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Fiction

Lady Rose
A short story

 

Ghazi Rabihavi
August 8, 2005
iranian.com

Everyone knows me, all the policemen, my head’s trimmed down to the scalp, I wear the crimson jumper knit by your hands, as soon as I see one of their cars I begin to run, in the rain or the blaze of the summer sun I run with my very scraps of strength though I have hardly any strength but there’s really nothing else I can do must find you, you can’t see the flowers in my hands but their scent may sink into the ground with the rain and may reach you, will reach you, and they, the policemen who are sometimes many sometimes few, use every chance they get to make fun of me, the minute they see me in a quiet street, they step on the gas and accelerate, I run after them, they slow down, I run, I come to within a few paces of them, they drive slowly, I run, they suddenly step on the gas again and pull away, I run, they think I want to touch the windshield on their car, they look at me, they laugh, between the laughter they scrape their noses on the barrels of their guns for me to see, I run, but I’m not running to touch their car, no, it’s so that I can see where their headquarters are, to find out where they’ve taken you, oh, if only, on that night, when I still had the strength to run, I’d reached you in time to see where they were taking you, I didn’t see, I didn’t reach you, I lost the car midway, I fainted, a few frosts ago, I was running and no one saw me but you, a pile of crumpled blackness behind the glass, you wouldn’t look at me, the image of the branches in street slid over you, was it the branches that shivered on the glass or was there a trembling in the opening of your chador? The trembling of the chador meant that you were looking but your bulging-eyed friend, the cause of my miserable quest, didn’t see me though he sat opposite you, he couldn’t see me, or he saw me but didn’t recognise me, just like the park he didn’t recognise me, like years before, when he glanced at me for a moment with disdain, I decided then that I would sting him in some way, I’ve changed my mind now since I haven’t any sting left, even before I opened the door I never really had any sting I said ‘We don’t have any early birds here’ Madam said ‘You good for nothing. It’s cause you sleep till noon that you think an eight o’clock customer is an early bird’ There were another two bangs of the knocker, it was so hot and humid I could hardly think, three short soft bangs, as if the knocker had been stirred by the wind, you were sitting in front of the mirror, chewing mastic and painting your eyelids with kohl I took the wet cloth from Madam’s desk and threw it on the line I picked up the broom and said ‘Whoever it is, the other ladies may have opened but we’re still closed’ Madam lifted the soles of her foul shoes one at a time and placed them on the rim of the chair she scraped her heels and said ‘Too bloody right, they’re not as fucking pleased with themselves as we are’ She was sneering and at you who were my lady at that but you only laughed and I got really mad I said ‘Look Madam, you saw how I cleaned the chairs one by one’ Madam said ‘Stop screeching, you stupid chimp’ Then three more bangs Madam stepped behind her desk with the ruffles in her red and white dress she blew across the top of the desk as if to criticise my work I answered with the usual stiff grin, you said ‘Well, so? Are you going to open the door my little cockroach or not’ You were talking to me and you laughed, I was crazy about your laugh, Madam rearranged the bracelets on her arms I wanted to open the door and drive away whoever it was with the broom but instead I just let it drop I never let the customers see me with the dustpan and broom I opened the door a man stood there his figure so huge it blocked my view of the street his eyes kept darting back towards the yard I turned my head and saw that your shoulders were bare, oh God, my heart sank to the ground I said ‘You desperate for a pee or what, why don’t you go and relieve yourself in the other street’ I meant to slam the door but he tripped forward and came inside you smiled the man turned and eyed me up and down it was as though he wanted to spit at me I felt on fire with the need for revenge a rush of poison ran through my every vein you slid through the curtain with your mastic and kohl, the man’s seemed clean and smart he wore a grey suit with a white shirt, when he came the next week he was the first again you fell in love with him damn, that asshole of a motorcyclist is splattering my jumper with sprays of mud and snow those nights when you were knitting the jumper you used to pull up your shoulders with joy and say ‘He’s great’ But he wasn’t cause he had a big face and long hair with strands of white recognising him in the sunset park was a real art, no one could do it other than me he just sat slumped on the bench and stared at the gate and he smoked, his face was wrinkled he wore the same grey suit but all threadbare now the shirt too was still the same, no, black, when he took off his hat I saw he had had his hair trimmed down to the scalp just like me because of you, that’s how you wanted me to look, you liked it, when my hair grew long it put you in a terrible mood you’d say ‘You look like a wild black cockroach now’ I’d dash off to the barber and have my head shaved then I would lay my head on your feet again at night you ran your hands over my bristly scalp and talked you would tease me and say ‘You rascal, what were you up to hanging around Sarah’s house again?’ You knew it got on my nerves to hear you say that, I’d say ‘She just wanted to have a chat I didn’t want to’ You laughed, you weren’t like any of the other ladies I knew you were everything to me you were there from the moment i first opened my eyes with the tiny freckles on your breasts as if someone had shaken fingers dripping with pomegranate juice over your chest, years later you covered up your breasts from me, the years when I learned to open up tins and bottles by myself the Madams used to change every three or four years they used to die or go away either way it was the same but you were always there I used to say ‘Tell me about the time you found me again’ You’d say ‘I was feeling so sad and lonely that night, it was so bad I kept saying oh God, what am I to do I began walking down the endless street with the moon following me step by step or I was following the moon with every step, I arrived at the river I sat on the jetty I looked around there wasn’t even one boat not a single boat you could look at and hope I was cracking sunflower seeds between my teeth the river was low I heard the sound of a woman’s moans I was scared I stood up I saw a shark that had been washed up on shore it was moaning just like a woman with labour pains I felt so sorry for the beast I jumped onto the shore it looked at me pleadingly then a bare bottomed baby fell out of its jaws on the mud the shark died I was so terrified oh God it wasn’t the shark that was moaning I picked up the baby it was you oh’ I would pull my head up higher rub it along your breastbone and say ‘But I don’t like that stupid guy either his bulging eyes or his lamppost height’ You would look into my eyes the sound of your breaths it was wonderful then you didn’t chew mastic or paint your eyes with kohl the nights you spent with me you used to say ‘If he and his lamppost height could pull a stranded shark out of this blazing hell into the water oh God I adore him so’ You didn’t cry you weren’t the crying type I could tell you were in love with the guy but you weren’t the kind of lady who lost her head the minute she fell in love and started crying and lighting cigarette after cigarette I said ‘Then your wish would come true you’d go and pay a pilgrimage to Imam Reza and His pigeons’ You said ‘Oh God I adore His pigeon’ I said ‘That type of guy is two a penny all they ever do is prowl around the streets he hangs out around Sarah’s house as well’ You said ‘There are some things that are different from all the other ones like themselves my darling bit of charcoal’ Then your hand slid along under my shirt and stroked my chest I didn’t say anything cause I meant everything to you if you didn’t see me one night you couldn’t sleep you used to stroke my head every night before you slept then you used to slap me on the chest laughingly and say ‘Get lost now’ I went to sleep I’d go but I could come and lie next to you whenever I liked even if you were fast asleep but on that vile ill-omened night oh God it’s come back to me again a thousand curses on that memory I know it’ll never leave me in peace especially whenever I start running after those cars again, the memory of that first night when the car was disappearing and i was running after it haunts me as well you’d never treated me like that before there’d never been a night without me you said ‘Tonight I’m going to leave you alone with Madam to see if you’ve grown up or not’ I said ‘Am I supposed to keep an eye on her false teeth?’ Then I laughed but you didn’t you said ‘I mean it feel like going out tonight’ I said ‘What time you back’ You said ‘Tomorrow at noon’ Oh God my mouth went all dry I said ‘You thinking of running away’ Before closing it you put the jumper in the bag as well along with some crimson wool you said ‘What did you say?’ I said ‘Some of the ladies here dream of running away and now you’ You threw arms round my neck pulled my head to your chest and said ‘Without you? How stupid can you get? Ok I’ll come back in the morning’ I said ‘But how can a night end and a morning down without you’ You looked into my eyes your lips trembled you said ‘Let me go please’ I said ‘Go, what do I care I’ll just go and have a good chat with Sarah she’s been asking for me anyway and don’t waste your time taking the jumper cause you won’t be doing any knitting tonight’ You put on your black chador your face made up to the hilt and out you went the chador slid to your shoulders a couple of times I stood staring at your beautiful brown hair then you disappeared down the street like black shell I turned back you couldn’t even cry in front of that last Madam we had I locked myself in the toilet but crying seemed to do me no good I paced around for a couple of hours I didn’t go to Sarah’s house what would I be doing there anyway I went up to the rooftop and gazed at the city’s lights but all I wanted was to know which house you were in I started feeling tired Madam had gone to sleep I went to your room and lay down on your bed where I could smell your scent but it was mixed up with the foul smell of men I went back into the yard and sat by the little pool I began singing but Madam wouldn’t let me be she kept coming out and saying ‘What the devil are you howling about?’ It only took a fart to wake Madam up all kinds of thoughts kept spinning in my head I could picture you in that guy’s room oh God I wish I didn’t remember it any more the most terrible night of my life ended at last but there was still no sign of you I put my clothes on hardly knowing which way to turn I thought to myself when you came back I’d say I was just waiting for my jumper although the collar hadn’t been finished yet then I would just slip away I moped around like that until ten I kept staring at the front door but there wasn’t any sign of you I don’t know what came over me I just thought To hell with the jumper and I stepped outside a small crowd was passing through the street carrying banners that were green and black a couple of people with torches in their hands dashed out of one alley into another as if running away from a place they had set on fire or running towards a place that they planned to set on fire I was sleepy I went to a cinema but couldn’t concentrate I was all on fire I made up my mind never to go home again when the film was over I came out of the cinema there was a smell of burning tyres in the air I had some lunch and went to the stadium I had to hang around for a few hours until the match began I clapped and cheered whenever either side scored a goal the people sitting next to me were so annoyed I had to change my seat the match ended at sunset I strolled around in the street again till I found a nice green square I lay down on the grass and kept praying I wouldn’t have to go back to you I was thinking I’d set out tomorrow to find a proper job then I’d come back for a visit in a few years with my pockets full as I was thinking this I fell asleep you had on a green chador and were running through a starry field then you reached me as I lay dying from thirst in a salty desert you laughed you ripped open the front of your dress and put one of the stars on your breast into my mouth I sucked on it tasted of mastic there was the sound of clanging swords all around I wanted to stand up you said ‘Lie down’ I lay down a herd of horses with stamping hooves came out from beneath the salt a shining unsheathed cut your forehead in two I woke with a jolt no one was standing over me in the grass people were running I rubbed my eyes smoke was rising somewhere in the distance I realised I shouldn’t be sleeping there I began walking away calmly my hands in my pockets the people who were carrying torches started coming closer they were happy one of the men shouted ‘This kid is from there’ I was startled and drew back they ran I ran it began raining I turned into the back alleys they lost me I was soaked from head to toe I managed to get to our street it was on fire a few ladies in slips ran past me in the rain screaming the ladies in a few houses were throwing half burnt blankets and mattresses out of their front doors the streets had turned all black there were still a few small fires smouldering under the rain I was running towards our house towards you but you weren’t there fire was swallowing up the only remaining part of your bed I tried to pull out your suitcase but had to escape to get away from the smoke I ran outside my crimson jumper was hanging on the line I hugged it was wet I leaned against the wall my teardrops fell on the jumper there was no sign of you night fell it hadn’t stopped raining the street was full of burnt debris half burnt mattresses women’s clothes leather chairs I was alone in the street with the rain I began to walk there was nobody left who could tell me about you I slumped against a wall and pulled on my wet jumper it was autumn I didn’t sleep a wink till morning came the rain had stopped the people carrying torches returned their heads and faces were covered now I took a few steps back and leapt on the wall I pulled myself up but one of the men rushed me and grabbed my legs then I was being carried over their heads I was moving up and down as if on a wave they threw me in the middle of the street though unconscious I could hear their jeers when I felt no more pain and sank deep into the mist that was swirling round my naked body then there was nothing other than darkness like now the same colour as their windshield dark frozen mirror that flickers in my view and the shape of the arching bridge emerging slowly in the darkness drop by drop my breath is draining away when I reach the bridge I’ll fall unconscious by one of its pillars coming to at midnight I found myself in the middle of a salty desert I saw the city in the distance I realised several days had gone by I ran and felt a searing pain in my wounds pain a pain like the pain of all my years like now a frozen night I’m running after their car and my image, no, my shadow reflected on the wet lead fences in the middle of the street runs beside me I reached the iron gate of the street and the big yellow lock I spent many days prowling round there till the night fell I was looking for you but you weren’t there I didn’t know what to do where to go all did was to sleep in street corners at night and look for you during the days i spent so many years just wandering around like that till one evening I saw him the cause of my misery the reason for my endless quest if it hadn’t been for him I’d have stayed at home I’d never have let your clothes burn I wouldn’t have let you lose me if it wasn’t for him but it was him crumpled on the bench I was walking around like every evening and staring at all the women’s faces I never looked at the men I never looked I never look then I felt tiered and lay down on the grass and I saw him he was waiting smoking a few minutes later two men came about the same age as him middle aged they started walking I followed them they crossed the street and turned into an alley they reached the house of your lamppost height friend but his back was bent now and he walked with shuffling feet he took out his key and opened the door he pushed the two men inside then he stood around for a while making sure no one was looking I was in the darkness at the end of the alley when he was certain there was no one he went in he does this every evening with all sorts of men, a few nights later he took two scrawny old men I let an hour go by so that they’d start doing what they oughtn’t to do then I slid into a phone booth I said ‘Hello there’s a suspicious house here’ They said ‘You are?’ I said ‘I am?’ Was I asking myself or them? They asked me for the address and I gave it to them I don’t remember how long it took for the police car to get there it pulled up front they knocked and went inside they first brought out the old men one of them was in his undershirt they were both scared they sat in the car a few of the neighbours poked out their heads then they brought out your friend with the bulging eyes a few passer-by stopped to look and that gave me the courage to move closer your lamppost-height friend said to the neighbours ‘You tell them, isn’t this my wife?’ One of the policemen said ‘Shut the fuck up’ Then they brought the woman out she was covered in a black chador I smelt mastic and drew back as she moved behind me towards the car her chador slipped down to her shoulders her short hair was an ugly black it made me cringe one of the policemen said ‘Hey woman, cover yourself up’ She pulled her chador back on then laid her forehead against the car your long legged friend said ‘If you don’t believe me take a look at my marriage certificate’ Nobody paid any attention to him all the policemen were back in the street they shut the door behind them and pushed the man and woman into the car from the back door they got in themselves and car began to move it headed in my direction I pulled myself back into the dark the car went past the man and woman sat opposite one another behind the glass the man was talking to them but the woman had put her head down it was as the car passed under the street lamp that I saw you looked at me through the opening in your chador only for an instant a tremor pierced through me my legs almost gave out it was you in the car it put on more speed the tar was as soft as grass under my feet it kept wanting to suck me in the car was moving howling I was running my wounds pounding with pain at a big crossroad in the town centre I ran out of breath and fell a car braked next to my broken body it was midnight I saw the shadow of two men who pulled me off the tar and laid me back against the pavement then silence until sunrise I stood up and stared at the crossroad but I’ve never managed to remember which way the police car turned so you see there’s really nothing else I can do but run and now everyone knows me they too that I’m running to reach the place they took you to before my aim in running was to see you I’d vowed that when I reached their base I would just sit there and cry till they took pity and let me see you for an instant at least for an instant but now since I saw your picture in the paper I suppose when they put the noose round your neck you thought of me and the moment when they kicked the stool from under your feet I think of you too Lady Rose you were the best lady in the world and you can be sure that if my running ever bears fruit and I get there I’ll come to see you every evening with a bunch of flowers if I ever reach their headquarters and discover they’ve buried you in which p-a-r-t...

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