She grabbed a small book from the pile of hundreds stacked in her small apartment, handed it to me, and laid down on my chest.
“Eeno baraam mikhuni?”
It was Maahi-ye siyaah-e kuchulu (The Little Black Fish), by Samad Behrangi. I started reading and she closed her eyes. I would look over to her from time to time. She was smiling like a little girl. Calm, secure. The scent of her hair filled the air I took in. I read on.
The story came to a close and her peace and quiet ended with the sound of my sobs.
“What's wrong? Are you crying? Chi shodi?”
I burst. My sobs grew to screams and tears to a stream.
Eighteen years had passed since the last time I read that story in my little room with a window to the paasio in our Tehran house on Andisheh-ye Seh. Eighteen years, and eleven major moves ranging from White Plains, New York to Nairobi, Kenya — endless new beginnings without the hope of finding another home.
It was that moment, as I looked at her and took in her scent, that I realized I may again have a home. I shed tears painfully for some time as she held me tight without asking questions. My tears were a baptism. I now had a new life and needed to be cleansed of all the pain that had been harbored in my chest since leaving Iran.
About a year ago, I had the chance, for the first time since I left Iran as a child of 12, to attempt building a permanent home in the U.S. Sure, I lived here long enough, took American citizenship and identify myself as an Iranian-American. But somehow I never managed to fully unpack. The caravan's bell would always call.
My older brother, Babak, was in Los Angeles for a year, after graduating from law school. He soon learned that LA is not what he imagined it may be and returned to the East Coast, settling in Washington DC. Meanwhile, I came back from a soul-searching odyssey that took me to Iran to do my military service, and started my masters at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Around the same time, my father, who was in Cairo working with UNICEF, retired. My parents realized that after all the years that passed since they left Iran 14 years ago, they had no home. They had lived in a number of countries, worked, made friends, and jumped to the next country as diplomats do. It was an emotional time, to say the least. The whole family was feeling uprooted and fed up of being international nomads.
When I was in Washington visiting Babak, he asked me to think about building a home in the there, together. The idea was very appealing. I was tired. Tired of the moves. I had lived in White Plains, Mogadishu, Nairobi, Boston, Cairo, Tehran and Princeton. I gave up my scholarship at Rutgers, worked part-time and paid my way at George Washington University to take the final classes I needed to transfer back and graduate.
I disliked the new studies, and my passion for politics and Third World development was not being answered in the consulting world. But the bills were being paid and I was finally opening up all my suitcases in DC, accepting that this is going to be home. Initially I was skeptical, thinking DC will be another caravansary on a long quest yet ahead. It took time. Slowly I trusted that this time things would be different.
For all the changes I had to make, I found a contentment in building a base. There is no way to describe the empty feeling I had when visiting Nairobi or Cairo some years after leaving there and realizing that my only remaining connection to those cities was fond memories. The houses of the friends I had, the places whose doors were always open to me, were now occupied by other people unknown to me.
Along the same lines, there is no explaining the warmth of having a haven again, and believing that it will not vanish like the others. The feeling of coming home after work and joking around with my brother. Both of us were so starved from the years of being alone, that we appreciated every second of this new life. Havaay-e ham ro dashtim — hesaabi.
It was wonderfully silly, to the point that our friends would make fun of how inseparable we had become and how hamash be ham miresideem. Life was good. I was surrounded by love. What could be better? I met the most incredible and brilliant woman and fell in love. There was a group of great Iranians who became my social circle and…
In a blink of an eye, this new cozy life came crashing down in front of my eyes like Laural and Hardy's piano out of the fourth-floor window.
Babak was getting married and out of the blue wound up in Iran. My brother — the last person in the world one would guess would move to Iran — was offered a great job in Tehran and was living with his soon-to-be wife. My parents decided not to base themselves out of Cairo since their son and new daughter-in-law were going to be in Tehran.
What was I to do?
I took a new look around and felt abandonment taking over me. I almost craved the solitude that terrified me and depressed me so. So much had crumbled around me, and what remained standing I flattened out myself. I tried to think of my dreams before all this started and realized that I don't recall. But it was certainly not to be a business consultant leading a quiet life in a Washington suburb. Now, I would have to rebuild. My guide would be the desire never to see myself feeling as I was then.
I sat on a foam mattress across the TV, and baptized myself all over.