Ali Salami

Sadeq Hedayat: The Stray Dog [Sag-e Velgard]

A bakery, a butcher’s shop, a grocery store, a barber’s shop and two teahouses, all of which served to satisfy basic human needs, made up Varamin Square. The square and its inhabitants were half-baked and half-grilled in the heat of the tyrannical sun, passionately longing for the first breeze of the evening and the shadows of the night. The people, the stores, the trees and the animals were as if dead. An oppressive heat hung heavy over their heads and a cloud of dust blew in the sky, made even denser by the traffic.

On one side of the square stood an old plane tree, its trunk withered and dry, but spreading its crooked, gouty branches with indomitable tenacity. Under the shade of its dusty leaves was a huge, massive platform on which two street vendors were selling rice pudding and dried pumpkin seeds. A murky stream of water flowed lazily through the gutter in front of the teahouse.

The only building that might catch your eye is the famous Varamin Tower, with its cracked cylindrical hull and conical spire. Sparrows had built their nests in the cracks of the fallen bricks. Silently, they had retreated into the shelter of the blazing heat. Only the whining of a dog broke the silence in the aftermath.

It was a Scotch terrier. He had a sooty muzzle and black spots on his pasterns, as if he had been running in a swamp. He had droopy ears, a pointed tail, dirty, fuzzy hair and a pair of human-like, clever eyes in the depths of which you could see a human soul. In the night that had enveloped his whole life, an eternal something surged in his eyes, carrying a message that was impossible to fathom, as if it were stuck in the back of his pupils. It was neither light nor color, but something incredible, like what you might see in the eyes of a wounded gazelle. There was not only a certain resemblance between his eyes and those of a man, but also a kind of sameness between them. They were two hazel eyes with the agony of waiting in them that could only be found in the snout of a stray dog. But it seemed as if no one could observe or understand his eyes, which were loaded with pain and pleading.

In front of the grocery store, the errand boy rained down blows on him and the butcher’s errand boy threw stones at him in front of the butcher’s store. If he had sought shelter under a car, he would have been met by the heavy kicks of the driver’s spiked shoes. When everyone stopped torturing him, it was up to the street urchin to torment him with fantastic pleasure. For every moan he made, a piece of stone fell on his back, whereupon the fiend let out a roar of laughter and shouted: “Dirty, dirty mutt!”

Shortly after, the others burst into hearty laughter, as if they had joined him in sympathy and slyly encouraged him. Each one kicked him to please his master. It seemed natural to them to besiege a filthy cur who had seven lives and on whom religion had laid a curse.

The wretched animal finally ran off into an alley leading to the tower. In fact, he limped away with a hungry stomach and sought shelter in a gutter. There he leaned his head on the shackles, stuck out his tongue and watched the large fields moving before him in a state between sleep and wakefulness.

His body was exhausted and his nerves completely frazzled. In the damp air of the gutter, a unique feeling of comfort enveloped his whole being.

Various smells of half-dead greenery, a damp old shoe and living and non-living objects awakened distant, confused memories in his muzzle. His instinctive desire was aroused and memories of the past reawakened in his mind as he turned his attention to the field. This time, however, the feeling was so overpowering that it made him jump up and down. He felt a strong urge to frolic on the field. It was a hereditary sense, for all his ancestors had been bred free in the midst of the green fields.

He was so exhausted that he could not move. A painful sense of helplessness pervaded him. And a handful of forgotten and lost feelings rose up inside him. In the past, he had different boundaries and needs. He felt obligated to obey his master, to chase a stranger or a strange dog out of his master’s house, and to frolic with his master’s son. He had learned how to behave towards known and unknown people. He had learned to eat on time and to expect to be petted at a certain time. But now these boundaries had been removed from his neck. All his attention was on rummaging through the garbage in search of a morsel of food.

He was beaten and whined at all day long – that was his only defense. He used to be brave, orderly and sprightly. But now he was cowardly and repressed. His whole body trembled at every sound.

Even his own voice frightened him. Basically, he had become accustomed to dirt and filth. His body itched, but he had no desire to chase his lice or lick himself. He had the feeling that he had become part of the garbage.

He had the feeling that something inside him had died, had faded away. Two winters had passed since he had landed in this hellhole. Since then, he had not eaten a single decent meal. He had not had a pleasant slumber. His passions and feelings had been suppressed. No one had brushed a caressing hand over him. No one had looked him in the eye. Although people resembled his master, his feelings and behavior seemed as different from them as chalk and cheese. It seemed as if those who dealt with him were closer to his world, more understanding of his anguish and needs, and more protective of him. Among the smells that reached his nostrils and numbed him was the smell of the rice pudding in front of the urchin – the white liquid that was so similar to his mother’s milk and brought back memories of his puppyhood.

Suddenly he was overcome by a feeling of lethargy. When he was a cub, he sucked this nourishing liquid from his mother’s animals and her soft, firm tongue licked his body clean. The heavy, pungent smell of his mother and her milk was revived in his snout. As soon as he was intoxicated by the milk, his body became warm and relaxed and a liquid warmth flowed into his veins and tendons. His head was heavy and he let himself fall from his mother’s breasts. Then he would fall into a deep slumber and feel a delicious trembling in his whole body. It would really be a great pleasure for him to squeeze his mother’s breasts involuntarily and get milk with ease. His brother’s fuzzy body and his mother’s voice were charged with tenderness and delight. He remembered his wooden kennel and frolicking with his brother in the little green garden. He bit into his drooping ears. They fell and got up and ran. Then he found another playmate, who was his master’s son. Down in the little garden, he ran after him, barking and biting his clothes. He could never forget his master’s cuddles and the sugar cubes he snatched from his hand. But he loved his master’s son more because he was his playmate and never hit him. Then he lost his mother and his brother. There were only his master, his wife, his son and an old servant left for him. He knew their smells so well and recognized their footsteps from afar. At lunch or dinner, he would walk around the table and sniff the food. Sometimes his master’s wife would give him a bite out of kindness, despite her husband’s wishes. Then the old servant would come and call him: “Pat … Pat…” And he put his food in a special pot next to his wooden kennel. Pat’s misfortune began when he came into heat because his master would not allow him to go out and chase the bitches.

One day in the fall, his master got into his car with two other men who were visiting their house and whom he knew, and called Pat. They sat him down next to them. Pat had been in the car with his master a few times before. But this time he was in the heat. And he was particularly excited and anxious. After a few hours, they got out in the same place. His master and the two other men walked through the alley next to the tower. But the smell of a female dog, the peculiar smell Pat was always looking for, immediately drove him mad. One by one he sniffed until he finally came through the gutter into a garden. As the evening drew to a close, he heard his master’s voice twice. “Pat… Pat … “Was it really his voice? Or just an echo of it? Although his master’s voice made a special impression on him because it reminded him of his limits and duties, a certain power that surpassed all other external forces drove him to follow the bitch. He had the feeling that his ears were deaf and hard for other external sounds. Powerful feelings had been awakened in him.

The scent of the bitch was so strong that it made him dizzy. All his muscles, his body and his senses disobeyed him. He had no power over his actions. But it was not long before he was attacked with clubs and spade handles and driven out through the gutter. Pat was exhausted and stunned, but light and calm. When he regained consciousness, he looked for his master. There was a faint scent of him left in several alleys. He examined them all, leaving traces of himself at intervals.

He went as far as the ruins outside the village. He came back because he discovered that his master had returned to the square. But the faint scent of his master was lost in other odors. Had his master left him behind? A delicious feeling of fear and anxiety took hold of him. How could Pat live without his master? His God? His master was his God. In any case, he was sure that his master would come after him. Terrified, he began to run through some alleys. But his attempts were in vain. Finally, tired and helpless, he returned to the square at night. But there was no sign of his master. He turned into the village a few more times. Finally, he made his way to the gutter where he had seen the bitch.

However, the gutter was blocked by stones. With strange vehemence, Pat began to dig up the earth in the vain hope of making his way into the garden, but it was in vain. In despair, he fell asleep there. When the night was well advanced, he woke up to the sound of his own moaning. Startled, he got up, wandered through the alleyways and sniffed the walls. He wandered around the alleyways for a while. Finally, he was overcome by an extreme feeling of hunger. When he returned to the square, the smell of different foods hit his nose; the smell of leftover meat, fresh bread and yogurt mingled together.

Nevertheless, he had the feeling that he had entered a territory. He felt like he had to beg these people who resembled his master. If he did not find a rival to scare him away, he would gain ownership. Perhaps he would even be held by one of these people who had something edible in their hands. Anxious and trembling, he approached the grocery store that had just opened. The pungent smell of baked dough had filled the air. Someone carrying a loaf of bread under his arm said, “Come on! Come on!”

The voice seemed so strange to him. He threw him a piece of bread. After a moment’s hesitation, he ate the bread and wagged his tail. The man put the bread on the tray and stroked Pat’s head anxiously and carefully. Then he carefully opened his collar with his hands. How happy he felt! It was as if all his responsibilities and duties had been taken off his back. But as soon as he wagged his tail again and approached the grocery store, a firm kick landed on his flank. Whimpering, he fled away. The shopkeeper piously washed his hands in the stream to remove the unclean effect of the dog. Pat still remembered his collar dangling from a peg outside the store. Since that day, Pat had only been maltreated with kicks, clubs and stones. It seemed as if they were his sworn enemies and took a wondrous pleasure in tormenting him. Pat had the feeling that he had entered a world that did not belong to him and where no one could understand his feelings and desires. The first few days were uneasy, but he soon got used to his situation. He had also found a place at the junction of the alley where they deposited their waste, in which he found delicious pieces such as bones, fat, skin, fish heads and many other edible things that he could not even distinguish. He spent the rest of the day in front of the butcher’s shop and the bakery. His eyes were fixed on the butcher’s hands, but he received blows instead of delicious pieces. But he had become accustomed to his new way of life. All he had left from his previous life were a handful of vague feelings and a few smells. Every time he felt extremely unhappy, he found some kind of solace in his lost paradise and the memories of those days came flooding back to his mind. What tormented Pat the most was his need for caresses.

He was like a child who was constantly beaten and insulted, but his tender feelings had not yet died in him. In his new unhappy life he had a special need for caresses. His eyes begged for it. He would be ready to die if someone stroked his head with a loving hand. He felt the need to express his kindness to someone, to make sacrifices for them, to show his sense of worship and loyalty. But it seemed as if no one needed him to express his feelings. There was no one to protect him. There was only malice and malignancy in every eye. Every move he made to get her attention drew her ire towards him. While Pat dozed in the gutter, he let out several groans and woke up as if nightmares were passing before his eyes. At this point, he felt hungry as hell.

The smell of kebab invaded his nostrils. A feeling of hunger tormented his guts so oppressively that he forgot his helplessness and agony. With difficulty, he got up and carefully made his way to the square. At that moment, a car drove noisily into the square, raising a cloud of dust. A man got out of the car, approached Pat and stroked him lovingly. The man was not his master. Pat was not fooled, because he knew his master’s scent very well. But how could another human pet him? Pat wagged his tail and looked at the man suspiciously. Had not he been mistaken? He no longer had the collar around his neck so that others could stroke him. The man stroked him again with a caressing hand. Pat followed him. His surprise grew when the man entered a room he knew well and from which various smells of food emanated. He sat down on the bench against the wall on his hips.

Warm bread, yogurt, eggs and other dishes were brought to him. The man dipped pieces of bread in yogurt and threw them to him. At first Pat devoured them quickly, but then he slowed down. Pat looked at him with his pained, pretty hazel eyes as a sign of gratitude and wagged his tail. Was he asleep or awake? Pat had eaten a proper meal without being interrupted by any nudges. Was it possible that he had found a new master? The man got up and walked into the alley that led to the tower. He paused for a while. Then he walked through the winding alleyways. Pat followed him until he was out of the village. He walked towards the ruins, which had several walls where his master had gone. Were these people looking for the scent of their females? Pat waited for him beside the wall. Then they returned to the square by a different route.

Again the man stroked him with a caressing hand. Then, after a little lap around the square, he got into the car he knew well. He sat down on his haunches next to the car and looked at the man. Suddenly the car stared into the cloud of dust. Without the slightest hesitation, Pat ran after the car. No, he did not want to lose him. He was panting heavily. He ran after the car with all his might, despite the stabbing pain he felt in his body.

The car pulled away from the village and drove through a desert. Pat caught up with it a few times, but fell behind again. He had exerted all his strength and struggled desperately. But the car drove faster than him. He had made a mistake. He could no longer catch up with the car. He felt helpless. He felt a painful ache in the pit of his stomach.

Suddenly he felt that his limbs were no longer obeying him. He was unable to move even a little. All his efforts were useless. He did not know why he had run or where he was going. He could neither go forwards nor backwards. He stood still. He was panting, his tongue hanging out. His eyes grew dark. With his head down, he waddled along the road towards a stream near a farm. He laid his stomach on the hot, damp sand. With his instinctive desire never deceiving him, he felt unable to go any further. His head was swimming.

His thoughts and feelings had become indistinct and evaporated. He felt a painful sensation in the pit of his stomach. A sickly light gleamed in his eyes. In his agony, his hands and feet went numb. His body was drenched in cold sweat. He was mild and delicious.

Towards evening, three crows flew over Pat’s head because they had detected his scent. Carefully, one of the crows landed near him, stared intently at him and flew away when it realized he was not dead yet.

These three crows had come to gauge out Pat’s hazel eyes.


© Ali Salami 2010

About the Author

Sadeq Hedayat was an Iranian author whose contributions to Persian fiction mark a clear departure from the traditional literary style. Hedayat is considered one of the most successful Iranian writers of the 20th century and was a pioneer of modernism, which continues to influence contemporary Persian literature to this day.

Hedayat was born into a prestigious family and received his early education in Tehran. He later studied dentistry and engineering in France and Belgium, where he came into contact with prominent European intellectuals. This contact prompted Hedayat to abandon his scientific ambitions in favor of a career in literature. Sadeq Hedayat is known for a large number of short stories that have been widely read by Iranian readers. Some of these stories are: Dash Akol, The Stray Dog (Sag-e Velgard), Three Drops of Blood (Se Qatr-e Khun), The Whirlpool (Gerdab), Seeking Redemption (Talab-e Amorzesh), The Doll Behind the Curtain (Arusak-e Posht-e Pardeh), The Claws (Changal).

All of his stories have been translated into English by the Iranian scholar Ali Salami.

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