Tricks (2)

Rather than be alarmed by the stares that are thrown her way, she grins from ear to ear


Tricks (2)
by Flying Solo

Part 2 (Part 1)

Near Tehran’s Railway Station, a place once existed which went by the name of Nahieh Dah, or, in more colloquial terms, Joft Panj. Behind gates, the houses of pleasure were securely contained. There were sleeping quarters for the women to which they went, without men, after work. Close by, an orphanage housed their children. The flesh trade wasn’t for every woman, but for those who could and would – there was, if not full protection of the law and society, but at the very least a thin veil of safety.

The new law of the land, brought about a colossal upheaval; redefining every single tenet of society. As good clean fun was wiped off, one by one, from each avenue and tree-lined street, somber establishments mushroomed in droves. Within their walls, the deep dark yearnings of famished minds and bodies found new means of release. A social mutation invaded the collective psyche, whose foundation was thus rattled to the core. Adjectives developed new meanings – almost comically the reverse of what they once signified. Values metamorphosed as a thick blanket of deceit and duplicity wrapped even the staunchest gentlefolk. Everything went on sale. Secrets and lies proliferated. An underground world developed to house the ‘new’ Iranian, not only to hide his political bend and economic intent but also his daily behavioral patterns towards friend and foe. Distortions and smoking mirrors bore the images of the masses. One could say that social anarchy had arrived – inviting, in its wake, an orgy befitting the wildest jungle. It was in this world where I found myself in an extremely good position to thrive.

Sex became a lucrative business. Licensed by the decree of sigheh – the act was sanctified by the Creator himself, thus cloaking it with piety to rid the woman of guilt and obligate the man of ethical duty. Customers were aplenty, competition not stiff – at least not for the likes of me. I worked the streets by myself for a year or so, and was happy that finally I was able to bring money to my family. Saving them from heartache, I lied to my sister. I told her I was looking after an elderly lady whose family had ousted her. What I told her was not entirely untrue, for I did work the graveyard shift, one week out of every month, at a nursing home on Pasdaran Avenue. I felt sorry for those people, who, at one time had given up so much for the sons and daughters that no longer cared for them. I changed their bed pans and listened to their stories. I didn’t believe any of them, of course, chalking up the elaborate descriptions of the Iran they knew in their youth, to a touch of dementia. They spoke of a different place – not my Iran.

My sister accepted my story; though I sensed, deep down, she knew the truth. The money was good. We could afford meat and medication for the child - even toys. Questions were left unasked.

* * *

On a Thursday morning at the beginning of Fall, I decided to make a trip uptown to turn a couple of quick tricks before the onset of the weekend. By bus and cab, I headed up one of the major arteries of the city. At my last exchange before I would reach my destination, a car pulled up with a youngish fellow as the driver.



“Befarma Khahar.” He bellowed.

A father and son and their shopping bags occupied the back. So I got into the front passenger seat. The four of us sat silently as the car snailed its way through the impossible traffic with the wisp of a classical Persian piece streaming from the radio.

I glanced over at the driver. Like many men of his generation his face was lined beyond his age. He was slim and hairy with a unibrow. The day old stubble was his mask – to keep the authorities at bay. I took an instant liking to him.

The man and the boy got out at the next major junction; leaving me as the only passenger. As he changed gears, I noticed his right hand was missing three fingers. I asked him what had happened.

“Left them behind in a village outside of Tokyo.” He laughed.

I didn’t get the joke first but I figured it was his way to lighten his pain; over the loss of three digits.

“They have big factories over there and what the workers make in a day is equal to the same pay for a week or a month over here. So, I figured I’d go and check it out.”

“Did you make lots of money?”

“Plenty. That’s how I got myself these wheels. The bastards made us work to the bone - Godawful hours. I was good at what I did so they trained me to do simple mechanical work on the assembly lines. I loved it because it was like being an engineer. I always wanted to be one but couldn’t get into the program here.


“Lots of reasons. No money. No connections. AND I failed the test to get past the beards.”

I laugh. “The beards?”

“For the life of me I could not get the ayehs and the surahs right. Islamic Ideology Exam – the green pass to the gates of learning!” He smirks.

“So you went to Japan and left your fingers behind; did you?”

“On the day of the accident I was manning two big assembly lines. One of them stopped for some reason and the operators stepped away as I went over to find out the problem. I had to work quickly; any downtime and we got flack from the foreman. I peered into the main body of the machine and saw the culprit - a loose nut. I reached into the narrow space in between the pulleys to pluck it out. The Japanese supervisor showed up and pressed the ON switch a tad too soon, before I had a chance to pull out my hand. I saw my fingers get crushed and then tear off. I saw them travel inside of the machine; even heard the bones crush as blood spurted everywhere. Then the machine stopped for good and I heard myself screaming in terror.”

I look aghast.

“There was a dispensary on site. So they rushed me there.”

“Why not the emergency room?”

He laughs out loud. “No papers, sister. The dispensary was good enough for me.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, they stitched me up and sent me home. I got fired.”

“That’s terrible. Was there nobody to complain to?”

“I was a faceless nameless pair of hands. I couldn’t do what they wanted me to do with 7 fingers, could I? I was out. Somebody else took my place the next day.”

I nod with understanding.

“I packed and left. Returned home. Vatan. A people hauler – that’s what I call myself these days.”

“Is business good?”

“Not bad. I am my own boss. I get to talk to all kinds of people. I know the city like the back of my hand. It’s better than being stuck in a hell-hole outside of Tokyo.”

There is not a trace of bitterness in his tone. It’s as if he sees the loss of part of his right hand as a blessing – one that has reset his destiny. He has accepted his lot and is making the best of it.

A few moments of silence pass.

“My name is Nader. What’s yours?”


He snorts. “ You don’t look like an uptown soosool. How did you end up with a name like that?”

“It’s my trade name.”

He smiles knowingly; reaches for a cassette tape underneath his seat, and inserts it into the tape recorder. Persian LA Pop replaces the classic drone. He starts bobbing his head back and forth gently as he changes gears up and down and looks in the rear view mirror, this way and that, watching out for the ‘beards’ and the ‘crows’.

“The streets are dangerous, aren’t they?” He asks - cautiously, all the while staring into the windshield. “ A pretty girl like you needs protection. I can take you to a place where they will look after you.”

* * *

The next day I meet Nader at the appointed time and place. He takes me to an unassuming looking house in Majidiyeh, where I meet a woman by the name of Khanoum Behmani. She is a kind and sophisticated looking lady in her 50’s. She takes me to a room in the basement of the house and asks me to undress. She checks me all over for scars and bruises; running her hands through my hair and onto my scalp to look for bumps and lice. She examines my crotch for crabs and warts, and checks my veins, on the inside of my arms and legs to make sure I am clean. She gives me an approving nod.

“Very nice. Very good. You can put your clothes back on. Come upstairs when you are ready.”

I do as I am told and leave the basement. I see Nader sitting in the hallway smoking and chatting with a girl. He gives me a victorious smile.

Khanoum Behmani calls me into one of the back rooms. She asks me about my background, family and experience. She also tells me the rules of the house.

“The clientele is high end. Discretion is a must. You have a good name. I like it. Mysterious and sexy – just the right combination with your looks and your body. You don’t need to talk much. Keep it to a minimum; nice and polite conversation only. You need to work on the accent a little bit. I’ll take care of the clothes, accessories and the make-up. You deliver the goods. Take everyone I send you. Sometimes you will be making house calls. Nader will drive you there and Nader will bring you back. No hanky panky and no getting smart on me. You hear?

I nod.

“Don’t ever ask for money. Accept any tip you are given. Make sure to say thank you - politely. Remember – no names, no memory of who you see, when you see them and what they do behind closed doors. Got it?”

Baleh Khanoum Behmani.

“No Khanoum Behmani. Maman. That’s who I am.”

I nod again “Chashm.”

“Come in tomorrow afternoon. We’ll visit the doctor and give you a bit of training.”

For the next 4 years I worked for Maman every day, except Mondays. Good to her word, she took care of me. She paid me well, dressed and fed me, and showed me a thing or two about the business of servicing men.

I improved my accent; dropped the loose lazy inflection of southern Tehran and picked up the soft lull of uptown speech. I learnt when to smile coyly and when to break into lascivious laughter; how to flirt wantonly and when to feign aggression or submit. I became good at ways to avoid the kiss on the mouth, and to pop a condom on the guy without him even noticing it. Most importantly I learnt to always say yes, with skill and panache – to the most bizarre request. From facials to golden showers to rim jobs; from dirty talking to educated claptrap to every pitch of a moan or a scream – I could do them all. I learnt to pretend at pleasure; a better show for better pay and I pleased - Boy, did I please. While on the rag, I danced - at weddings and elaborate parties around town. I liked those outings. The people were nice and the tips were great. I didn’t have to undress and I kept my face partly covered – with a soft sheer fabric in pastel blue, pink or cream which rested against my nose and flowed all the way down to the top of my cleavage. A roo-bandeh became my trademark.

I became the talk of the house and the subject of much envy. Maman made sure to check my food so I wasn’t poisoned or fed drugs or alcohol. She personally gave me my pill every night after work with a cup of the best quality tea Zainab would make. I became THE SOGOLI. In time, I had my regulars; the weekly visits from uptown folk and the fly-by-night businessmen from out of town. University professors - doctors and lawyers - property developers and bankers; they came – with fake names. The local residents and the visitors - the young and the old - the silly and the serious. They all wanted me. And I obliged.

The powerful ones came to be tied up and whipped; the powerless wanted the reverse. The customers from overseas wanted lewd Farsi-speak, and the locals wanted me to utter the same in English or French. Greenbacks were the best – $20’s, $50’s and occasionally a $100 bill which showed up at Christmas time, Spring and the long summer vacation when the families came back to visit the motherland.

They cried, they laughed. They grunted and they groaned. And they all got their money’s worth for a flight of fancy; for an hour or maybe two. Some came to only talk and I listened. Some came to fuck without a word. But come, they did – all of them. No customer left my room dissatisfied. I delivered.

Some of the girls who worked for Maman got to go to Dubai and the Emirates. Some managed to snag a husband from across the waters. Once they’d fooled some unsuspecting Iranian expatriate who had come looking for a good and docile wife from the mother country, they’d settle with Maman and get their nethers rejuvenated. A big white wedding and three months of waiting for the papers to come through - Voilà - the passageway to the land of milk and honey.

I, on the other hand, never ever thought of leaving my country or marrying some stranger from a strange land. No filthy Arab schlong was going to tear into this snatch – oh no. And no grubby turban would get a mouthful of my toes let alone an eyeful of my chest. Foreigners asked for me – Japanese – German – English; but I refused. I serviced Iranians - solely on Iranian soil. Even a whore has her principles; especially a whore.

* * *

On a Monday in the middle of a busy summer season, I make my way over to Ferdowsi to exchange the dollars I’d earned the week before. I stop off in Nasser Khosrow to pick up medication for my nephew. I then head over to Café Naderi – my old stomping ground, the place I used to turn tricks when I first started in the business. The café is packed and the waiter gives me a sour look. I find an empty table towards the back. I sit in the chair facing the door. Just as I am settling in to write in my diary, I catch a glimpse of a tall woman breezing in. She does not look to be any more than 30. Clad in a particularly large and shapeless black roopoosh and a head dress which extends well beyond her chest – she looks not only silly but out of place. Her sneakers and the messenger bag which is slung across her torso give her away as a person with very poor taste in dress. She has an air of carelessness about her. Rather than be alarmed by the stares that are thrown her way, she grins from ear to ear as her eyes roam the room for an empty spot. I turn to my writing, secretly pitying this oddity.

“Mibakhsheed. May I share this table with you?”

I look up to see the woman towering over me. I am so taken aback by this bold request that I immediately become alarmed. I think she may be one of the undercover agents sent out to catch the likes of me – or to settle for a percentage. But then I notice the frayed hems of her jeans, and put that together with the rimless glasses. I conclude that she is no Basiji goon.


She takes the messenger bag off her body, pulls back the chair, drops into it and exhales noisily.

“Mersi Aziz.”

Nobody, and I mean, nobody says aziz to a person they don’t know in Café Naderi, let alone treat a hooker like a long lost friend. I decide she must have a few screws loose.

The waiter arrives to usher her to a vacant table; giving her a knowing look. But this woman misses the cue completely.

“This is fine. Thank you.” Turning to me, she asks if I would join her for a cup of tea.

Too stupefied to utter a word, I merely nod.

“Do ta chai lotfan.” She enunciates politely, as if speaking with a dignitary.

The waiter looks as dumb-founded as I. He scurries away for the order.

“My name is Shahrzad. What’s yours?” She extends her hand.

“Solo.” I offer a limp grip with curiosity and skepticism.

“What an interesting name. Is it short for anything?”

“No. Why?”

“Well, where I come from, Solo means something special, you see.”

“Yeah – I know. It means alone, lonely – without a friend.”

“That too. But it has another meaning as well. In Farsi it translates to ‘tak’.”


“Yeki yeh dooneh! ” She smiles – again. I figure where she comes from there must be a lot to be happy about.

“Aha – I get it.” I smirk – trying to sound convinced of the joke or the compliment, whatever it was.

“I am a traveler. My mother told me she used to come to this café with my father when they were courting.”

“Courting? What’s that?”

“Well – way back when, young men and women would go out together openly. My parents would come here to have a meal, listen to music, meet their friends. I expect you are too young to have heard about those times.

“You are not so old yourself.”

“Thanks. I just celebrated my 38th birthday.”

“Wow – you look younger. Women your age around here have grandkids.”

“And to think I am not even married yet.” She breaks into laughter.

I think how confidently she utters the word – yet. As if this tall and scrawny spinster with a permanent grin smeared on her face has a chance in hell to woo a suitor, let alone land a taker. Still I can’t deny my envy towards her devil-may-care attitude.

“So what do you do Solo?”

For the next few hours, over the course of a meal, I tell Shahrzad about my life. She listens carefully and with so much interest as if I am telling her a ‘happily ever after’ love story. She asks questions and patiently sits through my rants. We laugh and we shed tears; tell each other funny stories and serious stuff also. It turns out that she is a teacher of Literature at an inner-city school in Chicago. So we talk about poetry and prose - the art of expression. For that finite period of time - we are the best of friends – two women, connecting as if we’ve known each other since birth.

“How much does Maman take from the men Solo, do you know?”

“Enough – I am sure. She gives me a fixed amount. I make the real dough on tips.”

“You think you will ever leave her?”

“I don’t know. We’ve managed to lease an apartment in Hassan Abad. Money is good. We have a car now and I even sent the family to Mashhad for my nephew to receive the blessings at Emam Reza’s shrine. It’s a job – like any other.”

Vaghean taki!” She utters kindly as she reaches inside her bag for a handkerchief to wipe her glasses. She motions to the waiter for the bill which she pays promptly with crispy tomans. I am shocked by how much tip she leaves.

She then reaches inside another compartment of her wallet and takes out some foreign notes. She scribbles on a $100 bill and together with a few more, slides them towards me.

She gets up, steps over to my side, bends to hug me and whispers - “Khoda beh hamrahet.” I smell her faint perfume.

She then turns to leave, waving at me before she breezes out of the café with the same ease as she’d entered it.

I count the money - $400 in small and large notes. A week’s pay – tips included. On the large bill there is a ten digit number underneath of which, in perfect cursive English, appears my friend’s parting words “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Try as I might I cannot make head or tail of their meaning. I tuck the bill in my diary and decide to show it to my next gentleman visitor from America.

The End


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Glossary of Persian Terms

Ayeh & Surah Verses and Chapters in the Qur’an

Aziz Darling, Dear

Baleh Yes

Basiji Paramilitary volunteer militia

Befarma Be my guest

Chashm A term for total obedience.

Do ta chai lotfan Two teas please

Khahar Sister

Khoda beh hamrahet God be with you.

Koja Where

Mersi Thank you

Mibakhsheed Excuse me

Roopoosh A loose outer dress commonly worn with a head dress in lieu of a veil

Roo-bandeh Face cover

Sigheh A marriage contract according to Shia School of Islam, the duration of which is fixed at inception and is automatically dissolved upon completion of its term.

Soosool Softie. The term is generally used for a young person, who enjoys an easy life.

Tak Unique

Tomans Iranian currency

Vatan Motherland

Vaghean taki Truly, you are one of a kind

Yeki yeh dooneh One and only


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more from Flying Solo
Flying Solo

Thank you & Thank you

by Flying Solo on

Omid: The ultlimate compliment to a writer is not to be able to guess the gender!  Thank you.

Datis:  Great pun!  Thank you for the kind words.


Well done!!

by Datis on

You managed to hook another admirer! I will have to follow your works: )

Thanks for the beautiful story.


Very Sensitive Work

by Omid B on



I genuinely enjoyed this conscious and sensual short story. I have to admit that it obscures your gender, however, since you seem to be sensitive to both the male and female perception of sex.It's too bad we cannot learn more about how the main character experiences ecstacy in a contrasting fashion to her sale of services. In any case, a gem.




Flying Solo

Thank you

by Flying Solo on

  Shifteh Jan,

I appreciate the very thoughtful and concise critique.  Your disappointment is completely justified and here is why!

Writing a short story is more difficult than a novel and there are few writers who can get it just right. The idea is to provide a sketch but within it get some key messages across leaving the details in the minds of the reader.  To that end my attempts at this type of writing leave much to be desired, for if I am leaving the reader 'hungry and annoyed',  then he/she has no choice but to blame me for taking them down the 'garden path' and leaving them there, which is not my intent.  

I wrote three versions of "Tricks". An emotional one in third person singular; a highly charged and sensational one in first person and this one - which became my favorite for the compassion it extends to hooker and john alike.  

The story ends with the famous words of John Bradford, who, while imprisoned in the Tower of London, uttered them, when he saw a prisoner being led to execution.   There is no judgment; for a hungry body cannot be judged.  Solo is portrayed as having few if any choices but to sell her body in exchange for food. Given the hand she has been dealt, she maintains certain noble standards which hint at her strong spirit.

In the final paragraph she is offered friendship - money - a phone number.  What will she do now?!

Also I tried to 'capture' in that final dialogue what Solo had dreamed of becoming (An English Teacher) and what she became - a prostitute.  I pose a task onto the reader (for I have grappled with it myself) to assess the merits of each.  How is the life of an Iranian-American English teacher in an inner-city school in Chicago (whose take home pay cannot be too far from $400/week and her expenses much more)  different/same or better/worse than the life of a hooker living in her own country servicing her own people? :)


Solo jan...

by shifteh on

Job well done! 

But, I have to confess that I am disappointed!  It is almost as if you have thrown this feast for me; but I did not get to fully satisfy my hunger.  I am looking, smelling, perhaps getting a taste; but somehow have been left hungry!

There are so many layers in this story that are left unexplored.  I understand your style is to let the reader fill the holes.  I appreciate that.  Yet, with this one; I feel like a baby who is left in the middle of the bazaar, with all the sights and smells and no direction.

To me, it is interesting the way Solo, the character, describes her life.  It is detached and mechanical; a rationalized approach, almost like a scientist who is explaining the anatomy of a frog; only that here we are learning of an anatomy of prostitution.  There are horrifying scenes; yet the language is subdued.  It tells me how Solo, the character, regards her occupation as a job; very much like a 9 to 5 job.  There is no moral judgment attached, no regrets, no remorse. 

I also am intrigued how Solo’s language is not victim’s language.  She is in charge.  She has made a choice.  And, she has goals.  There is no “look at me, look at poor little me, it is the system, it is my parents, it is the capitalism, it is ….”  She is playing a hand that she got; good and bad and all.

Kudos for writing such a thought provocative piece!