The Co-workers*

by Shahrnush Parsipur **
Translated from the Persian
by Farzin Yazdanfar

Persian painting

Persian painting: Meeting
Artist: Mohammad Hossein Maher
Oil on canvas
80cm x 125cm

It was one of those buses that the National Iranian Oil Company once in a while sells at auction, along with pieces of scrap iron and broken tin cans. The bus had been painted bright yellow with the company trademark on its right and left sides. Its glorious huge yellow body was standing by the gate, waiting for the workers who were arriving one by one, tired after having worked nine hours. They were letting their exhausted bodies drop onto the wooden seats of the bus, which were not so glorious.

The typist, who works in the supply room, was standing in front of the gate, bobbing up and down to keep warm. Sohrab Sepehri's poem When the security guard began searching the men, she turned her face quickly towards the buses and thought that it was time to go.

After the quitting whistle blew, she turned and looked through the window at the rain-moistened garden breathing under the remainder of the long afternoon sun, which had doggedly wiped the dark clouds off the sky. She saw the rose bush whose leaves were like somebody's dry and frozen hands pointing upwards at the sky.

Her boss asked if she would take the papers home to finish typing them or she would leave them for tomorrow. He told her that it would make him very happy if she stayed a couple hours in the office to finish the job. She hemmed and hawed and her boss, while looking down, whispered, "OK, you can finish it tomorrow."

She got up hesitantly and put all her stuff in her purse. While standing by the gate, she thought that disobeying a good, understanding boss was like being disloyal to him, so she should not have disagreed with her boss. Then, the preview of the movie, Madame X, appeared before her eyes. As the security guards began searching the men, she quickly went towards the bus, got on and sat in her own seat next to the one-eyed girl. The one-eyed girl always came early; then, everyone else would arrive. The one-eyed girl's friend, who was sitting on the seat behind them, tapped her on the shoulder. Her hand grazed the typist's shoulder; it made the typist involuntarily alert. The one-eyed girl turned back. Her friend said very softly,

"They've given me a warning notice."

"Why did they do that?"

"They say I'm spacey. Isn't it ridiculous?"

"Are they going to fire you?"

"I don't know."

"It's just a notice, then. Right?"

"Just a notice?!"

"Well, it's not so bad."

"It's awful!"

"It's all the supervisor's fault."

The girl, who was sitting on the seat behind them, tapped on the one-eyed girl's shoulder again. The one-eyed girl, now sitting on her seat upright, had to turn back towards her friend and, as a result, her shoulder rubbed against the shoulder of the supply room typist. She said, "Excuse me." The supply room typist shrugged, turned towards Dr. Saberi's secretary and asked,

"Are you OK?"

"Yes, I am."

"Will you go, then?"

"I'm going tonight."

"I'm sure you'll like it."

"I hope so."

Then, with no particular reason, she turned her eyes towards the people on the bus; almost everybody was there. Her eyes were fixed on the supervisor who was wriggling on her seat, tidying up her velvet jacket. A girl, who was sitting a few rows behind, told the supervisor, "Mrs. Baqaee, you look pretty today." Mrs. Baqaee, pleased by the comment, said,

"Are you kidding me?"

"Why would I be kidding you?"

"I don't know!"

The girl replied, "Honest to God! Giti, don't you think that Mrs. Baqaee looks prettier than usual today?"

"Yes, she does. She's really pretty." Mrs. Baqaee blushed. The same girl asked again, "Excuse me, Mrs. Baqaee, where do you go to have your hair done?" Mrs. Baqaee answered, "I have my hair done at Isabel. Everytime they charge fifteen tomans." The same girl gasped loudly, "It's too much! It's very very expensive."

Dr. Saberi's secretary winked at the supply room typist. As she moved her mouth pretending to have a conversation, she whispered, "Didn't I say that this hair do must have been done by Morteza, the hair stylist?" The supply room typist nodded once in a sign of agreement.

"This is stupid. They really squeeze us dry and we just keep quiet," the one- eyed girl said. Her friend, sitting on the seat behind her, asked, "What's stupid?" "Working like this is stupid. They bleed us white and we can't complain."

The vein on her forehead was now bulging. The girl sitting on the back seat said, "You just gotta find a husband; that's the only solution."

"A husband? Humph! Who wants a husband?"

"You mean to say you don't wanna get married?"


"Well, maybe it's hard to find a husband. Isn't it?"

"Who cares? To hell with it!"

"No, I'm serious, Feri, it's really hard to find a husband these days."

"So what! Instead, I'll go to bed with my new shoes on."

She turned back and smiled at her friend. There was some pus gathered at the corner of her bad eye. The supply room typist, who had heard the conversation from beginning to end, also turned back, but when she saw the one-eyed girl's bad eye, she turned her face away.

The girl, on the back seat, interrupted the one-eyed girl's laughter and told her, "Feri..."

"What is it?"

"... Put on your glasses."

The one-eyed girl stopped laughing; she silently began looking for her glasses in her purse. She took them out, put them on her eyes and sat upright.

As the bus began to depart, Dr. Saberi's secretary called the supply room typist who was looking carefully at the driver's bald head.

"What is it?"

"I think you should definitely go. You'll miss your chance."

"I'll definitely go, I'll go with my brother."

Then the bus started off.

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Translator's Note:



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