The root of all conflict in this short story by Houshang Moradi-Kermani is an essay on the topic- “Who renders the greatest service to mankind?”. Here’s how things pan out- The vice principal, a stern man, assigns this essay to the whole class, and says that the student is free to choose whichever profession they see fit. The little boy Majid takes the freedom a little too much for his own good, and decides to write on a topic that no one else would. In his essay, he says that the town bodywasher (one who washes the dead body and wraps a shroud around it) renders the greatest service, much to the amusement of fellow students and the ire of the teacher.
Even though, Majid suffers much and the reader does feel sympathy for him, yet his confusion and innocence in situations like these endear us incredibly to him. The confrontation between the teacher and the student after he’s finished reading the essay is to my mind, comedy gold. Here’s a sample:
“You’re trying to turn the class into a circus, aren’t you?”
“Me? Me, dare do such a thing . . . ?”
“Yes, you. In my classroom, clowning around. I’ll teach you a lesson on clowning around that you’ll remember as long as you live.”
“What clowning around, sir?”
“What was that garbage that you read?”
“My composition. I wrote it and read it.”
“What . . . that the body-washer does the greatest service to mankind? Is this how to write a composition? May the body-washer come and cart your ugly face out of my sight. Who wrote all this nonsense for you?”
“I wrote it myself. I’m good at literature.”
“You said we were free to write whatever we wanted. You said, ‘It’s entirely up to you.'”
“So that means in your opinion, jackass, no one does more for people than the body-washer? You mean, doctors and teachers and shoemakers and bricklayers are useless?”
There is a lot more exposition in the original story, which I’ve edited out in this exchange in order to bring forth the Majid’s adamant desire to prove himself innocent. And, the Vice Principal’s frothing rage at seeing the child defend himself.
Later on in the story, after suffering the consequences of his well meaning stunt- and seeing his life fall apart- Majid suffers internal conflict and