After the meeting, I told Ramin, ‘You spoke well. You showed them who’s boss!’ ‘Why were you so quiet?’ he said, ‘you should’ve taught them a lesson, too!’ After this pointless exchange, we returned to our office.
I didn’t join the colleagues for lunch. I hadn’t even bothered to get lunch coupons for the whole month of October. All the food from the eateries around the office makes me sick. I believe our firm has handpicked the most disgusting options for us. I’ve brought two sandwiches from home. Willie cream cheese and scrambled eggs. I made these using Nastaran’s sandwich-maker – part of her dowry. It’d been collecting dust for four years until I started using it last month. Once, I advertised it on Deevar classified ads website, but nobody was interested. Someone offered to take it for free. She said she was working in charities, helping newlyweds to build a life. I told her, this sandwich maker belongs to my wife, and if I give it away for cheap, she’ll kill me. And it’s a great sandwich maker. It’s new. It’s German. Or at least that’s what’s written on the box. I was careful to keep the box. I don’t have the stamina to deal with Nastaran’s complaints if I throw away the box of her Braun sandwich maker. She’s looking for an excuse to have a go. She articulates the issue once, and then a bout of silence follows, and after a few days, as you start to believe she’s gotten over it, she resurrects the corpse of the problem. This is her method. She’s not impulsive, she has a gradual tactic that works through patience and perseverance, and finally ripens and explodes.
Ramin insisted I go out for lunch with him. I showed him my sandwiches. He swiftly picked one and finished it off with two bites. ‘This is an appetiser!’ Ramin said, ‘Come on! Today is Gheimeh Stew Day at Khatoon’s!’ When he finally realised I’m serious in my refusal, he said, ‘At least ask Nastaran to cook you a proper meal for god’s sake; she’s a good cook!’
‘She only cooks when her father is around, the beloved colonel!’ I laughed. ‘Otherwise, she has a diet milkshake.’
After lunch, Davoodi treated all four of us in our partition to ice cream. He had bought a new car: a cheap Iranian-manufactured Renault which the National Auto Industries sell at twice the price of the French original to us tame and law-abiding citizens. Davoodi’s treat was spot on, my snack was definitely not enough, and I could hear my stomach rumbling just an hour after my light lunch. The saffron ice cream sandwiched between two wafers helped. Afterwards, Ramin and I went out to have a cigarette, and Ebrahim brought us some tea. My teeth were hurting. Our poor teeth. Mine are a mess. I’ve been using Sensodyne toothpaste to alleviate the sensitivities; although it’s been getting more and more difficult to find the original one since the sanctions. I know it’s my own fault. The status quo is always our own fault. The product of our own stupidity. I clenched my jaw.
I wasn’t too busy at work. That’s how I like it. I counted my cigarettes. One at 10 am. One at 2 pm. One at 5, after work. I had an unlit cigarette hanging from my mouth as I was leaving the office. The guards gave me a nasty glance. To hell with them! Rabid dogs. I told them once that this is not a state-owned firm, so they have no right to take it out on us. One of them said, ‘Dear engineer, but it’s not a fully private firm either!’ and they barked with laughter. Guards of hell.
Ramin sorted out our tickets for next week. He went back and forth to the admin a few times, flirted with the secretary, then afterwards murmured joyously in my ears, ‘the office guesthouse is full, so I asked them to book us Hotel Homa instead!’ ‘Well done!’ I told him, and we fist bumped. Then he reiterated not to forget our Friday night plans. Of course I wouldn’t, how could I? What fun do I have other than these Friday night hangouts? Then putting on a sad face, he asked me not to bring my dog, ‘because Sarvenaz is allergic.’ It’s obvious he’s lying. He’s terrified of dogs. I don’t give a fuck. Pablo is my dog, and honestly I don’t care at all if others like him or not. Plus, when I was in the therapist’s waiting room, Sarvenaz asked me many questions about adopting a dog and the costs and everything. It was clear she was curious and thinking about bringing a pet herself.
I was relieved when Ramin told me the guesthouse was all full. Last year, we stayed there for two weeks. Upon my return back home to Tehran, Nastaran burst in tears, and told me about her miscarriage. My bag fell on the floor. I still remember the dull thud. She told her story, then calmed down, saying it didn’t hurt much. With all this rather unreliable history, I’m happy I won’t have to return to that horrid guesthouse again. Who knows, otherwise this time upon my return Nastaran might’ve handed me Pablo’s head on a silver plate.
On my way home, I went to Park Laleh, and did a few rounds at a fast pace, thinking it’d do as a workout. My armpits got drenched in sweat. The inferno guards were right; my shirt was really tight. Then I walked up Amir Abad. The main pavement was blocked due to construction works. I jumped into the street. A bus honked in my ears and passed me by in a hostile way. Perhaps, it wasn’t hostile, and it was my own fault. But either way, my Dorsa satchel and along with it my wrist got dragged a bit. I was so shocked I couldn’t even insult the bastard bus driver. Thank god nothing worse happened. Several passers-by came to check on me, but soon they realised it was nothing serious, and dispersed. How could they tell it was nothing ‘serious’? My heart was jumping out of my chest. In the convenience store, my wrist started to hurt. And also my darling satchel had a scratch; I rubbed it with saliva and the right cuff of my ‘fashion’ shirt, but the scratch didn’t disappear. I took a can of Rani with peach pulps and a pack of Camel Ultra Lights. But couldn’t remember the PIN for my bank card. I rummaged through both pockets for cash but didn’t find any. I was going to put the Rani back in the fridge, but the shop keeper said, ‘don’t bother, I’ll do it myself.’ What a rude asshole. I left the shop.
As I was walking home, I massaged my wrist and my still thumping heart. Nastaran wasn’t going to be home until later. I had a nap and then at dusk took Pablo to the tiny triangular park around the corner. Poor boy was so happy! I feel so guilty about keeping this poor creature in this claustrophobic flat, in this hideous city. I told him, wait until you see the huge parks of Sydney. Spacious. Hundred-year-old trees. With kangaroos and squirrels jumping around. Although I haven’t actually seen the parks myself, and honestly, I’m not dying to see them either. Qom, Tehran, Sydney. If it was up to me, I would flush all the three down the toilet. Except that I think I’d be able to buy original Sensodyne in Sydney. Other than that, the empty corners of Park Laleh are enough for me. With Pablo… No leash… At night-time, suitably stoned, when it’s quiet and there aren’t many people around. The truth is, I haven’t even digested my move from Qom to Tehran. All these years have passed since the first year of uni, and still Tehran seems alien to me. How would I be able to deal with another move then? To Sydney…
Sometimes, I think I need to talk to Hakim Zadeh about my recent interest in weed. And the fact that I haven’t told Nastaran about it. She must’ve noticed though. My red eyes? But this one has an easy excuse. Tehran’s pollution. My short attention span? My mutilated sentences? But this has always been a chronic trait of mine. Also, I don’t think she would care that much. In turn, I don’t bother with all her fashionista and influencer hype on Instagram. But then Hakim Zadeh might relate all this to my surreptitious tendency of keeping secrets. A person who has a secret wants to hide something; wears a mask. Eventually he’ll relate it to Freud or Lacan and spit out a quote. Jacques Lacan; with an emphasis on the soft French ‘J’ as if they’d been old mates. Recently, I have started to read Irwin Yalom. I want to learn to argue with Hakim Zadeh. I hate the fact that he’s the Wise Man, sitting up there, analysing me, seeing through me. And as to that, giving often cheesy analyses and insights really. He bores me. With that closed collar of his. This time, after our fifth or sixth session, I wanted to quit, but the thing is Sarvenaz is still going, so, maybe his sessions do actually help after all? On Tuesday, I waited for Sarvenaz, and we went to Café Koocheh in Yousef Abad. Close to both of us, to Amir Abad, and to Golha Square. At first, I kept my head down, I didn’t know why I was there. Sarvenaz stretched her legs, and I noticed her plump white Nike trainers. I wish Nastaran would wear a pair like these instead of those old-fashioned high heels. And she thinks she’s good at fashion. With her silly Instagram clothes shop, or ‘boutique’ as she calls it. I told all this to Hakim Zadeh. He suggested couple therapy. I didn’t respond.
After dinner Nastaran and Sarvnaz went to the kitchen to do the dishes. Ramin prodded his arm against the counter, telling funny anecdotes about the office. Hotel Homa was also mentioned. I shouted from the living room, ‘Well done, Ramin! You did amazing, that fucking guesthouse makes me sick.’ Then I got up and joined him. I took a photo of the two women as they were washing the dishes, their backs to us. Ramin was staring at Nastaran’s back as he was fiddling with his glass. Perhaps at his wife’s back? But logically, it would’ve been Nastaran’s back. No matter how sculpted, he had seen his wife’s back all these years. Other than this, last night was pointless.
Nasataran’s parents came to ours for lunch. Before their arrival, I rushed to move my car to the street, so there would be space for colonel’s Toyota Corolla in the garage. Yesterday, I purchased a family pack of chicken thighs from Shahrvand supermarket. Nastaran was going to cook Zereshk Polo, because dear colonel loves Zereshk Polo. I love it, too. But it was almost noon time and we hadn’t done anything yet. The plan changed. We decided to order kebab from the local eatery, Sabalan, but make the rice and salad at home. I put the pack of chicken in the freezer immediately. I knew from the moment I purchased that chicken that Nastaran wouldn’t be cooking it. I started with Salad Shirazi, and Nastaran kept complaining that the cucumbers were too big, and ‘dad’ wouldn’t like it. I wanted to say I don’t give a fuck. Instead, I slid the knife on the counter top and told her ‘Please, you do it then.’ Of course, she didn’t do it. I have no idea how to describe these small frictions to Hakim Zadeh. I don’t know how to articulate that they are ruining me. I worry he’d say, so what? This is life. This is what marriage is like. I think I hate Hakim Zadeh.
The colonel didn’t eat even a single piece of the lamb tenderloins, even though we insisted a lot. He said he can’t because of his gout. Nastaran’s mother also complained about the traffic from their posh neighbourhood in north Tehran on the way to ours. I said there’s hardly any traffic on Friday at noon. The oldie is going deaf I think. She just continued the same old complaints. Why don’t you move near us? The air is fresher, the people are better, and so on and so forth. I explained that Amir Abad is near my work. I explained that I’m an office boy, an engineer. Told her about the rituals of taking Pablo to Park Laleh. And then I jokingly added, if it’s about distance, we would have to move to Qom, near my parents. Nastaran, don’t you agree? Perhaps, we should move to Qom? I teasingly poked her with my finger. It was like poking a stone. Nastaran didn’t even blink. Pablo was sniffing colonel’s socks, and colonel was batting him away, as he was describing the magnificent trained Dobermann’s of the Shah’s royal army. Finally, I shouted, ‘Pablo, stop it! You motherfucker!’ Nastaran hissed and turned pale. Sudden silence. Soon after they said goodbye and left.
In the evening, Nastaran shouted at me, ‘I’ve told you a thousand times to be polite in front of my parents. Haven’t I?’ She was right. And then she continued, ‘What’s all this nonsense about Qom? Firstly, we’re going to Australia, secondly, your precious mother never ever recognised me as family, perhaps, because I’m three years older than their prince charming!’ She was right. I explained that my parents are just old-fashioned people, but there’s nothing in their heart. ‘There is nothing in their brains either,’ Nastaran said, ‘apart from spider webs and a bit of tradition.’ ‘Please don’t disrespect my parents,’ I muttered. I didn’t say I’ve just realised after four years, that our marriage was a mistake. I haven’t even told Hakim Zadeh. In fact, I don’t even know what I talk about in his office. I’d promised myself to tell the truth during my therapy sessions. But the truth just doesn’t come out.
How did it come to this? I don’t remember when I started waning. Perhaps, after the miscarriage of Fariborz. I was an idiot to give a name and gender to a one-month-old blood clot. Hakim Zadeh says I’m a pessimist. He says even my mourning for a blood clot was not authentic, was distorted. ‘You were mourning something else.’ But what? I don’t know. I just know I loathe my current life.
The sun disappeared early. I was still in our offices, but outside the sky was grey. I glanced at Ramin, he was minding his own business. I took my phone, and looked at the photographs from the soirée again. I paused at the picture of the two women. I zoomed in on their buttocks. I coughed and played Little Red Rooster again:
Dogs begin to bark and hounds begin to howl
Watch out strange cat people
Little red rooster is on the prowl
Davoodi said, ‘Sorry, but could you please turn it down? We can hear it, too, you know?’ I stopped the music, then sent a cute dog video to Sarvenaz on Instagram. The night before, we didn’t have dinner. I’ve been doing all the cooking. I took out a few chicken nuggets from the fridge. By the time we’d returned from the triangular park, they’d defrosted. Amir’s nuggets are amazing. I have no idea how he makes the batter, but I can tell he uses a lot of garlic powder. I made salad. Chunky bits of lettuce, thick crescents of red onion, incidentally, from Qom which has the best onions, and generous splashes of olive oil. Nastaran didn’t eat the onions, she noted she had an ‘important’ meeting tomorrow and could not risk bad breath. She only had two nuggets, and even that after scrubbing away the delicious golden batter. After dinner, her plate looked horrid, like the remains of a war crime. I wish she hadn’t eaten the two nuggets at all, so I could wrap them in some Taftoon bread with lettuce and take to work for tomorrow’s lunch. After all these years, I still haven’t understood her food habits.
At night, I felt a sore throat developing. Before bed, I took Amoxicillin antibiotics to nip the flu in the bud. Monday was going to be the day of my work trip with Ramin, and I couldn’t travel sick. Before bed, as Nastaran was rubbing her face cream in circles, she said, ‘In Australia, you can’t just take antibiotics without a prescription. It’s forbidden.’ ‘Good night,’ I said, then took Yalom’s book from the bedside, ‘I’ll sleep later.’ I went to the living room and lay on the couch. Pablo sprawled by my feet. I could hear Nastaran stuffing a rolled towel under the bedroom door. Good for her. She quit smoking during the first year of our marriage.
I really did have a meeting. I was counting on Ramin. He’s great at these meetings with the clients. He knows the ins and outs of our job. He’s sharper than me. Healthier than me. Always making the right decision. One such decision being Sarvenaz. Ramin looks like a gorilla, I have no idea how he ever chatted up Sarvenaz. Sarvenaz told me they also have immigration plans. I didn’t ask the details. I’m like this. If someone tells me something I listen empathically, otherwise, I don’t pry. Especially if that someone is Sarvenaz. Although I’m a bit surprised about Ramin not telling me anything about their immigration plans. I will talk about this to Hakim Zadeh next week. Perhaps, one has to be secretive like Ramin? These are the unwritten rules of this society: a bit of secrecy doesn’t hurt. If someone follows these simple rules, they wouldn’t be in need of Hakim Zadeh and the likes of him. In my opinion, nobody really needs Hakim Zadeh. With all his framed certificates on the wall. Psychoanalysis workshops in Bulgaria. Three-day workshops in Baku. And so on. A wall of awards. But Sarvenaz is happy with him. But then, Sarvenaz is generally happy. Anyone who’s with her would be happy too. I don’t know. This might be her exterior. Like her white trainers. Or her ‘gel’ green nail varnish. Like her loose white manteau, which was floating like a flag of hope in the breezy alley of the café.
Ebrahim brought my fourth cup of tea in the afternoon. I didn’t smoke because of my sore throat. It worked. I wanted to treat myself on the way back home. I was careful not to get run over by the buses again. I even gave nasty glances to a few drivers, but I don’t think they noticed. On my way out, Ramin reminded me not to be late. I wanted to meet him at Mehr Abad airport. But he insisted he come and pick me up, so we could go together. I accepted. As soon as I got home, I brought out my suitcase. Nastaran’s sandwich-maker’s cardboard box was stacked on top of it. I threw it back into the closet, but it tumbled back and landed at my feet. I stamped on it a few times without really knowing why. When the box was good and destroyed at last, I got tearful. Pablo picked up the smashed cardboard box and ran to the living room, thinking it was a new game we were playing.
If you see my little red rooster
Please drive him home
When we passed Azadi Square again, I wound down my window. I was hesitant about asking the driver to change his direction and take the highway to Qom. The air smelt like bus fumes. I wound up the window, and asked myself, ‘What is there in Qom? Are you mad?!’ I recalled my Sensodyne toothpaste was in the suitcase I had left with Ramin, and then thought that chalk paste was probably fake anyway. When we reached Ramin’s street, I asked the driver to stop. I thanked and paid him and got out of the car. My heart was bouncing out of my chest. I have no idea why I took off my shoes and threw them in the bin. My feet felt cold on the asphalt. Then I walked to No. 13. I took a few deep breaths. A pebble stuck to my sock. I rubbed my foot against the calf of my other foot to clean it. Simply, I was free. I pressed the bell with such compelling determination that I knew I’d never known it in my life before.
Nikzad writes literary fiction and nonfiction. His debut novel, ‘Disappearance’ was published by Rowzaneh (@rowzanehnashr) in Iran, and his most recent translations include The ‘Last Wolf’ by László Krasznahorkai and ‘Repetition’ by Peter Handke. He is working on his second novel, to be published in 2023 by Saless (@salesspublication).
His blog—running for almost 20 years now—gained a dedicated readership in the Iranian blogosphere of the late 2000s.
The short story Rooster was selected and won an award in the Tehran Short Story Competition, 2020.
This is Nikzad’s Twitter account—although it’s mostly in Persian: