Tehran is one big city. Twelve million creatures moving along an uncertain path which most of the time seems gloomy and dark. How they manage to go on and on is unknown but promising. There's not much left for us but hope and when there's hope there's reason for a better day, a whisper in the cold dark night that tomorrow's sky will be a little brighter. Though no one could ever promise that for sure, it's still a nice thought to wake up to every morning.
When I first started writing about Tehran I thought ,”Okay, I'll write about the kids out in the streets, or the journalist taxi driver and the movie and there'll be nothing else to write about.” But now I see that every street, every corner, every incident is something worth writing about. something worth looking at a little bit closer. This city is so huge that no writer or painter or photographer could capture even half of it.
Tehran is really an international city exactly like New York. Of course, with some slight differences (well, maybe more then just “slight”). For one thing what David Letterman says about New York doesn't apply here: “New York City is really an international city. You can get just about any kind of food here – German, Greek, Chinese, Italian, Mexican — and that's just off the floor of the cab.”
But you can still find people in every class, rank, color and size, just like in New York. It's just funny that no matter what “kind” of people we are, we all snore, laugh and cry in the same language. Maybe the different worlds we live in aren't really that different after all. I've met different people here but I don't think I'll ever forget that man I met the other night.
When you sit in the taxi, people get on and off at different stops along the way. You hardly notice them. You reach your destination, pay the driver and after a few seconds the whole ride is forgotten. Nothing strange or special. Nothing worth remembering.
But that night as I was busy talking to the person sitting next to me I saw a man get on and sit in the front seat. What made me notice him at first was his height. He was one of the tallest men I had ever set eyes on. Clean shaven, well dressed with silvery hair and round glasses. A face I might see almost anywhere. But once he started speaking I knew that the voice and the words might not be heard just anywhere.
He started with : “Mr, if you left a whole lot of money in a car, how would you get it back?” Funny accent. I eventually found out he was Kurdish. The taxi driver just shrugged his shoulder. “I don't know. I don't think I could ever get it back. I'd try to forget about it.”
Once the man heard this, his face turned into the saddest expression. He kept repeating something in whispers. He kept saying : “God Almighty, please help, please. . . “
It seemed pretty funny to the driver and the other passengers. You come across a lot of beggars in Tehran. Old and young, men and women, dressed in rags or shining with jewelry. They're some of the best storytellers on earth, making up the weirdest tales one could never imagine. Anything for a few rials.
There's a place near Enghelab Square where you can find a whole lot of them sitting inches away from each other. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their mother has been in a terrible accident and needs a kidney. They've sold their house but all the money has been lost or stolen. This “mother” seems to have nine lives because though they claim she's going to die in a matter of weeks they're sitting in the same spot with the same old story all year round.
But somehow as this man was talking, something in his voice told me that he wasn't lying. For one thing he did not ask for money even once but just kept asking for ways which he could find his own. He was a farmer who lived in Kurdistan and had brought his mother to Tehran. She was sick and needed treatment. He'd found a good hospital for her and planned on showing his family around in the mean time.
He'd filled out the necessary papers at the hospital and was about to pay when he realized that the plastic bag containing the money he had brought along was left in a taxi. He begged the nurses to let his mother rest until he could go and figure out a way to pay them. But over and over again he was told “injaa bimaarestaaneh, hotel nist (this is a hospital, not a hotel).”
The hospital staff finally agreed to take the mother in for two days. If he was not back with the money by then, she'd be out on the street. Now her son, our Kurdish passenger, was trying to go to Maydan -e Shoush — a place where there were supposed to be a lot of Kurds. He said,”If only I had enough money to go to Kurdistan, I could gather any amount there. But I've lost everything I brought with me. I don't know how to get back. If only I could go back to Kurdistan.”
Sure, he could've been lying. He must have had some relatives in Tehran. Why would a person put all the money he has in a plastic bag?
In a strange way something told me he wasn't making all this up. There'll never be a way to find out the truth but I don't think there'd be a reason not to believe him. You're innocent until proven guilty. When there was no harm in believing his story why shouldn't I? There was something so heartbreaking in his voice. Not a poor fellow, but one who claimed he had lost everything he had and couldn't go back to get more. It could happen to any of us anywhere in this cold cruel world.
The taxi stopped. We all paid the driver but he refused to take money from the Kurdish man. He left the money on the dashboard and walked away. I reached in my wallet and pulled three thousand tomans — enough money to get him where he wanted to go. Not by airplane but at least by bus. But even when I was approaching him, something made me step back. There was a kind of dignity there that made me think he'd get mad or extremely upset by my offer.
I put the money back in my wallet. But I was worried for those two children of his, hungry and alone in this huge unfeeling city. All I could do now was hope that this “Almighty God” would show him a helping hand. I was hoping that the sick woman was safe in the hospital. But what good does hope do? “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” and as far as I could see all the beggars here are still walking on their own two feet.
It just doesn't seem fair but I guess in a place where they put price tags on a person's life, you should have a thick wallet or else you'd be in deep trouble sooner or later. But even with all the horrors out there, on those long, sleepless nights, it's nice to know as you lie there waiting for the dawn, that you're not the last living creature on earth; that you're untied with all the other sleepers and dreamers and those who are simply waiting.
Najmeh Fakhraie is a 17-year-old student in Tehran.