Afghanistanian Story: The sparrow hawk hung from one of the branches. The string on its foot was firmly caught in the tree, and the feathers the bird had shed in its death struggles were scattered all about...
By Ahazam Rahnaward Zaryab, Translated by Wasef Bakhtari
For many long years a dead tree stood in our street. Nearby a cobbler had a small shop. He would open his shop early every morning and close it with a big lock at sunset each day. There were also two jobless men living on our street. I don't know why they had no jobs, but all they did every day was to sit loafing in the cobbler's shop, for all the world as though they were part of the furnishings.
One day when I passed the shop I noticed that the cobbler was not as happy and talkative as usual. He sat with a bowed head as though deep in thought. The two loafers also looked dejected and sat thinking with bowed heads. For a moment I thought they might be mimicking the cobbler, and perhaps that's what it was - a very stupid imitation.
Thinking something bad had happened, I approached the shop and spoke to the cobbler. "What's the matter?" I asked.
Slowly the cobbler raised his head and looked at me. Usually there was a merry spark in his eyes, but now I could see only some mute, vague sadness in them. And the two loafers also were looking at me with a blank expression on their faces.
"My sparrow hawk-it's escaped," the cobbler said.
At his words my heart was filled with pleasure. "How'd it get away?" I asked, feeling still more pleased by the thought of the hawk's freedom.
The cobbler must have seen that I was pleased, for suddenly he broke into boisterous laughter. The two loafers quickly jointed in. there was some sort of vengeful rage in the way the cobbler was laughing.
"Why do you laugh?" I asked him.
"Because, that damned hawk-it'll be dead soon enough," he said.
"Why should it die?" I asked.
"Because it still has a long string tied to its leg," he said, and the usual spark of merriment returned to his eyes. "Just as soon as that damned hawk lights in a tree, the string will get tangled in the branches, and the bird will be caught there until it dies." Again he laughed loudly and then added: "It's really a strong string; no bird can break it."
The pleasure in my heart had died, and I was filled with apprehension. The two loafers kept repeating the cobbler's words: "No bird can break it . . .no bird can break it."
"That hawk has carried its own death away with it," the cobbler said.
"You're very cruel," I said.
The spark was shining still brighter n his eyes. "I used to feed it live sparrows," he said. "It killed them and ate them gladly. But now it's flown away. I . . ."
I didn't wait to hear more but went on my way. His words kept echoing in my ears: "Because it still has a long string tied to its leg. It'll get tangled and the bird will be caught until it dies. It's a strong string: the hawk cannot break it . . . cannot break it . . ."
I had a bad night. I couldn't sleep. The gloomy darkness of the night pressed down upon my chest. Looking out the window, I saw the street sleeping in darkness. The black night had brought only gloom and grief. Again I tried to sleep. But somewhere inside me a thought was growing. I tried to pull the thought into my consciousness, but no matter how I tried, it could not show itself. Some power was holding the thought back, keeping it in hiding. The thought kept struggling to free itself. The night was passing, and I was afire with some mysterious fever.
In time the darkness began to disappear. In a state somewhere between sleeping and waking, I began to see that the world was full of strings. Long strings and short strings. Our street too was full of strings. Thick strings and thin strings. But all too strong to be broken. And suddenly I saw that each string was tied to someone's foot. Every person had a string tied to his foot. I too had a string on my foot.
I woke up, trembling. It was morning. A noisy shouting came from the street. I went out and saw a crowd gathered under the dead tree near the cobbler's shop. The cobbler too was there, dancing and shouting. When he saw me, he came dancing up to me and shouted: "See-I was right!"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Just come along," he said. Catching hold of my hand, he pulled me along to the dead tree, where he pointed to a branch and said: "Look! Just look!"
The sparrow hawk hung from one of the branches. The string on its foot was firmly caught in the tree, and the feathers the bird had shed in its death struggles were scattered all about. The bird was now quite dead. Its head hung down, and it was staring directly at me from lifeless eyes. It seemed I could hear the bird speaking, saying bitterly: "This is the end of the road."
"See?" said the cobbler. "Didn't I tell you it would be dead soon?"
The crowd kept shouting and pointing at the dead bird. Their eyes seemed alight with a foolish joy and satisfaction. I thought they were exulting: "How good that it's the bird that's been hung, not us!"
I looked at the people's feet. All of them were tied by strings. Strong strings. The cobbler's feet were tied too. The strings were all made of round links, and each link was in the form of a word. The word was Ego.
I burst into laughter. "Why are you laughing?" they asked me. Instead of answering them, I laughed louder and louder, until my laughter seemed to fill the street.
"Why are you laughing?" the cobbler screamed in a loud, heavy voice.
"All of you-all of you have strings tied on your feet too," I answered.
Frightened, they all looked at their feet and then asked: "Where? What strings?"
But I didn't answer: I was looking at my own feet. There was a string tied to me too, made of little links reading Ego . . . Ego . . . Ego . . .
So the thought that had been imprisoned in my subconscious had finally broken free and revealed itself. Suddenly, all the world seemed ridiculous, and I burst into laughter again.
Then all of us were hanging from the branches of the dead tree, each caught fast by one foot. The cobbler hung beside me, his face close to mine, a sad face that seemed to be saying: "That is the end of the road." The two loafers hung nearby, their faces filled with the same sadness-a very stupid imitation.
I caught sight of the hawk hanging from another branch. 'Why has it returned?" I asked myself. But then I saw there was a second string on its foot, a string that stretched all the way to the cobbler's shop. And this string was made of live sparrows!