Ali Salami

Sadeq Hedayat: Dash Akol [English Translation]

It was common knowledge in Shiraz that Dash Akol and Kaka Rostam harbored a deep hatred for each other. On one particular day, Dash Akol was sitting on a bench in the teahouse of Domil – one of his old haunts – with a quail cage next to him, covered by a red blanket. With one finger, he was absentmindedly turning a piece of ice around in a bowl of water. Suddenly, Kaka Rostam stormed in, his eyes fixed scornfully on Dash Akol, and took a seat on the opposite bench. With his hand on his sash, he ordered the teahouse boy: “S-s-son, bring some tea.”

Dash Akol gave the boy a loaded look, causing him to tremble with apprehension and ignore Kaka’s request. The boy lifted the dirty teacups from a bronze bowl and dipped them into a bucket of water, then dried them one by one with painstaking slowness. The scratching of the towel on the cups made a scraping sound.

This sound made Kaka Rostam angry and he burst out: “A-but are you deaf? I-I’m talking to you!”

The boy turned to Dash Akol, his smile unsteady, and Kaka Rostam growled, “D-d-devil, take it. The people who think they’re so great will come tonight and prove it, if they’re any good.”

Mischievously observing the situation, Dash Akol continued to spin the ice cream in the bowl and chuckled cheekily, showing a row of gleaming white teeth under his henna-stained mustache. “Cowards brag, but soon enough we’ll see who’s the better man,” he explained.

The room erupted in laughter, not because of Kaka Rostam’s stutter – for they knew it was a fact – but because of Dash Akol’s celebrity in the city. There wasn’t a “tough guy” who hadn’t felt the weight of his punches. Even after drinking a bottle of double-distilled vodka at Mullah Es’haq’s house, he could take on all challengers at the corner of Sare Dozak and come out victorious against Kaka Rostam. Even men who were much stronger than Kaka Rostam would not dare to challenge him. Kaka Rostam himself knew that he was no match for Dash Akol, as he was wounded by him twice and on three or four occasions was overpowered and pushed to the ground by him. Unfortunately, Kaka Rostam had stumbled across the corner without Dash Akol a few nights earlier and had started showing off. Dash Akol had shown up without warning, like an avenging angel, and unleashed a barrage of insults on him. “Kaka, you sissy, you must have smoked too much opium… That got you pretty high. You should stop this low-down, cowardly behavior. You’re acting like a street thug who has no shame. This is the kind of begging you’ve made your profession. I swear, if you get drunk like that again, I’ll smoke your mustache off and split you in half.”

Kaka Rostam had slunk away with his tail between his legs, harboring a grudge against Dash Akol. He had been looking for an opportunity for revenge ever since. Despite his fiery temperament, Dash Akol was loved by everyone in Shiraz. He never troubled women or children and if anyone dared to molest them, he made sure the offender paid a heavy price. He was known for being a kind and generous man who was always willing to help people. When he was in the mood, he even helped carry their burdens. But he could not bear to be outdone by anyone, especially not by Kaka Rostam, that impostor and opium addict.

Kaka Rostam was seething with rage at the contemptuous treatment he had received. He nibbled at his mustache, his rage so great that he would not have bled even if someone had stabbed him. After a short pause, during which everyone was silent except for the teahouse boy, who was doubled over with laughter, Kaka Rostam lost control. He grabbed the crystal sugar bowl and hurled it at the boy, but it hit the samovar, knocking him off the bench and smashing several cups. Kaka Rostam stormed out of the teahouse, his face red with rage.

The teahouse owner looked at the wreckage of his samovar with a sad expression on his face and remarked: “Rostam, the legendary hero, only had one suit of armor. I, on the other hand, only had this battered samovar.” His words provoked even more laughter thanks to the allusion to the legendary Rostam. The teahouse owner turned to the boy in frustration, but Dash Akol intervened, took a bag of money out of his pocket and threw it to the owner. The owner caught the bag, lifted it appreciatively and smiled.

At that moment, a man wearing a velvet vest, wide pants and a felt hat stormed into the teahouse, panting and disheveled. He scanned the room, spotted Dash Akol, greeted him and announced: “Hajji Samad has passed away.”

Dash Akol raised his head and agreed: “May God bless him.”

“But don’t you know that he left a will?” the man continued.

“I do not feed on the dead. Go and inform someone who does,” Dash Akol replied with his typical nonchalance.

“But he has appointed you as the executor of his will.”

These words seemed to rouse Dash Akol from his apathy. He scrutinized the man from head to toe and rubbed his forehead with his hand. His egg-shaped hat sat askew on his head, revealing his forehead, which was divided into two halves: one brown from sunburn, the other still pale from the shadow of the hat. Then he shook his head, took out his inlaid pipe, slowly filled it with tobacco, tapped it with his thumb, lit it and declared: “May God bless Hajji, now that it’s all over, but that was not a wise move on his part.”

“He threw me into a sea of trouble. Well, go ahead, I’ll catch up with you,” Dash Akol muttered to himself. Hajji Samad’s foreman had entered the teahouse and left just as quickly, his long strides propelling him out of the door. Dash Akol frowned thoughtfully. It seemed as if a veil of gloom had descended over the once so cheerful and carefree establishment. He drew on his pipe and was lost in thought. After tapping out the ashes and emptying the bowl, he rose from his seat and handed the quail cage to a nearby boy before leaving the teahouse.

When Dash Akol entered the courtyard of Haji Samad, he realized that the recitation of the Qur’an had already ended. There were only a handful of readers left, grumbling about their fees, and a group of men preparing to carry the holy book. He stood by the fountain for a few moments, waiting, before being led into a spacious room with windows opening onto the courtyard. The hajji’s wife emerged from behind a curtain and after they exchanged a few pleasantries, Dash Akol took a seat on a mattress.

“Ma’am, may God keep you in good health. May God bless your children,” Dash Akol said in his usual manner.

The woman’s voice trembled as she replied, “On the night Haji fell ill, His Eminence, Imam Jomeh, was brought to pray at his bedside, and in the presence of everyone, Haji announced you as the executor of his will. Do you perhaps know Hajji from before?”

“We met five years ago on a trip to Kazeroon,” Dash Akol replied.

“Hajji, bless him, always said that if there was only one true man, it was Dash Akol.”

“Ma’am, I value my freedom more than anything, but now that I have been forced from the dead, I swear by this ray of light that I will show these cabbages if I don’t die first.”

As he raised his head, he caught sight of a girl with a radiant face and enchanting black eyes peering out from between two curtains. Their eyes met briefly before the girl, seemingly embarrassed, retreated behind the curtain. Was she beautiful? Perhaps she was. Her seductive eyes certainly had their effect, and Dash Akol was entranced. He blushed and averted his eyes.

It was Marjan, the daughter of Hajji Samad. She had come out of curiosity to catch a glimpse of the famous Dash Akol, who was now her guardian.

The next day, Dash Akol set to work to settle Hajji’s affairs. With the help of a second-hand expert, two men from the neighborhood and a secretary, he meticulously cataloged and inventoried everything. Surplus items were locked away in the storeroom, the door firmly closed. Everything that could fetch a price was sold. He had the deeds to Hajji’s land read out to him and collected all outstanding debts from Hajji, while paying off the debts he had incurred himself. All these tasks were completed in just two days and two nights. On the third night, Dash Akol was walking across Sayyed Haj Qarib Square on his way home, exhausted and tired, when he met Imam Qoli Chalengar.

“It has now been two nights since Kaka Rostam was expecting you. Last night he said that you were leaving him hanging in the air. He says you got a taste of the high life and forgot your promise,” the imam scolded.

Dash Akol still remembered the challenge that Kaka Rostam had issued to him three days earlier in the Domile teahouse. But Dash knew what kind of man Kaka was and suspected that he had conspired with Imam Qoli to embarrass him. So he paid no heed to the challenge and continued on his way, all his senses focused on Marjan. No matter how hard he tried to banish her face from his mind, it took on ever more vivid forms in his imagination.

Dash Akol was a tall man, thirty-five years old, but he was not handsome. Seeing him for the first time would dampen the mood, but talking to him or hearing the stories about his life that people told over and over again, one was fascinated. Despite the sword scars that ran from left to right across his face, Dash Akol had a noble and captivating appearance: hazel eyes, thick black eyebrows, broad cheeks, narrow nose, black beard and mustache. But his scars ruined everything. The sword wounds had healed badly, leaving raw furrows on his cheeks and forehead, and worst of all, one of them had pulled down the corner of his left eye.

Dash’s father was one of the great landowners of Fars province. When he died, his entire estate went to his only son. But Dash Akol took life easy and spent his money recklessly. Wealth and possessions were not important to him and he lived his life freely and generously. He had no ties in life and generously gave away all his possessions to the poor and needy. He either drank vodka and roamed the streets or spent his time with a handful of friends who had become his parasites. All his faults and virtues were confined to these activities, but what was surprising was that the subject of love had never come up for him. Although his friends had persuaded him several times to attend bull sessions, he had never joined in the conversation. However, from the day he became Hajji Samad’s executor and saw Marjan, his life changed completely. On the one hand, he felt indebted to the deceased and bore the burden of responsibility; on the other hand, he had lost his heart to Marjan. But the responsibility weighed on him more than anything else. He had squandered his own fortune and also squandered part of his own inheritance through carelessness. Now, every day from the early morning when he woke up, he thought only about how he could increase the income of Hajji’s estate. He moved Hajji’s wife and children to a smaller house, rented out their private house, got a tutor for the children, invested their money and was busy from morning till night managing Hajji’s affairs.

From this point on, Dash Akol completely gave up wandering around at night and challenging others to fights. He lost interest in his friends and his old enthusiasm was gone. But all the men who had been his rivals, egged on by the mullahs who felt cheated of Hajji’s wealth, found a little leg room for themselves and made sarcastic remarks about Dash Akol. Talk about him filled the teahouses and other gathering places.

At the Pachenar teahouse, people sat together and exchanged stories about Dash Akol. “He doesn ‘t dare to talk about Dash Akol anymore, his tongue is frozen. That dirty dog. They literally chased him out of town. Now he sniffs around outside Hajji’s door and begs for scraps of food like a stray. When he sneaks past Sare Dozak, he turns tail and plays the coward,” he was then told.

Kaka Rostam, who carried a grudge in his heart, stammered, “Th-there’s no f-f-f-f-wrong like an old fool. The guy must have fallen head over heels in love with Haji Samad’s daughter. He swung his butter knife and put dirt in people’s eyes. He made a fake name for himself and is now Hajji’s enforcer, stealing from people left and right. A lucky man.”

But Dash Akol, who was once held in awe and fear, was now the subject of whispers and ridicule wherever he went. He heard their talk here and there, but he didn’t let it show, didn’t heed it, for his love for Marjan had overtaken him and stirred his mind and heart so much that he could no longer think clearly.

At nightfall, he drank himself into a stupor and talked to his parrot about his worries. If he asked Marjan’s mother for her hand, she would gladly give him the girl. But he didn’t want to bind himself to a woman and a child, not the way he had been brought up. Besides, he knew deep down that it wasn’t right to marry the girl under his protection. The worst part was seeing himself in the mirror every night, droopy-eyed and raspy-voiced, telling him that maybe she didn’t like him and would look for a young, handsome man instead. That wasn’t very manly, but what was he to do? Love was killing him, and Marjan was the reason. “Leaving you destroyed me!” he cried, tears welling up in his eyes as he drank vodka by the glass.

But it was only at midnight, when Shiraz lay still and the stars winked at each other in the pitch-black sky, that the true Dash Akol emerged, natural and unencumbered by the customs and formalities of society. Then he held Marjan tightly in his arms, felt her slow heartbeat, her fiery lips and soft body and covered her cheeks with kisses. When he woke up, he cursed himself, cursed life and ran around like a madman to get rid of the thought of love. The rest of the day he was busy minding Hajji’s business, running here and there, but his thoughts kept drifting back to Marjan, the one thing he could not have.

But then something of great consequence happened that should not have happened: A husband appeared for Marjan, and not just any husband, but one who was older and less handsome than Dash Akol. But Dash Akol showed no outward sign of despair. Instead, he took great satisfaction in preparing the bridal trousseau and arranging a proper celebration on the wedding night. He sent Haji’s wife and children back to their own house and assigned the spacious room with the mullioned windows for the entertainment of the male guests. All the important personalities, the merchants and dignitaries of Shiraz, were invited to the festivities.

At five of the clock that day, when the guests were crowded into the room on sumptuous carpets and the large wooden trays of sweets and fruits were placed in front of them, Dash Akol entered. He looked as rough and weather-beaten as ever, but his unruly curls were tamed and his attire was newly assembled: a striped robe, a sword belt, a sash, black pants, cloth shoes and a hat. Three other people followed him, carrying notebooks and writing pads. The guests eyed him with interest.

With long strides, Dash Akol approached the venerable Imam Jomeh and addressed him: “Sir, Haji, may God bless him, has left me a sea of difficulties that I have navigated for seven long years. His youngest son, who was only five years old, is now twelve. These are the accounts of Hajji’s estate.” He pointed to the trio standing behind him. “Up until this moment, I have personally borne all the costs, including those for tonight’s party. But from now on, I will go my own way and they will go theirs!”

He stifled a sob at these words and, without waiting for a reply, he hung his head and left the room through the door with tear-filled eyes. In the alley, he heaved a sigh of relief. Although he felt relieved of the burden of responsibility, his heart was torn. He walked with long, listless strides and soon came upon the apartment of the Jewish vodka maker, Mullah Es’haq. Without a moment’s hesitation, he descended the damp stairs and entered the old, sooty courtyard, which was surrounded by tiny, shabby rooms with windows reminiscent of beehives and a well covered in moss. The smell of fermentation, feathers and old cellars wafted through the air. Mullah Es’haq, a gaunt figure with a dirty nightcap, a goatee and greedy eyes, approached him with a forced laugh.

Dash Akol spoke with a gloomy expression: “By your mustache, I beg you to give me a bottle of your best liquor to soothe my parched throat.” Mullah Es’haq nodded in agreement and descended the stairs to the cellar. After a few minutes, he returned with the bottle. Dash Akol took it from him, smashed the neck against a pillar, breaking the lid, and emptied half of the contents. Tears welled up in his eyes, he suppressed a cough and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

The son of Mullah Es’haq, a sickly, pathetic child with a bloated belly, a gaping maw and snot dripping from his nostrils, stared at Dash Akol. With a flick of his finger, Dash Akol opened the lid of a salt cellar that stood on a shelf in the courtyard and sprinkled the grains on his tongue.

Mullah Es’haq approached, tapped Dash Akol on the shoulder with his hand and declared, “That’s right, my friend.” Then he ran his fingers over the fabric of Dash Akol’s robe and added: “But what kind of robes are these? They’re out of fashion. If you ever get tired of them, I’ll make you a fair price.”

Dash Akol let out a dejected laugh. He pulled a few coins from his pocket, placed them in Mullah Es’haq’s palm and left the dwelling. Dusk soon fell. His body radiated warmth, but his mind was plagued by restlessness and his head throbbed. The alleyways still bore the dampness of the afternoon rain and the scent of mud walls and orange blossom lingered in the air. In his mind’s eye he saw Marjan’s face, her rosy cheeks, coal-black eyes and long eyelashes, and the curls on her forehead. Memories of his past life came flooding back, one after the other. He smiled, then frowned. Above all, he knew he couldn’t bear to stay in his own house any longer. His heart felt as if it had been ripped from his chest. He longed to escape to a faraway place. He thought of drinking himself into a stupor and sharing his grief with the parrot, as he had done in the past. Everything in his life had become insignificant, pointless and meaningless.

Meanwhile, a poem came to mind, and he recited it softly to himself: “I envy the parties of prisoners / Whose refreshments are chain links.” Then another poem sprang to his lips, and he recited it a little more loudly:


My heart has gone awry, oh wise one,

A crazed man bound with chain undone,

A chain of prudence must be spun,

Lest madness reign, its havoc begun.


He spoke the lines in a melancholy, hopeless tone, but then fell silent, as if he had lost interest or was preoccupied with something else. By the time he reached Sare Dozak, it was already dark. This was the same place where Dash Akol had been invincible in the past and where no one had dared to challenge him. Without intending to, he sat down on a stone bench in front of a house. He took out his pipe, filled it with tobacco and drew in a slow, thoughtful breath. He realized that the area looked even more dilapidated than he remembered, and that the people seemed strange to him, just as he himself had changed and deteriorated. His vision was blurred and his head throbbed with pain. Suddenly, a dark figure emerged from the shadows, approached him and said, “Even the d-d-dark night knows who the b-b-better man is.”

Dash Akol recognized the speaker as Kaka Rostam. He stood up, put his hands on his hips, spat on the ground and replied with biting sarcasm, “May your cowardly father be damned! You think you’re the better man? You haven’t even learned where to piss.”

Kaka Rostam chuckled derisively, came closer and said, “I-i-i-it’s been a long time since we’ve seen you here. There’s a w-w-w-wedding tonight at Hajji’s house. Didn’t they invite you?”

Dash Akol cut in, “God knew what he was doing when he left you with only half a tongue. Tonight I will take the other half.” He drew his sword. Kaka Rostam reached for his own. Dash Akol plunged his sword into the ground, crossed his arms in front of his chest and sneered, “I dare you to try to pull the sword out of the ground.”

Kaka Rostam attacked him on the spot, but Dash Akol struck him on the back of the hand with such force that the sword flew out of his grip. The sound of steel clattering on the ground attracted a handful of passers-by, but none had the courage to intervene.

Dash Akol smiled: “Go on, pick it up. Hold it tighter this time, because tonight we’re settling our score!”

Kaka Rostam clenched his fists and they fought and rolled on the ground for half an hour. Sweat poured down their faces, but neither of them gained the upper hand. In the midst of the fight, Dash Akol’s head hit the cobblestones and almost knocked him out.

Kaka Rostam felt his strength ebbing away, though he was filled with murderous intent. But then his eyes fell on Dash Akol’s sword, which was within his reach. With all his remaining strength, he plucked it from the ground and thrust it into Dash Akol’s side with such force that they both collapsed, unable to move.

The onlookers rushed forward to pick up Dash Akol’s limp body. Drops of blood splattered on the ground. He clutched at his wound and dragged himself a few steps along the wall before falling over again. They carried him to his house.

The next morning, news of Dash Akol’s injury reached Hajji Samad’s house and Vali Khan, Hajji’s eldest son, went to visit him. When he arrived at Dash Akol’s bedside, he saw him lying pale as death, bloody foam gushing from his lips, his eyes darkened. He was gasping for breath. In his daze, Dash Akol recognized Vali Khan. In a half-choked, trembling voice, he said, “That parrot was all I had in the world. Please, give him to me…”

He lapsed into silence. Vali Khan wiped away his tears with his handkerchief. Dash Akol lost consciousness and died an hour later.

The whole city of Shiraz mourned his death.

That afternoon, Marjan sat in front of the parrot’s cage and looked at its colorful wings, its hooked beak and its dull, lifeless eyes. Suddenly the parrot spoke in a hoarse, raspy voice: “Marjan… Marjan… You killed me… Who should I tell? Marjan… Your love has destroyed me.”

Tears streamed down Marjan’s face.


© Ali Salami 2010

About Sadeq Hedayat

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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