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The Splendour of Iran
Travel
Iran Travel

Payvand's Iran Literature ...

5/23/03
Short Story: Anti-Memory

By Katayoun Riahi
Translated by: Roya Monajem
Edited by: Katherine L. Clark

Daytime/inside a room:

There is the sound of footsteps approaching in dark. It gets closer and closer, then it stops and the door flings open with a dry sound. An intense light breaks into the dark room. A woman wearing a black chador is standing at the gate. The man accompanying her enters the room, switches on the light. Nothing happens. He tries other switches. At last a faint light starts to shine from the lamp hanging in the middle of the room. The woman is still standing at the gate opposite the direction of light.

Servant: Please wait here.

The woman enters the room hesitantly and suspiciously. She is still looking around when the door is closed behind her; for a second she seems shocked by the sound of the closing door. She appears to be doing her best to hold on to herself. Appearing exhausted, she drags herself toward the chair in the middle of the room and sits on it. We see a part of her face on the dark semicircular lamp bulb hanging from the ceiling. She takes a deep breath and looks around anxiously. In the faint light of the room, one can still see all the things inside it. In the middle where the woman is sitting, there is a round table with two chairs facing each other and there is a desk under the window with tightly drawn curtains with a lamp on it. The woman looks at it; it seems that the light turns on and off a few times just as it does when there is a leakage in the electrical circuit. After taking a good look around, a bitter smile appears on the woman's face. She puts her forehead gently on the table, and her shoulders start to tremble and a sound that it is not clear, either laughter or a cry, is heard. Then she calms down. For a few minutes a deadly silence reigns.

Flashback/the same place:

The woman's forehead is still on the table, and the sound of footsteps echoes in the corridor. The door opens. A man enters the room. The woman raises her head and gathers herself up. Her face looks younger. The man walks toward the table.

The Man: Hello.

The Woman whispers: Hello

The man puts the file he is holding on the table. He takes off his watch and puts it on the table, too. He then pulls back the chair which makes a shrieking sound and sits down. He takes his glasses out of the case and puts them on. Now we can see his face in silhouette. The woman is staring at him and his movements. The man opens the file and starts to read. There is silence for a few moments. Again the sound of footsteps is heard in the corridor approaching the door. But before the door is opened, the man says in a loud voice: "Come in..."

The woman is shaken by the sound and shifts herself on the chair. The door is opened, and another man holding a file under his armpit moves toward the desk and sits down and turns on the light on the table. Again the light keeps turning on and off a few times. The secretary stretches his arm in attempt to tighten the light bulb. The light stays on. The secretary sits down again, opens the file and starts to write. The woman is staring at the secretary when the man's voice brings her back to her senses.

The Man: Setareh Derakhshani?

The woman looks at him.

The Man: Are you Setareh Derakhshani?

The Woman: Yes.

Man: Are you sure?

Woman: Sorry?

Man: I said are you sure your name is Setareh Derakhshani?

Woman: Well...yes!

Man (in a serious, solemn voice): Your real name is...

Woman: Sedigheh Rajab Derakhshani.

Man: If there is one bright spot in your life, it is that you did not blemish this noble name...

The woman keeps quite. The man continues turning the pictures and papers in the file.

Man: But why did you change your name anyway?

Woman: Well, in those days, such names were not fashionable.

Man (in a sarcastic voice): So it was not fashionable!

The man finally finds what he is looking for in the file. He looks at the picture carefully, but prudently. In comparing the picture with the woman sitting before him, an air of doubt overshadows him. Then in a sudden move, he grabs the lamp hanging from the ceiling, reaching for the table and points it toward the woman's face. The light engulfs her whole face, and she seems uneasy and reacts. The man lets go of the lamp which starts to vacillate like a pendulum. He compares the photo he found in the file with Setareh's face. Now both the photo and her face are visible in the vacillating light.

Man (pointing to the photo): It does not look like you! It is not really surprising, with so much make up on...

Setareh (whispering): Everybody was like that in those days...

Man: Not everybody ... only Shah's scum and celibates and not decent people!

Woman looks down and keeps quite.

Man: Other than your doll-like masks and poses, didn't you have anything else to present? What about art? Popular art? Moralistic art? The kind of art whose goal is to educate people, to make them aware! The kind of art that intends to help a nation to advance, to progress! Wasn't there enough moral corruption surrounding people that you had to try to cultivate it even more...How could you blemish the scared word of love with lust and libido...

(He gives a sarcastic tone to his voice and continues.) Multiple love affairs, triangular, square... That's how you created role-models for the poor young people of this country?

Yes, Mrs. Sedigheh Rajab Rakhshani, the tyrannical, Imperialist, capitalist plan for this country was quite extensive.

Setareh listens while appearing deeply pensive.

Setareh (hesitating): You are right, thought-provoking intellectual films were seldom produced... I mean they made mostly popular commercial films...

Man interrupts her.

Man: People did not like those movies.

Setareh (prudently): But the movies I acted in sold well.

Man (furiously): What a shame. (He tries to control himself) Cinema should be a mirror of the society... Cinema should serve culture and public nobility.

Setareh: Yes...But that was the society of those days.

Man: Was it really that? Just going to discothèques and bothering about fashions. Wasn't there any problem in the society? No poverty, no unemployment, no addiction, no political prisoners... Don't you remember how widespread addiction was? They wanted people to be addicted. They distributed opium rations among people...Not surprising, addicts never protest...And the few of them that did protest were cleverly persecuted by the secret police... (Here he gives a regretful tone to his voice and continues); so much was going on in the prisons!

He again picks up Setareh's photo that he had examined before.

I saw this picture in prison for the first time... It was on the cover of a magazine...lying on my persecutor's desk...

Setareh (sympathetically): Were you a prisoner?

The man who appears to be staring at a bitter past comes to himself and pretends that he is just examining Setareh's file.

Setareh: I had a cousin who was in jail...he was a leftist, communist. (In a whispering sad voice) now his daughter is in jail...

The man casts a sharp look at Setareh who continues...

In those days I was not allowed to produce films with any kind of political content, let alone make anything on the situation of political prisoners...

Man: Who had banned the production of such movies?

Setareh: The government, the office of censorship.

Man: Well (pointing to the secretary), Brother, are you writing down everything?

Secretary: Yes brother, I am busy with it.

The man removes his spectacles, stands up and starts to walk.

Man: So you confess that there was an extensive oppression and suppression under our previous hateful regime? From clerics to leftists, religious students to writers, artists, white and blue collar workers, all were equally affected by their rule. But everything is over now... now people can breathe freely. They can experience freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought...You see how people are becoming more aware and enlightened as time passes. How their faith becomes stronger. Our people are truly revolutionary. They are familiar with pure lofty ideals....They will never accept decline of mores again. You will see how these sacred popular ideals will define art, how these revolutionary barefooted people will make true popular cinema... They will turn public media into a university.

The man is now standing in front of the woman. He puts his hands on the table, stares at the woman's eyes for a little while, then while sitting down and putting on his spectacles he continues:

Man: You see that there is no place remaining for degenerated corrupted elements. The Shah's regime and his scum are thrown into the dustbin of history.

Setareh's face is completely covered with sweat. She tries to dry it with a handkerchief. Her throat feels dry and she coughs. The man looks at her stealthily.

Man: Did they force you to act in those movies?

Setareh (while coughing): No...

Man: Did they force you to play those scenes?

Setareh: No...(and while coughing she continues) I...

Man: Did they make you drunk or high with drugs?

Setareh: Please...(still coughing)...I have already written all this down in my previous interrogations...it is a long time...

Setareh can now hardly talk because of her cough getting increasingly worse. She utters the last words with great difficulty. She intends to continue, but she can't.

The Man turns to the secretary and says: Tell them to bring us a cup of tea. (Addressing Setareh) Would you like a cup of tea?

Setareh: Water if possible...

The secretary picks up the phone and whispers quietly. The Man is examining her file again, when suddenly something attracts his attention.

Man: What are these papers? Hundred mattresses...ten rolls of fabric...children’s slippers... (He separates the papers and hands them to the secretary)...you have put these in this file by mistake...

The secretary stands up to take them. He looks at them and whispers something in the Man's ear and jots down further explanations on a piece of paper. The Man takes them and puts them back in the file. The Secretary goes back to his seat.

Man: Did you send these?

Setareh (looks at the papers): Yes.

Man: To whom?

Setareh: Sometimes to places where they look after old people and sometimes...

Man (interrupting her): Were you trying to show off? Or...

Setareh (While still coughing, she interrupts him): God knows.

Before the knocking on the door is actually heard, the Man shouts: Come in.

Setareh is shocked by his shout. The servant enters the room carrying a jar of water and a glass on a tray. She puts them on the table and leaves.

Setareh pours herself a glass of water cautiously. She picks up the glass and intends to offer it to the Man, but he pretends to be preoccupied with the file. She forgets the idea, but she sees the secretary watching her stealthily. She offers the water to him. The secretary refuses her offer by shaking his head. Setareh drinks the water.

Man: It is written here that you used to work in a night club too.

Setareh: (She stops drinking water and brings down the glass): that is not true.

Man: What did you say?

Setareh: That is not true. That was merely a scene from a movie... I did deny it before.

Man (while exchanging eyes with the secretary in a sarcastic way): What are you addicted to?

Setareh: I am not an addict. I don't even smoke cigarettes... I had said...

Man (interrupts her): Why didn't you list your possession in your written statements?

Setareh: I have only one small apartment. Last year I handed over the ownership papers for my release...

Man: To which political party do you belong?

Setareh: I really never understood politics...

Man: What about now? (In a sarcastic tone) do you understand it better now?

Setareh: Well, when circumstances change...As you mentioned, this revolution and the consequent developments have been quite effective in bringing about more awareness... As Dr. Shariati said, "The myth of gold, power and hypocrisy could not last longer... and this is a historical necessity...”

The Man tries subtly to hide his surprise with Setareh's speech. He then interrupts her indifferently.

Man: How do you know Dr. Shariati?

Setareh: One day we were doing a movie on Shemiran's road. Suddenly, there was an insurgence...They said that Dr. Shariati was giving a speech in Hosseinieh Ershad...I did not know who he was then... but now that his books are published...

Setareh likes to talk about the books she has read, but the Man does not show any interest and poses his next question.

Setareh: Nothing. I try to keep myself busy with reading and other things, but (she sighs) I have a question.

The telephone starts to ring. The secretary picks it up and says a few words in a whispering voice. He then calls the Man and points to the phone. The Man gets up and walks toward the phone. There is no chance for Setareh to pose her question.

Man: Hello. (He apparently is shocked a bit) Yes. Yes. Where are you calling from?... (He seems quite surprised now) How did you get in?Yes I did say it, but...Listen to me. Listen to me. But I said.

It is clear that the other person has disconnected the line. The Man puts the phone down and appears desperate.

Man (addressing the secretary): You may go.

The secretary starts to pick up his things.

Man: Mrs. Rakhshani, unfortunately we have to postpone the rest of the interrogation to another time...There are people who would like to see you in person... To tell you the truth I must confess...

There is the sound of approaching footsteps in the corridor. Before the Man finishes his sentence, the door is opened. A few women and a girl, all in black chadors, and a young man enter the room. Setareh gets up from her chair. The secretary leaves by opening his way through these people. One of the women who entered the room first walks toward Setareh and kisses her. She appears very excited and speaks joyfully and fast.

Woman: I am so happy to see you...I swear from the minute that Hajji said he was interrogating you, we have been talking about you every night...

The Man is standing in a corner and looks at the scene nervously and wrathfully.

Man: Hajji Khanoum (madam).

Woman (ignoring him): Then my sister and my husband's sister (she points to them) heard the news too.

Man (nervously): Hajji Khanoum.

Woman: We thought we must see you...so we made Hajji to promise us...

Man (raising his voice a little bit): Hajji Khanoum, please come here.

Woman (without taking her eyes off Setareh): Very well, I am coming...please excuse me, I'll be back soon.

The Man takes his wife to a corner and they talk quietly. It is clear that the Man is desperate and the woman tries to calm him down mischievously. Setareh seems a bit confused. But she tries to control herself. The rest of the women and the young girl surround her. One of them who seems younger kisses Setareh's face; the other one takes out a notebook and asks Setareh to sign it.

Setareh (shyly): I don't have a pen.

The young girl looks around and picks up a pen from her father's desk and hands it to Setareh who gets busy with signing. The Man and his wife are still talking. A little girl is standing next to the Man and keeps pulling his sleeve and calling him.

Little girl: Dad...Dad...(nervously)...Daaaaaaaaad.

When she sees her father not paying any attention to her and is busy talking to her mother, she looks at the desk and starts to walk toward it. She sees Setareh's photograph sticking out of the file. She takes it out and looks at it and hides it under her small chador.

The young man takes out his camera from the case and while he tries not to look at Setareh directly, he prepares it to take photos.

The women keep on posing questions. Setareh seems increasingly confused and does not find a chance to answer their questions.

The Sister: Do you know that there are now videos of your movies?

Husband's Sister: Wow... a few nights ago, we watched "Neighbors" together... although I had seen it before, but I cried again.

The flashlight fills the room, and everybody turns toward the light, even the couple who is still talking and arguing. The Man seems absolutely restless.

Man (protesting): Wait a minute... What are you doing Mohammad?

The Woman moves toward them.

The Woman: Wait a minute... your father is right. It is better not to use the flash to have better photographs.

While still talking, she moves toward the window and draws back the curtain. Daylight fills the room. They start to take photos. Each one of them and sometimes two of them stand next to Setareh and the young man takes their photo nervously.

The Woman (addressing her husband in a quiet voice): Would anybody try to enter the room?

Without answering her, the Man moves toward the door and stands next to the door when he hears his wife asking:

The Woman: Hajji, wouldn't you like to join us?

Without saying a word, the man leaves the room and closes the door firmly.

The Woman: Be calm and easy. Nobody will come in. And she starts removing her chador and the rest of the women follow her example too. They are all wearing chic colorful dresses. They prepare themselves for the next series of photos. Only Setareh and that little girl who hid Setareh's photo under her chador keep them on.

The Woman places herself next to Setareh.

The Woman: I have loved Cinema since I was a child. When we were fiancés, Hajji and I regularly went to the movies. We have seen all your films.

The young man takes a photo. His mother protests. The Woman: Common, tell us before you actually take the photo. I wasn't ready.

The young man whispers.

The Woman: No, wait a minute, (addressing Setareh) please remove your chador, or at least allow your face to be seen clearly.

Setareh opens up her chador a little bit to make her face seen better.

The Woman: That's better... we are ready.

There is a clicking sound of the camera. Now the women all place themselves around Setareh. Each one tries to be closer to her than the rest.

The Woman: Now take a close-up... and then say 'cut.'

She looks at Setareh while laughing. Hearing the woman use such terms, Setareh smiles too.

The Young Man (looking surprised): What did you say I must say?

The Woman (while laughing heartily): Say 'cut.'

The sound of the word 'cut' and the clicking of the camera mix. The young man has used the flash again to brighten the scene and the echo of the word cut gives way to the dry sound of the door opening wide. Further light enters the room from outside.

Returning to Present time:

As the door opens, Setareh raises her head from the table. Her face looks tired and old now. The pressure from the edge of the table has left a trace on her forehead. She sort of narrows her eyes to see who has entered the room. A young woman in chador is standing in front of her and says something that Setareh does not hear properly. She is still confused.

Young Woman: Excuse me... You have been waiting for a long time. I had to search for it really hard.

The young woman hands Setareh some ownership documents. Setareh takes them, puts on her glasses and looks at them.

Young Woman: You could have picked them up a long time ago? Why didn't you come earlier?

Setareh just smiles and does not answer.

Young Woman: Anyhow, please forgive me for asking you to wait here. I thought you would prefer to be alone rather than stay in that room with so many people coming in and leaving.... (She takes out a piece of paper and a pen from her pocket). Would you write a few lines for me...

Setareh (takes the paper and the pen): Sorry for making so much trouble for you.

She writes "with the hope of better tomorrows" and signs. The sound of a telephone ringing is heard from outside. The young woman gets nervous, takes the paper, thanks Setareh and leaves the room hurriedly. Setareh looks at the documents and puts them in her bag. While standing up, her chador falls on her shoulders. She pauses for a second and removes her chador and puts it in her bag.

Daytime/ In Street:

Setareh is walking without a chador in the street. She is wearing an old pair of sunglasses. She is walking slowly and tiredly. Some of the people who pass and recognize her show a reaction. She approaches a crossroad and stops in front of a series of big advertisements to take a taxi. There are huge, colorful glistering posters of new films on those stands.

A taxi passes her. She shouts: Vali Asr Street...



The Last Great Revolution

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