Requiem of the Wind by Aboutorab Khosravi, translated by Nayereh Doosti
Requiem of the Wind
by Aboutorab Khosravi
Translated by Nayereh Doosti
“I knew that my wife was always waiting there and watching over me. That’s why I would rush to arrive at my shift early. The captain would walk me there and take the other guard with him. As soon as I was alone, I would hear the screeching of the hinges and the window would open wide. Her voice rang out in the dark when she said, “Mansour, is that you?””
Requiem of the Wind
by Aboutorab Khosravi
Translated by Nayereh Doosti
As I was saying goodbye to my wife before being deployed to the combat zone, she said, “Don’t you think I’m going to leave you alone. I will trail you like a shadow wherever you go.” She was right. She followed me wherever I went. We would often find a place to be alone together. She would tell me she loved me and that she couldn’t handle being away from me. Every time I saw her, she would say, “You look well,” and the first thing she would do was graze my lips with her fingertip. Maybe so I wouldn’t ask her why she had trekked all the way and come to me.
I wasn’t feeling well on the day they called my name through the microphones in the Jaldian barracks and announced a visitor. The wind was biting too. I thought perhaps it was my mother, but she wasn’t one to travel. She would just send a letter once in a while and tell me to take care of myself. She would send some money for cigarettes too. I wasn’t expecting my wife at all. She was seated on a bench behind the MP office and had thrown her chador on her shoulders, pulling her hair back in a bun. I sat on my heels and said, “Ashraf, what are you doing here?”
She laughed and pulled her chador back on her hair. “Ah, Mansour, you’ve gotten so tan,” she said.
“Ashraf, God save me from this climate,” I said.
Every time she visited, she brought food, as if she knew when I was hungry or thirsty. She had brought something on that day too. She took out a container from her sack. “Eat it, Mansour,” she said. “Your face looks as white as a sheet.”
I took time off and went to the city with her. We wandered around Jaldian Street all afternoon and rented a hostel room at night. After dinner, we lay next to each other. She kept laughing. “Ashraf, lower your voice,” I said. “Everyone will know.” I wanted to cover her mouth. She hid under the blanket and laughed, fluttering about my head and shoulders like a butterfly. She picked cherries from the basket on the nightstand and stuffed them in my mouth to keep me from talking. My mouth filled with cherries, I couldn’t say a single word.
She stopped laughing. “Mansour, go to sleep now,” she said. “Tomorrow you have to return to the barracks.”
Now it was my turn to laugh. “But I have to stand guard here with you,” I said. Even as she insisted I must sleep, I couldn’t. I closed my eyes, but I was wide awake. She stayed up until the morning too and kept watching over me.
She was always like this, showing up in places I didn’t expect. The first time I saw her, I was just as surprised. I was napping on a bench under a weeping willow. The shadow of its branches danced on my eyelids. I thought the tree had bent down over me so much that it reached my eyes, but it was her fingertips that were waking me.
When I opened my eyes, I saw her laughing in front of me. I didn’t recognize her, but I thought she looked familiar. I was right. I had seen her a few times through a window frame. Because I had only seen her eyes from a distance, I had thought they were blue until green seemed more beautiful to me. From that day on, her eyes remained green for me until I awoke to her staring at my face. It felt strange. Her eyes were even more stunning than when they had been green or blue. That’s when they grew honey-colored.
Back in Jaldian, they told us to pack our clothes; we had to go to Sumar. So we packed our bags and threw them on our shoulders and boarded the flatbeds of the Reo trucks.
The encampment in Sumar was on a desolate field surrounded by barbed wire. When we arrived, they divided us into groups and each group settled in one tent. The sergeant spread out a map on the ground and traced the mountains and fields and rivers with his index finger, pausing at the barren land where we were based.
“You’re positioned at the eastern margin of this desert,” he said. “To get oriented, you need to know that the weather here is like a dragon’s breath. Scorpions and tarantulas will be carried by the wind and scattered in your face.” He said that during our watchtower shifts, we must monitor the area closely and report every moving object, lest the enemy attack from there and surprise the troops in the trenches behind.
The sergeant was right. The heat was oppressive day and night. The wind burned our faces like the exhaling of a furnace. I had to monitor the fields with binoculars every night and report every tangible movement to my company on the transceiver. The desert was always so quiet that I could even hear birds flapping their wings at a far distance. And sometimes I would hear the whistle of a mortar and its explosion somewhere. Or sometimes, the trail of a projectile across the sky would sting the eye before it landed. Everything, even the thorn bushes, would light up and become visible as if in daylight. There was a strict order not to smoke or make the slightest noise. We had to stand rigid like rocks behind the battlement and watch everything as far as the horizon’s lowest line. But sometimes I would light a cigarette and hide its crimson, burning tip in my palm. I would take a puff and exhale towards the stars. Sometimes the stars would descend so low that it felt as though I could pick them like a cluster of grapes. At times like this, I would let myself live a little and I would hum a song I didn’t know all the words to, even though there was a chance the enemy could hear me and pour fire on my head. Sometimes it was so quiet there that even with the slight rustling of a thorn bush, the wasteland would howl and carry the smell of fresh corpses through the air.
Frankly, if I had thought someone could actually hear me, I would have shut my mouth. Because suddenly the missiles lit up the sky. I heard tens of whistles and mortar shells exploding. Then they died out. I couldn’t hear any more explosions. Everything grew dark. The battlement stood like a barrier against me.
I had no idea that in the darkness before me, there was a window that opened to the battlement. But suddenly the light inside the window switched on and off a few times in the absolute darkness, and then it stayed on. The shadow of a woman approached the lace curtains behind the window and drew them aside. The hinges squeaked, and the window opened wide.
The gust made the window frame tremble like a kite in the night sky. Then it grew still. The woman’s face had the texture of white light. She extended her head and neck out the window, asking, “Who’s there?”
It was my wife. I recognized her voice. She was looking at my dark silhouette.
“It’s me, Mansour,” I said.
“Ah, Mansour, you? Why are you crying?” she asked.
“You can see it’s windy,” I said. “Maybe you just heard the wind.”
She had thrown her tresses on her breasts and was staring at me, without blinking once. I knew that her eyes were honey-colored and that she had applied mascara to her lashes. The red of her lips appeared black in the white light, as if she had just been jolted from sleep. When she stuck her head out the window, the wind ruffled her hair. Her arms seemed long, as if made of light beams. They looked like pillars holding up her slim shoulders. She had bent her head and was looking down at me.
“Looks like you’re not feeling well at all, Mansour,” she said.
“I’m really thirsty, Ashraf,” I said.
“Wait a minute.” She left.
I kept my eyes on the light in the window until she reappeared back in the frame. She had brought a crystal decanter. I climbed up the battlement and held my canteen at the window. She stretched her head and shoulders out and bent the arc of her back. The wind was tousling her hair around her plump face. With one hand, she held onto the edge of the window and with another, she tilted the decanter. The water undulated in the wind and poured into the canteen, the trickle overflowing and splashing on my face. I heard her laughing. “Did you get wet, Mansour?” she asked. “But you cooled down, huh?”
I didn’t say anything. I was still standing on the sandbags and drinking my water.
It always went like this. The window would open or close as its hinges screeched. Every time my wife heard me, she would bend down from the window frame and ask, “Is that you, Mansour?”
I would say, “Yes, it’s me. Don’t panic!”
“Wow! You’re singing this late at night?” she said. “Aren’t you worried the enemy will hear your voice and pour fire on your head?”
“You can see it’s windy,” I said. “Maybe you just heard the wind.”
I climbed up the battlement’s high wall and extended my arms towards the brightness of the window, hoping they would reach hers.
“What’s new?” I asked.
My wife laughed. “I shouldn’t say it straight out,” she said.
“Why shouldn’t you?” I said.
“You may get too excited!”
“That wouldn’t hurt,” I said.
“Mansour, we’re having a child,” she said.
And every time, I would stare at the white light glowing through the window frame, looking for my wife, who always wore a white robe as the baby’s mass grew and manifested through her body. She would bring good news every time and toss fruit for me to catch from the window. Every time, as the captain started to do his rounds, I would say, “Ashraf, close the window and turn off the light.”
I knew that my wife would stand behind the window and watch over me until the captain came, and until I finished my shift, clocked out, and went on my way.
Sometimes the projectiles would light up the area and the air would look silver. Then it would be green everywhere, and then a spectrum of purple or blue light would illuminate the sky. Though the colors wouldn’t remain fixed, everything would become visible in their light. My wife might have seen me somewhere in the dark, standing behind the battlement, turning green and blue, yellow and silver.
I knew that my wife was always waiting there and watching over me. That’s why I would rush to arrive at my shift early. The captain would walk me there and take the other guard with him. As soon as I was alone, I would hear the screeching of the hinges and the window would open wide. Her voice rang out in the dark when she said, “Mansour, is that you?”
“Who else could it be?” I said. “Why don’t you turn on the light? I want to see you.”
She appeared through the window frame as soon as the light was switched on.
“I have good news for you,” she said.
I heard our child through the window.
“It’s been a year since you were home,” she said.
“You can see I’m here,” I said.
“Our son was born last month,” she said. “I was waiting all the time, but you wouldn’t come. I would leave the lights on all night so that you’d come, but you wouldn’t.”
“I want to see my baby,” I said.
My wife held the child and stood there, framed by the window. The baby stretched his hands out of the swaddling blankets and sucked on them.
“What a guzzler, Ashraf!” I said.
She laughed, uncovered her breast and put it inside the child’s mouth. “Like his dad,” she said.
Like always, she roared with laughter. It reverberated through the luster of the window and I heard its echo in the darkness of the battlement. Then I heard the whistle of a projectile and its explosion somewhere nearby. The ground shook and the window frame swayed like a cradle before sitting motionless in the dark. My wife was holding onto the window frame in order not to fall. Her voice trembled as she screamed, “Mansour, are you okay?”
I stood behind the battlement and raised my head. “I’m okay, Ashraf!” I yelled back at the window. “Turn off the light and go inside. They might pour fire on your head.”
Ashraf left the child somewhere and came back. She didn’t switch off the light either. She gripped the window frame so as not to stumble into the darkness, screaming at my silhouette. “Mansour, why don’t you come back home? What would I do alone with this child if something happened to you?”
At times I would watch the child grow, framed by the window’s light. Sometimes, when there was no explosion to shake the frame, the child would sit on the windowsill, swing his legs in the dark and wave at me.
I would say, “My beautiful boy, you shouldn’t sit here. What would I do in this wasteland if you fell down?”
My little son would say to my wife, “Daddy’s such a coward.”
She would laugh and tell me, “Don’t worry, Mansour. Rest assured that he’s too nimble to fall down from up here.”
Soon I was used to my little boy sitting on the window ledge. I no longer heard explosions whistling and no more missiles lit up the desert.
I was strolling towards the window that night. I could make out its frame from afar. My wife had leaned on her arms, which supported her shoulders like pillars, and she had stretched her head out the window. Like always, the wind ruffled her hair. My little boy was sitting beside her on the windowsill, his legs obscured in the darkness.
They could have seen my dark silhouette as I walked past the shadows. But they didn’t. If they had, my wife would have yelled from there, “Is that you, Mansour?” And my little boy would have waved at me. They didn’t even hear my footsteps. They kept staring at the horizon behind me. I climbed up the battlement, stood on its edge and waved at them, screaming, “Ashraf, what’s new?”
She must have not seen me. But perhaps she heard my voice when she asked,
“Mansour, where are you that I can’t see you?”
“The same place I stand guard every night,” I said.
“But you’re not there anymore,” she said.
I could no longer be seen among the shadows.
“I’ve been here for so long,” she said, “waiting for you to show up so that I can tell you, now that the war’s over and the soldiers have returned, why don’t you come back home?”
“How’s that possible?” I said. “I’m just hearing all this from you now.”
“Mansour, speak up a little,” she said. “I can’t hear you.”
“Ashraf, I can’t be absent without leave!” I yelled.
“Mansour,” she said, “why don’t you answer me?”
“I can’t leave my post without permission!” I screamed.
“Mansour, where are you?” she yelled back. “Say something!”
I stood there on the battlement and kept screaming at the window. “Hey, can’t you see I’m here?”
She stretched her head and shoulder out the window as she searched for my voice and shadow in the darkness. I kept screaming, “Hey! I have to stand guard here until I receive an order.”
Her voice echoed through the darkness as she said, “Why is there no sign of you, Mansour?” She was crying, and her hair was tousled in the wind, obscuring the glow of the window frame.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aboutorab Khosravi (in Persian: ابوتراب خسروی) is an award-winning Iranian writer known for his surrealist short stories and novels, including The Book of Scribes. A prominent member of Houshang Golshiri’s Jong-e Isfahan Circle, Khosravi is the recipient of the Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Award, the Houshang Golshiri Prize, and the Iranian National Book Award. He currently lives in Shiraz.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Nayereh Doosti is a writer and translator from Shiraz and Booshehr. She graduated from Amherst College and holds an MFA in fiction from Boston University. She is the recipient of the Epiphany Breakout 8 Writers Prize, the St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award, the Key West Literary Seminar Emerging Writer Award, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship, and a GrubStreet Literary Grant. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Epiphany, The Common, and The Massachusetts Review. Her Persian translation of Aleksander Hemon’s The Book of My Lives will be published by Goman Press in Tehran in September, 2023. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Berkeley.
Author and Translator's Photo are courtesy of the author. FEATURED IMAGE by Jordan Graff via Unsplash.