By Azin Arefi
August 12, 2002
I came home from my honeymoon with new pictures in the album of my memory. Pictures
of history, art, and the appreciation of the labor that turns that history into that
art. And I walked into my mother's house after the drive from my honeymoon, my clothes
still in the suitcase absorbing the smell of it to retain, as a married woman. It
was as if I was stepping into our front room for the first time, as a newcomer. I
was now married, had finally joined the secret world of couples.
My grandmother struggled to rise from her usual place in the corner when I walked
in. I rushed to her and held her close to my chest.
"How wonderful it is to have you back safe, thanks to God," she said. She
peeled me away from herself, her old, warm hands clutching my arms. She stared at
me through her thick glasses that hugged her wrinkled cheeks as if she had not seen
me in years and was not expecting to see me ever again.
Massoud was still greeting my father when my mother walked in with the tea. I unwrapped
the box of noughuts that I had brought back as a present. They all wanted to hear
about Isfahan, if Siosepol really did have thirty-three arches as the name implied,
if we had visited Chehel Sotoon Palace, with its splendid reflecting pool as its
constant companion. I had wondered then if the twenty columns would know how beautiful
they really were if they did not have the calm waters of the pool as their mirror.
Now, back in my mother's house, all I wanted was to
see my wedding pictures. I wanted to see those pictures, to see if those real photographs
matched my memory of that night. The wedding was two weeks ago -- although it seemed
much further in the past, and yet I remembered every single minute of it. I remembered
the feel of my heavy dress, the weight of my fake eyelashes, the thump thumping of
the music that matched the one in my chest. But what about years and years later,
when the night was part of history, when it would be a shy memory? I needed the pictures
then. So I wanted the pictures now.
When my mother came back into the room with the pastry dish refilled with the round
almond biscuits I turned to my husband (I had a husband!) and said, "Massoud,
let's go pick up our wedding pictures."
What's the rush, he wanted to know. We had just gotten home. "The tea your mother
poured is still warm in my throat. Sit." He turned back to my father and resumed
I could see that he was not replaying the smiles, the people, all dressed up, all
posing for that click, waiting for that flash, which promised to hold that moment
and preserve it. He was in no rush to match his memory with the magic of the camera.
I took another almond biscuit and let it dissolve on my tongue. I don't know why
-- I hated that bittersweet taste. Then I thought maybe Massoud found it rude to
leave my mother's house when we had only arrived. Was he going to always stay this
polite and so considerate, even now that he was like a son? I rolled my tongue over
my teeth to loosen the almond paste. Was that why I had married him, because somehow
I knew that he was going to always be polite and considerate, even now that he was
no longer on display? I reached out and tucked his slightly long hair behind his
ear. He glanced at me and smiled, then turned back, all without skipping a word in
his conversation. That too was part of his politeness, for I knew I had sent a shiver
through his body with the touch of my fingertips.
When the fourth pastry melted in my mouth I told my mother I wanted to go get our
"Why so soon?" she asked. "Are you not tired from the drive?"
"Have mercy on your husband," my father said. "He just drove all the
way from Isfahan."
"Yes, let us look at you longer, my child," my grandmother said. "Let
us look at you while we can."
While we can.
I said to my grandmother, "You should come with us, Abba joon! You will
enjoy the drive."
"Azizam, you have such high expectations
from this old woman," she said. "It has been so long since I have been
out of the house, much less driven somewhere."
"What do you mean? It has not been that long," my father said. "It
was only a few weeks ago that we drove to Shomal."
"All the more reasons to come out for a drive, Abba joon," I said.
"And how is the orchard?" Massoud asked. "How are the oranges this
The citrus orchard was my father's favorite topic and he never shied away from discussing
it. That, and telling stories of historic people.
"She never wants to go anywhere," my mother said. "In the evenings
I tell her let's go walk to the park and she says no. She won't even come with me
to Omid Agha's store up the street to buy yogurt."
"You should get out more often," Massoud said to my grandmother. "It
is good for you to walk."
My grandmother shook her head. "You do not have my bones, any of you. When you
are my age they feel different." She looked down at her hands, rubbing her right
fingers with her left hand, as if trying to wake them up from their stubborn slumber.
As I watched I could feel her frail hands in my own, bone rubbing against fragile
bone, and I saw my grandmother's bones -- just bones, no flesh-- disappearing. And
I saw, like a snapshot, the corner of our room empty.
I shook the image out of my head and went and squatted down by my grandmother. I
scooped her into my arms. She smiled at me from behind her thick glasses and said,
"But for my Minoo joon, why not, I'll go."
My grandmother sat in the back as Massoud drove us towards Cheshmak Photography.
The bittersweet taste of the almond biscuits tickled my tongue. Once again I was
visualizing the pictures -- which one should be enlarged for the Khatam frame
I had just bought at Isfahan Bazaar from a man with brown hands. I had wrapped it
carefully in yesterday's newspaper. It sat in our suitcase now, taking on the smell
of it, like my clothes were doing. Our suitcase, I thought. Massoud's clothes were
also in there, their scent mingling with mine. I would smell him on them when I unpacked,
like I could smell him in the sheets. I smiled at him. He cocked his eyebrows, as
if asking, What is that for? and smiled back.
Cheshmak Photography was located on Seemetry, between a dentist office and a bakery.
The red neon sign that displayed the name was on a white background, and next to
it were a pair of eyes, one closed, one open. A wink. Cheshmak.
As we turned the corner I saw a building with its roof gone, as if it had gone up
in smoke. And it must have, because what was left of the structure was black, charred.
"Oh dear God, look," I pointed. "I think the bakery caught fire."
"Where?" Massoud asked, looking out of the passenger window.
"God have mercy," my grandmother whispered.
We approached the traffic light. It was not the bakery
with its roof missing, with its walls of bricks turned to soot and charcoal; it was
not the bakery that stood black, in ruins; it was Cheshmak Photography. The neon
sign had melted for the most part, but one could still make out the name. It was
spared as if to let everyone know exactly what had been and what was no more. The
open eye had burned completely but the closed one remained, no longer winking in
joy, but turned away in sorrow.
My organs felt too large for my frame and my ears started to ring. I thought I whispered
"Oh my God," but I cannot be sure. My pictures, I thought. My wedding pictures.
It was not really a thought, made of language, but an image, a scene, of all my pictures
in flames, curling brown and black at the edges, and then smoke. Poof. Like a flash.
I could not take my eyes off the rubble. And behind the ringing in my ears I heard
honking, at first faint and then louder. Massoud had stopped at the red light, but
now it had turned green. Move, they honked at us. Move.
Massoud started driving again. He did not say anything. His face was contorted as
if he was concentrating on a convoluted speech. My head was spinning and I felt like
"My pictures," I said finally. "Our wedding pictures are all burnt."
The tears were waiting for the sound of my voice.
From the backseat my grandmother's hand reached out and landed on my shoulder. I
turned and faced her. "My pictures," I said over and over again.
"My child, don't cry. What have you seen of the world yet? Nothing."
Nothing of the world yet.
The pictures of my wedding had gone up in flames and this was nothing yet? I felt
kicked in the chest. Massoud took my hand in his. Had he heard my grandmother? Had
he heard that this was nothing yet compared to what Life had planned for us? The
thought was frightening. It was like a promise of doom. I had finally been admitted
to the world of the married, let in on their secret. I knew I was missing something
before, knew that I had not figured it all out. I had not realized it the night I
got married, nor on my honeymoon, not even when I walked into my parents' house as
a married woman.
But I understood it now. I squeezed Massoud's hand.
This world, this world of marriage and couples, it was a world where you had a husband
whom you loved, and knew exactly why you loved him, which made you know that you
would always love him, but that was not all that was to it. It was also a world where
your wedding pictures went up in flames and you never got to look at them; and that
was nothing compared to what was coming. And it was a world where you had to struggle
with yourself not to think that your grandmother -- and dear God, your parents too
-- would one day go up, up too and you would not be able to look at them either.
There would be so much more to this married life, Abba had promised me that much.
Massoud drove us back home very slowly and I did not stop crying for a long, long