Behind the Garden Door - Love

Fereshteh was one of those idealists


Behind the Garden Door - Love
by pomegranate

Yeki bood, yeki nabood

How every story begins.

For the most part it was the circumstances – we were literally thrown together by the restrictions imposed on us from the outside and, like prisoners in a jail cell, we turned to each other out of necessity. It was really quite ironic – the very things that should have kept us apart: our different religions, the tyrannical nature of the regime and its constant attempt to control intermingling between man and woman, the political intrigues, our very cultures and mindsets – all these were washed away in the tidal wave of the revolution like matchsticks, causing us to become closer, and, having no one but each other to turn to, ever closer still.

Even in Iran, the land of paradoxes, this type of relationship was not usual, but the changes wrought by the revolution had completely destroyed and reshaped everyone’s internal framework and values. The legs had been knocked out from beneath us and we were groggily standing up, trying to get our bearings. We were as tops that, previously spinning freely and moving along a delineated path, were now bounded tightly on all sides – ricocheting off one wall and then the other until the inevitable collision.

The upheaval created an extraordinary situation where the extremes lived cheek by jowl and no one thought anything of it. Death by execution created a backdrop for the wild parties at night, a society watched over by the morality police cloaked hundreds of private stills and home breweries. What could never have happened, did; what seemed beyond belief was now an everyday occurrence. All was surreal yet ordinary at once.

At the time we met, Iran was still in the early throes of its revolutionary fervor. Students and dissidents were giddy with the prospects of turning the country into a socialist state, modeled after their version of China or Russia or Albania. Boys and girls fresh from the college campuses of California and Ohio would tramp out to dusty fields to help pick tomatoes in the village fields alongside the working proletariat. From there they would hold rallies to stoke the revolutionary fires within the hearts of gnarled and bearded men who were too stunned by the sudden appearance of uncovered and intense young things to really pay much attention to anything else. The sight of perky breasts and long-flowing hair somehow overwhelmed the cool logic of Mao.

Fereshteh was one of those idealists. She had worked hard for the cause and joined many demonstrations in Iran, but had turned sour over the way things were headed. She began pulling out of the political movement just as things began turning nasty. The new regime, now solidified after a few months in power, had begun systematic roundups of any and all suspected dissidents. This included all manner of socialists and communists, Bahais, Jews, students, former employers and other intellectuals. It was common to hear that this or that person had been picked up on the street and driven to Evin prison, never to be seen again.

In the meantime, I had been released from the army, the government deciding wisely that it no longer needed the corrupt remnants of the former imperial regime holding on to any weapons, and was looking for a job. A friend suggested I apply for a temporary translation position at an international conference being held in Tehran. So I went and there met Fereshteh for the first time. The angel that would save me.

She smiled at me and shook my hand firmly, dark eyes unwavering. She stood a head shorter than me, with the black eyes and strong eyebrows that marked the Iranian woman. Her head was framed by a headscarf that was now de rigueur in official government gatherings. A jet of straight black hair shot through the side of the head covering, where it had been pulled back slightly. She was not what one would call beautiful or pretty in the standard sense, but her directness and candor were compelling in a way that made me feel slightly embarrassed. I had never met a Persian girl like this before. Very efficient and organized, she walked me through the interview process, asking about my background and education.

Midway through, she looked up and smiled, “Well, I don’t think we need to drag this out any longer. Your English is excellent. You’re hired.”

I smiled back, a little unsure. She was about my age, straight out of college, but seemed so self-assured, so in control. She stood up and held out her hand. I scrambled out of my chair to my feet.

“We will see you first thing Saturday morning, David.”

The day I reported to work, she was holding court at one of the tables surrounded by a gaggle of other translators; many Iranian, a few Europeans and some from South America. I, as usual, sat off to one side, trying hard to mind my own business.

She walked over. “Why don’t you come join us?”

She was not going to take no for an answer.

Very headstrong and in charge, she guided me to the other table where she made the introductions.

“This is David. He speaks excellent English and was educated abroad – in the States, yes?”

“Yes that’s right”.

“Are you Iranian?” one asked.

“Yes, I am.”

I wondered at that myself.

Everything about me was out of place. Born in Iran of Arab parents, Jewish in a Moslem land, even my name was foreign, a memento of my mother’s western longings. She named her children thus as another way to maintain her connections with a culture she had left to get married. I had spent my whole life in Iran, then left to continue my studies after graduating from high school like many of my friends. My college education over, I had returned Iran to begin the next phase of my life, which happened to coincide with the Iranian revolution. And so, here I was.

There were several others at the table, two of whom stood out. Chilean girls, friends, and both quite attractive. I soon learned that they were married and had applied for the jobs because they had heard the pay was excellent. We chatted and felt each other out, speaking in English.

Once the ice had been broken for me, it became easier. I had always needed that push – making the first move was difficult and required effort, not to mention the grinding tension that came along with trying to decide what to say and how to say it. I hated that need to be practiced – regurgitating phrases and bon mots I had picked up in somewhere and stored for use at the appropriate time. I wonder now how others saw that behavior – was the insincerity obvious? The glibness nauseating?

It would be refreshing now to ask of those I had met and conversed with:

“What exactly did you think of me? Of what I had said?”

And what would I expect in return?


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