A Birth, Maybe?

Image from The School of the Heart by George Withermage (1676)

A Birth, Maybe?

Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh

He is curly burly, joyful and sad, tall and thin, short and fat. His name is David, or Jorge, Ahmed or Balthazar—He’ll respond to whatever name you want to give him. He is me and he is you.

His nephews love it when he brings them toys. His coworkers hate him when he excels at Excel sheets. His lover loves it when… loves it when… when…. Never mind. She is not sure.

He is here and he is not. He is real and he is not. He is all and he is none.

That is how I describe him. But he, basically, does not care who he is.

I used to know Balthazar. Or at least, I thought I knew him. After all, I created him with my own pen, on a dinky spiral notebook, on a rainy Saturday afternoon in November in a writing workshop. I first gave him different names, but Balthazar stuck in the end. It reminded me of Zaybar’s, the Jewish grocery store in the Upper East Side of New York that I used to visit every Saturday afternoon.

I projected onto Balthazar all that I wanted in a man: Generosity for his nephews, savviness at work, ability in the bedroom. Well, at least I tried in that department.

He had a number of sometimes incongruous characteristics and attributes because I could not decide among them. But some details stood out clearly: He had salt and pepper hair, sported a short, trim beard, was a bit chubby, very masculine, somewhat funny.

I introduced him to the room of aspiring writers, without any ambitions, any plot. He was just there, blah. A figment of my imagination, going round and round in my head, going nowhere. He was me, you, everyone in between and no one at all.

I gave him a brain, which he used with abandon to impress his co-workers. I gave him money, lots of it. He could buy lots of toys for his nephews and perfume to win back his girlfriend. He chose to wear Armani suits and read the Financial Times while drinking his Nespresso. Clichés all the way.

I did what I could. I gave him a brain, looks and lots of money and wished him good luck and ushered him into the world. Off he went with all elements needed to succeed in life.

My neighbor to the left, a seasoned Irish writer, created a completely different character and called her Cassandra. She was short and chubby, dressed head to toe in Tati/Walmart clothes, had long red cascading curls and eyelashes she could fly away with. 

Yet Cassandra chose to stay firm on the ground. She sent 1 dollar a week to feed an adopted child in Ethiopia. She smoked camels and went to every demonstration possible on Saturday afternoons: anti-government, anti-Wall Street, anti-vaccine, anti-capitalism, anti-whatever.

Cassandra had a bleeding heart. Balthazar on the other hand did not even have a heart. Oh, did I not tell you that? I forgot to give dear Balthazar a heart.

Then came he crisis.

The one image on TV that we could not unsee.

A man, his lower torso blown to pieces by a cluster bomb, strewn about the street next to his two pre-teen children, also torn apart, below a freshly bombed urban building in a refugee camp. A man, his legs blown apart, his face blackened, his clothes blood red and charcoal black. A man laying seemingly lifeless on the street. And then he started moving his head, first to the left, and then slowly to the right.

Cassandra was fuming. She thought she had seen it all. There, she said, this is why there should be a ceasefire NOW.

Balthazar had not seen anything like this. He became quiet, went into shock.

The bastards, she yelled.

Nothing, he said. 

Stop this massacre, she yelled.

Nothing, he said.

The hell with political interests, she yelled.

Nothing, he said.

Cassandra had seen so much bloodshed. Every day, the same thing on TV. Over and over again. She had to stop. Stop watching her media feed. Stop going to demonstrations. Just stop. Try to be normal, try to get back that feeling beyond hate, beyond fear.

Balthazar said nothing, did nothing, went nowhere. He just stood there, nailed to the floor.

And then it happened. A tear fell from his left eye onto the spot where his pochette would have been, but where, instead, a heart had started to grow.


dePICTions volume 4 (2024): Victimhood