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The prey
Short story

By Ghazi Rabihavi
October 15, 2002
The Iranian

Welcome to freedom, which will protect you as long as you live. Then your spirit will fly until it enters another body and the other body will wander aimlessly for a while until it falls prey to a hunter. Who can say how many of the ones behind the door have had their spirits pass through here before?

Hey, you, behind the door!

You see? Only silence, this is what happens when there's a newcomer. That's you. It's not that they're jealous. Not everything can be put down to jealousy. It can be hatred too. It is because I'm talking. I have to because when you're talking you forget what's going to happen to you.

On the nights when we were going to attack, we would all gather together in a huge underground trench, maybe one thousand of us. We would sing songs. Then we'd begin to move in the desert darkness and we'd talk about girls. No one would try to trip the others up by asking questions, because we were going to die. So we told our stories any way we wanted.

You shouldn't ask any questions either about how long I'm going to be talking. I don't know. Well, it's a game like the other games you'll be getting used to, or not getting used to until it's over. Nothing's ever over, look at my hands. Then, I'll take you out of the cage release you behind the doo. You'll find lots of seed there, you won't need to fight over food with others anymore, pecking at your mother or your child.

The cause of death here isn't a shortage of food. I don't want to talk about blood right now either, because you'll smell it soon enough, let's just talk about life. As long as we get our weekly pittance, we'll stay alive. See, my love is soothing to you, because I want you, you. Each one of you a bit of my flesh. I've caught many of the others outside.

Catching you wasn't difficult, although it took a really long time. I've got to keep waiting until one of you sees my bait, then you come, with the beating music of your heart, that sound is with me no matter where I've hunted you. Whether I'd set my sights on you before or not, my young friend used to say, do you know how much pleasure you feel when you plunge your bayonet into the heart of someone you'd set your sights on plunging a bayonet into from before?

Then, I let the fear that had been with me all my life slip down off my shoulders and, as soon as a group of enemy men surrendered to us, I'd set my sights on the ones that were going to be my prey and I'd stare at the point on their chests where I'd have to plunge the bayonet in. You see how lucky you were to fall into my trap of your own free will? Our traps and my hands.

Then the war was over and I had to go somewhere far away, so I came here. Maybe I'd had a job before, maybe I worked high up in the air, so high that people were just moving dots to me. Did I clean windows? Or was I in a helicopter? Maybe I was a teacher who never started a family, like my friend who felt no fear, because he was young.

He said, now that the war is over let's plunge our bayonets into our own hearts. I said, I need to go. He said, what do you think is waiting for you there other than an old people's home, until you die? I said, there's a gadget that can take the bullet out of a person's head. He said, you're crazy. Then he plunged his bayonet into his own heart. I came here. The bullet has still not been removed from my head.

The good thing is that I found all of you. The doctor said, no, there is no bullet. I said, there is a bullet that's spinning around like a top in my head. The doctor said, maybe it's a headache from old age. I said, I wasn't old. He said, then you must be imagining things, go. I left and didn't think about it anymore. I didn't think about my wife who said to me, go, otherwise the children will turn out crazy like you.

My wife used to pull all her hair back and tie it up in a braid. Her hair would become like a whip then because that's how I liked it. You see, I was a real man, like now, because you're real, otherwise, outside there are lots of people, working, just wandering around. If I had the patience to do it, I'd tell them there's a bullet still spinning around in my head.

But I can get you to understand, because you're real, that's why I share my love with you, from the day you fall prey to the day they take away the dustbin bags with your bones and I never cry for the one who's just gone, because I know her spirit is looking for another body, from the moment of... no, not the hunt. From the moment of freedom till... I'm not going to talk about blood, not there, not here.

Anyway, this house, like any other house, has a place where you can cook. But before that, there's a place where you can sleep and each night one of you slips under my sheet. My body is warmed up by your feathers and wings. Then we start all over again. Welcome.

London 1996. Translated by Nilou Mobasser

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