Diaries & Jallad

A novel: Chapters 4 and 5


Diaries & Jallad
by Kaveh Afrasiabi

PARTS: (1,2,3)(4,5)(6,7)


It was past three when K. woke up from his long nap in fright. A harsh wind was blowing a branch against the window. He felt thirsty, went to the kitchenette and poured himself a glass of milk and, after finishing it, proceeded to wash the small pile of dishes and glasses in the sink, whispered in his head, "a perfect execution, yek koshtan-e kamel?! He was thinking of a poem, shaar, he had been working on in his dream, not a word of which he could remember, and also thinking of the skeptical reaction of his affable friend Ibrahim should he ever dare to boast of a perfect poem, yek shaar-e kamel. "The purpose of poetry throughout the ages has been to execute the previous images of everything, don't forget. A poet cannot be comfortable without the approval of his killer instincts."

"But why?"

"Because we are killers in the image of God."

From the window, K. observed Cyrus Khan's servant helping an old woman out of a private taxi; a few houses away a hawker, his donkey suffering patiently under a heavy load, was selling his heavy pomegranates to a neighbor; a moment later, the hawker's haggling had turned into a familiar echo: "Pomegranate. Buy yourselves first rate, ruby-red pomegranate." K. opened the window and yelled "stop," but it was too late, the hawker had already made his turn to the side street. K. closed the window, resumed washing; the afternoon sun was glowing under thin clouds and the wind was subsiding; several leaves were spiraling beyond the glass. As usual, the water was taking its blessed time to turn warm and K. hated the chilling effect on his hands, especially his writing fingers which, weary of the extended hours of writing night and day, had begun to complain lately with an intermittent pain that fluctuated between a stiff numbness and a skin throb; the pain was never completely absent, just dulled at times. Spontaneously he began reciting,

The Moving Finger writes; and having writ

Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit

Shall lure it to cancel half a Line

Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

The water was now hot; K. indulged for a moment in the burning sensation; "this is life," he said in his head, recalling Nietzsche's "why should I relinquish this pain when it increases my pleasure so much." But his hands had it with philosophizing. He shut the water, dried his hands and returned to the bedroom, for a few minutes busied himself with the notion of going to visit Ibrahim and showing him his novel-in--progress, particularly the fine pieces of literature he had manufactured during the past twenty four hours; decided it was a premature idea. Lying on the bed, he reflected on his existential experience of reading his own work a little while ago before he had succumbed to drowsiness.

"What an experience," K. uttered, now recalling how it had inflamed his senses; sometimes, turning a page, he had come up with some passages that, verse-like, flowed like honey, an arrangement of syllables that left an aftertaste of happiness in his soul, wondered if he had lost his ability to keep a safe distance and remain a fierce critic of his writing -- for good reason. So far he had amended nothing, had approved of every paragraph, section, and chapter of his novel-in-the-making, as well as every twist of the plot and even the major alteration, in the third chapter, from first to third person. No doubt, Ibrahim would find his style experimental, maybe even "archaic," but K. was sure the story's evolving acrobatics between humor and tragedy would agree with his friend's postmodern taste. To be absolutely sure, K. reached for the manuscript below the bed and began rereading the last few pages -- at least half a dozen times; each time he felt more genuinely in love with his novel that was destined to compensate for his recent poetic slump. "A masterpiece, a perfect novel," he concluded one more time, a determined conclusion he reached in the process of reading, a process streaming with tears, heaving with sighs and burning with such fire.

"Moluk?!" K. felt rightly uncomfortable with the old-sounding name, which he unmistakably associated with the old generation. But he felt no qualms about Ismaeel, the assassin-turned pimp who, in his story, was still searching for the heroine. "Is he Farsi or Arab, or a Turk?" He asked himself, instantly answering, "it doesn't matter, as long as he acts like an Ismaili assassin." What mattered, however, was that his fictional Ismaeel did not seem to have a killer instinct -- if one were to read the finished chapters closely, and that he was slowly acquiring the ingredients of a lover. He was neither a very caring lover, given his tendency to abuse his whores, nor was he bereft of compassion. Ismaeel had been torn by the duty to find and terminate Moluk on the one hand and, on the other, to satisfy his desire to get one good look at her for once, after all those years of spying at her door, and perhaps to throw himself at her knees and beg for forgiveness, though without presenting any clue that he had overlooked the sin of her princely background. Suddenly K. thought of making a drastic revision in the story so that Moluk would somehow end up with Ismaeel as his whore. Following this scenario, initially, between them courtesy would have taken the place of affection, an emotion which Ismaeel had not in any case deemed necessary in relation with one of his girls. At first, Moluk, now nicknamed Zohreh, would endure his nocturnal attentions with revulsion, but later on, after being rescued by him from the malicious hands of a client, affection would suffuse them despite themselves, but affection restricted to a narrow confidentiality between them and not agitating their entire relation, their previous prisoner-guard relationship in particular. Zohreh could be portrayed grateful to him for treating her differently, like a princess, even if his affection diminished to the point of disappearing every time he remembered his earlier vow to kill her. From then on, their story would have the monotony of a long-endured trial. Sensing Ismaeel's rapid descent to the bosom of his killer self, Zohreh flees the brothel, jendekhaneh.

"What a great idea," said K., got up quickly, sat behind his small, cluttered desk and began writing, started with Zohreh's farewell letter to Ismaeel:

"My love, today I am leaving you forever, not because I don't love you, or because I am afraid you are about to prove your loyalty to your deceased master, and kill me. No my love, it is not that. Loving you has demanded from me a devotion, and a purity, I never felt with Farhad. I would not care the least if you were to cut me into thousand pieces with your dagger, or share me with the wormy hands of your worst clients, or if you wanted to sink me below ten thousand kilos of hatred, only if I could bring myself to renounce the seed of life that I am nurturing within me. No my love, it is not for my safety that I flee from you, only for the safety and well-being of our child. God be with you."

K. was thrilled with the sudden idea of Moluk's pregnancy, reflected on its pros and cons for a moment and then tried to resume writing again, but couldn't. He felt exasperated after several minutes had passed. He wished he had already produced the next few pages that would reveal to him her new whereabouts. It suddenly seemed to him that he had been in love with her; yet the feelings he had for her were much simpler and perhaps stronger than those he had expressed toward real people, including his ex-fiancè Shirin -- the thought of her as usual rebubbled the fountain of emotions in him; his mind conjured a couple of the poetry lines he had once, at sixteen, jotted down on a postcard to her:

Who is Shirin? What is she?

A sorrow-eyed swan pecking the honeyed stream of life

A stray sparrow rambling her dome of sweet innocence,

Flying her thoughts of fire

And riding on wings of love for ever and aye

Above the unresisting starry sky of her eyes,

Loveliness unfathomable, as Farhad ever saw in Shirin's eye.*

Enough sobbing, he disciplined his emotions, now concentrating on the elements of Moluk's character, her fascinating though tragic teen love affair, her not so lengthy self-imposed confinement, her genius of suffering, her aristocratic stubbornness, her unique rebelliousness, and her archetypical womanhood even as a whore. She was the incarnate passion, the incarnate sensuality, the incarnate fiasco of a sexual regime on its defense.

Now skimming through the second chapter and the recurrent pages of Ismaeel's woeful world -- of lechery turned into obscenity, of perfectly chaste women turning their bodies over to lustful clergy, of the interchanging symbolism of faith and sexuality, and so on, all these descriptions K. read while imagining them in his head as so many movie reels. "God help me finish this. Please," he sighed, heard his mother's voice from downstairs calling on him to join for dinner. His stomach growling, K. decided not to throw at her the usual "you go ahead and eat, I 'll be down later." Instead, he walked to the stairs and yelled, "Do I have time for a quick shower?"

"Alright. Just make it quick."

The tiny shower, just installed a year ago, was located on the second floor. A couple of side tiles had fallen and the water pressure was frustratingly low, which more often than not made K. to ignore its existence and go to the Zomorodian public bath, hammam, to get rejuvenated by the athletic hands of Asghar Agha, his favorite masseur, dallak. Today was different. K., too lazy to get out of the house, for the first time found the shower most agreeable to him; to the annoyance of his family, he took a long time, emerging from the shower with a renewed energy; his minor migrant headache was gone and so was the itch between his toe. Now appreciating the merit of the accessible shower more than ever before, K. was determined to increase his usage of it both in the morning and at night.

Eating with the family, including Jalil who as of late had increased his visits to almost every other day, K. listened unattentively to his interpretation of the growing disturbances in the city -- that had followed the government's decision to hike the food prices within a month of cutting the subsidies. "People are finally learning the true nature of these charlatans," said Jalil self-assuringly, recited Hafez, "don't be duped if the cat of devotee has said its prayer."

"Politics. Always politics," complained their mother from

the kitchen, partly to preempt yet another duel of words between the two brothers, "don't you ever get sick of it?" Jalil, with a terse smile that, from K.'s viewpoint, made his bearded face look uglier, quickly changed the topic to K.'s writings, asked, "So, what have you been writing lately?" K., feeling immodest, replied, "well, I am trying a Persian imitation of Madame Bovary, nothing that would interest your social taste I am sure." Jalil, knowing that K.'s slight pause on "social" was for a reason and that he had at the last second switched from "religious" or "dogmatic religious," felt like stinging back by asking K., "Why don't you try an adaptation of Shirin and Farhad?" but, pitying his brother's bruised feelings over an engagement gone sour, swallowed it and, making a turn toward the ideological, asked K., "Is the protagonist a Muslim woman?"

"I suppose so. Why?" K. answered and swallowed his desire to ask how things were in the Agriculture Bureau.

"Nothing. I just wanted to know if she comes out as a Muslim woman," answered Jalil while eating.

"What is a Muslim woman supposed to look like?" asked Fakhri innocently.

"A Muslim woman is one who looks like a Muslim woman."

Fakhri frowned and then handed K. the newly-arrived photo of Maryam and her family in England; Marjan, the older daughter, did not look healthy, had rings around her eyes. "Poor kid. She looks terrible, doesn't she," whispered Fakhri so that their mother, who was puting down the rice dish, could not hear. "What's wrong with her?" asked K. and the moment his mother was back in the kitchen received Fakhri's response, "How many times have I told you. She is anemic. That's why I think they should come back here where the weather is the best cure for her. You would think her stupid husband would think of that." K. nodded in agreement -- suddenly a novel notion occurred to him: Why not send Moluk to England, perhaps after a torturous detour in Pakistan? Excited about the new twist, K. rushed his dinner and returned to his sanctuary, wasting no time in small talk, which was bound to degenerate into discussion of household finances and Jalil's sordid attempt to convince him that they should rent the third floor. "England, here we come. Throw your red carpets for our princess."

"What a welcome!" uttered K. ruefully an hour or two later, after dropping the pen in exhaustion, after deciding that he had had enough of the vexing spectrum of emotions that he experienced while writing the new section -- exuberance, suspicion, fear, cynicism and sadness, an unbearable sadness. He felt sick, coughed a few times, each time more aggravated, wanted to resume writing but his creative imagination now seemed like a lazy visitor who had called it quits.

"Wormy lands!" K. rubbed his hands together, felt like tearing into pieces all the nonsense he had just written, lowered his head on the desk and dosed off for a few minutes, fantasizing about Moluk just as he was being devoured by sleepiness, kissing her hands and her neck feverishly, touching her lips with his fingers and with his lips and devouring her delicious mouth and, suddenly, he was standing tall at his desk staring at the manuscript, and then cutting open his wrist with a sharp blade and letting the blood mix with the manuscript, drop after drop, now adding a brush of reality to the brutality of its content, now completing with actual blood the ever so brave and so humble and yet so sacrificial burden of writing, this wormy business of imagination that was demanding from him the unflagging courage of a front line soldier, to act as a real patriot or a devoted missionary transmigrated to alien lands, a champion of truth amerced on the line of duty, with his hand never flinching from the trigger of his pen-canon and facing the battleground, this vast volt of writing, undaunted, like a tarantist Sufi carrying verbatim the drumbeats of words. "Words, words, words. I have never shunned thee, and you have never stopped strafing my being. For I am just another humble Sisyphus carrying the wordrocks hopelessly atop the cliff of salvation, searching for the Promethean torch to burst asunder all the demonic ties of falsehood, yearning for the summit where the finagling angels are enthroned and words are produced like a torrent rainfall streaming downward on their human preys, swooping them in the marshlands of thought and belief, turning their bodies over to the insatiable needs -- oh, those abstruse, anticryptic wordful needs, and how we alone have in our possession the shield of protection against the downpour of poisonous words from heavens and from the inferno around us. Let the dying speak for himself: Behold you savant demigods of faith and reason. I keep no regrets for avataring a sinful princess. Dissect beneath my skin, peel through my artifacts, and redraw the signposts of my existence along any lines of interpretation you like, put them under any microscopes you desire, and then, and maybe only then, you, my helpless bedeviled spectators can perhaps appreciate why I consider this overappreciated norm of lunacy, which creates us and then buries us, for we are all narratively created, to be a cruel destiny -- that edges toward the mainstream..." K. woke up, sweating in fear, raised his hands before his eyes and was comforted by their intactness, massaged his spinning head and rubbed his eyes, felt miserable yet thankful that it had all been just a nightmare. "Wormy hands," he uttered regretfully the moment he turned off the light switch and slept on the bed, repeated it in his head, not knowing why he could not let go of it. Holding his face into his hands, broke into tears, a soft cry that eased his inexplicable sudden sadness as it increased his sense of helplessness; wiped the tears with his palms and then kept staring at his hands; studied the curvy scar around his right wrist.

It was a childhood mark largely covered by his hair and only noticeable at close range; he wished he didn't have to relive the incident of how on a lovely Fall afternoon he had couraged a tryout on an oversized bicycle and how, after losing control and crushing into a huge window, he had calmly stood and stared at the scary sight of blood pouring down his hand, hoping meanwhile that his father would run to his rescue. But it was his mother and his uncles who had rushed him to the hospital, interrupting their grief over his father who had just passed away, although he was too small and only vaguely aware that something terrible had happened.

"Did I hurt myself deliberately?" K. asked himself for the nth time, for the first time admitting that he had, that he had preplanned the accident with the hope that his father would not have the heart not to appear, run to him, hold and caress him in his arm and comfort him by saying, "my son, my dear son, I will always take care of you." Grinning, K. inspected the scar more closely, recalled the subsequent horror and pain of the stitches, the vaccines and so on; the doctors had told them that it had been a dangerous injury; a couple of centimeters larger and he could have lost a hand to paralysis. There had been weeks, maybe months, when he had devoutly wished it had. The desire did not pass soon or easily. He did not want to hurt himself; he merely was not sure he wanted to live without father.

"Time heals all the injuries," his mother had once told him; he never doubted it. He just wished the process was faster so that the restless imagination would return and the hours could be filled with work, not pounding temples and vague, uneasy concerns about the childhood memories. K. shut his eye lids and calmly fell sleep. When he woke up several hours later, the rays of a hot sun, piercing through the shade, were crawling up his chest to his face; K. felt an inexplicable confidence, as if his brain had put everything in a fresh perspective while he was sleep. A quick visit downstairs for a bite to eat, and he returned to his desk and began writing calmly and with a fine sense of balance, filling one page after another, each page adding to the satisfaction of the previous ones. The renewed sense of his literary competence had sustained him in the hour of self-doubt; after a while, he took a rest, made tea, washed his face in the sink and then, feeling a boundless energy, resumed work; dwelled on the wisdom of the new twist he had inserted in his novel; there was only one way to make sure and that was to reread the product of his latest labor:

"The immigration officer repeats his question, this time slowly: Your first name? Is it Zohreh or Zahrah? I see an inconsistency here. And before she has a chance to respond, which would not have been easy even if he understood Farsi, the officer notices a more serious inconsistency in the order of her passport's pages. Looking at her pretty, concerned face tightly covered by a colorful silk scarf, he pauses for a moment. Somewhere deep inside his brain, he asks himself what would happen if he ignored her possession of a fake passport and let her go?

Please Sir.

I am sorry madam.

So begins her ordeal of detention in an alien land; shamed and bewildered, Zohreh sits impatiently inside an official van waiting to be transported to the central detention center where hundreds or perhaps thousands of other illegal aliens mostly from the third world are confined, many of them indefinitely. She does not know why it is taking them so long. Her buttocks freezing on the metallic seat, she wishes that they would at least let her have her suitcase so that she could put on her favorite blue sweater she had purchased at Karachi's Empress market. Outside, Heathrow seems a bustling, noisy universe unto itself, full trafficked, on the ground and in the air. The door opens; they throw in her green suitcase at her feet and then unhandcuff another detainee inside, a middle age Pakistani whom she distinctly remembers from the air plane, the very same one who, sitting a few seats ahead of her, had complained that it was taking so long to cross the Iranian air space, letting out his fear that the Iraqis or the Americans may shoot it down by mistake, just as they had done very recently. She recalls that she had kept only a passing grudge against the man and that, just like him, she had felt a great relief, mixed with sadness, when it had been announced that they were entering the air space of Turkey, wishing at that very moment that they would turn around and fly all over Iran at low altitude so she could get one final look at the homeland she was leaving behind for good.

Bastards. Bloody British. Curse be to all of them, complains the Pakistani as he stares out the small cubic window and simultaneously, through the corner of his right eye, at her. He apologizes for his foul language. She understands. The van starts moving -- further and further away from the terminal and then from the whole massive airport. He offers her a candy, she refuses politely. Now they are feeling the bumps of a bridge, definitely the biggest she has ever seen in her life, not that she is slightly amused by any thing she sees any more -- but he is, particularly about the magnificent lattices, even though he had once visited here, legally, for a month or so. But that had been a long time ago and little of his memories of that trip had remained in his head. And if he felt a hidden confidence despite the arrest was due to the fact that his sons were here and would soon get him out.

What did they get you for, if you don't mind me ask? The Pakistani asks. She does not understand a word of it. The Pakistani rephrases his question: Bad passport? Ha? Did you have bad passport like me?

Yes, she answers sadly, bad passport. He gestures with his fingers, how much did you pay for bad passport? Money. How much money?

She thinks he is asking her for money, picks up her purse, withdraws a few large bills and offers them to him. Astonished, he refuses adamantly.

She insists, please, take, yours, please take.

Reluctantly and with extreme hesitation, the Pakistani takes the money, now wondering how many more of those bills she has in her purse. Time passes. A light rain is falling on the roof, slightly reminding her of the barrage of machine gun fire that had been directed at them when they were escaping into Pakistan in a Jeep, and the single bullet that missed her face and smashed the neck of another passenger, a young man who had deserted the army. And she thinks about the money he tucked inside her shirt right before he passed away. A back shiver in response to the horrifying images, and she grabs the handle of her suitcase and tries to open it. The Pakistani man offers to help, relishes the sight of her full breasts lurking underneath her dark clothes, wishes she were uninhibitive or needy so he could pay her and seduce her, attack her breasts and suck her nipples before undressing her completely and screwing her front and back. Their eyes glue together for a moment, she looks at him meaningfully, knows exactly what he is contemplating, wonders how he would treat her if he knew she is a former prostitute? Will he put aside all niceties and rudely demand sex? Should she satisfy him, this poor, unlucky creature who looks like he has spent a life-time of deprivation with an unappealing wife?

You want me? She asks him; relinquishes the suitcase, sits back.

Yes, says the Pakistani in disbelief.

O.K. Take me, she says calmly.

The Pakistani wants to but is held back by the mildest suspicion that she does not really mean it or is plotting to harm him somehow. Sensing the sources of his hesitation, she slowly begins to unbutton her shirt, takes his right hand and places it on her soft chest; the Pakistani, his stiff penis dispatching urgent signals to drop all hesitations, jumps over the suitcase and grabs her entire body in his arms and hands, licks her nipples through her bra, forcefully pulls it up and starts feasting with her delicious breasts, groaning. Within minutes, they are both half-naked on the floor; she refuses to kiss him on the lips and, just as he is about to move his hand below her pubic hair, stops him.

Moment please.

Why, what is it?

She sits upright, turns around and opens the suitcase, withdraws a black leather notebook, waves it before his face and says, This. Take to this address. She opens the last page and shows him a name and an address in Paris, repeats, please take.

The Pakistani has a delayed reaction. His mind races to a thousand fearful scenarios, terrorism, spying, etc., yet a good look at her and he notices a heavenly face incapable of any such misconduct; takes the notebook from her hand and replies, sure, no problem.

He wants to resume love making, is in a unique hurry, like a man afraid of waking from a nice dream. She dampens his mood, however, by offering something else to him that definitely is worth to him a further delay in carnal satisfaction: Her money, all of it.

Are you out of your mind?! Why?

Take. Please take, she insists genuinely, and insists and insists. Finally, he takes.

They remain in their positions for a long moment. The ride is very bumpy now, from his point of view a sure sign the British empire has long declined; they get dressed and sit in their original positions; he puts the money and the notebook in his carry on, but not before trying uselessly to give her back her substantial sum. That's o.k. I don't need, she insists successfully. The Pakistani, immensely thankful and yet disturbed that he may be taking advantage of a mentally handicapped female, is pondering the wisdom of submitting both the money and the notebook to the officers once they stop and open the damn door. What for, he asks himself, so they could take the money themselves? The hell with them. He looks out at the busy highway traffic, at a passing beer truck with a sexy poster on it, wonders what significance the notebook has for her, hears the woman's voice praying for forgiveness, turns his face and sees that she is about to insert two unusually large brown pills in her mouth, for a second does not think much of it, but then at a second look, shrieks in fear once he realizes that she has just taken cynide.

Oh my God, what are you doing?

She smiles kindly and sadly and utters, man daram ba een zendegieh jahanami khodahafezi meekonam, I am bidding farewell to this hellish world.

Instantly her face turns white, her eyes begin to twitch, and she has a breathing problem. Yelling for help, the Pakistani jumps toward the back and bangs on the wall; instantly the van veers to the right, comes to a screeching halt; the door opens and the two officers, their clubs in hand, inspect with weary eyes.

Hey, what the devil you two are up to? One of them asks the moment he notices the woman's face. At this point she is bending down and holding her stomach. The officers, not ruling out the notion of a fake illness, order the Pakistani to stay in the back and not to move; one of them jumps inside for a closer look at the female, says, What the hell?

She took two bloody cinydes gentlemen, the Pakistani says rather calmly, with a tone conveying a foregone conclusion regarding her imminent death. She falls down moaning, has an immense breathing difficulty, is now gasping for air, her hands and legs flail in the air, a white foam is oozing out of her mouth, terrifying the hell out of the officer inside, he looks helplessly at his friend and yells, what to do Jack?

Fuck. Let's go back to London, the other one responds, we can't do jack shit here. Let's go.

The Pakistani, dreading the thought of being left alone with the violently dying woman, who for a second reminds him of a deadly scorpion, begs them to let him sit in the front.

Not in my bloody life time, the driver responds as he is about to slam the doors. Screaming and shaking his head in disbelief, the Pakistani, grabbing his carry on instantly, charges forward like a man possessing a demonic fury, jumps past her into the door and breaks out. The officers chase after him; he tries foolishly to loose them by crossing the highway but fails to dodge an incoming truck that hits him on the side and throws his body several meters in the air before it bounces back on another car's windshield; the contents of his carry on scatter on the highway.

The officers remain frozen in their places for a moment; between them, the driver is more upset: Fuck. I just knew we 're gonna miss the football match tonight, didn't I tell you? Didn't I?

Yes you did. Damned foreigners."

K. reclined on the chair, lamenting his heroine's plight; noticed the time on his watch abandoned on a corner of the desk:

2:23. "Amazing," he commented on the quickness of the witching hours. Somehow he was still as fresh as a daisy; his mind reviewed quickly what he had just read; he liked his new penchant for a plainness of expression and felt a bit tantalized by the episode of Zohreh's lustful consorting with a perfect stranger. He knew exactly what that episode was to display, namely, a prevailing, continual and generally effectual tendency, so keenly cultivated in the previous section, to the victory of appetites and lust over man. Instead of fretting about the complex ironies of life, he solemnly observed how the harrowing termination of Zohreh's life coincided unambiguously with the liberation of her repressed sexuality. He had a raucous laugh, for never before he had known such bewildering experiences with writing, incorporating so much of his personal feelings, and getting so emotionally attached to his fictional characters. If he loved Zohreh so much was mainly because he had succeeded in avoiding the burden of typecasting; for him Zohreh was more than another Madam Bovary, whose travails simply educated the readers about a small aspect of the cosmic delusion called life. "What is she then?"

K. was so preoccupied with this question that he ignored what his ears registered: a footstep coming up the stairs. Only after it reached his floor did his senses determine that it did not belong to any family member; his body twitched in fear as he heard the click of the light switch outside his room which was instantly followed by a black out inside; he turned his face toward the door and was aghast by the dim view of a masked man whose eyes glowed meaningfully like a cat in the darkness. Paralyzed with fear, K. swallowed with difficulty, prayed in his head that he could blink and discover that he had been hallucinating; he couldn't blink; the stranger's eyes were glued to his; impassive, those were cold eyes, damp with a coldness, not the properties of a ghost he decided, for they were so humanly cold.

"What do you want from me?" K. sighed.

"Zahra. Where is she?" asked the stranger in a low, husky and unmistakably mean voice.


"What did you do to her?" asked the stranger with his even tone. K, swallowed, wished his back and his legs would stop shaking, whispered, "who?"

The stranger stepped inside and looked around; he had a dark robe on that stretched to his heels and made him look taller, and a heavy gold chain that beamed at K.'s eyes. K. drew in his head a picture of that face hiding under the black scarf: A moody and unimpressive visage, solid cheek bones, a wide Persian nose conveying a sense of deceit and inflated egotism, and thick, plaid lips -- with a curvy scar below the lower lip.

"Ismaeel!" uttered K. in disbelief as soon as he detected, with lucid astonishment, a trace of the pimp-assassin's earmark.

"So she even told you my name, ha?" uttered Ismaeel with an alarming aloofness, neared the window and, inspecting the quiet street, added, "so what else has she told you about me? I bet she told you I was opposed to her having a baby, that I want to kill her -- right?"


"Well now, why don't you do both of us a service and tell me what you 've done with her?"

K. lowered his head, grinding his teeth, wishing he could fully ascertain that he was not unwittingly indulging in his wild fantasies, suddenly decided that the intruder's countenance did not really match those of Ismaeel; was about to question his identity when, turning his face half way around, his eyes noticed the thick blood-red stone on the man's right forefinger, perhaps weighing half a Kilo.

"My God, it is you," said K. as he tried to stand; Ismaeel's commanding "sit down" froze him in the process; he sat down. The stranger moved behind him and pounded on his back.

"I 'm going to ask you one last time like a gentleman," he said, "don't rush answering me either. I want straight answers from you, do you understand?"

"She 's dead," whispered K., "she fled to Karachi and then, from there to England with a false passport, was arrested at the airport and, on her way to the headquarter, committed suicide, or tried to."

The stranger was distrusting, "what kind of crap are you throwing at me?" And then slapped him hard on the back of his head, so powerful that K.'s head nearly hit the wall and he was about to be derailed on the floor but the stranger intervened and kept him on the chair, brusquely turned it toward him face to face, retorted, "listen you son of a bitch. Do you want me to dirty my hands with your blood tonight? ha?" He grabbed K.'s neck with one hand choking him; K. shook himself wildly to release his neck but couldn't.

"Alright, alright," K. repeated; the stranger finally let go of the pressure; K. bent down on his knees, coughing.

"For God's sake leave me alone. I don't know any Zohreh, except in my novel. She 's just a..."


"Part of a Thespian crew," answered K. in his head, wanted to utter a more appeasing response but the stranger had just about had it with him, slapped him on the face and fumed, "You bastard. You don't get it, do you? Why get yourself killed over a whore? You see. There is nothing sentimental about this. To you she 's nobody, just another name in a book. But for me, it is a question

of pride and authenticity. Do you get it? How long do you think I would last in business if I let every whore screw me like this?"

K., dizzied and in pain, interrupted him boldly, or rather foolishly, under a sudden conviction that he had to speak his mind, "So you have no concern for the baby?"

"I tell you," said the stranger with a deadly smile, "I like you. You 're a tough son of a bitch, are n't you?" Then he picked up the papers on the desk and tore them into pieces; threw them at K.'s gasping face. Spontaneously, K., putting one hand on the edge of his desk, tried with the other hand to pick up some of the papers. This irritated Ismaeel, he reached for the knife-like envelope opener and forcefully landed it on K.'s hand, yelled, "This is your initial punishment. I 'll be back for more soon. So you better have Zahra delivered to me before I come back." Screaming, K. fell on the floor writhing in pain.

"Please leave me alone, please," begged K., raised his head and, to his surprise, saw that he was gone, disappeared in thin air. Reeling in pain and terror, K. heard a car's noise, rushed to the window and was shocked by the sight of a white foreign automobile moving away from their door; he turned around and sat in the midst of the torn papers, holding his bleeding wrist; with all his mortifying confusion, K. still felt lucky that the rest of the manuscript had survived Ismaeel's rage by virtue of being out of sight; stood and ran to the sink, now pleased that the hot water was not taking so long.

A few minutes later, inspecting his injury, K. was baffled by the strange coincidence of the injury on his old wound, nearly. But what if it was not a coincidence at all?

K. wished he had not asked himself the question -- that was tantamount to opening a pandora's box. He couldn't help himself. After all, just several hours ago, he had once again contemplated the crazed notion of somehow opening his old wound, and bleeding again, partly to rekindle the past experience and partly to see whether a miracle would happen and his father would materialize

in front of him. Clearly, his unconscious was determined to give his father one more chance. K. took off his bloodied shirt and massaged his neck with a wet towel, still intrigued by the strange coincidence.

"How did he know where to hit me?" K. asked rather self-deceivingly, for he was sure that he had been attacked not by a real man, or by a figment of his own imagination; worse, he had been injured by an enemy often more deadly than any other enemy: the enemy within.

"God. I am losing it," sighed K. woefully, now admitting that he had indeed deceived and hurt himself without realizing it; started crying, pulled the blanket over his head and pressed his face into the pillow.

"I must be losing it," he repeated as he was falling sleep; a snap-shot dream of Ismaeel brandishing a dagger and threatening to kill him unless he handed over "the diary" bullied K. back to consciousness; half-raised on the bed, he looked at the drifting clouds; one had the shape of a Viking vessel moving sideways due to a wild wind; another looked like the portrait of a pretty, sentimental little girl, "like Marjan," he imagined, asked himself, "should I send her a book of diary? Who knows. Marjan may turn out like another Moluk. What a woman!"

From this, K's mind shortcutted to another thought that was, in a word, startling: To do what the intruder had asked him to, putting every thing else aside, since nothing matched the importance of staying alive.

It was a tentative decision K. was unsure he was going to stick with the next day; for the moment, it was his determined decision to put all other preoccupations to a backburner and get on with the modification of the journals, wondered if he did not prefer to get his hands on Shirin's instead -- or imitate hers; too much to think about in one night, he decided, now trying to figure out what was it about the clouds that cheered his gloom and made him smile, decided that it was their terrific elasticity that mirrored his sense of imagination, floating in and out of uncharted zones, avoiding all traffic signs and tracks, and blue-prints; the finagling clouds roamed the virtuous ocean above much the same way he did within the inner-infernal city within his skull. Falling sleep, he recited,

"I saw finitude tonight/Like a great ring of pure and endless dark/Darkness illuminating darkness...For you yourself know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."


A suburb of Paris, 1986. Professor Foucault was serious but sarcastic. I could barely hear him with all the television and children noise in the background; holding the phone tightly against my ear, I laughed after hearing his reply to my remark that I thought he had passed away a year or so ago. "I am afraid the news about my death have been extremely, extrement, exaggerated." We then got on with business. He wanted to know how far I had progressed and how soon I could finish the translation and send it to him. From the way he talked, I got a feeling that he might have wanted to drop the "extrement" from his sarcastic remark. "I have gone to a great length to find you," he said, "you did not leave a forwarding address in Geneva. I was lucky to run into Dr. Zarabi who happens to know Mr. Farahi, who I understand is a friend of yours. He kindly furnished me with your telephone number."

Without exonerating myself of all the blame or denying my ties with Farahi at the (much controversial) embassy, I furnished a legitimate excuse, which I intuitively assumed he was anticipating from my mouth. "Well, you see, I was expelled on a day's notice from Switzerland. It was a giant case of mistaken identity. They suspected me for a government-sponsored assassin roaming around the continent using my last name. Fortunately, they just sent me an official letter of apology with a promise to renew my visa and to release all my confiscated papers within six months," I said.

    "But you have the journal in your possession now, right?" Foucault asked. Reluctantly I said I did, and preempting his question of 'why then have n't you contacted me?' gave him a guilt conscience for not having kept his part of the deal by forgetting to send the initial fee. He was mesmerized, "I am very sorry. My old secretary must have goofed." Then I said, "as for the work, I just have ten to fifteen more pages to do, which I should be able to finish and send to you by the end of the month." Foucault was immensely grateful. After I hung up, I cursed myself for giving him the correct address, wondered what he would say if he knew (a fraction of) the truth -- that the actual number of pages left to be translated was near sixty, almost the entire book, and that I was getting ready for a badly needed trip. "You Persians. One can never get a simple truth out of you. Always haggling over truth," he would probably say, perhaps in spite of his anti-Eurocentric self.

    Foucault's call came in on a Sunday afternoon in early December, nearly two and a half years after our initial contact. Reclining on the sofa and watching a news special, I had flashbacks of our encounters in Geneva: Ibrahim introduced me to him at a cocktail party thrown on Foucault's behalf at the institute where I worked as a visiting researcher. In the course of our conversation he mentioned the diary. For whatever reason, he badly wanted it translated and read as soon as possible, joked, "unfortunately my Farsi is not up to par with the requirement of reading this personal journal." We met the following day in order to discuss the details of my assignment.

    We sat at an outdoor cafe. Foucault claimed not to know much about the identity of the journal's author; for obvious reasons I expressed an initial doubt about the accuracy of his account that an anonymous person, a Persian lady, had mailed it to him at his private residence. "But who could it be?" He asked me rhetorically. Having ruled out the small circle of his Persian friends in Paris, Foucault was ninety percent sure the sender was a female he had met while covering the 1978 revolution as a correspondent for an Italian newspaper. "But I saw and interviewed so many people, many of them women," he said to me. "Did you give your home's address to any one?" I asked him. He said he had not. I was about to ask him a rude question, "Are you sure you talked with any Muslim woman?" but suppressed it instead. Maybe I should have. Maybe he would then admit that due to his prejudices and blinds, he had failed to understand the true essence of our revolution. But I was careful not to alienate him in the name of "intellectual disagreement." Glancing through the pages of the notebook, I noticed her name and commented, "Zohreh is not particularly a religious name." With a slight delay, Foucault's voice trembled, "Zohreh! Did you say Zohreh? Uh, now I remember, the puzzle is solved" He then went on explaining,

"There was this woman I talked to briefly in Shiraz. We had gone there a day or two after covering the giant rallies on Tasua and Ashura* (teasingly asked if he was pronouncing them correctly,

was pleased with himself that he did). That was in fact my second trip to that lovely city of Saadi and Hafez (I interrupted him by mentioning, hypocritically of course, Mulla Sadra*). I remember we stayed at Hotel Darius. A nice hotel but terrible service. I think I had my worst food in Iran at that hotel; gave me an awful indigestion. Any way, our companie, which included a competent translator and a photographer, was invited by the government to go and inspect the prisons. So we spent half a day or so checking out the prison conditions, which I must confess to you found quite comparable -- that is, may be a notch or two more deplorable than our own prisons. Now, of course, bien sur, we never knew if the rumors of secret prisons for political prisoners and all the related horror stories of torture chambers and so on had any truth to them. I have yet to see a report that confirms them. Well, to make a long story short, the next day we took part in a huge rally that extended for miles; it had been occasioned by the fortieth day calendar of commemoration of martyrs of revolution. Needless to say, I was quite impressed, impresionne, by the display of unity among the entire population behind that mythical chief. It was this giant outpouring of defiance from the depths of millions of souls that caused me to realize for the first time that there might be a way out of Weber's cage. For me, a Frenchman, so narcotized against our bureaucratic condition of helplessness, this was of course a huge discovery. I realized how much passion and hope that exiled mullah had borne into the nation through the power of a single idea: Islamic government. Any way, that was when I met her.

We had been given special access to the heart of the rally by being placed in a bus full of foreign reporters limping forward in the midst of a sea of protesters, some of whom wore the white shrouds symbolizing their readiness to die in the path of revolution. A good half of the marchers were women, young and old, almost all wearing black veils, some carrying their children with them. They were, of course, segregated from male marchers. Interestingly, none of the women served as march guides and, what is more, at one point we saw a group of young men forming a protective ring around the females. I recall asking our translator

about that and he did not have the slightest clue.

Any way. At another point our bus came to a complete halt for a good half hour. We were baking; the bus had no air conditioner and the temperature was well above ninety or ninety five. I felt specially bad for the poor children who had been dragged out there in the oppressive heat and the deafening noise. I was getting ready to exit the bus to collect some opinion samples when the door opened and they brought in a woman who had passed out due to heat exhaustion. She sat a couple of rows behind us (was she alone? I asked him and received the response that she was with two other older females). After a few minutes, when I saw that she was recuperating rapidly, I asked our translator to see to it that we get a brief interview with them. Expectedly they agreed. Since the bus was already crowded, we asked them to come and sit next to us one at a time. I remember first interviewing the other two women, both of whom were devoutly religious and ardent supporters of Khomeini -- fairly decent representatives of the emerging discursive formation and its complex nuances I hasten to add, and then that woman, Zohreh.

I vaguely remember what she looked like. She was pretty, adorable, slender, was no older than twenty six or seven on the high side, twenty two or three on the low side. What impressed me most about her, however, were her manicured, tall finger nails and her stylish outfit, which I got a chance to peek at when she sat next to me and her chador dropped from her head for a moment. In retrospect, I think she dropped it deliberately. Any way, after a couple of preliminary questions, Zahra, looking worried, surprised us by asking us to help her and her daughter leave the country. She did not want to raise any suspicion on the part of her hizbollah sisters sitting in the back and, therefore, wanted us to keep asking questions. But each time I asked a question through the translator, who stood next to us, she would answer by furnishing more explanation about the nature of her problems.

Now, sadly I cannot remember most of what she said. This is the levy of old age that robs us of a precious aspect of our lives. What I vividly remember, however, is that Zohreh gave the impression of a person in grave danger. She conveyed her fear as much by what she said as by her looks. I also remember her coming across as articulate and educated, carried an air of pride

in her manners even when she was begging us to help her escape her problems. She never got to the specifics, except saying that she was sure they would take her daughter away from her and might even kill her if they did not leave the country. As a foreign reporter I was limited in what I could do. I told her that should she be able to come to Europe, I will be more than happy to help her; gave her my home address at the end of our brief, and intriguing, conversation. I never saw or heard from her again, and the reason I didn't know that this notebook is hers was because it came without a cover letter or any explanation and, also, because a Persian friend whose help I solicited misinformed about the name: he said it's Zohreh, not Zahrah, I'm sorry Zahra, not Zohreh. Names can get so confusing at times. So I appreciate it if you expedite the process and translate this for me as soon as possible. I specifically want to know if it contains a clue as to her whereabouts. Are you following me, tu me suis, Mr. Ismaeel?"

I did, parfaitement >>> Parts 6,7

* Farhad and Shirin, the Romeo and Julliet of Iranian folklore.

PARTS: (1,2,3)(4,5)(6,7)


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