I finally left what I believed to be the safety of inside, to venture out by myself into the streets of my childhood.
First stop was Gheitariye Park. My mom and I had many a walks in this park. In between the maze of trees, she used to pour her heart out about the importance of good marks, speaking in a soft voice, and of course not complaining on long road trips when piled up with 13 other adults in the car!
As I got near, I could no longer bare risking my life to fight the crazy traffic to make it to the other side of the street where the park stood. The trees were dry, and skinny, and not maze like at all. Instead all lined up in straight rows, so I could see the other end of the park from where I stood.
As I got my Supper Cam, which I had stupidly hung around my neck, to take some pictures, I noticed a biker did a double take as he passed me. Seconds later he made a U turn across five rows of cars (aka 2 traffic lanes), and stopped in front of me.
“Khanoom your permit?”
“Picture and camera permit!”
“Ummm… (barely audible) Sorry, I'm not from… ummm… I was taking a picture of the park!”
Shocked by the amount of blood that can possibly drain from one's face he said, “Okay, okay. But if I catch you again, I will have to remove your camera!”
So I walked, ever so slowly, taking in the sight, every single spec of dust and detail, until the outside no longer resembled my directions on the inside. For years I had traced in my mind different routes to the street where I used to live as a child. Without fail I would always get there. Now there was a 10-lane highway between us.
Once I got to my street, my steps got more labored. As I entered the street, I had a strange feeling of wanting to laugh and cry all at once. The street of my childhood, was longer and wider – where kids could play and cars could still pass, the houses were whiter and more glamorous, and its sky definitely bluer.
It took mere seconds to travel the distance to the house. Sadly, I walked right passed it! I wasn't paying attention to the numbers, I had a better landmark in mind, the willow tree! The same willow that I used to sit under it's shade during those long blistering summers, eating cherries, blackberries and apricots which I would pick from the backyard. The same one that made willow my absolute favorite tree.
I felt panicked for a second, and once again felt reassured when I saw number 24 on top of this badly painted BLACK door. I didn't even want to take a picture. So what? Why had I thought this would be a monumental moment?
Without even realizing, I pushed the buzzer of an old neighbor. Luckily, no one answered. I was safe, and could now leave.
But I couldn't… Not Yet… There was a little me locked behind this UGLY black door. An entire family history. And before I knew it, a man's voice coming from the buzzer of house #24 broke the silence of the street.
It took a long time before I said, “Excuse me for intruding. I used to live here a life time ago… I realize its strange but do you mind if…”
“PLEASE, come in!”
Seconds later a young man appeared at the gate and invited me into the yard. The entire, beautiful front yard, with the trees, the green green grass, the roses, the willow, and that lovely yellow jasmine tree, were replaced with cheep Iranian concrete tiles. And what I remembered to be a mansion, now looked like it had shrunk with old age.
As I stood there on the hard ground, my entire family, and me at 7, 8 & 10 passed through my mind's blurred eyes.
It was hard to look at the chipped paint and the withering walls, but empowering to feel the roots still there underneath the tiles. When we walked to the main door I knew that I had seen enough. It was all there, but I knew that I was no longer here.
Just as I was leaving, the young man said “Shabnam, I remember you from when we bought this house… I remember you…”
On the way back, the sound of water running down the joob, and the non-stop chirping of the birds once again brought me back to the moment.
I stopped on the over-pass to take a last look, and the mountains streched to the north and to the south of the highway I was standing over, gave me a hug and made it all seem a little better.
The highway was now filled with cars with absolutely no room to move. But in Tehran, and certainly right now as I was watching, cars always manage to find themselves a little room, honk, and then get ahead.
Girls in their school uniforms were now all over the street, walking happily. A few school boys, hand in hand, followed a bunch of girls, whistling the entire way. Every single car with a male driver, honked at the girls (this seems to be as much part of their driving culture as is driving inside two lanes for us), in turn the girls gave them the standard cold shoulder flirty nod.
A bunch of men working on a building happily teased me about taking a few good pictures of them… I heard them until their voices faded in the distance. As I walked passed the flower shop and then the bakery, they were packed with beautifully made-up women, I suppose on their way to visit someone…
The irony here is that amidst the chaos, and the badly kept houses, Iranians have made an art out of looking for an inch… and then squeezing in. They squeeze in aggressively but with gusto, just as in their driving…
And these amazing people, are indeed kind, whether it's in fighting the temptation of steeling a poor sucker's camera, or inviting a perfect stranger into their home… and also, in remembering you, to your surprise!