This is a story of two students in a provincial town in Iran. There were two very promising students and the new government of the Shah was looking for new young talent to promote into government and sent a minister to provincial towns to recruit the brightest. These two had done exceptionally well and the minister was going to interview both of them, but he had only a day in the town and one of the students suddenly went down with an acute illness. So only one was interviewed and he was taken to the capital to begin his new life. For his friend, it was just bad luck and he was left behind.
As he wrote in his account many years later, he felt bitter but he made the best of it, got on with his life, and became a prominent man in the provincial town. He did a certain amount of good where he was. But he followed his friend’s career from its early stages as he was moved up under the minister’s patronage until he disappeared above the clouds, so to speak. He knew his former friend must have got some cracking job in the new government under the successful minister.
He said in spite of the successes that he did have, and the service he knew he was doing, all his life he had the feeling: if only he hadn’t been ill, the minister would have taken them both and he too would have had a chance of some reflected glory.
Thirty years later, he had to visit an official in the capital. Arriving unexpectedly early he thought he would get a haircut. Near the ministry there was a side street of little shops so he dropped in at the barber there. A shabbily dressed man came in whom he seemed to recognize. When he looked hard he found it was his friend, his former fellow student. “Why, what has happened to you?” he asked and his friend said, “I did do well for some time but then the Minister made a mistake and would not admit to it so someone had to be sacrificed, and I was sacked. They found me a job as a clerk and told me not to make a fuss or I might find myself in prison.” So he had spent his life in the capital as a lowly clerk. His friend immediately promised him a better job in the provincial capital on his return.
He wrote, “I realized then that I had spent 30 years of my life envying something that didn’t exist”. Despite all his successes in the provincial town there was always the thought, “If only I could have gone with my friend to share his success in the capital.” But the success of his friend didn’t exist, it was unreal. He wrote, “My life was poisoned by envy of something that I had simply imagined.”
© 1998 Trevor Leggett
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