Trusted to Earth by Bijan Najdi, translated by Parisa Saranj
Trusted to Earth
by Bijan Najdi, translated by Parisa Saranj
“The impregnating wind had not found a mulberry tree and was now returning. It was blowing on the chador on Maliheh’s chest. 'I couldn’t find out how old the child was,' she said...Maliheh was thinking how she wished one of the trees was Taher’s son.”
Trusted to Earth
by Bijan Najdi
Translated by Parisa Saranj
T aher stopped singing in the shower and listened to the sound of the water. He watched the large drops hurry down the loose skin on his thin arms. The smell of soap was dripping from his hair. Steam circled the old man’s head. Water embraced him. When he threw the towel over his shoulders, he felt his age seep into the long, red towel and the varicose veins in his legs no longer ached. He pushed his face into the towel and stood next to the bathroom door until he got cold. He reached the mirror in the room. Yes, he had indeed gotten old.
Behind him in the mirror, Maliheh’s face was next to the breakfast spread on the floor. In the room, the water in the samovar was boiling with a lot of noise. The one in the mirror was boiling quietly. That’s how both Taher and his reflection were getting warm.
Maliheh said, “Make sure the window is closed. You will catch a cold.”
Friday was behind the window. It had the same uncanny resemblance to all the Fridays of winter. One of the power lines sagged under the weight of the dark birds. The curtain was standing straight and the firewood in the potbelly stove was singing like a sparrow.
Taher sat on the floor by the spread and turned the radio on. He lifted his glass of tea with “…is the coldest region in the country with -11 degrees Celsius.” Maliheh turned her face toward the window and said, “listen, is something going on?” Their room had a balcony that opened to the only cobblestone street in the village. Twice a week, the sound of a train ran through it, climbed through the window and came to a halt on the cracked carvings on the ceiling. On the days that Taher wasn’t in the mood to read the newspaper because the smell of old paper made him nauseated, and Maliheh didn’t feel like singing a forgotten Ghamar song through her dentures, they would go on the balcony to listen for the invisible train.
“I’m talking to you, Taher. Go outside and find out what’s happening.”
Taher sat his tea glass down on the spread and walked to the balcony with a mouth full of bread and cheese. A crowd was running to the end of the street.
“What’s going on?” Maliheh asked. She was almost 60 years old. She was thin. Her lips had the curves of a crying face. She could no longer remember when was the last time she’d gotten her face threaded.
“I don’t know,” Taher replied.
“Could it be another body?” Maliheh said, “They must have found another body.”
Even if she hadn’t said the words, “another body,” they were going to have their breakfast while remembering that sticky summer morning and argue over choosing a name. That morning, the sun had crossed the Khorasan sky, waited in Gonbad-e-Qaboos and from there had arrived in their village to hang a milky color morning on Maliheh’s laundry line.
Taher was sleeping on a bed full of Sunday’s sun and woke up to the daily music of Maliheh’s steps. He was waiting for Maliheh’s hands to open the wooden door. They did. Before she put down the freshly baked bread on the breakfast spread, she said, “Get up, Taher. Get up.”
“What is it?”
“At the bakery, people were saying a body has been found.”
“What does that mean?”
“A dead body…everyone is going to watch. Get up!”
They walked to the bridge. A few people were looking down. Their numbers were more than the noises they were making. The impregnating wind was blowing toward a mulberry tree. A few young boys were sitting on the edge of the bridge; their legs dangling toward the sound of the water. Officers were crowding around a Jeep. By the time Taher and Maliheh arrived, they had loaded the dead body into the Jeep and had driven away.
“Who was it, dear?” Maliheh asked a young woman.
“I didn’t see.”
“Someone young?” Maliheh asked.
“I didn’t see.”
“You couldn’t see?!”
The young woman walked away from Maliheh. A man who was leaning against the railings on the bridge said, “I saw everything. It was swollen and blackened. A child, madar. A small child.
Taher grabbed Maliheh’s arm. The man, the bridge and the river turned the corner and left her view. A cloud of dust was all that was left of the Jeep that was speeding toward the village.
“That man called me mother, Taher. Did you hear him? He called me…”
The sun was down now. A small triangle of sweat was sitting on the back of Taher’s shirt. Maliheh asked him where they would take the child. “Was it a murder?” “Maybe the child was playing in the water when suddenly…”
The impregnating wind had not found a mulberry tree and was now returning. It was blowing on the chador on Maliheh’s chest. “I couldn’t find out how old the child was,” she said, “hold my hand, Taher.”
“Do you want to sit down for a minute?” Taher asked.
Maliheh was thinking how she wished one of the trees was Taher’s son. She said, “Ask someone where the child was taken.”
“Must be the police station, or the clinic.” Taher replied.
“I wish I could see.”
“What do you want to see? It’s a child.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“Do you want to go see Yavari?”
The gate of the clinic was wide open. A row of tall cypress trees stood in a line that stretched to the entrance of the building. They were so dry that they made the summer around them unnoticeable. Dr. Yavari shook hands with Taher and asked Maliheh if she was taking her medicine regularly. She said, “Yes.”
“Does she sleep well at night,” the doctor asked Taher.
“Doctor, they’ve found a child, have you heard?” she interrupted.
“Yes, I have.”
“Where is the child now?”
“In the storage closet.
“The storage?” Maliheh asked, “a child? In the storage closet?”
“As you know,” the doctor replied, “we don’t have a freezer here.”
“What will happen next?” Maliheh asked.
“Will be kept here till tomorrow,” the doctor went on, “if there is no claim, then there will be a burial, I suppose.”
“If no one shows up… If no one puts in a claim, can you give the child to us?” Maliheh asked.
“To us, Maliheh?” Taher asked, “What for?”
“To bury,” she replied, “to bury and maybe to love too. Even right now, I love…” Maliheh collapsed into her chador. The cry that had walked with her from the bridge to the clinic shifted under her clothes. The cloth on her thin body quivered and was now soaked in Maliheh’s tears.
Taher filled a glass of water. The doctor made Maliheh lie on the wooden bench. A small needle pushed its way into her arm. A small piece of cotton with a drop of blood on it landed in the bin next to the bench and Maliheh did not open her eyes nor did she say a word till sundown, not even after the sound of the train that was not coming was heard.
It was Friday. The curtain was standing up straight and the firewood in the potbelly stove was singing like a sparrow. On the other side of the window, the white winter was taking her white cold for a walk.
“All these names and nothing,” Maliheh said.
“We’ll figure out a name,” Taher replied.
“If we couldn’t choose it then, we can’t choose it now.” Maliheh asked, “What day was it, Taher?”
“What day? The day we went to the bridge?”
“No, the day after we went to the clinic.”
It was Sunday and still no one had come to claim the dead body. So, on Monday, they wrapped the child in a shroud and sent the body to the cemetery in a basket. On a day that would neither turn sunny nor become rainy, Taher and Maliheh stood outside the clinic. They were not wearing black. They began walking a bit slower behind the man who was carrying the basket. Sometimes he would switch the basket in his hands. Sometimes he would rest it on the ground or on a tree trunk. They went around the village square and walked into the only cobblestone street in the village. In front of a café, the man put the basket under a lamp post, which stood as tall as a tree without any resemblance to one. The café owner poured some water so the man could wash his hands. He remained there and drank a cup of hot milk. Maliheh looked away and walked past the basket. She felt a wetness seeping in her dress from her breasts. Taher slowed his pace. They waited a few steps from their own house for the man to return and walk ahead of them so as not to disrespect the funeral procession. They even saw their own balcony, where the window was still open to let the sound of the invisible train in and where a young Maliheh was bent over, watering the flowerpots. When she lifted herself up, an old Maliheh was stacking the empty pots on top of each other. Maliheh with a young body and black hair down her shoulders was pushing the curtain aside. Maliheh with a small face and henna-colored hair was walking behind in the rain.
A few drops of rain came down and the man with the basket entered the cemetery. Several steps away from the morgue, Taher and his wife paced around on the grass in between the graves. The gray, dusty ceremony took so long that they had to sit down on the wet grass. When the gravediggers left, the sound of their shovels stayed.
Taher said, “Get up, let’s go. Let’s go.”
Maliheh said, “Help me get up.”
They were attached. No one could tell who was helping who. The moment they were able to stand upright, Maliheh said, “The child is ours, no? Now we have a child who is dead.”
They were surrounded by tombstones, names, and dates. She said, “We must order a tombstone.”
“All right,” Taher agreed.
“We must choose a name.”
Taher said, “…”
Maliheh said, “…”
It was Friday. The curtain was standing up straight and the firewood in the potbelly stove was singing like a sparrow. From the balcony the sound of a crowd returning from the bridge could be heard. They were so loud that Taher and Maliheh could not hear the train coming or leaving.
FEATURED IMAGE BY Sh1ra via Pixabay
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bijan Najdi (1941-1997) was an Iranian writer and poet known for his collection of short stories, The Cheetahs That Have Run with Me. Najdi’s poetry and prose rich with elements of surrealism are considered some of the early experimental postmodern literature in Iran. Though he began his writing career at the age of 40, his only collection of short stories and two collections of poetry one of which was published posthumously are amongst the most read works of modern literature in Iran.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Parisa Saranj was born in Isfahan, Iran. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Goucher College. She works as a freelance translator and is currently completing a memoir of growing up in 1990s Iran. Her translations have appeared in several publications, including Nimrod International Journal, Your Impossible Voice, Body Journal, and The Blue Nib. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @PSaranj.