By Akbar Raadi
Translated by: Roya Monajem
Edited by: Katherine L. Clark
Gol-Agha lowered the wick of the oil lamp and put it on the stairs. His glance toward the sky broke and fell. Kuchak Khanoum, who had just spread the straw sofreh (table-cloth) on the ground and was sitting next to it, had her hand under her chin. When she saw Gol-Agha, she said, "So you are here."
Gol-Agha did not say anything. He wanted to say something, but the words were sleeping between his lips. He turned his head toward the sky and whispered: "No, it is not going to rain." And he blinked and fell silent.
They then stared at each other with their empty eyes and said nothing. Only the buzzing sound of a mosquito ripped the air. Gol-Agha sat by the sofreh. His mouth was open. His eyes were full of melancholy. His eyes were restless. His shadow with his long nose cut the surface of the floor. He turned and looked at his shadow. The oil lamp with its crystal base was burning with a dark yellow light in the middle of the sofreh, pouring a string of gloomy light on the sunken face of Gol-Agha. His remarkable steel colored eyebrows, his hereditary, long, cartilaginous nose with purple capillaries running over the nostrils, and the furrow below his lips were signs of his silent past sufferings.
The thin stripped cat, curled by the corner of the sofreh, stood up. He cast a meaningless beggar-like glance at the sofreh. It bent, hunched its back and yawned. The orange light of the oil lamp shone on his green glass eyes. It hurt its eyes. It remained still for a few moments. Then it closed its eyelids. It curled again by the corner of the sofreh and slept.
Kuchak Khanoum flexed her fingers and said, "Did you see that bare-necked cock?"
"I don't know why it is like that."
"It crouches all the time."
Gol-Agha made an indifferent gesture. "A rooster!" And he paused.
Kuchak Khanoum thought she saw a dull fading smile on the lips of Gol-Agha that disappeared in the air. Gol-Agha removed his felt hat and wiped his drum-like forehead. He whispered, "Just think."
Kuchak Khanoum rose. While walking toward the melons, she said, "I wish five of the chickens were dead and that bare neck." And her words faded in a light whisper. She was a short chubby woman. An extensive nevus covered one side of her face. She was wearing a fanciful petticoat. She was wearing a red scarf that she had knotted by two of its corners over her forehead.
While fanning himself with his straw fan with scarlet colored trim, Gol-Agha said, "I went to Aastaneh today. I prayed and vowed to offer an oblation." And suddenly he calmed down in a very sorrowful way: "Misery!"
Kuchak Khanoum brought the melon and put it on the sofreh. She said in a dismal voice: "Last night I dreamt that Ramezan had returned. But he was holding a cane. I don't know what is going on there."
And there was silence and the cold sound of melon being cut with the knife echoing across the veranda. Gol-Agha was staring at the two timbers above the veranda; his gaze first crossed over the melons and was caught in the head of a smoked fish, hanging at the end of the two timbers.
Kuchak Khanoum hit her chest with a few strikes of the knife handle and sneezed. She whispered: "Do you remember? The last time he wrote, the bare-necked rooster was still a chicken. But, now..." And she continued in an offended voice: "Oh, it is awful!" And she threw the peal of the melon onto the sofreh.
Gol-Agha seemed in a state of suspense. Like two burning balls - that are covered with a thin layer of ash his eyes generated smoke and melted. Then he suddenly said despairingly: "A star!" It was a star, a bright wave-like star that revolved out of a piece of black cloud. The air was oppressive. The sky was covered with clouds, dense clouds that sprawled, scattered, rolled, and assumed different forms and colors. In a corner, there was a crouched rooster. Next to it there was a spade, and a bit further, there was a villager sitting. Then they merged and the whole thing suddenly ripped and retreated; and from the furrow between it, something like a silver breast grew out of the tar-like chest of the sky and threw its transparent funnel on the earth where it glittered for a second on the feverish body of the mountains and merged into the wet shadow of clouds and disappeared. The pungent smell of burnt grass, the scent of sorrels and other suspicious odors invaded Gol-Agha's nostrils. For a moment, he felt everything was wasted and lost. Now his head was down. He said: "I don't want any supper."
"Why?" "This one was no good. I have hung another melon in the well. It is cold."
"No, I feel inflated; I need a cup of hot sweet water."
And he rose. With his hands he pressed his stomach as though this could prevent the spread of pain. He felt some sort of unpleasant heat around his neck. He went toward the front of the veranda. He kept walking back and forth a few times. He spat. He sat down. He crouched. He stood up. He put his hand over the fence around the veranda. And, he peeped over. What was the point?
The ground before his eyes was cracked, and it was dying for a drop of water. And, he was still thinking of those long days--the days when the morning fell on the hut like lead, and accompanied by Kuchak Khanoum, they went to the rice field and were covered with water up to their knees, and their legs were sucked by hungry, fat vampire slugs. And those muggy nights, those were the nights when the only thing to be found was the humid heat of the earth softly ripening the raw rice clusters and strengthening the thin fig trees and almond trees to stand properly and get pregnant.
And, those were the nights he crouched in an ambush until the rooster crowed, when the horizon turned into shell-like colors and a jackal or boar entered the rice field. Such passion! He could still remember the scarecrow he sewed and filled with straw and dressed with his old vest and trousers and straw hat. He had not forgotten the day that Kuchak Khan's bull tore the rope tied to its horn and jumped over the wattle and grazed a whole patch of rice. And, so convincingly he had made marks with his spade on the ground and asked for compensation. And, now? The fruit of all that toil and struggle was so easily burning down and wasting. If it did not rain within the next couple of days, or perhaps that very day, what could he say to his master, that evil man who had struck the floor with his shoes, tyrannizing him?
"I don't care how, but at the beginning of autumn, you have to bring forty sacks of Molaii rice to my shop."
And pompously, he had climbed down the steps, grumbling: "The worse thing that one cannot spoil is a Gileh Man."
And then there was Geda-Ali, that spiteful creature who had already bought the ripening fruit; how was he going to deal with him? He, Gol-Agha, who is shedding blood from his eyes; he had already spent the money he received on buying chintz and linen and rayon. And now he was absolutely penniless. Geda-Ali would definitely threaten him, and when he realized how useless his intimidation were, he would appeal to the court, and quite unjustly he would be sentenced.
Geda-Ali was a shameless lad who would go for any form of betrayal and vengeance that he could think of. Had he not already gone through such disgraces? Wasn't it only two years ago that he sold the best figs of his
garden in advance that were later scorched by an unexpected drought? That dreadful man went to him everyday, twisted his moustache and cursed. And, he had intrigued Gholam-Ali to steal muskmelons from Gol-Agha's patch. He knew Geda-Ali very well. He was the sort of man that did not give up easily. And, immediately he remembered that after all the evil he did to him, he reported his only son, Ramezan, who had escaped military service. Two nights later, the soldiers with guns in their hands and cartridge belts around their waists surrounded his hut. That night Gol-Agha did not sleep until dawn. He sat on his bed the whole night, and like tonight, he felt a sharp pain in his intestines and kept asking for hot sugar water.
It was already dawn. Kuchak Khanoum held the Koran over Ramezan's head. Ramezan stood over a stool and opened the back window of their hut, glanced around and said fearfully, "There is nobody there."
And before Ramezan tried to pull himself through the window, the door opened violently and a soldier with a dark complexion jumped in.
The soldier was standing with his legs apart. He was ready to shoot. And, in the cool air of that early morning, his moustache was visible. Taken by surprise, Ramezan fell down like a sac of rice. His moustache was barely visible. When he stood up, Gol-Agha noticed that his face had turned completely white. And they carried him like a corpse. And, now it had been a long time since they had heard from him. Every night, Kuchak Khanoum went to bed thinking about him, and she had nightmares that she recounted to Gol-Agha in detail.
"I don't know what he has gone through. The last time he wrote, was last autumn. He had written: 'I am working as a servant in an officer's house in the city of Rasht. They give me only the fried rice off the bottom of the pot. I usually suffer from constipation. At nights I sleep under a plum tree. I can't sleep because of the mosquitoes and a horrible odor. The weather is getting cold. I should tell my master's daughter to put my bed inside. If possible please send me a quilt.'"
When Taghi Mirza was reading this letter to Gol-Agha he broke into tears. He was completely broke and could not afford to send Ramezan a quilt. So he did not reply to his letter.
Suddenly there was this extraordinary light sparkling in the rice fields, and the cob covered huts glittered like heaps of straw from afar. Immediately, the roaring sound of thunder shook the pillars and the wooden floor, followed by loud cry of cows. The cat sleeping in the corner of the sofreh woke up frightened. It sharpened its ears, rolled its eyes in their eye sockets and licked its lips. It then closed its eyelids again, crouched and slept in the same place. Gol-Agha leaned against the porch fence. He stretched his hand in the air. His eyes were running around restlessly and suddenly they froze on a spot in the sky. He was waiting for rain drops to fall on his hand.
Kuchak Khanoum said, "I am coming."
And suddenly she cried: "Rain. Rain, my God, it is raining!"
A short breeze passed. The cut slices of melon slowly trembled, and a slippery coldness slid down Gol-Agha's cheeks. Something heavy and unknown had filled his ears, and he no longer heard the ordinary sounds of life, not even the voice of Kuchak Khanoum who was saying with an air of disappointment , "My God, the washed clothes!"
It was raining. Gol-Agha was constantly turning from one side to another under his damp sheet, while in his head the myrtle, green rice fields and the newly bent clusters of rice were waving in the wind.