"In the thriving cemetery of the city whose heart has no beat,
There is not even a shriek of an owl.
The afflicted do not wail and roar,
And the wrathful do not roar and wail…"
Mehdi Akhavan Saales (M. Omid)
He often startled from troubled sleep in the dead of the night, sat upon the bed and gaped around vaguely without seeing things. He often heard himself raving inarticulately and groaned and woke up and went to sleep again. He sometimes got up without waking and walked in a mad menacing moment and touched things in his room or got dressed and did things he was wont to do in his waking hours or talked to himself, with nobody to witness anything of those lonely hours. And in the morning, when he was wide awake, he found himself dressed up in his bed, the alarm clock button pushed, the curtain drawn, the door ajar, books and papers scattered around, the bed migrated to an unaccustomed corner, and things missing or misplaced. Had somebody happened to lurk in his room in the heart of the night, making all the mess? He sat up and thought but remembered nothing, and pretended that he had made the confusion consciously, yet forgetfully. But he knew it was not so.
That night, there was a frost-storm outside and again he couldn't sleep. He feared the inevitable nightmare. Through the half-drawn curtain he looked at the frozen window-panes that trembled against the wind. In pre-sleep anguish he crumpled himself inside the cozy cave of quilts and listened to the world without. There was the wind hammering against the window and agitating the oil-burning stove that hissed and howled and snarled at him with its fiery fangs, through the slits of its iron form.
He peeped out of his quilts and looked around, and tried to memorize the places of things in the room: The clock on the wall that had soothingly ceased counting the time, the dismal coffin shaped cupboard towering over him, and a few other meager things on the niche of the wall, all stood in sober silence, where they belonged, and regarded him gravely.
And there was his dark, heavy coat; hanging from the clothes hanger above his head, parodying his pose and poising over him as if in expectation of his wearing it.
He was still far away from sleep, and had to lull himself to sleep by some torturing thoughts for an hour or two. His drowsy careless mind would venture through thoughts and remembrance of things past until he would be lost, like a wandering ghost who had deserted his grave, and he would imagine flying over the cold and windy roofs of the houses in the town.
It was cold outside. The streets and lanes around his house were vacant in that dead of night. Beyond his walls there were people, who like him were sleeping snugly in the depth of their quilts, or tried to. There was a narrow back lane before his house that meandered its downward way to the main alley, which was yet far away from the street that was so far-off that he fancied it belonged to an alien town. But just behind his house there was an open field with weird inhabitants who didn't suffer the pre-sleep anguish: the forsaken old graveyard of the quarter and its forgotten dead, sealed down in eternal sleep. He couldn't imagine how they didn't shiver and complain under the heavy burden of earth, when the cold wind blew against the stony gates of their graves.
That graveyard, as far as he remembered, had been his adjacent neighbor. It was used by him and perhaps by some of his lazy neighbors as a short-cut passage to the other part of the town. When necessary, he climbed down his wall, which was shorter than the others', and walked his way through the path among the graves into the next quarter. That route was one-way, of course, and impossible for returning home.
The last time he passed the place he noticed new houses had been built around the graveyard; high blocks of apartment houses planted here and there, with their backs to the graveyard, making it look deeper, dingier, and more deserted.
Nobody opened any window to the graveyard. It never occurred to him, too, to open a window or a shutter to it. There was a small back-room attached to his bedroom, with its wall bordering on the graveyard. It was utterly dark, even in day time, when its door was closed. Yet it had never occurred to him to make at least an aperture to the graveyard.
He opened his eyes inside the quilts, to make sure they had been closed. It was utterly dark. He tried to imagine the world around with his mind's eye, but his imagination was frozen too, and fused like an icicle to the shrouding darkness.
Yet, when he would go to sleep, he promised himself he would arrive in mysterious worlds. A phantom door would open through a wall of his room, perhaps, and he would see the vast, various lands that had been made in his imagination or his olden dreams, just behind his room. He might migrate to those lands without toil or tarry, and he might fly over the tall roofs of the houses, soar higher and higher and perch upon a turret that was perhaps pigeons' nest, and lose his own roof among the multitude of roofs at that height, and he would fear from falling, and would soon fall off in spite of himself, and . . . would gasp inside the snug cave of his bed, and would wake, to find himself soaked in cold perspiration. He would try to know where he was, and he would move his cushion to the other end of his bed, to avoid facing the clothes hanger when his eyes opened, and he would compose himself to sleep again . . . and he would dream another dream, that would turn into another nightmare, and further fear.
The winter wind wailed without. He peeped out of his quilts and stared at the darkness. The oil-burning stove mumbled with the voice of the wind, and darted uncertain flickers of light quivering on the ceiling. Above his head, his coat was hanging, parodying his pose, and poising over him, as if in expectation of his wearing it.
Through half-drawn curtains he looked at the window-panes that were festooned with frost-wrought forests; with every bend looking like a frozen dream. The wind burst into the window in a fit of frustrated gusts, sobbed stiflingly, and moaned away.
He withdrew his head into the quilts and the outside noises mingled together and got more confused. By and by came those intoxicated moments, when strange sights and wild associations assailed his mind; confused fancies and visions that he could not clarify to others or even to himself . . . At last! That could be the glorious moment when he knew he was going to sleep. But the very awareness of it betrayed him back to wakingfulness. His mind grew calm and clear again, and then he was wide awake. And then, he had to begin the process anew. And again, he didn't know when he went to sleep. . . .
He found himself peeping out of his quilts. A dark figure towered over his head, in his coat, bending towards him. He fancied that the figure was grinning, though his face was shrouded in the darkness. Yet somehow he felt the silent laugh. The apparition held an eloquent hand to him, as if expecting him to attend to him. It subdued his thoughts and actions, his mind and body. He wanted to say something but his voice failed him. He knew that that was a nightmare. He needed to yell and knew he couldn't. He wished to wake up but couldn't. He knew he had a long way to be awake, and had to worry and wait until then. There was nobody to wake him. Even if there had been somebody, they wouldn't have heard his voiceless cries.
He woke up by his own gasping, and found himself half-risen in bed, grabbing at his coat sleeve above his head. He was wet with sweat, and felt cold. The wind assailed the frosted window ¬panes and agitated the fire in the stove, who glared and growled at him. There was still a long way to the morning. He withdrew inside the heap of quilts, and crouched deeper there, and tried to go to sleep again…
A tall darksome figure towered over his head, in his coat. He knew it would bend over him and hold its hand to him. He took his hand out of the quilts and took its. His coat dropped from the clothes hanger softly over him. He was in a sweat, and panting. He rose but got a whirl in his head, fumbled for the wall, found it, and felt it to find the door. He went round the room, groping for the door, but it was nowhere to be found. It was lost. The room seemed larger. Was he in his own room, or in the adjoining back-room? He leant against a wall, and suddenly a door opened to him, soft and soundless. A cold wind blew into his face. Was that the vast and various land of his all-nightly dreams?
He slipped and staggered in spite of himself and rolled down a slope. He was in a big, dark and deep ground. Perhaps that was the deserted graveyard behind his house, that lonely, dark, and deep ground, girdled by tall, towering walls. He wished all of that to have been a mere dream.
He tried to wake up but couldn't. He was already awake, then. He was in the graveyard, yes, and in a dark, cold, endless night, with its forsaken dead. He was then conscious of the nightmare that had possessed him.
But how had he happened to run into that dreary place? Perhaps he had walked in his sleep, lured by the illusion of a coming dawn, and had descended from the wall of his house as in his daily habit. And now he had to walk through the path among the graves; the path he was familiar with by frequenting, and to come back home, hopefully, from the usual route of the lanes; a long, upward way, and that in the long, lone, cold dark of the night.
He walked for a while. He must have lost his way in the darkness. He couldn't find the way out of the graveyard. He sat upon a gravestone and gazed into the empty space. The graveyard was in the grip of a monstrous gloom and stillness. There was not even a shriek of an owl. There was just the low whistle of the wind, the faint rasping of the thorns among the graves, and the rustling of some trees that stood in a remote corner by the high walls; whispering with the cold wind. His own wall was hidden among the other walls.
He rose and walked. He walked for a while but got nowhere. The graveyard wasn't that big, but then it seemed larger than ever. Maybe he was going astray, or turning round himself. It was difficult to walk straight with all those thorns, gravestones, and the caves of empty graves. Some graves were also unstable and might easily collapse and give way without warning.
He had to return. But it was absurd to return, when all the directions were lost. He had to go to the nearest wall. After all, wall is a human invention, and leads to human abode. Then he should walk along the walls and circle the graveyard and find a way out. He had to keep calm. He shouldn't panic.
He made for the darkness of a wall nearby and walked slowly among the gravestones that were intolerably indistinct, trying to avoid the empty graves and pitfalls. The darkness of the wall grew larger and leant over him as he went forward. He felt sleepy, and his eyes were closed. He had forgotten the illusion of the morning, and all that he desired then was to open his eyes and find himself in the snug hole of his bed-quilts, and to render all that nothing but a nightmare.
He heard the trees rustling against the wind and his eyes opened. He found himself by the steep ground near the walls. The graveyard trees sullenly watched him, who had disturbed the graveyard repose. He passed them by and climbed the steep ground and reached his hand towards the walls. He was weary now. He sat down and rested his head against a wall.
But he had to rise and go. He had to find the way out of that graveyard.
He rose, with closed eyes, and staggered forward; groping his way along the walls lest he should lose the direction. He opened his eyes, and there was the shrouding darkness as usual. He leant his head against a wall, and listened to the other side. No voice of men, no heat of houses, and no smell of kitchens. The other side of the walls was more silent than the graveyard. Behind those besieging windowless walls people were deadly silent.
He closed his eyes again and walked in utter darkness. He plodded for a long time and suddenly heard the rustling of the trees again and opened his eyes. He had come to the trees again. Had he circled the graveyard? But what had happened to the way out?
Seven times he circumambulated around the graveyard in a counter-clockwise direction, like a Mecca pilgrim, without finding a way out. Perhaps a new wall was set where there had been an exit. He was enveloped by the walls.
Perhaps He should shout for help. A ladder, a rope, or something might be sent down for him, hopefully. He had forgotten the wall of his own house. It was lost. He couldn't climb it up though, even if he found it.
He wanted to shout and his voice failed him.
He felt that a great nightmare was possessing him again, a nightmare without waking, a nightmare of nothingness, of loneliness, of the lost door, of the way that had been vanished, and of the people who were nowhere; the silent people, who were more terrible than the dead.
He heard his own breathing. He felt his face with the palms of his hands, and poured the warm stream of his breath in his hands. He touched his skull, and felt the weight of his head above his body, and the weight of himself on the earth. But that nightmare had no waking. It was a nightmare in wakefulness. He wasn't dreaming. He wasn't sleepwalking.
He wanted to run wildly into the depth of the graveyard and get lost in the heart of darkness. Or maybe a forgotten dead would hospitably open his grave for him.
He rose, and there was a whirl in his head. He fell. His head hit against the wall and he dropped down from the steep ground near the walls. He closed his eyes for a painless fall, and everywhere turned into a wall, a dark, endless wall.
He fell upon the thorns and ice in dark, and fumbled with his fingers, and touched a chilly gravestone. He crept over the grave and fell into the thorns among the graves again. He dragged himself to the middle of the graveyard, and suddenly there came the revelation of the whole thing. It was as if he had seen that scene before; as if the end of his dream was being realized, and he knew what would happen next.
He struggled in a blissful vision and dragged himself forth wildly. A black hole appeared before him, a magic tunnel perhaps, which might lead him out of the graveyard. In an ecstasy of fumbling with his whole being he plunged headlong into the pit, and closed his eyes for a bottomless sinking, but he came to a stop soon, without injury. He smelt the familiar earth and opened his eyes; relieved.
It was not the Well, then, as he used to dream of falling into it abysmally in his every night nightmares. It was a ruined grave, perhaps, or a vacant one. Like many other local graveyards, that graveyard was disused, though, he knew, and no corpse was brought here. The relics of some corpses were even recovered and transferred to the thriving general graveyard of the town, and all that remained there were the open graves, and broken gravestones. Perhaps the tenant of that pit had migrated to some new graveyard and had left his vacant home for him. Anyway.
He leant against the surrounding wall of earth and stretched his legs comfortably. He felt good then. He breathed the familiar smell of the earth and listened to the world without. The thorns rasped against the wind, and the silent walls crouched more and more over the graveyard. He stared at his small share of the outside world and saw, for the first time, some stars twinkling uncertainly under the vague vault of heaven.
He closed his eyes. His den was serene, secure, and certain, and a drowsy numbness calmed his sense; a pleasant sense of fatigue, that promised a deep dreamless sleep. . . .
By and by came the intoxicated moments when strange sights and wild associations assailed his mind. Confused fancies and visions that he could hardly clarify to others and even to himself, and that was the glorious moment when he knew he was going to sleep . . . And again, he wouldn't know when he went to sleep. . . .
Tabriz - Winter 1996