The Doll Behind the Curtain

Trarnlaled by Ahmad Karimi·Hakkak
The summer holiday had begun. At the Lc Havre Lycee for Boys the
boarding- students were rushing out with their valises, whistling hap-
pily. Only Mchrdad was left standing next to his valise, wearing a long,
J1\()ul'I![u[ face, his hat in his hand.
The school vice-principal, a bald-headed man with a protruding
belly, approached him. "Are you going too?" he asked.
Mehrdad blushed and lowered his face.
"We arc sorry you will nol he wilh us nexl year," the vice-principal
continued. He added. "Your conduct and dlKipline haw: brcn truly
exemplary. But leI me give YOll a piece o( advice, if I may. Don't be so
bashful. Be a liul!'" more am'nlve. So much shyness isn't bemming in
a young man. Onl'" must il.s.5cn oneself In life."
Mchrdad managed t<J sa}' in r('sponsc, "I am son)' to leave the
school, too,"
the vice-princlp,.J patted Mehrdad un the shoulder, shook
his hand in farewell and ldt. The schuol doorman picked up Mehrdad's
valise and carrird it for him Anatole France Avenue where he
put it in a taxicab. Mehrdad handed him a tip and said good-bye.
For the past nine months Mehrdad had been taking advanced
courses in French at the school. 'Illat day when he ldt his friends be-
hind in Paris and headed for Le Havre, hI' rescmbled a lamh being
driven from the flock. At school his behavior attracted the admning
attention of thf' authorities. Obedient, meek, quiet. he was always at-
tentive in his studies and observant of the school\ cod!' of conduct.
He W,IS mil and slim with an ordinary lare, pale romplt-;>;iun. round
unexpressive eyes, black eyelashes, a short nose and a -,\J;JI,C ocanl
which he shaved only once every three days, All this gave him a rather
and somber appearance. The regimented life ,H school had
127
Sadeq Heduyul: The Doll Behl'ld the Curtain
affened his spirit; hours, sleeping and waking were aU
well programmed. Sometimes he had kit like a prisoner, lonely and
lost within tall SOot-covered walls of the school, surrounded by
fellow students whose thoughts were not compatible with his, a lan-
guage that he did not fully understand, and rustoms and habits which
were unfamiliar to him.
On Sundays, when he had a chance to get out. he ended up sitting
for hours on end on a bench in the public park in (rant of the City Hall,
since he didn't r.njoy theatres and movie houses. lie watched young
artd boys passing by, old women kuilting. and the sparrows and
roaming freely on the grass. Sometimes he tried to imitate
others by taking a piece of bread, it inm small pieces and
keding it to the sparrows. Or he would takl' a walk along the beadl to
sit on top of the cliffs thal overlooked the sea. Here he wal(:hed the
waves or the landscape of the city. He had heard that Lamartine used
to do this by Lake Bourges. If the weather was bad, he would sit in a
cafe, going his lessons. Beause he was a loner he had not made
any friends, nor (lid he know any mher Iranians to make friends with.
Back in Iran, Mehrdad had been a mama's boy, exemplary in the
family circle. To this day whenever somebody spoke o( women, he
would blush ;Icross lht' forehe;'ld down to his earlobes. The French chil-
dren mocked him, They boasted about their adventures with women,
their love affairs. danl-ing, llining, lovemaking, .\1ehrdad was always
polite, bUI of course he could not add anything of his own to these
youthful Ill' had beel) raised a timid, sheepish and stooping
boy. Thus far he had not even talked with a woman outside hLS familY
since his parents had crammed his head with the maxims and words of
wisdom of a thousand years ago. And then, lest lheir son should slip,
(hey had arranged for him 10 be engaged to his cousin Dcrakhshandeh
according to <.:ustom and in a solemn <.:cremony. This to thrm was the
ultirllate s'lcrifice and the greatest sign of parental Jo\'e. What they had
really succeeded in doing was to produce a par;'ldig:m 01 vUlue and
purity, a living- symlxJl of an ethical standard long dead. At tWEnty· four
Mrhrdad did not have within him lhe courage, experiencr., resources,
or boldness of a fourteen-year-old French teenager.
Mehrdad's experience of love was limited 10 the memory of the day
he left Tt."hran. His cumin and betrothed Dt."rakhshandeh had come to
128
translated by Ahmad Karimi·Hair.kak
se-c him off with tt."ars in her eyes. He could not find words to
her, his shyness had come between them, even though they had grown
up in the same bouse and had been playmates all their childhood.
Until the ocean liner La Crescent left the pan of Pahlavi, and the
Iranian coastline, green and wet, sank beneath fog and darkness,
Mehrdad was thinking about Det<lkhshandeh. In his first few months
abroad, too, he oItrn remembered her. But then, with the passing of
time, he forgol her.
During the course of the school year, there had been several holi-
days, but Mehrdad had always chosco to stay at school and study, on
each occasiun promising himself to make up for the lost time over the
summer months. So there he was now, leaving school with an impres-
sive cenificate of satisfactory completion of his studies. He cast a (are-
well glann' from across Anatole France Avcoue at the soot·covered
huilding and said good-bye to it in his heart. Then he wcot straig-ht to
the pension he had already reserved, and was shown to his room.
His fellow students had told him endless rOlTlallllC stories about the
Gmnd Le C'..asino, Dancing Royale and mallY other plates. He
stuffed all his money-his savings of seven hundred Iranes plus his
monthly allowance of one thousand eight hundred Irancs-into his wal-
let and decided to go to Le Casino that night for lhe first time. Towards
evening, he shaved, went out and had his dinner. It was still too early
for I.e Casino, 50 he decided to take a walk toward rue de Paris, the
busiest, most crowded little streel in I.e Havre, which led to the waler-
front. Mehrdad was walking- lcisllrdy, looking arollnd, glancing at
store windows. He had plcnty of money and time-three mOlllhs of it-
ahead of him. He felt free. he would take advantage of his
freedom and go to Le Casino. the beautiful building he had passed by
so mallY times withoul daring to step inside. Yes, tonight he would go
there and, who knows, maybe his black eyes would catch the eyes of
the girls there.
As he walked along, he came to a large store window and his eyes
fell on the statue of a blonde woman. Its head was tilted to one side.
accentuating its white neck, long eyelashes, large eyes and smiling lips.
one hand rested on its waist. Under the crimson lighl of the window
ceiling the light green dress it wore gave the statue a str.mgt' appear-
ance. ;\-lehrdad swod transfixed, dazed; still as a statue. This wasn't a
129
Sadeq /-Irda)'a': The Doll Behitzd the Curtain
statue at all; it was a woman, an woman smiling at him. Those
deep blue eyes, that meek seductive smile-the kind of smile he never
imagined even existed-and those tall, shm, beautifully prupurtiuncd
limbs, all this transcended his wildest falllasies of luve and beauty.
Furthermore, this woman could nOl talk, so she woulJ never pre-
tend to love him, He would have to do nothing to pJrasc hrr. Shr would
never t!<lv(' to be fed or clothed; she would never be quarre-home or
fall sick. There would be no reason for jealousy. She would always be
contented, quiet, beautiful, always wearing that smile. This was the
fulfillment of his most impossible dreams. But most Important, she
would never open her mouth, never express an opinion, and he
wouldn't have to be afraid of incompatibility. Hrr fare would never
wrinkk, her belly would never bulge; she would ncwr change, never
occome ug:ly. All these thoughts crowded his mind at once. Could he,
might he have her, pUl the perfumc that he liked on her, smell her,
raress her? He wouldn'l feel embarrassed wilh her either, or feel bash-
IIII next to l1er. Sill' would never betray him. so he could always remain
the innocent, virtuous and pure Mehrdad thaI he was.
No, none of the warnell he had ever seen could compare with this
statue. How could they? That smLle amI the expression in those eyes
had turned the statUI" into a creature with a sensitive soul. Its
curws, colors and propoJlions t'mbodied all the attributes of beauty
his was cap.lbJc of cvnjuring up. What surprised Mehrdad
most was that the statue's lacial expression reminded him of certain
contours ill Derakhshandch's lace, Only, Derakhshandeh's eyes were
brown while those of lhe slalur wrrr blur, But what a dilference!
Derakhshandeh was always grim and sullell whereas the smile on the
lips of this statue radiated happiness, awakening all sorts of emotions
in ;'vlehrdad.
On a paper tag placed at the feet of the statue was written "fr. 350,"
Diu that mean he could buy lhis statue for only three hundred and fifty
francs? He would give all he had to obtain it, even his clothing. He
stared at the statue for a while. Suddenly Ihe thought came to his mind
tl1at it was all OJ cruel joke. Vet he couldn't take his eyes off the statue,
he just couldn't help sloning at it. He changed his mind about going to
Le Casino. \Vithout this statue life seemed senseless; it embodied the
meaning of his life. If he could only take possession of ill Presently
by Ahmad Karimi-Hahkak
he realized that the store window was (ull of wOlllen's clothing, and
that his standing there might seem strange, Ill' felt that peuple werc
watching him. Yet, he couldn't summon up the courage to the
slOre ami transact the deal. He wished thaI snme-onc could bnng the
statue to him secretly and get the money. so he would not have to do it
under lhe watchful gaze of other people. HoW thankful he would be for
such a service! He would be indebted 10 that person all his life. He
peered through the store window. Two women were talking to each
olher inside the store; aIle of them was pointing a finger at him. Mehr-
d.nl's face grew red and hot. Hurriedly, he looked above the stordront.
The sign read, "Seagran 102." Slowly, gingerly, he stepped aside.
He began walking again aimlessly, his heart beating his eyes
unable to see tJcfore his feet. The statue, with its bewitclllng smile,
would nvt leave his mind. A frightening thought came to him; what if
someone bought the statue before he did? He wondered how.other
people could regard It Wilh such indifference. They must be trymg La
deceive him. Be knew man's natural inclinations better than that.
He felt his whole life had been spent In gloom and darkness. HI;' did
not love his betrothed, Derakhshandeh, If he had treated her with
kindness, it was only ber.ausc of his mother's and his own
softhe-dfleclncss. III" knew he would not be able to have any kind of
relationships with European women. lie haled gathering-s-the
small talk, the feminine coquetry, the foppish dandyism-t'Vcrything
abollt it. Besides, he was too shy, too timid for all that. This sLatue, on
the other hand, was a ray of sun illuminating the entire expanse of his
life like the beach lamps that he had sat under so many timrs and that
threw their light so generously over the waves.
\\'as he really that much of a simpleton? Didn't he know that
centric desire would only bring him ridicule? Didn't he know that thIS
Slatue Il.'as made of porcelain, paper, paint and plastic hair, a m:re
plaything-? Didn't he know that it could neither speak, nor ?"l.ve
warmlh, nnr change its expression.' BtH it was these very qualities
thal had auracled him to the statue. He [eared living people who could
speak. feel and act in harmony or discord with him. No, st,atuc
indispensable to him. He could not go on living or worklllg without It.
And he could get alllhat for only three hundred and fifty francsl
131
Sadeq lledavat: The Dol/Behind thf' Curtain
Bewildered, Mehrdad contir,ued on his way among the busy comi:1g-s
and going$, unaware o{ others, oblivious of his mrroundings. He
lIlovt."d forw,Hd like a robot, a lifeless sLatue, or as If possessed by a
demon. Along the way he noticed a heavily made-up woman wearing
a Shawl over her shoulders. Not knowing what he was doing or why,
he began to follow her. The woman turned past the church to rue St.
Jacques, a narrow scary-looking street surrounded by black smudgy
buildings, 'lnd stepped inLo a house. Through the open window he
could hear a fox trot being played on [he phonograph. The tune, a sad.
tedious song, was played again and agilin. Mehrdad stood a while lis·
tening without being able to make out the words or the instruments.
Who was this woman? What brought her to this house? And why in the
world did he follow hel?
HI.: stanCIl on bis way again. Red ligh\s {rom hooky-lOok hars.
loungers ami go-hrtweens with slrange illegible faces, small, mysleri-
ous little inns fit {or these men, all paraded before his eyes. On [he
waterfront a cool breeze blew inland, canying Ihe smell of fish, oil and
tar. Colorful lights blinked at the tip oflopmasts. Amid the pulsating
clamor of the ships. ooalS and barges, all sons o[ mfll-v.:orkels.
men, smugglers anu pickpochts-shuHleu back and lorth. Instinctive-
ly, Mchrdad buuoned up his jacket, cleared his throat and started with
rapid steps lowards the ChaussCc A pik of ltJlltllt had
been left there. A large ocean liner had cast anchor at sea, and from a
mSl,mce a suing of lights could be SCfn around it. It was one of those
ships which, bearing- its own world like a litLIe city. set sail rm the high
seas, transporting- people with strange tongues, different aspects and
characteristics from remote countries to Lhis seaport. Gradually these
people would be swallowed up and digested within the hustle and bus-
tk of the m.... n.
Mehrdad tried to picture people and their strange lives in his
mind. He scanned Ihe of women. Was it these faces IhaL
entrapped 50 many men so passionately? Wasn't each one of Lilese
women a statue much less human than the one he had seen 10 the store
window? Life itself began to appear artificial, illusory and senseless.
He felt himsel{ st\lck in a thick, sticky swamp, desperatelv tryinR to
keep alloat. Everything seemed a mockery. Even the young couple
sitting in a tight embrace in front of the cement pile werr no more
than mock lovers. His $(Udin, the sill,oueut· u( llu: school
132
Uanslo.Ud by Ahmad K(1Timi-Hakhak,
building, all looked contrived and ridiculous. Only one thing was real
and that was the statue in the store window.
Mehdad turned back at once, now walking at a determined pace.
He passed through crowds of peopLe and stopped only when he was
[rol1lllf the Seagran stule.lIt: lOuk anm!rn luok ,I.[ the statut:'o TII(:'re It
was. As if making up his mind {or the [lrst time in his life, Mehrdad
stepped inside Lhe sLore.
A prclt'i girl dressed in bLack Wilh a y,/hice apron approached him
and, with a forced smile, asked, "What (an I do for you, sir?"
"This statue ... " Mehrdad managed to say pointing towards Lhe
window.
"You would like LU st."t." lhe gleen dlt."ss? It LUwes ill uLhcllUlol's, too.
Just a minute, please. I'll have our saleslady show it to you. You want
it for your liancee, rightr Did yuu say you wanted it in green ..."
"Pardon me," Mehrdad interrupted. "I wanted the statue."
"The statue? You want the statue? I don't understand."
Mehrdad then realized that he was asking something bil..arre and
oUlof the ordinary. rnstancaneously thinking of a way out, he managed
to affect a cool composure, saying, "Yes, I would like to purchase the
the statue as it is, with the dress and all. You sec, I am a dressmaker in
my country, and I want the statue lor display in my shop."
"Alt, I see!" the girl sighed, "but still. ,let me see. I'll have to ask
the owner of the store. Susan!" she called, turning to anothn woman,
"Susan, would yOIi call M. Leon, pleas€?"
Mehrdad took a few stepS towards the statue. M. Leon, a short, fat,
gray-bearded man wearing a black suit with the golden chain of a
!locket-watch hanging over his vest, approacherl 1\lr-hrrlad ex-
changing a £ew words with the saleswoman.
"Were you interested in the statue, sir?" he asked. "The statue itself
cost me two thousand se'ien hundrC'd and fifty !ram-s; and the dress on
Sadeq Hedayal: Thr Doll Behmd the ClH/ai'l
it three hundred and fifty. However, since we are colleagues,
I will sell It to you [or twenty· two hundred altogether. That's a discount
of nine hundred !Janes. II was designed by the famous artist De Crux.
I am willing to sell it 31 a loss because we have been thinking of re-
decorating Our window with more modern stufL It's a most beautiful
statue, made of purl" porcelain china. May I congratulate you on your
taste. Y?U must be a connoisseur. And you are an excep-
tional deal, Slnl;e we do not nonnally sell the furniture of our store to
our Customers. By the way, we could pack it in a box for you."
Mdudad blushed, feeling himself at a loss before this convincing,
gelltlemanly oration. Instead of saying anything in reply, he took out
his wallet and handed the man two one thou&and franc notes and one
five bundred franc note. The man gave him back three hundred fr'lIles.
Could he liw for a month on three hundred francs? But that didn't
matter since he now had obtained his ultimate ideal.
Five years later. Mehrdad arrived in Tehran carrying three suitcases,
one unusually large, resembling a coffin. He greeted Derakhshandeh
in such a formal way that it surprised the entire household. He hadn't
even broughl her a gift. On the third day after his arrival his mother
sjXlke to him reproachfully, reminding him that Derakhshandeh had
waited for him for Over si'l years while rejecting many other suitors,
and that he would have to many her soon. In utter coldness, Mehrdad
made it very clear 10 his mother thaI he had changed his mind about
marriag{' and was determined ne\'er to marry. His mother was very
saddened al the realhation that Mehrdad was no longer the shy, sub-
missive boy he once had been. Naturally. she attributed the to
his association with the infidel Westemers and the conseqU("llt degen-
eration of his ethical standards. The more the family scrutinized his
behavior, the more puzzling it appeared. In a way, he was still the
timid, humble Mehrdad of beforr, bl,.lt he had also undergone some
profound change.
What puzzled his family most was that in his room, behind tbe door-
way, Mehrdad had placed the stalue of a woman in a lightgrecn dress,
with one hand on its waist, another falling limp at its side, and a smile
on its lips. A prim (urtain, hung in the doorway, hid the statue. His
family. and most of all Derakhshandeh, who had become very curious,
to suspect after a while that there was a secret in the statue. She
by Ahmad Karimi-Hakhah
had nicknamed the statue "the 0011 behind the Curtain." Mehrdad's
mol her casually asked him a few times to get rid of the statue, or to
J1;ive the dress to Derakhshandeh as a gift. Mehnbu didn't do either.
At night, when he returned home from work, Mchrdad locked his
door, turned on the phonograph, poured himself a glass of wine and
WTW the curtain aside. Then he sat on the sofa facing the sLatue {or
hours. Sometimes, when he was a little drunk, he stood up, stepped
fOl'ward and care.'ised tbe statue's hair and breasts. This was about all
his lovelife consisted of. This statue symbolized love, lust and desire
for him.
Derakhshandeh, on the other hand, tried to attract Mehrdad's atten-
lion by making herself look as much like the stalue as she could. She
had ht'r hair colored and styled after the staHle's. She made herself a
dress just like that of the statue and bought shocs of the same style.
Every day, aher Mehrdad had left the house she would stand before
the mirror in his room trying to imitate the statue's pose; her hand on
her waist, her head bent to one side, smiling. She tried particularly
hard to reproduce toc look in the eyes of the statue, which seemed to
glide of( into an empty space while still fixed on the onlooker's face.
She sought to emulate the spirit of the statut'o Her faint natural re-
semblance to the stalue facilitated her work. She would spend hours
comparing the details or her own bc)dy with that of the statue. When
Mehrdad returned home, she would try in various ways to show her-
self off to him. Mehruad's initial indifference only hardened her in her
resolve.
Gradually, however, as Mchrdad came to pay more and marl' ;l.tlen-
tion to her, a conflict began to grow inside him. Which one could he
abandon? On the one hand, this cold, pale statue, with its dress,
had come to symbolize the decomposition of a youtbful fascination.
for five years now, this insensible figure had revealed to him his
miseries, chealing him of all his feelings. His cousin's steadfastness, on
the other hand. had aroused in him both admiration and angel. She
had endured all sorts of humiliation with patience and determination,
had even tried to give herself an appearance that she thought would
please him.
Yet somehow he didn't feel that he could free himself easily from
135
Sl1deq Hedayal: The Doll Behind Curtairl
statue, once the embodiment 01 love lor him. Didn't it occupy a
place in his heart all its own? How well it had decrived himl How
Dlany times it had tickled his fancy, given him pleasurl.'l To him, this
was no longer only a statue made of day and artificial hair al aU. It was
a live human being much more responsive to his wishes thall ally real
person. Could hc simply discard it like a piecc of trash, or give it away
to somcone else? Could hc bear to see it placed again in another SlOle
window, attractinK lewd lODks from evcry passer-by? Could he expose
to the lustful eyes of stranKers the lips he had kissed so voluptuously
so many times, or the neck he had fDndled so long, so lovingly? No, he
had ID pick a fight with it, fall into a maddening rage and destroy it
himself. Wam't that what somc lovers ended lip doing? Yes, he would
kill il wilh his own hands. Mehrdad boughl a small tevolver, but every
time he attempted to put his design into action hesiLarion overtook
him,
One night he arrived home rather late, drunk out of his mind. He
turned on the light, drew the curtain aside, took out his boulr and
switched Dn Ihe phonograph. He had a couple of drinks one aftcr the
orher, sat on the sofa directly facing lhe statue and stared it right in
the eye.
For ye-.ars now Mehrdad had fixed his gaze on the face of the statue
without really seeing it. The image of thai face had already been
carved in his mind. It was simply a habir of many years to sit in front of
the statuc and look into those eyes. After a while, he stood up, took a
few steps IDwarm the slatue and began to run his hand over its hair,
neck and brrasts. Suddenly, as if his hand had tout:hed a red-hOI iron,
he pullrd it away and stepped back. Was this real? How could it
Did he really sense rhe warmlh? He was sure he had. Wasn't this a
Was he that drunk? He wiped his eyes with his slec-ve and
thrcw himself back on the sofa trying to collect his scattering thoughts.
Suddenly, he noticed that the statue was moving in calculaled steps
towards him, Its hand on i,IS waist, i IS face smiling, it moved closer and
dosl'"r to him. Frantically Mehrdad made a motion to run away, thell
paused momentarily. He had thought of somt:lhmg. He put his hand
in the pockcl of his pants, took out the revolver. and fired three succes-
sive shots at the statuc. There was a shriek and then the sound of the
statue hining: the ground. Petrified, Mehrdad Ix'nt over and raised the
head. This wasn't tht statue, it was Derakhshandeh rollin!!; in her
blood.
136

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