The following story by Reza Najafi originally appeared on the Dissident Blog, a project of Swedish PEN.
Reza Najafi is an Iranian writer, literary critic, and editor who lives in exile in Germany. He has published more than 350 short stories and literary essays. In ‘Nirvana’, he presents a snapshot of the life of a couple at a crucial moment; because it deals with taboo topics such as sex, suicide, drugs, and alcohol, it would have never had a chance to be published in Iran. Translation from the Farsi by Farzad Akmali.
He had put his finger down the woman’s throat two or maybe three times. A little yellow water and, finally, some slimy liquid had come out of the woman’s mouth. He was not sure if she had vomited up the pills.
He did not know at all how many pills she had taken altogether, or how many pills were enough to kill somebody, or if these thoughts were too late, or not.
He had promised her that she could sleep after she had vomited up the pills. And now the woman lay, almost unconscious, in his arms. He was not sure whether to keep his promise or not. As he held her armpits, he gazed for two or three minutes at her fallen head, unkempt hair, and then at the slimy liquid in the toilet bowl, and finally at the water that was dripping from the tap, the half-open window, the siphon tube, the plants, and the bathroom tiles.
It came to his mind that a sort of wisdom lay behind those seemingly meaningless objects that he was seeing so clearly and obviously. Although he was woozy and dizzy, he recalled reading somewhere that such insights, resulting from over-indulgence in alcohol and opium, were basically false.
Again, he gazed at the water drops that dropped themselves down from the tap with patience, tolerance, and forbearance, and also at the harsh and sharp red flowers on the tiles, laughing at him. No. No, such an insight could not be false. But what was such a not-false insight telling him? He understood it, but could not define it, even for himself.
He could no more bear the weight of the woman’s body. He pulled her out of the bathroom and laid her on the bed in the bedroom. The weight of the woman’s thin body felt so much heavier than before.
Now the woman’s head lay on the pillow with that unkempt hair. There were spots from tears on the pillow, and it was yet damp. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the wrinkles in the woman’s face. He thought about why he hadn’t noticed them until now, and realized that she would be regarded an old woman in ten years. Maybe the wrinkles appeared because the right side of the woman’s face was firmly pressed against the hard pillow.
The woman breathed deeply, like a person who had come out of the water and craved breath to escape suffocation. Her rabbit teeth could be seen behind her deformed lips, and an elastic fluid touched on the pillow. There was still a teardrop halted and waiting on her left cheek. The man dried the teardrop and the dampness on the pillow with a handkerchief. The smell of smoke was there still in his head, but he was sobering up. He took a look at his watch. It was three-forty in the morning. What should he do? What could he do? He was not a doctor. He had not seen any trace of or even the blue color of the pills in her sputum. Had she digested the pills? Was the woman entering the dark cave of death? And what were the symptoms of death caused by swallowing such pills? Would she suffer from seizures? Or would she just stop breathing gradually during her sleep? Was such deep breathing a sign of recovery, or of death?
He thought about calling a doctor he knew. He looked at the watch again. Should he wake the doctor? Maybe it was better to take the woman to the bathroom and make her vomit again. He looked at the woman, with her naked body drowned in unconsciousness rather than sleep. He held up her shoulders and shook them strongly. No use at all. It was like shaking a dead body. Did he really have to wake her up? Would it make any difference or be of any use?
He told himself that he would wait, and if he did not notice any change in her status, then he would call the doctor. But what if he was losing the last, irrevocable chance of saving the woman? Again he felt dizzy, and gazed at the objects purposelessly and without any thought: the plastic package of the swallowed blue pills in which there were still two tablets, the full ash tray by the bed, and a small lampshade on the bed table, the short and cold base of it made of cast iron with a stupid and turgid design that made him recall the eighteenth century. But the lampshade was like the dress and puffy skirts of nineteenth-century women. There was a hand-embroidered lace installed on the pink shade. The mild, orange light shone on half of the bed, and shadows of the netting and the tied threads of the hand-made fabric fell on the wall across from it. The man thought that there was a meaningful contrast between the regularity and symmetry of the lines of the net and the mess of this situation. No, no, such an insight could not be false. He lay down on the bed near the woman. After half an hour, the woman had not moved at all. She was now breathing more and more slowly, so slowly that the man could not hear it.
Did he have to call somewhere or somebody? Was the woman getting better? He did not and would not know. He fell asleep. The lamp was left on and he had not flushed the toilet.
Near the morning, he woke up for a moment without any reason and immediately felt a wonderful and strange feeling, that Buddhist-like, deep and clear peace, like Nirvana and illumination. He was not drunk anymore. He knew that he was not drunk anymore.
He knew that for at least the last ten years, since he was in his early thirties, he had not until now been free of anxiety and worry, even for a moment, whether in sleep or drunkenness. Through all those years until this moment, he has seen his inner entity as a restless sea that suffered from a nonstop tide. Now, suddenly, that sea had gone calm without any reason, calm like a lake whose depth was obvious and clear, as if there was no water and no depth!
He thought, “So it can be possible, it can be done! Exactly at the time when the ship—wrecked in the night storm in the middle of the ocean—is sinking, while we hang from the falling mast of the ship, suddenly the peace appears before your eyes.” He recalled that he had read this, or something like it, years ago in the works of an old poet, but had not believed it.
But how… how could that moment be repeated? He wished the moment would last forever, and again recalled reading that sentence somewhere. In that instant, he understood that such a thing would never happen. He fell back asleep and forgot to take a look at the woman.