Matishga (My Dear Lady)

by Mir Jalal

From the book "Dried Up In Meetings"
Published by Azerbaijan International, USA,1998

Mashdi Hanifeh lived in a village near town. In summer he worked as a farm hand, in winter as a well-digger, and in autumn as a worker in the brick kilns. After crossing the Araz river [into Soviet Azerbaijan] all his anxieties and worries vanished. No longer would he have to deal with khans and village headmen [of Iran] who would make him toil for months without pay and who would lash him if he dared to complain.

Rarely did he visit any city. He had never seen Baku except on one occasion during the "disturbances.

" Mashdi Hanifeh got off the bus and put his satchel over his shoulder. Inside his bag, which he occasionally used for shopping, were bread and meatballs.

Baku! What a wonderful place it was-teeming with life-where cars flew by like birds in the air and where shopkeepers didn't make fun of villagers. There were no crowds gathering around dervishes and no noisy caravans. Here, modern buildings reached to the sky and trams sped away like lightning. Mashdi Hanifeh could not recognize anything. He stood there in awe.

Just then a young woman waved at him, "Come here!" She was not wearing a veil [unlike women he was accustomed to seeing in Iran]. Mashdi Hanifeh was beside himself with joy. "Besides," he told himself, "it has been a long time since I've enjoyed myself. The breath of your wife can make you shrink away, but illicit sex is wonderfully delicious."

Mashdi Hanifeh followed the lady. She was young and beautiful, and she didn't appear to be Russian. Her black hair and thick eyebrows suggested that she was Muslim. He looked at her once more, then at himself. He didn't have the appearance that would attract women, and he was wondering what had attracted this beautiful Matishga.


Mashdi Hanifeh did not know Russian, but he knew that "skorei" meant "hurry up" or "don't delay." The word entered into his heart like cool water quenching a deep thirst. "What a delectable thing is this unbeliever's daughter."

They walked past tram lines and crowds of people, without looking at anything. Mashdi Hanifeh felt in his pocket. He was thinking, "These women have no shame. God forbid, that they embarrass you in front of others." From the money he had in his pocket, he put ten manats into a side pocket and thought, "Matishga should not see the rest of my money. If she makes a scene, I'll only give this amount and tell her 'money-nyet.'"

He wanted to take hold of her arm, but realized that she was walking rather fast. Not many could have kept up with her.

"They're all the same," he thought. "They want to get there fast. But why hurry?"

Then the lady turned and said something to him. He didn't understand. Laughingly, he just managed to say, "parusqi niznaiem."

Matishga managed to convey by gestures and by speaking half Russian and half Azeri, "Bed, blanket, sleep?"

Mashdi Hanifeh took his statement to mean-"There's a bed and blankets. Do you want to sleep?" He was beside himself with joy. He wanted to grab Matishga and kiss her.

"Da, my dear Matishga, skorei, skorei, I sacrifice my life for you. Kharasho lady. Malades Matishga."

The way seemed to get longer and longer. But Mashdi Hanifeh was walking with such vigor that the earth almost seemed to tremble under his feet. Finally, they reached a very tall building. The windows on the fourth floor were covered with colorful drapes. On the balconies were flower pots and lemon trees. The sound of tar music could be heard. Mashdi Hanifeh's heart was beating fast. He was in a hurry. "If I had the money, I'd never leave this lady."

They went upstairs and entered a well-decorated room. There, in the middle of the room was a pile of blankets and quilts, wrapped and ready for the road. There was also a suitcase. Matishga took one of the bundles and told Mashdi Hanifeh to bend over so that she could lift it onto his back. He was dumbfounded.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

Hearing the word "train," it finally dawned on him what was happening. Matishga had brought him to her apartment so he could carry her things. But this wasn't what he was expecting. He wasn't a porter.

"What do you mean, 'Go to the train?'" he said! "Your father is a porter, not me. Your grandfather is a porter."

He kicked the bundle of blankets and started to leave. Just then, a pot-bellied man in a white suit entered the room. He looked closely at Mashdi Hanifeh.

"Haven't I seen you before," he asked?
"You look familiar, too," Mashdi Hanifeh confessed.
"Are you from Ardebil9 ?"
The pot-bellied man opened his arms and embraced him. "Oh! Aren't you Mashdi Hanifeh? I can't believe my eyes! How did you get here?"
"My God, Agha Rahim, when I saw you in Iran, you didn't look like this. You've put on weight. You look like one of those governors. What are you doing here? What are you doing in a lady's house, you rogue?"

They embraced again. Agha Rahim pulled up a chair and Mashdi Hanifeh sat down.

"My dear Mashdi, this is my own house. The factory has given it to me. It has its own bath, kitchen and gym. In the evenings the wireless10 talks, giving reports from every corner of the world. Whenever I want, I can open the window, look out and see all of Baku lying here at my feet."

Changing the tone of his voice, he asked, "So, Mashdi, how did you happen to come here to Baku? Where are your wife and children?"

Matishga stood there bewildered. Everyone was feeling strangely embarrassed. Mashdi Hanifeh was ashamed in front of Agha Rahim since he had looked at Rahim's wife desirously. Mashdi Rahim was feeling embarrassed that he could not entertain Mashdi Hanifeh, as they were getting ready to leave the city. And Matishga didn't look up because she felt embarrassed in front of both of them.

Agha Rahim continued, "Please, let me introduce you, this is my partner-in-life, Sima Khanum. She is going to the dacha today."

Then Mashdi Hanifeh realized that "partner-in-life" meant "wife."

He started wondering if he called his children's mother "my partner-in-life" whether it would be all right.
(1) "Matishga" means "dear lady" in Russian; "Matishga" is a general term used by Azerbaijanis to refer to a Russian woman.
(2) The Araz River separates Northern and Southern Azerbaijan. At the time this story was written, Northern Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, but in 1991 it became the Independent Republic of Azerbaijan. Southern Azerbaijan is still part of Iran. Azerbaijan was separated by a treaty signed between Russia and Persia in 1828.
(3) "Disturbances" probably refers to labor unrest and strikes in Baku in 1907.
(4) Unbeliever. refers to a non-Muslim.
(5) "Parusqi niznaem" is Russian for "I don't know how to speak Russian."
(6) "Da" - "Yes," in Russian.
(7) "I sacrifice my life for you" - A common Azeri expression that means "I'll do anything for you." An exaggerated promise in most cases, but used very often nevetheless.
(8) "Kharasho" - "Thank you," in Russian.
(9) "Malades" - "Fantastic," in Russian.
(10) "Your father is a porter, not me. Your grandfather is a poerter." A traditional pattern of swearing or insult.
(11) Ardebil - A major city in Southern Azerbaijan (Iran).
(12) Wireless - radio
(13) Dacha - the Russian word for a summer cottage or home outside of the city.


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