Diaries & Jallad

A novel: Chapters 6 and 7


Diaries & Jallad
by Kaveh Afrasiabi

PARTS: (1,2,3) (4,5) (6,7) (8,9,10)


"Paris-Geneva." K. was whispering this when his mother woke him up, at first thought that he had slept only an hour or two; the outside was dark and the faint somber noise of a muezzin* from a nearby mosque made him think that she was waking him for the dawn meal, sahari. "Get up son," his mother scolded him, "you have slept all day again. Look at this jungle. Why don't you clean up after yourself once in a while?" K. ignored her, closed his eyes again and defiantly asked her to turn the light off and give him just a few more minutes, absorbed himself in the dreadful noise, wished it sounded differently, like a radio announcer, instead of a reminder that His Majesty is watching. His mother was not giving up however; she could hear his stomach's growling; she opened the window and let the cold air come in; her arms shivered.

"Did you have a nose bleed again?" She asked in a worried tone as soon as her weak eyes detected the blood stains on the sheet and on the gilim. K. quickly hid his hand under the pillow and replied that he had. She wanted to get a close look for herself but K., turning on his stomach, assured her that it had been just a routine few drops he had been shedding now and then since teen years. She felt uneasy about the large number of stains that had made a path all the way to the kitchennete, wished he would listen to her for once and accompany his disc-suffering mother to the ground floor. Listening to his son's yawning with a smile on her face, as it reminded her of her deceased husband who yawned just like that, K.'s mother summoned him downstairs one last time "within ten minutes or I will send Fakhri with a pitcher" and then exited the room. Before descending the stairs cautiously, she commended him for keeping his sink empty. The muezzin had stopped. K. had clearly missed his evening prayer.

Opening his eyes, K. turned to the side and glared meaninglessly at his chaotic desk; the sight of the envelope opener jolted him and he shut his eye lids again, now trying to engross himself in the tricky business of remembrance.

Yet, regardless of how hard he tried, he could not conjure anything except a blurry notion of some catastrophe awaiting him. Chewing the bloodied hair of his left hand tucked under his head, K. did not mind the bitter taste and was by now distracted by the incoming images on his head's silver screen arriving in slow sequences. The first image belonged to a pretty, voluptuous girl resting her head on his belly in the middle of a colorful meadow. From his position, it was difficult to determine what she looked like exactly; her thick lower lip and her round full chest underneath her bra-less thin blouse, this was all he could see while lying down like that in the middle of a vast hill, absorbing the delicious sun and the chictchat of birds. And before he could move his hands and touch her skin in that image, his mind raced to another, even more tantalizing image, that of a dark studio that looked more like a warehouse, full of finished and unfinished clay scupltures scattered around the room. In the center, he noticed, rather belatedly, there was a different adornment: A sculptured hand, suspended in the air one to two meter above his head, and covered with a leather-black glove. Pressing his eye lid, K. whispered, "interesting, jalebeh."

It was a perfectly mysterious hand, just as the groceryman had described, except that the tip of the index finger had shined, a sure sign it was made of either bronze or gold. Hearing the distant hum hum of a helicopter-sounding car, K. instantly wondered if the hand was capable of flying, recalled its peculiar deformity: the disproportionate length of the index finger which loomed large over the rest, and it twitched slightly, perhaps a deliberate design by its creator to signify that it was a living and not a passive object, for it was the actuality of a bodily energeia, aflame with an immediate presence, full of deity, full of the primordial myth of sensuality, so delicately presented by the single abnormality of the twitching finger, which now reminded him of the nervous needle of the heat control downstairs. The unusual finger awakened a disturbing sensuality, a sense of banishment, banishing both grace and beauty and, fretting further, he thought "deity." Indeed, that fragmented bodily presence was human too human, so devoid of any sacral traces and so terrifyingly self-possessive, a function of the sole erect finger that reigned over the others that bowed before it so humbly and even cowardly the thumb was the lieutenant in the hierarchy; the hand's lucidity stemmed from its lack of desire for anything holy. "A jallad's hand," he thought for a moment and then, a moment later, concluded that he had been mistaken and the hand seemed positively a clue to the mystery of universe.

"God is a hand!" K. felt self-congratulatory, declared in his head, "mute, blind, in boredom moves things around with its disjoined marbles." He laughed and then whispered, "but why can't He just let go of the world, instead of so possessively holding on to every lousy piece of...?" Uttering the word "piece," and K. swallowed the rest, suddenly opened his eyes, raised his head and stared at the torn papers that grabbed his attention, mumbled, "what a rude awakening."

He rubbed his wrist and, in the slanting ray of light that reached the bed from the hall way, still distrusted his eyes's discovery of the fresh injury, thought hopelessly about that impalpable narrative about sex in an exotic land which, hours later, was still fresh in his memory even though he now retained a cold objectivity toward it and its mood and content seemed an ocean away from him. "Did it have a good or bad ending?" He asked himself, rubbed his cold feet, sneezed, sat motionless and bemused. He found a minor distraction in the intrusion of a bee that circled around the bed a couple of times before diappearing in the hall way; bent down and picked up a few pieces of paper, was happy to see the bulky manuscript intact. "I have to preserve it from my own destructive self from now," he whispered unbelievingly; after trying hopelessly to read some sentences, he felt like reaching for a pen and paper and start rewriting the torn output, without changing a word of it. "What an idiot I am" he uttered despondently, now immersing himself in a self-reproach, counting his boundless faults. Which aspect of him was to blame? He blamed everything, his credulity, his untimely passage to the ghetto of becoming an ex-poet, and his immeasurable need for intimacy after breaking up with Shirin. Suddenly he remembered that the woman whose image had come to him a minute ago was none other than Shirin. As usual, she invoked a renwed sense of idealism in his soul. His idealism was surely the continuing, sentimental, shallow little reason why he bothered with the reminder that the barren life had to go on regardless of how long it was stuck in its brumal voyage; he thought of adding this sentence, to glorify his own suffering, irrespective of his hatred of it, recalled the content of his last letter to Shirin: "How can you do this to me? Delaying our happiness for the sake of the dead amounts to a false pretense of being alive, makes our life into a nonentity and we simply hold on to its shell, violating our immediacy. You and I must get out of this rotten land, the sooner, the better. I cannot wait for the enobling expectation of a future unity with you to pass, for I am sure only then will I feel like a man again, ready to embrace the joy of life to its fullest." Shivering, K. got up and closed the window, walked around the room aimlessly, pulled the chair from the dreary desk and sat at the window looking at the sky.

The moonless sky seemed so lonely and lifeless, so much in harmony with his monotony. Watching the still sky helped him focus on the assassin's ultimatum of the night before, kept no illusion that he would return, and that it was a clear-cut case of

either or: Moluk or himself. It was a classic duel of paradoxes only a poet could understand, he thought. Like most poets he had had his share of paradoxes, real or imaginary, but this time his new one was rippling him apart without the company of his normal limits of suffering, now making him feel like he was a thin hair balancing on the razor's edge. "God help me. I need your help," he muttered despondently, kept the tears away with a deep breath, "yet I must be a saviour for once in my life." After repeating the word "saviour" a few times, K. cursed himself, "hypocrite. Always a bundle of contradictions, ha? You just want to save your own pride." A wet sparrow landed behind the window, it flew away as K. moved to offer his shirt; sat on the edge of the bed and held his hand in his face, murmured, "hope. What is hope but the mother of illusion?" Suddenly K. remembered the content of his tragic story of Moluk's unwelcome reception in England, instantly decided that in rewriting it he would have to lend much more poignancy and pathos to the suicide scene in the end. He rested his back on the bed, now thinking whether he was kidding himself and could actually remember the whole story word by word. His thoughts were interrupted by a minor chest pain; in the midst of it he distracted himself with the memory of Moluk's passionate love-making with the Pakistani guy in the moving van, and then with the thought of the name and address which she had shown that brute. "God, what was the name, and which city?" The question pained him well after the pain was gone. K. checked his pulse and,

feeling pity for his body, ventured, "the hell with her, with everything except this wretched organism, this living android has rights too don't forget." With that thought, he got up and walked out the room toward the staircase, avoiding all eye contacts with the consistent pattern of blood stains; sketching in his head the necessary revisions for the suicide section. But whose suicide?!

The question froze K. in his position as he was about to reach the second floor; leaned against the wall for a moment; the pressure of the urine in his bladder was intensifying. K. could now easily hear the conversation on the TV that travelled all the way from the reception room on the ground level. "My darling, I have no choice. A man has to do what he has to do," a male voice said. "In that case, you must face the consequences," a female voice replied, was followed by a dramatic music. K. proceeded toward the bathroom, paused for a moment to admire the cleanliness and orederliness of Fakhri's room, stepped inside and for a moment stood in front of the large mirror on the white dresser, looking at his unshaved, puffed up face, his messy hair, and his not so white

teeth, now agreeing with Shirin's friends and relatives who disapproved of him, retorted, "I don't make a pretty groom, do I?"

"What are you doing here?" Fakhri's question came from behind, he turned around and greeted his half-sister . She looked at him like she had seen a ghost, "Are you alright?" she asked, "you don't look too good." K. ignored her question and exited past her after clarifying that he was just admiring her nice room, then asked exictedly, "What 's for dinner tonight? I have n't had lunch yet."

"Cutlet," she answered, "I made Tehrani cutlet with potatoe in it." K., his appetite perked up, hurried to the bathroom.

Washing his genital organs with cold water repeatedly, K. felt a passing errection when his mind resurrected the image of Moluk's outrageous love-making in the van, which was quickly replaced with the image of Fakhri's happy, boisterous wedding in this very house some years ago. K. could almost hear the noises, recalled how happy the groom, Mamal, looked and how every one was praising the made-in-heaven handsome couple and the lavish party that the bride's family had thrown. He had been so resentful of the groom's stingy family for not extending a helping hand; how correct his hidden cynicism toward his brother-in-law and his family had turned out to be. Pity his step-father had passed away and could not join him in congratulating his prescient intuition, felt sorry for his sister and her bad luck, though luck had nothing to do with it and most of the blame fell on the shoulders of her father who had made a business transaction out of the wedding by agreeing to take as his son-in-law the spoiled and unattractive offspring of his business partner.

K. did not know the details of the rumored trade-off, knew only that Medhi agha had foolishly taken part in bazaar's bond-game, softeh bazi, and had incurred substantial losses which he constantly blamed on the fact that he ran a "street" business and not a "bazaar" business, even though his sofa shop, mobl forooshi, and the adjacent carpentery business he co-owned with Mamal's father were only a stone throw away from the bazaar's main entrance on Lotf Ali Khan-e Zand Street. K.'s face glowed as he remembered Mehdi agha's jubilation when he rushed home with a cream-buns full white box to break the news that he had reached an out of court settlement with the creditors who had cheated him; it had been such an uphill legal battle; only later it had dawned on that naive businessman that it was one thing to sign an agreement and quite another to see its faithful implementation. K.'s mind switched on to Mr. Sadoogh, the shrewd little merchant whose back as of late had caved in and made him walk like a beggar even though he was, by some poeple's standards, a very affluent man with shares in several businesses including half ownership of an antique store, hojra, inside the Vakil bazaar where his younger son who worked there claimed to have precious items from 9 countries. K. had promised to one day go there and ascertain this wild claim for himself but somehow had never found the time for it. He had, however, spend a little time with Mamal before the engagement party and had found that short man, barely taller than Fakhri, who had a bony nose and wide shoulders and a mustached face, to be unimpressive, highly self-centered and self-assured to the point of laughter just because of his background as a medical student he arrogantly made sure every one knew they were dealing with an advanced person. He was too proud to give K.'s sister decent respect and equality in their relationship. Without the slightest clue about his true nature, the mild-mannered Fakhri had consented to marry him, duped by the innocent persuasions of her mother, who chose to ignore completely K.'s negative assessment. K. recalled the fatherly voice of the mullah who wedded the couple right there on a make-shift platform on the pool, surrounded by a sea of seventy or eighty on-lookers, including the uninvited children on the neighbors' roofs, who looked equally astonished by the handsome tip the mullah had received for conducting the ten minute chore that had been followed with a thunderous applause of the guests. How much he had hated their singing tendentious songs long after the bride and the groom had locked themselves inside the immaculately-prepared wedding room, hajla. K. tried to imagine his sister's feelings back then, wished he could bring himself to ask her about the moment of penetration, the sensation, and perhaps the whole terror of it. He was sure she had no inkling to remember anything about the evil husband who tormented her so much.

Was Mamal entirely to blame for his deteriorating behavior toward his wife? K. asked himself the question and instantly answered yes, recalled that for the first three years, Fakhri's relationship with Mamal had been harmonic, they had had a son and he was a caring father and an attentive husband. But things had turned for the worse after his expulsion from the university when he was caught red-handed cheating in a final exam.

It had devestated him. And it had come at the worst possible time, when Fakhri was nine months pregnant and required constant visits to the hospital. Her family, especially her mother and both her aunts had, of course, been very helpful. Her ever caring mother had stayed at their place for the last trimester of her pregnancy. But it was her false labor right at the time of his examination which Mamal subsequently blamed as the true culprit for his expulsion; his defensive finger-pointing had soon turned against his entire family obligations and his bad luck that was fully aggrevated after Fakhri's baby son died of a sudden infant syndrome a few weeks old. From K.'s point of view, Mamal never once confronted the fact that he was a victim of his exaggerated self-confidence in his intelligence which had, apparently, never before failed him. K. now reviewed in his mind the unfolding drama that befell on his poor sister, who had shared bits and pieces of her story to him, afterward.

She had told him that Mamal had never felt comfortable with the degradation of becoming another bazaari in his father's chamber despite the susbtantial reward, which was partly due to the fact that he stole from his own father; the worst part for him had been the loss of his friends. He had gone out of his way to salvage some of his university-based friendships, inviting those friends home repeatedly, treating them with expensive food and drinks and, at times, with quality opium from Sultanabad. Even though they smoked on a recreational basis, it had become a source of tension with Fakhri, and their arguments over this and other issues would easily snowball to fights. One night, Mamal had slapped her hard, after hearing from her that he was nothing but another bazaari; he had then ran out of the house and come back totally drunk, confessing to Fakhri that she was right and he hated himself. But the cycle of agony had not stopped there. Gradually, he had turned into a malicious man, abstaining completely from sex with her, and yet blaming her for her frigidity, an excuse he had used to legitimate his initially secret temporary marriage, sighah, with their fifteen year old part-time servant from Darab.

K. wished he had seen her and knew what she looked like, had heard from others that Sadigheh was pettite and had a light skin, and that she had ended up at Tehran's red light district, the so-called fortress, ghalaa, after Mamal's initial infatuation with her had quieted down and she had been forced out by Fakhri in the most unpleasant manner one day. Six months later, Fakhri had divorced Mamal, after she had proved his brutality to the court with irrefutable pictures of the bruises she had suffered after an ugly fight — which K. suspected she had ignited deliberately.

Now brushing his teeth without getting distracted by looking at himself in the mirror, K. remembered Fakhri's other confession of guilt for her mistreatment of Sadigheh, how she had grudgingly tolerated the peasant girl's presence in the beginning out of pure need for a nanny for her boy, how tired she had become of Mamal's nocturnal advances, and how after all his unabashed yearning for an exciting partner he had ended up, of all people, with that shy little Darabi girl. The untold part of the story which K. had heard accidentally from a conversation between his mother and his aunts was that the little Sadigheh, shy and all, had been most pleasing to Mamal in bed and, moreover, she had cunningly learned how to manipulate Mamal by granting him his special favors, which she had come to use as a bargaining tool with him. Now feeling angry at Mamal, K. wished he were here and he could give him a good beating, just as Jalil had once done, remembered what Mamal had told him in the course of a telephone conversation: "Let 's see which court of law says you can't punish your wife once in a while." Mamal had been a quick learner in bazaar, had acquired all the Quarnic knowledge necessary to defend his brutality. K. recited the middle part of the verse that was Mamal's best defense: "As to those wives whose rebellion you fear, advise them and foresake them in bed (by turning your back to them) and beat them (mildly not causing injury or deformity)."

K. had discoursed with his savage brother-in-law about the last part of this ayeh, scolding him that he had broken the law, sharia, because of his excessive brutality, not that he ever approved of mild beating but only to disarm the man intellectually, partly by invoking other aspects of Quran, e.g., "Live with them (women) on a footing of kindness and equality." But he had underestimated the extent of Mamal's descent to barbarity, recalled his ridiculous response of "I am not half as bad as your uncle who sends your aunt to hospital every now and then." But then again, K. never liked that uncle in the first place. "Live with them (women) on a footing of kindness and equality," he repeated in his head.

Now applying the razor against his soapy face, K. remembered his mother's hopeless cause of trying to rescue her daughter's marriage by persuading Fakhri to reduce Mamal's ill-manner by beautifying herself and making herself more exciting to him through the purchase of an erotic nightgown. It had worked for a little while and Mamal had reciprocated by taking the entire family on a tour of Meshed and the Caspian Sea. On the way back, he had turned the pleasure trip into a nightmare by succumbing to his moody self and bombarding Fakhri with blames for everything that had gone wrong in their life, chiefly the school and the dead baby; he had also decided that the future of the marriage rested on her ability to procure another son, this depsite the fact that he was fully aware that she had injured the walls of her vagina in her last delivery and was incapable of carrying through another round of pregnancy. Of all the sins of Mamal, his physical abuse, short temper and vile language, K. found his torture of Fakhri by calling her the "sister of that lunatic" most unforgiveable. It suddenly dawned on him, as he was drying his face with a towel and getting prepared to exit the bathroom, that Mamal's behavior, his excessive sexual demand, his episodic brutality, his personality disorder, as well as his inability to come to terms with his new trade, and so forth, all these resembled what he had narrated about Ismaeel, now realizing for the first time that he had unwittingly incorporated into the character of the pimp-assassin all the vile elements of Mamal's personality, wondered for a moment if this was responsible with his less than satisfactory depiction of Ismaeel and the fact that he had not been a true killer? K. descended downstairs thanking Mamal in his head for making Ismaeel to be who he was, for otherwise he may not have survived the previous night's attack. A top priority on his way back upstairs was to remove and keep under his bed the wide Uzbek dagger that adorned the wall of the reception room in its skin shelf.


It had been five years or so since my last visit to my beloved Iran. Recently, my plots to return had been nullified by various causes, such as a last minute translation duty followed by an undercover embassy mission in Vienna last July and August, but alas, this Summer I had ran out of excuses, and the wedding invitation announcing the marriage of my niece with an Uzbek gentleman had cemented my determination to seek permission for a timely reunion with members of my family; after some lobbying, it was granted.

A five hour airlift to Tehran, and I stayed in the smoggy, overcrowded capital city for two nights, going through the usual briefs with superiors. The measly check I received as bonus for my latest mission did not particularly brighten my mood and I was promised a heftier reward come the next assignment. "Don't be too greedy Ismaeel, and stay invisible if you can help it" exhorted my superior.

The next day I took the express train to the holy city of Meshed and arrived there early in the afternoon completely exhausted, took a private taxi to the bus station and reached there just in time to take the bus to my hometown Serakhas. Several hours later I was greeted there by my high school pal now-turned-into-school principal Taghi Moradi, who wasted no time in admonishing me for my planned secrecy and injustice to my family who, in his opinion, had every right to a welcoming ensemble at the station. I repeated what I had already communicated to him before, namely, that I just didn't want to distract any one from their plans for the wedding, and that I was still intent on thrilling every one by my unannounced presence at the party. We were so excited about seeing each other after all these years that we lost sight of my luggage and my suitcase containing my Tuxedo was lost to thieves, who probably prayed on out of town passengers dizzied by the commotion at the bus station.

Riding in Taghi's brand new Peykan, I was amazed by the extent of new constructions in the city, the revamped boulevard adorned with a new marble entrance gate, and the usual hustling and bustling of life in and around the main bazaar. Once at his home, Taghi's wife kindly sewed her husband's black outfit to suit me, and Taghi and I stayed up late into the early morning sitting on a blanket on his rooftop with a panoramic view of the city, eating, drinking, and chatting about everything. By the time we descended the shaky ladder to hit the bed, the sky had already turned milky white and the glowing stars were fading under the imposing rays of morning sunshine. A long, badly needed rest, and I woke up several hours later well into the afternoon. A quick shower, and I was frustrated by the water's low pressure and the fact that a couple of side tiles fell as I hit them with my elbow, and then I emerged outside only to be pleasantly surprised by the elaborate lunch consisting of several tasty dishes prepared by my gracious hostess. For a few minutes, the opulent sight of colorful dishes neatly arranged on the dinning room table made me forget all about the nagging neck pain inflicted by the train travel.

Around six in the afternoon, Taghi and I walked out of the house, fully dressed for the occasion. After a brief tour of my old neighborhood, which was, save the new bakery, unchanged (as if totally oblivious to time's progress), we then headed toward the officers' Club, bashgah-e afsaran.

The wedding party was in full swing when we arrived and, as expected, my entrance upped the jubilation a few notches; I shed tears of joy along with my mother and my sister and her daughter as we hugged and kissed each other for what seemed an eternity. The groom, a tall, handsome young man in his mid twenties, greeted me less than warmly however, and it did not fail me to notice a mild resentment on his part for all the attention paid to me. His name was Akbar, a Tajik from Samarghand working for his father who was a well-to-do rug merchant. Akbar's father carried none of the reservations of his son toward me, gave me a bear hug and introduced me to some of his Uzbek friends who spoke little or no Farsi, and who were fast advancing beyond the early stage of drunkenness with the big bottle of Absolute they were passing around in their small circle. Disregarding my adamant refusal, they finally obliged me to share a big sip. I then returned to my mother and sat next to her, wishing at that very moment that my father was still alive and could share the joy of this precious moment.

A little while later, as the party was progressing into the late hours, I withdrew from my pocket the gold wristwatches I had purchased for the happy couple and presented them with my humble gift; while tying Akbar's watch around his wrist, I once again detected a glimmer of annoyance in his eyes, which made me uncomfortable, even more so after his polite but spiritless handshake. It suddenly dawned on me that the young groom may be harboring a rightful resentment and that I had inadvertently overshadowed his special occasion with my unwitting selfish desire for a surprise attendance at his wedding. With this thought, which compelled me to think of shortcutting my presence there, I exited the club's back door for a smoke and paced the dimly lighted narrow alley for a couple of minutes and then, as I was about to reenter the building, the Uzbek men mentioned earlier walked out totally drunk. They greeted me loudly and one of them grabbed my arm and propelled me to walk with them a few steps and have another sip of their endless supply of Russian vodka. Having appeased them for a few minutes, during which time I noticed the anti-Iranian connotation of their slurs told in their native tongue, I broke from their ring and proceeded toward the building. A couple of steps from the door, and then I felt some one's hand tapping me on the shoulder, turned around to see who it is and I had not yet cast a look on the fellow behind me when a powerful fist landed on my skull, throwing me on the ground unconscious.

When I opened my blurry eyes, I found myself on the damp floor of a cave, with ropes around my arms. A few yards away, the same Uzbek men were hugging a small fire, bearing all the signs of their candid drunkenness; one of them was wearing my coat. After a momentary pause to ascertain that I was not experiencing a terrible hallucinatory nightmare, I yelled at them, "hey, what is going on here?" They fell silent and turned their heads toward me; one of them, older than the rest and with a mustached rotund face and mysterious brown eyes, glared into my eyes for a moment and then stood and approached me and slapped me hard in the face and then returned to his position joining the chorus of his friends' laughter. Jolted and in shocking pain, I screamed, "why? Why are you doing this to me? Aren't you Muslims?" But they did not care the least to respond, just joking and laughing raucously until they finished the bottle and then got up and proceeded out the cave's small entrance without even a glance toward me, as if my cries of anguish did not reach them or that I did not even exist before their very eyes.

I kept screaming for help for what seemed like hours, but to no avail. The rays of early morning sun had by then crept inside the cave and were crawling toward me. Somewhere deep inside my head I was still convinced that I was simply enduring the terrible ordeal of a nightmare. But the numbing pain of the tight rope enveloping my arms and my chest was real, and so was the menacing sight of a big brown rat staring at me from a corner. the chilling fear of a poisonous snake or a deadly scorpion overtook my body, and I reacted by yelling for help as loud as possible. Again there was no response; the sun's rays were now attacking my face and I closed my eyes for a moment and fell sleep in despair.

We can feel pain therefore we are. A sharp pain on the tip of my nose woke me up. To my horror I saw the brown rat an inch away from my face; apparently, he had found an appetizing meal in my nose. Shaking my head violently and spitting at it, I finally forced the ugly creature to run away to its safe corner, though without ever losing sight of me. Through its cold and impassioned eyes, the rat's stare pierced my eyes, conveying no sign of mutual recognition. Determined to rescue myself, I crawled toward the ashes and burnt myself instead of the rope. My stomach was growling and I was getting very thirsty. The sight of a water container, koozeh, at the far end of the cave grabbed my attention. Only if I could crawl to it and see if it contained any water, I wished. A few deep breaths and I had just begun to push my body forward when I heard some one's footsteps.

A middle age hunchback, wearing raggedy clothes and holding a blackened white scarf against his mouth with one hand and a faded brown cane with the other hand, entered, cast a quick look at me and then walked past me toward the koozeh, picked it up and then sat on his knees facing me, coughed violently a few times while he was opening the koozeh's top and, the moment he moved the scarf away from his face I shrieked in fear as I saw that he was a leper. Disregarding my reaction completely, the hunchback wetted his scarf and wiped my face with it, and then held my left arm and helped me sit upright and then uttered, "want water?" And then before I could refuse, he poured some water, refreshingly cold water, down my throat. Shaking my head in utter astonishment and horror, I begged him to release me. He shook his head negatively and then, studying my anguished face for a moment, helped me on my feet and walked me to the entrance.

It was unbelievable. We were smack in the heart of a small mountain overlooking a wide corridor that separated us from a large hill; the dim sight of Serakhas' dwellings indicated that we were indeed some distance away from the city. In my shock and bewilderment, as my head was busy making sense of my surrealistic surrounding, I noticed the sharp blade of a knife approaching my chest, stepped back in fear; the knife-wielding hunchback threatened menacingly to stay motionless and then cut the rope, repeated twice, "if you escape, I kill you." He then tied the rope around my legs and directed me to proceed downward through the narrow pathway filled with rocks and small bushes. Half way down, with the hunchback following me a step or two behind, I started running, under a sudden conviction that he being sick and old could not catch up to me and that it was time to get some real mileage from years of being a frequent runner. I was right and as difficult as it was to run too fast with those handicapping ropes around my legs, I still managed to lose him and reached the mountainside with a relief sense of optimism.

It was hope against hope. I had no sooner reached below when I was attacked by two men, obviously lepers, who spared no kicks and punches, as well as lewd Farsi slurs, fohsh, for several minutes, until the hunchback came down and from afar yelled at them to stop.

"Don't touch him. He's mine." They ceased their attacks and walked away, leaving me writhing in pain and blood on the ground. The hunchback took me to a shady corner and cut a piece of my shirt and wrapped it around my bloodied right hand; from the way he tended to my wounds I noticed the warm affection of a master, realizing for the first time that I had been fated to become a slave in the valley of lepers.

That it did not take me long to surmise this was purely a function of my childhood memories when my nanny had so many times quieted the rascal in me with the threat of leaving me in the valley of lepers. Since teen age years, I had firmly concluded that this was a cruel myth created to traumatize and discipline the children, and now, all of a sudden, I was seeing that the worst nightmares of my childhood had materialized with candid cruelty. I was massaging my neck when I saw my Uzbek kidnappers approaching us from a distance; one of them, the same one who had slapped me, exchanged a few words with the hunchback and then left after receiving a sum from him — obviously my purchasing price. A few minutes later, I was off to my first duty in "the farm" not too ar away.

Consisting of a small plot of land utilized for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, etc., the farm was peopled with a dozen or so other slaves like me, except that they were all in their twenties or even younger. We worked several meters apart from each other and were forbidden to talk each other. The man working next to me warned me about the snakes and pointed at a big one he had killed earlier in the day. His name was Hassan, a gentle soul who had been netted five months ago and carried all the symptoms of physical fatigue in his bearded face and his naked chest his visible ribs alone told the story of a slave's predicament there. Through the few words we managed to say to each other that day and the days that followed he informed me that he too had been kidnapped by the Uzbeks. "They come in as merchants and on their way back, kidnap young people and smuggle them out inside their carpets," he said and then, sizing me and my age up, wondered, "but why you?" I said I wish I knew. Then I asked if we could somehow escape from there. Hassan nodded negatively and responded that there were city guards at the mouth of the valley, who would force every one return under the impression that we are all lepers. "In fact," he said meaningfully, "they are not all that wrong. It's only a matter of time before me and you get it and become one of them." To prove his point, he directed my attention to the skin deformation of his left hand and then whispered, "but don't tell any one, because they may finish me off by throwing me at that executioner, jallad." "Who?" I asked, and he let me know that these lepers once in a while entertain themselves by throwing a sword fight between their infected slaves. Jallad was none other than a tall balky slave working the other end of the farm, always into himself he had killed no fewer than four prisoners with so much pleasure, not the least because he was not from Khorasan but Beluchestan.

Several weeks went by, toiling all day long and surviving on a minimum food apportioned to us from the fruits of our labor at the farm. The hunchback and I slept in his cave, and I soon learnt that I should never expect more than a minimum conversation from him, notwithstanding his deteriorating condition. One night when it was stormy outside and huge thunders rocked the mountain, he fell into a shivering cold mixed with violent coughs and I nursed him as best as I could, prepared a soup and forced it down his chewed up mouth. Afterwards, he became more appreciative of my service and in passing let me know who was the true culprit behind my present predicament. "Your sister's husband not a good man," he said. I knew instantly that he meant my niece's husband, Akbar. Instantly everything came to a proper perspective to me, i.e., that Akbar had been so displeased with my intrusive appearance at the wedding that he had requested from his friends to get rid of me, perhaps just out of the party. I had no way of knowing whether he had ordered this purely maliciously or out of a moment's rage. Whatever it was, I was suffering as a result of his intolerance and cruelty.

Hassan collapsed and died one day right in front of my eyes, in a hot and sweltering midday just as we were breaking for lunch. Burying him, I cried and deposited in my pocket the picture of his parents I found in his pants. Several days later, it was the hunchback's turn. He died a long and agonizing death; before he passed away, he pointed at a rock underneath which was his small treasure consisting of a few gold coins, asked me to forgive him for everything, sounding like a healer who can give forgiveness. There was not a bit of remorse in my voice when I bid him farewell into God's hand. When shoveling dirt on top of his corpse a few hours later, my eyes detected the horrifying signs of skin rashes on my both hands.

Returning to the cave completely a dispirited man, I was cozying up to my fire red-eyed when two Uzbek men entered and proposed to me the notion of getting myself a helping hand. How they knew that I had money to afford this is beyond me. I was at first repulsed by the offer and then, just as they were leaving, called them back in under a novel notion: to fetch me Akbar. At first they refused my request, he being a fellow Uzbek, until I convinced them that he was in fact a Tajik who hated the Uzbeks and wanted Samarghand and Bukhara to secede from Uzbekistan; this softened their opposition, and the gold coins I brandished before their hungry eyes disarmed them completely.

Exactly three days later, they returned with the bounty. Initially, Akbar could not even recognize me and once he did, broke into hysterical cries begging for forgiveness, kept saying that his wife was pregnant and that I should at least have mercy on my niece. None of these tricks worked on me however, and I labored him like a mule night and day for a month or so, until my condition deteriorated vastly and then I decided to treat myself with a timely diversion featuring Akbar's duel with that jallad.

It was a memorable night, singing and drinking all night after the eventful bout. Carrying Akbar's head back to my dwelling late night, the crazed notion of writing a brief autobiography dawned on me all of a sudden. Dipping my wood- carved pen into Akbar's skull (somewhat reminding me of one of my victims in Karachi) I have been writing these lines for several hours now >>> Parts 8,9 and 10

PARTS: (1,2,3) (4,5) (6,7) (8,9,10)


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