by Shahrnush Parsipur **
Translated from the Persian
by Farzin Yazdanfar
Altogether we had forty-two tomans and we were supposed to buy a twenty-nine toman umbrella. We bought it. It was raining hard outside. The salesman said, "The thirty-six toman umbrellas are better; they last longer." We nodded, took our umbrella and left the store. Mohammad asked, "Would you like to walk? This is the early autumn rain."
I replied, "OK." We started walking under the umbrella. We turned onto a deserted alley where we ate our sandwiches. When we walked down the alley and got to the main street; it was completely deserted.
Mohammad said, "Such nice fellows we are!"
I asked, "Why?"
"We had forty-two tomans, we spent twenty-nine tomans on an umbrella."
I said, "Perhaps the reason is that we're still young and we don't value money the way we should."
He replied, "Oh!" We kept on walking in silence for a while. Then he asked, "you know what?"
"You've gotten into the habit of justifying everything. I said that we were nice fellows because we spent most of our money on an umbrella. You started justifying it. Why?"
I thought he was probably right. I realized that I had even prepared answers for his next questions, but since he brought it up, I decided to keep quiet. I looked at the length of the street before me which seemed to be endless, and at the mud stains on the back of our shoes and socks.
I said, "Once I saw a French movie on TV; the movie had been made in one of the British colonies which, I think, was Eden or maybe Yemen. There was a British priest in the movie who was always carrying a black umbrella."
He said, "So what?"
I said, "Well, you know that it never rains there. It's interesting. Isn't it?"
I had a hard time explaining it to him. I just said, "The fact that the
French make fun of the British in this movie." I noticed that he was quiet.
I asked, "Can I smoke?"
"Yes, you can. There's nobody in the street."
We lit two cigarettes and started walking again under the umbrella.
He said, "You know, I was in love with a girl..." He said it very
indifferently. "Her eyes were blue. She used to run, she never walked."
I asked, "Was she older?"
"Yes, she was older, just a little bit. I thought seeing her would make me happy. I'm serious."
I asked, "Are you still in love with her?"
"I don't know. There are things that one can't understand. For instance, whenever I have nothing to do, I pass by her house, but I've never wanted to start a relationship with her again. Maybe because I'm too lazy - this laziness which is in the blood of everyone in my family. Don't you think so?"
I thought he was right. I said with little excitement, "Yes, you like to socialize, to go to movies, to study, or to think about your lover, but you never set up the energy. Or you like to listen to music and the radio is right beside you, but your lazy hand is lying on your stomach and you don't even want to raise it to turn the radio on."
He said, "Exactly. Most of the time I'm in such a mood. It's as if one were always on the threshold of a severe nervous breakdown. I think one shouldn't get used to things too easily. I thought the whole thing would be over if I could blush everytime I thought about her. I don't mean that I didn't blush. Everytime I thought about her, my heart skipped a beat; sometimes it beat faster... I could just go out, take the bus and get off in front of her house to see her, but instead I would see the day gone by and I was still lying on the bed thinking about going out."
I said, "Well!"
He said, "I don't know why I thought about her."
I said, "Maybe something reminded you of her."
"I don't know. Sometimes I think a girl whose walk is almost like a run, is the most delicate girl in the world. Well, I wish I could build a harem and gather women from all corners of the world in it - women who would run, not walk."
I burst into laughter. Mohammad said, "Look! Here." I looked in the direction where he was pointing and saw a dark narrow alley.
He said, "There's a bar here, the owner is a down-to-earth kind of guy - one of those unique guys who practice their religion faithfully but sell liquor despite their religious beliefs. He's a bit of a poet, too. In short, he's the type of guy who can make an impression at first sight. One night my friends asked me to go there. But, you know, I don't go anywhere if I don't have any money in my pocket."
I asked, "What do you mean?"
He said, "Well, I told them that I didn't have any money." They said, "Don't worry about it!" Then, we all went to his bar. You can't imagine how much we teased him. I mean my friends did, not me. He kept saying, "Well, you are young, you are not to blame." All of a sudden, I realized that it was midnight. We all were playing a tune and our humble barman was singing in his drowsiness. One of the guys, whom I don't remember, was reading Rumi's poems to him. When we came out of the bar, another guy who wasn't my friend - he was my friend's friend - said, "I guess this guy will never accept the logic of consumerism."
I asked, "What is this logic of consumerism?"
He answered, "I myself don't know exactly."
Mohammad's hand - the one which wasn't holding the umbrella - appeared to me
dancing in the air in a peculiar way. I asked him laughingly, " Have you ever
seen any of these consumer-minded people?"
"Oh! Yes, I've seen many."
That night while lying in bed, I thought about it a lot until I came to understand what my friend's friend had meant. Even this crazy idea of waking my father and asking him to go out with me for a walk, came to my mind - the idea of taking him to the street and asking him this question: "Will I, in the end, accept the logic of consumerism?"
Then, I realized what a stupid idea this was. You know what I mean. Don't you? Nevertheless, I had a strange feeling; I was like a person who had played chess all day long and at night his mind kept playing chess uncontrollably. One sentence was constantly repeating in my mind. I said to myself, "Be logical. If you continue thinking like this at such a young age, one day you'll be forced to buy a used car on credit and since it'll definitely be in need of repair, once in a while you'll have to take it to the repair shop..."
He kept quiet and began spinning the umbrella in his hand. I laughed and said, "You're talking strange."
He continued, "I went to see him the next evening . I said to myself, 'As long as this guy, named Hasan Aqa, is alive (the barman's name was Hasan Aqa), living the way I live is like committing a crime; it's like a perpetual nauseating experience.' I felt deep down in my heart that I had committed treason all my life. I put all the money I had in the drawer of my office desk and began to practice reading poems by Rumi and Hafez."
I said, "You are really talking strange."
He said, "Imagine this: after I drank too much, I recited every poem I knew by heart. Then, we sat down facing each other and looked into each other's eyes. The barman said, 'Nice poems, young man. Thanks! Are you going to leave?' I wanted to say, 'You know, I think lark is a pretty bird. Isn't it? Of course, I haven't seen one, but I think it's pretty.' I wanted to say to him, 'Let's go out someday to feed the wild pigeons and listen to them sing. Or let's go out to watch two cows mate...' But instead of saying all these, I just said, 'If you excuse me, I have to go.' Now, guess what he said."
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'Well, Sir, please pay for your drink.' This is exactly what he said."
I burst into laughter again and said, "What's wrong with that? He wanted his money. He couldn't give everybody a drink for free."
Mohammad angrily said, "To hell with the money! What I don't know is why he called me 'sir' at the last moment and why he said it so mockingly. And what kind of person are you anyway? Come and look at my forehead to see if it's written on it that this guy will in the end accept the logic of consumerism."
He brought his face closer to mine as he was hitting himself on the forehead with the palm of his left hand, which was free. I was laughing hysterically. As I was laughing and gradually moving away from his angry look, I said to him, "You're crazy, very crazy..." And I came out of the cover of the umbrella. He was still shouting 'the logic of consumerism' while spinning the umbrella. I noticed that the rain had stopped. I told him to close the umbrella. Then, all of a sudden, I realized that a long time had passed and I wasn't laughing and he wasn't shouting anymore. The umbrella was closed and both of us were looking up at the sky which was darker than our black umbrella. We started walking again and there was silence between us - a kind of understanding which was rare, as if the guy who is walking with you knows a lot about you and you don't need to explain yourself to him. We returned home in silence.
Right in front of my house, Mohammad said, "From now on whenever it rains,
we'll go walking."
I said, "OK."
He continued, "If it's raining hard, we'll stay in our beds and listen to the pitter-patter of the rain."
I said, "Alright." I knew that if it rained, this would be the only thing we would do, nothing else. So I said, "Fine with me."
He said, "But there's one more thing..."
He remained silent. After a short moment, he turned his back to me, said 'Good night' and walked away. I saw him walking away, with his image on the wet surface of the street which was reflecting the light of the lamp posts. With the closed umbrella like a cane in his hand, he turned towards me from afar and waved his hand as if he were shooing away a bothersome fly and I thought, despite all of this, how painfully sad loneliness is.