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Everyday journey
Watching, waiting and wondering in Tehran traffic


March 22, 2006

197 seconds; 197 fucking seconds. And that's if they got to the intersection during the next green light. Sitting behind the wheel of that archaic red Paykan, looking up at the misty, smoke driven sky, he was tiredly watching the counter beside the red light. 197, 196, 195 ... Sometimes the timers they'd placed beside the traffic lights would jump down to 0 seconds ... But he doubted it would happen this time. That last ride of the day was always the longest. Every bit of it was hard to swallow. Heading home, pulling up along the way to count the bills stashed away in the dashboard and in his jeans pocket. At the end of the day, it was even harder to be polite to the passengers as they heavily slammed the door or gave him another bill he had no change for.

She smelt sweet. Sitting in the back watching the driver wait behind a red light, he liked the way her hair had softly fallen out from her scarf; a fiery red. She had nice boots on; and an awesome body. All he could get of it was the gentle brush of his shoulder as he sat beside her. He could try and press his left arm a bit harder to her shoulder. See how she'd react. Would she pull away? Bring her arm closer? Cringe? How would she react if he gave her his number? His parents were out of town and his relationship with Mona, the girl he'd met a couple of weeks back at the party, seemed to be going downhill. She would never offer to stay over to nourish his loneliness the way he wanted. How was he sure this girl would? ... He just liked to think so judging from her overtly tight shirt and ruby red lips.

He seemed cute; though the highlights were a bit too much. She liked his shoes though; Lacoste; she'd seen them at the mall. But no, all in all, he was just too much of a pretty boy; the kind who probably spent more time in the mirror then she would. Her mind quickly wandered elsewhere. She was still contemplating whether to call or not. She wasn't too sure of his name but he had a great smile which she got to see quite a bit of when they were saying goodbye last week at her friend's birthday party. She'd contended herself to a brush on his cheek. All the while she could still hear the sound of her friend's giggles in the next room with a boy she'd met. It had been getting late and her parents would have killed her if she had gotten in that late. She especially had no excuse that time, having told them she was going over to her friend's home for a small dinner.

The condition was getting to a point where he could feel it embarrass him. All throughout the day he could feel his hands or feet start to shake without him having any control over it. Sometimes it wouldn't stop for long periods of time. He'd been told to see a doctor about it, but between working shifts at the company and visiting his son at the hospital, there seemed to be no time ... or money ... left for any of that. It seemed like only yesterday that she had called to tell him about his son. And he woke up everyday fearing the worse. He did not know his way around this city that well; having gotten here only a few nights ago. It was hard for a man that old to find his way around a city this big. He still had trouble locating the hospital. He usually asked the driver or other passengers for directions, but these people seemed a bit too nasty to give him a hand. The driver had this sleepy, bored gaze in his eyes and mumbled when he spoke. He looked back a little at the boy sitting next to him; might be around the same age as his son.

At least the car was still moving. He woke up every morning in his mother's faded mattress worried that the old man's piece of junk had ridden its last ride. He couldn't afford to lose a day. Not at least until he could get his hands on another job. He was good with his hands, but most places these days required at least a high school certificate. And why not? When there were so many people with college degrees looking for work ... He didn't mind driving this taxi as much as he liked to pretend he hated it. If he could get his hands on a better car, maybe he'd even choose to do it for a living.

Every fiber of her being was dying to call, but being the last person in the face of this earth without a cell phone, she was always a bit worried of using their home telephone line to talk to boys. She'd faced some pretty fatal consequences in the past; and still had the marks to prove it. The newest being the one she reached out to touch on the side of her cheek. It could be camouflaged using makeup, but she could feel it burn underneath. She'd almost forgotten that there was a boy sitting tightly beside her. And her arms quickly met his shoulder. She brought her hand back down quickly.

He bent his shoulder down a bit and pushed his arm tightly to her hers - just a bit farther and he'd be all the way at her chest. But that would be pushing it. He was kind of nervous when he pulled stunts like this, but that didn't let him get in the way of his own curiosity. Anyways, he felt there for a split second that she was moving towards him. What would she do now? He waited for a moment, and to his utter surprise, she didn't pull away; So he pushed a little harder. Still no move. And then, all of a sudden, she looked over at him quickly and pulled her arm away. Rats. But she didn't pull it away the first time ... so what was that supposed to mean?

She figured that this manteau was even tighter than her usual. Would they stop her in the middle of the street? Would she be forced into one of those buses they used for the addicted prostitutes? She hadn't though too much about that when she walked out of the house, but now she was nervous. What was she thinking? Why had she worn something this tight? And why was he constantly pushing his arm at her? It was ok at first. Then he seemed to be getting a bit ahead of himself. What was he thinking anyways? She was getting more nervous as the taxi came closer to her stop. She'd have half a mile to walk home in that really tight outfit she had no idea why she'd worn. And worse then that, the thought kept prickling the back of her mind: what if her father had gotten home earlier? What if he saw her dressed like this?

He would get nervous everyday right about now. When they stood behind that red light at the corner. Would his son still be awake when he got there? He was even more nervous today, thinking of tomorrow. He'd spent all morning in a suffocating office building trying to convince somebody to give him a retirement loan. He'd all but failed but had to be back there again tomorrow. Thirty four years as a civil servant. And that's what was left of it: walking in and out of office buildings to get a nonperson to sign a wad of paper.

Rats. He wasn't sure what to do now. He hated it when he gave them his number and they just threw it on the sidewalk without taking a second look. His friends claimed he was just too sensitive, but he hated it nonetheless. But maybe, as he looked over his way to take a peek, she would be worth the risk. But he was getting a bit nervous, waiting behind the red light, waiting to get off the car at the next corner. He had to figure out a girl for the weekend. Not bought or borrowed; that wasn't his style.

He really hoped his mom would have cooked something good tonight. He was sick of the same old. But then she'd ask how much he'd brought home. He'd done well the last couple of nights and he didn't want to disappoint her. It was times like this that made him miss the good old days of military service. He was without a high school diploma, and way down at the bottom of the food chain. His mother's worn out mattress was fit for a king compared to where he used to sleep. But still, there was an odd sense of freedom he'd felt there. Even though their dorms smelt rotten; even though he'd sometimes go for a whole week without lying eyes on a woman; even though he could still remember the shapes he could make out sharply after the lights went out ... it just felt queer watching men touch each other that way.

Good thing she'd left her school library card at home. When they pick you up to take you into those buses, your education is pretty much over if they confiscate your school card. Her hands were getting damp, and she could feel her heart racing. Maybe she could sneak into her room before saying hello to her father. But if he saw her ... she closed her eyes to try and keep out the thoughts.

The light finally turned green, and that meant they had to wait for the cars to get moving. They usually started moving at the end of the green light. The air was heavily fogged, to a point where the cars in front and the people moving through the lights seemed to be going up in a smoky mist. It was late evening, and all through out the horizon there was nothing in sight but a gray sky and the dotted lines of what were people and cars and motorcycles.  With every turn of the wheel they were getting closer to the intersection. It would have probably been faster to get off the car and walk, but nobody seemed to be in a hurry. They just sat there, watching the lights and counting the numbers beside it. Watching and waiting to see if this was their turn to make it.

For letters section
To Najmeh Fakhraie

Najmeh Fakhraie


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