Ali Salami

The Cow [Gav] by Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi

As the morning sun shone, Mashdi Hassan’s wife emerged in distress. Islam was by the pool, readying his cart for a trip to Khatoon Abad with the village chief for a memorial service for Mashdi Hassan’s sister. The village chief, having intended to invite Mashdi Baba to join them, was met with excuses, as Mashdi sought any reason to avoid accompanying him. Suddenly, the anguished cries of Mashdi Hassan’s wife near the pool caught their attention.

“Who is crying?” inquired the village chief.

“Is someone really crying?” Mashdi Baba questioned skeptically. He quickly ascended the ladder, peeking through the door’s upper aperture. Below, he saw Mashdi Hassan’s wife, clad in her black chador, collapsed beside the pool, pounding her head and weeping. Islam, already at the scene, looked on in concern.

“What’s the matter?” the village chief asked.

“Mashdi Hassan’s wife is at the pool, beating herself and crying,” Mashdi Baba informed.


“How would I know? Maybe something’s wrong with Mashdi Hassan.”

“Mashdi Hassan isn’t here; he went to Seyed Abad for drudgery,” the village chief corrected. Mashdi Baba then wondered aloud, “Has the woman lost her mind to behave so violently?”

The village chief, unable to bear her loud wails, rushed outside. Mashdi Baba remained atop the ladder, peering down. The village chief’s arrival at the pool drew the villagers to their windows, all stunned by the commotion.

Islam, crouching by Mashdi Hassan’s wife, urgently asked, “What’s the matter? What happened?”

She wailed in agony, “Oh no, a clamity, a clamity has happened…”

Naneh Khanum and the village chief, followed by other villagers, converged around the grieving woman. Floating in the pool was a chicken carcass, with fish nibbling at the fat spreading across the water’s surface.

Upon Naneh Khanum’s arrival, she sat across from Mashdi Hassan’s wife, seeking clarity. “Mashdi Tuba, what happened, sister?” Overwhelmed by the gathering crowd, Mashdi Hassan’s wife lay on the ground, her face contorted with grief, tears streaming down.

The village chief, turning to Naneh Khanum, asked, “Is Mashdi Hassan alright?”

“She can’t speak, she’s too distressed,” Naneh Khanum responded. “Move aside, everyone. Could someone light an old cloth for me?” Abbas’s sister complied, igniting a cloth and passing it to Naneh Khanum, who twisted it, extinguishing the flame and producing a plume of black smoke.

The men, seeking respite, gathered under a willow tree, while the women formed a protective circle around the inconsolable Mashdi Hassan’s wife.

Naneh Fatemeh instructed, “Hold her hands and shake her.” Two women promptly sat down beside Mashdi Toba, clasping her hands and giving them a gentle shake. Naneh Khanum then held the cloth near her nose, and after a few moments, Mashdi Tuba’s eyes fluttered open. She sat up, scanned her surroundings, and burst into loud wails, mourning, “Oh no, oh no, calamity…”

The men, drawn by her cries, approached, with the village chief standing beside Naneh Khanum. He urged, “Ask her if something has happened to Mashdi Hassan?” Naneh Khanum suggested, “Let her drink some water first; she can’t speak without it.” Moving closer, the village chief directly asked Mashdi Hassan’s wife, “Tell me, sister, is Mashdi Hassan alright?” As a woman brought water in a bowl, Naneh Khanum prompted her to drink. But Mashdi Hassan’s wife, struggling to sit up, declared, “I don’t need water to tell you… what a calamity!”

Islam hinted to the men, “Something must have happened to Mashdi Hassan…”

They nodded in agreement. Naneh Khanum, surprised by Mashdi Tuba’s refusal to drink, handed the bowl back to Abbas’s sister, wondering aloud how she could speak so clearly without water.

The men stepped back, while the women, forming a closer circle around Mashdi Hassan’s wife, waited anxiously.

Mashdi Baba, observing from above, called out, “Mashdi Islam, what happened?”

Islam signaled for silence. The gathering hushed. Wiping her face with her chador, Mashdi Hassan’s wife revealed, “The cow, Mashdi Hassan’s cow died last night.”

The men exchanged shocked glances. Naneh Khanum stood up abruptly, asking, “What? What did you say?”

“In the morning, when I went to give it water, I found it lying dead, mouth bloody,” Mashdi Hassan’s wife explained.

The men turned towards Mashdi Hassan’s house, while the women murmured amongst themselves. Naneh Fatemeh uttered a prayer, “Ya Imam Zaman (O Lord of the Age).” Naneh Khanum probed further, “But why? Was it ill?” Mashdi Hassan’s wife insisted, “No, it was perfectly healthy. Last night it was fine, sitting and eating.”

Baba Ali, amidst the men, speculated, “How do we know it wasn’t the evil eye?”

Islam, puzzled, replied, “Evil eye? Who would do such a thing?”

Baba Ali, with a hint of superstition, retorted, “You never know, may God protect us all from the evil eye!” Naneh Khanum, joining in, sighed deeply and added, “Amen, Lord of the Worlds…”

The village chief, thoughtful, removed his hat, ran a hand over his head, and posed another possibility, “And how about a snake bite? Could it have been bitten by a snake?” Meanwhile, Mashdi Baba, impatient for information, shouted from the door’s upper hole, “Islam, Mashdi Islam, what happened?”

Islam, signaling for silence, focused on the situation at hand.

Mashdi Tuba, distraught, spread her hands and lamented, “What am I to do? What tragedy should I mourn first?”

Mashdi Safar’s son, pragmatic yet blunt, declared, “No matter what, you can’t bring it back to life until Judgment Day.”

The village chief glanced at Mashdi Safar’s son, acknowledging his statement. Mashdi Hassan’s wife, still in despair, fretted, “What am I to do? If Mashdi Hassan returns and finds his cow dead, he will be heartbroken.”

As Islam gazed towards the empty road, Mashdi Baba, having just arrived, inquired, “What’s going on here? Mashdi Islam, what happened?”

“Quiet…” Islam whispered, trying to defuse the growing tension.

The village chief, wearing his hat again, turned to Islam and pondered aloud, “When Mashdi Hassan returns and discovers his cow’s death, can you imagine his grief?”

“What are we to do?” Islam asked helplessly.

“I’m not sure, you might know better,” the village chief responded ambiguously.

Islam approached the black washing stone, announcing, “The village chief says no one should tell Mashdi Hassan about his cow’s demise when he returns.”

Mashdi Safar’s son interjected, “But won’t he realize it’s dead when he doesn’t see it? Right, Mashdi Islam? Right, Mashdi Baba?”

Islam, standing on the stone, appeared bewildered and echoed, “The village chief wonders, if Mashdi Hassan returns and the cow is missing, then what?”

“Yes, what indeed?” mused the village chief.

Islam, addressing the crowd, reiterated, “The village chief advises not to inform Mashdi Hassan of the cow’s death. His wife should instead tell him that the cow has escaped and Ismail is searching for it.”

Mashdi Safar’s son, misunderstanding, interrupted, “She’ll tell him that the cow is dead.”

The village chief, seeking clarity, asked, “Mashdi Jafar, let Mashdi Islam finish, will you?”

Islam clarified, “His wife will explain that the cow has wandered off and Ismail has gone to find it.”

The men collectively fell into a solemn silence. Islam stepped off the stone and sought guidance, “What should we do now, village chief?”

The village chief, visibly troubled, admitted, “I don’t know what to do.”

Islam, addressing the stunned men, said, “The village chief suggests some of us should visit Mashdi Hassan’s house to assess the situation with the cow.” Upon hearing this, Mashdi Baba, acting pragmatically, approached the pool’s edge and began retrieving the chicken carcass with a stick.

Islam, the village chief, Abbas, Ismail, Mashdi Jabbar, and the Redhair, followed by Mashdi Hassan’s wife, who wept as she led the way, headed towards Mashdi Hassan’s house. Sunlight streamed through a hole in the roof, casting light on the middle beam of the stable, where a dirty lantern and a filthy rope hung. Mashdi Hassan’s cow lay there, lifeless and sprawled, its large eyes staring at the wall’s corner holes. Its mouth, stuffed with blood-soaked ropes, resembled a grotesque scene of forced feeding. The village chief knelt, peering into the cow’s lifeless eyes. Beside the carcass, Islam and Ismail settled, with Ismail prodding the bloody ropes in the cow’s mouth. Disturbingly, a sound emerged from the cow’s throat, akin to ropes gurgling down.

“Do you see our plight?” Mashdi Hassan’s wife implored the gathered men, her voice charged with grief.

“What’s done is done. What can we do now?” the village chief pondered.

“Yes, the deed is done. We must ensure Mashdi Hassan remains unharmed upon his return,” Islam added.

“Mashdi Hassan may never recover from this loss,” Ismail coughed out.

“May God have mercy,” Mashdi Jabbar solemnly uttered.

Mashdi Hassan’s wife, overwhelmed, leaned against the beam, her sorrow unabated…

Islam, witnessing her despair, urged Ismail, “Tell her not to cry. Advise her to hide her grief from Mashdi Hassan.”

Ismail approached Mashdi Tuba, lighting his pipe. “Sister, Mashdi Islam and the village chief advise restraint. Don’t let your grief show. Here, take this, it might ease your distress.”

Mashdi Hassan’s wife, trying to stifle her sobs, accepted the pipe from Ismail, who then rejoined the men.

“I wish more people had come,” The village chief lamented, circling the cow’s remains.

“And where shall we take the carcass?” Islam inquired.

“We’ll skin it, then remove it,” Mashdi Jabbar proposed.

“When is Mashdi Hassan expected to return?” Islam asked.

Mashdi Hassan’s wife, amidst her tears, informed them, “He’s definitely returning today.”

As the situation unfolded, Islam, deep in thought, sat by the wall. He removed his hat, running his hand over his head, and suggested, “We shouldn’t skin the cow now. Mashdi Hassan might return unexpectedly, making things worse.”

Ismail agreed, “Since you suggest so, we won’t do it.”

Mashdi Jabbar queried, “But where should we take it then?”

The village chief nodded in agreement with Islam’s caution.

Abbas proposed, “We could take it to the valley and leave it there.”

Islam quickly dismissed the idea, “No, the valley isn’t suitable; he might find it there.”

The village chief, acknowledging this, coughed and added, “Yes, Mashdi Hassan frequently passes through the valley to his fields.”

Both Islam and Ismail firmly stated, “No, we won’t take it to the valley.” The village chief, pondering further, suggested, “What about the salt land?”

Islam, considering this, replied, “The salt land? But the noise might attract attention, and the news could reach Mashdi Hassan.”

“So, what’s our plan now?” the village chief asked, unsure of the next step.

Islam, with a decisive action, removed bricks from the stable wall, letting in more sunlight. Mashdi Hassan’s wife, adjusting her chador and coughing, watched silently. Islam asked her, “Where is your well, Mashdi Khanum?”

She pointed out the location, near the straw bed.

“All right, we’ll place it in the well,” Islam decided. He stood, positioning his staff on the straw bed, signaling the men to prepare. He instructed the Redhair, “Quickly get a shovel and pickaxe.”

The Redhair hurried off as the men gathered around the cow’s carcass, a strange whistling sound emanating from its throat.

Upon excavating, they revealed a large pit. Islam tossed a stone into the well, the men listening intently to its descent. They then approached the carcass, debating the best way to move it. Ismail questioned their ability to lift it, but Islam proposed, “We won’t lift it; we’ll drag it to the well.”

Together, the men grasped the hind legs and tail, laboriously dragging the carcass towards the well. Islam, Ismail, and the Redhair positioned themselves on one side, with the village chief, Mashdi Jabbar, and Abbas on the other. They maneuvered the carcass, aligning it over the well.

Islam instructed, “Be careful. Ismail and I will push from the top.”

The village chief and Abbas positioned themselves cautiously at the well’s edge, their feet against the cow’s body. Islam, Ismail, and the Redhair, bracing themselves, began to gently push the carcass, preparing for its final descent into the well.

Ismail cautioned the men, “Be careful not to fall in yourselves.” Startled, the village chief and Abbas stepped back slightly. The carcass edged forward again, and with a coordinated effort, they pushed it into the well using their feet. As the cow’s body sank halfway into the well, the village chief and Abbas joined Islam, Ismail, and the Redhair, and all five men exerted themselves. The carcass slid more easily into the well, and when it was poised on the edge, they released their grip. The cow, with its limbs awkwardly extended and eyes open, plummeted into the well. The men peered in as a series of murmurs echoed from the darkness, followed by a final, resounding thud, reminiscent of water being poured from a large jug.

When Mashdi Hassan returned home, Abbas and his sister were deep in conversation with his wife. Setting down his saddlebag and discarding his shoes, Mashdi Hassan warmly greeted Abbas and inquired of his wife, “Have you watered the cow?”

Mashdi Tuba remained silent.

Mashdi Hassan, frustrated, lamented, “If I’m gone for just one day, must an animal suffer?” He grabbed an empty bucket and rushed to the pool. There, Islam, busy washing his cart, greeted him, “Mashdi Hassan, you’re back?”

“Just now. My wife neglected the cow; it’s parched,” Mashdi Hassan explained.

Islam, pausing his work, questioned, “She didn’t give water to the cow?”

“Yes, it’s dying,” Mashdi Hassan said, filling the bucket.

“Ismail has gone to search for it,” Islam interjected, trying to steer the conversation.

Mashdi Hassan, puzzled, asked, “Where’s Ismail gone?” and hastened towards his house, with Islam following. “To find the cow. Didn’t she tell you it escaped last night?”

“Who escaped?” Mashdi Hassan stopped in his tracks.

“Nothing’s wrong. It’s nearby. They’ll find it,” Islam reassured.

“My cow escaped?” Mashdi Hassan asked, disbelief creeping into his voice.

“No, your cow, your cow has escaped,” Islam clarified.

Mashdi Hassan, agitated, dashed forward, splashing water from the bucket, protesting, “It’s a lie, my cow doesn’t escape.” Islam, attempting to placate him, assured, “They’ll find it, they already have, they’ll bring it back tonight.”

Reaching the stable, Mashdi Hassan set the bucket down, hesitating momentarily before brushing his wet pant leg, closing his eyes, and opening the stable door. Inhaling deeply, he declared, “It hasn’t escaped, my cow is here.” Islam, maintaining the facade, agreed, “Yes, Mashdi Hassan, don’t worry. The cow hasn’t escaped.”

Mashdi Hassan, facing away from the stable door, affirmed, “Yes, it’s here. Can’t you smell it? Aren’t you going to give it this water?”

Islam, stepping forward, responded, “Yes, yes, I will give it.”

Islam, grasping the situation, picked up the bucket and entered the stable. Outside, Mashdi Hassan stood, unable to bring himself to look inside. He listened, imagining the sounds of Islam’s footsteps and the cow drinking from the bucket.

When Islam emerged, Mashdi Hassan remained fixed in place, his back to the door, tears of relief streaming down his face.

As the evening set in, Islam arrived at Mashdi Hassan’s house with the village chief, Mashdi Jabbar, Abbas, and the Redhair, accompanied by his black goat and dog. Noticing the group, Mashdi Hassan’s wife hurried to the door, barefoot and anxious. Islam, sensing the tension, inquired softly, “We’ve come to check on Mashdi Hassan. Is he alright?” She gestured for them to lower their voices.

“What is he doing?” Islam asked again.

“He’s in denial,” she replied. “He keeps saying his cow hasn’t vanished, insisting that we are all lying to him.”

“Has he been inside the stable?” the village chief inquired.

“No, he’s been sitting on the roof of the stable,” she pointed out.

Looking towards the stable, they saw Mashdi Hassan perched on the roof, his body curled up, clutching his knees.

“What do we do now?” Islam wondered aloud.

“Let’s go talk to him,” suggested the village chief.

“Yes, let’s tell him the truth,” Islam agreed.

Mashdi Hassan’s wife added, “He’s been alternating between laughter and tears, convinced his cow is still here.” The group cautiously approached the stable and climbed the mound next to it, lining up at the edge of the roof. Mashdi Hassan, startled at first by the sight of the heads, soon recognized them and moved closer, sitting on his haunches.

“Mashdi Islam, you are a bad man. Why have you opposed me all this time? What did you do?” he accused Islam.

Then, turning to the village chief, he pleaded, “Village chief, tell him. Does he have something against me? Why did he lie? I’ve never done him wrong. By the pool, he said the cow had escaped, but that’s a lie. He’s trying to frighten me. My cow couldn’t have just vanished. Where could it possibly go?”

The village chief, trying to ease the situation, responded, “Yes, Mashdi Hassan. Mashdi Islam bears no ill will towards you. He’s honest. Your cow really has escaped. Haven’t you wondered about its whereabouts? And where Mashdi Ismail might be?”

Mashdi Jabbar chimed in, “Mashdi Ismail has gone to look for the cow.”

Abbas added, “Even if you search all the hills, you won’t find Mashdi Ismail.”

“Mashdi Ismail is out searching for the cow,” the Redhair echoed. Amidst this, Mashdi Hassan’s wife began sobbing loudly in the yard.

Mashdi Hassan, visibly distressed, retreated further and insisted, “It’s a lie; my cow is here. It hasn’t escaped. I know its scent; it hasn’t left.”

Islam, attempting to reason with him, said, “If your cow is indeed in the stable, why not go see it?”

The village chief supported this, “Yes, why not check, Mashdi Hassan?”

“Go see your cow,” urged the Redhair.

“Go to it,” echoed Abbas.

“Just go,” Mashdi Jabbar pressed.

Mashdi Hassan, increasingly agitated, moved to the opposite side of the roof hole, asserting, “I’m not going down. I’ll stay right here.”

“Why won’t you go down?” asked the village chief.

Mashdi Hassan began, “I’m scared that if I go down…” but was cut off by Mashdi Jabbar’s insinuation about the cow’s absence. Fervently, Mashdi Hassan proclaimed, “No, it’s there. I know it is.”

“Then why sit here?” questioned Abbas.

Mashdi Hassan, at a loss for words, claimed, “I’m just watching her come up from the grass. Look, she’s coming now.” Everyone’s gaze followed to see the moon rising like a golden kite from the grass.

Mashdi Hassan, with a hint of delusion, laughed, “I’m waiting here. You all go on. I’ll wait for her to come up, then go down and bring her water.”

The group descended from the roof, leaving Mashdi Hassan to his vigil. The night was filled with the sounds of a new cow mooing throughout the village, keeping everyone awake.

Abbas, his sister, and Ismail, peering from their window, watched the pool and a small black shape moving on the water. Other villagers sat at their doorways, observing a large black shape running in the alleys, mimicking cow sounds.

At dawn, Mashdi Hassan, drenched in sweat and bellowing, rushed from the fields to his house, heading straight for the stable and straw bed. Mashdi Tuba, watching from the stable roof, saw him bury his head in the straw, stomping and bellowing like their cow, reminiscent of times when he brought it home from the fields.

Islam, the village chief, Mashdi Jabbar, Abbas, and the Redhair, followed by Mashdi Hassan’s goat and dog, arrived at his house. Mashdi Hassan’s wife, peering through the half-open door, informed them, “He’s in the stable, making cow noises.” The village chief, witnessing the depth of Mashdi Hassan’s grief and confusion, solemnly remarked, “May God have mercy on him.”

Abbas suggested, “Let’s go see what he’s doing.”

Islam, observing the gravity of the situation, replied, “He’s entitled to his actions, but Mashdi Hassan has changed.” As Mashdi Hassan’s wife wept, the men congregated at the stable door, where they found Mashdi Hassan standing on the well, his head buried in the straw bed, and kicking the ground.

The village chief attempted to reach out, “Mashdi, look here. Listen to me.”

Abbas, trying a different approach, said, “Mashdi, your cow has been found. The village chief says so.”

Islam cautioned, “Speak gently, don’t startle him. He’s not himself.”

“Mashdi Hassan,” Abbas continued, “Ismail has found your cow.”

Mashdi Hassan lifted his head from the straw, revealing a face smeared with blood, his eyes wild and frantic, and his mouth filled with chewed grass. After a brief, growling glance at the men, he buried his head back in the straw.

“We can’t communicate with him like this,” Abbas noted.

“Has he really changed, Mashdi Islam?” Mashdi Jabbar questioned.

The village chief, concerned, asked, “Why is he behaving this way?”

Islam, deeply thoughtful, answered, “I fear Mashdi Hassan is delirious. He’s becoming like a cow.”

The Redhair, alarmed, stepped back, “A cow?”

“Yes,” Islam confirmed.

“What do we do now?” asked the village chief.

“Let’s go inside. Perhaps we can help,” Islam suggested.

Abbas tried to calm the Redhair, “Don’t worry. It’s still Mashdi Hassan. Let’s go inside.” The men entered the stable, where Mashdi Hassan’s wife observed them from the roof.

Meanwhile, Abbas’s sister was busy cleaning wheat, and Ismail sat at her window, speculating about the men’s return.

“Do you think he’ll recover?” she asked.

“Only God knows. But Mashdi Hassan’s love for his cow is greater than my love for you,” Ismail responded.

“It’s common among villagers,” she remarked.

“Ismail, you should leave soon,” she suggested.

Ismail joked about needing to eat her pudding first, and they shared a light-hearted exchange about marriage and her cooking.

Back at the stable, Mashdi Hassan turned to the men, his mouth still full of chewed fodder. Islam, careful with his words, greeted him, “Salaam alaikum, Mashdi Hassan. We’re here to see how you and your cow are.”

“I’m not Mashdi Hassan. I’m his cow,” Mashdi Hassan replied, still chewing.

This statement alarmed the Redhair, who retreated. The village chief, trying to bring Mashdi Hassan back to reality, insisted, “You’re Mashdi Hassan, right?”

But Mashdi Hassan, stamping his foot, maintained, “No, I am Mashdi Hassan’s cow.”

Mashdi Jabbar, trying to bring Mashdi Hassan back to reality, warned, “Don’t say such things. If the villagers hear, they might come to harm you.”

Abbas and the village chief couldn’t help but chuckle at the bizarre situation, but Islam shot them a glare of disapproval, and the Redhair nervously hid behind him. Mashdi Hassan, still chewing, insisted, “No, the villagers won’t come here. Mashdi Hassan is on the roof, keeping watch over me.”

The village chief, losing patience, urged, “Stop this nonsense, Mashdi Hassan. You’re causing trouble for everyone. You’re not a cow; you are Mashdi Hassan!”

But Mashdi Hassan, steadfast in his delusion, stomped his foot and declared, “No, I am not Mashdi Hassan. He went to Seyed Abad for drudgery. I am his cow.”

The village chief, exasperated, exclaimed, “La ilaha illallah There is no god but God). What kind of cow are you? You don’t even have a tail!”

This triggered Mashdi Hassan to erupt into a frenzy, running around the stable, hitting his head against the wall, and bellowing until he collapsed onto the straw bed. Catching his breath, he resumed his bovine behavior, asking despairingly, “If I don’t have a tail, does that mean I’m not a cow?”

Islam, seizing the moment, reasoned, “If you really are the cow, then you should be in that well we buried the cow in. If not, then you must be Mashdi Hassan.”

Mashdi Hassan’s reaction was even more frantic. He spat out the grass, bellowed for Mashdi Hassan, and panicked about the villagers conspiring against him.

As the men prepared to leave, Islam tried to calm him down, “Alright, Mashdi Hassan’s cow, we’re leaving. We’re not villagers. You know us. Rest now. Do you need anything?”

Mashdi Hassan, momentarily pacified, requested, “Bring grass, alfalfa, a cow for mating, water,” before resuming his bovine bellowing for water.

As the night passed halfway, three ‘villagers’ emerged from the darkness. They were carrying ropes over their shoulders and knives at their waists. The first villager said, “Which way should we go?”

The second villager replied, “Let’s go to the village.”

The third villager agreed, “Yes, let’s go there. To the village.”

The first villager asked, “What will we do there? We won’t find anything.”

The second villager said, “Today in Khatun Abad, they were saying that Mashdi Hassan’s cow is dead.”

The first villager questioned, “What can we do with it?”

The second one replied, “We’ll go skin it.”

The first villager doubted, “Haven’t they already skinned it?”

The second villager informed, “In Khatun Abad, they said they threw it away without skinning it.”

The first villager decided, “Then let’s go. Before any animal gets to it, we should reach it.”

The second villager suggested, “Let’s go find it.”

The third villager added, “Actually, someone in Jamishan told me the cow is still in the stable.”

The first villager responded, “Even better, let’s go.”

Agreeing, the second and third villagers said, “Let’s go.”

All three, with their ropes and knives, took a shortcut to the village.

When the villagers reached the village, it was still dark. They drew their knives and crept through the orchard to the village. Papakh, who was sleeping on the orchard wall, raised his head, saw the dark figures, howled, and jumped down, rushing to Islam’s house and scratching the ground. Islam, who was awake, looked through the hole in the roof at his neighbor. He got up and went to the window; Papakh wagged his tail and quieted down. Islam heard the rustling of the villagers and stepped back, hiding behind the window ledge. Mashdi Safar peeked out from the hole in his roof and watched the pool. Abbas’s sister and Ismail, hiding behind a wall, pulled themselves up to see the villagers approaching like three dark towers from the pool. Ismail said, “Do you see?”

Abbas’s sister asked quietly, “Who are they?”

Ismail swallowed and whispered, “The villagers, the villagers.”

Frightened, Abbas’s sister hurriedly scrambled away from the edge of the wall and went to her husband, shaking Abbas, who was sleeping by the window, and said, “Abbas, Abbas, the villagers have invaded the village.”

Abbas woke up and saw the villagers turning into an alley. Abbas and Ismail, armed with sticks, reached the alley, followed by Islam and Mashdi Safar’s son, also with sticks. Mashdi Jabbar and Mashdi Baba appeared as well. The villagers set out.

The villagers, with knives in hand, approached Mashdi Hassan’s house and stopped.

The first villager said, “There’s noise.”

The second one agreed, “Yes, I hear the panting of a cow.”

The third one concluded, “So, it’s a live cow.”

The first one directed, “Open the ropes. We’ll tie its mouth and drag it out.”

The second and third villagers opened their ropes.

As the first and second villagers turned to look back, they saw the villagers with sticks lined up behind them. The villagers froze in place. The first villager also turned with his knife and remained still. Mashdi Hassan’s wife, who had been sleeping on the stable roof, woke up and sat up. Mashdi Hassan started making noises from inside the stable. The villagers with sticks charged. The villagers jumped onto the mound of dirt behind the stable and from there onto Mashdi Hassan’s roof, before the villagers with sticks could reach them, throwing down their ropes and raising their knives.

Islam shouted, “Don’t let them escape!”

When the villagers arrived at the village, it was pitch dark. They drew their knives and crept through the orchard into the village. Papakh, who was asleep on the orchard wall, raised his head, saw the dark figures, howled, jumped down, and rushed to Islam’s house, scraping the ground. Islam, unable to sleep, was looking through the hole in the roof at his neighbor. He got up, went to the window, and Papakh wagged his tail and quieted down. Hearing the rustling of the villagers, Islam pulled back and hid behind the window ledge. Mashdi Safar peeked through the hole in his roof and watched the pool. Abbas’s sister and Ismail, hiding behind a wall, pulled themselves up to see the villagers advancing like three dark towers from the pool. Ismail said, “Do you see?”

Abbas’s sister asked quietly, “Who are they?”

Ismail swallowed and said, “The villagers, the villagers.”

Frightened, Abbas’s sister hurriedly scrambled away from the wall edge, went to her house, shook Abbas, who was sleeping by the window, and said, “Abbas, Abbas, the villagers have invaded the village.”

Abbas woke up, looked out, and saw the villagers turning into an alley. Abbas and Ismail, armed with sticks, reached the alley, followed by Islam and Mashdi Safar’s son, also with sticks. Mashdi Jabbar and Mashdi Baba joined them. The villagers set out.

The villagers, with knives in hand, approached Mashdi Hassan’s house and stood there.

The first villager said, “I hear something.”

The second one added, “Yes, I hear a cow panting.”

The third one noted, “So, a live cow.”

The first one directed, “Open the ropes. We’ll tie its mouth and drag it out.”

The second and third villagers opened their ropes.

As the first and second villagers turned back to look, they saw the villagers with sticks lined up behind them. The villagers froze in place. The first villager also turned with his knife and stayed still. Mashdi Hassan’s wife, who had been sleeping on the stable roof, woke up and sat up. Mashdi Hassan started making noises from inside the stable. The villagers with sticks charged. The villagers jumped onto the mound of dirt behind the stable and from there onto Mashdi Hassan’s roof, before the villagers with sticks could reach them, throwing down their ropes and raising their knives.

Islam shouted, “Don’t let them escape!”

The men charged with a roar. Mashdi Hassan’s wife screamed in terror. Before the men could reach the roof, the villagers threw themselves into the orchard and vanished like the wind along the edges of the village. The village chief arrived with a lantern and saw the men with sticks on the roofs. He hurriedly found Islam and asked urgently, “What happened, Mashdi Islam?”

Islam replied, “Nothing, nothing. The villagers came to steal from Mashdi Hassan.”

As the sun rose, Islam appeared with a cart full of alfalfa from behind the orchard and came to the pool. Abbas’s sister was sitting beside the black stone of mourning, washing dishes. A gentle breeze swayed the alfalfa leaves. Islam, fetching a bucket from under the cart, filled it with water from the pool. His black horse started to drink. Islam’s black dog peered out of the window, took a look, and then went back inside. Islam hung the bucket under the cart, then climbed up and took a bundle of fresh alfalfa wrapped in burlap, and went down the alley to Mashdi Hassan’s house. Mashdi Hassan’s wife was sitting on the stable roof, her face covered, having fallen asleep.

Islam pushed aside the stable door and poured the alfalfa inside before turning back. The sound of Mashdi Baba’s cow, newly awakened, could be heard in the distance.

As evening fell, Islam appeared with an empty cart from behind the landlord’s orchard and came to the pool. Women were sitting in front of Baba Ali’s house, and Mashdi Safar, with a big stick, was pulling out a chicken carcass from the pool. Islam took his cart to the front of his house. Blacky came out, looked at Islam and then at the cart, and went to the horse. The horse lowered its head and closed its eyes. Islam took an empty bucket from under the cart, filled it at the pool, and then walked down the first alley to Mashdi Hassan’s house. Mashdi Hassan’s wife was sitting on the stable roof, her face covered, asleep.

Islam opened the stable door and went inside. A gentle, cold breeze carried the groans of a tired cow. Islam said, “It’s Mashdi Safar’s son.” Shah Taqi asked, “Did you bring him?” Islam replied, “He came on his own. I didn’t bring him.” Shah Taqi wondered, “Does he cling to you a lot?” Islam responded, “It’s okay.”

Shah Taqi thought for a moment and then said, “You know, Mashdi Islam, tonight is Mashdi Shafi’s wedding. I want you to take care of everything. My eyes don’t see well. I’m afraid it might get chaotic.” Islam assured, “Don’t worry.”

Shah Taqi unlocked a small door and went inside, signaling Islam to follow. They climbed the stairs and reached a hatch they had installed in the ceiling. They opened the hatch; first Shah Taqi, then Islam, pulled themselves up. They reached a large room with short windows. Islam looked around. In front of the window was a high wall with a large nail hammered into it, and a short rope tied to the nail. Shah Taqi went to the top of the room and opened another small door. They entered a square room without windows, lit by the evening light through a hole in the ceiling. A large jar was placed against the wall, and a small ladder leaned against it, with two clay jugs nearby. Shah Taqi tapped the jar and asked, “Do you see it?” Islam smiled. Shah Taqi said, “Go up, fill one of the jugs.”

Islam climbed up, opened the jar, and Shah Taqi passed up one of the jugs. As they descended the stairs, they placed the jug behind Islam’s door. Islam wiped his mouth and they came out. Shah Taqi locked the door. Islam, feeling pleasantly dizzy, picked up his instrument and joined Shah Taqi in the large room, now filled with guests. Many people were also sitting on the verandas, and women’s voices came from the next room. Shah Taqi drew the curtain. The women opened the door. Islam, staggering, went up to the room and sat on a large chair set up for him, embraced the drum, placed his hand on the strings, and said, “Congratulations and blessings to the bride and groom.”

Laughter from Mashdi Safar’s son and two young men from Seyed Abad echoed from another corner of the room. Islam listened to the laughter for a few moments, then pressed all five fingers down on the strings. As the sound of the instrument rose, the guests moved and clapped, and the wedding began. Apart from Islam, three other people sang. But no one sang as well as Islam, yet each time Islam’s voice rose, the laughter of Mashdi Safar’s son and the two young men from Seyed Abad filled the room. As night fell, the noise of the wedding grew louder. Islam and Mashdi Heydar, uncle of Mashdi Shafi, went up and down the stairs several times with full jugs. Shah Taqi sat on the veranda, his legs dangling, laughing heartily. Women moved in and out among the men, having pushed aside the curtain. After a while, Mashdi Shafi’s mother made her way through and came to Islam, whispering in his ear, “It’s time now, Mashdi Islam.”

Islam followed Mashdi Shafi’s mother among the women. She announced loudly to the crowd, “We’re going to bring the bride.” The crowd cheered, and Islam said loudly, “Congratulations and blessings,” and started playing the instrument. Three elderly women stood next to Mashdi Shafi’s mother, who said, “Don’t delay, go to the yard… the yard.” Islam asked, “Why are you taking them to the yard?” She replied, “We need to go to the bride’s house.” Islam said, “I don’t care about the others. I’m going alone.” As he turned to leave, he saw Mashdi Safar’s son and the two young men from Seyed Abad watching him from the men’s room, so he avoided entering. He descended the wooden stairs by the window into the yard, which was empty. A large wooden log lay in front of the kitchen, dark inside. Three elderly women sat in front of the stoves. Islam sat on the log. The sky was full of stars, and a faint green light rose from the fields. Mashdi Shafi’s mother called from inside the room, “Hey, Mashdi Islam! Hey, Mashdi Islam!”

As evening fell, Mashdi Islam stood up from the log and strummed the strings of his instrument. As the music started, the men came down from the right staircase and the women from the left into the yard. The old women emerged from the kitchen, and Islam returned to the log. The rooms emptied. Shah Taqi, sitting alone on the porch, shouted loudly, “Hey, Mashdi Islam. Mashdi Islam.”

Islam replied loudly, “Hey Shah Taqi, Shah Taqi.”

Shah Taqi asked, “Where are you, my son? Are you out of breath?”

Mashdi Safar’s son and the two young men from Seyed Abad laughed. Islam jumped down from the log, slid down, and began to play his instrument. The crowd, cheering, moved toward the alley.

When the bride was brought out from Mashdi Ruqayya’s house, the commotion increased. The women led the way, with the men following. The bride was surrounded by several old women, and children with lanterns lit the path. Among the women, two men were visible: Mashdi Shafi, dressed as the groom, and Islam, staggering while playing and singing. Between Mashdi Shafi and Islam walked Mashdi Ruqayya. The men, fewer in number, followed behind.

As the last person left Mashdi Ruqayya’s house, the neighboring old woman locked the door, plunging it into darkness. The lights in the stable shone brighter. Mice peeked out of the kitchen, and as the noise faded, they scurried toward the stairs.

At the alley’s corner, an old woman pulled Mashdi Shafi aside, saying, “Come, go home. Who told you to come out?”

Mashdi Shafi replied, “Everyone came out, so I did too.”

She said, “You should be coming with a lantern to welcome the bride.”

The two hurried down through the crowd.

As the groom left, Islam stopped singing. Mashdi Ruqayya asked, “Are you tired, Mashdi Islam?”

Islam drooped his arms, saying, “I’m very tired.”

“Why are you singing and playing alone all the time?” Mashdi Ruqayya inquired.

“No one wants to help me,” Islam laughed.

“And they don’t let you rest either,” Mashdi Ruqayya noted.

“What can I do?” Islam responded.

“It’s all Shah Taqi’s fault for not sending for you two days earlier,” Mashdi Ruqayya added.

“How did you come here?” Mashdi Ruqayya asked.

“We came by cart,” Islam said.

“Whose cart was it?”

“Two young men came to get me. We rode together,” Islam explained.

“I’m asking about the cart. Whose was it?”

“There’s only one cart in the village, and it’s mine.”

“And the horse?”

“What else?”

“How many horses do you have?”

“Just one horse, one cart, and one plow.”

“What else do you own?”

“I have one house too, behind the pool,” Islam showed his instrument. Mashdi Ruqayya said, “I also have one house, one cart, three cows, and two horses.”

“That’s good,” Islam laughed.

“But one of my horses is sick,” Mashdi Ruqayya added, “and I’m afraid it might die. It has an issue.”

“What’s the issue?” Islam inquired.

Mashdi Ruqayya said, “I don’t know. Nobody in Syed Abad understands what’s wrong with it.”

“Forget about those people in Syed Abad,” Islam said dismissively.

Mashdi Ruqayya continued, “Haj Reza came and couldn’t figure it out. Others also came, lit straw and rags in the stable, but couldn’t help.”

“When a horse gets sick, you should tie it to a cart and take it to the fields,” Islam suggested.

“My horse’s mouth is swollen, and it’s bleeding from the lips. It can’t eat anything but water,” Mashdi Ruqayya revealed.

“Bleeding? Why is it bleeding?” Islam asked in surprise.


As the crowd’s noise grew louder, Mashdi Ruqayya said, “No one in Syed Abad has figured out what’s wrong.”

Mashdi Ruqayya said, “It’s bleeding terribly. It just won’t stop. Can you do something about it?”

Islam replied, “Of course I can. Certainly, I can.”

Mashdi Ruqayya asked with curiosity, “Mashdi Islam, when will you do it?”

Islam said, “Whenever you want.”

Mashdi Ruqayya said, “Right now we are too busy. Let’s wait until things calm down a bit.”

He laughed, tapped Islam’s arm, and said, “We’ve reached the groom’s house.” Islam hugged his instrument and began to sing loudly as he strummed forcefully. The hum of the women, descending into the first pit, rose, and Islam saw Mashdi Shafi, out of breath and holding a wasp nest, approaching the crowd from the bottom of the pit.

After the guests left, Islam and Mashdi Heydar, holding lanterns, went up the stairs and reached the hatch they had installed in the ceiling. They opened the hatch and entered. The short windows were pitch dark. Mashdi Heydar opened another small door at the foot of the wall. Islam placed his instrument against the wall and handed the jug to Mashdi Heydar, who was pulling himself out of the hatch, and then followed. Mashdi Heydar placed the lantern on the shelf next to the jar. Then he went up, opened the jar, and with a bowl tied to the jar’s waist, began filling Islam’s empty jug. Islam said, “Mashdi Heydar, no need to fill it up, no one else will drink now.”

Mashdi Heydar said, “What do you mean no one will drink? I’ll drink, you’ll drink, Shah Taqi will too.”

Islam said, “They’ve taken Shah Taqi to the neighbor’s house, he’s caught a cold and is sleeping.”

Mashdi Heydar asked, “What about you? You haven’t slept, have you?”

Islam said, “You and I will drink here and then go down.”

Mashdi Heydar said, “We’ll drink here and also take some down.” He filled the bowl and handed it down the ladder to Islam. Islam sat on the ground. Mashdi Heydar said, “Give me the bowl.”

Islam said, “Wait, I’ll drink slowly. It’s very cozy and comfortable here.”

Mashdi Heydar said, “You’ve gotten yourself in trouble by sliding around so much.”

Islam said, “Shah Taqi himself said so. Now I’ll drink properly.” He drank from the bowl and then handed it back to Mashdi Heydar, saying, “Drink, drink, let’s go down.”

Mashdi Heydar said, “I’m staying here. You go down.”

Islam replied, “Well, I’m going.”

Mashdi Heydar joked, “Yeah, you really want to be in the public eye among the women, right? Now come up here with another bowl. You know it feels great to drink up here.”

Islam warned, “You’ll fall in there and suffocate.”

Mashdi Heydar laughed, “That’s even better.”

Islam didn’t respond and descended the ladder. The house had emptied, with only a few insiders scattered about. The door to Mashdi Shafi’s house was closed, and he was asleep, curled up inside a chest.

Islam, with his instrument under his arm, went through the wooden stairs to the courtyard and sat on a wooden stump. As he played, the rooms and lights danced before his eyes. When Islam’s music started, Mashdi Ruqayya came down from the wooden stairs and said, “Mashdi Islam.”

Islam replied, “What is it?”

Mashdi Ruqayya said, “I was looking for you.”

Islam responded, “I’m right here.”

Mashdi Ruqayya suggested, “Let’s go see my horse now.”

Islam noted, “It’s dark now; we won’t be able to see anything.”

Mashdi Ruqayya insisted, “We’ll take a lantern. No one’s around now, tomorrow it’ll be busy again.”

Without a word, Islam stood up and set his instrument aside.

Mashdi Ruqayya fetched a lantern from the kitchen. They climbed the ladder to the rooftop.

Islam asked, “Why are we here? Aren’t we going to your house?”

Mashdi Ruqayya replied, “No, we’ll go this way. Don’t worry about it.”

They crossed the rooftops and reached Uncle Zainal’s house. Mashdi Ruqayya dimmed the lantern and jumped into an enclosed area, followed by Islam. He set the lantern beside the wall and opened a hatch in the wall, revealing a red light. Inside the large stable, with a lantern hung from a beam, three cows had their heads in the feed trough, and an emaciated horse stood in the middle. Mashdi Ruqayya called the horse, which came and stood before them. Islam held the horse’s ears and pulled its head out. The horse’s eyes were closed, and thick blood oozed from its half-open mouth. Mashdi Ruqayya asked, “Do you see it?”

Islam wiped the horse’s tears and said, “Now, let’s give it a handful…”

Islam, Kodkhoda, Mashdi Jafar, Abbas, and The Redhair sat beside a lion-shaped tombstone in the cemetery.

Kodkhoda asked, “Now, what shall we do with it?”

Abbas suggested, “We need to do something.”

Mashdi Khayar noted, “It doesn’t speak anymore.”

Islam said, “Whenever you talk to it, it moos like a cow.”

The Redhair added, “He learned the language of cows too quickly.”

Kodkhoda glared, and The Redhair fell silent, retreating.

Mashdi Jafar noted, “It only eats clover and forage.”

Esmail worried, “I’m afraid its stomach and intestines might get ulcerated.”

Kodkhoda coughed and asked, “What do we do, Mashdi Islam?”

Islam suggested, “Let’s take it to the city.”

Esmail asked, “And then what?”

Islam explained, “We need to take it to the hospital. We couldn’t do anything. They’ll restore it to its true self, not transformed into a cow.”

Mashdi Jafar asked, “How will we take it there?”

Islam replied, “By cart.”

The Redhair said, “He can’t ride, you can’t ride a bull if you don’t take it.” Islam turned to The Redhair and said, “If it doesn’t become a riding bull… bring soil.”

Mashdi Roghiyeh went and picked up a handful of soil from another corner of the roof and poured it in front of Islam.

Islam took Mashdi Roghiyeh’s cloak, wrapped it around his fist, and opened the horse’s mouth, his fist clenched in the gap between the animal’s teeth. Mashdi Roghiyeh raised the lantern, illuminating the dark throat of the horse. Islam picked up the soil with his right hand and threw it into the horse’s mouth. The horse closed its eyes and kept its mouth open. Islam threw another fistful of soil into the horse’s dark throat and withdrew his fist. The horse stepped back and neighed. The cows poked their heads out of the haystack and watched. Mashdi Roghiyeh asked, “What happened?”

Islam replied, “It’s better now. It won’t spit blood anymore.”

Mashdi Roghiyeh closed the door, and Islam unwrapped Mashdi Roghiyeh’s cloak from his fist and threw it on the floor. As he stood up, three shadows withdrew from atop the wall and laughed silently. Mashdi Roghiyeh, startled, said, “Who’s there?”

Islam identified them, “Mashdi Safar’s son and the Syedabadis.”

He then bent down, put his head through the hole in the roof, and softly called, “Mashdi Heydar?”

There was no answer. Islam repeated, “Mashdi Heydar.” The lantern light revealed the curved body and the ladder steps.

Islam asked, “Mashdi Heydar, won’t you answer, or have you gone down?” Mashdi Heydar’s voice replied, “What do you want?” as he crawled between the steps. The lantern lit his face.

Islam asked, “Can you see me?”

Mashdi Heydar replied, “Don’t you want to come in?” Islam said, “I need to tell you something.” Mashdi Heydar inquired, “What do you want to tell me?”

Islam revealed, “I’m leaving tomorrow, as soon as the sun rises.”

Mashdi Heydar asked, “What happened? Won’t anyone tell you to sing anymore?”

Islam answered, “I’ve decided to leave.”

Mashdi Heydar probed further, “So, what will you do now?” Islam requested, “Fill a bowl and bring it up.”

Mashdi Heydar filled the bowl and slowly climbed the ladder steps, carefully placed one foot at the mouth of the curve, held his left hand to the edge of the hole, and passed the bowl through the narrow hole.

It was midday when Islam reached the pool. The village was quiet, and a few clouds cast shadows over the pool.

Islam got off the cart, placed his instrument on it, and sat on the black stone of Abbas’s sister’s bathing place, near the spring. He went and informed Ismail, who came out with a black goat and approached Islam. Mashdi Safar raised his head through the hole in the roof and saw Islam sitting on the black stone. Ismail loudly greeted, “Hey, Mashdi Islam.”

Islam turned and looked. The black goat nibbled on a small bush growing under the black stone and swallowed it. Ismail remarked, “You returned early, Mashdi Islam.” Islam inquired, “What’s new in Bayal?”

Ismail responded, “Nothing new.” Islam asked, “How’s the village head?”

Ismail answered, “Just as you saw him yesterday.”

Islam said, “Sit down and take out your pipe…”

Ismail sat, took out his tobacco pouch and pipe. Islam asked, “Who dumped these stones behind my house?”

Ismail replied, “I don’t know.” Islam probed, “They didn’t mean any harm, did they?” Ismail reassured, “No, they didn’t mean any harm.”

Islam said nothing more, just gazed at the houses and roofs of Bayal, noticing Mashdi Safar, his head like a dust-covered pumpkin, visible on the roof.

Ismail asked, “What are you looking at?”

Islam didn’t respond; instead, he extended his hand, took the water pipe from Ismail, and walked away.

When Islam woke up, the sun was streaming through the small hole in the storeroom, spreading across the room. The black goat had gone out and was now looking outside through the window. Islam got up and sat down. He had slept all night in his clothes and hat. The murmuring of women could be heard from near the pool. He stood up, looked through the hole in the storeroom, and saw his horse tied to a dried-up tree. The horse was in the shade, its head down, thick saliva dripping from its mouth. Islam thought to himself, ‘What’s wrong with it? Didn’t it drink water in Seydabad?’

He picked up a clay bowl, went into the room, opened the window, and stepped out. The women, busy washing dishes and clothes around the pool, fell silent when they saw him. They got up and ran into the alleys. Stunned, Islam watched the women, then went to the pool, bent down, looked at his reflection in the water, filled the bowl, and walked to the backyard. He rolled a stone aside and entered a secluded area. The horse turned and looked at him. Islam held the bowl to the horse’s mouth, but it didn’t drink. He splashed the water on the ground, threw the bowl beside the wall, lifted the horse’s head, and looked into its eyes. A shadow stretched in the secluded area, and a soft voice from the neighbor’s rooftop said, ‘What’s he doing?’ Another voice replied, ‘Standing next to the horse.’

A third added, ‘He’s probably thinking of hitching the cart and heading back to Seydabad again.’ The second laughed and said, ‘Then Mashdi Jafar is right.’

Islam raised his head and saw several pairs of eyes peering at him through the neighbor’s gutter.

Sitting behind the window in the dark, Islam saw a fringe of moonlight in the storeroom. The sound of shovels could be heard from outside. A few people were walking around the pool. Annoyed, Islam peered out and saw Mashdi Baba, Ismail, and Mashdi Safar’s son walking side by side, talking and laughing softly.

The next morning, Mashdi Baba approached Islam, who was about to mount the wheels on the cart. ‘Hey, Islam, I wanted to tell you something,’ said Mashdi Baba. Islam asked, ‘What do you want to tell me?’

Mashdi Baba said, ‘Do you know that a rumor is spreading?’ Islam asked, ‘What rumor?’ Mashdi Baba replied, ‘That you wanted to take a wife in Seydabad.’ Islam said, ‘Is that a sin?’

Mashdi Baba said, ‘They say they saw you and Mashdi Raghieh sleeping together under one of the roofs.’ Islam asked, ‘Who said that?’ Mashdi Baba replied, ‘Last night, they gathered in the square behind Mashdi Safar’s house, and his son was there too. He climbed onto the haystacks and was saying how you came with the Seydabadis and were found sleeping next to Mashdi Raghieh under a roof.’ Islam asked, ‘What did the others say?’ Mashdi Baba said, ‘They believed it.’ Islam asked, ‘And you?’

Mashdi Baba said, ‘Me? I didn’t believe it.’ Islam asked, ‘What did you say? What did you do about them?’ Mashdi Baba replied, ‘I told them that these rumors will never stick to Mashdi Islam.’

Islam asked, ‘What else?’

Mashdi Baba said, ‘I told them if anyone speaks ill of Mashdi Islam behind his back, I will hit them hard in the mouth.’

Islam laughed, said nothing, and returned to his work.

In the evening, Mashdi Islam came back from the field. His cart was loaded with alfalfa, and he was sitting atop the heap near the landlord’s garden at Klerseyd. He got down and began unloading the alfalfa. As the evening gradually turned to darkness, the cart was emptied.

Islam looked around. The big, pale moon was visible through the branches. As he was about to mount the cart, a stranger rode up in a small cart, stopped hastily, looked at Islam, and asked, ‘Aren’t you going to Seydabad?’


Startled, Islam said, ‘No, I’m not going.’ The stranger inquired, ‘Then where are you going?’

‘I’m going home,’ replied Islam.

The stranger said, ‘But I should tell you, Mashdi Islam, it’s better for you to leave Bayal.’ Islam asked, ‘Where are you from?’ The stranger answered, ‘I was just passing by. I have no business in Bayal,’ and he whipped his horse, speeding off. Islam watched as the stranger disappeared into the darkness. He left the cart behind the landlord’s garden and walked into the village, heading towards the square behind Mashdi Safar’s house. The men were gathered, and Mashdi Baba was speaking animatedly while the villagers listened. A small lantern hung over Mashdi Baba. Islam leaned against the wall and stood there, listening.

Mashdi Baba was saying, ‘Afterwards, with Mashdi Heydar, they go up and down, and when they find Islam, he can no longer stand on the ground.’ The voice of Mashdi Safar’s son came from behind the logs, ‘Mashdi Heydar stays up there, and Islam comes down alone…’

Continuing, Mashdi Baba said, ‘Yes, he comes down alone, searching everywhere for Mashdi Raghieh, unable to find her. He sits on a log, playing his instrument until Mashdi Raghieh comes to him. They both get up and go behind the rooftops of the Seydabadis who follow them. Eventually, they are found sleeping next to each other behind the barn roof. The Seydabadis, thinking of Bayal’s honor, quietly retreat. Two hours later, Islam is found hanging from a ladder, having fallen to the ground…’

Islam turned and walked into the alley, the loud voice of Mashdi Baba echoing in the distance, ‘He stayed on the ground until morning, and when they went to him, they saw he had vomited, and the ladder had fallen on his chest, and they thought…’”

Before sunrise, Islam took his instrument and, along with his black goat, stepped outside. He placed his instrument next to the black stone of the washer and headed towards the house of the village headman. He jumped over the wall into the courtyard of Bayal, grabbed a pickaxe, and started digging the ground in front of his house. After preparing the soil, he brought water, made mud, opened the window, and looked inside his room. He took off his shoes and threw them into the room, on top of the wheels and pieces of the disassembled cart from the night before. The room was dark; he had closed the attic hatch and the holes in the roof earlier that night. After observing his room thoroughly, he closed the window and began mudding.

As the sun rose, the villagers gathered around the pool, watching Islam, who was dressed in mourning clothes and working tirelessly. When Mashdi Baba saw Islam like this, he turned, went to find Ismail, and said, ‘Run to the village headman and tell him to come here immediately.’

Ismail responded, ‘The village headman is sick.’

Mashdi Baba insisted, ‘Tell him to come, Mashdi Islam wants to leave Bayal.’

‘Is he really leaving?’ Ismail asked before running towards the village headman’s house. Meanwhile, Mashdi Baba called out loudly, ‘Hey, Mashdi Islam!’

Islam turned, looked, but remained silent.

Mashdi Baba called again, ‘Hey, Mashdi Islam, hey!’ Baba Ali, peeking through the wall’s aperture, asked, ‘What are you doing, Mashdi Islam? Are you leaving?’

Tanha Fatemeh informed the women, ‘Mashdi Islam is mudding his house…’

Mashdi Baba inquired, ‘Why are you mudding your house, Mashdi Islam?’

‘I want to mud my house,’ Islam replied.

‘Is something wrong?’ asked Mashdi Baba.

‘Nothing’s wrong,’ Islam answered.

‘Why are you doing this? Are you going somewhere?’ Mashdi Baba pressed.


‘The house is mine. I’ll do what I want with it and go where I want,’ Islam declared.


Mashdi Baba asked, ‘Has something happened? Did someone say something?’

Islam didn’t respond. He finished his work and came down. He had mudded all the holes and doorways. The house now resembled a dome that had risen from the ground. He brought his horse from the secluded area behind the house and let it loose near the pool where the black goat stood, watching the crowd. Islam went to the black stone of the washer, picked up his instrument, and slung it over his shoulder, just as the village headman appeared, hobbling on crutches. The village headman’s face was swollen, and he struggled with his swollen feet.

‘I was coming to see you, village headman. Why have you come out?’ Islam asked.

Terrified, the village headman inquired, ‘Are you leaving, Mashdi Islam?’

‘I can’t stay in Bayal anymore. I have to go,’ Islam replied.

‘You shouldn’t leave, Mashdi Islam. I don’t have much time left. I’ll be gone soon. Don’t you want to bury me?’ the village headman said.

‘I don’t want to leave, but I have to,’ Islam said.

‘Who did this?’ the village headman asked.

The surrounding villagers remained silent.

The village headman continued, ‘Mashdi Islam, if you leave, there will be no one left in Bayal who can handle things. Why do you want to leave?’

‘Ask them, I’m leaving. Ask Mashdi Baba. We’ll take him on foot to the city,’ Islam responded.

Mashdi Jabbar interjected, ‘If we take him to the city and the hospital doesn’t admit him, then what?’

Ismail laughed and said, ‘As if they’d say they don’t accept donkeys.’

The village headman remarked, ‘Mashdi Islam knows best. Whatever he says, we must do.’

Mashdi Jabbar coughed and said, ‘If they don’t admit him, we’ll bring him back here.’

‘What do you say, Mashdi Islam?’ the village headman asked.

‘Yes, three of us will take him to the city,’ Islam said.

‘Which three?’ the village headman inquired.

‘Three who can handle it,’ Ismail said.

‘Mashdi Baba is not well, he won’t come,’ Islam added.

‘Then Mashdi Baba won’t come,’ the village headman concluded.”

Abbas said, ‘Tell those who will come…’ Islam replied, ‘Me, the village headman, and Mashdi Jabbar, the three of us will take him.’

The village headman thought for a moment and then said, ‘I’ll come. What about you, Mashdi Jabbar? Will you come too?’

Mashdi Jabbar responded, ‘Of course, I’ll come. Let Mashdi Hassan’s wife stay at my place so she isn’t alone.’

Abbas remarked, ‘It’s said that a new bride shouldn’t be left alone.’

The village headman concluded, ‘Then everything is settled.’

The villagers, in unison, pleaded, ‘Don’t go, Mashdi Islam. Stay.’

Islam responded, ‘Stay? For what? Have you forgotten yesterday? When God wept?’ He approached the village headman, embraced him, kissed his forehead, and without saying anything more, walked towards the crowd. The crowd parted to let him pass. As he walked towards the road, the villagers watched him. The village headman, sitting on the ground with a choked voice, lamented, ‘What have you done to him? What have you done?’ and burst into tears. Mashdi Baba said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know anything.’

Islam’s tambourine and black goat were found in the square behind Mashdi Safar’s house. They followed Islam through the crowd for a few steps, then stopped to watch him. Islam, with his horse’s head hanging low, went to the willow tree. With half-closed eyes, he looked at the ground, stuck out his dry, large tongue, and began to lick the red-edged black stone of the washer.

Three days later, as the evening grew cloudy and dark, Islam was seen carrying his large tambourine under his arm, walking through the city streets. He played his instrument and sang, drawing the attention of passersby who stepped aside, stopped, and watched the old villager in his black shirt with his unique instrument. They listened to his song, laughed, and threw money towards him.

As Mashdi Islam played, weaving from one street to another, he drew people along with him. The crowd laughed while listening to his song.”

In the asylum, an empty space was apparent. An unclaimed shirt and trousers lay on the bed, while four new chains had been placed underneath it. The small window failed to let in any sunlight, with the weather outside being cloudy, dark, and damp. The tall pine trees surrounding the asylum stood motionless. In the distance, the sound of a lone instrument and the laughter of a slowly approaching crowd could be heard. The asylum gatekeeper, confident in his duty, hurriedly searched for his keys.

Three days later, as the evening grew cloudy and dark, Mashdi Raghieh, Mashdi Heydar, and two young men from Seydabad arrived in Bayal with two horses. Mashdi Baba, peeking from the hole above the door, saw them approach and stop near the pool. The village was deserted except for Islam’s black goat, which was dozing off in front of the mudded window. Mashdi Baba called out loudly, ‘Hey, Seydabadis, who are you looking for?’ The Seydabadis turned, searching for the source of the voice. Mashdi Baba donned his hat and emerged, followed by a few villagers who gathered around the newcomers. The horses went to the pool and lowered their heads to drink, and Mashdi Safar’s son approached, engaging the young men in conversation.

‘Why have you come?’ Mashdi Safar’s son asked.

‘We’ve come looking for Mashdi Islam,’ replied the first Seydabadi.

‘We have business with him,’ added the second Seydabadi.

Mashdi Safar’s son glanced at Mashdi Raghieh and whispered, ‘Is it with her?’

Mashdi Raghieh, overhearing, turned and said, ‘Yes, I have business with him.’

Mashdi Baba, recognizing their quest, informed them, ‘Mashdi Islam has gone to the city.’

‘Gone to the city? When will he be back?’ Mashdi Heydar inquired.

‘It’s not known when he’ll return. Maybe he won’t come back at all, only God knows,’ Mashdi Baba responded.

‘Didn’t he say when he would return?’ Mashdi Raghieh pressed.

‘I don’t know, nobody knows. He mudded his house and left,’ Mashdi Baba replied.

Mashdi Raghieh and Mashdi Heydar exchanged glances, looking back at Islam’s house and his black goat.

‘Has something happened?’ Mashdi Baba asked, sensing their unease.

Mashdi Heydar remained silent, while Mashdi Raghieh repeated, ‘What should we do?’

The young men shrugged, offering no answers. Mashdi Raghieh approached the horses, patting one on the back, and said aloud, ‘I don’t know what to do with them.’ He then turned back to gaze at Islam’s house once more. Mashdi Baba and Mashdi Safar’s son moved closer, observing the horses who now had their mouths wide open, panting heavily. Blood oozed from their throats, foaming and falling into the pool, resembling various-sized frogs that had escaped from a dark, narrow water tank to reach a clear, vast ocean.

In a separate scene, Islam said, ‘Now let’s get up and find three ropes. When it gets dark, we’ll go to the right place.’

‘Alright, when it gets dark, we’ll meet in front of the barn,’ God replied.

Mashdi Jabbar coughed and stood up, followed by the others. The sun had not yet set, and there was still time before darkness enveloped the village.”

As darkness enveloped Bayal, three men emerged from their homes, ropes slung over their shoulders and bundles of bread under their arms. They converged at Mashdi Hassan’s house amidst the darkness.

“Have you come?” Islam asked.

“Yes, I have,” replied the village headman.

“I’m here too,” added Mashdi Jabbar.

Turning to Mashdi Jabbar, Islam inquired, “Did you tell his wife?”

“Yes, I told her. She’ll go to my house until we take Mashdi Hassan away,” Mashdi Jabbar responded.

“So, everything’s in order, isn’t it?” Islam confirmed.

Mashdi Hassan’s wife opened the window and emerged onto the roof of the barn, lantern in hand.

“We’re taking Mashdi,” announced the village headman.

As she began to sob quietly, she sat down. “Let’s go inside,” Islam suggested. Mashdi Jabbar opened the barn door, and they entered cautiously. Mashdi Hassan’s wife, still seated, hung the lantern through a hole in the roof, illuminating Mashdi Hassan lying asleep in front of the haystack.

In a dark valley, three men were seen dragging a roped cow towards the road. One man led, pulling the rope, while the others pushed from behind. The cow’s resistance wearied them. Three knife-bearing men watched from a hilltop.

As evening approached, Islam, the village headman, and Mashdi Jabbar returned to Bayal. The sound of a tambourine resonated through the village. Men sat around the pool, smoking. Upon seeing them, Mashdi Baba stood and approached Islam, “Where have you been, Mashdi Islam? Hurry, take your tambourine to Abbas’s house.”

“Why should I take my tambourine to Abbas’s house?” Islam questioned.

“It’s Mashdi Ismail’s wedding; he’s marrying Abbas’s sister,” Mashdi Baba explained.

“I have work to do. I’m very tired. I want to sleep,” Islam insisted.

“What? You don’t want to play music? Don’t you know it’s good luck for the bride and groom?” Mashdi Baba asked, surprised.

“I know, but I won’t play,” Islam firmly stated.

Mashdi Baba followed him a few steps, then stopped and looked back. The village headman and Mashdi Jabbar went their separate ways to their homes.

“What happened with Mashdi Hassan?” Mashdi Baba inquired.

“Mashdi Hassan? He didn’t make it to the city…” Islam’s voice trailed off. He went to his house, lay down, and blankly stared at the neighbor’s roof through the attic window.

Islam’s black goat emerged from the attic, glanced at Islam, and exited through the window. The tambourine, positioned under the willow, stood up, accompanied by Islam’s goat, and they walked through the crowd towards the first quiet, dark alley. The only sounds were the solitary crying of Mashdi Hassan’s wife with her lit lantern on the barn roof, the growing chorus of tambourines and clapping, and the despairing moans of a cow from inside the barn.


About the Author

Gholamhossein Sa’edi was a standout figure in Iranian literature, starting his journey in the literary world at a young age. He was deeply involved in both writing and the political scene of his time. Born on January 14, 1936, in Tabriz, Sa’edi quickly made a name for himself, working on publications like “Faryad,” and “Javanan-e Azerbaijan” by the time he was seventeen. His political activities, especially his connection to the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, even led to his imprisonment, showing how closely his writing and political beliefs were linked.

Although he initially studied medicine at the University of Tabriz, Sa’edi’s real love was literature. He began to stand out in this field under the pen name Gohar Morad. His early works, like the story collection “Magnificent Banquets” and the play “Kalateh Gol,” which was printed secretly, laid the groundwork for his future success.

Moving to Tehran in 1962 was a major turning point for Sa’edi. It allowed him to work with other well-known intellectuals and artists. Even as he finished his medical specialization in psychiatry, he played a key role in starting the Iranian Writers’ Association with famous members like Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Ahmad Shamlou, often meeting in Sa’edi’s clinic.

The 1960s were an incredibly productive time for Sa’edi. He traveled a lot and wrote a wide range of works, from story collections and plays to monographs and novellas. His writings from this time, including “Ilkhchi,” “Mourners of Bayal,” and “The Club-Wielders of Varzil,” show his deep connection to Iran’s social and cultural issues.

From 1967 to 1974, Sa’edi wrote some of his most important works, like “Fear and Trembling,” “The Cannon,” and “The Successor,” and worked on the “Alphabet” magazine. But this period was also tough for him, with his arrest in 1974, a year in solitary confinement and torture in Evin Prison, and a time spent hiding that took a toll on his health and spirit.

Sa’edi spent his last years in exile in France, where he battled liver failure and passed away on November 23, 1985. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery. His legacy lives on in Iranian literature, especially in theater and puppetry, where he brought new life to traditional forms and introduced fresh content.

Sa’edi’s life and work show the classic struggle of an artist, balancing creative expression, political involvement, and personal challenges. His diverse and thematically rich body of work continues to influence Iranian culture and the wider world of literature.

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