The Mysterious Painting

By Mozhgan Mahjoob

Through the open windows of my room a cold and flowery spring breeze was blowing. I looked at the yard. The pink blossoms of the roses were rolling slowly. The small swallows sat on the highest branches of the berry trees singing. I had found a closed box of my books and notebooks, after we moved to our new house. My mother had kept them out of my sight for several years. I opened it and looked at the notebooks filled with my teacher’s signatures, and then I found the purple notebook of my school-friends’ memories that I’d searched for several years.

The thing that attracted me most in that notebook was a painting from Bahar, a close friend of mine since the tenth grade. We used to sit at the same bench and table in the front row of class. Bahar was full of life, full of joy and fun. She used to live in the moment and enjoy the liveliness in every second. What scared her most was death; she loved to live and enjoy living the way that she wanted. She was a skilled painter and often painted figures that I did not understand. Her paintings were full of secrets and mysteries that only Bahar knew.

Unlike Bahar, my favorite subjects were physics, biology, chemistry, languages, and poetry. The most difficult subject for me was painting. I couldn’t even draw a straight line. I always had the top rank in our class, even though I didn’t agree with my teachers on some of the theories that we studied. They gave me extra projects to investigate and I’d present my results to explain it for everyone. Sometimes the teachers asked me to teach my classmates. I always loved to know more, whether about the parallel universes in physics or theories of the black hole.

Bahar was not good in other subjects, especially physics, mathematics and chemistry. She was only good at painting. She kept a notebook with so many mysterious paintings. Her unique talent was changing words into visual images. She did not like to participate in other classes, and when we all had to attend the classes and be present everyday she couldn’t wait to finish, especially mathematics and physics, which were the most boring and difficult subjects for her.

Sometimes she even failed these subjects. During the exams we were divided into two groups, and each group had different questions. I tried help her solve the questions, because I wanted her to pass the exams, so we would both graduate on the same day in the same year. But our teachers figured it out, and most of the time they asked her to sit apart from me, so that I could not help her.


Our school was for girls only, ages seven to eighteen. We studied from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM, and every day one of our teachers took attendance in a big notebook where she marked us either present or absent by calling our names as we waited in line inside the school yard before we could go into class. Every morning I was the first student to reach school. I walked half of the way from my home, and then I rode on the bus. When the guards and cleaners came to school I was there, long before the teachers and other students. Bahar was late most of the time, although she had a personal driver who brought her there and too her home.

Bahar was from a rich family. She wasn’t comfortable with any other classmates except me. With me she could share her thoughts and feelings. It was in the twelfth grade that I saw big changes in her. Although girls were not allowed to bring or use any kind of mobile phone, Bahar brought a handset secretly, and for much of the day she hid in the school yard, among the pine trees, and talked to someone over the phone. She missed most of her subjects, and the teachers who took the attendance a second time, when they came through class, marked her absent.

One day I asked her, “with whom are you talking so much, and why don’t you attend class?”

She said, “I’m just talking to my mother.”

“You have to focus on your studies. This is our final year. You must prepare for the entrance exam. I see that most of the time you’re missing the classes and you hide here to talk on the phone,” I scolded.

“I promise Roya, it won’t happen again. Please keep it a secret that I have the phone,” she asked.

After that Bahar attended some classes, but on break time she again went and talked on the phone. I could see her from the windows. She looked so happy, even more so than before. Her style changed suddenly, and sometimes our teachers criticized her for that. In school we had to wear a black school dress with a white scarf, while she was wearing green, red, and pink scarfs. Sometimes the teacher who checked us at the entrance door did not let her come in. Other times she secretly brought the scarfs in her bag, while wearing the white scarf in school, and outside she changed into her colorful scarf. She did not do her assignments and her marks on the daily tests went down.


I asked her, “can you please explain what is going on in your head. Why don’t you focus on the lessons? I see you talking and blushing on the phone, so it is obvious that you’re not talking to your mother. You can talk to her as much as you want when you’re home. Why would you need to talk to her while you’re at school?”

“Roya,” she whispered to me. “You are the first one that I want to share this secret with. I am in love.”

“What?” I asked. “When and how did it happen? Who is he?”

She said, “his name is Haroon and it’s been since last year when I saw him outside of the school. He sent me a love letter in which he confessed his love, and he gave me his phone number, too. At first I didn’t pay attention to him; then he sent me a red rose with another letter, and he mentioned that he really loves me and wants to talk to me. So I called him and we started talking together. Today he will pick me up and we will go out, but I told my mother that I’ll be late because I have to study and prepare for the entrance exam with you. If she calls, please tell her that we’re studying together.”

I got angry and said, “I will never lie to your mother or anyone else, and you should not do that either. You planned to go out with a boy who you don’t even know, and you lied to your mom too? You should not get close to him because it could ruin your future.  This isn’t the time for love. It is the time when you should focus on your studies, to build your future and career.”

Tears flowed down her face and she said, “I thought we are friends? I thought I could trust you. Why don’t you understand that I really love him? I only want to be with him in the future. Can’t you help me once, please?”

I got frustrated. “Since we became friends I told you to be careful. Don’t trust so easily, and do not lie to your parents. If he really loves you then you can just ask him to come to your house. He can ask for your hand from your parents. If you don’t trust me then there’s no need to discuss this any further.”

“Of course, he will ask my parents, but first he wants to find a job, so that my parents do not reject his marriage proposal,” she replied.

I said nothing, but started to walk out of the school, and she followed me out. Near the entrance door, a young, slim boy in a black suit was standing beside a light blue car. Bahar happily went to him, and they greeted each other, then she looked back at me as she got into the front seat of the car and they drove away.


That night I was only thinking about Bahar. I had never seen her so happy as she was after meeting Haroon. I thought love must be a beautiful and happy part of her life, because it brought so much joy to her heart that she was ready to accept any risks, to cross all the limits just to be with him. Who was he? And from where? Was he a sincere lover, as Bahar believed, or just playing with her emotions? Was it real love, or just a trap? What is love, really? I did not have answers for these questions. I didn’t know because I had never fallen in love. I only knew that love was a complicated equation, and that I was not aware of it before then. Love was one of the only equation that I could not solve. Love had no definition for me before then, but I knew that Bahar’s heart belonged to Haroon. Again, I hoped she was right. Days passed and Bahar grew happier, and I wondered if love really brings that much happiness and joy into one’s life? We did not talk together then, and she sat alone at the last table in the class.

Soon everything changed. She became totally a different person. For most of a week she was absent. She did not pay attention to what our teachers taught at the class and she did not smile anymore. As the end of the school year was coming, the end of our time in school with my classmates. I brought a notebook and asked all of my classmates to write down something for me, as a memory. In the years after, I could read their messages to remind me of them. In the notebook I could capture those memories, including all of my classmates’ handwriting, their thoughts, feelings, and drawings.

Everyone happily wrote and drew something in my notebook, and although I did not ask Bahar she took the notebook from another classmate and wrote in it, as well as adding a painting:

“One night I will die
Without light –
Do not leave me friend
Since the time is not right.”

She wrote this short poem and then she asked for forgiveness at the end. She signed it and added a painting on the next page; I did not understand its meaning. It was the word “LOVE,” but turned into a visual image of great sadness. There was a candle, a crying eye, half-of-a-face, the sea, a ship, a palm tree, and the sun. I was totally confused. What did it mean? I did not understand how a happy girl like her had become so suddenly sad. She wrote about death—the thing she was scared of most.


Soon we had our final exams. I saw Bahar was really sad and most of the time she was chewing her nails. I knew that something was wrong. Finally I went to her and said, “I need to talk to you.” She got up and hugged me and began to cry. I had never seen her tears before.

“Thank you, Roya, I’ve been wanting to talk to you but I didn’t know how to start.”

We walked out of the class and sat under a tree, then I asked her, “tell me what’s up? You do not seem happy any more. What has happened?”

She said, “Haroon deceived me. I called him, but his number was turned off, so I asked one of his friends, and he said that Haroon has gone to Turkey. He left last week.” I was totally confused and did not know what to say. She continued, “I wish I had listened to you when you warned me about him, Roya, please help me! What should I do now?” I was silent, and Bahar grew more upset. She said, “Haroon needed money to start his business, so he could ask for my hand. I gave him my savings and my jewelry too, and he has never returned them, though he promised that after he started his business he would return them.”

I told her, “ this is terrible,” and I tried to calm her.

 “I really don’t know what to do,” Bahar said.

“I’m asking you to talk to your mother and inform both your parents, and perhaps they could do something.” 

She cried harder, “No, I can’t talk to them, not at all. If they knew that I was in this relationship with him before marriage they would never forgive me. You know it’s never allowed. Haroon has ruined my life. He promised to marry me, but he didn’t. You were right, he just used me, and now he has escaped.”

I was astonished and silent for a few moments, then I told her, “please explain everything to your parents. I am sure they’ll help, and they will understand you.”

She wiped tears from her eyes and said, “I curse Haroon! May he never reach his destination. And for the whole life may he suffer for the loss of love and never find love or happiness in life. I feel so lonely and lost.”

I reminded her that she was not alone. “I am always there for you. Your parents are with you.”

But Bahar was inconsolable. She said, “I know you are always with me and you are the only true friend of mine—but why did he lie to me?” She did not seem to really hear me. I kept wondering what to do or what to say.


That night I could not focus on my lessons and I was only thinking of Bahar and what she said: that she felt lonely despite being among family and friends. She was not really alone but she only wanted to be with the one who meant everything to her—so that after he left she lived in a lonely world. This was another kind of loneliness, and Bahar knew it. She was so sad and frustrated. I wished I could do something for her. The next day she didn’t come to the exam, and as I walked home I called, but her number was turned off. The next day again she was absent, and our chemistry teacher asked me to come to the principal’s office. I had no idea what had happened, but as I arrived I saw the principal and other teachers all sitting in the room.

“Do you know about Bahar?” asked the principal.

“What?” I looked at them.

“She committed suicide last night, “one of the teachers said.

I grew faint and my eyes became blurry. All I could think or say was what? and I fell down.

The teacher nearest me brought a cup of cold water and poured some on my face, “Roya! please take care of yourself, we thought you might be aware of this incident. Unfortunately, not, and we’re so sorry.”

The principal continued. “We are also shocked the same as you, but do you know why she committed suicide? Her parents believed that she had mental illness.”

I objected sharply, “no! She was not mental,” and then I rushed out of the room.

“Where are you going?” one of the teachers asked, but I did not hear anything and I did not stop. I went into the school yard and shouted and cried a lot, but still I did not believe it. I couldn’t believe that Bahar would commit suicide, and so I decided to go to her house.

As I came near the three-story building I saw there were many people gathered and many cars parked nearby. The white entrance door was open and I climbed the stairs where several girls were standing and greeting the visitors. The big hall inside was also crowded. There were girls and women, all in black dresses. Some of them were crying and some were silent.  In the middle of the hall was a table, and Bahar’s smiling photo was set in the middle. It seemed she was still alive and smiling.

Her young mother, wearing a black dress, came to me crying, and some other women tried to make her calm. She hugged me and cried, “see Roya, she has gone. Bahar has left us.” There was great wailing and grief. I asked her to come away from the crowd, so that I could talk to her. We went to another room where there was no one, and I asked her, “How did this happen?”

She said, “Bahar was so worried recently and she wouldn’t talk to us. We knew nothing. She hanged herself from the fan and died.”

“Did she tell you what had happened?” I asked.

“No. What happened to her?” I did not want to say it, but she insisted. “Please tell me! I was her mother; how could I not know what happened to her? I know some money and jewelry were lost from our home, and she was worried about those.”

I told her Bahar and Haroon’s love story. It was new to her. and all at once too much. She could not believe it. She said, “Bahar talked over the phone and she told us that she talked to you to solve her questions. I had no idea what she was going through,” then she cried more and I tried to make her calm. After that I went back home.

The whole day I cried and I could not sleep during the night. The next morning the news announced that a girl, who’d had “a mental illness” committed suicide, and it mentioned Bahar’s home address. I still wondered why her family had called her “mentally sick,” when she was not that at all, and now that even her mother knew the facts behind her suicide the family did not want to raise this to a criminal case. I thought perhaps it was because of her family’s honor and reputation.


Many days after that incident, as I sat at my table in school, I was reminded of Bahar. It seemed she was still there looking at me and smiling. Sometimes she could talk to me. I felt my classmates were really scared, and they told the teachers that I talked to myself as if Bahar was there, but I wasn’t aware. Whenever I looked at the last row of tables in the class I could see Bahar’s crying face. I didn’t believe that Bahar wasn’t here anymore. During the nights I dreamed of her hanging from the fan, and I shouted and woke up suddenly. Even after graduation from school those nightmares continued, until one day I saw a familiar photo on the television.

It was Haroon’s photo. The TV reporter announced that he had drowned in the waters between Turkey and Greece, while crossing in a boat with many other passengers. I was reminded of Bahar’s curse and her last painting in my notebook, wherein she wished that Haroon would never reach his destination. Now it had happened to him. Every night I looked at my notebook, and I cried whenever I saw Bahar’s painting. I would stare at that painting day and night, as I read her last poem.

Finally, my mother hid my school notebooks as my anxiety increased and I could not handle it. Then, after so many years, I found it in a box when we came to our new house, and I opened it. The notebook was filled with memories from my school friends, and again I saw Bahar’s painting. This time I knew the meaning behind it.

She had burned like the candle that she illustrated for someone who did not even believe in love. Haroon drowned in an ocean of her tears. I could clearly see the connection of her painting to his death because life is full of punishments, and no one can build their future by destroying the future of others.

3 March, 2023