Newspapers & Cigarettes
Niloo E Sarabi
Kal-Abbas is mad.
Stark naked, like the day he was born, he runs out of his tattered
house into the street, hollering at the top of his lungs. He curses at
the people, as they try to get out of his way. When he sees women,
Kal-Abbas stands still, leering. They scream and run away, holding on
tighter to their chadors. He yells and runs after them, schlepping his
bare feet over the hot and
The neighborhood kids stop playing ball and follow him, laughing and
Kal-Abbas beats his chest and wiggles his wrinkled penis, repeating: "Divooneh! Divooneh!"
His curly salt-and-pepper hair is overgrown and disheveled, his face,
unshaven. His daughters run after him. "Baba,"
they say, grabbing his hand, "Let's go home."
Kal-Abbas has two daughters—one is a schoolteacher, the other
a nurse. They are pretty. They curse at us; throw stones at us, "Go
away, leave him alone!"
"He doesn't want to take his pills," his wife, Robabeh, tells my
mother, as she squats down next to the small pond in our basement and
scrubs my father's shirts in the green plastic tub.
When Kal-Abbas was a young physician, Robabeh says, he joined the
sanitation army and worked in the villages. They were moaning and
crying all day, sick women and children, sitting on the bare concrete
floor in the stuffy crowded room waiting for their turn. Kal-Abbas
brought so many babies into this world.
They buried the dead ones and their mothers at dawn in the village
cemetery, next to the deserted schoolroom. Later they buried many more
when the fever came. The sanitation army had left for the city when
Kal-Abbas fell ill.
Mother likes Robabeh, but tells me to stay away from the street on hot
summer afternoons, when Kal-Abbas is out. I sneak out when she and
father take a nap. When Kal-Abbas's emaciated, bare body emerges from
the narrow alley, we stop riding our bikes and run after him. He waves
his frayed shirt in the air like a flag and aimlessly paces the
Newspapers and cigarettes are what he likes most in the world. Mother
keeps father's newspapers in a box and gives them to Robabeh when she
comes over on Wednesdays. Sometimes she buys a carton of Eshno
cigarettes and puts it on top of the pile.
"Next summer I'll take him to the shrine of his holiness, Imam Hosein,"
Robabeh tells mother, as she stacks the wet shirts in a tray and lets
the murky soap water drain into the empty pond. She took him to Karbala
once before, that's how Kal-Abbas got his name in the first
"His holiness will grant him health," she says, rinsing her swollen
hands under running water, "this time, he will."
Niloo E Sarabi is working on a collection of microfictions.
w i g · l e a F