Ali Salami

Buried Alive [Zendeh Be Goor] By Sadeq Hedayat

My breath escapes me in ragged gaspings, tears run from my eyes, a bitter taste lingers in my mouth. My head spins, my heart clenches, my body lies exhausted, beaten, limp, weak on the bed. My arms, covered in marks from the injections, bear witness to my misery. The bed reeks of sweat and the fever that has me in its grip. My gaze falls on a clock on the small table next to the bed, which reads ten o’clock on a Sunday morning. I stare at the ceiling with a light bulb dangling from it, then my gaze wanders around the room and lingers on the wallpaper with the intricate patterns of red flowers and their darkened backs. Here and there, two blackbirds sit opposite each other on a branch, one with its beak open as if it is having a conversation. These images disturb me and haunt me as soon as I turn over in bed. The room table is cluttered with bottles, wicks and boxes of medicine, the air smells of burnt alcohol, an odor of unease that permeates the room. I want to get up, open the window, but a deep lethargy pins me to the bed and extinguishes even the desire for a cigarette. Barely ten minutes have passed since I shaved my oversized beard. I fall back into bed and a glance in the mirror shows me how emaciated I have become. I find it difficult to move, the room is messy. I am alone.

A thousand wondrous thoughts buzz through my head, vivid and unbidden. I see them all, but to capture even the smallest feeling or fleeting fantasy, I would have to recount my whole life, an impossibility. These thoughts, these feelings are the culmination of my existence, shaped by a lifetime of inherited thoughts, sights, sounds, readings, feelings and judgments. They are the architects of my insubstantial and absurd existence.

I toss and turn in my bed, rifling through the notes of my memory as my mind is besieged by disorganized, desperate thoughts. Pain pulsates in the back of my head, my temples burn, I contract into myself. I hold the comforter over my eyes, brooding, exhausted. I wish I could crack open my skull and remove this gray, tangled mass from inside me to throw it away like a morsel for the dogs.

No one could understand. No one would believe it. Those who feel completely defeated are told, “Lie down and die!” But when even death turns away, when it doesn’t accept your call… Everyone fears death, but I fear this ruthless life

How dreadful it is when death does not desire you and pushes you away! Only one thing comforts me: two weeks ago I read in the newspaper about an Austrian who tried to take his own life thirteen times in different ways. He hanged himself but the rope broke, he threw himself into a river but was pulled out again, and so on… When he finally found the house empty, he cut all his veins with a kitchen knife, and on this thirteenth attempt he died! That comforts me!

No, you do not just decide to commit suicide; suicide is in some people. It is part of their nature, their essence, it is inevitable. It is fate that rules, and yet it is I who have created my own fate, which is now inescapable, unable to escape from myself. What is to be done? Fate is stronger than me.

What whims strike me! As I lay there, I longed to be a child again, to have Galin-Baji, who always told me stories and moistened her lips with a flick of her tongue, sitting by my bed. Just like before, when I lay tired in bed, she told me stories with great enthusiasm and lulled me to sleep with the soft sound of her voice. I think I see fragments of my childhood coming back to me vividly. It’s as if it was only yesterday, not so far removed from my childhood. Now I see the entirety of my dark, vile and pointless life before me. Was I happy back then? No, what a grave mistake!

Everyone assumes that a child’s life is filled with happiness. But I remember it well. I was more sensitive back then, an imitator, a furtive observer. Maybe I seemed to be laughing or playing, but in truth, the slightest insult or misfortune kept me busy for hours and consumed me from the inside. Cursed be this nature of mine! Those who say that heaven and hell dwell within us are right, some are fortunate, others aren’t.

By the Same Author: Davoud the Hunchback

I look at the half-used red pencil in my hand, with which I make notes in bed. I used this pencil to write down our meeting place to give to the girl I had recently met. We went to the movies a few times. The last time it was a movie with a singer and speaker, in which a famous singer from Chicago sang “Where’s my Sylvia?” I was so enchanted that I closed my eyes to listen to her, her powerful and captivating voice still reverberating in my ears. The movie theater seemed to shake; I couldn’t believe that such a voice could ever be silenced. Its wistful tone made me sad, even though I enjoyed it. The music played, deep and resonant, the whine of the violin strings as if the bow was gliding over my own nerves, permeating my whole being with melody, making me tremble and transporting me to the realm of fantasy. In the darkness, my hand wandered over the girl’s chest. Her eyes grew heavy with desire and I too felt an indescribable sensation. I remember a melancholy yet satisfying state that cannot be put into words. I kissed her moist lips; her cheeks flushed. We snuggled together without paying attention to the plot of the movie. I played with her hands and she pressed herself against me. Now it feels like it was all just a dream. Nine days have passed since we parted ways. We had agreed that she’d come here the next day. Her house was near the Montparnasse cemetery. That day, I set off to give her a lift. I got off the metro at the street corner; the cold wind was blowing; the sky was overcast and dull. I don’t know why, but I changed my mind. It wasn’t that she was unattractive or that I didn’t like her, but some force was holding me back. No, I didn’t want to see her again. I wanted to say goodbye to life, involuntarily move to the cemetery. The guard at the gate wrapped himself in his dark cloak. There was an eerie silence. I walked slowly and stared at the gravestones, the crosses above them, the artificial flowers in the pots and the grass around or on the graves. I read some of the names of the deceased. I envied them, wished I was in their place, and thought how lucky they were! I envied those whose bodies had decomposed under the earth more than I ever had before. It seemed to me that death was a good fortune, a gift you don’t get so easily. I don’t know how much time passed. I looked around in a daze. The girl had completely slipped my mind; I didn’t feel the cold, as if the dead were closer to me than the living. I understood their language better. I went back, didn’t want to see the girl anymore, wanted to withdraw from everything, despair and die. What absurd thoughts came to me! Perhaps I’m digressing.

For days I been divining my fate with the help of cards, inexplicably drawn to superstition, earnestly searching for omens when shuffling and dealing, as if I had nothing else to do but fill my time. I wanted to play with my future. I was engrossed in the cards for over three hours. First I shuffled the deck, then I placed one card face up on the table and five face down next to it. On top of the second face-down card I placed a face-up card and four more face-down cards, and so it went on until the sixth pile also had its face-up card. I arranged them so that the colors black and red alternated in the following order: king, queen, jack, ten, nine, and so on. With each “house” revealed, I turned over the card underneath and added cards corresponding to the houses, taking care not to reveal more than six houses. The individual cards were set aside in the hope that, if luck was favorable, all the cards of the lower houses would be neatly stacked on top of the corresponding aces. It was a childhood pastime, a way to pass the hours!

Seven or eight days ago, I found myself in a café. Two people sat opposite me, engrossed in a game of backgammon. One of them, with a flushed face, bald head and a cigarette dangling from under his mustache, listened with a dopey expression as his companion complained, “I never win at the game; I lose nine out of ten times.” I watched them dumbfounded. What did I want to say? I don’t know. Later, I wandered aimlessly through the streets and wondered whether I should close my eyes and throw myself into the traffic so that the wheels could roll over me. But such a death seemed too harsh. And what relief would it bring? Maybe I’d survive anyway. This thought drove me mad. I continued to navigate through the intersections and busy neighborhoods. Amidst the crowds, the clatter of horse-drawn carriages, the honking of cars, the chaos, I was completely alone. Among millions of people, I felt like I was in a broken boat on the sea. I felt outcast from human society and realized that I wasn’t made for this life. I meditated, took steady steps, stopped in front of shop windows with painted curtains and wondered why I hadn’t become a painter, the only profession that really appealed to me. I thought I saw that painting alone could give me some small comfort. A letter carrier walked past and looked through his glasses at a piece of paper. What thoughts came to me? I can’t say, but memories of the letter carrier in Iran, of the letter carrier at home, came to mind.

Last night I squeezed my eyes shut, sleep eluded me, wisps of thoughts conjured up stormy visions before my eyes. It was not a dream, for slumber had not yet taken hold of me. Perhaps it was a nightmare, neither awake nor in the clutches of dreams, and yet I saw them. My body felt limp, shattered, uncomfortable and heavy; my head throbbed. These terrible nightmares were playing out before my eyes, sweat pouring off my body. I saw a bundle of papers dissolving in the air, sheets fluttering down, a procession of soldiers whose faces were unrecognizable. The dark, harrowing night was full of menacing, angry figures; whenever I tried to close my eyes and surrender to death, these astonishing images would appear.

Also by Sadeq Hedayat: Abji Khanum, the Spinster

A volcanic circle spinning around itself, a corpse floating on the surface of the river, eyes staring at me from all directions. Now I vividly remember the frantic, angry figures that assaulted me. An old man, his face covered in blood, was tied to a post. He stared at me, laughing, his teeth flashing. A bat with cold wings hit me in the face. I was walking on a tightrope above a whirlpool, slipped and wanted to scream. A hand, icy and heavy, placed itself on my shoulder, squeezed my throat and I felt as if my heart would stop. Moans, ominous moans, came from the depths of the night. Faces whose features were erased by the shadows. They appeared and disappeared as if of their own accord. What could I do in front of them? They were near and far at the same time, not seen in dreams, for sleep had not yet taken hold of me.

I don’t know whether I’ve made fun of everyone or whether I’ve become a laughing stock myself, but I’m tormented by a thought that drives me to the brink of madness because I can’t suppress my own laughter. Sometimes the laughter suffocates me. After all, no one has understood the nature of my malaise; they have all been wrong! For a week now I’ve been feigning or actually succumbing to a strange illness, inevitably lighting a cigarette. Why do I smoke? I don’t even know. I bring the cigarette, which I hold between two fingers of my left hand, to my lips and exhale the smoke into the air — a disease in itself!

Now that I think about it, I shudder. For a week, I’m not kidding, I’ve been torturing myself in various ways, longing to be sick. The weather had turned cold for a few days. At first I turned the cold water on myself, left the bathroom window open, and now, remembering it, it nauseates me. My breath caught, my back and chest ached, and I told myself it was over. Tomorrow I’d be plagued by severe chest pain and bedridden, making it worse before finally giving up. But when I woke up the next morning, I didn’t feel the slightest hint of a cold. I reduced my clothes again, waited for dawn, locked the door, turned out the light, opened the window to my room and sat down in the freezing cold. The cold wind blew. I shivered violently, heard my teeth chattering, watched the people below me, their shadowy silhouettes, the passing cars that had all disappeared from the sixth floor. I left my bare skin to the cold and curled into myself, then it occurred to me that I had gone mad. I laughed at myself, at life, because I knew that in this great playhouse of the world, everyone plays their part to the death. I had chosen this role because I believed it would hasten my exit. My lips dried out, the cold seared my flesh, but it was in vain. I warmed myself, the sweat flowed, then suddenly I was naked, lying on my bed and shivering through the night, sleepless. A slight cold spread, but as soon as I fell asleep, the illness disappeared completely. Seeing no benefit, I starved myself for three days and nights, sitting naked by the window, exhausted. One night I ran through the streets of Paris on an empty stomach until dawn and then sat down on the cold, damp steps of a narrow alley. After midnight, a drunken worker staggered past, and in the dim, mysterious light of a gas lamp I saw a man and a woman talking. Then I got up and walked on, where I found homeless people stretched out on park benches.

Finally I was so weakened that I was confined to my bed, but I was not really ill. In the meantime, friends came to visit me, before whom I trembled and looked so sickly that they took pity on me and thought my death was imminent the next day. I complained of palpitations and as soon as they left the room, I laughed derisively at their gullibility. I thought to myself that perhaps the only true skill I possessed in this world was that of an actor; I should have gone on the theater stage!

How convincingly I feigned illness to visiting friends and doctors! They all believed in my supposed illness. Whenever I was asked, I claimed, “My heart hurts.” Because only sudden death could be attributed to cardiac arrest, and mere chest pain was not immediately fatal.

It was like a miracle. When I think about it now, I have a strange feeling inside me. For seven days I agonized, and when I reluctantly ordered tea from the innkeeper at the insistence of friends and drank it, I felt restored. It was frightening how the discomfort disappeared completely. How I longed to eat the bread served with the tea, but I gave it up. Every evening I told myself that, now confined to bed, I would not be able to get up the next day. I took out the tiles filled with opium ash and put them in the drawer of the small table next to my bed to eat them when my illness really weakened me and prevented any movement. Unfortunately, the illness never came, never wanted to come. Once, in the presence of a friend, I was forced to eat a small piece of bread with tea and I felt better — completely recovered. I was afraid of myself, of my own resilience; it was horrible, unbelievable. As I write these words, I am in my right mind, I am not speaking nonsensically; I remember well.

What power had manifested itself in me? When I saw that none of my efforts bore fruit, I knew that I must really be ill. Yes, the deadly poison was in my pocket, an immediate poison. I remember the rainy day when I had acquired it with much difficulty under the guise of taking photographs and giving a false name and address. (Potassium cyanide) I had read about it in a medical book and knew the symptoms: cramps, shortness of breath, death on an empty stomach. Twenty grams can lead to death within two minutes. To prevent it from spoiling in the air, I had wrapped it in aluminum foil, sealed it with a layer of wax and placed it in a sealed glass jar. It weighed a hundred grams in total and was worn like a precious jewel. But luckily I found something better. Smuggled opium, here in Paris! The opium I had been seeking for a long time fell into my hands by chance. I had read that death by opium was much more pleasant and better than the first poison. Now I had the intention of really offending myself before I took the opium.

I unwrapped the potassium cyanide, grated off about two grams of the egg-shaped mass, placed it on an empty tile, sealed the edges with glue and consumed it. Half an hour passed without me feeling anything, and the residue on the tile tasted bitter. I tried again, this time scraping off five grams and swallowing the contents of the tile before lying down in bed and sleeping as if I would never wake up again.

This thought would drive any sane person mad. No, I’ve felt nothing, the deadly poison has done me no harm! Here I’m, still alive, the poison lying unused in my pocket. I’m gasping for breath in my bed, but not because of the drug. I’ve become invulnerable, like the invincible beings that are written about in the myths. It’s unbelievable, but I’ve to go, it’s pointless. My life has become abominable, pointless and worthless. It’s time to put a quick end to it. This time it’s no joke; the more I think, the less I find something that binds me to life, nothing and no one…

I remember the day before yesterday when I was running around my room like crazy, going from one end to the other. The clothes hanging on the wall, the sink, the mirror in the closet, a photo on the wall, the bed, the table in the middle of the room with books scattered on it, chairs, a shoe under the closet, suitcases in the corner of the room — all of it appeared before my inner eye. But I didn’t really see or pay attention to them. What was I thinking about? I don’t know. I was walking around aimlessly, and suddenly it occurred to me that I had seen this frantic walking around somewhere before, and it attracted my thoughts. I couldn’t remember where, then I remembered it, at the Berlin Zoo. It was the first time I had seen predators sitting awake in their cages and moving just like that, just like that. At that moment, I had become like those animals, maybe I even thought like them. I felt inside me that I was like them, this involuntary walking around, the whirling around, the natural feeling of the wall as a barrier and the flinching. These animals do the same thing…

I’m at a loss as to what to write. The incessant ticking time in my ear is driving me mad. I want to throw it out of the window to silence this terrible noise that hammers the passage of time into my skull! For a week I prepared myself for death by destroying every written word and paper I owned. I got rid of my dirty clothes so that when I went through my belongings after my death, no dirt would be found. I put on the new underwear I’d bought to be presentable when they got me out of bed and the doctor examined me. I grabbed a bottle of perfume and wet my bed with it to give off a pleasant scent. But since none of my actions ever mirrored those of others, I was once again insecure and afraid of my own resilience. It seemed that this time the privilege of departure wasn’t being made easy for me; I knew that death doesn’t come that cheaply to anyone…

I took out the photos of my relatives and looked at them, each one bringing back memories of my personal observations. I had mixed feelings about them, wanting to see them and not wanting to see them, but the memories weren’t vivid. I tore up the photos and didn’t feel connected to them. I assessed myself and realized that I hadn’t been a kind person; I had become harsh, rough and abrasive, though perhaps not entirely of my own volition, but shaped in part by life and circumstance. I wasn’t afraid of death. On the contrary, a strange madness had taken hold of me and was drawing me towards the magnetism of death. This sensation wasn’t new; a memory from five or six years ago came to mind: early one morning in Tehran, I went to a pharmacy on Shahabad Street to buy opium. I presented a three-toman bill to the shopkeeper and asked for two qirans’ worth of opium. The man with the henna-stained beard and the sweatband on his head mumbled prayers, gave me a sideways glance as if he could read faces or minds, and said, “We don’t have change.” I offered him a two-qiran coin instead, but he refused, saying, “We don’t sell at all.” When I inquired why, he replied, “You’re young and naive. God forbid you consume the opium in a moment of folly.” I didn’t insist any further.

No one simply decides to take their own life; for some it is innate, anchored in their very being. In fact, everyone’s destiny is engraved on their forehead, and for some, suicide is born with them. I used to make fun of life; the world and its people seemed to me mere trifles, a disgrace, utterly empty and meaningless. I wished to sleep and never wake up, never dream again. But since suicide is considered strange in society, I wanted to fall seriously ill, die and become helpless, and then, after attracting everyone’s attention, consume opium so that they would say, “He fell ill and died.”

I make these notes from my bed, it’s three of the clock in the afternoon. Two visitors have come and gone, now I am alone. My head is spinning, my body feels at ease, warmed by the discomfort of illness, sustained by a cup of milk and tea. I remember a beautiful melody played on the phonograph. It comes to my mind and I want to whistle it, but I cannot. I wish I could hear that record again. At the moment I feel neither fondness nor contempt for life; I live without will, without desire, held fast by an extraordinary force. I am trapped in a life sentence, shackled by steel chains. If I were dead, I would be taken to the mosque in Paris, I would fall into the hands of the ageless Arabs and die again, repulsed by the sight of them. In any case, it would make no difference to me. Once I was dead, whether I was laid in a grave or not, it would not matter to me, I would live in peace. Only my family would weep and wail, show my photo, speak on my behalf and hold the usual dirty rituals. All this seems foolish and pointless to me. Surely some would praise me excessively, others would disown me, but ultimately I would be forgotten. I am fundamentally selfish and unlikeable.

The thought of continuing this aimless existence torments me. I’ve become a social microbe, a harmful creature, a burden to others. Sometimes my madness blossoms and I long to flee far away, to a place where I can forget myself. To be forgotten, to be lost, to be erased — I want to flee from myself, somewhere far away, perhaps to the wooden huts under the pines of Siberia, under the gray sky and amidst all the snow, to start my life anew in the woods. Or maybe to India, under the blazing sun, in the middle of dense jungle and surrounded by foreign peoples, somewhere where no one recognizes me, no one speaks my language, to feel everything inside me. But I can see that I’m not made for such adventures. No, I’m lazy and lethargic. I was born by mistake, like a piece of useless wood, unwanted here and unwelcome there. I’ve given up all my plans, love, passion, everything. I now count myself among the dead.

Sometimes I dream of big plans and think I’m capable of doing anything. I tell myself that only those who have renounced life and are disillusioned with everything can accomplish great deeds. Then I think: what’s the point? What do you achieve with it? Madness, all this is madness! No, end it, drop your corpse wherever it wants, go — you’re not made for this life. Stop philosophizing! Your existence has no value; nothing can be made of you! But why has death eluded me? Why didn’t it come? Why couldn’t I just go about my work and find peace? I tortured myself for a week. And this is the reward I get! The poison didn’t work on me, it’s unbelievable, I can’t comprehend it. I starved, exposed myself to the cold, drank vinegar, thought I had tuberculosis every night, only to wake up and feel better than the day before. Who can I tell that to? Not once did I’ve a fever. But I didn’t dream or smoke hashish. I remember it all too well. It’s unimaginable.

Writing these thoughts has given me a certain relief, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders. How nice it would be if everything could be expressed in writing. If only I could tell someone my thoughts, if only I could express myself. But no! There are feelings, certain things that you cannot explain to others, that you cannot express. You risk being ridiculed, because everyone judges others based on their own thoughts. Human language, like human beings themselves, is flawed and inadequate.

I am invulnerable. Poison has not been able to harm me, not even opium. Yes, I have become invincible; no other poison will attack me now. In the end, all my efforts were in vain. The night before last, I decided to end this farce before it got too lazy. I took the opium tokens out of the small table drawer. There were three, which was about the value of a normal opium pipe. I took them at seven O’clock, ordered tea downstairs and drank it. At eight, no one had checked on me yet. I locked the door from the inside, stood in front of a picture on the wall and looked at it. I am not sure what thoughts were running through my head, but the person in the picture seemed like a stranger. I asked myself: what does this person have to do with me? And yet I recognized the face. I had seen it many times before. Then I turned away and felt neither indignation nor fear nor joy. Everything I had done and would do seemed pointless and empty. My whole life seemed ridiculous. I looked around the room. Everything was in its place. I approached the mirror in the wardrobe, looked at my flushed face, half closed my eyes, opened my mouth slightly and tilted my head as if I were dead. I thought to myself: this is what I will look like in the morning. When they knock, no one will answer at first. They will think I am still asleep until midday. Then they will break down the door, enter the room and find me in this state. All these thoughts flashed through my head like lightning.

I lifted the glass of water and whispered to myself with calm conviction that it was just a dose of aspirin. I swallowed the first tablet, followed by the second and the third. A faint tremor ran through me, my mouth smelled of opium, my heart raced slightly. I threw the half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray. I pulled a fragrant pill out of my pocket, tasted it and looked again at my reflection. I searched the room; everything was in its place. “It’s all over now,” I thought, “Not even Plato could revive me tomorrow!” I arranged my clothes on the chair next to my bed, pulled the comforter over me and let the scent of my cologne envelop me. I flicked the light switch and the room went dark, except for a strip on the wall and the foot of my bed, which was dimly lit by the faint light creeping through the window pane. For better or worse, my tasks had reached their peak. I lay down, restless in my thoughts, especially worried that no one would come to inquire after my well-being, persistently so. Although I had informed everyone about my sleepless nights, hoping they would leave me alone, curiosity got the better of me. It felt like an extraordinary event had taken place or a tantalizing journey was about to take place. I longed to truly experience the essence of doom, wide awake yet with an ear to the outside world. The slightest step would unsettle me. I squeezed my eyelids tightly shut. Minutes, maybe a little more, passed without incident, my mind filled with various thoughts, but I felt neither regret nor fear until I felt the onset of lethargy. It started with a heaviness, a tiredness that first settled in my stomach, reminiscent of undigested food, then seeped into my chest and finally into my head. I moved my hands, opened my eyes and realized that my senses were still intact. Thirst overcame me, my mouth went dry. I found it hard to swallow and my heartbeat slowed down. Gradually, I felt a warm, comforting air escaping from my body, especially from the protruding parts such as my fingertips, nose and the like… At that moment, I realized that I wanted to end my life, and I remembered how much this news would displease some. I wondered at the thought and found all these concerns trivial, even ridiculous. I reassured myself, content in the moment, indifferent to the grief or tears of others. I longed for the end, but feared any movement or thought that might counteract the effects of the opium. My only fear was to survive after all the effort. I feared a painful end, possibly crying out in despair or seeking help. But I comforted myself with the fact that the opium would soothe and numb me through all the agony. I would fall into a slumber, unable to move or speak, my door securely locked…

Indeed, I remember it well. These thoughts arose in me. I heard the monotonous ticking of the clock, the footsteps of people moving around the guest house. It seemed as if my hearing had sharpened. I felt a tremor in my body, my mouth was dry, a slight headache was threatening and I was on the verge of fainting with my eyes half open. My breathing alternated between fast and slow. This comforting warmth oozed out of every pore of my skin, as if I too was following it outwards. I longed for the intensity to increase and for me to sink into an unspeakable ecstasy. Whatever thought came into my mind when I stirred, it felt as if it hindered the escape of this warmth. The more relaxed I lay, the better. I pulled my right hand from under my body, turned over and lay on my back, which felt a little uncomfortable, so I returned to my original position, the effects of the opium intensifying. I knew and wanted to really feel the act of dying. My emotions overflowed and intensified; I was amazed that sleep had not taken hold of me. It was as if my whole being was blissfully leaving my body, my heart was beating softly, my breaths shallow. I think hours had passed.

During this time, someone knocked; I realized it was my neighbor, but I did not answer as I did not want to get up from my seat. I opened my eyes and closed them again, heard his door open, him washing his hands, him whistling to himself — I heard everything. I tried to think pleasant and calming thoughts, remembering the past year, the day I sat on the boat listening to live music, the waves of the sea, the rocking of the boat, a beautiful girl sitting opposite me. I was absorbed in my thoughts and chased after them as if I had grown wings and was floating through the air, so light and nimble that it defies description.

The difference is comparable to looking at a natural ray of light compared to looking at the same light through a crystal chandelier or prism, where it splits into different colors. In this state, even the simplest and most banal thoughts become enchanting and mesmerizing, every fleeting, trivial fantasy takes on a captivating, magnificent form. When a panorama or a view crosses the mind, it is immensely magnified, space expands and time passes unnoticed.

In these moments I became profoundly heavy, my consciousness hovered over my body, but I felt no pull towards sleep. The last sensation I remember from the euphoria of the opium is the cold, the numbness in my legs, the immobility of my body, the feeling that I was drifting off, but the moment the influence of the opium wore off, an infinite sadness came over me and I felt my faculties slowly returning to their rightful place. It was incredibly difficult and uncomfortable. I got cold; for more than half an hour I shivered violently and you could hear my teeth chattering. Then came the fever, a burning fever, I was sweating profusely, my heart was cramping, my breath was short. The first thought that came to my mind was that all my plans had been thrown out the window, that nothing had gone as it should have. I was even more amazed at my own resilience when I realized that I was in a battle with a dark force, an indescribable calamity.

I struggled to sit up in bed, turned the knob of the electric lamp and light illuminated the room. I don’t know why my hand reached for the small mirror on the table next to my bed, but I saw my swollen face in it, my ashen skin, tears streaming from my eyes, my heart in a vice: I thought to myself that at least my heart was failing! I switched off the light and slumped back into bed.

No, my heart has not failed. Today is better; a bad thing never dies! The doctor visited me, listened to my heart, felt my pulse, examined my tongue and took my temperature — those standard procedures that everyone does on arrival and which are the same all over the world. He prescribed me fruit salts and various medications without knowing what I was really suffering from! No one can understand my suffering! These medications are ridiculous; they put seven or eight different kinds on my table and I cannot help but laugh at this farce.

The incessant ticking of the clock is omnipresent to my ear, the sound of car horns and bicycles, the rumble of diesel engines filter through to me from outside. I look at the wallpaper with its deep purple leaves and clusters of white flowers, on whose branches black birds sit opposite each other at intervals. My head is empty, my stomach is turning over, my body feels shattered. The newspapers lying on the cupboard remain untouched; at first glance they all seem strange to me, as if I were a stranger to myself, confused by my own existence. Why am I alive? Why am I breathing? Why do I feel hungry? Why do I eat? Why am I walking? Why am I here? Who are these people I see and what do they want from me?

Now I really recognize myself as I am, without embellishment. I am incapable of acting, lying exhausted and worn out on my bed, my thoughts circling hour after hour in the same dreary loops, my patience exhausted. My very existence amazes me; how bitter and frightening it is to feel its existence! When I look in the mirror, I laugh at myself; my face seems so unfamiliar, strange and ridiculous…

The thought has occurred to me several times: I have become invulnerable, a creature of legend, my story has been written into the annals of myth. It was a miracle. Now I find myself believing in all sorts of superstitions and absurd ideas, while wondrous thoughts float before my eyes. It was indeed a miracle. Now I understand that God, in his endless tyranny, has created two kinds of beings with the venom of another serpent: the happy and the unhappy. He supports the former and exacerbates the suffering of the latter by their own hands. I now believe in a malevolent force, an ill-fated angel that accompanies some people…

At last I am alone. The doctor has left and I have taken pen and paper, not knowing what to write. Perhaps I have nothing to say, or perhaps there is too much to say. That in itself is a form of misery. I am not in a position to cry. Maybe shedding tears would give some comfort, but I can’t. I have taken on the appearance of a madman. In the mirror I see my hair disheveled, my eyes large and lifeless. I don’t think my face should look like this. Many people’s faces don’t match their thoughts, which worries me even more. All I know is that I loathe myself. Eating, walking, thinking – every action fills me with disgust. How persistent! How terrifying! This was no ordinary power, it was a plague. And now I find myself believing in such things! Nothing makes sense to me anymore.

I took cyanide, but it had no effect. I have consumed opium, but here I am, still breathing! If a dragon attacked me, it would be the dragon that would die, not me. But who would believe such stories? Were the poisons tainted? Were they insufficient in quantity? Or perhaps more than the usual dose? Did I find the quantities in a medical book by mistake? Is my touch turning poison into elixir? I do not know; these thoughts have crossed my mind a hundred times, nothing new. I remember hearing that a salamander surrounded by fire stings itself. Is not there a ring of fire around me?

Outside the window of my room, on the dark ledge of the rain-soaked roof, sit a pair of sparrows. One dips its beak into the collected water, lifts its head, the other crouches beside it and preens itself. I stir and they both chirp and fly away together. The sky is overcast, with only the occasional pale sun peeking through the patches of cloud. The towering, soot-smeared buildings opposite seem black and melancholy under the weight of this heavy, rainy atmosphere. The muffled sounds of the city can be heard in the distance.

By the Same Author: Contemplations on Death

In my desk drawer are those vicious cards that I made my fortune with, those fraudulent cards that cheated me. The most ridiculous thing is that I still consult them for fortune telling! What can you do? Fate is more powerful than I am.

Would not it be wonderful if you could be reborn after life’s trials and rebuild your life from scratch! But what kind of life would that be? Is it in my hands? What purpose would it serve? A blind, terrifying power weighs upon us, and some are dominated by a sinister destiny that crushes them under its weight and calls for extinction…

I no longer harbor desires or grudges; what was human in me I have lost, I have let vanish. On the journey of life one must become an angel, a man or an animal; I have become none. My existence is lost forever. Born arrogant, naive and miserable, it is now impossible to turn back and choose a different path. I can no longer chase these futile shadows, grapple with life, wrestle with its essence. Those of you who believe that you are truly alive, what solid reasons do you have for doing so? I do not want to forgive or be forgiven, go left or right. I want to close my eyes to the future and forget the past.

No, I cannot escape my fate; these crazy thoughts, these feelings, these fleeting fantasies that come over me, could not they be real? In any case, they seem much more natural and less contrived than my logical thoughts. I imagine myself to be free, but I cannot defend myself against my own fate in the slightest. It holds the reins and pulls me back and forth. The wretchedness of life from which they cannot escape. They cannot scream, they cannot fight; life is a folly.

Now I neither live nor sleep, I take pleasure in nothing and despise nothing; I have come to know death and am familiar with it. It is my only companion, the only consolation for me. I remember the Montparnasse cemetery. I no longer envy the dead, because I count myself part of their world. I am with them, a living grave…

I am tired, what nonsense have I written? I say to myself: Go away, madness. Throw away paper and pencil, throw them far, enough of this folly. Silence, tear it up so that these absurdities do not fall into other people’s hands, how would they judge me then?

But I owe no one an explanation. I care for nothing. I laugh at the world and its machinations. However harsh their judgments of me may be, they do not know that I have judged myself even more harshly. They laugh at me without realizing that I am laughing at them even more, I am disgusted with myself and everyone who reads these nonsensical words.


These notes were in a pile of papers in the drawer of his desk. But he himself was lying in bed and had forgotten to breathe.

© Ali Salami 2012

About Sadeq Hedayat

Sadeq Hedayat was an Iranian author whose contributions to Persian fiction mark a clear departure from the traditional literary style. Hedayat is considered one of the most successful Iranian writers of the 20th century and was a pioneer of modernism, which continues to influence contemporary Persian literature to this day.

Hedayat was born into a prestigious family and received his early education in Tehran. He later studied dentistry and engineering in France and Belgium, where he came into contact with prominent European intellectuals. This contact prompted Hedayat to abandon his scientific ambitions in favor of a career in literature. Sadeq Hedayat is known for a large number of short stories that have been widely read by Iranian readers. Some of these stories are: Dash Akol, The Stray Dog (Sag-e Velgard), Three Drops of Blood (Se Qatr-e Khun), The Whirlpool (Gerdab), Seeking Redemption (Talab-e Amorzesh), The Doll Behind the Curtain (Arusak-e Posht-e Pardeh), The Claws (Changal).

All of his stories have been translated into English by the Iranian scholar Ali Salami.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *