Ali Salami

Sadeq Hedayat: The Broken Mirror [English Translation]

About the Author

Sadeq Hedayat was an Iranian author whose contributions to Persian fiction marked a significant departure from traditional literary styles. Widely regarded as one of the most accomplished Iranian writers of the 20th century, Hedayat pioneered modernist techniques that continue to influence contemporary Persian literature. His Dash Akol has been rendered into English by Ali Salami.

Hedayat was born into a family of high social standing and received his early education in Tehrān. Subsequently, he pursued studies in dentistry and engineering in France and Belgium, where he came into contact with prominent European intellectuals. This exposure led Hedayat to abandon his scientific pursuits in favor of a career in literature.

The Broken Mirror

Odette, with her captivating sky-blue eyes and wisps of blonde hair, evoked a sense of freshness reminiscent of the first blossoms of spring. She would often spend hours perched by her window, engrossed in a novel, or diligently mending her stockings with great care. However, it was her exquisite renditions of the Garizari Waltz on her violin that truly tugged at my heartstrings.

Her window faced mine, and for endless minutes, hours, and sometimes entire Sundays, I would find myself lost in her beauty. Especially at night, when she would slip off her stockings and retire to bed. Thus, a mysterious bond had developed between us, born of unspoken words and unrequited emotions. A single day without her presence felt as if something crucial had been taken from me. And if I stared at her for too long, she would eventually get up and close her window.

This routine continued for two weeks, during which Odette remained indifferent to my presence, her expression stoic and impenetrable. But fate intervened one morning when I chanced upon her while having breakfast at the end of our alley. Odette had her violin case in hand, on her way to the metro. I mustered the courage to greet her, to which she graciously responded with a smile. Emboldened, I offered to carry her violin case for her, to which she acquiesced with a simple “thanks.” Our acquaintance thus began with a single word.

From that day onward, our interactions evolved from hand gestures exchanged across our windows to meetings in the Luxembourg Gardens, followed by movie dates and theater performances. Odette’s familial company was absent, as her stepfather and mother had left on a trip, leaving her alone in Paris for work.

Although she spoke little, her temperament was akin to that of a child: headstrong, determined, and occasionally exasperating. And so, our friendship bloomed over two months, culminating in a decision to visit the Friday market at Neuilly. On that evening, Odette appeared especially content, draped in her brand new blue dress. As we emerged from the restaurant, she divulged snippets of her life during our metro ride, until we alighted across from Luna Park.

A throng of people bustled to and fro, swarming around a kaleidoscope of attractions that lined the street. Showmen and women, all manner of games of chance, candied confectioneries, a circus, miniature electric cars that circumnavigated a track, balloons gyrating in the air, rides of every sort, and sundry exhibits jostled for attention. The din of girls’ screams, chatter, laughter, murmurs, the clamour of motors and disparate strains of music intermingled in a confused tumult.

We chose to embark on a car ride – a train of cars which circulated in a loop. When the ride was in motion, a canvas cloth covered it, rendering it akin to a verdant worm. Before we boarded, Odette entrusted her gloves and purse to me, so they would not tumble during the ride. We settled close to each other, and as the ride commenced, the green shroud ascended, shrouding us from prying eyes for five minutes.

As the cover descended, our lips remained locked in a passionate embrace. I was kissing Odette with fervour, and she did not resist. Subsequently, we disembarked, and as we strolled, Odette disclosed that this was merely the third occasion she had attended the Friday market since her mother had prohibited it. We visited several other attractions, and finally, exhausted, we began our homeward journey. However, Odette was reluctant to leave, stopping at every stand, and I was compelled to wait.

Several times, I grasped her arm, cajoling her to accompany me, until she halted before a vendor hawking Gillette razor blades. The salesman extolled the virtues of his product, brandishing a demonstration, and urging people to buy. This time, I was irate. I seized her arm, exclaiming, “This is no place for women.” But she extricated her arm and retorted, “I know, yet I want to watch.”

Disgruntled, I strode towards the metro station without deigning to reply. When I reached home, the alley was deserted, and Odette’s window was dark. I entered my room, switched on the light, and opened the window. Since I was not drowsy, I read for some time. It was one o’clock in the morning, and I prepared to retire for the night. Yet, as I closed the window, I espied Odette standing beneath her window, under the streetlight in the alley. Her conduct surprised me, and I slammed the window shut.

As I began to disrobe, I discovered that Odette’s beaded purse and gloves were tucked away in my pocket, with her money and door key resting within the purse. Tying the items together, I lowered them out the window. For three long weeks, I paid no heed to her, shutting my window whenever hers opened. As it so happened, I had occasion to travel to London. The day prior to my departure, I encountered Odette at the end of the alley, violin case in hand, headed toward the metro. After exchanging greetings and trivialities, I informed her of my impending journey and apologized for my behavior on that fateful night. Odette icily retrieved her beaded purse and presented me with a small mirror, broken in the middle. “This befell me the night you tossed my purse out the window,” she intoned. “You must know that it portends ill fortune.”

I guffawed at her superstition, promising to call upon her before my departure, though alas, I was unable to fulfill that vow. After a month’s time in London, I received a letter from Odette.

“Dearest Jamshid,” it read, “you cannot know the depth of my loneliness. The ache of solitude rends me. Please forgive my informality, but when I pen these lines, it is as though I converse with you. The days stretch out interminably, the ticking clock’s hands seem to crawl along. Do you find time sluggish as well? Perchance you have met a young lady there, though I am sure your head remains buried in a book, just as it was in that cramped Parisian chamber that forever lingers in my memory. A Chinese student has taken up residence in your absence, but I have draped a heavy curtain over my window to bar his view, for the man I adored is gone. It brings to mind the refrain of that ballad, ‘a bird that has flown to other lands will never return.’

Yesterday, Helen and I strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens. As we passed that very bench, I was transported back to the day we sat there, and you spoke of your homeland, making promises that I believed with all my heart. But now I am the subject of ridicule amongst my companions, and the gossips have taken to speaking of me. Whenever I play the Garizari Waltz, I recall you. The photograph we took in the Bois de Vincennes graces my table. When I gaze upon your likeness, I feel reassured, telling myself that ‘no, this picture cannot deceive me.’ But alas, I cannot fathom if you share my sentiments or not. Since that evening my mirror shattered, the very one you presented to me, my heart has warned me of impending ill fortune. The final day we met, when you divulged your plans to journey to England, my heart foretold that you were venturing far from me, and that we would never meet again. And now, my worst fears have been realized. Madame Burle inquired as to my melancholy state, offering to spirit me away to Brittany, but I declined her invitation, knowing it would only worsen my condition.

But enough. What is done is done. I apologize if I sound cross, for I am feeling quite despondent. Please forgive me, and if I have burdened you with my letters, I implore you to disregard them. You will discard them, will you not, Jimmy?

You cannot comprehend the agony and sorrow that consume me in this moment. I am weary of everything. I am disenchanted with my daily routine, though it was not always so. I cannot endure the agony of being left in suspense any longer, although I fear that my decision may cause grief to others, the sorrow they will feel cannot compare to my own. Therefore, I have resolved to depart Paris this coming Sunday. My journey shall commence aboard the six-thirty train to Calais, the final city you traversed. There, I shall gaze upon the blue expanse of the ocean. Its waves possess the power to absolve all misfortunes. With each passing moment, the water’s hues shift and alter, while its gentle, melancholy whisper washes over the sandy shore. The foam, which it tirelessly produces, is nibbled by the sand and swallowed whole. Ultimately, these same waves shall carry my final thoughts with them, for when death smiles upon someone, its smile draws them closer. You may doubt that I possess the fortitude to carry out such a course of action, yet I assure you that my words are sincere. Accept my distant kisses,

Odette Lasour.

In response to Odette’s letters, I dispatched two written correspondences, yet only one was graced with a reply, while the other was stamped with “Return to Sender” and ultimately returned to my possession.

The following year, upon my arrival in Paris, I hastened to Rue Saint Jacques, where my former dwelling was located. From my chamber, the lilting tune of the Garizari Waltz was audible, being whistled by a Chinese scholar. However, I observed that the casement of Odette’s quarters was firmly shut, and a notice had been affixed to the entryway, proclaiming it to be “To Let”.

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