Ali Salami

Ask the Migratory Birds By Simin Daneshvar

I found myself dreaming that my mother was dreaming about me. In her dream, I was vividly acting out the scenarios she envisioned. It defied all logic, yet does everything in life adhere strictly to the realms of reason? In her dream, she witnessed a hand wielding scissors approaching my head, with freshly cut hair strewn about the ground, and my file tucked under my arm.

As I ascended the stairs in her dream, the school principal reprimanded me, saying, “I’m speaking to you. Adjust your scarf forward.” I protested, “Ma’am! Our school is devoid of men. Even our janitor is a woman. Moreover, a thick curtain veils the doorway, which remains firmly shut.” The principal, incensed, retorted, “You insolent orphan! Follow my instructions.” To which I responded, “I am not an orphan. I have a mother. I also have a beloved brother, a veteran from the warfront, whose pistol rests on our shelf. He has warned of dire consequences should any harm come my way…”

In the math class, the teacher made a philosophical note, “Two parallel lines never meet unless God wills it.” I ventured a response, bridging theology and mathematics, “God plus infinity equals, and two parallel lines meet at infinity.” The teacher commended, “Well done!” Encouraged, I further mused, “The Earth’s curvature also plays a role.”

I then inscribed a formula on the board: God equals plus infinity, and Satan equals minus infinity. The teacher approached the board, pausing thoughtfully before remarking, “There is only one who is unique and is thus named.”

She inquired, “What is a number?” To which I responded, “Numbers are sentences composed of aggregated ‘ones.’“ Expanding on this, I mentioned, “And God represents that singular uniqueness; more solitary than anything or anyone else.” This prompted a jest from one of my classmates who quipped, “Perhaps Satan is the sole companion of God.”

The math teacher firmly rebutted, “Absolutely not. Unless for your sake, we amend the formula to: God equals plus-minus infinity. Then we might as well reflect on Nasser Khosrow’s wisdom: ‘If you don’t have a pebble in your shoe, why create Satan?’“ Shortly after, the bell unexpectedly rang. Why had the principal chosen to ring the bell before the class was scheduled to end? She was well aware that we would remain seated, captivated by the math teacher’s words, regardless.

I wondered if my mother could perceive the tumult of my thoughts in her dreams. I understood my own preoccupation with divine and demonic entities, but she wasn’t there with me in the math teacher’s classroom, lost in contemplation. What had God pondered before the act of creation? Could Satan truly be God’s sole confidant? And if so, why then the creation of angels? It seemed as if the angels themselves were seeking entry, knocking on the tavern’s door—a sound I swear I heard. Before my eyes, two parallel lines converged in the infinite, an impossibility made real.

In the garden of my existence, where only paper flowers seemed to bloom, had real flowers flourished unnoticed by me? Around me stood the proud trees and the indifferent expanse of asphalt. The greengrocer’s vibrant greens and the tiny red radishes, resembling paper flowers tinged with monkshood—was this monkshood meant as a tool for the principal’s demise? Was my essence sprawled on the street’s asphalt, among the white sheets on neighboring rooftops, amidst the wail of sirens and the flight of migratory birds, all awaiting their turn in my mother’s dreams?

Atop the roof, I watched birds follow their leader in migration, only for the leader to plummet, possibly struck by a bullet or overcome by fatigue. The chilling sound of an axe echoed. I had tucked my brother’s pistol behind my neck, gripping it so tightly that even after discharging it, he struggled in vain to pry it from my grasp. Tears streaming, my brother lamented the torment he inflicted upon his dear sister, noting the inherent agony of burial, with or without a firearm.

The birds continued their chirping, their flight paths intertwining and occasionally forming circles, as if in a collective search for a new leader. Liberated from my physical form, I joined them in flight and was chosen as their new guide, with a deputy appointed to support me. Our formation resumed its V-shape. Our destination remained uncertain—perhaps the infinite or a realm of nowhere. Yet, our journey began above the greengrocer’s, where he showered the vegetables and glossy radishes with water.

Lined up for class after prayer, the principal singled me out, positioning us before the assembly. She removed my scarf and, in a fit of anger, sheared off the hair atop my head, leaving a pattern that might resemble the continent of Africa or perhaps our homeland, with bald patches mirroring its deserts. She urged my peers to ridicule me, branding me ‘stubborn’. Yet, no one raised their voice, only hushed whispers among my classmates.

The principal commanded, ‘Adorn your scarf as a harbinger of your demise.’ I resisted. Undeterred, she enveloped my head with the scarf, cinching it beneath my chin so tightly it nearly strangled me. She then led me to the office, where the school director, engrossed in nursing her child, paid us no heed, her gaze affixed to her child’s earlobe, delicate as a freshly unfurled petal of spring.

Upon our arrival, the principal sought my file from the office manager, who, puzzled, inquired, ‘What disturbance has this young soul caused?’ The principal, fraught with exasperation, admitted her bewilderment at handling such situations. It was apparent the director had woven her life into the fabric of the school, treating it more as a residence than a workplace, relying even on the janitor for personal errands.

As the office manager rifled through documents seeking my file, he queried, ‘What misdeed has this student committed?’

“Disobedience,” the principal declared with conviction. “She utters blasphemy. Our math teacher fails to instill virtue or deter vice. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. When the math teacher mentioned, ‘There’s a pebble in God’s shoe,’ this student audaciously claimed, ‘Satan is God’s ally.’ Such remarks have not gone unreported, including those concerning the religious studies teacher. Rest assured, I shall address this matter with her as well.”

The office head interjected, “Yet, this student is nearing the culmination of her high school journey.” He lauded my intellectual acumen, my exemplary academic record, and the impending final examinations. Despite his advocacy, the principal remained unyielded, vowing to confront even him if necessary.

The principal, with a firm gesture, tucked my file under my arm and pronounced, “You are expelled. Consider this a warning to the rest. I expect your parents here tomorrow.”

“I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have a father,” I reminded her, a hint of defiance in my voice.

I then challenged her, “Do you lurk behind classroom doors, eavesdropping and misconstruing our words? I never claimed Satan was God’s ally. And for the record, neither my math nor my religious studies teacher has ever spoken blasphemously.”

“Silence!” she bellowed, seizing a ruler from her desk to strike me across my head, face, and shoulders. In a reflex of defense, my foot lashed out, connecting with her shin. The impact sent her reeling into a chair, where she slumped, momentarily overwhelmed. The office manager, with a sigh of resignation, offered her a glass of water, then turned to me with a whisper, “Depart now, dear. This burden she carries has weighed on her for ages.”

The accusation of blasphemy hung heavily in the air, yet my only ‘sin’ was ignorance—unaware that fasting on the third day of seclusion was a mandate. The concept of seclusion itself was foreign to me. Had I known, I would have sought refuge in the sanctuary of my mind, amidst the paper flowers, choosing ennui over any demonic presence. I shared these thoughts with my religious studies teacher, who, amused by my earnestness, chuckled, “Child, where did you pick up such profound notions?”

Releasing the migratory birds into the open sky, I encouraged them, “Fly straight ahead. I’ll catch up with you soon.” Their response was united, “We will never venture forth without you.” Urging them to follow my appointed deputy, I was met with their resolve, “We’ll pause by the spring, to quench our thirst with its life-giving waters.”

My deputy, reflecting on their words, observed, “You too, are nurtured by this very essence of life.” Curious about their loyalty, I questioned, “Could you wait forty years for me?” Without hesitation, they affirmed, “For you, we would wait a millennium.”

I mused aloud, “The patience of God spans forty years.”

Stepping through the open window of the classroom, I entered unnoticed. My classmates’ gazes were fixed on the ceiling, their attention drawn away from their surroundings. The religious studies teacher too was distracted, her focus directed forward, oblivious to my presence. It was clear they hadn’t seen me. My usual seat was now occupied by a pot of paper flowers. Perching myself atop the heads of my classmates, I proclaimed, “You are the Queen of Sheba, and soon the hoopoe will arrive to escort you to Solomon.” My words seemed to fall on deaf ears, yet there was a palpable sense of them tuning into an unknown call, its origin and message a mystery to them.

The atmosphere shifted abruptly as the headmistress entered the room, greeted by a chorus of disapproval from the students. Her confusion was evident as she asked, “Why do you all hold me responsible?” The religious studies teacher, with a tone of finality, responded, “One cannot replenish an emptied pool, but if one chooses to mar oneself, it’s better to either be buried under a significant mound of dirt or stand beside a monumental ruin.” With that, she collected her belongings, her booklet and bag, and as she made her way out, she bid farewell to the class, declaring, “Children, farewell! This high school can no longer be my abode.”

I was waiting by the downspout on the rooftop for water. The white sheets of the neighbors fluttered in the wind like sails against the backdrop of a sky so clear it seemed touched by angels. It was a purity reminiscent of bathed souls, freshly cleansed and radiant under a sun that stretched wide, bathing us in its expansive light. A cool breeze whispered secrets to my imagined wings. Then, as if in a dream, my companion bird approached, pressing its beak to mine, a drop of rose water like a kiss, its fragrance enveloping us in a moment of serene beauty.

As we joined the migratory birds in their journey, a mystical light graced our wings, illuminating the patchwork earth below. The world seemed in celebration, fields vibrant with the green of fresh produce, like those across from my house. Amidst this tapestry, paper flowers stood proudly, their brightness evoking an odd longing for peaches or figs within me. I imagined resting on a fig tree, savoring its fruit, though our nature bore no crookedness for such indulgence. Echoes of my mother’s voice lingered, “No one gives figs as charity.”

As dusk fell, familiar stars appeared, one mirroring my fate, flowing down as we soared above a silent cemetery. In a dreamlike haze, my mother’s voice, fraught with sorrow, reached out to my brother, offering her all for his desires. His simple wish, “I only want my sister,” sprinkling her ritual of rose water upon a stone, their tears mingling in a silent pact of grief.

My cry, “Don’t go. Don’t leave me alone,” pierced the night, knowing well the silence that would follow. Yet, we, the migratory birds, pressed onward towards the infinite, bathed in moonlight that penetrated into our very souls.

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