Vahhab walked back and forth in the room.It was stuffy, the curtains thick , all drawn , she couldn't breathe well.He lay down on the bed, one single lamp, lit on the wall , no sheet or blanket , he took a book.Before his eyes the words were mingling, fled away and didn't make sense.
The door moved round the doorpost continuously, the doors were slammed one after another, the heels and slippers marching on the floor.The children were crying , the mothers nagging non-stop.
It was one in the morning that the noise calmed down.People settled in the rooms. From time to time the sound of snoring , moaning or whispering some vague words broke the silence.
Vahhab was looking for a sleeping pill, he was looking in the pockets of any coat he had.His coats made in England, all clean and neat, striped vest , gabardine trousers, Indian linen and Scottish tartan.He was rummaging unyieldingly , but no use, couldn't find a single pill, bit the web between the thumb and index finger and cursed himself, dispossessed and on edge, slipped into the armchair, hugged his knees, listened to his own heart beat.
Behind the hatch ,a shadow was moving, he opened the hatch , the cat came in, jumped on the bed. Mist had made the cat's fur wet ,so it sparkled like a salamander. the claw prints on the clean sheet , rolled and lay on one side.Vahhab touched its jaw, the cat's whiskers moved as he felt the man's breath. Wriggled his wet nose and sniffed his cheeks.The emerald eyes glimmered and gave Vahhab a sort of comfort.Vahhab lay on his bed quietly, his palms under his head, looked at the light bulbs over the ceiling , the owl was howling in the distance.
It was three in the morning that the house came to a complete silence. The house was a different place now.A scourge of mosquitoes swarmed through the house from the open hatches. The night blooming jasmine had scented the house, on the landing .The breeze had caused a draught.The china lamp on the wall had drawn the shadow of a dragon over the rug.He used to enter the kitchen every night, turned the kettle on the stove.As if the dead had been resting and their breathing had infliterated the cracks.The cat's backbones pricked in hatred, leaned on the armchair, claws stiff , the hind wiggled.The kettle was at the boiling point, supplied the tea pot by some spoonfuls of tea.The leaves were falling down on other side of the window, the lamp post had shaded the ground . He looked at the alcove and the straw chair in it then returned to the kitchen and poured a cup of tea ,in the blue china cup.He heard somebody's footsteps, he moved , a man entered the kitchen, the man was middle-aged, weary and worn-out with a sun-burnt skin, he had little hair, curly and greasy.He was a hunchback while walking, dressed up in a gray suit; the collar and the cuffs worn-out.
Slow-movingly Vahhab came in, confronting him. They were both startled and stepped back. Vahhab shivered , he had a mug in his hand. Some drops of tea were happening to pour down. He put the mug on the tiled threshold. They shook hands, the man's hands rough , callous, his fingers coarse.
"Hey brother! We didn't meet last night. Didn't you go to bed?!( He placed his hand on the forehead) A change of place! I see!"
Vahhab looked at him in astonishment.
"A move, oh , yeah! you need to settle down . "
Vahhab's trembling hands waved in front of his eyes, the newcomer had a great deal of sympathy!
"Restlessness!... do you feel it?!..."(Vahhab said)
He gazed at the pitch black expanse behind the window."I usually stay up!"
The man touched his shoulder as an inquiry:"Why?"
Vahhab looped his fingers around the mug:" I'm used to it."
"And do you work at the daytime?"
"Right at the dawn!"
"Then you nap at work?"
Vahhab lowered his head:
"Where are you from?"
Vahhab hesitated, the steam over the kettle caught his glimpse :" From deep valleys of Kashmir."
The man's countenance turned serious, he hid his chin in the collar:" Far off. I've come from a far distance ( with a glance on the frying pans), once I had a city and a house and a family( clasped his hands) like anybody else. Till the night the oval mirrors reflected the picture of the full moon and everybody was asleep. The moon's picture in the mirror, the mirror's picture in the moon, as if it were the picture of fish in the moon.I jumped down from the window, went to the pool and the picture of mirror in the water shattered.When the wind stopped blowing , I could see the full moon.Touching the water,I wetted my hair then I got out. I walked in the alleys for a while.The grapevine leaves used to shade the fences. The hens cackled in their place. Relatives and acquaintances became strange to me, as if I were absent . Along the sandy route, the moon light was splendid, over the silver top of the mountains. I traveled to so many cities . I boarded on the ship and sailed for six years on the sea. Staying up till dawn on the 14th and 15th night, one night the dance of waves made me insane. I took off my clothes and dived into the sea. The sailor saved me and I was beaten. They returned me to the port . The centre of Africa, it was pitch black ebony dark and they could drive out the genie inside me. I had it in me for four years. Tiger- hunting became my job. I owned a tiger skin coat but I sold it to become a poet and buy some simple food.Smuggling weapons for mountain dwellers for a while but they didn't like my poems, they lodged me in a public house. Noisy all the time and I couldn't write. Yesterday quite desperate I complained and they led me here. It's a nice house( He looked around with a sparkle in his eyes) Messengers of God smiled at me. One of them appeared to me last night. ( a vein on his forehead throbbed) What a smile! What a magnificance! Many years before I had seen a figure looked like a messenger on an island. Pity her body was melted by the sun, but the other night they were waiting for a shaman poet. Her left eye sparkled like rubies . Vahhab opened his dry lips :" What did she look like?"The poet replied immediately:"From the moon and the river" ( The branches of tree fretted the windows) of the snow, no! She wasn't of the snow . Snow melts a poem . She had a strike of wine , the silver light of venus had lit it. "Vahhab breathed deeply, he sat on the stool. His bones were burning inside:" I guess I know her , in the steeped perfume of flowers, white lilies , daffodils, prime roses and azaleas."
"And how did you get to know her, brother?"
He moved Vahhab's arms. He moved them with his slim fingers," Nobody could see her in the world. ( He placed his hands before his eyes) The one who could see her would go mad." He went to the kitchen and came back. His hair sweating and moist.
"I got through the whirlwinds of fancy and madness, put all pieces together, all like pieces of glass, turning and going deep."
He punched into the wall. Vahhab disposed and placed his feverish head on his hand. The dawn was brightening the day. The birds tuned up , from the man's side , the blast of heat had targeted his face. Worn-out and drowsy, he shut his eyes.
Heard the sound of the slow-moving shoes of the magician-poet and opened his eyes.The glimmering light before the dawn had given a halo of indigo to the man's hooked body and stretched forehead.
Gnashing his teeth , Vahhab spoke:" You deserved her."
The man stood at the threshold . He placed his hand in his pocket. His index finger appeared over the torn crevice. He sipped a little tea, his lips hot. Vahhab thought that he had seen such a scene in a dream. He went to the corridor . The door in the hall was ajar. He peeped in and saw that the light in the library was on, aggravated , stepped in unhesitatingly.
Over the soft and smooth hair of the young man, a shred of light was trembling. Tall and slender, he had a pencil over his earlap.
He went forth and back , took the books out of the shelves , turned the pages over and put them on their place.
He looked for poetry books. He picked up the anthology of contemporary poets and started reading , clenched his left hand into a fist. His long forehead in the twilight of the dawn was glowing ,his large and glistening eyes filled with tears, he bit his ruddy lips. His oval face and his long pointed nose with prominent cheeks. He had a spirited and vigorous temperament. He started reading a poem out loud. Wetting his thumb and forefinger , he turned the pages over hastily. Vahhab got closer to the dinning table , appalled and unfledged, he turned back:" You gave me a fright! Are you the spirit of this mansion?!...Why are you so pale?!...."
Vahhab pulled the chair. He sat at the square table, pressed his elbow to the brown woolen cloth:" The spirit or the guardian of the books."
Young man smiled:" Don't tease me ! I guess books don't need a guardian."
Vahhab pled with a tremour in his eyeballs:"Why?"
"Because nobody can possess them."
"From your point of view, there's no possession. "
The young man disposed, read a line and replied:"Yeah , the sense of possession is of a low instinct."
"All right , but everybody likes to own something for oneself, though a limited number of things: I'm dependent on two things: a memory of my childhood and my library."
Whistling , young man looked at Vahhab enquiringly.
"Oh , so you are the guy; but weird...!"
"Who are you looking for?"
While drawing half a circle in the space, the young man spoke:"No idea actually,you're probably the landowner,the way you mention it ,sounds rediculous, it shattered your image in my mind."
" Like what?"
" I thought you should have been more dominant and authocratic. Now I can identify somebody as infirm as me. ( The man chuckled) Why aren't you bossy and arrogant then ? Why don't you start a quarrel to yell at us? Why don't we have a row on trivial things?"
Vahhab scratched a line on the table by his nail. "Such happenings don't change the things when the sky's always blue." I expected it, If I were into fights, I wouldn't stay at home, I would join the opposition."
"Why didn't you join them?"
"Stop it! Marshal law doesn't change the things."
"Are we able to do it?"
"I'm not waiting for the coronation. They've taken the canopy of my bed, the hell with the canopy. I get used to the light."
The young man scratched his chin.
"You're not supposed so!"
"Because you shouldn't sleep in the morning, the day light is for working."
Vahhab kept silent:" Is that a force to do something?"
"Depends. Folks say that you are an educated."
"That's true, but I'm not an engineer , neither a doctor."
" What have you studied then?"
"It doesn't matter."
Young man nodded:" Yeah! Your status isn't proper to the time, can you do any manual job?"
Vahhab disposed:" Drudgery you mean?"
"Not so! It's paid. You can provide your food and basic needs."
Vahhab felt the weight in his head and placed his head on the table.
He could just hear every other sentences the man said , then he asked:"What's your name?"
While turning the pages over, the young man answered:" Brother Yousof ."
" What are you reading in such a hurry?"
"Reading Yuri Marenko's poetry. Some of them are quite new. For one two months ago. I had never thought I could find such a gift in an antique library.Does it come handy to you?"
The book caught the sight of Vahhab.
"I was curious to know what kind of man Roxana Yashvili is living with."
" She is a great actress, I guess her success is for the influence of Yuri Marenko. Apart from him , she would be like others."
Vahhab answered drowsily: " Probably, but nothing to do with us!"
Putting her finger inside the book,Yousof closed the book:
"Haven't you got married?"
Vahhab got up . His eyes sparkled in indignation. He got up and slammed the door. A thirteen- year- old girl , barefeet climbed down the stairs. In a flower pattern dress, her straight loose her on shoulders, with her jingling blue bangles around her wrist, the cat turned up, the girl screamed and jumped, put her hand on her lips and rubbed its head on Vahhab's arm, there was a smell of mouldy cheese and hay.
" I'm afraid of cats( scratched her flashy nose) aren't you afraid of them?"
Vahhab hesitated. He wanted to step back , he kept a distance from the cat , the girl behind the sleeve, looked like a mouse, skinny , shy and grasping, passed.
"No , I'm not afraid of cats actually, I like them."
He climed one stair up. Staring at the cat's eyes ,the girl blocked his way. "It might scratch you by his claws."
"I've never seen it."
" You've tamed it. My mum says some can tame wild animals." Vahhab frowned:" Cats are not wild."
The girl looked down:"Dogs are frightening, they follow you in the dark and bite( her pupils largened) I used to run away whenever I saw a dog. Even with pebbles in my shoes. I got thick-skinned ( She looked at the ceiling) I'm afraid of so many things. Vahhab murmured:" Cats and dogs are domestic animals." The girl lifted her face. "Only if they are not hungry."
Vahhab articulated his words:"I'm neither tamed nor hungry."
The girl laughed out loud, scratched her red nose, held Vahhab's hand.
"You look so sleepy. I know a secluded place."
Vahhab frowned and his eyes sparkled with anger:
"The room at the end of the corridor."
The girl blinked:" But you've got the key."
The man grabbed her shoulders and gave her body a shake.
"How did you get it?"
"Your eyes are shining , like my friend Gohar when she hides her doll."
Vahhab set her free: "Nothing in common."
"Let's go ( touched her nose by her finger) promise to keep it as a secret."
The girl looked down , Vahhab stood erect:" And you didn't tell me your name?"
Vahhab grabbed the girl's arm. The spirits were haunting the house.
"Come with me!"
"Why? Are you scared?"
The man stepped forward: "No , not frightened but frustrated."
"Is it because of sore feet?"
Vahhab put his hand on his chest:"There's a dark space here."
"So weep !"
"It's so dark that I cannot weep!"
Golrokh winked:" You can erase it then."
"It hasn't been written by a pencil."
They went along the corridor. Vahhab held the handle.
"Leave me alone now!"
The girl ran and disappeared at the end of the corridor. The man fell deep in contemplation. the corridor became noisy, voices were heard from the distance. He took out the key from the lining of his vest, opened the door and entered. He lay on the bed, the extreme light was blinding him momentarily , then got up and drew the thick curtains. As if the ground were slipping away beneath his feet. He felt alienated , the hollow hatches in his soul cracked and the memories moved beyond the time. It was two days that he hadn't slept. Each sound like the impact of a copper wiring on the ground, had a hollow resonance. He fancied Rahila's face in the mirror, then removed the branches of thorns and moss over the skirts. The shade of her long eye-lids and her rose-bud lips turned and moved in the fog.
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.