The Last Laughter

By Atefa Qorbani

I want to cry like Cinderella in the loft, and fill the washtubs that my stepmother prepared with tears. My sweet tears, companion of my restlessness, accomplice to my longing. When and where have I lost you in this city? These days, I’m looking for you in Herat, where I hope to find you like my childhood: quick and fussy. With a normal stroke and seeing a drop of blood on my knees, tears stream down my cheeks like a flood, but no flood is strong enough to unearth the hard and painful bushes of my heart. How did life make me so hard? My mother said that your heart is a sparrow, but now she might say it is becoming an owl. When I think of Parisa, I feel a lump in my throat that doesn’t burst, tears well up in the corners of my eyes, but they don’t flow. I was so relentless, I didn’t even cry when people sang the elegy of her murder to me. Was I even there, in that columned room trembling from her moaning, it’s white walls bearing the bloody patterns of her thin fingers? Did I see her body full of holes that spattered blood everywhere like a sprinkler? Or her fingerless hands and torn chest transferring ablution water from the front to her back? Maybe if I was the door handle of that room and saw Parisa’s struggle to survive and to escape from the angry hands of her fiancé, I’d cry. Maybe I would cry, but I don’t know, believe me, I don’t know anything anymore. I was so relentless when Parisa cried every day, I couldn’t help her, I couldn’t tell her that it would pass. Every day, at the sixth hour of class, when the elementary school students were dismissed and the white tents on the school grounds were empty, we’d crawl under the tents together to unburden. The sunlight reddened the inside of the tents so that the small black board with white writing on it, the old brown carpet and parts of the cement on the floor that could be seen through the holes in the carpet were all red. “My fiancé is an engineer,” said Parisa. “He is someone for himself. I want to become a literature teacher, to become someone for myself.” But how come she wasn’t even allowed to go to the clinic with me to complete her Tetanus vaccination process? Several times after her fiancé saw her with me in a small sandwich shop near the school, he bruised her body. Parisa was bold. Every day, she poured out her pains and complications under the tent, but I never found the courage to pour out mine. As we sat there, admiring the shades of red, I wanted to tell Parisa that I have a piece of stone instead of a heart. I’d have cried otherwise, and I’d have told her how it hurts to have a storehouse of sadness inside you without being able to pour it out. I’d have said that it is painful to miss a drop of tears. That day, the literature teacher cried as well. Everyone went to the office to look her photo, and her curly blond hair flowing from her scarf, her green eyes, and we all cried. Parisa was dead, but I could not shed a tear. I had to carry a huge pain with me. I feel all of Parisa’s wounds. The same wounds that buried her underground. But I am still alive. These pains have become so normal to me that when my seventeen-year-old friend was stuck between mountain fences and had no choice but bite her heart, I couldn’t do anything. Today is Parisa’s birthday. I wish she was alive so that I could go to her house with my mother and hug her without worrying about Corona, but all I have left is this white sheet. So I can unburden with it instead of Parisa. With every word, I pour the ink of the pen like salt on the wounds of my heart, and remember the last day, when walked to the hospital together, and I admired Parisa’s courage to come to the hospital for her Tetanus vaccination. We were laughing together, but we didn’t know it would be our last laughter. Like a woman whose milk has dried, my tears have dried up too, and the child inside me will not endure this hunger. My father used to say, “You don’t cry when you are in a lot of pain and tears burn in your brain”, but I think I have burned my tears somewhere in my heart.

4 May, 2023