My long tresses I shall cut
September 3, 1998
Excerpt from "Persian Brides" (1998 George Braziller, New York) a novel by Dorit Rabinyan. Born in Kfar Saba in Israel, Rabinyan currently lives in Tel Aviv. She has been a film critic for the daily newspaper Ma'ariv and is the author of a book of poetry and a play. "Persian Brides" is her first novel, set at the turn of the century in the fictional Iranian village of Omerijan. It tells the story of two young girls -- Flora and Nazie Ratoryan -- and their many neighbors in the almond tree alley where they live. Translated from the Hebrew by Yael Lotan.
Even Fathaneh Delkasht, whose house adjoined that of the Ratoryans, whose ear was always pressed to the wall, and whose mouth blabbed all over the village, said that Flora was blinding her black eyes with weeping. Her bold glance, which had lusted after all the sweets in the market and aroused the lust of all the traders, was now sunk between her fat heavy eyelids and sulked behind a belly containing a baby whose father was lost.
"I shall tear out my eyes, beloved azizam... I shall tear out my eyes, for their light to shine only in your heart..." Flora began to sing the song she had learned from her aunts and her paternal great-aunts, who flocked in from the neighboring villages to advise her how to bring her little traitor of a husband back home. In their aged hands, speckled with brown patches like spotted cats, they shuffled cards like magicians, upturned coffee cups and solemnly studied the convolutions of her fate. They instructed Flora to pass her first water of the day, the thickest and strongest tea-colored pee, on a hen's egg that had been laid at dawn, then break the pissed-on egg under a blossoming tree. In the evening she was to burn crackling espand seeds on a censer, fill her innards with their smoke, and plead with the moon to remove the curse that it had laid on her.
Sabiya Mansour, the grandest and severest of the aunts, being the eldest of her father's daughters and able to read the zodiac signs, which made her opinion a final verdict, said that for the burnt espand seeds to achieve their purpose Flora had to yawn profusely and deeply, filling her lungs.
"The more you yawn, child," Sabiya said, and a hush fell on all the aunts, "the more the rascal will dream horrible dreams, his strength will fail him, and he won't be able to get into the holes of the whores that he takes into his stinking bed, his soul will know no rest, and the image of your lovely face will haunt him wherever he goes, everywhere, my poor child."
In addition to the pee and the yawns, Flora was also made to sing the sad song that had been composed especially for such troubles of the heart. The old women drew their cracked lips into the dark caverns of their mouths and agreed with Sabiya Mansour that even husbands who sailed beyond the Caspian Sea to the end of the world could hear this song plainly, and the sadness of its bitter melody brought them back to their wives. That was the song that Gulistan had sung to her lover, Horshid, the women chorused squeakily, their eyes moist, their souls yearning, and their flesh astir.
Gulistan was the beloved of Horshid, the royal sculptor. He had carved her form in snowy, purple-veined marble like her skin, and set it in the middle of a gushing fountain in the palace court. When Horshid heard that Gulistan had been betrothed to the son of Reza Shah, he thrust the heavy chisel into his forehead and died. The following day Gulistan found his body floating in the palace fountain, the goldfish swimming in the caverns of his ears. But when she sang him this song and told him that the story of her betrothal was a lie spread by the prince to alienate her sculptor lover, Horshid revived and the fractures in his skull healed immediately with a fine purple scar.
Enchanted by the ancient legend, and believing wholeheartedly in the power of the song to restore the vanished Shahin to her sweet bosom, Flora hauled her heavy body to the roof of her parents' house, spread a straw mat under the laundry line, taut as the dome of the heaven, chased the birds skyward, and sang Gulistan's song loudly and devoutly from dawn to dusk. In the first days her voice was full of passion that echoed through the rusty rain gutter, and all the villages coming and going below the Ratoryans' roof paused to wonder about giggly Flora's cries and to mock her longings. Some raised their heads from the alley, shaded their eyes with their hands against the fierce sun, and scolded her for disgracing the village and perplexing the young children with their desire for the husband. Flora did not answer them, only raised her voice till it squeaked, fixed her sad eyes on the distant horizon, and with the hanging wash stroking her hair, aimed her song straight at the hairy passages of her husband's ears.
Finally even the sanctimonious stopped coming to the almond tree alley to shout and warn and order her with a threatening forefinger to come down at once at the command of rabbi mullah Netanel the widower. The women, too, stopped coming with their infants hanging from their breasts to pity her for her hard love. Only the gentile children came in gangs to throw pebbles and plum stones at the rutting Flora. "There she is, Flora! Flora! Flora the whora! The whora!" they would sing, clutching their as-yet-hairless bellies and chortling like mice. And Flora would sing and cry, sing and cry, and the rain gutter echoed her tremulously.
Only when her voice had grown hoarse and all but vanished, and the neighbors complained to her abashed parents about the noise she was making, and threatened to throw her from the roof into the garden, did Flora agree to come down and lament in the sooty kitchen. Raising her chin up to the chimney opening, spreading the rolls of her fat neck, she would send her roughened smoky song to the clouds. Flora never doubted for a moment that Shahin would soon return, captured by the melody until its words pierced his ears: "... On the wings of the wind, beloved, I shall sail to you. I shall tear out my eyes, beloved, azizam, for their light to shine in your heart alone. My long tresses I shall cut. With the dust I shall scrape from your feet I shall paint my eyelids, beloved, azizam..."
"Persian Brides" is available at Amazon.com
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