They came at noon, the first man bulky was wearing a cap, with a beefy, fleshy nose as if it was punched a moment ago.His orderly fair moustache was shading over the crimson lips.In overall, the left-side lace had dropped over a shoulder, entered with a suitcase. Looked around bashfully. He breathed a sigh of relief, inhaled the jasmine smell. The smoke of his cigarette was drifting , threw it and unlit the ashes with his shoes.Vahhab and Mrs Edrisi were standing on the stairs, looking in fear.The man entered the corridor, stumbled over the table knocked down a vase, it fell down and broke. He marched and came into the room allowing his confidence to announce him .Yavar was at the end of corridor, the man's hat had got wet in the rain and he took it off and placed it under his arm: " Good day brother, it's Rashid saying hello to everybody. Would you show me my room?"
Yavar's eyes got bigger . The veins on his neck inflated:"Which room?"
Rashid leaned against the door:" It doesn't matter , but a sunlit room is much better, it's been years that I suffer from rheumatism. I'm single .I leave at the sunrise and get back late at the sunset, no noise!"
"Who told you to come here? They didn't tell you that this house has an owner?
The man lit a cigarette:"Much better then , pesonal houses sound safer now. Public houses are noisy and full of contagious diseases . Peoplewould rob you!"
Mrs Edrisi climbed down the stairs, one hand on the banister, tumbled down and her plaited skirt turned around the heels. Rashid stood erect . The old lady moved her glasses:"What do you want here?"
"I want a room, sister!"
" Who told you that there's a bed and breakfast here?"
Rashid smoked and puffed away the smoke.
"The comrades of firing squad-band said so!"
The lady stared at him, the man put the suitcase down, rubbed hands, smiled and got into the spirit. Some are standing at the corner of the path to the house, shall I call them in?"( He found a piece of greasy creased paper down his pocket) look ! This is an official letter (He gave the official letter to the lady ,you can take it and read it.
Mrs Edrisi put the letter away! Stepped back.The firing- squad member stepped back and looked at them curiously.His moustache was blond and his eye-lashes were wet. The nose parrotlike and red. The eyes looked feverish, shinning with prominent cheeks. He was to put his hands on his ears , wiggled his nose, he his eyebrows with a questioning expression.
The old lady closed her eyes and leaned on the pillar :" Send him away, I can't stand him!"
Vahhab got down the stairs , sat on the last step, placed his hands under his chin and watched the patterns of the carpet.
Brother Rashid kept on smoking, talked to the lady :" See, he went away!"
The time Mrs Edrisi looked at the window, nobody existed.She took a deep breath and talked to Yavar . “ Give a room to this man! On this storey, at the end of the corridor which leads to the yard. (The man who was waiting watched them ) Promise not to make a fuss over it and close the doors quietly, don’t you have any perfume ? ( Rashid nodded to say no) Mrs Edrisi looked at Vahhab :” Fetch your magic potion! That so-called fish ambergris.”
“It’s the extract not the perfume!”
Brother Rashid looked around:“Are you afraid of them?”
Mrs Edrisi put her finger on her nose.Vahhab climbed up the stairs and entered his room.He took a dark piece of glassware, a ragged octagon which reflected the rays…he climbed down and went to the man . The smell covered the space. A pigeon hovered down and sat on his shoulder. Rashid looked at the piece of glassware.What should I say, brother? Perfume’s for the girls. In the factory they would surely make fun of me."
Mrs Edrisi got closer and tapped on his soulder encouragingly.“Listen brother, the smell would evaporate by the morning, by the way you smoke and I’m sure they don’t notice it. (She placed her middle finger on her lips).We have no problem in this house! You should tell him ."
Yavar sighed :” You ask me to wear perfume! It’s good for others.”
The man was dumbfounded and looked at others. He blushed in his neck:“Where should I wear it?”
Vahhab passed the perfume bottle . A mass of clouds covered his hair and unshaved cheeks. He wiped it with his hands back and started coughing. He lit a cigarette and threw the old one to the ground but Yavar caught it and disposed of it . The man closed his eyes slowly:“ Where’s the room?”
Mrs Edrisi accompanied him to the end of the corridor. A Heavy door, polished and shining. The walnut wood, the door knob golden.Rashid brought his suitcase. He opened the door and entered the room.As his sturdy body moved, the perfume spread in the air. His shoe heels were marching on the wooden floor.Somebody was whistling beyond the walls.
Legha appeared at the dinning room , her hands were numbed , she touched the door frame, her hair loose on her shoulders . The pink ribbon slipped down, her eyes astounded:” Is there a stranger here?”
Vahhab looked worn-out , tired of others. “It’s the tap water which makes noise ."
Legha pushed her forehead to the frame. She closed her eyes and teardrops were rolling over her cheeks:” A man’s whistling, we have been lost.”
Mrs Edrisi turned to her . Put her daughter’s head over her breast.Legha burst into tears. Her big shoulders moved. She touched her mother’s hand and kissed them inside her rough and unsmooth hands. Mrs Edrisi caressed her fizzy and entangled hair:”Quite squeaky clean, he doesn’t annoy us. He leaves in the morning , gets back at night."
“ So watch my dishes ( with a jerk in her head forward ) why is the door open?"
Yavar knotted his bushy eyebrows:” It’s a part of instruction, we’re supposed to close the doors.”
There were some people getting close to the hazel and lilacs trellis , men , women with children , Legha kneeled down . Lifted her hands:” Oh God, help us!”
Yavar slammed the main door briskly. “Get in and close the door, if there’s something to do , knock the door with the stick!”
Vahhab entered the library, took some books, put them on the sheets, the backpack heavy on his shoulders , while panting returned, got the corners of the bundle. They climbed up the stairs, her tears mixed with the snot.“ What happens to my piano, my mugs and plates?!( A woman appeared at the door. Legha reminded him of it ) watch the piano. You’ll look after it." As if she was talking of a real person.
The people’s appearance were unclear in the rain and fog. Mrs Edrisi climbed up the stairs, leaned to the banister:” Rush , they’ve just arrived.” Legha entered shoulder to shoulder with Vahhab , He left the bundle of books on the floor. She blinked:” Where are the canopy’s curtains?”
Vahhab was panting :” Even they took my pills. I cannot close my eyes anymore.( There was a hubble and bubble down in the corridor. Vahhab looked at his aunt ( You should go to your room and lock the doors!) Legha put off her slippers .Put them away and closed the door, got a distance from the banister and went to her room .Vahhab stood by the window, the rain was pouring slantingly. Some with backpacks and bundles in their hands got closer to the building.A red-haired man and a pale big woman hand in hand with their children and there was a man covered in paint stains. He got a distance from the window, drew the thick curtains. The books on the ground were huddled , as if he remembered something and stood up.Quite intimidated got out of the room , he bent down on the banister and called yavar.
Yavar came under the fences, lifted his head , a shadow of light had covered her bony cheek bones:" Why did you get out of the room?"
Vahhab raised his hands in the hollow background : "Watch Rahila's room , don't let them get closer otherwise I'll set a fire to burn the house!"
A stranger was glaring at him. Vahhab turned back and slammed the door. The candelabra moved. He took out a blanket out of the closet, covered the bedside.It was short and couldn't cover the space completely.The light and sound intermingled. He bent down and grabbed the books one by one. He dusted them off and arranged them on the shelf, lay on the bed, covered himself under the blanket, placed his hands on his ears, a little later he fell asleep, dreaming a nightmare , he saw everything was collapsing ,the moth was chewing the pillars and columns of the house.The vases and Sevres porclain dishes, mugs with pretty winding hands, antique shades, candalabra, the clocks, ivory bas-reliefs and upside down marbles and nothing was left .A rainbow was floating in the perfume of ambergris. Rahila's room shook, the chest opened and white and silver garments appeared, beads on iris colour fabric, pearls and beadworks on satin, velvet, kashmir and the silk of Bokhara fell out of the shelves and covered the floor.By this sudden move, scary gray rats got away.The flower- pattern bed spread, dusty curtains and knitted slippers were turning in a whirl .A mirror with no reflection broke.The perfume was evaporating and splashing in the wind and rain . He was dreaming grannie's face which was covered with sweat, he stood up and pushed away the blanket, he touched the corners of the bed , something was shivering inside him.
He ran towards the door and turned back then went to the hatchway and drew the curtains. The evening was dragging .The windows in the alley were lit one by one.The moth around the bulb was moving, weary and worn-out, some women were sitting on the platform .The wind was moving in their light scarves.The leaves on the birch overthrown. The house was calm and quiet. At times a whisper or a laughter was heard in the garden .Vahhab opened the door , tiptoed on the balcony and finally knocked on Mrs Edrisi's door. Granny's voice aweary : "Is it you Vahhab?"
"Yes Grannie , open up! (The door opened and the man entered ) how did you get it?"
Mrs Edrisi was sitting on the armchair, leaned on the cushion:" Your perfume, then...!"
Vahhab locked the door:" Now others smell the same!"
As if grannie were dragging her body sluggishly . Nothing happened, the legs of the table were strong . "Rashid ? Is he jogging?! It gives a shiver to the whole floor."
Vahhab sat by the armchair and held grannie's hands : "I had a nightmare!"
The old woman moved :" I know what a nightmare is ! See, the reality 's worse than that!"
"How's Legha doing?"
The old lady answered: "Ask her( she looked into the door) , we could open the door with difficulty."
The man opened one side of the door. Legha was standing by the window. He looked into the garden through the curtains, Vahhab murmured:"Aunt Legha!"
The middle aged maiden panicked:" You gave me a scare!"
" Were you stalking them? How many are they? How are they doing?"
Aunt Legha pushed her shabby hair back: "This wretched headache is killing me ,you can count them then!"
Vahhab got closer to the window, placed his eyes on the curtains. They had opened the fountain completely. A rug around the pool, they were having tea sitting by the Semavar. Yavar was leaning by the lamp-post, a cigarrette in his lips. He looked at the sky. The rain stopped but the sky was dark.Some children were playing , running around on the grass, knocked each other down on the grass, women were chattering, there was a clamour under the walnut tree.
The flashy colours of clothes caught Vahhab's eyes. The red-haired man was talking to the man with moustache , they were walking on the sandy path and socialising . He moved his hands exaggeratedly and yelled at him. Vahhab drew the curtains tight. Something in his backbones was pricking, he groaned:"Such a beastly passion! Hollow and in vain ! Lechery and Prejudice, how much have you been attached to the earthly life?"
Mrs Edrisi called Legha . Legha with shoulders and buttock bumped to the door frame, struggling for a moment , she got out at last.The old woman in the milky light of the bulb was turning the pages of the photo album, her emerald ring was shading a rainbow over the photos. The golden pages rustled and turned over each other.She showed them a photo. The corners were tipped off, it was the picture of a house, clean and white. The family were sitting all together on the winding stairs in the garden. The grandfather was in the middle , broad-shouldered and stocky, buttoned up in the armed jacket, one hand on the ebony stick, under the big bushy eyebrows, even in the old photos, lit from the passion of life. Grannie was sitting on the left, wrapped in a white head-scarf, she pouted her lips, some hair over her ears. A cat languid and sleepy was sitting over her knees. On the right the older uncle, black-haired, swarthy and handsome , his chin hidden in his white folded collar. On the left the youger uncle , slim and slender and fragile was looking around, his eyes languid and dreamy staring into the fresh weeping willow. In the front line there stood the maids and servants wearing headscarves, quite reserved and shy, frowny and excited . In a little distance men were standing with hands on their breasts, quite speechless in front of the camera. The children were sitting on the first step by their parents and grandparents, grannie looked fair with green eyes, others were swarthy with dark hair, taken after the father, amongst Japanese vases lifted their heads in thrill, with a restrained laughter, their lips in the corners moved . The dazzling sunlight was shading their edifice, the hatches and balconies, clean and shining. Behind each window, the lace curtains were tied.
Mrs Edrisi pointed to a little girl, wearing a hat with a stiff big ribbon , the cheeks plump , the eyes glimmering.
The old lady's voice changed , cloudy as if coming out of fog:" And that's me!"
Legha and Vahhab reminisced the past , in fright and in dispair, looked at the photos , Legha whispered:" You're the prettiest!"
Mrs Edrisi objected:" No , not such a thing ! I had a cousin , four years older than me , Never had taken a photo. Never been out .When the guests came , they hid her.We were used to her charm but her beauty made others mad. ( She kept an eye on the bedspread), how can I describe her!... She wasn't made of soil and water. I wondered and they used to say when she was born , the Venus had lit over her body, a moonlit night it was and bright, light had penetrated through the room."
Vahhab asked restlessly:"What happened to her?"
Grannie covered her head in hands. Half-lit amber shade had brightened her profile, her chin was shivering :" She died in a locked room, the room was filled with the smell of white hyacinth, primeroses and acacia, when they lifted her she was as light as a petal."
Vahhab held grannie's hands:"Was she prettier than Rahila?"
Grannie lowered her head, in a pale smile, no doubt but Rahila had taken after her( She paused and nodded to say no) Not a comparison but both died early in the spring."
Legha closed her eyes and teardrops were rolling over her face:" And this spring I'll die ( Somebody knocked at the door . Legha grabbed Vahhab's arms). They came , shall we sidestep ? If there's a man , I throw myself out of the balcony! (She eyed her mother) hide the photos!"
Mrs Edrisi threw the album under the bed and stood upright, another knock on the door, the chocked voice said: "It's me ma'am, open it up!"
They all felt calm .Vahhab opened the door. A big tray came in , three plates, the meal , yoghurt and fresh vegetables, a jar of water and golden tip glasses. Yavar put the tray on the table and Legha ran away and the key turned in the lock, she moved her index finger, pointing Yavar:" You gave me a scare!"
The old man touched the shining surface of the dressing table. Stood upright.
"I made them take the oath not to step in these three rooms."
Legha stepped back, stumbled by the bed.:" And they wanted to enter the room , didn't they?"
Yavar was tapping on the table: " Not clear , they wanted to know more about it."
Mrs Edrisi gazed at him: " And you didn't tell them, eh?"
The old man lifted his head :" I'm not afraid."
Vahhab sat on the rocking chair, the dim, murky light foiled his countenance, ten years older. Looking at Yavar:" What did they ask?"
The old man scratched his neck:"They're bewitched , let's give them a job , like sewing the sheets."
Legha sat at the bedside:"The women, you mean?"
Yavar answered , quite monotonously: "No idea!"
Legha clenched her fist, her voice broke in the throat:" Now I get why you think of the sheets?"( her eyes narrow)
"One said that he can make cloth."
Legha pulled her hair, gazed at the old man:"What have you done? You expect me to sleep on those sheets?" She covered her face with her hands.The blue veins on her arms shaded a blue shadow on the pale skin, she burst into tears. I didn't expect it , are you selling your soul to the satan?"
Yavar pointed to the tray:" You're dinner's getting cold. (touched his forehead and twisted his moustache) After a long life of loyalty you should have known me . Fancy that they respect me more!"
Mrs Edrisi took out the photo album which was under the bed, pointed to a woman:" Come and see your mum ( She was flattering, sweating out of fear and humility), this woman raised Legha and Rahila. They loved her, she used to tell them bedtime stories.I never forget that day , the day you came , your skin was sun-burnt severely, the blame was to your stepmother . I put the ointment on the wounds , since then you became a member of this family, you know I don't butter the things up. My father loved you as if you were his own child,you used to go hunting together , remember? ( Just happened for two times , Mrs Edrisi was deliberately exaggerating the story.)When you came back in the afternoon , you had hunted a duck.The year after you married Touba who died of cholera.You really mourned for her, we were used to sit by the brook and you kept crying in spite of working hard (she looked at the drawn curtains) you had much confidence in yourself, everything was in the right place. (The corners of her lips moved.) Not Like now, in a limbo between heaven and hell.I'm afraid of the future , the tables might start moving , the kitchen utensils might float in the water.The fish might fly over the trees. How would you feel?"
Yavar burst into laughter, tapping on his knees:
" The fish would fly over the trees? How about the trees?"
Vahhab sneered :" They might swim under the water."
Yavar laughed for the second time:" Such a tale!"(His face turned serious). Don't worry , things would go well! Just don't move ! I'll come and knock at the door , once first , then three times repeatedly.( He opened his four fingers.) watch out and take enough care!"
He went to the door and turned the lock. Legha followed him , pulled his sleeve.
"Where do they sleep ? Tell them to sleep in the garden."
The old man answered with a lot care:
"Not clear yet."
He opened the door and left.
The House of Edrisis is a prominent post-revolutionary novel in Iran by Ghazaleh Alizadeh , a noted novelist, translated from original Persian to English by Rosa Jamali.