It is late afternoon. Not particularly hot for a day in July. The year is 1969.
Dad is sitting in the veranda, reading the afternoon papers. Mom is in the garden, picking the last of the yellow jasmines, which this year, amazingly, have lasted way past the spring. I'm standing by the pond, as is Niloofar. In our hands we hold bamboo stalks that we pulled out of the old window shades on the other side of the house. We push the stalks into the water, watch them make rings, and follow the rings as they get larger and larger and then disappear. Outside the pond, we count the number of ants that we kill with our small but cruel little feet.
A butterfly lands on my arm, looking lost. Its wings glittering in the sunshine. Niloofar gets excited, makes an attempt to catch it, but only manages to slap hard on my arm. The butterfly escapes and I cry out loud. Niloofar laughs mischievously, as she often does. Then fearing revenge, runs away screaming. I run after her. On the way I crash into mom. Mom almost loses her balance, yells at me, not harshly, but gently and lovingly. Niloofar is now in the veranda, hiding behind dad. I cannot touch her there. I sit opposite dad, on the white chair with red cushions. Niloofar pulls faces from behind dad, knowing that my dad cannot tell her off. Only her own parents can. I cannot return the facial insults and my arm is still hurting. I busy myself with the newspapers, waiting for an opportunity.
The headlines are all about the moon and the Apollo project. Round about now, on July 20, 1969, man will be making history, as Apollo 11 lands on the moon, and with it the first man ever, a man by the name of Neil Armstrong. I search for the moon in the sky but am unable to find it. Niloofar is still pulling faces, occasionally moving closer slyly, trying to provoke a reaction. I enjoy her attention very much. I also enjoy pretending to ignore her. The papers say in 10 to 15 years everybody could travel to the moon. I think I will like that very much. We could then spend the summer on the moon, rather than at grandma's house. But I keep that thought to myself. I know mom would prefer to be with grandma. The papers also say if it hadn't been for a man by the name of von Braun, who moved from Germany to the U.S. after World War II, moon travel would have remained a dream. I decide that I will grow up to be a scientist and an astronaut and move to this place called NASA in the U.S. Again I keep the thought to myself.
Niloofar is getting restless and is now openly pestering me. She pinches my arm. I pull her hair. She screams and dad looks at me sternly, but not at her. Niloofar runs away inside, straight to my room. I fear for my books. I follow her. She is sitting on the edge of the bed, holding in her hand (and casually flicking through) my only grown-ups' book, History of Science, which, I own to show off rather than read. If I get any closer the book will have a lot fewer pages and, as a result, science a much shorter history. I just stand and stare at her, trying to look unconfrontational. A few silent moments pass. Finally she throws the book away unharmed and announces that I am a nerd and a bore reading a book like that. I feel relieved, but also a little saddened that she feels that way about me. I want to say that girls have no brains, but, not knowing for sure that this is true and also fearing more violent reactions, I just keep quiet.
She's now half lying on the bed, her skinny arms supporting the top part of her body, her legs dangling by the side of the bed, her feet not reaching the floor. At the age of 9-and-a-half she's a few months more of a child than I am. She's wearing a loose sleeveless pale olive dress with tiny little white flowers on it. Her hair is tied on the sides, making the outline of her neck visible, and her eye lashes partially cover the gleam in her eyes.
It puzzles me that I'm thinking these things in the midst of our battle. Something strange is happening, something I haven't experienced before. I feel confused, even a little bashful looking in her direction. Something is very different today, something in her smile perhaps. I walk closer to her, almost without thinking, and in spite of myself, sit on the bed by her side. My heart is beating fast. Little creatures enter my belly from nowhere and move about hurriedly. She pinches my arm. I pinch hers. She kicks me in the leg. I kick back. She laughs. I laugh. She pulls my hair. I pull hers. We wrestle and struggle, like children do, like she and I often do, except that this time it has a different, quite unfamiliar thrill to it. And when we stop, after many twists and turns, none of us claims victory, like we normally do.
We lie silently on our sides. She watches my fingers as they make little circles on the palm of her hand. I think of the moon. And the man on the moon. Far away, Neil Armstrong is making history, taking “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Over here on earth, Niloofar and I are on a little moon of our own, making a little history of our own, taking little steps into a world that we will later learn is called adulthood …