By Ali Sadri
I put on my designer prescription glasses
these sharp Middle Eastern features and in an instant
transform into a studious scholar who now appeared
amiable. The line divided in two; one led directly to
the entrance, the other to an enclosed curtained area.
Surprisingly, the ploy worked and I was led to the
entrance straightaway, bypassing the two men and their
machine guns. I was greeted by smiling flight
attendants and nervous pilots. Overdressed men and
women threw sharp glances as I went through the
first-class aisle. I eased through the haze of
perfume and cologne and propped myself into my narrow
seat. A fat woman with pancake makeup forced her body
into the seat next to me. She had hardly noticed my
presence. While occupying both armrests with her
enormous elbows, she stared at the seat in front her.
I drew my book out of my bag, and with my arms flushed
to my sides, I began to read. I read mechanically and
failed to understand the words. My thoughts were
fixed upon Arezou. I was anxious and excited for I
did not know what to expect when I finally knocked on
her door. I had not seen her for many years and
wondered whether she was now fat and ugly or perhaps
thin and beautiful. "It doesn't matter," I forced
myself to believe.
Six weeks ago I moved to the west coast. The moving
company unloaded the entire Mayflower truck into my
new apartment. I began to unpack and soon crowded the
tiny living room with mounds of unnecessary human
stuff. In my desperation to separate the essential
from the non-essential, my eyes fell upon an old
familiar suitcase. I had not opened it for some years
and had kept it for sentimental reasons. In it, I had
saved ghosts, letters and photographs. I cleared
space on the floor, sat down, and began to rummage
through the suitcase.
I leafed through photographs, letters and old notes.
Notes once stuck on my door by fellow students, friends and bums
while living on campus dormitory.
When I came across a photograph
of Arezou and I, taken 20 years ago in Santa Barbara, my heart
raced and I
was overcome with longing. We were sitting on a park
bench, our heads touching, both wide-eyed and dreamy.
I read letters sent from various people; most of
them have disappeared from my life. Then I caught sight of
an envelope I immediately recognized. It was Arezou's
last love note postdated September 4th, 1982, a letter
to which I never responded. And when I received an
uneventful Christmas card from her, I had decided it
was too late. I became regretful, pondering whether
my life would have taken a different path had I
responded. "She could've been the love of my life," I
thought. Suddenly an odd feeling came over me, imbued
with a promise that I would find her again.
On September 11, 2001, I contacted Arezou by email.
Within the hour, I received a reply. She had confused
me with another, a painter. I wrote back and included
more details about myself. She insisted that she had
not mistaken my identity, and furthermore I was indeed
the one who drew her portrait nearly twenty years ago,
the same picture, which until recently she had kept
propped up on her wall. I repeated that I am the
musician and not the painter. As a matter of fact, I
am completely draw-incapable but did not argue
further. I said I would phone her and ended the
exchange wondering about the painter. When I called
her some hours later, I waited through the four rings
with anticipation but spoke into a machine.
"What would you like to drink?" asked the flight
attendant signaling to the woman on my left.
"Do you have V8?" the fat lady asked.
"No I have tomato juice."
"Of course you do", I
said to myself, thinking most passengers when trapped
inside planes with no food, almost always ask for
tomato juice with no ice. "Make that with no ice
please," the fat lady said and returned to her movie.
"What do religious fanatics drink before cutting
people's throats and flying into buildings?" crept a
thought seemingly from nowhere. "What would I've done
if I'd been among those passengers?" and my spine
shivered along my entire back. Though, when not air
traveling, and for mere selfish reasons, I often
fantasize an accidental or a hero's death inside a
commercial airplane. It seems much more attractive
than dying alone in a nursing home; or, expiring in a
crowded California freeway because someone steamrolled
into my lane at 90 miles an hour, or from cracking my
head open because I simply slipped in the bathtub.
It was on that autumnal day when I spoke to Arezou
for the first time after 20 years. We were sent home
early. Many round the nation were evacuated as a
precautionary measure, especially if their place of
work was greater or equal to a three-story building.
The sensationalist local news broadcasted images
of the empty streets of L.A. The leftist radio station
declared conspiracy projecting anti American
sentiments. The president and his staff were flown to
undisclosed locations; but more likely, they were
hovering somewhere above 40,000 feet waiting for the
Again, I dialed Arezou's number. She was on the
other line with her mother. Asked me to wait, and returned
a moment later. Her voice was pleasant and familiar.
She was being overly friendly, happy to hear from me. Perhaps longing to hear
from someone like me. Her voice was mature and nurturing. Things
as if I had been given a second chance, for not only
had I survived an attack but also found comfort in an
old companion in the middle of a war.
We talked for hours. We discussed politics, terrorism
and the Middle East; and I yielded as she expressed
authoritatively her strong opinions about the subject.
"I feel censored," she said hinting at the
possibility of being wiretapped.
I imagined her as an
important political pundit or perhaps, a professor at
"I am studying politics," she
said, toppling my first impression of her "and before
that I studied in Egypt."
When Arezou returned to the States, she brought
back with her an Egyptian man who was 15 years her senior. He had
the same name as me, but differed in pronunciation. Arezou demonstrated
the precise Arabic
sound of his name by stressing the "A" vowel harshly
from the back of her throat.
We each gave brief summaries of our pasts. Asked
each other questions, but limited our answers. Though she
was less reserved than I and blurted out events from
her history that ripped the veil off facade. She said
that shortly after we met in Santa Barbara she was
"devirginized". I repeated the word in my mind.
naming various boyfriends, some of whom had identical first names, but I
was still busy
deciphering the term "devirginized".
She had her first kiss when she was twelve; somewhere
in the suburbs of Denver a twenty-four-year-old
neighbor escorted her into his secluded and dingy
garage and penetrated her with his fist. By the time she was 15 she had caught
She continued: "I was afraid Dave would've
committed suicide if I left him."
I was confused with which
Dave this was but refrained from asking for
"When was your last relationship?" I asked.
"Oh, three months ago! I dated this Italian guy
for a short time."
"How short?" No answer. I tried again: "Was it
romantic and what happened?"
"Let's change the subject," She said bitterly.
she was dumped," I cheered up at the news.
A period of
dead air followed.
"How do you feel about my past?"
said Arezou abruptly.
There was dead air again, and I
knew I had to say something and do it quickly.
"Why all the obsession with sex?" I finally said
"Don't ask WHY," She snapped, "Know
me by what I did, not by why I did it," she stressed. "Why
is sex bad?" She said, as if to herself, "And
what's wrong with having sex anyway?"
"There is nothing wrong with it," I said
with a low voice thinking how strange intimacy felt without love
or love felt without intimacy.
The flight attendant brought the fat lady another
tomato juice with no ice. We trudged through the
clouds, moving painfully slow. I switched the channel
on my tiny TV screen and followed a miniature airplane
on the map hovering now above Nebraska. I pictured a
speck of a farmer on his tractor 35,000 feet below
laboring the frost-hardened earth. A stout wife
kneaded dough on flour-sprinkled tabletop with
rhythmic persistence. A man in fatigues and orange
cap, crawled on elbows and knees, shotgun tucked to
his chest. A jackrabbit hopped worriedly over sage
and thorny underbrush.
Daydreaming has been a friend since early childhood.
It has been my medicine to numb the senses and smooth
the edges of hard reality. When I was a boy, I took
sanctuary in daydreams and imagined myself with wings
or a flying apparatus in which I would leap off
rooftops and escape to lost lands and distant
Then, I discovered escape through romance in which I
have never lost my youthful attitude. In my sporadic
diversion from solitary life, I sought solace in
women. They are like the colossal sea drawing us into
its ominous waves, dangerous and soothing. The
formidable deep invites us to submerge our wretched
souls and drown our thoughts, venture out to smooth
sail or be devoured by foreboding waves. In either
case the link to the world outside is still through
her, the inherent power that conceivably drove man to
suppress and control through his rule and religion.
But in all essence, she is the sole reason we roam the
earth, build cathedrals and mosques, and land on the
I had almost dozed off when the descending aircraft
made a slow turn and paralleled itself with the
runway. And when it finally touched the pavement, I
saw relief in passengers' faces for not having been
flown into tall buildings of concrete and glass.
went through long corridors into a JFK terminal,
followed the "TAXI" signs, found an exit and waved
down a yellow cab. "Park Slope, Brooklyn," I shouted
from the back seat. It was nearly dark as we rode on
busy New York freeways, toward the Brooklyn Bridge,
and to Arezou's studio apartment.
When she opened the door, I stood there beside myself.
Her large eyes sparkled as they did two decades ago,
only now they had subtle lines of age under them.
Latif," she said in Farsi excitedly. Her dark hair
was wet from a recent bath. She had on a black shirt
and brown pants, which hung low on her waist. She was
small and stood four or five inches below me.
"Hello..." I said and dropped my bag on the floor,
stepping forward and holding her close to where I felt
her wet hair against my cheek. I placed one hand on
the small of her back and kissed her on the lips. I
sensed a hint of tobacco on her mouth and smelled
strong burning incense in the air.
"This is very
nice," I said glancing around the room and giving a
reassuring wave of the hand.
The apartment was on the
first floor of an old building on Carroll Street. To
my right stood an old fridge with its door propped
open where a large block of ice dangled making a
puddle on the floor. Shawls and traditional eastern
garments hung decoratively on the wall. Myriad of
books were stacked in the corner. The door of her
bedroom was half-open where a frameless mattress lay
on the parquet floor draped with arabesque coverings.
"Sorry about the mess," she said without meaning it.
"Can I help you with the fridge?" I grabbed the
enormous chunk of ice and broke it loose with a stern
pull and carried it into the sink.
"I've something for you," I unzipped my bag and drew
out the 20-year-old letter and photograph. She swiped
the photo from my hand. "I've never seen this
picture," she said excitedly, "Why didn't you send it
"I didn't think you were interested," I said
regretfully. She began to read the letter and blurted
out intermittent chuckles. She placed the envelope on
the nightstand and asked if I were hungry.
starved," I said.
We walked to Monte's, a quaint Italian restaurant on
Carroll Street. The lights were dimmed and a solitary
candle burned between us. When the waiter pulled the
cork off the '96 Shiraz, I insisted impulsively: "The
lady should do the first tasting."
fidgeted at this remark and in all possibility
considered it ill chosen. I began to self-doubt,
reflected pensively at my last statement. She tried
to divert the conversation to politics.
"What do you
think about war and innocent people being killed?" she
asked, testing me.
"She is a liberal," I thought,
considering my options in the matter of microseconds,
and decided not to engage in political small talk.
hate politics," I said, as unaggressively as possible,
steering the conversation back to center. "It's a
dream to see you," I said with debonair, garnishing it
with a, "I am still attracted to you."
"Me too," she said covering her mouth and laughing
so severely that made her entire torso shake as a result.
A plump old man dressed in a close fitting suite and
orange tie-- conceivably the owner of the
establishment -- approached our table.
"What's all the excitement about?" He said with a
vacant expression, his face quite red with too many
drinks on the house.
"We haven't seen each other for 20 years," said Arezou
"Then we must celebrate," said the old man cracking a
half-smile. "So what are you gonna do about it?"
"Another bottle and I might propose to her," I said
"How old are you?" after a slight hesitation, "39."
"You're ripe," said the old man, letting out a
"Well take my advise and do something about it," he
said in a grandfatherly tone and a mind of a dirty old
man. "I'll lend you a pill," he said, letting one last
chuckle before turning away.
We left the restaurant half drunk and half deluded. We came across
a flower stand.
"Do you remember what sunflower is called in Farsi?" I
"I don't recall," said Arezue, reaching for my hand.
"Aftabgardoon, which means literally circles around
the sun," I said, and continuing with a sermon, "The
simple beauty of the yellow flower is in its love for
the sun. Draws life from the fiery disk, follows it
with devotion as it moves across the..."
"So you're a poet," said Arezou crudely interrupting.
"I am drunk," I said, disentangling my clammy hand
from hers, and wiping it on my pants.
When we entered the apartment, Arezou lighted a
candle, dimmed the lights, pulled out a Tom Waits CD
and pointed it to me, smiling. "Blue Valentine"
played out of a small boom box. She sat on my lap and
placed her cheek against my chest.
"You deserve so
much love," She said teary-eyed, then burst into an
uninhibited full cry. Her tears permeated my shirt
and feeling them on my skin, I embraced her tightly.
Her body burned inside my arms. I said nothing, but
rocked her as one would rock a child. I wondered
whether this was a fling, or did we simply find solace
in a familiar face? Or, "could this be love?"
visited a premonition I received as a child and how I
was to lead a solitary life. And even though I had
ventured to divert from my destined isolation, I had
always been forced to return to it in the end.
Although Arezou had hardly been isolated, she seemed
to be in the same predicament. I glanced inside her
bedroom and saw ghosts of many lovers, and wondered
why she was alone.
She kissed me. I reciprocated with hesitation. It
felt mechanical as if she were demonstrating her
proficiency in the art. I moved my head back slightly
and caressed her long wavy hair with both hands, which
felt thin lacking the bulk prominent in Persians. I
looked into her brown eyes decorated with long
eyelashes that curled up, her dark eyebrows were
unscathed from plucking, and there were faint freckles
on her light skin revealing her mixed heritage.
"She's dangerously beautiful,"
I said to myself, feeling ambivalent, for beautiful women are sought
after by the arrogant masculine, or the dreamy
philosophers, who in either case end up spoiling the
inner feminine beauty and blemish their souls.
We lay together on the sofa and after a while Arezou
fell asleep, or pretended to have fallen asleep. I
carried her into the bedroom nonetheless, and put her
on the bed enveloped in Egyptian tapestry.
"Good night," I said and kissed her on the cheek. She
clung to my neck. I stared bewildered.
"What should we do?" I said with a tortured face.
"Let's play checkers," she
For a moment I remained on my knees. I had been here
before where choice so poignantly presented itself and
that one never really knows which path to take not so
much to ponder morality, but the concern for its
destined end. On the other hand, if life is a
fleeting journey, and if we do not possess the power
to alter our, or other people's predispositions and
destinies, or the ability to mold life to any
considerable extent, then we can only do the best with
what comes to us and accept it and cease making
exhausting efforts to become happy.
"I'll stay," I
The next day I followed Arezou in the streets of
Brooklyn, down into dingy subways and to Harlem. We
walked asynchronously. My long forward gate leading
the way for my other half of my body, clashed with her
quickened kid-like steps. She swung her hips in a
syncopated fashion stressing her left stride ever so
After we entered the apartment of a former
housing project and I was introduced, I immediately
felt out of place. It was as if I was being forced
to entertain complete strangers going as far as
playing tunes on an unplayable shabby guitar.
Scarcely had I begun listening to people's babble,
when I noticed Arezou's disappearance. Someone with a
thick French accent refilled my glass. He seemed to
take special interest in me. He put his nose in the
air and gave autobiographical accounts of his life.
Since conversation bores
me and ego ensues much talking and little learning, I plunged into my own
thoughts while pretending to listen. The man glared
at my face speaking solemnly, pausing now and then to
draw air only to begin once again his long-winded
stream of words. I submitted by giving periodic nods.
Two hours had passed and still no sign of Arezou. I
rudely interrupted wedging a sentence in: "Where is
The French man had hardly finished
pointing, when I jounced off my seat venturing into
the hallway. The blurred chattering subsided a little
as I walked farther away from the main room. "Which
door is the bathroom?" I was pantomiming when I heard
voices muted by thickly plastered walls. I continued
toward the sound and came to an old-fashioned door.
and smoke wafted from the room. "Is this too short?" I heard
someone say coquettishly. Involuntarily, and as
though by impulse, I bent down to the keyhole, moving my
head this way and that,
peering through the haze. In the faint light of the
room, there sat Arezou cross-legged on a tiny sofa.
She was sandwiched between two men whom I had not yet
had the pleasure of meeting. She was whispering to
one on her left, as he looked at her with gaping eyes.
He had one hand on her knee with which he disordered
her dress, playfully pulling it up, then rearranged it
patting it flat again, only to repeat the whole
process from the start. The man on her right stroked
his blond goatee while staring vacantly at some object
in the room, then slowly turned his gaze toward the
keyhole. I sprung to my feet, and with my heart
beating in my throat; I made a hasty return to the
French man where he now seemed more amiable than
before. At long last, only after much wine and much
small talk with an artificial New York society did
Arezou reappear sitting next to me and taking my
"Are you enjoying yourself?" she said with marijuana
scent in her hair.
"A wonderful time," I lied.
The following evening -
my last in New York, Arezou
danced the exotic dance like a serpent. Only she was
utterly in control with a thousand tricks up her sleeve,
and I, the flutist, was merely a mesmerized prey about
to be devoured or simply preserved for a future time.
She had put on a low cut blouse provocatively
revealing and a long red skirt that hung low on her
hips. A shawl wrapped around her waist ornamented
with thousand golden bangles. She put on Arabic music
and began to move fluidly about the room, her skirt
rustling about her legs and her slender arms waving in
the air like two opposing cobras.
I remained on my
seat and gazed at her as she spun entangling web in
the air with precision and purpose. I kissed her
goodbye and disappeared into the narrow Brooklyn
When I sat in the airplane I was dazed. The engines
roared westbound. My limbs trembled. I had lost my
equanimity and saw my path take a sharp turn into
stranger lands. Late at night, as we landed, I drove
straight to the ocean, trotted down the narrow wooden
stairs toward black waters and gigantic gray-white
foam. My knees dropped and sank into the sand. I
peered into the sea and heard bellowing waves rushing
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