The Old Box
He lived in an old house with his old mother. He was now a young man, almost 25 but was what you might call a late developer. His mother was frail and worn out to a shadow. Everything was shattered and silent in their house. The deadly silence was now and then broken by his mother’s noisy questions. She was almost deaf and he had to shout when answering her questions. But she didn’t understand what he said. She was often holding interior monologues and he got used to them.

They both lived in the dark basement in their own rooms. There were two rooms on each of the three floors. Once a day, his mother used to get up with his help and walk slowly on her sticks to the small window. She watched people in the street coming and going. She was wondering: I don’t understand why people keep coming and going like lunatics. Sometimes she could even open the small window for some fresh air. The other floors had been abandoned for some time. The front door bell was either broken or nobody came for a visit.

He found it difficult to go up even one floor but his dream was to renovate the house one day. He worked hard to save some money although he knew he wouldn’t afford it. From the money he got from the odd jobs he did, he could buy food for his mother and himself. One day when he came back home from yet another odd job he decided they should move to the top floor. His mother protested vehemently as if he was robbing her of something precious. Living upstairs meant prison to her. Although the top floor windows were small like the basement windows, they couldn’t be opened. Besides, she wouldn’t be able to walk there for there was no hallway. She would now be tied down to her old mattress. Still, he thought the basement was not good for her. It was too stale and humid and he was afraid she might get a fungal skin infection. He took the old mattresses, he and his mother slept on, and carried them carefully upstairs one after the other. The stairs creaked as he climbed and he was afraid they might break under his feet. But the scaffolds gave him balance.

The rooms upstairs were practically empty but full of dust. He wondered where all the dust came from since the windows couldn’t be opened. He cleaned one room for his mother and put the mattress in one corner. He then went downstairs to carry her upstairs. She resisted, shouted at him and hit his face when he carried her. She was lighter than the mattress. She cried bitterly but he comforted her by saying: Mother, I would make a hole in the wall separating our rooms and you can talk to me whenever you feel like it through the hole. In their first evening upstairs he could not close his eyes because of his mother’s snoring. But at least it was a sign she was sleeping.

Now that his mother was upstairs he couldn’t really wait any longer. He thought of renovating the house himself. He wanted to start with sanding and polishing the wooden stairs leading to the basement. He loved to see and smell the old wood. Somebody gave him an old sanding machine and he started working in the mornings. He opened the small windows for the dust to get out but he didn’t wear a mask to protect himself. When he finished sanding he started sealing them in the evening, going up from the basement so that he wouldn’t step on them. Then he went to his room to get some sleep. The hole in the wall to his mother‘s room made it difficult for him to sleep. He pushed some plastic bags in the hole. He knew his mother wouldn’t notice anyway.

He was thinking of the polished and sealed stairs and how they would look in the morning. But he couldn’t wait. He woke up at two in the morning. He was tired and walked down infirmly. When he reached the sealed stairs his feet slipped and he was hurled down to the basement in one go. He felt a terrible pain in his back and feet and it took him a lot of effort to get up. He thanked his God for he could have broken his back and legs which would have even meant death for his mother. She was so much dependent on him. Now for the first time he found himself in his mother’s room in the basement. It smelt musty. His mother usually didn’t allow him to enter her room when she lived there. Whenever she needed help she shouted to him and he had to wait at the door.

Her room was a mystery to him and he rubbed his misty eyes. There was no electricity in the room and he went to his room to get the torch he kept next to his mattress. He started looking everywhere as if he had lost something. His mind wandered. Anyway he was one of those who were damned to look for things lost and he was sure he was born a loser. Anything his hands laid on turned to a dead loss. Even when he met the girl he so much wanted to be alone with, one of those guys turned up out of the blue and wrecked it. That’s how he came to give up everything.

Searching was now his passion and his eyes fell on an old box hidden under some dirty clothes. When he opened it he couldn’t believe his eyes to get hold of a big amount of money. He wondered how his mother could own so much money and never mention it. Why didn’t she help him? She knew he was struggling with his odd jobs to make the ends meet. Where did she get all the money from? When he emptied the box on the floor two pieces of paper came to light. A printed note read: money is not everything and then there was a handwritten letter. It must have been written some twenty or thirty years ago. He began to read:

My dearest
I still remember our passionate secret love when your husband was still alive and I cried and jumped for joy when you said you were pregnant with my son. You were brave to keep the secret and I know I wouldn’t be able to see him but now I would like to send this little fortune. I hope it could help you both when I am no more there.

Bremen, 12 May 2008


You see, my dear Jamshid, I understand your writings in the light of other writings, especially classics. 'The old box' makes me think of Ibsen's and Proust's masterpieces The Wild Duck and A la recherche du temps perdu, respectively. The corrosive effects of time (the dust, humidity, old age) in your text are countered by elements of renewal: the open window, the revigorating youth of the son and as you mentioned, the sanding of the stairs. In Proust's work these elements are memory, imagination and most of all artistic form. I find the word 'searching' as being charged with meaning. Searching for the truth and an identity (see Ibsen), searching for the past (see Proust), searching for 'smth lost' (The Old Box).'

This begs the question: how good is it to find out the truth? The man in your text loves his mother dearly. On the other hand, the mother, by hiding the truth from her son, chooses to live in denial and misery, and this is a way for her to keep the past at bay. The sin of having committed adultery is hunting her throughout her entire life. She flees a reality too difficult to bear by hiding the truth from her son. She also probably fears that the fortune she's got could be a one-way ticket for her son away from her, and she doesn't want to lose him. On the other hand she pays a high price for her deed, and she does so by sentencing herself - and her son - to a life at the bottom of the house (in the dark, in prison) - rather than on top of it (in the light, in freedom).

In The Wild Duck, the main character goes up on top of the house to go hunting, he has a wild duck up there and he imagines he is a hunter somewhere in the woods. Imagination, thus, counteracts the corrosive effects of guilt and denial. The son in your text is too, a hunter, a searcher. Allow me to make a comparison between Old Ekdal in Ibsen's work and the old mother in The Old Box, tied up by the common denominator of the word 'old'. The wild duck symbolises something to do with freedom, which both Old Ekdal and the old mother have lost in his/her disgrace. Or maybe the son in your text is the wild duck in Ibsen's, crippled by a mother who holds him hostage.

The issue of 'the attic' or 'upstairs' is pretty common in literature. It is hope, escape, freedom, while 'the bottom' is punishment, prison, guilt, sentence. Now back to your text: isn't it so that mother and son live in an old box (the house) the escape from which is double-edged: either hapiness or even more heartache. How will the loving son react upon finding out that his mother has been hiding the truth from him, along with a fortune which could have saved them years of complete misery? What is important in life? There's a saying that some things in life are never meant to be found. This, to me, is a paradox.

"Anything he laid his hands on turned to a dead loss'. Finding out the truth about himself - may mean losing once again. In The Wild Duck, Old Ekdal- upon finding out the truth about himself - goes mad. But it is mostly the fatal effects of the hiding of the truth that the story builds on.

Good job, Jamshid! I mean it!