The alarm clock rang almost two hours before Sepideh's usual wake up time, and yet she managed to skip her daily struggle of ungluing herself from the mattress and sprang out of bed with great alacrity.
Today she was going to witness history in the making, or at least, that's what her friends from university kept saying. The last time she had been this excited about getting out of bed was about six months ago when her now ex-boyfriend had treated her to a weeklong getaway at an all-inclusive Sandals resort in Jamaica.
“Where was John now' she wondered. “I bet he wouldn't approve of what I'm about to do today.” She couldn't help the mischievous smirk that danced on her lips as she made her way to the bathroom.
For the first time since her uniformed days as a private school student, she knew exactly what she was going to wear. A white T-shirt with the words “NO WAR FOR OIL” hung from a wooden hangar on the back of her bedroom door.
She walked up to it and cautiously traced the red letters with her index finger. The paint had dried. Thank God for that.
From the top of her dresser she grabbed an old pair of jeans and then used a few large safety pins to fasten numerous anti-war messages that she and her best friend Jessica had painstakingly written on pieces of white linen the night before. The slogans were mediocre at best. “WAR IS BUSHIT” and “GEORGE GO BOMB YOURSELF” were among the most colorful.
For her make-up she chose a few light stokes of mascara, some translucent powder, a touch of Golden Goddess bronzer and a hint of Go Pout Strawberry Mocha gloss. A blue bandana held her long hair back showing off the pair of diamond stud earrings that her parents had given to her as a high school graduation gift. As she studied her reflection in the full-length mirror she was more than pleased with what she saw. After all, what do you wear to an anti-war demonstration?
The alarm clock on her dresser was displaying 7:19 AM, giving her more than a half hour before Jessica would pick her up. Great! She had time for breakfast. With one last satisfied look at her reflection, she grabbed her jacket, and her back-pack and was about to step out of her room when her eyes caught sight of the huge picket sign resting against her back wall.
How could she have almost forgotten? The sign was her best accessory today. Granted, she had found the slogan on the Internet and couldn't really take any credit for it, but it was funny and she couldn't wait to show it off. “A VILLAGE IN TEXAS HAS LOST ITS IDIOT.” She chuckled, picked up the sign and walked out of her room.
Both her parents were downstairs in the kitchen. Her mother had just returned from her morning jog and was stretching her calves while her father was sitting at the kitchen table hiding behind a copy of the local Iranian newspaper with a steaming cup of tea before him. She had hoped to avoid a confrontation with them as she was sure they would castigate her for wanting to go to an anti-war demonstration. But it was too late for that now and so she took a deep breath, braced herself for an inevitable argument and walked into the kitchen.
Her mother saw her first. She eyed her up and down, read the picket sign and then, without showing any emotion whatsoever returned her attention to her stretching.
“Tea is ready, if you like to have some,” she said without lifting her head.
“Thanks mom,” mumbled Sepideh, surprised by her mother's calm reaction.
Now if only her father would react the same way.
She put the sign down, walked to the tea pot and poured herself a cup of tea. She then grabbed a baguette from a nearby bread basket, spread some cream cheese on it and sat down at the kitchen table. More than halfway into her baguette she started to enjoy the possibility of not being seen by her father. Just then, her mother's voice shattered all her hopes. “Mahmood, your tea is getting cold. Put that paper down.”
With a mild grunt, her father put the paper down, reached for his tea and took a sip. It was then that he saw Sepideh for the first time that morning. He all but chocked on his tea.
“What's that you're wearing?” he asked in an angry but controlled voice.
He spoke in Persian, as he always did.
“I'm going to an anti-war demonstration with a bunch of my friends from college.”
“You look like an idiot!”
“At least I'm standing up for what I believe.”
“And what exactly do you believe?”
“That war is not the answer. That innocent people shouldn't have to die for us in America to feel secure. That the price of oil is not the blood of toddlers spilling from their cribs.”
“Brava. We must all congratulate your brain's washer. He's done a damn good job.”
“I can't believe you don't agree with what I'm saying.”
“Have you spoken to even one Iraqi person to find out what he wants?”
“Sometimes a few lives must be sacrificed for others to be liberated.”
“How utilitarian of you!”
“War is bad and people die in it. But sometimes is necessary.”
“And you came to that conclusion by talking to exactly how many Iraqis?”
“The American soldiers are going to be received with arms wide open. Just wait and see.”
“I doubt that, but I guess time will tell.”
“Yes it will. And tomorrow will be a better day for Iraqis everywhere.”
“Oh my God! I can' believe I'm hearing this from my own father. Tell me, would you like it if it was Tehran that was being bombed every night? Which neighborhood would you sacrifice first? Shemroon? Maybe Karaj? That's where Auntie Azar lives right?”
“I would sacrifice Tehran and more if it meant an end to oppression in my country. And Azar would be the first person to welcome a war that would set her and her kids free.”
“Is that what you told yourself when you and your bell-bottom wearing friends decided to have a revolution? That you were setting your kids free? Because as your kid let me tell you, that didn't happen.”
For the first time in their discussion, Sepideh's father was taken back by his daughter's comment.
Her mother had been watching the heated exchange from behind the kitchen counter. Feeling that her presence might be needed at the table, she grabbed a few fuji apples from a fruit basket, put them in a yellow bowl and joined her husband and daughter. She had barely sat down before Sepideh reached into her backpack and took out a set of photos.
“Here. Look at these. Then tell me, war is a good thing.”
The first picture was that of an Iraqi amputee begging in a busy Baghdad street. The anguish in his face, combined with the sweat on his brow, his torn clothes and the prosthetic leg he was using as a walking stick made him a truly heartbreaking sight.
But the picture that followed was even more disturbing. An eleven-month old girl screamed in agony while at a children's hospital. A dirty towel lay on her forehead while a single tear sat on her left cheek. The caption read “11-month-old Iraqi girl suffering from gastroenteritis due to poor drinking water, cries in a crowded Baghdad hospital.”
The next picture was that of a dead 16 year-old Iraqi boy who'd been the victim of a crossfire between American and Iraqi forces. His brother was kissing his forehead while his father wept at his side.
Sepideh's father looked through these pictures in silence. He was clearly touched by the images. Her mother didn't look through them. She busied herself peeling an apple.
“I have more, a lot more if you like to see them,” Sepideh was pleased by the impact that the pictures had made. Quietly, her father gave the pictures back to her and took off his reading glasses.
“You're young, and passionate. That's good. But you're also naïve. If you're truly interested in politics you need to learn to think critically, and not just regurgitate what others around you are saying. These pictures are sad but the reality they depict is not limited to times of war. Iraqis have suffered much worse at the hands of Saddam and his government of butchers. Have you seen pictures of political prisoners tortured in Iraqi jails? How about photos of Iraqi children starving to death as their supposedly great leader kicks it up in his palace?”
Sepideh hesitated for a few seconds, clearly considering her fathers comments. Then, as if resolving a personal dilemma, she shook her head and asked: “And you think war is the answer?”
“Sometimes it is.”
“No. No way. Mom you agree with me, don't you?”
Slowly, her mother looked up from her now fully-pealed apple to find two eager faces staring back at her. Taking a deep breath, she calmly proceeded to cut the apple into a few slices.
“Mom, come on, what do you think? Is war going to save Iraq?”
“I think you should eat this and then go to your demonstration.”
Caught slightly off guard, Sepideh hesitantly reached for the apple slice that her mother was holding out to her.
“So you agree. War is not the answer.”
“I'm tired of hearing about the war in Iraq. I sympathize with what's going on in that part of the world, but there are so many other problems that we need to talk about. Do you know how many people die of AIDS in Africa every day?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Sepideh's father in an impatient tone.
“People are dying in Africa, women are being murdered in remote parts of Mexico, SARS is killing in the dozens, so what? The situation in Iraq is directly related to what is going to happen in Iran. As Iranians it is our duty to keep an eye on the developments in that region, and if possible make sure that our country benefits from these changes. For once, our goals may be the same as those of the United States and yet you want me to do the unselfish thing and worry about AIDS in Africa? I won't do it! Not as long as there is turmoil in MY country.”
“You do as you wish, dear. But I am entitled to my opinion, as is your daughter. So relax and go pour me some tea, will you?”
Ignoring her, Sepideh's father lifted his newspaper and resumed his reading with a great deal of pomp and circumstance. Amused by her husband's reaction, Sepideh's mother smiled and got up from the table. She walked to the tea pot and poured herself a cup of tea. Just then, she heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway
“You better get going, Sepideh,” she said as she walked back to the kitchen table. “I think I hear your friend Jessica in the driveway.”
Still in the process of evaluating her father's last comments, Sepideh got up from the table, picked up her stuff and walked out of the kitchen. Once she was gone, her mother grabbed a slice of apple and said in a seductive tone:
“Mahmoody, have some apple and wipe that frown away.”
“I don't want any apple.” Without wiping his frown away, he got up from the table, grabbed his newspaper and walked away.
She watched him leave. Then, after a small shrug, she took a bite of her apple and made a conscious effort to enjoy one of life's more simple pleasures.