Half White, Half Violet, a story from Iran


By Mahsa Mohebali
Translated from the Persian by Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam


I go to the kitchen and squat beside him, pulling down his a-shirt straps and running my hand over his shoulder blades. He slaps my hand away. I cup his chin in my hand. His stubble tickles my palm. I’m trying hard to suppress my laughter.

“That’s enough! Get up!”

“She has run off with that bastard and you’re….”

Once again, the corners of my lips are turning up. Once again, I burst out laughing. He digs his claws into my face. Now he’s sitting on my chest, slapping me around. I can’t help it. I’m in hysterics. His voice has gone squeaky and tears are rolling down his cheeks. He calls me a jerk and boxes my ears. I grip his arms and push him toward the living room. Like a cat, he lands on all fours next to the sofa. The kettle is whistling in the kitchen and a pigeon is cooing to its tune. I pucker my lips and blow the bird a loud kiss. It turns its back to me, fanning its tail. I brew the tea and return to the living room. He’s hugging his knees to his chest and his shoulders are moving up and down. I lie on the sofa and light a cigarette. He is pressing his forehead to his knees, and his shoulders are still shaking. I get up and sit next to him. Stroking his auburn hair, I say, “Let’s go to the kitchen and you tell me everything. Start from the very beginning.”

He’s sitting in front of me now, staring at his glass of tea. I gulp down the last sip loudly and say, “Drink it… It’s going cold. I’ll roll a cigarette.”

He gives me a blank stare. I say, “Drink it. I’ll roll a cigarette.”

“It’s not fair. She shouldn’t have done this to me.”

I stare at the mole on his neck and say, “Tell me everything. Start from the beginning.”

I pick up the cigarettes lying by the stove, slowly roll them between my fingers and watch the tobacco fall out on the table. With my fingertips, I sweep them into a pile.

“He was giving me the change when I noticed he was not looking at me…. He was dragging his feet, assuming I didn’t know what he was up to—that bastard. I caught him gesturing to her with his eyes and eyebrows. I wanted to confront him, but I thought that I’d better let it go, that he wasn’t worth it. I took the two bills he gave me and grabbed her arm… but I didn’t hear him leave. He was still there, revving the engine in park. We were hardly ten steps away when she suddenly said she’d be right back. She pulled her scarf down and ran. I couldn’t understand what was happening. The next thing I knew, she was sitting next to that scumbag and the cab was rushing out of sight. I was at a loss to explain what had just happened. I stood there for an hour, thinking maybe….”

Once more, I can’t help feeling the urge to laugh. Glaring at me with his beautiful honey-colored eyes, he throws the glass at my face. I duck. It hits the poster of Brad Pit in the nose and the tea spreads across his face. I fall off the chair, laughing. He puts his head on the table and sobs.

I get up, pour him some more tea and put it in front of him. Lighting a cigarette, I say, “I asked you to start from the beginning. The very beginning.”

He looks up, still crying. I place the cigarette between his thin lips and light the match. I hold his hands in mine, smiling.
“Start from the beginning. Okay?”

He takes a long drag on his cigarette. A shapeless flood of smoke pours from his mouth.

“When we stepped out of the café, it felt like an ordinary night. She grabbed my arm and we walked to Valiasr Square. The guy was leaning on his cab door, yelling Tajrish. His biceps were so thick. He didn’t wait for any other passengers. As soon as we got in the cab, he took off. I was holding her hands in mine. That same day, she had manicured her nails, half white, half violet. I was staring at her nails. When I looked up, I noticed he had adjusted the rear view mirror to frame her eyes. But she was looking away. She had rolled the window all the way down, letting the wind blow on her face. She pulled her hand out of mine to wipe her tears. It was the wind, hurting her eyes.”

I take a hard drag on the cigarette and blow the smoke straight at his face. He waves the smoke away. His words are a mumble, becoming less and less distinct. Now, I can’t hear him at all. He’s just moving his lips, touching his stubble, holding his earring between his fingers. The kitchen walls are receding. His face is expanding. His chair is moving backward. Now it’s sticking to the tiles. The lilies on the tiles are pricking his body. One is now clinging to the mole on his neck. I’m trying to catch it. He wouldn’t let me. He is moving his neck away from me. I finally grab it. I’m holding the lily in my hand and lying on the kitchen floor. I close my eyes. I hear him again.

“She was wearing a magenta manteau and pink pants, and looked even more beautiful than before. I had matched her clothes myself. It was like any other night but this time she looked a bit prettier. Every night when we stepped into the café, every head would turn towards us. That night a jerk called me a ‘sissy.’ I was about to snap back when I saw she had already shown him the finger.”

I’m starting to laugh again. I look away, not wanting him to see me. But he does. As he stares at me, the honey of his eyes starts rolling down his cheeks. I stop laughing, squat in front of him, and hug his head.

“Forget about it… forget about it….”

“But how…that jerk….”

He, still sobbing, hits my chest with clenched fists. I stroke his hair and run my hand over his mole. I open my hand, but the lily is gone. I show him my empty palm and say, “Look. It’s gone.”

“She would come out of the bathtub and, lying naked on the sofa, sip her coffee. No matter how much I kept insisting, she wouldn’t budge. She liked to drink her coffee listening to the Gipsy Kings. She would never drink the entire cup. She would always leave a sip behind. Then, she would file her nails. And I would just sit there, watching her. She used to say she liked me for being so cool with everything.”

I go to the kitchen so that he doesn’t see me smiling. I turn off the burner beneath the kettle. The pigeon is still cooing. I pucker my lips. It looks at me from the corner of its eyes and turns it back to me. I blow it another kiss and say, “Take a bath. It will calm you down.”

Now he’s lying in the tub. I sit on the edge and blow on the water. He has closed his eyes. I push the water toward him with my arms. Ripples run toward his head and splash from the tub. He’s resting his head on the wall and his auburn hair is floating on the water. I say, “Lie on your stomach. Let me massage your back.”

He lies on his stomach. His soft skin stretches beneath my fingers. I massage his shoulder blades. I bury my lips into his hair and suck on his silver earring. He sobs. His voice goes squeaky, “She shouldn’t have done this to me.”


Mahsa Mohebali (born August 12, 1972 in Tehran, Iran) is an accomplished Iranian fiction writer and literary critic. Although she is best known for her critically acclaimed novel Don’t Worry (2008) which won both the Golshiri Foundation’s and the Press Critics’ Best Novel award, she has also penned the novels The Grey Spell (2002) and Will Stop (2016) and two short story collections The Voices (1998) and Love in the Footnotes (2004), the latter of which is now banned in Iran despite being the winner of the Golshiri Foundation’s award for best short story collection. Her works are translated into Swedish, Italian, Turkish, and English and are widely circulated in Iran as well as adopted for the stage.

Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is particularly interested in women, gender, and sexuality studies and the intersection of religion and feminism. She is currently writing her dissertation on the representations of prostitution in Persian and Arab literature. She also aspires to introduce Iranian women writers to Western audiences through translation and criticism of their works. Her translations have appeared in Asymptote and The Guardian and will soon be featured in the spring issue of Silk Road Review.