Davood the Hunchback
By Sadegh Hedayat
Translated by Mohammad Rajabpur
“Oh, no, I’ll never do this. I’ve to forget about it. It brings luck for other people, but for me it’s just pain and misery. Oh, no, never …” whispered Davood to himself while he was tapping his yellow walking stick on the ground and was walking with difficulty as if he could hardly keep his balance. His big face had sunk into his thin shoulders on his swollen chest. He had a dry, rough and gaudy expression on his face: thin tight lips, narrow round eyebrows, fallen eyelids, pale yellow color, and swollen bony cheeks. From a distance, one could see his white jacket which had been raised in the back. His hands were long and disproportionate. He wore a loose hat and maintained a serious countenance. All this and the way he tapped his walking stick with difficulty made him more ridiculous to people on the streets.
He had turned from Pahlavi Street into the street leading outside the city and was going towards Darvazeh Dowlat. It was near the sunset, but it was a bit warm. On the left, under the dim light of the dusk, clay and brick walls had thrust their heads into the sky.
On the right, the brook had recently been filled and here and there one could see half-built brick houses. The street was quiet and just every now and then, a car or a coach passed by which raised dust into the air, though water had been sprinkled on the ground. On both sides along the gutter, young trees had been planted.
Davood was thinking he had been mocked or pitied by other people since he was a child. He remembered when for the first time his history teacher said that Spartans killed deformed babies, everybody had turned and looked at him. This had filled him with strange feelings. But now he wished this law was practiced all over the world or at least malformed people were banned from marriage, because he knew all this was his father’s fault.
He remembered his father’s expression while he was dying. His face was pale, his cheeks were bony, his eyes had become black and had sunk in and his mouth was half-open. His syphilitic father had married a young girl and all his children had been born either blind or paralyzed. Just one of his brothers had survived dumb and crazy who had died two years earlier. “Perhaps they were happy”, he whispered to himself.
He was the only one who had stayed alive. He despised himself and all people. Everybody shunned him, but to some extent he had learned to lead a solitary life. Since childhood he had been deprived of all the sports and games played at school. He had been deprived of all the things which made his peers happy. During the recess, he sat in a corner in the school yard, kept his book before his face and slyly peeped at his peers. Sometimes he tried to do his best and wanted to gain superiority over his classmates by studying hard. Some students wanted to befriend him, but he knew that it was because they wanted to copy the answers to math problems from his notebook. He knew that they just pretended to be friends with him and in fact most of them wanted to befriend Hassan Khan who was good-looking, in shape and wore beautiful clothes. Just two or three teachers paid him some attention which was just out of pity and they even couldn’t help him finish his studies.
Now he was poor and penniless. All people avoided him; even his so-called friends felt ashamed of accompanying him. “Look at the Hunchback” the girls said which made him lose his temper. Some years ago, he had proposed to two girls, but both of them had mocked him. Incidentally one of them lived nearby in Fisher Abad. He had seen her, a couple of times and once had talked to her. Her name was Zibandeh. In the afternoon when the school was over, he used to come to the vicinity to see her from a distance. He just remembered she had a beauty-spot near her lips. He had sent his aunt to propose to her on his behalf, but she had made fun of him and had said, “Are we running short of men that you expect me become the Hunchback’s wife”. Though her parents had beaten her hard to accept the proposal, she had just resisted and said, “Are we running short of men”? Still Davood loved her and she was the best thing he remembered from his youth. Now consciously or unconsciously he came here most of the time to refresh his memories. He really felt frustrated with everything. He walked alone and avoided the crowd, because whoever laughed he thought it was at him and whoever whispered to his friend, he thought the guy was mocking him. With his brown gazing eyes and his rough countenance he would turn half of his body stiffly and look at them with contempt. On the way, all his attention was towards other people and tensing the muscles of his face, he wanted to know their opinion about himself.
He was walking slowly along the gutter and sometimes he dipped his walking stick into the water. His thoughts were wild and disorderly. Hearing the sound of his walking stick hitting a stone, a white dog raised its head feebly. It looked sick or dying. It couldn’t move and dropped down its head. He bended down with difficulty and in the moonlight, their eyes met. Strange thoughts struck his head. He thought it was the first sincere look he had ever seen. Both of them were unhappy and like rubbish had been socially outcast. He wanted to sit next to the dog, embrace it and push its head to his chest. But he thought someone might see him and ridicule him even more.
The sun had just set, when he passed through Yousef Abad Gate. He looked at the full-moon which had risen in the dark sky of this nostalgic night. He looked at the half-built houses, the pile of bricks, the layout of the sleepy city, trees, the attics of the houses and the black mountain. They passed before his eyes like dim gray screens.
Nobody was around. He could hear the stifled voice of a man singing far away. He raised his head with difficulty. He was tired and full of agony. His eyes were burning and he felt the weight of his head on his body. He put aside his stick and sat on the pebbles near a brook running there. All of a sudden, he noticed a woman wearing a chador sitting beside the brook near him. His heart started to beat fast. With no greetings, she turned her head towards him. “Houshang! Why are late? Where were you”? she said.
Davood was surprised how she had seen her and had not run away. He was so happy. He felt she wanted to talk to him, but what was she doing there at this time? Was she a chaste girl? Was she in love? After all, he had found someone to whom he could talk. Perhaps she could calm her down. “Are you lonely, Miss? I’m lonely too. I’ve always been, all my life” he dared say.
Just then the girl who was wearing sunglasses turned her head again towards him. “Who are you? I thought you were Houshang. He always toys with me”.
Davood didn’t understand what she meant by her last sentence. It was a long time no girl had talked to him and he was surprised. He saw that she was very beautiful.
Cold sweat was running down his body. “No, I’m not Houshang, Miss. My name’s Davood” he said with difficulty.
“I don’t see you. I have sore eyes. Oh, … Davood. Oh! The Hunch…” she said biting her lips. “That’s why your voice looked quite familiar to my ears. I’m Zibandeh. Remember me”?
Her plaited hair which had hidden her profile moved and Davood saw the black beauty-spot near her lips. He felt pain in his body, he was perspiring on the forehead. He looked around. There wasn’t a soul there. But he could hear the singing man more clearly. His heart was throbbing so quickly that he couldn’t breathe. Without a word, he got up. All his body was trembling. He was about to weep. He picked up his walking stick and with heavy steps and drawing his body, he set off back. “She was Zibandeh! She couldn’t see me … Houshang might be her fiancé or her husband … who knows? … Oh, no … never … I must forget her forever … oh, no … I can’t stand it any longer”, he whispered with a harsh voice.
He drew himself next to the dog he had seen on his way. He sat down, held the dog and embraced it in his arms. But the dog was dead!
September 7, 1930