I sit at the kitchen counter and look at my friend, Sia, not believing what my ears offer.
– Sia are you freaking serious?
– Yeah, I am.
– Is this for real?
– For real, baby!
Sia and I have known each other a long time; ever since 8th grade in Tehran, roaming the side streets admiring high school girls and searching for genuine Wrangler jeans.
Now in our early thirties, we pretty much keep each other's company here, making sure one of us doesn't slip off the deep end and get lost in the confusion as one struggles just to be a common person, with nothing special to add to this world.
Sia is getting married, that is the big surprise. Not to an ordinary bride though — a bride specially packaged and prepared in Iran. This is the man who swore he would never go back to Iran, the man who as he exited Iran, looked back only in anger at what he considered had been a kick in the butt.
– Sia, have you seen this girl?
– I've seen pictures, and I've talked to her on the phone. She's so sweet.
– Yeah, sweet. And she talks with such a sense of unease that I feel like I'm doing something illicit just by talking to her!
– Raam, I really like this girl!
– Just by minor conversations on the phone? And a few lousy pictures?
– Don't be like that. Yeah, what's wrong with that?
– Can I see the pictures? Can I see this Persian goddess?
He walks to the pile of papers on the table across the room and from the mountain of junk mail, bills and catalogues, grabs a small envelope. The envelope screams like it was shipped from Iran: large, carefully written English letters and four or five turban-clad portraits as stamps. I grab the envelope from him and empty the contents on the table. He quickly takes hold of a folded letter:
– Sorry this is not for you!
I grab the pictures. On a long chair, under a chandelier, there is a girl sitting, legs crossed. She is petite, a little dark, with hair down to her elbows. Her face is as he describes it: innocent. Her eyes are dark, and her nose, slim. She has a smile that I can't quite describe; somewhere between forced and awkward. Her dress, long and covering her legs, is white. She'd make a picturesque bride.
Other pictures are similar. the scenery changes, some in the backyard garden and one outside the door in front of a Chevrolet Caprice. Her demeanor is the same everywhere, almost shy, almost compelled to pose.
– Sia, I don't know what to say!
– Say 'congratulations'!
– I'll wait for that, but how did this come about?
– I don't know. I was complaining to Narges about how I was sick of being alone and she went back to see my mom. The two sort of stumbled across her and then they showed her my picture, and sent a couple of pictures to me, and I guess it sort of happened from there.
– Does this woman have a name?
I imagine their wedding invitation, a melange of bad poetry and comments with a date and a place, names of Siamak and Niloofar inscribed on top as the happy couple who'd live together, forever.
– What's the timetable for this freaky union?
– Raam, don't be that way!
– Sorry, Sia, I'm just shocked out of my wits. What is the next step, are you going to Iran now?
– No she's gonna come to England. I'm gonna see her there with her mother and Narges; spend some time together and then maybe bring her here.
– Does she speak English?
– No, I can't say she does.
– You speak Farsi to her?
– What do you say? I mean you speak C++ better than Farsi.
– It's amazing, Raam, I have no problem talking to her, as if suddenly I'm home; all my vocabulary has returned without even a skip.
I grab two cigarettes and light one for him. It's Thursday, one day before Noruz, and inside the gray room, only the small haft seen spread on a corner table announces Noruz. Sia is anxious to get out.
– We've gotta go soon; I need some samanoo, only one seen short of haft seen.
– Why don't you use a cigarette, that should do!
He doesn't respect my sarcasm. The TV announces some stupid game show, and on a computer screen in the living room, a screen saver blasts onto the screen.
– Sia, honestly what's the attraction for you? Why this girl? What does she offer that no one else does; no one here I mean?
– I don't know Raam, a sense of belonging, a sense of manhood, as if by doing this, I can maybe set things straight, be someone, build something, belong somewhere, gain respect, ultimately find a purpose. Who was it that said you're not a man until you have something to die for?
– Yeah, Martin Luther King! Funny, I thought you were gonna say Hafez or something. Anyway, I need that thing to die for. I am 33 years old.
I stay quiet. It's beyond me to straighten him out, and how do I know he's wrong? All this is a matter of interpretation. He could be in Iran, and the same thing might have happened. His sister, Narges, would have introduced him to a girl from another neighborhood, and the two would have met under watchful eyes at a relative's house or a restaurant. Substitute that with a meeting in another country and stretch the distance involved, and it's basically the same principle. What bothers me, though, is the way he always fought any notion similar to this; how he always fought against what could make him a “traditionalist.” I try one last time:
– Okay, but remember the joker up there has always one hand up on us. Why donÕt you go slowly and find out a few more things about her before you end up like that vase you broke last year; a thousand pieces and on the concrete floor.
He stares at me, but doesnÕt really see me. He's somewhere else, caught between samanoo and Niloofar. He's caught in a deep trap.
We get out of the house.
ItÕs the night before Noruz officially starts. We buy some samanoo in Westwood and then walk into the local irooni restaurant to have our traditional sabzi polo mahi. It feels like summer. No one on the streets is even aware that Noruz is here except those busy bodies in Iranian stores and a few aquarium shops around Los Angeles who gouge the price of goldfish every March.
One more year has passed and nothing's changed except a few more gray hairs that advertise our age.
We sit at the table and order. Sia acts possessed, starts talking about her again. I phase his words out but now I sort of understand his yearning for this woman. As unreal as it is, she represents home and I envy him for his home, even if it is a mirage.
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