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An inconsequential man
Short story

December 6, 2003
The Iranian

It was autumn. I could hear her voice. It sounded so far away. I could not guess where it was coming. I saw a tall wall and a line of trees. They were all naked with no leaves. It was so violently windy that I had to run behind one of them for protection. The yellow leaves of the unfamiliar trees were on the ground.

My mouth was dry; I was searching for a water tap in the park. The sky was full of clouds. I wished it were not so because I was afraid of the rain which always brought bad memories. I had had enough.

My hands looked yellow, and my fingernails were very long. I was neglecting myself. I did not bother to cut my nails or even wash my hands.

I recall telling myself , "What for? Who would care if I'm alive or not?"

In that corner of that busy street I was watching well-dressed people in cafes and restaurants. Some of them were laughing, others were arguing, and a few just stared at each other. It was so strange to look inside of those comfortable places.

I remember I saw this woman with lots of lipstick. She was fiercely arguing with a man. I guess he was her partner. I also noticed a table in the middle of the café where there were other men and women. They were kissing without looking at each other. I thought they were making a movie. They looked like the superstars in American films.

The faces were serine. They all wore clean clothes. I was embarrassed of the shape I was in and my disheveled hair. I had not had a wash for a long time. I guessed most people there were locals. I was surprised that they did not smile. On that particular day, I sensed as if all of those people had had haircuts that made them look glamorous.

My thinking patterns did not help. I thought perhaps the best way to test the new places was to study them intuitively and without too much restraint. Just be in the crowd and observe.

I still remember the sensational smell of men's after-shave. I used to pretend that I wore some too. This gave me the illusion that I was somewhat one of them. I also hoped that beautiful women would be attracted to me, but in reality I knew I was dreaming. The sky was limpid, and I could not bear it. I needed inspiration to go on, I wanted to think logically.

In the midst of all this, as strangely as it was, the voice of a kind woman gave me such strength. But her voice was too far away to be accessible. I imagined the blueness of the sky behind the black cloud. I kept that image in my mind. I did not want the rain. I hoped the clouds would go away.

Now that I think about it, I realize how simplistic my thoughts must have been. What could I do? The world I knew was so confusing. My thoughts were always formless, just like the poetry I used to read. I have been thinking about how ancient people, who did not have the luxury of cafés, dealt with their formless thoughts. What was their experience of thinking? Did they discuss the nature of the words they spoke? Of course, I did not want to think of Plato who always talked about form and disliked poetry.

I did not expect an answer. Who was I to hope for one? Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard that I did not have the right to ask questions. The clouds were motionless. I was in this empty space. I was all alone, and I could see two different worlds in my mind: the ancient and the modern. Both were gliding in their own time and space. I wondered where I belonged in this asymmetry? I had this immense desire to know them both. Even though I was awake and walking, I allowed myself to enter a dream, which belonged to far away times as well as to the present.

The rain had begun, and I was walking under it. My clothes were all wet, and I hated it. I felt like a fool as I trod stupidly on the streets without any objective. Life was sterile, and I was in it. I was taken from here to there without any consequence. I was irrelevant, a man without any result. I did not even have the words to tell my story, a mute observer of others' and my own tragicomic existence.

A gentle breeze caressed my face. I felt happy; felt like the rain was going to stop. That was the greatest single moment of the day. I felt it inside. That was the positive distraction I wanted.

It was at this moment that I felt the world in which I was living was totally closed to me. The tall wall in front of me was the only gate to think of the past. The ancient buildings, which were staring at me, reminded me of my ignorance of city's history. They forced me to admit to this ignorance. I remember embarrassingly saying "Look, I'm sorry I don't know much about you." Of course, the city did not answer back. Do you think I'm a fool to say it did? I might have been insignificant but it did not mean I had totally lost grasp of reality.

I heard the woman's voice: "I love you." I wanted her to be right next to me. It was very important to find out who she was, but she was not there in the flesh, and I simply gave up. What was the point of agonizing over something that was not there? The eternal city was dragging me everywhere. That was enough. I gave in to its will for I felt I had no other choice.

In my life's peculiar pace I kept as resilient as I could. I passed by things, and whether they were significant or not, it did not matter. I saw objects around me and in a slow manner I took endless mental pictures in order to keep my mind occupied.

I also hoped I was going to be lucky and language would permit me to express myself with words better than writing thoughts on paper and confusing people with my fragmentary nature of telling things. I think nurturing these thoughts slowly helped me to go on. The rain stopped, the city was cold; I did not have much to do except wonder. It helped me enormously. It kept me focused.

As I was wandering I saw a huge old building covered with huge construction scaffolds. As I watched it I suddenly had a thought about asking myself if I could stay the night in there. Nobody was there to force me out. I stood in front of it for a few minutes, but then I changed my mind. I continued my walk into the night.

Of course I was annoyed by the circumstances in which I found myself. There were some unique moments when I believed I was going to have a better day. This feeling used to elate me; it kept me going on during nights, and then as soon as the sun would rise I would again find the force of the day obliging me to think that I had to meet a world that was full of people who were largely entangled in themselves. Their lives were predictable. Despite all the negative things around me I was resigned to the fact that life was beautiful, and I did not care that the world was not generous to me.

I did not know what all these things meant for an insignificant person like me. I wondered if others who looked like me thought the same way as I did. Did they believe that they were misunderstood too? I had these thoughts in order to distract myself from the predicament in which I found myself.

It had been a long time since I ceased to think about those things, but somewhere in some part of my mind dormant thoughts were still nesting, and from time to time they accidentally presented themselves, to remind me of something. They were like sparks, and when they arrived, they were very demanding, forcing me to remember.

That night in the middle of all those events and emotions, I also saw a beautiful and extremely elegant woman who was wearing a red hamlet. She sat on a brand new Vespa motorbike. Next to her was a meticulously clean white dog. Surprised to find this scene in the middle of my dilemmas, I stopped and fixed my gaze upon them.

For some very strange reason I suddenly had this feeling that I wished that I were that dog. It was a strange and sudden feeling. I did not experience envy or anger towards them. On the contrary, I felt happy for the dog. I did not want to have the luxurious life they had, but I just wished to be it. It was getting late into the night. The city was still busy, and I was still observing things. The clouds were disappearing from the sky. In a peculiar way I looked at the old building, which I had seen a few minutes before, and it seemed happier.

The naked trees were comfortably standing there. The sky was opening, too. The clouds had finally decided to leave and generously began to offer a blue sky full of stars. The bright autumn breeze was as kind as you could imagine. In a matter of seconds people looked more human, and most of them were smiling at each other. They all appeared brighter in the heart of that night.

No, I was not imagining these things. I saw them all. All of them were happening in fragments. Witnessing all these new things, I made up my mind and decided to enter the derelict old building to stay the night under its roof. I had had a busy day. I was content with the weather, the sky, the people, and the city.

This mood, for good reason, changed my desire to be the dog. In this state of mind I told myself that "I just want to be left alone. A dog can't ask to be left alone." I was alone but free. That night, as I recall, turned out to be an interesting one, and I have to admit that I had an exquisite sleep in the old building.

And here I am now, looking at my surroundings, and I ask mself "What else does an insignificant man like me want after having all these things?" It might sound strange to you, but my answer was nothing. I admit this is what I felt that night under the roof of the old building.

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By Mammad Aidani




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