Ali Salami

Kanizu By Moniroo Ravanipour

Kanizu was dead. When Maryam left school and reached the street, she saw men in front of the “Tavakkoli” liquor store, uproariously laughing as they dragged a woman whose foot had slipped into a roadside ditch. The liquor store, situated a few hundred meters from Maryam’s school, was a site of daily discord. As the school bell signaled the end of the day, children spilled onto the street, and women from nearby villages, baskets laden with market goods, would disdainfully spit and avert their gaze upon passing the liquor store. Opposite the store lay a large dirt square where, each evening, men congregated, casually opening bottles with their palms and unwinding from the day’s toil with a bag of pistachios. Maryam felt an overwhelming paralysis; it was as if her legs refused to carry her forward, as if something within her had given way. An invisible force, as encompassing as the crowd in the square, seemed to constrict her throat. Her eyes stung, and a peculiar anxiety gnawed at her. The crowd swelled, the atmosphere charged with shouts of anger and the sound of objects being smashed. A few women, standing at a distance, smirked surreptitiously. Market porters, seemingly drawn by the commotion, joined the throng with their earth-toned sacks, grinning broadly with a glint in their eyes. The sun bore down mercilessly.

From afar, the sound of sea waves crashing onto the shore whispered a cautionary reminder:

“After school, come straight home. We’re swamped; this place is fraught with peril.”

It was her mother’s voice, fresh from their relocation to the city, leaving behind their seaside village. Each dawn, Maryam awoke to the sound of fishermen at the hillock, and like the other village children, she would make her way to the city. Her mother mourned the loss of the sea and her grandmother’s goats deeply.

“Whenever the weather shifts, the sea invades our bed. Living in a dowry chest would bring less upheaval,” her mother lamented.

She would firmly grip and twist the snouts of her grandmother’s emaciated goats, furiously chopping at the thorn bushes with an axe. Worn out, she would eventually clutch at her hair and lament in song:

“Ooh… ooh… may death claim you… ooh…”

The goats, their sides hollow and legs weak, nibbled on the laundry until they were chased off by her mother. The grandmother’s docile, silent deer simply observed the scene.

“Go on, stretch out… bring it over here,” she would instruct.

Kanizu was dragged across the ground, her dress tarnished with mud and adorned with flowers, the scent of earth enveloping the square. A thorny branch was entangled in her hair.

Kanizu, statuesque with her doe-like eyes and rich chocolate complexion, would walk through the alley, her fragrance lingering in the air. It seemed the town’s men, drawn by her scent, frequented the alley, inciting her mother’s daily reprimands. Standing at the doorway, broom in hand, she’d confront them:

“What brings all of you through the alley? What are you seeking here?”

In a fit of exasperation, the mother seized the father by his collar and demanded:

“Who is the scoundrel that foisted this place upon you? Name him, so I can deliver him and his forebears to his wife’s doorstep.”

They had left the village, with its famished goats and the grandmother’s deer, for the city to escape the nuisances of rural life: goats raiding the rice pot, devouring the flour, and then bloating; the mother’s frenzied attacks with an axe; the haunting roar of sea waves; and the unsettling darkness of nights without electricity. Their migration to the city was a leap into the unknown, save for their acquaintance with Karbala’i Baqer from across the street, who, wearied by the mother’s constant wailing, found himself accompanying her to the police station. The city, devoid of the sea’s touch through the window bars or the company of the grandmother’s deer, felt distant and forlorn. The comforting sounds of the goats and the grandmother’s melodies were absent, replaced by urban anxieties.

“Why linger by the window? Can’t you grasp that this is the city? Cursed be those who pass by, don’t you see the riffraff?”

Yet, she remained at the window, gripping the bars, when suddenly, two familiar eyes met hers. It was as if the grandmother’s deer, with its sorrowful and accusing gaze, had come to see them. It looked on, its eyes filled with an unshed tear, witnessing the mother’s laughter as they loaded their truck, the grandmother’s bent figure weeping. The deer’s presence was a silent testament to the life they had left behind, its eyes capturing the essence of their village life, the goats keeping their distance from the mother, their gazes fixed on the suitcases. The sea’s waves reached skyward in the background. Amidst this tableau of departure, the deer’s innocent gaze lingered, and she failed to notice her father behind the wheel, the completion of their packing, the mother’s farewell to the grandmother, and now her urgent call:

“Hey, what’s got you so spellbound, lost in thought already?”

The mother, with a decisive tug, pulled her away from the window and secured it shut.

“Did you wander into the alley again? Remember, this is the city, not some backwater village. It’s time to adopt some civility, don’t you think?”

Venturing down the city’s alley felt constricting, the mud clinging to her feet in stark contrast to the village’s forgiving earth, where her footsteps left clear impressions, and she could even spot the outline of a broken deer antler, reminiscent of her grandmother’s deer. She walked the alley longing to see him again, the man who stood tall and seemed as enduring as nature itself, his eyes rimmed with kohl, exuding a familiar warmth:


“Hello, my dear.”

He would often clean the windows, occasionally stroking Maryam’s head with a gentle hand. Sometimes, he’d lean in to kiss her forehead and envelop her in a reassuring embrace.

“Where did this chocolate come from?”

“A woman gave it to me.”

“Which woman?”

“The one who frequents the alley.”

“You’re accepting gifts from those women?”

The revelation infuriated her mother, who resorted to disciplining her with a broom.

“In our village, we have a deer.”

“That sounds lovely. Does it have a name?”

“It’s just a deer, nameless, but it’s very dear to me… much like… its eyes…”

Maryam harbored a deep affection for her grandmother’s deer, which would spend its days under the cool shade, silently observing the world with its melancholic gaze.

“And what’s your name?”

“I’m called Kanize… Kaniz.”

“So, the deer doesn’t share your name?”

Whenever he walked down the alley, his presence seemed to permeate their home, compelling her to peer out the window.

“What are you whispering?”

“I’m offering a prayer.”

“For what, may I ask?”

“For the fragrance…”

“Merciful heavens, not every sweet aroma warrants a prayer, child. It’s hardly the scent of roses; you’re praying for the perfume of a disreputable woman. Rise, and go say your prayers as you ought.”

Whenever he strolled through the alley, the mother would emphatically shut the courtyard gate and holler from behind it. In the beginning, she had directly confronted him a few times, scolding, “You have no shame; you ought to leave this area.”

He’d retort, “Provide me with my dues, and I won’t need to be shameless.”

During these exchanges, Kanizu’s hands would quiver, and the tear that perennially hovered in her eye would finally trail down to the edge of her tight, drawn lips.

“Does your mother pay her?”

“Pay who?”

“That woman…”

“Child, that woman isn’t right.”

“Why not, mother?”

“She’s not respectable, you understand?”

“But my teacher is also a woman…”

“No, dear, that woman is disgraceful.”

“What does disgraceful mean?”

“Ah… your questions… It implies she is promiscuous, excessively so, as if all the men in the world were her partners.”

“Is dad also one of them?”

“He could be, should he choose to.”

“Then why doesn’t she just go to her home to collect her dues?”

“Enough now. Will you let me get on with cooking, or not? Leave; the smoke will irritate your eyes.”

The mingling scents of perspiration and the sea’s freshness filled the air, as the ground emitted waves of heat. Dogs with elongated snouts and lean limbs scavenged through rubbish on the square’s fringes, with no women in sight. Maryam edged closer to the gathering. A man loomed over Kanizu, brandishing a liquor bottle overhead. The assembly parted for him, all wearing broad smiles. With a swift motion, he struck the bottle’s base with his palm, dislodging the cotton from Kanizu’s legs, prompting roars of laughter from the crowd. He then presented the bottle to the onlookers, proclaiming, “Revel in it, the night is ours.”

Grasping the bottle, he tilted it upwards, letting the liquor cascade down his throat, some of it dribbling over his chin and around his mouth. The sound of the bottle clinking and the crowd’s laughter seemed to momentarily dispel the oppressive heat. With his eyes closed and head shaking, the man now poised the half-drained bottle above Kanizu’s prone form.

“Time for her bath, a cleansing bath,” he declared.

As he poured out the remaining liquor, the crowd’s reaction intensified, their movements becoming a blur. Faces receded into the background, leaving only grotesque grins and bulging eyes looming closer to her.

Kanizu’s thoughts raced in despair, “I’ll be downed here, disgraced, trampled by dusk. If only my mother were here.”

A burning sensation caught in her throat, her yearning for her mother’s formidable, reassuring presence overwhelming her—those strong hands capable of corralling goats and dispatching village gendarmes with ease. Amidst the chaos, Maryam struggled to maintain her composure.

Voices in the crowd pleaded and condemned:

“Don’t, she’s blameless.”

“A shame, she wasn’t defective, just ruined by that cursed drink.”

“She deteriorated quicker than the rest.”

“Stop, it’s our fault, not hers.”

“Enough, don’t squabble over a fallen woman.”

Kanizu remained still, the inscriptions on her neck now appearing more pronounced.

“Are those names your husbands’?” Maryam inquired softly.

“No, my dear, they are names of friends.”

“My mother claims you have countless husbands.”

“She’s mistaken.”

“Do you cherish your friends?”

“Yes, they were kind souls; such people are scarce.”

“Could my name join theirs?”

The omnipresent stench of sweat mingled with the distant murmur of the sea, heightening Maryam’s unease. The salt-encrusted earth underfoot seemed to pulse lethargically. A porter, in an attempt to find respite, had removed his shirt, brandishing it like a flag, while others fashioned makeshift turbans for shade. The man, having doused Kanizu’s head with liquor, now attempted to place a bottle in her limp hands.

“Why are you loitering by the fridge?”

“I’m trying to make ice water, to take it behind the dunes.”

“May it bring relief.”

“Where shall I place it? Here?”

“No, with the air so damp, it’ll just become sodden.”

It was June, and in the city, the nights came alive on rooftops. Islands of light held back the encroaching darkness, and every so often, the clear laughter of a child would cut through the still air. In contrast, the village nights held a different charm. As dusk settled, the air would carry the elongated calls of mothers summoning their children:

“Hey… Hey, Moniroo, Maryamoo, Sodo, it’s past your bedtime, may the devil whisk you away… Hey, hey.”

With great reluctance, the children, drenched and bare, would abandon the sea’s embrace. Deep into the night, the village would surrender to sleep, serenaded by tales of Tangestan’s heroes, murmured among men on the soft earthen hillocks.

City nights, however, bred a different kind of restlessness. Maryam, flask in hand, ventured to the back where a gentle breeze, laced with the sea’s brine, caressed her face. The sky was a tapestry of stars, one particularly bright beacon shining directly above her village, flickering as if in conversation.

Drawn by a peal of laughter, Maryam approached their dividing wall, the boundary that separated their rooftop sanctuary from the neighboring ones. There, four men lounged on a rug spread out in the garden, and amidst them, Kanizu shimmered in a long golden dress, her dark curls framing her face. She sat close to a portly man, delicately feeding herself spoonfuls of yogurt, an empty teacup beside her. The man, offering a gesture of intimacy, guided his cup to her lips, and Kanizu indulged in a sip, while he tenderly caressed her hair.

“Relish it… enjoy…”

A wave of dizziness swept over Maryam, her temples pulsating with an unseen pressure. Her gaze, now hazy, caught Kanizu rising unsteadily, the teacup momentarily pressed to her brow as if warding off an unseen fever. The scene blurred further, resembling a distant song accompanied by clapping, as Kanizu navigated through the mists of disorientation. The stars above seemed to disperse in the turmoil.

Chilled to the bone, Maryam shuddered, squeezing her eyes shut in a bid to recalibrate her senses. When she looked again, Kanizu was making her rounds before each man, who, in turn, reached out to her collar with hands drawn from their pockets. Maryam leaned heavily against the wall, staving off a fall, her mouth tainted with bitterness, a pounding in her head like the relentless strikes of a hammer. The world lodged in her throat, sharp and obstructive as a fishbone.

This night’s scene starkly contrasted the morning’s encounter with Kanizu, who had donned a light blue chador and approached with a gentle grace. Maryam, clutching her report card, was met with Kanizu’s playful inquiry:

“Ha! Are you a lion or a fox?”

“A lion,” Maryam had responded with youthful certainty.

“And which grade will you enter now?”

“The fourth.”

“Ah… God’s blessings upon you. Study diligently; there’s nothing more valuable than education.”

“Did you ever study?”

“No, there was no one to guide me… “

“Shall I teach you? It’s straightforward, truly simple.”

“It’s too late for me now, dear child with the dark eyes.”

Kanizu’s dance in her radiant golden dress, her movements graceful and fluid, transformed her into the center of attention amidst the crowd. Her lithe form swirled and twisted, hands raised high, reminiscent of a small golden fish ensnared by a circle of predators, seeking an escape that remained elusive. Nearby, the sea lay tranquil by the dam, its surface aglitter with silvery gleams under the sun’s embrace. Distant waves rolled gently in, unfurling beneath Maryam’s gaze. The golden fish, playful by the dam’s edge, would leap from the water, arc through the air, then plunge back into its depths, gliding with an innocent disregard for the lurking peril, until the waters turned ominously red, tainted by the inevitable violence of predation. The predators, ever voracious, displayed a constant hunger, their mouths forever stained; the portly man’s lips met Kanizu’s in a moment that cast a stark light on the gathering.

Maryam wished for darkness, for an absence of light or an upheaval that might disrupt the scene, yearning for an earthquake to shatter the tableau.

A sudden impact, stars sparking before her eyes as her head collided with the wall, snapped her back to a harsh reality:

“What spectacle do you think you’re creating?”

Her mother’s rage was palpable, foam gathering at the corners of her mouth, her eyes piercing, hard and amber, fixing Maryam with a glare of utter disdain. The pressure of her mother’s heel on Maryam’s foot was unbearable, the weight unrelenting, the pain searing:

“Are you intent on disgracing me? Indulging in drink, in debauchery, causing scenes, you who lack a father’s guidance?”

Her mother’s grip was iron, her hair twisted cruelly around her hand, dragging Maryam along with undeniable force.

“I’ll turn you into a cautionary tale, one that will be inscribed in books.”

Maryam, overwhelmed by fear, shrank into herself. The descent down the stairs, led by her mother’s merciless hand, felt apocalyptic.

“Remain there till your eyes are plucked out.”

The storage room was a prison of darkness, cramped and suffocating, the air thick with the mustiness of moldy grains. In that shadowy confinement, the suggestion of serpents, their sibilant whispers… Hisss… Hisss… hinted at unseen horrors. Something amorphous and tar-like brushed against her, yielding yet ominous under her tentative touch. Pressed against the wall, she felt it creeping over her hands, a presence both sinister and insidious. Maryam’s breath stilled, her face damp with fear, her lips clenched tight to stifle any sound… The entity ascended her arms, a dark, slender form that expanded, engulfing the room, ensnaring her waist, pressing against her lips… morphing into the grotesque visage of the portly man, his intentions malevolent, his presence suffocating… She couldn’t contain her terror; a scream tore through the silence… Upon regaining consciousness, she found herself on the rooftop, her father’s tears a testament to the ordeal, her mother distant, consumed by the hookah’s smoke. The stars, once bright, now seemed distant, obscured by the chill of the night… and in her father’s tears, the stars seemed to dissolve:

“Weeping will solve nothing… The pain will only deepen.”

In a moment of tenderness, her mother’s kindness shone through as she gently caressed Maryam’s forehead, helped her to sit up, and offered her a glass of water.

“Drink this, it’ll help you calm down,” her mother said with a softness that belied the harshness of the night before.

The next morning, Maryam found herself sitting in the alley, listlessly tracing patterns in the dirt with a small stick, as if searching for something lost.

“Are you playing, dear?” Kanizu approached, wrapped in her white prayer shawl, her eyes betraying recent tears.

Maryam avoided her gaze, perhaps out of a sense of shame.

“What’s the matter, dear? Where’s your mother?”

“She’s at the market.”

“You don’t look well. What’s wrong?”

“I’m not okay…” Maryam’s response broke into sobs, prompting Kanizu to inquire gently, “What happened? Why ‘not anymore’?”

“Don’t ever wear that dress again.”

“Which one?”

“The golden one you wore last night… I saw you from behind the dune…” Maryam’s crying filled the alley, resonating with a deep sense of betrayal and confusion.

Kanizu seemed to wither under the weight of Maryam’s words, as if her entire world had crumbled.

“It’s not what you think, really, sometimes…”

“Don’t… just don’t. My mother… she says things about you. She tells everyone… I can give you my allowance. I get more than a toman from my dad each week… I have a piggy bank… it’s full.”

Kanizu walked away, tears streaming down her face.

The sound of the garbage collector’s cart broke the heavy silence, accompanied by the clanking of metal and the slurred words of a drunk man, his gait unsteady.

“Make way, we’ve got a body to collect.”

“It’s not a body.”

“What then? If she wasn’t considered human in life, her body is just a corpse now.”

“Just throw it into the sea.”

“What a waste of the sea.”

“Now you care about the sea? Didn’t you chase after her too when she was alive?”

“You did as well.”

“We all did, but she’ll start to stink soon.”

“She’s as dry as driftwood; how do we lift her?”

“I will… I’ll do it myself.”

The scene was grotesque: a drunk man clumsily dragging Kanizu by the feet, her black hair matted and clinging to her forehead, her lips pale and tightly sealed. A thorn entangled in her hair, the salt crust masking the names etched on her neck. Kanizu’s head lolled to one side, her eyes, large and filled with silent accusation, fixed on Maryam. Her hand was shaped as though holding something, a silent plea for understanding.

“Happy Eid, where have you been? I couldn’t find you.”

“We were in the countryside for Eid. Happy Eid to you as well.”

“How’s your grandmother’s deer?”

“It’s fine… I brought you some thorns, from Mr. Ashk’s bush.”

“Thorns? What for?”

“Eat them, and whatever you wish for will come true.”

Maryam had ventured to the countryside, intent on imploring Mr. Ashk for his intervention, hoping against hope that he could extricate Kanizu from the dire straits of her existence.

The evening air was dense with anticipation as they approached the shrine, enveloped in a hush. Her mother, a figure of quiet devotion, was engaged in the solemn act of lighting candles, her prayers a silent plea cast into the ether.

Curious, Maryam inquired, “What are you praying for, Mom?”

“For everyone,” her mother responded, her voice a soft echo in the sanctity of the shrine.

“Everyone?” Maryam echoed, puzzled.

“Yes, every soul under God’s gaze.”

“Is it right to pray for everyone?”

“Praying, my dear, is never a misstep.”

Encouraged, Maryam asked for a candle, “Then, may I have one too?”

“Of course, light it and let your prayer ascend.”

Her mother’s satisfaction was palpable, a serene smile playing on her lips.

“And what is your prayer for?” she probed further.

“For a prayer itself.”

“For what purpose?”

“To liberate her from these chains.”

“Whom do you mean?”

“That one…”

“Child, the world teems with those in need; direct your prayers towards them.”

“But our teacher says she is in need too, akin to a beggar.”

The image of Kanizu, fallen and forlorn, haunted Maryam, her gaze laden with silent pleading.

“What am I to do? I’m powerless… If only her eyes would close… No, Mother would see through it. Any action of mine, she’d discern and proclaim it to the world. Look away… Soon, the refuse collector will claim you, sweep you away… And he’s inebriated… You’ve said it yourself, a drunkard’s actions are beyond his control, capable of anything…”

Kanizu, in her desolation, had taken to the streets, her dignity stripped bare, her cries piercing the air:

“Why the contempt, as if I’m plagued by some ailment? It’s not my doing, understand… Even the teacher sees… Behold, without charge… Nothing remains… Look… The chief of police, the mayor, the old, the young, they all came… And then you scorn… To damnation with you all… With your entirety… With your lineage…”

The authorities had quelled Kanizu’s anguished protests.

“Thank heavens, she’s been confined, removed from our sight.”

“Mother, what fate awaits her there?”

“In that place, transformation is possible; it molds humans out of the fallen.”

“But our teacher claims it’s futile.”

“Futile? In what sense?”

“To incarcerate her.”

“So should she be left to continue on her path?”

“No, our teacher argues that’s not the path to enlightenment.”

“Then what is?”

“She says in time, I’ll come to understand, that with enough books, with enough learning, the truth will unveil itself.”

“Indeed… This will be a lesson for your teacher… Such notions ought to be eradicated.”

The scorching sun rendered the ground beneath it blisteringly hot, while the crowd that had gathered held its collective breath in anticipation. The local refuse collector had maneuvered his cart close to where Kanizu lay lifeless. As the melodious call to prayer resonated from the mosque’s minaret, a solemn atmosphere enveloped the scene:

“Let me be the one to place her in the cart,” insisted the drunk man, his resolve unwavering despite his evident instability.

“If you can manage to stand,” someone retorted, skepticism lacing their tone.

The confrontation between the drunk man and the garbage collector intensified, their bodies nearly touching. The drunk man, defiant and emotional, declared, “How? Can’t I lift her? I’ve embraced her countless times in life, when she bore the weight of existence. And now, in death, should I falter?”

“Step aside, man. Attend to your own affairs,” the refuse collector implored, his patience wearing thin.

“I refuse to leave.”

“Curse you, then, move!”

“I shall not… She was a friend to me…”

“Only by God’s grace was she your friend, or else…”

“Or else, what?” the confrontation escalated, with the drunk man grasping at the refuse collector’s collar, struggling to maintain his balance.

“She belonged to everyone in her way; release your hold.”

“Such a dispute over the departed,” an onlooker lamented.

“The dead find no fortune here; lift her with care.”

The drunk man, undeterred, pressed for an answer, “You never finished… ‘Otherwise,’ what? Do you presume… a bottle of liquor suffices? That the dregs of a teacup signify ownership?”

“Ah, you are all cowards,” he cried out, overcome with grief as a cloud veiled the sun and dogs skirmished over scraps in the distance. The call to prayer offered a brief respite, a moment of sanctity amidst the tumult.

Maryam, returning from her rural sojourn, found her home abuzz with her mother’s relieved laughter:

“Thank heavens, she’s lost her way from our lives at last.”

“Who’s gone, Mom?”

“That woman…”

“Has she left this place?”

“Yes, your father mentioned she departed with an acquaintance. Praise be, the air was growing foul.”

Ascending to the rooftop, Maryam’s gaze swept over the empty courtyard, her heart aching for the absence that now defined it. A world devoid of her grandmother’s deer seemed unimaginable. Tears welled up as the once familiar fragrances of the street faded, leaving behind no one to cast wary glances, no gentle hand to inquire about her grandmother’s deer, or to offer solace amidst the stench of despair:

“May your prayers guide me from this life.”

“Mom, let’s visit the countryside again.”

“Why the countryside now?”

“I long to see grandmother’s deer.”

“Weren’t we just there on Friday?”

“I mean, why can’t we bring the deer here?”

“No, that would distress your grandmother too much; she would never permit it.”

Maryam would often sit before her grandmother’s deer, gazing into its eyes, finding in them the same depth of sorrow and resignation that she had seen in Kanizu’s.

“Mom, what does fate mean?”

Her mother explained, “It’s the culmination and the destiny that’s inscribed upon your forehead.”

“The culmination?”

“Yes, you must have heard people mention that everyone possesses their own destiny, some fortunate, some less so, but each receives their due.”

With a heavy heart, her mother added, “Oh, this world… Imagine if the course of our lives were truly in our hands… Ah…”

“Isn’t it within our control?”

“No, from the very moment one enters this world, their path is etched, unalterable until death.”

“The teacher spoke of them having a tragic destiny.”


“Individuals like her… like Kanizu…”

“Don’t linger on thoughts of her, you’re maturing. People will gossip if they learn of it. She led a misguided life, may God forgive her.”

“But her fate wasn’t her own to shape.”

“What do you mean?”

“Her destiny wasn’t in her control.”

A stone, heated by the sun, brushed against Maryam’s leg, snapping her back to the present. A young boy, armed with a bow, had taken aim at her. The scene before her unfolded chaotically: the drunk man was retching, Kanizu’s body had been placed onto the cart, and the refuse collector gripped the handles tightly. The crowd appeared torn on how to proceed:

“Cover her with a shawl.”

“But it’s damp.”

“Do you fear she’ll fall ill?”

“Enough, you’re out of your senses, find somewhere else for your sickness.”

“The time for prayer has passed. Return to your homes.”

Maryam felt anchored to the spot, as if witnessing a conflagration she was powerless to quench. The day had worn on, and her mother would be fraught with worry.

“Where have you been all this time?”

“I was at the bookstore,” she lied, a falsehood to mask the truth. Fleeing the clamor of the school’s dismissal bell, she had encountered Kanizu, a shadow of her former self, fragile as if a mere gust might disperse her into nothingness. Gaunt and ghostly, with those haunting, deer-like eyes now seemingly enlarged by her emaciation, she whispered, “My dear, dear dark-eyed child.”

“Eh… is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me, Kanizu.”

“Where have you been all this while? Were you getting married?”

“Yes, but the wedding never took place.”

“Why? You… you seem unwell.”

Kanizu, inebriated and unsteady, clung to Maryam with a familiarity borne of desperation, her words slurred and her actions unrestrained as she sought solace in the young girl’s presence. Maryam, caught in the discomfort of the moment, scanned her surroundings, the weight of embarrassment heavy upon her.

“I’ve been seeking you out… for days, child… you were nowhere to be found… Only you understand… you and your teacher… Everyone else has abandoned me, labeling me as beyond redemption… The society itself is flawed, isn’t it, dear? Your teacher speaks the truth, it’s all falling apart.”

Gone was the sweet fragrance that once surrounded Kanizu; now, her breath bore the stench of alcohol, a scent all too familiar to Maryam from her father’s late-night returns. Kanizu’s reappearance was akin to a once-noble deer, now emaciated and battered, its spirit and form diminished by neglect.

“The stench is unbearable, it’s nothing but a corpse now, stand back,” the refuse collector grumbled, his forehead beaded with sweat as he maneuvered his cart through the gathered crowd. Kanizu’s chador became a plaything among the onlookers, her limp hand swaying from the cart, her gaze lost to the sky above as clouds gathered ominously.

In a sudden eruption of emotion, Maryam witnessed the drunk man’s attempt to retrieve Kanizu from the cart, her own scream cutting through the murmurs of the crowd, landing with a palpable force, “Cease your disgraceful actions,” she cried, her voice laced with indignation and sorrow.

Her tears seemed to momentarily hold the man at bay.

“Be done with it; it’s as if you’ve been eagerly awaiting her demise,” someone in the crowd muttered under their breath.

As the refuse collector adjusted the cart for disposal, Maryam’s cries continued unabated, her heartache rendering the surrounding commotion into a distant blur.

“A mere two toman, that’s all I ask,” a faint plea echoed, reminiscent of Kanizu’s desperate entreaties to passersby, her dignity forsaken in the pursuit of another drink.

Kanizu’s existence had been reduced to a pitiful routine of following men in hope and sifting through refuse for discarded bottles, a solitary figure whose plight was ignored by all but the porters returning to their lodgings at day’s end.

“Kanizu, stay away from the garbage,” Maryam had implored, only to be met with Kanizu’s paranoid retort, “They’re taking what’s mine.”

“Who are they?” Maryam would ask, though the answer seemed lost in Kanizu’s troubled mind.

At night, the square would occasionally resonate with Kanizu’s anguished cries, her curses a testament to a life unraveled, her pleas for recompense mingling with the lamentations of a soul cast adrift:

“May joy elude you in your prime… May you be ensnared by despair… May it suffocate you… Return what is mine… Oh… Oh, the cruelty of mankind.”

Amidst the enveloping darkness, the porters’ laughter would cut sharply, their merriment a stark contrast to the night’s solemnity.

“Kanizu, come over here, look what I’ve got for you,” Maryam would call out, extending a small sum of money towards her.

Kanizu’s hands, trembling slightly, would count the coins with a mixture of desperation and relief. “Good… here’s five… and here’s six… all gone… But where did this come from?”

“I smashed open my piggy bank. Please, don’t accept money from anyone else. I’ll save up my allowance every month just for you,” Maryam would promise earnestly, her youthful determination shining through.

“Okay, dear, okay,” Kanizu would respond, a fragile hope flickering in her weary eyes.

From the vantage point of the rooftop, Maryam often observed Kanizu, jug and cigarette in hand, her gaze fixed anxiously on a room that served as a transient refuge for countless fleeting encounters. When a man would emerge, Kanizu, with a resigned diligence, would fill the jug and pass it to him, a ritual of sorts in her tumultuous existence.

A sudden pain at her foot brought Maryam back to the harsh reality. The refuse collector was already making his way, cart in tow, as the crowd, morbidly curious, trailed behind like a mindless procession. The rhythmic tap of Kanizu’s high-heeled shoes against the cart’s edge provided a haunting soundtrack to the scene, while children, caught up in a cruel game, hurled stones in their direction. As the cart receded into the distance, the sounds of the sea mingled with the cries of seagulls overhead, encapsulating the moment in a surreal blend of nature’s tranquility and human tragedy. The fading taps of Kanizu’s shoes, accompanied by her plaintive voice, lingered in the air, “Young man, just two toman, only two toman.”


About the Writer

Moniro Ravanipour, born July 24, 1952, is an Iranian-American writer known for her innovative storytelling. She has published ten titles in Iran, including two short fiction collections, “Kanizu” and “Satan’s Stones,” along with novels such as “The Drowned,” “Heart of Steel,” and “Gypsy by Fire.” Her stories, often set in the remote southern Iranian village of her birth, blend realism, myth, and superstition, drawing comparisons to Rulfo, Garcia Marquez, and Tutuola. Nahid Mozaffari, editor of “Strange Times, My Dear: The International PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature,” commends Ravanipour’s exploration of tradition and modernity, highlighting her ability to expose their contradictions without idealizing either. Ravanipour faced trial in Iran as one of seventeen activists for her involvement in the 2000 Berlin Conference, accused of engaging in anti-Iran propaganda. Her recent works were removed from Iranian bookstores in a nationwide police action. She is also a former fellow of the Brown University International Writers Project.

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