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Out of the blue
Like a video switching on in my head, memories come flooding

March 21, 2002
The Iranian

I have the unusual ability to recall in minute detail some events. Even my mother has trouble believing me when I mention happenings from when I was 12 months old. No matter, because I know what I know is fact and actually happened.

The reason why people I know find it hard to believe my memories is that on a day to day level I have trouble remembering the names of clients or even what colour underwear I put on this morning.

However, I am able to recall (for example) the arrival to England of my grandmother when I was no older than 12 or 18 months. I can remember the colour of her clothes, her waving as I waved back through the window (even at that age I knew something exciting was happening). I also remember my dad's smiling face as he too waved to me while walking towards our house.

At other times my recollections come to me out of the blue. I may be sprawled on the sofa thinking about nothing and suddenly, like a video switching on in my head, memories come flooding into my mind.

Like the time I was run over by two guys on a moped outside my grandmother's house in Mashad, posht-e Bagh-e Naderi. I even remember my mum begging them to get away before my dad got back in case he a) beat them to a pulp and, b) rowed with my mum for not having kept an eye on me. I was only slightly shocked and don't even remember crying.

I had another sudden recollection today. This time we were still living with my grandmother in Mashad and my mum was getting ready to take my sister and I to watch "Herbie" (you know, the movie about the talking VW Beetle). My sister and I were waiting at the top of the stairs leading to the ground floor hall way, ready to leave, when I heard a furious knocking on the outside door followed by a hideous animal like wailing which echoed through the house.

My mum and grandmother pushed past us and ran downstairs to investigate. Two women stood in the hallway - one wearing a chador and the other with her chador tied around her waist and completely topless. She was in her 50's yet she stood with her breasts out, reddened and peeling for all to see. Soghra, my grandmothers servant who had let them in stood motionless by the door, disbelieving.

Then the wailing started again. It came from the topless woman. It was blood curdling. We found out later that a samovar full of boiling water had accidentally been poured onto her chest. The women had come to my grandmother's house because years before it had actually been my grandfather's general practice clinic. He had passed away many years before but people still came for treatment from my grandmother or her other children (my aunts and uncles) who were all doctors. I remember both my mother and grandmother applying cream to her chest before calling my uncle Farrokh to send an ambulance from his clinic to collect her.

I would like to share a final memory with you. This time we are still in Mashad but in our own home. It must have been a new estate or a new build property because the street outside had no asphalt -- it was still a dirt road.

I had made a number of local friends who were all slightly older than me (I couldn't have been more than four years old. One of them was the son of a police colonel and when his father came home to eat and sleep after lunch, we would sit in his white Jeep and pretend we were chasing thieves. It is also interesting that all of my friends except for me had extremely short or even shaved (no. 1) trims.

I remember clearly that the way the streets were laid out meant that if we turned left outside our gate, turned left, left, left and left again we would end up back outside our gate. I was allowed to play outside of our gated house only as long as Fati, our servant, was watching me. I had a bike with stabilisers and the instant I cycled too far I could hear her plastic flip-flops as she ran after me to bring me back to the front of the house.

Fati was from Birjand and always used to call me "varpareedeh". For some reason we became obsessed with outwitting Fati and cycling around our block. A plan was hatched. When Fati was busy flirting with our gardener (she stood so she could also keep an eye on what the gardener was up to) we would cycle away as fast as we could.

I know I was secretly terrified about what we were going to do. My entire universe was our house and the street in front of it. I had seen the moon but had no idea what I was going to find on turning the corner. This was going to be my first daring adventure.

When the moment came to make a dash for it my friends and I pedalled like we had never pedalled before. I was enveloped with blind panic by the time we turned the first corner and the fact that the next street looked much the same as the street before did nothing to reduce the terror I was feeling. I could hear Fati screaming after me but knew she would never reach me.

The next thing that happened did so in slow motion. One of the older boys in front of me fell off his bike and rolled over several times. In my panic I did not stop. I didn't even swerve to avoid him. I cycled right over his head without falling off. I didn't even look back to see whether he was dead or alive.

As I turned the final corner and able to see our house I was euphoric. Fati, my mum, the gardener and the older boy whose head I had cycled over were standing outside looking in the direction we had escaped in. I slowed down and dismounted.

The boy standing with them saw me first. He waited 'til I was next to them and then bent over to show me his scalp. Through his skinhead hair cut I could see the red tread marks of my bicycle tyres. He obviously couldn't throttle me in front of my mum but he did say something like, "Siamack jan negaa kon chekaar kardi?" (Look what you did?).

I held my mum's hand and hid behind her skirt. She led me into the house and later that day took me to his parent's house to apologise. My daring adventure resulted in Fati being reduced to tears by my mum and for the week that followed, I was only allowed to cycle in the garden.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Siamack Salari


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