This excerpt from Alimorad Fadaienia’s The Book of Shapur is part of a three-website collaboration. You can find notes on the translation process by Leigh Shulman on Matador Network’s The Traveler’s Notebook. You can also download the entire novella on Shulman’s personal website, The Future Is Red. Fifty percent of the proceeds from your purchase of the full novella will go to charity. See The Future Is Red for more details.
When I get to the hotel, the smiling deskman portends bad things and I am right. He gestures to a woman sitting on the couch in a corner of the lobby. And from here, I see only her salt and pepper hair and when I can almost see her profile, she sees me. There is no time to run away. Although I am really tired. I didn’t talk to a woman on the phone and I was not waiting for a woman. My thoughts are lining up. I see her hand come toward me and with no choice I shake her hand and start to say how are you, with no choice, and that is the way of life no choice, apparently. Automatically, without thinking, we go and sit down where the woman had been seated. So quickly you got to know the city. It shows that the deskman talked and that gentleman gave her a full report about my day or so here. I wonder if I should ask her what sort of relationship she has with the person I talked to, but she should be the one to say it. Instead, she talks nonsense. She says I heard a lot about you. I want to ask her if she sees anything good in this face, but with a person with whom you still make small talk, how can you ask for truth. I say, Thank you. Do you like our city? It is a stupid question which I answer correctly. It has clean busses. I don’t say that I love the clean busses and if I ever become rich, I will buy a bus. To say it is pointless to someone you only know for a few minutes and you don’t know what’s going on. She says, We tried hard to get in touch with you. We even called late. Now why do you act like a stranger and come to a hotel. If I ask her how can I be close with someone I’ve just met, I just prove my stupidity. It is exile sickness. I tell a lie. She says, he overslept. He couldn’t come to the appointment, and he regretted it very much. I didn’t ask what kind of time was that for sleeping, maybe he worked the graveyard shift. Although, he made the appointment, not me. Now if you know it’s an important appointment, an alarm clock could have solved that problem thirty, forty years ago, now, for sure, there must be something that doesn’t leave a person with regrets. Then, it gets much worse. She says, you know he spoke on the radio here, you didn’t hear that? Now, if that’s the way it’s going to be, my devilish side must come out. I say, actually, I didn’t stay that long. I called my wife’s relatives (which I don’t have). And I didn’t get home until late, that’s why, when you called, I wasn’t here. (Fuck the deskman who says what he wants to say, yes, I know the one who works the day shift and the night are different, I saw three of them.) Now, how are you? she says. I say, you know at this age, I get jetlag, now it’s time for me to go to bed. And I’ve been trying these two days not to sleep, to get used to the time change, but it hasn’t happened. She says, he is very busy. Everybody wants to know. I want to say, I am not everybody, I’m not just after the story. She says, He is not OK yet. I want to say, what do you mean, OK? As long as he saved his life long enough to bring it to radio and entertain people with it. I didn’t say it. And a yawn arrives to help me, and I help it along too. I think she got the hint. She sees all those things about me aren’t true. She says, I came to take you to our house (still she doesn’t say what kind of relationship she has with him, I don’t see a ring on her finger). But now you are tired. Rest if you want to, I’ll come back this evening, there’s a small group of our friends. You won’t have a bad time. No, for years I’ve wanted people to stay away from me. I didn’t come for a party, I just came for some information—or the package they mentioned—which I can’t get through a phone. I want to see this person. I want to talk. I have questions, why, I’m a moron, I still don’t know. I tell her, the truth is I’m meeting an acquaintance this evening. And with a foreigner you can’t set a meeting and not go. It’s their tradition and it’s very important for them. I’ll call you tomorrow. (Still, I don’t know you.) She doesn’t get it yet. Better. If I finish things with the proper formality, it is much better. Then another yawn comes, and it is the height of rudeness. Such boorishness, it comes of its own accord, I do nothing to bring it. You take a vacation, you take a plane, and now this. You are running away from knowing this information. This is how things are these days. She stands up, she says, so we’ll wait for your phone call. I want to say, mourning is not for radio shows, but instead I say ok and don’t even invite her for a coffee, it is their city, not mine, not even just for this moment. I walk with her to the hotel lobby and thank her for bothering to come, even though a message could have done the job just as well. It means I am not happy to see you. I am not doing anything really. I am contemptuous, maybe, I should be, a lot too. As she walks away, she looks twenty years older. I know I’m unfair.
I come back and in my pidgin language tell the front deskman, Even though you see me, you don’t see me. Do you want your message? he says. I say, Yes, thank you. I don’t read it. I tear it apart in the elevator. I throw it in the garbage when I reach my room. Lucky and satisfied that everything is going well. It is going well. We call this dumb luck. My part is paying for the trip and sitting in a café for a couple hours. I paid. I am finished. The next plan, it comes on its own. This is a joyful city and discovery brings me even more joy. I go downstairs. The desk clerk is sitting behind his desk talking. I ask him if he knows of a cheaper hotel around here. He says, Yes, it’s a small and friendly one. I say, Where do they sell the best wine in the city. He tells me, around here. He gives me the address. I say, I’ll come back soon. I go. I buy. I come back and I give it to him and I say I would appreciate it if you’d call and make a reservation for me. He says, You have to pay for today, because it’s past noon. I say OK, so for tomorrow.
Happy with the short trip, I tell myself, you lost millions and so did they, one or two, won’t make a difference for the three of us. And I walk toward the flower I saw yesterday.
It is still there, and it is one day younger. When the leaves around it fall down, and the trees become bare and the lawn barely breathes with the help of city water or even without it. The skies are blue. The earth’s form is so alien to this blue and you enjoy just watching it, and I am watching it and it seems like this piece of blue came here from the land I left behind and grew big and took over the whole sky. And it can’t be any better than this and I am looking for a bench and find it and I sit without any fear or any pain and between the silence of the car noises, and lines of afternoon light make shade in front of me. All of us accept the fear that comes suddenly from I don’t know where.
Now, from here and while napping, I close my eyes and open my eyes. I see some pigeons are having a long conversation about the seeds they eat, and they are walking around the iron fences which separate the small gardens between the street and the pavement and as they coo I close my eyes, I am near the shrine. All around me is empty, there is no one here and its turquoise comes to watch me and I am full of its scent and I know that I am napping and I feel the silence of the shrine on my cheeks which are wet like a wetness of rain or the dew of dawn. I want to dry my wet cheeks with the handkerchief I don’t have. I see there is a sweet smell on my cheeks and no one is around to see it, much better. The turquoise, the strange silence, and I continue in our revelry.
Opening my eyes, I see the shrine pigeons, one of them comes near my feet and is bobbing its head to make sure no one comes to disturb my nap. Poor thing doesn’t know that disturbance doesn’t always come from the outside, sometimes when tranquility says goodbye, something has to take its place and for now this light is doing that, more dear without dread, for now.
For now, I tell myself hey, most of your life has gone and you are still ignorant, wake up and. And this thought is truncated. The colors and words and streets force me to see my nap is a dream and quickly, I stop myself; I know if I don’t stop, things will happen to me that happened to many people I knew. Somehow, I dry my face and force myself to walk the street in the dusky sun, its strangeness is friendly with a New York strangeness.
Now, which afternoon is this? So come, we are a small group, you would like it. What does she mean? Take a vacation, get a headache from flying only to come here and be told you will like it, it won’t be bad. What’s going on? All three of us speak Farsi. These two people have information from a person who was very important in my past life, very personal, and I came to hear it. Not really hear it. These two people have a message from this loved one of mine, and after years of searching, they found my address. I don’t know what this message could be. My dear one, if I have only this message from him, it means we’ll see each other the day after the resurrection. It’s worth it to say yes. It’s worth it to say no, when we see each other in the afterlife, then we’ll talk about it. He wasn’t in his right mind. But anyway, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve been turned inside out, you have to keep some of your principles. I’m in trouble for just these principles and now a third person says please come to our small get together. Maybe you will hear the story from the radio, too. Light a cigarette.
I don’t have a cigarette, and my walking gets me to this new clean, cobblestone street, and on both sides it has brick face shops and its mortar occasionally grows green to say this is a wet country. And this city I think is similar to our northern region, and it is, but without the aroma of mirza ghasme and without mirza kuchak but it has me and I’m not even the neighbor of a soldier. Let it go.
It is a beautiful thing to let go, and I see it’s a lie, and I start walking slowly and I am thinking that his eyes were the color of a deer, deer eyes. And I’ve heard news of what they did with their eyes, and the copper color brushed me, I cut off the news, incompletely heard. I don’t want to believe it. If you digest the news straight, you don’t know what effect it will have on you, because you haven’t experienced it before. I’ve seen people that took in this kind of news whole and they become somehow different because you can never guess what they’ll do next. And when you don’t know what a person will do, you know where they belong. And I don’t want to be there. Lately, I tread much more cautiously, and I am right. When bad things come from everywhere, you have no right to fall down. Or if you want to fall, you should fall so you can’t stand up again, if not, what’s the use in falling.
What sort of thinking is this, I say to that pigeon shrine which still walks with me in my mind and start watching the shops where they sell things for which I have no use, and I think when I go back I have to buy gifts for one or two people, and what to buy I’ll leave that for the last day I am here and I have no choice. Always when I have no choice, I do what I need to do. And so far, this no choice wasn’t bad. I came on this trip, which I wanted to do, not by force, and so far whether good or bad is unclear.
By the way, she didn’t say a word about the other one. Maybe they crossed the other one’s name out. I think her voice occupies my thoughts, I know her voice. Why, stupid, didn’t I ask her. I wanted to cut the conversation short. I wanted to run away from talking to her. And it happened, what good luck.
Singing has a choice and no choice, my walking becomes trotting and I am a rider, riding above the crowd when I stop at an intersection and look at the normal people and see something from the old days and it seems like I am watching a movie, especially because I don’t know this people’s language at all, and this helps me unconsciously to be sure that I won’t talk to anyone until I get hungry or have to ask for directions and this is good, very good, because my way back to the hotel is no different than leaving it.
When I reach the hotel, I am exhaustion. On the west side of the lobby, I see the profile of a person I think I know, and the deskman—who is just starting his shift—is busy—quick—not by elevator—I take the steps to my room, distracted by God-knows-what in my shortness of breath. When I get to my room, I see the light from the window has the same problem as me, and the evening becomes sunset, and days here, apparently, are shorter than New York days, which really shouldn’t be the case. Mostly, it is shadow light that enters, and I think it’s clouded light, and really it is, and I see my window becomes wet, and I sit, hungry, watching the rain, which is not yet real rain.
Still, I am learning on this trip. I’m hungry, and as the saying goes travel makes hunger stronger, I was walking most of the afternoon and am wondering if I should go for food or watch the wetness and always because life has to have something less, something more to find a balance, then the not-closed door opened more, and he is standing in the doorway, with a shy smile and a face twenty, thirty years older than the last time I saw him in the airport. I recognize him without thinking. How, it was a miracle. When he sees I have been checkmated, he says, you didn’t recognize me, with a clear-throated voice, which sounds like it has never smelled a cigarette, another miracle. I offer him a chair. He is more tired than I am, although when I came in, I saw him sitting on the couch. Not quite sitting, he was trying to relax. Maybe he ran up the steps too. He wears his raincoat still. He says, I remember your face from that time I came to say goodbye to you, I thought you were his other brother, who would be in Tehran now if the news is correct. His breathing had not yet returned to normal. I hope you forgive me for not showing up yesterday, I will tell you at the right time, he says. Then, a smile sits on his lips. Now I see that some of his teeth have been influenced by a Rudaki poem I read in high school. He says, I should tell you now, it is God’s will for both of us, he says. His loss caused pain for his family, but me. He does not say you can see what has happened, but I don’t quite see it yet. Then he says, I am scared of people, of crowds. I drive a cab at night, it took a long time to find your address, your name isn’t in the telephone book, can I smoke in your room, I started smoking when I left. I say to him, let’s go downstairs and have a tea. More, it seems he obeys. I am tired and I am thinking if he hadn’t come, I would be unconscious in my bed right now, and now the opposite is the case.
Alimorad Fadaienia was born in Iran and moved to the United States in the nineteen seventies. He is a prolific writer of short stories and novels, very few of which have been translated into English. His Thirty-Seventh of Tales of the Nameless is the first piece of fiction published in this magazine. He currently resides in New York City.
Leigh Shulman is a traveler, writer, and translator currently living in Salta, Argentina, where she is developing an educational project to teach English through photography and technology. She is also editor of Matador Life. You can read more about Leigh and her travels on her blog, The Future Is Red.
The turquoise hints at the shrine of Imam Reza, the Eighth Iman of Iran. This particular shrine, located in eastern Iran, has in front of it a large turquoise rock given to it by miners.
Mirza ghasme is a Persian eggplant casserole people eat in the north of Iran. Mirza Kouchak is a military hero from the same area. Click here see a video on how to prepare the dish.
In the Persian poet Abu Abullah Rudaki’s Lament in Old Age, the author writes of getting older (including losing his teeth). Full text of Rudaki’s Lament can be found here.