The sky was red and dismal. Clouds of dust were blowing in the wind. The dry branches of the trees were swaying. The man put up the shutters, hurried into the shop, brought the hasps and fastened them onto the shutters. With his hands, he inspected the doors closely. The barking of the dogs reached his ears from a distance. The wind ceased for a moment but the flickering light of the lantern was still trembling on the wall. Again, the wind began to howl, throwing the motes to his face. Sinking his head between his shoulders, he put his hands in his pockets and departed. His fingers touched the cold metal of the statue. He thought he should be happy but he was not. He had bought the statue cheaper than the real price. The seller had been in a hurry as if he had stolen it. He could have bought it at a lower price but reflected that the seller might have relinquished the idea of selling it had he been greedy. While in his shop, he had bent over the yellow leaves of an old book amidst the old furniture in his second-hand shop, and pored over the pale lines with a magnifying glass. It was a chirographic ancient book. The writer had witnessed the attacks of Tartars with his own eyes, and had lost his wife and children. At the end of his life, he had consigned to paper his assumptions regarding Divine predestination.
Intent on estimating the price of the half-torn book in terms of money he observed someone gazing at him. He looked up. A man, wrapped in a muffler, was standing in the dark. His heart began palpitating at the unexpected encounter. He wanted to bawl him out but remained silent when the man took a step forward.
“I have a statue for sale,” he said huskily.
In an effort to see the man, he screwed up his eyes but saw nothing but a mere shape.
“Come closer,” he said.
However, the man did not move a muscle. He waited but the man remained motionless.
“An unseen object has no price,” he declared.
Still, the man did not move. Then, he picked up the lantern from the table and drew up the wick. At this moment, the wind blew the window open, whirled in the room, shook the curtains, trembled the flame and scattered the papers. Swiftly, he went towards the window and bolted it. As he came back, he found the statue on the table. He took it and was surprised by at its heavy weight. He examined it in the light of the lantern. It looked like a dwarf in shape of a man with a pendulous pouch, an open mouth, two shut eyes and a pair of free hands and a dangling penis. As he was studying it with a magnifying glass, he surreptitiously scratched its surface with his thumb-nail and saw the flash of silver beneath its black coating. Did the man know it? The feet of the statue were planted in a rectangular pedestal.
He conquered his dubiety and said, “It’s not obvious to which age it belongs.”
Seeing that the man was silent, he pursued, “Such an object can be found in any historical era. So it knows no certain historical value … And the erosions … Have you washed it? To wash such antiques, there is a special way of which ordinary people are unaware. As a result, instead of cleaning them, they just ruin them.”
Again, he set to examining its engravings. As he saw the man’s silence, he felt emboldened, shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s obviously made of brass.”
Then he cast a sidelong glance at him. The man took another step forward. His face was still invisible.
“How much will you pay for it?” he asked.
His heart sank at the sound of the man’s voice. He was slightly frightened but pulled himself together, took the statue again, assumed a thoughtful face, studied it carefully and heaved a deep sigh. He uttered a certain price but did not dare to look at the man. From the corner of his eyes, he saw that his lips had split into a derisive smile. He thought he had gone too far.
“It’s a deal,” he announced.
He drew a sigh of relief, opened a chest, took out some coins, counted them and gave them to the man. Without counting the coins, he put them in his pocket, opened the door and rushed out, leaving the door open behind him. The ominous howling of the wind whirled in. He craned his head out. The man had vanished in the murk. He closed the door, fetched his touchstone and set to examining the statue. The price he had paid was not even half the price. The barking of dogs arose in the dark. He was not looking where he was going. He reached the bazaar. A burning lantern was dangling from a peg on the wall. He hastened towards the lantern.
From the heart of darkness came the snarls of the dogs. His feet refused to budge. Again, he turned round, seeking a way into the street. The wind began blowing anew. A piece of the gable fell off the roof noisily. A glass broke. A child cried. The horrified crying of the child soothed him to some extent. Yet, he couldn’t find his way out. Holding the statue in his pocket, he started running through the lanes. He dreaded he would lose his way.
Upon reaching home, he was completely out of breath. With apprehension, he looked for his key. His hands were trembling. The paws of the dogs sounded threateningly. He shut the door behind him and sat down on the bottom stair. He gasped. But soon, he felt relieved. An illimitable wealth was in his pocket. Now he was powerful. His shattered hopes marched before his eyes. A lantern was burning feebly in the room. He drew up the wick. His father was staring at the ceiling with wide opened eyes. He said hello but did not wait for answer. He went into another room and took off his clothes. Shortly afterwards, he was at his father’s bedside.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
His father looked away in disgust.
“I am awaiting death which doesn’t come so you may throw this carcass of mine into the well,” he said.
He removed the sheet. A putrid smell forced itself to his nostrils.
Then he removed the gauzes. Serum had oozed out from the violet-colored abbesses under his arms and between his thighs.
He wiped the abbesses, covering them with a thick layer of black oil. He recollected that the doctor had strongly recommended his father not to scratch or press his wounds.
“The cause of the disease is the existence of a tiny worm in the skin. In case it goes under his skin, he will die.”
“Untie my hands!” moaned his father.
But he gave no answer. Slowly, he removed the anticassamer which was besmeared with blood and excrement from under his body. The old man cursed. A thick green liquid was accumulated under his body which emanated a fetid odor. He felt sick and averted his face. Then, he cleaned his body.
“Why don’t you let me alone? My eternal curse fall on you!” swore the old man.
“Untie my hands! You want a clear conscience, you spawn of the wicked? You don’t feel for me. Untie my hands!”
He cried convulsively, turning his head right and left. He waited for the old man to calm down. He wiped his hands and face, brought the pottage he had heated and put it in his mouth spoon by spoon. Then, he gave him a drink of water. Drawing down the lantern wick, he went into another room. There, he lit the samovar, ate a loaf of bread and drank a cup of tea. Taking out the dwarf from his pocket, he put it in front of himself and stared at it. The wind was blowing boisterously. But he felt secure inside.
After years of waiting, I am in luck at last.”
He thought about its value. Then he took the magnifying glass, stared at its minute engravings and transferred them onto paper. He, then, started rummaging through his books. It was midnight when he found similar lines in a certain book. He found similar letters and put them together.
It said, “I am Lucifer, the weaver of the wafts and wefts of fate.” Astonished, he rose up with great difficulty. His hand struck the cup. It broke. He stared at the bits. So, he had found the statue of Lucifer of Babel who had fled hell.
With a trembling hand, he pulled a heavy book from the shelf, leafing it over until he reached this passage: “By magic, Lucifer discovered the Great Secret, namely the fate of mankind. In the town he roamed, revealing to people their fate. The virgins and the veiled dames surrendered themselves to him so as to learn their fate. It went on to the point where there was no virgin in Babel and a great dissention arose amongst people for those who gained knowledge of their fate washed their hands off the world and sank into depravity. At length, God was wrathful and had him hanged upside down in a burning well in Hell. Deceiving his guardian angels, Lucifer fled amongst people, disseminating the notion of necessarianism, regarding sins as inevitable. The Almighty commanded Michael to chastise him. Thus, he took orders and obeyed.”
It seemed as if the dwarf were sneering at him with closed eyes. All night long, he dreamt that he was roving in the dark narrow alleys. And he couldn’t find his way out. It was as though someone was after him. His legs were disobedient to him like a pair of logs.
Upon opening his eyes, the moaning of a man which resembled the howling of animals reached his ears. He went to his father’s room. His haggard face was soaked with sweat. He was breathing heavily. He woke him up and gave him a drink of water. His father stared at him vapidly. “You cannot imagine what a treasure I have got hold of. We are rich. I shall bring the most experienced doctor to your bedside. We shall sell this hovel and that shop with all those odds and ends. We will go to another city with a pleasant climate. We will buy a big house. We will have servants and maids. Now is the end of your poverty and sickness. “
The old man had averted his gaze. His eyes were wet with tears. “You are not happy, father?” he asked.
There was no answer. He turned round. His glance fell on his own reflection in the mirror. How he resembled his father! The wind abated in the morning. He gave breakfast to the old man. Then, he put on his clothes and crept out. The streets were dusty and empty. Broken branches and motes scattered in the streets. He commenced his long stroll.
In the evening, he, completely soaked, struck the knocker of Hezkiah’s tavern door. Water was dripping down from the roof and the branches. Dust had given place to dampness and wind to rainfall. Holding a lantern, shabby Hezkiah opened the door. He had tiny eyes and henna-colored beard. He recognized him but said nothing. In the poorly-lit cubbyhole, he sprawled down on a carpeted bed. Hezkiah put a glass, a dust-laden bottle, a loaf of bread and a bowl of grape juice before him. Then he departed. Soon afterwards, he came back with a lantern he had lit in honor of his guest. He filled the glass and sipped it. Now the old Lucifer was silent.
All day long, he had hauled him from one place to another, sneering at him. As he neared the coachman, the bulging-eyed horses neighed wildly, raising their forelegs in an effort to break loose from their shafts. However hard the coachman strove to quiet them proved abortive. Hence, he was compelled to go to the antiquarian’s house on foot. The sound of knocking was lost in the clamor of the wind and rain. He knocked louder. He saw an old man looking at him through the window.
“Open the door. Look what I’ve brought with me!” he yelled.
Holding the statue above his head, he mulled over how to conduct business with him.
“Get away!” the man snarled, frowning like a lunatic.
He didn’t hear him.
“What?” he said.
“Get lost, you miserable wretch!” he barked.
Then, he withdrew the curtain and vanished from view. He speculated that the man must have gone crazy. An hour later, he was at another house. Under the influence of an unknown power, he didn’t utter a word of what he had in his pocket. He remained mute until he was admitted into the house. In a luxurious hall decorated with antiques, he sat waiting so that the servant might inform his master of his presence. Covetously, he stared at the flower patterned carpets, the crystalline candelabrums with their bejeweled pedestals and the precious paintings, trying to make a mental estimation of the wealth accumulated there.
“Amidst all this affluence, there is no terror of tempest,” He thought.
The house master appeared with his ebony cane. He was garbed in sumptuous clothes. Leisurely, he walked, looking ahead of him. He ensconced himself on a velvety divan, propping his head upon his cane, ignoring his salutations.
“I have been told you have something precious for sale,” he said.
Then he looked at him and pursued: “As a little boy, I used to cling to my mother’s skirt in fear of such days. My father turned me out of house and yelled that I couldn’t return until I had earned such and such sum of money. That was then when I came to know the importance of money.
“At this point, the servant came back with two cups of tea and a jar of jam, put them on the table and went out.
“In fact, you must have serious occasions to come out on such an accursed day,” he said.
Producing the statue from his pocket, he placed it on the table. The tea made him cough. He put the cup on the table, bringing his head close to the statue. Then, he put his hands in his pockets, took out a pair of round glasses and wore them. He picked up the statue and his lips split open into a stifled sigh. Then, he looked at him and at the statue. Taking a magnifying glass from his pocket, he scanned it intently. After which he put it on the table and went towards the window staring at the black darkness. All of a sudden, he pressed his hand upon his chest and bent down. It was then when he heard that hoarse laughter. Dazzled, he glanced round but saw nothing.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked.
But the man did not answer. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket, turned to him, sat beside him and began to speak in a low tone of voice as if he were talking to himself.
“Scleirmacher spent his entire life in Mesopotamia in quest of his statue. Two of his children died of cholera and he died of Black Death. Lichter Wald professor of Munich University and holder of a chair in Babylon archeology spent seven years on a research the results of which he published in the form of a valuable book. When he thought he was about to find the statue, he sank beneath the debris in the ruins of Ishtar Temple. Austrian Frisch had a more painful destiny. “
Again, he stared at the statue and wiped his sweaty face. Opening his shirt, he said, “What damp air!”
Against the wind, he advanced forward laboriously in the alley. The unabated howling of the wind rang in his ears. God alone knew where he was going. He thought he would make a right turn but did not know why. He had the premonition that something appalling would befall him. The house master had offered an exorbitant price for the statue. Notwithstanding, his senses had reeled and his head fell upon the table as his steward put the money before him. Amidst the din of the servants and the women of the house, he had taken his statue, and run out. Then, he felt compelled to go to the antiquarian’s house with the knowledge that he would pay a lower price than others.
An old tree hovered over his house and a flock of people were coming and going. The old antiquarian, leaning against the wall with bare feet and head, was murmuring some psalms. His black frock was swaying in the wind. He went nearer, his gaze alighting on his sallow face. He was dumbfounded. He roamed the alleys and the streets but could not find a buyer. It was evening when some point attracted his attention.
“It may not happen.” he thought to himself.
He sank into faraway reflections. He thought about the lives of those who were in search of this statue. All of them must have had logical minds. Surely, they couldn’t imagine that this statue was in possession of supernatural power. The commanders who had found this statue had disemboweled themselves. The princes who had obtained this statue had set fire to themselves and their harems. Famous and obscure men had fallen under the spell of this statue. As he was revolving the history of the statue in his mind, he observed that the tempest had abated.
The redness of the sky had given place to somberness of torrential clouds. He stood in a corner. The first drops of rain began to fall. But he did not try to find a shelter from the rain. The heart of heaven tore open. He began walking in the torrential rain. He recalled the dark face of the man who had sold him the statue and his own pointless attempt to see his face.
“Now I know who has been deceived.” he said.
The same course laughter ran in his ears. He laughed too. The “You sound of laughter grew louder. He also laughed louder.
“I knew who had been deceived.” he muttered.
He was wet through. Moments later, he was at Hezkiah’s house. He gulped down the fifth glass. Hardly was he now mindful of his frustrated desires.
“Where shall we go now? Take me with thee. I will follow thee with peace of mind.” he addressed the statue.
Then, he stared at the green bubble until he felt he had to rise up. Casting a coin beside the tray, he walked out. As he opened the door, his feet felt the sodden street. The rain had stopped.
A turbid stream of water was flowing in the street. Hardly had he walked for an hour that he stopped to gaze at the walls and realized where he was. He knocked on the door. There was no answer. He knocked louder. A gruff voice came in answer. A woman, holding a lamp, opened the door. It was impossible to guess her age.
“What the devil is the matter with you? Is your semen backing up to your brain?” she screamed.
“Could you do me a favor?” he said, huskily.
She wanted to hit the lamp against his face but stood there, petrified. Taking out a coin from his pocket, he offered it to her. She gazed at it intently in the light of the lamp and softened on the spot. She flashed a grin which showed a set of decayed teeth. And he laughed.
“You are hungry for sex, apparently.” she said, moving aside.
She, then, slammed the door and uttered an imprecation on her bad luck and the sky. She led him to a room with dirty walls. There were a filthy bed sheet and a tattered carpet. A red light peeped through the broken window. An unpleasant odor hit his nostrils.
“Thou hast dragged me to such a hellhole. I know the owner of the house. She is nonpareil in disease and insults.” he thought to himself. On the settee beside the wall, he sat, staring at the porno pictures on the walls which were ludicrous rather than erotic.
“Man’s struggle to ward off death.” a voice said from within him. And he laughed. A woman over forty years of age walked in. Her old cashmere gown was deliberately open. Her pendulous breasts aroused no desire. She was wearing a heavy make-up. As she welcomed the man with a lewd jest, he perceived from her hoarse voice that she was diseased.
“I know younger and healthier women who do not flaunt their whoredom so blatantly. I am sure I will leave this place diseased. Why don’t I get up and go?” he thought.
Brushing at her dyed hair, she advanced forward. An eerie force goaded him on. From deep within him came a voice which was not his. He penetrated his virility into her, exerting himself to tear her apart.
An acrid reek forced itself to his nostrils which did not belong to human beings. Silent, she commended his savagery. Both of them had transcended the realm of unanimal man. Languid, he crawled in a corner.
“What dost thou want from me now?” he whispered.
At this point, the woman rose up, her face assuming its original state. She asked if he cared for anything but did not wait for his answer. She slipped into her gown and walked out. He took out the statue. The face of the statue seemed to be filled with delight.
“It seems that you have not copulated with women for ages.” He addressed the statue. The woman came back with a tray of eatables and a black bottle.
“Would you accept this for money?” he said, pointing to the statue.
Taking up the statue, she stared at it. Her features changed once more. It was as if someone wanted to liberate herself from beneath the wrinkles of her face which revealed different faces. It first revealed the face of a young girl with eyes and then the face of a woman whose lips quivered as if she were saying something beseechingly.
Shortly afterwards, her face assumed its original form.
“Do I have to keep this little demon to deprive me of my sleep?” she said.
“It’s made of pure silver,” he said.
“I wouldn’t take it even if it were made of gold. Perhaps you are parsimonious. A black coin from your Excellency’s purse is preferable to it,” she said.
At his silence, she pursued, exasperated, “It was my ill fortune to have you here. Get fucked and pay my rent. Is that what you mean?”
“Don’t fret, you whore!” he snarled.
Then, he pulled a few coins from his pocket and threw them to her. His wet clothes were repellent to him and so was his body. Putting his hand on the cold statue in his pocket, he said, “What wishes I had! Oh old Lucifer, never repudiate that thou longed for that woman. She might have been thy sweet heart in days of yore. A virgin had given thee delight in hopes of the knowledge of her fate. But I won’t demand my fate of thee.”
Upon arriving home, he thought that he had no good news for the old man. The house was plunged in darkness and silence. He had the premonition that some awful event was awaiting him in silence.
Quickly, he lit a lamp and made for the old man’s room. He had arranged himself in a supine position in bed, staring at the ceiling. He touched his body. Cold and cadaverous. He removed the sheet from him.
His face twitched in disgust. Thousands of white maggots were wriggling in his wounds. Alarmed, he crept into a corner, placed the lamp on the shelf, covering his mouth with his hands.
“What willst thou do with me then?” he heard a voice say.
A coarse peal of laughter rang in his ears. In an instant, he bridled his confusion and burst into a guffaw.
“How didst thou find me? Was I the worthiest one?” he desperately yelled into the void.
Translated by Ali Salami