That Cosy Corner on the Left

Mehdi Rabbi was born on August 19, 1980, in Ahwaz. In an introduction to his second book, he says “I write stories because I can’t help it. Writing is for me like an infinite and joyous nocturnal wander.” He holds an MA degree in Dramatic Literature from Tehran and is a doctorate candidate of the Philosophy of Art at the Azad University of Science & Research, Tehran. The following short story is from his debut collection, “That Cosy Corner on the Left,” a nominee of Golshiri and Mehregan awards and the finalist of Rouzi Rouzegari and Journalists and Press Critics’ Awards in 2007, which is already translated to Italian and published by Ponte 33. It is translated from original Persian by Mohammad Mobahat, a poet and an English Literature graduate currently based in Tehran. 

When I close the house door, I sit there at the doorstep and tighten the shoelaces. I modestly and calmly pass the houses and shops in our neighbourhood. Then I slowly start to run. After every run, the shoes have to be cleaned with a damp cloth. This is because they get soaked in sweat, and if I don’t clean them thoroughly, the surface of their fabric gets dry; it gets scurfy, and is sure to tear after a week.

Tonight, it’s Saturday night, and the highway is quieter than usual. An Autumn wind, the pleasant cool thrusts through my body through the pores of my windbreaker. Rows of Persian Silk Trees[1] stand to witness the fast and ridiculous movement of the cars. Sometimes, they seemed to whisper to one another and snigger. With the coming of Spring, fragrant flower pods[2] begin to grow, the scent of which truly revitalises me. At times, I would pick a few, tie them together, and caress my face with this soft and fragrant broom. Fog lights scattered orange light everywhere. Now I have to stop by an old cigarette seller’s stall and buy a [3]loosie for after my run. So enjoyable it is. When you’re soaking wet with sweat; panting, with muscles filled with fatigue and lactic acid, lying down on cool grass in the park barefoot and smoking. I swallow the smoke and store it for the following nights, when I extract them from my lungs in future runs. I know myself that this is not the true reason for my runs, as I used to run even when I wasn’t a smoker. What was it for back then? Maybe I started after my first heartbreak in primary school. Or maybe it was to escape from the stress of university exams, or to forget unanswered questions. What difference does it make? The further I came, the more I saw.

Maybe in the last few years, these last few nights have been the only nights when I have run towards a particular destination. Towards the residence of an individual that I like, or am going to like. I don’t know yet. Although she hasn’t shown any signs yet. No green light, winks, or eyebrow flashes. But I guess every moment of silence should be interpreted as a form of consent. However, that is what they say, and I have accepted this theory yet once more this time. Come to think of it, where did I see her for the first time? When did we start? I don’t remember clearly. But I know one thing, that is, I think I know. After every defeat, I have either increased the distance a little or reduced the rests. I think this is why I’ve become so skinny. For instance, each break up with girls or women that I liked added five-hundred metres to my original route. The wrong paths I took and the regret I felt about why I chose them, one kilometre, and each of the other defeats have made the route longer, depending on their importance. A few days ago, one of my colleagues abruptly and quickly said: “Why haven’t you got married yet? Are you sick? Are you impotent?” ‘Impotent’, this is a word that has really preoccupied my mind for some time now while ‘running’. I somehow feel that they are linked.

Oncoming cars with their high beams on, completely distract me. They don’t let me focus properly. The intense light makes me lose my balance, and I have to focus all my attention on running properly instead of thinking, that’s when I increase my speed, I look at the cars that are passing by me and think about what they think of me. Some of them lean out up to their waist to blow a raspberry at me. Some say “more power to you”[4] . One of them once hit me on the back so hard that I nearly fell to the ground face first. From then on I try to run on the pavement as much as possible, and if there is no pavement, I try to at least keep my distance from the kerb beside the road. I sometimes look inside the cars. The two people sitting in front start talking or exchanging a short dialogue as soon as they pass by me. I am sure that they are at least talking about running, which I brought about. I find it immensely enjoyable. Especially if one of those two is a woman and smiles softly. Although I love running alone, although I choose certain routes to avoid meeting people, although I choose the quietest time of day to run, there is always a sort of need to be seen within me. Even when there is no car in sight for kilometres and the highway is absolutely empty, I always think there is someone who sees me. I straighten my back and maintain the posture of running.

I even talk to that imaginary person. For example I say: “how are you doing? I’m not too bad, I think tonight’s a good night.” Or I say: “Did you know! That life will not be repeated and this makes taking action almost impossible”. But it is possible to get a sensational feeling, and I do sometimes. Sometimes I talk with her all the time while I’m running. I talk to her about my mother and how I must behave in order to always avoid upsetting her, or about my colleagues and the mundane events of my day. What is even more astounding is that I think that imaginary person is a woman. A woman with black eyes and black hair looking at me from above with a never-ending silence. It is her silence that makes me talk, and compels me to speak all the time, and to talk so much that I wouldn’t have anything else left to say for a few nights. I think my new friend looks a lot like her.

For this raven-haired woman I will bring a few CDs of films and a poetry book. She had said: “I’m interested in poetry. I read it. I watch movies too. I also read novels. But not as much as you. As much as an ordinary city-dweller”, and had smiled softly. To be honest, from the beginning I was drawn to that high-pitched voice that tried to recite Shamlou’s poems with Shamlou’s own tone. Which poem was it? “Oh lady, whose gown nourishes the morning sun”[5]. I found these contrasting tones very attractive, I liked it. She is thin and frail. So much so that even under the tightest fitting [6]manteau, no bodily curves were visible to the eye. She lives calmly and softly, like a snail. She speaks in such a way that I have to constantly pay close attention to get what she is saying. Her mobile ringtone is a tune from an old cartoon. The same cartoons which to this day evoke memories that put us to sleep. Children’s music. Last week we went to the cinema together. I said “do you eat anything while watching a movie?” She said “no, but I’m a bit thirsty.” I bought two small inexpensive fruit juices. I said “where shall we sit my friend?” “That cosy corner on the left. Down there” She replied. We sat beside each other, one seat apart, and put our bags on the empty seat between us, she said “excuse me, but when I watch a movie I lean forward a bit to pay more attention. This doesn’t bother you, does it?” I said: “no, I tend to immerse myself in my seat and not speak a word with anyone.”

If I want to go all the way to their house by taxi, I have to take two taxi trips. And another two times on the way back. That makes four times in total. Four separate taxis. But by running, it takes four minutes. However, I run with stamina at a steady pace. If I want to walk a bit or buy ice ‘Faloodeh’[7], it will take longer. I haven’t told her that I’m going near her tonight. I don’t know what she’s doing right now. Maybe she is watching TV. Like the 10:30 news programme. Or maybe she is sitting on the couch, wearing white shorts with golden stars, a simple lilac shirt, and leaning forward, having a watery lime with salt. When we were returning from the cinema, she said: “do you eat food for the taste of it, or to fill your stomach?” I said: “usually it is hunger that drives me to eat, but sometimes I like to keep somethings in my mouth for a while before I swallow them.” She replied: “like what?” I said: “like roasted salty pistachios. Sometimes I really like to eat them with the skin, or to first circle them in my mouth and eat the kernel before the saltiness in my mouth disappears.

She said: “how do you eat limes?” I said: “like oranges. I peel the skin and then roll it in salt. Afterwards I put it in my mouth.” She said: “no, this way its too explosive. That is, you suddenly end the pleasure. This time try it like this, split it normally into two parts, add salt and only place your front teeth on its skin when squeezing it into your mouth. Allow the taste of the skin to blend with its taste.” I said “why?” She said: “I don’t know. I like it better this way.” When getting out of the car I said: “aren’t you going to shake my hand?” She replied: “I don’t want to have any particular relationship with anyone.” Then we shook hands. I waited until they opened the door of the apartment for her. That day at the cinema she had held the fruit juice in her hand for half the film. Even if a bee had sucked the fruit juice, it would have finished by then. It got under my skin; I took it out of her hand; I put it on the seat between us. She had finished it. It was just that she had inflated the carton with her mouth.

Sometimes, I don’t understand working hard to like someone. One-sided efforts. That love, suddenly and uncontrollably, grows and expands in one person, while the other person is totally unaware or indifferent. A suffering that causes the automatic growth of one person and the unwarranted shrinking of the other. Running this long route has made my feelings towards her stronger, but she herself, smaller. It is as though this strange and blissful feeling has nothing to do with that person. Maybe it’s because I alone am experiencing it, and am unaware of her feelings. The more I run, the farther away from her, and the closer to the fantasy of her, I get. All these trees, the smoke from the cars, the contraction of muscles, even the cigarette and ice ‘Faloodeh’, all distance me from her. Where does the fear of sharing these feelings with her come from? I have always been terrified of saying these things to my interlocutor. There is no doubt that I’m a dreamer, but why have I been willing to replace her with the dream of her. The thought that at this particular time, when I am at the peak of my yearning to see her, she may be on her way out of the toilet, with one hand on the flush handle and the other at the light switch, seems off balance and a situation far removed from the ordinary. 

Ever since I was a child, I have always loved the game of [8]‘Gerdu Shekastam’ Two people approach one another in a straight line with equal strides. What causes one player’s foot to step on the other’s quicker are the unimportant details of the game. For example the difference in foot size or shoe size, and which one started the game quicker, and if we want to be really strict, the asymmetrical distance between them.

I don’t know when it started to rain. What a night tonight has become. It’s one of those nights. I can smell the earth, and I am drenched. I unzip my windbreaker. My sports shirt is still dry. I slow down my strides. I take off my windbreaker. I turn my head up to the sky and walk with my head back. A multitude of raindrops from a place unknown. I open my mouth. I eat the rain. I am tired. From all these defeats. From all this madness.

The young ‘Faloodeh’ seller has packed up the seats around the stall. The rain starts to fall harder. His stall is a metallic yellow cubic on the pavement. It has no more than two lights. One he has hung from a pole assembled on the roof of the stall facing the road, and the other lights up inside the stall. Both with an orange light.

– “Are you late tonight?”

He swipes the plastic chairs with a dry cloth. I sit down on one of the seats he has dried.

– “Where are your customers?”

– “No sign of them tonight. That’s strange! ‘Faloodeh’ or fruit juice?”

– “No! Tonight I haven’t got any money”

He laughs. He gets up and puts some crushed ice into the blender.

– “Do you have the heart to turn down the treat?”

– “Thanks a lot. To be honest, I don’t feel like it.”

He adds green pieces of honeydew melon and closes the lid of the blender carefully.

– “I am serious, she has treated you to a drink. The boy that wears a white windbreaker and a white headband.”

– “Who has treated me?”

Frustrated, I take off the wet shirt.

-“Give some descriptions. A sign!”

-“She was wearing an athletic outfit such as yourself”

– “That’s all?”

– “The top button of her manteau was also unbuttoned”

He hands me the cup of ‘Faloodeh’. My hands absorb the coldness of the cup bit by bit. I place the white plastic cup on one side of my face. Then on the other. I walk out of the stall. I sit on the edge of the kerb beside the road and dip my feet into the water that had accumulated beside the kerb. My feet are immersed up to my ankles in the water. There is a small fruit juice on the lid of the rubbish bin next to the stall. I reckon it’s empty, but its carton has been inflated.

[1] درخت‌های برهان

[2] گل‌های پوپک

[3] one cigarette

[4] خسته نباشید

[5] ای زنی که صبحانه خورشید در پیراهن تست

[6] مانتو (A long, loose coat or overshirt worn by Muslim women)

[7] فالوده یخی (A traditional Iranian cold dessert similar to a sorbet)

[8] گردو شکستم

 (An Iranian children’s game: Two people approach each other with equal strides, the one who steps on the other’s foot first wins)

About Mohammad Mobahat 3 Articles
Graduate of Business & Finance (Heriot-Watt University) & Graduate of English Literature (Islamic Azad University). Poet, writer, and occasional translator. Raised in Hong Kong, Mohammad is also a professional IELTS instructor.

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