My Little Girl’s Orange Dress

It was a cold day in autumn. Javad had woken up early in the morning, as he always did, and after performing his early day prayer, he sat down for breakfast. Fatemeh, his wife, had gotten up at the same time. She always woke up with him, and sometimes even earlier, to prepare his breakfast, which always consisted of the modest dish of bread, feta cheese and a cup of hot tea. That was the usual breakfast in their household since that was usually all they could afford. The family consisted of five people, which included the couple, their two children and Javad’s mother, who was living with them after the passing of his father.

They were economically poor. Javad was a laborer at the local market, working as a porter, hauling merchandise for the merchants from their stores to the trucks and back. Occasionally, he would get to load and unload the trucks and make a few extra tomaans. That would be considered a great day, otherwise he was making the minimum salary for one who was performing such a hard and laborious work of carrying the heavy merchandise on his back.

He was in his 30s, but the strenuous nature of his heavy work and the financial burden of life had taken their toll on him. He often complained of the nagging back pain and muscle aches, but never thought to quit working hard to provide for his family. There were many occasions that all he could do was making barely enough to just satisfy their hungry stomachs.

The couple was sitting on the floor and sharing the breakfast. The kids were still asleep. They would be getting up soon to eat breakfast and head for school. Fatemeh seemed occupied and upset.”What is the matter with you today?” Javad asked.

“I do not know what to do any more. Sima is killing me. She is not giving up on the idea of having that orange dress she has seen behind the window of that store. She brought it up again last night before you came home. She wants that dress, the same one that Naazanin, her classmate, has been wearing for the past few weeks; the one that she never takes off since her father bought it for her a few weeks ago. She was talking about it all last night, even at the time that she was ill and not feeling good, she kept bringing it up.”

“How is she doing now, any better?”

“No, she is still running a fever.”

“Did you tell her that I could not afford it?”

“I told her for the hundredth time, but does she understand? Javad, what are we going to do? She is six-years-old. She does not understand these things. All she is talking about is Naazanin’s orange dress. She was even talking about it in her sleep, when mother was checking her temperature.”

“But I cannot afford it. It is hard as it is with the lack of work and my back.”

“She keeps describing how beautifully it fits Naazanin. How she shows it off in front of everyone at school but does not let anyone touch it.”

“Naazanin’s father is rich. He is a crook and a thief. He makes tons of money in his business. I am an ordinary man, a laborer. How much do I make?”

“Javad, you do not have to yell at me like that. I know these things. But she is a child. She cannot understand it. She has seen that dress and has fallen in love with it. She envies Naazanin, that little fortunate, spoiled girl.”

“How much is the dress?”

“It is about 10,000 tomaans.”

“Fatemeh, sometimes I do not even make that in a month, and that is even if we are lucky.”

“Today, she had gone to the store and stood there for hours, looking at it, until the shop owner shouted at her and chased her away. He yelled at her that she looks filthy and dirty and her standing at the front of the store scares the customers away.”

“That son-of-a-bitch had no right to treat her that way.”

“Now, do not get yourself upset. Finish your breakfast. Do you think we should call the doctor to come and visit her today?”

“What doctor would come to this house when they know we cannot afford to pay them?”

“Then what am I supposed to do; take her to the public clinic?”

“Do you know of any better solution?” Javad yelled. Fatemeh’s eyes got teary:”Don’t shout at me, Javad. What do you want me to say?” Javad held his head in his hands. What could he do? His little girl had suddenly fell ill. She was suffering, and there was not anything that he could do?”Let’s see how the work goes today. Maybe I can get some good work today and then we see what happens after that. Javad stood up and walked to Sima’s bed. His little girl was burning with high fever. Her tiny body was profusely perspiring. He kissed her on the cheek and walked out of the house, praying to his God to help him.

At the market, the usual crowd was there, running like hungry wolves to sell and buy and make a tomaan. He went to the shop of Hadji Rasool.”Salam o aleykom, Hadji, any work today?””No, Javad jaan. The business is dead today. Maybe tomorrow.” He checked with the next-door shop of Agha Hossein, who sold stationary.”Hossein agha, do you have anything for me to do today?””I am sorry, Javad. But I am all out of work today.” The next shop and the next and the next, they all gave him the same negative answers to his request for work.

He walked around the market a while looking for work, tirelessly, with no success. It was after noontime when he sat down and opened his lunch bag. He hardly had any appetite. How was he going to buy food for the family tonight? He put the cold beans in the bread and rolled it up, took a bite and spit it out. His lunch tasted like poison. He could not eat a bite while his little girl was burning with fever at home. How was he going to answer his family? The business was badly slow and nobody needed any help that day. All of a sudden, his eyes encountered Hadji Bagher’s rug store; the largest store in the whole market.

He walked towards it. In Hadji Bagher’s store, as far as the eye could see, there were expensive rugs piled on top of each other; rugs from Tabriz, Kashan, Kerman and other cities. Hadji Bagher was sitting on a chair eating his lunch, chelokabab; his daily, favorite dish. It must have been the second serving because another empty plate was sitting in loneliness on the floor. Hadji Bagher had a large appetite, as large as his bulging belly, which resembled an inflated eighteen-wheeler’s tire.”Salaam, Hadj agha.”

“Salaam, Javad. How are you today? Working hard or hardly working?” Javad brushed off the sarcastic remark.

“Hadji, do you need anyone to help you today? I really need money. My little girl is badly sick. I need to get her to a doctor.”

“Sorry, boy. But as you see, I am not doing too well today. It has been a slow day. Can you believe that, since this morning, I have only sold seven carpets? Damn it. It is an awful day.” Javad thought to himself that the sale of seven carpets would attain him an income for a couple of years. But this greedy, cheap man was not even slightly happy about it.

“Hadji, you always do well. It may be slow for a little while, but you are never out of customers or business. Please give me some work.”

“Boy, I told you that I do not need you. Can’t you understand?’

“Hadji, I am desperate. Sima is very sick. I need to take her to the doctor. Can you at least loan me some money? I promise I will pay you back as soon as I can. You have a lot, loan me some. Share some of your wealth with others.”

Hadji got very angry and snippy. He got up and with a stern and serious voice, as he was chewing his kabab and bullets of sweat were running down his wrinkled forehead, shouted at Javad:”Don’t you tell me what to do, boy. Now you have become some smart ass, who can tell me how much I have and how I should spend it? Get away from me. You and your daughter are bothering me and my family. Your damn girl has been harassing my little girl at school for the past few weeks about her orange dress, touching it, tugging on it and bugging her. Disappear from my eyes before I call the committee.”

The yelling of the man intimidated and frightened Javad. He glared at the vicious merchant and walked away, but not before spitting on the floor of his shop.”Do not ever come around here again or I will make your life miserable, boy. And tell your daughter if she ever bothers my little girl again, I swear on Mecca, I will show her too,” Hadji Bagher threatened.

Javad walked away with a broken heart that was filled with sadness of the injustice of life. Javad began walking away from the store but around the corner of the market he saw his son, Saeed, aimlessly running around and looking in search of something or someone. Javad called him. The boy ran to him:”Baba, baba, hurry. Mother said to rush home. Sima is not doing too well. She cannot breathe.” Javad immediately grabbed the little boy’s hand and dashed towards his house.

When he arrived he found a large crowd gathered in his house. It was mid-afternoon and people were hanging around the neighborhood. It seemed that all the people from the neighborhood were there. Sima was lying on the floor and right away he noticed that she had difficulties breathing. There was no sign of any doctor. Fatemeh was crying.”Where is the doctor, woman? Did you take her to the clinic?””Yes, I did. But they said the doctor had other patients and could not see her until Friday,” Fatemeh replied.

“But by then she will be dead. What are we going to do now?”

One of the neighbors suggested that Mr. Sarabi’s son studied medicine at the university for a couple of years and he might be able to help.”Could someone please go and get him? For God’s sake, hurry,” Javad begged. One of the men hurriedly rushed out of the house to get Sohrab.

Soon, Sohrab, Mr. Sarabi’s son, showed up at the house and began examining the little girl. She was burning with high fever, and had chills and a cough, and her throat was severely clogged. She had massive difficulties breathing. Sima was mumbling and uttering some incoherent words. Javad put his ear on her mouth. She was talking about an orange dress with lily flowers that she wished to own. Sohrab touched her throat and chest and then looked at Javad and shook his head with disappointment.

All the people were concerned and worried. Suddenly, Javad stood up and reached for his jacket.”Where are you going, Javad?” Fatemeh inquired. Javad said that he was going to go out and buy the dress.

“With what money, man? What are you talking about? We do not have any money.”

“I know how to get it. I am going to sell my mopped. It must be worth something.”

He ran towards the door, opened it, stepped out, slammed it behind him, and jumped on his old, rickety mopped. The old bike took a long time to start. After he finally got it to start, he took off. He went around town and offered to sell it to those whom he knew and everyone else he encountered. He was willing to sell it to anyone at a reasonable price that would buy him the dress. But no one offered him anything viable or any amount of money that would enable him to pay for the dress.

In the house, there was chaos. The little girl was quickly fading away in despair. Sohrab used every trick that he had learned in the medical school, but there was no hope. Javad returned home after several hours, cold, wet and shivering due to the pouring down of the cold rain. He had something hidden in his jacket. He unbuttoned it and took something out and proudly showed it off. It was an orange colored dress. It was beautiful; an orange dress with tiny images of beautiful lily flowers all over the fabric. He lifted the sizzling and nearly lifeless body of Sima and put it on her.”Here, my daughter. This is what you wanted. Baba got it for you.” A smile quickly ornamented the lips of the little girl.

Although she was half unconscious, it seemed as she could hear her father. It was like she was appreciating all of his efforts for his little girl. With her eyes shut, she put her hands on it and gently caressed it with her little fingers. Immediately, a beautiful smile widened and covered her entire pretty face. It seemed that she was in another world, dreaming; dreaming of floating in a garden of lilies, while wearing her orange dress. People gathered around her on the floor and astonishingly stared at the joy on the little girl’s face. She seemed calm, appeased and happy. The look on Javad’s face was full of satisfaction. Tears started to roll down the father’s face.

So suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Javad looked at Saeed and ordered him to open the door:”Get the door, son. It must be for me.” Everyone was looking at him, puzzled and in question. The boy ran to the door and opened it. After a few seconds, he called:”Baba, will you come here?” Javad walked to the door. Outside, there were two men, standing at the doorstep, dressed in suits:”Javad Semnani?””That is I,” Javad responded.”We have a warrant for your arrest. Let’s go, bastard.” Fatemeh rushed to the door.

“What is the matter, Javad? What did you do? Did you steal the dress from that shop?”

“Nothing, honey. Go back inside. Sima needs you. The children need you now.”

“What is the matter, gentlemen? What has he done? Did he steal the dress from the shop? We can pay for it. I swear to God we will pay for it. I can get a job. Please, I will work hard and pay for it.” The detectives ignored the cries of the woman. One grabbed Javad and shoved him against the wall, while the other one put the handcuffs on his wrists.

“Let’s go, son-of-a-bitch, let’s go. You are gone, you, child killer. You murdered a child? You are history, bastard.” Fatemeh screamed and fell against the wall.

At the same moment, Sima’s lifeless body was lying on the floor, with her tiny fingers still clinching tightly on the dress, and a large and happy smile, as wide as a garden of lilies, spreading over her tiny, pale but innocent face.

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