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The Splendour of Iran
Iran Travel

Payvand's Iran Literature ...

Short Story: My China Doll

By Hushang Golshiri
Translated by: Roya Monajem
Edited by: Katherine L. Clark

Mom says he'd come. I know he will not come. If he'd come, mother would not be crying. Would she? I wish you could see. No, I wish I hadn't seen it either. Now, you are Mother, what can I do that your hair is blonde? See, mother was sitting like this. Pull back your legs. Put your hands on your forehead. You won't be able to do it. Her shoulders were shaking, like this. The newspaper was in front of her on the ground. I can't cry like Mother. Dad could definitely do it. Uncle Naser can do it too if he decides.

That is why grown ups are grown ups; they can constantly say, "Don't cry, Maryam." Or, I don't know what, but for example say, "Why did you take the match, girl?" What does it matter that I took it. I don't start a fire. Do I? Dad was lovely, he never said, "Don't do it!" But why did he say, "I don't wish to see Maryam crying?" I do want to cry, but I know I shouldn't. Do dolls cry too? I know you can't, like Mother, like Grandmother, like Uncle Naser. If you could, why didn't you cry when that naughty Mehri broke my doll? I mean my glass doll. You just sat and looked at her, like now. Did you see how I cried? Grandmother said, "Don't cry, Maryam, I give it to chini band zan (China mender) to mend it."

"What would happen then?" I asked.

"It will be like when you bought it." She replied.

"No, I don't want that. It will be like that big teapot then," I said.

"If my daughter stops crying, Dad will buy her another one of these dolls, a big one," Dad said.

It was good that he did not buy me another one. If he comes I'd tell him not to buy it. I will not cry either. Do you remember how Grandmother was crying? I told you. She fell on Grandfather's grave with her black dress and cried. I cried too. Dad did not cry. Or perhaps he did, like dolls, like you when neither tears fall from your eyes nor any sound comes out of you. I couldn't. I was crying like mad. For I realized that Grandfather would never hold his walking stick horizontally asking: "Maryam, can you say how long is my walking stick?"

"Seven, Grandfather, seven," I would say.

"No, five, my little girl," he would say.

"Seven." I would say.

"Ten and a half and a little more," he would add.

"No, seven," I would insist.

"Measure it and see," he would say. And I did. He thought I did not know that as soon as my hand reached the end of his walking stick he would grab me and make me sit on his knees. I liked it too. I pushed my hand into his vest pocket and brought out his watch. Grandpa then opened its lid and put it on my ear.

"Your hands are so old, Grandpa," I said.

"That is how they are, old!" he said.

The back of his hand seemed strange, like his face. He said, "It is their fault!" He meant the hands of watches. He meant the red one that turned much faster than the others. Where is his watch now? Did they bury it with Grandpa? You wouldn't know. What about you Dwarfy? Suppose you are that dwarf. Keep coming and going. That's it. Now go to that side, now come to this side. Don't do it so much that it makes my head dizzy. O.K? Father was on the other side. I did not recognize him. Dwarfy, you stand here, it means you keep going and coming. Mother was holding my hand. She said, "What do you want the match for, girl?"

"I don't know, I said."

But now I know. I put the sticks next to each other. That is one; that is two. Mother and I are on this side of the matchsticks and Father on the other side. Dwarfy, you come between us. Now those who are on this side, that is us, should attack. Those who are on the other side of matchsticks should shout. Father shouted: "How is my Maryam? Send a kiss to Dad."

Now you Dwarfy, come close, close to me, here. So that Father would not see that I am sending him a kiss. Father said, I don't remember what he said. Mother was holding my hand. My father said, "My daughter should not cry."

"O.K. I am fine."

Father was not like Father at all. Like Dwarfy that does not look like father at all. If that naughty Mehri had not broken my Chinese Doll, I could put it on the other side, instead of Father, next to others who are on the other side, next to Father. Mother said, "Remember not to mention your doll."

"Mother, where is Dad then?" I asked.

"There he is. Behind that man. He is coming close.

Don't forget what I told you, O.K.?" Mother said.

"It wasn't Father. He seemed strange. I recognized him from his laughter. Then father said, "Maryam, send a kiss for your father."

I did say that he did not talk to me after that. He was talking to Mother. Now the Chinese Doll should say, "Esmat, I don't ever want you to beg these people." It should shout and repeat and point to Dwarfy. And you should say, "Then what? What will happen to you?" Then Father said, "What will be what? It is clear. They haven't cooked oblatory food! And no matter what happens you shouldn't let the child be bemoan." He meant me.

Then I don't know what mother said. She was shouting. Everybody was shouting. There was so much noise and everybody was shouting like when that devilish Hassan blows into his horn. No matter how much Grandma shouts, nobody understands who says what. She could say, "Esmat, wipe your tears. I don't want them to see you crying." And she had to point at the dwarf again. I didn't see Mom crying. I said, "Mom, I want you to pick me up."

Mother replied. I don't know, I don't remember. I wasn't tired. I just wanted to see that if mother was crying, would I start crying too. Mother wiped her eyes, like this. Now you Dwarfy, stand in front of us, me and mother and all the rest who are on this side. Stretch out your arms, like this. Now say this in loud voice: Madams, the time is up, please leave. Now turn back and say the same to Father and the rest. Say it; say something that would make them all leave.

Father had lost weight. But he laughed, like when he picked me up and tickled me under my arm. Like this. Now I can't laugh. Uncle Naser pulled naughty Mehri's ear and said, "What do you want from Maryam's dolls?"

Good for him. If my china doll were here, if Mehri had not broken it, it would turn and shake its hands now. I should do the same, like this. And then I should cry. Father wanted to come, but he couldn't. You, Dwarfy, go to the other side and don't let father go. Mother said, "Didn't your father say that you shouldn't cry?"

I wanted to. I always listened to Father. If he comes, even if pulls my ear like Uncle Naser, I wouldn't cry. I wouldn't hit Father ever either.

He said, "Hit."

I hit his ears. He laughed. "Hit hard," he said.

I hit one on this side and one on the other side, like this. Dwarfy, you fell. Father never fell. Get up. I hit softly, with fingers. I will hit Father like this, if he comes back. Perhaps he was hurt.

Grandmother constantly said, "All Mighty God, what will happen to my son now, if they say the truth?" "What do they say?" I asked.

"Grandma, you say these things in Maryam's presence?" Mother said.

Mother is bad, not always though; she is bad only when she doesn't let Grandmother talk, talk about Dad when she shouts, "Grandmother!"

She also says that when Grandma cries. But once she burst out crying in my presence. When Uncle Naser came, Dwarfy, you are Uncle Naser. Come here. You should stand by the door as soon as you enter the house. Come and hold this paper in your hand as though it is newspaper.

Mother said, "Now that you insist, open the door yourself."

Now, Dwarfy should throw it on the ground as soon as you see mother, like this. You do it too, do it really hard. But you can't. Look you should hit your head hard with both your hands and sit on the ground, like me, like Mom. Sit and say, "What a misfortune has befallen on me, brother?

Dwarfy hand me the newspaper. Mother kept turning the newspaper from one page to anther. Her hands were shaking. "Where is it, then?" She asked.

Uncle Naser ran to Grandmother's room. Now you read it. I don't know what. Just say something, like on the radio, or on Uncle Naser's TV. They sit like this and keep talking. Mother says, "They read from a text, see how they keep looking down." We can't see, but that is perhaps what they do. Mother wouldn't lie. But, she does; wasn't it she who said, "Dad has gone to the city of Abadan to buy one for you; you know we can't find it here, don't you?"

Uncle Naser said, "I'll buy her one myself."

"I don't want it." I said.

Of course I want it. If Dad buys, if Dad returns. He will not come back. Otherwise why did mother cry? She read and cried. Sometimes they smiled when reading newspapers. Like this. I can't smile now, like them.

Mom can't either. In the evening Uncle Naser came to me and caressed my head, my hair. You Dwarfy? No, I don't want you to caress my head. Uncle Naser did it in a strange way. I didn't want him to do that. Not that he was messing my hair, like that woman. The one, O.K. don't sulk, Dwarfy. Now you are that man. Your table is here, a very big table. Everything, I don't know is found on the table. Grandma and Mom and I entered the room. Uncle Naser did not come with us. He said, "You go, I wait for you in the ice-cream shop."

I said, "I go with Uncle Naser, too."

I didn't want ice-cream. Dad said, "Never say it. Never."

Mother said, "You should come with us. Do you understand? Don't forget to tell the man, 'I want my father.'"

Uncle Naser said, "Yes dear. When you return I'll buy you two ice-creams."

"I want it now." I said.

"Maryam!" Mother said.

You too say it loudly, "Maryam!" Hold my fist and pull me. And then knock at the door, a big door, now come a minute, Dwarfy. Look through the hole in my hand, at mother, at me too. Now, like Grandmother says things that I would understand too. It is like you and Mother and Grandmother and I have gone to see Dad. Say something. When the door opened, we entered. That man said. I don't know. He was tall. Much taller than Mother. He was fat too. Grandma said, "My poor son!"

She said softly. Now you, Dwarfy, you are that man, tall and very, very big; you have a moustache too. Smile and say: "Wait in that other room please."

Then a woman came. She was pretty, like my china doll.

No, that doll is Dad because it no longer is; it is Dad. That woman definitely is still around. She was like the women who talks on TV, no like those who read from the newspaper and smile frequently. Mother was crying. The day, I mean that day. I did say the woman came and said: "Excuse me ladies."

Then she said other things. She first put her hand on Grandmother's breasts. Grandma said, "But, Madam, I."

"Grandma!" Mother said.

She said it softly, but her face looked like when she says it loudly, like when she wants to scold me. She doesn't anymore. I wish she did. Even if she takes my hands and hits their backs twice, I wouldn't cry. She didn't scold me even when I took one of Dad's books. She just took it and put it back. You say it, "Maryam, you shouldn't touch Dad's things." I wanted to say, "But Dad will not come back." But I didn't. I thought if I don't say it, he will definitely come. If I touch his books, if I tear only one of them, he will appear.

He held my ears, but did not pull them hard, just a little and he said, "Dad will one day cut these two ears of his daughter and put them in her hand."

If I got disobedient or insisted on going with him, he said, "It is now time for Dad to come and hold two ears and look into her sick eyes." A day that he did, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't look unpleasantly. Uncle Naser can. Not now though. He took Mehri's ear and pulled. Dad couldn't.

Then we both laughed. We burst out laughing. Because I pulled Dad's ears too. Dad's ears were small.

When he sat opposite me, like this. She said, "You little lady, do you allow me?"

Grandmother said: "Why? Her as well?"

Mother said again: "Grandma, didn't you hear what the lady said?"

Then the woman pushed her hand into my hair. Mother had pleated my hair and gathered it on top of my head. I looked so pretty. That's why that woman kissed me. Then she pushed her hand. See, suppose now I am that woman. Well, if I push my hand underneath your skirt, would you like it? She did it to Mother too. With Grandma as well. Grandma said, "God forbid."

Mother did not say, "Grandma!" She should have.

The woman said: "You little lady, you are very pretty. Do you go to school?"

"No, she will go next year." Mother said.

It was not her business. I'll put my books in my bag. And I will make a flower with a red piece of ribbon like that of Uncle Naser's Mehri and stick it to my hair; mother would do that. I can count up to fifty.

Dad taught me. One, two, three, four; no I can't now. Dad said, "My daughter will become a painter. My daughter will sit behind her own desk and paint, while Dad does his work."

Then he sat behind his desk and read. No matter how many times I said, "Dad" he did not hear. Only when I shouted, "Dad, Dad!" did he take off his glasses and say, "What is it my dear?"

"See what I drew, Dad." I said.

"Let me see." He said.

Grandma used to say: "If you draw my picture once more, I'll burn your father." She thought she actually could do such a thing. Dad used to laugh. He would look and laugh. He would show it to Uncle Naser. It is not difficult. It is like this, this means Grandma's tummy; then, yes, this means her head, and these are her eyes. Her mouth should be quite big, meaning she is scolding me. Dad used to say, "Where is her nose?" "Her mouth is so big that you can't see it." I used to reply.

Like this one. Well now, Dwarfy, suppose you are sitting at your desk. This is Mom. Wait till I draw Grandma's hand. My hand was in Grandma's hand. Now you Dwarfy, get up from your desk, come close and smile. Say hello to Grandma and Mom. Then bend and hold my cheeks. Like this. It didn't hurt. But well, I don't like it now either.

Dwarfy, ask me: "What is your name?"

Grandma with her big mouth says: "Maryam." She kisses your hand. Then a man brought tea. He hadn't brought me any. I didn't mind. Now Grandma should say things that I wouldn't understand. Say it, talk about my dad. Say, "After all Sir, they are young. They have read things."

She meant Dad. Mother's face looked strange. Dwarfy, you shouldn't see. Stand opposite Grandma; you should be holding your tea, too. Say: "It depends on them. Whenever they come. I don't know. He talked in the newspaper. I suppose he wanted Dad to go. Sit like this and secretly look at the newspaper and talk constantly. Now you talk, talk like Mom, talk about father, things that Grandma wouldn't understand. Now, Dwarfy should say: "Very well. Go there tomorrow. Take the kid too if you want. He might accept her.

Grandma hit me with this part of her arm. I knew why she did it. I lowered my head. Grandma hit, she hit hard. I looked at her. She made a face. I could see only her nose. Now I should tell Dwarfy: "Sir, I want my father."

Dwarfy should say: "You go and see him, my dear. But don't forget to ask: "Father, when will you come back home?"

Mother said, "What if he does not accept?"

Dwarfy, you should realize that Mother means Dad.

Now say, "Persuade him, repeat a few times till he learns."

Mother said nothing more. Grandma said: "He means my son."

Dwarfy, say, no, first he should knot his hands behind his back and move toward his desk. Then he should say, "Well, well. I don't know what else to say."

Now, Dwarfy, suppose we are leaving, Mother, Grandma and I. Come close. Bend and say quietly: "You didn't tell me your name, you pretty girl."

Then say, "You should definitely go and see your father tomorrow."

There was no Father. He didn't come. Now I should say: "Mom, why doesn't Dad come?"

She said, "I don't know. He must hate me now."

Why Mom?

You say, "Dad is good, Mom."

"No, he is bad to hate me."

I told Mom that. She didn't say anything else and only wiped her eyes.

Grandma didn't come. She couldn't. She was sick in her bed, moaning all the time. Grandma's legs ached. Uncle Naser comes and sits by her bed and talks to her. He doesn't bring naughty Mehri, and when I go to Grandma, they stop talking. Now Dwarfy should say, no, don't say it. I will say it instead of Uncle Naser: "It is tomorrow Mother, tomorrow."

Grandma should say, "I wish I could see him. I am afraid to die and not be able to see my son."

"Don't say such things, Grandma." Mother said.

"I know I will not see him." Grandma said.

When Mother saw me, she stopped crying. She wasn't crying for Grandma. She cried for Dad.

Uncle Naser said, "They don't let anybody go there.

But well, it is possible to see him. I will go with my sister in law."

Mother said, "Brother!"

She didn't say it loud. Uncle Naser said, "You little devil, were you here all this time?"

I said, "I will come as well."

Now Mother should say, "Maryam?"

If she hadn't said that, they would have taken me. They didn't.

Uncle Naser said: "If you are a good girl, I'll buy you a big doll."

Dad never said, "If you are a good girl." He said, "What would you like it to look like?" I said, "Like that one. I want the one I have." Dad said, "If they mend it, it will look ugly."

Grandma should say, "Did you see him?"

Uncle Naser said, "Just for a minute, but he looked well."

I asked, "Did he have hair on his head?"

He said, "Yes, dear. And he told me: 'Uncle Naser should cut Maryam's ears and put them in her hand.'"

I said, "He didn't say that. He doesn't say it now." When Dad used to say that, I held my ears and escaped. Dad laughed and came after me.

Now Grandma should say, "Why didn't they let you go in?"

Uncle Naser said, "They had surrounded the place. They didn't let anybody go in."

I asked, "What does surround mean?"

Uncle Naser did not reply. Who cares? I know it myself. No doubt there were twenty no forty people like dwarves. You stand there, Dwarfy. And another one here. And many others. The china doll should have stood in the middle, if it were here. Mehri threw it on the ground on purpose. I know she did it on purpose.

Uncle Naser said, "They'll write about it in the newspapers tomorrow."

"I don't think so." Mother said.

"If my feet didn't ache. If I could." Grandma said.

Grandma cannot stand on her feet anymore. I wish she could. Uncle Naser and Mom hold her hands like the china doll whose legs fell off. Its head was broken into three pieces.

Dad said, "Go and throw it into the dustbin."

I asked, "Hasn't it died?"

"Dolls don't die, Dear. They break." Dad answered.

"No, they die. My doll died, like Grandpa."

I buried it in the garden. I dug out a small hole; I wrapped it in a white handkerchief and I buried it. I poured water on it too. Then I cut a few flowers and pulled out the petals and threw them on its grave. If Grandpa were around he wouldn't let me do that. That man sat next to Grandpa's grave. He was reading from a book that I couldn't understand. He read fast and nodded his head. We don't have roses. When Grandpa was around we did have them. Grandma said, "Then his sister went, picked up his bones and washed them with rosewater and buried them under the rose bush. Then he turned to a nightingale and flew. The nightingale went and sat. I can't tell you the rest now.

Grandma seemed sad. Uncle Naser said, "Don't cry mother. He'll stay there for a few years and then he'll come out."

"For how many years?" Mother asked.

You say, "How many years?" and then run to the other room. I wanted to cry too. But Dad said, "Don't cry."

Dad said, "Maryam shouldn't ask for Dad, not from them." He said that on the day that he didn't look like Dad. He was like the china doll on the day that Mehri broke it. His face looked strange. Mom had thrown herself on the bed. Uncle Naser said something that Mom said, you say it. No, don't say it. Mom said something bad. Mom is really bad. Sometimes she is bad when she is cross with Uncle Naser, when she talks about Dad.

Dad was great. He picked me up and put me on his shoulders. He said, "My dear Maryam should come and sit on Dad's shoulders and close her eyes too. Like this. And I would close my eyes. And climbed up his shoulders and when on top, he said, "Now, open your eyes."

I was up there. Next to the lamp, Mother said.

I did say it. Uncle Naser saw me. He said, "What are you doing here girl?"

Then they stopped talking. If they talked, if they talked in my presence, Dad would have come. That dwarf didn't let him. [You hit with these hands?" ?]

Dad is like the china doll. He has broken into pieces. You are bad. So I pull out your legs. I pull out your hands. I pull out your head. And I will not bury you as I buried my china doll below the rose bush. I'll throw you into the dustbin. I will not shed even one tear for you. But I can't control my tears.

1. Taken from his collection of short stories called, "My Little Altar", Hushang Golshiri, Tehran books, 1364 (1985).

2. Hushang Golshiri (1937-2000), is one of the best known and contemporary writers with a great influence on many of the younger generation.

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