Murad stood in the middle of the busy street and slipped off his coat like a snake sheds its skin. Without giving it a second thought, he sold it to the nearest laundry mangle and felt a sense of relief rise up inside him. It was as if he had got rid of a bunch of false social constraints that had weighed him down.
A feeling of freedom flowed through him and he let his hands flail about like a couple of fish on a line. Who needed a coat? Murad certainly didn’t.
As he jingled the two tomans in his pocket – the coin he had just earned – his stomach growled and his thoughts turned to opium. It had been a whole day since he’d indulged in either, and the craving was real. But first he had to fill his stomach with food.
Oh, how Murad longed for the sweet, sweet relief of opium! His nerves were taut as a bowstring and nothing else could satisfy his craving. In his mind’s eye, he could already see himself stuffing the drug into his pipe and inhaling deeply, the rush of euphoria washing over him like a wave.
Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. He let out a loud, contented yawn that mingled with the noise of the busy street around him. But inside him, he felt a glimmer of hope and gentleness that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he realized how little he had in life. He was nothing more than a pile of bones, a pessimist at heart, and his knowledge was so outdated that it was practically rusty. A thousand thoughts flashed through his mind, but he couldn’t put any of them into action.
Oh, how he wished for the sweet effects of opium to soothe his troubled soul.
This guy, Murad, was an outsider, like a louse nestled in the muck of society. He was an outcast, living a life barely clinging to existence. He simply could not find his place in this world. His pleasures, pains and thoughts were as different as night and day compared to those around him. He even enjoyed his agony and saw it as an integral part of his being. He found humans, even babies, abhorrent.
He had grown accustomed to solitude, even in the most crowded places. He felt lonely and hardly noticed anyone around him. He built a shell around himself, like an egg, and only came out when he needed something. He laughed his thoughts away and cradled his head like a snake to drive everything out of his head.
For him, honor, morality, religion and truth were just empty words. He only followed his own desires, but even those were only temporary. As soon as they were satisfied, he felt the absurdity of life even more deeply. He did not care about his past or future worries.
But he could not avoid the encounter with the Jew who owned a roadside store. He glanced at the store from a distance and saw the Jew perched like an eagle on a stool in front of the store. In an instant, a shiver ran down his spine.
He fell into a thoughtful state. “I do not give a damn if that damn Jew grabs me by the collar in front of everyone and demands his money back. He’s already made a fuss about it a hundred times. If I paid attention to these simpletons, what would make me different from them? They ignore me like I am not a human being living among them, with passions and needs like theirs. They keep a harem of concubines in their store for themselves and their buddies. I am not afraid of those bastards.”
The crowd would gather if we got into a fight. The women would think, ‘What a handsome young man! He’d make a good bedfellow.’ But no one would say it to my face. I have not had a bath for months and I have nothing: no coat, no social standing, no money and no parents. Who would pay attention to me? The men would think to themselves: ‘He’s nothing but a vulgar thug’ We would exchange a string of insults and then go our separate ways. Still, I need my money. I want to live off it. Why would I let go of that darn piece of paper when my life depends on it? I’d rather go, smoke my opium, have a glass of arrack and then go to Mahin’s to spend the night with her. Fuck the Jew! I will blend in with the crowd and make myself inconspicuous! How is he supposed to recognize me in this dim light with his poor eyesight?”
Ah, at that moment a young and exquisite lady walked past our dear Murad, slender and alluring, with a stately air. Her dress hung delicately on a rack in the laundry, tempting Murad to fondle it, although this thought was only a distant dream. As she passed him, she left a soft, morphemic scent that immediately set off a wild whimper in his bosom.
He inhaled the scent with relish, as far as his lungs would allow, and only reluctantly did he exhale it again, holding it in his chest until he was overcome by a fit of coughing. The scent was like morphine for his nerves, a heady mixture of baked opium and tincture. He felt as if he had taken a deep drag from his opium pipe, his head grew hot as an overwhelming desire rose within him.
It was unclear where this desire came from or what it wanted, but it was mixed with jealousy, poverty, passion and lust. And yet it belonged to none of these things. The hollow in the virgin’s waist, the delicate breadth of her shoulders and the statuesque perfection of her buttocks were so masterfully crafted that only a sculptor who had long suffered the agony of separation from women in a godforsaken place could have created such a well-proportioned, statuesque woman to his heart’s content.
The poppies on her transparent dress seemed to have been etched onto her skin. When she moved, her supple and bare feet made the flowers sway and tremble with a tantalizing seductive power that set the soul aflame. Every single blossom danced so voluptuously as if it were conveying a message – sometimes frowning, sometimes tantalizing with its sultry allure, and yet other times leaving you disappointed. The woman appeared to be unclothed, her flesh adorned with blood-red flowers with opium-colored petals that adorned her hips and buttocks. Murad longed to follow her every move, to inhale her morphemic scent and feast his eyes on these flowers that were alive and fleshy – so warm and tender!
The graceful swaying of her buttocks made the flowers seem to undulate like the pistons of a car – sometimes more, sometimes less, but always captivating, eloquent and enchanting. Her waist swayed so seductively that you would have thought she was walking on a tightrope. Sometimes she shook her buttocks coquettishly to prevent them from falling down. This shaking gave rise to such elegant grace that it was enough to arouse your soul and entangle you in a web of life and desire. Her slender and elegant figure was supported by a pair of delicate legs adorned with soft golden hair, reminiscent of a wheat field basking in the August sun.
Her lithe figure sauntered past him, clad in buffalo leather shoes. Murad was intoxicated by the woman’s hypnotic allure, but the fact that she was out of his reach disheartened him. His thoughts became pensive. “What a desirable fuck, is not she? Who has had the pleasure of her company? I can not imagine how I could be inferior to those who have slept with her. If I could get my hands on the kind gentleman, I’d know what to do. I do not seem to belong in this world.”
All his senses were fixed on her poppies, as if he had never seen them before, as if he had suddenly recognized them. Once again, he lapsed into a thoughtful state.
“Poppies are so beautiful, so charming, so exquisite. You have made them even more charming!”
Once again he was overcome by an intense desire to smoke opium. He had become desire incarnate. He longed to fill the endless emptiness inside him with the scent of the woman, the thick smoke of the opium and the aroma of the poppies. But in an instant, his gaze turned away from the fleshy flowers. Suddenly it looked as if the woman’s flesh was withering in the shade of the trees and all her blooming flowers were fading. The graceful figure turned into a strange, bloated skeleton and staggered away before his eyes. His stomach turned and a feeling of nausea overcame him. He was haunted by hallucinations.
Murad remained in a daze when the Jewish believer caught sight of him and called his name several times. He stopped and the Jew immediately jumped down from his chair. Their encounter was interrupted by a passing Chevrolet, however, and the Jew was forced to wait on the opposite side of the street. He fidgeted impatiently and waited nervously for the car to pass.
Nevertheless, his eyes remained fixed on Murad, as if he were prey that the Jew had been waiting for. Murad stood on the other side of the street and summoned all his courage to confront the stubborn shopkeeper. The scent of opium, the seductive red of the poppies and the enticing movements of the fleshy flowers were forgotten. Instead, he was consumed by the memory of the red two-toman bill he owed the Jew, and a bitter feeling of worthlessness overcame him.
For him, everyone on the street became his enemy. He thought to himself: “Curse you! I won’t give you a penny, not even for the world. I could pay you back, but I won’t. Come and get it, if you dare.”
The Chevrolet sped off, leaving the creditor with the look of an experienced hunter stalking his prey through a dense meadow. “You damned Muslim,” he thought to himself, “I won’t let you get away from me again. If I get my hands on you, I’ll expose you to everyone so they can see how incapable you are of devouring Jacob’s money.”
But fate had other plans. Even before the screeching sound of the truck’s brakes echoed through the air, it had already dragged the creditor’s body several meters away, crushed it completely and set the remains on fire like wool. As Murad stood there with his hands deep in his pockets, he felt a sense of relief rise up inside him. It was as if nothing had happened. Like a spider crushed under the heavy feet of a camel, the creditor’s fear of crossing the road was gone forever.
He thought to himself: “The road is clear. It was not my fault. I am no longer indebted to him.”
In an instant, a crowd of people gathered around the truck like ants around a grandiose carcass. The expressions on their faces at the sight of death were of tremendous intensity. In everyday life, such expressions would be unthinkable. Fearing loneliness and the inevitability of death, these people had sought refuge in the company of others. But now they stood there and plunged into an abyss of mortal fear.
As he mingled with the crowd, Murad mused to himself: “When a chicken is decapitated and its entrails are revealed, the other chickens fight over it until one of them claims it for itself and drags it to a secluded corner to feast on it. But the masses recoil at the thought of their own mortality.” His hands remained in his pockets as he shuffled through the crowd of onlookers. In the meantime, the truck had been pushed aside, leaving behind a gruesome scene. A pool of blood and a shattered skull, its fragments still stuck to the truck’s thick tires, lay scattered on the sidewalk. Thick, coagulated blood seeped into the cracks in the cobblestones and stained them black.
A pale, slimy substance resembling egg white mixed with the coagulated blood caught Murad’s eye amidst a pile of broken bones. The sight made him feel sick. He yawned for a long time and longed for the comfort of his opium den. With a slow, lethargic stride, Murad broke away from the crowd and made his way to his secluded cellar. Fatigue overcame him, causing his shoulders to slump and his chest to heave. He whistled a faint tune, as if no one was around, and walked on, his hands buried deep in his pockets. But his feet felt heavy and a stabbing pain shot through his nerves, causing him to stop abruptly. He turned around, still whistling, and looked at his surroundings, only to find that the road, the truck and the crowd had disappeared.
His eyes fell to the ground as he muttered to himself, “Damn it! It feels like someone’s ripping out my veins.” Disgusted, he spat a viscous, sticky substance reminiscent of egg white onto the sidewalk and continued his train of thought.
“She was a tasty morsel. Oh, I wish I could have taken it off!”
He kicked at a cigarette case lying in front of him and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. Frustrated, he bent down to pick it up, but it was empty. Desperate, he threw it into the murky water flowing through the gutter and wriggled like a wounded snake.
“Bloody luck! If I only had a spark of it in this country, my life wouldn’t be so bleak,” he muttered, his eyes fixed on the floating cigarette case. Lost in thought, he stumbled against a plane tree and shouted: “Bloody hell!”
the guy changed course and plunged straight into the crowd. He bumped into people left and right and didn’t seem to care much. A strange feeling of freedom flowed through him. He felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He was on his own again. The passers-by were like ghosts to him, floating through their own worlds while he wandered through his own. The roar of the horns and the chatter of the crowd didn’t bother him at all. He was completely and utterly alone.
And then, all of a sudden, a lady strolled past him.
He shuddered and whirled around. There she was, the same slender, graceful figure twirling out of a chic clothing store. Her curves were still as elegant as ever, with poppies painted on her ass. But this time she gave off a foul stench – a smell of dung, of bones, of shot brains and clotted blood.
© Ali Salami 2010
About Sadeq Chubak
Sadeq Chubak, also known as Ṣādiq Chūbak, was a well-known Iranian writer who was born on August 5, 1916 in Bushehr, Iran. He wrote short stories, dramas and novels and is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century in Iran.
The twentieth century. Sadeq Chubak’s short stories were known for their elaborate details, economical language and focus on a single theme, which were often compared to Persian miniature paintings.
He grew up in Shiraz, Iran, and graduated from the American College of Tehran in 1937. Chubak was encouraged by Sadeq Hedayat, a renowned Iranian author, and was also influenced by the works of American writers such as Henry James, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.
Despite these influences, Chubak developed his own unique style of writing. He used colloquial language to convey moods effectively and told his stories with an unmistakable sense of realism.
Chubak is best known for his works such as “Khaymah-e shabāzī” (1945), a collection of short stories divided into 11 sections, each depicting a different aspect of daily life, and “ʿAntarī keh lūṭiyash morda būd” (1949), which tells the story of a monkey whose master has died.
He also wrote a satirical play entitled “Tūp-e lāstīkī” (1962), translated as “The Rubber Ball”,” as well as two novels: “Tangsīr” (1963) and “Sang-e ṣabūr” (1967), also known as “The Patient Stone”
In addition to his original works, Chubak also translated several English works into Persian, including Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”
The collected stories Puppet Show and The Monkey Whose Master had died have had a lasting influence on modern Persian literature.
One of Chubak’s most famous novels, “Tangsir”,” highlights the exploits of the fighters in Tangestan and has been translated into several languages. The protagonist of the novel, Tsar Mohammad, is driven by his anger at social injustice and takes it upon himself to fight against it. Although he earns a considerable amount of money from the trade, he is cheated and robbed by the governor, which makes him bitter and desperate for justice.
Unable to rely on the slow-moving justice system, Tsar Mohammad takes matters into his own hands and kills one enemy after one. After these murders, he is dubbed “Shir Mohammad” or “Mohammad with the Lion Heart” by the villagers. The novel revolves around the themes of justice and revenge and depicts the consequences of a justice system that fails to take action against social injustice.
In “Tangsir”, Chubak criticizes social injustice and the failure of the legal system and presents the protagonist’s quest for justice as a messianic mission to liberate the people from tyranny. In the end, Tsar Mohammad succeeds in escaping the grasp of the law, illustrating the consequences of a legal system that fails to deliver justice to those who deserve it.
Following the success of his works “The Last Alms” and “The First Night of the Tomb”,” Chubak wrote “The Patient Stone”,” which is widely regarded as a great modern novel in Persian literature.