Not even a month had passed and I had gone to Qom and back three times. On the last trip, I felt as if a premonition had taken root in my heart, foretelling trouble ahead. Nevertheless, I set off in a battered car in the middle of the night, and at dawn, before the sun had even kissed the sky, I was standing outside Seyyed Asadollah’s front door. When I knocked, Aziz Khanum opened the door. When she saw me, she flinched in surprise and her face contorted in confusion. When she stepped aside, she stared at me in bewilderment and called out, “But shouldn’t you have left already, madam?”
I greeted casually and then crossed the threshold, walked through the vestibule and stepped out into the courtyard. There, a gaggle of boisterous children, just awakened from slumber, were frolicking in a nearby pool, expressing their youthful exuberance by splashing and giggling. I sat down against the wall, put my meager bundle down beside me and stayed there.
Aziz Khanum asked the question again in her inimitable way, “Please tell me, my dear Khanum, have not you left already?”
“Well, my dear ma’am,” I replied, “I have indeed left, but now I have returned.” Khanum, however, was not very pleased with my answer. “If you were so keen to return, why did you leave and hang around here in the first place? You should have stayed to put my mind at ease.”
I chuckled and said, “Oh, Khanum, I returned to ease your worries. But let me tell you that I have not returned just for pleasure. I have returned to fulfill an obligation, a duty that I have to perform.”
The young people were playing and enjoying themselves, but Aziz Khanum’s attitude became more serious with each passing moment as she inquired, “What kind of duty are you talking about?”
“The reason for my return was the desire to acquire a piece of land for my grave. I had a vision that my days were numbered,” I explained.
Aziz Khanum was understandably skeptical and asked, “And how, pray tell, are you going to buy a piece of land when you are so destitute?”
“I managed to scrape together the money,” I said, pointing to the bundle in my possession.
Aziz Khanum got angry and shouted, “Now that you have some money, why do you have to come here and pester Seyyed for more? The poor man toils day in and day out like a beast of burden and struggles to feed his children. And yet you keep pestering him and keep coming back for more.”
Her piercing gaze bored into me, demanding an answer, but my pride was wounded and I kept silent. With a persistent nagging, Aziz Khanum climbed the stairs while her children scurried after her as if I posed a threat to their safety. I stood motionless against the wall, confused as to how I had managed to slumber.
As I sank into a peaceful slumber, a vivid dream came over me. In it, Seyyed arrived after his errands and had a heated conversation with Aziza in the menacing shade of the tree. Her demeanor was menacing, her words full of hostility as she made threats and demanded that Seyyed remove me from the house lest she take matters into her own hands. Suddenly I was jolted awake to find Seyyed in the entrance hall talking to his wife.
Seyyed let out a frustrated sigh, “Damn it all, what am I going to do? I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Can you help me find a way out of this mess?” Aziz Khanum shook her head, her face lined with worry. “I’m at a loss, Seyyed. She wants to buy her own land, maybe Wadi al-Salam is no longer enough. She wants to live in paradise, but why the hell is she still clinging to you with all the money she’s earned?”
Aziz Khanum’s voice brimmed with contempt as she unleashed a torrent of abuse. “Why does she cling to you like a parasite, Seyyed? Could it be because you are the most imbecile and destitute of her descendants? What about Seyyed Abdullah, Seyyed Morteza, Javad Agha, Seyyed Ali, Safiya, Huriya Amina Agha and all her sons-in-law? Why did she fixate on you of all people?”
Seyyed’s voice trailed off and he fell into a thoughtful silence, the weight of his despair in the air. “I am speechless and powerless,” he finally croaked, his heart heavy with emotion. “Do what you think is right, but I beg you not to do anything that might incur the wrath of the Almighty. Remember that we are talking about my mother.”
As they stepped out of the antechamber, I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. Seyyed climbed the stairs and left the house after a short pause, his footsteps disappearing into the night.
I tore a piece of bread from my bundle and devoured it with a ferocity born of exhaustion. The car ride had left me so shaken that I was no longer able to stand on my own two feet. When I awoke from my slumber, the room was shrouded in darkness, save for a single lamp casting an eerie glow. A coughing fit rattled through my throat before I stumbled outside to the pond. But my surprise knew no bounds when I saw it – bone dry and lifeless.
I dragged myself up the stairs and stumbled into a scene that made my heart skip a beat: Aziza and the kids were sitting around the table eating a delicious spread.
Seyyed was not there yet, so I waited in the hall. When the meal was over, I stuck my head in and said, “Aziz Khanum, Aziz Khanum Jun.” Mahrokh, Asadullah’s eldest daughter, jumped up and shrieked, making everyone stand up. Aziz Khanum raised the wick of the lamp in alarm and scolded, “What the hell are you doing, old hag? Are you trying to scare my children to death?”
Annoyed, I retreated and explained that I just wanted to see if Seyyed had arrived.
Aziz Khanum scolded me, “Are you as blind as a bat? Can’t you see that he hasn’t come? He won’t be coming home tonight.”
I asked, “Where has he gone?”
She flailed her limbs and shouted, “I have no idea where he’s gone!”
I asked, “Then where should I put my head?”
She replied, “On my damn head! I don’t know where you can rest your head. You’re welcome to sleep anywhere, but leave my kids alone.”
I lay stretched out on the floor of the hallway and as the sun rose, I realized that Aziza didn’t like my presence. After I finished my prayers, I left her apartment and made my way to the first shrine of Hazrat Masoumeh. There I sat down in front of the entrance, legs crossed, face hidden and hand outstretched to receive alms from those who had come to pay their respects. The scorching sun blazed down on me, but I collected my meager earnings and packed them up before setting off again.
By lunchtime I was back at Seyyed Asadullah’s house, armed with chewing gum and sohan for the little ones. I knocked on the door and Mahrokh peeked out, only to close it again as soon as he saw me. I tried knocking again, but this time a strange woman answered and said, “Seyyed Asadullah hasn’t been here for three long months.”
“What do you mean?” I replied, “He was only here with me last night!”
“I have no idea where he went,” the woman replied with a hint of uncertainty in her voice. “I don’t know where he went.”
She slammed the door and left me standing there, but I could tell she was dizzy. Undeterred, I sat down on the doorstep and kept watch until nightfall, hoping that Seyyed Asadullah would show up. When dawn broke and there was still no sign of him, I got up and began to wander. It occurred to me to look in his store, hoping to find some trace of him there. But no matter where I went, no one seemed to know anything about Seyyed Asadullah, the mirror maker.
As I passed the wall, I noticed a man in a turban and robe sitting next to a mirror maker’s stall.
I couldn’t help but notice that Seyyed never wore a turban, which added to my confusion. Frustrated, I wandered aimlessly and as the call to prayer echoed through the air, I went to the shrine to collect alms.
I then combed the market, going from door to door looking for a sign of Seyyed Asadullah, much like when he was a young boy and slipped away, causing me to frantically search for him.
As I thought about it, a thought came to my mind: I must return to his humble abode. But unfortunately, fear began to spread. Fear of Aziza, fear of her descendants, fear of anyone who might cross my path. By Allah, even the mere sight of the holy shrine of my dear Lady Masoumeh terrified me.
As I strolled past the parked cars, I saw Seyyed Asadullah strolling on the sidewalk, his hands full of who knows what.
With a sudden burst of courage, I shouted something to Seyyed Asadullah and he stopped. Hastily, I scurried towards him, took his hand in mine and pleaded with him with all my heart. His tongue was tied, he could not speak, he was just a shell of his former self.
“My dear son,” I said gently, “do not be afraid. I have no intention of visiting your household, for I know very well that your wife cannot bear the sight of me. I only wanted to see you once more to catch up with old times.”
But his words cut like a sharp knife, “Oh, mother, you have not left me an ounce of dignity.” He recounted the time he saw me, his own mother, begging at the shrine. He had turned away in shame, unable to look me in the face. “What on earth are you up to now that you have one foot in the grave?” he asked in a serious tone.
I remained silent, unable to answer. Seyyed broke the silence, “Have you at least secured a piece of land?”
“Don’t waste your pity on me,” I replied, my voice tinged with frustration. “No body has ever been left unburied. They’ll find a way to bury them somehow.”
But at that moment, my anger boiled over and I could no longer hold back my tears. He looked at me in astonishment and asked, “Why are you crying?”
Through my sobs, I managed to choke out my answer, “I’m crying for the eighth imam.”
As Seyyed dug deep into his pockets, his fingers fished out a lone coin, which he then tossed to me.
“Listen, my dear mother,” he began, and there was a hint of impatience in his voice. “Loitering here will do you no good. You must get back to Seyyed Abdullah, and quickly. I am not a genie in a bottle, I can’t solve all your problems. Besides, if you keep begging like this, sooner or later someone will discover you. When they realize that Haj Seyyed Razi’s widow can only beg, my old man’s bones will dance in his grave and our family’s honor will crumble. No, no, you’d better go and see Abdullah. His lady has more sense than that tramp Aziza. She knows the meaning of compassion.”
As we made our way to the cars, Seyyed signaled to one of the drivers and barked some orders. “Take this poor old lady and drop her off in the Shush area. You will be doing God’s work, my friend.”
And just like that, without so much as a backward glance, he disappeared from my sight, leaving me to ponder my fate. As much as it pained me, I knew better than to call out to him. Seyyed didn’t want anyone to know that I was his flesh and blood.
I strolled to Seyyed Abdullah’s crib and lo and behold, they had missed me. Seyyed and his family had run away and left the house in the hands of the little ones. The older sister, with eyes like a damn mole, sat in the middle of the veranda, knitting away. But when she heard my voice, she lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree. The tongs were all excited too, chasing each other around the garden like a pack of wild dogs. They pushed and shoved and wanted to know what the hell was in my bundle. Just like the older ones, who are always curious and poke their noses into things that are none of their business. Rakhshandeh’s sister, whose curls were as wild as a damn lion’s mane, joined in the interrogation, “Yo grandma, what’s in the bag? You got any food in there?”
I said, “Gods, that’s not provisions. What are the provisions doing in my bag anyway?”
When I went outside, the young people wanted to come with me. But I outsmarted them and went out on my own. The road was like a fork in the road, you see? It was pitch dark and almost deserted. I settled down there and begged for a pittance, but I did it on principle.
When I came back, Raskshandeh’s sister said to me, “Where did you run off to, Grandma? Did you stay with your old man?” And then all the young people rushed up to me, each with their own question, and I couldn’t help but giggle. We were all chuckling so hard the darn house was shaking.
Raskshandeh’s sister had a good heart, she really did. She took a liking to me and wanted to do something special for me. So I asked her to make me a bag. When she was done, she said it was a good omen, a sign of good things to come. And she was right, by God, she was right. The next day, before the sun went down, Abdullah and Rakhshandeh came back from their little trip to the village. Rakhshandeh was all contrite when she saw me, but Abdullah was something else. He had put on weight, was as white as a ghost and had grown a bushy beard. He looked at me impatiently and ignored me as if I were a stray dog.
I mumbled to myself in a low voice, “It’s time for me to go. My presence is no longer wanted and my very existence brings misfortune to those around me. I have no reason to stay any longer.”
Gone were the days when I could frolic and laugh with the children. Even Rakhshandeh’s sister had become quiet in my company. Seyyed Abdallah, who was lost in thought, looked at me worriedly and asked, “Mother, why do you doubt yourself so much?”
I replied, “I just want to leave.”
His face brightened, “If that’s your heart’s desire, then come with me. The car that brought us here can take you back.”
The children offered me bread and cheese and I took the clothes my sister had made for me. I grabbed the stick that Seyyed Awaz had given me instead of a cane and announced, “I have nothing more to say. I’m going to leave now.”
When I got out of the car, the children gathered around me, their innocent faces full of worry. I kissed them goodbye and climbed into the car, ready to leave. The ride was bumpy and uncomfortable, and by the time we arrived at our destination, I ached all over.
They led me to a small crypt with only four doors. It was gloomy and uninviting, and I felt a stab of fear in my heart. As night fell, they brought me a meager meal of bread and broth, which I ate hungrily. After eating, I got up to pray and opened the door of the crypt. The moon was high in the sky, casting a milky glow over the valley in front of me. The howl of a wolf could be heard in the distance.
Out of nowhere, a piercing voice sounded from behind the house, “He’s after you now! Wolves love to hunt old women!”
It was as if his teeth were grinning straight at me, flashing in the moonlight like a row of glittering knives. A hen clucked and clucked on the roof, sending a shiver down my spine. “Lord in heaven, please keep me from losing my grip on reality,” I muttered, feeling a wave of unease wash over me. I scurried back into the house, realizing that from now on I would have to stay locked up, far away from the outside world with its valleys and moons.
The crypt of my mind had become a gloomy and desolate place, shrouded in melancholy. I couldn’t explain how I had ended up in this pit of despair, but the tears ran down my face anyway. I wept for the martyrs of Karbala and the enigmatic figure of Imam Reza. And, oh, how I longed for Safiya! But fear gnawed at me, fear of her husband, even though I knew he had no idea where I was. I was a bundle of nerves, my mind was delirious.
In the village, everything was running smoothly as usual. But I couldn’t bring myself to go out and collect alms as I usually did. Instead, I spent my evenings sitting in the little square, brooding and lost in my own thoughts. I had no connection to anyone there, and no one had a connection to me. I was a lonely figure, wandering in my own world of sorrow.
Somewhere along the way, my shoes had disappeared, leaving me to trudge barefoot across the dusty streets. I hoped that someone would stumble across me and, God willing, offer me a pair of shoes. But I was too scared to ask anyone for help because I was afraid that Seyyed – that hot-headed fool – would find out and take his anger out on me. My health was deteriorating and I had started soiling myself at night. I was getting dirtier by the day and I had no one to take care of me.
Then, one blessed day, an old dervish came to our humble village. He was selling a beautiful icon that I couldn’t resist buying. For the next two nights, I sat in front of the icon and prayed fervently. The icon was a balm for my weary soul and I felt a new found happiness within me. Suddenly, begging didn’t seem so scary – in fact, it felt like a much more rewarding journey.
One night I was restless and lost myself in a daydream. Suddenly, a voice called out to me, echoing softly from the distance. I opened the door to listen more closely and strained my ears to hear the words. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. But all my fears were gone in an instant.
Without a second thought, I packed my things and set off. The roads ahead were long and winding, the desert sand shimmered in the moonlight. But the journey did not tire me, for my heart was filled with a divine blessing. The kind attention of the wise men watching over me gave me a boost.
As I left the village behind me and sat down on the ground to rest, a man with three camels appeared before me. At first he was suspicious of me, but soon he took pity on my situation and offered me a ride. I mounted one of the camels while he rode another, and the third trudged along behind us. My heart was heavy with sorrow and the memories of the strangers in Karbala flooded my mind. The tears flowed slowly and steadily down my cheeks.
I had to inform Javad Agha of my intention to go in search of food, for even a simple loaf of bread would be enough to feed a lonely belly. And when I asked for alms, it was not just for the money, but also for the delicious smell of freshly baked bread that I could get that way.
I tried to make it clear to him that I did not want to offend him and suggested that we should each pay our debts on the Day of Judgement. But Javad Agha stubbornly refused to allow me into his house. He slammed the door and left me standing outside while Safiya listened behind the door, her heart breaking because Javad Agha refused to let me in. She cried inconsolably while Javad Agha tried to soothe her by waving the cradle of their child.
Undaunted, I waited in the alley, certain that Javad Agha would soon leave for the bazaar. An hour later, I returned to his doorstep and knocked, whereupon he barked gruffly, “Well?”
So I said nothing and walked on. Javad Agha stared at me so intently that I simply had to leave the alley. I took the icon out of my backpack and began to praise Imam Ali, the pious Lord. Out of nowhere, this skinny woman appeared, gave me some money and asked, “Old woman, where are you from and where are you going?”
“From the desert,” I said, “looking for work.”
She asked, “Can you still work at your age?”
“With the power of God and Imam Ali, I can do anything,” I said.
“Can you do laundry?” she asked.
“Imam Ali will give me strength,” I replied.
“Then follow me,” she said.
I followed the woman through the quiet alley, my footsteps echoing off the walls like the beat of a distant drum. Eventually we reached a stately house with a small veranda, surrounded by extensive grounds, in the middle of which was a large pond with an endless expanse of water. Several women were sitting on the platform next to the pond, arms folded and mouths moving as if they wanted to eat something incessantly. When they saw me, they laughed and chattered and said that I was not fit to do their laundry and should hide behind the door.
And so I sat there behind the door, clutching my icon and my bundle, while the slender woman lectured me that anyone who knocked and sought Robabeh should be allowed in. No one came for hours, and I spent the time praying and pleading with my God. It was a warm corner and I was not afraid of the falling darkness. The sounds emanating from the courtyard were numerous, but their cause escaped me. The woman admonished me to mind my own business, and so I busied myself with my musings.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. “Who is it?” I inquired. The voice from beyond answered, “I am looking for Robabeh.”
As I unlocked the door, a bearded man stumbled past me and walked straight into the courtyard. The laughter of the women in the house gradually died down and I felt myself slipping into slumber. In my dreams, I returned to Safiya’s house and rapped on the door with my knuckles. Javad Agha opened the portal and asked, “What’s wrong?” I gave no answer and he immediately rushed forward with a whip. I fled in fright as his footsteps followed close on my heels.
Suddenly, a knock on the door snapped me out of my nightmare. “Who’s there?” I shouted.
“Open up, Javad Agha!” barked the voice on the other side.
I inquired, “Who are you looking for?”
“Robabeh,” he demanded.
“She’s not here,” I informed him.
“Open the door, you whore!” he hissed.
And then he began banging on the door with greater force. The slender woman who had accompanied me earlier came in and inquired, “What’s going on?”
“My lord! I beg you! I would give my life for you! Do not unlock the entrance!” I pleaded fervently.
“Why not?” she asked.
I replied, “No, no, no. You mustn’t let the door swing open or he’ll think I’m here to defile you.”
“And who is causing all this grief?” he asked.
“Javad, my son-in-law,” I replied.
“Get lost in the shadows,” he whispered.
I hurriedly rushed into the darkness, trying to hear the click of the lock and the woman’s footsteps stepping into the courtyard. Laughter and joy echoed off the walls before the silence returned. I crept back to the door, shielded my face from the sun with my sack and murmured, “Oh Qamar Bani Hashem, you will witness the suffering that awaits me.” Then I gathered my courage and went out into the unknown.
That evening I did not go out to collect alms. I had some meager bread, a stick, an icon and a bag under my chador. I waited patiently. Soon a black car came and picked me up. We left the city behind us and eventually the driver dropped me off in a narrow and dark alley.
At the end of the alley, I was relieved to see a dim light indicating my destination. When I arrived at the door, it was opened for me and I stepped inside. The garden was vast and ancient, with old trees whose branches rustled together and the sound of water could be heard from all directions. An old, bright lamp hung from a willow branch, casting light on the area where I was sitting.
Soon Qamar, Fatemeh and Mahpareh arrived. We cried together and vented our grief and pain before sitting down and listening to each other’s tales of woe. Although Qamar had remained big and fat, her plump belly had disappeared. Fatemeh had disintegrated and apart from her laughter and tears, nothing was left of her.
Mahpareh’s face was furrowed with hunger, her fingers gnawing at her nails. I could see that she was hungry. Without saying a word, I reached into my pocket and threw a few crumbs of bread in her direction. She pounced on them, chewing and swallowing like mad, as if she had forgotten how to eat.
We sat down to talk and the three of them asked me why I hadn’t visited them earlier. I swore I had been busy collecting alms, but they believed me anyway. Our conversation turned to the subject of begging and I urged Fatima to tell us about her own experiences, but she remained tight-lipped.
Eventually we made our way to the pond and I told them about my adventures on the street. When I had finished, Fatima asked me to tell a tragic story about Qasim. I agreed, and as I recited, Fatima first laughed and then burst into tears. We all cried with her, and it seemed as if even the trees in the garden were mourning with us.
After the Ashura prayer was over, I thought of home and the life I had left behind. I had packed up all my belongings and entrusted them to the care of Amina Khanum. As evening approached, I made my way to her house and knocked on the door. To my relief, she opened the door herself and greeted me as if I had risen from the dead. I remained silent as her grandchildren gathered around us and I noticed that her daughter was not present, but I did not ask about her whereabouts, knowing that she had probably gone to the bathroom, as was her custom.
Amina took the floor and broke the silence between us. “Seyyed Khanum, where were you?” she asked.
I replied, “I was under your shadow.”
Then Amina inquired, “And what brings you here today?”
I replied simply, “To take a look at my belongings”
Amina led me to the cellar where she had kept my belongings safe. She told me that Seyyed Morteza, Javad Agha and Horiya had come by a few times, but she had refused to let them touch anything. “I told them you are alive and well,” she said. “If you put your head on the floor, I have nothing to say. You can come and take what you inherit. Take it all.”
As I looked around the damp and musty cellar, the smell of cucumbers, cedar wood and mold hit my nose. Carpets were piled up in one corner, and heating pipes, large samovars and tin cans had been stacked haphazardly. On top was something yellow and cauliflower-like, and there was a strange smell in the air. Three chairs had been placed next to each other, with three small bowls in the middle. Three small goats, no bigger than cats, were munching on hay. And in the middle stood my own strange animal, with a long tail and a rectangular head, furiously licking the ground and eating dirt.
Amina asked me, “What did you do with the money, Seyyed Khanum?”
I replied, “What money?”
She reminded me, “You wrote that you went to Qom to buy a tomb for yourself.”
I scoffed at this thought. “Did you believe that too?” I asked.
Amina shook her head. “I was the only one who couldn’t believe it,” she said. “But oh, these people and their tall tales.”
I admonished her, “Don’t believe everything you hear.”
Finally she asked me, “Where are you going and what are you doing?”
“I go wherever my feet take me,” I replied. “I visit cemeteries, pray and have taken up the profession of a funeral orator.”
Amina’s children started mocking me, but I didn’t mind. Instead, I showed them a picture that frightened them and they quickly left the room.
Amina asked me, “Are you all right now? Did you see that your things are in place?”
I sighed and replied, “May God forgive your children! May God bless me with just one of them! Give me one of my bundles so that I can cover my icon.”
Amina hesitated and said, “That’s not possible. Your children will not be happy about it. They will come and fight with me.”
“All right, if they are not happy, then I will give up the idea,” I said before leaving the room. As I went outside, I remembered that it is better for the image of the Holy Imam not to wear a veil, because the dust of the graveyards is enough to keep the impure eyes away from his blessed beauty.
As I walked on, people began to watch me. I complained and cried, and for some reason people began to laugh.
With nothing to do and no help, I wandered aimlessly through the alleys and streets, pursued by ragpickers. I croaked the rawda in a hoarse voice while selling holy water from a miserable jar. My legs throbbed with pain, my toenails were torn out and my throat was clogged so that I could not say anything. Exhausted, I slumbered in a graveyard where the dust covered the icon and obscured the face of the Holy Imam.
Despite my miserable condition, I was no longer plagued by hunger and I fed only on water. Occasionally, I even felt the urge to eat dirt, like the little creature among the goats that kept licking the earth.
A huge wound the size of a plate had formed in my mouth, from which blood gushed like a river. I stopped asking for alms and in the crowd I caught a glimpse of my offspring, who scampered away at the sight of me. One Friday evening, I found myself in a graveyard, kneeling behind the body washer and begging the heavens. At that moment, Seyyed Morteza’s firstborn and Mr. Mojtaba bumped into me and demanded that I come with them. I did not feel like complying, but they forced me into a car and took me to a large estate. They sat me down under a tree and then disappeared into a shining room. A few moments later they came out again with a burly gentleman and watched me with suspicious eyes. Seyyed Morteza’s son and Agha Mojtaba then disappeared into the shade of the trees, and two other guys dragged me into a dim corridor and hurled me into a stygian room, where I was quickly overcome by slumber.
The next morning, the cell was swarming with beggars who begged me to give them something to eat. I recited the Rawda of Abul Fazl for them and they were very grateful. A cart of broth arrived and we all trudged into the gardens to drink it, but my swollen wound made it impossible to swallow. None of the destitute people accepted my revered icon. Nightmares of Safiya and Horiya, of Seyyed Abdullah’s brood and even of the Holy Imam tormented me. I was angry beyond measure, like a man possessed, and was cursed and ridiculed from all sides. I just wanted to get away.
There was this little old man, a dwarf by the look of him, squatting by the front door. Every time I approached him, he waved his stick around and shouted “Kish Kish!” as if it was some kind of magic word.
One day, Safiya’s son Kamal came up to me and cried all over his face. He told me that they all knew I was stuck in the poorhouse and that his mother had sent me boiled rice, bread and onions. But then he told me a secret: there was a way out through the waterway.
This little Kamal really had a good heart. He offered me his own shoes to help me escape, but he was afraid that his parents would attack him for it. And me? Well, I was scared of pretty much everything. Javad Agha, Seyyed Morteza, the world outside these walls and even the confines of the room made me drag my feet.
But I promised Kamal anyway, “If it’s the Lord’s will, I’ll find a way out of here.”
So he left and the old man at the door took away half of my meager food, leaving me with just enough to survive. But I was determined to escape this place, come hell or high water.
As the night deepened, I crept into the forest and waited for the right moment. And as the light turned a ghostly white, I seized my chance, clutching my bundle tightly as I slithered like a snake through the watery mire, feeling the mud between my fingers and toes.
At last I emerged into a world beyond these walls, and the houses around me seemed to be on fire, burning in the bright colors of a new dawn. But none of that mattered to me – I just wanted my freedom, and that was all that mattered.
From that moment on, I was never completely healthy again. The wound in my mouth had grown, and it felt like it was dangling in my stomach. I stumbled on, my hand pressed against the wall for support. A strange sound, like the clink of a tin can, echoed in my head, and the tinkling of a distant fountain seemed to speak to me from the depths of the earth. The icon on the wall seemed to come alive, and the imam of the strangers and my mistress Ma’suma also spoke to me. And then, one day, I saw the children of Seyyed Abdullah, who told me that their aunt had died. I already knew. I knew everything.
On another occasion, I paid an unexpected visit to Amina’s house. The door was ajar, so I sneaked in. When I went into the courtyard, I found everyone gathered there, including Seyyed Asadullah and Aziza, who had come from Qom to divide my property among themselves. They were all quarreling and arguing, swearing and going at each other’s throats. Javad Agha and Seyyed Abdullah even fought over the carpets, while poor Amina wept bitterly because she had worked so hard and got nothing in return.
As I stood there, I heard Fatima’s voice from the cellar and for a moment Kamal caught sight of me and let out a loud cry. All heads turned towards me and slowly approached, with tense and alert expressions on their faces.
Javad Agha’s eyes welled up with tears and he shouted, “Do you see what you are doing?” I tried to speak, but the words stuck in my throat. Instead, I pressed my face against the wall and everyone turned to look at me and then at the icon.
“Open your bundle,” Javad Agha demanded, his voice trembling with emotion. “I need to know what’s inside.”
And Amina spoke up in a pleading voice, “Please, Seyyed Khanum, open your bundle and calm her down.”
“You have been deceiving us all your life,” Javad Agha continued, becoming more and more agitated. “Come, open your bundle. Quick!”
So I opened my bundle and the dry, stale bread crumbs scattered on the floor in front of the icon. And then, with a heavy heart, I revealed the shroud to them. They took a quick look at it, then turned their eyes away because they couldn’t bear to look at it. And on the other side of the courtyard, poor Kamal, Safiya’s son, let out a cry that echoed through the air.
© 2023 Ali Salami
About Gholamhossein Sa’edi
Gholamhossein Sa’edi, a talented author of short stories, has portrayed all the themes dealt with in this school in the form of the figure of the great lady in the story “The Beggar”.
Gholamhossein Sa’edi was a celebrated Iranian writer who made a significant contribution to the country’s literature and cinema. He was born on January 15, 1936 in Tabriz and became one of the most prolific writers of his time, publishing more than forty books in a wide range of genres. The Beggar is translated by Ali Salami. Gholamhossein Sa’edi’s “The Beggar” can be analyzed in the light of existentialism.
Sa’edi’s works of fiction include dramas, novels, screenplays and short stories. He also dealt with non-fiction such as cultural criticism, travel literature and ethnography. His talents were widely recognized and he was regarded as one of the most important writers of his generation.
Sa’edi was born into a middle-class family and grew up in the city of Tabriz, where he began his literary career while completing his education. He received a medical degree from the College of Tabriz in 1961. During his final year of school, he wrote a short story entitled “Morḡ-e anjir” (The Fig Chicken, 1956), which was published in Soḵan, a prestigious literary magazine in Tehran. He then published two novellas in Tabriz entitled “Pygmalion” (1956) and “Ḵānahā-ye šahr-e Ray” (The Houses of Ray City, 1957). Sa’edi later moved to the capital Tehran, where he completed his compulsory military service and began a five-year internship in psychiatry at Ruzbeh Hospital in the fall of 1963. During this time, he and his brother, who was also a doctor, ran a clinic in a working-class neighborhood in southern Tehran, where they offered free or affordable medical services to patients.
During these years, Sa’edi gained critical acclaim through the publication of short stories and dramatic sketches. He published a collection of twelve interconnected short stories entitled “Šabnešini-e bāšokuh” (The Great Soirée, 1960), in which he depicted the frustrations of educated urban civil servants and the middle class with a mixture of humor and tragedy.
Sa’edi’s screenplay for the film Gav (“The Cow“), directed by Dariush Mehrjui, is often regarded as his magnum opus. The film was part of the New Wave movement in Iranian cinema and was instrumental in shaping the direction of Iranian cinema in the years to come.
After the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and his subsequent exile, Sa’edi remained an important figure in Persian literature, even though he was forced to leave his homeland. Although he lived in Paris, he continued to produce literature that resonated with Iranian audiences and captivated readers around the world.
Tragically, Gholamhossein Sa’edi struggled with depression and alcoholism, which eventually led to his untimely death in Paris on November 23, 1985. Despite his death, 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.