Sekandar's whirpool/ mohammad reza sarshar

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Sekandar's Whirlpool


Mohammad Reza Sarshar

Translated by Kamran Talattof

1

Many years ago in a port town by the Hormoz Strait where the Persia Gulf meets the Sea of Oman, a little boy came into the world and his family named him Abdollah. But everyone called him Abdol. Before him, his parents had two daughters.

[cartoon-like map with arrows to port, Hormoz Strait, and Sea of Oman]

Abdol's father was a fisherman. When Abdol was six, his father took him to the sea. Abdol learned all the tricks of fishing and boating from his father and in this way, he became a friend of the sea when he was still a child.

After Abdol, another girl and boy were added to the family. This caused an increase in the family's expenses but the father's boat was small. Abdol and his father could no longer catch enough fish to make ends meet. For this reason, Abdol left his father's little boat and found a job on a ship.

When Abdol reached the age of 15, he already looked like a strong man with a tall body, big bones, dark, sunburned skin, and curly rough hair. His father meanwhile had also aged and grown more and more feeble. Indeed he could no longer go far to sea with his little boat. Neither could he fish sufficiently from the shore. Fortunately, Abdol helped the family with his salary, so together the two of them could support the family.

[picture of strong young man on a big ship]

Abdol had just reached the age of 16 when a plague of smallpox struck his small port town. The epidemic disturbed the calm life in the town and took many lives, especially among the very old and very young. A family without at least one victim was rare. The disease did not spare Abdol's family either. First, the farther caught it and died soon after. Then, it was Abdol's turn. However, he did not surrender to death. Because he was young and strong, he resisted it. The local medicine man also came to his aid and did all he could to save him. In the end, he survived but he was irreparably blinded.

After a while, Small-Pox finished its job and left. Life in the port gradually returned to normal, but the disease's footsteps remained visible all over the place.

[picture of a wharf with boats being filled with gear, but one person walking the wharf uses a cane or crutches]

It was a difficult year, especially for Abdol's family. The father had died and the oldest son was blind and sitting at home.... They were forced to sell the father's net and other fishing gear. A little later, they sold the fishing boat too. Then the house furnishings went on sale one by one. Soon the family reached the point where it had nothing left to sell.

Abdol, being an active and lively person by nature, was suffering the most from the situation. He believed that after God, he was the only hope that his mother, sisters, and little brother had. He knew that their lives depended on his finding work. But, with those blind eyes, nobody would give him a job. The sorrow of the loss of his father, his blindness, and family poverty all bothered him yet, he did not know what to do. So, he would sit in the corner of the room all day with his head resting on his knees thinking.

[picture of him in this position]

His mother wouldn't say anything to bother him. She tried to do all she could to reduce his suffering. Even when she was disheartened, she would try to hide her sorrows from all of her children. She would wait for the night to fall, and then would lie down to cry quietly.

One day Abdol got dressed, picked up his cane, and prepared to leave the house. His mother saw him and asked: "Where are you going"?

Abdol sighed and said: "Nowhere! I am just tired of sitting in the corner of the room. I want to walk on the seashore a little."

"Go my son! But take care of yourself. And come back soon." Abdol said goodbye and left.

He knew the way from his house to the shore like the back of his hand. He had passed this route so many times that he could do it with his eyes closed. He even knew the holes and bumps in the alleys and streets. On the way, people cast him sympathetic looks. Everyone tried to console him and give him hope. Abdol answered them with simple smiles.

[image of him with cane in a narrow street with people in street and from balconies looking his way.]

Siyah was one his friends. When he saw Abdol, he wanted to do him a favor. He asked, "Where to Abdol? Do you want me to walk with you?"

Abdol said, "No Siyah. I will have to eventfully stand on my own two feet. You will not be beside me forever."

It was the beginning of the spring. The sunshine created a pleasant warmth. Abdol arrived at the shore and sat on a rock facing the sea. He leaned his cane against the rock, took off his wooden sandals, placed his feet on the wet cool sand, and set to thinking. The smell of fish, the sound of the seagulls, and the sound of the waves hitting the seashore, and the tumult of the fishermen reminded him of the past.

[picture over his shoulder looking at the sea he would be seeing if he could see]

He was in his own world of memory when he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Hello Abdol." It was the voice of his uncle Abbas, his father's closest friend. He was a kind old man and he loved Abdol like he was his own son.

Abdol turned his head and said "Hello uncle. How are you?"

Uncle Abbas said, "Fine my dear. How are your mother and the other children?"

Abdol sighed and said, "Ayyy, they are not bad uncle; thanks to God."

Uncle Abbas said, "How do you earn a living these days? Have you found a job?"

Abdol thought for a second and said, "To tell you the truth, there is no bread on the table. As I understand it, my mother has started to spin wool for the last few days. Of course she tries to hide it from me. But you know well that spinning thread does not feed six people. I must find work somehow."

Uncle Abbas said, "I know you are a responsible young man. You can be sure that God will help you.

Suddenly an idea occurred to Abdol. He got up from the rock, said goodbye to his uncle, and went directly to the bazaar. With a few coins that he had, he bought a few hooks and some fishing line and returned home.

[picture in a store filled with things, getting these items.]

That night, he connected the hooks to the lines, prepared some bait, and made everything ready for the next day. When his mother saw the hooks and the bait, she said, "Abdol, what do you have in mind?" With certainly and resolution, Abdol answered, "Starting tomorrow, I will go fishing."

"How?" His mother replied. "Your eyes do not see anything!"

Abdol said, "It is true that I am blind, but my hands, my legs, and the rest of my body are all healthy."

Because the mother saw so much confidence in her son, she did not say anything else. With some tears of joy in her eyes, she looked up and murmured to herself, "My dear God, please help him."

2

Abdol went to the sea to fish everyday. Uncle Abbas accompanied him and together they talked as they fished. Uncle Abbas talked about his travels, about his life's adventures, and about the experiences he had gained during his journeys.

[picture of he and his uncle fishing with fish behind the rock]

Abdol listened to him carefully and learned a lot from the tales. His life slowly returned to normal as well. His income was not as much as it should have been, but neither was he hungry. He was constantly thinking of ways to increase his income so that he could provide a better living for his family.

One summer day, Abdol and Uncle Abbas were sitting on the rock fishing. Uncle Abbas said "last night, my brother in-law came here from Shahpur, you know that ancient city in the province of Fars."

"Oh, are you talking about Qasem?"

"Yes, Qasem."

"Well, how is he?"

"Thank God, he is not bad."

Abdol shook his line and said, "It got away."

Uncle Abbas continued, "Qasem was saying things that sounded very strange to me."

Abdol said, "How come?" And as soon as he said that, he felt his line tug once more. He jerked the string and began to pull in the line with a sense of joy. He found a large fish caught on the hook, twisting and spraying water all around. He swung the line aside and fish popped out of the water and dropped onto the sand. He put one of his feet on the fish's chest and extracted hook. Then he took the fish and tossed it behind the rock saying "what a big fish!"

Uncle Abbas said, "there is a higher tide today. We should catch many fish."

Abdol put more bait on the hook and threw it into the sea and said, "Uncle Abbas, you were saying."

Uncle Abbas continued, "Shahpur has many orange, lime, and other citrus trees. Qasem was telling me that in that city, there is a blind man by the name of Mostafa. When people want to rent an orchard, they ask Mostafa to determine the price of the rent. He is making good money this way. He has never been wrong about his estimation. Nobody has lost money based on his appraisal."

[picture of a man stretching arms open between long lines of trees.]

With great astonishment, Abdol said, "This is strange, how is it possible?"

"Qasem said that that when Mostafa enters an orchard, he opens his arms, stretches them out, and measures the distance between the trees. Then he measures the thickness of the trunk of the trees. Then he asks about the size of the orchard and the age of the trees. Having done all that, he determines the appropriate rent for the orchard."

Abdol paused and then in an admiring voice said, "This is the story of a blind man doing something so good when there are also those like Jasem, the beggar downtown who waste all of their time. I am sure I want to be like Mostafa."

Uncle Abbas pulled his hook out of the water. The fish had gotten away with his bait. He restocked his hook and threw it into the water. Abdol pulled his line and then let it loose saying, "I always believed that if one wants to do something he can, even if he is handicapped." Indeed hearing this story had shaken Abdol. He found himself more hopeful, why couldn't he be as successful as Mostafa?

******

When Abdol left his house the next morning, unlike on the previous days, he left his fishing gear behind. He had decided to find a job on a ship. He went to the house of captain Rahman, who commanded a ship on which Abdol had previously worked.

The captain had just returned from a journey. When Abdol told him the purpose of his visit, he mumbled a little and began to find excuses for rejecting him. But Abdol interrupted and said, "Captain, perhaps I will not be able to serve you like the other members of ship's crew, but I promise to work in a way that you will be satisfied with my services. Allow me to go on one journey with you. If you conclude that I am useful to you, keep me. Otherwise, I will quit myself.

The captain replied, "But....

[picture of captain and Abdol in captain's house (small) facing each other]

Abdol said, "Of course I am not expecting you to pay me as much as the rest of the members of ship's crew." The captain surrendered. He had worked with Abdol before and knew how clever and attentive he was. He planned for Abdol to go back to his previous job, which was pulling water, rowing, pulling up and down the sails, and anything else he proved that he could do.

Happy and enthusiastic, Abdol returned home to prepare for the trip. However, his mother got upset when she found out about the job. She tried but failed to convince Abdol not to go. Eventually she surrendered and again prayed to God to help him. It happens that the ship's crew gave Abdol a very warm welcome and they were soon on their way. The ship filled with cargo and a few passengers was destined for a port on the other side of the Strait of Hormoz.

It was a going to be a long journey with a sailing ship. The Captain was very experienced and knew the sea like the back of his own hand. He knew how to guide the ship using the stars, the sunrise and the sunset, directions of the wind and breezes, and other signs. Of course when it was cloudy, and he could not see the stars or when the sea was stormy, he had some difficulty finding the way, and at times he could even get lost.

Abdol's job was difficult and strenuous. His task, using a leather bucke, was to collect water from the sea for use on board. His other task was to bail the ship of the water that might accumulate during stormy or rough seas. But Abdol was used to hard labor. He felt proud that he was no longer sitting useless in a corner.

[picture of water being drawn up or thrown overboard]

One day, while sitting on deck, he heard a whisper, and began to pay attention to the voices. He realized that two people were talking about him.

"Where have you ever seen a blind man work as a member of a ship's crew?"

"What can I say?"

"This captain must be joking. There are so many workers to choose from and he has selected a blind man."

Abdol tried to remain silent, but he could not resist. He jumped into their conversation and said, "What is wrong with that? Aren't blind people human beings? If you become blind, should you not be able to continue to live?"

The two men became embarrassed and left to sit elsewhere on deck.

******

During that journey, Abdol did so well that upon their return home, he received the same salary he had earned before he became blind. When his mother heard this, she was extremely happy. She was mostly happy for Abdol of course. She was terribly proud of him. However, Abdol was not satisfied with all of this. He was now certain that if he wanted, he could do even better. For this reason, he did not waste his time. He was always inquiring. He tried to understand the sea as best he could; to know this mysterious entity thoroughly.

[picture of Abdol strolling along the sea, looking out over the waves]

He had already learned that the seagulls heralded the coming of a storm. From their voices alone he could also tell how close a boat was drawing to land. He even knew in what season and in what part of the sea which direction the wind should blow. And he had figured out the typical times for high and low tides. He could also tell with impressive accuracy the distance his boat was from the land by the smell of the sea itself. Days passed and every day Abdol learned more about the sea. Until the day he learned about a secret that changed his life, a secret that perhaps no other sailor had ever known before. 

It all started very simply. One day when they were in the middle of the sea, a strong storm arose and nearly sank the ship. The captain ordered the sailors to collect the sails and for everyone to be on guard. But the storm was terribly strong. Enormous, towering waves tossed the ship around. The ship went up and down and left and right on the raging sea as though it was a piece of straw. Of course, the ship took on a lot of water.

[picture of boat tossed on a stormy sea]

Abdol, having fastened a rope to his waist, bailed water out of the ship with all of his power. Suddenly, a huge wave hit the side of the ship and shook it so violently that the rope securing Abdol snapped and he was thrown several meters across the deck. Then another wave hit his face hard and caused him to swallow a lot of water.

Abdol got up quickly, spit the water out of his mouth, and tried to grasp onto the side of the ship. At this point his attention was drawn to something unusual. The sea water had left a peculiar taste in his mouth. He had swallowed water often when he swam at the beach and he now realized that the taste of that water was different than this water. Of course the difference was insignificant in a way that most would not have noticed. With some trouble he returned to the side of the ship and returned to his work of bailing.

A little later the storm subsided and the ship was saved. The sailors raised the sails and continued their journey. Abdol continued to think about the taste of the water but he could come to no conclusions. There were pools of water on the deck so he took his canteen and filled it with this water and placed it aside in a corner.

[picture of Abdol filling his canteen]

A few days later the ship arrived safely at port. Abdol took his canteen and his other belongings, received his wages, and disembarked the ship. He had not gone but a few steps from the shore when he decided to return to the sea. When he reached the seashore, he sat, took a handful of the water, and tasted it. He then opened his canteen and tasted that water. He was not mistaken! The taste of the water in the canteen was slightly different from the water at the shore.

It was a big discovery. Abdol did not know his head from his feet he was so happy! He felt he was on the brink of a huge discovery. Hurriedly he made his way home to give his mother all the money he had made.

3

The route that Abdol's ship took was monotonous. Starting from the port the ship made a stop for a day at Hangom Island, in the middle of the Strait of Hormuz. Over that day, some passengers disembark and part of the cargo is off-loaded, then these are replaced with passengers wanting to go to a port on the other side of the strait. On the other side of the Strait, the passengers and cargo would also be let off and new passengers and cargo loaded. The ship then would return to directly to its home port once more, this time not stopping at the island.

[picture of a ship being loaded or unloaded at port with much activity]

Abdol did not mention his discovery about the water to anyone. First, he wanted to conduct additional experiments. Each time the ship moved out to sea, he would taste the water every few hours and tri to remember the different tastes. At the same time he would ask the captain about the distance they were from land or what their location was in the sea.

He repeated this process for several months. Because of this repetition, he became so experienced that he could tell where in the sea they were by tasting the water. In order to be certain he conducted another test. One day he tasted some water and from the taste he thought that they should be 1/2 day from Hangom Island. Then he asked the captain "Where are we now?"

The Captain replied, "We will arrive in Hangom Island in about half a day.

Abdol happily replied, "Then my estimate was correct."

Surprised, the captain stared at Abdol but did not say anything.

Abdol repeated the test a few more times and almost always his guesses were correct. One time the ship got lost in a storm and went off in the wrong direction. Abdol tasted the water and realized they were going the wrong way. He told the captain about this. The captain was not ready to accept Abdol's suggestion at first. Even when Abdol explained to him how he knew, the captain still did not believe him.

When the storm subsided and the sea became calm the captain then realized that Abdol had been correct. The ship strayed in the sea for several days. Neither the captain nor anyone else could determine which way to go. Soon the ship's provisions were getting low and a shortage of water was frustrating the crew and passengers, who had all begun to feel hopeless. Their greatest fear was that they had entered the open ocean in which case their rescue was impossible.

[view of captain on deck facing sea that has no land in sight, maybe one hand on hips, one hand on the side of his face in worry]

The captain went to Abdol and asked for his help. Abdol said, "If you want the truth captain, I can only tell where we are or when we should arrive at our destination, or if we are going in the right direction only when we are sailing the regular route. But now we are in a strange place."

The captain said, "Nevertheless no one else can do anything. It is only you who may be able to help."

Abdol said, "I will try my best."

The captain said, "God have mercy on us."

Abdol said, "If we start working and do not let ourselves become disheartened, we can expect God's mercy." Then he thought a moment and said, "I do not believe we have arrived in the ocean."

The captain said, "God-willing, we have not and its seems you are right."

Abdol said, "Our first task should be to just avoid that, entering the ocean. Because if we do, we will really be lost and before reaching land we will all die of hunger and thirst."

The captain said, "You are right."

Abdol said, "Where is the sun right now exactly?"

The captain replied, "Right of where you are standing."

Abdol wetted his finger in his mouth and held it in the air and said the wind is blowing from west to east. It looks like God is with us. We need to raise the sails and until the wind changes its direction, we should go as far as we can.

The captain ordered the sails to be raised.

[picture of the sails being put up]

To fight the food shortage, they started fishing. Even the water supply problem was nearly solved. On the suggestion of one of the passengers, they put sea water in a large pot and boiled it and condensed the steam such that it ran into cool containers. Then this sweet water was rationed. Abdol suggested that any crew members or passengers with no work to do go below and rest because the lower decks were cooler and thus they would be less thirsty. Only Abdol, the captain, and a few necessary crewmembers remained on deck.

Abdol occasionally took water from the sea and tasted it. Every time he shook his head disappointedly. Indeed, two days passed in this way. The direction of the wind, however, was still agreeable. The third day, around noon, the wind calmed down a little bit, however, there was still no sign of land.

Abdol who had slept very little during this time was very sore and tired, but he did everything he could not to fall asleep. The wind gradually came to a stop. Near sunset, Abdol desperately drew up another bucket of the seawater and tasted some of it. He faced grimaced, as if he had discovered something. Surprised, he tasted a little more water and suddenly shouted; "Captain! Captain!"

[Abdol holding up a tin cup and calling out]

The captain who, also tired, had laid down under one of the sails, went to Abdol hurriedly and asked, "What has happened? What is the matter?" Abdol said, "We have entered our regular route! We are one day away from Hangom Island and another day from our own port."

"Are you sure?" the captain asked skeptically.

"Of course I am sure," replied Abdol.

Abdol told himself, "It is always like that. Every time you are disappointed, suddenly there is a way to be saved. This is how God tests humans." Under Abdol's guidance, the ship arrived at Hangom Island the next day and all acknowledged that he had been right.

When they stepped on land, the captain smiled and said, "the saying is true that after every hardship, there is comfort." The passengers and others, all half-dead and tired, disembarked the ship to eat and drink and rest a bit. Then they embarked again to go to their own port. When they arrived there, the news spread quickly. They were all talking and telling each other about how Abdol, a young blind man, had saved a ship from being lost and how he directed it back to its destination.

From then on, in addition to his previous job, Abdol held the position of captain's consultant. The captain increased his salary and Abdol was able to improve his life. This caused some of the crewmembers to become jealous. They were unhappy about Abdol's significant promotion, and they were hoping that the captain would become suspicious of Abdol and expel him from the ship. Of all of them, Ayub and Yunes were most jealous. Ayub was an assistant and Yunes was the supervisor to the ship's crewmembers. They were mostly concerned that one day Abdol would take their jobs. They became so concerned that one day, they sat down to make a plan against Abdol.

[picture of two men sitting cross-legged across from one another wispering]

Yunes said: "Ayub, we must somehow make the captain become disinterested in this blind youngster."

Ayub said: "Yes, otherwise, as along as this youngster is here, we will not know where we will end up in our work."

Yunes chewed his mustache in anger and said: "I have heard that the wedding of the captain's son is taking place next week."

Ayub countered: "Well, how is it related to our problem?"

"It is very related; I heard the captain yesterday saying that he wanted to stay in the port and let Abdol lead the ship on the next trip."

Wow! You mean he trusts this blind guy to the extent that he can let him command the ship for the whole journey?"

"Yes." Yunes responded. "It also means that the captain does not see us as responsible or as capable as this annoying blind guy. It is not clear what he has done that he has become so dear to the captain."

"If I am not mistaken, he has some magic potion or he has put a talisman on the captain."

"To tell you the truth," Yunes said whispering even more quietly, "I am not sure if Abdol can tell the ship's direction by tasting the water."

"Then how about that time he saved the ship?"

"I think it purely accidental."

"Me too," Ayub said, "after all, how can one tell the direction by the taste of the water? Is the taste of the water different from one spot to another? At any rate, we have to use this opportunity. We have to discredit him and embarrass this crafty blind man in the absence of the captain. Upon our return, the captain will surely fire him."

4

The day of the journey arrived. The captain gave Abdol control of the ship. They agreed to assign another crewmember the task of getting water from the sea and emptying the ship from water in case of a storm. Prior to their departure, the captain also ordered everyone, including Ayub and Yunes, to cooperate with Abdol on the journey. Then he wished all of them a safe trip and got off the ship.

[captain waving from the shore as the ship leaves port]

Soon the ship was gliding over the sea. It was a calm day. Abdol was both happy and scared because of the great responsibly given to him. But he remembered his faith and in the name of his god, he began to work. As soon as the ship was a distance away from the port, Ayub winked at Yunes telling him that it is time to start their work.

Yunes said, "We cannot do anything at this moment. We have to see if this youngster can truly lead the ship to the Island or not. If he cannot, he will cause himself to be fired."

Abdol stood on the deck as confidently as he could and took care of the affairs of the ship. He asked the crewmember in charge of pulling water from the sea to bring him some water once in a while. Exactly one day later, the ship arrived at Hangom Island. Ayub and Yunes were shocked. They couldn't believe it at all. When they were leading the passengers out of the ship, Ayub said, "Hey Yunes, it looks like we have been mistaken. This rooky actually knows something."

Yunes said, "It seems so. Nobody gave him the slightest guidance or help, and he led the ship to the island on time. But despite all that, we have to do something to make the captain fire him. We cannot continue like this, can we?"

"No we cannot, and it is not too late, Ayub stated. "I have a plan, and I think that if we execute it well, we will attain our goal."

"How?, Yunes asked."

"We must keep some water from different parts of the sea. Then, every time Abdol asks for water to taste we can give him the stored water instead of water from that spot."

"Now I know what you mean," Yunes said with a sly grin on his face, "Abdol will make a mistake when... and ...."

Ayub burst into laughter and said: "It is really an excellent plan."

They both began to work to implement their scheme. They deceived the crewmember in charge of getting water from the sea into cooperation by giving him promises. The man caused Abdol to make a mistake by giving him the wrong water. The ship thus took a wrong turn and soon got lost.

According to the regular schedule, the ship should have arrived at the port on the other side of the Strait two days after its departure from Hangom Island. But the third day came and went and there was no sign of land.

Gradually the crewmembers began talking and telling each other that the ship might have gotten lost. Ayub and Yunes helped to encourage these rumors. They also blamed it on Abdol.

On the evening of the third day, the sa

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