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 dusty asphalt.  
The neighborhood kids stop playing ball and follow him, laughing and screaming: "Divooneh! Divooneh!"

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 sidewalk.

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 place—Kal, Abbas.

"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.

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