Ali Salami

The Last Day By Bahram Beyzai

As the 48-year-old Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat makes his way to his apartment in the 18th arrondissement at 37 Rue Championnet bis on a gloomy afternoon in Paris, he meets two men who are waiting for him. They immediately inquire whether he has returned from the police station and whether he has received the necessary authorization for the next fifteen days. As they begin to walk alongside him through the streets, they start a conversation about the futility of extending his stay in his current state of mind. Hedayat affirms: “I have no such thoughts!”, whereupon one of the men laughs snidely: “Of course not! Suicide? We are here in Paris, spring has only just begun!”

In the twilight of pre-dawn, the men accompany him and ask him why he clings to a life that demands reaffirmation of its value every fifteen days: “Can’t you see that there’s no hope?”

Hedayat, who is mostly silent, listens as one of the men seems to echo his inner despair by expressing the lack of any prospect of transformative change: “You know there is no turnaround in sight. At their core, people remain unchanged. Their homeland is choked by the stench of oil and poverty, and everyone contributes to its desecration. ‘Riff-raff’ – isn’t that the term you coined? Any hint of benevolent or innovative thinking is met with hostility. Just recently a writer was executed in a public court in Tehran for his bold views! And the thought that your writing could bring about change or even reflect reality has been obliterated. Here your words fall on ears that cannot decipher their meaning, and in your homeland, there are more people who understand your writing than there are letters in it.”

Amid this questioning, Hedayat considers the possibility that these men are from the police. But the resemblance to them is uncanny to him. At first, he had thought they were enemies from his past. They exchange knowing smiles and seem all too familiar with Hedayat’s turmoil.

They go to a café where an ethereal woman serves them coffee and cognac. Hedayat reaches into his pocket and confesses, “I can’t entertain you.” They smile, perhaps seeing in this the last vestige of noble generosity. Hedayat clarifies: “That’s impossible for me!” When they make fun of the contents of his inside pocket, Hedayat backs down: “Not that!” He jokes about how important it is to plan for the future, to which another jokes: “Funeral expenses?” Hedayat explains firmly: “I never learned to beg!” Laughing, he refers to “The Dark Room” and reveals a note promising him the end of his life if he runs out of money or becomes addicted. He alludes to the meaning of a certain line on a certain page.

In the dim light of the café, Hedayat, slightly dazed, questions her intentions and suspects her of being part of a larger plan. He accuses them of pretending to understand his work without having read a word. The mention of Dash Akol and Kaka Rostam, legendary figures from Shiraz, transports the scene to the alleyways of the city, which Hedayat observes through the window of the café. As the conversation deepens, the wounds of life are likened to a soul-eating worm, exemplified by the fleeting presence of an ethereal woman, a beggar woman, and a ragged woman pressed against the window, each image evoking rural desolation and human despair.

The discussion shifts to Alaviyeh Khanum, a woman associated with pilgrim caravans for both merit and business, hinting at her complex life of intermittent marriages. This narrative unfolds as a caravan passes by, among which is Alaviyeh, who embodies a mixture of devotion and curse. The conversation ends on a contemplative note, questioning the desire to explore the entire history of Haj Agha, which symbolizes self-torture and a misplaced sense of centrality in the world.

**

As he speaks, the café gradually brightens through a hole in the roof, and Haj Agha is seen in the vestibule of his house giving orders to some bearded men with arrogance and bad temper, his voice gradually becoming audible: ‘Infiltrate gatherings; denounce cinemas and theaters, forks and knives, airplanes, cars and gramophones. Do not overlook the miracle of the fountain!” Suddenly, as if he had noticed Hedayat, his tone changes: “Gentlemen, I have lost faith in these Westernized youths. When they come back, they are strangers!” Haj Agha’s audience disappears, leaving only two familiar figures behind. Furious, Haj Agha points at Hedayat: “This man is dangerous. A Bolshevik; defiant in wealth and rebellious in spirit; we must drown him.” Suddenly he pulls a parabellum from under his robe and approaches her: “In truth, you deserve the jihad against the infidels!” Hedayat says involuntarily: “If only everyone could be like that…!” A shadow emerges from the darkness: “No, you can’t tear them apart, you haven’t been able to control them for years. They’ve finished you off. No! Who came by there?” Another shadow emerges: “Zarrin Kola; the woman who lost her husband.” The first shadow asks: “Did you love her?” Hedayat smiles. The second shadow says: “She is still looking for her husband.” As he speaks, Zarrin Kola appears, looking for her husband. The first shadow opens a book: “Love is like a distant song, a melancholy and enchanting melody sung by an ugly, unsightly person. You shouldn’t follow her or look at her up close!” He closes the book: “Do you want to see it? It’s your writing: ‘The Effigies’!” Hedayat, excited, stands up involuntarily. The first shadow follows: “Unrequited love, isn’t it? For the people you love who don’t recognize their worth!” Hedayat storms out of the door; the second shadow follows him: “Your pain began when the ethereal woman died in your arms. Your misfortune was to see that deep pain in her eyes before she died. Wasn’t that your home?” Hedayat turns to say something, but his tongue is tied. Behind the window of the café, the ethereal woman smiles, making a silent gesture with her finger to her nose, colorless; then Hedayat lowers his head.

They walk through the streets. A bearded man hurries past, bumps into someone, and asks: “Are you Iranian? I’m looking for a wanted man called Hedayat; Sadeq Hedayat!” Hedayat says, “No, I’m Hadi Sedaqat.” The gasping man says, “I have the arrest warrant, but I don’t know his face. Damn our national post office! He was sent from Tehran ages ago and is still on his way. What does this cursed man look like?” Hedayat says: “He has no picture; he has not looked like anyone for a long time, neither his compatriots nor the people here.” The man hurries off, and Hedayat says to his shadows, “That’s one of them. They’ve been after him for a while. After ‘Travelog in the Land of the Franks’ made the rounds, they issued a death sentence. They take their orders from Haj Agha.” The Shadows know the script; a tale of multiple layers coming to reform the West but being corrupted by its decadence. As they speak, characters from “Travelog in the Land of the Franks” walk by, drunk and debauched; one plays music, another has his arm around a ragged woman.

Hedayat and his companions go to Père Lachaise and see the old miser with the broken jug digging a grave. Next to his Fuchston wagon with the dying horse, the shadows say, “Look, even the grave is ready.” Two hurried men get out of the grave and approach Hedayat with the words: “Haj Agha asks how you would rather die: by poison, knife, bullet or rope? You have to decide!” Hedayat turns to his companions. They shrug their shoulders and offer no advice. Hedayat turns back to the two men; they have disappeared. Confused, he looks back at his companions; through them he sees the ethereal woman offering the old miser a water lily by a stream next to a cypress tree. Hedayat tries to shake off this vision, but when he regains consciousness, his companions have also disappeared.

Hedayat walks past circus and Ferris wheel posters, lottery advertisements, and street painters. A painter invites him to have his portrait painted. Hedayat shakes his head and walks away. As he moves through the crowd, one of his shadows says from a distance: “I regret that I did not become a painter. It was the only profession I liked and enjoyed!” Your words from the mouth of a buried, living hero. Do you still stand by them after all those pictures with words? Hedayat turns away and walks past an optician’s store with a double front and an owl sign, then past a large bookshop with a picture of Kafka in the window. Amid the hustle and bustle, a shadow says: “Funny you weren’t in the library!” The other replies: “What’s the point if you do not have money to buy anything?” The first adds: “Even if there was money, it would go to repairing his glasses first!” A newspaper vendor calls out, turns around and a few newspaper readers approach. Hedayat walks past them. The first shadow jokes with a glance at the newspapers: “No news from Iran!” And if there was, what could it be? Take a guess! The other says: “A few intellectuals have died recently.” As Hedayat walks away, he mutters, “No intellectual dies in my country, they are all destroyed!”

Umbrellas are opened amid the pouring rain. Hedayat walks under the bare trees amidst the crowd. In the distance, you can see movie marquees with titles like Hamlet, Guests of the Night, The Trial, Rome – Open City, Orpheus Cursed, The Earth Shakes, Citizen Kane, and then a picture of the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima. Hedayat, however, goes to the movie theater across the street. A shadow comments: “The movies are more cheerful; why the post-World War I themes? We are after the Second World War!” The other adds, “They speak to your soul, don’t they? With your vision of your country’s demise!” Hedayat turns around to say something back, but there is only the bustle of people under their umbrellas and a policeman in a raincoat watching him from a distance. Hedayat enters a dimly lit movie theater with four small rooms. A door opens: on the screen, the Zoroastrian sage who asks Ahura Mazda for help suddenly sees that his castle is in flames and his clay servant — Golem— – is running through the fire. The villagers cheer at the sight of the burning castle. Hedayat glances at his ticket and hears from behind: “Goshtasb Castle would look like this if there were movie theaters in this country, wouldn’t it?” Confused, Hedayat knows that he cannot escape his two companions, even if they are not visibly present. Another door opens: on the screen, the oppressed citizens of the advanced city of Metropolis are working in factories under the watchful eyes of cameras and modern equipment. A whisper to Hedayat: “Missing is a ruffian with a bushy mustache and bulging eyes, in his military boots, right?” Hedayat turns around. Another door opens; on the screen, Nosferatu’s carriage stops, and he climbs the stairs with his back bent and his arms outstretched. Hedayat closes the door to the hall. Another door opens; on the screen, Death’s carriage drives wearily past. Hedayat sits down in his seat. He hears whispers behind him: “This desolation and bitterness suits your tortured soul; people who are either slaves to themselves or to others. Am I right?” Furious, Hedayat turns around and sees the ethereal woman approaching him. Startled, his glasses slip off his nose. Fumbling, he puts the broken glasses back on, but now it is a bold woman a few rows away who smiles provocatively at him and reaches for the buttons of her dress. Hedayat rises from his seat in the middle of the movie.

On the busy street, two men in a hurry run towards him, only stopping when they bump into him and say gleefully that someone has seen Hedayat in this alley. They will soon find him and get their way. Hedayat congratulates them and they quickly disappear, while the two companions reappear, apparently waiting for his decision. Suddenly Hedayat screws up his face, raises his eyebrows and with a half-smile stretches his right hand up and his left hand down, open, and steps forward with his right foot as if he were climbing a staircase, mimicking Nosferatu. The first shadow says: “You are imitating Nosferatu. A dead man who sleeps in a coffin during the day and hunts for affection and lifeblood at night. Why?” The second shadow is quick to rebuke: “You congratulated them. How can you hide your inner feelings?”

Hedayat turns briskly and walks away; they follow him. The first says hastily: “Maybe the only thing I’m good for in this world is to become a theater actor.” The other claps vigorously: “From ‘Buried Alive’. “Hedayat hurries through the rain to get further away from them, but suddenly they are in his way. The first shadow: “You want to say goodbye! Right? You return to every place with a memory!” The second shadow: “Everything has changed quickly and it’s no longer the way you remember it!” Hedayat walks between them and seeks shelter. They position themselves on either side under the canopy. People pass under umbrellas: fat, thin, happy, sad, hurried, and slow. An old man trying to look young; a man dressed like a woman; a woman dressed like a man; someone who seems to be carrying the weight of the world with a child, just like them. The first shadow reads from a text: “Everyone has several faces. Some use only one, which quickly wears out and wrinkles. Others keep their face for their descendants. Some change their face constantly, but as they grow older, they realize that this last mask was their true face, which will soon wear off and reveal the real them behind it.” You wrote it, remember? Blind owl!

Hedayat suddenly turns around and sees herself reflected in a shop window full of distorted mirrors; stretched, shrunk, enlarged, and diminished. The voice of the second shadow reaches his ear and says: “My face had the potential for such ridiculous and terrifying expressions. It was as if I could see all the absurd, frightening, and unbelievable shapes that were hidden inside me. All these faces were inside me, belonged to me. The scary, criminal, and funny masks that changed with a gesture” The same “Blind Owl”, six pages later! Hedayat takes off his glasses, wet from the rain, and wipes them clean with his shirt under his coat. When the rain stops, the umbrellas close. Bicycles and wheelbarrows start moving again. The moon shines in a puddle. Hedayat walks forward and looks at it. His companions see him and smile: “That’s right, “the moon has risen in Tehran too. People look at the moon there too. Some with a lump in their throat and tears in their eyes, others without a care in the world.” The second one steps forward: “Ah, it’s the people who have captured the face of the moon, isn’t it?” Hedayat asks: “How long are you planning to read my mind?”

The first shadow looks at a cloud passing over the moon, “This chiaroscuro reminds you of the movies in which the vampire appears. Despite all the darkness, the idea of love thrives in these movies, although in reality death triumphs. Tired death! That was the hope. The battle between love and death. Why is love not present in your work?” Hedayat disturbs the reflection of the moon in the puddle with his foot: “The atomic explosion wasn’t an April Fool’s joke!” They are stunned, transfixed by their discovery, and stare at Hedayat’s retreating: “Hmm, until now you were disillusioned with your homeland, and now with the whole world!” Hedayat walks away briskly and impulsively, and they quickly catch up with him, “But that wasn’t an answer, it was an escape: Why is there no hope for Dash Akol in your writing? Why doesn’t Marjan make an effort? Why is love always a source of comfort?” Hedayat pauses and becomes enigmatic; with a mysterious smile, he turns to them and lowers his voice: “There is a secret you don’t know, even if you memorize all my words.” They lean forward curiously. Hedayat almost whispers, “Marjan belongs to Haj Agha; his fifth wife!” They look shocked and incredulous: “I’m only telling you this. You heard right; the vampire’s wife! She realizes it too late; like a parrot in a cage. If you haven’t understood this, you haven’t read anything I have written!” Hedayat walks away, leaving them stunned and confused. They pull books out of their bags and flick through them frantically, looking for this topic. They grumble and shout and wonder how they could have missed it until now.

Hedayat walks past a movie theater showing “The Battle of the Railroad Track” and crosses the street at a crosswalk. People with collection tins rattle them for donations for the victims of the resistance movement. Hedayat walks past them. An ambulance roars past, and a procession of people with lit candles and banners slowly crosses the road, some in wheelchairs, others on crutches, without limbs.

Hedayat stops on a bridge over the river and looks down at the water. The trembling reflection of the moon. His companions appear behind him: “Jump into the water? No, you’ve already tried that once!” The second emphasizes: “You won’t jump. You are afraid of a sudden panic and of calling for help.” The first adds, “You’d be ashamed to ask for help!” Hedayat walks on, they follow him. The first one says: “You have a plan!” Hedayat walks on, and the second speaks for him: “I despise deliberate actions.” The first dismisses it: “That’s just a line from Seen Gaf Lam Lam that could have been revised long ago.” They retreat as Hedayat approaches, “Hmm, you’re really saying goodbye; to everything, everywhere! You have an imagination!” Hedayat remains standing. The first asks: “Why didn’t you take us to your house? Were you afraid we would see the cotton?” The second doesn’t let him get a word in edgewise: “You’ve been buying cotton for three days, haven’t you? For the gaps!” The first one snaps, “You could have escaped through the quilt without paying.” Hedayat says: “I didn’t pay: I escaped through the quilt.” They look at each other: “Well, if it’s come to this, it’s the best solution, just don’t light a match!” Hedayat smiles: “I do not have a plan!” They look confused. Hedayat takes off his glasses and looks up at the moon, over which a cloud is drifting. The first one says in astonishment: “I stand by my words. The last look — you really are saying goodbye!” The second looks at the moon and begins: “All the ancestors of mankind have looked at it, wept before it, and the cold, indifferent moon has set. It is as if their memories linger in it.” Hedayat puts his glasses back on and interjects, “‘Seen Gaf Lam Lam’, I don’t know which side!” and walks on. They follow him: “Do you still believe that ‘the moon, lonely and withdrawn from up there, waits with its cold smile for the downfall of the earth and looks with a sad face at the dirty deeds of the people on earth’?” Hedayat grumbles, “What else does the moon see in Hiroshima, even if it were day or night, its gaze once on the plight of the caravan of Alaviyeh Khanum; and sorry, I don’t know which side or line!”

In the middle of the busy sidewalk, a magician, who has identified passers-by with his eyes closed and has gathered a small audience around him, suddenly grabs Hedayat by the sleeve and pulls him closer; Hedayat is trying to keep his broken glasses on his nose. The blindfolded man searches theatrically in his head for Hedayat’s details: “Ah – you’re not from here! Profession? You don’t have one! Maybe – an artist! Words! Yes; talk, talk, talk – maybe you’re a writer, a traveler? No – you have gone into exile. In your homeland, you yearn for here, and here you yearn for your homeland!” Suddenly he hesitates, startled: “No, you no longer have it! You’re making an important decision.” Hedayat looks at the two men waiting for him in the crowd and snaps, “I’m not making a decision!” He walks away. The two shadows follow him. The first catches up with him: “You said it right: ‘No one chooses suicide. Suicide exists in some people. It’s in their essence, in their nature. They can’t escape it. Suicide is innate in some people” – and asks the second: “‘Buried Alive’, right?” The second one, running behind, – says: “Not just once, but twice!” Hedayat, not far away, stops, turns around in frustration, and throws a coin at the blindfolded man. The blindfolded man says: “Didn’t I say, sir, he’ll be back before I have counted to ten and he won’t forget our coin?” The onlookers laugh and applaud. The old miser picks up the coin from the ground. Hedayat turns and walks away; Dash Akol, with a bloody dagger in his hand and a wound in his side, follows him. From the opposite direction, Haj Agha approaches, cursing and swearing, but before he can reach Hedayat, the bold woman grabs Haj Agha by the arm and leads him away, laughing. Death’s carriage passes by on the road; the old miser invites him to get in. The ethereal woman lifts her skirt at the roadside and shows her thighs to passers-by. Alaviyeh Khanum rides past on a cart in front of the Eiffel Tower, scolding her adolescent children and cursing heaven and earth. Zarrin Kola, the woman who has lost her husband, approaches from the opposite direction and claims that the man she has lost is Hedayat. On the street, a stray dog is crushed under a vehicle. People scream and the honking of several vehicles fills the air. The two men in a hurry bump into the distracted Hedayat and knock off his glasses. They tell him, “We found out that Hedayat wears glasses; all these godless intellectuals wear glasses,” and hurry away. Hedayat bends down, picks up his broken glasses, and puts them on. Next to a cabaret, a clown-like man floats in the air and draws the attention of passers-by to the cabaret. At the entrance to the cabaret, Marjan, in a cage as big as herself and holding a parrot with a sad smile, invites everyone inside. Hedayat goes into the cabaret of death, where the tables are made of coffins, and a jester in a clerical robe mockingly preaches a blasphemous song that jokes about life and death. Hedayat curls up in his chair like a fetus. The first shadow holds up a piece of writing and begins: “We are all alone. Life is a prison, but some people draw faces on the prison walls and amuse themselves.” The second shadow approaches: “Goshtasb Castle!” Hedayat looks up and sees them at his table. The first asks, “Did you think that what you wrote was just a face on the prison wall to amuse you? Or was it a prelude to the moment you’re in?” Hedayat looks up and tries to understand whether he has understood what they are getting at. The second leans forward: “You’ve been practicing death for years, in ‘Seen Gaf Lam Lam’ and ‘Buried Alive’, right?” The first one slams an open book on the table and points with his finger: “Some people start to die at twenty, while many others go out gently at the moment of death, like a lamp that has run out of oil.” He closes the book: “Blind owl! You must remember that.” Hedayat stands up abruptly.

On the street, Hedayat approaches a policeman and says: “Get these two away from my back.” The policeman says: “Calm down, monsieur; which two?” The policeman checks Hedayat’s ID, asks him for his address and writes it down. His father’s name? Where did he learn French? Occupation? Does he have anyone here? Hedayat shakes his head: No. The policeman says: “You only have a little more time. You have to extend!” Hedayat leaves; the policeman calls the Iranian embassy. They don’t know Hedayat there.

As Hedayat walks down the street, the fervor of African dance and music can be heard from the Moroccan mosque. The members of the foreign society, all drunk and debauched, either hugging whores or playing instruments, meander through the streets and pass Hedayat from both sides. The excitement of the dance, the rhythms and the tribal melodies envelop him. Suddenly, as if he has heard a voice, Hedayat pauses for a moment. Someone knocks on a door and calls out to him. Hedayat turns around and sees the first shadow coming towards him: “You have practiced death. In that story, what was it called? Buried alive! You faked the sleep of death and waited to meet it.” The second shadow steps forward: “You didn’t want to be part of the mob!” The first shadow holds up a note that says: “I wanted to feel my death properly!” Do you remember? He turns to the second: “Page and line number!” The second shadow opens a book: “Do you really need this?” As if Hedayat hears a voice, he listens; someone is knocking. The first shadow reads from the note: “At first, no one answers the knock. Around midday, they think I’m asleep. Later, they break the bolt and enter the room…”

A door is broken open and several neighbors rush in, immediately holding their breath, and one of them screams. Hedayat turns around. The Africans are at the height of their spiritual dance. The first shadow reads from the text: “If I had been dead, they would have taken me to the mosque in Paris; I would have fallen into the hands of the ageless Arabs and died again.” He puts the note aside: “Have I missed something?” The second shadow lowers the book, “Word for word from ‘Buried Alive’!” The Africans continue their ecstatic dance, jumping and frolicking. Hedayat suddenly imitates Nosferatu. A gypsy fortune teller approaches from the front and grabs his wrist. A flower for a coin. “From others, I take no less than two, but for you only one; you seem to be a stranger.” She continues: “Your future, monsieur…” Hedayat snorts, “The only thing I know better than you!” He withdraws his hand and walks away.

The two men in a hurry, armed with a pistol and daggers, catch up with him and announce good news. They will receive Hedayat’s photo tomorrow. Hedayat takes out his own photo and hands it to them, then continues on his way. They are happy that they have received Hedayat’s picture and disappear into the crowd!

Hedayat enters his apartment at 37 Rue Championnet and closes the door behind him. Almost immediately, his two companions arrive and look up at Hedayat’s window, which lights up. Hedayat sees them down in the alley and closes the window lock in front of them. He goes to the gas valve, turns it up and down briefly, then up and down again. Haj Agha appears and goads him: “Why the delay? Open it. I can hear the angels flapping their wings with joy; hurry up! ‘Iran is a graveyard of intellect and talent. A land of thieves and smugglers and the prison of its people!’ Why don’t you just put an end to it?” Kaka Rostam steps in, blood dripping from his blade, and stammers, “Not even a cat would pounce on such an opportunity; say a single rosary! ‘We fall out of the clay and wail over our donkeys until we die; is this life?'” Haj Agha still rages, “If you hesitate, we will end it for you. Did you hear that? ‘Your existence is an insult to humanity. Reading, writing, and thinking are misery a healthy person should eat well, listen well, and ah well!'”

Hedayat stares into the mirror. Alaviyeh Khanum approaches and taps his chest: “Go on a pilgrimage; lighten your bones. Seek healing from my grandfather. Cling to his shrine. Cover yourself with mud. May my grandfather beat them for teaching you to read. Your healing is in the hands of the Lord!” The brave woman begins to cry, “Why does there always have to be a point? Huh?” and in a sudden fit of rage, she scratches at the Pahlavi and Sanskrit lines on the wall: “Life is a line you cannot read, even if you’ve learned all the dead and living languages in the world!” Hedayat continues to stare into the mirror: “How will they judge me?” The bold woman smiles: “What does the vague memory of us count when we have died?” Marjan walks by sadly, a parrot in her hand, “I shouldn’t have spoken. I shouldn’t have complained. That’s how it was meant to be for me; but why must you be silent when you can speak?”

A faceless man emerges from the darkness: “Only death doesn’t lie! We are children of death. At the end of life, it is death that calls us. When in childhood, when we do not yet understand the language, we sometimes pause in our play, it is to hear the voice of death.” Haj Agha cries out: “Hope? What are you waiting for… no matter how much they beautify this damned homeland, its smell of sanctity remains. We live in the pit of the world.'” Zarrin Kola passes by with a bundle in her hand: “You are merciless! Cursed be all cruelty! No; I have found you. Hundreds like me were lost, and you brought us out of the shadows. Why must you die?” A gaunt woman emerges from the darkness: “It is I, sister, one of the many who committed suicide in your writings. Did you not recognize me? We are waiting for you.” The faceless man steps forward: “Do you remember ‘The Blind Owl’? We are the ones who died by your pen; we are waiting for you.” Zarrin Kola walks past: “No, there are still many who are waiting to be written by you, those who have never seen the sunny side of life!” The bold woman stamps her feet, which are adorned with anklets, and opens her arms, which are adorned with bangles, and raises her palms upwards; she turns her head and rolls her eyes like a temple dancer before a deity. The faceless man puts on the mask of Hedayat: “Think of those who are waiting to read your writings! Do you not regret what you have not yet been able to write? Are they all over for you, all those whose lives you have written in stories?” Dash Akol approaches, but when he sees Marjan with the parrot, he closes his eyes, turns away quickly, and the tears flow, “You see the curtain, not the puppeteer! We all pretend to be alive. If it were only pretense; we have despised life.'” The sister smiles contentedly: “You are going to a place where there is neither ugliness nor beauty, neither marriage nor mourning, neither laughter nor tears, neither joy nor sorrow.” Hedayat stands hunched over, staring at the floor with his broken glasses, and suddenly growls through his teeth: “However harsh their judgment of me may have been, they don’t know that I have judged myself even more harshly!”

Kaka Rostam rams his dagger into the ground and stammers: “The time that recorded you is over. The language you have preserved has changed!” Dash Akol, his blade dripping with blood, interrupts: “God has so recognized you that he has granted you only half a tongue!” Others rush over to separate them. Haj Agha approaches full of compassion: “You should have eaten meat, the sacrificial meat! You should have shed blood instead of shedding tears of blood! How many have killed each other in this world? That is humanity! And yet you, a herbivore, know only to kill yourself!” Amidst the back and forth between the characters, they debate the life and death of Hedayat. Hedayat stares out of the window and sees the ethereal woman offering the old man a lotus flower. Alaviyeh Khanum’s voice whirls around: “Imagine if you had stayed a few more mornings, witnessed the death of friends and relatives, and transferred your joys and sorrows to others. And then?” Dash Akol insists: “It’s our destiny! Does it matter if it’s today or tomorrow? ‘In this world theater, everyone plays their role until their death occurs.” Marjan walks past with tears in her eyes: “Your plays are over, you’ve used up your masks.” Suddenly she hesitates and pulls back: “Or maybe you refused to play along; you didn’t want to put on a mask!” Alaviyeh Khanum fans herself and blows her water pipe into the air: “You’re a child! A mama’s boy! You enjoy the pain of love, not love itself. This pain has made you an artist; love has been killed!” The parrot in Marjan’s hand screams: “Marjan, you killed me! Who am I to tell, Marjan; your love has killed me.” Like a temple dancer, the bitch-wife moves her hands like two snakes and stamps her feet. Dash Akol comforts her: “We will not die with your death; wherever we are, we will say that you existed! We will keep you alive!” Hedayat suddenly raises his head with a childlike excitement, as if he has made a discovery: “Now I remember. I saw this scene. In the treasure chest of my childhood; it hung in front of the chest. An old chintz curtain, part of my mother’s dowry; on it an old man was crouching by the cypress on the bank of the stream, his finger on the lips of the beautiful woman, and on the other side of the stream, a woman with narrowed eyebrows and black eyes – as if floating in the air – offered him a lotus flower. So I have actually seen this scene!” Alaviyeh Khanum steps forward: “Go and ask for forgiveness; pull yourself out of this vortex. Dash Akol growls: “What are you doing in the middle of a bunch of corpse eaters? A bunch of living dead!” The sister admonishes: “In the middle of a pile of masks; in a dead end; in front of a broken mirror.” Haj Agha roars: “How long are you going to wander like a stray dog? End it; like a man who has killed his ego!”

As each character makes her contribution, the ethereal woman enters with a lotus flower and offers it to Hedayat. His smile brightens. The others continue their chatter. The ethereal woman spreads a white sheet on the floor; Hedayat carefully lies down on it. She looks around — the cracks are stuffed with absorbent cotton. The gas is on and fills the room. She smiles tenderly at him and slowly takes off his glasses. The glasses are lying on a small case, along with a wristwatch, a fountain pen, and a handbag. On one side is a residence permit that needs to be renewed, on the other a bundle of money for the funeral costs.

Dash Akol backs away and disappears. Alaviyeh Khanum backs away and disappears. Haj Agha backs away and disappears. The woman who lost her husband also backs away and disappears. The hurried figures with their pistols and their swagger pass by. Marjan, Kaka Rostam, the sister, the woman-slut, the faceless man —they all retreat and disappear. The death carriage, driven by the old man with the craggy face, approaches and passes by.

The ethereal woman steps forward in a black dress with long hair and exposes herself in a single movement. The Moroccans are caught in a fiery sama. The society of “In the Land of the Free” laughs and sings drunkenly in the streets. The gypsy fortune teller steps forward with her bouquet of black flowers, filling the entire room.

– The gaze shifts to the outside of the house and focuses on the window as if capturing a photograph.

– The scene widens to encompass the entire house from the outside; only the solitary call of an owl can be heard.

 

© Ali Salami 2024

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