Hunting the Moon

Hunting the Moon

Malaysia, 2007

All his regret was for the stone he had thrown away. For a whole year, he had waited eagerly for it to grow. He found it in the small family burial ground his father looked after. He and his old father lived in a hut on the graveyard. His mother passed away giving birth to him as she was too old, which is why the villagers considered him to be sinister and descendants of the devil like both the dead bodies buried in the graveyard and Sam, the old man with grey hair, who was the only remaining member of his family. Also, a big Mongolian spot* spread across the left side of his face. Therefore, local people considered even the moon to be a bad omen.

Many years ago, Sam’s father, who was a teacher, came to the village along with his four sons and his wife’s corpse who had just died. He had decided not to go back to the city so that he could make his generation extinct in a quiet spot. He didn’t tell the reason for his decision to anyone except to his sons who, to carry out what their father had told them to do, did not get married. And except for Sam, the last member of the family, all of them died one after the other. For years, Sam has been spending his days on the shore engrossed in watching the sea. At nights, he goes to the sea with his rowing boat. People believe that he goes under the sea to visit the Satan and to take orders from him for their destitution. One month after they arrived in the village, the headman, who was so nosy, sent his eldest son to the city to dig up some information about them. Whenever he went to the city, he would spend all his time feasting and drinking. The first place he would stop off was the whorehouse. As usual, before going to a guesthouse, he went to the place, chose a blond girl and slept with her.

Then he gave the name and the address of the old man to the girl and asked her to tell him if she knew anything about him. The girl said:

– “I don’t think there is anyone in this city who doesn’t know him. Why do you want to know about him anyway?”

– “I’ve heard about him a lot and I want to learn more.”

-“I haven’t seen him in person yet; but those who know him believe he’s insane and has relationships with goblins. His father was once the only physician in the city. After his death, his only son inherited his all wealth. Like his father, he’s literate and used to teach children in Maktab* until a few years ago. But except for few students, everyone considers his words evil. After his wife’s death, whom he adored so much for all his life, he left this town along with his sons. No one knows where they went.”

Knowing that he didn’t have to inquire any more about the family, the happy boy rented a room there and until the next day, when he had to return to the village, he slept with three more women. As soon as he returned, he told the villagers about the stories he had heard from the woman. Then, they all decided to expel them form the village. But the greedy headman, who had learned about the family’s wealth, told them:

– “If they stay here, we can sell them our land and other things we have at higher prices.”

Thereafter, they remained there. During all these years, the only person to associate with them was a young tall man who was deaf and dumb. After his father passed away, he went to the city to work as a labourer.

Every month he would send almost all his earnings to his mother to pay the rent of the house his father had leased from the headman years ago. He worked from morning to the afternoon in a brick burning workshop. After work, he would sleep there for a few hours. At nights he worked as a guard in a small masonry factory on the edge of the city. While at work one Friday night, he fell in love with one of the girls from the whorehouse (prostitute) who usually visited the foreman on weekends. The girl lived in the city. After her mother died, to make a living, she started working in the only whorehouse of the city. The young man saw the girl when entering and leaving the workshop on weekends for one whole year. As the girl’s mother was also deaf and dumb, she would greet him with gestures. All through the nights, he would think of her. Muddled by all the thoughts he had during the nights, in the mornings, he would open the door for her.

Then came the night when the foreman, carrying a few bottles of drinks, entered the workshop along with the girl. After a few hours, he heard the foreman shouting and the girl crying and screaming loudly. Suddenly the door burst open and the girl approached him with a bloody face followed by the man with a metal chain in his had. Seeing this scene, he pushed the girl into his room, picked up his club and started hitting the foreman wildly; he knocked him unconscious after striking him on the head with the club. The man and the girl then rushed away. They spent the night by a river. It was there when the young man first told her about his love for her and asked her to go to the village with him to start a new life there together. Being deeply impressed by his bravery and selflessness, and also because from the very first day she saw him, she had noticed his eyes deeply glittering with love, and, moreover, the only person she loved in this world was her mother who had passed away a few years ago, the girl decided to go to the village with him. At dawn, they took a minibus to the village. They got there around noon. As soon as they entered the village, they saw the headman’s son riding a white horse. The girl didn’t remember him as she had slept with so many men. But he recognized her right away. She was the one in the whorehouse who had told him about the old teacher. He mocked and gently passed them; after riding for a few meters, he swung his lash in the air and hit the horse hard on the back and trotted off. They walked the rest of the way home down the narrow country lanes hand in hand each with their sweet dreams about the future. They stopped in front of the house. Using sign language, the young man told the girl:

– “This is the house where I grew up. I want to work hard and save enough money to buy it from the headman. I hope we can live here for good and raise our children.”

The girl looked into his eyes passionately and gripped his hand tightly. They entered the house. His mother was chopping up vegetables. She looked up when she heard the door open and saw them. The last time she had seen her son was a year ago. But the first thought which came to her mind was “Who is this woman holding my son’s hand?” She stood up, approached them, hugged her son and with gestures asked him:

-“Who is this girl?”

On the bank of the river, they had decided to tell others they are married. Moving his hands in the air, he told her:

-“She’s my wife. We got married a few months ago.”

To his surprise, his mother gave her a hug and kissed her. She told her:

– “Do come in. It’s cold here.”

They entered the outer room. After the greeting, she poured them two cups of tea from the samovar and spread out a bed for them in the next room. They went there and slept together in the same bed for the first time. The mother went into the kitchen to prepare a meal. But she could find nothing there, so she decided to go to the market and shop for some food.

After seeing them on the road, the headman’s son went to the village café to tell others about his visit with them. As he was smoking the hookah, he raised his voice and said:

“Before coming here, I saw Fazlollah’s son, with a prostitute form the city who were going hand in hand. The last time I went to the city, I saw that woman in the market. Everyone cursed her as she was passing by. We must tell him that this village is not a place for such dishonourable actions, because here we have mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.”

They all decided to go to Fazli’s house, the baker, and push him off his bed and lash him in the village square. Then, a group of ten wicked young people of the village, who had each been to the whorehouse before, set off to Fazlali’s house. On the way, they saw the young man’s mother who was going shopping. They told her about everything. First she told them they were wrong, and that she was his wife. When she saw they would not listen to her, she started begging them not to do that. But they wouldn’t stop. The angry mob increased as they approached the house. Even a few women joined them. Staggering, the young man’s mother followed them begging helplessly. When they got to the house, they broke the door open. The girl woke up. They were so quick she couldn’t even awake the boy. They started hitting them both. Women hit the girl and men the boy. As the mother was crying helplessly in the doorway, she passed out. A woman went to her and said:

-“she’s dead.”

The headman reclaimed his house and ordered the boy to leave the village. But he had decided to stay there. They slept a few days by the sea shore. Then came a day when they saw the old teacher there. Having heard about the story, he took them to his house and gave them a room to live in. The boy started working in the house as the gardener. But after the old teacher passed away, he started working as a guard to his family burial ground as well. And from then on, he moved to a hut he himself had built in the graveyard. They lived there together for a long time. During all these years they could have no baby. Then the girl died giving birth to their only child. At the suggestion of Sam, the last member of the old teacher’s family, they buried her in the graveyard. After his wife’s death, his only hope in life was his son whom people considered to be sinister and satanic.

His only hobby was listening to the splash from the rocks he threw in the well. He learned how to speak from Sam; and since he could not go to school like other children in the village, every day he would go to the sea shore to learn how to read and write from the old man.

One of those days, the boy awoke. It was time to get prepared for the class which was held under Sam’s colorful shade. He folded his bed and put it in the closet; then took his red container and went to the courtyard to fetch water from the well there. As he picked up the container, he was suddenly filled with dismay as he could not see his rock.

After one year, it was the first time he could not take his rock with himself wherever he went. The day before, disheartened as it had not grown up, he had thrown it away on the dirt road stretching from the graveyard to the sea shore. He thought about it all day long. He decided to leave home earlier and look for it on the way to the seashore. The stone had two colors and its dimensions were like those of a house. It was similar to the houses you can only find in children’s paintings; only it didn’t have a chimney. The roof was blue and the lower rectangle was black; and the whole house was as big as his thumb.

He opened the door to the hut. It was so hot. His father was busy changing the earth of the flowerpots, but he recognized his presence and turned his head toward him as he approached the well. They exchanged greetings with gestures. He took the red container from the boy, filled it with the content of the bucket he had drawn up the well and gave it back to him. The boy shook his head to say thank you and went to the bathroom beside the hut. His father started working again. When he came out, he saw his father lying on the ground near the well unconscious. He threw the container and ran toward him. When he got to him, he kneeled down, took his hands, shook them and kept calling him. Alas, it was useless. His father had left him alone. Quickly, he rushed towards the sea shore to inform Sam of what had happened to his father. Tears were streaming down his face. As he approached the shore, he wiped the tears off his face because the old man had repeatedly told him he shouldn’t cry as he was a man! The old man’s silver hair could be seen shining from far away. He was sitting under a shade watching the sea. As he got near him, he tripped on a stone, fell over and broke down in tears. The old man heard him and turned his face toward him. The boy had put his face into the sands to hide big drops of tears from the old man. Sam got up and went to the boy and stood over him. His shade was like a shabby blanket over his tiny body. Sam started crying. He turned his face toward the sea so that once more she could be the sole witness to his mourning. Turning his face back, he wiped his tears, kneeled down and bent over him. He hugged him and stared at the boy’s face which was hidden under a mask of sands. You could only see a winding path extending from his eyes down his face created by drops of tears. He held his hand firmly. The tremble of his hands conveyed the words which could not be uttered through his lips. They stood up. Hand in hand, they walked along the road toward the burial ground. The boy was still crying; the old man gripped his hand and said:

-“When my father passed away, I was deeply distressed and thought about him for a long time; but you should know that death is a story we are all doomed to experience.”

Hearing these words, the boy stopped crying for a moment, looked up, saw the old man’s face and once again looked down overwhelmed by his gloomy childish thoughts. He imagined days in which there would be no father. During the rest of the way to the graveyard, no sound could be heard but the sound of the little boy’s sobbing. As they approached the entrance of the grave yard, they boy started to cry louder. He let go of the old man’s hand and ran toward his father. When he got to him, he kneeled down and put his head on his waist. Sam joined them too. He stood over the little boy. A drop of tear rolled down his eyes and fell onto the boy’s head. He left him to cry bitterly and went to his own father’s grave to have a one-way talk with him in his mind. This was the fourth time he wished to do so. Every time one of his brothers died, he came to visit his father’s grave and talk to him. This time he had so much to tell him his dialogue lasted a couple of hours. He turned his head when he felt the little boy standing behind him. The boy had changed his black shirt* and put on a white gown instead. He had washed hid face and worn perfume. His firm look indicated a big determined decision he had made; you could tell that by the look in his eyes. He put his hand on the old man’s shoulder and said:

– “I want to dig a grave and bury him.”

They each took a shovel and started to dig a grave. They wanted to bury him beside his wife. Without exchanging any words, they both started digging the ground shoulder to shoulder. They finished the job as darkness was falling. Its depth was more than the boy’s height. The old man got out of it with great difficulty; he stretched his arm to help the boy come out. They were both covered with mud. As they got over the corpse, the old man looked at the boy who was staring at his father’s lifeless body lying on the ground. The boy, who was not crying any more, told the old man:

– “I’ll hold his feet.”

Sam held his shoulder, and the boy held his father’s feet close to his chest. He was heavy. They lifted him with great difficulty. One side of his face, the one which was on the ground, was in blood. They took him to the grave they had dug and put the corpse down when they got there. The old man brushed the dust off his clothes and said:

-“I am going to the city to buy a fishing net and a grave stone. Wash his face well.”

– “Why a fishing net?”

– “I’ll tell you the reason when I come back.”

The old man left the graveyard. The little boy stood thoughtfully over his father for a couple of minutes. He stood up. He intended to fetch some water from the well, but tripped over a stone and almost fell into the well. It was that very stone which had injured his father’s face. As he took the stone, his hand was covered with blood.

The stone had two colors and its dimensions were like those of a house. It was similar to the houses you can only find in children’s paintings; only it didn’t have a chimney. The roof, now covered with some drops of blood, was blue and the lower rectangle was black. The whole house was as big as the palm of his hand. He trembled with fear, and threw it into the well, but no splash was heard. The little boy cleaned the blood off his father’s face and then went to the baths. He changed into clean clothes and waited for Sam to come back and help him bury his father.

Night had already fallen. The silver moon was glowing like a round flame. Sam, along with two men in white gown, drove into the graveyard with his cart. He, too, had taken a bath and changed into clean clothes. The two men unloaded the gravestone from the cart, and wrapped the old man in a shroud. They then put him in the grave, poured earth on him, put the gravestone on the tomb, and without saying even a word walked away. The little boy had never seen them before. Without uttering a word, the boy and the old man lingered for sometime on his tomb. As a result of the reflection of the moon light, their faces turned red. The old man’s voice broke the silence:

-“I should climb the cliff.”

– “Why there?”

– “You should give me a hand with a job. Later on you’ll find out about everything.”

They got on the cart. There was a big fishing net in the back. The old man told him to sit on the net so the shakes from the bumps on the road would not hurt him. The little boy told the full story about the stone, but the old man said nothing. They reached the foot of a high cliff facing the sea; it was the highest point in the village. They took off the cart. The old man put the net on his shoulder and told the boy,

– “The cliff is too steep and you’re pretty tired today, so wait here for me to come back.”

The old man set off for the cliff. At that very night the silver moon rose like a round flame. Watching the moon, the boy started thinking about all the strange events which had happened; his father’s death, his stone, the two men, the red color of the moon, and now the mystery of the old man’s going up the cliff with the fishing net. He was deep in thought when suddenly the moon disappeared before his eyes. Everywhere was plunged into darkness. Nothing could be seen except a glaring light which was creeping down the cliff. Transfixed by what he had seen, the boy realized, as Sam approached him, that the source of the light was in his net. The old man was bending over under the heavy burden. He stood near the little boy. The moon was in his net. He put his prized possession on the back of his cart, lied beside it and told the boy breathlessly:

-“Ride the cart and drive off here as soon as possible. Go to my boat.”

The boy’s heart was pounding with excitement. He got on the cart. To get to the sea, he had to go round the cliff. On the way, he turned back and cast occasional glances at the old man. They got to the old man’s boat. Sam got off the cart, and put his net on his shoulder. After taking few steps, he fell over as the load was too heavy. He put the load in the boat and walked back to the boy. His eyes filling with tears, he said:

-“This is the last time you see me. I do this for both of us.”

He reached for his pocket, took a bag out, gave it to the little boy and said:

-“Take this money and move to a place where you can live in piece with its people.”

The little boy looked down and started to cry. The old man hugged him and kissed him on the cheeks. He was weeping as he was going toward his boat. Without turning his head, he said:

– “Wait until the light returns. Then leave here with the cart.”

He dragged the boat down to the water and got on it, and then headed for the sea. Since he was too exhausted, he started to row very slowly. Like a glowing lantern, the boat floated over the waves and moved on. Not even once did he turn his head towards the shore. The boy was not weeping any more. With his wet eyes, he followed the light moving away from him. Sam jumped into the water with what he had caught. At that very moment, the moon reappeared in the sky. The little boy looked up. His face was shining in the moon light. He had no trace of the Mongolian spot on his face which superstitious villgers attributed to the effect of the moon. He looked toward the sea. The empty boat was floating. From that night on, the sea did not see the reflection of the moon on its face.

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* According to the mythology of the Persians, this congenital mark, which is usually on the face, is related to the effect of the moon on the womb of some pregnant women. It is, therefore, called ‘Mahgereftegi’, literally meaning ‘moon taken’

* A traditional Iranian primary school

* To show their sorrow, Iranians wear a black shirt when a loved one dies.

 

A huge thanks to my father Fereydoon Komeilipoor who helped me to translate this short story from Persian to English.