We go to work with a poet's gait and elegance and a fashion model's routineness, we stride along like roasters, proud of our clean clothes like peacocks. We never stop to ask about them or to thank them; those who carry the burden on our behalf and on behalf of our wives so that we can gain a few extra moments of pleasure doing something else. They restore the brightness to our colours so that we can walk in our full glory. These unknown soldiers languishing in their damp barricades so that we can step energetically into the sun. They are here, all around us. We see them only when we need them and we hear them only when necessary.
Atapour, the smallest worker at Horizon Laundry, groans as he stands amidst the piles of clothing and fabrics to sort them and write the owner's flat number behind the collars or under the sleeves. He then gathers them up only to sort them once again according to washing instructions and ironing requirements.
He works in his small interior room that reeks of a disgusting combination of sweaty bodies and consumed perfume brands that makes him nauseous or pushes him to escape the shop to get some fresh air. In this room, over-powered by a mixture of dirty colours that make it seem like a novice artist's abstract painting that hurts the eye, he sits down and works to the rhythm of the machine from which clothes exit - ironed, scented, clean - as if freshly bought. His only weapon in facing these mountains of fabric is a heavy metal forged iron and a water spritzer he uses to moisten his face on days of extreme heat. He works quietly, humming songs his father taught him.
Atapour didn’t choose this line of work. But no opportunities awaited him in the lush green homeland he left just as a thin moustache pencilled itself above his lips, and after being pressed by his parents to support his siblings.
He wakes up in the morning on a pile fabric only to sleep at night on another. This is the bed he goes to after midnight. He chooses whatever he finds to make his bed - dresses, abayas, shirts with sleeves and without, white underwear, coloured underwear, colourful carpets, multi-layered curtains, skirts, trousers, all styles of branded suits - he spreads them on the floor and flattens them with his hands. He thinks of his mother's embrace and falls asleep. What alleviated and eased his loneliness was choosing women's clothing to sleep on.
The early ringing of the telephone marks the start of his day in the world of colours and smells, ready to meet client demands. By now he knew everyone in the neighbourhood from the clothes he cleaned and ironed for them. He also came to know what they did and what they ate at home at night from the stains on their clothes.
The food and desert stains on the cotton school uniforms and coloured aprons of Umm Ammar's naughty children stir his appetite and a sensation of constant hunger. While the ink stains that swim on the only two linen shirts owned by the school teacher who lives alone in the building across stir his outrage and disgust, because he has to clean them again and again to restore the teacher's prestige before his students.
As for the moody Suhair, the new bride in her new flat, her clothes were always clean but she still sends them to Atapour before they get soiled, while those spots on her bed sheets reveal the adventures of hot honeymoon nights.
Amer is a labourer at a contracting company. He sends his clothes to the cleaners on special occasions only. Three pairs of jeans worn between the thighs, and two shirts with a dragon print, one torn under the arm. He wears them alternately throughout the year to save money for his bride's dress next year.
There's also me, and because I live alone and have almost non-existent laundry and ironing needs, I got to know Atapour quite well. His dark eggplant complexion, his cottony white teeth, his short stature and thin body, all of which set him apart from his cousins. The black trousers and red embroidered shirt he wore for many years until that life-changing accident and the way in which he dealt with everyone.
Abu Mahmoud, the manager of a major company, lives in the same building. He wears a new suit and a new black shirt every day to look elegant. He also usually keeps another suit hanging in his car so that he can wear it when necessary. The sensitivity of his skin to polyester and Dacron obliged him to wear velvet and linen all the time.
When one night Atapour found a one thousand dirham bill in Abu Mahmoud's jacket pocket as he prepared the clothes for laundering, he didn't even get a thank you or a word of praise for returning the money without thinking of keeping it for a second. His poverty and estrangement have not meant that he forgot his parents' teachings before he travelled abroad.
The approach of the Greater Eid, the incessant telephone calls from his family asking for money for food, and a salary that left him with barely enough money for a single call to his family in the entire month, pushed him to a new resolve and to bare his milk fangs in the face of the wolf pack around him. How was that he was always on the other side of the sun? How was it that he became the shadow companion of other people's bodies? How did he attend the cutting the world's biggest cake without even tasting it?
One night, he goes alone the laundry room redolent with smells, steam jetting from the pipes that sprout out in all directions. He heads toward the pile of laundry. He selects a pair of trousers and a shirt of well known brands. He then heads to the ladies' section and chooses a dress whose burgundy colour makes it exude a sense of dignity. He cleans them thoroughly. He spends the entire night washing and ironing the clothes he selected, and in the morning he ships them off to his parents as gifts for the upcoming Eid season.
His love for Zahra, Umm Khalid's housemaid - the lady who returns home late every night – presented him with the opportunity of giving her a red skirt to express his desire to meet her in the park on her day off.
Recently Atapour started emerging new look every day, borrowing outfits from the piles of clothes around him in the absence of his boss who went back home for the next three months - a holiday he usually takes every three years. He combs his hair after dampening it with water. He chooses any outfit he likes. He looks at himself in the mirror, turning left and right. He carries the parcel of clean clothes he prepared for delivery and walks out feeling very proud. He returns after having taken the delivery charges.
Could that be the reward he extracts from others for the services he offers free of charge with a cheerful face? Or some form of compensation for his years living in the dampness of a room that has never seen the light of day?
Translation by: Fadwa Al Qasem