Blue writing on tarnished yellow
By Shokooh Mirzadegi
Translated from Persian by Faramarz Aslani
April 17, 2001
This short story of was originally written and printed, once in Puyeshgaran
litrary magazine and once more in the collection of my short stories, called
Golden Ark. Faramarz Aslani, the renowned musician and singer, who
is a journalist and translater by education, has kindly translated it into
The rumbling of the storm would not cease for a second. Thick, dark clouds
were scattered all over the evening sky. Each time the lightening flashed,
the hue of the roofs and walls beyond the window were highlighted.
A church-bell could be heard in the distance. A sad tone it possessed;
a melancholic music that was the background sound of this haunted evening.
The old lady is rocking in her well-used and discolored chair. Presuming
that she is asleep, I take a blanket to spread over her lap, just as I have
often done in the past. I stand over her. As usual, an opened book lies
on her knees. I move to take away the book. Gently, she places her hand
"Sorry, I thought you were asleep."
She raises her head and looks at me through her spectacles. Like always,
her eyes are clear and lively. She greets me with a kind smile and turns
her head towards the window. I return to my seat.
"Will you bring me a coup of coffee please?"
I jump. "But.., certainly"
This the first time ever she has asked anything from me. I have been
with her seven hours a day in the past three years and have never heard
a request on her part. I really do not know why her son has employed me
to look after her. She has no need of me. None what so ever. In fact, I
do not think she needs anyone at all. Day and night, she sits in her chair
either reading or looking outside the window. Each morning she wakes up
moments after I arrive. Gently and quietly she moves towards the bathroom.
A while later she appears, bathed and dressed. She then sits at the table
and takes her breakfast in silence. Normally, she does not care for the
morning papers. But, at times, she drowns herself in them for hours at an
end. She speaks a few words to me only about the weather, the book I am
reading, friends who visit her and her son who comes to see her twice a
week and takes her to the park on Sundays. Every morning after breakfast,
and like a person who follows a specific routine, she sits in her rocking
chair; either reading or watching the street. She does not do anything all
day. Sometimes, I make tea or coffee for her. She would not mind even if
To begin with, life with her was quite boring. I would have resigned
had it not been for my expenses and college fees. But, as time passed, I
began to like her and became used to living with her. I, too, adopted the
habit of sitting and reading in the same room. Each time I pick a new book
from her library, her lips break into a smile.
"You have started a new book?"
She always looks at the book in my hands with curiosity. I show her the
book. Occasionally, she utters a few words about it. At times she merely
shakes her head and turns to the window.
Recently, I have discovered that her silence means two things. She either
does not like what I am reading or has more to say on the subject. During
the last three years, I have read a lot of books from her library and almost
all that is written by her. She has not written any for ages.
She has visitors every evening. Old, young, male, female. They begin
to arrive as I prepare to leave.
I place her coffee on the side table. She turns to me. "Someone
is at the door."
"The door? I didn't hear anything. Did you hear the bell?"
"Not the bell! Someone is knocking!"
I am sure no one is out there. Even so I walk to the front door and open
it. "No one is here madam!"
She half raises herself and is looking worried and anxious. "The
door! I hear someone using the knocker."
She tries to get out of her chair. For the first time she does not make
it. I go to her and place my hands under her arms. She leans on my hands
and, as lightly as a small child's, her body leaves the seat.
"I must open the door."
I am scared. I have never seen her so disturbed.
Suddenly, she frees herself and flies towards the front door. Unlike
her usual slow pace, she moves with quick and youthful strides.
Someone is knocking at the door. Not pressing the bell. It was an
iron gate and had a bell. But it sounded as if a metal knocker was beating
against a wooden door. Still, I knew the door and the knocker belonged
to my house. The girl looked at me with disbelief. The pounding of the
wooden door would not cease. I left my seat and ran to the door.
"Don't! I'll open it."
Absent mindedly, the old woman passes through the room and enters the
hallway. Before I can catch up with her, she reaches for the front door
and, using both hands, grabs the small latch and turns it with difficulty.
I pulled the bolt back. The door moved heavily and flung open.
A strong gust of wind rushes in and fills the room with the scent of
rain-soaked earth. I fear she may catch a cold. I go back hurriedly and
fetch her over coat.
No one was behind the door. But his scent was present. It must have
taken me a long time to answer the door. He had left. I ran into the street.
No! This was not the road opposite my house. It was a narrow alleyway.
But I knew this path belonged to my house.
I enter the street. It is more deserted than ever. The clouds have turned
darker. A thick fog has fallen. Yet, I see the old woman briskly turning
a corner. I cannot believe her quick pace.
There was always a wide and spacious street here, surrounded by tall
cement buildings with wrought iron windows. But now there was a narrow
passage with a low brick wall where bunches of lilies hung. But
I knew these walls and the road well. I was following his scent. His perfume
had filled the alley and was leading me to him.
I catch up with her at the first crossing and throw the coat over her
"Where are you going, madam?"
"They have chased him. He must have gone this way!"
Hurriedly, she turns another corner.
I went to the end of the road. No sign of him. Another alley, filled
with his scent, lied before me. A passage like the others. Same walls,
same doors, same windows. I ran to its end. No sign of him. Only another
She moves fast and I follow her. I do not know what to do. I do not know
what to say. Everything is unexpected.
Suddenly, lightening strikes and moments later the echoing thunder stops
her in her track. A muffled cry escapes the old woman's mouth. The rain
pours down, suddenly and mercilessly.
"Let's go back madam. Please let's return!"
The thundering noises of machineguns froze me. Then I saw your shadow
at the end of the road. And your shadow collapsed like a falling tree.
I felt beneath a tiny lamp-lit window that was framed in acacia bunches
against the wall.
"Madam! Please let's go back home. Your hair is wet. You'll catch
The rain had begun. Heavier than any rain I had ever seen in my life.
It washed away everything. It took away the tiny lamp-lit window and the
acacia bunches. But your scent still remained in the street. I ran towards
you. I wanted to embrace your shadow and drink your perfume.
She runs to the middle of the road. I grab her arm. She tries to free
herself. But, gently, I take her back to the house. She mumbles some words.
Perhaps she is whispering a poem or supplicating some other lines.
When we reach home she quiets down. Inside the room, she leans
against her desk. I go to fetch a towel to dry her hair. When I return she
is sitting behind the desk - the first time she has done so since I came
here three years ago. I approach her. She is arching over the desk, penning
some lines on a bundle of old papers that look yellow with age papers
that were resting in her desk drawer, perhaps untouched for years.
"Shall I dry your hair?"
She turns and looks at me. A star is twinkling in her eye. She stretches
her hand out and smiles with warmth and vitality.
"I'll manage myself. Please make me a coffee."
Her voice is fresh and smooth. It possesses a new tone.
I make the coffee.
I feel an unfamiliar buzz. I do not recognize the events of the past
few hours. I return to the room with two cups of coffee. The old woman's
head is resting on the yellow papers. For the first time in three years
I put her cup on the writing desk. She does not notice. She has fallen asleep
and a warm smile is still on her lips. Gently, I try to move her head and
rest it against the back of the chair. It heavily drops to one side.
"Madam, do you wish to go to your bedroom? Are you more comfortable
as you are? Shall I fetch you a blanket?... Your coffee is getting cold...
Do you wish..."
I talk unconsciously. I shake her on her hands, her shoulders and her
head. I neither receive a reply nor do I see her move. I lift her small
body and take it to her bedroom. I lie her down on the bed and call her
doctor and her son.
The excitement of a few moments ago is replaced by deep sorrow. I feel
suffocated. I long to cry. I want to shout. But I am unable to do anything.
I go to her desk.
Once more brick walls sprouted out of the ground. Again, the little
lighted windows appeared and the bunches of acacia burst into bloom. And
your shadow rose under the bright windows.
I pick her pen up from the floor and place it upon the bundle of yellow
papers. They look different now that the blue writing has ran over them.
On the other side of the window, the rain stops. Now, white bright puffs
of clouds pass carelessly over head.