Ali Salami

The Chicken Coop By Mohammad Mohammadali

The phone rang. It was Kashefi.

“What’s the status of Mr. Vali’s retirement?”

“It’s likely to be finalized today or tomorrow.”

“I’ve been considering something for him.”

“Thank you for remembering our request, sir!”

“Just a question, is he fit for strenuous work?”

“Don’t be deceived by his bulky and flabby appearance; he single-handedly oversees a pantry and several employees here.”

“I’ll stop by this afternoon to show him the workplace. You should join us. It would be better to speak with him in your presence.”

I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing the chicken coop and the garden I had recently leased. Sometimes, when he delivered plucked chickens for the neighbors, he would sit and boast about his poultry keeping skills and the beauty of the surroundings, exclaiming, “Such fruit trees… Such a delightful garden! It’s like paradise…”

I ended the call and shouted, “Mr. Vali, Mr. Vali!”

As usual, it took him a few minutes to get moving, to set his considerable bulk in motion, and to appear at the door, asking, “Yes?”

This was his typical response, whether he was called to serve tea or to take a file down to the basement for archiving.

He often remarked, “There are daily tasks that I perform without thinking. What does it matter if they’re done a few minutes later?” True to his word, he would eventually complete the necessary tasks, albeit like a clock perpetually running a few minutes slow.

I called him again, and he approached, shuffling, his worn heels dragging. He clutched a piece of dry bread, and initially, I didn’t notice the alteration to his glasses—only a white blur. Upon my focused gaze, he halted mid-room. A piece of white paper was affixed to the left lens of his glasses. He peered at me with one large, exposed eye, the other obscured, clearly having not slept the previous night. A tuft of hair jutted out from the back of his head, his broad shoulders slumped, adorned in his customary striped jacket and baggy trousers. He remained silent, scratching his head. When asked about Timsar, who had inquired after him, his son replied, “Thankfully, we received his letter just last night. He sends his blessings and regards, mentioning that he has come to recognize and value the worth of his parents.”

I asked, “Then why the distress?”

He responded, “After twenty years of service and just a basic employee’s salary, it’s barely enough to feed five canaries, let alone a person!”

I wanted to say, “But you chose to retire,” yet I held back. Instead, I inquired, “What’s happened to you?”

He explained, “A bit of bad luck… The nerves in this eye are damaged, but thankfully, the other eye is fine. It’s a minor issue. It will heal.”

When I mentioned the opportunity to work in the chicken coop, he saw it as a blessing and was keen on the idea, noting that poultry farming wasn’t a bad occupation.

I informed him, “Mr. Kashefi called. He’s arranged a job for you that starts today.”

His expression tensed, and his good eye narrowed slightly, but a hint of a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

“So soon? It feels like just a month or two since you took over.”

He sat across the room at the desk, crumbling a dry piece of bread, and lamented, “God will never forgive my father-in-law. Despite his troubles with the gendarmes, he pushed me into government service. I’ve always preferred to be my own boss, accountable only to myself.”

In the mornings, when he could, he’d sit behind the pantry desk, crumbling bread for a few doves that gathered outside our window. Then, he’d approach the window and quietly scatter the crumbs on the cooler’s metal roof for the doves to peck at.

Turning to me, he confessed, “I can’t handle lifting heavy cages or iron baskets. I’m not saying this out of mere politeness.”

I reassured him, “Our neighbor is a good man. He wouldn’t propose something unsuitable for you. He’s observed you and wouldn’t have reached out if he didn’t see potential.”

He meticulously crumbled the bread into finer pieces, then rose from the desk. We approached the window together. He would scatter the bread in batches, waiting for the doves to finish before offering more. His face would light up with a smile at their eager flurry. He mused:

“Do you see God’s handiwork? Once, our livelihood depended on these silent beings… As a boy, my brother would set up a night tent by the well, sometimes taking me along. He’d instruct me to keep watch while he collected these doves, securing our family’s meat for a week or so. They were small, but it was a different time—far better than the frozen meats of today…”

Turning back to me, he reflected, “Some of these doves are so innocent and fragile. If I arrive late, they seek food elsewhere, only to return here to rest. But that’s how it is—you care for them, asking nothing in return. From tomorrow, in my absence, please ensure these silent friends are fed. It’s a virtuous act.”

I promised, “Of course. I’ll make sure of it. Don’t worry.”

At 4:30, we boarded Kashefi’s car. Mr. Vali sat in the back, surrounded by empty egg trays and various poultry farming materials. Kashefi adjusted his mirror, and we drove off.

He inquired, “Mr. Vali has astigmatism, doesn’t he?”

Mr. Vali took off his glasses and wiped the unobscured lens with his finger:

“It’s not painful, but, for instance, road lines or that lamppost appear bent and distorted to me. I’m aware they’re straight, yet my vision twists them. A friend recommended this trick. In fact, since last night, I’ve found comfort and better vision using just the one eye. It feels as though one eye has always been sufficient for me.”

He chuckled, then joked, “The poultry farms don’t require a guard, do they?”

Our laughter mingled, and Kashefi, noticing his pipe had extinguished, passed me his bag of tobacco. After I relit it for him, the air was filled with the rich scent of tobacco—a gift from his former border colleagues, I presumed. Curious about its cost, I asked if it was expensive. He shared that since leaving service, he’s been exchanging goods with friends, trading poultry parts for Captain Black tobacco.

I steered the conversation back on track: “Let’s focus on the matter at hand. You’ve yet to specify the role you envision for Mr. Vali. After all, he’s a cornerstone of our office.”

As we drove past the tree-lined avenue behind the university and ascended the hill, Kashefi revealed:

“One of my employees, Zaeem, has been absent for two days. I plan to have Mr. Vali fill Zaeem’s position. It’s a straightforward job, unlikely to exceed twenty hours a week.”

Mr. Vali adjusted his glasses and settled into his seat, pondering:

“In my experience, engaging work isn’t tiring regardless of the hours. However, it shouldn’t be so trivial that it becomes embarrassing in front of one’s family. Twenty hours a week, without overtime…”

Kashefi reassured, “Zaeem’s earnings were decent. He managed to send money to his village monthly and spent weeks on end in the garden. You’ll take Zaeem’s place, undisturbed and content. It’s a tranquil spot with a place to rest, fruit-bearing trees, and an expanse of wilderness. Truly, it’s akin to paradise.”

Mr. Vali expressed his concerns: “My wife is unwell, and we have two young children. I prefer returning home at night and leaving early in the morning. How will this work? The children expect me at home each night.”

Kashefi responded, “That won’t be an issue. My earlier comment was merely to highlight the garden’s homeliness.”

Mr. Vali leaned in with curiosity:

“Do these roads lead to the city’s northern region?”

Kashefi confirmed, “Indeed, after we ascend Malekabad’s hill, you’ll see the garden’s tiled entrance and the Lion and Sun emblem. It’s the renowned Agha Shoja’s garden. Are you not familiar with it?”

Mr. Vali shared his aspirations: “I’ve always wanted to experience working in the city’s upper reaches. By the way, is there an incubator on the premises?”

As Kashefi accelerated past a red light and veered westward at the junction, he replied:

“Yes, it’s a locally crafted one.”

Mr. Vali, reflecting on traditional values, asked, “Might it seem outdated to question whether using an incubator, which hastens egg hatching, is meddling with divine processes?”

Our laughter echoed again, and though Mr. Vali joined in, I sensed his laughter stemmed from uncertainty about his job’s nature. His shyness in inquiring about unfamiliar topics and his slower comprehension often led him to skirt around subjects indirectly.

I encouraged him, “There’s no shame in inquiring. If you’re genuinely interested, feel free to ask about the job’s specifics right now. I’ll remain neutral since you are, and always will be, Mr. Vali to me—the father of Captain Saeed Khan Delijani from our office.”

He remarked, “It’s difficult to articulate. Besides, does it really matter?”

As he settled back into his seat, he added:

“Lacking a specific skill is truly troublesome. In our neighborhood, there’s a man who’s regularly hired to cook for funerals and weddings. Even that sporadic work sustains him. Meanwhile, I possess neither a particular talent nor the ability to stay idle at home. Any form of employment would suffice, but what exactly will my duties entail?”

Kashefi clarified, “As I mentioned, you’ll be stepping into Zaeem’s role. He managed the chickens and roosters designated for the market. While the garden has various tasks, each is currently assigned to someone. If this role doesn’t suit you, you might have to wait a few more months for the business to expand before I can offer something different. But for now, this is the only position available.”

Mr. Vali, seeking further clarification, asked, “Forgive my persistence, but could you describe Zaeem’s responsibilities? Was he in charge of feeding the chickens, or…?”

Kashefi explained, “Every job has its advantages and challenges; it’s not something to take lightly. Zaeem was knowledgeable but tended to be excessive. Your role shouldn’t mirror his. Your responsibilities are distinct; you’ll be autonomous, with everyone else preoccupied with their respective tasks. Your duties won’t include incubation, feeding, upkeep, or cleaning. Your sole responsibility involves the chickens and roosters that are culled.”

I was familiar with the term “culling” in the context of poultry farming. I lit a cigarette, offered it to Mr. Vali, and waited for the distant wail of an ambulance siren to fade before addressing Kashefi:

“When you say he’s in charge of the culls… does that mean Mr. Vali is expected to perform the culling himself, or is he merely to supervise the process?”

Kashefi elaborated, “Essentially, Mr. Vali will be the one deciding the fate of these chickens. The role demands someone who can take charge.”

Mr. Vali took a few puffs of the cigarette, his gaze drifting away from the line of trees beside the street. He seemed lost in thought, supporting his head with his hands. Noticing my gaze, he looked down, somewhat sheepishly, as if bound by a statement he had made, particularly since I was instrumental in securing this job for him. Beyond our professional relationship, there was a personal connection; I occasionally assisted him with tasks outside his duties, supplementing his income. Our families were intertwined; my wife knitted for his children, and in return, his family shared their homegrown produce with us. Saeed, interested in literature, often engaged in discussions about books and poetry.

“I’ve visited poultry farms, but I’ve never harmed even a sparrow. I’ll contribute temporarily until a more suitable candidate is found, and your operations are underway…” By then, we were descending into the village below Malekabad, ready to navigate the winding roads.

From the elevated vantage point, the city’s southern, eastern, and western sections sprawled below us. The foothills were dotted with the unfinished skeletons of buildings, amidst piles of construction materials. Mud-brick walls encircled large gardens, and colorful stone adorned the facades of homes. Below, the highway and a couple of side roads sliced through to the northwest, their presence marked by brick barriers. The air carried the scent of manure and fertilizer, preceding the bark of a dog from one of the gardens.

Kashefi proudly stated, “Jouli is a purebred, trained to recognize the sound of my car.”

As we neared the garden gate, Jouli stood her ground, growling and barking fiercely. Yet, once we passed, she seemed to acknowledge her duty fulfilled, lying down to tend to her coat as though nursing a wound.

Laughter, indistinct and originating from behind a row of fruit trees, intertwined with the cooing of pigeons near the clay-tiled roof of the caretaker’s lodge. The main road was flanked by neatly trimmed green privet bushes, leading past a roundabout to the main house, distinguished by its expansive porch, thick plastered columns, and windows adorned with aged, stained glass. Beyond lay a pool with azure tiles, brimming with clear water. The dark concrete of the poultry houses, with their low doors and petite yellow windows, stood further afield. Nearby, a truck was being unloaded, signaling the arrival of the anticipated foreign breeds.

Kashefi announced, “It appears the new breeds we ordered have arrived. This bodes well for you, Mr. Vali.”

He steered into the first shed on the left and came to a stop in a courtyard enveloped by an assortment of trees and plants. The setting was adorned with several wooden benches and chairs, a modest pond, and pots housing young Aleppo pine seedlings. As we cleansed our hands and settled down, a man and a woman emerged from the main path. The woman, markedly ahead by a hundred paces, had her white scarf caught in the breeze, wrapping itself around her pink dress. Kashefi sparked his pipe, “That’s Atefeh, the caretaker’s spouse, and trailing behind is the foreman. Beyond that, only God knows.”

Upon nearing us, Atefeh adjusted her chador, smoothing it over her form-fitting dress. She extended her greetings to Kashefi and myself, her dress secured at the neckline with a safety pin. Kashefi inquired about Nematollah’s whereabouts, his gaze lingering on her expressive eyes.

Atefeh informed, “He was just around. Likely went to assist with the truck. Shall I summon him?”

Kashefi instructed, “One of you, either Nematollah or yourself, should always be present at the entrance. Now, please prepare some low-fat yogurt drink for us.”

Atefeh headed down towards the lower grounds, sharing a word with the foreman en route which elicited laughter from both. Mr. Vali cast a glance my way, and I sensed a growing impatience within me. The foreman, displaying a robust build and clad in his work attire, made his way towards us with assured strides. Upon reaching Kashefi, he extended a warm greeting and acknowledged us with a nod. Kashefi, stepping closer, fixed him with an intense stare:

“Are we so short-staffed that Nematollah needs to be diverted from his duties?”

The foreman explained, “The delivery driver was pressed for time, and seeing Nematollah unoccupied, I had him assist with offloading the new chicks to ensure everything was in order.”

Kashefi countered, “You also dispatched him to the Hesarak lab this morning to prevent any mix-ups there!”

The foreman responded, “What choice do we have, sir? The lab returned the carcasses, requesting we send two live specimens of the ailing birds instead. He recommended we exercise caution, suggesting a quarantine period for the new chickens and roosters. If I may inquire, is this gentleman the new hire we discussed?”

Kashefi affirmed, “Indeed.”

My gaze shifted to Mr. Vali, who was already looking in my direction. The foreman, meanwhile, retrieved a bundle of documents from his pocket, carefully selecting the most pristine sheet:

“We’ve received orders from the esteemed restaurant, the Safavid club, and the women’s nursing home for chicken roosters. They’re requesting a daily supply of a hundred, with a potential increase to a hundred and fifty.”

Mr. Vali’s reflection quivered in the pond’s water as he stood by the pots nurturing Aleppo pine seedlings. Signaling him, he joined me on the bench, his image still dancing on the water’s surface.

In a low tone, I urged, “Decide. If you’re seeking immediate employment, this is your opportunity for now.”

He murmured in response, “Perhaps there are unseen alternatives. Such is my fortune. Having ascended, I find myself here. Is this the ‘upper city’? It appears I’ll be shouldering the burdens alone.”

Kashefi returned after issuing some directives to the foreman, his laughter lingering, “Mr. Vali’s prospective role demands resilience and swift action. Naturally, the remuneration is generous for diligent work. The roosters, hatched from eggs in incubators, eventually contribute to profits, enabling us to provide competitive salaries and annual bonuses…”

The foreman interjected, “But let’s not overlook the hazards, Mr. Kashefi.”

With a chuckle, Kashefi conceded, “Indeed. The threat of Newcastle disease looms, capable of decimating a coop, compelling us to inter thousands of afflicted chicks. Previously, we converted deceased poultry into feed pellets using specialized furnaces. Now, pending repairs, burial is our only recourse. Rest assured, Mr. Vali, your compensation remains unaffected.”

To the foreman, he instructed, “Prepare for the relocation of the culls and the two-kilo meat chickens to the abattoir. Mr. Vali will accompany us on a visit there. Friendship extends through connections.”

The foreman nodded, making his way back to the garden’s central path. Kashefi continued, “In this industry, any bird falling short of expectations, be it in laying or breeding, is prematurely culled…” It was then that Atefeh, balancing a jug of yogurt drink and plastic cups, emerged from the foliage onto the main path. Unseen by Kashefi, the foreman mimicked Mr. Vali, covering an eye with paper and inflating his belly as Atefeh approached. Mr. Vali caught the act, regretting it as Atefeh’s laughter caused a cup to tumble to the ground.

After hastily consuming the yogurt drink, we proceeded to the barns. Kashefi elucidated, “Early culling aligns with the natural order. Observe, and you’ll see. Those nearing their end exhibit more anxiety; they’re drawn to humans upon the barn’s opening, even daring to approach.”

Inside the first barn, a mass of white chickens jostled each other. A pairof abandoned black rubber boots stood sentinel at the entrance. Kashefi explained, “These broilers are destined to plump up, devoid of choice. Mr. Vali’s task involves selecting a quota for culling daily. It’s a daunting task. For some, the act of culling, once begun, becomes an unstoppable force. They realize too late that their actions, meant to be beneficial, have wrought destruction. It requires patience, a genuine interest, and strict discipline.”

 

Kashefi pointed to the boots by the entrance, emphasizing their importance to Mr. Vali for preventing the spread of microbes:

“It’s crucial to wear these to stop the transmission of germs. Try them on and catch one of the chickens.”

Mr. Vali, hesitant and seeking my support, attempted to fit into a boot clearly not his size, complaining:

“My foot won’t fit. These are quite filthy.”

Kashefi encouraged him to try a larger pair, assuring him they were clean on the inside.

With the boots on, Mr. Vali cautiously stepped among the chickens, which moved aside to let him pass.

Kashefi instructed, “Grab the one with the sagging comb that seems lethargic.”

Mr. Vali managed to catch the specified chicken and brought it over.

Kashefi examined it and explained, “This chicken is likely anemic, possibly due to parasites. However, its meat is still good, making culling it worthwhile.”

He carefully set the chicken down, advising Mr. Vali:

“View culling as a necessary task. We only cull what’s needed, according to our orders.”

He then turned to me, whispering as though sharing a confidential insight:

“One must approach this job with detachment… like a machine… devoid of emotion…”

The next day, as I reassured Mr. Vali I would look after the pigeons, he recounted a distressing incident involving a neighbor who had entrusted his family with the care of canaries, which they had neglected. This oversight had left Mr. Vali deeply embarrassed and regretful, especially since they had misplaced the key to the neighbor’s room. He lamented his forgetfulness and wished his son had been there to take responsibility.

In the subsequent barn, following Kashefi’s lead, we all donned boots and approached an incubator. Kashefi picked up three eggs from a nearby basket, suggesting we try them, highlighting the freshness supported by governmental incentives for poultry farming.

The eggs, still warm, were cracked open. I consumed mine, but Mr. Vali, finding a blood spot in his, refrained from eating. He was captivated by a newly hatched chick moving towards the incubator’s glass compartment.

Kashefi shared insights into the job’s essence, explaining the importance of distinguishing between chickens for egg production, meat, or culling, identifiable by the colored leg rings. He pointed out a rooster, marked as number two hundred and thirty-five, to illustrate his point.

Mr. Vali, reflecting on his situation, removed his glasses to wipe away a tear:

“I ought to have considered such work earlier, not at this stage in my life…”

Visibly overwhelmed and catching his breath, he took off his jacket, holding it limply in his hands, contemplating the new path unfolding before him and the responsibilities it entailed.

Kashefi suggested, “Actually, it’s not bad to start working from today. Our schedule has been disrupted for two days. If you’re ready, start by culling a few for practice. We should have sent this week’s broilers to the market by now.” Mr. Vali, seeking reassurance, glanced at me before handing over his jacket. Kashefi, with a chuckle, reassured, “Their barn is separate. Don’t rush.”

Once outside, the farm’s atmosphere was a blend of industry and nature, with workers moving chickens and the air filled with the mixed scents of vegetation and poultry. Kashefi remarked, “All poultry farms have these smells. No matter how much we plant vegetables and herbs, because it’s an old site, it still reeks. It’s the smell of the blood and filth from the chickens and roosters. You’ll get used to it. Now, let’s go to the slaughterhouse.”

As we navigated through the farm, Kashefi pointed out the turkeys, explaining, “We’ve let them roam free to gain strength. Sometimes we place eggs under them, and they do the job of an incubator. Here, everyone serves one purpose; higher production at lower costs.” Mr. Vali, reflecting on the potential of the land, said, “We’re not concerned about the smell now. This land is perfect for agriculture. It’s a pity it’s not in my hands; otherwise, I’d make gold out of every inch of it.” Kashefi mused on the idea, “I am actually considering it. However, unlike poultry farming, agriculture requires long-term planning.”

Approaching the more unsightly aspects of the farm, where waste wasn’t properly managed, Kashefi observed, “See, Mr. Vali, these undisciplined workers haven’t dug the ground deep enough to prevent jackals and other animals from digging in. There’s no immediate solution. We have to wait until the special furnaces are repaired. But the absence of one worker shouldn’t lead to consumable meat ending up like this. It must be delivered to those in need at any cost.” He concluded with a reflection on the value of food, “When we shake the tablecloth for the chickens or pick up a piece of bread from the ground and kiss it, it’s to prevent wastage.” This moment underscored the operational challenges and ethical considerations of poultry farming, highlighting the importance of responsible management and respect for resources.

Mr. Vali shared a light-hearted moment, attributing his size to not wanting to waste food at the dining table, “This belly of mine has grown so big from all the ‘it’s a shame to waste.’ The kids wouldn’t eat, and I’d end up eating it myself, saying it’s a shame.”

As we moved beyond the elm trees, we observed two water buffaloes, one engaging playfully with the other, a scene reminiscent of the farm’s erstwhile vitality.

Kashefi then reflected on the history and current state of the farm, “This place used to have a well-equipped dairy farm. Mr. Shuja was a genius in these matters, an international genius… After his death, this garden remained unused for a while until I came along. And I haven’t yet had the chance to tend to every part of it… If it weren’t for the fear of losing a month or two of salary and benefits, I would have fired them a hundred times by now.”

Amidst our conversation, an argument approached. The foreman, exasperated by Nematollah’s recent mistake of misplacing egg-laying hens, expressed his frustration, “Sir, I’m tired of Nematollah’s carelessness… He’s clinging to me like a dog, insisting we go see the boss. Well, this boss…”

Nematollah defended himself passionately, pointing to the other workers for validation, “Ask these workers. Everyone knows I’m not a liar… Now, when I ask why he’s causing loss to the boss, he turns away. Always trying to cover his tracks.”

Kashefi, overwhelmed by the ongoing disputes, expressed his frustration, “I’m tired. Really tired of you all. Why do you always fight like cats and dogs?” Nematollah, visibly upset, pleaded for understanding, “Sir, I swear it’s come to this. Just sit down with me one day, and I’ll lay it all out. Nothing’s in its right place here anymore. It was so much better in the past…”

Kashefi, seeking to resolve the immediate issue, directed, “Instead of crying about it, go put the egg-laying hens back where they belong. And you, send a couple of workers up there.” He then shared with Mr. Vali the challenges he faced managing his team, hinting at personal issues affecting their performance, “See what kind of people I have to deal with? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This guy, at the age of forty, took a young girl, had his fun for a few years, and now that he can’t… the girl has become a thorn in his side, and nothing’s right anymore.”

Mr. Vali empathized with the workers’ personal struggles, suggesting, “You’re the boss, you know this poor guy isn’t to blame. His marriage is one thing, but at work, he’s like a dishrag in a pantry.”

Approaching the slaughterhouse, the environment spoke volumes of the farm’s history and the people who had worked there, with tributes to past employees like Zaeem, hinting at the complexities and emotional ties within this community.

Kashefi prepared Mr. Vali for the task ahead, detailing the equipment and process, “It’s getting late. Put on the boots, get to work. The work coat is on that hook in the corner of the barn. The knife is by the water barrel… and there’s the special funnel. Take it and go to the edge of the sewage pit. The workers for plucking and gutting will show up once you start.”

As Mr. Vali donned the apron and prepared himself, he reflected on his new reality, “So it turns out my fate is to mingle with chicken droppings from now on?” Kashefi, trying to offer reassurance, remained outside, unable to bear the sights and sounds of the slaughterhouse, “I never watch up close. It tears me apart. The noise they make gets on my nerves. It’s a tough job suited only for the uninitiated. Mr. Vali would be a good fit if he accepts.”

Kashefi mused on the mismatch between a person’s abilities and their occupation, pointing out Mr. Vali’s physical suitability for more demanding work than his office duties, “Many people aren’t in their rightful place because they lack opportunities. Look at him, with his build, should he be an office attendant? His physique is perfect for butchering.”

As the preparations for the culling process continued, Kashefi urged Mr. Vali to begin. Mr. Vali attempted to follow through with the task but hesitated, ultimately releasing the chicken instead of culling it, “I’m not yet used to this. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow morning.”

Embarrassed by his inability to perform the task, Mr. Vali handed over his responsibilities to a worker, while Kashefi, somewhat disappointed, offered the worker a stern warning, “Try your luck since this gentleman was a flop. Mess up again, and you’re fired.”

The atmosphere in the slaughterhouse, along with the actions and reactions of those present, painted a vivid picture of the challenges and emotional toll associated with such work. Kashefi’s reflections on Zaeem, a former worker, highlighted the complexities of life on the farm, including the interpersonal dynamics and the impact of workplace culture on individuals and their families, “Good old Zaeem sometimes forgot not to sever the head completely… Poor thing, he became quiet towards the end. They shouldn’t have teased him so. That damned foreman made life hell for his wife and kids… Well, it’s getting late.”

Kashefi reentered the barn, placed the decapitated rooster in a plastic bag, and brought it outside. He offered it to Mr. Vali, insisting, “It’s a gift,” despite Mr. Vali’s initial reluctance. After Kashefi’s persistent urging, Mr. Vali finally accepted the gift.

The atmosphere remained serene, with a gentle breeze and the occasional bellowing of water buffaloes at the garden’s end, breaking the quietude. The unexpected crowing of a rooster was abruptly silenced now and then. Our steps crunched over dry branches, and the familiar, irritating scent lingered in the air. A worker attempted to herd turkeys into their cages, one briefly escaping his grasp. Light flickered from the barn windows, and a lamp above the pond blinked intermittently. The foreman, leaning on Kashefi’s car, was engrossed in storytelling with the workers.

Kashefi looked after the practicalities, stating, “Make sure the salaries are ready for next week.” I extended an invitation to Mr. Vali, saying, “Come have dinner with us.” He demurred, “Huh? Oh… I’ve been well-fed. If you have a cigarette, I’ll take one.” After lighting his cigarette, I inquired about his distraction, to which he confided, “Don’t tell the office staff I’ve found a job yet.”

Kashefi then advised Mr. Vali, “Go ask around, see if any of the workers are going your way. Some of them have cars.” The scene was tranquil, with moonlight reflecting off the pool and the mansion’s features standing silent and solemn. At the garden gate, Kashefi honked his horn, prompting Nematollah to appear in pink women’s slippers, with Atefeh nowhere in sight.

Kashefi expressed his concern, “Come see me first thing tomorrow; I need to see what’s wrong with you.” As we departed, I glanced back to see Mr. Vali, now without his glasses, chasing after a car, a final image that lingered as we left the scene.

About Mohammad Mohammad-Ali

The contemporary novelist Mohammad Mohammad-Ali was born in Tehran in 1948. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at the College of Tehran and then wrote regularly for the press. In 1980, he was elected a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association. In the same year, the young writer traveled to the former Soviet Union and published his memoirs two decades later. Mohammad-Ali was editor of several Iranian literary magazines such as Donyay-e Sokhan, Adineh, Karnameh, Jong-e Borj (one of his own publications). He has published 15 books including There Are Wolves in Hindabad Valley, The Jinni, Copper, Retirement, The Concealed Image, Thunderstorm Without Rains, The second Eye, The A Dead Man’s Soaked Beliefs, Adam and Eve (in Biblical, Quranic and Avestic versions), Alas for the Opposite, Five years Before 1985. The Hidden Image was translated into Turkish by Dr. Hashem Khosroshahi and published by Kapi Press in Turkey on the recommendation of Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk among several prominent Iranian poets/writers (in this book, the spelling of his name is rendered as Mohammad Mohmmad-Ali). Mohammad-Ali has repeatedly traveled to Europe, given lectures on his works and is a familiar face in Western literary circles. Some of his stories have been translated into English by Iranian scholar Ali Salami.

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