Then I took up smoking.
The sound of a car turning into the street, Listen! Well I’ve got to put on my veil and be on my way now. The rest will have to keep maybe tomorrow night, if Madam hasn’t set me up with someone again.
You don’t like her and she you, so you’re even, but if it wasn’t for Madam I’d still be walking the street.
She wants me to put on colourful veils but I say all that covers me should be black so that its grace or disgrace will stand out. If it wasn’t her I’d still be running around looking for a car to brake in front of my feet, like the night after Mum kicked me out.
The first man was old, I was scared but I said to myself don’t be scared, I glanced around then I jumped in I said:
‘You do have a place don’t you?’
He drove to the smart part of town, what a house, everything like you’d want, warm and cosy, don’t be jealous, he didn’t do anything but brushed his hands across my body with his eyes shut…
Then he introduced me to Madam.
I thought I heard a car brake in the street, hear it? The cab’s here at last, well, don’t look at me like that you know you’re the only guy for me, it’s a shame we can’t get hitched but tonight’s dentist.
The car’s driving off, it wasn’t the cab I guess. It wasn’t.
Then Madam brought me here and this attic room became mine. Thank God I don’t have to wander around in the streets all the time getting arrested and having to listen to endless advice by the police. They picked me up around midnight once, firing questions and wanting answers, they kept insisting. They take me home to Mum but I would’ve done anything not to set eyes on that bitch again.
I started looking at one of them who was older than the other two. Ok Ok I won’t tell you the rest, I mustn’t, he sorted things out for me, didn’t let things get any worse, he fell for me in his boots, he would never take off his boots.
There were other nights, other cars. I cried and said:
‘I’m a colonel’s daughter.’
That’s the truth but I was lying when I said:
‘He was martyred in the war.’
But they believed me and said: ‘Go.’
I’ve got to go.
Why have I got bags under my eyes? I sure hope they don’t put him off make him not fancy me.
He fancies me.
‘He’s a nice guy, a dentist.’
Oh dear, mustn’t forget to ask him to fix my teeth.
I know how to make them fancy me now, make them rub their cold lips over my eyelids and keep saying:
‘You’ve got such pretty eyes, you smell so nice.’
Only for that night, tonight, then in the morning they pray to God I’ll just go.
I’ve got to go.
If you could talk you’d never say things like that, I don’t know what you’d say but never things like that, maybe you wouldn’t talk at all like now, like when we’re together. What bliss!
What’s that smell? I sure hope it doesn’t cling to me and put him off make him not fancy me. He fancies me.
My scent is the latest fashion, look!
Shall I spray you too?
Well that’s enough for now.
Where’s that bloody cab then?
You see how stupid they are? You see how they mess you about?
‘Wait right there it’s on its way’
And then you keep waiting and nothing.
If they say:
‘We don’t have any cars now and we’ll send one in three quarters of an hour.’
Then you’d know where you are.
You know where you are when you’re with old guys, but with the young ones, the ones who stare into your eyes, the ones who get all poetic, how awful is that some of them say really nice things then you start getting carried away all those pretty words you want to lay your head on their shoulder and cry.
No. To hell with all of them. To hell with everyone, cause you’re the only guy for me though you never say a word, though Madam isn’t keen on you.
‘Your smell is all over the building.’
Wish it was. Your smell is nowhere else but here, under my skin. The smell that’s all over the building is from this bottle, the latest fashion just for them, from Khan-Agha to tonight’s dentist.
I mustn’t forget to ask him to fix my teeth.
As long as he’s going to be like all the rest, what use will he be to me unless he fixes my teeth?
Their only difference with Khan-Agha is that they don’t rip my dress, wish they would, after all, when my father was tied to that bare pedestal in the square they all pulled the trigger along with Khan-Agha, his head and face were covered up.
Are you tired of listening to me? Is that why you’ve turned away and hid behind your wings?
Good thing I noticed this red mark down on my neck, it’s from that idiot’s fingernails the night before last. I’ve got to rub something on it to make it go away make it completely totally go away. I mustn’t take any mark or sign with me when I go to tonight’s guy’s house. I have to go alone, all alone. Go and not come back.
Should I tell you more? You’ll get tired. Should I tell you that:
I was alone in the crowd shivering and scared, there was no sign of the sun yet, a searchlight was shining on dad. Mum had stayed at home. I was squirming around with tousled hair and bare feet in the middle of the crowd that had formed a half circle round the square, where the statue had been pulled down. The blacks of dad’s eyes followed me around. I wanted to weep, to cry my heart out but a lump had locked up my throat. Khan-Agha shouted:
He came and kneeled next to the other men. He said:
The people said something as they fired, maybe they cheered. Dad shrivelled into himself, twisted, blood squirted out of his mouth, he crumpled but didn’t fall. Khan-Agha drew his hand across my hair; his fingers trembled on the skin of my neck said:
‘You’re my daughter now don’t be scared.’
‘From now on Khan-Agha will be the man of the house, like him?’ Some days Mum would go to the butcher’s shop and help him cut up the carcasses.
She still goes.
There are days when I miss Mum like mad, I stand at a distance for away and stare at the butcher’s shop.
Mum’s become a real good butcher now.
Ah! Waiting is such rubbish. I can’t stand it. Fuck.
Me? In a rush? No, I’m not in a rush. It’s something else. It’s clear as day. The dentist’s just like all the others. The difference is his job, like the others, the boutique owner, the construction engineer, the car dealer, the carpet seller, the artist, the bloody this, the bloody that. Every one of them is like the one before, like the one after.
Hope to God his house is warm or at least the bedroom’s warm, that’s if he’s got a bedroom at all.
What did you expect? Of course some of them haven’t even got a proper bedroom, they just throw you on the settee. If I hadn’t already buttoned up my covering I’d show you one of the bones on my back has gone all red a searing pain, it hurts me sometimes like the night when Khan-Agha pressed down on my breast bone but I didn’t say a word to Mum.
‘I raised you on my lap, you think you can nag my husband now just cause your breasts are swelling up?’
She hit me and I swore at her.
She screamed, threw my clothes into the street, I was sixteen, Khan-Agha’s hand trembled on my body, Mum had gone to the hospital that night to give birth to Khan-Agha’s third child, all boys.
‘Don’t Khan-Agha, I’m scared.’
‘What’s there to be scared of, it’s pleasure.’
He was laughing, I screamed.
What else can a woman do but scream?
My dress ripped down the side. What pain! I was burning. The bone of his hand pressed down on my breasts like an iron bar, pressure and pain, back and forth. I fainted under those sour breaths and then nothing, like every night, tonight, in a couple of hours, at the dentist’s house.
If I remember to ask him to fix my teeth.
There was another difference that night with Khan-Agha, though you may not understand the meaning of blood unless they cut your throat, oh God I hope not, then I really would be all alone like now.
When I’m going off to a new man’s house, more alone than ever, no, not alone, cause there’s you, emptier than ever.
What utter nonsense I’m weaving tonight.
These cabs sure leave one in a daze. Maybe if I put on my headscarf my luck will turn and the cab will come. Here goes, the headscarf, a..h there, the wretched thing.
Were you eyeing up my hair you rascal?
I’m not thinking about the new guy at all.
Every year there were some I thought were new but now I don’t think about a new guy.
I just make myself emptier than ever before I go. Empty, so that I can be filled up without pain.
Did I make you wince with pain? Poor thing!
Well, I won’t say any more.
I’ll talk about something else if I have to talk something else. But I don’t have to.
So what else?
I’m more comfortable with my sunglasses on in the street, day or night, huh, you’re sure strange from behind these glasses, like every night’s, it’s funny, your colours are so vivid, a reflection of a thousand colours in the dark.
Instead of empty I should’ve said darkness.
Well, I’ll say it now:
When I’m going to some new guy’s house I make myself darker than ever so that if the guy is low voltage I can spot him.
Blond, dark, tall, short, pilot, cab driver or…
‘I’ll slice you in two with the cleaver you bitch if you don’t tell me what Khan-Agha’s said to you.’
‘He’s promised he’ll marry me.’
If someone marries me I’ll miss you like hell.
The one I want, dentist or policeman or anyone who doesn’t pray to God in the morning, that I’ll just go and lost, takes off his boots, doesn’t rip my dress at least.
I should stop thinking about it.
I should think about going.
I’ve got to go. Go with nothing.
Do you like the redness of my long fingernails? Take a good look cause I’m covering them up now. Red like my own blood.
A fountain of blood from dad’s chest fell open like a ripe pomegranate, so much for the hands, sinking into darkness.
The poor cab driver as soon as I get in he’ll adjust the mirror up front and look straight into my face but what does he see?
A pile of darkness.
Then he sets his heart on when I reach down to pay his fare. What does it amount to after all?
A bunch of notes in the darkness, like now, ow.
Don’t panic; don’t flap your wings calm down down nothing.
I turned off the light to show you something. Come with me, don’t do anything just stare at the darkness, don’t move stare straight at me as dark as yourself.
Now I’m going to puff at my cigarette.
What do you see?
You come towards the light, towards me.
When you come, I’m not alone anymore, I’m not empty, I’m not dark. We’re both bright in the light of the cigarette, we’re together, a woman and a man, the one I want without pain without lies without boots, you rub yourself over my bare body, you roar, I laugh, you nibble at my ankles up and down.
Let the cab driver buzz on the doorbell a few more times.
Let him wait.
Let the dentist wait fiddling with his watch.
Them men who are the same, can wait for me tonight, wait for a woman who’s not alone anymore.
Let them hear the peals of joy in the air, she’s not empty, with laughter, this woman is not dark.
1992 Tehran. From the collection of ‘Iranian four seasons’.