Diaries & Jallad

A novel: chapters 1, 2 and 3


Diaries & Jallad
by Kaveh Afrasiabi

PARTS (1,2,3) (4,5)


The supremely untender sensation of dying, the sole, veritable proof that the Life-Giver is Mister Executioner, and religion his hood.

At the unsavory limit of extinction, a possibility that can't be shunned, not to yield to metaphysical whims, to hunger for faith and faithly rewards. How difficult it is to have ample faith when the scarcity of his benevolence reigns supreme. When flung open, the window of death provokes scrutinizing questions about his Almighty and his inner essence, which we can no longer evade by hiding beneath his tongue; for a passing moment, it is shut off by the intoxicating, heart-pumping appreciation that, if not God's self-punishment, the stormy breath of death is at least a material certificate of our mutual needs, suffering and ineptness, crested by our blood on the virgin script -- that rants about a nauseous beginning. But what about the finishing word, the grand finale, which is the antithesis of this contrived cycle, living (unless of course one reads into life its true meaning, execution postponed)? The spectacle of death, as a feast of scrutiny, is that it lacks the benefit of critical afterthought.

I was bleeding, dying, living the nightmare of death stretching over me like a venomous, heavy fog, drawn deeper by every second into the dark, mercury well of nothingness. The soldier, the one who had just pulled the trigger, wanted to excel in the art of cruelty by not finishing me off immediately, just as he had Ali, whose wasted body lay next to me, both of us covered by a thin layer of snow. "Troublemaking little dogs, ha?" His words, before shooting us in cold blood, echoed in my head a thousand times. "Please, not him," I should have pleaded with my tormentor, if only my tongue had not frozen beneath my teetering teeth and a strange conviction of my immorality had not suddenly, out of nowhere, attacked my immense fears right then and there. And then, in the midst of my excruciating pain and misery, my mind revisited the tremendous horror of the blast from the barrel of his bayoneted rifle, the avenging power of God, who might have treated us better if we were not his children; the luminous, blinding light was a sure sign we need more than we are given, a wicked trait of the divine truth: the primacy of non-existence; the inability to achieve permanence is the attainment of this mature truth.

But I was only 15 and Ali barely 14, our grizzly execution a sad new commentary on the soothing forewarning, from ashes to ashes; my moment of ruin served as the antinomy of this simple-mindedness, perhaps to the delight of the skeptics bemoaning a cosmic betrayal, who could now bask in the theatricality of a cruel act whose center occupant, me, happened to be the victim of his own self-misunderstanding -- about the limit of human barbarity. Fast as I was slipping down the slope to abyss, there was, however, no mistaking the immeasurable guilt accompanying my wretched soul into the other world, for I was solely responsible for Ali's death: He would have never dared to violate the cufew and engage in that childish mischievousness if I had not been too chicken to do it alone.

Zendeh bad team-e Pars, Long live Pars Team. As I was moaning and gasping for air through my blood-filled throat, and experiencing a strange numbness enveloping my entire body, my head yielded to the question: what if we had finished beyond Zendeh bad and they could see that we were not in any sense subversives? Would they thave released us or, instead, taken us as political prisoners and administer us to a systematic torture and interrogation? Would the interrogators ever believe my story, that it all originated with that classmate fatso, Lotfy, who had made a bet with me on his playboy deck of cards that I was too gutless, and certainly not half as revolutionary as him, to ignore the curfew and write that silly graffiti on the school's doors? Suddenly the images of nude-chested playboy bunnies nursing my head wound filled me, their soft tender touch evoking a disturbing sensuality for a fleeting moment, intermixed with the pounding oppressiveness of a massive chest pain and flailing legs and hands -- my right hand suddenly touched Ali's glasses, and then all I was thinking were the tears dropping from his eyes when they caught us, their latest sacrificial lambs too immobilized to even drop or conceal their cardinal evidence of crime, our chalks. Destiny had weaved a short carpet of life for both of us, and between the two of us, Ali's was even shorter.

Rivers of blood, nurturing the sapling soul of revolution -- inching toward the big sleep, my only comforting thought was the conviction that by provoking the enemy into his savagery, we had at least exposed his hypocrisy and unmasked him, brute and naked. Yet, my exalted status as a martyr was to be temporarily postponed, this I surmised when detecting the the faint rumbling of an ambulance. "Just remember. You did it because Ali insisted," I said to myself, now preparing for a life-long lie, to cover my treachery of duping Ali into the belief that just because his father was a police man they would never harm him. But, in retrospect, I should have known better, that even the counterrevolution devours its children.


...about jallad. He was tall and heavy, his sleeves rolled up, his face covered with a leather-black hood; through its holes he cast a furtive glance at the throng of mostly kids who were his spectators. And he was taking his wretched prisoner -- chained to the neck and wearing nothing but torn, bloodied pants -- up and down the bazaar while asking people to drop their donations on the tray carried by Farhad, which contained his severed tongue.

What madness! Did you say donations?

The old man, still resting sideways on the bed, coughed a few times and, after clearing his throat and glancing at the servant cleaning the pool in the courtyard, responded, yes young man, baaleh javan. You see, that jallad had a great deal of latitude in performing his duty -- on a man accused of fooling around with a member of the royalty -- and, naturally, wanted to make the most of it by turning it into a lengthy public spectacle. The donations were to appease him for a speedier end to the gruesome sight that was torturing those god-fearing citizens after the first few minutes of amusement had passed. As I said, I was just a boy then by chance visiting my uncle's chamber, and I remember very vividly that jallad was either unpleased with people's stingy contributions -- some were just begging him to finish the job without further ado, like you see in the bullfights, it was so tragically comical -- or he felt especially cruel. After taking the tray around himself and receiving a lukewarm response, jallad took his revenge on his prey, first cutting this ear and then the other ear and then, after a few minutes, poked his dagger into Farhad's flesh, tearing his hands, arms, chest, thighs and knees, and then, while pulling the chain and making the wretched man crawl by his vile order, he unabashedly demanded more money; and the crowd, now mostly sick to their stomach, quickly emptied their coins on the tray till it was loaded and then, and only then, did jallad's mean eyes brighten with a terse smile; he stood behind the prisoner, who was by now bathing in his own blood on the ground, and, after listening triumphantly to the loud chorus of kill him, bokoshesh, lifted Farhad's head by the hair and slashed his throat like a slick butcher hacking a chicken. But, of course, at the grip of death the last word spitting out of his mouth was Moluk, the old man almost whispered after a deep and sad breath and then, sipping his tea, asked his guest to drink his tea before it got cold.

Staring into his tea cup, K.'s mind raced to the serene image of a flock of geese in the city park he had seen a few days ago and how he had wondered if they ever test the water's temperature before diving in; his eyes then turned on the large portrait of Cyrus Khan in his youth adorning the opposite wall, at his bold and fiery eyes; the imposing figure was now stooped, the face was sallow, the eyes were darkened, the mouth was drawn in pain. Bewildered yet skeptical, K. had a mind jammed with more questions begging for answer, asked himself, is this old man sold to dreamy hallucination? Didn't he once say this is a fairytale world we live in, and that our survival depends on our ability to face its delusions and declare them true -- or was it someone else (or me perhaps)? Swallowing these questions, K. asked instead, What happened to her sir, agha?

Cyrus Khan, moving slightly to the right in order to diminish the pain of his legs' rheumatism, replied, as I said she was only fifteen sixteen when she fell in love with that unlucky Shirazi, who played sentor at the Garden of Heart's Desire, bagh-e del gosha, on the night of their arrival. Camouflaging themselves as peasants, the two lovers had gone into hiding in a basement behind the little bazaar for a day or so and then at dusk had tried to exit through the Shah Dai gate when they were caught by a guard -- who had coincidentally turned out to be from the same village they mention and calls their bluff. They take them to the crown prince, who had apparently been very fond of his beautiful fiancé before she ruined the royal family's dignity.

Cyrus Khan interrupted himself to wipe his mouth after a repeated cough, was bemused by the sudden rain outside which had caught a crow, wailing from a treetop, off guard. Curious creatures, he thought, always bitching about something. Where was I? He asked his guest without looking at him, oh yes, I already told you that by then the news about the scandal had traveled to Tehran and caused a huge embarrassment. My father, blessed be his soul, was the governor's scribe and had personally intervened to stop the crown prince from massacring them at first sight, convincing him instead that it was best if he banished the two to an inconspicuous spot for a while until things calm down, offering one of his own cottages, surrounded by pasture lands, as their detention place. The prince, a harmless man with numerous temporary wives, had just returned from an extended trip to Europe, farang, which had impressed him about the open manner of sexes there; he had consented to my father's suggestion but only on the condition that the two lovers would not leave the house under any circumstance; to make sure that there would be no deviation from the scheme, he had left behind two of his personal guards, who would from now on keep the condemned lovers under watch, under the direct order to kill them if they ever ventured outside. Farhad and Moluk had pledged to Quran that they would comply . Lovers as they were, they did n't care the least where they spent the rest of their lives so long as they breathed the same air.

Why did they break their word then?

Well, they lasted a year or so until one night, when my father was attending business in Bushehr, Farhad becomes ill and she sneaks out to get him some medicine, and then he wakes up in total delirium and rushes out thinking that Moluk has deserted him, and disappears into thin air for some time, giving way to many rumors; one such rumor was that he had fallen to the guards and they had thrown his body inside the well of Ali Bandar in Kub-e Mustasqa. Only a few months later, every one had learnt that he had been given to that jallad, every one except Moluk that is.

How come? Asked K. somewhat impatiently after a moment's pause by his host, now distracted by the damp view outside the foggy window.

Because she never believed, did n't want to believe, the tragic news; being a stubborn princess, she refused to break out until a definite sign of his death had reached her. Eighty five years, that's how long she lasted indoor, refusing to be free practically all her life, even after the change of government, the assassination of the crown prince, and long after the two guards had vanished. So powerful was her dedication to her missing lover that she defied mother nature and her cruel axe of time. And she didn't lose any of her marbles either. That's the miracle in this story if you ask me, the fact that she educated herself -- through books, television, and of course me -- and turned out to be a decent, creative woman with lots to contribute to her society.

Did you say eighty five years?!

Yes. She must be approaching hundred now. You must think I'm making up this whole thing. Who wouldn't? I myself never believed anything until I saw her with my own two eyes, right before my father's death, when he broke his secret and asked me to take over his labor of compassion and feed and care for the condemned princess, who wished to remain in total anonymity.

Do you need anything master, arbab? The servant sounded at the door, should I bring the waterpipe, ghalyan?

No, just make sure the garden's tunnels are not clogged, and get rid of that crow.

What crow?

I said get rid of it. Are you deaf?

The servant, apologizing for his rude manner, rushed down the open-sided hall and started yelling, with a small tinge of sarcasm, get lost you miserable old creature, go and die somewhere else.

You see this servant, nokar, is a nosy one. I bet he has been eavesdropping on us. That's his nature to know all the affairs of this household and, frankly, ever since God bless wife, khanoom, passed away, I'm too weak to keep him under the leash all the time. Well, where was I?

You were telling me about the princess.

Yes. God knows I tried, just as my father had on endless occasions, to convince her that it was a hopeless cause, that she could get out and be free, but she would n't budge. You see, she had struck a deal with one of the guards, that she would return to her confinement and never exit in return for her lover's safety and, as I said, she stubbornly refused to believe he was dead.

How often did you see her?

Oh, it varied. At least twice a week, sometimes more. She was the sole reason why I stayed in this god forsaken city all these years. Someone had to be around to take care of her, feed her, clean her rooms and, and as she got older and older, to tend to her little, miniature garden and its assortment of vegetables. She was a vegetarian, cooked for herself and experimented with Herbs; I think that had a lot to do with her remarkable health and endurance and, I hasten to add, where she made her biggest contribution.

What do you mean?

I don't know if you 've seen that book, Green Intellect, it's the first book of its kind in Farsi, relies heavily on Aristotle's De Anima and all that reductio ab absurdum about nature as a spiritual power acting in bodies, as if it is not a perishable soul. Well, guess who wrote it?

No, really?! I'm afraid I don't know that book.

Yes. I, of course, irrespective of my philosophical reservations about its content helped her with editing and publishing it, under a pseudo-name, Parvaneh Alef.

Parvaenh Alef! The name sounds familiar, K. sounded with a childish enthusiasm and then, after pressing his memory for a moment, added, I think I 've read a little book of aphorisms by her. Now I know what she meant by that line : But where is love? The sailors are hungry, calm is the sea.

Forgotten Love, said the old man, that was the title if I'm not mistaken.

No, Forgotten Lovers, K. quickly corrected him and then, staring at a corner of the ceiling, whispered, who would have thought?

That's not all, Cyrus Khan sounded before coughing again, which now reminded him of the medicine he was to take shortly to offset the cancerous pain that he was sure was spreading from his kidneys to his lungs, then added, she was quite prolific, wrote lots of different things, and kept a journal, which is the reason I asked you to come today.

A journal?

Yes, you know, diaries of sorts. She gave it to me just before she disappeared into thin air just a couple of weeks ago, asked me to polish and publish it one day under another pseudo-name. But look at me. I can't even hold a pen any more, so I thought you might be interested in taking over this assignment from me. Now I know you 're a poet and not an editor, but maybe you should try your hand in something different.

K. paused for a long time before answering, swallowed his desire to inform his host that he had been writing fiction lately, or trying to.

My apologies sir, agha, I'm afraid I don't know how I can be of any use with such a thing. I 'm afraid this maybe like opening a Pandora's box, leading from one thing to another in an endless web of responsibility and intrigue. If it were poetry may be, but on second thought. honestly not even then, for I would n't dare to tamper with a woman's, let alone a princess's, sentiment.

Cyrus Khan withdrew to himself as his hands played nervously with the beads of his rosary. Time passed. K. was chewing his lips, feeling increasingly uncomfortable, decided to ask a diversionary question, I was curious how you were able to keep this a secret all these years?

It was n't easy, I used an imitation beard and a smelly peasant hat to look like a gardener when visiting her house, said Cyrus Khan and then chuckled, one day I was exiting the back door when my wife saw me and asked me to do some digging in the garden. Afterward, I went to the court's clerk office and filed a complaint against myself for undercompensating my labor.

K. burst into a laughter and asked, did you win?

Of course I did n't. You think in this country the words of a peasant is worth the word of a khan who is a newspaper publisher? But I didn't relent the game. I published a letter as a grieving peasant in Akhtar and earned a lot of respect as a fair-minded editor, which, between the two of us, helped my quest to become the president of newsmen association. So this whole ordeal was n't without its side benefits as you can see, much as it was time consuming and prevented me from extensive travels.

So she left without a word to you?

Not quite, muttered Cyrus Khan, she asked me to get her an all black horse carriage, doroshkeh, and a white venetian umbrella, just like the one she had brought to Shiraz with her so many years ago. That was part of her fantasy for when she reunites with her lover, to ride around town with him acting as a tour guide, a fantasy which never died in her, she just postponed it year after year, until the approach of the deadline she had set for herself, so she wanted to fulfill that aspect of her wish that was still in the realm of possibility, except that instead of white horses she wanted black horses, as a symbol of her mourning I suppose. You see, all these years she never mourned his death.

Cyrus Khan got a chill after uttering the word death, turned his face toward the window to hide his tearful eyes and then whispered, it's time to take my medicine. Well, if you ever change your mind, let me know son.

Certainly agha, K. said as he got up to leave with a head ripe with poetic fantasies fed by all this. A moment later, passing through the elegant courtyard, adorned with two rows of finely trimmed trees flanking the old pool in the middle, K. almost returned to press the old man with one final question -- about her house. Was it the same mysterious house at the bottom of their hilly street? Convinced that it was, K. proceeded outside toward his semi-independent abode a few blocks away; after jumping over an overflowed gutter, jub, he changed his mind and decided to approach that house instead; a few minutes later, he was staring at its door inlaid with intricate patterns, on the supports of which figures had been carved.

It was a perfectly mysterious house, oddly situated in the midst of modern brick houses, whose owners perpetually vied with each other in their display of material fortune; the lone exception of this old house, its interior and exterior untouched by any progress save the corrosive influence of time, stood as a grim reminder of the not so enviable background of the neighborhood. Its tall, crumbling sun-dried brick walls, bordered by old plane trees protruding shyly like the women of a harem, evoked the surface characteristics of an immobile soul; receiving the most pronounced light of the sun, the simple walls created infinite patterns of shades and highlights in brilliant sunny days, thus perpetuating the complementary impression of a vertical ascension of the soul to the hierarchy of universe. As long as K. remembered, the house was without any discernible sign of life, recalled the many times in his childhood when his nanny had subdued the rascal within him with horror stories of bloodsucking ghosts, ghul, residing in the mysterious house. Mothers and nannies in this and other surrounding neighborhoods, mahallah, often dreaded, deep in their hearts, their own constant yearning that one early morning they would get up and see the house demolished by the orders of the city hall; should that ever happen, they would have to find a replacement for their habit, carried to the extreme of traumatization at times, of disciplining their young with the stick of punishment in the ghost house. Suddenly K. noticed that he was not the only passerby concerned about the house today. "There are things happening in the house," someone walking past him said; K. began retracing in his mind the day's (potential) chronology.

It had all started early in the morning when the downpour was at its highest velocity and angry, thunderous clouds splattered their vendetta on the helpless creatures blow when, suddenly, the old wooden entrance door, embossed with brass studs and the anvil of a heavy missing knocker, had squeaked open and a woman, her age unknown, wearing an elegant, black clad stretching head to toe, opening a white venetian umbrella, had exited to the street and walked down to the larger street, just renamed Fifteen Mehr in memory of the martyrs of the latest revolution.

Who was she and where did she go? The scenarios were endless. Now, suddenly, all who had dismissed a neighbor's story -- that she once in a full-moon night had seen a slender woman on the house's roof walking in circles and reading aloud a book all to herself -- felt they owed her an apology. Mashti Faraj, the grocery owner down the street, smartly cashing in on the brewing curiosity, had already filled the air with his Quran-backed words that he saw the mystery woman enter a royal carriage, pulled by two black horses, which had materialized in front of his store seemingly out of no where. His business was bustling by the traffic of neighbors who came in, ostensibly to purchase something, this one a gum or soda, another an imported cigarette and box of matches, with their ears stretching to the ground in the hope of collecting more juicy details. They diddled around and eavesdropped on the conversation between the groceryman and a neighbor whose curiosity had apparently overcome his snobbish reticence toward cheap gossips. Did you see the driver, doroshkehchi? The neighbor asked indifferently.

Only the black-gloved hands of doroshkehchi the unsuspecting eyes of the busy seller had managed to catch, and how those hands had commenced the horses into action by whipping them hard, with a leather-black lash, after picking up the lady. This account, reminding the customer of his favorite Dracula movie, was somewhat disputed by a vendor and his son from across the street, who claimed to have seen a one horse antique doroshkeh which, the vendor insisted, seemed surely a relic of bygone times. Most people, vastly intrigued yet unwilling to indulge in their propensity to believe the unbelievable, accepted the shopkeeper's account over the vendor's, in spite of their preference for the latter's more alluring description of her -- as a dreamy princess, young and pretty, with soft brown eyes, and eye brows prettier than those of the legendary faces in Behzad's miniature oil paintings. The controversy had reignited the faint glow of an old gossip from K.'s childhood years: that long ago a young Qajar princess accompanying her future husband had disappeared from her way back from either Persopolis or Dasht-e Kezr. Could it possibly be her?

K. had been right that there was only one man in the neighborhood, and perhaps the whole town, who could shed light on this mystery, i.e., the neighborhood's grand signeur and its most respected resident noted for his glorious career as a philanthropist and publisher, as well as for his elegant house famed for its fine garden, unique translucent turquoise-brown tiles, colored crystal shades and chandeliers, its beautiful Kashani rugs and its antique ornaments -- now reminding K. that he had been totally oblivious to those things while visiting the terminally ill man who was once, briefly, his Latin tutor and who, more importantly, had once saved his skin when he had done a foolish thing in his early teen years . A few minutes later K. was in his room, without a moment's waste mobilizing his hand around a pen and writing, first the title of a poem, One Hundred years of Solitude, and then nothing, not a word, not a line, nothing except a deceiving chimerical whiteness of the paper beaming at his eyes, not unlike the devilish grin of a ghost, jin, or, on second

thought, a smiling site of death.


Several weeks later, October 1999, a Friday afternoon. The rain has momentarily stopped. The city of dreamers is waking from a nightmare. The streets and the twisting narrow alleys of the city are quiet, except for the hot sparks of the brazier in an inlaid mosaic shop gluing the camel bone to the finished pot, the melody of metallic waterpipes and the rasping whirls of mud, refuse, leaves and branches from gutter, jub, to gutter, street to street, now overflowing, now merging into the Kur River, like blood vessels which the heart envelopes in its invisible fold, draws together, and pulls apart. On the horizon, the south wind, bringing the Gulf's warm and languid air, is coaxing gray clouds through the sky and breaking them up as they drift along. A few birds, remnants of a larger throng, are gliding by without any hint of interest in the historical landmarks below, paving their way to even more hospitable climates beyond the apron of majestic mountain ranges. This miscellany of birds might at any moment descend and stay for a while, in the city's famed gardens, on the loose panes of the street lamps, the sidewalk benches surrounding its citadels, the edges of the welcoming billboard above the newly-installed marble entrance gate that has replaced the old Quran gate, the corners of Shah Cheragh's minarets, and on the slippery roofs of the colonnade of the city's mausoleums of its prodigious poets; and a feather might drop on their opulent graves and stimulate more stanzas, ghazals, for the attentive ears of the poet-worshiper population, now mired in mud.

Through the shutter of clouds pockets of sunshine penetrate, much to the pleasure of Zoroastrians, tending the region's sole fire-temple in the adjacent town of Firuzabad, now chanting a propitious section of holy Avesta boasting Ahurmazda's recurrent mastery over the force of evil, Ahriman. And among the students of the city's thriving seminary, feverish debates are about to flare over the role of His Almighty's weigh station of faith, tarnished by the absence of enterprising souls capable of regenerating the once hothouse climate of religiosity, now fully dissipated by the demons of satellite dishes, underground videomovies, and the internet. At Baba Koohi*, two mystics, lamenting the cosmic disorder of the cancerous sight, seeing only disjointed limbs relating centrifugally to what was once an organic place, makan, have just withdrawn from the intangible sphere of meditation to the tantalizing refuge of poetry books, both pausing on the lines:

Go sweep out the chamber of your heart

Make it ready to be the dwelling place of the Beloved

When you depart out, He will enter it.

In you, void of yourself, will He display His Beauties.

The older one closes his book, now singing under his lips his favorite passage from the eternal sheikh,**

Not all the Sun of earthly happiness

Is worth the bowed head of a moment's pain

None dies, whose heart by love is ever living

He pauses to thank the tea-man, ghahvekhanehchi, for refilling their cups with the fresh, scented tea, and then, repelling the fleeting erection caused by the pleasant sight of a young boy ascending in their direction from below, continues,

Then let us talk of wine and song,

Nor seek to know life's mystery

For none hath solved, nor ever shall,

By reason that perplexity >>> Parts 4 and 5

(To be continued)

* A popular tavern located on a hill overlooking Shiraz.

** Hafez, Iran's foremost important poet.

PARTS (1,2,3) (4,5


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