Once again Persian language filled the room and I had a feeling something ominous was going to happen. Ironically it was my turn to come up with a plan that would prove my loyalty to our little group. We're reduced to four after two of us were serving time for theft and damage to properties. Most of us at least once, had appeared before the magistrate as an alibi or a witness, or the accused. In all the court cases, as far as I could remember Ferry was always the main player in all our misadventures but somehow managed to get away. In fact I don't recall him ever being accused of anything.
Our room was usually the center of all activities. In a way, I acted as Ferry's secretary, giving him the report of who came to see him and how important the matter was. After six months living with him I knew fairly well what was his priorities and advised him accordingly. Lot of the times refugees came to ask for his approval about certain things, actions, usually to do with beating somebody up. He was the one with the final say in everything. A leader, I suppose.
Everybody thought he had balls. While I shared a room with him I discovered things about him that others didn't. On the surface nothing seemed to scare him. But he had this poker face that no one could read into. He kept his cards as close to his chest as possible. He was the oldest of all the single Iranian men in our camp, and by far the most disciplined one. He had already completed his military service and was working in the Department of Treasury as an accountant before fleeing the country.
The first time I met him was at the office. He came on my arrival to interpret our conversation with the camp's administrator. As soon as the subject of my accommodation was mentioned he told the admin that I could stay in his room for there was a bed vacant. He said it with such persuasion as if he had kept the bed empty just for me to occupy it. Ferry was like that. He always got what he wanted. His ravenous appetite for control and dominance hypnotized people around him.
Later, however, I realized it was to my advantage to remain in the room with him. As the camp was divided between rival groups and Ferry had established himself as the leader among the Iranian refugees. He had brought several of the Iranian refugees together and formed a small gang. Then by using his fists had subdued the ones who questioned his leadership. He offered protection from those refugees from other countries who intimated and bullied the refugees.
Ferry, a couple of times, had handpicked the strongest, ugliest and meanest of their tough guys and roughed them up publicly as a lesson to the rest. The Iranian and Afghani families with young attractive girls unequivocally had approved of Ferry's leadership. Whenever there were sexual advances on their daughters or sisters Ferry was called in to punish the harasser. And he did it successfully and with doing so he reinforced his leadership in the camp.
Although Ferry had all the qualities of a leader, but his motive stemmed from a series of complex political agendas.
That night all the eyes were on me.
“You never come up with a plan Jamshid! Don't tell us you're out of ideas,” Ali told me with his Isfahani accent.
“I'm sure Jamshid is capable of something ingenuous,” Vahid confidently told the group.
I was certain they were both mocking me. I'd never come up with anything clever let alone ingenuous. I'd abstained from suggesting a course of action, particularly anything that was outside the law. Yet I was a humble follower, which made me a faithful culprit that up-until then the German law had failed to apprehend. If there ever was a safe side to our misdemeanors I was there, gnawing away at my bone in the background, dawdling the time away until things cooled down. And Ferry for his own reasons never put the pressure on me to do anything more, which baffled me and raised a few eyebrows.
Last month we followed Ali's childish plan, which was to go on a rampage. He was upset by the sentencing of his friend for bashing up a German bartender. We dented up as many cars as we could and stole some of their valuable parts for sale later. A silly plan really but Ferry gave his stamp of approval. God knows what went on in his mind. Only in retrospect I could come to some concrete conclusion about some of the decisions he made. Most of his action had to be looked at within a given time span. Fleeting moments could reveal nothing about his long-term plans, deceptive impressions if anything.
Ferry only approved things if they suited his purpose. He was too calculating to let things just happen, particularly a senseless rampage like that. Two of the Iranians got busted, when the police searched the rooms and found the vehicle's parts hidden in their room. Ferry never liked those guys. That's why I think he had something to do with it. He once told me that he hated the communists. And that those two communists didn't deserve to get refugee passports and be allowed to live and work in the free capitalist Europe. Those were his exact words. He thought they should have gone to Soviet Union or one of her “backward colonies” instead. It was only the night before the police search that he took the vehicle parts to their room and asked them to stash them away.
In the last year or so all of the members of his gang, those who sided with certain political ideology or parties to which Ferry had aversion for, ended up getting a criminal record. And in all those incidents Ferry was involved. All of his gang members changed over time. He never had much difficulty recruiting new ones, however.
As for Vahid, Ferry's recent gang member, was a locksmith back in Tehran. Soon after the first Alaha Akbars were screamed out from the rooftops he joined the Mojahedins and worked within their network to overthrow the Shah.
Ali, God knows what he was or what he believed in. Ferry had a nickname for him, the lizard he called him. He thought of him as a piece of trash that should have been washed away by the currents of Zayande Rood long time ago.
Ferry never let anybody close to his own political convictions. People, in their first few encounters with him tended to think he was on their side. But this was his style of orienting himself particularly with the new refugees. I still remember his first conversation with me, “Running away from the oppression of Khominie's regime? Don't worry we'll return one day and triumph over them.' He sat and sighed along side of me as if he knew exactly how I felt inside and what I've left behind. I know for fact that he was on no body's side. He only allowed people to get the impression that he was; just for a while though. But before anybody began preaching about his political affiliations he'd establish his own rules. “The rules of the camp”, he coined it. “You see Jamshid, there are brawls here on daily basis. Rape even. If we don't stick together we'll get bullied and humiliated. All the refugees respect me in this camp because I've showed them what I'm capable of. That they can't fuck with the Iranians. Without me they walk all over us,” he told me.
There were problems in the camp, I can't deny them, but he exaggerated them to his own advantage, and often added to the already existing problems by overreacting to minor incidents, only because they benefited him in the publicity department.
Although Ferry never expressed what political ideology he adhered to, but occasionally divulged what he didn't like. Having brought with him from Iran several paperback. Translations of George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller, he talked about his favorite writers when he was in the mood; only to me that is. He liked George Orwell above all others. In all his conversation he vilified the communists. I don't know why Ferry was so much against the communists. Since we all ran away from the Mullahs, Ferry seemed to be wasting his energy on the wrong mobs. But he blamed the communists for everything. But once again it was not out of character for an Iranian to blame somebody else for something.
That night the onus was on me to come up with a plan and I couldn't budge it either.
nowing Vahid always boasted about his skills in opening cars, I told them we should steal a car and drive to Hamburg. After a year in the camp I thought I needed a holiday. I thought if one day I was going to get arrested, it better be on something that I really wanted to do.
Something fun. It was the best thing I could think of considering our circumstances any way. I thought we all needed a short break from the vicious atmosphere of the camp that engulfed us like a giant octopus. Hamburg's notorious nightlife was something that we had heard about but never experienced. For a moment everybody pondered over the possibility and practicality of it. We all knew it didn't matter how great or how poor we thought the plan was, for Ferry had to give his stamp of approval.
“Vahid's skills in opening cars is going to be tested,” Ferry said.
Vahid had bragged about his specialty in opening cars before. The Japanese cars, the Toyota to be precise.
“I can open any cars but if we could find a Toyota, it'll be even better,” Vahid proudly announced.
“Don't worry we can find a Toyota for you to open. I think I've seen a few in this town. It's a shame you haven't specialized in German cars, our little journey to Hamburg would have been more luxurious,” Ferry told him with a ting of sarcasm always detected in his tone of voice.
Ferry ordered Ali to go to town and scout the streets for a Toyota. An hour later, having spotted a Toyota Ali returned. He said a Toyota was parked in the eastern side of town on a quite residential street. It was pass midnight and we left the camp for our dream destination, Hamburg.
It was January and relentless snow was adding to its thick layer of white over everything visible in town. Ferry instructed me to stay watch on the north side, nearest to the car, while Ali guarded the south side for any coming cars or pedestrians from the two adjacent roads. Vahid took his little tools out and began opening the driver's door. A faint dog's bark became audible from one of the houses in the neighborhood but it was remote enough to be ignored.
“Did you know how long it takes for German car thieves to break into a vehicle and start it?” Ferry asked Vahid as he was engaged with the lock
“No, how long?” Vahid asked, steam oozing out of his mouth.
“Thirteen seconds,” Ferry answered.
“I'm a bit rusty, but I'll have this car opened and started in few minutes.” As he was speaking, the door opened.
He pushed the seat back and crawled underneath the steering wheel and began pulling out the wires. By this time about three to four minutes had passed. Except the distant, intermittent barking of the dog, the whole neighborhood seemed to be in a deep slumber buried underneath the heavy, powdery snow that kept falling. There was no soul or cars coming from either direction. I couldn't wait long enough for the engine to ignite, as my hands and feet, despite their adequate cover, were beginning to get desperately cold. Ferry had his hands in his pockets and stood motionlessly as he watched Vahid. Ali was furthest from us and couldn't hear any of our conversations. I lit up a cigarette.
I saw a car turned into the road. I wasn't sure whether it was going to drive straight or turn right to the street where Vahid and Ferry were on. I signaled Ferry and began to walk. Ferry and Vahid clambered into the car's backseat. But the vehicle drove pass. Vahid resumed his work.
It was about fifteen minutes now that Vahid was struggling to get the car started. He had a small torch lying on the floor of the car beaming up the jumbled, colored chords. Ferry began to talk to him again.
“Is there any problem?” He asked him.
“I've connected the wires but I don't know why the engine it's not starting?” He told him with much puzzlement.
“Forget what I told you about the German car thieves-make it happen within twenty three minutes instead.” He told him in case his previous comment had cooled him out.
“I'm doing my best', Vahid said.
Ali began walking toward us. Since he didn't signal we didn't panic. He probably wanted something or just wanted to tell us that he was cold.
“What's up guys?' He asked annoyingly.
“Go back to your post,” Ferry demanded.
“I'm freezing to death,” he told us.
“Well you're not the only one,” Ferry told him, “I'd rather you freeze to death at your post than here.” Ferry harshly rebuked him.
Ali scurried back to the top of the street. Before he reached the top a person unexpectedly turned into the street. It happened quickly, catching us all off guard. Ferry told Vahid to get into the car and stay there. He himself crossed the street. And I walked away to the opposite direction. The man must have entered one of the houses on the same street for neither of us saw him coming out anywhere.
This put us more on the edge. For if he had suspected anything he could be watching the street through the window from one of the houses. But Ferry didn't flinch and insisted we continue the operation.
We all resumed our posts, with Vahid hammering away at his job.
The car, to our big relief, started after a few minutes and we all got in without the slightest hast and drove off.
“How much petrol is in the tank?” Ferry asked Vahid who was driving.
“Not much, enough to get us out of town though,” Vahid replied.
“Stop the car,” Ferry told him.
“We're not going to run out of petrol in middle of the autobahn. Drop me and Jamshid here and go to the nearest petrol station. Fill the tank up and come back pick us up. We'll be waiting for you here.' Ferry told him. Always thinking ahead. I dreaded walking out of the car into the cold again, but I had to follow his instructions. Beside what he said made sense.
“Why don't we all go to the petrol station,' Vahid asked.
“I don't want to raise the attendant's suspicion by seeing four Middle Easter men crammed in a small Toyota at 3am on a Sunday morning.' Ferry told him.
We got dropped off all right and as soon as Vahid turned the corner, Ferry headed to the opposite direction.
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“Come on, lets go,” he told me in a hurried voice.
“I've been waiting for the moment like this for a while,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“I'm going to call the police,” he told me.
“What?' I expressed in horror.
“What're you talking about?” I asked him again.
“I'm going to tell the police that they've stolen a car.”
Ferry was playing a dirty game with his fellow refugees. He's been the mastermind probably of all the previous arrests. Now he was letting me in on it, because he probably was thinking that I could be trusted? That perhaps my role as a secretary could be promoted to something higher? Or that he could not longer hide things from me?
“It was you who called the police to search the rooms after passing over the spare parts to Hassan and Asghar, wasn't it?”
“Yes, clever man it was me. They're all busted because of me turning them in.”
“You didn't turn them in. You set them up. That's even worse,” I told him firmly.
“How could you do this?” I asked him with disgust.
“You don't understand. You're non political. You're lucky that you're. That's why I let you share the room with me.”
“I guess I have to consider myself lucky-otherwise you've put me in jail like the rest of them,” I told him, hiding the nervous shaking of my hands in my warm pockets.
“Yes you're right', he told me coldly.
“Is it a sin to be political?' I asked him.
“Ye it's a sin, particularly when you destroy other people's lives and then you dash away to another country. You see Jamshid, I love my country. I loved my government despite all their shortfalls. But I never betrayed my country. But these guys did. Communists, Mujahedins, Hezbollahis. They are the true enemies. The enemy within is far more dangerous than the enemy from a foreign land. The sooner you believe in the truth the better prepared you'll be to fight them.' He told me as didactically as a religious leader.
“Neither of these guys believe that they betrayed their country. Even the Hezbollahis that you and I have run away from are fighting the Iraqis. Right at this very moment they are defending the country- protecting your family and my family from Sadam's army. Can't you see the problems is much deeper than your simple analogy of the situation.”
“They're not defending the country they're defending their own asses. If the Iraqis win they go. It's as simple as that,' Ferry told me.
“What if they thought the same thing about you or the likes of you? That you're the one who betrayed your country, That your government put the interest of the West before the interests of his own people. That you're the one who cowered away during the war with Iraq to another country,” I asked him angrily.
“I'm sure they do. It's always the same, your belief against theirs. But look at them. How easily they have abandoned their political ideals.”
“But Ferry you're the instigator of it all. If they do break the law it's because you encourage them to do it.' I told him, hoping to break into his own fanaticism that had blinded him.
“I don't. No, you're wrong. They're already thieves and murderers. I've seen them kill people, destroy property. I'm only making them pay for some of the crimes they've committed.”
Ferry was calm and collected as if he'd done nothing wrong. There was no way I could reason with him. He was as convinced about his actions as the revolutionary guards back home about theirs. But there was a huge difference between them. They were protecting their new government and Ferry was this self appointed judge, jury and the executioner, who single-handedly betrayed his fellow countrymen as a form of payback.
“Listen Jamshid, you're a good kid. We could work together. After we've been granted our asylum you can come to Turkey with me. I've got friends over there. We can be active to free country/.” He spoke with such affection that nearly made me throw up.
“You're kidding me Ferry. I'll go to the police and tell them everything,” I told him.
“They won't listen to you. The police and I work together. They think I'm their spy in the camp. Can't you see stupid! I've never been arrested for anything. So don't waste your time talking to them. I've thought about everything. I don't leave anything up to chance any more.' He finished with a long concluding gaze into my eyes, as if all his calculations about me was wrong and I didn't pay the dividends he expected of me.
Ferry that night made a phone call to the police and Vahid and Ali got arrested while driving around trying to find us. I changed my room the next day and kept my distance from Ferry. He still dominated the camp, and surreptitiously plotted against those refugees whom he didn't like. He got himself a few new gang members.
Ferry, shortly after getting his asylum left for Turkey. He wanted to be as close to Iran as possible. He said he was going to find people who would accept and subscribe to his grand plan to rid his country of the religious fanatics. The size of his delusion expanded with his freedom to travel. I deliberately didn't ask what his grand plan was. He described it as a masterpiece. He said it was the best plan and the only real hope for people who wanted to return home and liberate their country.
Farid Parsa left Iran in 1981 and lived in Europe for three years. He immigrated to Sydney in June 1984, where he has lived eversince. He has studied mass communication, theology and Theatre at tertiary level. He is currently employed as senior staff with the State Library of NSW, Sydney.
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