Short Story

Shahrnush Parsipur (Short Story)The Gentlemen

Author Shahrnush Parsipur has written eleven works of fiction and memoir. Translations of Parsipur's stories appear in Stories by Iranian Women since the Revolution (1991) and Stories from Iran: A Chicago Anthology (1991). Her career receives treatment in Michael Hillman's From Durham to Tehran (1991). English translations of Parsipur's major writings were in print by 1992, when the author toured the United States. A bestseller in Iran, Touba, Women Without Men; like many of Parsipur's books remains banned. Imprisoned by the Shah's security agency and the Islamic Republic in turn, the author now lives in exile. Parsipur was the first recipient of the International Writer's Project Fellowship from Brown University and currently lives in California. 


Translated from the Persian by Farzin Yazdanfar

There were three gentlemen: Mr. Tahmooresi, Mr. Habibi, and Mr. Nemati. They were sitting on a patio covered with an old rug. The evening was rather long and the sun was on the edge of the roof. Mr. Tahmooresi, half-drunk, was looking at the rain spots on the wall and at the sun which was setting on the ledge. Mr. Nemati, cheerful, was whispering a popular song.

Mr. Habibi: She has a good heart. Yes, she's very sincere.

Mr. Nemati: There's something attractive in her voice. A strain of sadness! Her voice is unusually sad.

Mr. Habibi: They say that she has had a tragic life, too. Her aunt raised her after she had tragically lost her parents.

Mr. Nemati: How strange!

Mr. Tahmooresi: You guys are talking too much.

"So what do you want us to do?" The other gentlemen asked.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Keep quiet for a moment and look at the beauties of nature.

Mr. Nemati and Mr. Habibi looked at what Mr. Tahmooresi had called nature: An incongruous polygonal pond with two rectangular flower- beds on each side. The violets had withered, and Mrs. Tahmooresi had not gotten a chance to plant summer flowers. They had sprinkled water on the mosaic tiles, and steam rising from the wet tiles had made the air in the backyard swelter.

Mr. Nemati: What do you mean 'nature', Tahmooresi?

Mr. Tahmooresi: Don't try to split hairs. This is nature. Isn't this?"

Mr. Habibi: Of course! You told us to look at nature and we would like to know what you mean by nature.

Mr. Nemati: I know. He means this pine tree, these violets, this blackberry tree. Am I right Tahmooresi?

Mr. Tahmooresi: I think you don't understand what I'm saying. I mean something different. Perhaps the word 'nature' isn't quite the right word. I should look for a different word. Look around carefully. This is what I meant: you shouldn't talk too much; you should look instead.

Mr. Habibi: What should we look at? I don't get it.

Mr. Nemati: He's right, dear. We should look around. We just talk. We've been talking for 2500 years.**

Mr. Tahmooresi: According to history, 2800 years. I don't understand why we're insisting on 2500 years. Humanity has existed for a million years.

Mr. Habibi: Not humanity, 'humans'.

Mr. Tahmooresi: 'Humanity' is symmetrical with 'human'. One is meaningless without the other.

Mr. Habibi: But it's correct to say 'human'. For instance, Dr. Barnard,*** who performs heart transplant operations, replaces a human being's heart; he doesn't replace humanity's heart.

Mr. Tahmooresi: You're just playing with words. Well, if Dr. Barnard can change the heart of human beings, he'll somehow be able to change the heart of humanity. Won't he?

Mr. Nemati: But let's be honest. The question of humanity aside, Dr. Barnard seems to have started a good business. There's nobody to ask him what the fuss is about.

Mr. Tahmooresi: I really like Nemati. He never lets the argument end up with a quarrel. I was once a soldier serving in the army in Kurdestan. I mean I wasn't a soldier. I was higher in rank, I was a lieutenant...

Mr. Habibi: This is how they fool people. They think that if they give you a couple of badges and promote you to a higher rank, they have the right to bully you. I don't understand the logic behind it. Why do they waste two years of one's life?

Mr. Tahmooresi: It's obvious. If a war breaks out, there should be some people to fight. After all, how would a war be possible without soldiers?

Mr. Nemati: I don't understand at all what the real purpose of war is. I read somewhere that war isn't part of man's nature. Man invented war.

Mr. Habibi: Man invented God, too.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Voltaire argues that if there was no God, man would invent one.

Mr. Nemati: Man has indeed made so many inventions. This two- legged creature is capable of doing so many things.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Take these missiles for example. And there are cannons with a range of 200 kilometers.

Mr. Habibi: Nonsense! How can a cannon have a 200-kilometer range?

Mr. Tahmooresi: Of course, there are such cannons. Otherwise, what would be the purpose of these sham quarrels among the Great Powers. There was once, when the Great Powers wanted to divide the world. Now, they don't need to do that. Why? Because they put a warhead on a missile and shoot it to completely destroy wherever they want to destroy.

Mr. Habibi: Humanity is indeed in danger. One has to do some serious thinking about it.

Mr. Tahmooresi: One has to think. One should look, not talk.

Mr. Habibi: One should think, not look.

Mr. Tahmooresi: What's the difference? When one is looking, he's also thinking. When one is thinking, he's also looking.

Mr. Nemati: I don't understand exactly what you're saying. What do you mean?

Mr. Habibi: If Stavrogin **** believes that he has believed, he doesn't believe that he has believed. If he doesn't believe that he hasn't believed, he doesn't believe that he hasn't believed."

Mr. Tahmooresi: What? What the hell are you talking about? The Great Powers are dividing the world and starting wars, you're sitting here philosophizing.

Mr. Habibi: Everybody philosophizes. For instance, take the Hippies. They want to see the world in peace. By the way, do you know that the Hippies have been influenced by the Eastern philosophies?

Mr. Tahmooresi: (offended). One must be stupid not to know this, however, one should bear in mind that Hippism is labeled as a Western phenomenon. Westerners are very shrewd; they think everything belongs to them. They steal so skillfully that nobody takes notice of it.

Mr. Habibi: What do you mean by 'stealing?' Do you mean 'stealing' from a materialistic point of view or a spiritual point of view? We have the stealing of objects and the stealing of ideas. These issues should be cleared up.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Everyone knows that you have a Ph.D.

Mr. Habibi: You didn't understand what I meant at all. Why are you deliberately misinterpreting me?

Mr. Tahmooresi: I'm not misinterpreting. You should admit that you like to play with words instead of discussing issues.

Mr. Nemati: Let's change the subject. I read an article about 'brain drain.' It was an interesting article.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Let's face it. You're too proud of yourself, Habibi.

Mr. Habibi: You're strange. We're just talking. True that there are differences of opinion, but why are you always arguing?

Mr. Tahmooresi: Me, arguing? You're the one who's always disagreeing with my opinions.

Mr. Habibi: You know, Tahmooresi, you're suffering from a complex. That's it!

Mr. Tahmooresi: Oh, yeah

Mr. Nemati: I was talking about 'brain drain.' My brother isn't willing to comeback home from America. I've written him so many letters and begged him to return...

Mr. Tahmooresi: You, shut up!

Mr. Habibi: Don't be so cranky, Tahmooresi. We were having a good time. You're so strange.

Mr. Tahmooresi: You guys really annoy a person.

Mr. Habibi: These days everybody is upset. Everyone whom you talk to, wants to tear you apart. Well, I don't know.Perhaps this anger is caused by the solar explosions.

Mr. Nemati: What do you mean?

Mr. Habibi: Every now and then the sun has a series of explosions. Some philosophers argue that wars, human misery, and man's other related problems are caused by these explosions.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Nonsense! This issue has been resolved for a thousand years. Man wages war for economic reasons. The issue is an issue of loss and gain.

Mr. Habibi: Really! Can you tell me what brings about this issue of loss and gain?

Mr. Tahmooresi: It's obvious. Man is essentially a profiteer and he wages war to serve his interests. He should be restrained by some power.

Mr. Habibi: By what power? By the power of faith?

Mr. Tahmooresi: No, the power of faith could be effective if everybody was equal. I mean everybody...

Mr. Habibi: The problem with you, materialists, is that you want to explain everything from an economic point of view. You don't take spirituality into account.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Spirituality? What do you mean by spirituality? Do you mean the solar eruptions?

Mr. Habibi: No, the eruption of the sun is a materialistic phenomenon. Even so, I didn't say such a thing. It is very strange.

Mr. Tahmooresi: What is strange? - the fact that you're more educated than we are and can talk at the college level or the fact that we have to listen to you?

Mr. Nemati: You're going too far.

Mr. Tahmooresi: You, shut up!

Mr. Nemati: OK.

The voice of Mr. Tahmooresi's wife could be heard from inside the room, cursing: "May you all drop dead! Why don't you go to bed and shut up?"

Mr. Tahmooresi: I think we'd better go out to that small bar around the corner to continue our discussion.

The gentlemen agreed.


Translator's Note:

  • * "The Gentlemen", by Shahrnush Parispur (a contemporary Iranian fiction writer), in a collectoin of short stories entitled Avizehha-ye Buloor, 1st edition, Tehran: Entesharat-e Raz, 1974, pp. 59-64.
  • ** This is a sarcastic reference to Mohammad Reza Shah's celebration of Persian Monarchy.
  • *** Christiaan (Neethling) Barnard performed the first human heart transplant operation.
  • **** Nikolay Vsevolodovich Stavrogin is the central character in Dostoyevsky's novel 'The Possessed.'






Morteza Miraftabi (Short Storty) The Planter in a City Window


Translated from Persian to English by Reza Azarmsa

The long and continuous factory whistle echoed throughout the city. A thin muscular man, head up and walking tall, appeared from the end of the street. He passed us by on the street, carrying two green and crimson poinsettias. His hair was neatly combed and he wore a work shirt.

He ignored the old rug merchant’s concrete house as he passed it by. The merchant recently had been murdered there by his son, with own axe. The house was sealed off. I saw the mans arms blue vein and his rugged face as he glanced at the sky and then at the planter. He seemed to have a pair of burning candles in his eyes. Because of the bushiness of the plants leaves, the pot and the branches could not be seen.

Nasser said:

“How can he do this on the block? What do people say..on the block..?”

Ali moved the bag’s shoulder strap and said, “If he does this…”

He passed by the front of the bank in which some workers had gathered to receive their paychecks. He paid no attention to the people nor to the big sign with the white lettering: “Come back tomorrow for paychecks.” As he walked, the green and crimson leaves of the poinsettias were shaking. He had taken advantage of a short lunch break. At 12:30, the factory whistle would blow again. He had half an hour.

A red-cheeked woman came up from a public bath’s stairs and passed him. A man standing in front of a big scale was selling baskets of nectarines to the vendors. The scent of yellow-red nectarines filled the air. The baskets were full of nectarines and the wide-mouthed sacks were full of watermelons.

The man passed two long alleys and reached the brothel. He stopped in front of the green door. We stopped a little bit further down the street. There was something hidden in all our faces. Anxiously, we seemed to want to say something; but we were quiet. The man knocked at the door and looked towards the top window of the house. From where we stood in the distance, we saw the man looking up and talking. The leaves of the plant were quivering. The man’s head was moving. His shoulders were shaking with laughter.

When the man was at a distance from the house, the poinsettias were gone from his hands. We looked curiously up at the sky when the man passed by us.

In the second floor of the house, we saw the poinsettias, which had been placed in front of the window, towards the alley. A breeze was moving the leaves. A small, feminine hand had placed the plants in the window. The man crossed from the long alley by the brothel, near the concrete house of the man who had been murdered by his son with his own axe. We saw the green and crimson leaves against the blue background of the sky. We saw the woman watering the plants, watching the man walking off into the distance.

Reza Jula'i (Short Story) The End of Remembrance


Translated from the Persian by Farzin Yazdanfar

It was raining. Rain, mixed with snow, was coming down all evening. Under the dim streetlight hanging from a wooden pole, I could see the small bubbles on the pavement. A carriage passed me, its hood up. I could hear the sound of the horses' hooves. Once again, it was Lalehzar Street in the late hours of a Saturday night in winter.

A woman stood in front of the theater. Under the light of the entrance, her back to me, she must have been waiting for a carriage or a cab. She wore a black overcoat, a scarf with a floral print and sandals not suited to the cold weather. A man pulled down the iron curtain of the theater and locked the door. "Goodbye, Ma'am," he said, limping away.

I thought she was a singer or an actress working at the theater. Hearing my footsteps, she turned around. In the dim light, it took me a while to recall her face the way I had known it many years ago. I asked, "You're Ms. ... I'm not mistaken, you are Ms. Khatereh."

In a hoarse voice she said, "It is damn cold tonight! Do you have something to say to me, young man?" and coughed drily.

"I knew you many years ago. You were my neighbor." I told her what our neighborhood was called and added, "I was in love with your voice." I was too shy to tell her that I was in love with herself as well.

She said, "I'll never find a carriage nor a cab at this hour. Don't you have a car?"

I said, "No, unfortunately I don't...but I'll find a carriage for you."

I regretted having said that when I looked at the deserted street, dark at both ends.

"If I can't find a carriage for you, I'll walk you home and make sure no one bothers you."

"Someone bother me?...Are you kidding?" The cold made her shift from one foot to the other. She coughed.

"You won't get wet if you stand under the canopy." Reluctantly, she went towards the canopy as if she had just become aware of the snow and rain. Under the light, I saw her face clearly. Her hair had turned gray. Her overcoat and her scarf both were old.

I said, "I'd always wanted to see you in the concert at the Grand Hotel," and added with embarrassment, "but I couldn't afford the ticket."

She said, "That bastard! He doesn't let me go home when he closes the box office. Now, I have to shiver in the cold like a dog."

"I loved your voice so much that I decided to learn to play the violin so I could play in your orchestra." Of course, I did not tell her that I hadn't been able to afford a violin and I had become a tailor's apprentice instead and now I had to stay up late and push the needle even on a Saturday night.

Khatereh moved to our neighborhood many years ago - our neighborhood with its long alleys and mud-brick walls; the gurgling sound of the neighborhood women's hookahs; the grocers with their henna-dyed hands using their abacuse behind their old cash registers. Khatereh always wore a red hat and golden shoes. Her voice was loud and high-pitched.

She had rented a big house close to ours and was living there with her old housekeeper. When people in our neighborhood passed her house, they would turn their faces away and walk faster. They had forbidden their children to go near that house. Once in a while, a car would park in front of her home and a few men, dressed in suits and ties with their pomaded hair carefully combed back carrying long black boxes would go in.

My parents would whisper in half-swallowed words about what was going on between those men and that lewd woman. My mother would ask, "Do you think they drink liquor?" My father would answer, "I'm certain of it...That slut!" I didn't know exactly what the word "slut" meant, but whatever it meant, it would make them furious.

I said, "You had a magical voice. When my friends and I became older, we would stand behind the walls of the garden where you had your concerts and listen to your voice intently. We didn't even dare breathe and we made everyone keep quiet."

She asked, "Do you have a cigarette?"

Embarrassed, I answered, "I don't. Do you still sing?" She looked at the sky and said, "How can I get home tonight?" She started walking and I followed her.

I said, "The winter's almost gone. Spring will soon arrive."

She said, "Spring's a long way off. My legs are always hurting me."

I eagerly started walking beside her. I wished I had an umbrella with me. She smelled the way she used to smell in those days.

One summer afternoon, Khatereh sat at a window opening on the street. She wore a sundress that showed her white arms. In her hair pinned to one side, she wore a flower the color of her lips. She smiled at me and said, "Hello ... What is your name?" It took my breath away. "Are you being shy? Every day I see you hanging around here."

Leaning against the window sill, she added, "Poor boy, you seem to be embarrassed. Has the cat got your tongue?"

I was so flustered that I ran away. I didn't tell anyone, not even my friends. They wouldn't have believed me. I wrote her a letter telling her how much I loved her voice and the flower that she had pinned to her hair. She left our neighborhood that same year.

I said to her, "My friends and I used to put our money together to buy your albums."

She said, "There is a carriage over there. Can you get it?"

Under the rain, I ran towards the carriage. I offered the coachman every penny that I had in my pocket and begged him to take us to our destination. As the horses turned towards her, I closed the hood of the carriage. When we reached her, I jumped down and took her arm to help her in.

I sat beside her. The carriage driver grumbled and asked, "Where to?"

"Tell him to go to Mushir A`zam Street." She coughed and added, "Stupid bastard! He doesn't light the charcoal brazier in the ticket office. I've caught a cold."

I could hear the sound of the rain falling on the hood of the carriage and occasionally, the horses snort in a burst of steam. I had nothing to say any more. Her overcoat smelled musty and of moth balls. I had given up my dreams of playing the violin. Instead I was spending my days and nights sewing.

It was completely dark around us.

I wanted to tell her that people had never truely understood her talent at its worth. I wanted to say that people had yet to show their appreciation. But I didn't.

"I was thrown out of your neighborhood," she said. In the dark her face turned towards me. She said, "Would you like to come to the theater?

This made me happy.

"I have a ticket here," she said and opened her purse to look for it.

"I can't find anything in the dark," she said and finally handed me a small piece of paper. "Do you have change for the fare?" she asked.

"Of course, I said. "Don't worry."

She didn't say goodbye when she got off. She said to the coachman, "This gentleman will pay the fare."

With her legs that hurt, she disappeared in the dark street. At the intersection, I got off.

Rain, mixed with snow, was still coming down. I paid the fare. Under the light, I looked at the small piece of paper that she had given me. It was a torn half of a ticket. I pressed it in my fist and walked away.