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Bastard

Look! Look at what they’re doing! It’s as if they have turned into hyenas. They circle it, they growl and claw at it, but they have no guts. They’re still afraid. They cannot believe that its wings are tied, its beak is bound, and its eyes are covered. The bird is shrieking, struggling, suffocating. I’m wondering how it will all end when I hear a knock at the door. I ignore it. I’m sure it’s a stranger. They pound on the door. Sitting on the stone platform, I fidget. I hesitate. What if it’s Leila? I get up and cross the yard. A little farther away, the cats hiss, perhaps expressing their gratitude to me in their own language! I can’t see it. By now the bird has probably stopped moving and its carcass has been torn into and its feathers licked. I put my ear against the door. There’s no one there. There was, but no longer is. Whoever it was has gone away. I walk back. Before reaching the platform, I pick up a shoe and hurl it across the yard, it hits the wall. The cats let go of the hawk’s carcass and scurry away. Flesh, blood, and feathers, mixed together, on the pavement of the yard. Leila or Ozra or Tahereh, what difference does it make now? What can I possibly do? I’m angry at the hawk, at Hamid, at people, men, women . . . mostly at myself.

Blood has clotted, congealed, and turned the color of crap—liver crap. Why did I kill it? I light a cigarette. At the very least, it would have lived another ten years. We would have had another ten years of amusement and pleasure. I ended it. I exhale the smoke. I think the bird was ill-omened. It didn’t know its limits. It was impudent. I say, Everyone’s blood is their own responsibility. The hawk’s blood was its own responsibility. I’m heartened. I believe I’m right. I am emboldened. I say, If I were to go back in time a hundred times, I would do the same. I would let it have it. I turned its wickedness onto itself. I go back to the platform and sit down. Flies have surrounded what’s left of the remains; they buzz. I’m suddenly frightened, uneasy . . . from where did the evil come? From whom? Is it now gone?

The cats return to licking and eating the carcass. Of that entire hawk, little remains but its beak and feet and a handful of feather and down. Its breast and thighs have been torn off. Treacherous cats, they have even eaten its eyes. Not that I have any sympathy for it or wish to express compassion. I’m only remembering its eyes—they were wolfish, gold enameled, with pupils that resembled marbles, dark in the center. Sometimes the hawk bristled and became agitated, it behaved as if you had pilfered its father’s bequest. The way it puffed its feathers and lay in wait, you imagined that any moment now it will fly at you with open beaks and pluck out your eyes. Jinn would get into its skin. Especially lately, I had noticed how wanton it had become. That last night with Leila, it shrieked in a way that frightened me. The ungrateful bird had forgotten all that lean meat we wasted on it.

We fed you the equivalent of two fat pigeons a day, and for what? For you to become insolent? Wild? I snuffed you out. I let them tear into your flesh, rip off your skin; a lesson to others. A dog has one God, one master. But you faithless bastard turned into a wolf!

No. I have no regrets. I do have worries, but regrets? No, I have none.

I go to the far end of the yard and take a kebab skewer from the skewer holder. Again, the cats disband and retreat. I don’t know why I inspect the remaining bowels and innards. It’s as if the truth I seek lies somewhere in that blend of feather and flesh.

I turn on the faucet and aim the garden hose at the stone tiles. Blood splatters on my trousers. I fetch a clamp from next to the well and reduce the water pressure. I go back and continue washing away the carcass, doing away with the corpse, ending the miracle. I’m not weaving superstitions or boasting. I’m neither brainless nor an old fogey. This and that person, those aware of the incident, believe each other’s words and rumors. I don’t. Comfortably, I neither accept nor reject it all. I don’t exaggerate the inherent miracle of the animal, nor do I deny it. It’s just that I don’t exactly remember if it shrieked that last night with Leila. I don’t remember if it glowered after Faegheh left. Did it bristle at the women? Or at me sleeping with them? I have doubts. I start asking repetitive questions that go in circles. Did I kill it because it bit the hand that fed it? Had it ever attacked Hamid or me?! Had it ever clawed at me?! Had it ever injured me?! Why did I kill it? Was I afraid? Yes, I was. But not because I thought it was more than just a bird or that it was a jinn or even that it was a healer and a redeemer. No! I’m not an idiot. But afraid? Yes, I was, I will not lie. It could smell what was to happen before it happened. It was as if a sign, a clue, a hint from the past, from the future, would suddenly penetrate its mind and it would sense things. Time would become condensed and it seemed the animal could see into it. And then there were times when you would see it sitting in the corner of the cage, tame and still. Quieter than a sparrow, as if it never had been that other beast.

But I shared Mother’s belief. She used to say the bastard was the seed and spawn of the devil, that it was wild, that it had no inkling of kindness. And in truth, it didn’t. It was impudent and obstinate, with penetrating eyes that struck fear deep in your soul. Aha! This is why I killed it. But I wonder why it didn’t flap its wings? If it knew I had come to kill it, why did it not claw at me? It is true that I was wearing gloves (they were thick and could withstand the creature’s claws and experienced beak), but why did it not struggle? If what people said was true, why did it do nothing? Why did its strength fail?

I aim the hose at the animal’s remains and I wash it toward the mouth of the well. It is larger than the opening. I stab it with the skewer to shove it in. I don’t want it to get stuck there. Torn flesh and feathers sink in and water rises to the surface. Wouldn’t it have been better if I had burned it? What if it stays there and continues to cause trouble? For a moment I laugh at the thought and a second later I’m angered by it. The ridiculousness of it causes laughter and its probability creates dread. My anger deepens.

Regardless, the essence of what people said was true. They did exaggerate, but the crux of the story was factual. The bird attacking Jaber was true, but not the drivel about it clawing at his jacket, tearing his pocket, and pecking at the coins that fell out. That didn’t happen. I saw it attack Jaber, and if it weren’t for Hamid he would have surely lost his eyes, gone blind.

When Jaber arrived, the hawk was sitting there, pecking at its feathers. It was tame when he walked in and said hello. Perhaps it was because Jaber asked what the bird was worth that it suddenly started acting as if it was possessed by spirits. In any case, as soon as Jaber Khan saw the hawk, he said he was willing to forgo the last three installments of what we owed him in exchange for the bird. I was willing, but Hamid said he would rather die than give up the hawk. He said he would somehow come up with the money. He said all this quietly, so Mother wouldn’t hear. But Jaber wouldn’t give up. He raised his voice and shouted that money doesn’t grow like weeds, that it doesn’t come free for him to squander it. Hamid was still composed. He said what we borrowed, we would repay. He said there was no need to shout. He said we have a reputation to maintain. But Jaber wouldn’t relent. It was then that I realized he was using the remainder of the loan only as an excuse. Before he saw the hawk, he never used to gripe about money. But now he had seen it and he wanted it. I’m certain that’s what it was all about. He stuck his face in Hamid’s face and demanded the bird or the money, immediately. And he yelled that he wasn’t running an orphanage! It was then that Hamid went crazy and told Jaber to shut his trap. I know why he said it. Hamid was always sensitive about not having a father, as was I. He looked at Jaber and told him to shut his mouth or he would shut it for him. Jaber knew if Hamid lost his temper he could tear him apart. He knew Hamid had no fear and was good at wielding a knife. He backed down. But Hamid was still looking for a fight. He was just warming up. He said he would have that primate, that parasite, that usurer, sent to the wastelands. I put my hand on Jaber’s shoulder and told him it was best that he leave, that he should go before trouble starts. Jaber turned around, grumbled, and was about to head for the door, but the hawk didn’t give him a chance. It leaped and flew at him with such force that if its foot was not bound by a rope Jaber would now be in the ground.

I had heard how agile hawks were, but until that day I had not seen it with my own eyes. Sharp, swift, it flew aiming for Jaber’s jugular and . . . I told you, if Hamid had not been wise and had not tied down the bird, Jaber would have been in awful trouble and his place would have been in a grave. The hawk didn’t reach Jaber, but it shrieked and screeched until he left. It ruffled its feathers, flapped its wings, and leaped from side to side. In fact, what happened that day became the bane of its existence. Word spread that the hawk was clairvoyant. People said it had clawed at Jaber the moneymonger. They said that it had an eye for truth and justice, that it could distinguish between a man and a scoundrel . . . and other such nonsense. If it had an eye for justice, why didn’t it pluck out Hamid’s eyes? Didn’t it see the ruse he was contriving? Didn’t it see his hoax? Didn’t those damn eyes see all that Hamid was doing? Didn’t the bird see any of it?

Hamid had people stand on a line that stretched ten houses away. You should have seen the racket we had going! I set the rates, he ran the business. Hordes of people came for a single look at the hawk. The first person on line would come in and stand in front of the hawk for a few seconds. The theory was that if the bird leaped and thrashed about, it meant that the person was shrewd, shameless, a profiteer and an exploiter; and if it remained quiet, the person was honest, innocent, and pure. The idiots! The hawk decreed whether they were a human being or an animal! They didn’t know! They couldn’t understand! An animal was judging whether they were man or beast! And with people this asinine, we treated them like asses. We stuck their heads in the trough and worked them. Each in our own way. Hamid took charge of the men’s line, I managed the women. We each did our own thing. Hamid was busy with money and I with . . . we left each other alone. I would sit and look, leer, and lecherously lust. People brought girls before they asked for their hand in marriage, they brought fiancées before they wed, they brought wives before they divorced, and sisters-in-law before . . . whatever they wanted, from hen’s milk to human life, we offered it. They wanted us to offer it and so we did!

In the beginning the hawk wasn’t all that wrong. It was impressively menacing when the town’s riffraff stood before it. It must have seen things. But then sometimes it would hang its head and slouch in front of those same scoundrels. Its behavior was inconsistent and unpredictable. But it wasn’t its fault! After all, it was a bird, an animal, not a human being. It wasn’t a prophet! We were the ones who had painted a zebra and passed it off as a peacock and created a miracle. We had squeezed a profit out of nothing. Admit that I was right to snuff it out. Admit that I was right to do away with it. At some point, I came to and realized that we were creating sinners, may God forgive. Now I pour water on the bloodstained tiles and God bears witness that today I crush sinners. Praise be to God.

In fact, take the story of me and the hawk to be that of Moses and the Samaritans. God alone knows what I have done and why I have done it. The sheep-worshiping sheep would stand in line and beg, plead, and whine as if it was the line to enter heaven. And Hamid would rope them in and swindle them. He paid twenty tumans for the bird and made twenty thousand from it, believe me. Of course, I don’t deny my brother’s cleverness. He said when he saw the bird in the Sadassmal market, it grabbed his eye and he bought it. If it were me, I’m not sure I would have bought it, but Hamid did, and he brought it home and he scored. When I say scored, ignore the fact that he is now in prison. He will be gone for only a few days, a few months at most, and then he will come back and take the money he has stashed away and he won’t have a care in the world. The only thing that will likely trouble him is the absence of the bird. He will pine for it and grieve for a few days and then he will revert to his old self—a rogue, a thug. If you ask me, I will even say that he wasn’t all that wise. If he was, he would have noticed that the hawk only sometimes hit the bull’s-eye, not always. The glitter of coins had blinded him. And he put the blame for that final trouble on Mahmoud the pigeon flyer. He said Mahmoud was the one who had spread rumors all over town. He said he was the one who led the crowds. He said it was his mischief.

I stab the skewer into the well. It unclogs and the water sinks in. I throw down the hose, turn off the water, and I sit on the stone bench near the front door. Now, other than a piece of its skin, its claws and its beak, nothing is left of the hawk. If Mahmoud finds out, he will give alms. Oh how peacefully he will sleep after these past months! Free from the nightmare of the hawk, his pigeons can again take wing and fly. Not that I ever saw it hunt the pigeons. The hawk wasn’t greedy; it was blamed for Hamid’s petty thieveries. Two or three times he caught poor Mahmoud’s swift pigeons, cut off their heads, and fed them to the hawk. He said the bird craves fresh meat and if it doesn’t get some, it will fly off and leave. Mahmoud had his suspicions and filed a complaint. But Hamid was devious. He bound the bird’s beak with thick tape and covered its eyes with a rag and hid it in some corner. When the policeman came, he looked around, found nothing, and left. It was then that Mahmoud became vengeful. And it is because of all this that I say Hamid was a fool.

It had hardly been two or three months into our carefree living and reveling when one morning we woke up and found out that rumor had spread from the twin poles all the way to Ab-sardar that the hawk had healing powers. God forbid! The house turned into a shrine. We bolted the door, but it wasn’t sturdy enough. We thought it would break open any minute. We stood with our backs braced against it, barricading it. Hamid and me on this side, throngs of the suffering on the other side . . . the lame wanting to walk, the mute wanting to speak, the blind wanting to see. It was bedlam. We quickly realized it had all gotten out of hand. Mighty God! Droves and droves of cripples, climbing over each other, jeering.

We wondered what to do. Hamid said we should set the hawk free and let it fly away before the police arrived. If they came, they would penalize us both for having bought a banned bird as well as for the hoax. Have no doubt, they would fix it so that there would be jail time, too. In the end we hid the bird. Still, when the police came, they took Hamid away. Now, it’s just me and this house, and no Mother. She left that very first day—the day we lined up the crowd and put on a show. She said it was sinful. She said it was ill-fated. She cursed us. She said she will leave and not come back unless we repent. I think she realized that the hawk had dignity, that it could see and perceive goodness and decency. Mother was old, but she wasn’t blind, she wasn’t deaf. Had she not heard how the bird had bowed its head before Seyed Javad the cobbler?! They say the old man was sitting in his shop, under the stairs, the bird had flown out of Hamid’s grasp and gone over to him and had bowed its head in respect, as if greeting him in bird language. Had she not heard all about it?! Most certainly she had. But she was against its presence. She couldn’t tolerate it. She said it was God’s test. The hawk had come to evaluate us. It was our blight. Once we started our ungodly deed, Mother left and sought refuge in our ancestral estate. She said, I will not return until you repent. Perhaps the story about the hawk and Seyed Javad was Hamid’s fabrication. He had contrived it to boost our business. Perhaps. Who knows?

I go. I go to the cellar searching for the large can of kerosene. I trip over the edge of the mattress and I’m about to fall. Frustrated by my fate, I kick the pillow. On it, here and there, strands of hair the color of wine, the color of black olives. Here and there, strands of blond. May God forgive me! I had turned a blind eye to Hamid’s deeds, and he to my doings. Will God overlook my sins? I committed adultery with unmarried women. Will God absolve me?

When Mother went away, the house was left without a woman. We started smelling foul. We had no proper food. And I became more tight-fisted. I said, You want to see the hawk? Dinner! You want to see the hawk? Lunch! One glimpse of the bird? Wash! One peek at it flapping its wings? Sweep! And there was suddenly clamor on the women’s line, Hey! I will! I’ll wash! I’ll cook! I’ll sweep! And when I realized they were stepping forward and not drawing back, I said, Lie down!

I sit on the mattress. I’m remorseful. I run my hands over my face. Repentant. I curse at the people, at the women, at Hamid, at the hawk, at the devil. God, forgive me! Forgive! Forgive! Forgive! Not for having killed the animal, but for what we became. God save me! Save me! Save me! We turned into beasts! O God, o God . . . talk to me! Confer with sinful me. Have you no guilt!? Committed no sin!? Have you never profited illicitly!? Have you never perpetrated the forbidden!?

I said, You want to see the bird in private, you must give to me in private. I said, You want me to grant your wish, you must satisfy my need. And they did. The bird fulfilled their desire and they mine. They stroked the bird and I stroked them.

I did wrong, wrong . . . But to the one and only God I vow, I spoke neither more nor less than the truth. I said nothing other than what I had seen and offered nothing other than what I had heard. I didn’t say the bird was a miracle. But I didn’t say it wasn’t. I didn’t say I believed, nor did I say I didn’t. All I know is that if it were true and the bird was what it seemed, then woe is me! I can still hear it scream. I had sinned and it had seen and it was shrieking. I killed it before it plucked out my eyes. I killed it to stay alive. Have you ever seen a murderer? I am one. I suffer for having slayed that animal. A guilty conscience will kill me. Have you ever seen a sacrificial offering? I am one. I am a sacrificed murderer, murderer of the killed. Its blood is on my hands. I am forever cursed for the blood I spilled. I fell victim. May you not sin, nor commit evil after me. Amen!

I take the can of kerosene and struggle to haul it up the cellar stairs. I drag it through the door. I lug it over to what is left of the carcass. I tip it, kerosene pours out over the hawk’s remains, over its beak and claws. I reach into my pocket for matches, I light one, and I throw it down for the remnants to go up in flames, to turn into smoke, to disappear; to go where it came from, to hell. Flames rise, they lick over the beak and claws, they devour them. The hawk turns to smoke. The flames subside.

I turn on the water, aim the hose at the remaining ashes, and drive them toward the well. Someone is knocking. The son-of-a-whore is now pounding on the door. I go to open it and to pummel whoever is on the other side. I will make their mother mourn; be it man, woman, or child, young or old. They’re all guilty. We’re all guilty. The way I swing open the door and the rage I’m in make Ghader leap back and almost drop the box of confections he’s holding. He stammers and quickly holds the box out for me to take a sweetmeat. He says he came an hour ago, I wasn’t in, he left, and has now come again. With pleasantries he invites me to sweeten my palate. I’m still silent. He brings the box closer, meaning, Take one. I don’t. He puts the cover back on the box and apologizes, ashamed that he has come at a bad time. But, he says, he has come in joy. He considers himself grateful to Hamid, grateful to me, indebted to the hawk. He says everything he has he owes to the hawk. He says had it not been for the bird his manhood would not have returned and Ozra would not be with child. I say nothing. He asks about the hawk. I say it has gone, escaped. He sighs. He steps forward to offer his condolences. I step back. I glower, hoping he will get lost, leave. I give him no chance to chatter. He understands. Holding the box he says good-bye, the cuckolded jerk goes on his way!

I close the door and lean against it. I’m drained. Someday soon, when Ozra’s child is born, how will he know who his father is? How he came to be? What he is? I have planted seeds in so many wombs. How will they know from where they came? How they were conceived? Who can they ask about their forefathers?

You are of the same blood as me, from my veins, my roots. Now do you understand why I killed? Do you know why I’m telling you? Who do I have other than you to say this to? Who is there closer to me than you, dearer to me than you? You are my child. You are my children. My daughters, my sons. Your fetus was formed one night as the hawk shrieked . . . one day in exchange for stroking it. Is your mother Leila? Geisu? Tahereh? Don’t be ashamed. I’m like you, you’re like me. After all, who am I? Am I not a bastard? You come from me who you don’t know, I come from a father who I never knew, my father came from his father who he didn’t know . . . Where did this evil that plagues us come from, the evil that can’t leave, that has no way back? How far will it go? Will it stop with you? Will you be the end of it? May God make it so. May this endless game end. I grabbed it, covered its eyes with a rag, secured its beak with tape. With its wings tied, I threw it for the cats to enjoy. Look! Look what they are doing! It’s as if they have turned into hyenas. They circle it, they growl and claw at it, but they have no guts. They are still afraid. They cannot believe that its wings are tied, its beak is bound, and its eyes are covered. The bird is shrieking, struggling, suffocating. I’m wondering how it will all end when I hear a knock at the front door . . .

بي‌پدر” © Yasser Nourouzi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Sara Khalili. All rights reserved.