I hid my voice, p.1

I Hid My Voice, page 1


I Hid My Voice

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I Hid My Voice

  Also by this author

  The Book of Fate


  Parinoush Saniee

  Translated by Sanam Kalantari

  Copyright © Parinoush Saniee 2016

  Translation copyright © Sanam Kalantari 2016

  First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Little, Brown

  First published in Canada in 2016 and the USA in 2016 by House of Anansi Press Inc.


  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Distribution of this electronic edition via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal. Please do not participate in electronic piracy of copyrighted material; purchase only authorized electronic editions. We appreciate your support of the author’s rights.All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Saniee, Parinoush

  [Pedar-e aan digari. English]

  I hid my voice / Parinoush Saniee ; translated by Sanam Kalantari.

  Translation of: Pedar-e aan digari.

  Issued in print and electronic formats.

  ISBN 978-1-4870-0083-7 (paperback).—ISBN 978-1-4870-0084-4 (html)

  I. Kalantari, Sanam, translator II. Title. III. Title: Pedar-e aan

  digari. English

  PK6562.29.A55P4413 2016 891’.5534 C2016-901308-1


  Cover design: Alysia Shewchuk

  Cover images:

  Face: Mohamad Itani/Arcangel Images;

  Ornaments: Malysh Falko/Shutterstock

  We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canadathrough the Canada Book Fund.

  For my dearest Niloofar and Kamyar


  ‘Shahaab, is this you?’


  ‘You were so small! Who’s this hugging you so tightly?’

  I stared at the picture. Who was it? Could it really be . . . ?

  My heart sank and my tongue felt heavy. I looked around bewildered, searching for a way out. The house was crowded. Half the guests had already arrived. Where had my mother found all these people? Was growing up really such a big deal? With this party they were trying to remind me that I was twenty years old now, practically a man, but I didn’t feel a great change in myself. They were all talking, laughing and moving through the house. I wasn’t sure how to behave as a host. A few more arrived and the others gathered around them. I took advantage of this oppor­tunity and ran up the stairs. Despite the short flight I began to pant as I went up and opened the door at the top.

  A familiar voice inside me said: ‘What the hell is wrong with you now?’ And, as always, my knee-jerk reaction was: ‘I don’t know . . . ’

  I could still hear them downstairs. This wasn’t the calm and quiet I was looking for. I walked out on to the terrace, shutting the door behind me. I felt a cool breeze against my hot forehead and took a deep breath. I looked at the forbidden steps leading from the terrace to the rooftop and felt a jolt of pain in my back. Every time I saw them something would happen in my confused mind, and I would feel this pain. I climbed the steps. How long had it been since I’d last been up here? A day? A hundred years? The past came rushing in and I was moving backwards at break-neck speed. I felt like I was growing smaller and smaller. As I sat down in the middle of the roof, I was once again a four- or five-year-old boy, mute and terrified.

  I became sensitive to the word ‘dumb’ from the day I realized I actually was dumb. Whenever they called me that I would feel angry, scream, break things or have a go at someone and cause trouble. But that all changed as soon as I accepted the truth. I no longer grew angry every time I heard it. Instead, it was as if something was stuck in my throat or as if someone was clawing at my heart. All the colours around me grew dim and the sun stopped shining. I would crawl into a corner, place my head on my folded knees and try to make myself as tiny as possible. So tiny that no one would notice me again. I didn’t want to play any more and I would forget how to laugh. Nothing made me happy. Those hours would sometimes stretch to a day or two. Do you realize how long that is for a four-year-old? Maybe as long as a couple of months are for an adult. I think it was better when I reacted violently. They would tell me off and hit me, and I would cry, but everything would be over quicker. It would never take more than an hour or two.

  At first, before I knew what it meant, I thought being dumb was a good thing. When they called me that it made me happy because they all said it so joyfully. My cousin Khosrow was the first person to realize that I was dumb and he was the one who gave me the name. As soon as he saw me he’d say, ‘What a nice dumb boy! Come and do a headstand, and I’ll give you some sweets. Good boy!’

  I would do whatever he wanted and he would laugh, cheer me on and give me a prize. My other cousin Fereshteh also liked me very much. ‘My little dumbo!’ she would call me and give me a hug. I loved her smell. She would laugh at the things I did, and buy me sweets and ice cream. I liked those things but, honestly, what I liked more was making her happy. I was willing to do anything just to make her happy. They always laughed when they called me ‘dumb’ so I assumed it was a nice word. I didn’t realize that when people laughed it didn’t necessarily mean they were happy. After all, I was dumb.

  The days seemed brighter before I discovered these dark truths. The sky was clearer. I could spend hours in our small garden examining the earth, the leaves, and the brown worms that came out after the rain. I found something new every minute. Our lone tree was a sympathetic friend that would blossom every time we returned from our New Year trip. I knew it did this from the joy of seeing us again. A few days later its blossoms would fall and it would look different. And later it would produce delicious red cherries. Producing cherries was its responsibility, but the only reason for its blossoms was to welcome me back home, since I loved it more than anyone else.

  Sometimes I would play with the light shining through the folds of a curtain, absorbed in the flecks of dust floating in the air.

  At night the stars shone brightly, but the moon, the moon was something else. Just like a headstrong child, it didn’t follow any rules. Its job was to light up the night sky, but it wouldn’t show up if it didn’t feel like it. Instead, it would suddenly appear at unexpected times, creeping up to the middle of the sky. Some mornings I would see it next to the sun. Smiling mischievously, it would turn pale so no one would notice it. It was always playful, too, chasing me around the pool and stopping without fail at the exact moment I did. It never took an extra step by mistake. I came to believe that an invisible strand tied us together; that it only followed me because it was my friend. I would lie on the bed in the garden and look at it. Everyone else moved around, but the moon didn’t follow them. It was just like me. No one could force it to do something it didn’t want to. Yes, I was the moon, and Arash was the sun, always on time and never doing anything wrong.

  In those days before realizing my dumbness, I was at the peak of consciousness. My soul was never again as aware as it was back then.

  I realized I was mute one terrible day. I was headed to my uncle’s house, which was a few houses down from ours. Khosrow was playing with his friends on the st
reet. He wasn’t like Arash, who was always reading a book. Instead he was playful and mischievous. My uncle always told him, ‘Look at Arash! He’s in your class even though he’s a year younger. He comes top every year, while you fail and have to retake your exams. He’s going to become a doctor and you’ll end up as his chauffeur. Just mark my words!’

  Fataneh, Khosrow’s mother, got annoyed every time she heard this. ‘Rubbish! My son can fit ten like him in one pocket.’ I would look at Khosrow’s pocket but it seemed too small to fit anyone inside. ‘Plus Arash isn’t younger by a whole year; it’s just a few months. They sent their son to school early, while my son is in the exact class he should be. The way you say they’re in the same year even though he’s older makes it sound like he’s missed a year!’

  ‘Read my lips. One of these years he will!’

  ‘Pffft! If he doesn’t make it to the top it will be because of you. They praise their children while you’re constantly putting down our poor son.’

  Fataneh, my uncle’s wife, was weird. Whenever my mum wasn’t around she would say, ‘That bitch thinks it’s a big deal she went to university. As if every loser who goes to university needs to show off. I’ll let her have it the next time I see her. Thank goodness this one is an imbecile, otherwise she would be bragging about her kids non-stop.’

  She would say these things in front of me, and since I was mute and didn’t speak, she was sure I wouldn’t report it to Mother. But she would forget everything she’d said as soon as she saw her. Instead of ‘letting her have it’, she would sweet-talk her and say, ‘You’re educated so you understand things better than we do.’

  Mother would get embarrassed and reply, ‘That’s not true!’ I felt sorry for Fataneh since she forgot everything so fast. If I could have talked, I would have helped remind her.

  On that fateful day, Khosrow called as soon as he saw me, ‘Hey there, Shahaab, you dummy, come over here.’ I ran over and stood next to him. He knelt in front of me, placed his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘Good boy. I want you to show my friends what a nice dumb boy you are, and I’ll buy you a huge ice cream afterwards. Put your head down here and lean your legs against the wall.’

  The ground was dirty and I didn’t like dirt. I looked around for a better place to put my head. Khosrow said, ‘What are you waiting for? You used to be a nice dummy. Hurry up and put your head down for me.’

  I had to do what he wanted. I happily placed my head on the ground and my legs against the wall. Everyone started to laugh. Then he said, ‘Now roll around so you get dusty all over.’

  Mum told me off whenever I got my clothes dirty.

  ‘Hurry up and be a good boy. Come and cheer him.’ They all began to clap. I had no choice; everyone wanted me to do it, so I lay down on the ground.

  The kids clapped harder and said, ‘Good job, dummy! Roll around, roll around!’

  The more I rolled around the happier they got. I knew that Mum would scold me but it wasn’t important, the happiness of Khosrow and his friends was worth it.

  Faraj the fatty said, ‘Will you do anything he asks you?’

  ‘Of course he will. He’s my very own dummy.’

  Faraj looked around and said, ‘Then tell him to drink from this ditch.’

  Farhad replied, ‘He won’t do it. No matter how dumb he is. He’s not going to drink that.’

  Faraj said, ‘But Khosrow says he’ll do whatever he asks him to.’

  Khosrow bragged, ‘Yes! He’ll do anything I want.’

  ‘I’ll bet he won’t drink from the ditch. What do you say? Willing to bet?’

  ‘What are you offering?’

  ‘My pen knife. But if he doesn’t drink it you have to give me your bike.’

  ‘What are you talking about? A bike for a knife! I’m not the idiot here, he is.’

  ‘Okay, then let me have it for a week.’

  ‘No. Just one day.’

  ‘Fine, it’s a deal.’

  Khosrow walked towards me and placed his arm around my shoulder again and said, ‘Shahaab, I want you to show these kids that you’re a good boy. Come and drink a bit from this ditch, and I’ll take you to the cafe and buy you a big sandwich and some ice cream afterwards. Okay?’

  No! I didn’t want to do it. Ugh! The water in the ditch was black and had worms in it. It smelled disgusting. I turned around.

  ‘Listen, Shahaab. Don’t make me look bad in front of my friends. Don’t you love me? Just one sip.’

  Farhad said, ‘He won’t do it. Like I said, it doesn’t matter how dumb he is, he still understands he shouldn’t drink it.’

  ‘Yes, he will. If I ask him, he’ll do it. Won’t you? Come on, don’t be a sissy, just one sip.’

  I was afraid of the worms in the water. I pulled out my hand from his grip and ran towards the house. I hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps when he grabbed my shirt from behind.

  ‘Hey, where do you think you’re going? You’re not going anywhere until you take a sip from this ditch.’

  I wanted to cry and felt sick. He pushed on my neck, moving my head closer to the ditch.

  ‘Come on, kids, cheer him on. See, he’s going to drink it.’

  No one clapped. It looked like they were all about to be sick. He pushed my head into the ditch. The tip of my nose touched the smelly slime. It felt like I was choking.

  Suddenly a miracle occurred. His hand went limp and I was able to pull my head away. I could hear Arash yelling, ‘Let him go, stupid!’ I fell to the side. I hadn’t drunk any water but I had slime on my face. I threw up right there.

  ‘What do you want with this kid, you idiot! Are you insane? He’ll die if he drinks this water.’

  ‘Your brother is the idiot! He’s willing to do anything for an ice cream. He was going to drink this water just for a sandwich. Isn’t that right?’

  Faraj said, ‘He’s right. Your brother is crazy. You shouldn’t let him out.’

  ‘Shut up. You’re crazy yourself.’

  ‘You’re both crazy. If you weren’t crazy you wouldn’t study so much.’

  Arash grabbed my hand angrily and pulled me home.


  I was feeding Shadi. I heard the door slam but didn’t pay any attention until I saw Shahaab covered in mud and slime, holding Arash’s hand. I screamed, ‘Oh my God! What happened to you? Didn’t I tell you not to get your clothes dirty?’

  Arash, angry and on the verge of tears, told me the whole story. I could feel the blood rushing to my head with every word. I was shaking all over. I picked Shadi up, grabbed Shahaab’s hand, and without any attention to what I was wearing, walked towards Hossein and Fataneh’s house. I let go of Shahaab’s hand once we got there and pressed the door-bell until they opened the door. As soon as it opened, I pulled Shahaab’s hand again, crossed the garden, walked into the hall and came face to face with Fataneh, who was rushing towards me, worried. Hossein, Shahin, Fereshteh and Khosrow were in front of the TV. There was a tea-tray on the coffee table. Fereshteh ran forwards and took Shadi from my arms. I took no heed of her. It was as if I couldn’t see anyone except for Khosrow. My heart was beating fast and with a voice that sounded unfamiliar to my own ears, I yelled, ‘What do you want with this child? Is he the only one you can bully? Didn’t you think he would be sick if he drank that water? Why do you pick on him so much?’

  Khosrow answered innocently, ‘It’s not my fault. He’s willing to do anything for ice cream and sweets. The kids tease him because he’s dumb. I watch out for him so he doesn’t get beaten up.’

  ‘What do you mean “dumb”? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, calling him names? He isn’t dumb at all.’

  Hossein calmly said, ‘Don’t upset yourself. Why are you so angry? Some kids are less intelligent than others. Some like Arash are talented and have a high IQ, and others like this one are a bit slow.’

  ‘He’s not slow at all. You’re all labelling him.’

  Fataneh said derisively, ‘Why don’t you want to accept the truth? A child who hasn’t talked by this age must be retarded.’

  ‘His lack of speech has nothing to do with being retarded. His doctor says that some kids start talking later. It has nothing to do with his intelligence.’

  ‘Rubbish! We’ve never seen a smart, intelligent four-year-old who doesn’t talk. My Khosrow began talking when he was still crawling.’

  I answered with exasperation, ‘No, he started talking when he was still in your belly, but as you can see, he isn’t smart at all! So talking early or late has nothing to do with being smart.’

  Fataneh pursed her lips and said, ‘What did you say? Hossein, did you hear what she said about my son?’

  Hossein got up and walked towards me, and trying to remain calm said, ‘Try to control yourself. Instead of getting angry you should seriously think of doing something about this child.’

  My voice kept getting louder and louder, ‘There’s nothing wrong with him. You should seriously think of doing something about your own child.’

  Shahin said, ‘Maryam, that’s not nice. My brother didn’t say anything hurtful. He’s just worried about your son and thinks you should take him to a doctor. All the children in our family are clever. This sort of case is very uncommon.’

  ‘All the children in my family are clever too. Don’t worry about this one either. There’s nothing wrong with him.’

  I took Shadi from Fereshteh’s arms and turned to Shahaab who was looking at me startled.

  ‘The next time someone calls you “dumb”, smack him in the mouth. Do you understand?’

  I couldn’t stand being there any more, so grabbing Shahaab’s hand I turned and went home without saying goodbye.

  I knew that my reaction would seem very strange to my husband’s family, who before this had always seen me as a quiet, shy person. The whole situation would probably explode with all kinds of repercussions.

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