|The old photograph
By Sasan Hamidi
May 22, 2002
I am trying to warm my fingers with the steam coming from the teacup. Just the tips
are all I want functioning. I want to reach out to my pocket, but it's too early;
the tips aren't ready; just a while longer. Okay, I am going to do it; I pull out
the old wrinkled photograph; my fingers are trembling as I pull apart the small black
and white photo.
I hold my tired, bony fingers over the tea mug. The picture is dusty and folded,
perhaps a million times. I feel the warmth of the steam on my nose, but the rest
of my face is numb; oh, how I wish the cold would go away for just a minute for me
I can no longer see the old tree behind the doghouse. The constant folding and time
have collaborated to turn the old log into a vague image. I used to climb that tree;
somehow the mingled and tired branches of the old giant oak tree were my solace,
my friend, my confidant. There was a time when I would escape to its arms for a silent
minute away from my childish world. On a hot summer day, when I would find refuge
underneath the friendly oak I could see the creamy clouds race through the clear
blue skies of Tehran. I felt shame; no, I was overwhelmed with guilt when I hung
a swing set right from those two crooked branches. I was afraid that they could be
hurting. I can't see them anymore in the photograph, but I know they are there; at
least I hope that they are.
The swing-set, oh what an ambitious project for an eight-year-old.
I didn't build it alone. I had plenty of help. Oh, yes, Ali, Khosro and Behnam. We
were inseparable. Imagine, I wasn't even upset with Ali when he drilled a big screw
right over our names; right through the middle. That carving took the three of us
well over a month.
I hear footsteps; I can't let them see the photograph, or I'll spend another week
in solitary confinement. The "box" makes this place look like a castle.
The guards are coming to do the "locks". I wish I could speak Arabic; that
would be an advantage. The big rusty rod is going through the ankle chains. We all
sit there and let them do it.
I can't stand them; their breath; their ugly yellowing teeth, and especially their
loud screeching laughter. They have been desensitized as stones, as trees, as the
oak tree on Ardeshir Street. I wonder if they feel the unbearable agony of these
men whose hollow stares have been hedged in my soul forever. I struggle to keep my
hatred confined within my soul. There will be a time when my soul will implode. Filled
with hatred, with agony, with memories of home, of Ardeshir Street, of Khosro, of
the old tree. These men? Do they feel? How do they feel?
Silence sets in. I think it's snowing outside. I can smell the fresh creamy snow
touch the metal barn roof, or is it the peroxide-like scent coming from Mohammad's
"Hey, how's your leg?" I whisper.
"I can't feel it anymore, would you look at it please?" He says with a
tired scratchy voice. "I just need to know how?"
The young soldier stops as the metal rod rushes through
his ankle chain. I can't look at his leg; two years in this damn war and I still
don't have the stomach. I can't look at it. I turn around. I just turn my back and
ignore him. He will probably loose that leg. If he is lucky, he will die of that
infection; maybe in his sleep, perhaps tonight. I hear him whisper something. He
is praying to his mighty Allah for forgiveness. Forgiveness? For what? He has not
achieved martyrdom. He has failed his God by being captured. He has shamed his God.
I look at the wall beside me; I can't see the markings on the wall, but I reach out
and feel the deep carvings; has it only been 33 days in this hell? It feels like
years ago when the routine mapping mission failed, and my plane was shot down.
"Mr. Hamidi, have you done problem number 63? Are you with us today?"
I look up and see his face. Dr. Beever's eyes are smirking; he has caught an un-attending
student in his physics class, an enviable position, I can tell.
"Dr. Beever, could I be excused today? I don't
feel very well."
Everyone is watching me as I gather up my books and scattered notes; why did I have
to sit in the middle? It's a long walk to the exit door.
"Hey, Sasan, you dropped something," the girl in the third row shouts as
she bends down to reach for it. I fold the old photograph as I walk out of the classroom.
It has been nearly four years since I left that camp in Iraq. Four long years to
put it all behind. At times it all becomes faded. There are memories that are triggered
by a familiar face or caused from within; the events of my past have become a motion
picture running on a non-stop projector. Time may be able to heal some wounds; a
broken heart, a divorce, and even the death of a loved one, but others continue to
bleed forever. How can I ever forget the big brown eyes of a young soldier who died
silently in the sounds of the rusty chains?