Written by Taimaz Afsari
Translated by Sadegh Geranbaha
Illustrate by Sara Dehghan
I think a bug on a plain light-green leaf is as gloomy as Sara’s eyes. This is what I think. I think cameras and pencils, belts and bras are all gloomy; I sometimes even see them with their heads on their knees as if to say, “Go away, I’m not in the mood.”
In the morning, my father and mother smell like something like lemons—I have my yellow towel draped on my shoulder, trying not to feel it on the skin of my neck—my father is sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper—I go ahead and sit across from him—my mother is standing by the stove checking on the coffee pot—these days, I don’t know, I have this feeling, as if, all the time, I want to shout, “My brothers! How I want you all—with the precious, warm blood running through your veins!” I’m insane.
“The Parliament is all a vegetable,” Father says, “What will become of the people, then?”
“The Parliament was ours; now it’s their turn,” Mother remarks, “it was obvious from the beginning what would happen this time.”
“Why don’t you eat your breakfast?” Father asks looking at me over the newspaper.
“I’m waiting for Mom to bring the coffee.”
“This isn’t coffee, my dear,” Mother says, “It’s a kind of mushroom. To make you young and all. Want some?”
“Have some!” Father says, “It’s not bad. It’s mushroom from the stem of a Chinese plant. Mr. Hung brought it to the office yesterday. We gave them their order and they left.”
Mother takes the coffee pot from the stove and holds it in front of my face—a bunch of tangled, murky strands are floating in a thin, yellow liquid.
“Smell it. See how nice it smells! Want me to pour you some?”
I look at the dark strands. They come together and form a baby’s mouth. The mushroom says to me, “Don’t eat me! Don’t eat me! I’m a sad Chinese girl sitting under an Otsaaviska tree waiting for my fiancé, Shiyooreen. My name is Sukuda. Shiyooreen should be here any minute. Now, the wind is blowing across the meadow making my dress cling to my shins. All my hair is standing on end. Look at that hill. It was on that hill that Shiyooreen waved at me and said, ‘After I get my own back from the master, I’ll come for you on my horse and we’ll get out of this hell.’ Now I think he’s late. I fear he might have gone mad, Shiyooreen, with those sharp eyes of his. This morning, when I was leaving, I bundled up the food and told my mother: ‘I’m taking Shiyooreen some food.’ Father was tired—he was frowning. ‘It’s windy today,’ mother said. ‘Take care of yourself.’ Now the wind is blowing across the meadow—just like the day Shiyooreen kissed me for the first time under this tree here. He bit my lower lip and said, ‘Me and you and the sword—only for us to be free.’ Now the grass is waving—a dry leaf separated from the tree, gently floating down to the ground. I will sit right here and if Shiyooreen doesn’t come back, I, too, will die with the last leaf of the tree.”
“My arm’s tired—should I pour some or not?”
“No,” I tell my mother. “You don’t drink it either. Shiyooreen will have to come back.”
I get up and leave the kitchen. I should get ready. It might get late. I go into my room and stand in front of the mirror on the wall. I run my hand through my curly hair, pull down my shorts and let them slip down on the floor and step out of them. I take off my T-shirt and toss it onto the bed. It seems like I’m getting fat. I’m growing a pot belly. I put on my blue shirt—it’s wrinkled, but I only need the collar. I pull on my navy jeans and do the buttons one by one. The bottom one first (Oh, boy), then the second (Don’t do that, you fool), the third (Yeah—come on—now), the fourth (Oh, what are you doing to me?), and the last . . .
All right, it’s over. It’s good nobody saw me; it would have made them sick. My striped blue pullover that I like, is on the chair. I put it on. Not bad. If I had the time I would stand in front of the mirror from dawn to dusk. But now I’ll put my green cap on my head sideways. I let a ringlet slip out of the cap on my forehead—this way I look better. I grab my bag. As I leave the room, my mother is standing in front of the kitchen, watching me.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah—I’m fine,” I answer. “I might be back late.”
My shoes open their mouth and shout (Oh my god—how thick—it’s like nothing I’d ever seen before!) I shove my feet deep in their throats so they cut the crap.
Good-bye Father! Good-bye Mother! Good-bye Sukuda! I hope it stays cloudy today.
No one knows how long it will take if you want to walk along this long road without thinking about Sara. A year? A decade? A century?
I think I don’t give a rat’s ass about all these people who have cars. I think being inside these cars is totally different from being outside of them. I have this feeling that if the people sitting in these cars were to be objects, most of them would be one of those stamped crystal vases, or maybe . . . some candlestick or a dessert plate or something like that—but I’m handsome; if I were an object, I would be one of those old double-knobbed wooden radios covered in dust on a ledge. If Sara were an object, she would be something like tweezers or a shiny cosmetics pot.
I slip my hands into my pocket, fish out my money and count it. I’ve got two two-thousand-toman bills, a one-thousand and a five-hundred, which adds up to fifty-five hundred tomans. If I get coffee and Sara, as usual, some Nescafé, I can get her a piece of chocolate cake, too. But if Sara decides to have the “Special Dish,” I will have to go with a glass of water. I put the money back in my pocket—I’m at the university entrance now. Students are going in and coming out every now and then. I still have at least half an hour to spare before Sara shows up. I’d better wait at this other side of the street. I can take a peek at the shops—Sara prefers that her friends not see me.
This cosmetics store would work. The storekeeper is a young lady. She’s standing in the corner, in front of the colorful boxes of the perfumes. There is also a boy and a girl who are buying something—and she, with her artificially patient look, is conjuring up different things and talking about them—I think the boy is saying, “She and I really go together well. Cut the price a just little bit, at least.” The girl accompanying him says, “He’s my seventh boyfriend. I hope this one marries me. Don’t ruin it for God’s sake!” “Smell this perfume now,” the storekeeper says—“I agree with you but I really like your white-gold bracelet—how much?” No, that is not what they are saying. I have to go in. When I enter, I feel like I’m here to rob the store with a stocking pulled over my head. The saleswoman eyes me over. I’m about to say, “Hands up you dirty bitches,” but I say, “Hello.” She nods to me as a reply. I walk past the sanitary-pad and diaper metal shelves and go towards the aftershave display—they all look the same—the blushes and powders are laid out next to them.
“Nazanin, come please, we have a customer,” the saleswoman calls out.
A second girl shows up from behind the large shampoo and detergent shelves. Her face seems as if she’s saying, “Oh, how rude!”
She moves towards me slowly. “May I help you?” she asks.
“Can I take a look at the nail polish?”—all of a sudden, thunder crashes—really loud—it seems like it is going to rain. “Seems like it’s going to rain,” I say.
“Yes—here’s the nail polish—what color do you want?”
“Umm! I’m not sure. A color that won’t stick out. I mean, not one that doesn’t stick out. Some color that, when you put it on, your nails say, ‘Phew, what a relief!’”
“Excuse me? What’s that supposed to mean?”
This way of talking goes best with her face. (Oh, how rude!)
“Well, how about this color?” she asks.
“No . . . there’s something about it. This red is, kind of, scratching you. Not that it’s too loud . . . or that it’s a color a loose girl might wear. It’s a pretty decent color but not a good red. It’s something like a summer noon when you are also sexually frustrated—you know what I mean?”
The girl looks at me. She is trying to figure out what I mean—or maybe she is even trying to understand my words the other way round—Sara would understand if she were here.
“What about this one? It’s white—and it doesn’t stand out either.”
She’s grinning from ear to ear when I say, “Can I try it on?”
“Where? On my nail?”
“No, on mine.”
“There you go,” she sneers at me.
I screw open the bottle and brush some on my right thumbnail. The white color faints and flops on my fingernail. I open up the red nail polish and spread it on my forefinger nail. Like a genie out of a lamp, the strong smell of the nail polish drifts into my nose playing in my head, roaring with laughter. The boy and girl are done shopping. They leave the shop. Oh How Rude gives the signal for the other to come. She joins us as if she’s seen something interesting.
“Try this one.”
“But this is yellow—” I say, “and it’s school-bus yellow. Do people actually wear yellow nail polish?”
“Oh, It’s so much pretty, isn’t it, Mitra?
“Well,” she says, “some people like it.”
My middle finger is yellow now.
“That one is purple—get him the purple one, Nazanin.”
“No. I want a color that goes with your sorrow—purple is so—how do I put it—I don’t think you ever had the feeling that a nook of your brain is purple, did you?”
The two girls look at each other with a chuckle. Behind them, the woman on the shampoo bottle, who has her hair hanging on her bare shoulders, bites her lip to say, “Cut it out. Stop talking. Enough!”
“What about black? It’s really gloomy.”
My last finger turns black. I don’t understand why they don’t get it. Why the hell am I standing here explaining it to them? I bet I look so ridiculous.
“This pink one is so pretty.”
This is what the “other one” said—as if taking pity on me—I look at her—my one hand is all done. I need to try it on my other hand. I turn pink.
“How old is she anyway?”
“About my age. Or your age.”
“How about this? It’s salmon pink. Different from pink—it’s warmer.”
Oh How Rude is not speaking anymore, she is just dying from laughter and surprise. I want to leave; my forefinger turns salmon. I don’t know why I don’t leave. I’m holding back tears.
“This is ocher. Give it a try—it’s cool.”
I paint my middle finger ocher. I look at the woman on the shampoo bottle—she’s turned her back on me. I set the ocher nail polish on the counter.
“I want to go.”
They both burst into laughter.
“Oh dear! Where do you want to go now? How about some remover?”
I turn my back to them. I’m about to leave the store when I catch sight of the cans of baby food laid out in a corner. There is a picture of a mother on them, cuddling and squeezing her baby in her arms. They smell of candy.
“How much are these?” I ask.
“Do you want them for yourself?”
“Nope, it’s for my baby.”
They burst out laughing again.
“I said I need two of these. How much are they?”
Oh How Rude is bent over the counter with laughter. The other one makes an effort to suppress her laughter. She pokes Oh How Rude in the ribs with her elbow and says, “Two thousand and five hundred tomans.”
“Give me two.”
I take the two cans of baby food and put five thousand tomans on the counter. I walk out of the store. The rain leaps onto my shoulders like a genie jumping up and down. The smell of the nail polish in my head booms in a deep voice, “You did the right thing to leave, you did the right thing—that’s right—at least it’s raining now.” I look at my watch—I’m late. Sara is standing across from me, in front of the university entrance. With her red backpack and jacket. She is waiting.
I shove the cans into my shoulder bag and run to her. How am I supposed to take her somewhere and buy her a coffee now? “Why are you so late?” she complains. “Aren’t you ever on time? It’s been fifteen minutes.”
Her cheeks are blushed and wet. Her lips are dry from the cold.
“That’s it? I’m all wet. Come on now,” she says. “Let’s go find a place to relax. Straighten out you cap. What’s with your look?”
I straighten up my cap. Water seeps through my pullover and dampens my shirt. How am I supposed to take her somewhere and buy her a coffee now? “What’s the matter? What are you lagging behind for? Come on already! They will see us. I’m soaked to my skin.”
“But Sara . . .”
“Well . . . why not go for a short walk?”
“Are you nuts? I’m telling you I’m all wet. I’m freezing.”
I stop and look at her. She comes to a stop, too.
“Oh, good God! What is it now? I’m sick and tired of it. Again we’re out and you start acting weird!”
She catches sight of my colored fingers. Tears well up in her eyes. Her lips twist. She holds my fingers in her hands.
“What the hell are these? You big idiot!” She breaks down in tears.“You big idiot!”
She lets go of my hands, leaving them up in the air. Her footsteps echo in my head: Thud, thud, thud. Her hips look like toys, bouncing up and down under her red backpack as she walks away. I start to cry. The nail-polish smell scratches my brain with his fingernails. It says, “Let’s go! Let’s go! Come on, let’s go!”
“I wanted to buy you a nail polish!” That’s what I want to shout, but I don’t. “Shut up!” I snap at the nail-polish smell.
I think a bug on a plain light-green leaf is as gloomy as Sara’s eyes. I think that even if a raindrop falls on the leaf and washes away the bug, the equation still holds.
It’s half past two in the afternoon. I’m soaked to the bone.
My father and mother are not home. I put the key in the lock. The door opens its two legs and says, “Hey! Yeah!” I pull my feet out of the shoes’ throats. “Eww! You dirty degenerate,” they both say together. I don’t listen to them. I take off my sweater and throw it on the couch.
I walk into the kitchen—Dad’s newspaper is on the table. Next to it is my mother’s full cup of mushroom, untouched since the morning. I take the cans out of my bag and put them on the table. I unbutton my shirt, grab a spoon, sit at the table and open one of the cans. I fill my spoon with the yellow powdered baby food and put it in my mouth—it sticks to the bottom of my throat and my whole body goes slack. My eyes are burning. I think Shiyooreen must be back by now.
Born in 1982, Taimaz Afsari is a writer, composer, and songwriter. His first collection of short stories, Colored Sleeves, was nominated for the Golshiri Award in 2011. His story “Tilted Lights” was short-listed for the Ghalam Zarrin Award. He coauthored three screenplays and wrote songs for several albums. His second collection of short stories, Father and Loud Voice, and his album, Mr. T’s Secrets, are due out soon. (Updated Oct. 2012)
Sara Dehghan was born in 1983 in Tehran. Her works have been featured in several gallery exhibitions. She was a prize winner at VOVA Miniart, the International biennale of miniatures, in 2009, Hungary. She teaches painting and photography and currently lives in Tehran. (Updated Oct. 2012)
This story was originally published in Persian, in:
Afsari, Taimaz. Colored Sleeves [Astin-ha-ye rangi]. Tehran, Ney, 2009.