The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Fifteen

The Life Of Alonso Quijano, To Rise/To Fall, & Gerontomachy by Emilio Martinez
Shuteye by Bob Thurber
Magoria by Alexandra Berková
Liquid Hotel by Michael Overa
Sleeping Prescription: Directions and Cautions by Steven Schutzman
Botanical Curiosities & The Golden Apple by Margarita Engle
Selections from O, Vozque Pulp by Derek White
Gypsy by Saeed Tavakkol
Best, The Lion, & Children of God by Beate Sigriddaughter


irreal (re)views


by Saeed Tavakkol

I was born in Ahvaz, a city in southern Iran. My family lived there until I reached 9 years old. Those days we mocked anyone unlike us, non-Moslems, people who didn't speak Farsi or spoke it with a different accent. We took the most delight in scoffing those who dressed differently.

We teased a very sweet Jewish family a few doors away. And the Arabs! We referred to them as Arabs Pa patee or barefoot Arabs and they called non-Arabs Ajam, which meant ignorant. We mocked our own aunts and uncles, although they were our next-door neighbors and their kids, our best friends. When we exhausted all outlets, we shamelessly laughed at our father's way of telling his well-worn anecdotes or Uncle Ismael's loud and frequent burps. The idea was to have fun and it didn't matter at whose expense. I personally blame this outrageous attitude of ours on the lack of entertainment. Television was introduced to our family a few years later.

The most popular target of our laughter was the Gypsies. We'd been told they kidnap children and drink their blood--we had also heard the same tale about our Jewish neighbors. But the Gypsy stories seemed more credible. They were mysterious nomads. Although we knew nothing about them, yet we were convinced they were all thieves and murderers.

I remembered Gypsy women wandering in our neighborhood from house to house, selling kitchen gadgets and pots and pans. Under their colorful skirts, they wore more brightly colored puffy pants. They draped themselves in tin bracelets, chokers, charms and tiny bells--even around their legs. Their babies were wrapped onto their backs while older kids followed their mothers silently. As much as I wanted to play with them, I was both forbidden and too scared to do so. Even at that young age, the Gypsies fascinated me. They were people with no past and no future. I always believed they were wandering ghosts as I had never known where they came from or where they were going.

The only thing we knew for a fact was that Gypsy women were all fortunetellers. One told my mother everyone has a Hamzaad or birthmate. The Hamzaad is everyone's twin ghost, born at the same time they are. When you meet your Hamzaad, you die. So you must prevent your path from crossing that of your birthmate. She also told my mother that my brother's Hamzaad was in water. This prediction ruined his childhood because he was forbidden from ever getting in the water.

At this time, my father knew the chief of police. Once he invited my father to attend a Gypsy wedding and for some reason, my father decided to take me. Since the chief was a friend of the Gypsy tribe's leader, he personally assured us we'd have a safe and enjoyable experience. I was so thrilled, yet terrified to see for myself how these colorfully dressed specters lived.

We rode in the police Jeep, with the chief wearing his uniform and gun and baton on his belt. We bumped along for two hours through rocky terrain until we reached a remote hilly area. In the middle of nowhere and in total darkness, the Jeep stopped. The chief said we'd walk the rest of the way. I don't remember how far we walked through the darkness, but suddenly the sky shone red from hundreds of little fires. These flames arose from drums with holes pierced in their sides. I was dazzled. I had never seen so many Gypsies before, but I felt safe with my father and the chief of police by my side.

The Gypsy women were dressed as colorfully as always. All men carried shotguns. They fired sporadic shots into the dark sky in celebration. In Iran, citizens are not allowed to carry guns. But Gypsies weren't exactly citizens.

Girls danced to the music played by their fathers; simple musical instruments made of gasoline containers with three strings tightly stretched from top to bottom. I witnessed a shooting contest. A rooster was held in place about a hundred yards away and men aimed at his crown and shot. One more thing I remember about that mystic night was that a Gypsy woman read my palm. She told me that my birthmate was in a book.

Twenty years later, I earned an Engineering degree from Kansas State University. At the beginning of the last semester, students went through graduation check. This ensured that the graduating senior fulfilled all requirements to earn a degree. I was informed I was short one humanities course and without these three credits I wouldn't graduate in spring.

In my financial situation, this was not an option. I had already taken a full load of high-level engineering courses and was working to support my family. I did not have time to attend another class. I sat with my advisor and explained to him it would be impossible for me to attend university for another semester just to take a humanities course, which I considered filler.

He listened compassionately and advised me to go to the Art or English departments to see if there were courses that did not require class attendance. Desperate to find a way out of this predicament, I talked to a few professors in the English Department.

Finally I came across a softhearted professor who, after hearing my melodrama asked, "Can you write stories?"

"I'll do anything to graduate this semester, sir."

"There is an advanced creative writing course that does not require class attendance. You must write a complete story by the end of this semester. It must be original and creative, with a minimum of 1300 words, typed and double-spaced with no grammatical errors."

I registered for the course and returned my focus to the complicated and time-consuming Engineering courses. I shoved any thought of my writing class to the back of my mind until a few weeks before the end of the semester when I sat down and attempted to write.

I wrote several "stories" but discarded them all. They were too real. They were apathetic accounts of my life. They would not have fooled anyone. I could not have called them stories in my right mind. I was too consumed with reality to afford fantasy.

To write creatively was one issue; to pay someone to type it for me was a more challenging one. It would have cost $20 just to get the damn paper typed. The only "creative" idea that crossed my mind was to cheat. So I did--with no remorse.

One late afternoon I went to the fifth floor of the university library, and headed directly to a nearly deserted, half-lit section dedicated to out-of-print books. I was looking for books by unknown writers. I could not jeopardize my future by being sloppy. I pored over a number of books by obscure writers, well into the middle of the night, in search of a story that could rescue me.

I came across a book with no name on the cover, an anthology of stories by obscure writers. I read the entire book searching for a story to call my own. I finally found one. To ensure my plagiarism would remain untraceable, I changed all the characters and locations. I maliciously adapted the story to my life to fool the readers and make them believe it was really mine. I then made copies of those pages and took them to the typist to type my crime.

I graduated as planned and now those years seem long gone. Now, I feel guilty of the crime I have committed. I don't remember the original story anymore. I don't recall the original characters. I don't even know how much I altered them to serve my purpose.

I respectfully urge all readers of this text to see if they have read this story before and if they know who the writer was.

Saeed Tavakkol was born in southern Iran. He immigrated to the United States in 1983, a few years after the revolution. His chaotic childhood, traumatic participation in Iranian revolution and the turmoil of the post-revolutionary society engaged in a war compelled him to write. His life in the US as an immigrant and his dramatic personal experiences after September the 11th have greatly motivated him and inspired this creativity. He lives in Dallas. His short story, "Lucky Night," appeared in Issue #13 of The Cafe Irreal, and he recently published his book, Confessions of a Writer.

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