Ali Ashraf Darvishian
Translated by: Roya Monajem
Edited by: Katherine L. Clark
A piece of cardboard as big as a mosaic would have done. A few colored papers: green for the ground of flowerbeds and trees; yellow for the fašade and the outer surface of the building; blue for the water of the pond (hoze) and its surrounding footbath (pashouyeh) for washing; and brown for the rooftop. Red and pink would be used for the fish in the pond and the flowers of the flowerbeds. A little bit of glue and a few matches would be used for fences. Finally, I would even make drain pipes and stick them to the body of my building. One end of the drain pipe would be glued beneath the rooftop with the other end stretching to the ground of the yard. I would think of everything--the TV antenna on the rooftop and a chimney on the gable on which I would rub some soot to make it appear natural. When my mother see the building, her face would light up and happily she would say:
"It is very beautiful! Mr. Engineer."
And my grandmother would say: "Well done. Lest God drives away the evil-eyed from you! But tie a laundry line in a corner for me to hang my clothes too."
And addressing my mother, she would say: "Go and burn some harmel for him. Turn it both around him and his building. These days there are a lot of jealous and evil-eyed people around."
And my mother would run and burn harmel.
On Thursdays, we had handicraft for our third class. Each pupil had to make some kind of handiwork such as a top, a wooden sword, picture frames, mills, baskets made of colored papers, belts knitted with strings, small rugs, kaleidoscopes, and boxes. And one day, Gholamreza, one of our classmates who was very naughty and hyperactive, made the whole class and the school go "up the wall." He had tied two guinea pigs to a small wooden cart, and when our craft teacher told him to show his handiwork, out of the blue, Gholamreza put the guinea pigs and the cart on his desk. When the kids saw the guinea pigs, they started to shout and cry. While pulling the wooden cart, the guinea pigs fell from the desk and started to run toward the door of the classroom. Hearing our shouts and turmoil, other pupils poured out of their classrooms and soon the whole school was in chaos. Gholamreza nearly got expelled from school because of his handicraft.
I felt a great sense of ardor on the days we had crafts. I felt happy. I carried my cardboard buildings on top of my books and notebooks to school. When I passed through our neighborhood, the shopkeepers would take their heads out of their shops and say: "That is strange! Again he has made a building and much prettier than the previous one!"
"What is the good of a paper building?"
"You don't know anything about the world, Uncle Hashem. Foreign kids make these sorts of things and become inventors. And then they sell their inventions to us."
"Is that so?"
"Of course, it is true. It is written in magazines that they make cars, buildings and airplanes with paper from the time they are children. Yes, that is what they do at school. Not like our kids who do nothing but loads of homework in vain."
"That is because they are foreigners and their countries have real rulers. But, what about us?"
"Yes, this kid has made a nice building; perhaps he will get a good grade for it."
"Grades do not sweeten anybody's mouth."
"But that is what keeps this kid happy. Look at the poor guy, see how he runs like a horse pulling carts!"
"Indeed, I ran like the horse pulling carts to get to school on time hoping to get the highest grade."
The guard opens up the small window of the cell. He looks into the cell. He curses. "Why are you standing? Sit in a corner. If you are longing to have the handcuffs around your wrists, just tell me."
I sit in a corner; hug my knees; put my head on them and close my eyes. I do not like to have that handcuff. In a cell, having the handcuff makes everything worse. If a part of your body starts itching, you cannot rub it. You cannot play with a button, a piece of chalk or a string. Your shoulders start to ache and the pain runs through your arms to the tips of your fingers and then again back to your shoulders and your back.
The guards are changed. One of them opens the door of my cell. "Toilet time. Hurry up. Run!"
I get up and go to the toilet. When I see the blue sky through the window, I store a piece of it in my eyes and stitch it to my mind to replay over and over again in the cell so that my heart will not decompose due to loneliness and I will have something to connect me with freedom.
There are a few small packets of medicine and a few cardboard boxes of washing powder next to the sink. I pick them up stealthily and put them in the pocket of my shirt. I turn on the tap. The sound of water changes my mood. I wash my hands and face; I drink a fistful of water and then suck the drops of water from the corner of my moustache. The guard peeps in and says: "Hurry up! Run to your cell!"
I wipe my face with the corner of my shirt and return to my cell. I sit in the same corner, leaning against the wall. I lose myself in the air of recent and distant memories. Childhood remembrances. The games, fights, handiworks, and Gholamreza's guinea pigs. Without these memories, I would die of loneliness.
"Look at the poor guy, see how he runs like a horse pulling carts!"
"That is strange! Again he has made a building and much prettier than the previous one!"
"But tie a laundry line in a corner for me to hang my clothes."
I stand up quietly. I peep into the corridor through the corner of the iron window. The guard is speaking and joking with the one responsible for keeping the keys. I turn back. I choose one of the mosaics of the floor as the plot of land for my building. I should build a larger house, wider and bigger. The mosaic is behind the iron door of the cell and the guard cannot see it through the iron window. Even if he opens the door, he still will not be able to see it. I take out the small piece of chalk that I have hidden in my pocket. I divide the land. Two hundred thousand people should be able to live in it, all my town-mates; then they would not need to loiter in the streets. And here would be a playground for small kids, with swings and slides, merry-go-rounds, trains, and sailing boats. But with hungry stomachs, no one can go to the playgrounds and sport clubs. So, I would build a huge factory for their fathers to work in.
I nearly forgot all about the library. Here is where it would be, a huge library, bigger than that of Tehran University with all kinds of books, a million copies of books, any book that one might wish to read and by any author that one might wish to read. But it is not possible to have a library without a lecture hall, so here would be such a hall. We would invite writers, poets, critics and translators of the country to come and discuss their work and answer questions. Writers would read pieces of their new works, poets their new poems, and others would give their views, and there would be a lot of discussion. Well, I will allot a space to a music class too. Without music man is like a bird without larynx. Young people would come and take music classes.
What about a theater? I nearly forgot that, too. Nowhere does man feel as free as in a theater. So that is where the theater would be. Cinema! Where should I build the cinema? And here would be the cinema showing all kinds of films: artistic, original and of high quality. The taste of youth should be trained. It is only then that they will not go after superficial, commonplace and unoriginal films and they will learn to distinguish good artistic films from the bad ones. We will invite actors and actresses to come and talk about their work, too. Now what else? Oh yes, children's films from all over the world for all the children of Iran. We will build a hall for teaching the directorship of cinema and theater. I should be careful not to forget anything such as painting and visual art classes. We are responsible for the next generation. If we fail, later we will be remembered appallingly. They will curse us. They will call us tyrants. They will say, "He came to build a sports and cultural center for the youth, but he just stole lots of money and sent it to his bank accounts abroad and left the young people in the streets to fall prey to heroine smugglers."
In the sports hall, the latest equipment will be available. Everybody will be able to use them equally, both girls and boys. Ah, I was forgetting to allot a place for playing chess. So here would be the chess hall. And a very large hall for holding nights of poetry and story reading, speeches and interviews that will be free for all with any kind of opinion. Free for all those interested. O my god, I am so forgetful! There should also be a beautiful modern hall for folk dances, Kurdish, Turkish, Gilak, Mazandarani and so on. I hope I can still remember Kurdish dances. I had better check, let me try it with the famous melody, "Amaan hey amman. Amaan hey amaan, amman hey amman, amman sad (hundred) amaan." It should be danced like this. You put one step forth and you put the other step.
Suddenly, the door of the cell bursts open. My heart falls on my knees. I am completely taken aback. A pair of black, shiny boots appears right opposite to my building. One of the boots goes up and hits my chest as hard as possible. My body is pushed violently against the wall. The pieces of paper and cardboard fly into the air: "Why have you drawn a map on the floor?"
"I. I wanted."
They call the inspector. He arrives instantly at the door of the cell. He swears and curses: "You tyrant, shameless, idiot! You thought you could build a complex empty handed and without greasing the moustache of this or that man of authority?"
He stares at the mosaic as though he has discovered something really important, then he shouts: "Prison! Where is its prison? You stupid." He orders the guard to put my head down on my map and he kicks me in the mouth.
1. From the collection of short stories, "Seven Men, Seven Stories," Rahian-e-Andisheh, Tehran, 1998. Ali Ashraf Darvishian (1941) is a relatively well-known contemporary writer and scholar in the field of Kurdish literature.