Our acquaintance began in a used bookstore, which had recently opened; we were interested in the same book. And, I believe, our acquaintance was my fault. Something in his face did not correspond to the book, a volume of poetry, he wanted. This contradiction made me want to speak with him. Yet his face could have been that of a killer. No, not his face, his eyes, they had a poison that, clearly, is the sourcelight of murder. How I came to that, I don’t know; but when he looked at me and said, you saw the book first, it’s yours, it struck me. I mean, instead of being pleased with his generosity I was terrified from his tone of voice and his gaze. To be exact, when he looked at me a sharp pain shot throughout my spine. He understood immediately since he took off his tinted glasses (which, I could see, were readers he did need because the book’s title had large print). In reply to his offer I said, I was looking for this title only out of curiosity, it’s yours. You are just being polite, he said, in these days poetry and poets have no value and one who reads poetry is not interested in amusement; the book is yours, let’s ask if they have more copies, but if they don’t let me borrow it so I can make a copy; then I’ll return it. He seemed to speak earnestly, but then I realized his gentle tone was a ruse to convince me that we both belonged to the same world in which “poetry must be shared.” And this, did not match his eyes that warned: say a word to the contrary and I’ll cut your throat. I wanted to leave immediately, but I realized it was impossible; he’d find me. Although the store was crowded, it seemed that in that huge place there were only the two of us. Since I had no choice, I accepted. We went to one of the young clerks and inquired if they had another volume and he replied, I can’t look now; give me your number and I’ll call you. I value my privacy so how could I give out my phone number? I began to stutter. But my acquaintance said, okay, I’ll give you my number and address, please call me if you find it. It seems to me now the young clerk did not see the contradiction I saw. Smiling, he said, certainly! And he added, you must have good taste to look for such a book, I don’t have it myself so if I’m lucky I’ll find one for you and one for me! Their conversation bloomed. I thought there must be something wrong with me; otherwise, some of my misery would have rubbed off on him. When time came to pay for the book, he pulled out his money first and gave me the book. Then he said, now, in return you can invite me for coffee or something. I didn’t dare refuse and said, okay! But on one condition: you take the book, when you finish let me read it. He said, first let’s have coffee, then we’ll see. We went to a cafe I knew near the bookstore. I tried to please him by saying, they have excellent coffee here. I come from the southside sir, he said, we drink tea, see if they have tea. At that point I remembered when he spoke to the clerk he had a slight problem with language. No, he didn’t have a language problem; he had a heavy accent. I said, your wish is my command. I asked and I was told they had tea. I wanted to inquire about Persian tea, but I realized that here there are no little glass cups and sugar cubes on the side. So I ordered tea and cookies for him and an espresso for myself, without knowing the caffeine will increase my uncertainty. When the tea, coffee and cookies arrived, he said, our poet says, God’s munificence is more than our fault. I wanted to say you’re being absurd saying that now, but I stopped short; I’d gained some courage from being in the café which was my hangout and everybody knew me. If I needed help I could ask for it. Now if you say that I’m crazy to be so afraid of a man I met buying a book, you may be right. But you haven’t seen his face, what do you know, wait. I said, but this isn’t a tribunal, my man, it’s a cafe. He said, you’re right, the thought just jumped up and escaped my lips, it happens once in a while and I have no control. Then he asked, do you write poetry as well? I said, I’ve heard that disaster makes a poet out of a man, but no, I just read poetry for fun. He said, you’re pulling my leg; in this day and age there is no fun. He made this last remark as if he himself had a problem with it. He pronounced the words slowly and he waited until the weight of “fun” struck me. His manner said, no need to make a reply, that’s the way it is, no room for argument, period. Then, with a low voice, he asked, do you go to a Mosque or something? I said, I haven’t accepted a religion yet; therefore, no. He said, It’s not good, sir; in fact it’s bad; without religion, people will devour each other. I said, aren’t they devouring each other now? What was I saying? I didn’t know myself. He said, no, they make certain mistakes, but they don’t really devour each other. Now he paused and weighed this last remark; he seemed to doubt it. And then he said, if they devour each other, there’s still the possibility of forgiveness, they say that humans are prone to mistakes. He considered each word and then delivered them one by one. He had yet to touch his tea. I said, your tea’s getting cold. You’re right again. Now he took a sip, and another. He tasted one of his cookies and said, I’ve raped virgins and hanged women and girls, all under order, of course, if I said I haven’t enjoyed raping I’d be a liar because since repenting I’ve decided to tell only the truth, when I raped several girls in prison I enjoyed it very much and they enjoyed it too, but now I regret it, you know, you must treat a killer with respect, because he no longer belongs to the human race. Contrary to the measured way he talked before, he said these last sentences in a great hurry as if a knot in his stomach had been flushed away. And he seemed even more relieved after swallowing his last gulp of tea. He uttered those words so fast that I didn’t get a chance to digest them, and had I digested them it wouldn’t have helped my state of mind. He said, it would be nice if we Moslems had priests like Christians, Confession lightens your burden, it doesn’t change anything but lightens one’s burden for having shared your pain with someone, that’s why I read and write poetry, I’ve even published a book of poetry and it’s known success. Then, as if talking to himself: when you kill once, you’re afraid of yourself, afraid of not being able to stop, afraid that if the occasion arises you’ll kill again, the fear stays with you. And then he took off his glasses that he had forgotten to take off. If I say that he looked more like a victim than a killer I would cause more confusion for myself. He said, the misfortune is that people like my poetry, perhaps rectitude is a misfortune. I said, is there anything in your poetry about murder and rape? He said, indirectly, the battle I have with myself, but I think I’m still living off my previous job, the subject of my poetry is more or less about my previous job, my first hand experience. I realized that even then he wanted his tea and cookies off his previous job and I was paying for it. He understood, he understood immediately. He exclaimed, you, you volunteered to treat me! I said, to tell the truth, the reason I invited you was that you frighten me. He said, the first girl I raped became very frightened of me but I did what I had to do. I wanted to say he was continuing to do the same thing, but I told myself I’m not that girl, why am I sitting here? I got up. Left the book. Planned not to pay the check, and, looking over my shoulder, I saw him holding his head with both hands while his shoulders were shaking, perhaps in mirth or sorrow, I’m not sure. Paying or not wouldn’t solve any problem. I paid my share and left. I promised myself not to look for any books, any more, anywhere, ever again. And I obeyed that promise for a long time. But my encounter which ended in a cafe has taken its toll and ruined my sleep. In my dreams he tells me, you think it was my fault? Put yourself in my shoes. And I follow his order; I put myself in his shoes. When I stand in his place, it’s clear what happened: the same rapes, the same murders. When I wake up I think I’ve raped a virgin. Then I think, no, it’s a dream. It’s true it’s been a dream, but there’s also a moment which says I have no choice, it’s there it happens, something happens that I can’t erase even when I’m awake. Just like this chance encounter over a book, where I could’ve had a choice, could’ve said I saw it first; it’s mine, so long. His eyes filled me with fear and I could’ve left without looking back. But I stayed. Curiosity’s wound which knows no cure arrived and achieved its goal. And now nothing, not even sleep, can heal me. I will never be healed, I know.
Alimorad Fadaienia was born in Bibian, Iran, where he published short stories in a number of Iranian magazines, two novels, The Story of May Sixth, Nineteen Forty Six and Grass Walker, and a book of short stories, The Old Towers, in the late sixties and early seventies. Alimorad then came to the United States in the late seventies and published the first book of his novel Mim: The Story of Iranian Snakes (Sweden 1997). In 2002, he published two books in one volume, The Book of Shapur—A Novela and The Stories of No Names, from which this translated story comes. Another book of short stories, The Pronouns, was published in Tehran in 2004.
Iraj Anvar’s credits include translations from English and Italian into Persian; He also holds a doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies from NYU. Last year, Semar Publications brought out his English translation of Rumi: Divan-I Shams-I Tabriz, Forty-Eight Ghazals.
Paul Glass is a novelist who has won three fellowships from the MacDowell Colony.