One bullet at a time. I count them.
By Farnoosh Moshiri
December 15, 1999
from chapter seven of Farnoosh Moshiri's At
the Wall of the Almighty (1999, Interlink
Publishing Group, Northampton, MA). Moshiri grew up in a literary family
in Tehran. She worked as a playwright and fiction writer in Iran, before
fleeing the country in 1983 after her play was banned and its director
and cast arrested. Winner of the Barthelme Memorial Fellowship at the University
of Houston, she now teaches creative writing and literature. This is her
first novel. Also see
Sixteen hooded guards invade the cell, two for each of us. They handcuff
and push us out. The cold muzzles of their guns touch our temples. They
drag Shams like an empty sack behind them. They hit the dervish in the
mouth. He keeps murmuring.
They take us to the courtyard. "Ah!" I tell myself. "This
is outside. Finally I'm outside and this is the end. " The first thing
we all do is to look at the sky. It's the strangest blue, the darkest of
all. The Wall of the Almighty rises up to this gloom. I've seen this wall
many times in my life. It has dark holes in it. Many. Bullet holes. Some
of the blood stains on the wall have darkened, some are still fresh. Crimson
red. I feel a creeping chill in my feet. I look down at the courtyard's
cement floor. We are standing in a pool of blood.
But they don't line us up. Instead, they push and prod us into a van.
We sit in two rows, facing each other. The hooded guards sit between us,
guns aimed at our temples. The van moves. There is no window, no way to
see outside, so they don't blindfold us. One of us weeps. This must be
Where are they taking us? A different prison? Somewhere in the middle
of a desert to kill us? But why? Why not kill us at the Wall of the Almighty?
I blink to be able to see Agha's face. Maybe I can read something in his
wise eyes. Maybe he will smile and make me feel better. But the darkness
is deep. I hear heavy breathing, the hissing sound of Ayatollah's nostrils.
He doesn't dare pray. Dervish Ali mumbles something and they smack him.
The child weeps. They let him weep. But Ismail, hand-cuffed, can not circle
his arm around the boy's boney shoulders.
The road is bumpy. The van bounces up and down. What is outside? How
does it look? I feel an unbearable urge to see outside. The van stops.
The guards open the door and push us out. They hit and prod us and pierce
our shoulders with the muzzles of their guns. We find ourselves in a vast
blue desert. Nothing grows here, not even thorn bushes. Flat dirt spreads
endlessly, and the sky is close to earth. This is the end of the earth,
I think, where there is nothing and you confuse the sky with the ground.
The same strange, luminous blue of the heavens reflects in the soft sand.
But there is a wall here too. It stands alone. Behind it the desert
continues. This is a brick wall, the exact twin of the Wall of the Almighty.
In this one, there are no holes and blood stains. They push us to the wall.
We stand facing it. I smell fresh mortar; this wall is a new one.
Shams can not stand. He slips and falls down. The guards slap him. Ismail
says, "He can not stand!" and one of the guards backhands Ismail
on the mouth. The big carnelian ring stone carved with the picture of the
Great Leader, tears Ismail's lip.
The guards finally believe that Shams is not able to stand. They order
Ismail and Agha to hold him up from both sides. Teimoor is crying, loud
and infantile. He talks in his native language. The Ayatollah prays loud,
his voice shaking, "Be witnessed that there is no god except the God!"
Let them hit him. He has no fear anymore. Death is coming, taking him to
heaven, where all the prophets and Holy Ones await his arrival. There will
be a feast in the seventh garden of heaven for his homecoming. The dishes
of heavenly fruits, the meats and sherbets, will all be waiting for him.
He is too old for the Hoories -- the beautiful long haired angles, but
he can watch them and admire them, when they serve him and wash his earthly
Uncle Massi shouts, "Enough of this now! I'm your poet-prophet
bastards! Fuck you! Fuck your fake revolution!" A guard rams his mouth
with his gun butt. Massi vomits blood. His teeth come off in a red thick
foam, running down his beard.
The guards step back to take distance from us. They are behind us, preparing
their guns. In a few seconds of total silence, when all of us are holding
our breaths, I hear the swoosh sound: "Swoosh, swoosh ... dump! Swoosh,
swoosh ... dump!" I raise my head, slightly, so that the guards won't
notice me, to see if Ali the Bricklayer, Ali the Wall Raiser, is up there
laying brick on top of brick. He is. I see him -- small as an insect. I
whisper, "Sahar can you see him?" The guards' guns click, but
instead of the sounds of the bullets, I hear Dervish Ali screaming, "I
found the answer! I found it! I'm the Hagh!" In a strange frenzy,
he rips his white robe off and dances nakedly, repeating, "Hagh, Hagh,
Hagh, Hagh --" One of the guards shouts, "Fire!" Agha, holding
Shams with his right hand, raises his left fist up and screams, "Death
to the Satanic Republic! All Power to the People!"
I whisper again, "Sahar --" I want this to be the last word
on my lips.
But the guns are not machine guns. They are regular shot guns and they
fire in a strange way. One bullet at a time. I count them. They fire seven
bullets. I look to my right: Teimoor is the first one in the row; Ismail,
the second; Shams, the third; Agha, the fourth. They are all on the ground.
They roll in the dust, blood foaming and bubbling out of their mouths.
I look to my left: the naked dervish, Uncle Massi, and the Ayatollah are
on the ground, jerking with the last convulsions.
I'm on my feet. I turn back and look at the guards. They laugh behind
their paper masks, cleaning the muzzles of their guns. They take me to
the black van and only one of them sits with me. The van coughs, bumps
up and down, and runs through the desert. I beat the black iron walls of
the van, screaming, "Let me die too! Don't take me back to El-Deen!
Please!" My guard pulls his hood up and winks at me: Kamal, Loony
Kamal. The Immortal.
I open my eyes into Agha's lashless grey eyes. They are shadowed. He
is sitting beside me, watching my face. I look around and find Ismail sitting
against the opposite wall, knees folded into his chest, head rested on
his knees. Shams is lying down in his usual place. One eye open. They're
alive, I think. But, where are the others?
"When they shot the bullets, your face twitched in your sleep,"
"That's right. Seven," he says.
"One bullet for each? What if they don't die? " I ask him,
as if he has all the answers.
"Some time, long after the last anthem, they took the four of them.
They said La-Jay has ordered not to waste more than one bullet each. They
were not worth more."
"And the old dervish."
"Even the Ayatollah?"
I look at Ismail. Agha follows my gaze. He is not going to recover anymore,
I think. He had found a son. A flower in this murkiness.
Agha nods, as if reading my mind.
For a long time we stay quiet, but the babble and rattle from Satan's
Box kills the silence. Now Agha paces up and down restlessly and finally
"We have no way other than forgetting. We need to travel back in
time. To where four of us were here and no one had come. Can we do this,
my friend?" He addresses Ismail. "We have to survive."
"That's how you lose your memory, Master. You want to wipe the
pain out. This is not the first time we knew people. But you manage to
forget. I don't like this. Let me grieve."
"It will weaken you, Ismail. It will break your back!"
"I can't forget the child. When they took him, his hair stood up.
All his hair -- like he'd been struck by thunder." Ismail breaks into
sobs, hiding his face in Sahar's scarf.
"Let's mourn then. Let's weaken our morale. Let's do what they
want!" Agha sulks and sits on the toilet. He holds his chin, seals