An Unexpected Guest in the Big City
by BAHRAM SADEGHI
translated by HOMA ZARYOUNI
An unexpected guest visited Mr. Rahman Karim in the big city. If I were a sociologist I would not consider Rahman’s presence in the big city strange, but the arrival of his guest, Mr. Lotf-ullah Hadipour, who had traveled more than twenty miles to visit is surprising and inexplicable, even for a sociologist. Now what should Rahman do? Whatever falls from the sky….

And this time it really fell.

The first encounter of the two parties went approximately as such:

One o’clock, Friday afternoon: Rahman who works as an accountant in a government office is taking advantage of the holiday. He sits at his desk (what else do you call a broken, ugly table which can only handle the weight of two thin arms and two small books?) to perhaps start reading the book “Caligula”, which he has been carrying with him to read for over a month. To ensure full comfort he has put pillows around his chair and on top of his knees. His hands are in the “all-rest” position, the most recent position prescribed by Dr. Howards. Under the table he has stretched his legs the point where they can be no longer. His gaze stays fixed on a line and he still cannot continue reading. Once in a while he stretches out, and sometimes he yawns, but just so we don’t keep his guest waiting any longer we will not mention that he has just swallowed two anti-anxiety pills of the Meprobamate kind.

Many only God give him peace.

At that moment a finger taps on the door. Rahman raises his head without altering his position.

“Please, who is it?”

The doorknob turns, squeaking loudly, and the door opens a crack. Rahman lowers his head and stares again at the first line of his book. What is this? What in the world this? A sharp paper sparrow suddenly twirls in the air and lands on his head. Rahman lifts his buttocks a bit and says “Who is it?” A small head with glistening eyes and a mischievous look comes in behind the door and a thin arm and hand picks up the paper sparrow that has fallen next to the door. A startled Rahman says “No, no, look Zizi dear, enough! That’s enough!”

The landlord’s daughter says “There’s a man at the door who is asking for you.”

“For me? Are you telling the truth? You’re not joking?”

The girl laughs and slams the door.

“Yes, for you!”

Rahman grabs the paper sparrow before it lands again. Yes, I know. It’s probably Parviz who wants to play games again. He always rings the doorbell and says “Is Mr. Karim available? Please tell him a gentleman wants to talk to you.” Ok, once, twice, funny, but always? This joke has gotten stale…However, it’s good that he came early and I can stop being bored, no? Now we can go the movies. Rahman yawned a long yawn and tossed “Caligula” on the table. Ah! I’m so glad he came earlier than our meeting time. I was dying of loneliness and boredom.

Mr. Lotf-ullah Hadipour, with a dusty and pale face and frightened eyes puts down his thick blanket and …his ....duffel-bag made out of two blankets tied together and full of knots. He opens his arms and kisses Rahman back and forth like a little miniature doll that has lost its balance, with a soul about to fly.

“Oh you? Yes, yes, you’re welcome. What are we supposed to say? …You’ve brought sunshine with you. You’ve done such a huge favor to come visit, but why now? Why without telling me first. Believe me, I’m very excited….but you must be tired, right? Have you eaten lunch yet?”

Rahman looks at his relative’s clothes, terrified. Yes, they are ridiculous and entertaining enough to embarrass him in this big city…

“No, I haven’t eaten anything. You don’t know what I escaped. I could be in the other world, if God hadn’t save me….The car had an accident.”

…let it fall.

Mr. Hadipour sits on the old rug and leans on the wall.

“Yes, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemies. You’re not sitting down? Close to morning when all the passengers were asleep, nobody thought anything would happen, we were all sleeping when our car and a petroleum truck…with one of these…”

Yes, with a gasoline truck.

Let it fall…let it fall… But what is going to happen to Parviz who is about to come over soon? What about the movies? If I don’t see “Silva Kushina” and “Marissa Del’Amadego Allasio” today I’m going to kill myself. On top of everything else, he hasn’t eaten lunch yet.

“…They crashed. Oh god! What a commotion! I should be in the afterworld right now.”

“In the afterworld? Really?”

“Where should I start? Women and children were hanging on each other, men were clasping their heads with both hands, the assistant driver was crying…”

“What was the driver doing?”

Mr. Hadipour gives him a dumb look.

“I didn’t see! I have no idea…”

Rahman sits on his knees in front of Mr. Hadipour. “I wish…look, I mean…wouldn’t it have been better if you had come during the day? Accidents happen less frequently in the daytime…”

Wouldn’t it be better if you hadn’t come at all?

Rahman finally came to the conclusion that in this situation there is only one solution: He must take action! Yes, there is no other solution, because his kind relative is hungry and thirsty and has a cold. But what a load of trouble! How can he do things he has never done before? He has to buy bread, probably even eggs and oil, fry the eggs, make tea, and bring some oil for the heater (ooh, it is really cold!) and more importantly, talk. Force a smile, ask how everybody is doing, and above all show how he is affected by the accident that almost killed Mr. Hadipour.

Mr. Hadipour said: “I’ve caused so much trouble for you. I really didn’t want to do that, believe me, I was so excited when I bought my ticket. I couldn’t sit still. The kids were yelling and screaming, they wanted to come see you.”

“All of them? All of them wanted to come?”

“Yes, they were crying and whining, they asked, is there a way you can take us with you…by the way…an ashtray…”

Rahman gets up and hopelessly searches the room with his eyes: “Don’t have one. Just drop them on the rug.”

“The children’s mother insisted the most, she asked if only it was possible…”

Rahman sits on his portable bed. After a few seconds it starts creaking.

“Of course it was possible! What do you think would have happened? They are always welcome! I’m alone here, you see what kind of a life I have, I always wish for something like that to happen…”

He wished his mouth would stay shut. But don’t rush to a conclusion, the problem really wasn’t a problem of cost of feeding and entertaining—it was something else. Other things that I can’t really say, like what should we do now? It’s time to go to the movies, tonight is drinking time, tomorrow night we have to go with Parviz to English class in the American-Iranian institution and show our homework to Mrs. Karpalushka, and the day after tomorrow is my meeting with the Society of …of…

“Yes, my backache returned. This time it bothered me so much, I got frustrated. My children were doing all the chores in the village. You know, in our village you can’t find a good doctor, we have this military guy, but he doesn’t really cure. They say our village will soon be indicted to a township, but I don’t believe it will happen in my lifetime. It will be a while till they install a real hospital or health center. And the city nearby, their medicine hasn’t cured me either. Now my wife, one day she was smoking the water-pipe and she heard on the radio…”

Yes, in the big city.

And the day after tomorrow I want to go the “Society of Calm Seekers”, now what do I do?

“…Yes, this woman was speaking, she said the capital is full of doctors who specialize in this ailment. But we didn’t believe her. People say these things all the time. Until one day we saw in the newspaper…”

“You smoke water-pipe?”

“No, we had gone hunting…the children insisted. They said thank god, our Rahman lives there, he is familiar with the city, he has connections in the government offices…Go for ten or fifteen days…Both visit him, and feel better.”

Rahman hopelessly mumbled:

“What a great idea! How useful! Ten or fifteen days…”

Mr. Hadipour yawned. Rahman started to take advantage of the opportunity.

“But you are really tired. You should rest now and sleep till morning. Or even till tomorrow night…Because this fatigue from the drive and the accident and your backache…is not a joke. It needs a lot of sleep. And, I will get a few things done, I’ll leave the house, I won’t bother you at all…”

“Oh, no way! You city-folk. We farmers are used to these things. I’ve been awake for a week at times. I know you don’t have a water-pipe, let’s go to a coffee shop. Me, even if I don’t rest for a month, I can stay awake and stand up. It’s all the fresh bread and butter.”

Rahman stared at him in awe. “I don’t want to keep you from being active, let’s walk around, and let’s go out together.”

For the first time in his life Mr. Karim wished he had great power. What if he was like Caligula? Would he  probably ask for Mr. Hadipour to be beheaded? Maybe, but first he would ask a skilled barber to clean up his messy, embarrassing mop of hair and make it worthy of the city.

No, one must accept reality (Where did he read that phrase?) and in this case one must budget, just like one does for a corporation (This one he created himself). Fifteen days in the capital? For fifteen days, or even more, he would have to take his kind relative and show him around the city. He would have to answer his idiotic questions about nails and asphalt. Just for him, who liked theater, he would have to go to old, respectable theater establishments and watch dancers, magicians, and gymnastics. He would have to watch Indian entertainers and European beauties. He would have to forget about Marissa Amadeo Monito Allasio and Gregory Peck, and entertain himself by looking at the big stars of Iranian Cinema. Maybe, if his ill, kind relative had an interest in drinking and debauchery his burden would be lighter, but…Mr. Hadipour, with his extraordinary persistence and childish curiosity would follow him everywhere, ruin his plans (Do I even have any plans?). “We’re all looking up to you. The whole family is happy and proud of your success. They are proud that they have someone who works in a government office in the capital.” Damn the whole family! Who asked them to be proud? It would be better if they all went away and disappeared. What success? What pride? The only thing I could have possibly succeeded in is becoming useless! He works in a government office! Yes, they think now they have a strong connection who from now on can take care of their complaints and bureaucratic matters. From now on, the bullies in the village can’t stomp on their rights anymore, and the police will never bother them without good reason again. Yes, it’s something to be proud of. The same Mr. Rahman Karim has worked his bottom off to find a low-level job at this office, and even for that he had to find a strong connection and bribe him for years. “Thank god, at least among all of us, you succeeded.” Yes, I’ve really succeeded! I finally became an accountant after finishing law school. I didn’t even have the chance to become a lawyer. And I’ve found this spacious and furnished room in a posh house at a very good price, and I don’t even have to make the effort to breathe out loud anymore, because of the kindness of the landlord and his wife. I take care of my primary needs in this room and fulfill my secondary needs in specific minutes and hours when it is possible outside of the apartment. Why haven’t I thought of getting married? Because my salary and income doesn’t allow it. Are you listening, Mr. Hadipour?

Yes, it is true that you are looking at me with hopeful eyes, but my eyes haven’t seen a good night’s rest in a while. This is the capital, the city of horns, drunken screams, exhaustion, and at night you can’t even sleep with sleeping pills. Meprobamats lose their pharmaceutical capabilities when they arrive here. Calming! Anti-anxiety! Deep sleep! So funny and untrue. In this decadent building, the radio does not turn off for even one second. Did I say this building? No, Mr. Hadipour, everywhere! The radio needle moves from the airforce to Tehran, from Tehran to Iran, and from there to all the hidden and unhidden capitals of the world. You can listen to songs that are a tad bit too Iranian and the program “hearables”…or if you prefer, we can call it “sayables”…you don’t want that? I’ll find you the channel about “seeables”. Oh, you listen to this in the village? Then you recognize this old man’s voice? “For example, let’s take a look at Garden Square. Those days when I was a young man it was dusty, dry, and dark. Nobody dared to set foot there. But…But now, go and see what is happening! The lighted fountains, statues of birds and mammals and reptiles, well-lit lamps, look at all the benches set up around them... Now all them men, old, young, healthy, sick, from the suburbs and from out of town come in and walk hand-in-hand with their children. The double-decker buses, with organized passengers, two seats for every person, and empty and clean stops. The taxis are full of well-dressed and polite people. Isn’t this better than the days when three rusty carriages walked around the city? Now, let’s look at it from another angle: Beautiful and half-naked women strutting in front of men who just gaze at the ground, everybody eating sunflower seeds and snacks. They crack them and say hello to each other. And the little boys, pretty seven-and eight- year-old boys clean and neat, like little grasshoppers with new shoes and ironed clothes, well-fed, coming back from school. Lottery-ticket-sellers pick-pockets are all arrested by the police, who have already gathered up the poor and poured them in the trucks. Polite, educated men with twelve children, men who had been trapped by the life of the small town until yesterday now roam around with respectable clothes, free and relaxed, with pocket combs and locks and stationery and chains in hand. They try to sell goods….shouting at passersby…shouting…and look…the faucets are so strong here, they don’t leak, the electricity system so strong that it never goes out…Now, young lady, won’t you ask them to play a song?” “Oh, Mr. Hadipour, this is the famous song ‘My Dear Golensa.’ Ok, so you’ve heard it, so please let me...

Rahman turned off the radio and retreated to his thoughts. No, I haven’t retreated to my thoughts. I’m praying to God. Oh God, at least listen to my complaining! See that among all these fun things to do, this man appears with his strange clothes and weird appearance, so he can make me sick and bother me. Really, what kind of a winter coat is this? Why does he insist on flattening the back of his shoes to make room for his heel? To show off the patch in his socks. Why has he wrapped a giant scarf around his waist? To prevent him from catching a cold, or something the village doctor recommended? “My backache! It’s coming back.” The thousand year backache, hereditary, untreatable! Oh god! When will they accept that such aches have no cure? And when will they accept that I am a poor useless soul in a corner by myself and I have no desire to see friends and family, and even the breathing of angels makes me sad?

Rahman was right, in the big city they steal people’s belongings in a heartbeat. And with complete agility and skill Rahman took his guest’s watch and hid it in his pocket.

It is now Friday afternoon.

The weather is nice and the streets are busy and loud. Rahman and Mr. Hadipour and Parviz (who arrived a bit after the welcome guest just as he had promised Rahman) walk slowly and silently…

Ok, Parviz should know that I have nothing to do with this. I didn’t invite him. He came on his own…Parviz is angry and he is frowning. When they cross the street, he finds a moment to be alone with Rahman and whispers:

“You could’ve told me that you’re busy and have company. It’s not my problem that you have a guest that you can’t say no to, the point is that you have ruined my afternoon and night. I have no patience for him.”

Rahman begs:

“Please, don’t say anything to him. It’s serious.”

“Serious? You said serious?”

In Imperial Café, the same moment Mr. Hadipour does not know what to do with the café au lait he ordered.  (Wouldn’t it be better if he just ordered a regular tea, instead of …Like, what did he want to prove? That he wasn’t from a village? …instead of drinking the steamed milk and coffee separately?). Rahman forces a smile and tries to introduce him better:

“Parviz? Where are you? Just like I said, this is Mr. Hadipour. I think he is my mother’s aunt’s cousin.  We are about the same age. We studied together until sixth grade, and then I moved to the larger town nearby for high school, and he dropped out and started farming and…”

Mr. Hadipour adds “And weaving rugs…”

“Yes, and he got married and raised some farm animals. He gave birth to about ten or fourteen children. Oh, Parviz, look, Please, don’t look at him with the stink eye[1], and so he is way ahead of us.”

Parviz says bitterly “But he’s an idiot.”

Mr. Hadipour suspiciously asks “What language was that? What did you just say?”

Rahman answers “That was English. You know, the office sent me and Parviz to the Ministry of Iranian American relations so we can learn English. A few of the older people from other offices are here as well. But, between us, we usually ditch class and practice instead in these places…You see, these days, you can’t survive without English. You need it to pick up girls, get hired, sweep the floor, continue your education, be a security guard at the university. Even in the bureaucratic offices, if you need to get something done, it gets done faster if you know English. Our teacher is a good woman, Mrs. Karpalushka or Miss Karpalushka, I still don’t know which one.”

Mr. Hadipour asks:

“You mean you have two teachers?”

“No, I don’t know how to explain?...Parviz is supposed to research that one day.”

“That’s great, more power to you. Now what were you saying?”

“Oh! You see those women who are sitting behind that table? I told Parviz they’re professionals. Parviz answered ‘Yes, I think so too.’”

“Is that true?”

“Yes, have no doubt. Most women here are professionals.”

Mr. Hadipour turns away and his face is red. He says a prayer under his lip.

Parviz aggressively calls the waiter “Our bill!”

Rahman smiles and says “Please!”

Mr. Hadipour pricks his ears. “Twelve tomans sir.”

Parviz starts digging in his pocket and Mr. Hadipour looks at the milk and coffee as if it is an equation with three unknowns and he wants to figure out the price of each one, and why. When they get up Rahman feels Mr. Hadipour’s elbow on his side and his head points somewhere:

“That one toman, in the saucer, why didn’t your friend pick it up? I hope he didn’t forget?”

Rahman stares at him, like he is solving an equation with one unknown, and says with strong voice:

“Tip.”

Parviz has already exited the coffee shop and is way ahead of them. Rahman says under his breath “You always need to tip here!”

Two nights later, when they came home exhausted from the trip to the zoo, Rahman still can’t sleep. Mr. Hadipour is sleeping on the rug and since there are not enough blankets he pulled his overcoat on him. Sometimes, in his sleep, he starts saying loving things, and naming the dancers they saw last night at “Tehran’s Paradise”. 

Rahman stares at him in the dark and lights his cigarette. It seems as if he is still solving this unsolvable problem and slowly, he starts thinking a mischievous and frightening thought: How about choking him? No, he might leave fingerprints. It’s better to leave the room and slam the door to wake him out of his deep sleep.  (Isn’t it an unfair point of existence, that he sleeps and Rahman stays awake?) But the problem with that is that the crazy landlord’s wife and her daughter Zizi will wake up, with their screams and their paper birds.

In the dark he gritted his teeth. Oh, how about I scare him about life in the city? I’ll tell him all the facts straight up and then I just need some luck, something I haven’t had much of lately!...His life and money has to be in danger.

Mr. Hadipour smiles in his beautiful dreams.

Now they stand on the street waiting for a taxi. They want to go to a doctor. First, they see an empty taxi approaching. Mr. Hadipour jumps ahead like a child letting go of his mother’s hand and waves at it. Rahman grabs him and takes him back. The taxi speeds up and the driver sticks his head out of the window and waves back. The pedestrians laugh. Two other empty taxis pass by, with the same expertise and grace. Rahman runs a few steps after him. The taxi stops and the driver, a young, polite and well-dressed man asks:

“Where, sir?”

“Just a second…”

Mr. Hadipour, still shaken by his near-accident, dazed and confused, puts his hand in his coat pocket and takes out an old fat wallet. Then he takes out a crumpled newspaper. The handsome driver lights a Winston in a relaxed manner. Rahman spreads out the newspaper sheet on the engine and reads: Dr. Samim Jalinoos. Dr. of eye and ear and lungs, pediatrics, infectious diseases—surgeon of urinary tracts and bone…

The driver says “I’m sorry, are you finished?”

Rahman looks at him apologetically and continues …and holder of degrees from University of America.

Mr. Hadipour says:

“Is it in the suburbs?”

Rahman doesn’t answer.

...Quitting addiction in twenty-nine hours, sterile injections, curing obesity, creating thinness, curing syphilis and other burning diseases…

The driver whistles to the song “Mine is a Lonely Heart” as if he composed it himself. Rahman stands up straight and says “We finally figured it out. It’s somewhere between Villa Street and Behjatabad!” He pitifully rubs his hands together and says “Of course you will take us there. It’s uptown.”

The driver shakes his head and says with a serious face “I’m very sorry…I can’t.”

Mr. Hadipour takes a step back this time.

Then a small taxi stops in front of them. Rahman tries to stay calm.

“You have five passengers. Exactly where are you going to fit us?”

The driver is a middle-aged small-business man, but he speaks as if he is stupid.

“One next to me, and one back there with the gentlemen!”

One of the “gentlemen” was a toothless old lady crumpled in a corner. Rahman shrugs his shoulder and says “villa…” and points towards north. The driver points towards south and says:

“Sure, we’re going from Shoosh [2]. If that suits you, come on in.”

A few minutes later the taxi drives them to unknown places. Meanwhile, Rahman’s side aches from the stabs of the driver and the toothless lady curses unintelligible curses. And Mr. Hadipour, scared and sweating in the backseat, squatting in front of the four other passengers, jumps up and down. His chin hits the front seat every time, and the other passengers push him away from both sides and curse under their breath. He doesn’t know anymore if he is stepping on their feet, or they on his feet.

Finally, they arrive at Dr. Jalinoos’s office. They take a few moments to catch their breath and brush the dust off from the trip. In the waiting room the chairs were set up like wagons of a train, one after the other, and the patients sat in line. Rahman sits Mr. Hadipour in line. He takes a number from the receptionist and gets ready to smoke a cigarette. The receptionist says “That’s not permitted here.” And Rahman said under his breath “Of course.” He puts his hands in his coat pockets and while he walks slowly he looked at the pictures on the wall: A skeleton points at him with his long index finger. Above the skeleton, a beautiful nurse (such strange resemblance to Marissa Allasio!) held a chubby naked baby over a potty. In a corner, a large, colored poster talked about ancient medicine. In another corner, a framed poster read “The national committee of defending Iranian health advises that your daily food consist of the following: pasteurized milk, pasteurized butter, an egg, meat, vegetables, potato salad, Lebanese oranges, Dutch cheese, foreign carrot juice, tomatoes, fingerlings, and a small bit of lemon juice.”  A famous modern artist had painted everything mentioned in the posted on a large table. Rahman walks closer and looked at the poster with disbelief and reads it again. “…lemon juice? That’s the problem, where can I get lemon juice?”

Mr. Hadipour coughs a shy cough. A baby screams and Rahman looks back. The scream sounded very strange to him. It came from a thin baby girl who stubbornly sucked at her mother’s dry and yellowish breast. The mother’s forehead drizzled with sweat and her eyes closed and opened repeatedly. Rahman approaches her and sympathetically asks:

“Excuse me…excuse me m’am, I’m speaking with you. This child? I’m so sorry, she probably has a complicated disease?”

The mother stares at him for a moment and her eyes look like they are laughing. “No sir, thanks for asking, the doctor says it’s only lack of food.”

Rahman said “Oh.” He suddenly loses interest.

“I have the same problem,” the woman says.

Rahman steps back. The woman does not want to let go of this kind conversationalist.

“We’re all like this, they say it’s hereditary.”

But Rahman stares at the wall in front of him: A small framed photo that appeared to be of the doctor and his friends, and a quote from Soranus of Ephesus: “A student of medicine must wear white, be honest, be kind to patients, not cure with profit in mind….” Rahman sighs and says “Ok, Soranus said these….” Then he sees the prices written underneath on a white paper in bold handwriting:

First visit: 350 rials

Second visit: 400 rials

Third visit: 200 rials

Until the seventh visit, each time: 100 rials

From the eight visit forward: 400 rials

With appointment: 800 rials

Doctor’s in-home visit: 1000 rials

Northern suburbs: 1500 rials

Below the prices added in small handwriting: Ten percent of cost of service will be requested before examination. Treatment of the impoverished will be done in installments.

Rahman unconsciously reaches for his cigarettes. Then he stops halfway, yawns a long yawn and sits behind Mr. Hadipour in line.

*   *   *

That night Rahman drops his hesitations and starts to prepare for the “Golden Arrow Mission.” Golden arrow mission was what he had named a series of verbal and non-verbal acts with the intended result of Mr. Hadipour’s voluntary escape. For that exact reason, he talks about the environment. “Well, the environment in a large city is good, but the gasoline fumes! You know that all newspapers have written that it causes cancer. Oh! Really? God help us…and the brick factories and the dust and dirt in all the streets and backstreets, the radio program said the other day that it brings tuberculosis. No…it’s not harmful for a day or two, but more than that…and us, what can we do? It’s very simple, health authorities have said many times that this situation needs to be improved, but oh well, there’s no solution, there’s nothing they can do either. This knot can only be untied by officials above and beyond the health department, and they are just too busy with other problems.”

Then he starts to talk about the food. “The eggs…you didn’t know? The eggs don’t have yolks. They take out the yolks with a syringe and in the end, there is nothing that can be done, because the small holes the syringe creates in the eggshell need photo-electro cells to heal, and in this big city there is only one generator of it, and they have placed that in the atomic energy exhibition, where it can serve the interests of human-kind. And the peppers? They are not spicy at all. And the sumac? It is not sour. And it passes through any hole easily…the daily food here is beef and potato soup, which store workers and low-level office workers and intellectuals eat regularly. Construction workers and factory workers have a more regular schedule: They rush to the coffee shop at noon to listen to the radio’s special program, they listen to the health programs and skillfully eat their bread sandwiches with one or two sweet teas. This type of sandwich is both nutritious and cheap. More importantly, it is the only thing that still has no competition in the Middle East. They take the thick doughy bread and slice it up and put toasted pieces of the same bread in between. Afterwards, they listen to the daily political and societal analysis and go to work. And the beets they sell on the street? They fry the beets with special red dye, and they cook greens with the same special dye. The formulas are secret of course, and nobody besides the bosses and inspectors have any clue about them.  Oh! Now imagine that you are upset and want to eat some dairy. Do know what it’s made of? Powdered milk. And we’re still growing so I’m glad that they have figured out our needs. But unfortunately, even though all these foods are nutritious and appear to be healthier than normal food, they are still useless. In the end, you know, they are tasteless, and we are not used to it…”

Mr. Hadipour appears to be bewitched: He listens with wide eyes. Rahman cruelly brings on the hits. He raises his hand like a prosecutor and his voice rises and falls with a determined melody:

“…and the pickpockets! As soon as you move, they empty your pockets. They disguise themselves as pregnant women and married young men. Don’t think for a second that your pockets are safe, they even open safety pins. Ok, what kind of a life is this? How can one stand this city for one minute…? Isn’t it better to go back to the same… I don’t know, hometown, home village, and find a calm corner and be comfortable? At least be safe from the beggars. Yes, the beggars. Some of them are the survivors of the Ghazvin earthquake, some of them are survivors of the recent flood, little boys and girls all belonging to different associations and the most traditional ones are one-man operations. They have different methods of begging: One of them lost feeling in his hand, another burned his child’s leg, some of them sell lottery tickets, and another one tells your fortune. The ones with high school diplomas are the most persistent. The lazy ones are an embarrassment to the nation. Didn’t you see today? When we crossed Istanbul Street? He had a paper hung around his neck that read ‘I am an exemplary holder of a high school diploma, willing to do anything. Please help me, so your children will avoid my fate.’”

Mr. Hadipour becomes quiet and the Eshno cigarette between his fingers is out. Rahman feels sorry for him and for a moment he feels so sad he almost apologizes.

He says without being able to control himself:

“You have to pardon me. But in the end….It’s not my fault either.”

Mr. Hadipour looks at him surprised. “Of course, I never said it was your fault. A lot of these things are the will of …”

Rahman suddenly gets up. All of those innocent feelings transformed into hatred and anger. He puts his head down and yells “God?”

From the second floor Zizi’s melodic and mischievous scream fills the room, as if it were his response.

*   *   *

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow….

It is for good reason that human beings always need to believe in tomorrow. The next day while they ate lunch at “Roger Martin du Gard” the fairy of luck and good fate smiled at Rahman. A few minutes ago he had bought a one-rial paper fortune from a thin ten- or eleven-year-old girl in an old red dress. Her long eyelashes covered her shiny black eyes. Mr. Hadipour also handed her a rial, without asking for a fortune, just as a charity. The girl smiled a fake smile, but still stood there and stared at the table. Rahman followed her glance to the pieces of bread. Oh! The girl took the pieces of bread, thanked them under her breath and left. Her torn shoes dragged on the shiny tiles of the restaurant and her shapely legs peeked out of her torn socks.

“What does your fortune say?”

Rahman woke from a daydream. He laughed bitterly: “Oh, her lips as delicate as the poem…oh, my fortune?” and he read from the piece of paper.

“Hafiz, the poet who has a lot of wisdom and advice in between his lines, and years must be set aside to understand what he really meant to say, describes your situation as such: Your mind has been troubled for some time. You haven’t seen any beneficial qualities in your family. The universe gave you a few chances, but because of sloppiness and lack of proper equipment, you failed to make the most of them. But, your star is getting brighter by the day and right now it is near the Al-Saad tower, but still has not reached it. God willing, the end will turn out to be great.”

Mr. Hadipour, who listened like a pious man, said:

“Thank God! Thank God! That is what I have always said.”

In that moment a piece of black rubber came out of Mr. Hadipour’s stew. It was stuck to a fork and wrapped around itself and opened and closed like a slimy, slippery crab.  A thick, black juice dripped on the table.

Mr. Hadipour, slowly and carefully, put the fork and his catch on the side of his plate and stared at it. Just like a snake-catcher finished with playing the flute and waiting for the snake to dance. Rahman snapped out of his shocked state of mind and jumped from his seat like a child.

“The golden arrow hit the bulls-eye!”

Mr. Hadipour stared him down with hopeless and confused look.

“Ok, now tell me! What would we do if you had eaten it? We city-folk, our stomachs have turned to iron-bins by now, we eat things like that and more every day, but you…”

Mr. Hadipour said:

“These foods don’t leave anybody a decent liver. Maybe my constipation….”

Rahman saw that Mr. Hadipour stood up and started to walk backwards away from the table. Droplets of sweat ran on his forehead. They left the restaurant.

“…No, don’t be so worried. More than anything else, these things cause slowness and drowsiness. How can I say, they turn everybody into an entirely new form. Nothing matters  anymore, they listen to everybody, they do everything they are told to do, almost like a camel in camel-house.”

“Oh no! God have mercy, I need to leave soon, if I stay here and become like that…If I do, do you think I can look anyone in the eye in the village?”

“Leave? Didn’t you want to visit Majir-ul-deen’s department store? They have expensive items that you can’t find in any other city or village and only those more fortunate than us can buy them…Or the skyscrapers? They have ten or fifteen stories or even more.  Even the workers live in a building with twenty-one stories, it is an architectural wonder. They spent a million tomans on building it…”

“None of this is for me. My backache got worse since I came here, my eyes have dark circles, my mouth is always watering. I don’t know if my liver is producing too much bile, or is it because of these foods…I think the environment here doesn’t suit me. I hope I haven’t had food poisoning? To be honest I think I have blood diarrhea…”

Satisfied, Rahman took Mr. Hadipour to a public restroom.

*   *   *

At this moment Rahman is walking around grey and deserted backstreets and alleyways. It is almost dawn and the fading lights are waiting for that moment. Rahman stands and breathes in the morning air. The streetlamp poles also look as if waiting and exhausted from the night before. Rahman starts moving. In the light of dawn he sees the milkman hunching on his bicycle and honking from time to time. Actually, it isn’t that cold this morning, and Rahman feels as if he is lighter. But the feeling is temporary and something still sits heavy in his chest. He turns into an alleyway and claps his hands without a purpose. The streetlamps turn off suddenly. A dog barks and a mullah wraps his cloak around him and walks past Rahman like a ghost. He hears a car from far away.

Rahman traces his steps from the side-street he unconsciously walked in and goes to the main street. An old beet-seller walks nearby. He has a blanket on his shoulders and he is warming his hands with the steam from the cooking beets. He yells “Beets! Hot, oven-baked beets!” when he sees Rahman. He staggers a little and waits. Then he passes by…

Rahman arrives at Azadi Square. Ok! Now that was Mr. Hadipour, whom we wanted to leave. He left! Now what? Did it make a difference?

Mr. Hadipour bought his ticket in a hurry. He hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in twenty-four hours, just hot tea and cigarettes. He forgot all about his stolen watch, and he no longer went to the hookah bar on the corner to smoke hookah. Afterwards he had gone to fill his prescription: Four hundred and sixty tomans and two rials and ten shahis. The doctor had prescribed four types of topical creams, three types of feeding shots and ten boxes of prescription syringes and a few types of pills and capsules and syrups to be taken orally.

That night when Mr. Hadipour gathered his belongings with a heavy heart, Rahman found an opportunity to place the watch in a corner next to the medicine. Mr. Hadipour shook from time to time, felt feverish and talked nonsense in his sleep. He talked more were more about spirits and devils and judgment day and fairness in the eyes of God rather than the beautiful plump actors of the cinema and the comedies in theaters. He begged Rahman about ten times to quit being stubborn and move back to the village. In the end, he promised to bring him a few prayers and anti-spells and lucky charms.

At the crack of dawn when Mr. Hadipour’s bus was about to leave, Rahman waved and saw that Mr. Hadipour crying and shaking his head with pity and concern….all right…but now it was loneliness again. He was all alone…

Why did I let him leave?

Rahman suddenly turned around and started to run. His eyes burned and he gritted his teeth…If he could only catch up with him…But the garage owner smiled and looked at him for what seemed like a very long time. No, even Mr. Hadipour was gone.

He walked home. He hadn’t even opened the door of his house when Parviz rang the doorbell. He had come so early today! Rahman grabbed onto him like a child and started to sob. But he couldn’t cry. His eyes were still dry. Parviz said: “What is going on, little baby? You’re going crazy again?”

Rahman separated from him, took the radio off of the radiator and banged it on the wall. He turned over his bed, tore his weeklies and newspapers that he had only glanced at and threw them at the wall. Then he sat in the middle of the room, and on the dirty rug. He held his head with his two hands as if he were mourning and cried like he was mourning at a funeral.

The landlord’s wife arrived with her daughter. Zizi jumped up and down and clapped and sang stories of the children’s television hour. The wife grabbed Parviz’s coat tugged it and shook him:

“Do something! Do something! I’m going to be embarrassed in front of all the neighbors. I know a good doctor. But you have to take a taxi there, he lives in Behjat Abad.”

Rahman suddenly calmed down….Behjat Abad? No…No…That was probably Dr. Jalinoos. I have to save myself from this mess, before it happens…At first he was a bit dazed, but then he moved his head and stood up. He gave the wife a sharp look. He patted down his hair, straightened his tie, and apologized to Parviz and the landlord’s wife. Zizi was quiet. Parviz, pale and angry looked at the walls.

“You see? It’s your own fault. Weren’t you supposed to attend the meeting of the Society of Calm Seekers? Whatever it is, they can cure you there…”

“Cure me? You think I’m really sick? No, no, no! There is nothing wrong with me, I was never sick…”

The landlord’s wife shrugged her shoulder, took her daughters hand and took her out of the room. She said from the hallway:
“You know better. He is your friend. Whenever you like, I’ll give you the doctor’s address.”

Zizi started singing again before she even started up the stairs. Her voice became lower and muted every minute. Rahman let out a loud sigh. Danger had passed.

“Look Parviz! I don’t need a doctor, I just don’t know why this happened today, believe me…I shouldn’t have taken him…But it will never happen again, the morning air did this to me.”

Parviz said:

“Ok, ok, but at least take your pills. They are calming.”

“Oh! You’re right. I’ll take them. I’ll take a whole box now.”

“Then, you’re not going to work today. You need it. Today, is just for pleasure. If you want, we can go pick up girls. I know a few who go to school, I can introduce you to them. If you don’t like that, there are a few who are university students, we’ll go party, we’ll go dance, we’ll have some imported liquor.”

“But I don’t know how to dance…”

“Oh, not important, you’ll learn. This is the solution. It’s something everybody does today, less trouble and easier than anything. If you don’t, you’re missing out, and besides…These parties are good for achieving calm.”

Rahman had lain down in his clothes on a corner of the rug. He was slowly crying and his complexion changed by the minute and his lips twitched. He took out tri-colored pills one by one from a box and put them in his mouth and swallowed.

“Maybe…you are right…but I…I just can’t.”

Parviz took the box of pills and stared at it—a magical medicine for calming and anti-anxiety and…Parviz shrugged. May only God give him peace!

[1] Italicized words are written in English in the original text.
[2] An impoverished, sometimes dangerous neighborhood in southern Tehran
BAHRAM SADEGHI (1936 -1984) is an Iranian short story writer and novelist. His stories reveal deep truths about human psyche under the guise of humor. His most widely-held novel is Malakut (Heavenly Kingdom), published in 1978. “An Unwanted Guest in the Big City” was originally published in Farsi in 1971 as part of his short story collection Sangar va Ghomghomehaye Khali (Trenches and Empty Flasks). An English translation of another story from that collection, Sarasar Hadeseh or “Action-packed” appeared in the anthology Sohrab's wars: counter-discourses of contemporary Persian fiction: a collection of short stories and a film script in 2008.


HOMA ZARYOUNI is a graduate student at New York University. Her fiction has appeared in Houston Literary Review and Quarter After Eight. Her non-fiction has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.