— “Oooh, it’s time I got going!” Roxanne said, looking at her watch and getting up from her chair at the same time.
— “Are you sure?” Peyman said smilingly “I won’t mind if you spend the night here you know.”
— “I am SURE you wouldn’t, Peyman jan,” Roxanne replied with a throaty laugh. “but I think I would.”
— “All right then, I’ll walk you to your car.”
— “Na baba, it’s not necessary. What do you think I am, a fourteen year old girl in danger of getting lost on her way to grandma’s?”
The phone rang and Peyman gestured to Roxanne to stay while he answered it. After a couple of minutes, with her friend still on the phone, engrossed in what seemed to be an important conversation, Roxanne got up again and waved. She mouthed the words “I’ll be okay!” on her way out, despite Peyman’s frantic hand gestures pleading her to wait for him.
It was around ten o’ clock and the streets were deserted. The click-clack of Roxanne’s heels on the pavement sounded aggressively loud in the silence of the night. She had parked her car a couple of blocks away. The distance, which had seemed no big deal when she had arrived at her friend’s apartment in the afternoon, now stretched out before her like an intimidating journey through a desert of obscurity. She had forgotten how it felt to be a woman walking alone at night after years of early evenings at home, tucking in her daughter, then setting ferociously to work on her computer til the wee hours.
The sound of a car honk startled her so deeply that she cried out involuntarily.
— “Bebakhshid, oz mikhaam, I am sorry, I did not mean to surprise you. I was just wondering if you needed a ride.”
It was the driver of a taxicab who had accosted her . Roxanne exhaled slowly.
— “Merssi, kheili mamnoon, thank you, I… I have my own car.”
Roxanne started walking again but the taxi driver did not take off. He kept following her with his car, slowly.
— “Motmaenin? Are you sure? I can give you a good price you know.”
His tone of voice left no doubt as to what he was referring to, and it was not his taxi fare. That pest! If she had been on her own turf, in Tehran, Roxanne would have answered him with all the subtlety of a machine gun. As it was, she felt unsure of herself in this strange city, alone at night, and this man who obviously could not look at a woman without imagining she was for sale.
— “I told you, I have a car. And I… I’m meeting my husband.”
Darn. She had hesitated too much before that last part and the taxi driver knew quite easily that she was putting up a poor lie. He was actually snickering at her.
— “Biyaa too baba, come in, you won’t regret it. We can have a nice ride together.”
Roxanne didn’t reply this time. She just started walking faster and fumbling in her purse for her car keys. In her haste, she dropped her purse altogether, the contents spilling on the sidewalk. She bent down to reprieve her belongings as fast as she could and as she got back up, she realized with horror, the man had left his taxi running in the street and was now standing before her.
Roxanne opened her mouth but before she could utter a single word, she heard a third voice from behind her shout out:
— “Martikeh bishoor, boro gom sho! Boro bebinam! Get lost you motherfucker, before I rearrange your ugly mug with my fist!”
It was Peyman. The taxi driver took one look at Roxanne’s imposing friend and retreated quickly. Muttering some curse words at them under his breath, he got back into his cab and sped off, but not before spitting out his window quite disgustingly.
— “You okay Khanoomi?”
— “Vah! Cheraa dekhalat kardi? Why did you interfere? I was looking forward to a hot date with this gentleman and his sexy beard.” She tried to joke. But her laughter was hollow.
* * *
It felt wrong. It had felt wrong from the start. Those damn gharb-zadeh, westernized, women. Sharif had never liked them. Too much make-up. Too many bright colors. Their manteaus so tight they may just as well have been their second skin. That’s because they were indeed snakes, those shrewd deadly creatures with their shiny, pretty scales and hypnotic eyes, beckoning you to cozy up to them, find comfort in their slimy embrace, only to suddenly twirl their treacherous, ice cold tentacles around you without warning, and suffocate you to death.
The last one he had tried to pick up should have been a sign. He was sure that he could have knocked her unconscious right then and there as she fumbled clumsily on her knees in the dark, looking through her purse that had spilled out on the ground. But her pimp had shown up. Sharif could have taken him on if he wanted to. But it was not the right thing to do. The Voice had spoken to him. Reasoned with him. He may risk getting arrested by the police and that would spell out the end of his mission. Yes, that day would come but not yet, Sharif thought to himself as he drove through the streets of Mashad, but not now, not while there was so much cleaning up to do.
He looked at his passenger. A woman of about fifty. All dolled up to look decades younger but no amount of red lipstick or dark saayeh, liquid liner, circling her worn out eyes like a raccoon, could hide the fact that she could be someone’s grandmother.
— “Hala inja tarafeh rasst bepeech. Turn right here. There, we are at home.”
Sharif stopped the car and sighed. Yes, it felt wrong. He had never ventured in a whore’s home. The… act always took place on his own turf. But this one had insisted. She said she wouldn’t get in otherwise. He had already failed once earlier that night and he was too tired to argue now. He needed to gather his strength for what lay ahead. But even now, as he was getting out of the car and following the whore to her apartment, he thought about slipping out and getting back into his car. As he was about to do so, the woman turned around and with her deep smoker’s voice, she told him:
— “Jeegar, ressidim, we are here.”
She entwined her fingers around Sharif’s and led him resolutely inside. Sharif shuddered with revulsion. Her hand was moist and limp, like a sponge.
The woman turned the light on and Sharif took a look around suspiciously. The inside of the meager apartment stood in sharp contrast to the opulent dress and manner of its owner, who was wearing the latest Tehrani fashion and was draped in jewelry from head to toe. The door opened into a small living area adorned with an old, uncomfortable looking futon against the right wall, and a kitchenette with a plastic table and two chairs on the left hand side. A small television rested on the floor near the futon. At the back of the apartment, a hallway seemed to lead to what must be the one bedroom. There were piles of dirty dishes in the double sink, with flies hovering on top. The walls and celing were bare except for occasional stains of… what? Cooking grease? Water damage? Who knew? Sharif’s nostrils quivered in disgust at the stench of sour milk that emanated through the apartment. Nevertheless, he pushed the door close behind him and turned the lock.
The whore dropped her purse nonchalantly on the floor, ripped off her hejab, revealing a surprisingly thinning red dye job, so flimsy that patches of her cranium skin were readily exposed. She kicked off her high heeled shoes, replacing them with her house slippers. Why? Sharif thought with amusement. The whole place was filthy. What was she trying to protect from the dirt of the outside world, the worn out carpet with too many cigarette burns on it?
— “Jeegar, pool-o bezar roo meez, khodetam rahat beshin. Inja khooneye khodete. Put the money on the table and sit down. Make yourself at home.” The whore stated perfunctorily, as she had probably done hundreds of times before to hundreds of “jeegars.”
Sharif threw a roll of bills on the plastic table and walked toward the futon but he did not sit on it. The woman, her back towards him, was busy counting the money. Sharif made an about face and surreptitiously walked back until he was directly behind her. He placed his hands at her head level and prepared himself to grab her head with both hands and slam it down on the table. This would be enough of a blow to render her defenseless. He could then take his time with the rest. His sweet, slow time. But just as he was about to do so, the woman dropped some bills on the floor and, bending down to retrieve them, realized Sharif was standing behind her.
She laughed, mistaking his intention.
— “Jeegar, be a little patient. I will be right over, don’t worry about a thing.”
Sharif, taken aback, complied and went to the other side of the room where he sat down on the dirty futon dejectedly.
The whore, finally done with counting the money, turned around to face him and taking a cigarette out, which she took an unnervingly long time to light up, asked Sharif:
— “Khob. Cheezi mikhay? Would you like something? A drink? I have some vodka, some beer. No?… Then, perhaps, some grass? Some opium? It will be extra but it will be worth it jeegar, and I have a very reasonable price.”
Sharif shook his head impatiently. That dirty bitch.
— “No, no, Sharif. It’s not her fault. Remember the demons.”
Sharif sighed, his eyes halfway closed.
— “Yes of course, you are right. She is being devoured by a demon.”
— “Several demons actually. The demon of lust, the demon of greed. And of course, the ever present evil, the devilish leader of them all, the specter of drugs.”
Sharif had always had a special contempt for the drug-addicted ones. Weak, weak and feeble-minded. He had never touched a drop of alcohol, inhaled a whiff of any substance in his life. Not even on those hellish days of combat at the Iraqi front, when the limbs and heads of his buddies would rain down upon him after being blown sky high by the enemy landmines. But of course, he had the strength and resolve of the Imam behind him. And now, he would share that strength with these poor drug-addled sinners. He would make them taste real ecstasy, the one that did not come from some colorful flower grown in the fields of a far away land.
— “Well, do you mind waiting a few minutes for me then? The woman asked. “Sex bedooneh alaf… Sex without grass… well, it’s up to you but for me…”
— “Fine, fine. Do what you need to do. I am waiting.”
The woman looked at him funny. Then she excused herself and went down her hallway. Sharif glanced at her hejab, which she had dropped carelessly on her futon. He grabbed it and started rolling it in his hands, into a makeshift tanab, a cord. After a few minutes, when she came back holding her treasures, he hid it in his lap. The woman sat down on the table in her kitchenette and began spreading the green leafy substance on some rolling paper. As she bent her head down to wet the joint close with her tongue, Sharif leaped up from his seat and ran towards her. He quickly slipped the rolled up hejab around her neck and started pulling with such force that the woman, still sitting on the chair, fell back. Sharif dragged her kicking and flailing body on the ground, across the apartment, all the while pulling, pulling. The woman had been so surprised, she had not had time to even scream out.
Slowly her arms and legs began moving with less force than before.
— “Good Sharif, good. You are almost there. Keep squeezing. You have to squeeze those demons out of her.”
— “Yes. Yes. I know.”
Sharif grunted as he kept squeezing tighter. Finally the woman became unconscious. She lay on the ground still, but she was still breathing. Sharif turned her over with difficulty then stood over her, his foot on her neck. As he was about to deal the final blow, he looked up and saw something that had escaped his observation when he had entered the apartment. Above the entrance door was a framed black and white photo of a young man in military uniform, a red background and on the sides of the frame, verses from the Koran:
Can you expect for us any fate other than one of two glorious things? Martyrdom or victory?
Sharif’s mouth opened in shock. A shahid. What was a war martyr’s photo doing here in this snake’s nest?
— “Sharif, no, no. Don’t get distracted. This is the devil trying to distract you from your path. Go back to the task at hand. You are so close.”
Sharif rubbed his eyes and squinted, hoping this was just a hallucination. What he saw made him freeze in terror. The man that was looking back at him from the frame was … himself. He looked down at the woman and saw that she had morphed into his own mother.
— “Sharif! Sharif! No. This is a trick. SHARIF!”
But Sharif was gone. He had run through the door, out on the street, like he was being pursued by an army. This was wrong, all wrong. What was happening to him? >>> Part 14
PARTS