A Short Story
ONSTAGE - One Side of His Fuzzy Mustache Is Always Droopier Than the Other
Farid is standing on the stage in the hall of an old cinema that looks more like a theatre. Farid is in his early forties. He has a typical Middle Eastern face. His gray hair has a distinctive wave, and his crooked nose seems to be specially designed to disrupt the order of other facial components. He has a surprisingly small mouth. And despite its constant care, one side of his fuzzy mustache is always droopier than the other.
Big spotlights are projecting a blinding light on him and the woman standing next to him. She is a swarthy young interpreter. They can hardly keep their eyes open in the flood of light, making it impossible to see the audience. The ambiance fades away in Farid’s mind as if he is underwater. He feels the weight of a statuette in his hands. He looks at it and tries to hold it up. It is a beautiful crystal figurine that looks like some sort of an animal.
His irritated eyes are blurry, so he cannot decide what kind of animal it is, but he thinks it definitely looks like a horse. A few more people are also on the stage staring at him with broad, cheerful smiles. You can tell that they are the jury members responsible for selecting Farid as the winner, now expecting to be appropriately thanked. The interpreter is trying to pass the microphone to Farid.
His hearing is back again, so he takes the microphone, raises it to speak but then turns to the interpreter and tells her that he has to use the bathroom. It seems like a bad idea to her, so she asks him to make a short, thankful speech before leaving. Farid seems unable to comply with her request. Without uttering a word, he drops his head and leaves the stage. Everybody is confused about what is happening. The interpreter apologises on behalf of Farid, saying that he is emotional right now. She then follows him as he heads to the restroom.
Farid is confused by all the similar doors in the hallway. He finally finds the toilets and enters. As he reaches down his pants to unzip them, he realises that he is in a government office in his country. Two men are waiting for him. They both share the same unkempt beards, forced smiles, and ridiculous, poorly fitting brown suits. The first man is so fat that his buttons might pop open at any minute, while his skinny pal is swimming in his clothes.
Farid has no intention of going ahead, but the fat official approaches him, takes his hand, and seats him in front of his desk. The skinny guy speaks in the usual Iranian officials’ jargon, stretching out each sentence with useless Arabic words. Both of them congratulate him for winning the Golden Zebra. Farid looks at the prize in his hand that now does look like a zebra and tells them that it was not initially a zebra.
With a sarcastic smile, the fat guy compliments Farid for speaking excellent Persian. Farid does not understand why someone should praise him for speaking his mother tongue. He tries to explain, but he realises that his lips are stitched together, so the slightest attempt to talk inflicts him with agonising pain. The fat official believes that Farid has spoken enough in his films, and it is time for him to listen.
“One of his parents is Iranian, so they must have taught him,” Skinny comments. “But he’s more from the other side than this side,” replies Fat. He then forcefully takes the award away from Farid, saying that they also do not think it is a zebra because ‘there must be a snake inside’. He smashes the prize to the ground. It breaks, but nothing comes out.
Fat points to his colleague’s pocket, but the poor man stares helplessly at him. He finally gets the point, stands up, takes a snake out of his pocket, and throws it on the broken figurine. Nothing in the world scares Farid except snakes and armed mercenaries. He wants to run away, but he discovers that his legs are paralysed, so he falls on his side. Farid and the snake are now face to face. Fat turns Farid’s head up with his foot.
“I told you there was a snake.” Farid’s whole body goes numb little by little, and now he can only move his eyeballs. Fat seems to be reading Farid’s mind: “It’s normal to be scared of snakes, but not of the mercenaries who are there to protect the country.” With a sewn mouth and a paralysed body, Farid has no power to reply.
Skinny is holding a pile of papers. “They don’t give people an award with no good reason? Do you think you are an artist? Wake up! That’s an award for painting a black picture of our country!” He turns back to Fat, waiting for his confirmation. “Plus, you have done a traitor’s job. These Westerners did not fall in love with this funny mustache and the broken nose.”
He intends to bend to take something from Farid’s pocket, but his big belly is in the way. So he asks his pal to get Farid’s mobile phone, who does so and gives it to his fat friend. Fat angrily opens Farid’s Instagram app to prove that even film critics and other people agree with them. Skinny tries to calm down his angry fat colleague. They talk in whispers.
Skinny hands the papers to his friend, takes a knife, and starts to tear the stitches. “From now on, you should write about the themes that are listed here on these papers,” says Fat. He asks Skinny to tear Farid’s small mouth open. The only thing that Farid can do is feel the pain. Tears brim over and cover his face.
Farid is holding his head under running water in the restroom. Then he looks at his mouth in the mirror and touches his mouth to make sure that his lips are neither sewn nor torn open. He breathes a sigh of relief. His eyes find the award sitting on top of the bathroom sink. The interpreter is outside the door knocking and calling.
Farid angrily picks up the statuette and throws it at his image in the mirror. The mirror breaks, and a piece falls on the ground. Farid stares at the broken shard. Then he picks it up and puts it in his pocket. He leaves the restroom with the award in his hand. The interpreter is surprised to see his wet face and agitated look. Farid goes back to the hall while the interpreter runs after him.
He goes straight to the stage. The audience claps for him, and spotlights find him. Little by little, the entire audience, the jury, and the mediator realise that Farid is not feeling himself. The interpreter is standing offstage, refusing to come on. Farid takes the microphone from the mediator and invites the interpreter onstage. She reluctantly joins him. With a trembling voice, Farid asks the interpreter to request them to dim the lights. The interpreter refuses to translate his request and instead apologises for Farid’s appearance.
Farid, who understands some English, furiously interrupts her. He repeats his request in broken English. The lights are turned down. After taking a breath, he puts the statuette on the ground. Everyone seems to be confused. Farid has decided to speak in English: “My first cinema teacher told me a story about the function of art. It was about a teacher. Once, one of his students asked him: ‘What is the meaning of life?’ He took a mirror out of his bag.”
Farid takes his piece of the mirror out of his pocket and holds it in front of the audience. The broken glass cuts his hand, and it starts to bleed. The spotlight is shining on his injured hand, and the mirror reflects the light toward the audience. It frightens the audience who have not understood Farid’s story because of his broken English. Farid continues.
“The teacher said: ‘When I was a child, we were in the middle of a war. We were very poor, and we lived in a remote area. Once I found a piece of mirror on the side of the road. Then I started to play with the mirror. By reflecting the sunlight to every dark corner, I could cast light on even the darkest places.’ The teacher says that he still has this mirror.
‘Afterwards, I realised that I am neither the light, nor the source of light, but a device to reflect it. As a human being, I am a piece of that mirror, and I have the power to conduct the light to be reflected on the darkest parts of the human mind in the hope of the slightest changes. I suppose this is the meaning of life. Maybe the meaning of the art of living.’”
Farid stops talking and stares at the audience. Silence prevails. “Cinema has never been a source of light for me, but I didn’t mind if I used it as a mirror. But now I realise it is not one. During this festival, not once did I hear someone talking about my film. The only thing that I was asked about was the political and social situation in my country. Now I’m convinced that my film is political. That’s why I don’t want to accept this award.”
He had not yet finished his sentence when two people attacked him from behind, trying to take the piece of that broken mirror from him. The festival officials did not understand his speech because of his broken English. They assumed he probably wanted to kill himself with the broken mirror. So they were trying to save him. Farid lay on the ground feeling the weight of two bodies on his back, with one cheek being pushed down, making it possible for him to see himself in the mirror lying on the floor. His lips are again stitched together in the mirror, and he sees a microphone in front of him. Farid is terrified, struggling to free himself.
At this moment, Farid realises that there is a microphone in front of him, the one that the interpreter was offering him. Farid raises his head. The flood of light makes him unable to see the audience. Jury members are smiling at him. After a couple of deep breaths, he expresses his gratitude the way most people do on these occasions. He then poses for a photo with a fixed smile. He is descending the stairs, still at the mercy of the annoying spotlight, when he sees Fat and Skinny in the audience.
He slows down unconsciously to look at the statuette. Then he raises his head in the direction where he saw the two friends. They are no longer there. He goes back to his seat. People congratulate him, and he replies with a fixed smile while he absently stares at the stage.
Translated from Persian to English by Fateme Nekounam.
*1988 in Theran
His lifelong love of cinema led independent filmmaker Farhad Delaram to study cinema at the University of Tehran where he focused his studies on the subject of sound in poetic cinema and received his MA with honours. He has also published a paper about the aesthetics of cinema sound at the AVANCA congress in 2016. He has spent a 12-year career of working as a scriptwriter for Iran’s National Radio and Television as well as for private filmmaking studios, while also working as an independent screenwriter. Delaram has made six independent short films (as director, writer, photographer, editor and sound editor) including two documentaries and four fictional films. His last film (Tattoo, 2019) won the Crystal Bear for Best Short Film at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival in the Generation 14plus section. He currently lives in Berlin.
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