Hajji Murad stepped from the threshold of his store with a bold leap, smoothed the folds of his robe and fastened his silver belt before running his fingers through his henna-stained beard. He summoned his apprentice Hassan with a shout. Together they secured the store for the day. From the depths of his generous pocket, Hajji Murad pulled out four qirans and handed them to Hassan as a gesture of gratitude. Hassan thanked him and then mingled with the crowd, departing with a cheerful whistle and brisk steps. Hajji Murad threw his yellow coat over his shoulders and took one last look around before continuing his walk, the squeak of his new shoes audible with every step. The merchants lining his path paid their respects, a reference to his prestigious title of ‘Haji’ – a title he wore with pride, even though his religious journey had never taken him to Mecca. His only spiritual journey had been to Karbala with his mother after the death of his father in his youth. After that, he had come into possession of his uncle’s fortune and the honorary title in Hamadan and had built a new life for himself, far removed from his impoverished beginnings and his family in Karbala.
Two years after his marriage, Haji Murad’s home life was plagued by discord, with frequent arguments with his wife, often culminating in unfortunate outbursts of violence. The lack of children cast a shadow over their union, a grief compounded by the advice of friends to consider a second marriage— – an idea Haji Murad rejected, not wanting to further entangle his life. Despite their friction, the couple shared a deep bond forged through the trials and tribulations of their existence together.
As Haji Murad strolled through the bustling market, casually tossing away watermelon seeds, the prospect of returning home to the expected domestic strife darkened his mood. It was the eve of the weekend and he was aware that his wife would have prepared Sabzi Polo, his favorite rice dish with herbs. The drudgery of the upcoming evening routine and the reverberations of the previous evening’s argument, when his wife had derisively called him a “fake hajji” and mourned her missed opportunities with Mashhadi Hossein, the money changer, stirred in him a turmoil of anger and regret. Oh, how he longed to escape this relentless cycle of bitterness and retribution.
When he reached Beinonahrein Street, the sight of the willows, now green and vigorous on the riverbank, gave him an idea. Perhaps he could spend the coming Friday, a day traditionally devoted to leisure and prayer, in the company of some trusted friends. They could bring musical instruments and a portable sound system and retreat to the quiet expanse of the Murad Bek valley for the day to escape the boredom and tensions of his household.
As he approached the road that led to his residence, Haji Murad caught a glimpse of a figure he thought was his wife, who seemed to completely ignore him as he passed. Yes, that was undoubtedly her. Not that Haji, like most men, could only recognize a woman by the chador she wore from behind, but his wife’s chador had an unmistakable white hem that enabled him to recognize her among hundreds. Nevertheless, the idea that she was setting off at this hour without his permission puzzled him. She had not come to his store to buy anything; where could she have gone? His steps quickened with the certainty that it was indeed his wife, who did not even seem to be on her way home now. Overwhelmed by an impulse, driven by the urge to confront her and reproach her, he could not restrain himself and blurted out, “Shahrbanu!”
The woman, startled by his shout, quickened her steps. Seized by an uncontrollable rage, Haji Murad was annoyed by her audacity in leaving the house without his permission and her blatant disregard for his call. This was an affront to his dignity and forced him to raise his voice once more: “Ah, there you are! Where have you been at this time of night? Stop so that I can talk to you!”
The woman stopped and replied defiantly: “Why are you meddling in my affairs? What business is it of yours? If you have an ounce of masculinity, you should heed your own words. What right do you have to harass another man’s wife? I’ll show you your place right now. Guys, help me! Look at this drunken man accosting me! Do you think we live here without laws? I’ll take you straight to the authorities… Mr. Constable…”
As her voice grew louder, the doors opened and the residents of the neighborhood began to gather, the crowd swelling with each passing moment. Hajji’s complexion turned crimson, the veins on his temples and neck bulging and infamous among the onlookers in the market who formed a human corridor around the scene. Undeterred, the woman continued with her request: “Officer!”
Haji, his gaze clouded with anger and confusion, staggered back and forth before delivering a sharp blow to the woman’s chador, his voice tinged with bitterness, “Pointless… Don’t play innocent with me, I knew it was you from the start. Come tomorrow… just tomorrow, and I will divorce you. Do you think you own the streets? Do you want to ruin my years of good reputation? Shame on you woman, let’s not air our grievances here. People, be witnesses, I will part with this dishonorable woman by tomorrow. My suspicions have been simmering for a long time, I have stifled my words and gritted my teeth, but now the situation is unbearable. People, you are my witnesses, this woman has dishonored herself, and tomorrow… Attention, everyone, tomorrow…”
The woman then turned to the assembled crowd and pleaded: “Cowards! Will not any of you open your mouths? You stand idly by and watch this man slander a woman in broad daylight? If Mashhadi Hossein were the money changer among us, he would not tolerate such insolence. Even if I have only one day of my life left, I swear to you that you will regret your deeds so bitterly that not even a stray would deign to partake of your bounty. Is there no one who questions this man’s worth? Does he dare to take his place among the righteous? Mark my words… know your worth. I will make you regret your own stupidity! Mr. Constable…”
The intervention of some bystanders eased the tension and pulled Hajji aside as a policeman made his way through the dispersing crowd. Accompanied by the woman wearing the white-edged chador and a select group of witnesses and peacemakers, they walked to the police station, their every step shadowed by a curious crowd eager to witness the outcome of the trial. Drenched in sweat and burdened by an ever-growing cloud of suspicion, Hajji kept pace beside the officer under the watchful eyes of the public. On closer inspection, inconsistencies became apparent — the woman’s footwear and stockings differed from his wife’s usual attire. The woman’s detailed and precise description to the officer confirmed her identity as Mashhadi Hossein, the money changer’s wife. This realization dawned on Hajji far too late and left him in the dark about the impending consequences.
When they arrived at the station, the crowd remained outside while Haji and the woman were led into an office where two high-ranking officials waited behind an imposing desk. The reporting officer saluted, gave his briefing and then retreated to the edge of the room. The senior officer turned to Hajji and asked, “What is your name?”
With a tone of deference, Hajji replied, “Sir, I am a native, a man of modest means, known in market circles as Hajji Murad.”
“And your profession?”
“I am a merchant, sir, with a store in the marketplace. I am at your disposal if you need anything.”
“Did you actually abuse this woman and beat her in the alley?”
Hajji struggled for words and replied, “What can I say, sir? I mistook her for my wife.”
“And why did you think that?”
“It was the white braid on her chador that led me to think that.”
“Isn’t that strange! Don’t you recognize your own wife’s voice?”
Hajji complained to the chief with a weary exhalation: “Sir, you can’t imagine what a pain my wife is. She is adept at imitating every known creature. When she returns from the bathhouse, she takes on the voices of different women. She is an expert imitator. I got the impression that she was trying to fool me by changing her voice.”
The outraged woman turned to the officer: “That’s an impertinence, Mr. Officer! He hit me in the alley, in front of countless spectators, and now he’s pretending to be innocent! What insolence! He treats this place as if there is no law here, but if Mashhadi Hossein finds out about it, he will see that justice is done. With his wife? Mr. Chief.”
When the chief had heard enough, he dismissed the woman: “Very well, madame, we no longer need your testimony. Please wait outside while we settle the matter with Haji.”
To defend his honor, Hadji pleaded, “I swear it was a mistake on my part, an unfortunate mix-up. I must think of my reputation among the inhabitants.”
The chief was undeterred, scribbled a note and passed it on to an officer. Haji was then led to another counter where, with hands that could barely conceal his nervousness, he counted out a sum in banknotes and deposited it as a fine. He was then led under the officer’s escort to the threshold of the station, where a crowd had gathered, their murmurs providing the backdrop to his impending punishment. Hajji was stripped of his yellow coat and stood next to a whip-wielding executioner. With his head bowed, he had to face his punishment and endure fifty lashes in front of the onlookers. Despite this ordeal, he endured the punishment stoically. Afterwards, he took a large silk scarf from his pocket, dabbed the sweat from his forehead, retrieved his yellow coat and, dragging the hem behind him, set off on the gloomy walk home, taking care to muffle the squeaking of his shoes with every step.
As fate would have it, Hajji divorced his wife just two days later.
© Ali Salami 2024
© Ali Salami 2024
About the Author
Sadeq Hedayat continues to be an outstanding figure in Iranian literature, whose works have captivated readers for generations. Despite changing literary tastes, his stories and novels have a timeless appeal and attract new admirers with each passing year.
Hedayat was born into an aristocratic and cultured family in Tehran on February 17, 1903. As he matured, he increasingly came into conflict with his privileged background. After completing his education at Dar ul-Funun after some delay, Hedayat moved to France to study dentistry, a subject he quickly abandoned due to a lack of interest.
He then shifted his academic focus to engineering in Belgium, but during this time he also immersed himself in European literature. Hedayat was profoundly influenced by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant and Franz Kafka, to name but a few. He recognized the importance of these works and made it his mission to translate them into Persian and enrich Iranian literature with foreign masterpieces such as Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and Sartre’s “The Wall”
Hedayat’s first suicide attempt occurred in 1928, after the publication of several of his books. While living in Paris, he tried to drown himself in the Marne, but was saved by unsuspecting boaters. This incident, which Hedayat later described as madness in a letter to his brother, marked a turning point in his life and led him to focus intensively on his writing.
Upon his return to Iran, Hedayat quickly made a name for himself with the publication of his first story collection “Buried Alive”,” followed by a series of influential works such as “Parvin, the Sassanid Girl”, “The Stray Dog“, “Abji Khanum, the Spinster” and “Three Drops of Blood” He became a central figure in the Rabe’a group alongside contemporaries such as Bozorg Alavi and influenced the direction of modern Iranian literature by introducing contemporary narrative techniques into the Persian literary tradition.
Hedayat’s interest in the Sassanid Empire and the Pahlavi language informed much of his later work, giving his stories historical depth and a distinctive use of language. His trip to India, where he studied ancient Iranian culture with the Zoroastrians, deepened his connection to Iran’s past and culminated in the translation of “Zand-i- Wahman yasn”,” an ancient prophecy from the Sassanid era.
Hedayat’s legacy lies not only in his literary contributions, but also in his pioneering role in merging modern narrative styles with traditional Persian stories. In doing so, he has left an indelible mark on Iranian literature that inspires and fascinates readers and scholars alike.