The Spider Killings (11)

Around the corner, a group of women were standing and laughing loudly


The Spider Killings (11)
by laleh haghighi

A fictional series based on real events that happened in Iran known as the "Spider Killings". [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

Azadeh took her time approaching the passenger side. She looked in as the driver reached over and rolled the window down.

-- “Hey haven’t seen you in a while.” The man said smilingly.

-- “That can be changed,” Azadeh replied, “if you have five thousand tomans.”

-- “Panj-hezaar-taa meegiri! Five thousand!” The man scoffed, “Who do you think I am, a millionaire mullah?”

-- “Listen buddy, you wanna haggle, go to the Baazaar,” Azadeh fired back, unfazed, “I’m not selling chaghale-badoom, spring almonds, here.”

It was always the same. She may as well have rented a stall at the local market. Honestly. What was next? Feel up the merchandise to see if it was ripe, or put her on a scale to see how much should be charged per kilo?

She was in a foul mood and rather than continue the song and dance, she chose to move away. The driver cursed at her and sped off. Azadeh hoped that Yassi was doing better at the park. As for her, she would try her luck at this intersection for a while longer before giving up.

She looked around and saw the usual suspects. That cow Behchat was there with her little girl. The nerve of that woman, taking her child on her tricks. It was disgusting. Azadeh had already fought with her a few times, and she had the scratches to prove it. But Behchat kept returning, child in tow. Maybe she thought it would make the men feel sorry for her, give her some extra money. That was the best case scenario. Azadeh did not want to envision what the alternative might be.

Around the corner, a group of women were standing and laughing loudly. Unlike Azadeh, they did not wear conservative black chadors. Instead, they had on trendy manteaus that looked more like the tight tunics that Tehrani actresses wore in the movies. Their hair was teased and streaked, proudly poking from their colorful, silk, hejab. They were draped in jewelry, sporting bright reds and pinks on their lips, and shielding their eyes with brand name sunglasses even though it was a cloudy, sun-less afternoon. They strutted up and down like peacocks, but they were there for the same sordid reason as Azadeh: To sell themselves to truck drivers and construction workers in the street.

Azadeh knew them well. They were “protected” by Ahmad, who had connections with law enforcement. He had often attempted to lure Azadeh and Yassi into his fold and so far they had been able to thwart him. Slowly, he had used up all that passed for charm in these circles and was beginning to make not so veiled threats whenever he saw them. Independent contractors were not welcome as competition for his roost.

-- “Bah, bah, Azadeh Khanoom!” a familiar voice drew Azadeh out of her reverie.

It was Sepehr, one foot in the male world, one foot in the female world, and in a totally different type of competition altogether.

-- “Chetori, how are you?” Azadeh asked.

The two chitchatted as cars zoomed by, not even slowing down. They had not seen each other for a while. Sepehr seemed to have extra pairs of eyes and ears stuck on multiple walls. He always had the latest news. Now, he was telling Azadeh about the woman who had been found in the streets, strangled and wrapped in her own chador like a macabre gift to the city. Neither of them knew her but they felt a kinship towards her.

-- “Yeah, I think I heard something like that on the radio a while ago. May she rest in peace.” Azadeh sighed. “She is probably better off while the rest of us are still stuck waddling around in this lajan, this mud.”

It was Azadeh’s birthday and she was feeling even more blue than normal. She thought of her family, the birthday parties they had celebrated for her and her cousin Bita, who was the same age. She wondered if there was a chance that Mohammad had lied to her, as she suspected, and that they were still alive and waiting for her to turn up one day. But how could she “turn up” after the life that she had led? No, she was not the daughter they had anymore. Even if they were still alive, their daughter was dead and in her place, using her body like a shell, was Azadeh.

-- “There’s more,” Sepehr whispered conspiratorially, “I was talking to … this guy… and apparently. There have been more women, you know, women like us, strangled and left cocooned in their chador. There may be as much as twenty by now!”

-- “For God’s sake Sepehr, where do you hear this bullshit?” Azadeh laughed, waving her hand dismissively, “Oh wait, never mind, on second thought, I don’t want to know.”

But Azadeh’s laughter was just a front. Of course, every time she got into a car or hopped on the back of a motorcycle, she thought about it, what might happen. She had been slapped around a few times, and stiffed more than she liked to remember. She wondered, if anything more serious happened to her, who would even miss her, apart from Yassi? And would Yassi be brave enough to claim her body? Ensure that it was properly washed and afforded a burial?

Ahhhhh, what morbid thoughts to have on my birthday, Azadeh thought. Just then, a car slowed down then came to a complete stop in front of Sepehr and her. Without thinking about it twice, she opened the door and jumped in the back seat, almost defiantly looking back at her friend, who had been left in the middle of his sentence, so speedily Azadeh had acted.

-- “Be jahanam! To hell with it!” Azadeh thought “Get in first, negotiate the price later. I just have to get away from Sepehr and his gossipy mouth.”

It was only after the car had sped off that Azadeh even noticed the driver was a woman.

* * *

Mahin was lost in thought as she walked through Kuh Sangi Park with the two children, holding each by the hand. Babak had begged and pleaded for days on end to go to the park and had even recruited Ali in his efforts so Mahin had finally given in.

The sky was forecast and it looked like it may be raining soon. It was a stupid idea to come to the park in this weather. They were practically the only ones there, at least the only decent family. Here and there, Mahin saw with disgust young men and women holding hands, or sitting together on benches. They would suddenly move apart at the sight of Mahin and she never missed the opportunity to drench them in her disapproving look. What was the youth of today coming to? And more importantly, where did they find all this leisurely time to come flirt and do god knows what else in a park in the middle of the afternoon. Didn’t they have jobs? Or school to attend?

Mahin had never been afforded free time in her youth. She had had to work hard all her life. Her mother had given birth to Mahin when she was in her forties. It was obvious that Mahin as neither expected nor desired. As early as she remembered, Mahin had been treated by her household as just an extra pair of hands to help with the chores, along with Zahra, their maid. In a family with seven male siblings, and with the constant coming and going of countless relatives, uncles, cousins, in-laws, she had to bear the brunt of the housework: Cooking, cleaning, mending socks, ironing shirts, shopping, etc. She was tired and worn out like a mature housewife by the time she was fifteen. So it was with delight that she got married to Hossein. If I am to be someone’s kolfat, someone’s maid, I may as well do it for my own husband and child, instead of brothers, uncles, cousins and everyone else, she had thought.

Her marriage to Hossein had been a very happy one. In complete contrast to her previous masters, her husband was not demanding at all. He was content with whatever dinner she put in front of him, whereas she remembered how her brothers had more than once spat out her meals and thrown dishes against the wall with grunts of disgust. Pigs! That had been her idea of men, until she met Hossein. He was the gentlest of men. He had acquiesced to pretty much everything she asked, including limiting their progeny to one. She had not wanted to move in with his mother, even though she had room, and he had agreed to that too. He pushed his tolerance to the utmost, opting to visit his relatives at their home, knowing Mahin did not like guests in her house. She had waited hand and foot on so many guests in her parents’ household that she could not envision parties without repulsion. In short, she led as quiet and peaceful a life as she could have. That’s why it was so grating on her to have this extra charge, Babak.

This was the first issue in seven years of marriage that had become a strain on her relationship with Hossein. He was adamant that they should adopt the little boy and raise him as their own. But why should they? She had already had a lifetime of caring for those she should not be responsible for. God knew how hard she had tried to concede to her husband’s wishes. She had gone to the Imam Reza shrine and prayed for strength, for the Imam to plant the seed of love towards Babak, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t. She thought that by being nice to Babak, trying to take on the mother role, she would cease to be haunted by Fati in her dreams.

But the nightmares were just worsening. Every time Mahin looked at Babak in the daytime, she shuddered with apprehension and discomfort. She had planned out her life meticulously and there was just no room left in her heart for more.

These were the thoughts that were occupying Mahin’s mind as she strolled in the park with the two children. A drop of rain fell on her nose and she looked up in time to see the flash of lightning cut through the sky. She opened her mouth to tell the children it was time to return home when she suddenly felt Babak’s hand slip from hers. All it took was one second yet for Mahin it seemed like an hour. She did not call out to Babak or turn to grasp his hand. Instead, she started walking away, her hand firmly gripping that of Ali, her real son.

Her heart was beating violently, so much so that her head began to throb. Her mind was racing with thoughts. She had not done anything wrong. Babak was her blood, her responsibility. Someone was bound to find the boy and call the police. It would be out of her hands. She could return to her peaceful life of before. There would be no more arguments with her husband. Hossein! What would she tell him? Well, she would figure out something. She had a quick tongue and even faster brain. She could take care of herself and once more, she would succeed.

She found that she had reached the gate of the park, hand in hand with Ali, as she struggled with her thoughts. She had not dared to look back, for fear that Babak would be running after her, asking her to wait until he caught up. She paused for a few moments at the gate, wondering if someone would call out after her, scream that she had left the little boy behind. But no sound came. With great difficulty, she finally turned her head and behind her, saw… noone. The rain was now drizzling and the park seemed deserted. There was no sign of Babak anywhere. Turning her head back, she resolutely marched out of the park with her son. Her only son.

* * *

-- “ Lady, let me off. Let me off RIGHT NOW!”

-- “Why? What is the matter?”

Azadeh rolled her eyes. She couldn’t believe this. A woman. She had jumped into a woman’s car, without thinking, without realizing it.

-- “Khanoom-e- aziz, my dear lady, man hanooz dar khatta avvalam, I am still at Level One.” Azadeh cackled. “Hanooz be khatte dovvom naressidam, I haven’t ventured to Level Two just yet. Let me off this goddamn car right now.”

The driver was an elegant looking woman, maybe in her late thirties or early forties. She was definitely not from around here. And she also did not strike Azadeh as the pilgrim type that came from all over the country to pay homage to Imam Reza in Mashad. Who was she and what did she want?

-- “Young lady,” The strange woman replied “You are getting it all wrong. My name is Roxanne and I am a journalist from Tehran. All I want to do is talk to you. Ask a few questions.

It won’t take long. We’ll have a nice ride and I will pay you for your time. Better than be out in the rain at least, isn’t it?”

-- “Oh I get it, you want to lecture me.” Azadeh fired back “You wanna tell me how to straighten out my life. You want me to cry and say I repent from my immorality. Mikhay tobeh konam? Well, let me tell you something. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for women like you. You better lecture yourself instead of preaching to me.”

-- “How so?” Roxanne asked.

Azadeh did not appreciate the amusement in her interlocutor’s tone.

-- “If you satisfied your man, he wouldn’t be taking me to his bed, would he? You married women, you are such hypocrites. You set the price high. Buy me a house. Send the children to Europe. I need a new dress, a new necklace. And he pays and pays. And when it’s time for the return, nothing! And so, he comes to me. And I give him a price. An honest price. Much lower than you. You sell retail, I offer wholesale. And I always deliver. Whatever he pays for, that’s what he gets. What do you say to that?”

-- “Retail and wholesale. That’s cute. Clever.” Roxanne smiled. “What is your name anyway?”

-- “My name is let me the fuck out of this car!” Azadeh screamed. After a pause, she added, with fake politeness, “please.”

Roxanne slowed the car down until it came to a full stop.

-- “I am sorry I got you this upset.” She said to her young passenger. “I only wanted to help you. Let me at least give you some money.”

But Azadeh had jumped out and was running through the rain.

The nerve of that woman! A journalist from Tehran. And with a name like that, no less. What the hell was she doing in Mashad, interviewing prostitutes. Didn’t they have enough of those in Tehran? And then, she remembered the words of Sepehr.

“There have been more women, you know, women like us, strangled and left cocooned in their chador. There may be as much as twenty by now!”

She shuddered, but she told herself it was the cold and the rain that had made the hairs on her body stand. She wondered if it was worth going to the park. Yassi and her were supposed to meet there but with this weather, she had likely gone home. Never mind, it was close enough, just a couple of blocks. Azadeh decided to go to their meeting spot, in Kuh Sangi Park.

And there, by a fountain, under a large tree whose branches were bending almost down to the ground under the force of the wind, she saw her best friend Yassi. She was not alone. Her hand was entwined in that of a little boy, no more than four or five, his thumb plugged in his mouth, his eyes weary.

-- “Look what I found!” Yassi simply said.

And she followed her statement with a huge grin>>> PART 12
PARTS [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]


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