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June 9, 2003
The Iranian

Part 35

June 2
I always thought that in a moment of crisis, I would freeze. But this time, I felt a rush of adrenaline. After I talked to Ali and explained what I wanted from him, I placed a call to my old co-worker in New York, Nancy. After 5 years of part-time school, she had finally graduated from mere legal assistant to full-fledged attorney. I explained Artie's situation quickly to her, just as I was driving to Kinko's to fax her the few documents I had obtained from his parents. She said she would get started on it immediately. I tried to discuss the matter of the fee with her but she cut me off:

-- "Listen Naz, you're one of my best friends not to mention the godmother to my kids. And well, it feels good to do pro bono work. This one's on the house."

I thanked her profusely. It felt good. I had never been one to be a social butterfly. My circle of friends was pretty limited but at least, they were real and willing to be there for me when I really needed them.

After I left Kinko's, I started down the list of names and addresses provided by Artie's parents and began checking off destinations. My goal was to gather as many statements as possible from relatives and friends of Artie's who would attest to the fact that he was a great person, undeserving of being locked up in a box like a common criminal. I also had to do some investigation, to get people to sign on to the fact that they, too, had been victim of the con man who had bungled their immigration case.

While I was doing this, Ali called up his old contacts at his former company and got a friend of his to gather a camera crew and producer and do a story on the plight of Artie's family. They filmed wrenching interviews with Artie's parents, as well as Edmund, and many of his friends. The only one who didn't bother returning my calls was Chloe. That was the last straw for me. I would never get over the disgust I felt for her at being such a fickle "friend."

After a week, everything was ready: The legal documents had been messengered over by Nancy and filed with the immigration court. The same day, a 2 minute segment aired on CNN during the evening news. I didn't know if Artie would be able to see it but I hoped he wouldn't. It would just sadden him more to see the deteriorating health of his elderly parents and the concern of Edmund and his other friends.

During this whole ordeal, Ali was great. We had put aside all our differences real and imagined and he was there for me as a supportive friend, just as he had always been from the beginning of our acquaintance. The best thing was I didn't feel like I was falling apart in his arms and he was left there to pick up the pieces. I was more in control than that. But it still felt good to have him there, holding my hand, with his soothing words during the torturous, endless wait: Would we finally hear something from the powers that be?

At 12 noon the next day, Ali got a call on his cell phone. It was Nance from New York.
-- "I just got a call from the INS. They are going to set a bond for Artie's release pending his trial. Get to the bond office in a hurry and you may be able to see your friend at the end of the day."

Woo-hoooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! I almost didn't want to celebrate beforehand, not to jinx myself but in the bottom of my heart, I knew we had won.

In the evening, we all gathered, anxiously, before the federal penitentiary. With each minute that ticked away, my stomach turned in knots, as if they had played a dirty trick on us and we would be sorely disappointed. I could not look into the eyes of Arite's mom, who I knew was glancing at me from time to time. She had placed all her hopes in me and I suddenly felt unworthy of her trust. But then thank god!!! Yes, it wasn't a dream. My friend was standing in front of me. A little thin. A little unshaven. His eyes red. But it was him. The end of a long, terrible nightmare.

As we drove away from this place, I couldn't help looking back, wondering how many other poor souls were gazing back at us, still stuck there, not wanting to remain there, yet not wanting to go back to the country they had fled in the first place. People who did not have resources, friends and family to plead their case to the deaf ears of their jailers.

I remembered the last scenes of a favorite movie of mine, a German or Swiss film that won an Oscar many years ago, when I was still a kid. It was called Die Reise der Hoffnung, or "Journey of Hope" and depicted the ordeal of a Turkish family trying to seek refuge in an imagined paradise in Europe. After they lose everything and suffer terrible tragedies, an immigration officer asks them incredulously why they would be willing to take such risks and encounter such horror ? What is the purpose of their journey? The Turkish father of the family, his face weather-beaten, his eyes with a numb, frozen stare, answers with the simple word: "Hope." But this place was made to crush any hope.


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