. I don't give a damn that I resigned. A smoke-laden room, Asghar's bragging, sticky, black ink all over my hands, the constant clatter of machines and a stagnant pond with water so dirty that it refuses to freeze. Then there is my fellow workers' back-biting, talkativeness and flattery, the Haqdust kabob shop and a cold bed. No, I haven't lost a thing. Wherever I go, these will follow me anyway.

Why can't I go to sleep? Perhaps because the moonlight is in my eyes. I shouldn't toss and turn like this. I got angry. I must forget everything, even myself, so that I can get some rest. But what am I before I forget everything? What will I be when I forget everything? I don't know exactly who I am... I don't know... It's always "I.... I!" This damn "I!" Last night I went to sleep as soon as I hit the pillow: I forgot everything. Could it be that I am like this because I am going to Isfahan tomorrow? But this is not the first time that I've traveled. Indeed, even when my friends and I planned to go to Evin or Darakeh, I suffered from insomnia. This trip, however, is not an ordinary excursion, nor is it temporary. I wonder if I am excited or afraid. What is there to be afraid of? What am I leaving behind? Reza Saruqi, my co-worker at Badakhshan Prints, was promoted to compositor; he has a good future. Whereas I am constantly jobless and deep in debt. Even when I do have a job, I squander my wages. I see now: this chill is not due to the weather. There is another reason for it. This cold is inside me. No matter what happens, this chill is there. Even when doubled up with age, I shall have to carry this load. I have to carry my load home...but what home?... I have strong arms. Warm blood circulates in my veins; I feel its warmth at the tips of my fingers: I am alive, I can continue this kind of life even at the other end of the world. In a different town... The world must be quite large and attractive! These days, according to the newspaper reports, it doesn't seem so attractive. War, too, has become an amusement, like soccer. At least it creates fear and the jitters... Even water, when it remains in one place too long, deteriorates...

What if I go to Saveh and sponge off them! Never... I don't miss my father or my step-mother. They are not eager to see me either. How many more brothers and sisters have they made for me, I wonder?... It makes me sick. Not because of his second wife, but because of his nose which constantly runs over his moustache and of his beady eyes twinkling beneath his thick eyebrows. Why does he, like children, carry goodies in his pocket and eat them secretly without offering them to anyone else? I am not like my father. He has a nauseating mud house with crooked niches and a low ceiling. It is filled with the noise of children, cows, sheep, chickens and roosters, all living under the same roof. Not to mention how he puts on airs as he stands, his hands on his hips, watching his serfs being flogged! From dawn to dusk he curses and finds fault. Any living earned there is laced with poison. I don't belong anywhere. My father owns land and water rights. He has his roots in that soil. He owns the place. What? He owns property? Property is very important! He lives. He has memories. But nothing can be mine, not even memories. Memories belong to those who have business and property, those with some substance in their lives. Those who enjoy making love under the moonlight and who enjoy spring showers. They recall their childhood. But moonlight either hurts my eyes or makes me sleepless. Memories, too, slide off my shoulder and fall to the ground. All alone... so much the better! My father has many such memories, but I have no desire to recall my childhood. Last year, when I was sick and in debt, why didn't he answer my letter? Let's not think about it.

Now, after six years of work, I have nothing to show. I am back to square one. It's my own fault. I worked with my cousin for four years, although I haven't heard from him since he went to Isfahan two years ago. He is a serious and clever fellow. Now I'll go look him up, too. Who knows? Maybe I'm going to Isfahan hoping to see him. Otherwise, if I were going there to find a job, why not go to some other town? I always think of places where I can sponge off a family member. Self-reliant man! ... What a tasteless joke! Anyway, I have made a decision. Let's leave it at that.

While enjoyment and a good life are limited in this world, poverty and suffering are everywhere. These limited opportunities, however, belong to a special group. Last year, I worked at the Giti Cafe for a few days. The cafe had fat customers who spent easy money. As though cars, parks, beautiful women, excellent wines, comfortable beds, warm rooms and good memories were selectively set aside for them. They own those commodities and they carry them even into the next world. After all, one can't buy blessings without money! If we lose our job for one day, it means we'll have to go to bed without dinner; but if they are not amused for one night, they'll destroy the world! That night, in the corner of the hallway of the cafe, a stoned American soldier with beads of sweat on his fat brow was severely knocking the head of a woman in a dark blue dress against the wall! I felt dizzy and lost control over myself. The poor woman, as if trapped in the claws of the Angel of Death, was screaming at the tope of her voice! No one dared approach them to mediate; even the policeman at the gate watched nonchalantly. I tried to help the woman, but I was struck by some object. When I opened my eyes, I was at the police headquarters. My side, where I was kicked, still hurts. I was in jail for three months. Did anyone argue my case? Did anyone care? No. As you see I, too, have my own sweet memories!

What is this thing poking my shoulder? Oh, it's the brass knuckles. Why was I pressing the brass knuckles in my hand all the way this evening? As if someone were chasing me, I was struggling with someone in my imagination. And now, why did I put it under my pillow? Who wants to rob me? My bed is warmer, then why can't I go to sleep? I spent a sleepless night the evening of Rostam Khani's wedding because I drank coffee. But tonight, as usual, I had two cups of tea. I shouldn't have gone the long way to Golbandak. Damn this Haqdust kabob shop! They always charge twice the regular price. I went there because it's my friends' gathering place. Perhaps, if I had downed a couple of shots of araq I could sleep better. Gholam did not show up tonight. I had said goodbye to everyone else, although they didn't know I wasn't going to work on Saturday. I wanted to tell Gholam that I was quitting. This morning he looked quite jittery and pale. It could have been the light. He was standing at the type-setting stand. It was very early for him. I never thought he likes his work that much. He's a simple fellow and he knows it; he is undecided as to his own existence. And can't forget things when it's time to go to sleep. The thought of quitting his job or of gambling never enters Gholam's mind. Like a robot, he changes feet as he goes about arranging the type in the composition tray, and he has the disturbing habit of either talking too much or reading the news aloud! He shatters one's concentration. The appearance of his peach-fuzz moustache makes him look more serious and, of course, he has an attractive voice. He drawls out the end of every word. When he drinks a shot of araq he loses control of his chin and talks continuously. He says whatever strikes his fancy. For instance, why should I care if his maternal uncle's wife had a stillbirth. No one believes what he says, of course. Everyone knows that he lies. He tried hard, but he couldn't get even one word out of me. I am not used to gossip. Every time that he turns and says, "Guys!", Mosayyebi becomes nervous; his nose can't take that. And what a nose! With that nose he can pollute the air in the room for five people. Yet his lips are always wide open and he breathes through his mouth. I don't like Yusef Eshtehardi. He is a villainous war-monger. Eshtehard, too, must be a place like Saveh and Zarand, perhaps a little bigger or smaller, but covered with mud houses and inhabited by people stricken with malaria and eye infection. For example, what business is it of him that he should whisper into my ear, "Abbas has contracted VD?" Can I forget that, when he sold me that silk shirt, he really ripped me off! I wonder if his red eye is because of too much work or because of a disease. If it's the latter, then why doesn't he wear glasses.

Abbas and Farrokh are bosom buddies. Evenings they take violin lessons. They may have involved Gholam, too. Wait, I forgot. They accepted Gholam into their own party. That's why he didn't show up this evening at the Haqdust kabob shop. The day before yesterday when Abbas was telling me about the party, Gholam nudged him and said, "Leave him alone. He has chalk between his ears." Wouldn't it be better if Abbas would shut up rather than show his boar-like teeth? No matter what he tells me to do, I do just the opposite. He, his boar-like teeth and twitching eye, can't involve me. If he knew what's good for him, he would cure his VD. He joined the party to compensate for his physical shortcomings. Gholam was right when he said I didn't understand their intent correctly. Perhaps this too is a kind of amusement... But why, from the beginning, did I cut such a poor figure in Asghar's cross-eye? He finds fault with everything I do. Perhaps Yusef has said something, although I don't recall having said anything in Asghar's absence that could offend him.

None of the printing establishments at which I worked in the past were as disorganized and crowded as this. They don't know how to manage, and individuals get lost. Gholam said that Asghar, too, holds shares in this publishing company. Perhaps that is why he is aloof. He also said something strange about Mosayyebi. Apparently there had been a celebration at the party headquarters. They asked Mosayyebi to go along with them, but Mosayyebi continued setting type and said, "Damn this life! Who then is there to feed the kids?" Who is there to feed the kids? What a seriocomic life! He works this hard just to fill the bellies of his children. At least I am single, no strings attached. I cannot understand their situation. Perhaps they too draw some kind of amusement and joy from their life, while pretending that they are poor and unfortunate. I don't share the happiness of the others. I am not the same as they. I need fresh air. Six years is a long time. I am tired. I must relinquish all these comical engagements and free myself. I need a change of scenery.

I sized up all my friends and acquaintances during a long, nightmarish dream. I felt like one who, confident that someone is following him, passes through a waterless desert for hours, then turns to hold that person's hand, but finds that no one has been there. Then he slides and falls into a pit that he had not seen before. Life is a long, frozen corridor. One must press the brass knuckles in the hand lest he confronts a ruffian. I had only one understanding friend, Hushang. When we were together there was no need for words; we understood each other. Now he is confined to a sanitarium. He used to work by my side at the Bahar Danesh printing shop. Suddenly he lost control and fell to the ground. The fool was fasting. He was famished. It all began when he vomited blood. He spent a lot of money on doctors and medicine and remained idle until finally, after much hassle, he was admitted into the sanitarium. Perhaps his mother made him suffer like this so that she could kill two birds with one stone: to please God and to economize on meals. The customers of Giti Café--they have created this life for us so that while we vomit blood they can dance and have a good time! At the gambling table each one wins and loses enough money to last me for seven generations ... In this world everything depends on luck. Asadolla's sister used to say, "If we were to pick up after donkeys for fuel, then they would choose water to relieve themselves!"

For six years now I have gone from one stinking hole into another, working amid commotion in crammed, noisy rooms. My jobs have been mostly last minute "hurry-up" jobs. It was as though, if it didn't get done right then and there, it would be the end of the world! Now I have nothing to show. Perhaps it's better this way. Last year I was in prison. No one bothered!

My bed is warmer. It seems that the cold spell is over... I can hear the clock chime in the distance. It must be late... Early tomorrow morning... The bus depot... but I don't have a clock... Which depot did he say? ... tomorrow I must ... tomorrow...


2. Gholam

My mouth is dry. There isn't any water at my side. I should get up, light a match and find the water jar in the hallway. Will there be water in it? No. It's not worth the effort. It will fuel my insomnia. Then again, after a few shots of araq water is delicious. How about smoking a cigarette? The hell of it is I can't sleep. Should all my concern be my sleep, even though he died... I mean was killed? My T-shirt is soaking wet, it's stuck to my body. The girl who was crying is Shokufe, Qodsi's daughter... I was really feeling down tonight. I drank too much. I still feel dizzy and have a splitting headache. It feels as though someone has poured lead into my neck: dizzy and numb... I like it this way... what a short sheet! Maybe it's a shroud... I am dead... I am buried under the ground... The animals are around me... There goes Shokufe screaming again! ... Poor kid, she must be sick... I forgot to buy her some cookies.

What a pity! He was a nice guy. His green eyes were always filled with laughter... He was a clean guy. What a scene! Poor dear... poor fellow... poor. I must breathe deeply to keep myself from crying. My insides feel like they have been taken out, as if I have lost something. A rooster is crowing. It must be late in the night. So much the better that I jumped up from sleep. I wasn't asleep. I was dreaming that I was awake, but I couldn't see or feel anything; I couldn't tell who I was. I had forgotten my own name. I didn't even know that I was thinking about whether I was awake or not. I knew one thing; I knew that something had happened. Perhaps the wind blew and struck my face. No. Now I recall. There was a large tombstone and someone was praying there. I don't know who; he had his back to me. I placed my finger on the stone--it entered the stone. I felt it penetrate into the stone and suddenly burn, as if it had entered a fire. I jumped up. The tip of my finger is still throbbing. I am afraid it may get worse and become a problem. I was peeling cucumbers. The tip of the pocket knife cut into my finger. When Seyyed Kazem was washing his hand, he was really short of breath. If my finger festers, I'll lose my job.

I feel very uneasy. I wish I could find a companion. That night when it was late and I didn't have a pass, I slept in the type-setting room under the stand for distributing type. I felt better: there were people to talk to. It seems that dawn is breaking... Is that the top of the neighbor's cypress tree shaking? For a moment I thought it was a person. It must be windy then. Mosquitoes ate me alive, though, and that made me mad. The night before last our neighbor's house was quite crowded. They had so many lights turned on in their house that it also lit up our house. He celebrated his son's wedding for three nights. Haji Gol-Mohammad Ayyubi is so dignified! He is amiable. He greets people with sincerity. He has so much wealth, yet he still hasn't changed. Why does he always wear hats that are too small? Qodsi said that Haji spent 25,000 tumans a night. He could spend that much during these trying times! But Yusef--he is so very uncouth --said, "I know the groom. He is a shameless thief! People are dying of starvation, and he is showing off his wealth! They haven't worked as much in their whole life as one of us works in a day." Why should he say this? Well. His son is young; he has hope and desire. It's their lot! God has chosen to make them rich. It's no one's business! Then Qodsi added that the bride is dark-skinned and ugly. What was it he said she is like? Yeah, "She is like mama khamireh." Apparently they had dolled her up quite well.

But Zaghi died young and discontented. I feel sorry for his parents! I wonder whether they were told. Poor folks, they will read about it in tomorrow's paper. Or perhaps his parents are dead... I will find out... What a secretive character he was! Mothers don't easily forget the death of their children... Khojaste, whose son died of smallpox oh so many years ago, still screams and howls at the rowzes!.. Accepted, everyone has a destiny ... but does that mean to be killed like this?... By Allah! What did it say? Abbas, setting the type for the item, was reading it with feeling. Abbas, too, knew Zaghi. But he knew him as a party member, not as a friend. Why was he reading it with such a laudatory tone, "The funeral of three heroes..." No. He said, "the splendid funeral for three freedom-seeking workers..." I'll buy and read the paper tomorrow. The name "Mehdi Rezvani known as Zaghi" headed the list. They were workers at the Zayandeh Rud printing shop. This Mehdi Rezvani couldn't be some other person, could he? Could it be a misprint? A mistake that gross? Then again worse mistakes than that are possible. His whole life has been an error in printing. It couldn't be a printing error anyway, especially if the item which came here was in handwriting. Could the man in the telegraph office have made a mistake? Perhaps the other two were also young... It seems that they had gone on strike collectively, good for them!... Then the government goons shot them point blank. The bullet must have been intended for him, it couldn't have just struck him by chance. They must have been in charge of the march and they must have been in front of the crowd. The government goons knew whom to shoot. Right there is your reason for "a splendid funeral."

He was working with us four or five months ago ... but it seems like it was only yesterday: his eyes expressed such a sense of joy. His curly blond hair covered most of his forehead; he had a short nose and thick lips. All in all he was not handsome, but he had an attractive face. Being amiable, he encouraged one to get to know him and talk to him. When he entered a room he would bring a special warmth with him. He never used the apprentice; rather he always put the compositions in the ranga and took it to the press room himself. At that time we worked in a small, stuffy room. It was filled with the heavy muffled noises of type being placed in the versat or distributed in the garse. Zaghi's whistling through his teeth alleviated a lot of our fatigue. Then I used to think of the movies. What a pity Zaghi is not here to see our spacious and dignified room! Perhaps if we had worked in a room like this, he wouldn't have left us to go to Isfahan. No, he did not shun work, but he didn't give work his all either. He worked for his own amusement, you could say. He was humble and content--had no complaint against anyone. He was a friendly and vivacious person. How he could whistle through his teeth! He always whistled those same tunes that one hears in movie theaters. All the time he was either at the movies or reading books. He never tired! I like only the movies of Jeanette McDonald and Dorothy Lamour. Laurel and Hardy, too, aren't bad; they make you laugh.

It was Zaghi's untimely whistling that got him into trouble with Asghar Aqa. Why are some people so self-centered? As soon as they make a little headway, they forget who they were! Before becoming a compositor he was the proof reader in our room; he did what Mosayyebi does now. He used to be one of us. Suddenly he changed and became aloof. No wonder Farrokh calls him a "pest." Is friendship a lie? That day I gave Asghar what he deserved. I confronted Asghar Aqa for Zaghi's sake. It's a good thing that Zaghi was not present. He had gone to buy cigarettes; otherwise they would have become physical. I dislik fights. That short, chubby writer who changes the proofs fifty times must have complained. He had complained that the reports in his book had been mishandled. He is one of those who create mistakes where there are none. I wonder why Zaghi accepted doing it? He worked in our room; technically, he was not supposed to work on books. Perhaps he accepted because Hossein Gabi had refused to do it. In any case, it gave Asghar Aqa an excuse.

He came to our room and began to bad mouth Zaghi about the incident. After all, we all were friends.

Basically a whimsical fellow, Zaghi got carried away with work very easily. Did he join another printing shop in Isfahan? He didn't have any interest in joining political parties and the like, so why was he killed in the workers' strike? That day, at lunch, he and Abbas were quarrelling. Zaghi was saying, "Leave me alone, I don't want to be hunted down. I have only one mouth to feed." Abbas answered, "It's assertions like these that have caused our backwardness. As long as we are disunited our condition will remain the same. There is only one right way, not a thousand ways! Are the workers all around the globe more foolish than you and I?" Zaghi stopped eating, he lit a cigarette and muttered, "You are not men of action." But Zaghi's trouble at the office was because of his birth certificate. Now, if he didn't have a birth certificate, how did he go to Isfahan? Yusef was really not right when he said Zaghi used to sell American cigarettes and newspapers on Eslambol avenue. Why is it then that I should be blamed for gossiping? I suggested, "Fellows, how about arranging a Qur'an recitation for a service for him? After all, he defended our rights; he sacrificed himself for us." No one said a word. Only Yusef turned and said, "May his soul rest in peace, he was a tightwad." No one laughed. Yusef hurt my feelings. He was out of line.

I regret that I did not treat him as well as I should have. The poor fellow became depressed. No. It really wasn't my fault. He could have interpreted it differently: first he told me, "I'll sell my watch for twenty-tumans." His watch was worth more than fifty tumans, I said, "You need it yourself." He said. "Then lend me ten tumans. I'll return it tomorrow." I didn't have ten tumans myself, but I got it for him. That same evening he invited all of us to the Haqdust kabob shop. It cost him fourteen tumans. The following day, when I came out of the printing room, I saw a fat lady standing by the pond. She asked me, "Is Mehdi Rezvani here?" I asked, "What business do you have with him?" She said, "Tell him Hushang's mother has brought the remainder of the money for the watch." I realized that he had sold his watch. I said, "Don't tell me that he sold his watch?" She said, "What a nice young man! May God bless his family! He has helped my son every month since he became consumptive and was confined to Shahabad." When I entered the room and looked, the watch was not on Zaghi's wrist. I said to him, "Hushang's mother is here to see you." He left the room and returned shortly thereafter. He returned my ten tumans. I asked him, "Who is Hushang?" He sighed and said, "Just a friend." May his soul rest in peace! What an amiable chap he was! ... I cannot quite pinpoint it, but something bothers me... What is it that I don't know?... I don't know if it hurts or not... Will I be able or not? I don't know. No, he shouldn't have died. He should not have... should not have... should not ... I'm tired. But his friend should not know that he is dead. I will go to Shahabad on Friday, and I will find Hushang's mother in the sanitarium... I will talk to her. No. I should help Hushang in such a way that he won't find out about it. Consumptive people are very touchy; he may feel insulted. Perhaps it is the lead that has caused his illness... He is Zaghi's friend. I must help him. I'll do what I must to help him... I'll work overtime I wonder if I can cry or not... I don't know... Ah... Ah how terrible! I must stop my tears... It is not good for the deceased... My face is wet... I must take deep breaths...

This time it's not a mosquito, it's a louse. It's walking in the middle of my back. It wriggles. Just went higher... It's a souvenir from the Haqdust kabob shop that I've brought in with me. I shouldn't have scratched my back. It didn't help. Damn it, it changed its place... Last night there was sand in the rice and the eggplant sauce, too, was not done. After dinner the sharp point of the knife pricked my finger. Now that I thought of it, it felt worse. This Haqdust fellow, too, has sized me up quite well! If Abbas had not come to my aid, I would have died. It was out of my control, I was drunk. As soon as he realized that I was not feeling well, he took me with him. I blacked out. When I came to, I saw that I was at Abbas'. I was ashamed to look into Abbas' eyes the next day. How dirty! I had vomited everything... Ah, how awful! ... Man, if the hay is not yours, the barn is!... I kept saying, "Cheers!" and I downed the glassful. I had lost control. Next time I should be careful. Abbas was a real gentleman. He even washed my bleeding finger and disinfected it. Then he took me to my door. He is an intelligent fellow and plays the violin so well! He wanted to play for me, but I wouldn't let him. "No, no," I said, "Our friend was killed. Put your violin away. You shouldn't play the violin for a while. We are all mourning." If he had played the violin I would have cried.

This news shocked everyone. Even Ali, the apprentice, had tears in his eyes; he sniffed and left the room. Only Mosayyebi remained untouched. He continued proof reading. The light had reflected the shadow of his nose on the wall. I blew up and said to Mosayyebi, "My dear fellow, friendship is not a lie. This Zaghi worked with us for fifteen days. He had himself killed for us. He defended our rights." He did not react; instead he asked Yusef for a Kuwadrat. I know what he was thinking. Perhaps he was saying to himself, "You fellows are secure. If I lose my job, who will feed my kids? Damn this life!" Damn this life indeed!...

Tomorrow, I must change my clothes. They all got dirty and bloody last night. Perhaps Shokufe was crying for her kitty who suffocated under the quilt... Why is the top of the cypress tree still moving?... There is a breeze, perhaps... Today the package carrier of Yusef's bike got caught on a tree and broke... Yusef's lips were covered with fever blisters... Kuwadrat. Yesterday I drank seven bottles of lemonade and still felt thirsty! ... No. I am certain that it has been a printing error. Will they correct it in tomorrow's paper?... In any case, I will wear my black shirt. Why don't they call Abbas, who has a twitching eye, Abbas the Twitch? Kuwadrat ... Ku-wad-rat ... Ku-wad-rat ... tomorrow, newspaper... my black shirt... tomorrow...


1. araq Iranian (homemade) equivalent of vodka back to text

2. ranga (also ramga) galley back to text

3. versat device for arranging types back to text

4. garse case where types are kept back to text

5. kuwadrat types back to text

Sadeq Hedayat's Corner

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