Ramin walked into his apartment, tired, exasperated and beat. It was a little past eleven o’clock at night. The atmosphere of silence and loneliness reigning over the apartment was intensively disheartening and excruciating. It was like walking into a cemetery. The darkness was exceedingly spread within the tiny proximity of his one bedroom efficiency studio apartment. His body was aching of all the walking in the cold, snowy weather. He was feeling the anguish of the daylong extensive walk that, once again, had produced no result.
It was the end of another long day of searching for work with no success, baazam saresh be sang khorde bood. It was as if a heavy load was weighing on his shoulders, slowing his movement and bearing on his insanity. Perhaps it was the heaviness of the load of his thoughts that was literally affecting his body. A human’s mind and brain can stand a certain amount of pressure and bearing. When the mind is not in the state of peace, jubilance and happiness, the body organs may be at the risk of low functioning. After all, people are humans and not machines, even though the modern living standards of society emphasize their perseverance of exhibiting people as mechanical objects, capable of tolerating extensive amounts of pain in wars, under the knife of plastic surgeons, and in the torture chambers. No matter what, humans tend to feel pain, rejection, sadness, repression and injustice.
Ramin gingerly strolled into the living room and took his shoes off — one of those Persian customs that is hard to abandon. After all, old habits are hard to break and may cause psychological complications, tarke aadat moojebe maraze. He has been ridiculed over and over by Americans for it, but he, like most Iranians, cannot shake this habit, and upon arriving in a house, feels obligated to take his shoes off and neatly place them next to the wall. This is what his father, the ultimate power, and the dictator in his household, taught him to do since he was a child, and he cannot shed this habit. The thought of disobeying the ultimate domineering power has long been a taboo in the society where he had grown up. From childhood, you are taught by your parents, teachers, the military forces, and the ultimate political leader not to disobey the order of a superior.
The cold was really unbearable. It was penetrating his body like the spear of a hunter soaring into the body of his game on the open Savanna of Africa. He turned and switched the heater on. To his surprise, there was no clicking sound. He tried and tried again, but to no avail. With his freezing palm, Ramin grabbed the switch and shook it, but it did not go on. He decided to turn on the lights. As he took a step towards the light switch by the door, he heard a crunchy sound under his foot. It was not his “friend,” he hoped. He glanced at it. It appeared to be a white piece of paper or an envelope.
As he bent over to pick it up, he could hear his aching back making creaking sounds like the crickets in open farms. He picked up the piece of paper and immediately noticed the words “Notice of Interruption” on top. “Great,” he said, sarcastically, “they have cut off the gas.” With much agony, anger, but not a great deal of surprise, he walked towards the light switch. He was not too disappointed because he was expecting this, and he knew it was inevitable. It was bound to happen and it was only a matter of time before it did. He had not paid the gas bill for sometime. Therefore, he did not give it much care. He turned on the light switch.
It worked. He placed his shopping bags on the table with the most caution because the weight of the bags could send the table, which one of its legs was attached to it with a piece of tape and may give in under the slightest pressure, collapsing and crumbling down to the floor, baa aabe dahan beham chasbeede bood. He took the bottle of vodka out of the brown bag and gently sat it on the table and placed the small bag of other merchandise that he had bought at the drug store next to it, then walked towards the couch and threw his exhausted body on it. He had that day’s mail in his hand. He threw it on the old coffee table.
As the mail scattered all over the table, one piece of mail stood out and displayed itself: “Electricity, Final Notice.” Spending the night without any heat in Ohio in the early January is not highly recommended, he thought to himself. But now they were going to interrupt the electricity too? Like he did not have enough problems and concerns, another problem was added to his list of miseries, gol bood be sabze nist aaraaste shod. He stood up and walked to the kitchen.
He grabbed a glass and then the bottle of vodka out of the bag on the table and sat back. It was close to midnight. But for Ramin, the night was just beginning.It was a cold night. The temperature was expected to fall into the 20’s that night. There was no heat. So, what remedy would be better than getting warmed up with some heavy booze? He did not have any appetite, and even if so, there was nothing edible in the whole apartment.
Times have been tough. Ramin had been out of work for nearly three months. He could not even remember the last time he received a paycheck. These days he was spending the last few dollars of his savings. He was on his last leg. Friends had offered to help, but he had too much pride to accept their money. The offers were from his Iranian friends, but he had too much pride to accept charity.
Besides, he thought if he borrowed money from Iranians, he would have to hear about it. Initially, they would insist upon it: “Please accept it; my money is your money; for God’s sake, take it,” joon e in tan nageeri naaraahat misham, pool e man o shoma nadaareh. But he knew accepting money from them would surely result in cheap talks behind his back. His American friends were a different story. They either would not offer, or could not afford it because most of them already had their own economic problems and were up to their necks in credit card debts and mortgage payments, hashteshoon gero e noheshoon bood.
Ramin poured the hot vodka into the glass and took a big sip. Oh, it hit the spot, right off the bat, zad be khode jar yaan. An empty stomach and hard, 80 percent proof volume vodka will challenge even one’s sanity, much less his body temperature. He quickly felt the warmth of the alcohol spreading through his veins and immediately thereafter through his entire body. He needed this. He needed this in order to accomplish his mission.
A thought came to his head: alcohol, what a magical potion, che majooni. For years, even centuries, people have drunk this darn liquid, have made decisions and acted upon them. Some have been good, some bad. Maybe that is the reason that in Islamic countries the consumption of alcohol is prohibited. They believe that drinking alcohol is a sin and it may result in severe consequences as those witnessed in the West such as murder, violence and drunk driving that kill people. But does not the sword that beheads people and cuts off their hands present the same lethality and brutality?
It is believed that Alexander the Great set the Persepolis on fire after he got drunk one night and his girlfriend urged him to do so to prove his love for her. Who knows what the truth is. The bearing of guilt would be on the shoulders of those who may make up stories, gonaahesh be gardane khodeshaan. Upon thinking about this topic, Ramin’s mind began a journey back into his homeland. He surely was not drunk, but the reminiscing regarding history seemed like a pleasant treat to him, even for a few moments.
Could a woman possess such a power? Could women cause such catastrophes? Well, according to common belief, be ghole avaam, this is very probable and highly possible. Was it not a theologian in Iran who claimed that the rays arising from women’s hair can seduce men? Therefore they have to cover their hair and even their entire body so not to affect men. Is it not the common belief of all institutionalized religions that if it was not due to the low moral and shallow state of mind of Eve, which resulted in her being deceived by Satan and accepting the forbidden fruit, we still would be living in the Garden of Eden?
The Garden of Eden? Where is that? What a concept. Thus we have formulated a very convenient recipe for all the problems of this world. It is women, taghseer e khod e zanaast. Sorrow and sadness took over Ramin’s mind. He remembered the life his mother suffered at the hands of his father, the dictator and the ultimate power in their house. He recalled the beating that she endured at the hands of his father. Perhaps he was not at fault. His father had grown up during the dictatorship of two monarchs, who both claimed to be the guardians of women in Iran. One who forcefully stripped them of their hijab and dignity and called it “modernization,” and his son who urged them to become naked in the streets in the name of “great civilization” and called it progress and Westernization.
They utilized every opportunity to “reform” women solely for their own agendas and interests, until women confessed that they had enough and decided to return to the fundamental roots of their culture and upbringing and cast away the “improvement” of their lives, az talaa boodan pasheemaan gashte im, marhemat farmoode maaraa mes konid. It was this transformation of monarchal dictatorship to the theological despotism that handed Iranian women the worse state of sexual and social repression.
Ramin recalled his grandmother whose chador was forcefully removed and unveiled in public during the 1940’s by a policeman in the streets and it, publicly, shamed her. She was a very religious woman. She never forgave the man behind the ordinance until she died. She was a nice Muslim woman, and all she wanted out of life was to have the freedom to dedicate herself to her God. But the dictator even deprived her of that liberty. She used to pray five times a day everyday. Sometimes she bent and put her head on the ground and prayed to her God for so long that one would think she would never get up again. She cursed the man behind this injustice until the day she died, khoda azat nagzare. But then came the mullahs who forced the hijab back on women.
Iranian women have hardly ever had the freedom of dress choice throughout the history of Persia. During the time of the ancient Persia, hijab was a symbol of royalty and prestige, authorized and appropriated for the elite Persian women of society. During the reigns of the two monarchs before the Islamic revolution it symbolized backwardness, and stripping one of it meant modernism and Westernization. But after the revolution, it became the symbol of support for the uprising against Western values. To wear or not to wear hijab has always been a matter of compulsory policies and never a matter of choice for Iranian women.
Ramin poured another shot of vodka in the glass and chugged it down quickly. The alcohol ran through his system as a runner running an Olympic 100 meter race. He thought to himself, “Good, I need it.” He needed that. The room was beginning to feel warmer, and he was reaching that stage of mind that he was aiming for, the total numbness of mind so to go through with his plan. He left his thoughts on the sofa momentarily and walked towards the only window in the room. That was his only escape and passage to the outside world.
He looked outside. Everything was black and white. It was a dark night but snow had begun to fall. Snow flakes, what a beautiful sight to witness. But with all their beauty, they would hide the sun and the moon. It was several weeks that no one had seen the sun. It was difficult to enjoy the sunrise and sunset these days. It had been gloomy and depressing for sometime. Spring and its blossoming trees, autumn and its falling leaves, and winter and its snow, each season offered a different beauty. But now it has been a while that the sun was lost. Ramin thought to himself, how many people may be on top of the mountains and ski resorts right at that moment, sliding, skiing and enjoying themselves? It saddened him that he could not afford such a luxury. However, there are and have been those less fortunate than him. Snow with all its beauty and magnificence can cause catastrophe and disaster.
He came back and once again comforted himself on the sofa. He had been in this country for nearly two and a half decades, but it was as if it was yesterday when it happened. It was still fresh in his memory. It was Christmas, 1977. The weather in Tehran was cold and bone crushing. There was an elaborate and luxurious party going on in the Royal Palace for a foreign leader. The chandeliers were glimmering in the ballroom. All the guests, the members of the Royal Family, and the dignitaries in formal outfits were sipping expensive champagne and mingling. The country was referred to by the distinguished guest as the “island of stability.” But across the city, many mud-built houses collapsed during the night under the heavy snow and many people lost their lives under the collapsed roofs of their outdated mud-built homes. The next day, there was the largest print of the royal party of the night before on the front page and many following pages, but a small mention of the deaths of dozens in the page of the local news.
Ramin looked at the clock. It was past two o’clock in the morning. The snow was coming down hard. He turned on the radio. Music was playing. He had been in this country for years, but still could not make sense of the American music. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, derakhte peero nemishe peyvandesh zad. One’s roots are planted in his homeland and through his customs, traditions, and culture. But what is wrong with change? Is it not that the world is ever going forward? We cannot live in the sixth century any longer. Ramin thought that if he had a child, he could not tell him to use a candle to do his homework nor to take a lantern to the backyard to the toilet. The technology is to be used for the improvement of our lives. It is meant for the convenience of the human race. This thought stopped Ramin. Who was he kidding? Technology for the comfort and convenience of people? He filled up his glass, all the way to the rim this time.
The thought of modern technology for the benefit of humankind staggered him, ki ro daran gool mizanan? The same technology that enabled us to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima in an instant? The same technology that makes bombs that can travel the fastest, hit the hardest and cause the most destruction? The same science that manufactures electrical saws that can cut off hands “in the fastest, painless fashion?” No, science and technology were not invented to kill, but to heal.
Ramin was drawn in these thoughts when he realized his old friend crawling on the wall near the same spot where he had found it several weeks ago. The big roach that has become his companion these past few weeks was running around on the wall near the kitchen. Ramin knew it was the same roach for the shadowy mixture of the colors on its back and its right half broken antenna where once Ramin tried to hit it with a magazine. Some resilient roach that was. The first time that he came across the roach, he tried to kill it. That is why he hit it with the magazine. But the roach somehow survived and came back. He thought about killing it again, but the resilience that the roach displayed by returning in pursuit of food and survival made Ramin to leave it alone. After all, we can all get along. He thought that this planet belonged to all of us.
It somewhat reminded Ramin of the movie Papion with Steve Mc Queen, where his character was imprisoned on the Devil’s Island by the French government, while feeding on roaches due to the lack of meat in his food for the purpose of punishing him. Ramin thought to himself that, provided that it was a true story, what may make a regime treat its own people like that? Soon he remembered the Evin Prison and how kids as young as seven or eight years have been executed. The television was showing people, young and old dancing and singing in a variety program, while little girls in Iran were trapped inside a tent called a chador, or being raped before their executions because the religion prohibits the execution of a virgin girl.
Ramin was gradually reaching the middle of the vodka bottle. His head was beginning to spin due to the effect of the alcohol. Why can he not fully adjust to this culture? He has spent nearly a quarter of a century in this country. He can go through a bottle of vodka in a couple of hours. This part of the culture he had no problem associating with. But he thought it is because he is depressed and sad. Excuses, excuses, bahaane bahaane. No matter what, the smell of the rain in the streets of his homeland, the smell of the mud houses, the glow of the lights on the streets of Tehran, people in different clothes walking in the parks, women in hijab or girls in Western clothes had left a profound impact on Ramin’s life that he could not forget. He never felt discriminated against until he came to America.
Here, the whole society is filled with prejudice and discrimination against the Native Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and even Whites. He suspected that it was his origin that recently resulted in the dismissal from his old job. But is there not prejudice and repression in Iran too against Afghans, Kurds, and anyone who has different political ideas or any ideas at all for that matter? So then it is the same everywhere you go, aasemoon har koja beri hamoon range. The glass was empty of vodka. Time to refill.
But before doing so, he had to do something urgent because drinking alcohol on an empty stomach would result in a call from nature, bad joori tangesh gerefte bood. He stood up. The effect of the alcohol made him stagger and feel dizzy. He made his way to the bathroom. He pulled his pants down and began. What a feeling. He knew there would be more visits to this room all through the night, nashashidi shab deraaze.
Ramin returned to the living room. He was not feeling cold any more. The room was frigid but he was feeling warm. Thanks to the effect of the alcohol. People say that alcohol is bad. Now he knows why bums drink so heavily. It is a remedy for hunger and cold. But he is not a bum, or is he? He remembered the time that he had a great job, all the materialistic things and all that a man could ask for. Whatever happened to all that? It cannot be all because of a regime change in Iran. It is true that he is one of the “children of the revolution,” and the consequences of that revolution dramatically changed the course of the lives of all in and abroad. But he succeeded to make a life for himself not so long ago. He had received a doctoral degree, had a good job, house and cars.
Then what happened? Was it because of his first marriage to an American girl who gave up her “glorified job” as a waitress in a diner to become his wife for six months, and upon their divorce took everything but the cat with her? Could it be because of his second marriage to an Iranian girl who was handpicked by his parents in Iran and sent to America, who upon receiving her Green Card left him? No, it was not because of this failure or that bad luck. It had to do with a collection of events, mishaps, miscalculations, and bad lucks.
He peaked outside the window. The snow had subsided. The ground was fully covered with snow. It was close to five o’clock in the morning. He sat down again. There was about a third of the bottle of vodka left. He poured some more and stretched his legs on the old coffee table. He felt something bulging in his pocket.
He reached in there and took out his keys and sat them on the coffee table. He thought to himself, key, what a concept. An instrument that opens doors, open closed locks, and opens gates. He recalled when he was about ten or eleven years old. One night he was walking in his neighborhood when an older lady called him. He went to her. It was a woman covered in the traditional chador with her daughter who was also dressed in one.
The woman asked him to grab the key and open a lock that was attached to a chain around the neck of the young girl. He failed the first and second time, but he managed to open the lock on the third try. Both the woman and the young girl were jubilant. The woman offered to give him some money, but he refused and ran, puzzled about what had just taken place. Ramin went home and told his father about it. His father explained to him that some people still believe in superstition, and opening of the lock around a young girl who is past her prime for marriage, torsheedeh, by a young and innocent boy will increase the chances of the girl to find a husband, bakhte dokhtare baaz mishe. What superstition! He, was an educated man, could never understand the purpose of superstitions. They just did not make sense because they were not based on facts and science. But at least this superstition, related to the key and the young girl, was harmless, not like the one about giving out plastic keys, made in Taiwan, to Iranian children during the Iran-Iraq war with the promise of becoming martyrs and opening the gate of heaven with the “holy” key. But Ramin wished there was such a key. Not necessarily to help a girl to find her mate or facilitate the entrance to heaven, but perhaps a magical master key that would open all the doors of all the political prisons all around the world to free those who are persecuted for the expression of opinions and thoughts.
At this time, Ramin was feeling completely numb. He could not feel anything anymore. He felt so hot as if the heater was on. He got up and walked towards the table and grabbed the small bag from the drug store. It was the time. He took the package out of the bag. They were the razor blades that he used to buy for years, stainless steel and sharp. He took one out of the package and held it between his thumb and index finger. It was the time. He felt brave. He was not feeling hapless any longer. His entire life was passing before his eyes. The days before the revolution, the years of the revolution, the decades after the revolution were all passing before his eyes like a movie.
He came to this country with the goal of getting an education and returning to help his country. He succeeded to reach the highest level of education but the revolution destroyed all of his dreams. He never returned to his homeland. Now he was out of a job, broke, disappointed with a broken spirit. He felt that there was no way out but to end it now. They say suicide is the action of cowards, but it was his life after all. He had no saying in his creation. Two people one night joined together and out of horniness, and not necessarily out of love and care for one another, made him. So at least now he has the final saying in when he wants to end it. He decided to look at the world outside one more time. The sun had not shown up for weeks and maybe months. It was always dark and gloomy. Even the sun was not kind to him anymore.
With the razor blade in his hand he walked towards the window and pulled the curtain to the side, inspired to see the world one more time. The first thing that caught his attention was that the snow had completely ceased. The sky was a grayish color. But from the east he could see something that had not been seen for months. It was the sun that was rising. It was rising from the East, where his heart laid, the region of the world where culture and civilization had arisen and developed. The sun was rising. He stared deeply into the horizon. The sky was opening wider and expanding.
The sun was peaking higher. He pulled the cord and opened up the entire blinds. The rays of the sun fell over the living room and cast a shadow over the coffee table, the rug and the walls. He noticed his little friend with the broken antenna scrambling down the wall towards its hole, carrying the tiniest piece of bread that it had scavenged in the apartment. It seems that the dark night had ended into the light of a bright morning, paayaaan e shabe siyah sepid ast.
Ramin looked into the increasingly bright sun light, put the razor blade down on the coffee table and poured the rest of vodka out the window. He thought to himself that a man never gives up, mard aan ast ke dar keshaa keshe dahr, sang zirin e aasia baashad. He grabbed his overcoat, put his shoes back on, opened the door and walked outside. There was a new day, full of hopes awaiting him. His “friend” had just made it down to the floor and was pushing his hard night’s gain into its hole.