Ali Salami

Twenty Four Hours in Waking and Dreaming By Samad Behrangi

  1. Dear Reader,

I did not write the story of “Waking and Dreaming” to teach you a lesson. My intention is to make you more familiar with the children of my homeland and to encourage you to think about the cure for their ailments.

If I were to endeavor to document everything that happened to me in Tehran, it would take several volumes and possibly tire everyone out. Therefore, I decide to describe only the last twenty-four hours because I believe they are not boring. Nevertheless, it is essential to tell how my father and I came to Tehran.

My father had been out of work for months. Finally, he left my mother, sister and brothers in our hometown, took my hand and we set off for Tehran. Some acquaintances and city dwellers had traveled ahead of us and had found work. We followed them hopefully. For example, one acquaintance had an ice cream stand, another sold second-hand clothes and yet another was an orange seller. My father got himself a handcart and became a street vendor, selling onions, potatoes, cucumbers and the like. We earned enough to live on and sent some back to my mother. Sometimes I accompanied my father, other times I wandered the streets alone and only returned to my father’s side at night. Occasionally I also sold items, such as packets of chewing gum for a qiran or Hafez lucky leaves.

Now let us get back to the heart of the matter:


That evening it was me, Qasem, the son of Zivar, the ticket seller, Ahmad Hossein and two others who had made friends with us on the steps of the bench just an hour before.

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The four of us were sitting on the steps of the bench, wondering where we should go to play dice, when the two of them came up to us and sat down next to us. Both were older than us; one was partially blind in one eye. The other was wearing new black shoes, but the pus-filled swelling on his knee protruded through the tear in his pants and his appearance was even more ragged than ours.

We began to glance at their shoes, then exchanged glances with each other. With our glances, we silently conveyed a warning: watch out, we’re dealing with a shoe thief. The man who noticed our glances asked challengingly, “What’s going on? Have you never seen shoes before?”

His companion replied, “Ignore them, Mahmoud. Can’t you see that their bellies and bottoms are exposed? These poor souls have never seen shoes in their entire lives.”

Mahmoud replied, “I see their bare feet and I’m still tempted to ask if they’ve never worn shoes.”

The one-eyed friend interjected, “Not everyone has a wealthy father like yours who throws money around to buy his child new shoes.”

Then they both burst out laughing. The four of us were at a complete loss. Ahmad Hossein glanced at Zivar’s son, then they both looked at Qasem, and finally all three of them turned to me: what should we do? Make trouble or let them laugh at us and mock us? I boldly confronted Mahmoud, “You’re a thief! You stole these shoes!”

Then they both burst out laughing even louder. The one-eyed man nudged his companion with his elbow and giggled, “Didn’t I tell you, Mahmoud? Ha ha! Didn’t I tell you that? Heh … heh … heh!”

Colorful cars lined the street, parked so close together that they seemed to form an iron wall in front of us. A red car in front of me moved, revealing the middle of the road.

Various vehicles filled the street, from cabs to cars to busses, moving slowly and noisily as if they were pushing each other forward, shouting at each other. For me, Tehran was the busiest place in the world, and this street was the busiest in Tehran.

The one-eyed man and his friend Mahmoud almost fainted with laughter. Secretly, I was hoping for a fight. I had learned a new swear word and was eager to use it, even if it was inappropriate. I thought, “If Mahmoud would only provoke me, then I could retort angrily: ‘How dare you lay a hand on me? I’ll come for you and threaten to take everything you hold dear with this hand!” With this in mind, I grabbed Mahmoud, who was sitting next to me, by the collar and demanded, “If you’re not a thief, then tell me who bought you these shoes!”

This time the laughter stopped abruptly. Mahmoud quickly slapped my hand aside and admonished, “Sit down, child. Do you even understand the meaning of your words?”

The one-eyed man intervened and prevented a confrontation. He said, “Leave it alone, Mahmoud. It’s late; no need to start an argument now. Let’s keep the taste of laughter in our mouths.”

The four of us were inclined to quarrel and come to blows, but Mahmoud and the one-eyed man really wanted to have fun and laugh.

Mahmoud turned to me and said, “Brother, we’re not looking for a fight tonight. If you’re itching for a fight, we can save that for another night”

The one-eyed man added, “Tonight we just want to have a laugh or two. Agreed?”

I said, “Agreed.”

A shiny car pulled up in front of us, filling an empty space. A young couple and a shiny white puppy got out. The boy, about Ahmad Hossein’s height, wore shorts, white socks, two-tone open-toed shoes and had neatly combed, oiled hair. He held a white stick in one hand and his father’s hand in the other. The puppy’s leash was in the woman’s hand, who walked past us with bare arms and legs and high heels, leaving behind a pleasant scent. Qasem picked up a bowl from under his foot, hurled it and hit the boy in the neck. The boy turned around, looked at us and shouted, “Vagabonds!”

Ahmad Hossein replied angrily, “Get lost, mama’s boy!”

I took advantage of the moment and shouted, “I’ll come and cut yours off with a knife”

We all burst out laughing at this remark. The father pulled the boy by the hand and they entered a hotel a few meters away.

Once again, all eyes turned to Mahmoud’s shiny new shoes. In a friendly tone, Mahmoud explained, “The shoes aren’t so important to me. If you want them, they’re yours.”

Then he turned to Ahmad Hossein and beckoned, “Come here, kid. Come, take these shoes off and try them on.”

Ahmad Hossein, who hesitated, cast a doubtful glance at Mahmoud’s feet and remained silent. Mahmoud urged, “Why are you just standing there looking? Don’t you want a new pair of shoes? Come on, take them.”

This time Ahmad Hossein stood up and bent down in front of Mahmoud to take off his shoes. The three of us watched in silence. Ahmad Hossein grabbed Mahmoud’s foot firmly and pulled, but his hands slipped and he fell backwards onto the sidewalk. Mahmoud and the one-eyed man burst out laughing so hard I thought their stomachs would hurt. Ahmad Hossein’s hands were dirty from the fall. The one-eyed man kept nudging Mahmoud and repeating, “Didn’t I tell you, Mahmoud? Ha ha! Didn’t I tell you that? Heh … heh … heh!”

The traces of Ahmad Hossein’s slipped fingers could be seen on Mahmoud’s foot. Only then did the three of us realize that we had been deceived. The infectious laughter of the two swindlers finally spread to us, and we laughed along too. Even Ahmad Hossein, who had risen from his unworthy position, watched us for a moment before he too fell into laughter. When, if not now, should we laugh? The passers-by on the sidewalk looked at us and moved on. I bent down to take a closer look at Mahmoud’s foot. There were no shoes! Mahmoud had simply painted his feet so that it looked like he was wearing shiny new black shoes. What a clever trick!


Mahmoud then suggested that we should all roll the dice together in a group of six.

I had four thousand tomans. Qasem didn’t reveal his amount. The two friends together had five thousand. Zivar’s son had a single toman, and Ahmad Hossein had none at all. There was a closed store not far away. We went there and started rolling the dice in front of the store. To determine the first player, we tossed a coin and Zivar’s son started. He rolled the dice and got a five. Next it was Qasem’s turn. He rolled a six and won a qiran from Zivar’s son. He then rolled a two and passed the dice to Mahmoud. Mahmoud rolled a four and won two qiran from Qasem, who clapped his hands with joy and exclaimed, “Bless you! Our luck speaks.”

We played the game in pairs in this way.

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Two elegantly dressed young men approached from the right. Ahmad Hossein ran up to them and pleaded, “A qiran, sir, please… for God’s sake!”

One of the men pushed Ahmad Hossein aside. Undeterred, Ahmad Hossein blocked their way again and begged, “Lord, just one qiran… that’s not much… for God’s sake…”

As they passed us, the younger man grabbed Ahmad Hossein by the back of the neck, lifted him up and pulled him over the railing so that his head dangled towards the street and his feet towards the sidewalk. With difficulty, Ahmad Hossein managed to get his feet back on the ground and stood on the curb. A group of young people, two girls in colorful short dresses flanking a young man, approached from the left, laughing. Ahmad Hossein ran up to one of the girls and begged, “Miss, please, a qiran… I’m hungry… it’s not much… for heaven’s sake! Miss, a qiran!”

The girl paid no attention to him at first, but after he begged persistently, she took some money out of her handbag and put it in Ahmad Hossein’s hand. Pleased, Ahmad Hossein returned to us and declared, “I’m in too.”

Zivar’s son asked, “Where is your money?”

Ahmad Hossein opened his fist and revealed a two thousand toman coin.

Qasem interjected, “Begging again?”

He wanted to hit Ahmad Hossein, but Mahmoud intervened and stopped him. Ahmad Hossein said nothing, just made room for himself and sat down.

I stood up and explained, “I don’t play dice with beggars.”

At this point, I only had one qiran left, having lost three thousands of my four thousand. Mahmoud, who had also lost quite a lot, suggested, “Enough dice. Let’s play wall throwing.”

Qasem begged me, “Latif, don’t spoil the game with your words.”

Then he turned to everyone and asked, “Who’s rolling the dice?”

The one-eyed man suggested, “You roll the dice alone. We’ll play wall throw.”

Zivar’s son waved at Qasem and suggested, “Dice games don’t give you an advantage. You always roll fives and sixes. Let’s play heads or tails instead.”

“All right,” agreed Ahmad Hossein.

“No, throw the wall,” countered Mahmoud.

The street became quieter. Several stores on the other side of the street were closed. To start the game, we each threw a one-quiran coin from the curb to the wall. But before the coins could settle, Ahmad Hossein shouted, “Police!”

The officer was only a few steps away from us, baton in hand. Me, Ahmad Hossein and the one-eyed man scattered. Mahmoud and Zivar’s son fled right behind us.

Qasem was just about to collect the coins when the officer arrived. A blow with the baton elicited a scream from Qasem and he started to run. The officer shouted after him, “Gambling tramps! Have you no home, no family, no parents?” Then he bent down, collected the one-quiran coins and walked away.

As I crossed the intersection, I realized that I was alone. The kebab store on that street was closed. It was already late. When the iron door of the store was pulled halfway down, it was time to return to my father. I hurried through the streets and across the intersections, thinking to myself, “Dad must be in bed by now. I wish he’d wait for me… Surely he’s asleep by now.”

Then I thought, “What about the toy store? That’s closed too. Who wants to buy toys at this time of night? They must have already packed up my camel, closed the store and left… If only I could talk to my camel. I’m afraid it might forget the promise we made last night. What if it doesn’t come to pick me up? No, it’ll come. It has promised to ride with me through Tehran tomorrow evening. Camel rides are so much fun!”

Suddenly the screech of brakes sounded and I was thrown into the air, thinking for a moment that my time had come. When I landed on the ground, I realized that I had collided with a car in the middle of the road, but I was uninjured. While I was rubbing my wrist, someone leaned out of the car and shouted, “Get out of there, in front of the car! You’re not a statue.”

When I returned to reality, I saw an elaborately dressed old woman sitting behind the wheel, her massive dog lying stretched out beside her, peering out. The dog’s collar sparkled in the dim light. Suddenly I felt such a flash of anger that I thought if I didn’t act – maybe smash the car window — I’d explode with rage and never be able to move again.

The old woman honked her horn a few times and repeated, “Are you deaf, child? Get away from that car!”

Other cars drove past us and maneuvered around. The old woman leaned out and tried to say something, but I spat a big mouth at her, scolded her a little and quickly made a run for it.

After walking a bit, I sat down on the steps of a closed store. My heart was beating like crazy.

The store had a perforated iron door, and inside it was lit up, with various shoes on display behind the glass. My father had once said that we couldn’t afford a single pair of those shoes, not even with ten days’ earnings.

I leaned against the door and stretched out my legs. My wrist still ached, my stomach grumbled with hunger, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten yet. “Looks like I’m going to have to sleep hungry tonight. I hope father has left something for me…” Suddenly I remembered my camel, which was supposed to take me for a night ride. I jumped up and hurried on. The toy store was closed, but I could hear toys behind the iron door. A model train rattled and whistled, a big black bear seemed to be operating a machine gun and frightened the pretty, delicate dolls. Monkeys hopped from one corner to the other and occasionally clung to the camel’s tail, causing it to roar and swear. The long-eared donkey gnashed his teeth and roared, rode the bear cubs and the dolls and spun in circles with a hose. My camel lay sleeping, its ears attuned to the ticking of a wall clock as if it had a deadline to meet. Airplanes and helicopters patrolled the air, turtles dozed in their shells, mother dogs nursed their puppies, a cat stealthily nibbled eggs from under a basket, rabbits watched a hunter across the aisle in amazement. The black monkey played my harmonica, always behind glass, and produced beautiful, varied sounds. Busses and cars drove with dolls, tanks, rifles, pistols and machine guns fired rapidly. White baby rabbits nibbled on large carrots and grinned from ear to ear. But most of all, there was my camel, who was so big he could barely fit behind the glass and spent his days watching people from the sidewalk. Now he stood in the middle of the store, jingling his bell, chewing on a piece of gum and listening to the ticking o’clock. A row of white baby camels on the shelf called out, “Mommy, when you go out on the street, can we please come with you?” I tried to speak to my camel, but no matter how loudly I called, it couldn’t hear me. In desperation, I kicked the door in the hope of silencing the others, but at that moment someone grabbed my ear and scolded me, “Have you lost your mind, child? Go home and go to sleep.”

As there was nowhere left to stand, I freed myself from the official’s grip and sprinted away, not wanting to wait any longer.

When I reached my father, the streets were quiet and deserted, with only the occasional cab driving past. My father was sleeping on his handcart in such a way that I had to wake him up to make room for me if I wanted to lie down on the cart too. Next to our cart, there were others on the side of the road or against the wall whose owners were also sleeping on them. Some even slept on the ground next to the wall. This was a crossroads where one of our fellow citizens had an ice cream stand. As I stood there, sleep overcame me. I lay down next to our car and fell asleep.




Jingle! Jingle! Jingle!

“Hey, Latif, where are you? Latif, why aren’t you answering? Why don’t you come so we can go for a spin?”

Jingle! Jingle! Jingle! Jingle!

“Dear Latif, can you hear me? It’s me, your camel. I’ve come so we can go out. Come on, get on and let’s go.”

When the camel arrived under the canopy, I got out of my bed, jumped down from up there, landed on its back and said with a laugh, “I’m already sitting on you, why are you still calling?”

The camel was happy to see me, chewed on a piece of gum, shared something with me and we set off. After a short distance, the camel said, “I’ve also brought your harmonica. Take it and play it, let’s listen.”

I took my beautiful harmonica from the camel and began to play vigorously. The camel joined me with the tinkling of its large and small bells and harmonized with my melody.

The camel turned its head towards me and asked, “Latif, have you eaten yet?”

I replied, “No, I didn’t have any money.”

“Then let’s go and eat first,” the camel suggested.

At that moment, a white rabbit jumped down from a tree and said, “Dear camel, tonight we’ll have dinner at the villa. I’ll go and tell the others. You go there yourselves.”

The rabbit threw the carrot it had been nibbling on into a stream and hopped away.

“Do you know what a villa is?” asked the camel.

I guessed, “It sounds like a summer retreat to me.”

The camel explained, “No, not a summer retreat. Millionaires build palaces and luxurious houses in pleasant climates for their leisure and recreation. These houses are called villas. Villas often have pools, fountains and extensive, flower-filled gardens. They employ a large number of gardeners, cooks and servants. Some millionaires even own several villas abroad, for example in Switzerland and France. Now we’re going to one of the villas in the north of Tehran to escape the summer heat.”

With these words, the camel took to the air like a bird, as if it had been given wings. Below us were beautiful and clean houses, free from the stench of smoke and dirt. The houses and streets looked so idyllic that I felt like I was watching a movie. Finally, I expressed my concern to the camel, “We haven’t left Tehran, have we?”

The camel inquired, “What makes you think that?”

I explained, “It doesn’t smell of smoke or dirt here. The houses are all big and beautiful, like bouquets of flowers.”

The camel laughed and said, “You’re right, Latif. Tehran is divided into two different parts, each with its own character: the south and the north. The south is full of smoke, dirt and dust, while the north is clean because that’s where all the old busses run. That’s where all the brick kilns and the diesel trucks and lorries are. Many roads in the south are unpaved, and all the dirty water from the drains in the north flows into the south. In short, the south is for the poor and hungry, while the north is for the rich and elite. Have you ever seen ten-story marble buildings in Hasirabad, Naziabad or Haj Abdolmohammad Street? These tall buildings house fancy stores frequented by customers with luxury cars and expensive dogs.”

I remarked, “You don’t see sights like that in the south. No one there owns a car, but many have handcarts and sleep in shacks.”

I was so hungry that I could feel a hole forming in my stomach.

Below us was a large garden, illuminated by colorful lights, cool and lush with flowers and trees. In the center stood a magnificent mansion, near which was a large, clear pool with red fish, surrounded by tables and chairs amidst flowers and blossoms. There were many colorful dishes on the tables, the aroma of which made your mouth water.

The camel announced, “Let’s go down. The food is ready.”

I asked, “But where is the owner of the villa?”

The camel reassured me, “Don’t worry about him. He’s tied up and sleeping in the cellar.”

The camel sat down on the colorful tiles by the pool and I jumped down. The rabbit was already there, took my hand and led me to a table. Soon other guests arrived. Dolls in cars, some with airplanes and helicopters, the donkey with the hose, turtles hanging from the tails of baby camels, monkeys swinging and hanging, and rabbits rushing in. It was a bizarre and noisy feast with dishes that looked so appetizing that the smell alone made your mouth water. There were roast turkeys, chicken skewers, lamb skewers, various rice and stews and many other dishes that I couldn’t even identify. There was also an abundance of fruit scattered throughout.

The camel stood at one end of the pool and silenced everyone with a wag of his head and neck, then spoke, “Welcome everyone, young and old, your presence is an honor for us. But I’d like to ask you if you know why we have gone to so much trouble to organize this glittering feast.”

The donkey replied, “It’s for Latif. We wanted him to be really full for once and not have any more longing.”

The bear behind the machine gun added, “After all, Latif comes to us so often that we’ve all grown fond of him.”

The leopard spoke up, “Yes, indeed. Just as Latif wishes we belonged to him, we wish we belonged to him too.”

The lion said, “That’s right. Millionaire children quickly tire of us. Their parents buy them new toys every day; after playing with us a few times, they lose interest, abandon us and leave us to decay and disappear.”

I spoke up, “If each of you were mine, I promise I’d never get tired. I’d always play with you and never leave you alone.”

The toys replied in unison, “We know. We know very well who you’re, but we can’t be yours. We’re sold at high prices.”

Then one of them said, “I doubt that even one month’s income from your father would be enough to buy one of us.”

The camel silenced everyone again and said, “Let’s get back to the point. Everything you have said is correct. But the reason we’re having a party tonight is something very important that you’ve all overlooked.”

I interjected again, “I know why you brought me here. You wanted to show me that not everyone sleeps on the streets as hungry as my father and I do.”

Several men and women sat around a table and ate with great appetite. It was clear that they were the servants and workers of the house. I started to eat too, but my stomach seemed bottomless, growling incessantly as if I was still hungry, reminding me of times when I was really hungry. I asked myself, “Am I dreaming that I can’t get full?” I rubbed my eyes. They were wide open. I thought to myself, “Am I asleep? No, I’m not. When people sleep, their eyes are closed and they can’t see anything. Then why can’t I get full? Why do I feel like my stomach is turning?”

I wandered around the villa, touching the walls and the gemstones embedded in them. The dust seemed to appear out of nowhere and hit me directly in the face. I was now in the basement, where the dust probably came from. As I stepped onto the first staircase, a cloud of dust hit my nose and mouth so hard that I sneezed, “Achoo!”

I found myself asking, “What is happening here? Where am I?”

A broom hissed right in front of my face, throwing the dust from the sidewalk onto me.

I thought to myself, “What’s going on? Where am I here? Am I dreaming?”

But I wasn’t asleep. I saw my father’s handcart, then I heard the noise of cabs, and in the faint morning light I could make out the surrounding buildings at the crossroads. So I hadn’t been dreaming. The broom had passed me by now, but it continued to kick up dust and graze the sidewalk as it drove on.

I thought, “So was it all just a dream? No! Yes, it was. No! No! No.”

The sweeper turned around and looked at me. My father leaned out of the car and asked, “Latif, are you asleep?”

I replied, “No! No!”

“Why are you screaming if you’re not asleep?” my father asked. “Come up to me.”

I climbed up. My father put his arm under my head, but sleep eluded me. My stomach twisted and felt like it was stuck to my back.

When my father saw that I couldn’t sleep, he said, “You came home late. I was tired and fell asleep early”

I said, “There was a two-car accident. I stopped to watch it and got held up.”

Then I added, “Father, can camels talk and fly…”

My father replied, “No, they can’t.”

I insisted, “But camels don’t have wings…”

“Why do you talk about camels every morning when you wake up?” my father asked.

I was lost in another thought and said, “Being rich must be nice, right, father? You can eat what you want and have what you want, can’t you, father?”

My father advised me, “Don’t be ungrateful, my son. God knows best who he wants to make rich and who he wants to leave poor.”

That’s what my father always said.

As the day dawned, my father put on his slippers, which he kept under the car, and we got down from the car. He mentioned, “I couldn’t water the potatoes yesterday. Most of them are still unsold.”


I suggested, “You should have brought something else.”

My father didn’t answer. He unlocked the trolley and emptied two full sacks onto it. I took out the scales and weights and set them up. Then we drove off.

“We’re going to eat porridge,” my father explained.

Whenever my father said “We’re going to eat porridge” in the morning, I knew that he hadn’t eaten anything the night before.

The sweeper had cleaned the sidewalk all the way to the end of the street. We were on our way to the city park. The porridge vendor was sitting on the curb as usual, his back to the street, his pot of porridge bubbling away on a kerosene stove. Three customers, men and women, sat around him eating from aluminum bowls. The ticket seller was also there, dressed similarly to Zivar, the ticket seller, and squatting with a bundle of tickets between her stomach and knees, her worn cloth draped over her knees.

My father greeted the old man and we sat down to eat. Together we shared two small bowls of soup and half a loaf of bread before getting up to continue our day. My father pressed two qirans into my hand and said, “I’m going to do my rounds now. Come back here at lunchtime and we’ll have lunch together.”



The first person I met was Zeynour’s son, the lottery ticket seller. He persistently urged a man, “Sir, just buy one ticket. God willing, you’ll win. Please, for God’s sake, buy one.” Finally, the man managed to tear himself away from Zeynour’s son and hurried off. Zeynour’s son muttered a few curses before trying to leave, but I called after him and joked about his failed attempt to make a deal.

Zeynour’s son explained, “He wasn’t in the mood; he must have had a fight with his wife.”

As we walked together, Zeynour’s son held up his stack of tickets and enticed passers-by with, “Sir, a ticket? Madam, a ticket?” For every ticket sold, he received a qiran from his mother. Once he earned enough for his personal expenses, he stopped selling and spent his time on leisure activities such as playing, walking, brawling and going to the movies. He was wealthier than the rest of us and usually spent his afternoons napping under a bridge by a stream, making sure to finish his sales before noon to avoid selling tickets in the afternoon.

On Naderi Street, Zeynour’s son had sold three tickets. He mentioned that he had to stay in the area. Only a few stores were open, the toy store was closed, and the camel hadn’t yet arrived at its usual place by the roadside. Not wanting to disturb his morning rest, I walked on. The streets were teeming with schoolchildren. In every car there were children sitting next to their parents on their way to school.

At that time of day, Ahmad-Hossein was the only friend I could find to ease my loneliness. I passed several streets to get to the cleaner, more affluent areas where everyone looked spotless and radiant, reminiscent of a colorful flower garden. The stores and houses shone like mirrors in the sun. Every time I walked through these neighborhoods, I felt like I was in a movie and couldn’t imagine how people could live in such immaculate, towering houses.

In front of a store, I joined three children staring at the shop windows. Involuntarily, I leaned forward and took in the pleasant scent of their neatly combed hair. They glanced back, scowled at me and moved away. One of them noticed the foul odor emanating from me.

When I saw my reflection in the shop window, I saw my disheveled, overgrown hair and my dirty, torn shirt that showed my burnt skin. With my bare, dirty feet and cracked heels, I wished I could harm those wealthy children.

Was it their fault I was living like this?

A shopkeeper appeared and shooed me away with a gesture, “Go on, child. We haven’t even started to give you anything yet.”

I remained silent. He tried again, “Go away, will you? What a cheek!”

I remained unmoved and explained, “I’m not a beggar.”

The shopkeeper apologized, “I’m sorry, young sir, what are you doing then?”

“I’m not doing anything,” I replied. “I’m just looking.”

And so I went away. The man returned to his store. A piece of white tile at the bottom of the drain caught my eye and sparkled. Without hesitation, I grabbed the tile and threw it with all my might against the large shop window. The glass shattered with a crash and lifted a heavy weight from my heart. Then, as if I had borrowed an extra pair of legs, I took off running, not caring how many streets I had crossed before I ran into Ahmad Hossein and realized that I had put a considerable distance between myself and the store.

As usual, Ahmad Hossein was walking back and forth in front of the girls’ elementary school, begging from the occupants of the cars dropping off the little girls. This was his morning routine for as long as I could remember. In the end, I never found out who Ahmad Hossein lived with. However, Qasem claimed that Ahmad Hossein only had one grandmother, who was also destitute. Ahmad Hossein himself never spoke about his circumstances.

When the school bell rang and the children went to their classes, we set off. Ahmad Hossein complained, “I haven’t earned much today. Everyone says they don’t have any change.”

I asked, “Where should we go?”

Ahmad Hossein suggested, “Just walk around a bit, I think.”

I protested, “We can’t just walk around aimlessly. Let’s find Qasem and have a glass of yoghurt drink.”

Qasem sold yoghurt drink by the glass for a qiran down by the thirty-meter street, and every time we visited him, he gave each of us a glass. Qasem’s father traded in second-hand clothes on Haj Abdolmohammad Street. One shirt for fifteen thousand, two pairs of underwear for twenty-five thousand, suits for about seven or eight thousand. Haj Abdolmohammad Street led to Qasem’s workplace with a single bend. The street and its surroundings were crammed with worn-out items and junk, and the owners stood around shouting for customers. Qasem’s father owned a small store where he, Qasem and his wife slept at night. They had no other home. Qasem’s mother washed the torn and dirty clothes that his father bought here and there, either in the store or in the street drain, and then mended them. Haj Abdolmohammad Street was dusty, there was no water pipe and no vehicles passed through.

After walking for an hour or two, Ahmad Hossein and I reached Qasem’s workplace, but he wasn’t there. We continued to Haj Abdolmohammad Street, where Qasem’s father told us that Qasem had taken his mother to the hospital. Qasem’s mother always suffered from pain in her legs or stomach.

Around noon, Ahmad Hossein, Zivar’s son, and I were sitting by the drain on Naderi Street, cracking sunflower seeds and discussing the price of camels. Finally, we decided to ask the shopkeeper directly. The shopkeeper thought we were beggars and, without letting us in, said, “Go away. We don’t have any change.”

I enlightened him, “We didn’t come for money, sir. How much for the camel?”

I pointed outside and surprised the shopkeeper. He exclaimed in astonishment, “Camel?” Ahmad Hossein and Qasem, who were standing behind me, spoke up, “Yes, exactly. How much do you charge?” The store owner, still taken aback, said, “Get out, boys. We’re not in the camel trade here.”

Annoyed, we left the store as if we had enough money to close the deal, grab the camel by the reins and lead it away. The camel stood firmly in place and seemed capable of carrying all three of us without the slightest effort. Ahmad Hossein’s arm barely grazed the camel’s belly. Zivar’s son was just about to try his luck when the shopkeeper appeared, grabbed Qasem by the ear and scolded him, “Donkey, can’t you see the ‘No touching’ sign?”

He pointed to a piece of paper pinned to the camel’s chest with something written on it that we couldn’t decipher. We withdrew, continued cracking sunflower seeds and wandered aimlessly. Shortly afterwards, Zivar’s son announced his need to sleep and looked for a secluded spot under a bridge by the stream, where he laid his head down. Ahmad Hossein and I decided to go to the city park because the air was heavy and stifling with heat. We were drenched in sweat, silent and both lost in thought. I longed for my mother’s presence and felt very estranged from her.

At the entrance to the city park, Ahmad Hossein bought an egg sandwich for two thousand qirans and shared a bite with me. Then we went to our usual spot by the stream to take a dip. Other children were frolicking upstream and splashing each other with water. Ahmad Hossein and I lay quietly in the water and cleaned ourselves, oblivious to their antics. The park ranger, attracted by the noise, approached, whereupon we all fled and basked in the sun on the sandy shore. There, Ahmad Hossein and I formed a camel out of the sand until my father’s voice echoed above us. Ahmad Hossein hurried away. My father and I went to a store for liver cheese sandwiches for lunch.

When my father noticed my silence and concern, he asked, “Latif, what’s wrong? You don’t seem to be in your right mind.”

I simply replied, “It’s nothing.”

We lay down under the trees in the city park to rest. My father noticed that I was restless and couldn’t rest in my sleep and asked, “Latif, did you have a fight with someone? Did someone upset you? Please, tell me what’s bothering you.”

I didn’t feel like talking. There was a certain comfort in quietly nursing my grief. I longed to hear my mother’s voice, to hug and kiss her. Suddenly I was overcome with tears and buried my head in my father’s chest. My father stood up, wrapped me in his arms and let me cry to my heart’s content, but I didn’t tell him anything more. I only expressed my wish to be with my mother. Sleep finally caught up with me and when I woke up, I found my father sitting next to me, his knees pressed to his chest, lost in thought in the crowd. I grabbed his leg, shook it gently and called out, “Father!”

He looked at me, stroked my hair and asked, “Are you awake, my dear?” I nodded in the affirmative.

My father announced, “Tomorrow we’ll return to our hometown. We’ll go to your mother. If there is work, we’ll tackle it there and make do with what we have. If not, then we won’t. Anything is better than staying here orphaned and aimless while they’re there.”

On the way from the park to the garage, I was torn between joy and reluctance. The separation from the camel weighed heavily on my heart; if only I could take it with me, my grief would end.

We bought our tickets and wandered through the streets again. My father was determined to sell his handcart by the evening, while I desperately wanted to see the camel just one more time. We were going to spend the night near the garage; my father didn’t want to leave me alone. Nevertheless, I insisted on a short break to get my thoughts in order.




As dusk fell, I couldn’t remember how many hours I had spent staring at the camel when a car pulled up near me and the camel. In it sat a man and a little girl, their eyes fixed on the camel and their laughter bubbling with excitement. My heart sank at the thought that they were going to buy the camel to take home. The girl eagerly dragged her father out of the car and urged him, “Hurry up, Dad. Maybe someone else will buy it first.”

As father and daughter were about to enter the store, I stood in their way. My emotions were like a whirlwind — fear, tears or sadness, I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that I stood firmly in front of them and kept repeating, “Sir, the camel isn’t for sale. That’s what it told me this morning. Believe me, it’s not for sale.”

The man pushed me aside forcefully and asked, “Why are you blocking the way, child? Move aside.”

They entered the store and the man began to negotiate with the shopkeeper. The girl kept glancing at the camel, her joy obvious, as if she had never experienced a moment of sadness in her life. Paralyzed and silent, I stood at the entrance and looked into the store. The monkeys, baby camels, bears, rabbits and others seemed to stare at me with their eyes full of compassion for my plight.

As the father and daughter left the store, the man held out a two thousand rial coin to me. I clasped my hands behind my back and met his gaze with a steady stare. Whatever my gaze conveyed, he quickly pocketed the coin and walked away. Then the shopkeeper shooed me out of the entrance. Two workers approached the camel. The little girl sitting in the car admired the camel with her eyes. When the workers picked the camel up from the ground, I instinctively ran forward, grabbed the camel’s leg and shouted, “The camel is mine. Where are you going to take it? I won’t let you do that.”

A worker reprimanded me, “Move aside, boy. Have you lost your mind?”

The girl’s father asked the shopkeeper, “Is he a beggar?”

A crowd had gathered to watch. I refused to let go of the camel’s leg. Eventually, the workers were forced to put the camel down and remove me by force. From the car, I heard the girl say to her father, “Dad, don’t let her touch it anymore.”

The father got behind the wheel, the camel behind him and his daughter. Just as the car was about to start moving, I tore myself away and ran towards it. I clutched the vehicle with both hands and shouted, “Where are you taking my camel? I want my camel back.”

My screams seemed to fall on deaf ears, as if I had become mute, my voice was failing and only in my head did I think I was screaming.

As the car drove away, someone grabbed me from behind. My hands were torn away from the vehicle and I found myself sprawled on the asphalt. As I lifted my head, I caught one last glimpse of my camel, apparently crying, its bell jingling in distress.

My face pressed against the blood dripping from my nose onto the ground. My legs kicked on the pavement as sobs wracked my body.

I longed for the machine gun behind the glass to be mine.


© Ali Salami 2010


About Samad Behrangi

Samad Behrangi, a pre-revolutionary writer, educator, translator, researcher and political activist, was born in 1939 in the Chernadab district of the old city of South Tabriz in poor circumstances. He was one of six siblings, two brothers and three sisters. His father, a seasonal worker, struggled to support the family by taking on any job he could, often finding it difficult to run the household. In search of better work and a better income, he emigrated to the Caucasus and Baku, from where he never returned. Samad Behrangi received only one legacy from his father: the admonition to always continue his education.

After completing secondary school, Behrangi attended a teacher training college, which he graduated from in 1957, and began a career as a teacher at the age of eighteen. He taught in Azarshahr on behalf of the Ministry of Education and dedicated himself with zeal and passion to educating students in the rural areas of the region for eleven years. Behrangi tried to convince rural families to send their children to school instead of working. Parallel to his teaching career in 1958, Behrangi completed an evening course at the Faculty of English Language and Literature at the University of Tabriz, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree.

Gholamhossein Sa’edi was an important supporter and advocate of Samad Behrangi in the publication of his works. Sa’edi recounts his first encounter with Behrangi in a bookshop in Tabriz, where the young Behrangi was looking for Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s “What is to be done?”. This encounter led to a friendship between the two that lasted until Behrangi’s early death.

In the 1950s and 1960s, children’s and youth literature in Iran was extremely underdeveloped. Behrangi felt that the few books published in this genre lacked thoughtful content and were instead filled with meaningless moral lessons. In his opinion, children’s literature was in desperate need of new themes and narratives. Inspired by Sa’edi’s encouragement, Behrangi decided to write stories himself and contributed significantly to the enrichment of Persian children’s literature with his unique and thought-provoking tales.

“Oldooz and the Talking Doll”,” “Oldooz and the Crows”,” “24 Hours Awake and Dreaming”,” “The Little Black Fish” and “A Peach, a Thousand Peaches” are among Samad Behrangi’s remarkable works. His stories, often imbued with profound social and moral themes, are intended to educate and inspire young readers to think, challenging them to question the world around them and strive for change.

Behrangi’s literary output goes beyond original storytelling; he was also a skillful translator. He translated works from Istanbul Turkish and Azerbaijani (including works by Aziz Nesin and Azerbaijani folk tales) into Persian and, conversely, Persian literature (including poems by Ahmad Shamlou and Forough Farrokhzad) into Azerbaijani Turkish. This cross-cultural literary exchange not only demonstrated Behrangi’s language skills, but also his commitment to bridging cultural and linguistic differences and enriched the literary landscape of both languages.

Samad Behrangi’s life was tragically cut short. On September 1, 1968, at the age of 29, he drowned in the Aras River, and his body was discovered a few days later. Just ten days before his untimely death, SAVAK agents had raided his home and made threats against him. About a month before this incident, his book “The Little Black Fish” was published to great public acclaim. The circumstances of Behrangi’s death led some to suspect that he had been murdered. The theory that he was murdered by the SAVAK was first put forward and spread by Jalal Al-e Ahmad, which strongly influenced public opinion in the turbulent 1960s and elevated Behrangi to the status of a legend. Some have metaphorically compared his death to that of his most famous character, the little black fish. Behrangi was buried in the Emamieh cemetery in Tabriz. Numerous people, intellectuals and young people attended his funeral, testifying to the great influence he had on literary and intellectual circles in Iran.

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