The golden years
March 23, 2004
It was in my first night at the refugee camp that
a loud noise woke me up. I sat up in bed and looked around the
room. Tom, my roommate from Africa was asleep. I wasn't sure
where the noise came from and what it was. It could have been my
own nightmare. But suddenly I heard someone's murmuring outside.
I couldn't get back to sleep, so I quietly got off the bed
and stepped out of the room. I noticed a man standing at the end
of the hallway, by the big window, talking to himself. He turned
around and glanced at me. He looked Middle Eastern. I went to the
washer room and drank some water from the tap. I looked in the
mirror and said to myself, "You've made it pal. You're
safe now, away from all the madness." I gave myself
a congratulatory smile and walked back toward my room.
I noticed the man by the window again. I turned
the lights on in order to get a good look at him. He turned around
and looked at
me again. We stared into each other's eyes but somehow couldn't
connect in any way. He was looking at me but with an expression
that was occupied somewhere else, far away from our present world
and its concerns. The glint in his eyes seemed to be fuelled by
deliriousness. He was a bold man, with a round, chubby face, possibly
in his early 60s. He was wearing a dark blue Puma tracksuit, like
a sport coach on the field.
After tucking myself into bed, I heard his voice,
this time louder. So loud, that I could understand his Azeri monologue
the insidious silence of the night. The words suddenly changed
into obscure noises that I could only identify as gunshots. It
must have been the same noise that woke me up. It was filled with
vengeance, anger and frustration, all the things that I wanted
to leave behind, before being absorbed in them. When he ran out
of breath, he started screaming out, "You son of a bitch,
when I return, I'll ask you a few simple questions: one,
why are you living on my property? Two, you have to pay me all
the rent for all this time. Three..." There's a pause.
Then a scream again, "You fucking son of a bitch get out
of my house. Get me the gun. I told you before that your actions
won't go unpunished. I warned you before. Didn't I?
Now I have to shoot you." Then more sounds of gunshots through
Shortly after dawn, I went to the toilet. In the
lavatory the same man showed up, washing his face and hands, as
if he just got up.
He greeted me politely in Persian with a strong Azeri accent.
"Good morning sir."
"Good morning," I replied. "How did
you know I'm Persian?"
"Well, I recognize the faces," he replied
with an intelligent smile. "You must be new sir," he
"Yes, I just arrived yesterday."
"Welcome, welcome. Let me know if you needed
anything. My room number is 10, right next to you. Come for a cup
of tea - any time you feel
like it." He told me with hospitality of a good neighbor.
Before departing we looked into each other's eyes
and I felt it was completely different to the way he looked at
me the night
before. This time we connected. There was a palpable amenability
about him. I was hoping that he'd say something about last
night, apologize or something, but there was no mention of it,
as if it was all together another person. Later I found out it
was a quotidian act. Most nights Ahmed Khan screamed, swear, and
riddled the silence of the night with his bogus gunshots and played
out his demons.
Remembering his invitation I knocked on his door
one day. He was listening to Radio Israel's Persian program.
Ahmed Khan listened to all the radio stations that had Persian
broadcasts. He turned
the radio off as soon as I entered and put the kettle on the electric
stove. He asked me courteously to take my seat in the only single
couch in the room, while he stood by the table, preparing the tea.
"Did you escape through Pakistan or Turkey Majid
"Only minor ones."
"Running away from conscription?"
"Running away from lot of things," I
He smiled tightly and nodded his head.
"The country doesn't have an owner anymore," he told
"Any country without a descent leader is not
worth anything. But you see I love my country. I want to return
one day. And I will.
I promise you that," Ahmad Khan told me, confidently
as if he could see into the future.
"What's on the news?" I asked him, pointing to his small
transistor radio on the edge of his windowpane, with its long antenna
leaning out obtrusively.
"It's the war Majid Khan. It's the war that
is keeping this government still in-charge. It's the best thing
that had happened for them since the Shah left; the war with
halting everything," he said with a conviction
of a political analyst.
Ahmed Khan had a good supply of
loose-leaf tea, raisin,
pistachio, walnuts, cashews, and roasted sunflower seeds,
the ones you
could only find in Iran, all jarred separately, above
the small shelf
nailed precariously onto the wall. He poured the tea
into a small crystal glass, and placed it on a small
front of me.
"Please Majid Khan, have some tea. Would you
like raisin with your tea or cube sugar? He asked me.
"You have to forgive me I am out of dates. I
asked my brother to send me some in the next parcel."
the jars one by one taking out a small portion of each onto a large
serving tray. Then he placed it
next to my
asking me politely to help myself.
"They are still fresh Majid Khan. I keep them
in airtight jars to protect them from going stale. The river here,
Majid Khan, the
river, makes the air humid."
Both of us observed
a moment of silence as I sipped my tea, and chewed a
few raisins, followed by couple of
"Take more Majid Khan. I receive them regularly.
My brother hasn't forgotten me as yet."
Most of Ahmed Khan's
features had a comic quality about them. His small head, rested
on a rotund shape body.
circular eyes stared at you from underneath a pair
of thick, bushy eyebrows
that reached for the stars. A pencil thin moustache
and a pug nose completed the facial features. His arms were
His impeccable mannerism, of course, was most noticeable
as soon as he opened his mouth. His eye contact with
you was brief,
at the end of each sentence. He bent his neck as he
spoke, like a servant, with his hands, one across his chest,
the other on
his side, as if ready to pick something up or do something
if needed. But all this contradicted his behavior at
nights where he raged like a wounded beast.
"You see Majid Khan I am 60-years old. I should
not be here, in exile, in a country that I do not understand the
language. I love
Germany do not get me wrong. I have been here before-
back in the 60s as a young wrestler, part of a wrestling competition.
all the gold medals, Majid Khan. We were treated with
great respect. But this is not my country. We came here to prove
that we were
better than them; and we did. Now look at me; I am begging
them to keep me in this hovel." He raises his arm in the air
pointing his hand to the rundown surrounding. "You should
not be here either. How old are you Majid Khan? Please forgive
"I'm 18-years old."
"You see Majid Khan. You should be at university,
preparing for a career, or learning a trade. Everything has turned
upside down for us. Majid Khan, our demons always get the better of us. That's
Ahmed Khan looked at his watch and asked me
if I didn't mind him tuning into the Voice of America,
I helped myself with more nuts while Ahmed Khan
fine-tuned the radio station, playing with the antenna, changing
its position along the long, narrow, windowpane, looking
a better reception.
"You see Majid Khan, I am sure one day I will
listen to the news that I have been waiting for for the last three
takes one heavy breath, "that the regime has been overthrown.
That would be the day I will truly rejoice. I have made
a promise to God that I will feed the poor for 40 days.
You see Majid Khan,
we have not done anything wrong to deserve this kind
of living. All these Europeans became rich because of
our oil, to say the
least. They filled their pockets with our money. Now
we have to stay in a long queue everyday for a loaf of
bread. It is not fair
The Voice of America did its routine reportage on the war:
Iranian infantry made some significant advances, only
to be pushed
back by Iraqi gunners and missiles, with a
number of casualties
on both sides. It was the war items that occupied the
news, most news about Iran. Ahmed Khan turned the radio
apologized for turning it on in the first place.
"This war is dragging on for nothing. Iraq has
never been a match for Iran," he told me.
"It took us half a day to get an apology out
of Saddam, when the Shah was in power, for trespassing on Iranian
Khan asserted proudly, as if he headed the Iranian army
against Saddam himself.
That day, Ahmed Khan told me more about the "golden
the king, as he called them. He was a king supporter,
for sure. And perhaps he had been purged by the new
revolutionary forces that had swept
the whole country. That was all I could conjure up about
him, which still was merely a guess. It was hard to ask
Ahmed Khan any personal
questions. His conversations were all general, and that
day he didn't ask me anything of significance.
All my visits for the next couple of months were
repetitive scenes of my very first meeting with him, except some
minor variations of
course. I wanted to talk to the person who screamed at
night. But, Ahmed Khan, because of our age difference,
and the person
he used to
be, perhaps someone important under the Shah, always
displayed a brave face. A face that was hard to penetrate.
But come night, all the tension stored
in the course of day was released.
It all just poured out uninhibitedly and unashamedly.
I had cut back on my visits to his room. Whenever
I saw him at night, he was the same angry, aloof man that only
looked at me strangely,
if that. Occasionally we see each other outside, as we
collect our daily meals.
"Why don't you come for tea Majid Khan? I miss
my conversations with you," he said once standing next
to me in the lunch queue.
"I will. I'm busy trying to learn German, Ahmed
"Majid Khan, it's a good, strong language, German.
It's too late for me to learn it. Even if I learn it I
don't think I could speak it. It's the Azari accent Majid Khan.
We still speak Persian with a thick accent. I am not
good with languages any way. But good luck with it. By the way I got a chess
set if you are interested to play one day. Do you play
"Yes I do, I'll come and have a game with
I loved chess. I also loved and missed those dried
raisins and salted pistachios.
That afternoon, before knocking on
his door I could hear the small transistor radio, blasting away
in his room.
news time and returned to my room and came back a bit
later. Ahmed Khan had the chess set ready, as if he knew
going to play
with him that day. He did the usual round of dried nuts,
from each jar, and boiled water in the kettle. He told
me that I could start
by giving me the white pieces. Then he asked me which
square I wanted to be checkmated? I told him I was going
same thing. He smiled at my prompt reply.
I lost the first
game, and the second, and the third and stalemated the next three.
Nothing was touched that
neither the poured
tea, nor any of my favorite nuts. He was an excellent
player, and I was very rusty and not as good. I told
him we should
often, and left his room around 10 pm.
* * *
I kept awake till late into the night, thinking
of him, waiting to hear him bawl out again. What disturbed me
most was the
way he stared at me, as if I was an intruder, or the
culprit for his
victimization. Once I looked at him with an acrid smile,
hoping he'll respond
in some way. But once again he looked at me like a total
stranger. And I thought maybe all the talks, tea, chess
games, etc... were
just illusions, and that we never knew each other.
But that Friday night I decided to confront him,
not in the corridor, but in his room. He usually came out
am. I was determined not get intimidated by his after-midnight
I put my ear next to his door. There was no sound
coming from the room. I knocked, but there was no reply. I opened
the door and
Ahmed Khan was sitting on his couch, with his legs crossed,
leaning to one side, in quite a leisurely posture. He
looked at me, with
his eyes that sparkled under the dim light of his room.
I greeted him but he didn't reply. I sat in front him
I noticed there're some open bottles of medication
in front him, with some tablets and capsules scattered
on the table.
"I miss the sounds," he unexpectedly uttered
staring blankly into the wall.
"I miss the voices," he said it with a
"I miss the voices!" he screamed.
"Ahmed the tea is ready, how are things at the factory? You work
too hard. And the canaries exchange melodies with each
other. Her soft voice motivated me to face the challenges of the day. My brother
dropped in most afternoons on his way home. Three of
us sat in
the garden, on the wooden stretcher, next to the pool.
Our voices mingled with each other. Everything felt comfortably familiar.
We drank tea, and talked about the present, the past,
the future, nothing hurried our talks, as if the world was listening with eagerness
to what we had to say to each other."
"Whenever my brother was around, mom called
us with the title Khan. She always wanted us to have respect for
and for others. From time to time we all stop in admiration and listen to the
singing breathlessly from their limited repertoire of
Ahmed Khan baulks for a minute, as if something just
got hold of his imagination. Perhaps some illusionary
fight off. I was ready for any freaky reaction from
him, but he resumed his monologue.
"I miss the voices. All those voices. They defined
my world. Now whenever I put my head down they come back to me,
only to torture me. The voices once I longed to hear grind my soul. I hate my
voice. It's only my voice left you see. It's a voice
of a coward."
Ahmed Khan looked drowsy. He slurred
the words. His accent was heavier. Perhaps the effects
of medication was taking
eyes appeared more tearful. In between his Persian sentences,
he whispered some Azeri words to himself. He gets up
from the couch
and falls maladroitly flat on his bed. He pulls himself
up and finds himself a comfortable position.
His room is identical to mine. In fact all rooms
are identical in the camp. And the same dreadful silence
It's a form of silence that I never noticed before. Silence
Its depth nothingness. I had to get used to the feeling
of emptiness it created in me. This silence has no link
Yet it stirs so much up in you.
It shatters all my illusion
of connectedness to the world. It challenges all your
hope for any
meaningful attachment in the future. It squeezes you
into a tight spot and forces you to believe that
there was never
except you and your thoughts and silence. Then you
admit to yourself that there has always been you and your thoughts,
Ahmed Khan grabs the pillow and places it behind
him. A drop of tear begins to roll down his left cheek very
one of alertness, as if he has just woken up after
a good night asleep. I'm not still sure how much
"It is not pain. I always thought what pain
was," he starts
to tell me. "I lost a wife to cancer. But these
feelings are something else. They are beyond pain. You
grieve for a loved one
who is dead, but those who are alive and you cannot see
give you the most excruciating heartache. You eventually
accept that a loved
one is dead, does not matter how unfair. But you can
never accept the fact that you cannot see someone you
love. And knowing they
feel the same way about you just exasperate the feeling.
Then you get these feelings, right here," he touches
his heart with the palm of his chubby hand, "It's
here where it all takes place. I never knew I had these
feelings. They are very... I
cannot describe them... They reduce me to...,"
he pauses without finishing the sentences, "I cannot
describe them. I can never describe them. Pain is not
the right word for
More silence engulfs us as he appears to merely
stares into the wall in front of him with nothing on his mind.
not sure how much he is aware of my presence, not as
a human being but as Majid, someone he enjoys spending
"I was always good to my workers. I gave bonuses
to those who deserved them. I gave cash to everyone every New
Year as a gift.
There was never any complaint, except praise and gratitude. If there
were any hard feelings about anything, I dealt with them
promptly. I tried my best to keep everyone happy treat everyone fairly. But something
happened. It was our fabulous revolution, I suppose. Brotherhood
and equality for all. The most
I've ever heard. They all turned against me. They spread
all sorts of
malicious rumors about me: Mummy's child, a pedophile,
Shah's pawn, and exploiter of workers. I was quite shocked. I was
proud of my workers and my management. Those few who remained faithful
to me asked me to sell the factory
it was too
late and leave town. At first I thought it was an outrageous
but I wished I had listened to them. One day there was
a demonstration outside the factory. Workers were shouting
for my downfall.
I could not believe my eyes. I was arrested and accused
Ahmed Khan slides lower in his bed, as if preparing
to sleep. The words he can't pronounce easily come out as
the line of froth dripping down from the side of his
mouth. A certain
unknown chemical reaction is taking place in his brain,
in his body of which he is not in control of.
"It was the demons again getting the better
of us. Our demons always get the better of us. They are always
waiting in ambushl," he
says as his last words to lull himself into complete
Ahmed Khan's eyes are wide open, forming a fixed,
expressionless gaze. His thoughts, typical of this hour of the
are occupied in another time, another place. His quietness
of the encroaching silence. His right hand grabs his
left chest, slowly massaging it. I slowly make my way
I know in the morning he'll be back on his feet, inviting
me for tea in his room, beating me at chess, telling me about the "golden
years" of his country. Until night falls heavily
on his laden spirit, and the echoes of those voices that
he loves, and mingled
with, come out to stretch his longings. He knows the
voices are fading away from the special place in his
he once bestowed them. .................... Say
goodbye to spam!
Farid Parsa left Iran in 1981 and lived in Europe
for three years. He immigrated to Sydney in June 1984,
where he has lived eversince. He has studied mass
communication, theology and Theatre at tertiary level. He
is currently employed as senior staff with the State
Library of NSW, Sydney.