Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
In Jerusalem, the day for Roya was one of deep, unrelenting, inner pain.
She felt her heart breaking as she sat on the narrow terrace viewing the
stars and the roofs spreading toward the Arab Quarter. Roya knew she needed
someone near her, and she feared what she would find if she went to Zurich.
In her thoughts, Roya gave thanks for Lewis Kolleck being with her. Nevertheless,
there was a conflict in drawing Lewis to her, to be with him, and not be
alone in the world. But, rampaging loneliness didn't equate love. Roya
also wondered if a deep, spiritual love would sustain her if she joined
In her thoughts, Roya knew there was a sense of emptiness holding her
hostage. Questions tumbled through her soul, and she felt it was driving
her to the brink of insanity. What was she to do? Where was she to go?
Would men come looking for her to kill her? Should she speak with the Mother
Superior about joining Jerusalem's Carmelite Convent? The Convent would
sequester her for the rest of her life, offer protection, but she wasn't
sure she wanted locked away. The questions ran ahead of her, and Roya couldn't
catch the answers.
Tired from the day and Lewis' frequent crossing of the street to check
on her, Roya's sense of loss drove her to her mother's bedroom. There,
she took up a sealed urn containing her mother's ashes, held tight to it,
curled into a fetal position, and failed to cry herself to sleep. Darkness
and fear were her companions. There was nothing but papers in a bank vault
in Zurich, and Roya knew she didn't want to go there.
As she steered the motorbike into southern Tehran, Laleh watched the
street and making glances to the narrow alleys and much less ostentatious
homes than in Darband or north Tehran. In southern Tehran, the homes were
smaller, with less detail given to the presentation of developed gardens,
or architectural style. The homes were functional, providing shelter, but
not giving expectancy of difference while projecting a tenuous hope.
Fauzieh Nassan rode in the sidecar. Both Laleh and Fauzieh left the
American Community School an hour earlier. They had walked to the Cooper
home in north west Tehran to push the motorbike from the garage, start
it, and ride south. For the cold day the girls wore jeans, coats, and stocking
caps. Laleh's parents wouldn't be home for an hour and not getting in from
the university or embassy until after six p.m.
To Laleh, being in south Tehran was like visiting a different time and
a different Iran. The narrow streets, the bazaar, the use of animal transport,
and the everyday dress of women wearing the black chador presented a depressed,
somewhat backward, but romantic picture of a not so distant past. Life
had simply ignored the poverty in comparison to north Tehran where those
affording it built at the base of the mountains.
After passing through the narrow bazaar and with people having to scoot
out of the way of the motorcycle, Laleh reached a narrow but open street
that was a looking glass to the past. Six blocks Southeast of the bazaar,
Laleh turned the motorcycle onto the treeless, packed dirt before the home
of Fauzieh's cousin. She turned the machine off and Fauzieh pushed out
of the sidecar. The two girls walked to the door. Fauzieh knocked, waited,
then walked to the back of the house. There, they found Fauzieh's aunt
sitting on a wooden stool, wearing a coat, and plucking a chicken she pulled
from a bucket of boiling water setting over a charcoal fire. A tightly
tired scarf covered her head.
Fauzieh said in Farsi, "Hi, Aunt Niki."
A woman in her forties, turned to Fauzieh's voice. She smiled and showing
dark teeth. The smile came from a deep inner warmth and affection for her
niece. Niki Nassan said, "Fauzieh. So what brings you to south Tehran."
The woman had met Laleh the first day that Laleh's father presented the
motorbike to Laleh. She and Fauzieh made their first, secret travel to
the house that evening. She had never seen any expression of a lack of
respect from the girl raised as an American.
Fauzieh stepped to her aunt to greet her with a kiss. She said, "To
see you, Aunt Niki. Now that Fouad has been pardoned I came to find if
he is doing his studies." Fauzieh knew Fouad didn't have the same
level of education as those students attending classes at the American
Community School. The younger cousin had returned home out of hiding after
leaving Tabriz. Niki said, "Your cousin is at the shop with his father."
"Is he going to school?"
The older woman gave a scoffing look, placed the plucked chicken on
a scarred bench and cut it open to remove its entrails. She tossed them
in the dirt for two dogs lying at the bench legs. She wiped her hands and
said, "Fouad is with his father. He needs no school. He will follow
his father and stay out of trouble. He is lucky to receive a pardon from
the shah. Fouad needs to learn that Shah Reza Pahlavi is trying to help
his people. " Niki Nassan looked at Laleh and said, "So Miss
America . . . what do you do after school besides ride around?"
Laleh had grown use to Niki Nassan calling her "Miss America."
Laleh knew the older woman meant no offense by it. Laleh said, "I'm
leaving Iran next week. I don't want to go. My father has taken a position
to teach outside Washington D.C."
Niki Nassan gave Laleh a hug. She liked the part American girl befriending
Fauzieh, and driving her to the Valley of the Assassins to visit Fouad
during his hiding from SAVAK agents. She had feared for Fouad's life, and
blamed Muad, Fouad's older brother, for getting Fouad involved in things
he shouldn't know. Now, Fouad gained amnesty by being the only living son
and claimed to want no part of those opposing the Shah's Monarchy. Still,
there was unbridled hatred for SAVAK killing his brother. Niki asked, "Are
you and Laleh staying to stay to eat?"
Fauzieh answered, "No, Aunt Niki. We have to go. I just wanted
to say hi and check on Fouad. We'll go see Uncle Sabah. Laleh needs to
Niki Nassan said, "So, Laleh, you go to America and live the good
life. Allah be with you."
"And also with you."
The older woman pulled prayer beads from a pocket and gave them to Laleh.
The prayer beads had been passed to Niki Nassan by her grandmother and
Laleh knew it. Laleh said, "I can't accept them. It's not right. I
have been raised a Catholic."
Niki said, "Allah knows your heart. You are a good, young woman,
Laleh. You take them and remember the boy you took his cousin to see. Allah
will reward you."
For Laleh, the conflict of being raised Catholic compared to Muslim
was one she didn't really measure. During time with her grandparents, she
always spoke Farsi, and though going through catechism class and confirmation,
she read from the Islamic Holy Book. Laleh gave Niki a kiss on her cheek
and said, "Thank you. I promise I'll return and visit you, Fauzieh,
and Fouad." Laleh paced the prayer beads in her right Levi pocket.
The beads were wooden and made smoothly round by years of use. The gift
was an unusual gift of goodwill and affection.
"Allah be with you." Niki turned to Fauzieh. "If you're
going to see Fouad you better get going. They'll be coming home soon. Are
you certain that you can't return for dinner?"
"No, Aunt Niki, I have to get home. Father doesn't like me here.
If he calls, don't tell him you saw me. I tell him Laleh and I go downtown."
"Allah be with your father. Working for the Shah saved Fouad."
Fauzieh didn't smile for the words. She repeated, "Allah be with
him." Fauzieh turned with Laleh and walked to the front of the small,
flat roofed, mud-brick house. There, Laleh said, "She shouldn't have
given them to me."
"Nonsense. She loves you because you're not like the Americans
and British she hears about."
"Just the same . . . I shouldn't have accepted them." Following
the words, Laleh kicked down on the motorbike starter to start it. Fauzieh
settled into the sidecar. Laleh turned the bike onto the street running
before the house.
Reaching Manhucheri Street, Laleh drove the bike down a street of antique
dealers. Setting between two shops that presented brighter storefronts
was a narrow shop presenting a worn appearance. Its plate glass window
needed cleaned. Words painted onto it announced "Nassan Antiques."
The paint presented chipped letters that gave the words a meandering look.
The smaller building shouldered between the larger had been in the Nassan
family through three generations. Here, Sabah Nassan attempted to earn
a living. Few of the items offered in the shop were antique but rather
everyday cooking utensils and a vast assortment of pots and pans that occasionally
sold. Laleh turned the bike to the curb. Fauzieh climbed out and she and
Laleh entered the shop.
Sabah Nassan sat behind a scared, wooden counter that was a glass display
case. Behind the glass, an expensive table setting sat displayed. The table
setting was sterling silver and the most expensive display in the shop.
Fauzieh said, "Hi, Uncle Sabah. Laleh and I stopped to say hi. We
can't stay but for a few minutes. Is Fouad in the back?" An open Coca-Cola
bottle sat on the counter.
"Hi, Fauzieh. Hi Laleh. Yes. Fouad is in the back."
The girls passed down the single isle of the old store. Hanging from
its walls were a sea of tin and copper kettles, pans, and pots of various
sizes and shapes. Fauzieh pushed open a door. Sitting in a small space
of a back room, Fouad sat in a chair before a table where he polished a
copper kettle. He looked up and saw Fauzieh and the girl who had an American
father. Fouad remember the night the girl brought Fauzieh to the small
home and petrol station before the Valley of the Assassins. He smiled,
put the kettle down on the table and wiped his hands with a rag.
Laleh said, "Hi, Fouad." She extended a hand.
The boy's dark hair lay across his forehead. Fouad made a second wipe
of his right hand on the leg of his jeans, brushed his hair back, and extended
the hand to Laleh. He said a shy, "Hi."
Fauzieh said, "We came by to see if you're staying out of trouble
and not going to any demonstrations. You need to be in school."
"Don't worry. I've learned my lesson. I can't afford school. I
need to help my father."
Laleh asked, "Who was the boy with you at the petrol station?"
"The boy from Mashhad?"
Fauzieh said, "Laleh thinks she is in love."
Laleh punched Fauzieh on a shoulder and said, "I am not. I just
"His name is Karim."
"If you see him again . . . tell him I said hi."
"Sure. But I doubt I'll see him. He told me he never comes to Tehran."
Laleh grinned and extended a pack of gum to Fouad. Fouad took a piece,
removed the wrapper, stuck the gum in his mouth, and threw the wrapper
in a can. He asked, "Do you want a Coke?"
Fauzieh answered, "No. We have to go. Dad doesn't want me here.
Tell your father not to tell him if he calls."
"I just wanted to tell you to stay out of trouble."
Fouad looked on his cousin and said, "I will."
Fauzieh said, "Come on Laleh. We have to get back before your parents
get home. I don't want them mad at me for having you out."
Fauzieh smiled for Laleh's defiance. "Maybe so . . . but we have
The girls turned to leave the shop. Fauzieh spoke to her uncle at the
counter. "Bye, Uncle Sabah. I'll see you later."
Sabah Nassan stood, walked around the counter, and followed the two
girls outside in the cold and to the sidewalk. Fouad followed his father.
Fauzieh gave Fouad a hug before climbing into the sidecar. Laleh started
it, slipped it into low gear, and turned it to make a U-turn in the street.
Fifteen minutes later the two girls turned into the drive of the Cooper
home in North Tehran. >>>
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