By Mammad Aidani
I looked back and saw them walking behind me, at a very close distance. They were bullying us in the backyard of our school. That was their normal behaviour and it was frightening most of us. They looked extremely rough. They seemed to have a great time beating Amir, which happened often. Amir and I came from the same Abadan neighborhood and he was the only one who would bother talking to me.
Somehow on this particular day, I knew it was going to be my turn. I don’t know why I felt like this. But it became quite obvious to me that they were in the mood. The way they were looking at me and making faces all day, indicated that my turn had finally arrived. That was how they were. My only alternative was to ignore them and try my best to disappear into the crowded school’s long hallway.
After school I was walking home and knew that they were still following me. I had this sensation that I was going to be beaten up any second. I squeezed my books under my arms and pretended that they were my protectors.
I could hear their steps near me and that increased my fear. I hastened my steps and felt scared, as if they were already bashing me. They were older and bigger and I knew and they knew that a skinny kid could not fight back. So I quickened my steps whilst hoping they would go away.
I got to a konar tree and picked one of its ripe golden fruits from a low branch, quickly swallowed it and kept walking. When I reached the next konar tree I jumped up. But this time I couldn't reach the branches. I began to walk faster. My fear grew deeper. I was within their grasp. I could hear their approach. I was preparing my body for a good beating. But for some strange reason my stubborn mind did not want to give up.
I slowed down and surrendered myself to fate. I waited for them to make their move. I was totally disarmed. What can a skinny kid do in this situation? I could run, but where to? I kept the pace. The main street was long and the chase was going to take a while. I was lucky that from time to time someone would appear and this forced them to delay their attack.
I didn’t know what to do. I kept walking. Frightening thoughts crossed my poor mind. I felt as if I had to give up. ‘No,’ I said to myself. I decided to turn right where a small lane led me to the back of the school. As I returned my body began to shake. I was extremely frightened. I saw a tree. I recall that it was a date tree; there were so many of them.
When the British established control over the oil fields in Khuzestan, they built bungalows, and used them as their offices in many cities throughout the region, to manage the production of oil. There was also one in the best part of our city near the river. It was a very nice place that I liked it very much, without knowing why it was there. I just liked it, simply because it was called ‘bungalow’. I loved the sound of the word and the location of the place.
Here I was facing my fate with these big boys and hoping to find a way out of the abyss. I bent my knees and pretended that something was inside my Vienna plastic shoes in order to look between my legs and see how far the bullies were. They were approaching me. I turned and leaned against a date tree, as if I were glued to it. I looked around my skinny shoulders and felt deeply sorry for myself.
I was waiting for an attack. I clung to my books as if they were the only things in the world that could save me. I found myself in a position of not being able to think. I checked the space around me. No one was around. The bullies stopped and began to talk amongst themselves for a while. I was mortified. They were standing there chatting away about what to do next. I could hear them.
Suddenly a thought crossed my mind to read the book under my arm. I pulled it out and began to read it out loud. In my naive and hopeless way I wanted to give the impression that I was not scared or aware of their intention.
As I reached the middle of the first paragraph they were in front of me, all three of them. They were full of contempt. I smiled with fear and slowly closed the book and put it in my pocket. I waited for what was coming my way. There was this resistance in my poorly fed body, which was telling me not to succumb to them. But I was weak and knew that I did not have any right to open my mouth.
I waited. The taller one was furiously inspecting my body with an ugly barrel-chested gesture. The second one, who I knew well and I’m sure he had some sympathy for me, suddenly cracked up laughing, to please the others. It was a depressing scene. All alone and under pressure by these boys with whom I went to school. They looked merciless.
At the time I did not know what gholdor (word bully) meant. They behaved like animals, and for this reason, in my mind I called them "sag-haaye haar" (rabid dogs). I did not understand why they were so mean, especially towards me and Amir whom, as far as I was concerned, was the nicest guy in school.
After a while the middle one stopped laughing and the last one who was the shortest began to whisper something in the taller one’s ears so I could hear.
Second one: ‘He is too skinny.’
First one: ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking. He irritates me; he's always aloof and never joins in.’
Third one: ‘He's scared. Look how skinny he is. Who wants him anyway? What use does he have? Who can he protect?’
They laughed and I began to cry.
First one: ‘Look, he is not even a man.’ (I lowered my head and buried myself in my loneliness feeling unprotected and hopeless.) ‘So what are you reading, Professor Skinny?’
I looked at him hesitantly and did not want to answer the question. I knew it was not a good idea to say anything to antagonise them. I reluctantly said that I was reading and thinking of the homework I had to finish that night.
First to the second one: ‘You see I told you he's our responsible professor.’ (Then he got angry and screamed into my face.) ‘Do you understand, aadamake ahmagh (stupid puppet)?’
I was further shocked when I heard these words and wanted to say something. However, I was horrified by their presence, and of course said nothing and kept my silence.
First one: ‘Do you have anything to say?’
I said, ‘No. I don’t.’
‘Okay then, go on reading.’
He forced me to read as I was trembling. They looked at me and the smaller one said, ‘You bastard, helpless skinny, good for nothing. Next time if you look at us when we're bashing someone, we'ill kill you.’
As this abusive scene was going on, I suddenly heard an old woman’s voice from afar yelling in our direction, ‘Leave him alone! I have been watching you since you arrived there. I have called the police to get you!’
As soon as they heard the voice, which I’m sure was coming from one of the balconies of the houses behind us, it gave them a big fright. They ran away, yelling at me, ‘You bastard! You're lucky. We'll get you.’ With a sigh of relief I watched them disappeare into the distance.
I reflected for a few minutes in disbelief and turned towards the direction where the voice had come from. I could not see anybody. I’m sure she was looking at me without showing herself from behind those leafy trees, which covered the bungalow’s surroundings. ‘Whoever you are, thank you for saving me,’ I said in the directon of her voice and began to walk away from the hell I had been stuck in.
As I was walking I thought of the following day and imagined myself in the classroom. But then I returned again and looked towards the window where the voice of the old woman had come from. I was hoping to see some sign of her, but again couldn't.
Since then, from time to time, I think of that late afternoon in the bungalow near the river, and my ordeal. And sometimes, I hear echoes of the woman’s voice, telling them to leave me alone. It still gives me that protective feeling.