Golpari was the only one who knew the number of black poplar trees in Golchal. They were not twenty three. She even looked trough the kitchen outlet and once, twice, and many times she was able to count the trees.
She lit the match and dry spines of milk vetch took the flames to the hazelnut branches in the Stove. A column of light rose and twisted to the round vent in the ceiling and emitted to the blue out side.
She returned again. This time she didn’t look through window from the kitchen. She counted: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. A crow was sitting on the ninth tree. Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen. A woodpecker was there, but she couldn’t see it hanging on which tree. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. The crow opened his beak like scissors. With those rusty beaks stuttered a couple of times: crrr…row crr…row row ow. Twenty one, twenty two, twenty three. It flew from ninth tree without moving its wings twice: crrr…row crr…row row ow, turned about the twenty forth black poplar tree, and wanted to sit on that but flew another turn and sat on another tree. One branch from twenty forth tree raised and the crow flew. Crow sat on the raised branch. Another branch raised and caught the crow and pulled it hard. She saw nothing else.
Now she was confident that black poplar trees in Golchal were not twenty three. She heard Golbaji is coughing from the walkway of the public shower. Golpari wanted to look at the trees again but changed her way to the kitchen. One side of fire in the stove was gone. She collected half burned firewood in the stove. When the fire was big enough, she put a pot of water on the stove. Golbaji bend her head inside and said: “How are you doing?”
She gave the milk bucket to Golpari and sat on the door stone. Golpari was sitting on the stone near by stove, walked to her and took the milk bucket:
- Nothing, Arsalan has gone to Ghazvin. He might find a job or something.
- He will be back for hazelnut picking, right?
- Maybe not. He says if he works one day he can hire two or three workers to pick hazelnut.
She took the Gett* off the two smoky nails on wall and sat on her hills nearby milk bucket, gathered her skirt around her knees. She put the Gett into the milk bucket and took it out, looked at it in the light, shook it to make sure there is no milk on it. While she was putting the Gett back on the wall she said: “if there weren’t this Vareh*, we would have a very hard time.
Golbaji took the empty milk bucket and got up.
- Are you in a hurry?
- Those orchards of ours still have mulberry leaf. We can’t only feed oat to the kettles.
She remembered their own mulberry trees; there were in one orchard after Golchal. The cow was upset in the stable. Golbaji was outside of the kitchen, said: “Milek is going to survive only a day or two. Wherever is no human, it’s better become the nest of genies, fairies, Alls*, Unilegs, and hyenas.”
She walked down the slope stones of the kitchen slowly. Then only her cough was heard from the kitchen where Golpari was coming out of. She took a look at Golbanoo’s House.
- Sun has passed the row.
She took a small pot and gave it a quick wash. She put her milk bucket and Golbaji’s milk pot near by the stove which was getting covered with gray ash.
Every morning she used to go to the cistern of the Golchal, fill up her vessel and jug. She used to give a quick wash to unwashed pots, fill them up with water and return. She never counted black poplars of Golchal, but this time she felt these black poplars were not the same as everyday.
The last time that Arsalan came back, he was happier. Last time when he took Golpari with himself, he got Sangak* bread and they sat in the café in the bazaar. They wrap coal baked liver in the Sangak and Golpari said: “Biting Sangak here is better than being in Milek.”
Arsalan had cleaned the shoulder of his undersized suite and said: “you walk that far to the Golchal for what? Bringing a vessel of water? Here we have water tap. All you need is…”
Then he calculated: “if we don’t eat meat this year plus working, and let’s say someone helps a little bit I can buy a cart.”
She had never seen a cart in her life. She asked Arsalan when they were sitting around the Korsi* and he had said: “It looks like this Korsi; just add four wheels and a handle on one side to push. Then wherever you are, there would be someone to call: Carter!”
Then said: “With this you can make a life out of Milek.”
If Golpari was not insisting Arsalan wanted to stay more, but Golpari had said:
“What less you have from the others?”
Arsalan had looked at himself and said:
-Fixing breakfast is a pain
- Good morning
It was Golbanoo. She gave the milk bucket to Golpari who took the Gett, shook it in the air and then dip it into the milk. It was a little less than usual. She wanted to say something but on second thought when they were away it was only Golbanoo that could mange their properties till someone come and buy them. Took the Gett out, shook it in the air and put it back on the wall. She took the hot water pan and left an empty pan on stove and emptied her milk bucket, Golbaji’s, and Golbanoo’s milk into the pan. Then she placed 3-4 thick sticks of hazelnut in the stove and blew on the fire. She was blowing gently. She didn’t want the dust on the milk.
-Not much. Maybe we move this year.
-Still, good for you. Arsalan is in shape and he can work as a porter, he can work as a construction worker. That’s why you can be proud of yourself. I have to go he hasn’t had his breakfast, he’ll get mad. Everyone has a real man; my destiny is this half-man.
Golpari returned to the door of the kitchen to take in some firewood. She remembered how it’s possible that the black poplars were not twenty three. She didn’t turn her head. It’s been a while that she had suspected something but said nothing to anyone. Until Golbaji had answered her that: “Most probably only Unileg can be there.” And continued:” He’s as tall as a black poplar tree. He has two long arms hanging on his sides which will rise when they need to and …”
She also had heard in the myths under the Korsi that he tied human to the stone. In the daylight you couldn’t see his eyes but in the dark his eyes were just like a lantern.
She retuned to the kitchen to count black poplars again. One. Two. Three. ,Four. If Arsalan had been here, hearing these things, he would probably have said: “Women are superstitious”
Then if she had said: “I, myself, have counted them.” He would have answered: “What are you?” Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Golbaji says that in the old time, when he caught the people, took them and tied them to himself, near by a big stone.
-Why does he do this?
The milk, boiling over, sounded like splashing water on the fire. She ran, and took a big spoon to take the milk with one hand and pour it into a pan and with the other hand took some of the firewood out of the fire, while blowing with her mouth.
-Gholbaji Khanoom*, at least you have a couple of children around you, what about me?
She put down the milk. One spoon yogurt poured into a big bowl which she cleaned it with her apron. Whisked the yogurt with the spoon, and when it’s done licked the spoon clean. She untied the checked chador around her waist to wrap the bowl, but changed her mind, and tied that again. She went towards the vessel, poured some water in the milk bucket, and splashed it out of the kitchen from there and water splashed on the wooden door. She poured the rest of the water into the milk bucket. She saw Jugbeh was still full. She took the vessel. She was locking the door of the kitchen, at the same time she glanced at the black poplars of the Golchal. While she was walking over the rocks near by stable she took a look at the roofs of the Milek. She couldn’t see the top of the houses. Alleys were silent and empty.
Golbanoo had told her: “This winter wolves won’t spare these sick and weak people who have stayed here.”
The school was locked. The steep slope near by the school made her breathless, but she was only looking at the black poplars.
She found herself in a red scarf. She told to herself: “I wish, at least I had changed this red scarf.”
Although she was fearful when she got to the hay, she counted the black poplar trees of Golchal.
Early in the morning she had come to take some water from cistern. The thick fog was going down the Milek, but Jir-Mahalleh* was still in the silk. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. She saw the shepherd in the morning taking the rage animals to graze. But now, as far as she could see, there were not any cow or donkey. Twenty one. Twenty two. Twenty three. She had got to the Golchal.
But she didn’t count twenty four and went to the cistern which was behind the right hand side fences. She put the vessel on the ground. She thought although the twenty forth black poplar is the last one; it’s far from the first tree which is in turn far from her.
But she told herself: “Maybe the twenty forth has become the first!”
The tap of the cistern was out. The sound of running water into the vessel doubled her fear. Vessel was getting full the she heard a sound of water pouring into the cistern which was a couple of meters shorter than black poplars. She splashed some water to her face from the polyvinyl tube to feel better. When water made her face wet she felt apparently the twenty forth black poplar’s hands are touching her face. It was cool… cool.
Her hand hit the vessel. It fell on the side. Now the sound of pouring water was even louder. She wanted to put the vessel upright nervously. She felt how tall she had become. And it’s a long distance between her and the vessel. Even when she reached to vessel she realized that how heavy it was. Her hands were trembling. It was the time that a hand took the vessel and placed it under the water tap.
First she didn’t realize. Then she saw that the hand is brown and green and spotted with moss. She knew he had sat beside her. It was Unileg.
She couldn’t understand how but when she took a closer look it was not as ugly as it seemed. Only his big eyes were odd:
“I knew you count. Your scarf is red. Why do you wear read scarf and have nothing to say?”
When vessel filled with water Unileg took it up to his shoulder. The only thought in Golpari’s mind was: “Now, who can bring it down his shoulder?”
And you don’t want to escape, right? You know my each step is…
Then he turned towards the fences, opposite the black poplars. Golpari heard:
“Now, you want to ask that Milek is not this way.”
She wanted to say something, but:
“Milek is close.”
Then he continued where the black poplars ended and turned towards Eshkast*: from the top it was covered by stones and at the bottom of the valley there was the river.
She told herself that where she was going with him.
When he was returning from the versant, he said:
“Your checked chador is loveable.”
Golpari started talking:
“I knew you are there.”
“So, why did you come late?”
“It was my turn for Vareh”
“Still you are not coming.”
“I’ve left my milk to get cold”
Huge rocks in the Eshkast were magnificent. Golpari said to herself:
“Will I regret what I’ve done?”
“One may regret what he hasn’t done as well”
She hadn’t said that laud, Unileg said:
“You are right, but without saying you…”
“Now that the Milek is abandoned, you became important?
“We haven’t become anything, we just came.”
He put the vessel down his shoulders right on the edge of a big rock where it could fall down the valley with a little force. She thought:
“Hope it doesn’t fall”
It was the sound of the river which was coming form the Vidarbon and passing under the Eshkast where its weeping willows where not green anymore.
He asked: “Do you want our story becomes a drama?”
Unileg held back for a second and said:
Then he said:
“Here! Stand near by the rock!”
Golpari looked at Unileg. It was not that dangerous. She stood near the rock. Unileg went farther and farther.
Golpari had stood on her spot. Unileg went back as far as possible and he couldn’t go back farther. But anyway he could jump and with a couple of steps reach to the rock and hit it; that was all. Golpari was still there. Only her red scarf was visible from far and also the checked pattern of her chador.
There was no need to run. But she ran. One. Unileg was running. Two. Red scarf and checked Chador. Three.
Golpari wasn’t there. She took the two last steps. Unileg broke his leg. Fell down so hard and the rock detached.
She felt the weight of vessel which was moving up and down on her shoulder. The water splashed on her braid and a little splashed on her floral dress. It was coolness of water and the pain in her back. Like nothing had happened. She was going through Golchal to the other side of black poplar trees. There was no need to count them again.
All: A big female mythical creature who kidnaps and kills the new born babies in six first days after birth.
Gett: a straight stick for measuring the milk.
Gholbaji Khanoom: Golbaji is a name for females; Khanoom means lady that shows respect while calling her.
Jir-Mahalleh. The village which was located down the hill.
Korsi: a heating device which was consisting of a small square table covered with a thick duvet and had a metal tray full of charcoal under it.
Sangak: kind of wheat bread. The dough is left overnight with yeast then in the morning it’s baked in special kind of stove which is covered with small stones.
Unileg(Ye-leng) A mythical creature in Alamout myths who falls in love with the girls with red scarf on their head and checked chador tied around their waist.
Vareh: The name of the village co-operation.
Eshkast: It’s a name for a place. Literary means the cliff between the two rocky hills .
Man had been retired. Wife wasn’t old yet. Man wanted to return to Milek*. Wife said: “I’m not old yet but I can’t go back.” Man said: “I have nothing to do in the city.” Wife said: “Well! Find a job!” Man was at home, getting older. Wife said: “Go out and stay young!”
But man wanted to go back. Wife didn’t want to, she was sleepless. When she slept, she dreamed they had returned to Milek.
Wife knew if they had stayed in the city, she would have never agreed to go ahead and find a wife for her own husband. She made the marriage proposal by herself and she planned the wedding by herself. Man left the wife at home. The house only had one room and a back room, which was dark. It was their turn to get water. Man had to go to their orchard and water the trees. Wife said: “I go to water, it’s your wedding night; you stay home!”
Wife went to water. She knew if she had been awake she would have never agreed to go to the orchard. She had a light in her hand and a spade under her arm. She didn’t take a Daas*, she thought she had a pin on her chest* and she would be safe. Water was good. Man had told her: “It’s non sense to have seven dry years in Milek. Now Milek has plenty of water and it’s dying for someone to live in.”
Wife changed the water gate toward their Kol-dari-bon*. Water rushed into the Keil*. She wanted four Keils of water and the light was reassuring her that there was nothing around to threaten her.
The First Keil was loaded. The Second Keil was over loaded. The Third Keil was under loaded. Then The Forth Keil was over.
Wife wanted to return, it was getting light. She didn’t take the road; she was worried about encountering Milek’s residents seeing her alone that early in the morning and asking her why she had set a marriage for her husband. Wife would have answered that her husband’s wife was beautiful. She took the path over the Kolisar*, she could see Milek from there. Milek was straight ahead, still sleeping. The sunlight had just risen over the stone castle to lighten Milek.
While she was still sitting on a stone under a Tadaneh* tree in Kolisar, she remembered that the Man had to work in the morning and he’s going to be late. She yelled from there: “Yousefi Peeeer, Hooy!”
Man had overslept. Wife knew she’s dreaming. She knew Man is retired. She knew the factory was in Qazvin* and now they are in Milek. She saw The Tadaneh tree over her head, but she was still yelling: “Wake up…, Wake up…, Hooy! You have slept late!”
Man and his wife probably have slept side by side. Wife saw her voice arose to the village and from there it turned to a tornado. But it wasn’t tornado. It seemed like a black wind. No, the black was not dirt and dust: “Oh my God… it’s a Deev*!” The black Deev came, came out of their house, came down the alley. He continued and passed the cemetery and shrine, and turned into the road.
Wife was still sitting. The Black Deev was getting close like a tornado. He got close to Kolisar. He just said: “Return!”
Wife had nothing to say, but heard:
“Kol-dari-Bon is mine!”
When the wife saw that Deev didn’t attack her to pull the pin out of her chest, she went to the orchards. Then Deev went and stand in the Forth Keil and from there he whispered into Wife’s ear: “From now on here’s mine!”
Wife was sleeping. Her man had been retired. Wife was insisting that for them Milek was not a place to live anymore.
Wife was returning with her Man. The black Deev was in Kol-dari-bon, laughed away, and waved to the window of the Man and Wife’s old house. From there, someone was waving him.
Daas: A sharp curved weeding tool with a wooden handle. It’s similar to an Indian tool named kirpi
Deev: Here means giant, evil.
Qazvin: A city in Iran, some 165km northwest of Tehran.
Having a pin on her chest:
An old belief says a metal pin on your chest keeps you safe from evil.
Keil: A small canal for watering the orchards.
Kol-dari-bon: Name of an orchard. Literary means through lots of trees
Kolisar: Name of a village.
Milek: Name of a village.
Tadaneh: Local name for Ash tree. It’s a holy tree in Milak
How did the 3-year-old boy know that the man who stepped into the chapar – coming to him – standing above his head – was his father? Even the dogs of Gourchal didn't bark that an alien came, and when he ran his look over the resin shoes of his father, his military trousers, his rabbit-ear collar and then a tall man who was standing and staring at him just mourned bitterly and fell in front of pomegranate tree.
Hassan moved the child. He looked. There was no movement. The ear-cut dog always sitting beside the small pool had also come on by him. Now he was just a corpse on his coffin hands. He stood up and shouted:
- Ghadam Bekheir, Ghadam Bekheir! Hooo…
He kicked the door of the house. It opened wide. There was no one in.
When they caught Hassan, the child was one-year-old and now after two years he came again. He came with carriers up to Shah-Roud Bridge head and the rest path on foot to reach Gourchal before night.
The river was running over the stones tough with roar, passing by down to the head of the bridge that was further away behind some mounts, pouring into Shah-Roud.
The numb body of the boy was on his hands and when he kneed beside the balcony of the house, putting the child on the ground, he got sure that he was dead – his look at one side.
The mooing of a caw came from the stable that was under his feet. Ghadam Bekheir came out of there with a basket with no hey within. Her boots covered with dung until neck. But now the dogs of the yard were barking; it wasn't clear they were barking for Ghadam Bekheir whose man had come back or welcoming Hassan who was staring at the corpse of his son. Then he was looking at Ghadam Bekheir who was putting the basket on the lumber to come up. Ghadam Bekheir said hello just when she climbed up the slope of the stable and reached the balcony and roof of it. She came on and then saw the boy. She started mourning in a way that even the people of the village on the other side of the river heard it. She took the child from Hassan.
She spent the entire last two years alone with no one's assistance. Then she weaned the boy. She worked in the stable, watering the fresh saplings that Hassan had planted before his arresting.
As if the boy had died thousand years ago and as if no matter at all Hassan came back to start a new lease of life. Ghadam Bekheir put the child on the side of the balcony – the roof of the chapar below – in front of her feet, starting mourning bitterly. It seemed the mourning was complaining to Hassan who had left her for years and has brought another catastrophe with himself now he came back.
- Oh my child, oh my child! Where did you go now that your father has come back? Where did you go? Oh my God! My God! My little guard! God, my very dear child! My child! My child!
Her scarf fell off her head and Hassan was stirring at her. White strings filled her date-colored hair, and her curly hair had become so much tussled that indicated it has been a long time since her hair was combed – she just braided the down part of her hair. The braided hair was fallen out of her scarf and becoming spread about. Ghadam Bekheir was opening them. Hassan just said:
- He had become a man.
- What about you? Was prison good for you? Was the steeling of an armful of hay worth being away so many years?
Hassan stood up, fastening the laces of his shoes.
- What about your friends? Did you see your master wasn't good for – the master was the master of them not you – you miserable.
The look of the corpse was left on the dogs that were going around in the yard. One in the gate. One in the yard in front of manger. One went to the corner of the balcony, putting its snout over its hands and the other was on the roof of the house – where Gourchal was under its feet.
Ghadam Bekheir said:
- What have you got to do with gunmen? A band of pilferers who have nothing. Didn't you have a wife? Didn't you have a child?
Gourchal became alive. When he went the pomegranate tree had a wing no more and now like a woman with some breasts opened its wings and along with the fallen roses of the framework casted a shade over the pool of the yard.
The little child was dead. As Ghadam Bekheir just remembered what happened again, hugged the child, kissed him and mourned.
- One came, one went. Now that he came you went. Which coming and which going should I be found of? God! My child! God! My child!
Hassan stepped into the house, taking the bed-clothes wrapper and brought it into the balcony. Ghadam Bekheir put the child just there on the ground.
- Gourchal is here, but we must bring our first dead to the other side of the river, putting him under the care of Lab-e-Roudiya.
Ghadam Bekheir was shaking her head and repeating to herself as if she was rocking the cradle:
- Just here, I brought him in the cradle. I was rocking the cradle at one side and making bed-clothes wrapper at the other side. But what now? Oh my God! My Child! Now I must bring him in bed-clothes wrapper to the edge of the river and bury him – bury him…
- Ala La La Gol-e-Fandogh
- Babat Rafteh touye Sandogh
- I moved yesterday. I spent the night on the head of the bridge. I wore my rezin in the early darkness of morning not to be late more.
- Ala La La Gol-e-Fandogh
Hassan leant against the wall of the room at the one side of the balcony. He thought thanks God that he had built the half of the house. As if Ghadam Bekheir heard his voice she answered:
- I brought workers from Milak – they came from Nahiyeh, they came from riverside, they all worked for the blessing of their dead.
- Why didn’t you go to your brother in Milak?
- They came after me, but I had to be in here, not in Nahiyeh, not in Milak and no other places.
- You didn’t care I came back directly from Ghazvin to Aghgol.
But maybe she thought about it. Maybe she thought times and times that he was late because he had returned Makou. It had been a long time since his exile was ended, but she was yet rocking the cradle with her foot and painted balls and balls of string so as that bed-clothes wrappers to be sold well, and repeated to herself that her child is here. Now nothing – the child that is now lying with no movement under bed-clothes wrapper.
- There was no news about you…
- What news? Did you expect me to come after you? Each going has a coming. Anyway you would have come…
- But how did you know I would come back after two years?
- Year…year oh my God! My child! My child!
Hassan stood up and looked at Gourchal out of the balcony. His house was the only house in Gourchal with its chapars around it and down part – rice field on the right and the gardens field on the left. Up part of the house was just mountain and maintain. Where the rice field and gardens field finished, it was the river that embraced the properties of Lab-e-Roudiya’s people on the other side.
- I have learned to sew giveh with rezin.
- I have also learned how to erect the frame of bed-clothes wrapper.
- You have kept Gourchal alive…
- It was also the kind of the master who permanently came with my brother from Milak.
- Nobody teased you?
- For Gourchal?
- Ala La La…Gol-e-Pouneh…
Chapar: barbed bushes used for surrounding house and garden
Rezin: a kind of tire material for making shoe
Giveh: a kind of comfortable shoe made of cotton
Lab-e-Roudiya or Lab-e-Roudiha: the name of a region referring to the people of that region living on the fringe of the river
Poetic recitation: sleeping song for children with an accent specific to the Alamout of Iran
Yousef Alikhani, an Iranian writer was born in 1975 in the village of
"Milek" in the Roodbar and Alamut region of Qazvin.
He holds a Bachelor's degree in Arabic Language and Literature from the
University of Tehran. His first short stories were published between
1995 and 1996 in local magazines in Qazvin.
Dragon killing, (short stories), Negah Publication, 2007
Ghadam Bekheir was my grandmother (short stories), Ofogh Publication, 2003
Lookong for Hassan Sabba:, the Life story of the God of Alamut for Young Adults, Qoqnoos Publication, 2007
Ibn Batuteh’s Life, Madraseh, 2004
Aziz and Negar: Re-reading a love story, Qoqnoos Publication, 2002
The Third Generation of Fiction Writing in Today’s Iran: Interviews with Writers, Markaz Publication, 2001
The tale (stories) of the people of Roodbar and Alamut, in two copies, in collaboration with Afshin Naderi (to be published)
Weblog address: http://yousefalikhani.blogspot.com
Translator: Mandana Davar-Kia
University Degrees: Mastery in Translation and Interpretation (English to Persian and vice versa) from Applied Science University of Consecutive and Simultaneous Translation and Interpretation, Postgraduate Diploma with highest grade in Journalism and News Writing from London School of Journalism
Current Occupation: Editor in Chief of the English Section of Jam-e-Jam Online, English Language Translator and Journalist in www.jamejamonline.net, teacher, writer
Experience of working: 10 years teaching English, 7 years translation, interpretation, writing
Other activities: an activist of environment (National Wildlife Federation member), one of the 30, 000 people who signed the petition handed over the American congress concerning Global Movement Campaign
Knowledge of Languages: Persian, English, French
Website address: http://loony.gather.com