Ali Salami

Amirhossein Cheheltan: In One of These Summers

As long as he was in the house, he was depressed. When he went out on the street, it was time to worry. An endless anxiety that sometimes became so strong that he wished it would burst from his throat. Fariborz was just an excuse. He knew they were lying, but the illness had stayed with him; the habit of turning around in the street, occasionally turning back to look at his life; and how often he had bumped into people coming from the opposite direction, and once even a cyclist. They often scolded him. And each time, of course, it was Mr. Matin who had fallen and always got up before realizing his condition, i.e. getting up with dirt and confusion and starting to apologize.

They grabbed his hand and at least told him, “Watch where you’re going, Uncle!”

Time was lost on the road. Time was lost, and when he turned around to look back on his life, he suddenly found himself on a park bench. The very bench he always sat on. He sat and sat until fear suddenly shook him. What if Fariborz called or… or if the canaries had water and seeds?

The canaries had died the day before. They had fallen to the bottom of the cage and were dead, and that morning he had stood over the empty cage for a long time, waiting for someone to finally announce the sudden death of the canaries; and Mrs. Javaheri, who had come to take the basket to the porch, had only said, “I’m sorry. It looks like it has started again.”

Mr. Matin had wanted to ask the neighbor for more sympathy, after all, they were Fariborz’s keepsakes, but Mrs. Javaheri had slammed the basket against the wall and left.

The park was deserted, except for a woman sitting on a bench on the other side, knitting… It was the same at home. Every time he saw his wife’s knitting needles, he was immediately reminded of them, until he finally hid them in the cupboard with the half-knitted piece and the balls of wool. He remembered the woman who had come for the knitting needles and the midnight hours when she would suddenly get up and cry like a child for an hour. When the crying stopped, she fell asleep. Then it was Mr. Matin’s turn to worry. Fear and obsession are the worst diseases in the world! He checked all the doors. He opened and closed the window locks. He pressed his ear to the walls, and finally, when he was tired, he crept back into bed.

He did not dare go out on the street during the day. He was afraid of the police. It was not his fault. He was as frightened as if he had hidden two severed heads in his pockets. This disease had also infected his wife. When Mrs. Matin saw the police, she would tuck her purse tightly under her arm and sometimes turn around to look at the street, searching for drops of blood that might have come from something she didn’t have in her purse.

And then turning around became a habit. For both the man and the woman. Whether on the street or at home. Whether the police were there or not. Even in the bedroom, they would turn around and look behind them, and it seemed that it was precisely at these moments that they were finally able to discover their lives. They turned around, occasionally turned around to look at their lives.

Then he started cleaning the house again, and this time with an unprecedented obsession. He also disposed of the rest of the books. He threw away all the books, even the cookbooks or gardening books. When he had put all the books in the bin bag and tied them up, he leaned against the empty bookshelf and breathed a sigh of relief. He no longer bought newspapers in the evening. It was unclear who the people who wrote articles in the newspapers today would be tomorrow. He even picked up the newspapers from the bottom of the suitcases, replacing them with plastic or colored paper, and one afternoon, when he was rearranging packages in the trunk, he suddenly wanted to open a box containing two old Chinese plates and take a look at the birdflower tableware. The dishes were a memento from his mother and he had put them aside years ago for fear of them breaking. When he opened the box, he almost had a heart attack from shock. In the exact spot where the newspaper had been gathered up and placed behind the bowl, there was a headline in bold letters: “The Epic of Siyahkal in the presence of tens of thousands …”

When Mr. Matin looked up, his wife was standing in the doorway with frightened eyes, trembling. Mr. Matin was sure that terrible news had finally arrived about Fariborz; but Mrs. Matin gestured with her hand and led her husband to the foot of the chest.

They burned the newspaper and poured the ashes into the well.

He looked at the photo albums with a new eye and even threw away all the letters he had kept all his life. A photo of Matin in the past years at the sixth Bahman Square in Rasht. He even checked the backs of the photos. He feared that he might have missed something in the hidden corners of the pictures. He threw the letters away, all of them, when he read about his nephew in one: “We are preparing for sports training on the fourth of Aban…”

He wanted nothing more; no photos, no letters, no memories. Nothing! He turned to the telephone directories. He scrutinized all three meticulously. He threw away the unknown numbers and, fearing that distant acquaintances had passed on their phone to someone whose thoughts he could not know in the time he had not heard from them, he called them all to make sure they had not passed on their numbers and were not up to anything like that at the moment; but that was not enough. How was he to know what Matin’s step-cousins, who were now grown up and at college, were like and what political tendencies they might have been inclined towards in the near or distant past, or the grandchildren of his own cousins? So he threw everything away. All the phone books. Simply everything.

He fled from people in the alleys and streets. In the long queues for bread, meat and cheese, the attempts of all those who tried to strike up a conversation with him failed, and in the cabs he took, he shrank and huddled together so much that everyone was convinced he had no kinship or proximity to the people sitting next to him.

And suddenly he remembered. In the crush of a closed-off street, he suddenly remembered a distant and lost memory. He seemed to be seven or eight years old. First or second grade; something like that. He still remembered the small, tricolored paper flag in his fist; and he even remembered that on the crowded march, where groups of policemen stood on the curbs, he had worried about the white peak of his cap that had disappeared. They had all brought them from school. The kids cheered, and the event ended with the passing of a few motorcyclists and several large black cars.

He searched for photos from his childhood. He had thrown the albums away. He finally found one and stared at the photo for hours. The eyes, the eyes had not changed, they could recognize him by his look. He bought a pair of glasses, black glasses. Even at home, he never took them off. He slept with the black glasses on at night. Without light, his eyes hurt, became inflamed and watered. His eyes, his eyes had become his undoing and one day, as he was about to put his fingers in his eyes in front of the mirror, Matin grabbed his hands.

“Matin! … Does that mean that someone saw me that day? I remember there were one or two photographers taking pictures.”

Matin brought his wife’s trembling hands to his lips.

“What if a photo or something else from that day remains in the archives. I’m scared, Matin! I’m scared!”

Matin kissed his wife’s hands. He pushed the wet strands of hair from her forehead and suddenly hugged her tightly, and when the woman’s inflammation finally subsided in the security of her husband’s arms, Mr. Matin wept quietly and tearlessly towards the lapis lazuli window of the sunset.

Then Mrs. Matin went crazy. She screamed occasionally, broke everything she could lay her hands on and said, “How can this be? They say it’s been canceled. I want to see it. I want to see it!”

And at the height of her rage and madness, she would turn around and look at her life, once even walking up to a policeman, opening her bag and screaming, “ Look! Take a good look! Look inside!

There was nothing in the bag but a crumpled handkerchief, a brush, lipstick and the like. Yes, of course there was also a photo of Fariborz.

Mr. Matin withdrew his hand and begged her to calm down, and as they led her to the sidewalk, he found a moment to look back. He looked back and saw his life and then once again the scene from afar, as if he had nothing to do with it.

The realization that life was a tragic event led him to get into the habit of standing with his back to the wall wherever he went. He looked for a corner and leaned back against the wall. Even at night, he no longer slept on his bed. He felt insecure because of the empty space under the bed. He even moved his bedroom to a room that, unlike his previous one, did not have a basement and had a greenhouse underneath it. At night, he still heard whispering sounds that must have come from giant prehistoric insects that had exceptionally, and presumably for the purpose of memory, acquired the ability to speak in the deep sediments of the earth.

Soon he heard noises all night long. After a while, he heard the sound of these insects even during the day. The sound could be heard everywhere. He no longer dared to turn on the radio or the television, for example. The same annoying and mysterious sound came from everywhere, even from the loudspeakers that could be heard in his house; and this belief was strengthened more than ever that this sound came from insects that lived deep in the earth and came from a very, very distant past.

Then the period of persistent sleeplessness began. He even doubled and tripled the dose of sleeping pills; it did not help. Until, after several days of insomnia, he often fainted in a corner of the house. Mr. Matin carried his wife’s frail body to bed with all the strength he had left. He covered her face with his hands, and when she was no longer conscious, he cried from the bottom of his heart.

“May I sit down?”

Mr. Matin suddenly saw a boy of ten or twelve looking at him through pince-nez glasses, gently caressing the soft curve of a girlish parasol whose shiny metal handle he had leaned on his shoulder. Mr. Matin calmed down. He was not in the mood and said almost nothing, but the slight nod or even the movement of his head or limbs was taken by the boy as a benevolent response.

The boy closed the umbrella with a special grace, sat down at the edge of the bench and then said: “Nothing is so painful for me as loneliness.”

He had a magnanimous tone. Above all, the meaningful pause he put on the word “loneliness” gave his tone and his look a dignified and serious expression. Mr. Matin turned his head and looked at the boy again. The boy was neatly dressed. He was wearing long woolen socks, and now that he was sitting, only a thin line of his skin was visible between the sock and the black shorts.

The boy said, “This morning I was forced to leave her

Mr. Matin asked, “Who?”

The boy put the tip of the umbrella on the ground. He put his hands on the umbrella handle and said, “My father and my stepmother.”

Mr. Matin nodded, uncertain and confused.

The boy seemed impatient. He paused for a moment and said hesitantly, “They have only given me until tonight to get the canaries out of the house.”

Mr. Matin nodded again, puzzled, but a moment later he felt compelled to say, “Ah… i see!”

The boy explained emphatically, “But that’s far from fair.”

Now Mr. Matin was interested and said, “It’s painful!”

The boy leaned forward and whispered, as if sharing a secret with a stranger: “But I resist.”

Mr. Matin smiled, waved his hand in the air and said, “I agree!”

And then, perhaps as a sign of some familiarity, he stroked the shaft of the umbrella and said, “You seem older than your age.”

The boy leaned against the high back of the bench, looked at the tips of the branches, sighed and said, “My main problem is just that.”

Then he suddenly turned to Mr. Matin and shouted in a loud, feminine voice, “But tell me, what should I do?”

Mr. Matin shrugged his shoulders and said, “Nothing! You have to listen to them.”

But the boy stared into the distance with poetic sorrow and said, “They are just some poor little canaries.”

Mr. Matin replied, “That’s not a big problem. You can sell them.”

“Sell them? That’s ridiculous. They are used to me.”

Mr. Matin suggested, “Or you could give it to someone.”

“I can’t even think of that. No one can look after them as well as I can.”

And again with the same poetic tone, he said, “They are just a couple of poor little canaries!”

This time he clearly choked. He controlled the quivering of his nostrils and clamped the umbrella between his legs.

Mr. Matin said, “I’m sorry, this is more of a personal question, but the main culprit has to be the stepmother, right?”

The boy shook his head in the negative: “No… No. She’s just a normal person.”

Mr. Matin shrugged his shoulders: “What about your father? I mean, what’s your relationship with him?”

The boy said with obvious composure: “I don’t like him. He’s a dictator.”

Mr. Matin said, “Now I want to ask you another personal question.”

The boy looked at Mr. Matin in astonishment. Mr. Matin calmed down and then asked carefully, while giving the boy a sidelong glance: “Your mother? I mean, where is she?”

The boy promptly replied, “I don’t like talking about her to anyone.”

Mr. Matin apologized, “I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry.”

The boy’s lips trembled again, and he whispered, “They are just a pair of poor little canaries.”

Then he turned and said, looking Mr. Matin straight in the eye, “I hate her. She’s a real dictator. She won’t even leave me alone in the afternoon. You know… How can I put it? In the corner of the courtyard, next to the cellar window, under the shade of the quince tree, where the branches are very close to the ground, I’ve made myself a cozy corner. I like to sit there in the afternoon and think for a while. Sometimes I even take my canaries’ cage with me. I can pull my eyelashes together and suddenly enter another world. I can see horses coming over from the edge of a river that runs through the yard… or… a great silken handkerchief, full of apples, hanging there between earth and sky, and there I can talk to anything. Even with stones; and they answer me. Do you understand? The stones answer me.”

Mr. Matin replied in awe: “Unbelievable. They have such beautiful minds.”

The boy said, “That’s it! That’s what you all say; but most of you think I am a slightly crazy boy.”

Mr. Matin reassured him, “Not at all. At least I don’t see it that way.”

The boy continued: “I told you… that I can sometimes enter a garden through the mesh of my eyelashes. The flowers of our garden are present there, each with a bright window. I can walk through the glass of these windows. There is sunshine there; then a crystal footbath…”

Suddenly, a woman emerged from behind the short gravel path that led to her bench and called out, “Asghar! May God take you to himself, where have you gone?”

The woman had her hands on her hips threateningly. The boy leaned forward and said, “This demoness is my mother. God help us.”

The woman approached the bench and demanded, “Look at him, for God’s sake. Where did you get these clothes? Whose umbrella is this?”

The boy got up from the bench. He threw the umbrella to the ground, rolled his eyes and, after making a hissing sound from his throat for a few moments, ran away.

The woman watched the boy as he ran away. Then she put her hand on her chest, closed her eyes and wailed painfully: “May God take you, you are destroying me.”

Mr. Matin looked at the woman in amazement and disbelief.

The woman opened her eyes and said apologetically to Mr. Matin, “Did he ask you for money?”

Mr. Matin replied, “No, not at all. Please sit down. Tell me what’s going on. He seems to me to be a genius.”

The woman said, “That’s what you all say, all of you. He’s a cheeky, stubborn and lying child.”

Mr. Matin expressed, “I’m completely confused; what’s going on?”

The woman explained, “He is evil and insane. He will be the death of me.”

Mr. Matin said, “Unbelievable.”

The woman revealed, “He’s a sparrow killer. In the afternoons he lies in wait in a corner of the yard and shreds every sparrow that lands in a tree with his bow and arrow. Now he has two injured sparrows locked up in a cage and no one dares touch them.”

Suddenly Mr. Matin became restless. He turned around. He felt insecure. If only Marjan would come and take him with him. Take him to this distant city. The fear had overwhelmed him. He looked back at the street and involuntarily heard the annoying and disturbing sound of those ancient insects again; but what about Fariborz? He could call. He rose to his feet. Which way should he go? He hurried off. The tumult of the sparrows was behind him. He was afraid to turn around. He ran all the way home. Out of breath, he stood in front of the house and couldn’t find the key. He searched through all his pockets and finally… opened the door. The phone was still ringing.

Mr. Matin ran.

“Hello.”

The voice on the other end said, “Mr. Matin’s?”

“Yes.”

“Come over here, please.”

“Yes?”

“Can’t you hear me? Come over here.”

“Huh?”

“I said come and take his things.”

The sound of the insects grew louder again, and the surroundings filled with spots that the pair had spent the last few months searching for two by two on the road. He was startled. The spots frightened him… He backed away, leaning against the wall, but even the wall no longer offered any safety. Like a madman, he stormed out of the house. Outside the house, however… that couldn’t be. A light breeze blew towards him from all sides. He squinted and ran his eyes through the web of his eyelashes. A silken handkerchief full of apples hung between the earth and the sky. The stones, the stones along the path, all whispered something to him. The walls were full of green, and a milky mist flowed over the surface of the ground everywhere. The flowers opened their windows, and in the sunshine he saw his wife; she smiled at him through the veil of her hat. She looked so young and beautiful in her cotton summer dress and coat. A flower and a bird hung from the brim of her hat. The woman waved her hand. She hopped over the streams and came towards him. She didn’t walk, she flew. White swans swam in the silver lake, and a warm vapor spread in the air from the flowers. Mr. Matin embraced his wife, overwhelmed by the fragrant feeling that surrounded her, and finally, at the end of the path, he saw a boy shrouded in the same mist that rose from the paved road; he came towards him with a cage in his hand, and he could clearly hear the chirping of canaries.

About Amir Hassan Cheheltan

Amir Hassan Cheheltan was born in Tehran on September 30, 1956. He wrote poems and stories in his youth and during his studies. He has a degree in electrical engineering. When he entered university, he published two collections of stories. The story collection “Sigheh” was published in 1976 and “Dakhil on the Steel Window” in 1978. After graduating in electrical engineering in 1979, Amir Hassan Cheheltan went to England for further studies. Cheheltan’s participation in the Iran-Iraq war from 1982 to 1984 inspired him to write works with war themes, including “Munis, Mother of Esfandiar” and “Cut, the Forbidden Zone”

His first novel, “Rozeh-e Ghasem”,” was published in 1983. The novel “Mirror Hall” was published in 1990 and the story collection “No One Calls Me Anymore” was published in 1992. The novel “Mehr-e Giyah” and the story collection “Nothing Left for Tomorrow” waited for several years to be published and were finally published in 1998 and 2002 respectively.

In the fall of 1997, Amir Hassan Cheheltan went to Italy for two years with his wife and child at the invitation of the International Parliament of Writers. The novels “Tehran, the Heavenless City” and “Love and the Unfinished Woman” were published in Iran after his return from Italy. After these novels, he also published the story collection “Five o’clock is too late to die”, the film story “Cut, the Forbidden Zone” and the novel “Iranian Dawn”.

In the fall of 2001, Cheheltan was elected to the board of the Iranian Writers’ Association. He was nominated for the “twenty-fourth annual Book of the Year Award for the book “Iranian Dawn”, but withdrew his nomination. Between 2009 and 2011, he received two scholarships from a cultural foundation and therefore lived in Germany. He was also invited by the University of Southern California to spend some time as a visiting author in Los Angeles from April 2011.

The most recent book that Amir Hassan Cheheltan has published in Iran is a collection of stories entitled “Several Unbelievable Realities”. His novel “The Gathering of Literature Lovers” was awarded the International Prize of the House of World Cultures in Berlin three months after its publication in 2020.

It is worth mentioning that Amir Hassan Cheheltan’s articles on culture, society and politics have been published in international journals since 1999. Among these publications, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has published most of his works.

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