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December 20, 2002
The Iranian

Part 11

January 23
9:39 p.m.

Sami, Behn and I have been sitting in Sami's parked car for a few minutes now. No one has yet had the courage to break the uncomfortable silence. Finally, my cousin, with a deep breath, turns to me and sighs:

-- "Nazanin, do you really want to do this?"

I look down and try remembering whatever on earth brought me to this uneasy situation.

Around ten days ago, I had an epiphany. I was going to get rid of my unhealthy passive-aggressive feelings which were causing my relationship with Ali to spiral downwards into an abyss of no return. I was going to snap out of it and realize this man was the best thing that happened to my life. A man who supported and encouraged me enough to undo all the lashings my mother had inflicted on my self-confidence. A man who loved me and was not afraid to say it or show it. A man who was manly enough that I knew he could protect me, and at the same time sensitive enough that he wrote the most touching poem for me. Most of all, he had proven to be most forgiving of all my quirks and faults. I owed it to him to make the same effort.

It's funny how your life can change drastically simply because you are at the wrong place the wrong time. Or maybe I had been at the right place. It was better to know the truth than to continue blinding myself.

So I guess you could say I was lucky enough to be at home and answer that phone call ten days ago. Silly me, I thought it was my Ali calling me to patch things up after the uneasy time we have had since New Year's.

-- "Hi Azizam..." I said cheerfully.

There was a second's hesitation, then, finally, I heard a breathy French-accented voice on the other end of the line:

-- "Ummm... Hello Cherie... I hope I'm not disturbing you... But I thought we needed to talk..."

I froze. It was Shohreh. How had she gotten our number? I immediately asked myself, while I felt my heart sink. It must have been Ali of course. And he had kept it a secret from me. After all he had told me about regaining my trust and never hiding anything from me.

I felt my hands shaking, and my face turn really hot. Normally, I only get that feeling in the five minutes before I go on stage, or on camera. I don't know why people call it cold feet. I always get really hot in my face and my stomach and I start sweating all over when I am nervous. And Shohreh had a special knack for making me nervous.

-- "...Ummm... Nazanin... Are you there cherie?"

I opened my mouth and this horrible sound came out, like I had a frog stuck in my throat. I quickly cleared my throat and uttered a feeble "Yes."

Now I know some women at this point would have lost it and started a huge catfight on the phone. But strangely enough, I was the one who felt inadequate and out of place here, as if I was the other woman and she, the wronged party. My boyfriend's ex-wife had a strange hypnotic power over me.

-- "Well" Shohreh said after a pause, ́I am actually glad I got you on the phone... I wanted to clear up any misunderstandings I may have caused to you the other night..."

I couldn't believe her phoniness. Yeah right, as if she actually called to apologize to me, almost one month after she casually ripped my life to shreds. She was obviously expecting Ali when she called our home and was just trying to save face.

-- "There's no need for it. Really." I said as firmly and coldly as possible. But I don't think it came out as confidently as I would have liked.

She just kept insisting.

-- "Noooo... Nazanin, you have to understand. It was just a joke. Poor Ali. He has been so miserable. I just called to tell you. There is nothing between us. There is no need to feel insecure at all, cherie. And you know how men hate insecure women hehehehe..."

Ughhhh!!! That cackle of hers! I couldn't believe her nerve. More than that, I was completely dumbfounded by the fact that she knew so much about our relationship. Ali must have been confiding in her. Traitor! To think I was feeling guilty and wanted to grovel before him! There was no way of that happening now.

-- "Um... Listen, I was on my way out the door and..."

-- "Oh! Say no more cherie, I understand. I was just calling to confirm if Ali... if the both of you were coming to the party."

What????? What party? I tried to say something but she had rendered me speechless. She must have felt my shock. I actually could picture her self-satisfied smug when she said:

-- "He...DID tell you about my little party, didn't he cherie? After all, I invited both of you of course."

-- "...Ummm..."

-- "Well, see you at my gallery then. Don't forget, Sunday the 23rd! We can put all this affaire behind us and become good friends, I am sure of it."

Yeah right, I thought. It may be sophisticated in France to co-habit in a menage a trois, but I was having none of it.

I put the receiver down slowly. It was too much to absorb all at once. Just then, Ali came in. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. I gave him my best fake smile. The passive-aggressive war was on.

I didn't utter a word of the phone conversation to him in the following days. I tell you, it was hard to keep it all inside. I instead confided in my cousin, and in my friend Chloe. This didn't help matters much, given their completely opposite perceptions of the situation.

Sami was trying to be reasonable. She advised me to stop this charade and confront things in a mature, calm manner and she was sure there could be an explanation for all of it.

-- "But I don't care if there is an explanation Sami! The fact is, he promised never to hide anything from me again. And he lied again! You know how hard it is for me to trust someone. I had to jump over a huge hurdle, to go beyond all my emotional baggage from the past, the cheating boyfriends, the lying boyfriends, to get to trust this man. And now this..."

-- "Naz... Khaahesh mikonam Ali ro baa oon bacheh-nanehaa ke ́date" mikardi moghaayesseh nakon. He is a real man. Not afraid of anything, least of all his feelings for you. And I have never seen two people more fit for each other than you two. Save Behn and me of course. Shomaa do taa messle do taa nessfe seeb hasstin ke be ham ressidin. Heyffeh... (You are like two halves of an apple that have been brought back together).

I really love Sami but this time, I resented her optimism. It is easy for her, as a ludicrously happily married woman, to see the glass half-full. I on the other hand had a fatalist streak in me since I was 5 and discovered to my great horror that Santa Claus didn't exist.

Chloe was more sympathetic to my point of view:

-- "Dump the m****f*****..." She screamed on the other end of the line.

This was followed by a tirade filled by more charming expletives. Sometimes, I really think Chloe has issues with men. But at the time, I enjoyed having someone's (anyone's) moral support.

So in the end, I did not tell Ali anything directly. Instead, I laid little traps for him, in which I expected him to fall as easily as a fly caught in a spider's web. Unfortunately, my web must have had a few holes in it, because he always managed to undo my suspicions.

-- "So Ali..." I said casually one night over dinner ́Sami and Behn have invited us for dinner on the 23rd... You know Saturday... Sounds like fun, what do you think?"

Ali looked up from his paperwork. He was having as hard a time as ever to continue his novel. So he just mumbled ́fine...fine" and went on with his typing.

Another day, I mentioned how I had heard of this cool art gallery that I might want to check out, called ́Les Beaux-Arts" (pronounced ́Leh Boz-agh"). I had made a search on the Internet and found out that it was the name of Shohreh's gallery in Long Beach, the location of her infamous party.

Ali was particularly engrossed by a program highlighting the exploits of Cowboys Star Emmit Smith. He looked at me with a dumbfounded stare in his eyes and asked:

--́Che bozzi?" (What goat?)

Another thing that Chloe suggested was I pretended to check our call log at home, and loudly read out Shohreh's phone number to Ali, asking him:

-- "Mmmm... I wonder whose number this is... I better call them."

But Ali didn't flinch. He was like:

-- "Yeah sure... It doesn't sound familiar."

It was useless.

Finally, the nervously anticipated D-Day had arrived.

By this time, I was pretty ashamed of myself. So maybe Ali and Shohreh did talk once and she invited him to her shin-dig. And he probably blew her off and never gave it a second thought. Even though he was wrong not to tell me, I could see that he may have just wanted to protect me from more unnecessary hurt.

I looked back and realized how much I hated the person I had become. Usually, I would always be the one to tell my girlfriends to stop with their jealous behavior. My motto always was, If you can't trust him, it's not worth it.

I had made up my mind to confess to Ali all about my embarrassing behavior when suddenly, for the first time, he arose all my suspicions anew. As the evening was approaching, I started dressing for dinner with Sami and Behn.

-- "Wow, you look great hon" Ali told me as I stepped out of the room, ́Where are you going?"

-- "Ali, we are going to dinner with Sami and Behn remember?"

Ali's face then turned to ash.

-- "Oh...Hon..."

No. He wouldn't, I thought. This was too low. Waiting for the last minute to blow me off for some flimsy excuse. Was this whole innocent thing an act that I had fallen for? Ali confirmed my worst fears when he said:

-- "Naz... You know I have been having a hard time with my book. And just now, I really feel like I have broken through the slump I've been in. I was planning to go to the public library this evening to do some research and strike while the iron is still hot."

The public library? Haaaaaaaa!!!! That was rich, really rich...

-- "If this is your memoir you're writing, why do you need to do some research?"

Ali laughed.

-- "Well you know, you youngsters don't know how it is with us old folks, we sometimes have to jog our memories for dates and events."

I was really angry. But what's more, I was scared.

-- "Fine... I will go on without you."

-- "Oh Naz, come on don't be like that."

And he tried to hug me. I managed to get out of his embrace, told him I was late, and ran out the door. He actually had the nerve to give me his sad puppy dog eyes as I went out.

About a half-hour later, I was sitting with Sami and Behn at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Irvine. As a carnivorous beast, I would normally be having a field day here but I was a nervous wreck. Sami and Behn knew the whole situation and were trying to reassure me.

-- "Guys, that's it. I can't be here. I've got to go."

-- "Where?" Sami exclaimed. But the look on her face told me she already knew.

I had to go to Shohreh's party to see if Ali had betrayed me to go there. Of course, my cousin wouldn't hear of letting me go alone.
And so now here we were, the three of us, sitting in the darkness of her car, parked in front of Les Beaux-Arts Gallery in Long Beach, and not yet daring to take the plunge.

-- "Naz...Aziz" Sami was calmly asking ́Are you sure you want to do this?"

-- "I'm sorry Sami... Behn... sorry for having to put up with me. But I have to find out once and for all what is going on with my own eyes. I am tired of empty words."

With that, our little group made its way out the car and into the building in front of us.

My first impression was one of awe. No matter what emotional turmoil was going on inside me, I couldn't help but be magnetized by the power of sheer esthetic perfection around me. The party was obviously in honor of a sculpture exhibit. There were many diverse styles here, each one more different from the other. From classic bronze statuettes to the most abstract creations made up of recycled everyday ustensils. I had to hand it to Shohreh. She was obviously a woman of great taste. The lighting, and the way the art objects were arranged, guided the eye of the viewer so as to appreciate the precise part of the object that made it unique and special. At the same time, the arrangement was subtle enough not to overwhelm the real star of the evening, which was the art on display.

The first person I spotted at the party was Shohreh. She had her right profile to me and was talking animatedly with a tall, dark and handsome man. Looked just like Ali. But thank god, it wasn't.

As I looked at her, I couldn't help but admit that she was a true art specimen herself. Her features made me think of that famous line by Edmond Rostand: ́Her face is a peach that smiles with a strawberry." And she was dressed with such fearlessness that all the other women in the room were surreptitiously glancing at her in envy, while the men flocked to her like flies to honey.

The golden shade of her long dress were reflected in the subtle golden highlights in her fire-red hair. Her milky white skin, which was generously on display, was awash in yellow gold antique persian jewelry pieces, one more extravagant than the other. Though on paper, the description would lead you to believe that this outfit was too ostentatious, in reality, the picture she had created was flawless. Shohreh was the only woman I had seen who exuded such easy boldness and triumphant confidence. She stood out in the room among all the women who were too scared of trying anything but their boring little black uniforms. I looked down pitifully at my own Donna Karan black pantsuit which I had been so proud of just a couple of hours ago. No wonder Ali would be mesmerized by her, at my expense. How could I compete?

As she seemed occupied with her guests, I quickly bid the two other musketeers to follow me out of her sight. We hid behind one of the larger statues and conferred amongst ourselves. Our covert investigation had to be done in a quick and precise fashion. I divided up the floor plan between Sami, Behn and me so we could cover maximum ground in minimum time.

-- "Okay guys, I'll meet you at twenty-three-hundred back by the Statue of the Little Girl in Pigtails. Just remember, if anybody asks, assume your aliases. I'll be Maryam, Sami can be Leyla, and..."

-- "Can I be Shir-Ali Abbas?" asked Behn with a poker face.

I glared at him. This was no joking matter. If truly, I was suffering from delusions, and my Ali was really safely tucked away in some cozy corner of his beloved public library, I wanted to get out of here without attracting attention. Least of all from Shohreh.

Ten minutes later, we were all back at the convened spot. Everyone's report was negative. I frowned at Behn who was munching on some hors-d'oeuvres, a glass of champagne in his hand. I wondered how seriously he really had taken his mission.

-- "Naz...chomp...chomp... I swear, I did not see Ali...chomp...chomp..It's just... I got hungry... chomp chomp... You made us leave before our steaks arrived."

-- "Did you also check the men's room?"

-- "Yes!!!"

I breathed a deep sigh of relief. And once again, I felt like the biggest fool of all time.

-- "Sami... I swear... May god strike me with lightning in my most sensitive part if ever I put you guys or myself through such an ordeal. To khodaayee. Az avalesh raasst migofti... In bache baazihaa ro mizaaram kenaar... I'll follow your advice and stop with these games from now on."

-- "Okay Naz... But before God inadvertently strikes one of these beautiful art works here instead of you, let's just get out of here!"

Trying to act as nonchalantly as possible under the circumstances, we crept towards the main door we had initially come through. I turned back to steal a last glance at Shohreh. To my horror, she was looking in my direction, though not directly at me. She had a smile on her face. A very dangerous smile.

I turned around to see what she was smiling at. Ali was standing at the entranceway of the gallery.


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