Ali Salami

The Couple By Ghazaleh Alizadeh


Dear listeners, think about the eternal truths that lie before us. Examine your conscience. The world stands on the edge of an unknown precipice. In these turbulent times, people’s actions are deviating from their past by engaging in endeavors far removed from the complexities of brain surgery. I assert this as one of the seven sages whom Plato considered less mysterious than others. Simbad the Navigator also spoke of such truths with the valor of a hero, if only one could comprehend their depth. It is whispered that those who raise their voices too loudly are in danger of being imprisoned within the walls of the asylum, which are so high they seem to touch the sky. Within these walls, you are stripped of your identity, dressed in gray clothes and subjected to unbearable treatment. I have set sail on the waters, the waters on which the merchants trade with death itself. What fate awaits me, O Shakar al-Shikar? Do you not see the truth, gentlemen? Will you not acknowledge it, gentlemen? Nayer often warns that two places in the asylum are reserved for us, and that excessive talk could hasten our journey there.


Nayer meandered through the winding, snow-covered alleys, her nose reddened by the cold, wrapped up in her brown coat. A teacher by profession, she lived a lonely life in an old dwelling with her distraught brothers after the death of her parents five years ago. She paused in front of a wooden door, the key turning in the lock as she entered her family home. Surrounded by snow-covered willows and pine trees, she walked carefully across the icy courtyard to the veranda, which was surrounded by five empty rooms. Her apartment was the sixth, which she shared with her long-suffering brothers. In the middle of the veranda stood a stool from which her eldest brother Mahmoud had just climbed down to finish his impassioned speech. Now it was Hamed’s turn to climb onto the stool.

Gentlemen, please hold back your applause. Your overwhelming expressions of emotion leave me somewhat embarrassed. Let us begin. We count. One. Two. Three. Quiet, if you will, because my mind is churning and in my scholarly absent-mindedness I tend to forget. I am, in my humble capacity, an education officer, concerned with the education of young people in the public school system. I have led a life characterized by decency. Forgive me, sir, but your tie is undone, and may I suggest a more relaxed attitude? You are in the company of an educator and orator. It is unseemly to indulge in slumber with the vigor of an eighty-horsepower engine, you high-spirited souls! Were you among those who shrouded my mother in her final rest? Have you forgotten that? Who sat at her resting place and made jewelry from the dewy silk flowers. Does not that stir a sense of decency in you?

Where does this weeping come from? Who dares to interrupt my speech? Is it a contemptible, treacherous rodent? Or perhaps a steed?

Nayer stepped forward, her voice breaking through the tension: “Enough! Stop this at once! May divine silence come upon you! Save these speeches for times when I am absent. Why are you holding back your soliloquies until now, when you have been alone since dawn? Do you want to worry me with such utterances in my presence?”

The brothers lowered their eyes, subdued. Nayer paused, his posture softened, he stroked their heads tenderly and offered: “Enough now, let us be reconciled.”

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Silence reigned until supper. Only Hamed’s persistent ear scratching and his sonorous snoring broke the silence, while Mahmoud’s exaggerated grimaces betrayed his annoyance. Nayer collected the dishes and cleaned them under the running tap. Outside, the snow continued to fall silently. With a glance at his watch, which read eleven fifteen, he announced: “Now is the right time, because the world is asleep and will not hear your cheers.” The brothers began an impromptu dance with joy in the confines of the room. “Enough,” Nayer interjected, “we have to get up early.”

Hamed almost ventured out barefoot in his eagerness, but Nayer, ever a vigilant guard, helped him with socks and shoes, wrapped him in a cloak, and together the trio set off. As they crossed the courtyard, Hamed’s singing rang out, which was immediately silenced by Mahmoud’s warning nip. Nayer warned angrily, “If this starts now, we might as well beat a retreat.” Hamed and Mahmoud quickly vowed good behavior.

As they left their apartment, they were greeted by the labyrinthine, snow-covered alleyways that snaked into the distance like white vines.

Nayer suggested: “Choose an alley and let’s start our journey by night.”

Hamed chose the alley on the left, which was marked by an old tower and a dome in the middle. Mahmoud, on the other hand, tearfully suggested going to the right to reach the main street. Nayer rejected both ideas, saying, “Neither of your suggestions is important. We’ll take the middle alley, even if it’s a dead end.” As they entered the alley, dim blue lights flickered at intervals on wooden posts, bathing the abundant snow in a surreal shade of blue. Mahmoud’s behavior became erratic.

In the center of the alley was a dark reservoir of water that descended thirty or forty steps into the earth. Hamed leaned over the edge of the pool and inhaled deeply, his voice echoing and reverberating in the emptiness. Nayer, losing his patience, pinched his arm and reprimanded him: “When are you going to stop this nonsense? Can’t you see that everyone is asleep? You should learn from your brother!” Hamed replied with an annoyed look towards Mahmoud and then began to turn and roll around in the snow defiantly like a top. Despite his annoyance, Nayer couldn’t help but laugh as they chased each other through the alley.

At that moment, Hamed exclaimed: “I have an idea. Let’s have a race.”

“What kind of race?” Nayer asked.

“A rolling race; we roll on the ground. First one to the finish line wins.”

“Okay, go ahead,” agreed Nayer. “One. Two. Three.”

They rolled swiftly, the snow swirling around them. Mahmoud, who was fast and agile, reached the end first, jumping up with joy and shouting, “Winner! Won!” Hamed’s eyes, however, lit up with anger at the sight. Nayer praised him: “Well done, my son. You have won.” Hamed, seething with rage, muttered, “He always favored him. I knew it.”

“That doesn’t count. You cheated,” protested Hamed.

“What, I cheated? Now that you’ve lost, you’re making accusations. Go to hell with your jealousy,” Mahmoud replied and turned to Nayer, “What’s wrong with him?”

“His wood is wet,” Nayer remarked to lighten the mood.

“Ah, so his wood is wet!”

“But he’s too curious.”

“Enough,” interjected Nayer, whose patience was wearing thin. “For heaven’s sake, let’s not argue about something so trivial. Does it really matter who won?”

“It’s important to me,” Hamed declared in a bitter voice.

“Then die of jealousy. Drop dead!” Mahmoud shot back.

In a fit of rage, Hamed punched Mahmoud in the face. “Now you’re hitting me? Come on, if you dare,” Mahmoud demanded and countered with a powerful kick to Hamed’s stomach. The blow forced Mahmoud to twist in pain and sink to the ground. Nayer, who was panicking, pleaded: “For God’s sake, stop this madness. The whole neighborhood will wake up.”

Hamed rushed towards the fallen Mahmoud and the two engaged in a fierce struggle. Nayer, who tried to separate them, was overwhelmed by their blind rage. The two brothers had mustered extraordinary strength, leaving Nayer powerless against them. He retreated to the wall, tears streaming down his face.

The brothers’ struggle in the snow became increasingly fierce, their breathing heavy as that of animals, and they clawed and bit at each other’s faces. There was a large stone on the wall nearby. Hamed seized the opportunity, grabbed Mahmoud by the leg and dragged him to the stone. Nayer’s screams and pleas filled the alley, but they went unheard. Mahmoud’s eyes widened in fear as he struggled.

In the dim glow of the lamps, the alleyway held its breath. With fierce intensity, Hamed lifted Mahmoud’s head and let it crash onto the sharp edge of the stone. The sickening sound of cracking bones echoed through the silence. Nayer clawed desperately at his face, his screams piercing the night. Dark, warm blood seeped into the snow, staining it a grim red.

Mahmoud tried desperately to rise, but Hamed was relentless. With another brutal force, he smashed Mahmoud’s head against the stone again. The alley was filled with muffled groans, which quickly faded into silence. Mahmoud’s limbs twitched before he came to an eerie silence on the blood-soaked, trampled snow.

Hamed retreated to the wall, his eyes fixed on a single point in shock. Nayer was trembling, his heart racing to the point of suffocation, his mind throbbing as if filled with a thick, molten liquid, his balance wavering, his body feeling increasingly ethereal.

He walked towards the corpse and sat down on the cold floor. With clenched hands, he began to scatter snow to conceal the corpse under a white shroud. He drew up his knees and poured snow on them to cover the lifeless figure up to the waist.

When Nayer lifted his head, his gaze met Hamed’s with a blank, icy stare. After a brief, eerie silence, he burst into a loud, unsettling laugh. “You fool, you’ve finally done it,” he said. Then his tone changed to one of horror and he backed away. “Look at the tarantulas! They feed on his blood. The beasts with the bodies of wolves and the heads of men are gorging themselves. Can’t you see them?”

“I can’t see anything. What kind of tarantulas?” Hamed replied quietly, confusion in his words.

Nayer pointed a trembling finger at the corpse. “How can you not see them? Are you blind or feigning ignorance?” Hamed could only answer mockingly: “Tarantulas, tarantulas.”

Nayer lifted her gaze to the purple night sky and watched huge black birds circling above them, swooping down on the high wall opposite them. One cackled, its voice sounding frighteningly human: “Come, look. A brother has slain his own. Gather round, Motsoviits, and be witnesses.”

Nayer turned to Hamed and asked: “And the Motsoviits? You can’t see them either, can you?” ““I cannot see anything. I might as well be blind,” Hamed confessed.

Suddenly a window creaked open. An old woman with a lantern in her hand leaned out, her mouth twisted into a wide, toothless grin. The glow of the lantern cast an eerie red light into the void. “Good night, my dear friends. May your slumber be peaceful,” she croaked, before the window slammed shut and the darkness caught up with them again.

The brothers resumed their journey. As they approached the reservoir, Nayer leaned forward and his voice echoed into the abyss. Hamed, seized by the moment, imitated him, and each cry dissolved into the night. Exhausted by the echo, they walked on, hand in hand.

“Now that Mahmoud is gone, you’re my companion, right?” Hamed asked gently.

Nayer, whose laughter had a dark aftertaste, replied: “Yes.”

© translated by Ali Salami 2023

About Ghazaleh Alizadeh

Ghazaleh Alizadeh (February 15, 1949 – May 12, 1996) was an Iranian poet and writer. Her mother was also a poet and writer. She was married twice; she had a daughter named Salma with her husband Bijan Elahi. She also adopted two girls who were survivors of the 1961 Qazvin earthquake. Ghazaleh Alizadeh was a brilliant and energetic student, though introverted by nature. During her time at Mahasti High School, she earned her diploma in humanities and lived a vegetarian lifestyle. After graduating, she studied political science at the University of Tehran. Driven by intellectual curiosity, she then traveled to France to study philosophy and cinema at the prestigious Sorbonne University. After initially being interested in law, she turned to illuminology and wanted to write a dissertation on the famous poet Rumi (Molavi). Unfortunately, the sudden death of her father forced her to abandon this academic goal.

Alizadeh’s literary journey began in her hometown of Mashhad, where she honed her craft by writing short stories. Her magnum opus, “Khaneye Edrisiha” (“The House of Edrissis”), was widely praised for its poignant portrayal of family dynamics and social issues. Other notable short stories include “The Crossroad”,” “After Summer” and “The In-transitory Journey” Her literary repertoire also includes novels such as “Two Landscapes” and “Tehran Nights”,” which offer different perspectives on Iranian life. The House of Edrissis has been translated into English by Rosa Jamali.

Alizadeh’s later life was marked by illness and personal struggles. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she struggled with the physical and emotional consequences. During this difficult time, she attempted suicide twice. Finally, in May 1996, she took her own life in Javaher Deh, Ramsar. Her final resting place is in the Imamzadeh Taher cemetery.

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