The Enchantress (part two)

By Mozhgan Mahjoob

Junaid felt an excessive passion toward the painting and the sounds that he heard. He took the enigmatic portrait of Roxana and hung it in his bedroom for a few days. He tried to be normal, although he did not talk to anyone in the office. Returning home, he went to the painting and sniffed the aromatic scent of the roses that came from it. It seemed the roses danced in the breeze and their scent came through the painting’s surface to reach him.  The summer blossoms of Roxana’s fragrance spread from the painting to fill his life and made him long for ways to connect to her. A strong feeling of love and pleasure arose in his veins and he started searching for her in darkness and light. He thought Roxana was imprisoned inside the painting and that he could release her. The glamorous eyes of Roxana were full of love. Every time Junaid looked at the painting Roxana looked back and smiled at him, the same as always.

Junaid lived alone, far from his family, but it seemed he was not alone anymore. He started talking to the painting and believed that Roxana could hear his voice, too. Sometimes he heard the melodic voice of Roxana during the night, and he could not sleep deeply. Junaid ‘s colleagues observed changes in him. He showed no interest in solving Arsalan’s case anymore, so the case of Arsalan was closed by reaching the conclusion that he committed suicide, while the reason behind Junaid’s changes was not clear to anyone.

Every day at work Junaid impatiently waited to go home and talk to Roxana. As soon as he reached home he hugged the painting, drowning in Roxana’s world. Roxana was there in his dreams, in the golden ray of the sunrise outside his room, under the sparkling stars, beneath the silver moon, and everywhere that he went she followed him. As he told her, “I love you,” Roxana’s voice replied in its pleasing tone, me too, me too, me too... Throughout the night, Roxana‘s thoughts kept him busy.
Junaid did not inform his colleagues about these incidents. They would call him mad, so he preferred to keep it a secret. Roxana’s love, coquetry, and thoughts captured his heart and soon enough he stopped going to the police station.

Junaid’s boss, Matin, was an intelligent middle-aged man, always proud of his younger officer. He had solved many criminal cases with the help of Junaid. Soon Matin would be retiring. He  had a murder case that he hoped to hand over to Junaid, but he couldn’t find him at the station. Matin asked the other police officers about Junaid, and they told him about Junaid’s changes while investigating Arsalan’s case. His phone number was even turned off, just a few days ago. Matin was worried. Junaid was one of his smartest, most fearless officers. He was adventurous and thorough, deeply investigating his cases to reach sound conclusions and to solve them. It had never happened before that he did not come to work without informing Matin.

Matin sent two officers to Junaid’s house. He lived far from the police station so they took the long trip in a police car. They called from outside Junaid’s house, but Junaid did not open the door. They were able to see inside the house and told Matin they saw Junaid dancing in his room with eyes closed, hugging a painting. They said they called to him and knocked on the window, but he neither heard nor responded. Moreover, his appearance was changed—Junaid had long hair and a beard, which he’d never had before.

Matin was worried by this. He asked another detective to bring him Arsalan’s case report. All of Junaid’s friends believed he had changed after investigating that case. Matin was shocked when he read Arsalan’s suicide letter, and he immediately ordered his officers to bring Roxana’s painting to his office. They said that Junaid had taken the original painting of Roxana, but the rest that Arsalan had painted were still in the evidence locker. Matin asked them to call Darya, the witness in Arsalan’s case, and bring her to the police station. Finally, he asked his officers to bring both Junaid and the original painting there.

Darya arrived at the police station, and an officer guided her to Matin’s office. As she entered, Matin got up from his chair and said, “Hello, Ms. Darya Saani. We asked you here to learn more about Arsalan, the man who killed himself in your neighborhood. Did you see any suspicious changes in his behavior before his death? You mentioned in the report that he talked to himself. I would like to know more, because his case might be related to a new case.”

Darya had never been inside the police station before, and she seemed anxious, but replied calmly, “Thank you, sir. When Mr. Arsalan came to our neighborhood he was normal. But after a while his appearance changed. He grew long black hair and a beard. And when he walked outside he talked to himself, and he moved his hands, too, as if there was someone with him, even when no one else was there. One day I saw that kids were throwing stones at him and taunting him. His head was injured a little, and I stopped the kids, but he said that he was fine. He didn’t want to go to the hospital. After that I did not see him outside the house until there was a bad smell coming from there, which is when I informed the police.”

Matin asked, “Did he ever talk about Roxana with his neighbors or anyone else?”

“Roxana?” Darya replied,” Who is she?”

Matin said, “Arsalan had written her name in his suicide letter, saying that Roxana lived inside a painting and she had enchanted him to commit suicide.”

“No, I don’t know about Roxana, and I never heard about the paintings.” Darya replied. “But what kind of painting is this, that it could enchant him?”

“I’m trying to find that out,” Matin said. “We need to understand the secret behind the painting of Roxana that Arsalan mentioned in his suicide letter. He described a very beautiful woman in a painting that he fell in love with. Later on, Arsalan painted her, too, and according to him she seduced him and he wanted to join her. Finally he lost his life trying to unite with her inside the painting. It seems ridiculous, I know, but what if Arsalan was right and there’s something inside that painting or related to that painting, a powerful curse? One of our young and most intelligent detectives was investigating this case, and now he is acting the same as Arsalan. Maybe the painting is haunted—or cursed—indeed. Perhaps there is an evil spirit that haunts only men through that painting? If that’s so, we should destroy it, before it hurts someone else.”

Darya was surprised to hear such a strong superstition from a rational man like Matin, the head of the local police. “But that painting is only a piece of art,” she replied calmly. “Art cannot haunt someone, or hurt them, or take someone’s life. We can’t blame a lifeless painting, even a very beautiful one, for the changes that happen in our lives. Isn’t this the power of the mind? A product of your imagination…I mean your detective’s imagination? He creates his perspective about the painting, in the same way that Arsalan did in his imagination. That’s what caused him to die. The painting itself is not to blame.” Darya finished.

Matin seemed slightly offended, and he spoke down to Darya as though she was a little girl, unable to understand adult things. “I’m sorry, Ms. Saani, but one man has already committed suicide and another intelligent and ambitious officer of mine has reached the same condition. I cannot put more lives at risk because of that painting. We must destroy it.”

Meanwhile the police officers brought Junaid and the painting to the station, but Junaid was struggling and shouting at them to give him back the painting.  Matin went out of the room and told them to cover that painting in the black leather, as Arsalan had found it in his house, then put it in a box, lock it up, and bury it far from the city.

Darya shook her head, baffled by the order. Matin thanked her for her cooperation, and ushered her out of the office, past the group of officers and Junaid who stood in the hall, shouting. His long hair fell on his face. “Are you okay, Junaid? Oh my God what has happened to you?” Matin asked, coming closer to the exhausted mad man.

Junaid looked up, and as he saw Darya he shouted and pointed toward her, “Roxana!” He tried to release his hands and walk to her but the police officers stopped him.

Darya, astonished, looked at Matin and Matin told her, “I’m sorry Ms. Darya it seems he has lost his mind because of that cursed painting. We’ll have it destroyed and have him admitted to the mental hospital. Darya left the police station and rushed home to safety, while Junaid was still shouting, Roxana! Roxana! Roxana!

17 July, 2023