Ali Salami

The East of the Violet By Shahriar Mandanipour

Now that the veil has been lifted from the secrets hidden in the sentences you have read, now that every point of these words is before you, may the sweetness of Minoo’s wine caress your lips. For though fate has allotted you a portion of the bitter brew of this world, it has also endowed you with the spirit of a dervish, enabling the words before your eyes to shed their cloak of revelation. So lighten your load and immerse yourself in the reading. Discover in this book a secret that goes beyond the pages themselves — a secret entrusted to me by ‘Zabih’ and ‘Arghavan’. On an unexpected day, the heavens opened unbidden, but the rain poured down in torrents. It drenched the marrow and embraced the souls of the wanderers. At ‘Hafezieh’ I did not cast a glance at the marble that bears no name and lamented the dome they erected, a barrier between you and the celestial expanse, a theft of the angels’ envy.

Repent and repeat is a tiresome cycle, the building of this library still stands as it did seven centuries ago. Find solace in your grief. This is where I took the book you now hold in your hands, when I happened to open its pages to hear the whisper of rain. It quenches my arid longings, the scent of the earth permeates my incomplete being. Inspired, I noticed that hidden beneath some letters were dots whose color is a secret known only to violets.

I pondered the idle hand that might have inscribed these pages, a task that requires patience. Outside, ghostly rain shrouded the cypresses and the tomb’s copper dome, while the mystics sought refuge under the arcades. Letter by letter, I copied the marked symbols, arranging and rearranging them until a clear and intentional message emerged: “Hello Arghavan. I prayed for you to reveal my secret. I longed to write a letter, but I feared being chased away by Hafezieh or being noticed by the guard. Every time the library door opened, I felt your presence before I could see it. The light that fell through the colored glass betrayed your arrival, though your gaze never strayed to where I could be observed. The boys’ barrier hid the girls’ footsteps without seeing them. Your right shoe, marked with thorns or wire, gives you away. I withhold my name for now. The day you searched for ‘The Blind Owl’, your voice was in the air. This library does not contain it, but I do. From then on, I laid out books near Hafezieh every evening, including ‘The Blind Owl’, unnoticed by you. To deter others, I set a high price and sacrificed parts of myself so as not to arouse suspicion. On the seventh day you saw it. ‘Ten tomans for you, ma’am, the price of a Winston.’ Pay attention to the text, ma’am, with care. I wanted to ask you, ‘Look carefully,’ but I held back, hoping you would recognize the message meant for you. My vigil behind the stand has tired me out.

As I skim these pages, I accompany each marker with my prayers, imploring Hafez that you have understood the mystery in ‘The Blind Owl’ and that it has led you to this revelation. How I wish you could see me, really see me. With your gaze I would become a vessel adorned with your face and bury myself in the earth to be dug up one day by someone who is not afraid to confess his love. the ‘ Little Prince’ I leave behind as a memento. The melody of the rain did not seem to come from beyond the walls; perhaps the dervish was faking it. My gaze wandered searchingly but indistinctly over the boys’ quarter. Whispers emanated from the girls’ sanctuary, veiled by the cladding of the cupboards. The velvet purple, guardian of secrets, remains unseen.

When I discovered “The Little Prince” among the literature, I noticed the same distinctive dots among the words. As I pieced the letters together, I was overcome with a longing for faith in the love of others to reassemble the scattered fragments of my being and revitalize the spirit in my flesh. I fear that without such nurturing, I would wither again and my remains would be scattered in the hidden recesses of the wine cellars.

“Hello, Arghavan. You caught a glimpse of the boys but did not notice my presence. Unbeknownst to you, I shadow your steps from afar every evening to ensure your safe return. I dare not approach you, not for fear of being captured, but for fear of frightening you. Which of the wooden window bars, arching like those of old Iranian houses, harbors your slumber? Your window, which resembles a remote planet where a single rose blooms among the stars, remains a mystery. But the tape on the windows puzzles me; the days of bombing are over. If only you would remove the tape from your window, I could recognize your sanctuary. When I take a look at your window in the middle of the night, I fulfill my prayers and give you serene dreams. The loose strands of hair under your scarf do not suit you; your forehead resembles the moon that rises after the rain and whose rays are unclouded. Let no secrets veil the moon, for it is there for all to see.

How I long for the days of the prophets, to kneel down and confide my secret, for in today’s world such intimacies are no longer possible. bibi Atreyi”, my mother, senses a restlessness in me. Despite her illness, she explores my worries. A recent nightmare has left me unsettled, trapped in a narrow alley under a starless sky, besieged by falling stones and converging walls, their intrusion sealed by my own screams.

I long for spring, for the orange blossoms to unfurl. This library houses three copies of “Leyli and Majnun”; look for the lithographed edition. In my dream, an elder ignored my plea and became a mere silhouette under the canopy of the orange tree. I lamented the transience of the light of separation, doomed to extinguish after fulfillment, lest I claim dominion over the shadow. bibi Atreyi’ interpreted my dream of sandy teeth underfoot as a bad omen and fueled the fear within me.

Why are the ribbons still defacing your window, Arghavan? My wishes may seem grandiose, for I come from a humble abode with no windows to the alley, a concept foreign to your grandeur. I am attuned to your comings and goings and maintain a watchful but invisible presence. A librarian’s suspicion threatens my secret vigil, forcing me to delay my departure and hurry to pick up your trail.”

Where in this wide world could I catch sight of your face and then simply depart? Wander around with the image of your face in my mind, oblivious to the embrace of the desert, seeking solace in the sparse shade of a lonely cloud. Yesterday, as you strolled past the tomb of Hafez, your shadow adorned the steps of the platform. As I lingered in your wake, I knelt where your silhouette had fallen, and my actions were indistinguishable from those who gather sacred earth in reverence.

“Khayyam” is waiting to be read by you, after “Leyli and Majnun” The mystery is revealed by the checkout slips tucked inside these volumes, bearing the names “Zabihollah Marikh” and “Arghavan Saman” My curiosity was piqued by Arghavan, I wanted to fathom the muse behind such an enigmatic occupation. In eternal moments, I would lie in wait and scrutinize every girl who approached the librarian’s desk to return a book.

“Excuse me, did you look for the Rubaiyat and did not find it? I beg your pardon, it was with me, together with this unfinished letter, which remained unfinished when Bibi Atreyi succumbed. The dampness of our dwelling claimed her, her frailty so pronounced that she could barely serve as clay for a pitcher. How I wished to take her place, for exquisite bowls and vases could be made from my essence, their hue testifying to a torn heart and reflecting the shadow of your eyes and the color of the cherries on your lips. Bibi Atreyi often said: ‘Tell me the object of your affection and where it resides so that I can propose to you’ To which I replied: ‘How can you travel such distances with these fragile legs? Our world lies far beyond our threshold I can no longer shadow your morning walk to college.

When I wake in the morning and Bibi has not made tea, her absence a stark reminder of my loss, I am drawn to the cemetery. There, beside a nascent grave, I converse with the sprouting grass, a silent confidant for my unspoken musings. This year the library welcomed “The Divan of Shams” If you like, you can compose a reply using the same cipher, sparing me your condolences and offering your perseverance instead.

“Never have I hesitated beside a grave. The departed are not lonely in their earthly embrace, they have achieved a union that surpasses all others in their procrastination. As time passes, one might as well surrender to the coquetry of myopic, horizonless narcissists and entrust the burgeoning insight and hidden revelation of a young soul whose naiveté shields her from the bitterness of physical encounters across countless liaisons; and yet every strand of my hair from the breath of that innocence recalls the darkness of youth. Encountering a commanding apparition, I asked, “Miss, could your name be Arghavan?” Her aura, still imbued with the essence of the twenty-year-old, replied, “No.” I insisted, ‘You are Arghavan without knowing it,’ for her voice, resembling a ghazal, sounded like an echo of ‘Ah.’ Thinking myself deranged, I assured her, ‘Though you may not be aware of it, a secret beams down upon you, turning the moonlight of your countenance into a shy purple.’ Engrossed in math, she turned away from the resonance of my voice. ‘Recite a verse,’ I urged her, ‘for the adage that two plus two equals four falters when the hands of lovers join.’

Here is a librarian who claims to be a dervish, who knows the poetry of the divan so well that I cannot understand it, and who is always dressed in jewelry. When he inquired about Zabihollah Marikh, he branded him a troublesome member who was threatened with expulsion for defiling Khwaja Hafez’s sanctity with youthful recklessness. This dervish, emerging from under the tomb, discourages others from entering Hafez’s resting place, a gesture of respect. When he asks Zabih for his introduction, he warns against implicating him and threatens to hand him over to the authorities for being guilty of violating the sanctity of the tomb. When I questioned his sobriety, I was rebuffed: ‘Even joking is abominable, sir. Return to your seat, silence is proper in the library.‘ ‘Then,’ I replied, ‘take care of the purple stains on your robe.’ Stunned and ashamed, he examined the fresh stains, which felt damp to the touch. Confused, he hurried home.”

“Thank you for your visit. The ground of the cemetery and the dirt on your shoes are worlds apart. May the years that those lying in this earth have had to live be transferred to you. Perhaps you expected it to be their grave when you stood on a fresh grave early in the morning. Had I not been astonished when I saw you, we might not have recognized each other. Welcome to my humble abode, even if it is quite late. We buried the old woman under so much earth. How could she see you now? But who knows, maybe she heard your voice coming through the earth. I could not leave the flowers you brought for Bibi at her grave. They are here with me now, withering away. I curse my hands, which do not have the strength to perform miracles. In ‘Anna Karenina’ I had marked some words for you, all of which I have since deleted. I have no desire for your sympathy. You only came because Bibi died. Besides, my words would only sully ‘Anna’ with their exaggerated sentimentality. I beg you to write something for me in this book. Just write why you came, why you left the flower so hastily and departed. Then if you are still inclined to read my words even after the real me has been exposed, take ‘Eight Books’ It is the only contemporary poem in this library. If you scramble your message, I swear I will never envy your wealthy fiancé. It pains me that he should take you from Hafezieh. As long as I live, I will chase after his car, but he speeds past the intersection and I stay behind, longing to see how you are doing sitting next to him in the car…

Finally, I caught sight of Arghavan. She wasn’t strikingly beautiful, but her eyes… those eyes that peeked out just enough to give a glimpse of two hidden violets behind a slightly lifted veil. She hadn’t groomed her eyebrows, leaving two ancient arches untouched, ready for an arrow at their junction. When she noticed my gaze, she frowned, a line of displeasure forming right where the bows met. I recognized her by the scuff on her shoe and then watched as she replied ‘Eight books’ One should not anger a soul that waits. I refrained from taking the book. Half an hour later, a tall young man looked at it, only to return it the next day with no further markings. The girl had become reticent.

“So, what brings you to the cemetery? It’s an ideal place for a rendezvous, isn’t it? If we sit across from each other over Bibi’s resting place, no one would give us a second glance or question our relationship. I don’t strive to be too close to you. It is enough for me to be near your aura. Unfortunately, I have to return to my work. My savings have dwindled, but my skills as a painter can sustain me. A few months of hard work should be enough to cover my expenses for the next six months. Maybe I will manage to come here in the evening. I’m grateful that you’ve removed the tape from your window. At midnight, my thoughts flutter against the glass like moths. Last night you didn’t notice me in the dark, but I saw you. You approached the window and then retreated to the edge of your bed, where a mirror stands opposite. I watched as you played with a strand of your hair and then let it go so it could curl downwards. Your shadow cast a blue hue on the blue of the room. As you got up to drink water, the sound of pouring filled the night and the shimmer of the water danced on the walls. You took a sip and the moonlight kissed the back of your neck. You brought half of the water into your room and placed it in front of the mirror, then rested. When you sleep, you don’t look at the wall. I have trained my eyes in modesty and focus only on the moon-like beauty of your face. At dawn, I quietly disappear under your bed.

How difficult can it be to put a few points in a book? ‘Don Quixote’ awaits your attention. The thrill and fear of discovery that comes with such acts is new to me and makes me uneasy. I have come to realize that since the days of Abel and Cain, a shadow of eternal separation lies over us. Places and times serve as veils, as do words, associations, faces and forms. One day I pursued Zabih. Arghavan, with the serenity of enlightenment, her figure as regal as a cypress, moved gracefully beneath her cloak. Zabih scurried across the street, stopping only to watch her pass before continuing his frantic crossings, heedless of the traffic chaos. He leaned against a stall and waited to catch another glimpse of Arghavan. The essence of Siavashan, henna and lotus enveloped him as he gasped for breath, for his efforts to approach her were futile. Arghavan, not bothered by his escapades on the roof, made her way home. She paused briefly before entering and then looked back the way she had come to reward Zabih’s perseverance.

The old alleys of Shiraz, imbued with the spirit of the spring morning of Abu Ishaq and the fall of Shuja, are lined with houses and old windows. These narrow, winding paths, characterized by the fear of controls and the fleeting chances of lovers, have not yet been swept away by the wind. Pilgrims, you might get lost in these alleys, abandon your kite and find your miracle just around the next bend, by the side of an unsuspecting boy.

Zabih’s humble home, nestled between two others, welcomed him back. His call of ‘Arghavan’ into the blue sky of Shiraz was reminiscent of the old cries of a bygone era. A rustling sound came from a crack under the wooden beams. It seems that the lover’s wanderings were not the only ones. Every day, Arghavan would come from the literary college and take a quick glance at the boys’ section, her lips betraying a hint of shame. As she immersed herself in her reading, I pleaded with her, “Lady, do not drown in the intoxicated memoirs of poets,” “avoid the hollow teachings of ‘mufa’ilun mufa’ilun’,” “don ‘t dwell on an unbroken Qasida She looked around, startled, and found no one. From a distance, in the colored light of the stained glass, I too became part of the shadows, urging her, ‘Listen to the rushing water, let Khizr emerge from the splashes, embark on a journey of transformation, but ask nothing.’ Her eyes wandered around the room in alarm, finding no one. At that moment, my presence was as invisible as my hope, which was tinged with the fear of once again discovering the insincerity of love. ‘Lady, mark the end of a word with a dot, let sentences find their pause, for sounds seek a circumambulation point.’ Her hair, which looked like a crescent, remained hidden under her scarf…

The treacherous spring had announced its arrival and ensnared me with its scents. A thought that resembles a dance of light and shadow suddenly takes hold of me. I ask my hands about the meaninglessness of it all and ponder the nature of union and separation — eternity is bound to the former, infinity to the latter. Yet in my journey through countless beds, not once have I come across a jewel that belongs only to me. Memory taunts me and reminds me that in the tumult of separations and whispers of unions, whenever the veil was lifted, there was not one my destined Eve. Now, Zabih and Arghavan’s love story casts a sweet pomegranate shadow on the dust of my being, and I am gripped by fear. Their separation catapults me further into the future and brings death eerily close to me…

“What are you doing? What are you doing? I am scared.”

Arghavan’s voice broke the silence, leaving only twenty-six letters on the page where Don Quixote confronts the malevolent puppeteer in defense of the virtuous puppet. In response, Zabih wrote: “Yesterday I caught a pet snake that had been in our house for years and had only been seen occasionally. Its size was considerable. I put it in the cage of a long-dead canary and reinforced the bars with an iron grille. Every evening, until midnight, I sit in vigilance, eye to eye with the snake. It holds an enormous amount of knowledge, but it remains silent. In time, I will unlock its secrets. She must have a partner, that much I have discovered…”

The following Friday, under an extravagantly blue sky, I was sure they would meet. I met Hallaj, his figure and cloak ethereal, intoxicated by the scent of the desert flowers he was carrying from “Darvazeh Quran” towards Shiraz, on his way to the gardens of “Qasr-e Dasht” with four disciples in tow, their cloaks dyed blue. Poplar seeds carried by the wind floated towards a divine reprieve, unseen by anyone, just as pollen remains invisible in spring.

In the graveyard, they sat at opposite ends of a burial mound. Arghavan, his eyes downcast, and Zabih, drawing patterns in the earth. The grave bore no marker except a vertical cement slab with ‘Bibi Atreyi’ hastily written on it in black paint. I walked past them and settled down at the foot of a finely marbled headstone. I thought aloud about the countless stories and the lone spot among them all, urging time to speak, for it is but the aging of love. Zabih and Arghavan exchanged glances, their silence heavy with unspoken words. Arghavan’s face flushed with each glance, a shy tilt of her head following.

Their silent exchange continued, their desperation palpable in the brief exchanges of words and cautious glances. The monochrome spring of the cemetery bore witness to their plight, each grave indistinguishable from the next. I begged them to bridge the gap between them, to defy the norms that bound them to their solitary vigils. But they remained immovable, perhaps hearing my thoughts, but preferring to ignore them.

Finally Arghavan rose, her figure a solemn silhouette in the wind. Her departure was hastened by the swirling dust and the distant sounds of mourning, echoing the lament that none should perish in the spring. Zabih’s gaze lingered on her retreating form, shrouded in the collective grief of the graveyard.

A disheveled boy approached, his tin can glinting in the sunlight, and offered to clean the grave. I asked instead for a simple hand-washing and confronted the boy’s confusion with a handful of soil, a gesture with great symbolic meaning. His initial dismay turned to wonder at the unexpected weight of the soil, a moment of innocence amidst the solemn backdrop of the cemetery as he ran off, leaving his can behind, mesmerized by the illusion of value in his grasp.

“What do you want me to do? The Hafezieh guards are on my trail. Now I have to wait for you at the crossroads in the evening. I enjoy the moments when you approach me. When I paint a room, I secretly write ‘Arghavan’ on the walls with a brush, only to hide your name under a layer of paint later. It seems that even your father has become suspicious of my presence in your alley and often appears at the door with your servant to give me suspicious looks. If you wish, I will stop my visits. Your fiancé’s car seems like a menacing demon to me. I fantasize about confronting it with sword and spear and long to smash it to pieces. Please do not misunderstand me, madam, I did not give you my address to invite you, but to plant the seed of a thought, a mere possibility. Should you decide to visit, I will keep a respectful distance, even greater than that at the cemetery. Should you decide not to come, rest assured that my imagination is big enough to compensate you…” Deal with “Mantiq al-Tayr”

As the Nowruz tourists leave Shiraz with the change of season, the essence of orange blossoms fades into the night, giving way to the faint glow of oil lamps in the tavernas. The ethereal cloak wearers find solace under fountains of water, in dreams of fairy encounters. In search of knowledge, I turned to an elderly fortune teller, who always sits opposite an ancient cypress tree in Hafezieh, and asked him for a divination. “Make a wish,” he instructed me. I silently pondered: “Where is our unique jewel?” He reverently consulted the Divan and invoked the guidance of Hafez. This man, whose love story was tragically ended forty years ago at the violent hands of his lover’s brothers, still awaits her arrival. The verse he revealed from the Divan struck him so hard that he refused to share it, burdened by a vow never to reveal such a foreboding omen. I mocked his infatuation with an illusion, a love born in the realm of fantasy. He denied it, but the deep wrinkles on his face spoke volumes about a life steeped in longing and regret. “What was your wish?” he asked. “Another dawn,” I replied, leaving him to his lonely vigil.

“I am afraid I cannot stop reading your letters, nor can I stop commenting on these words. Your familiarity with me is confusing. Love cannot grow out of such distant encounters. Our encounters are limited to brief, real encounters and imagined companionship in the margins of borrowed books. How can we rely on the accuracy of our imagination? This method of outreach is flawed, I implore you, no more book recommendations. For your own sake, be careful. Your appearance has become sallow, underlined by dark circles of fatigue. My academic efforts have suffered as a result. I could not find coherence in ‘Mantiq al-Tayr’ amidst the distraction of your comments…” She wrote her farewell three times.

The correspondence developed, with exchanges carefully timed so as not to arouse suspicion. Books were not returned hastily; one friend was able to borrow them immediately afterwards, so that the other could only access the book after a fortnight’s delay. “…My companion, locked in his cage, mirrors my own madness by straining against the bars until I confront him. Then he resigns himself to his fate and just stares at me. yes, torture yourself,” I say, because I too am consumed by an insatiable longing, a fire that is kindled by your being. As long as you do not lead me, I cannot release you. In your gaze I find a temporary peace that allows me to slip into slumber. You are present in my every moment, even in misfortune, a silent witness to my daily trials. When I squeeze between passengers in a crowded minibus, I feel you watching me closely. I cross the city on foot and am aware of your gaze with every step, with every transaction. Accompany me for a walk through the Eram Gardens on Thursday at four of the clock; perhaps we can pass each other unnoticed and share the same view from a distance…”

“You made a grave mistake when you called my name as you passed, without thinking that others might hear you. Our actions were reckless. Even a solitary sighting of me in Eram Garden would arouse suspicion at home, despite your absence. Our connection feels increasingly precarious and is overshadowed by an ominous presence I sometimes perceive, a ghostly figure that adds to my unease. Yet in the midst of this turmoil, I discover a newfound appreciation for the little things in life and mourn an old vase as if it were a piece of my own soul. An unfamiliar heat burns within me, a feverish feeling that permeates my entire being. No, you cannot say that you love me, because love would not destroy a life so lightly. May God hold you accountable. You have become the core of my heart, you heartless person…”

“Why did your father hit me? I had sworn not to return to your alley, but there I was in the middle of the night in front of him and your servant. ‘Sir, I love your daughter,’ I confessed, knowing full well how futile my proposal was. His response was a slap, a threat to call in the authorities, whereupon I fled. Escape is humiliating. Tell your father, ‘Sir, a slap may cause a temporary tingle, but the mark it leaves is indelible, invisible, yet forever…'”

“Your indifference belies the pain you have inflicted on us. Your father’s fingers bear the marks of his aggression, they are swollen and stiff and seek relief in hot water baths. You seem lost and have not noticed that the owner of your ‘demon’ has been stalking me. I have reduced his ‘demon’ to rubble, a vehicle without life force, powered only by wealth. Your flight was an impressive sight, swift and graceful, a moment of beauty in the midst of chaos. I laughed, not out of malice, but out of admiration for your spirit. To protect you, I pretended not to know who you were and claimed to be unaware of your presence. Forgive my deception.”

I retreat from the busy streets, whose inhabitants live a life without depth, and find solace with Hafezieh. Rest assured. In summer, Hafezieh’s gardens are adorned with purple evergreens, their presence reminiscent of lightning strikes without thunder, a phenomenon that dates back a century. Children, their laughter echoing like scattered toys, slip on the smooth stones next to the stairs. Only the dragonflies are noticeably absent, their absence a sign that many summers have passed… ‘Aunt Atrey certainly feels our footsteps above her resting place, but she must wonder why we are silent in our company. Before your arrival, my mind is teeming with things I want to say, but in your presence, all words seem trivial. I long for us to go beyond the usual boundaries of husband and wife. Last night you graced our home with your presence. You took a seat and I humbly knelt before you. It seemed that even the snake in its cage could not bear our togetherness, for it attacked the bars furiously in a vain attempt to reach us. I reached out my hand towards you, pausing briefly in front of your face as if I were brushing against a firethorn bush, then I withdrew. Even in sleep, my hand retains its dignity. ‘Then what are you afraid of when you are awake, my lady? ‘Why did you write that word at the end of our lane? Did you not promise to protect my honor? My father discovered it at dawn and slandered me with it. Perhaps his anger is justified. Someone must be giving me unwelcome attention. My mother thinks that all men’s words amount to a single intention, regardless of their expressions of love. What did you intend with your message written in blue? My father, in his contempt, has made your words unrecognizable with coarse black paint, except for one sentence: my fate. What truth remains now, trapped in lies and hypocrisy? My father haunts me at every turn, but I have persuaded him to allow my visits to the library. He’s waiting in his car at the entrance to Hafezieh, expecting me to return soon. ‘Why did you choose that word?’… ‘The walls of your alley offered no canvas for my explanation, and amidst the fervor of revolutionary slogans, what meaning would my solitary sentence have? How would you even recognize it? To ease your mother’s worries, I suppress every instinctive emotion in me. Yet I proclaim my love for you in every conceivable place and long for a realm where our love is not a lie. I aspire to become the greatest lover in history. Guide me on this path, teach me the art of love. The snake trapped in its cage sends its regards. Farewell…’ The shelves of the Hafezieh library have been cleared out by eager members, leaving only a few that were once filled by a naive benefactor named ‘Mandanipour’ Zabih and Arghavan have left their mark on these remnants. Their sweet, naïve words have transformed into the tangible essence of union, and perhaps in this alchemy lies a unique jewel for eternal togetherness… The ‘Khamsa of Nizami’ and ‘Divan-e Shams’ bear the traces of their love, which culminated in the exploration of ‘The Burden of Existence’ Subsequently, they erased their original traces and provided the books with new ones, which eventually found their way into the Divans of Hafez, each narrative imbued with its own layer of doubt and repeated ad infinitum. This was not the path I had envisioned. My heart constricts with each repetition, burdened by the thought that it would not have ventured beyond a single ghazal had it known. I asked the soothsayer at the grave for another divination. He consulted the divan and revealed the same ominous prediction to me, looking at me with a look of fear. He stretched out his hand as if to touch my face, but I drew back. why do you give up the dervish’s cloak, why do not you let down your hair? The water is waiting for you, the earth longs for your touch. You have sought happiness countless times, but when enlightenment has come to you, you have never shared it with those whose destinies you have read He exclaimed, ‘With each attempt, you have gotten further and further away, making love more and more elusive…’ I replied: ‘Yes, hope has led me astray. But what do you know? Perhaps the circle of eternity has come full circle and while we drift apart on one side, we come closer on the other.”

Arghavan waited in front of Hafezieh for her father, who did not come. She began to walk, passing Zabih at the crossroads where he stood every evening, his hopes turning green and yellow and then extinguished. Arghavan had unexpectedly stopped visiting the library for over a month, so the reasons for the separation between her and Zabih remained a mystery to me, an outsider to this graveyard. When she returned, Arghavan looked thinner, without makeup. When she saw Zabih in the middle of the sidewalk with his hands up, she was startled. Onlookers paused as Zabih’s silent screams filled the air and he spun so fast his feet blurred. The cars from 1994 honked like frogs as Zabih, now shoeless, danced on the asphalt. Arghavan dropped her book and covered her mouth in shock as Zabih collapsed and his dance became a dizzying, feverish sway. Onlookers murmured, “He’s crazy,” a sentiment shared by those unfamiliar with the depths of love. While Zabih lay seething on the sidewalk, Arghavan remained outside the closing circle, unable to assert himself or scream. Zabih’s eyes searched Arghavan as she retreated, tears streaming down her face.

I returned to the grave as the fall winds of Shiraz stirred the cypresses and bitter oranges. A sycamore leaf scraped over a marble headstone, its sound echoing morbidly beneath the earth. I lamented the transformation of Hafezieh from a quiet place of worship into a crowded urban space and reflected on the naivety of our actions and the harsh reality of love and life.

Arghavan borrowed the Tadhkirat al-Awliya’ but never returned, and Zabih disappeared from the intersection. Their absence left a void, their fate unknown to me. My days were spent wandering, my mind lost in memories and books, haunted by the image of intertwined snakes, a symbol of our intertwined fates.

I stood outside Arghavan’s house, her window the only one that wasn’t locked, thinking about the limits of privacy and the ghosts of lost love. I approached Zabih’s door in the rain. My pleas for understanding and reconciliation were met with his weary resignation. His door closed and I was left to ponder the true nature of love, a feeling echoed by a distant voice responding to my silent cry, “He wants it, he wants it…”

The disciple had returned with rose water and asked the old man for a fortune-telling, which he refused, saying that he had retired from fortune-telling. Instead, he handed the disciple his book. When the disciple anointed the gravestone with rose water, I wanted to do my part, but I was rejected and ridiculed. Our exchange of words escalated into a confrontation, witnessed by the old man’s laughter. When I was outmatched, I retreated and tumbled down the stairs to the laughter of the onlookers. The old man offered to help me, but I refused. I regretted the waste of his gesture and the rose water and my failure to temper my pride and avert my downfall.

I sought refuge under the cypress, whose winter warmth calmed me more than my own cold. There I met the snakes that had freed themselves from their captivity and looked at me with their cold gaze when I dared to reach out, only to be repelled by their venom.

Zabih, hidden among the bitter oranges, was lost in thought and did not notice my presence. I warned him of the transience of his desires and the inevitability of loss, but he remained defiant, convinced of the constancy of his will. Our brief contact revealed his fear, a moment that distanced us even further from each other, for fear humiliates, and to humiliate is to sin.

As Arghavan approached, the scene changed. She stood in front of Zabih, drenched from the rain that had spared us. Their silent exchange culminated in a mutual decision to leave. The rain’s absence on us hinted at a greater plan, keeping the lovers’ grief from diluting and preserving the purity of their moment.

As the drumbeat echoed, Zabih rose and together with Arghavan they walked towards the tomb, their path marked by the vibrant spirit of jasmine that heralded spring. Their touch went unnoticed, lost in the depths of their shared history and unspoken regrets. Arghavan broke the silence with an apology for abandoning Zabih in a moment of vulnerability on the road, while Zabih showed remorse for past accusations and emphasized the simplicity of Arghavan’s life before their paths crossed. Despite their turbulent past, Arghavan had no regrets, which Zabih acknowledged with a laugh.

They knelt beside the grave as equals and said goodbye to the only witness to their decision to leave the country. The scene was full of irony, watched only by the cypress and the violets, symbols of enduring love and fleeting joy. As they conversed, I withdrew, respecting their privacy as I pondered the nature of true happiness and the elusive nature of joy. The fortune teller’s laughter hinted at a wisdom I could not comprehend. It suggested that happiness is not found in laughter, but in the comfort found in one’s own heart.

As I reflected on their union revealed in their intimate dialog, I recognized the paradox of love born in fantasy and revealed in togetherness. Their immersion in conversation signaled a bond that was uninterrupted by outside gazes or expectations.

But when I turned around, they had disappeared without leaving a trace in the purple gardens, the corridors of Hafezieh or the old alleys, even when the clouds wept rain. Her disappearance, like the last pages of “Tadhkirat al-Awliya'”, marks the end of a narrative rich in introspection and the complexity of human relationships.

In the solitude evoked by the evening breeze, the beat of the drum and the rising of the vines, I pondered the eternal dance of grief and divinity and wondered why some people are destined for a cycle of separation and union – a theme as enduring as the nature of love and loss itself.

© Ali Salami 2024

About the Writer

Shahriar Mandanipour, a remarkable voice among third-generation Iranian writers, now lives in the United States. His literary portfolio, which includes titles such as “Censorship of an Iranian Love Story”,” “Moonbrow” and “Seasons of Purgatory”,” makes him one of the most important representatives of modern Iranian literature.

Mandanipour was born in Shiraz on February 15, 1957, but moved to Tehran in 1975 to study political science at the College of Tehran, where he graduated in 1980.

When the Iran-Iraq war broke out, Mandanipour saw the opportunity to gain experience for his writing and joined the military, where he served as an officer for 18 months.

After his service, he returned to Shiraz and headed the Hafez Research Center and the National Library of Fars. in 1996, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, the “Armenian Bus”, which targeted several Iranian writers. The following year, Mandanipour became editor-in-chief of Asr-e Panjshanbeh, a literary magazine that was later discontinued.

In 2005, Mandanipour moved to the United States and joined the International Writers Project at Brown College. He then spent several years at Harvard College and Boston College, where he worked on writing projects. in 2011, he returned to Brown College as a professor, focusing on Persian literature and modern cinema. He is now a faculty member at Tufts College.

Mandanipour’s literary contributions have greatly enriched modern Iranian literature and his works are among the best in the world.

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