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Short story

By Azin Arefi
August 1, 2002
The Iranian

My husband is leaving. I am in the back room my in-laws have given us, folding his clothes neatly into a duffel bag. I washed them yesterday in the basin that I brought from my mother's house when I got married. My hands went cold as I hung them one by one over the line, looking red and slick like the fish in the fountain.

In our room the gas lamp eminates a sickly yellow globe, making the room look even smaller. My husband is sitting in the other room drinking tea with his family. Tomorrow at dawn, his father will take him to the bus station where he will join the others and their cause.

I wonder how many other wives are at this instant packing bags for their husbands. I go over to the chest and lift the lid. I run my fingers across the sandy fabric of his uniform, neatly folded, awaiting my husband's body. The heavy steps of my mother-in-law approaching make me quickly close the chest and go back to the duffel bag, stuffing socks into it.

"Are you almost done?" My mother-in-law asks me as she walks into the room. The glow of the lamp makes the wrinkles on her face look like painful, deep chasms, reminding me that I have promised myself never to look that old that fast. But as I fold the clothes I have washed in the cold into the bag I cannot be sure if I am keeping my promise.

She hands me a knitted green scarf. "Make sure you put this in there for him as well. It will be cold where he is headed."

I take the scarf and thank her.

She lets out a deep sigh, snuffing the sounds of the gas lamp. For a second I am afraid that she might burst into tears, that she has come in here to get away from the men to cry. But she just prays. "May Allah keep him warm and safe while he is away. Only He can watch over him."
"Enshaallah," I say.

"You have already boiled the eggs for him? Be sure to remind him to take it tomorrow along with the pack I have made for him."

"May your hands not ache, Maman. I will."

"Allah only knows what he will get to eat out there."

I have not thought about what he will eat or do. My imagination only accompanies him to the bus station and no more. It is as if he is going on hiatus, and I won't be a wife for a while. I will not bring him his tea or wash his clothes or sweep his room. I have not thought about what he will do, his duties, while I am waiting.

I think she is about to leave when my mother-in-law grabs my arm with her short fingers and whispers, "May the devil not hear me, but if my son should not come back..."

"He will come back," I say as if I know.

But her eyes still jerk around their sockets. "If he does not come back, I want something to remember him by. Do you understand?" Her fingers press into my flesh. "I want my son to leave a piece of himself with you."

My cheeks burn. I look down.

"Be a good wife the night before your husband leaves. Be good as many times as it takes."

My breath is trapped in my chest. She lets go of my arm and heads for the door. "Come out for tea, if you like," she says in her own voice, "and get your husband." She closes the door behind her, leaving me alone with the fully stuffed bag and the heavy breathings of a sick, yellow lamp.

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By Azin Arefi

Pickled things
There is no denying it: it's a red alarm, code for a bombing raid

The richest fruit
They cared so much about what other people thought about them





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