Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
Across Jerusalem, dusk gave way to a night of brilliant stars and open
sky. As Roya and Louis returned to The Old City, they were aware that a
lunatic could kill them as easily as a lunatic could kill anyone else.
Once inside the Old City's walls a sense of relief spread through them.
Roya pulled her hand from Louis as they began the walk back. Just as they
entered through the city gate, Louis put his arm around Roya's waist to
move her out of the way of a motorbike. The second it passed, Roya moved
out of Louis' reach.
Outside the iron door at her home, Roya said, "Thanks, Louis. I
enjoyed the walk. I don't like being out by myself after dark. If it isn't
the PLO and its Intifada, it's the Hezbollah, or some lunatic like the
one killing Rabin. I'm tired of the killing. I'm tired of being frightened."
Finding Roya attractive, and ignoring her words of concern, Louis offered
a kiss on Roya's right cheek. Roya pulled back. Louis asked, "Mary,
aren't you ever going to let me be more than an older brother to you?"
Roya answered with, "Louis, you know how I feel. Please don't ruin
it. Roya turned the key and pulled the iron door open before saying, "Goodnight,
Louis . . . I'll see you tomorrow."
The day smelled of spring. Buds were breaking open as they clung to
Tehran's trees. As Laleh left a home in northwest Tehran, she was dressed
as any teenager in The States. She wore a blue cotton print, bobby socks,
and Buster Brown shoes. She had tied her dark hair back by a pink, silk
scarf. She entered the passenger door of a new Ford and banged the door
shut. A Ford dealership in Detroit shipped the car to Tehran through the
southern port city of Bushehr along the Persian Gulf. From there the car
traveled by train to Tehran.
Steven Cooper, Laleh's father, said, "Laleh, you don't have to
bang the door to close it."
Laleh blew a bubble with gum she chewed. It popped and she said, "Sorry,
"What are you doing after school today. I don't want you out by
Laleh asked, "Why? No one is going to bother me. I like to go for
walks or ride the streets. Fauzieh Nassan will be with me. It's the way
we see the city. It's the way to see the people. I enjoy it."
"I know, but I worry for you."
"I'll be alright. You don't want me to grow up without a social
conscious. I don't believe the Shah treats all Iranians the same. Security
agents arrested Fauzieh's first cousin last week and her family doesn't
know where the Savak agents took him. They're afraid he's been killed.
Her mother cries every day."
"Laleh, you're not here to interfere with security problems. The
shah is trying to bring improvements to the country. You must be careful
with whom you talk to about the shah or his government. The shah and Iran
are allied to America. I don't want to pick you up at a jail or dead out
of an alley. You need to concentrate on your studies. We leave for America
at the end of the year and it's enough of a worry for your mother to be
leaving your grandparents."
"Dad . . . you worry too much. If you worry . . . then why did
you buy me the motorbike." Steven Cooper bought his daughter a World
War II, surplus, British motorbike six months passed. The motorbike had
a sidecar. Laleh had easily mastered it. Laleh and her friend, Fauzieh
Nassan, spent time riding through the city. Unknown to her father, Laleh
also spent time in southern Tehran where several of Fauzieh Nassan's relatives
lived. But Laleh's father didn't allow her to ride the machine to the American
Community School where Laleh was now in her junior year.
Steve Cooper glanced at his daughter and said, "I bought the bike
because I want you to know more than the easy life we lead. It's one thing
to go for a ride and see those on the street or how others' live. It's
another thing to get off and become involved in any demonstration. Not
all are so fortunate. You need to care for all people. But there's a limit
to what you can do." Steve Cooper knew he didn't want Laleh to only
know the patriarchal world Of Iran. He was thankful that Laleh's grandmother
held a dignity and purpose in life. She had received her medical degree
in England and practiced pediatrics in a city hospital.
Laleh said, "Fauzieh and I might go down town after school. Mom
said she is going to grandmothers after leaving the embassy. I'm glad spring
is here. We need to go on holiday and get out of this city." Laleh's
mother worked as an interpreter in the American Embassy Visa Section. She
worked there the last ten years. She was a student at Tehran University
when first meeting Laleh's father. Her mother left for the embassy an hour
earlier. She drove a 1955 Ford, the family's second car, and thus the reason
for buying Laleh the motorbike.
As her father turned onto takhte-jamshid avenue. Laleh remained quiet.
When they arrive at the school and her father stopped the car before it,
he said, "Get rid of the gum."
Laleh released a sigh, took the gum out of her mouth and stuck it to
the car dashboard. She then stretched across the seat to kiss her father
on his right cheek and say, "I'll see you this evening."
Steve Cooper said, "Laleh, if you and Fauzieh go for a ride . .
. be careful."
"I will, Daddy. I promise." Laleh scooted back across the
new Ford and exited the car. She slammed the door shut. She then stepped
across a drainage ditch, and headed up a sidewalk to the American Community
School. As she walked, her father watched her and feared that his daughter
had been raised in Iran to the point she was more Iranian than American.
Though the family made yearly trips to The States, he knew Laleh was more
comfortable with Fauzieh Nassan than others. He then turned his gaze back
to the street and his drive to Tehran University.
As he drove, Steve Copper thought through the past sixteen years. By
spending the years outside America, his daughter grew up in a land of stark
and immeasurable contrast. He thought of how it was the same for the black
race in America in relationship to their white counterpart. In Iran, the
separation came by religious conviction and fanaticism. It came between
those having large land holdings and people working at near serfdom. It
was time to return to America. Five years with the American Embassy, and
eleven years at Tehran University, were enough years out of the U.S. He
had accepted a position at Georgetown University outside Washington D.C.
starting in the fall.
As Laleh walked the school hall, she saw Fauzieh Nassan standing before
her school locker. Laleh walked to her and said an energized, "Hi.
Are you ready for another day of this boring place?" She asked the
question in Farsi Persian while knowing the school administration forbid
it within the school walls. Though the school offered multiple language
courses, the dominant language heard was English.
Fauzieh Nassan's face grimaced instead of a smile. She knew she could
trust Laleh in a deeper way than other friends her age. Though her father
saw that she attended the American Community School, she wasn't American
and had no American blood. Her father worked for the Iran Customs Office.
Her attending the school assured that she learned American culture. Her
parents hoped to immigrate to America. Fauzieh said, "Hi, Laleh."
Laleh looked around them. Not seeing anyone near she asked and her words
again in Persian, "What about your cousin Fouad? Have your aunt and
uncle heard from him?"
Fouad Nassan was only eleven years old and deeply indoctrinated in intense
dislike for the Shah and his regime. An older brother, Muad, had used Fouad
to carry information between Qom and Tehran. Security troops caught Fouad
carrying the printed sermons put out by a mullah named Khomeini during
the 1963 uprising. The young Fouad Nassan escaped the Savak agents by older
men boosting him over the wall of a detention center in eastern Tehran.
The older brother survived the uprising three years past and taking place
during the month of Moharram's religious processions. However, Muad died
six months back after security troops shot him in Tabriz. The brother once
worked for the mullahs in Mashad before security forces placed Khomeini
under house arrest to hold him in one of their villas. At the time of the
1963 uprising, the mullahs and Inmans put children before their marches
to prevent troops from shooting at them. Fouad Nassan was one of them.
Later, after Khomeini escaped a tribunal death sentence, men made Khomeini
an ayatollah and sent him into exile in Turkey. Eighteen years in the future,
Iran would again send young boys to the front of soldiers and tanks to
sacrifice themselves to landmines while dying for Allah.
Fauzieh Nassan glanced down the hall to see Yervant Anbar, a boy her
and Laleh's age walk the hall their direction. She said in hurried Persian
and near silent words, "Yes, he sent a message. He's hiding near the
Valley of the Assassins." Another boy is visiting there from Mashad.
His uncle owns the petrol station there. An aunt from Qom knew the man.
My parents managed a way there to see him. He's in good health. We can
go there after school."
Laleh said, "We'll take the motorbike. If my father finds out I
Fauzieh saw Yervant now two steps away. She was thankful for Laleh's
social conscious. Other American students never expressed one. She said,
"Hi, Yervant. How is it going." She also spoke to Yervant in
Farsi and Laleh knew Fauzieh did to prevent any American student from understanding
her words. No student within the school accomplished Laleh's language skills.
Few cared or tried. But with the American School having faculty from several
countries there were a half dozen Languages a student could study. Laleh
had taken all language classes offered. What the American students wanted
was for their families to return to America. Tehran was no hotbed of youthful
At the end of the school day, Laleh and Fauzieh walked to the Cooper
home in northwest Tehran. After reaching the house, Laleh went inside,
changed out of the cotton print dress she wore to school and pulled on
jeans. She then buttoned a white cotton blouse, and leaving her hair tied
back by the pink scarf she wore to school.
After getting the motorcycle out of the home's back yard, Laleh and
Fauzieh pushed it to the street. Laleh got it started as Fauzieh sat in
the sidecar. Fauzieh carried cheese and dried apricots in her book bag
and for her young cousin.
The ride was long. After they turned off an unpaved section of the Asian
Highway, Laleh and Fauzieh studied the mountains standing in the distance.
Though it was spring, the late evening wind off the mountains chilled them.
Neither girl wore a sweater or coat.
Fifteen minutes later, Laleh turned the bike off a graded track and
to the dirt drive of a petrol station. A single, hand-cranked, pump stood
in the ground as a long sentinel in the darkening sky. The station sat
forlorn and isolated in a narrow valley of arid hills stretching toward
the higher mountains. A low hanging sun was to the east. Laleh realized
that it would be dark when she got back to Tehran. She had never been out
with the motorbike at night, and she knew her father would probably ground
her for it. If her father learned where she now was, he would probably
sale the bike. She had been through the valley before when her father,
mother and she explored the old fortifications for men once trained as
assassins and garrisoned there many years ago.
Fauzieh's young cousin Fourd met them in the drive as Laleh turned the
motor to the bike off. Fourd exited the station with another boy who was
twelve years old. Fouad said, "Fauzieh, what are doing here? You father
will beat you."
Fauzieh smiled and climbed out of the sidecar. She gave her cousin a
hug then turned back to the sidecar to get her book bag. From it, she pulled
out cheese and dried apricots. She said, "I brought you these. You
can share them. We can't stay. It will be dark before we get back. Laleh's
father will murder us if finding we came this far out of the city."
The other boy looked on the two girls. Though the sky was turning to
dusk, he had a view of their beauty. Both girls looked like angels to him.
The boy's name was Karim. Karim was thin and Laleh thought him attractive
though she didn't have a full view of his face by the late sun being to
From high in the late sky, the young people heard the cry of a desert
hawk as it winged its way toward the mountains. Laleh looked for its flight,
didn't find it, turned back, and said, "Hi. Nice to meet you."
The second boy stepped to Laleh and extended his hand. He said, "I
am visiting from Mashad. Have you been there?"
An enchanting young boy's voice asked the question. Laleh said, "Yes.
I have been there with my parents. Do you go to school there?"
The boy liked the sound of the older girl's words. He was impressed
she spoke perfect Persian. He answered, "Yes, but I'm out of term
now. I return next week. I am here to visit my uncle . . . my father's
brother. My uncle owns the station."
Laleh thought the area a bleak place to be living. She asked, "What
grade are you in?"
"We're juniors in Tehran's American Community School."
"I know. Fouad told me about his cousin Fausiieh."
Laleh smiled for the boy though she continued not having a clear definition
of his face. She said, "It's nice to meet you." She then said
to Fauzieh. "Fauzieh, we need to start back. My father is going to
Fauzieh hugged her young cousin then climbed back into the motorcycle
sidecar. Laleh stood and kicked down the starter. With the bike running,
she said to the boy whose face was half-hidden in shadow. "Glad I
met you. Always stand for what you believe in."
Karin and Fouad watched the older girl turn the bike to the graded road.
They knew she was truly beautiful. As Laleh headed the bike to the south,
Karim said a silent prayer for Allah to watch over the two girls. He also
said one in hope of again seeing the attractive girl driving the motorbike.
After reaching the section of unimproved, Asian Highway extending to
the east, Laleh turned the bike toward Tehran. She turned on the headlight
to the darkening night. As she drove, Laleh knew she needed to come up
with a credible excuse for when she arrived home late. Then, she decided
she would claim she and Fauzieh had gone to the end of Darband Road. From
there, they had left the motorbike to hike along the river and follow the
trail into the upper mountains where they could look back on Tehran. If
she drove to her Grandparents' home in Darband with the excuse of calling
her parents, and with Fauzieh calling hers, it might work. They could both
say they stayed too late and had to fumble their way down the mountain
trail in the dark. Both girls would undoubtedly end grounded for a week
for being out after dark, but Laleh knew she would continue to have use
of the motorbike. With her mind decided, Laleh shouted the excuse to Fauzieh.
After this, Laleh turned her cold face back to the darkness extending ahead
of the two girls >>>
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