Siavash Saadlou

Mother of Pearl

When the rheumatologist runs her fingers through my scalp, the crispy white flakes fall off my head like a flurry of snow. At 32 years of age, I’m here to see if my severe arthritis can be fixed. “All your problems seem to be interconnected,” says the doctor. “You actually have the Sadaf Disease as well,” she adds with a tinge of disgust. How does she know about Sadaf? I wonder. Sadaf: mother of pearl. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought she had spied on me all those years ago, when Sadaf and I were both teenagers and madly in love—the time when we would sneak into cozy corners of parks in Tehran to kiss each other away from the prying eyes of the people and the Morality Police; the time when I would hold Sadaf’s hand, sitting in the back of a shared cab—a van—in Tehran’s deadly traffic with a bunch of other passengers, and told her how much I loved her. 

“Yeah,” said the doctor, “I’m sure you have the Sadaf Disease.”

If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought the doctor was privy to my homesickness when I had left Tehran for London to start a new life following the 2009 presidential election and its grim aftermath for the country and for myself: my debilitating depression; the incessant smoking; the lonely days and sleepless nights; the murder of a fellow writer inside the Evin Prison back in Tehran; the one-on-one conversation with one of my British professors on why I had failed to do my assignments; his lame effort to console me after I had burst into tears: “Everybody has some problems these days”—the days when I was yet to learn about my bipolar disorder; the off-and-on break-ups, the I-love-yous that followed—the days when I missed Sadaf and then wanted her to leave me alone at the same time.

“All these white flakes on your scalp, the red spots, the skin irritation—this is definitely the Sadaf Disease—an overproduction of skin cells which could happen because of a traumatic incident,” says the doctor. “You have psoriasis, but we call it the Sadaf Disease in Iran because of all the whiteness.”

Siavash Saadlou is a writer and translator whose works of fiction, creative nonfiction, and criticism have appeared in Plenitude Magazine, The Margins, Southeast Review, and Minor Literature[s]. His poems have been anthologized in Essential Voices: Poetry of Iran and Its Diaspora (Green Linden Press). In addition, his translations of contemporary Persian poetry and fiction can be found in Denver Quarterly, Scoundrel Time, and Asymptote, among other journals. Saadlou holds an MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College of California. Saadlou currently teaches translation and creative writing workshops in Tehran.