My chest burns from the heat of the bullets. Blood has seeped through my white and blue clothes. I am stuck alone in the middle of the stage. Men with long beards have handed me a gun. My eyes fall on Leila, with her half-naked body; on the singer, with his oppressed look; on the people who are watching me. The red carpet below me is full of money that has been spent on Leila. Am I revolving around the world, or the world around me? I fall to the ground, landing on my shoulder. Only my legs can be seen, legs in different pants. And I see Leila’s white legs in her white embroidered pants. The sight causes me to slip from my side onto my back. Uncle sits by my head. Above me, he puts his finger to his lips in a sign for silence.
I open my eyes. I am sitting backstage. Between me and death there is only a curtain. On the other side of the curtain, angels of death with Pirahan and Tunban and long beards will pierce me with the bullets of their guns. The bitter sound of the bells of the anklet attached to Leila’s beautiful legs can still be heard. Leila dances. Her shadow falls onto the curtain. Leila twirls, sits, gets up, and dances again.
When she dances, her long hair extends outwards from her shoulders and twirls far from her head. The short skirt around her waist rises in a circle and lifts with the sound of encouragement from the crowd. All of them clap for her. After a few moments she sits in front of one individual. She knows this work well. She knows well at what time and in front of whom to sit while singing. When she sits, her shadow is lost between the silhouettes of the people sitting around the room. I know it by heart from here and beyond. She dances in front of them until that same person pulls the money from their pocket and places it in the middle of her breasts…
I sit in front of the mirror and look at my face. Gently, I press under my eyes with my fingers. My eyes tighten from the bullet of pain. I pick up my wooden makeup container, the name “Badakhshan” still readable. I smear eyeliner onto the applicator from the wooden pot. The narrow rim becomes moist. I spin the handle of the applicator between my fingers and place the eyeliner on my upper and lower eyelids. The thinness of the wood passes slowly through my fingers. My eyes come to life with the eyeliner. I pick up the razor from in front of the mirror and try the blade on the hair of my wrists. The blade is sharp. I shave the fine hairs on my face. They prefer soft and smooth surfaces.
In the mirror I see that uncle watches me from the corner of the curtain. He pulls it up and comes in. He is wearing a white Pirahan and a Tunban . He is a little fat, and he casts me to the memory of my father with his black and white stubble.
“Do you not have anything less?”
“No, I don’t have anything less.”
“It is the end of the dance.”
“I understand. I am ready.”
When I say I am ready, his complexion changes slightly. Whenever he turns to thought or becomes angry, his eyebrows knot together at the top of his forehead. I have told him that if they arrest me I will take responsibility for everything. I will say that it was my own plan. No one knew what I was going to do. He is still standing and looking at me. I strike a smile for his happiness. With the smile I give my answer. He points to my face.
“The inflammation of your eyes is gone!.”
Again I press under my eyes with my fingers.
“It is getting better.”
He turns his head, its direction towards the curtain. He is like a father to me. Many times he has said that he loves me as his child. When I am near him, I am at ease. Until now he has not reached out for me, not for himself nor anyone else. But those other four… They dance for him. They earn money. At home they take turns cooking, and every few nights he takes care of one of them in his room and…
The sound of the people clapping has become one with the poisonous sound of the anklets. Leila knows how to adapt her dance to any instrument. Now she is striking her feet on the ground and raising the poison of those anklets to the sound of the singer. God knows what pleasure people take from hearing his voice. Leila’s shadow looms in the center of the curtain. Now she has raised a corner of her skirt with one of her hands and turns it up. Turn it up, Leila, so that there will be your day of happiness and my last dance. Now my turn has arrived. I take my things out of the pack. I put on my blue clothes with a white shawl.
The piece of fabric in front of my chest is empty and hangs open. All is ready, except for one thing.
From the bag I take out a twisted bundle of cloth, unwrap it and take its content in my hand. Until now I had not felt it in my own hands. I had seen it in this or that hand. I asked questions until I reached a realization. I decided it must be light. More than one shot won’t fit inside of it. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt. I only want one shot.
I must take it in my hand and shoot in this way. With the help of God my hand will not tremble at the moment of pulling the trigger. I want to strike the middle of his forehead, just as he used to put guns against others and shoot them. But what if he ducks when I shoot? What if they protect him and shoot faster than I do? They will kill me. I must get near him, so close that he takes the bullet in the middle of his forehead.
He does not really desire women. His nature is disposed to other things. And maybe if I sat in his arms, he would not have me work. Maybe he would want to kiss me, or I would kiss him.
As soon as he came, I was sure that it was him. It is true that ten years have passed. At the time, I was only ten years old but that moment remains clear in my mind, when he had been overcome and was shooting indiscriminately.
Uncle turned his head this way and was looking at me in a way as if to say, “I have taken the ignorant into my hands”
I smile. My smile does not give an answer, and he pulls back his head out the curtain. The performance and the voices of the intoxicated crowd have become repetitive:
“You have teeth like pearls… Leila, let God give us one night to sit together.”
Every day they sing this song and ask Leila to dance for them, telling her that the dance must match their song. The bastard lies.
I must prepare myself. The time has arrived. I hide it under my shirt. I get up.
I imagine that I am also in the middle of the stage – first I begin to slowly go forward. Slowly I open my hands and twirl them around.
I am increasingly sure that no one is paying attention to my dance. They are looking more at a different place on my body. The time arrives. I must slowly show them. Step by step I reveal my trembling breasts.
The performance becomes fast. Leila’s shadow also quickly twirls across the curtain. Her short skirt goes up and up. The sound of their cheers and hollers increases. It is money that they graciously throw on her head.
She twirls. I also twirl. She twirls. I twirl. She twirls and sits down. I twirl, sit down, and pull it from underneath my skirt. I must structure this in a way that I correctly sit face-to-face with him.
This is the place where I must finish the job. My arm must not shake. I must successfully strike him in the forehead.
Uncle is standing at my side. He did not see it coming at all. He sits by me.
He pulls out a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. He takes one cigarette out of the pack. He lights it. He takes a drag. A whooping cough judders through his throat. Incrementally he blows the smoke of the cigarette out of his mouth and nose. The doctor has forbidden him from smoking even one cigarette, but now he lights the last of the packet. Just as he has every previous one. The night I told him what happened, I felt the heaviness of his hands for the first time. They smothered my own. He imprisoned me in the basement and gave me neither food nor water. He wanted to dissuade me from my opinions. And when I was his prisoner, the smell of the smoke of his cigarettes reached the basement, and the sound of his coughs, sometimes loud and sometimes muffled, were heard. When I came out of the basement, a corner of the yard was full of his empty packs.
He has his forehead to the wall. I look at the cigarette he is finishing. With each cough his shoulders get further from the wall. He takes out another from the pack. He lights it with the butt of his previous one.
“Why do you smoke cigarettes? It is harmful for you.”
“The bastard sold me this junk pack. When this packet is finished I need to change cigarettes.”
“A cigarette is a cigarette; what difference does it make? The doctor has said it remains like poison for you.
“The same poison that soothes me.”
He looks at the gun.
“Do you know how to shoot?”
I take the gun in my two hands. I feel that it has become a little heavier. Uncle extends his hand towards me.
Give it to me.”
My body trembles. My mind doesn’t work. He wants the gun from me. Do I give it or not? If I give up the gun and then he does not return it, what can I do? Maybe he will again attempt to change my point of view. Uncle’s hands remain extended. Searching into the depths of my eyes, he reads my mind. A smile forms on his lips.
“Then I will give it back.”
My reason draws me next to him. Another force orders that I give the gun to the uncle. He places the cigarette in the corner of his mouth. His eyes narrow. He checks the gun in his hands. He takes the cigarette between his two fingers. Once more he laughs. The smoke of the cigarette comes out from between his laughs and yellow teeth. Again, a cough passes through the base of his throat and stops his laughter.
“Dear child! This gun has a safety. Do you know how to disable it?”
I don’t understand what uncle is saying. In my mind words come and go. Safety… disable… meaning if it has a safety, I can’t shoot? It is good that uncle came. If not, I would have become a source of ridicule in front of that bastard. Uncle laughs again. He shows me the bullet in his palm.
“Are you sure of yourself? Only one bullet!”
I want to explain to him. But my mouth remains shut. I lower my head.
Uncle has extended his hand. He gives me the gun.
“I disabled its safety.”
The singer cries out: “Uncle, bring your face out from backstage! The commander is waiting.”
Uncle lays his head against the wall.
“Shut up you bastard, you dead cow!”
Again he releases smoke from his chest. He breathes out the smoke with a cough. I have taken the gun into my hands. In my imagination its heaviness has increased.
“I have spoken with Leila. I want to marry her. As you get older you can’t predict what will happen with your health. We all need someone to take care of us – of course, if we make it out of here alive.” I find the lump in his throat in mine, where my breath has gotten stuck. My body trembles.
“Don’t cry. Your eyeliner will become clear. It is the eyeliner of Badakhshan. Do you know how much it costs?”
He smiles. Again he coughs.
I hide the gun under my clothes. I steal my eyes from his gaze. I express each word with difficulty. My mouth has gone dry. Uncle points me to the beautiful anklets.
“Don’t you want to wear the anklets?”
He catches my smile. He has also called those beautiful anklets, “damned anklets”. I pick up the beautiful bell-threaded anklets from a corner of the room. I tie one to each foot. I feel their coldness. Only the word “Uncle” exits from between my lips, with difficulty.
I say, “goodbye, dear Uncle.”
I leave his side. He has closed his eyes. He leans his head against the wall. I hear the sound of his cough from behind me. And the sound of these anklets that are my companion…. poison, poison, poison….
Translated from Persian by Dutton Crowley. Dutton Crowley has a certification of studying Persian through the advanced level from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he has continued to formally study Persian language at Harvard University.
.داتون کراولی دارای مدرک تحصیلی زبان فارسی در سطح پیشرفته از دانشگاه ویسکانسین مدیسون است و به طور رسمی به تحصیل زبان فارسی در دانشگاه هاروارد ادامه داده است
Edited by Harriet Crisp.
If you liked this story and would like to help more writers like this publish their work, please consider supporting our writers and artists by becoming a member HERE.
Khodadad Heydari is one of the members of the house of literature of Afghanistan, whose collection of stories "Nasur" and “The end of the night” has been published so far. خداداد حیدری یکی از اعضای خانه ادبیات افغانستان است که مجموعه داستان «ناسور و .«پایان شب» او تاکنون منتشر شده است