Winner of Iran's 2007 Short Story Competition
The Ants Which Had My Father Eaten
by Ghazvin/ Ali Ghane
Translated by H. Bassiri
It took half an hour till they brought him, to take him down the stairway two cops were holding his shoulders, I was sitting there in my car staring at the whole situation, yet couldn't manage to find out either if he gave them our house number or taken from his file by the officials of the jail.
When it rang mom answered it, at night as I came back from my job, found her growling and confused. When I asked about the reason: "let him get the hell…it seems he's going to keep casting his inauspicious shadow circling over our heads down to the never day."
She hardly talked about him, always insulting, a couple of days later she explained:
"None of your concern, Find the damn a place, let him live the last days of his life in rest and peace, he doesn't die easily though."
How terribly old he seemed to become, twelve years ago when I saw him for the last time, amongst the crowed he slapped me in the face and left the court of law saying nothing. Whenever I recall that day my eardrum hurts. I used to think if I see him the next time I'd give him a slap in the face in return, but again I remembered my mom's words:
"He is still your father anyway, no matter how cruel he has been to us, leave him some money as well, he is a man, men can not tolerate being broken penniless…" we just shook hands, it wasn't like there was no eagerness to hold him in my arms and kissing his face but I think after all that long time being far away in a state of forgetfulness the only thing seemed to be right to do was a cold shaking hand, just that. As he came closer, took a long, deep look, observing every little part of my body very much carefully. After a little pause he explained: "okay …"
I opened the door of the car to help him getting in. as he was scanning me far from my eyes he left his sack on the back sit. He looked weak and more broken than ever he used to be. Started the engine and asked him "where to go".
He wetted his dried skinny upper lip with his tongue answering: "move on I'll tell you".
I didn't like smoking very much but occasionally, once or twice a week. But that day I bought cigarette and matches as I was driving to the prison and I left them on the dashboard intentionally to be seen. The sense of visiting him, had made me nerves but I didn't wish him to see me in such condition, didn't want him to notice that. Twelve years of living an orphan like life and the hardship I had to tolerate along with my mother, was not a nasty joke, there were twelve thousands questions waiting to be answered. While driving tried to look at him as I was speeding up the cars or looking at the people passing the street, there wasn't any sign of that old disgusting face left anymore. Took the cigarette, I couldn't realize if either my hands were trembling or not, I thought, I should show him my Independence and that I am a grown person, in my unconscious mind I was waiting to be beaten again, to feel the slap in my face one more time. I knew he was a chain smoker. Since the first days of my childhood every time that he used to hold me in his arms, to soothe me down I had to go distracted from the strong horrible smell of his mouth. When I lit my cigarette, it didn't seem any specific changes in his face to exist, perhaps he was so smart and invisible to keep it concealed and uncovered from me. He took out his lighter and cigarette saying: "okay …"
Saying "okay" like this had driven me crazy each time more than before. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and turned to me while saying: "go to this address … I don't know, if the street name is still the same …" the name of the person in the address attracted me even much more than the address itself,"Aazam's place".
I couldn't ever remember mother mentioning this name"Aazam", yet I was day dreaming of him and the name in the address, when he suddenly asked: "not married yet"
"Not yet, I've just been graduated and now working for an engineering firm" I replied in-curiously. To prevent him of saying "okay" again, I turned the radio on. I had a lot to tell him but I didn't want to speak with him at all, perhaps it seems ridiculous, I thought if I listen to the issues he wanted to tell me I would have betrayed my mother then. But I wondered: does it vary. I was pushing the gas driving in high speed because I wanted to get the address as soon as possible for getting rid of him. Another half an hour at most, Then he would be leaving and our life would be the same as all those years we passed without him, situation gonna be exactly the same as then.
Aazam's picture was created inside my mind in deferent shapes, figures of all Cinema and TV negative actresses I had ever seen were before my eyes. Of those women who destroy family lives and their pictures are shown in the newspapers. I didn't know how my reaction would look like when I meet her face to face. It was really weird, how could I hate someone this much while I had never met them. Coincidently or unluckily amongst all those programs it was broadcasting a program over the issue of divorce and its related damages threatening children. Apparently he had no interest in listening to such programs. He inserted the cassette into the car stereo and after a few seconds of listening to music another "okay".
I never wanted him to think that I left that cassette there on purpose. How could I realize that he likes Sitar music, Mom had never spoke to me about his behavior and temper, she just calmed herself down by insulting him.
"How's your mother getting on, is she still as stubborn as hell …"
I was about to explode, he didn't have the right to talk about my mother in such a way, he had no right to judge her, controlled myself and swallowed the keen answer my mind prepared to give away." Mother had advised me to avoid humiliating him, "our issue is deferent than yours. It has nothing to do with you".
He became silent when he didn't get my answer to his question and he said nothing the rest of the way. We entered a narrow lane, I looked around and asked: "is that it"
"Park it this side" he said, next he got out of the car and rang the bell of one of the doors. He looked lame as he was making his way to the door and every few steps he had to hold the wall with his fingers, this helped him to maintain the balance, I thought of getting out the car to help him walk but I changed my mind at once. If up there it was my mother he was going to meet sure I would take him on my shoulders up the stairs instead.
He waited there for a couple of minutes but no respond appeared to be, how stuffy the weather was that day as much as it had made breathing difficult. He rang the next door's bell and talked to someone from behind the door, it was an old boring flat, apparently our situation with the money he occasionally used to sent us looked a bit better, I had pulled over a few meters away because I didn't want to see his mistress, I saw him coming back to the car from the side mirror, he looked very much sick and walked awkwardly. Couldn't hold myself and got out of the car to help him getting in. he shut the door and lit up his next cigarette. Even though he had difficulties in respiration but he didn't quit smoking. He took a questionable look round the front side of the car, when he was waiting out side the car I put the cigarettes and matches in the dashboard. "Not available … let's find a place to eat some grids of Kebab" he said it unsatisfied.
Where else to go to , I didn't know but I knew where "Kababi" was located very well, I had a feeling of that I was under his supervision since he was freed from the prison, he chased me the way I couldn't realize, what ever it was, there was a sense of satisfaction in his face, it was like he was enjoying my every move, speaking, appearance and shape and everything related to me. He had reconsidered his old habit of finger shakes; I remembered it from the past. He was rarely in the right mood but whenever he was he used to shake his fingers, there were the days he had no argument with mother, we used to go to a park, cinema or on a trip. Sometimes he shook fingers and whispered something.
He looked back. I was expecting him to look concerned and worried for his mistress but his appearance didn't prove it at all and as he was sitting calm on the seat explained: "no one knows where she is, her neighbor said: "it's been quiet sometime since she has left, she has moved, she has no one to go to, I couldn't send her money because I was imprisoned for such a long term, poor her, I don't know where she is now …"."
Now it became tasteless and meaningless if I would say: how better could it be if she would be lost in hell years ago. If I could have said; I'm glad of seeing them in such a misery and that I've been dreaming of their collapse, I didn't want to treat him like those boys suffering from inferiority complex but there was an undeniable fact that even now that I am twenty five years old yet can not get over this feeling, I couldn't forgive them, I kept myself calm and silent, that is I tried very hard to keep it this way but he was using every alibi to break it. Again he looked at me and asked: "tell me how you doing … you and your mother I mean".
It was extremely inevitable and out of control. He pulled the trigger and nothing could be done to defuse it…
Look sir. Just for your personal record you would better know that If I am here sitting next to you that's not because I really want it, if I was allowed I would leave you right here at the middle of nowhere because I think, I mean I believe you have stolen some significant parts of our life with you. Where? Of course you know it better, the same years that left us alone, chasing your own …, saying it is a shame. Now it's not necessary to be worried about us, whatever the color of our life is it has nothing to do with you now, as always…"
Picked the cigarette pack from the dashboard and took one angrily. I had better stayed calmer, I shouldn't go that far. I was ashamed of myself for calling him sir. But what else I could have done, since years I had even forgotten how to spell up the word father. I wasn't sure of my mother reaction if she could see me behaving like this, she might be happy because now her son is a grown man and taking revenge of the monster destroyed our life. It felt silly. The broken down man with his darkening extracted eyes sitting in the car didn't look like either the mythical monster or the ugly beast coming from our history. He lit up his lighter for me calmly but at least he didn't repeat that combustible word this time, he only turned up the speaker volume. Mother had asked me to be polite and to reach a compromise, a year before ending his prison sentence he was pardoned. The said cancer is developing and he has only a few months left to live.
Farahzad Gardens was his suggestion. He said before going to jail whenever he wanted to write something important for the papers he used to drive to here, it wasn't always for fun sometimes he used to meet all the editing staff here
They decorated the table the way he desired to, some Kebab, buttermilk, tomato and fresh hot bread, a kettle of tea also ordered to be serve after the meal. The garden was noticeably quiet big and covered by trees, dinner took us a long time, around the evening when we entered the restaurant it wasn't busy yet, he choose one of the traditional tables by the pond. A fountain of water was falling down the wings of frigate bird into that pond. "we sit here, weather's fine out here … ". he stretched down his legs and leaned his back to the pillow by the wall. Ordered the meal without asking me of my wish and the right of making my own choice, It seemed he could still remember I'm not very much into Kebab. The lights of the place and the decorative little one over the branches of the trees were turning up one by one and the guests were appearing to be arrived gradually and sat under the bowers . he called the waiter and ordered Indian corn and black berry, I guessed he is going to buy me crisps and ice cream in next few minutes. I started to check the time by taking frequent look at my watch, that is, it's getting late and we should leave as soon as possible. His eyes caught the empty cigarette packet and asked in a friendly manner:
Could you please get that cigarette from the car . as I was coming back from the parking lot of the garden to where we had sat suddenly something came to my mind and flashed up, why didn't he say: get your cigarette from the car, was that because he didn't want to accept that his son is not a smoker, it felt ridiculous and funny, what sort of things I was becoming sensitive to, passed him the cigarette and asked where to go now, have you any other place to drive you to. He answered with laughter. No I dun have any body else to go to, I might go back to prison, there would be the best choice, I was becoming accustomed to it, I didn't want to go out they released me themselves".
He didn't like the taste of my cigarette so he put it out in the ashtray and continued.
'I'm kidding. I know a little hotel down town, I go there, the hotel owner is an old friend of mine, and sometimes we held our meetings there. Sometimes I had to go there alone; it always had a quiet peaceful room far from noise and interruption for me …"
He remained silent for a quarter of an hour, I was waiting to leave, I was concerning about mom and her interest and eagerness to find out what happened between us in details.
He wrapped his legs, sat before me and stared at my eyes and unexpectedly asked: have you ever slept with a woman… a full night I mean till the next morning to fulfill the insatiable desire, the whole night long".
I was shocked, tried to stay calm, felt like sweat on my forehead, my body has become extremely hot, not because of either experiencing it or not but in such situation I wasn't really ready to face his question, rare to be asked by my own father.
Look …I dun know how to explain it to you; I dun mean any sexual relationship, Ah shit on that. It might have happened for me and you and everyone for a hundred times but I dun know why we as human as soon as one of those lust or desires, only one of them satisfies our wishes really tasty its memory sticks and ticked in our mind forever, makes us to put our neck for and no longer the craps around us are of no value to care for any more, nothing bothers us at all".
I wished this discussion to come to an end immediately; his faced had turned to a twelve years old boy. The same day in the court he told mother that she is making a terrible mistake and walked away angrily from there. He was tickling to the pressure point and nothing could stop him.
"it's called love, poetry, ode, you name it and the fact of the matter is that if a couple could have a real great sexual event as satisfactory as they could satisfy each other then there would be no boundary to keep them away from each other as long as they live, it doesn't matter what is they going face or the consequences might look like".
He stood up, took his coat to leave but he couldn't stop himself of saying more and added a few other phrases.
"exactly like the very same Kebab we just had tonight, if all through your life you have managed to taste the real Kebab and the enjoyment of smashing meet under your teeth then for a long time even for the rest of your life you could bear eating rubbishes like the one we had tonight and would be much easier to carry on. Do you get it my son, me and your mother could never ever have … let it go".
I was following him a few steps from behind, I didn't dare to pay the bill, I was sure he would never let me to do that. I saw him spending the last pennies in his wallet and gave the tip to the waiter. Then we drove away. Took the address and entered the city from the ring way, the word "my son" reached out my fleshes and my muscles started to give me tickles, opened the window, the wind was lashing on my face and the words were circling in my mind, couldn't remember much about the past, the reason they always fell in arguments and fight were mother's numerous grumps, my father and coming home late and so many other vague issues. Remembering them couldn't help to make the current situation work better, I had a full day off that day but I had to be at work the next day, I had to prepare myself for my wedding day, the big day in a few months, I wasn't sure if he would like to be there, mom had already told them that I have no father in the first place but a few months later I told them that my father is alive and he lives separately. I removed my ring from my finger before I saw him the first time before the jail, I wanted to inform him as we were sitting in the car driving to our destinations several times but every time for a ridiculous reason I paused and hold myself. It was nearly midnight when we got there. He had said that his friend is also alone and lives in one of the rooms in that hotel. Before he takes his sack to get out of the car, paused for a while and put his hands on my shoulders. To be honest it was really great and meaningful, felt like I have never had that much powerful and heavy hand on my shoulders for years, some little black traces like a corps of aggressive ants depicting the development of the cancer on his skin, the way like he means to apologize said:
"You wanna know why did I slapped you in the face that day in the court of law … ".
Puff…! He didn't miss the target, it's been years since I was seeking an answer for this question but there and that special condition I wouldn't like him to collapse in front of me, kept my face down for I didn't want him to face my eyes. I went stuttering
"it's not important now, we will talk it over some other time, I have no idea what you are talking about".
He said: I just wanted you to know that I didn't slap in your face because you backed your mom, no, besides I became really happy, I was enjoying of seeing my thirteen years old son has become man enough to stand steady on his feet with his Mannish voice coming out of his throat, that moment I desired of holding you in my arms to kiss you. But beat you. With all the power I possessed. Because you were supposed to live alone and become a man by yourself, you didn't plan it, we decided for you, we had no alternative, we could no longer bear each other, I wanted you to shout loader and to step much more steady, wanted you to receive the first slap from me to get ready for the rest you're gonna face later to be able to tolerate its burden …"
He opened the car door and stepped into the street, slow and step by step as much careful as he could maintain the balance and walked toward the hotel arrival, I couldn't stop myself, stepped down the car and helped him to the door way, his hand was in mine but I couldn't speak, went speechless, not even a word, got in the car quickly, he stood there till I started the car and drove away, he was looking at me, coincidently he touched the money I left him in his coat pocket the last moments, a meaningful smile appeared on his face, nodded and said "Okay" …
Opened the window of the car and said:
"You got my number call me if needed anything"