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Part 20
New York, Sunday March 20

11:22 a.m
When I was about 6 years old, I fell and scraped my knee badly in the playground while being pursued by a mean bully. It is the first memory I have of seeing blood. I wailed loud and high, not because I was in pain, but because I was so scared at the spectacle of the ripped skin on my knee cap from which several drops of blood poured down methodically over my leg, onto my white ankle socks and finally, rested on my shiny blue sneakers. When bAbA came to pick me up at school, I could see his face drop at the sight of me, which made me want to cry even more. But he quickly regained his composure and put on a happy face and pretended not to be worried. He took me home and washed the blood off and told me a fancy story about airplanes and princes to distract me from the pain of the disinfectant. When he applied the Flinstone band-aid on my knee, I had forgotten all about my misadventure. He poured us two big bowls of chocolate ice cream in the kitchen and we sat eating and being silly together.

This is probably why my first instinct after any stressful event in my life is to run back home, like I am doing now, to the protection and love that always comforted me from life's big bullies. I ran home when my apartment got broken into last year (luckily, in my absence!). I ran home when Ross left on Flight 0453 JFK, destination LAX, never to return. And I am running now, again, after having found out that the supposed love of my life, Peerooz, the playa I had arrogantly believed I could tame, has left me for another woman. And to add insult to injury, he hasn't simply taken up a fling with some floozie. (Well, maybe the floozie part is right!) He is ENGAGED!!! I saw it with my own eyes, on Page Six of the New York Post. There was no mistaking it. The diamond band on Cinnamon's finger was so monstrous it could not escape the eye. It even seemed to come to life, materialize out of the black and white page and hop onto my kitchen table, where it stood sneering at me, an evil little creature with a life of its own, much like the Ring of the Hobbit.

How could this have happened??? A mad coincidental encounter in London? No, it could not be... I had to accept the reality I wanted at all costs to avoid. Peerooz had been cheating on me all along. This explained all the "business" trips to London where he didn't want me to come along or even drop him off at the airport... the cold, muffled voice over the telephone when he called me from across the ocean...the smirk on Cinnamon's face when she bumped into me at Peerooz's party... Gosh... How stupid I feel! How used! How utterly demoralized!

I don't know if a bowl of ice cream and my father's comforting voice will do the trick this time but just in case I think I'll pick up some Ben and Jerry's before I get to my house.

10:59 p.m.
I feel so drained, so exhausted. I am fighting to keep my eyes open to write down these few lines before I go to sleep. My old bed feels so comfortable, and my room looks as big as it did when I was growing up here. I have cried so much my eyes are probably swollen. It hurts to keep them open and it hurts to shut them closed.

When I came to the door, swinging my grocery bag filled with triple-brownie-death-by- chocolate confection, hastily bought at the Grand Union round the corner, nobody answered my knocks at first. I stepped back, wondering if my parents were home. The house did seem unusually quiet. No sound of Persian-rug auction coming from inside. This was strange. I mean the day before Eid, there is supposed to be a line-up for three blocks to mAmAn's house, and the scent of delicious shirnee irooni envelops the whole neighbourhood.

I put my ear to the door. No sound. Not even faint rhythm of Tehran-gelessi damboli-dambol tunes from the 24-hour Persian radio that is kept on, well, 24 hours a day at my parents' house. The car was in the driveway though. I knocked again, insistently, until finally mAmAn came to the door. She seemed surprised to see me, but not hyperexcited like she usually is. No shrill cry of "naaaa-zzzeeeee!!! Ressidiiii mAmAn jAn!" Then I noticed something strange in her face. Though she was perfectly coiffed and made up, as always, her eyes were red. Had she been peeling onions? I was too drained to find out. "Hey mAmAni", I said perfunctorily as I embraced her and came in. I went up to my bedroom and dropped my knapsack, then rushed back down again.

-- "mAmAni bAbA koo?"

-- "KhAbeh."

-- "Oh okay... Nemisheh beram bidAresh konam?"

-- "NAH! BezAr essterAhat bokoneh."

I shrugged my shoulders. MAmAn was being even more bad-akhlAgh than usual. I plopped down in the couch and turned on the TV. Sunday programming! Eeekkk... Surfed the channels one by one. Who said 500 channels and there's nothing good on? Or something like that. I have no memory. I always paraphrase, sometime to embarrassing results. God Damn! Why was it so quiet in this house? To have this house empty and all to myself was getting on my nerves, to my own surprise. Where had mAmAn gone? Usually she would have grilled me about my relationship, my career, my wedding plans, and how many grandkids were on the way. I needed that. An excuse to lash out at someone with all my pent-up rage. I looked around the first floor: Nothing. She must have gone upstairs. I followed suit and knocked on my parents' bedroom door.

-- "BAbA bidAri?????"

My mom's voice loudly thundered from behind the closed door.

-- "NAzanin mageh bett nagoftam bAbAtto bidAr nakoni!"

-- "Khob allAn ke anyways bidAr shod azbass ke dAd meezani!"

After a few seconds, bAbA finally came and opened the door. I was shocked when I saw him. He had lost even more weight than the last time I had seen him at my cousin's wedding and his forehead was perspiring profusely. He must have been fighting a fever.

-- "BAbAAAA!... Mareezee hanooz! Tab kardi! BiyA berim emergency."

BAbA smiled and led me inside by the hand. MAmAn was sitting in her rocking chair by the window, crying her eyes out. My heart sank. I had positively never seen my mother cry as far back as I remember. I started to feel scared and I sat on the edge of the bed, facing her. BAbA sat beside me and took my hand. I started babbling.

-- "Khob...um...khob cherA neshesstim? BiyA berim emergency digeh! CherA mAmAno aziat mikoni?"

-- "NAzanin joon, aroussake man, negarAn nabAsh, cheezee nisstesh."

I stood up, angry.

-- "Yani chee cheezeenisstesh? MAmAn is here crying her eyes out. You are hiding in your room. Heech kass khooneh nisst, kassi ham soffreye Haft-Seen nacheedeh. WHAT IS GOING ON? LET'S GO TO THE HOSPITAL NOW!"

MAmAn looked up from her tears. In a tiny fragile voice that I had never heard her use before, she said:

-- "Already rafteem hospital."

I felt my knees weaken and sat back down mechanically.

-- "BAbA, chi shodeh? Be man begoo, torokhodA be man begoo..."

Without being prepared, my voice broke and I started crying too. I already knew what was coming, but I was still asking questions. Disbelieving.

BAbA squeezed my hand again.

-- "YAdett miyAd koochik boodi, bAbA-Bozorgett..."

I felt like I had just received a heavy punch right into my forehead. I even heard the "thud" when the imaginary fist impacted with my head, and it felt like every bone from the top of my cranium down to my feet had been broken in little pieces.

When I was small, we buried my grandfather, a man as kind and generous as his son: He had been taken away from us by an untimely death, through a treacherous disease. An inheritable disease.

Without him having to explain further, I understood at once... My father had cancer.

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