Carlos' last wish
By Farid Parsa
September 29, 2003
When Saman brought Carlos into our room, he weighted only about
45 kilos, living in the lavatory.
After Saman was gone Carlos became my responsibility.
It was like a legacy that was passed on from one refugee to another.
I got to look after Carlos longer than Saman at the end. Never,
however, did I do a good a job as him. He
had a special way of minding him, almost with reverence, as a
loyal friend would give
to a dethroned or a fallen king.
We both used a fusion of verbal and non-verbal
communication with him that halted at a certain point; never
far enough, mostly
inadequate and frustrating. Carlos did not follow a conventional
grammar. He sometime used four different languages in one short
paragraph -- each sentence touching on various obscure topics
within the same paragraph. And they all ended with his most used
popular phrase, which was partly in his native Serbian, and partly
in English, "Jeben ti sestru big boss". He always said
it in his kind, gentle voice that never completely faded despite
his deteriorating mental and physical state.
Carlos' eyes had an innocuous stare as if they
could be faithful even to total strangers. All his features had
quality to them, fleshy, sensual mouth, short, retrousse nose,
thin and unobtrusive eyebrows. And when he was shaven, two dimples
formed on his cheeks as he smiled.
Carlos was suffering.
It was four in the morning. Carlos wasn't in his
bed. He usually went to bed late where his mutter slowly changed
a coo, then nothing. He slept in one hour or half-an-hour episodes.
I knew he'd be in the lavatory, standing by the dripping
tabs talking to himself, drawing on the walls with his nails,
keys or tiny pencils. I brought him in, and later tried to spoon-feed
him. He aversely took a few spoons, mixing his relentless mutterings
with every morsel.
Saman was ever so patient with him. He fed
him, washed him, clothed him and periodically shaved him. At
times he'd sit next
to him and tried his best to talk to him. He'd repeat
the words loudly and clearly, like a teacher teaching new words
to his pupil. He'd stay with him sometimes for hours,
without getting a sensible word out of him.
Finally, we reported
him to the office. Carlos was rapidly going downhill. We thought
we had to do something. He'd to be
saved from himself. After all we'd done our best and made
no progress. We wanted to see him cured, redeemed somehow from
his madness, that were eating away at his soul; like a sort of
disease. We thought there must be some sort of a treatment or
a drug that would set him free, even if it was for a brief
period. A respite, perhaps, was all he needed to be able to gather
his strength and pull himself out of his predicament. But we're
wrong. Very wrong. A child's fantasy more like it.
Neither of us knew what Carlos was like when he
came to the camp. He was one of the first refugees here some
five years ago. As
far as the camp's oral history went, he was a quiet person
and didn't bother any one. He kept to himself and hardly
left the campsite. He was an electrical engineer by trade who
had left Yugoslavia, God knows on what political grounds. Only
a handful of people had spoken to him; to them he sounded like
everyone else, normal, sensible, someone with an unique past.
We had imagined how he would sound like if he
had kept his sanity. Out of his personal effects, we gathered
whatever gave us a clue to Carlos' "real' personality.
We wanted to find a voice for him, a voice that expressed itself
in a language we understood. There weren't that many
pieces to this puzzle.
"Carlos tell us about your background; what made
you come to Germany?" Saman asks.
"Yugoslavia is under communist
government. I was an activist against communism," I answer.
you ever married?'
"No, but I had a partner," I answer.
We had discovered
the only photo Carlos had. It was of a woman walking on a country
road covered with snow. She had
a smile on her face with her raised arms in mid-air, as if catching
the snowflakes as they fell on her. She looked beautiful, and
lively. We assumed she was Carlos' girlfriend.
"Where's she now?"
"She's back in Yugoslavia." I
"Is she waiting for you to return?"
"Oh, yes. She's waiting for me. I've told her
that one day we're going to be married."
"Do you think the German
government will grant you refugee status?" Saman asks.
"I hope so."
"Why do you like spaceships so much?" Saman unexpectedly
Before answering I look at Carlos sitting on the
couch and muttering to himself. How can I answer that question
without sounding mad,
"Ever since I was a child I fantasized about the
universe out there. I flew a spacecraft to far distance planets.
My passion determined what I later studied at university. I became
an electrical engineer. I wanted to work for a space development
center. I applied to work for NASA, but until I get my visa they
won't consider my application, they told me," I
answer somewhat satisfactorily.
"Carlos sometimes you talk to yourself. Could
you tell me why?" Saman asks.
I laugh at first, looking at Carlos
murmuring softly to himself, not knowing we're searching for
a voice, not for him, but
for our own sake.
"I got too much on my mind. Sometimes my thoughts
become muddled, so I can't seem to discern between them
So what's the point of confusing people? What's
the use, could you tell me?" I ask Saman.
"Yes you're right Carlos. But what are these confusing
thoughts?" He asks.
I look at Carlos. He reveals nothing to me, except
the undertones of his tangled worlds.
"They're better left whispered
rather than pronounced loudly," I mutter to Saman.
once in Tehran, where he was from, a mad man lived in his area.
However, Saman thought he wasn't mad at all.
Because he sounded intelligent whenever he spoke to him. It
was his erratic behavior that people didn't like. Saman
said once the man screamed his head off which confirmed
to people that he was truly mad. As he was crossing a busy
street, a young man stopped him and asked for a light. He stood
in the middle of the street and shouted at the guy, abusing him.
"Why don't you buy a fucking light," he said to
the young man. "You can afford the cigarette so get the
damn light as well. Can't you see this is a busy road
we're on, idiot?"
And apparently he went on and on and held up traffic
for a long time. But Majd said he had a point. It's just the
way he went about it was wrong. Saman believed a mad man
with a voice, had a better chance of standing up for his rights
than a sane man without it. Saman undoubtedly was on the side
of mad people. And he did whatever he could to restore Carlos'
* * *
The room without Carlos was quiet. We had no
idea what he was going through at the hospital. During our first
told he was under examination and that we couldn't
see him on that day. We couldn't imagine what kind of
examination they meant. Another day he was fast sleep
when we arrived. We didn't wake him up.
On his return after three weeks, Carlos was as
subdued as a monk who had taken a vow not to show any emotion.
say a word, let alone dispense some of his favorite phrases that
made us laugh. Carlos was drugged out. The drugs had taken away
many things from him but hadn't restored his sanity.
longed to see the old Carlos. The new Carlos was someone who
was just breathing. And all traces of character was wiped out
from him. They had dumped him at the camp like a piece of recycled
flesh. He had become yet another person. He even looked different.
His beard had grown massively. His hair was puffing out sideways,
accentuating the baldness in the middle of his head. And his
face, expressionless, blank, without any link to its sane or
It was only after the effects of the drugs had
worn off that he began to surface again. He started his soliloquy
stride, up and down the corridor. He began hanging around his
favorite spot -- the lavatory -- again, like a pilgrim succoring
from a holy place. We're glad, almost relieved to see the Carlos
we knew was making a come back. We promised each other not
to let him ever go back to the hospital again.
The day Saman left for Canada,
Carlos and I followed him to the train station. Carlos knew Saman
was leaving although he didn't
say the word goodbye. He kept on repeating the phrase "Jeben ti sestru big boss" with his head uncustomary cast down,
and an unusual smile that had a tinge of melancholy hidden at
its core. That day he looked clean and shaven. Saman had given
him the last wash-up. When the train left the platform, he ran
after the train. It was the first time I saw him run. He fell
but got up and ran again, and stopped out of exhaustion. Like
me, he knew that his minder wasn't going to return.
As we're walking back on that cold autumn night,
I detoured around town, and Carlos followed me from behind. Carlos
walked beside me but always sauntered from behind. He never
asked where I was going, but always trusted and followed, as
destination was also his. It was the first time I was walking
with him without Saman being around.
Although it was hardly
an hour since he'd gone
but I missed Saman already. Saman had promised to organize
visa to Canada. The key to freedom was to marry someone,
he used to say. And he was going to find me a bride. We never
Carlos, however. What was going to happen to him after
gone? I had to find another refugee to pass him on to,
I guess? Or perhaps he would get better, and eventually manage
to stand on his own feet? That's what I would liked
to believe in. But nothing was clear or certain with Carlos,
he would become as unpredictable as the destiny of most
refugees in the camp, who waited year after year without any
opening to their lives.
I turned around and told Carlos that I was going
to make a phone call. You could never tell if he understood you
never made direct eye contact. Even on those rare occasions
when he looked you straight in the eye, his mind was
somewhere buried beneath his soliloquy, the meaning of
which only he alone understood. He always paid attention to some
idea somewhere else. Saman and I, however, instinctively
knew that Carlos was aware of what's going on around
least with the propinquity of our triangle. Beyond his
ambiguous responses, we thought, lied an acute awareness.
I wanted to call mum that night. Tell her I was all right. That
I had a plan to follow Saman to Canada. She knew of Carlos. And
of Saman. She always came with a religious solution for Carlos.
Pray for him, she'd tell me. She said she'd made
a promise to God to kill a lamb annually for the rest of her
living years and give the meat to the poor if Carlos was cured
from his madness. She said her religious bargaining with God
As far as I could remember, there were always sacrificial
lambs for every obstacle, unfulfilled desire, or ambition:
A lamb for dad's safe return from his journey. A lamb
for my sister's first job after her graduation. A lamb
for me to escape safely. A lamb for me to get residency. A lamb
for Saman to migrate to the U.S, or Canada. A lamb now for Carlos.
She even mailed a silver charm to me which he said we should
pin to his shirt to keep evil spirits away.
Many strange letters and symbols were carefully hacked on hundreds
of equal squares. Alas, it didn't work. And one day it
just disappeared from his clothing.
Before crossing the street I turned around to see where Carlos
was. Carlos was way back, standing inside a telephone booth that
I must have passed unnoticed. We're almost out of town,
with the wide pavement narrowing along the road. I walked back
and opened the door and realized it was an old rotary dial phone,
giving only interstate connections but
"I can't use this phone, Carlos. It's only for inside
Germany." Carlos kept pointing to the phone and muttering
his mumbo jumbo words.
"Carlos I can't use this phone."
Carlos wasn't budging and I was losing my patience. I tried
to tell him in German, just in case he didn't understand me,
but he still stood there and pointed to the phone
as if he knew something about that phone that I didn't.
"Yes I know it's a phone Carlos, I'm not dumb, but
I can't use it," I told him for the last time.
I was going to
leave him there, hopping he would give up and follow me back
to the camp. But he picked up the receiver and handed it to me.
I thought I'd show him what I meant. I had tried these old black
phones before. After dialing the international numbers the phone
automatically cuts off and returns the change. I dropped a few
coins in and began dialing. The phone cut off and the coins
dropped in the change box.
"You see what I mean, I can't use this
phone, it's kaput," I told him with a raised voice.
my hand, grabbed my index finger and put it over the ring of
the dial and pressed the tip of my finger against
it. I wasn't sure what he was trying to do. My finger
started hurting. It was the first time that I'd become
irritated with him. With my other free arm I grabbed his hand
and told him that he should try it himself and pressed the handset
against his ear. I put a few coins back in the phone and called
out the numbers one by one. Carlos dialed by applying pressure
on each individual number rather than simply placing his finger
in the holes and turning the plate. Was this one of Carlo's
eccentric behavior or was he genuinely trying to show me something?
The first thing I noticed was that the coins didn't drop back.
Was he dialing at all, with this unorthodox method, I wondered.
After he finished dialing, he gave me back the handset.
I heard the phone ringing on the other side. It was Kabul's
familiar long rings with lengthy silences in between. Mom picked
up the phone.
I talked to her close to an hour and when I put the handset
on its base the few coins that I put in dropped back again. I
to Carlos, that he was a genius. Carlos answered back, "Jeben ti sestru big boss."
I wondered if there were other things he had tried
to tell me which I was incapable of understanding?
The next day I walked back and figured out where the phone
booth exactly was. It was a sequestered booth as you left the
eastward, on the main road. With only 34 marks monthly pocket
money, the phone became a beckon of hope that left its door open
for me 24 hours a day.
* * *
Carlos never ceased to shock me with his offbeat behavior.
He was now wearing a pair of plastic gloves. He had written on
walls a new sentence in German, "Tragen Handschuehe".
He kept telling me and everyone he saw that I should wear a pair
too. He said germs enter our skins through our hands and pollute
our bodies. And we must wear gloves to protect ourselves from
their devastating effects.
His self-mutterings had accelerated.
He spent most the time outside the room, in the lavatory. He
was losing weight rapidly. He refused any food. And the very
little food I managed to force down his throat he threw it
back up. Other refugees complained about him. His walking in
until late kept some refugees awake at night. They also didn't
like to see him in the lavatory all the time, it made the small
kids and the women feel uncomfortable.
I told mom about it and she wanted me to get him sent to the
hospital. I kept describing the way he came back from his
first visit. But it was impossible to make her picture it. Mom
never seen Carlos. How could I describe him over the
phone. I had promised Saman to look after him and never send
back to that dammed hospital.
The summer of 1981 had turned out to be a hot
one. I could see the difference in Carlos' behavior after taking
on long walks in the woods. He rested longer at night, therefore
muttered less. Sleep, I thought, was the best medicine
rest his tumultuous mind. Carlos loved the walk by the
he swam with all his clothes on and made all the sunbathers
raise their eyebrows at us. I sometime joined him. Onetime,
pushed his head under water and saw his muttering
Carlos, perhaps, was more present in his drawings on the walls
of Block D, upstairs, than anywhere else. They expressed his
deepest longing to his ultimate freedom. The picture of a spaceship
leaving earth appeared on every wall. Whether hacked with
his nails or drawn with a marker, it looked comprehensive.
It was a spaceship that one would see in science fiction movies.
It had a big crescent front window with pilot and copilot seating.
The spaceship itself had a pentagonal shape with every angle
carefully measured and drawn. It looked as if it could carry
no more than two people. Carlos did try to describe it to us.
He said he wanted to leave planet earth. He had no hope or
faith in it any more. When Saman asked who was his female copilot
in every drawing, he said she was his mother. We asked where
he was wishing to go. He called his
imagery planet Lolo 46. I don't know how he came
up with that name or if it signified anything. Lolo 46. A funny
name I thought. Lolo 46 alsohad its own galaxy drawn on the walls;
a star, like our own solar system with other planets rotating
It was on his birthday that Saman bought him a poster of a
real space shuttle, the Apollo 1. It was a 2-meter-long, colored
graphically produced. Carlos was ecstatic when he saw it. He
knelt beside it, infatuated, like one next to a lover or
an idol. He then began describing its various components in a
muddled language. Out of excitement he was frothing in the mouth
as he uttered the technical names. Every second sentence was
"Jeben ti sestru big boss," which he passionately addressed us
There was something authentic about Carlos, and that was
his passion. Even in the heat of madness his passion couldn't
be relinquished. It was his passion that made his mutterings
sound like some ambiguous oracle that perhaps only the gods
understood. He reminded us of Sufis who masqueraded as
village idiots in order to be left alone to serve their God.
It was a holy way of looking at him and it did help us to relate
to him more humanely. It was only after his return from the hospital
that for the first time; he looked passionless.
One evening when I came back from shopping, I couldn't
find Carlos anywhere. I asked around and a group of refugees
told me a medical team had taken him away by force. Carlos was
horrified. As soon as he set eyes on them he ran and climbed
up a tree. Police was called in and eventually they brought
him down and took him away. I looked around my room. I spotted
a pair of gloves resting on the edge of the dinning table. I
put it on. It was his last wish for us and humanity that we all
wear gloves. No number of sacrificial lambs were not going to
obliterate my sadness. I had a premonition that Carlos wasn't
going to come
I walked toward the outskirts of town, like a dejected pariah.
My boiling anger and frustration warded off the cold wind of
early autumn. There was very little traffic on the streets.
I wanted to walk endlessly. I wanted to declare war with the
me. There must have been a war going on! Otherwise why was I
walking on that cold night, as a foreigner in an alien country?
had driven me to be out there? They were the
same evil powers that had trapped and destroyed Carlos, I thought.
Surely there was a connection between all this. I realized how
much I hated Germany.
I was in the middle of a war. I was only
too stupid to realize it. It was all part of the same string
They were out there to get me. There were no marked
frontiers in this new kind of war; everywhere was the enemy territory.
I had to fight them whenever I could. And how stupid I was not
to come to see the reality of all this sooner. Mom
was mistaken when she told me I should take refuge from the Russians.
How naive she was to think that they were on
our side. No one was on our side.
I found myself near the
phone booth. Without thinking I entered it and began to dial
Saman's number in Canada. Saman picked
up the phone. I told him about Carlos. He lost his temper and
swore and cursed everyone. I asked him if he knew about this
free phone. He said no. My suspicion was gone. I felt ashamed
even asking him that question. Saman was never a sort of guy
to hide things from me.
I said I didn't want to stay in Germany any longer.
I would either return to Afghanistan or go somewhere else.
He said he was still searching for a suitable girl for me.
I called mom next. I told her about Carlos. Mom thought it
was a good thing for him to be at the hospital. She would
never understood what a mental hospital could do to people like
Carlos. She had never seen anyone like Carlos in her entire life.
She'd no idea what Carlos was going through and how much
more pain was going to be inflicted on him. It was useless
to describe to her what it all meant for Carlos. She could
never understand it. He's going to become numb again, suspended
more vulnerably in the universe.
Strong shafts of light
all of a sudden beamed up the phone booth, as if an angel
witnessing all this had appeared to comfort me and
me that everything was going to be all right for Carlos.
around and noticed two German police cars parked right
outside, with their headlights aiming at me. I got nervous.
up the phone, cutting mom short. I stood there, not sure
to do next. The door opened. Two policemen stood side
by side right
outside the door. I knew I couldn't get away.
"Are you Omid
Bakhtari?' one of them asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"Show us your ID?" one of the demanded.
I took out my ID and
handed it to him. I was under arrest, they told me.
done anything wrong," I told them.
One of them said they had my
taped conversations with people overseas, as if I was a KGB
agent caught picking up my latest
assignment from Moscow.
I was18-years-old but like an old man I felt frail
and week. Everything seemed to be against me on
And the only three people I loved and gave me strength
else. I turned my head up toward the somber sky
and cried out, "Jeben ti sestru big boss". My voice was
resentful and carried no traces of Carlos' passion
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