By Ramin Tork
August 7, 2002
After the butcher, and the grocer was a small fabrics shop just at the junction of
Zand and Amiri streets. This was the first of many shops, which the local Abadanies
called "Bazaar Kuwaiti".
After this point you had all the foreign or fancy goods like the ones that sold music
tapes and had side-by-side posters of Bruce Lee in Enter of Dragon and Googoosh
with short hair. There was also the shop next door that sold smuggled watches and
Wrangler jeans. This one was a good place to buy a fake Rolex for a reasonable price.
This bazaar was usually busy with people, cars parked at every angle and small vans
that carried watermelons, mangoes or vegetables, except that this was midday at the
beginning of summer and the shops were closed.
The air-conditioning cooler engines were humming in harmony like a chorus of singers
and busy pumping hot air outside, and if you looked inside the mosquitoe-fenced windows
of the town apartments, you could catch a glimpse of kids who had come from school
to have lunch, or people praying or sleeping.
A hot dusty wind that was like a blow of a furnace,
would break the suffocating humidity, and was making the empty plastic bags dance
in the air. When the heat was this unbearable the locals would pray for monsoon rains
that would wet their shirts, and cool them down. It felt like jumping into a cold
pool of ice.
The rain would come down like large arrows of heavenly teardrops and blast the dry
powdery dust of the streets and the old houses. The suffocating humidity would then
clear up and the entire city would have a wonderful aroma of clay and a cool freshness.
The rains would also clear away the irritating mosquitoes and the large flying ants
that plagued the city at that time of year.
Today, there were no such rains and the sun was pouring out its rays of fire with
full intensity. At this time of the day all that you could see in the street was
a thin black dog barking, at the salt seller's donkey tied to a tree urinating into
a puddle, and a teenage boy with fuzzy hair just standing there.
The kid was wearing loose cotton trousers and shirt, and plastic sandals, standing
still and poking a stick at a large dead sewage rat. The heat did not seem to bother
the boy. He was busy looking at the rat's face, and was completely mesmerised by
the smile of death and the Bugs Bunny-like front teeth of the rodent. The rotten
smell of flesh and the maggots crawling out of the rat's body didn't irritate him.
He had pulled it with a stick out of the open sewage channels that ran by the side
of the street and the stick had left a trail of dark purple stain coming right up
to his plastic sandals.
The boy was the only son of Haj Karim Bushehry the fabric merchant who owned the
small shop at the junction. His name was Abdulreza but he was affectionately nicknamed
Balal by Haji because he loved eating sweet corn.
At first site, Balal looked like a normal sixteen-year-old until you noticed the
half dropped jaw showing up his mule like teeth and droopy lips that let saliva slide
off one side of his mouth. He had a thin moustache, and his sun-scorched skin appeared
dark with that fluffy facial hair that had not matured to a man's beard. If you looked
in his eyes, you could see an animalistic innocence that only little children had.
Despite his mental and physical disabilities, there was a sparkle of what seemed
like intelligence. Those eyes seemed sad and happy all at the same time. It was hard
to figure out how much the boy understood. He could hear but could not speak. All
that he could do when he wanted to communicate was to gyrate his head and make inharmonious
sounds that came from the bottom of his throat.
Inside the shop was Haji and Rahmat, his shop assistant doing the inventory. Today
Rahmat was also to come over for lunch. Balal's mother Naneh Abdul had cooked some
halva in remembrance of Haji's older brother. So out of good faith, she had asked
Haji to invite Rahmat.
Rahmat did not miss such opportunities. He wanted to get a glimpse of Marjan, Haji's
daughter and Balal's twin sister. He had loved the girl ever since he had laid eyes
on her. The very first time she had come over to the shop to get some cash from his
father, just in the first week of Rahmat getting the job.
Was it that long shiny black hair that did it or those eyes that would make you disappear
for a thousand years? He did not know. If she would just turn back and look. If only
Rahmat would dare to ask Haji for the permission of discussing the matter. If Rahmat
could see a single sign of interest. He could not take the torment anymore. "God
have mercy, if there is no hope at least get her out of my head!" He would think.
Haji came out of the shop, and called Balal over to join them. Balal did not want
to leave the rat but hunger got the better of him and he pushed the dead animal back
in the sewage where he had found it.
"Leave that filthy thing alone; we are going for lunch," Haji shouted.
Haji was a firm man. He was honest but not much of a businessman, and after thirty-five
years of leaving Bushehr with his late brother and surviving a bankruptcy he had
this small shop. Still, he had learnt to love Abadan. This was his home.
The Abadanies had their own pleasant moral code. Generally there was no backstabbing
between the traders. They all got on with their own business. There was just about
enough prosperity for everyone in the bazaar.
Haji enjoyed flirting with the female customers every now and then. It was good for
business and he did get a kick out of it in a healthy sort of way, well as long as
it was not vulgar and charming the customers enjoyed it. On the one and only occasion
in his life where he had a devilish idea he had decided to hire a good looking assistant
to bring in the female customers but he had ended up with Rahmat and his thick framed
Rahmat did run around like a bee and worked with all his heart for Haji, God bless
him! Why did he work so hard? Haji did not know. It wasn't his salary that was for
sure. With Haji's heart condition he needed an extra pair of hands even if the shop
did not turn over that much profit so it was just as well he had Rahmat.
Rahmat was very cunning. He could read customers by how many golden bangles they
had on their wrist or how much they would spend if they were in-towner or out-of-towners
or even the smell of their perfume. He could also speak Arabic and was a master haggler
and always send the customer away thinking that they had just bought the best bargain
Balal was oblivious to all this. All he loved in the shop apart from his father
was the veil cloth because it smelled like his mother. He would pick the cloth and
smell it and he would feel the arms that would come out of that cloth and hug him
like there was nothing else in this world. He enjoyed sitting in that shop to cool
himself under the blow of the air conditioner then come out under the scorching sun,
close his eyes and feel the warmth of his blood tingling from his burning nose and
cheeks to the back of his skull.
Sometimes he would sit like that for hours with those
shuteyes. Just sitting there like a Buddhist monk meditating. Occasionally Haji would
look at the boy. Like a mirror, he would see his own face of youth reflected in those
innocent yet twisted form. There was something of his wife's softness there too.
He had stopped dreaming about what could have been if the boy was normal.
In his old dreams, there was a Balal to be a bridegroom wearing shiny black shoes
and a suite from Haji's best fabric in the shop. The most handsome and smartest boy
in town. Working side by side by his father. He had stopped asking questions from
God as to why? "For your creative hands, and all that has been bestowed upon
us, thank you God!" He would say, then he would look at the framed picture of
his younger self in a praying pose with hands held high up to his chin looking at
the black cube of Mecca; he would then shake his rosary beads in a gesture of surrender
and then move his eyes back to the inventory notes.
In his mind's eyes, he had thrown many spears of burning anger to the sky and had
seen them disappear to a dark emptiness and not come back. He had learnt to live
with the emptiness. This was the essence of his faith. Islam was his total surrender
to the will of God and that was the rule no matter how much warmth or pain he could
feel in that tired old heart. If only his brother was still alive. If only he felt
secure for his family especially the boy, perhaps then he would not feel so much
weight on his shoulders. All those questions had faded away. It wasn't that he wasn't
happy. He was grateful for what he had.
Rahmat was still busy counting the rolls of cloth. "One Lawn, two Madras, a
blue, and two grey jersey, five canvas, and one dotted Swiss. As for loose ones,
ten meters of Drill, seven meters of organdy and five rolls of sailcloth cotton.
For the fancies there is one cream and one black YSL kept for Mrs. Hijaz and his
son's wedding, and that is the last of it."
Then they left the shop and Rahmat rolled down the metallic security blinds and locked
up. The wide streets of the bazaar changed into the narrow side streets of the residential
homes. A porter was having his afternoon sleep on the side of the road under the
shade of a corrugated iron sheet.
They passed the Ladan patisserie/coffee shop that had the best ice coffee in town.
Balal remembered the fruity Marzipan sweets and the ice creams that Marjan had bought
for him here on New Year. Their home was not far from the public bath where Balal
would get scrubbed and be washed vigorously until his entire sun-burnt skin peeled.
He hated being shampooed.
The Arab rope maker who was busy making thick ropes for the cargo boats turned back
and greeted Haji. The perfume of the lunchtime cuisine had filled the neighbourhood
and Balal and his hungry stomach was getting restless.
They finally reached home. Jamal, Haji's nephew was washing his face by the water
tap that was on the side of the courtyard. Today Naneh had cooked her speciality,
which was spicy fish stew (Ghalieh Mahi). Rahmat's heart was pounding like a caught
rabbit by just the idea of sitting not far from Marjan. Naneh who was a worldly woman
had noticed Rahmat's unease and could not help secretly smiling.
"So, Rahmat how is your mother? You should
ask her to come and see us a bit more often," Naneh remarked.
"She has been very busy with my sister having the baby. By the way this is the
best Ghalieh Mahi and halva that I've had, but don't tell my mother I told you that!"
"You should have lunch with us more often Rahmat. Jamal, go and get the covers
and the pillows," Haji remarked and took another puff of his after lunch Bubble
Hubble and a sip of sweet tea. It was time for the afternoon nap.
Rahmat: "Haji you are very kind but I must go."
Haji: "You are not going anywhere. You've worked hard with that inventory and
deserve your rest. Just get your nap on that side of the room; business is going
to be quiet today with people going away for their holidays, so we can relax."
Rahmat was pleased. He was happy to spend as much time in Haji's house. In fact he
wanted this day to last forever. It was nice to have a lazy afternoon every now and
then. It was nice to be in the same house as Marjan. In the room the grandfather
clock was ticking away.
There was a shelf with the family pictures of a very young Haji and his late brother
standing on the cargo boat they used to own and smiling like they owned the entire
world. There were some books, a copy of the Quran and a picture of Haji and Naneh
holding the baby twins Marjan and Balal and a one-year-old Jamal sucking a dummy.
Rahmat lied down and watched the overhead fan cooling his moist forehead until he
fell sleep. The women just finished washing the dishes. Marjan went upstairs to
study for her last end of year exam and Jamal was busy playing football outside.
In football he had no match. He would control that cheap plastic ball with his bare
feet in the dusty roads like a real pro. The kids called him Pele of Amiri street!
Jamal was the son of Haji's late brother. He had been in Haji's care ever since the
car accident. He was the only survivor. It was a terrible tragedy. They were driving
on the dusty Behbahan road and a lorry had run over the car. It was a very sad day
when Haji had to go to the morgue to identify the crushed bodies and held baby Jamal,
the only survivor in his arms.
Jamal had grown to be a fine young man. His father would have been proud of him.
He had a part time job in summers, working for the National Petrochemical Company.
Sometimes at work he would cut brass earrings for Naneh and Marjan on the Capstone
Lath machine. He had saved enough money to buy a Honda 105 moped and had one more
year to get his diploma.
Jamal would sometimes ride the moped to Ferdowsi girls' school, stand nearby and
put on his Ray-Ban sunglasses and pose for the girls. Just standing there, dropping
wisecrack remarks and hoping he would corner a good looking catch using his charms.
What he had caught in his net about two month ago was a sweet girl called Leila who
lived just off the Abadan Theatre. They would rendezvous in a coffee shop and on
one occasion Leila had sneaked Jamal into her house. They had kissed in the cool
basement next to boxes of pomegranates and the large jars of grape juice. To be caught
would have been a disaster but it had been worth it!
He would sometimes put Balal on the back of his bike and just circle around Leila's
neighbourhood. Balal liked the happy-sad masks logo of the theatre. To him they were
like cartoon characters. If Leila weren't around or if the coast was not clear, Balal
would get a tour of the town. They would ride around Beraim and Bavardeh Boulevard,
or go and visit Jamal's friends around Ahamadabad or Kofeisheh.
Balal had fun when they would ride the bike along side the dusty steeps by the Karoon
riverbank where he could see the cargo boats crossing. He especially liked the Milk
Bar where Jamal would buy him an ice cream, or the Rex Cinema where they would watch
Googoosh and Behrouz fall in love. Sometimes working people would come here just
to have an afternoon nap under the cool air-conditioning of the cinema.
Jamal and Balal would drive in those long green boulevards feeling the hot wind blowing
against their faces. The endless rows of palm trees made you feel like you were riding
really fast. You would pass the refinery and see the large pipes going across the
road over your head and then pass the hospital to get to the Beraim district. Here
you could smell the petrol and the gases that escaped from the tall coolers or the
long pipes. Ironically the locals had got used to the smell. This was the city of
petrol-sniffers. In fact, after living here and leaving for any other place, you
would miss the smell and drive to a petrol station just for remembrance sake!
Beraim was the part of the town that was built by the British during when they were
running Abadan as a little colony of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The British had
left and in their place you had the class of well-off employees of the National Iranian
Oil Company. The locals called them "sherkat nafties".
Coming to this part of town was like doing a time warp into the very rich part of
the Western Hemisphere. There were the "sherkat naftie" kids in their matching
tennis gear or their cool racing bikes and backpacks heading for the open swimming
pool or the club. The long avenues and the green grass of the boulevards that surrounded
long rows of residential homes were well watered and kept clean.
Jamal had one or two friends here. He would put on his best pair of cream coloured
trousers and black shirt and wet his hair with cream then go off with his friends
to the Naft, Golestan, or Boat clubs. He wasn't used to this world of the privileged
where waiters with black tuxedos would serve grilled chicken or schnitzel at the
tables and the bands that would play jazz for the people eating or drinking Johnny
Walker or gin and tonic by the bar. But he knew how to play along.
Sometimes he would go to Night Club near Caravansara Hotel and see Korean dancers
doing live shows with their feathery hats and sexy gear. It was amazing how he could
get in -- he could play bagpipes and drums for weddings and parties, so he had a
lot of influential friends. If there was an Abadani wedding, he would be there shaking
his shoulders and dancing like it was his own wedding. His Bandari group was popular
around the town and they would sometimes get invited to play at the clubs.
Haji was not too keen on all this fancy behaviour but the boy needed to enjoy his
youth and having seen the death of his brother, he knew that life could be too short
so he turned a blind eye to Jamal's wild side. All this was costly for a kid from
the less well off area of the bazaar, but Jamal was used to spending his last penny
living it up.
Rahmat opened his eyes. The ceiling fan was still revolving over his head. Then
he heard the sound of thunder. It started to rain -- the kind that came down like
buckets of water pouring from the heavens. Haji was already up and was having his
afternoon prayer in the corner of the room. It was time to go but he could not
go until Haji had finished his prayers.
The rain got faster and faster. Rahmat and Balal came running into the courtyard
looking soaking wet. Haji eventually finished and turned to Rahmat and said, "Wait
for the rain to slow down; you'll catch a cold in this weather."
By now the courtyard was beginning to get flooded. The water was beginning to get
to the rooms and could have ruined the carpets. Eeveryone rushed off with buckets
and utensils to empty the water, and Naneh and Jamal rolled the carpets to one side
of the room whilst Haji, Marjan and Rahmat were busy collecting the water.
Rahmat and Marjan looked at each other and smiled whilst they were standing bare
feet helplessly collecting the water with those utensils and both looking very wet.
Rahmat had finally got the smile he was waiting for; perhaps it was an affirmation
of her affection or was it that he looked very silly and wet.
Surely, this was the best day of his life! Marjan blushed at the thought of showing
the contours of her feminine shape underneath those wet cloth. She decided to go
upstairs before her parents noticed her predicament. It was not decent to look like
that but Mother Nature had her own way of teasing the young.
The lecture room
Professor: "I want you to pay special attention because the length of our lesson
today is 30 microseconds and we have to pass the virtual reality generator to the
next lesson. Read the notes about the region, the ones that describe the geography
and the biography of the characters. What you are reading is the memory simulator
that is linked to the virtual reality generator. I want you to mainly focus on the
humanity, decency and simplicity of the characters. Remember these qualities transformed
humanity. Starting here at this very region of Earth, the birthplace of the Triangle,
which is our lesson for today. OK. We have two specimens -- a male and female, they
were found buried together aged twenty-five and seventeen. As you can see them on
the reality generator, these two became a couple. Their bodies were burnt and fused
together. These two were found in a mass burial ground in the region of Xortas or
if we use the name from their time a thousand years ago, the city of Abadan in Iran.
If you look in your databank notes you will find that they were the victims of an
incident, which resulted in turmoil of historical proporations and changed the fate
and the topography of the region. Does anyone know what that is?"
Zordas: "The burning of Rex Cinema."
Professor: "So let's see how is that so significant. The burning of the Rex
Cinema by political agitators and various other events such as the hostage-taking
at the American Embassy after the revolution, brought the Western and Eastern civilizations
into large-scale direct conflict not seen since the Crusader Wars. In fact, it's
what we today call the Oil Wars. This area saw the rise of religious fundamentalism
that was very similar to the fundamentalist power of the Catholic Church in the West.
These were the dark ages for these people and their history. It is very difficult
for us today to even imagine the beliefs that these people held and how they ended
up being held hostage by those who used these beliefs to dominate and abuse their
society. We know that this temporary repression caused a mass exodus of these people
to the Western hemisphere. Their genetic code is there, mixed with the rest of the
Western population. What impact did that change have? Can anyone tell?"
Borlozia: "Although these people were not dominant in the development of technology,
they had inherited a rich humanitarian culture. It is in fact ironic that in terms
of civilization three and half millennium ago, they had established the declaration
of human rights and yet their civilization clock went backward."
Professor: "That is all very well but what precious cargo did they bring to
the West, Borlozia?"
Borlozia: "Their humanity, compassion. Their mystical and romantic vision of
life. They brought that and it melted within the Western culture. Their first generation
had started like any other immigrant culture -- conformance. Initially there was
not that much influence on the West. After the fundamentalist period, their country
disintegrated. But some immigrants returned. They re-evaluated their way of thinking
using the convergance of Western and Eastern thinking. They adopted their cultural
heritage to establish the Triangle Principle that transformed the rest of humanity."
Professor: "Could you explain what the Triangle Principle is?"
Borlozia: "Prior to the principle, there was The Circle, which consisted of
an individual and its circle of animalistic and spiritual values merged together
and existing within the bigger circles of society. In the inner circle there was
no focus and the small circle only fitted within other circles that eventually formed
the society. The two were separate. The small circle would only produce mass but
not merge with the circle of society. The Triangle principle recognized that each
individual has three sides -- animalistic, spiritual and social -- that had to be
properly focused and joined. So one needs to transform one self, allowing a focus
space equal to 60 degrees for each one of these aspects, forming an inner balance
of the animal, the spirit and the social order all at the same time. It is ironic
that it took so much devastation to get these people to the point where they eventually
found these three 60-degree equilibriums. The individual fitted the society and the
society fitted the individual, and there was no conflict in forces that drove them
because these forces were focused and balanced. The small triangle formed the big
triangle and it fitted perfectly."
Professor: "Thank you for that Borlozia. Can you switch off the virtual reality
Zordas: "Can we see inside the generator and what these characters are doing?"
Professor: "They are probably drinking a liquid called 'tea'. Oh very well,
go on. What object, person do you want to be?"
Zordas: "I want to be Dead Rat!"
Professor: "OK, you are now a dead Rat!"
Zordas: Look Professor, the Balal character is poking a stick at me. He is saying
Professor: "It probably doesn't mean anything. Put the universal translator
on. I know it is not Farsi because this character is mentally disabled."
Balal (through the universal translator): "Stop pushing my consciousness through
time and space. I know you are watching me! Can you hear me! I can see you through
my dead rat!"