Excerpt from Laleh Khadivi’s recently published novel, The Age of Orphans. It follows the life of Reza Khourdi, a Kurd conscripted into the armies of Reza Shah in the mid 1930’s. He is torn between his tribal Kurdish loyalties and the loyalties to new nation of Iran. Khadivi will be reading with other California-based poets and writers at We are All Iran: A Literary Reading to Mark the Sixth Anniversary of the Iranian Elections, as part of the Global Day of Arts and Culture for Iran, Saturday, December 12, 2009, 2-4 pm, at the San Francisco Public Library, 2-4 pm (100 Larkin at Grove). More information at iranianamericanwriters.org.
The Morning Maze
Allah-o-akbar!… sshht, sshht, sshht… the broom sweeps dust swept from corners, grouts, between the interstices of cobbled stone… the brash muezzin call pierces like the morning’s light through the ears and noses and dreams of the inducted… Allah o Akbar!…through their heads still tossed in sleep… I praise the Perfection of god, the Forever Existing… the camion drops the soldiers in the city streets like rabbits in a warren and so they scatter…without possessions Reza moves easily through the maze in his soldier suit and soldier boots… the looks are at him… Sarbaz! Over here! We’ve got the finest quarters in the city? A samovar in every room… and past him… covered women keep their heads cast down, uncovered women do the same… The Desired. The Existing. The Single and the Supreme… everywhere the dynamite demise of an ancient city… for the sake of the new old homes exploded into crumbles of rubble… boys play in the mess as if in castles, fortresses, dens and caves… they tie cuts of cloth to a stick to be stuck in the highest point to mean a flag, to mean theirs, to mean a child’s country… builders cut the edges at sharp angles, the sides of glass, the marble for the hyatt… the bricklayer sings: I build a house for you, straight and tall. I build a house for you, straight and tall. But, jounam where will our looove hide?…each door hides a puppetry beyond… a rice vendor moves heavy sacks with a stretch and bend of his crooked back… a girl of authority and suspicion holds to the iron latticework to stare out and down… three men sit around a table with a pipe, two toss dice, one stares and smokes… Allah-o-Akbar… last night’s garbage piles in the doorframes., amalgams of chicken bones, burnt rice, sodden tea leaves, clumps of tobacco, bloodied rags… refuse in mounds conquered by flies, then by ants, then heat and then by the street urchins who search… a city to devour itself…the haze grows thick, sullen, orange, to coat Reza… Sarbaz! Here we have the finest rooms, thickest motaqs, a girl to bring you chai, the sweetest sharbat to quench your desert thirst… Reza moves past… Go then, has the Shah taught you arrogance as well? You won’t find a better room in all of Tehran…a coin of spit lands at Reza’s feet and first the meniscus shines and then catches dust, to brown like everything else… a beggar, legless… Agha, please. I’ve never had two feet or even two ankles, God cursed me to live like this… Reza glances down into the lines of the beggar’s open palm to see the maps of some forgone misfortune… The Perfect. The Exaultant. Allah o Akbar!…a mother in a black chador flaps like a crow down the alley… the small child under her wing points to Reza and yells: Maman! Sarbaz! Beebeen! Look!…Thwack!…Ayaaaa! Maaaaman!…coppersmiths hammer their wares loudly, deaf to one another and to the world and throw gummy grins at Reza as he passes… .another doorway, the click of marble dice on wood… six and four my friend, you are luckless in this hand, I’m afraid… the city is for him, to him, yet he can only see it in fragments, as a whole it is but orange dust and heat and he is a shadow of it all, a dark shade making his way through the anonymous and blinding brightness… Allah o Akbar… a body floats down the street, wrapped in white gauze… the faces of the pallbearers as somber as moneylenders who deal in daemons… horse shoes clop and clatter about the stone, their sorry eyes buried under the weight of concrete, copper, cement, iron and brick… here and there a lamp post stands idle, the grey cresset dull and empty… Sarbaz! Are you a Kurd? My grandfather, God bless his soul, was Kurd too. Please, come into my home brother, your pleasure is my highest order. We have taraq, kabobs, the softest dancing girls… against the opaque sky, above the din, painted and printed billboards of cartoons… a trio of woman in a head scarves – upset, their mouths turned down her mouth down turned; the same three with heads uncovered – victorious, delighted– all lips happily upturned in a half circles… The Most Merciful, the Most Glorious… another billboard: the heads of men as they are captured at the neck in snaky cerevatte’s… Reza stops to stare at the image… the street sweep approaches… sshhht sshhht sshhht … his turban topples… left… .right… with every sway and step… Agha Sarbahz for the Shah, have you not heard?…he points to the billboards of the men’s head strung in ties… our old ancient empire of Persia is a grown thing, a new thing, and Iran, every man with a noose and a grin… shht, shht, shht… the city sweeps itself up and around him… somewhere a window open… an eye opened then closed… mouths open and close… fish, street dog, unctuous old man alike … legs and assholes and cunts opened… the wound opens… a knocking… entering… entered… taking and taken… a city of history in and history out… time forward and forever past and until then and we’ll see… Allah oh Akbar. Let him be the one God. The only God with none like Him, nor any disobedient, nor any deputy or equal or offspring. His Perfection be extolled… odor emanates, not of the city, but of Reza himself, from deep in the damp enclosure of the wool Cossack uniform his pores open and spill forth… he is only a day arrived and permeable… he is the garbage… the dust… the child’s cry and the mother’s sacred slap… the city wraps around him: transparent, diaphanous, ubiquitous and his shadow marches the streets, nameless and new and so: free… marches through an opening… between two large wooden doors… Here! Sarbaz! The loveliest ladies await you here, in here… a hyatt with a fountain and the emblem of a cross atop the arched doorframe… Reza takes of the sweetened tea and the honey pastry… Just in from the desert?… a sweaty palm encloses on his and the scent of rosewater floods over him… in that case let me arrange for Marjam… the damp and musty room… the Madame’s cough as she closes the door… street din amplified through a window high in the wall … she: not a face but a mask with crushed petal stained lips and charcoal covered eyes… not a face, he takes her hand and pushes it down into his pants… a grip not fierce or gentle… holds him and does not… not a face but a mouth warm, a tongue warmer… wet… not a motaq but an elevated bed… Allah o Akbar… the call from outside… not an embrace but an angry thrust… and she: not resistant but supple in the face of it, laughing… Agha why are all the solider boys so mad? Doesn’t the Shah take care of your little things?…the texture of himself: desirous, durable, unabashed as she is not a face…a mask… the texture of her enclave: silken smooth, not the warren of streets or the haze of morning or the rapid fire of rifles…up and into , again, up and into… the thrust, the laugh… the sweat pours forth… her haunches in his hand… the laugh… his fist on her face… the crush of himself into the soft pillow inside her… not the desert… not the Commander… not even she: the Armenian whore, Marjam, with no children and a mother who speaks to ghosts and hits her for not hearing them… not her… Reza cannot see through the thick orange air but what he cannot see he cannot… she is there, finally, through the haze, Maman in the bed of dead flowers, her hair tangled in the stalks… jounam… and it is done and she of the no face lies naked and faceless and he of the Shah dresses for the Shah in heavy wool and straps and spurs… places coins into the old ladies hand… one and one and one and is chided… you say ‘Thank you Madame’ is what you say… sshhht, sshhht, sshhht… the city sweeps around him… a window closes… the sun arcs across the alley… the sky present only in cracks between rooftops, and then present only as a covering, a wash of haze over the translucent shine of a cosmos muted and erased, unrevealed… sweat pours and he walks away from the exigency of the shadow’s demands… the Maman of the land and of the garden and of his desires stays behind in the dank room… what of the boy is left is born into the new womb of this first woman and as this man his first choice is to leave the Kurd behind, to disclaim him and repudiate him and neglect… sweat allover in a thick mucus of rebirth… Reza walks clean and without history… his city self: a good-man, the modernman of nation and king, landless and lost, deeds done and forgotten… Allah –o – Akbar. The Exultant. The Supreme.