The Spider Killings

Based on true events in Iran


The Spider Killings
by laleh haghighi

A fictional series based on real events that happened in Iran known as the "Spider Killings".
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Fati took another look out the window of her tiny apartment, squinting her eyes to see as far down the street as she could, in the hopes of seeing Jamshid finally coming home. But it was to no avail. She knew that he had disappointed her once again. It was already ten o’ clock, five hours after he had promised her he would come home, bearing the rent money that was due the next day. It was useless. As soon as money, any money, made its way to Jamshid’s hands, it had a way of swiftly disappearing, up in the smoke of an opium dream.

She gritted her teeth. It was too much to bear. Again, he had let her down. Again, she would be forced to do it. And she had promised herself she would never resort to it another time, that the last time was truly that, the last. To make matters a thousand times worse, she was now expecting another child. She was not only a sinner in the eyes of Allah, but a monster in her own, much more unforgiving eyes.

She looked at her son, Babak, sitting on the rug, playing with the doll she had made for him out of rags, one thumb in his mouth, sucking loudly, hungrily. Anything to forget the hunger of yet another day without dinner. Instinctively, Fati touched her stomach and she wished, though she knew it was a great sin, that the life inside of it could die, so that she would not have to witness yet another child she had brought into this world suffer as her son did.

At that moment, Babak looked up at her and smiled. That smile was like a balm on her aching heart, so unexpected, so beautiful. Fati immediately took her hands off her stomach and stretched them out towards her son. Babak jumped happily in his mother’s arms, still sucking away furiously at his thumb.

“Pessaram, my son, do you want to stay with your friend Ali tonight ?” Fati asked her little boy apprehensively. She told herself that if he protested, she wouldn’t go. As for tomorrow and the landlady, be jahanam, to hell with everything. Let tomorrow bring what it may, rent money or not.

Babak looked into his mother’s face, observing her closely for a few seconds. He hated going to the landlady’s house to “play” with her son Ali. Under the guise of play, Ali always pinched and scratched him and Mahin Khanoom, Ali’s mother, would just laugh and tease Babak for being a “bacheh-naneh, a frail mommy’s boy.”

Looking at his mother though, her wide eyes circled with worry and despair, Babak felt that the right answer was to say yes, and so he nodded his head in acquiescence. Fati did not know whether to be relieved or stricken. But now, in any case, her fate was sealed. She quickly dressed Babak in his old, worn out coat, put socks and sandals on his always cold feet, readjusted her own severe, floor-length, black chador, and left her apartment, climbing down the stairs to the ground floor.

Nervously, she knocked on her landlady’s door. Mahin Khanoom opened the door herself and gasped in surprise:

-- “Fatemeh Khanoom! Bah bah bah, che ajab, what an unexpected surprise!”

Mahin’s eyes lit up as she exchanged greetings with her tenant, believing at first that Fati was early with the rent for a change. Fati lowered her eyes in shame and the gleam went out of Mahin’s eyes, as she understood that the purpose of the visit was something else. The false friendliness of the neighbor was replaced quickly by the haughty manner of a creditor, her voice turned sharp, all pleasantries put aside.

-- “Fati, azizam , my dear, (It was no longer Fatemeh Khanoom now), please come in, have some chai, some nice hot tea. Babak and Ali can play while we chat.”

Mahin Khanoom did her best to sound genuine in her taarof, her false invitation, but no amount of honey could sweeten that venomous tongue.

-- “Actually” Fati said, “I have come to ask you if you would be kind enough to watch Babak for a couple of hours while I go run an errand?”

Mahin Khanoom knew this request was coming, as it had so many times before, and she definitely knew exactly what kind of “errand” Fati had to run at this late hour of the night. Who was she kidding? Nevertheless, she felt pleasure in torturing the young woman standing in front of her, the young woman her own husband had once dared to call “pretty.”

-- “At this hour of the night, azizam? Really, you can’t be serious, it is not safe for a lady.”

She smiled as she put emphasis on that last word, and the smile was like biting into a pistachio, only to find an ugly worm wiggling inside its core. She continued, grabbing on to Fati’s arm.

-- “Come, come, stay and have a cup of chai with me while the kids play and whatever errand it is, let your husband, Agha Jamshid, take care of it.”

She feigned looking over Fati’s shoulder and had the temerity to ask, all the while knowing the answer:

-- “Where is Jamshid Khan this evening?”

Tears welled in Fati’s eyes at Mahin’s cruelty. Everybody in the neighborhood knew very well that Jamshid was a drug addict and was hardly ever at home, Mahin better than others. There were enough times that Fati had had to borrow a large sum from Mahin’s husband, Hossein, in order to bail Jamshid out of jail after another night of debauchery. Hossein was always kind to her. He would even surreptitiously gift Fati with some rice and meat from time to time, as often as he could without Mahin growing suspicious. To lessen Fati’s shame, who would protest feebly at these gifts, he would simply whisper “For the boy.” But now, there was no Hossein and Fati was at the mercy of his wife.

-- “Mahin Khanoom, my… my husband is not home right now…”

-- “Oh dear, really? Well, where is he? He is not…sick? God forbid! Is he?”

-- “No, Mahin Khanoom. I… I really have to go… Could you…?”

Fati pleaded but Mahin Khanoom was now twisting her arm, and digging her long, sharp nails deep into her soft skin, all the while still smiling her horrible nicotine-stained smile, motioning towards the inside of the apartment..

-- “Well, then, I’ll get my husband Hossein to run your errand as soon as he gets home. Come in azizam, we will wait for him together while the kiddies play. He has just gone to visit his mother but he will be back soon. It’s no trouble, no trouble at all.”

-- “Oh no, no, Mahin Khanoom, please, I couldn’t ask that of your kind husband…”

Fati was begging now, trying to disengage herself, as Mahin’s long, sharp fingernails kept digging into Fati’s arm, almost making her yelp in pain.

Babak, who had been observing the exchange quietly, suddenly took his thumb out of his mouth and screamed at the top of his lungs:

-- “Nakon! Don’t touch my maman, my mommy! You’re hurting her!”

Mahin was so surprised that she let go of Fati’s arm at once. The child hardly ever spoke, so much so that Mahin had started a rumor in the neighborhood that he had been struck dumb after Jamshid had beat him in a fit of rage when he was three years old. Fati took advantage of this reprieve to shove Babak in Mahin’s arms and run off, muttering her good-byes and thanks on her way out the door. Mahin stood frozen at her doorstep, Babak in her arms, unable to utter any words for a few seconds, so shocked and disappointed was she at her victim having slipped from her clutches so easily. Then, her disbelief gave way to anger and she exclaimed loudly after Fati:

-- “Jendeh! Whore!”

But Fati was long gone, and out of earshot. What was left of her was her son, whose expression had returned to his usual state of resignation and whose thumb was plugged back in his little mouth. Mahin angrily yanked the thumb out and lifted Babak’s chin with her index finger so that the five year old boy would be forced to look straight at her. The gleam back in her eyes, she repeated, slowly, deliberately, with chilling delight, as if plunging a knife into a sacrificial lamb:

-- “Jendeh!” >>> PART 2

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more from laleh haghighi

Give this writer a chance

by bandar (not verified) on

Give this writer a chance .... she hasn't started to
develop the characters yet... yek kami sabr dashteh bashid.
I'm very interested to read the rest...



by Anonymous- (not verified) on

I know what you mean about some people being mean. What the writer does not convey is that it is nice of Mahin to babysit for free, and she makes it sound wrong of Mahin wanting her rental money, regardless of her temperment. What I am trying to say is that the characters are painted in black & white only.... kinda too cartoonish, simplistic for adult readers. Think about Cinderella.... you get the picture?


not if you've been there!

by Reham Arti (not verified) on

I've met people exactly like that, don't know if it's our lovley middle-eastern "way" but some women (out of envy/jelousy?) torture people like this. what if she relied on the income? so to does the husband, but he is still kind. some peopele have a mean streak. I think it's a very well written story, it "feels" like home....


simplistic character develpment

by Anonymous- (not verified) on

You weave the landlady's character predictably sound like a monster, like children's stories evil characters. What about developing some character complexity like in real life? And what if Mahin's family relied on the rental income? Why should she be a monster for wanting to collect the rent?