A Rainy Tuesday

Bijan Najdi

Artwork by Mirza Jaafar

Tuesday was wet. Wearing a chador that enveloped her slight frame, Maliheh held a blue umbrella as she walked through an alley, one that took the same twists and turns as her dreams and nightmares. Rain fell, alongside the sound of it tapping on gutters, umbrellas, asphalt. Inside the windows lining both sides of the alley, a curtain of heat hung down, radiating from the furnaces. The air gave off the scent of firewood and burnt oil.

Maliheh had wrapped her head in her chador, covering everything but her unmade-up eyes. Practically running, she was accompanied by the sound of her breathing and her heels clacking. Autumn flung itself at the blue umbrella, tore the chador from Maliheh’s body, and was pulling the umbrella out of her hands. Maliheh’s wrinkled dress, dotted with tangerine flowers, was now free from her chador. The mingled smell of rain and mothballs suffused her twenty-four-year-old skin, skin that no man’s palm had ever caressed. If anyone wiped the fog from his window, he’d see a woman holding onto the corner of her chador by the teeth, at a loss as to what to do with her inside-out umbrella. That’s why she let go of the umbrella and grabbed her runaway chador with both hands, wrapping herself up in it again. First the wind tossed the umbrella towards the wall, then cast it to the ground and dragged it until it hit a light post. Some of the umbrella’s springs broke; a piece of its wet blueness was torn apart. It tumbled past the light post towards the trees at the end of the alley.

As the sound of the umbrella’s fracturing bones and tearing fabric faded into the distance window by window, a short-legged dog trotted out of one of the houses’ half-open doors. It ran after the umbrella, barking, while rain seeped like blood from the umbrella’s wounds. Hitting the tree trunk, the umbrella fell right there beneath autumn’s arboreal limbs, lifeless and bearing no resemblance to the open blue umbrella that it once was. The dog circled it, barking a few more times, and then falling silent. It started to walk away, but every three or four steps, it would turn back to look at the umbrella.

Not a single window opened. No one wiped away the condensation. The umbrella didn’t perceive the sound of its springs being crushed. It was dying and could no longer remember the rain. Only a distant, slightly warm memory of Maliheh’s palm remained with the umbrella now, which slowly and gently was being forgotten–a memory that had exited the large doors of Evin Prison that very morning. That day, a woman’s hand had been clutching the umbrella handle, and a light blue poured through between her fingers. Her puffy eyes and unkempt face, covered with the kind of pockmarks you only find on an apple skin, had the cruel effect of making her look older than she really was.

A few people had gathered around the reporter: “So they’re really going to release everyone today?”

“Yes, they have to.”

A woman leaned her shoulder against the ice-cold railing separating the people and the prison. A couple of railings down, Maliheh never took her eyes off the metal door: the upper lip of the frame had frosted over that morning. A sergeant led the reporters down the steps beside the railing. The sounds of Tehran breathing could be heard in the distance.

A few wiped their eyes with their hands, as if the air was filled with soap suds, and stared at the surrounding hills and barbed wire.

When Maliheh saw the photographers, she put her hand over her face, and the flash, moonlight upon moonlight, lit up, died out.

The next day, the face of a woman who’d been standing not too far from Maliheh was on the front page of the newspaper. In another paper, a large shot featured the Evin Prison doors, which had opened with the sound of the years 1945 to 1978 stepping aside.

The people crowded the door. Maliheh searched every last face. In the cold of her surroundings, which no longer showed any trace of morning, she couldn’t find Siyavash amongst all those prisoners’ eyes accustomed to walls, indoor slip shoes, the bars of the bed, and the endless counting of mosaic tiles and the days of the year. (Seven years ago, Siyavash Reyhani, Maliheh’s father, was tied to a post behind the prison’s potato stores and executed by firing squad. Then of course they hosed down the post and cleaned it off. But the rain wouldn’t let the blood scab over in the grass near the post.) Maliheh couldn’t see the potato stores from this side of the fence, just as she hadn’t seen the grass, or the umbrella.

Another woman held the umbrella in front of her like a cane. She went up the cement steps and, before starting to cry, called out, “Amir Husayn, Amir Husayn, I’m here!”

A young man with a freshly-sprouted black moustache carved out a path through the women in the crowd. The woman reached the stair Maliheh was standing on. The young man brushed people aside like they were water droplets and came forward with outstretched arms.

“Amir Husayn. . .”

The woman stepped down one stair. A part of her chador was draped over the stair and got tangled between her feet, and she started to fall. Maliheh lunged towards the woman and caught her by the shoulders.

“Careful, Mother!” cried Amir Husayn.

The woman fell into Maliheh’s arms. She handed Maliheh her umbrella saying, “Can you hold this for a second, dear?” before embracing Amir Husayn.

The woman rubbed her face against Amir Husayn’s open collar and neck, which still smelled like the blankets of Evin Prison. They embraced and on a late autumn day in 1978, turned and went away. Nobody heard Maliheh’s voice calling, “Ma’am! Your umbrella. Ma’am! Your. . .”

 “Please come aboard, please make your way to the bus,” a sergeant called out over the megaphone. “Quickly, sir.”

“Where are the rest?” Maliheh asked the people.

She clutched the umbrella to her chest and asked every man and woman around her, “The rest. . . where are the rest?”

Finally, she had to tap a sergeant on the shoulder and ask, “Are there no more? Is that it?”

The officer turned his head toward the prison.

The massive door to Evin was like an old wound, scabbed over; a wound which had stopped bleeding but was now open again. This side of the door, Siyavash was standing on his old, proud legs, wearing that same long, white scarf around his neck which years earlier, on the night of his arrest, he’d pulled off the wooden hanger beside Maliheh’s dress. All those years, whenever Maliheh had a chance, she would take that dress, cover it in moth repellent, and hang it up again, on the exact same hanger, next to the same long scarf that Siyavash was bringing closer to her now.

“Hello, Father,” she said softly.

She knew in order to touch her father’s face, she would have to traverse a long distance between dream and reality.

The bus departed. Two or three people helped Maliheh get on the minibus behind her father. The driver was staring at Maliheh in the mirror and couldn’t figure out if his passenger was about to cry, or had already been crying. When he started the bus, the hills of Evin shook. The guard tower, with its dormant floodlight, faded into the distance; all the trees set out walking next to the bus. A strip of barbed wire was twisted in a circle, its sharp points coated in drops of rain, which weren’t falling but Maliheh imagined they were. The driver took the bus down an incline. The hills, towers, and barbed wire vacated the window beside Maliheh’s face.

“It’s over, Dad.”

“What’s over?”

“We’re getting to some walls now that people have written all over.”

“Walls, walls, walls.”

Her father hung his head and was looking at his fingernails. Maliheh was silent until they reached the Tajrish Bridge.

“Want a cigarette?”

On the bridge, the minibus passed by a tank. A soldier was sitting on the hatch and smoking. The driver saw a cloud of smoke, minus the smell of tobacco but plus the sound of his passenger coughing, fill the mirror. Beside the mirror, a tall building was on fire. There were gunshots. Maliheh asked her father to put on his glasses and look at the shattered bits of the neon sign reading “Bank of Exports” strewn on the sidewalk.

“Stop here, please.”

They got off, and the driver could find no better word for what was getting off the bus than loneliness. Likewise, people on the sidewalk didn’t realize a man was passing by them, arm in arm with a woman, despite the fact that he didn’t exist.

“Are you tired, Dad?”

“Is it a long way?”

“We’re getting there.”

“Wasn’t our old neighborhood better?” he asked.

“After Mom. . . you weren’t around, those rooms became intolerable. I didn’t know what to do with all of Mom’s junk, and the sound of her coughing never left the house, even after the fortieth-day anniversary. That’s why I came here. We’re almost there. At first Grandpa didn’t allow it, but then he said, ‘Whatever makes you comfortable.’”

“Mom? The doctors said she had a swollen thyroid.”

“Swollen thyroid? No, a goiter,” said Maliheh.

“A goiter is the same thing as a swollen thyroid, sweetie.”


Maliheh stopped in front of a door. She was rummaging through her pockets, looking for the key. She knew as soon as she opened the door, she’d have to pass by all the clothes on the floor, the newspapers strewn everywhere, her image in the mirror, ashtrays full of cigarette butts. She’d have to sit beneath the little frame stuck to the wall, that same old frame that had written on it, “Set within me, O Ancient sun.” She turned the key and entered the courtyard. She opened the umbrella and from the underside of the blue fabric, she looked at the sky. The sky had stooped so low, Maliheh could grab a handful of it and smell it. She went inside and laid the umbrella on a table without closing it. On the other side of the table, the water pitcher was full of water, yet at the same time entirely empty.

Maliheh took her father’s scarf and hung it next to her dress. Now on the hanger, a sleeve of her dress was draped over Siyavash’s shoulder. The smell of the Evin potato stores and the starch of a woman’s dress merged together.  

“You lie down for a little while,” Maliheh said. “I’ll put on the samovar and then we’ll sit and talk.”

Outside the window, the autumn rain, which had been waiting around all day to fall, finally came down. Maliheh turned on the radio. She put some newspapers from a few days ago on the table. She changed her dress and said, “You keep yourself busy while I go pick up Grandpa.”

And on a rainy Tuesday, she left the house with a blue umbrella and a chador that drowned her slender figure. Rain fell, alongside the sound of it tapping on gutters, umbrellas, asphalt. Autumn flung itself at the blue umbrella, tore the chador from Maliheh’s body, and was pulling the umbrella out of her hands. She couldn’t hold both the umbrella and the chador, and she didn’t want anyone to see her in the tangerine flower dress except her grandfather, so she let go of the umbrella. At the end of the alley, she got into a cab, and all the while until Grandpa’s house, she listened to the car alarms you could hear all over Tehran, not hearing the sound of an umbrella breaking. As soon as Grandpa opened the door, Maliheh felt the car alarms stop and sensed that something called smiling existed in the world.


“To hell with your ‘Hello!’” her grandfather replied. “I’ve been expecting you all morning!”

Maliheh went over to the mirror and dried her hair off with a towel. She combed it and pressed herself, now seven years younger, against the old man’s chest.

“They freed them all, Grandpa. All of them. . .”

“I know, they said so on the BBC an hour ago.”

“But I saw them, I saw them.”


“At the gates of Evin.”

“What were you doing there?”

“What was I doing? I went to pick up. . .”

“Sit down, Maliheh. Just sit for a minute.”

“It was chaos–journalists, photographers.”

“I said sit, Maliheh.”

Maliheh sat down on the ground. She brushed her hair back from her forehead and smoothed her dress with her hands.

“What a mistake. . . all these years I wore black.”

Grandfather turned.

“Stop kidding yourself, Maliheh.”

He paced the room.

“Touch this chair. Run your hand along it. Come on, now. Has anyone sat in it? No. Look at this bed. Has anyone slept in it? No. There’s nobody, Maliheh. They’re all dead. Your mother, Siyavash. . .”

“It’s different,” Maliheh said. “We buried Mom ourselves, right? We saw them wash her, right? But did anyone show you Siyavash that year? Alive? Dead? All these years, and no one has shown us a grave, a headstone, anything.”

“Go get my valium pills,” Grandfather said. “They’re in the fridge.”

After the valium and a glass of water, after the coolness slipped down his throat, Grandfather said, “The reality is he’s dead.”

“The reality is I was there today,” countered Maliheh.

“So what?”

“I don’t know. Just that I saw people with my own eyes hug their children, their husbands, and go. Then I opened my arms–I was looking for someone, anything. . . I realized I was holding an umbrella, so I hugged it. A dream that was blue, it was so blue. I took it home and we talked to each other.”

“So you now have an umbrella which is both your reality and your dream?”

“No, as I was coming home an hour ago, it started pouring, the umbrella turned inside out and I let it go.”


“Because it was just an umbrella. Do you understand, Grandpa? It was an umbrella again.”

All Maliheh’s efforts to hide her tears, which she brought with her drop by drop to Grandfather’s house, were now finished.

“I should go. I want to go home.”

Grandfather got dressed.

“Come on, let’s go.”

On a forgotten Tuesday in Tehran, they passed through streets that sometimes had power, sometimes didn’t, because of the strikes. Now it was dark, now bright by the light of the lamppost. That’s why Maliheh and Grandfather couldn’t find the umbrella’s body under any of the trees in the alley. The umbrella had become a Siyavash, too.

translated from the Persian by Michelle Quay