Murad was standing in the middle of the crowded street. Divesting himself of his coat, he sold it to the clothes peddler. He felt as if a handful of false social bounds and restrictions had been lifted from his shoulders. A peculiar feeling of freedom filled his entire being. Slightly, he waved his hands to and fro freely, thinking that he could do without a coat. At first, the thought of having two tomans in his pocket – the proceeds of his sale – awakened in him an excessive desire for eating food and smoking opium neither of which he had touched since the day before.
For want of opiate pleasure, his nerves had tautened like wood. The joy he was seeking exceeded all other joys and desires. In his mind’s eye, he stuck opium to his pipe and smoked it out with a single breath at the thought of which he felt a wondrous sensation of joy come over him that somewhat calmed his nerves. An instant afterwards, he gave a noisy yawn which of course merged in the din of the street but which left in his nerves a promising delight and softness. His eyes were wet with tears. Murad had nothing to his name in life. A bag of mobile bones, an acute sense of pessimism and some rusty knowledge which did not even avail himself made up his constitution. In a minute a thousand different ideas went racing through his mind none of which he put into practical shape.
This fellow was a misfit sewn into the crappy crotch of society. Somewhere in its seams, he occupied a place like a louse and lived a dying life. That was why he was incapable of adjusting himself to the society. His joys, pains, and thoughts were as different as chalk and cheese from those of others. He liked his agonies and regarded them as an inseparable part of his existence. People, even babies were loathsome to him.
He had acclimatized himself to solitude. Even in the most densely populated places, he felt lonely and barely at all paid attention to people around him whosoever. He didn’t see them and didn’t want to see them. He had built round himself an egg-like shell in which he squirmed. At times, he was seized with fits of epilepsy. Willy nilly, he became conscious of others every time he felt a need in himself. Soon, he laughed away his thought and swayed his head this way and that coolly and languidly like a roused snake and dismissed everything from his mind. To him, honor, dishonor, morality, religion, veracity and mendacity hardly held and atom of meaning. He abided by nothing but his desires. Even they were temporary ones. Once they were gratified, he felt the absurdity of life even more intensely. Never did he pay attention to his past or future sorrows. How could he now escape an encounter with the Jew who owned a shop on the side of the street? From a distance, Murad cast a glance upon his shop and saw him perching like an eagle on the stool in front of the shop. In an instant, a tremor shot through his spines.
He fell reflective.
“I don’t give a fig if this goddamn Jew grabs me by the collar in front of people and wants his money back. So far, he’s raised a ruckus about it more than a hundred times. If I paid attention to a handful of silly asses what would be the difference between the likes of me and the likes of them?! They disregard me as a human being who lives amongst them, has passions, and needs like them while they have in their store a harem of concubines for themselves and for their cronies. I am not afraid of them bastards.
People would collect if we fell into quarrel. Women would think:” What a handsome young man! He is good to sleep with.” But none would come and say that to me. I have not had a bath for months, and have no coat, no social status, no money and no father and mother. Who would pay attention to me?! As for men, they would think to themselves:” He is every inch a loutish ruffian.” We would pour forth a volley of vitriolic oaths and then would depart. At all events, I need my money. I want to live by it. Why should I lose this damned paper if my life depends on it? I had better go, smoke my fill of opium, drink a hearty glass of arrack, and then go to Mahin’s house to sleep with her. Fuck the Jew! I will mix up with the crowd and buzz off! How can he see me in this twilight with his purblind eyes? “
At this point, a young, exquisite, slender, seductive stately woman-Murad could not even dream of caressing her gown dangling from the rack in a laundry –strutted past him and scattered behind her a soft morphemic scent. Instantly, one of his desires began to neigh wildly in his bosom. He inhaled the scent as far as his lungs allowed. Hardly did he wish to exhale it! He retained the smell in his chest so much so that he was seized with a fit of cough. All his nerves took in her scent like morphine. She smelled of baked opium blended with tincture. He felt as if he had dragged a firm puff from his opium-pipe. His head grew hot and an overpowering desire aroused in him. It was not clear from which source it sprang and what it wanted but which was mingled with jealousy, poverty, passion, and lust. However, it belonged to none. The hollow of her waist and the delicate broadness of her shoulders and her statuesque buttocks were made in so masterly a way that only a sculptor who had long suffered the agony of separation of women in a God-forsaken place could have made such a well-proportionate statuesque woman to his heart’s content.
The poppy flowers on her transparent tight gown seemed to have been tattooed on her flesh. With the delicate movement of her naked shapely feet, these flowers shook seductively and thrilled the soul. Each and every flower swayed so lustfully that it conveyed a message, grimaced at him, attracted him and disappointed him. The woman seemed to be naked. It was as though the blood flowers with their opium colored petals had been tattooed on her flesh, on her buttocks and on her waist. Murad desired to walk behind her, inhale her morphemic scent and feast his eyes on those frowning living fleshy flowers- flowers of soft warm living flesh!
The graceful movement of her buttocks made the flowers rise and fall like the valve of a car-somewhere more, somewhere less but charming, eloquent, and enthralling everywhere. Her waist produced such alluring waves that you thought she was walking on a rope, sometimes giving a shake to her buttocks as not to fall down. From this shake rose so elegant a grace that sufficed to thrill your soul and make you a prisoner of life and desire. A pair of frail shanks covered with tiny golden hairs, which resembled a field of wheat in the afternoon sun of August, carried her slim elegant body.
Her graceful body strutted past him in a pair of buffalo leathered shoes. Murad was intoxicated by the dazzling opiate charm of the woman and the fact that she was inaccessible dampened his spirits. He fell cogitative.
“A good fuck, eh? Who fucks her? Don’t know in what way I am inferior to her fuckers. If I get my hands on the beneficent Lord, I know what to do. I don’t seem to belong to this world.”
All his senses were riveted upon her poppy flowers as if he had never seen them before, as if he had recognized them in a sudden. Again he drooped in a muse. “Poppy flowers are so beautiful, so nice, so good. How charming they have made her!”
Again a strong desire of smoking opium came over him. He had become desire itself. He wished to fill his eternal void with the scent of the woman and the heavy smoke of opium and the smell of the poppy flowers. For an instant, his gaze was averted from the fleshy flowers. All at once, it seemed to him as if the flesh of the woman crumbled in the shade of the trees and all her fleshy flowers faded away. The shapely form changed into a ridiculous punctured skeleton staggering away before his eyes. His stomach turned over and a feeling of nausea laid hold of him. He was hallucinated.
Murad was still in a state of stupefaction that the Jewish creditor caught sight of him and shouted his name several times. As soon as Murad stopped, he sprang down from the stool. Several seconds went on but the Jew had not yet crossed the street because he was stopped by a Chevrolet. So he waited. His patience was up. He fidgeted nervously, waiting for the car to pass.
Yet, his glance remained full on Murad. He did not take his mole-like eyes off him. Murad was standing on the other side of the street, summoning all his strength to confront the obstinate shopkeeper. The morphemic scent, the voluptuous redness of the poppy flowers and the sexy movement of the fleshy flowers were soon forgotten. Instead, the red two-toman bill he owed to the Jew loomed up before his eyes. A bitter feeling of baseness seized him. To him, all the people in the street were his foes. He pondered: “Fuck you! I won’t give you a penny for the world. I can pay you back but I won’t. Now come and get it if you can.”
The Chevrolet raced swiftly off. The creditor had kept on gazing at him and triggered his eyes at him in the attitude of a skilled hunter indicating the direction of his prey amidst a dense meadow. He thought to himself: “You confounded Moslem! I will not allow you to escape my clutches again. If I get my hands on you, I’ll debag you in front of people to see you cannot gobble down Jacob’s money.”
Hardly was he in the middle of the street that a lorry loaded with flour ran over him. Before the grisly sound of its breaks boomed out, it had dragged his body a few meters away. His body was completely crushed and the rest of him caught fire like wool. Overcome with solace, Murad thrust his hands in his pockets, standing there motionless. He heaved a sigh of relief as if unburdened. It was as if nothing had happened. Like a spider squashed beneath the chubby feet of a camel, the creditor was crushed to death in the street. Now his fear of crossing the street was gone.
He thought to himself: “Now the way is open. It wasn’t my fault. I am no longer indebted to him.”
In a twinkling, a large crowd of people gathered round the lorry like ants swarming round a big carrion. Their faces betrayed violent traces of contortions at the sight of death. It was completely obvious that their faces displayed no such thing in ordinary life. People had left their houses in fear of death and solitude, taking refuge in society. Now they were standing there, sunk into an abyss of mortal apprehension.
Murad thought to himself, “When a fowl is decapitated, and its innards are thrown out, the other fowls fight over it until at last one of them picks it, taking it in a corner and eats it. But the rabbles dread their own dead bodies.”
He slowly merged into the crowd. His hands were still resting in his pockets. During this period, the lorry had moved aside. A pool of blood and a fractured skull whose bits still clung to the fat tires of the lorry were scattered all over the ground. Black curdled blood spread over the cobble-stoned street, sunk in the crevices of the stones.
A white blood smeared substance like the whites of an egg which was amalgamated with the coagulated blood could be seen amidst a pack of fractured bones. Murad felt like nauseating. He let out a prolonged yawn and recalled his opium.
Gradually, he extricated himself from the crowd, making for his solitary cellar. Fatigue enveloped him. His hands were in his pockets, his shoulders leaning backwards and his chest up. He was whistling a vague tune as if there were nobody but him in the street. His feet felt heavy. A sharp sense of pain shot through his nerves. He stopped for a moment. Whistling, he turned back. The street, the crowd and the lorry were not in sight.
He dropped his eyes and thought: “Fuck it! It’s as if someone is pulling out my veins.”
He, then, threw out a sticky spit like the whites of an egg on the street asphalt and pursued his train of thoughts.
“She was a dainty morsel. If only I could undress her!”
He kicked a cigarette case lying before his feet. Since it didn’t open, he bent down, picking it up. It was empty. Distraught, he threw it in the earthy water creeping in the gutter like a wounded snake.
“Fuck it! If I had a piece of luck in this country, my life would not be so desperate.”
His gaze fixed on the cigarette case floating in the gutter, he bumped into a plane tree.
Changing his direction, he sank in the crowd. He jostled and was jostled. He was heedless. A singular feeling of freedom pervaded every fiber. He felt unburdened. He was alone again. People who walked past him did not exist for him. They were for themselves and he was for himself. The sound of the horns and the din of the people left him cool. He was alone, completely alone. At this instant, a woman strutted past him.
Suddenly, he trembled and turned round. He beheld the same slender graceful figure pirouetting out of a haberdasher’s shop. The same statuesque buttocks tattooed with poppy flowers grimaced at him. She emanated the same morphinic scent. However, this time, she gave off an acrid odor of dung, of skull bones, of blown-out brains and of black coagulated blood.
Translated by Ali Salami
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