Two sides of a gate
Short prison story
July 30, 2003
On a cold winter afternoon in Tehran a woman dressed in her imposed
Islamic attire enters into a dark underground tunnel, escorted
by a guard. Passing through the dark labyrinths, she could barely
see anything. Only flickering light of a small flashlight moving
a few feet at a time convinced her that indeed they were moving
forward. The air had a unique smell into it and a mixture of sweat,
mildew, urine and dampness somehow reminded her of a mortuary where
she watched her mother's body being washed and prepared for burial
After several turns, she stumbled into a round atrium. An old lantern
burning on a stool shed some light including its own dancing shadow
onto the high concave ceiling creating macabre images up there.
The guard grabbed the woman's hand. "This way, this way!"
He pulled her towards the left tunnel.
After about three hundred
they reached a large steel gate guarded by a heavy-set man, dressed
in a black shirt and blue jeans. He had a thick mustache and a
cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth. In one hand he had
a large key ring; his other hand held a thick stick like a club
that he aimlessly shook to the left and right. A small radio was
on a table next to him playing incoherent music.
"What do you want?" The heavyset guard's voice was deep and
scratchy, perhaps due to years of drinking and smoking.
"She is here to see number 87," said the escort guard pushing
the woman forward. "She is cleared, and here is her pass."
The fat man glanced at it and examined the stamped date on it and
looked at the other guard without even acknowledging the woman
"Go ahead. Ten minuets, and make it fast." Returning the visitor
permit, he added: "Leave nothing behind and don't take away anything, understood?"
Then without waiting for any answer, he opened the gate with a
screech of wrenching
The woman and her guard passed through the gate and entered a new tunnel. The
gate slammed shut behind them. She was fearful; this could be the point
of no return. They kept walking and after turning two corners, they entered
into a larger hallway with small prison cells on each side, separated by concrete
walls. She could faintly see the prisoners behind the thick steel bars.
kept walking and looked intently at the gazed eyes of the prisoners fixated
barely seeing more than the white part of their eyes. They looked like creatures
in a wax museum. The air was thick and smelled of urine mixed with tobacco
smoke. The sheer silence among the prisoners made her aware of herself. She
her own heartbeats.
They kept walking. She saw a prisoner praying, another man was combing his
bald head and in the next cell there seemed to be a man writing something,
there was neither enough light, nor did it seem he had a pen or any paper
to write with. Suddenly the guard pulled her hand:
"Stop! we're there." He added, "Make it fast and short, we have
five minutes." She nodded OK.
The guard pulled out a key
chain from his pocket and unlocked cell number 87. For a moment there
was a deep silence. She could hear water drops hitting a tin can
in the distance.
and the chilly air gave her the goose bumps. She was shivering.
They stepped into the cell and the guard yelled at the prisoner:
"Dariush, are you awake, you miserable baboon? Answer me!"
"Oh yeah I'm
awake. The last time I slept, I was not in a prison," mumbled the prisoner
"Then get your ass up and sit down. Someone is here to see you."
Dariush tried to force his thin and feeble body up from the bed,
but only fell back down again. The woman realizing he was in pain
him not to move. The guard lighted up the small candle he pulled from
his pocket, poured few drops on the floor and then stuck the candle
firmly into the melted
droplets on the floor.
"Who are you?" asked the prisoner.
"I am Maryam's mother. I went through lots of red tape and paid
hefty bribes to be able to get permission to come and visit
you," she said.
"The last person asked to see me was almost a months ago. That was
my government-appointed defense lawyer. Only he was, in fact, here
defend the government and
worked against me!" the prisoner continued. "He wanted me to confess
to crimes I have not committed. I don't get visitors very often,
"Well, it was mostly Maryam who wanted me to come and see you, to
thank you for what you have done for her and all of us," her voice
"I haven't done really anything important. I only shared what I had
with another human being before it could be taken away from me by
force." The prisoner lifting himself slightly on the bed then continued
am already considered a menace to society. My expedient trial
judge already determined that I am to be eliminated from earth in
of God. My days
are numbered, but I want you to know I am happy to meet you and to
know that Maryam is well."
"But what you have done for all of us will keep your name alive for
ever. We have been praying for you and are desperately trying to
find out if
we can do for you under these conditions." She clinched her hands
"How sad it is that the most I accomplished is just to come and see
you. Getting that permission took a month however." She pulled a
wanted me to give you this. This is two weeks after the operation..."
She put the picture in Dariush's hand. "Maryam feels real healthy
You can see the smile in her face..."
Under the dim light the prisoner looked at the photograph. The woman
saw a faint smile on his face. He looked at the woman.
"Can I keep
"Of course, Maryam wants you to keep it."
The guard interrupted with anger:
"Weren't you there when the man told you don't take or leave
anything behind? Were you deaf? Take the damn picture back."
He yanked the picture
from the prisoner's hand and gave it to the woman and yelled:
"ONE more minute! Make it fast. I am going to be late for
prayer. Hurry up!"
The woman took the picture back and acted as if she put it in
her pocket. But in the darkness of the cell, she dropped it on
be able to find it later. She looked at him and said:
"Dariush, let me thank you again. We're not wealthy people,
but when we paid for the cost of the operation and the transplant;
twenty million rials, which will guarantee your freedom. I am
surprised that you don't seem to be aware of that?" She continued:
we were told the truth. We are ready to sell the rest of our
belongings, if that would indeed return you to freedom."
Dariush was now laying flat down on the bed staring at the invisible
ceiling and had clearly a smile on his face. He responded: "Please
that I am happy to have done what I could." He paused for a
second and continued, "My freedom is at hand. Whether in a prison
degree of freedom in this country is the same. You should have
not paid those bastards. They cheated you out of your money,
but I am
indebted to your kindness." He
turned his head and looked at her. "Lady, I assure you, I won't
get out of this place alive."
The guard stepped towards the door:
"Time to go. Leave the rest of this conversation for the next
life. Let's go."
The woman held Dariush's hand and kissed
Her tears touched the back of his hands. He felt her warm teardrops
and remembered his own mother holding his hand when he was
The woman left and the guard slammed the door shut and locked
it. They headed back, walking the labyrinth corridors. She
walked. She was
shedding tears silently and thinking. How could there be places
like this on earth? Why
aren't we told and why should this innocent man be imprisoned
here just because of his political views and for talking about
views at a
university campus. Is that why they let people go to school?
To find out who deserves
to be arrested?
When they reached the steel gate, the fat man opened the gate
and they continued without a word being exchanged. After a
reached the first
checkpoint. A cell-like office with a kerosene heater in the
center and couple of chairs
surrounded by five men and a couple of women dressed in
their hunter green fatigues, armed, and searching the few incoming
person at a time.
This was the known point of entry to Evin Prison, one of the
most notorious places on earth. A place very few walk
out of alive or without mutilation. The woman
entered the room and a female guard searched her and then pointed
towards the exit corridor. Men stood every few feet guarding
the entire hallway . With
out of their sockets they appeared to be trigger-happy robots.
At the end of the corridor an alarm went off. A huge
of no less
than three feet of steel was controlled electronically.
opened just enough for her to exit and then shut back behind
her with a roaring
sound that reminded her of Khomeini's first speech in Behesht
Zahra Cemetery. In that speech he loudly accused the Pahlavis
all over Iran, and yet he himself became the angel of death
for hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the years that followed
his arrival and
the inception of his infamous
mission designed and supported by the British for more than
years. No Mongols
ever did as much damage and no incompetent king ever raped
Iran like Khomeini did.
It was near the sunset; she stood there for few seconds and
behind her was nothing but the huge steel gate installed into
and the gate. No visible signs at the gate. No welcome and
no good-bye. A large steel gate separated the two sides of
without. In the land of oppressions one would wonder which
side of the wall is the true prison?
Walking away she could see the skyline was covered with scattered
clouds, pained in shiny copper and orange colors, near sunset.
As she sat in the bus going back home, she pulled from her
pocket the crumbled copy of the ad she had
in Tehran. The ad asked for a kidney donor for her dying
seventeen-year old daughter Maryam. It said the family did
not have much income, but were willing to sell whatever
could in order to pay for the operation. A few weeks later,
a government-controlled hospital informed her
with the required genetic match.
Among the prisoners who had been told by the guards about
the ad, Dariush volunteered first. He knew that if he were
one kidney would
be enough for him.
And if he had to die, why would he need two kidneys? He
had to do something else in life to make his short
life flourish to something
positive and nourish his soul. His soul was still his and would
survive any dastard government.
The extra money paid by Maryam's family was never meant by
the government to be for Dariush's release.
gain his freedom at last. He was executed after his recovery
from the operation, two months later. He no longer is a prisoner
of the Islamic regime.
There are no gates where there is freedom.
Farrokh A. Ashtiani is the founder of PersianParadise.com
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