Ali Salami

Gholamhossein Sa’edi: The Game is Over [English Translation]

Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi was a celebrated Iranian writer who made a significant contribution to the country’s literature and cinema. Born on January 15, 1936, in Tabriz, he went on to become one of the most prolific writers of his time, publishing over forty books across a wide range of genres. The Game is Over is translated by Ali Salami.

Sa’edi’s fiction works included dramas, novels, screenplays, and short stories. He also delved into non-fiction genres such as cultural criticism, travel literature, and ethnography. His talents were widely recognized, and he was regarded as one of the most important literary figures of his generation.

Sa’edi was born into a middle-class family and raised in the city of Tabriz, where he commenced his literary career while pursuing his education. He received a medical degree from Tabriz University in 1961. During his final year of high school, he authored a short story entitled “Morḡ-e anjir” (The fig hen, 1956), which was published in Soḵan, a prestigious literary publication in Tehran. Subsequently, he published two novellas in Tabriz titled “Pygmalion” (1956) and “Ḵānahā-ye šahr-e Ray” (The houses of Ray City, 1957). Sa’edi later relocated to the capital, Tehran, where he completed his mandatory military service and embarked on a five-year internship specializing in psychiatry at Ruzbeh Hospital in the fall of 1963. During this period, he and his brother, who was also a physician, ran a clinic in a working-class neighborhood in South Tehran, offering free or affordable medical services to patients.

Sa’edi garnered critical acclaim during these years through his publication of short fiction and dramatic sketches. He released a collection of twelve interconnected short stories titled “Šabnešini-e bāšokuh” (The grand soirée, 1960), which exposed the frustrations of educated urban civil servants and the middle class with a blend of humor and tragedy.

Sa’edi’s screenplay for the movie Gav (“The Cow“), directed by Dariush Mehrjui, is often regarded as his magnum opus. The film was part of the New Wave Iranian cinema movement and played a crucial role in shaping the direction of Iranian cinema in the years to come.

Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and his subsequent exile, Sa’edi remained a vital figure in Persian literature, even though he was unwillingly forced to leave his home country. Despite living in Paris, he continued to produce literature that resonated with Iranian audiences and captivated readers worldwide.

Tragically, Sa’edi struggled with depression and alcoholism, which eventually led to his untimely death in Paris on November 23, 1985. Despite his passing, he remained a beloved figure in the world of Iranian literature and cinema, leaving behind a rich legacy that continues to inspire generations of writers and filmmakers in Iran and beyond.

The game is over by Gholamhossein Saedi

Hasani, he spoke to me and said, “Let’s head over yonder tonight.” I’d never been to his abode before, nor had he ventured to mine. Truth be told, I was scared of what my pa might do if I had asked him over, and Hasani, he felt the same about his own father. But that night, something was different. I couldn’t escape it – Hasani was cross with me, reckoned that I no longer liked him or considered him a friend. So, I went along, and it was the first time I ever laid eyes on his humble dwelling. You see, we always crossed paths outdoors. In the mornings, I’d pass by his little shanty and whistle as loud as a bulbul, using the sweet tune that he himself had taught me. And so, it was like I was whistling, “Hey there, Hasani, time to get a move on.”

Hasani, he’d grab a can and head on out. Instead of the usual greeting, we’d exchange a few punches – strong ones, mind you, but still respectful. We’d agreed on this – every time we met, every time we parted ways, we’d box a bit. Unless, of course, we were angry or if one of us had cheated the other. Then, we’d set off, passing through all the shanties until we reached Body Washer’s Hollow, the dumping ground for the city’s garbage trucks. There, we’d sift through the rubbish. One day, I’d collect some tin, and Hasani would find a bit of glass. The next day, it’d be the other way around. Every now and then, we’d discover something better – an empty oil can, a baby’s bottle, a broken doll, an odd shoe, a sugar bowl missing a handle, or a plastic pitcher. One time, I even found a golden talisman, inscribed with a Koranic verse that you’d hang around a baby’s neck. And Hasani, well, he once came across a package of imported cigarettes, unopened and all.

Down the terrace, at every few paces, stood massive wells – not just a couple or three, mind you, but well after well. Once, I got it into my head to count them in pairs; we grew tired of it and called it quits after we hit fifty. Whenever we came upon a well, we’d play games to pass the time. We’d stretch out and crawl till our chests dangled over the well, and then we’d make all sorts of eerie noises. The sounds would twist and turn inside the well, and then resurface. Each well had its own unique response, you see. Mostly, we’d just chuckle into the well, but instead of laughter, the echoes would be that of tears. And then, fear would grip us, tightening its hold. Hasani and I were usually on our own; other young’uns scarcely ventured into the hollow – their mamas wouldn’t let them, afraid that they might tumble into a well or suffer some other misfortune. But Hasani and I, we’d grown up, and since we’d always come back home with a bulging sack, our mamas no longer bothered us or uttered a peep about it.

On that very afternoon, the day before the fateful night, I visited Hasani. He emerged from his dwelling with a despondent countenance. His forehead creased with worry, and his eyes bore signs of heavy weeping. He was in no mood for anything, and his spirit was low. As we stepped out into the hollow, he wandered around listlessly, prodding the refuse with his stick and cursing his papa under his breath. I knew what had transpired. Hasani’s old man had returned home in a towering rage from work that noon, having quarreled with his superior and lost his job. And when he reached home, he pounced on Hasani, raining blows upon him as if tomorrow would never come.

We had heard Hasani’s anguished wails, and my mother had cursed his father, exclaiming, “Why are you laying into an innocent child like that?” I witnessed the belt marks on Hasani’s shoulders and the swelling that had formed under one of his eyes, causing it to turn a ghastly shade of black and blue. Every evening, Hasani’s father would return home, still attired in his work clothes, with a grimy face and hands. Without fail, he would begin thrashing Hasani with his belt, pummeling him until it was time for dinner. He would spew curses at Hasani, striking him until he cried out in agony, his screams resonating throughout the neighborhood.

The neighbors would come running up, begging him to let Hasani go, saying, “We swear on our lives, you must release him!” Hasani’s father would beat him every night, but my pa would only thrash Ahmad and me once or twice a week, usually when he was in a bad mood or his business dealings had gone awry. He’d give me a sound lashing until it was time for supper, and my ma would weep and scream, “You brute, why must you harm my children? When will you be satisfied with maiming them?” Then, my father would turn on her and start hitting her, and she’d yell, “Kids, run! Run!” By the time we had fled, he would have cooled off and would be sitting quietly in a corner, nibbling his mustache and saying, “Fetch the young’uns, let’s gobble down something.”

Hasani’s pa wasn’t one to lay a hand on the other youngins, no sir. He had it in for poor Hasani, and would thrash him something fierce. His ma, bless her heart, wouldn’t lift a finger to stop him either. Hasani was trapped, with no escape from the blows and kicks, his head pounded against the wall time and again.

It was on this particular day that the beatings started early, at noon no less. Hasani was feeling mighty down in the dumps, so I figured I’d try to lift his spirits. “Let’s head on up,” I said, and we made our way out of the hollow and up to the terrace by the well. But no matter what I did, Hasani just sat there with a scowl on his face, tapping his foot with his stick.

I even stuck my head in the well and made all sorts of noises like a cow or a pup, but nothing seemed to do the trick. Finally, I asked him straight up, “Hasani, what’s the matter with you?” and gave a whistle like a nightingale, hoping to break through his dark mood.

Hasani didn’t seem to be in the mood for conversation, and my attempts to lift his spirits weren’t getting us very far. Finally, he turned to me and muttered, “What?”

“Why the long face, Hasani?” I asked, hoping to coax him out of his bad mood.

“I don’t need a reason,” he grumbled.

“Well, by thunder, you can’t keep frowning like that. What’s got you down?”

“I didn’t start frowning on purpose. How can I just stop?”

I stood up and tried to shake him out of it. “Come on, let’s go do something. Maybe it’ll help cheer you up.”

Hasani, still tapping his foot with his stick, grunted, “Like what?”

I thought for a moment, but nothing came to mind. “How about we go to the road and count the hearses like we did the other day? We can see how many go by in an hour.”

“What’s the point?” he asked.

“Well, it’s something to do, isn’t it? Or we could go up to Hajj Timur’s Kiln and throw rocks. How about that?”

Hasani didn’t seem to have any interest in doing anything to shake off his sour mood. “If you want to go throw rocks, be my guest,” he said with a sigh.

I plopped down on a pile of garbage and tried to come up with a new idea. “How about we head to the square? There’s always something going on there. We can check out the movie posters and watch Sagdast the Dervish do some magic tricks behind the stone cutter’s square.”

“What’s the point?” Hasani asked, clearly not impressed.

“We’ll take the bus,” I said.

“With what money?” he asked, annoyed.

“I’ve got twelve rials,” I replied.

“Keep it for yourself.”

“Okay, then how about we grab a bite to eat?”

“There’s no point,” he snapped.

I was running out of ideas, but then my eyes landed on Shokrai’s garden. “Hey, Hasani, want to go steal some walnuts?”

“Sure, why not?” he replied with a hint of sarcasm. “As if I haven’t been beaten enough today. Let’s go get caught by the gardener.”

We sat in silence for a while, watching two men who appeared from behind the ovens. They stopped to observe us for a moment before jumping over the wall into Shokrai’s garden. Shouts and laughter could be heard from within.

“Why are you mad at me?” I asked Hasani.

“I’m not mad at you,” he replied with a shrug.

We fell plum silent again, the only sound was the thumping of Hasani’s stick on the dusty ground. I said, “Quit that nonsense. You plumb loco or something’?”

Hasani stopped his toe-tapping and replied, “I’m fine. Ain’t hurting none.”

“Well, then speak up. What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing’. Ain’t got nothing to say,” he answered.

I lost my patience and barked, “You’re starting to chafe my hide, partner. Get up, we’re fixing to move on.”

We both stood up and started walking. As we passed by the wells, I turned to Hasani and said, “Hey there, Hasani.”

“What?” he asked.

“Spit it out, whatever’s on your mind. I’m all ears.”

“I want to give my no-good father a beating,” he said in a low growl.

“Suit yourself. Go ahead and do it,” I replied, not too keen on the idea of tangling with his old man.

“You ain’t gonna help me out?” Hasani asked, stopping in his tracks.

I pondered it over for a spell. Hasani’s father was a sour sort, a real snake in the grass. My pa always said he was plumb crazy, not right in the head. I didn’t much fancy the thought of crossing paths with him. But, if I didn’t help Hasani out, he’d be madder than a wet hen. I didn’t want to ruffle his feathers none. Just as I was thinking it over, Hasani spoke up.

“Don’t you want to give him what he’s got coming to him?” he asked, his voice laced with disappointment.

“Why, I do want to give him a piece of my mind. I want to more than anything,” I replied with conviction.

“Then why didn’t you speak up earlier?” Hasani asked, raising an eyebrow.

“How do you propose we go about it?” I inquired.

“Come over to my place tonight. We’ll hide in the shadows and when he comes after me, we’ll pounce on him and knock him down. That’ll teach him a lesson,” Hasani explained, his eyes gleaming with excitement.

“And then what?” I asked, not too keen on the idea of getting into trouble.

“And then nothing. We’ll be satisfied knowing he got what was coming to him,” Hasani replied, his voice firm.

“Alright then,” I agreed, my resolve strengthening.

As dusk settled, we made our way to Hasani’s place. His father hadn’t arrived yet, so we waited nervously. Hasani’s mother asked us to fetch some water, and as we were standing by the tap, we spotted his father approaching in the distance. Hasani whispered, “The son of a gun is coming.”

We hurried back, taking a shortcut to his shanty. Outside, Hasani’s mother was cooking tomatoes over an oven, while his little brother was crying in her arms. We set down the pitcher of water and slipped into the dark room. Hasani’s mother called out, “Hey, Hasani, light the lamp.” The room lit up and we saw his little sister sleeping in the corner. I whispered, “What do we do now?”

“Nothing. Just sit tight by the door and let things be,” Hasani replied in a low voice.

Hasani’s father came into the room, still shouting and cursing. He didn’t even notice us at first, so consumed was he with his anger. He continued his tirade, “You useless cow, what are you looking at? And you, boy, what are you staring at?” He finally noticed us and his face contorted into a sneer. “What are you two doing here?”

Hasani stood up and said, “I’m here to give you what’s coming to you, you son of a bitch.”

I was trembling in fear, but I stood up too. Hasani’s father laughed, “You’re going to beat me up? You two punks?”

Hasani lunged forward and jabbed him in the jaw. I grabbed his leg, just like we planned. Hasani’s father fell to the ground, stunned. Hasani began punching him with all his might. I felt a surge of fear and adrenaline and started kicking him too.

After a few moments, Hasani’s father managed to get back on his feet and staggered out of the room. We could hear him cursing and shouting as he ran away.

We stood there panting and sweating. Hasani grinned at me, “We did it! We kicked his ass!”

I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction too. Hasani’s father had gotten what was coming to him. But then a thought occurred to me, “What if he comes back?”

Hasani shrugged, “Let him come back. We’ll be ready for him.”

He commenced coughing, convulsing with cough after cough, spitting up phlegm like a cat coughing up a hairball. He let out a few choice curses under his breath before he grabbed the water jug, rinsed out his mouth, swallowed several gulps, and started stomping towards the room. He kicked off his shoes, and my heart skipped a beat.

As his old man entered the room, Hasani looked like a scaredy-cat, half-crouching and inching back against the wall. His father gnashed his teeth and snarled a low snarl. Hasani asked in a quaking voice, “What are you gonna do?”

His old man sneered, “Nothing with you, you snotty brat. What can one do?” But then he caught sight of me and started looking me up and down like a bull eyeing a matador. I was so scared, I started drawing back, still sitting.

He sneered again and said, “What’s that fat baboon doing here?”

“He’s my friend, Abdul Agha’s son,” Hasani said.

“Well then, what’s he doing in my house?” his old man asked.

“I told him to come,” Hasani said.

“You mean the wretches don’t have a hovel of their own to crawl into?” his old man said, sneering again.

“So how’d he wind up here?”

He turned to me and yelled, “Get up, beat it, go crawl into your own hovel!”

As I cautiously stood up, he let out a screeching holler, “Yallah! Move yer feet!” But Hasani stood firm and said, “He ain’t going nowhere. He’s staying put.”

Hasani’s old man turned his fury towards him, fists balled up and arms stretched out like wings. He growled, “You son of a whore, you’re getting so bold you stand tall like your own father?”

Hasani’s young sister woke up in a start and ran out of the room, wailing and full of fear. Hasani’s old man kept coming closer, fists ready to strike, when suddenly Hasani bellowed, “Let’s go!” And just like that, we charged forward.

As Hasani’s old man aimed his fists downward, Hasani jumped out of the way, and they slammed into the wall instead. I lunged forward and grabbed his leg. Hasani slipped out of his father’s grip and caught the other leg. Together, we yanked, and the older man fell on top of us, pounding us with blows to our skulls.

We wriggled and managed to break free from under him. Hasani cussed under his breath and gave his father a solid kick in the flank. Then, we both bolted out the door, and the man’s bawling voice echoed behind us, “Now I’m gonna get you good-for-nothing rascals. You couldn’t get enough, so now you’re sending your hired killer to do me in?”

He came chasing after us, with Hasani’s ma standing by the lantern, caterwauling and not knowing what to do. We dashed by her and took off like a streak of lightning’ down a sidetrack towards the hollow. We heard Hasani’s old man’s voice hollering, “Catch ’em! Catch ’em!”

He run after us for a spell, then stopped and started cussing and bawling’. The night had fallen – nobody followed us, and nobody felt like catching us. We hopped into the hollow, gasping for air, grabbed each other’s hands and waited to see if Hasani’s old man or any other soul would show up to nab us. I said to Hasani, “We did a mighty fine job of getting away from him.”

“It’s a darn shame we couldn’t have given him a proper beating.”

“When do you wanna head back home?”

“Head back home? Hell no! God, he’s just waiting for me to come back so he can lay his hands on me and torture me.”

“So what’s the plan?”


“Where will you sleep tonight?”

“Nowhere. I ain’t got nowhere to go.”

“Come on over to our place.”

“Yeah right, and walk straight into your pa’s trap. All the scoundrels are cut from the same cloth; they ain’t got a shred of kindness in ’em.”

“If you don’t go back tonight, what’s the plan for tomorrow? And the day after that? Eventually, you’ll have to go back.”

“I ain’t so sure about that. One of these days, you’ll look and I’ll be gone, gone to someplace else.”

“Like where?”


“To do what?”

“How should I know what I’ll be doing? Maybe I’ll become an apprentice, maybe I’ll run errands, maybe I’ll haul bags.”

“You’re too small. Nobody will hire you.”

“Why not!”

“Why not!”

“Well, bless my soul! Seems to me like you ain’t got no skills to speak of,” I said to my friend.

“I may not have a trade, but I can surely sweep and wash in front of them stores,” he replied.

“But, my dear boy, you’re too small for any proper work. They won’t take you in,” I argued.

“Well, I can still gather some trash and sell it,” he retorted.

“But where will you lay your head at night?” I asked, concerned.

“In the ruins,” he answered.

“That won’t do, son. You’ll starve to death or something worse,” I warned him.

“Nah, I won’t die. I’ll beg and live somehow,” he said, defiant.

“Fine, but that’s just wishful thinking,” I sighed. “Maybe it’s best you head back home.”

We both fell silent, and I noticed the moon was out, casting light on most of the area, but not the dark wells. Lanterns flickered in the shanties around us.

“There’s no going back now, he’d skin me alive,” my friend muttered.

He listened to the crickets for a while, then suddenly jumped up and said, “Listen up, I got a plan. You run to the houses and start crying and yelling that Hasani fell in a well.”

My heart skipped a beat, “You mean you want to throw yourself in a well?”

“What? No, I’m not that foolish. You just say I fell, and watch my pa pass out cold. Then I’ll disappear somewhere,” he explained.

“But won’t they search for you in the wells?” I asked.

“They can’t search all of them. They’ll get tired and assume I died. Then they’ll gather to cry and read the Koran. My folks will beat their heads and say nice things about me,” he said.

I shook my head, “That’s a terrible plan, friend. You’ll only bring your family grief.”

He shrugged, “It’s better than starving in the streets.”

And with that, we went our separate ways, unsure of what the future held for us.

“Well, well, well,” said I, scratching my head, “this is a mighty peculiar plan you’ve got, Hasani. Are you sure it’s wise to pretend you’ve fallen in a well just to get away from your father’s beatings?”

Hasani looked at me like I was a fool and said, “Why not? It’s a foolproof plan. My parents will beat themselves up for a bit, then they’ll be happy as a lark when they find out I’m still alive. And maybe my father will even stop beating me, who knows?”

I couldn’t help but feel a bit skeptical. “But what if something goes wrong? What if your father or mother really does die from the shock?”

Hasani just rolled his eyes. “You worry too much. They’re not that fragile. And besides, when they’re done beating themselves up, they’ll be begging me to come back home.”

I had to admit, the plan did have a certain twisted logic to it. But then again, I was afraid of Hasani’s father, who was known to be a mean old cuss.

“What if your father comes after me for helping you with this scheme?” I asked nervously.

Hasani just scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. All you have to do is run to the houses and start crying and yelling that I’ve fallen in a well. Then go about your business like nothing happened. And in the morning, don’t forget to bring me some bread and water.”

With a heavy heart, I set off to do Hasani’s bidding. It was a dark and quiet night, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing something terribly wrong. But I had promised to help my friend, and I wasn’t about to back down now.

I reckon I made quite a show of myself, sprinting and hollering like a madman as I darted past the wells and towards the shanties. A pack of hounds took off like the devil was after them when they spotted me. My throat was dry and caked with dust, so I took a swig from the tap to wet my whistle. Then I recollected that I needed to really let loose and make a scene, so I took off like a bullet towards our cluster of shacks. A crowd had already gathered around, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was happening. You’d think from the way I was carrying on that Hasani had actually tumbled into the well. I started howling and caterwauling like a banshee, and the crowd swarmed forward. I saw my pa and Hasani’s pa, who both seemed to charge at me as one. I bawled out with a voice choked with sobs, “Hasani, Hasani!” Hasani’s pa, with a club in hand, demanded, “What happened to Hasani? Huh? What happened?”

“He fell, He fell, he fell!”

And I burst into tears, crying my eyes out. Hasani’s pa yelled, “Where did he fall? Tell me, where did Hasani fall?”

I bellowed, “In the well, he fell in the well!” For a moment all was still, then a peculiar murmur rippled through the crowd. From every direction came a cacophony of voices chanting, “Hasani’s fallen in the well, Hasani’s fallen in the well!”

Well, now, folks were in a right state of panic, I tell you what. They were running about like chickens with their heads cut off, not knowing which way to turn. Some were holding lanterns, others were just running blind, all heading towards the upper part of the hollow. Me, I was just lying there on the ground, crying my eyes out, when my papa came over and grabbed my hand, saying, “Get up, boy, let’s find out which well he fell in.”

So we took off, with a whole bunch of men hot on our heels, hollering, “Which well, which well did he fall in?” We made our way past the hollow and up to the terrace of the wells, where the moon was shining down on us, making those dark, deep holes look even more sinister. Hasani’s pa was there, looking like a sapling in a storm, grabbing onto me and shaking me hard, demanding to know which well his boy fell into.

Before I could answer, he threw himself onto a pile of trash and started bawling like a baby. Abbas Charkhi was trying to calm him down, saying they’d get Hasani out in no time, but the murmurs of worry and fear were getting louder by the minute. That’s when the womenfolk showed up, wailing and moaning, with Hasani’s ma at the head of the pack, clawing at her own face and keening, “My Hasani, my Hasani, my baby boy!”

She was saying other things too, but nobody could make head nor tail of it. Abbas Charkhi came up to me and said, “Listen here, kid, tell us which well he fell in.” And I said, “I don’t know.” Well, that just set Hasani’s pa off again, calling me names and whatnot, but my papa stepped in and said, “Tell us what happened, son, hurry up!”

And that’s when I spilled the beans about Hasani’s pa catching us and threatening to give us a licking. Hasani’s pa was still hollering for us to tell him where his boy was, but at least we had a clue now. Whether we’d be able to get Hasani out in time, though, that was another matter altogether.

“Let the man speak his piece, fellows. How did it come to pass?” said Abbas Charkhi.

“Well, we were out and about, running through the fields. Hasani was way ahead of me, skedaddling as if the devil himself was after him. He was scared stiff of his old man catching him, you see. I turned around to look and saw he wasn’t coming, and nobody else was either. I yelled out to him, ‘Hold on, Hasani!’ but he didn’t listen. Suddenly, he let out a bloodcurdling scream and toppled over.”

Hasani’s father bellowed, “Where did he fall?!”

“I reckon he just vanished into thin air. I called and called, but he didn’t answer. I searched high and low, but he was nowhere to be found.”

“Which well did he fall in?!” demanded the father.

Abbas Charkhi growled menacingly, “How should he know which one? Let’s go find him ourselves.”

Then, he turned to the other men and ordered, “Let’s get moving! Step up, and watch your step!”

As they marched forward, they fell silent. No one wailed or hollered. Only Hasani’s mother let out a mournful moan as the other women tried to console her, saying, “Be still, sister. Don’t fret. They’ll find him and bring him back safe and sound.” Some shushed her, as though Hasani was only sleeping and might wake up any minute.

They passed several wells, and Hasani’s father lowed like a cow, “Hasani, Hasani.” He was so infuriated and cruel that, if Hasani had actually fallen into a well and climbed out, he would have subjected him to even more blows and kicks.

Abbas Charkhi interjected, “Take it easy, man. Sit down and let us do our job.”

Suddenly, a voice from the darkness spoke up, “We need some rope and lanterns. We can’t go into those wells empty-handed.”

And so they made their way to the next well, with Mosayyeb leading the charge, his lithe body stretched out flat as he held the lantern aloft and called out with a voice as flexible as a snake-oil peddler’s, “Where are you, child, where are you?”

But alas, there was no reply. Undeterred, they moved on to the third well, and then the fourth, and then the fifth and sixth. They split into groups, and even further still, but their efforts proved fruitless. As the search dragged on with no sign of Hasani, tempers flared and voices grew loud and contentious.

But then, a glimmer of hope: Abbas Agha’s agitation alerted them to the possibility that Hasani might be nearby. With bated breath, they listened intently, and sure enough, it sounded as though someone was crying out from the depths of the well. They rushed to it, bringing extra lanterns and ropes to aid in the rescue.

As they worked feverishly to save the child, several brave souls stretched out and listened intently, their prayer beads pressed to the stone walls of the well. And at last, they heard the sound they had been hoping for: “Yeah. This is it.”

Hasani’s pa was fit to be tied, hollering and hooting, “Hurry, hurry, get my boy out of there, get my boy out!”

Mosayyeb piped up, “Who’s gonna go down there?”

Ghader, being the cautious sort, warned, “That well’s old, it might just cave in on ya.”

But Hasani’s pa weren’t having none of that. “By God, it won’t fall in. Go on in, go in and get him out.”

Well, that put everyone in a right pickle. They looked around, each hoping someone else would step up. But then Abbas Charkhi spoke up, “No one’s man enough? I’ll go myself. Hand me that rope, let’s see what we can do.”

Abbas’ wife, bless her heart, wasn’t having none of that. She let out a screech from the womenfolk, “Not you, not you! You can’t do it, you don’t know how!”

Abbas got all riled up, “What’s it to you, ya ol’ hag? Shut yer yap! I can’t just leave that poor boy to die down there!”

His wife shoved everyone aside, skedaddled up, and clung to Abbas Agha, hollering, “Don’t go in, don’t go in, by God, don’t go in!”

Abbas gave his wife a brisk slap and said, “Get lost, you’re being unreasonable.”

Then he bellowed with determination, “Rope!” They fetched the rope and secured it around Abbas’ middle. Then they checked the knots one by one. Abbas Agha said, “Be careful. Don’t let go of me on the way down!”

Several folks said, “Don’t fret. We’ll be cautious.”

Abbas readied himself; he grabbed one of the lanterns, bent over and peered down the well, then handed the lantern to someone and declared “Bismillah” loudly. Everyone prayed then. Hasani’s father raised his hands to the sky and said, “O Most Merciful of the merciful, O Grandfather of Hosenin the Oppressed, O Grandfather of Fatemeh the Pure, O Grandfather of Khadijah the Magnificent, bring up my child alive, bring Hasani back alive!”

Abbas was dangling there in that well, holding on for dear life and shouting, “Keep yer eyes on that rope now, and when I give it a yank, pull me up!” Meanwhile, his missus was bawling her eyes out, and my ma was trying to comfort her. The boys were holding onto that rope like it was a life raft, letting it out little by little. I could hear ’em mumbling to each other, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. And Hasani’s pa was just walking in circles, crying’ out to the heavens.

I plum forgot that Hasani was still stuck in that kiln, and I was thinking to myself, “If only that boy was in the well instead, and Abbas could pull him up safe and sound.” And then my pa, who was one of the ones holding the rope, hollered out, “Haul it up, boys! Haul it up!”

Rahmat spoke up, “Haul it up? What in tarnation for?”

All fell silent as they started drawing up the rope. Hasani’s father was anxiously peering over the heads of the others, waiting for Abbas Agha to appear. Then, with a heave and a ho, Abbas’ two hands grasped the rim of the well, and he hauled himself up and over it like a drenched cat clawing for dry ground. He flung himself across the earth, gasping for air. Ghader, who had been biting his nails in anticipation, asked, “Wasn’t he in there? Wasn’t he in there?” Hasani’s pa started to wail and cry and beat his breast like a man possessed. Abbas Agha rolled over and sat up, saying, “I was suffocating.”

Ghader said, “That’s it? That’s all that was in there?”

“All there was in there was the carcass of a fat dog,” Abbas replied.

Mosayyeb said, “You’re sure?”

Abbas snorted in exasperation. “Imbecile, do you think I couldn’t tell Hasani from a dead dog?”

He rose to his feet and unfastened the rope from his waist. The group reassembled and moved on to a succession of wells, dividing and redividing, each time dropping to their knees and calling out for Hasani. I took the opportunity to slip away, darting through the shadows and alleys to avoid detection. Thirsty, I paused at a tap to drink some water before sneaking behind a tin wall and into my own dwelling, which was thankfully deserted. Seizing a loaf of flatbread and a pitcher without a handle, I scurried out once more and filled the pitcher at the tap. Making my way past the hollow, I turned onto the roadside and arrived at Hajj Timur’s Kiln, where Hasani was holed up in a recess. I peered inside and whispered his name, but received no response. Trying again, I called out to him louder, but there was still no answer. My nerves began to fray – what if he mistook me for someone else? In a moment of inspiration, I started to whistle the sweet melody of a bulbul bird, beckoning Hasani with the words, “Come on, Hasani, it’s time to get going.” Suddenly, I heard a whistle in reply, emanating from above my head. I looked up to see Hasani lying on a platform, watching me intently. “Hey, Hasani!” I called out to him. “Come up carefully,” he replied.

“Come up careful,” he said. I passed him the pitcher and clutched the bricks of the wall, ascending slowly. Once we reached the top, we crawled forward and settled by the base of the kiln’s chimney. I spoke up, “Hadn’t we agreed that you were going to stay down there?”

“I climbed up to see what was going on,” he replied.

“You know what would happen if they saw you?” I asked.

“No way. No one will see me,” he chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I inquired.

“I’m laughing at my old man, at all of them. Look at them, how would they know?” he gestured towards the terrace of wells where some individuals with lanterns were scurrying around, while others remained rooted to one spot.

“We’ve done a terrible thing, Hasani,” I lamented.

“Why?” he asked.

“Your father’s killing himself, you don’t know the state he’s in.”

“Don’t worry, he won’t kill himself. What’s my mother up to?” he inquired.

“She’s beating her chest and wailing,” I responded.

“Let her,” he retorted.

“You don’t understand. Abbas Agha went down a well looking for you, but instead of finding you, he found a bloated dog’s corpse down there,” I explained.

“He’s found his father’s body,” he concluded.

We laughed, the two of us, and I produced the bread which we shared. I didn’t feel any thirst, but Hasani gulped down some water. “Shouldn’t we descend to meet them?” I asked.

“For what purpose?” he retorted.

“To put an end to it. They cannot search all the wells one by one.”

“It is far too early. Let them try.”

“What if some of them fall into a well and perish?”

“Do not concern yourself. They lead lives akin to those of dogs, and nothing untoward will happen to them.”

“This is a terrible deed we have done.”

He turned towards me, appraising me up and down, and spoke thus: “Is it not equally terrible what they do, coming and going and thrashing us before we even get a chance to eat?”

“Enough, Hasani. Let us return.”

“I cannot do so.”

“Why not, after all?”

“I will return, but what should I say?”

“Tell them you went to Shokrai’s orchard to feast upon some walnuts.”

“Then they will discover that you were deceiving them.”

“I will say that I didn’t know where you had gone and thought that you might have fallen into a well.”

“No, the secret will be exposed, and we will be in dire straits.”

“Let it be, then. Come with me.”

“I cannot. I am incapable of doing so.”

“In that case, I will go and inform them that Hasani has not fallen into a well and that you are staying at Hajj Timur’s Kiln.”

He spun around, his eyes ablaze with anger, and exclaimed, “Fine. Go and tell them. From this day on, we shall have nothing to do with each other. You’ll see me only when you see the back of your ear.”

“So when are you planning on returning to your home?” I asked.

“On the day of mourning, when they recite the Koran for me. Suddenly, I will appear. Oh, it will feel so wonderful!” he replied.

“Don’t talk nonsense. What is so wonderful about it?” I scoffed.

“It’s quite clear. While everyone is wailing and beating their chests, I will simply stroll in nonchalantly and say ‘Salaam.’ Initially, everyone will be terrified, they will cower in fear, the women will scream, the children will run away thinking I have returned from the other world. Then when they realize that it is just me, alive and well, laughing, moving my hands and feet, they will all be overjoyed. They will leap in the air, fall to the ground, hug me and kiss my face. Don’t you think that will be fun? Really?” he explained excitedly.

I gazed back at the people circling the wells with their lanterns, intermittently hearing the men and women shouting. “I suppose I should be on my way back now,” I said.

“Go, but don’t reveal my whereabouts to them,” he warned.

I descended from the alcove on all fours, surveyed my surroundings, and jumped to the ground. I walked alongside the road, fell into a hollow, and ascended out of it. A group of people had formed a circle around one of the wells. I hastened towards them. I saw my mother pounding her head and bellowing. The men had lowered a rope into the well. I slipped through the crowd and reached the edge of the well. I overheard Abbas Agha saying to the other men, “Haul up, haul up.”

Ghader inquired, “For what reason?”

“Are you blind or something? Can’t you see it shaking?” Abbas Agha retorted.

All was hushed and they pulled on the rope with one accord. Hasani’s father, behind me, beat his chest in a steady rhythm and called out, “O Great Khadijah! O Prophet Mostafa! O Stranger of Strangers! O Lord of the Martyrs!” Then I saw my dad, his elbows resting on the well’s rim, dragging himself up. He was pitch black from top to toe and struggling to breathe. Abbas Agha instructed him, “Lie down, stretch out and catch your breath.” Some men held my father under his arms and placed him alongside the well. The next morning, nobody went to work, all returned drained to their shacks. Hasani was not found. Abbas Charkhi remarked, “It’s pointless; nobody can inspect all the wells.”

They had only been to the deeper wells that interconnected and served as conduits for sewage. They had witnessed eerie things in the abysses. Usta Habib had come across some animal about the size of a cow, having four tails and holding a dead man’s head between its teeth, moving in random directions. The Sayyed had stumbled upon a group of naked individuals wrapped in wool, clinging to the well’s walls; as they saw him, they jumped into the sewage and vanished. Mir Jalal had personally seen massive, black wings hovering around by themselves.

From the depths of the earth, strange and eerie sounds arose, piercing the veil of the night. The howling of cats, mingled with the raucous laughter of unseen women, echoed through the air. And amidst it all, the mournful notes of cymbals and trumpets, such as are played on the Day of Ashura, filled the air, as if in lamentation for some great loss.

Abbas Agha shook his head, knowing that their search for Hasani was in vain. The jig was up, the trail had gone cold. And so, weary and dispirited, they made their way back home, collapsing in exhaustion.

But Hasani’s father could not rest. He wandered among the shanties, his mind consumed with grief and despair. His eyes darted back and forth, searching for some sign of his lost son. His hands pounded together in anguish as he cried out, “Did you see what happened? Did you see how death has stolen my child from me?”

No longer did he weep and wail. Instead, he became fixated on the most mundane of objects. The roofs of houses, the dark openings of tombs, the stains on gunny sacks, all became objects of his obsession. He would bend down to pick up scraps of tin, broken glass cups, and worn-out shoes, only to cast them aside and continue his fruitless search.

For in his heart, he knew that Hasani was lost forever, consumed by the darkness that lurked in the shadows. And so he wandered, muttering to himself, “They’re eating him now, it’s all over. My Hasani is gone, and I am left with nothing but my grief.”

I circled around him, like a bird of prey stalking its quarry, but he was oblivious to my presence. I tried to catch his eye, to make him see me, but it was all for naught. He was lost in his own world, indifferent to the outside.

After a few moments of this fruitless dance, I remembered my duty to Hasani. He would be waiting for me, hungry and alone. I made my way to our designated meeting spot, but all was still and silent. The others were sleeping, lost in their own dreams and sorrows.

My pa lay snoring loudly, his muddy feet poking out from under the blankets. I took what I needed, a loaf of bread and a handful of sugar, and slipped back out into the world.

The sun had risen, casting everything in a sullen and gloomy light. I saw Hasani’s father standing behind a house, scraping his fingernail across the rough surface of the wall. He looked lost and forlorn, a shell of the man he used to be.

I made my way to the tap, taking a quick drink of water before plunging into the hollow. Beyond the upper margin, I reached Hajj Timur’s kiln, and there, in the recess, I found Hasani.

He was sleeping, his eyes sunken and his hands shaking. When I called his name, he awoke with a start, shouting in fear.

“Who is it? Who is it?”

I reassured him that it was only me, and he calmed down. But his appearance had changed, his spirit broken by the harshness of his life.

I asked him if anything new had happened, and he told me of a dream he had, of falling into a well and being unable to escape.

“It’s your own fault,” I said, my words harsh but true. “You wanted to keep up this game, and now look at where it’s gotten you. Your pa has lost his mind, and you are living in fear and poverty. Is it worth it?”

He uttered nary a word, but withdrew himself from the vicinity. We both basked in the rays of the sun. I handed him the bread and a fistful of coarse sugar lumps. His water remained unfinished. He grasped the pitcher, took a swig, and let some dribble onto his visage. Upon regaining composure, he inquired, “How have matters progressed?”

“They are now convinced of your demise.”

“What action did you take?”

“I did nothing. I remained silent.”

“Now what is their intention?”

“They have not reached a verdict.”

“Will they not recite the Koran for me?”

“I do not know, I have not received any news.”

“I suspect they will perform the recital this evening.”

“On what grounds do you base this hypothesis?”

“Do you recollect when Bibi’s grandson departed from this world? The Koran was recited the day after.”

“If that be the case, then this shall be your day of reckoning indeed.”

“Yes, may God permit it to be so. I can no longer endure this.”

“God willing, this shall be the day.”

“You shall not forget to apprise me, will you?”

“No, why should I forget? However, prepare yourself for a brutal thrashing.”

“No chance. I shall endeavor to appease them.”

“Believe what you will. You shall see.”

“Care to place a wager?”

“What are the terms?”

“If they become infuriated and assault me, questioning why I live and did not perish, you triumph, and if they are pleased, I triumph, and you shall suffer a pummeling.”

“Excellent – I have suffered much for you, and now you seek to strike me in return?”

He chortled and added, “I jest. I shall procure an ice cream for you.”

“Agreed. The bet is on.”

He ripped off a piece of bread and crammed it into his mouth. “What shall we do now?” he queried.

“Nothing. You must remain in this crevice, and I shall visit the residences to observe events.”

“Will you inform me if the recital transpires tonight?”

“Of course.”

The recitation, the reading of Hasani, was scheduled for that very afternoon, before the abodes. Abbas Agha had taken a piece of black cloth and impaled it on a stick, then drove the stick into the soil at the head of the square. All present had gathered outside, the women congregated on one side, and the men assembled on the other. Word had spread to outlying regions, and groups of people from Yusof, the tenements of Sarpich, the kilns of Shamsabad, the hovels of Shotor Khun, and Mulla Ahmad Hollow arrived in multitudes, all strangers clothed in garments of many hues. As they approached the square, the women would rush to Hasani’s mother, who was seated in front of their home with her face lacerated and bloodied, without shedding any tears, striking her head and occasionally pummeling her chest. The women would weep as they approached her, smacking their own faces and saying, “Oh, dear sister, dear sister, what has befallen you, what has befallen you?”

Hasani’s father was stationed in front of our domicile, not precisely seated, but rather splayed out on the ground, staring blankly ahead. Anyone who recognized the deceased boy’s father would approach and offer a salutation. Receiving no response, they would move on to take a seat. Abbas Agha, who was standing, bellowed, “Fatihah!”

The men commenced with reciting the Fatihah, the Opening of the Koran. Usta Habib ambled through the gathering, providing water to those with parched throats. Two elderly gentlemen, hailing from the Ghoriba Hollow with a pouch of tobacco, adeptly rolled cigarettes in newsprint and placed them onto a tray. Bibi’s eldest son, Ramazan, dutifully distributed the tray among the attendees. All partook in smoking and drinking, except for Hasani’s pa who abstained and occasionally licked his lips, spitting onto the ground.

After an hour had elapsed, a group of individuals was seen hustling from the road. The group’s sudden appearance caught everyone’s attention. Abbas Agha exclaimed, “The Gypsies of the Black Tents from Elders’ Hollow are approaching. Let us go greet them.” Several individuals set out to meet them.

The Gypsies, gasping for air, scurried forth, numerous banners in tow. Several old men in shabby clothes led the charge, beating their chests in anguish. In their midst was a slender akhond with a lengthy neck and a small turban. The women trailed behind, each one barefoot and dusty. As they arrived at the tiny square, the sounds of prayers resonated through the air. The men and women separated, with the women shrieking and rushing towards Hasani’s ma, while the old man went to greet his pa, who did not respond. The akhond settled on the steps of our place. Ismail Agha bellowed, “Offer prayers! Offer them loudly!”

All offered their prayers. The akhond, in a raspy and nasal tone, implored, “Take a seat, all of you, sit down so that we may weep and tell the tragic tale of Ghasem, son of Hasan, how he met his martyrdom at Karbala, in remembrance of this other ill-fated youth.” He began with a peculiar prayer, followed by reciting the heart-wrenching story. The tears and sobs erupted spontaneously.

Everyone wept. The men, the women, their children, and even I wept. Only Hasani’s father wandered aimlessly, licking his parched lips, without shedding a single tear. The crying grew increasingly louder. The Gypsies rose and bared their chests. The akhond also stood and exposed his chest, declaring in a loud voice, “Now, let us offer our breasts to honor the lord of the Martyrs and the dear unfortunate one.” He began to recite mournful songs. The Gypsies beat their chests, while the other men stood and joined in, beating their own chests in sorrow. The women stood arm in arm, wailing with increasing intensity. Suddenly, I remembered, “Now is the time. I must go and inform Hasani.”

No one paid me any attention. No one paid attention to anyone else either. I quietly slipped away, first backing away, then turning and darting off. I wiped my tears and arrived at the tap where I drank some water before plunging into the Body Washer’s Hollow and climbing out. There was no one around. I started running. I raced like the wind, circling the wells and pressing on. My heart was full of dread, and sweat was pouring down my face as I arrived at Hajj Timur’s Kiln. I circled it and emerged in front of Hasani’s hideout. Hasani lay on the platform, but upon seeing me, he stood up, walked out, and asked, “What’s going on?”

“They are mourning for you,” I replied.

“What are they doing?” he asked.

“People have come from all over and are beating their chests for you.”

He stared at me for a moment and asked, “Why were you crying?”

“What a fool you are! You knew I was alive and hadn’t told anyone!”

“It’s all the akhond’s fault, the one the Gypsies brought with them. He made everyone cry.”

He clapped his hands together in a feverish delight and exclaimed, “So it’s the time, ain’t it?”

“Right,” I said, my voice trembling with anticipation.

“Now let’s see who comes out on top,” he said, a sly grin on his face.

“May the Almighty bless you with victory,” I said, trying to hide my nervousness.

He chuckled and bellowed, “On your mark, get set, go!”

With lightning speed, he bolted forward like a cheetah, leaving me in his dust. I tried my best to keep up, but Hasani was a blur of motion, his legs pumping furiously like the pistons of an engine. I shouted his name several times, but he only responded with a triumphant, “Hoo! Hoo!”

But then, like a bolt from the blue, disaster struck. Hasani’s foot caught on a pile of debris, and he stumbled headlong into a vast well, larger than any I had ever seen. I was paralyzed with shock and horror, my tongue tied in knots. It was as if the earth had opened up and swallowed him whole. I sat on a mound of trash, clutching myself and gasping for air. I couldn’t even bring myself to scream his name.

Finally, I rose to my feet, propelled by an unseen force, and began to run as fast as I could. My heart pounded in my chest, and my mind was a whirlwind of fear and confusion. I wished I could trade places with him, that I could have fallen into that terrible abyss instead.

As I reached the tap, my breath ragged and my legs burning with exhaustion, my voice finally returned to me. “Hasani! Hasani! Hasani!” I cried out desperately, my words echoing off the walls of the surrounding buildings. But there was no answer, only a chilling silence that seemed to stretch on forever.

As I stepped into the square, the air was thick with solemnity, the aftermath of the breast-beating having rendered all into a state of somber introspection. Ramazan was distributing cigarettes among the men, and Usta Habib was busy ferrying a pitcher of water back and forth. And then I let out a piercing shriek that shattered the silence like a pane of glass. “Hasani! Hasani! Hasani!” I howled, my voice cracking with grief. I pounded my head with my fists and writhed on the ground like a wounded animal.

In an instant, everyone was on their feet, swarming around me in a frenzy of concern. Abbas Agha, the first to reach me, took hold of my flailing arms to prevent me from injuring myself further. “What’s happened? What’s happened?” he asked, his face creased with worry.

Through my tears, I managed to gasp out, “Hasani! Hasani fell in the well!”

I rolled over onto my stomach and sank my teeth into the dirt, my body racked with sobs. A low murmur swelled into a cacophony of voices, as everyone tried to soothe me with words of comfort. “Don’t hurt yourself anymore, calm down, may God have mercy on him,” they murmured.

But I was beyond reason or consolation. “He fell just now, just a moment ago. Hasani fell into the well,” I wailed, my words muffled by the earth in my mouth.

My father pushed his way through the crowd, his face etched with lines of worry. “Hush now, child. Don’t make things worse for his parents,” he said, his voice low and stern.

He done fell, he done fell in the well right before my eyes. But when I opened my mouth to holler, to scream for help, that ornery man, he told me to shut it, to be quiet, to stop acting like a little jackass. And then, he gave me a hard slap on the ear, just like that.

Ismail Agha, he wasn’t having none of it, though. He grabbed my pa and hollered, “Don’t you dare hit that boy, you son of a bitch! Can’t you see he’s out of his head, that his senses are all deranged?” And then, he picked me up, held me close, and told me to calm down, to hush my cries.

But I wasn’t listening. I was still hollering, still screaming for someone to save my friend, Hasani. Ismail Agha, he poured water over my face, but it didn’t do no good. I struggled and fought, but it was like trying to break free from a bear’s grip.

Finally, they dragged me into our own house, still wailing and crying for Hasani. But as we passed his pa, I saw that he wasn’t even looking at me. He just stared ahead, like he was in a daze.

Once we got inside, Ismail Agha tried to calm me down. “Child, everyone knows that Hasani was your friend. You liked each other a great deal. But this was the will of fate, there was nothing we could do.”

But I wouldn’t listen. I kept yelling, “He fell just now, he fell just now!” My pa didn’t know what to do with me, but Ismail Agha just held me tight and whispered, “Be still, child. Be still.”

Ismail Agha, he reckoned I’d done gone crazy, and that it was best to bind my hands and feet. So they tied me up good and tight, and I started to wail and holler like a wildcat. My pa, he didn’t know what to do with me, so he said, “We’ll gag him. That’ll keep him quiet.” And before I knew it, they’d stuffed a rag in my mouth and tossed me into a dark corner like a sack of potatoes.

My pa, he was beside himself with worry. He rubbed his hands together and kept muttering to himself, “What will I do, my God, my God? If he stays like this, what in the hell am I gonna do?”

But Ismail Agha, he was the voice of reason. “Don’t fret,” he said. “We’ll go ask the akhond of the Gypsies to write out a talisman for him. That’ll fix him up right as rain.”

And Usta Habib, he chimed in, saying, “And if that don’t work, we’ll take him to the shrine at Shah Abdul Azim.”

But my pa, he just kept on moaning and groaning, walking in circles and calling out, “O Imam of the Age, O Imam of the Age, O Imam of the Age!”

Ismail Agha, he finally had enough of it. “We’d best leave him be,” he said. “Maybe he’ll snap out of it on his own.” And with that, they all headed out, locking the door behind them.

As they left, I could hear the sound of the gathering’s prayers rising up again, and the hoarse, nasal voice of the akhond of the Gypsies reading out the eulogy. It was enough to give a body chills, I tell you what.

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