(Translated by Sajedeh Asna’ashari)
Majid, you will be released tomorrow, so, please, when you come home and see our life, do not go around thinking that I have made this life easily, and do not overlook how much I have labored over the last ten years. Now that you are being released from prison, I doubt if I have told you the whole truth about how much I suffered to pay that damn blood money and rebuild this very simple life for Saeed and Saba. I doubt if I have told you about my long shifts and sleepless nights at the hospital. I doubt if I have told you that I have taken care of so many other aging parents and children, that I have forgotten how one takes care of oneself. If only I had told you everything. If only I had not left out so much of my hardships from the news I brought you. If only my heart would not go out to you, and my mind would become mute so it would not keep on saying to me: “What can he ever do except sorrowing?”
Last week, when I came to visit you, you asked why I was quiet and unhappy; do you remember? I struggled hard to tellyou that as soon as Saeed heard about your coming home, he packed his suitcase and went to stay at his friend’s house, but the words stuck in my throat. Last winter, he began scouring the internet out of curiosity, and finally found your case. And since the moment he realized what his father had done wrong, and even worse, that his mother had been complicit with his father, in lying to their children, his demeanor has changed. This damn internet deprives people of their right to forget and be forgotten. Do you remember you once said you would win his heart after you are freed? Maybe you thought he would remain eight years old forever and you would bend down and give him a candy, and then the problem would be over. Your son has grown so old that he neither needs you to bend over, nor can your candy capture his heart. He has grown up enough to fall in love. He is in love with a young woman who is five years older than him. On Wednesday nights he goes to her home to learn piano, so his talent does not go to waste in ourdisadvantaged home. This is actually what he told me. Your 15-year-old daughter is also in love with someone. I know you think it’s too early, but it is not you and I who define
s ‘early’. It is life that defines early and late, and taking advantage of your absence, it has done what it could to change everything. I am wondering why I did not tell you about these things in the first place. To help you have peace of mind? But I should have told you so you could face the truth and think it through in prison.
It has been a week since Saeed left home. I begged him to stay, but he did not listen to me. I have really missed him over the past few days. I would have never thought that, when you get out of prison, you would imprison me in a world without my son. However, it has been a long time that I am thinking that we have both been in prison. We only differ in that you never came to see me. After that incident, that shook our life like an earthquake, you were not around to see how hard I worked to lay the same broken bricks one on the other so my children would not get hurt. You did not see with what anxiety I took Saeed and Saba across the street every morning. You did not hear my heart skip a beat with every passing car, as I was scared its steering wheel would turn toward my children for revenge. You did not see that Zayanderud dry up for several years; so dry that the kids have made volleyball and football fields on its bed here and there. For a year or two the birds would come looking as if they were waiting for a ray of light to cast on a stream of water, but to no avail. And they never turned up again.
You do not believe that the ifs and buts from somewhere in the dark ceiling still pour on my head before I fall asleep. If only you had not left us alone that night; if only you had been a little more tired and after all that hesitation you had not decided to go to that party; if only I had asked you to leave the car for me; if only we did not argue and I had not sent you off with my shouts; then maybe you wouldn’t have become so nervous. Then maybe you, who was not used to drinking alcohol, would not have had those few shots, which warmed you so much that you ended up setting fire to our life. Maybe you would not make the heart of a young woman stop on the road and make the heart of her father break so badly that his agonized cries in the court have kept on ringing in my head even after ten years. However, you aren’t to blame. They punished you for involuntary killing, me for my involuntary decision to marry a prisoner-to-be, and our children for their involuntarily being our children. This world punishes involuntary crimes, as the voluntary wrongdoers know how to circumvent the law; they know how not to get confused in the midst of the jargons in the courtroom; they know how loud they should speak so the judge would hear them but others do not.
Until today, I used to daydream about your release date. I have relentlessly fought for this day. Why didn’t I think about its aftermath all these years? What should I fight for after tomorrow? Majid, I do not have the stamina to rebuild our life once again. To this day, my life was moving forward, but now I feel I have moved back. It has been ten years. I feel I have to start all over again. Maybe you should help me fall in love again. Mom is gone, so you have to regain Dad’s trust, and ask him for my hand once again. And I am not sure I will say yes. I had no doubt I would wait for you, and I did as I had promised, but I had no idea what “I will wait for you,” means at all. I was so young then, and I had seen such things in movies. I did not understand its meaning even later. If my faithfulness is judged by my body, I have indeed been waiting for you. I never stripped it naked. For ten years I spun a silk cocoon around my young body but it not only never turned into a butterfly, but day by day and year by year, it withered more and more. If my faithfulness is judged by my soul, I did not wait. The soul flies wherever it wants. It is not in our hands, is it? Has anyone made me go weak at the knees? Of course they have. So many that I have lost count. Do I still love you? I don’t know. I just remember that I once did.
To tell you the truth, now that the countdown is over, now that the wait whose meaning I did not understand is coming to an end, I doubt if I want to live with you. Maybe it’s better for you not to rekindle our love. After a long time, this is the first time that I feel I can freely decide about my relationship with you. I can talk to you face to face, without the meeting room’s window between us, so my breath together with my words can hit your face and you know it’s no joke, a ten-year wait is no joke. It is my gift to you. If I ever decide to leave you, take it and never look back. Even though I told myself all these things many times today, I am wondering why I have prepared everything for your arrival. I even ironed all your clothes. It was as if I heard a voice amidst the steam and the memories emitting from your clothes, a voice that is living inside me and tells me to provide everything for you. Even if I object, it tells me to do my job and ask no questions. The voice wants everything to go the same old routine. How many years should you be away, so that your absence becomes the “routine”?
Today, they are going to release the dam water into the river. Together with Saba, we have come to the Siosepol bridge. We are now standing on the brick edge of it, where we used to sit and hang our feet. It is crowded. The sun is starting to set, and is sinking very slowly, as if it wants to see this moment before its departure. My memories with you appear before my eyes, brightly and clearly but with no color. I look at the dry riverbed. It seems as if the image of our feet swinging in the water has been buried under the ground. I remember holding your hand, but I don’t remember what it felt like. I look at Saba. A gentle breeze slides over her sleek hair. My daughter is getting more and more like you and less similar to me. I tighten my grip on her hand. She turns her head toward me and smiles at me with your sloe eyes and points to a spot. The water is rushing from afar. I turn my eyes toward the sky. The birds are not back yet. Maybe they will never return. The water is covering the riverbed and its cracks. As it gets closer, it throws up a wrecked swan paddleboat and, like a cheerful groom, hugs its old bride and makes her dance on his hands. A few children standing on the river edge are walking backward while being chased by the water. They occasionally pull their feet out of the water with a short scream, as if they are accustomed to the dryness of the river. I see the image of people clapping and whistling, but their voices fade amid the thoughts racing through my head. I am thinking that you will never comprehend the hardship Zayanderud has suffered over these years. I am afraid that you might only see your own image in the water and never notice what wounds are lying under the shallow flow of the river. The water under our feet is gradually accelerating on the thirsty Zayanderud, washing away the soil accumulated over the years.
Pooya Monshizadeh (b. 1985) is an Iranian writer currently living in the Netherlands. He is the author of the short story collection, The Angel Cake Recipe (Cheshmeh Publications, 2018), and has won several national literary awards in Iran, including Sadegh Hedayat and Bahram Sadeghi awards in 2016, and Zayanderud Special Prize in 2017.