In Memory of Kambiz Veysi (1979-2007)
(Tell me why) I don’t like Mondays
(Tell me why) I don’t like Mondays
(Tell me why) I don’t like Mondays
I want to shoot the whole day down
With no decision made, no motivation at all, he begins to move towards the nearest of the three bedroom windows and experiences such ease and lightness in his tread that he suspects at once he’s dreaming or sleepwalking. If it is the case, he’ll be disappointed. Dreams don’t interest him; that this should be real is a richer possibility. And he’s entirely himself, he is certain of it, and he knows that sleep is behind him: to know the difference between it and waking, to know the boundaries, is the essence of sanity.
-Ian McEwan, Saturday
They say that at daybreak you cannot differentiate between the end of a day and its beginning. The cusp is that the sun either rises or sets. You can understand this even when your eyes are closed and you are asleep, or when you are dreaming or have only the intention of dreaming, as if in a trance. When your consciousness and unconsciousness merge you cannot know whether you are asleep or awake; in fact, they say that when we are asleep we are not actually asleep. Our mind is working to recover itself, to start everything anew for us to maybe forget yesterday; to forget it and just think of today. Passing through Saturday to Sunday, through Sunday to Monday, and so on, this passing happens exactly when heavy lorries are crossing the streets, the asphalt of the highways quaking under their wheels. . . and the tank trucks of the city hall water the trees by the streets and highways. Soldiers go to their barracks; buses carry passengers through special lanes with headlights or interior lights turned on; vans go to the market-place to disembark vegetables at the greengrocers’; the roar of the augers digging up the streets and roads mingles with the silence of the city; millions of flowers reach Mahalatti Square to be distributed throughout the city; vans go to print houses to collect bundles of newspapers and magazines to take them to their stands; cats sleep alone or in groups under trees, on the fringes of bridges, beside the building doors and in trash bins; refrigerator trucks tote around tons of meat and groceries to shops and supermarkets to make everything ready for a new day; a new day nobody knows then whether to call starting or ending, and it doesn’t make a difference if it is summer or winter: all of this still happens. And there are days into which a strange force wakes you up. Sometimes, your dreams are far from your fears, sometimes they are so near to you that you jump out of your slumber and want no more to sleep. You don’t know where they come from; you just don’t know, don’t know. . .
7 o’clock. I wake up. . .
Roll over in the bed. Hold my hand on the fan coil unit. It feels pleasantly cool. Touch my face. Cool off. Open my eyes. The blue sky of the summer morning is full of life; these are mornings when you never like to wake up early, but you’ve gotten used to untimely awakenings; you cannot remember whether these awakenings are a vestige of your army days or the days you had to wake up grievously early to go to school.
I rise. Move my neck to right and left; up and down. . . Pick up my mobile. A new message. Didn’t hear the message alarm. Don’t read it. It is not important. Leave the bed. Everybody is asleep. The door of Aylin’s room is closed, and the light is off as usual. Descend the stairs. Mom and Dad are asleep too, but the TV is on. News, statistics that fluctuate, a man who is standing at a lectern and delivering a speech. He is pointing at some people; they are sitting dourly. The football team’s exercises. Another football team’s exercises. The couches in a press conference. A person at the gallows, a rope around his neck, hoisting him further and further up, swinging him in the middle of the air among thousands of staring eyes; dead silence.
Wash my face. Smile in the mirror. . . The best part of each morning is when you wash your face: the cold water splashes over it, the toothbrush cools your mouth, you wear a smile and wish yourself a good morning looking at the mirror. Your day has started, and until midnight you won’t be able to calculate how many of the 17 hours in between will have been rewarding and how many will have been wasted. Those 17 hours amount to 1,020 minutes, 61,200 seconds; those are 61,200 seconds that would have different meanings using distinctive measures. But your day has to be started. So. . .
Close the tap. Dry my face on the towel. . . The worst part of each morning is the time when you have to remember the events of the previous day, what you have done and what you should do in order to connect everything like the links of a chain. Sometimes, the events happen so consecutively that you just can’t remember if it was yesterday, or the day before yesterday, or even three days ago that you did or said something. If you’re lucky enough to have a vivid memory you ask yourself: What was I doing at 7 A.M. yesterday? How about tomorrow?
Go to the kitchen. Start preparing coffee milk. . .
Hear my mobile phone’s message alarm from my room upstairs. Put the milk on the stove. Wait till it boils. Pour the coffee in it. Go upstairs mixing my drink. Put the mug on my desk. Don’t read the messages on my phone. Sit at the desk, turn on the computer, and reopen the Microsoft Word page I had left open last night. Bottled water beside my hand. Adjust the music for today. Check the digital clock on my computer, my e-mails and some weblogs. It’s been a few days since the weblog ”Every Monday with a Song” has posted anything new. Answer some e-mails. Erase some of the spam messages that have randomly arrived in my inbox: “The Complete Proceedings of the Public Execution of the Favorite Athlete’s Murderer”, “Wonderful Wallpapers for Your Desktop”, “The Beauties of the World”, “A Startling Creature that Ate Itself”. Every second, spam. Seventy percent of all the e-mails worldwide are spam. Just think of the time wasted on sending them…
Take up the translation where I had left off yesterday: “There are no stories in Czechoslovakia. . . We aim for inertia. We mass-produce banality and writepseudo-history in pseudo-newspapers.” (From Stories and Totalitarianism by Václav Havel)
Zahra Cemetery was quiet, but the quietude hadn’t affected Teach’s grave much since it was always secluded. They hadn’t put any pictures on his gravestone, a picture that would remind us of his smile, or at least a picture with neither a sad nor a happy look: just a neutral one; the look of a man who is no longer among us. Ahmad had stood beside me. The weather was nippy, but not crisp. It was the first day of winter, but the wind was still autumnal. One of us had stood with one hand in his pocket, the other with one hand around his waist and two flowers in the other. There was a bottle of water by Ahmad’s foot and dust on Teach’s gravestone. Ahmad had asked, “Tell me the truth, don’t you think that if he were still alive he would have become another person?” Another person? A different person? Having MS and living with just one kidney. . . Ahmad had put a flower onto his grave and said, “How nice that my brother mentioned Mahallati Square. Do you know how many flowers are brought there each day and then dispersed throughout the city?”
“It should be about one and a half million.”
“So, from now on, we should go there whenever we want to buy flowers.” He had nodded and had touched Teach’s gravestone. I had said, “Do you know that he was always the only person who really encouraged me to write and translate?” He had muttered, “Didn’t I tell you the same?” I had heard him. “No, I didn’t mean that. Just a guy like Teach, encouraging somebody. . .” He had said “And he always told me to pursue photography…”
The translation is progressing as usual: “History has many ironies. The time-bomb in Gauss’s curve is that after his death we discover that there is no God’s eye view. The errors are inextricably bound up with the nature of human knowledge. And the irony is that the discovery was made in Göttingen.” (From The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski)
Ahmad had given me the bottle of water. It was my turn to clean the dust from Teach’s grave. There was just a name on his gravestone, a birth date (9/9/1981) and a death date (22/12/2007). The day you die everything is finished. 22/12/2007 is only a date. It’s a date on which the world comes to a halt. In this cemetery the world is brought to a halt every day, and nothing starts anew for the dead that sleep in their graves…
I had asked Ahmad, “What if we took pictures from the cemetery instead of the city and its surroundings. He had asked what was so special about the cemetery. I had looked at Teach’s grave and asked “What do you think he is looking at?” Ahmad had replied, “What is he looking at? He’s dead, dude…”
“Yes, I know he’s dead, but just think where he is looking at now.” Ahmad had glanced at Teach’s grave, then at all the graves around the cemetery. He raised his head. The sky was clear, without any trace of clouds. Two birds were passing by. He looked at me. “Are you kidding?”
“No. But what if we photograph today’s sky?”
“It would be just a piece of useless sky that nobody would know anything about.”
“You are talking exactly like uncle Minas. . . What would be the point?”
“Well, you know better than I do that it would be of no use.”
“Really?” And I had taken the camera out of my bag and lain on the ground. Ahmad had asked “What are you doing?” I didn’t answer him. I placed the camera upward on the wet gravestone, but couldn’t adjust the photo frame. Instead I just held the camera with my two hands, fixed its lens and took a few photos. I had risen then, and brushed the dust off my clothes and looked at the photos. Ahmad had come and had flicked through them too. “What you wanted happened: a bunch of photos from the sky. . .” I looked at him. He continued, “So what? Who will know what’s what?”
“We. . . You and I know where they were taken. . . The others may not know . . . But we do know. . .”
“Dear Mr. Photographer, don’t you remember that guy’s gallery of the snapshots?”
“That . . .” I suddenly remembered that he hadn’t come with me. “You weren’t there. . . But I told you about it. He took photos from the statues in parks. I mean, he put his camera in the direction of each statue’s view and took photographs of the things in that view and signed each photo with the date of birth and death of each statue’s representative person. For example, he took photos of those statues in. . .” He interrupted me: “Those statues that aren’t there anymore. . .” He sighed and gave the camera back to me.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. . .
My hands move involuntarily on the keyboard, and the pages get black. The last moment of the past hour: it’s 8 o’clock now. The last translated paragraph reads: “Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, he is not a figure in the landscape — he is a shaper of the landscape. In body and in mind he is the explorer of nature, the ubiquitous animal, who did not find but has made his home in every continent.” (From The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski)
There is a photo on the wall next to my schedule; a photo from the sky with an unbidden bird in the middle of it. I have signed it “Mohsen Dorudgar, a.k.a. Teach.” Teach always told me that life is like boating in a vast ocean. You are in a boat and you do not know where it is going, because there is no direction in that ocean. North, South, West, East: all of them are meaningless. There is no right or wrong. Therefore, you just continue your voyage: sometimes in sunny weather, sometimes under clouds and in storms. You are trapped in this ocean; even if you try to drown yourself you can’t because the tide would not be kind to you; you have to continue. He had asked if I knew what the real tragedy was. My answer was negative. He answered that the tragedy is that there is no shore to this ocean, and you are alone. All alone.
The last time he spoke of these things, he was lying on the hospital bed and instead of looking at me or Ahmad, gazed at the things out of the window: as far as I remember there was nothing special there but a bright spring sky with a few floating clouds. How many years ago was it? I can’t remember.
The spam e-mail reads “Click to Watch the Complete Proceedings of the Public Execution of the Favorite Athlete’s Murderer.” I click. A new page opens. It was posted at 7.20 A.M. 1,000 people have watched it. 35 people have commented on it. It has not been one hour, and all these people have watched it. Close the page quickly.
The first text message reads “Is this all you want to do?” And the second one, “Are you awake?” Drink some water. It wets my dry throat. Throw aside my mobile. Want to resume the translation but suddenly stop. First look at my schedule on the wall. I’m two hours behind the previous day’s program and one and a half behind Saturday’s. I also squandered about twelve fruitful working hours last week. Yet, despite all of this wasted time, I’m still ahead of my schedule. I can still hand in the book to the publisher at the end of the month. I still have time. I still possess seconds. So, I dial Saba’s number. She picks up after the third ring. “Are you awake?”
“Not bad.” Silence. I hear the phone ringing on the other side of the line. “Hold on a second. . .” She leaves the phone and starts talking on the other phone. As usual, I can choose between listening to her talk with her client and doing my job.
Leave the desk. Change the music and start walking in the room. Mom is awake now. See her going to the bathroom. Stand in front of the full-length mirror; the mirror with a treadmill in front of it. Look at the childhood photo my mom has stuck on the corner of the mirror. Saba is still talking with the client. She always has to account for everything when talking to me, to her boss, to the clients, to her friends and even to herself, and this is definitely the thing she hates the most. It has been like this for the last three years I have known her. It is always the same, from 7 A.M. when she gets to the office till 4 or 4.30 P.M. when she leaves it. As far as I remember, everything has gotten worse with the passage of time. Since the company’s financial transactions were constrained, her job has been getting more laborious. A long time ago, the bank their company worked with encountered problems with money transfers, and now a simple transaction has changed into a hell of a job. Now Saba has to shoulder more responsibilities than before.
I have written on the mirror:
My reflection, dirty mirror
There’s no connection to myself
Mirror Mirror on the wall
Show me where them bombs will fall
Black Mirror knows no reflection
It knows not pride or vanity
It cares not about your dreams
Mirror Mirror on the wall
Should I break you?
“Hellooo. . . sorry.”
“Not at all.”
“Now, tell me. Is this all you want to do?”
“My problem is not this.”
“Why, this is exactly your problem. I told you last night. I’ve told you before too. Why don’t you want to accept it?”
“Are you trying to sway me?”
“You know that I can’t do that. Besides, I have no reason to do that. I just want to help you undo this knot of anxiety in your mind.”
“I have no problem with this knot of anxiety.”
“Then what? What is eating away at you? What are you not satisfied with?”
“Just, why it can’t be as it is. . .”
“For God’s sake. . . How many times have we spoken about this? Why do you always repeat yourself? You yourself have thousands of good answers for the questions you are asking, and you know better than I do where the real problem lies, but you still harp on about it?” She pauses. I don’t say anything; just like the previous night when the conversation got here, I didn’t have anything to say, like yesterday, like the day before yesterday, like all the other days that pass by, still I have nothing to say. The telephone in her office rings again. “I’ll call you later.”
“Ok.” And the phone goes dead. I am still standing in front of the mirror and don’t move. The music is still playing. Return to my desk. Every morning I tell myself that I should erase these lines on my mirror. So this morning too, I must erase the lines and smile. Throw the phone on the bed. Put my hand inside a glass container of old coins on my desk and bring out a coin at random. Heads, I’ll erase the lines; tails, I won’t erase them. Flip it. The coin ascends in the air, higher and higher, but gravity brings it back to my palm. Tails. The lines will remain on the mirror. Pick up the empty coffee mug and go to the sitting room.
Dad is awake now, too. He is sitting beside my mom at the dining table. They are drinking coffee. The TV is still showing the news channel: the faces of a few men sitting solemnly around a table listening to a man speak. He is moving his hands passionately. The statistics are still fluctuating. “Good morning,” Dad says. “Morning. . .” I reply and go to the kitchen. Pour a glass of water and plop a multivitamin effervescent tablet into it. Put my hand on the rim of the glass and feel the effervescent particles spatter over my palm. Go back to Mom and Dad.
Loosen my grip on the rim a little to let the pressured air out of the glass. Sit at the table. Mom smiles. Dad twists his coffee mug. Sips. I ask, “Is your back better?”
“Yes,” and then nods to Aylin’s room and turns to Mom: “Should she go today?”
“I don’t know.” I ask “Where to?” Nobody answers. I look at her room, her lights are on, and this is strange. The tablet has dissolved. My drink is ready. I don’t repeat my question again. Just, “What a surprise! Her lights are on!” They don’t say anything. I continue, “She has risen and shone too early today!” Dad turns to me: “Will you be home today?”
“Nothing. Just wanted to see if you have a little time to talk together.”
“I think I’ll be home at night.” He says nothing. Mom says, “Uncle Minas will be here at night.”
“Really? How nice!” And turn to Dad, “Can’t we postpone talking?”
“No.” A strong No. I don’t stir. Dad asks “What about the job you went to apply for?” I look at Mom. Last week she gave me an address to go to at midday. It was the address of a company. She had asked one of her friends for a job for me, and that friend had called another friend to ask! Generously, without anybody asking for a favor! I look at Dad. He is still sitting at the table staring at me. He asks with a low voice, “And?” It was several weeks ago, nine months ago maybe. As soon as I had entered the house, I had thrown my bag to one side and had said, “It’s impossible to work with these guys anymore. They just give you a salary. . .” I said so because they had given the piece I was to translate to another guy without saying anything to me. The other guy was a friend of the boss, as simple as that. As a matter of fact, I had not said anything about their double-dealing. I had withheld the truth and gone to my room. The friend of my mom’s friend had a company in the west of the city. The secretaries were sitting at their desks. There were three or four of them; young girls. I had waited a few minutes before visiting the man whom I had misnamed. His office was at the end of a short corridor of an apartment they were exploiting for business deals. He hadn’t closed the door. His office was so small that it was impossible to talk and not to be heard by others, especially by those gaudy and brash secretaries. No sooner had I sat down than he asked me about my job and my university degree. I had told him that I was a translator without any degrees. He had looked at me and said that all the people there knew English to some extent and had a degree too; they needed a sales manager and it would be better if I continued my own job. Of course, it was an absolutely friendly suggestion, but it was offered so loudly that the others could hear it, too. I say to Dad, “And. . .?”
“And what?” I look at Mom. I hadn’t said that I was looking for a job. The out-loud version of this thought is, “He said it would be better if I continued my current job. They wanted a sales manager and I don’t have the experience. . .” Dad wants to say something, but the ringing of my phone interrupts. Mom says, “Your phone. . .” I sip my drink and rise.
“I thought you wouldn’t call me again.”
“We have to solve this problem.”
“But you’re working now. . .”
“Never mind. Work is always work. I told you that they keep me busy even on holidays.”
“Yes, you did mention it. What’s the matter? Financial transaction?”
“No. More than that. Now it’s totally impossible to transfer any money anywhere. The last bank that exchanged money for us will stop doing it sometime next week, and we really don’t know what we should do. And then the company that we cooperated with for our sea freight has curtailed its business deals up to 70%.”
“Oh, then your situation is worse than mine!”
She laughs, “Gracious me! What should I say? You’re lucky that you’re not affiliated with a company. You don’t have a boss. But look at me.”
“My not having a boss exactly my problem! I don’t leave home at 7 A.M.,come back at 4 P.M., and have monthly payslip to count on! All these are enough for me to know the difference between decisiveness and indecisiveness.”
“No. We are in the same boat.”
“Who says that? Your situation is stable when everything else is steady. But it’s not so for me.”
“This is exactly what we should talk about. This is the important thing, not my job, not the things I should do to export a group of air conditioners, washing machines or refrigerators. . .”
“And for one week now you’ve been spending your working time solving this problem.”
“Well, because. . .” She pauses. I’m not sure what she is going to say next. I’m not sure why it’s been one week now that our conversation has been focused on this point. The reason is only our friendship, a good feeling, affection, or what?
“. . . because it’s too simple. Tit for tat. . .”
“Tit for tat?” She laughs. “Don’t you remember?”
Tit for tat. I pause. I’m standing in front of the mirror and haven’t moved a bit. The empty glass of my drink is still in my hand. I think we were at Valiasr Street and Niyayesh Highway junction. It was a summer evening one year ago. She had turned to me and had said angrily, “This guy never understands me. He understands nothing at all. He is offended by every single word I say. He just likes to bicker over unimportant things and then leave. He doesn’t work or works a little. He is good at his work, but he is lazy. He never pursues anything seriously. He is always crabby. I really don’t know what I should do with him. He is always like this. He never listens to me or talks to me. I can never exchange more than two words with him. What should I do? Should I crumple and throw him away like a battered envelope?” And I had smiled in the torrid summer weather and hadn’t complained of the heat, and we had continued walking and had discussed the problem more to find a solution for it— “Hellooooooo . . . Are you listening to me?” I am still standing in front of the mirror. “Yes, yes, continue. . .”
“Do you remember what ‘tit for tat’ means?”
“Ummm— Yes, I do.”
“Then never bother with tricky thoughts!” She pauses. I don’t say anything. She says “Helloooo. . .”
“Can I meet you in the evening?”
“No. Around 7.”
“Look, I really get tired at this job. I think I will need to take a nap to feel a bit. . .”
“Around 7, not immediately after work. Rest a little, then I’ll come to you, and we can have a walk together.”
“I’ll call you then.”
“Don’t keep me waiting. . .”
“Ok. . .” She pauses. Then says “By the way. . .”
“Do you know what my dad says? He says you are lucky if you have some reason to wake up for in the morning.”
“Like you. . .”
“And like you. . .” I want to tell her something, but the phone in her office barges in. “I have to go. Bye. . .”
“Then. . .” And the phone goes dead. I look at my childhood photo. The music changes. Dad calls me. I stop the music and go to the sitting room. “What’s the matter?”
“I asked you when we could talk together.” I look at my watch. A few minutes to 9. I have to leave at 9.30.”
“Sit a moment,” and points at the sofa. Mom is sitting at the table, drinking tea and looking at us. I walk slowly to the sofa and sit on it. “Haven’t you received any letters from Aylin’s faculty to sign?” I answer without hesitation, “No.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why, yes. Anything happened?”
“No. Nothing special.”
“Why are you behaving so fishily? Is there something in the air?” Mom says, “It was a letter from her faculty cautioning against her probationary status.”
Dad says, “We have learned that she has failed for four successive terms and has told us nothing about it.” I snigger and then smile. “Aylin! Failed? Impossible!” Mom says “You see that it’s not.”
None of them say anything because the sound of Aylin’s room’s door suddenly captures their attention. She leaves her room. Has an empty glass in her hand. Comes to the sitting room. We turn to her. She says “Morning. What’s going on this early?” Dad bends his head. Lights a cigarette. Mom answers Aylin’s good morning. Dad says nothing. I look at her and say standing “You are an early bird today. . .” She mumbles “You schmo,” and goes into the kitchen. I don’t answer her. I hear the refrigerator door open, the bowls clatter, the microwave door close, and its timer go off. Mom goes to her bag and brings a letter out of it and puts it on the table “You have to take this to your aunt today.” I look at her: “I have to go to the magazine office today.”
“Take it later.” I look at the envelope. “What is it?” Dad says “It’s a debt.” None of them say anything more. Mom says “Will you take it or not?”
“It won’t be earlier than 2.30.”
“No problem.” I rise. Go and take the letter. Aylin is out of the kitchen. She has heated a bowl of soup for herself. Passes by saying, “Want some soup?” I don’t answer her. I let her pass and go to her room. On the staircase, Mom asks her, “Will you be home tonight?” She stops. “Why?” Mom says “Nothing. Uncle Minas will be here at night.” She utters the words so that we can both hear her. She had forgotten that she just told me the same thing a few minutes ago. Aylin murmurs, “Good for us!” And goes to her room. I assure Mom and Dad that I’ll be home around 9 or 9.30 and go to my room. Before everything, I pick up my thin wallet, fold the envelope and put it inside. Then I fumble around in the glass container of my old coins, as if I’m drawing. Touch the coins one by one. They are small, big. Pick up one for today, and change into my ordinary street clothes to leave home.
Photography by Anahit Hayrapetyan