I had written this story last May but finished the last chapter recently. I had planned to publish it in the book which one of these days I will get around publishing but because I have had so many e-mails from readers asking me for stories of my college days I decided to sent it to the site. I do not like to make my stories short for the sake of some readers because my readers are not interested in short stories but the whole story.
The summer semester for the 1976 classes had begun the previous week. The weather had been very unpleasant and even the elders were saying that they had never experienced such stifling dry and hot summer days. There were no air-conditions or fans used by the residents since the town was surrounded by mountains and valleys with many villages close and far.
Arezoo had managed to find a small fan and had kept the two big doors of her apartment opened the entire week. At night the air would become breezy and comfortable again.
The class she was going to today would be conducted by one of her favorite professors. He was in his 70s and spoke with a thick Turkish accent, which reflected his birthplace Tabriz the capital city of Azerbaijan.
He had caused quite a stir last semester because he had only granted two As to two students one to Arezoo and another to a boy who was a very good poet.
Nobody had complained about the poet having an A, but a few argued that Arezoo never studied and unlike some of the classmates did not memorize all the subject matters in the Literature class.
This day those demanding an explanation would bombard the professor.
Arezoo had felt she was going to battle and she was ready. She went to her class early and noticed the large opened windows. She sat near the windows so she could see the activities in the courtyard and feel the breeze. A handful of students were already seated. There was a well-known rule about Arezoo which required for others to let her sit alone unless there was no other place to sit.
She heard a cough and turned around only to see a bearded and backward boy she despised. He hated the idea of girls socializing with boys and once she had heard him say that lipsticks were made form donkey’s blood. She had said really loud “actually, they are made from the blood of fat and bearded cows with ugly sweaters”! That had silenced him but his distaste was evident in his eyes.
As he sat down, Arezoo seized the opportunity and pulled out a tube of lipstick and her perfume, which she applied and then turned around and made a face at him.
She was thinking about her upcoming weekend trip but her thoughts were interrupted by a whiff of her favorite men’s cologne Pour Homme by Caron. She turned around and saw a very handsome face with big brown eyes looking at her. He said in a rushed tone: Hi , my name is Akbar and I know the rule but please let me sit here. I have heard that classes are usually a lot of fun if you are in them because of the endless debates with the teachers and the classmates. I have heard so much about you and the amazing thing is that they are totally conflicting so I want to observe for myself.
She looked at him and said with a sarcastic tone “so how much is the bet”?
He seemed baffled as he said “pardon me, what do you mean”?
Well you better not play games if you are going to sit here.
Every semester a good looking boy comes along and those few drug addict miserable seniors that have been here for so long, coach him and have bets to see if I can be charmed.
He smiled and said “listen I am happily married and have two kids. And as a matter of fact my wife has seen you in few places and admires the way you dress and loves your hair color. She has asked me to invite you to our house”.
Arezoo was puzzled so she asked why?
His voice was normal as he answered: well, she and I have been in love since we were teen-agers. She is outgoing, funny and tells people what is on her mind. We were married before she finished high school but she loves to read so I kept the kids at night and she finished high school. She had seen you in few shops and heard you talking so she thought she would love to be friends with someone like you since you have similar personalities. She had also heard some of your female classmates talk about you and how you always argue with the professors about women issues. Those subjects are very close to her heart.
I love the fact that she is opinionated and discusses issues with me and does not rely on me to make all the decisions.
I want her to pursue her dreams with my support.
We would love to have you and she will make your favorite the dilled rice with Lima beans.
Arezoo laughed and said, “How do you know that”?
He said, well you are an outsiders so people watch your every step and everyone in town knows you eat at the restaurant which is near my house and some of your classmates said that you only eat at school’s cafeteria when they serve that dish and the old cook “Mashti” keeps the tope of the rice without any oil for you and everyone teases him about that.
Arezoo smiled and said you are an unusual man; there are not many men who prefer an intelligent and independent partner and not just a housekeeper.
She was really impressed and curious she wanted to meet his family.
How about I call your wife and if she were okay with my schedule? I would have lunch with her on Thursday before I leave for Tehran.
He tore a sheet of paper and as he began to write as the door opened and the professor stepped in.
He said hello to the student and his eyes rested on Arezoo and smiled.
The professor became serious as he said; before I begin the class, I want to settle the scores because some students among you were unhappy and protested the fact that I gave Arezoo an A. Well, you were all wrong because none of you deserved it as she did.
The bearded boy said “but I memorized everything and know so much more than she does about poetry.”
The professor stepped closer and looked directly into the sea of students and very calmly said, you are like a parrot that repeats everything without understanding. You have filled your head with words without knowing or understanding their meaning and you have no clue about true literature. She is literature. She feels what she reads and if you had an ounce of emotion you would feel the passion in her voice when she discusses poetry or literature in general. She does not need to memorize anything. Most of my classes are filled with people like you and very few like her.
He raised his hand and said; Sulmaz truly appreciates Persian Literature. He usually referred to her as Sulmaz, which, he had translated as a flower that never wilts.
He just looked at Arezoo and paused.
Akbar began to clap his hands and a few whistles and some cheered.
Then silence filled the room.
Arezoo felt such a tender appreciation for her old but feisty professor. She did not deserve such praise.
The professor looked right at her and said, as our favorite poet Hafiz says:
Who he has peace of mind and a beautiful beloved Happiness has become his partner and good fortune has become his company The tale of love is above the boundaries of logic The one who is lucky enough to kiss the entrance door, is one who wears his soul on his sleeve
Arezoo had this very poem on most of her notebooks along the words in English “All we need is love” and “what can not be found, I long for”.
She turned to the bearded boy and made a face to aggravate him. The rest of the hour was quite lively as the professor indicated that he would be paying close attention to individual’s innovative analysis of literature rather than relying solely on what was in the textbooks. That was music to her ears so she nodded her head in approval.
As the bell rang and the class disbursed she walked up to the professor and thanked him with sincerity.
Akbar tagged along and asked if he could join her at the cafeteria for tea.
As she said good-bye to the professor she turned around and said I like to drink my tea alone or with a few of my friends.
He said with such pleading in his voice “oh please let me come and meet your friends”, that she decided to let him join them. As they walked many heads turned because she usually walked alone but she ignored the onlookers.
Two of her friends who were seniors were waiting for her and as she took her seat she introduced Akbar to them.
He seemed fascinated that Homa and Sherry openly discussed their boyfriends and when they were going to see them.
Arezoo could barely contain herself from laughing because he seemed so innocent. She wanted to see his reaction so she asked; has anyone told you that you look just like my favorite singer Akbar Golpaygani”?
His handsome face turned red and he said yes except, I am taller!
They laughed and the time was up shortly so Arezoo told Sherry that she would give her a call if she got a chance on Friday to see if she wanted to meet her for lunch at Hatam’s restaurant, which was on Zafar Street in Tehran where she was going to. She then turned to Akbar and said I will call your wife.
She called the number the next day and a young and polite voice answered. She introduced herself and the voice on the other end of the receiver became fast and excited as she said, “salaam Arezoo khanoum, I am Sima, nice to finally speak to you.
She sounded sincere and Arezoo loved it right away because she always hated the exaggerated demonstration of one’s feeling when it was not genuine.
They spoke briefly and the lunch date was set for Thursday.
Late Wednesday afternoon she stopped by the big cosmetic store owned by one of her classmates. His rich family had bought it for him to give him something to do. The poor soul did not know much about make up but his handsome face and the fact that he was single attracted plenty of hopeful girls.
Arezoo and him had become very good friends because he was gentle and seemed genuinely looking for a friend. He was tired of being looked upon as a “catch”. Arezoo felt sorry for him because although he was tall, very handsome and rich he did not have any real goals or interests in life.
She would often stop by at his huge and fashionable store in one of the latest shopping centers, which was called Passage. These were modern places modeled after western shopping strips.
Arezoo never liked modern buildings or architecture. She loved the old stores. Each store was unique with its own characters and history.
She often had so much fun when the brides to be would come from the countryside to his store with a big entourage. Their mostly beautiful faces that had never worn make up would glow. Arezoo took so much pleasure in teaching them how to apply make up just to enhance their naturally beautiful features.
She often bought herself make up and he would update her on the most recent gossip since she was often skipping classes she did not like and she did not have much time for individual friendship because she was involved in various projects the latest one was to go with a group of boys to inspect the stores in the Bazaar to make sure their materials had prices on them.
Their titles were Inspectors and the only reason she had agreed to this task was the fact that she would be visiting the Bazaar. She had always loved Bazaars everywhere because they had their own unique characters and to her were full of mysteries.
She had felt really bad at the last visit because an old Hajji had nearly suffered a heart attack because he was going to be fined for not having prices on part of his merchandise. She had felt really sorry for him but her three companions were tough and accused the old man of faking his heart troubles.
That had infuriated her and she had raised her voice and forbade them from issuing a fine. Her firm authoritative tone had persuaded them to listen to her.
Hajji had smiled and invited them to tea, which she had accepted. It was such a great adventure to sit on the bench covered with magnificent Persian rugs and drink tea out of the gold gilded teacups. A few neighboring merchant joined them and they told her how cool they thought it was for a woman to speak her mind and not be pushed by men!
Hajji even offered her to take yards of fabric she could use for a dress free of charge. She thanked him and the other people for offering presents. She left the Bazaar feeling good but at the same time her anger inside had flared up at the thought of the Crown Cannibal’s (shah of Iran) inspectors issuing fines to poor ordinary merchants that may be illiterate and not capable of writing but overlooking the rich people who owned fancy boutiques all over Tehran and in most cities in Iran and that paid bribes.
She bought a perfume and a tube of lipstick because Akbar had mentioned his wife had seen Arezoo in some stores and liked her bright red lipstick.
She said good-bye to her friend and stopped by another store and bought some toys for the two kids she would meet tomorrow.
She also bought some cherries from the fruit vendor and headed home.
When she reached home, her landlord was busy cooking in the small kitchen outside and asked Arezoo if she would like to join them for dinner. She was cooking chicken in pomegranate sauce (khoreshe Fesenjan). She nodded her head in acceptances and went upstairs to her room and changed. She pulled out her suitcase to pack the clothes she would wear in Tehran. She read a few pages and then went downstairs.
When she entered her landlord’s eating room, the two boys, their only sister Mahasti and their father were all chatting. Arezoo found it so fascinating that her landlord was such a fun and sociable lady who told jokes and was up-to-date on everything but her husband Ahmad Agha was very handsome, mysterious looking who hardly smiled or spoke but when he did it was a treat.
Her landlord who wanted her to get married and settle down always lectured Arezoo but Arezoo always tease her and said, “I want to marry someone like Ahmad Agha who is quiet and mysterious”! That would make him blush and smile. Her landlord would burst into laughter and say God help you because you would not see any affection from him.
Ahmad Agha would protest and say; people, who are quiet, love you in their hearts, but those that keep telling you they love you, are not sincere.
As usual Arezoo had a good time and about 10:30 went up to her room to read a bit and go to bed because she had to get up early.
It was strange to sleep with all the doors open. Her apartment was upstairs and the doors opened to the balcony and a big tree that housed what seemed like a million chirping birds in the spring and summer. The heat had subsided and a gentle breeze brushed her face. She read until her eyes felt heavy.The next morning she woke up, got dressed and only stopped by downstairs to take some freshly bread with butter and jam from her landlord and she then left.
Professor Hejazi, who was really tall, with a handsome face and salt and pepper hair, would conduct the Thursday morning’s class. His classes began at 7:30 am.
Arezoo attended all of his classes because she loved his style of teaching.
He was very charming as well as a great professor. He was in his forties and he would often say jokingly that in the next life he would be a young and single man so he could marry a “wild flower” which he often called her.
Her second class finished about 11:30 and she dashed out to drive to Akbar’s house.
She arrived at the old part of town where Akbar lived. She loved that area of town, which was not crowded and it housed the only hotel with beautiful gardens and a very small neighborhood of big homes with lovely gardens. She had attended two small parties there with her landlady. She loved the big wooden doors with so much charm and character.
Akbars’ house had metal doors with tasteful designs and two huge doorknockers. She could hear children’s laughter. She knocked and a very attractive petite lady opened the door. The little boy ran to Arezoo and wanted to be picked up. She picked him up and kissed his adorable face. He looked in her eyes and said, auntie you smell good. What did you bring me?
She smiled and pulled the little truck out of her bag and handed it to him.
His adorable face lit up and he tried to wiggle out of her arms so he could go and play with the car.
The little girl was a bit shy and lowered her gaze as she said, hi auntie I want a toy too.
Arezoo smiled and took the doll and the hair beret and gave her both presents.
She placed her hand under the little girl’s chin and she was just as adorable with big brown eyes.
She bent to kiss the little girl’s face and turned around to greet Sima who was standing there apologizing for the children’s excitement.
She hugged Arezoo and asked her to follow.
The walkway was paved with old stones and the little pond surrounded by jasmine pots, which filled the surrounding area with the beautiful fragrance. Arezoo loved the place.
There were several walnut trees, which she thought, were breathtaking and mentioned it to her host.
Sima took pride in showing her the pretty rose bushes, which she affectionately called “my other kids”.
There were a few steps and the big veranda with the beautifully carved railings fascinated Arezoo.
The hostess had spread a carpet on the veranda with pillows pressed against the wall. Arezoo was touched because she knew her hostess had done this for her sake. She hated dining room tables and even at home she loved sitting on the floor with big pillows.
The two kids were playing as she sat down and Sima asked her to help herself to some fresh fruit so she could get her tea. Arezoo complimented her on the house and how well behaved the children were.
Sima seemed really happy and content. She mentioned that she really liked Arezoo’s hair color.
She went on to say that she was tired of the auburn color and wanted to change.
Arezoo laughed as she said; actually this is my real hair color, which I have inherited from my mother along with her skin color. My big nose and husky voice are my dad’s gift. God works in mysterious way because he could have let me have my mother’s soft and sweet voice as well as her little nose!
Sima burst into laughter and they heard Akbar’s voice saying, “wait for me because I want to know what is so funny”.
Sima’s face lit up as he came up and shook Arezoo’s hand, kissed the kids and then told Sima, well how is my beautiful girlfriend today?
This was the second couple in the past two years Arezoo had seen so loving, which always filled her heart with joy. The other couple was her best friend’s parents. They were in their sixties yet they held hands even in the car and he always called her lady and complimented her.
The old lady had her husband’s picture on her Samovar, which she told Arezoo made her tea taste better while looking at him!
Akbar’s voice was excited as he told them that he had taken the afternoon off to take his family to the countryside once Arezoo left.
The couple went inside to bring the food and forbade Arezoo to get up.
She was truly impressed at how this busy lady with a big house and two kids had managed to make such delicious food.
She was really touched when Sima told her that she loves poetry, art and books. It turned out that she was reading one of Arezoo’s recent favorite Saedi’s books.
Akbar seemed impatient and said; I want to hear some good gossip.
His wife affectionately chided him as she said; my dear that stuff is women’s favorite.
Akbar just smiled and said I am dying to know how come you are not interested in any of the good-looking boys?
Arezoo became serious as she said, well I have a lot of plans so marriage would only get in my way, besides those handsome rich boys are mostly drug addicts and sometimes they are so high they stumble into things.
Akbar seemed pleased as he asked what about Farhad who is the only one you seem to talk to often?
Well, he is my good friend that I like because despite his family’s enormous wealth he is not a snub but he does join the boys in smoking opium occasionally. I tried to talk him into marrying Minoo who loves him desperately but he thinks she is not fun enough and too conservative for his taste.
Akbar continued asking questions.
You know Arezoo; I am dying to know about Reza the rich artist that has his little gallery in that quiet road. There is so much mystery about him. The fact that he is so rich and handsome yet he seems like a recluse. The beautiful paintings he does not sell and the fact that he seems so different from his older brother the doctor and the rest of his family.
One of my colleagues said that he had seen you there talking to him and it seems you are one of the few people he talks to.
Akbar took a sip of his water and continued. Well, with his family status and his looks he could have any girls but he seems totally oblivion. What about you Arezoo? Doesn’t he interest you?
Arezoo sighed as she tried to sound cheerful.
It is amazing how presumptuous we Iranians are. We just assume because someone is rich, educated, talented and good-looking then they should be ecstatic.
Reza is a beautiful and troubled soul. He hates being from a rich family and the fact that his family wants him to marry someone with the same status where in fact he simply wants a girl who understands him and his art. He is often depressed and withdrawn because the material world bothers him.
He talks to me about his paintings, reads me his pomes and shares his thoughts because I see the talent and the soul. We even laugh at his stupid brother the doctor who had the audacity to ask me to marry him.
Akbar’s eye widened as he said excitedly, that is why he has built those two beautiful homes by the river with all the modern wonders of the west.
Yes, that is exactly what I hate about him. The fact that he does not care about the fact that I am 20 years younger, and he thinks that his money and his status should be enough for me.
I embarrassed him a few weeks ago in a party in Tehran. He thought he had insulted me by telling me that I should be with someone like Reza.
Of course, I shot the insult right back and said; “I rather be with a poor person with a soul than a rich and ignorant doctor like you.”
All the guests and even Zari’s dad who was the host smiled in agreement. I was told by some of them later that they were proud of me for putting the snub in his place.
Arezoo sighed and said frankly I fear that Reza may take his life in one moment of loneliness and that is why I try to visit him and talk to him and cheer him up. I do know that he is in love with someone his family would never allow him to marry. That breaks my heart and I hate his family for that.
She then looked at her watch and said I need to get going because thanks to the tyrant the road to Tehran is really bad as you know and I want to get there before dark.
Sima said; how does it feel to drive alone on the road filled with male drivers and huge trucks?
Arezoo smiled as she answered well; I just blast my music and look at the wild flowers on the side of the rocks and the mud houses in the distant.
If the crown cannibal who calls himself king of kings spends some of the money to build roads the distance should be much shorter than several hours.
The south of Tehran is very crowded and really needs good roads.
Akbar interrupted her and said; that area is very conservative and women usually do not venture there. Have you had any problems?
Arezoo nodded and said actually once I decide that Aramgah road was too crowded and I ventured to find a way to get out and find a shortcut. Somehow I ended up in Molavi Avenue, which I knew was famous for its drug dealers.
I am never afraid so I was totally cool when I stopped by the side of a small store where three men were standing. They seemed pretty shocked by my appearance but I just smiled and said; I am lost and I need to get back on the road so I can make it to Jadeh Ghadim.The man standing in the middle was taller with a big mustache. In his Jaheli accent he asked me where I was from and I explained in a few words about being a college student and spending my time off with my cousin in Tehran.
I was so touched when he said;” if I were educated and rich, I would marry you!”
So I smiled and said; if I had time for a husband, I would marry someone like you.
He said Chakerim and smiled. Then he told me how to find my way.
I shook all their hands, which seemed strange to them and I could feel they were not used to shaking hands with women but that did not bother me.
I actually liked the neighborhood and decided someday I will spend time in south of Tehran exploring the unique architecture and really enjoy myself seeing the reaction of the residents to a girl wondering by herself.
Akbar burs into laughter and said; you must have made that man’s day by being nice to him.
Arezoo answered with a serious tone “I was not being nice, I meant what I said,” being a real men has nothing to do with education or money”.
She then thanked her lovely hosts and the kids seemed sleepy as they gave her kisses.
Akbar said; we must do this more often and I want you to meet my sister who is just like you. As you can see I am used to being around strong and independent women and you can be my other sister.
Sima touched his face and said; well she is my sister because I asked her first.
Arezoo shook Akbar’s hand and kissed Sima’s face good-bye.
Arezoo reflected as she drove the two-way road to Tehran. The sun was bright but the breeze brushing her face was comforting. She had to stop twice as the shepherds crossed the road with their flock of sheep. She just sat and enjoyed herself because she had always loved the sheep and hearing the bells around their necks make sounds in harmony. The young boy walking at the end of the flock smiled at her.
She did not drive too fast because she had just restored her license after nearly running over the head of the police station were he had camped to catch her with two of his officers three weeks earlier.
She became convinced that day there was a force watching over her.
She had taken her uncle a retired army officer to Tehran to get his paperwork for going to Mecca. The place had been on Shoosh Avenue, which was crowded, and the office they went to was packed with older men and women wanting to register to go to Mecca. Arezoo had felt very uncomfortable because except for her, every woman had headscarves and completely covered clothing. As usual she had sleeveless t-shirt and felt naked with all those eyes staring at her, some with scorn in their eyes.
After so many hours of waiting they had been served and driving back she was tired and wanted to get home before the sunset.
The police in Hassan Abad had stopped her and gave her a warning. She talked herself out of getting a ticket.
As she had passed the city of Qom and had tried to pass a big trailer, the driver had motioned her with his hand to stay back but she had ignored his warning and sped despite the fact that this section of the road was uphill and she could not see ahead.
As soon as she passed the trailer and the big rock on the right side, she saw the police Mercedes and the three men signaling her to stop.
In a panic she had slammed on her breaks and her car had pulled on the side, spun around and stopped where she had closed her eyes because she thought she had slammed into the Mercedes.
The screams of the older officer pointing at his heart and nearly in tears shouting in his thick Turkish accent “she is crazy, she almost killed me oh God my heart” filled the air.
She got out of the car and realized her car’s fender was less then two inches away from the Mercedes, which she thought a miracle but she could not stop laughing at this big and bald man screaming at her and calling her crazy and dangerous to society.Trying too hard to sound serious, she had instead aggravated him by imitating his accent and saying, “why are you holding on to your heart the car has stopped”?
He had grabbed her license and with a tiny whole puncher and punched several holes in it. The other two officers were trying hard not to laugh at this display of cowardice by their high-ranking boss.
He kept badgering her “someone like you should be taken off the road. You nearly destroyed this Mercedes”.
She became mad and said; that Mercedes is such an unnecessary luxury. People die in this road everyday because there is no ambulance or hospital nearby and your majesty thinks having a Mercedes for a police car is sign of modernity.
The man’s face turned red as he said; so you are a trader too! She wanted to kick him hard in his groins but she bit her anger and replied; I am one of the most faithful children of this land I love and I speak the truth.
Just this past spring I drove on this road where a serious car accident had injured everyone and two were dying among the scattered limbs and body parts. Where were you and your Mercedes?
Last summer I took my chances and I drove a man with his tongue torn and his elbow cut in half to the hospital because there was no ambulance to take him. Do you know that I was reprimanded for doing so?
The hospital staff said that if he had died in my car I would have been accused of killing him.
She burst into tears as she looked him in the eye and said; the people who die on this unsafe road everyday are our brother and sisters. The traders are those who buy villas in Switzerland and spend the revenues of this country on their lavish parties, not me.
Her uncle stepped in and said; officer as a retired army man I understand your concerns. She was just tired and trying to get home because we wasted so many hours in Tehran trying to get me registered for Mecca.
The man said; we got radio message that she was speeding from Hassan Abad. Then he handed her Driver’s license to her uncle and said; I trust her with you.
She just looked at him and before she could say anything her uncle grabbed her arm and pulled her to the car.
She would never forget that frightened and comical look on the officer’s face.
Her thoughts were interrupted as she reached Aramgah.
As usual it was packed with drivers going only a few miles an hour due to the congestion of the road;. To entertain herself she would periodically look to her left or right and chuckle at the surprised look on the faces of men seeing a girl by herself in that area.
It was nearly 6:00 p.m. when she reached he cousin’s home on Zafar Street.
Her cousin came out to greet her and they immediately changed clothes and went out to a Casba Restaurant which was very close by so Arezoo could order fired shrimp and they could just giggle because her cousin was very brash when it came to men. Poor men!
She had no mercy if one of these sorry souls paid a compliment. She would say something really mean and rude. Arezoo would just look apologetic and smile.
Two days later, she left Tehran in the afternoon. There was another accident with fatality. She cursed the shah again for not spending money on making the roads safer instead of buying F-14s and all other modern military equipment from United States to boost his little ego with was legendary.
The summer semester passed by quickly as she often met her friends in Tehran on the weekend but she developed a great relationship with Akbar and his wife. She really felt comfortable with them and she was amazed at how politically knowledgeable Sima was.
They had endless discussion about politics, relationships and Sima loved to hear about some of the funny situations that had taken place in Arezoo’s classes.
There were two professors who did not like Arezoo’s aggressive and sarcastic personality. She felt the reason they were hostile towards her was because of the fact that she often joked about bald and short men and these two fit those descriptions. One was short and the other was tall, skinny and ugly.
Sima loved to hear about the bickering with this backward and retarded professor as Arezoo called him.
He was a terrible dresser that seemed to own only two or three old and wrinkled suits. He was married to an illiterate lady from the countryside and he seemed to hate young people with dreams and especially hated girls who were outspoken and wore colors.
He often spoke with words with double meanings, which were meant to insult, and Arezoo would catch him and answer back.
Some of the boys loved those exchanges of words.
The latest discussion had caused Arezoo to end up in the dean’s office because “she had made a mockery of the professor”. She was told.
Mr. Gharib the dean was in his eighties and near retirement and rarely seen. He wanted her to tell her side of the story.
She said; well the professor out of the blue and instead of analyzing a poem we had in front of us, recited one about a Coyote that had fallen in a big jar of paint and saw herself in the mirror and thought all those colors were beautiful. He looked right at me while reciting the words.
I waited until he was done and knew everyone is waiting for a reaction.
So, I smile and said in a very calm tone; professor it sounds like the poet is the real Coyote who was an insecure man who lacked class and not to mention all the essential tools that make a real man to please a woman, so he wondered in the land of beautiful and intelligent women in hopes of being noticed by an average female.
Well, everyone noticed that ugly, skinny body was a mass of bones with a heart of stone so they ignored him. Finally realizing that he is only a man in his own thoughts he became outraged and began to label the beautiful and smart women with silly words. That is okay because those women will always be noticed with or without “paint” but he would continue to lead a bored and miserable life with his ugly mate.
The professor just looked at me with contempt. That was it.
Dr. Gharib adjusted his glasses and in his serious tone said: it amazes me that some of the professors think the world of you and then there are the two who have problems with you.
Arezoo could not help it so she said, but Dr. Gharib only the short and ugly professor of Economy did not like me because I was going to run him over for giving me an F. Everybody agreed that he had done it because the students always agreed with my vision of how Capitalism really did not benefit the whole population.
In a serious tone Dr. Gharib said, “I want you to be a bit more careful and remember the professor is much older than you are so out of respect try and curtail your sarcastic remarks. I have spoken to him as well and warned him that he is not to provoke you because he will be on his own when it comes to dealing with you.” Please go back and try.
She had thanked the dean and started taking bets from her classmates whether the professor will remain quiet. He did not but he changed tactics and would make remarks such as “why don’t you marry and have some kids” and she would say, “Well my prospective suitors are looking for a tall, skinny, frustrated old man to hire as my servants.”
Eventually he got tired of these confrontations and gave up.
Sima had laughed and said “good for you”.
This day, it was dark when Arezoo reached Tehran.
There were few cars in the driveway and as usual her cousin’s husband and a few of his friends had an opium party. Arezoo found it sad that these educated and well off people resorted to this bad habit for fun.
She spent a few days in Tehran going shopping with her cousin and went out to dinner with her friend Sherry and her boyfriend.
When she went back to school everyone was busy registering for the fall season.
Akbar had picked some classes and Arezoo and a few of her classmates had become regular guests at his house.
It had just begun to snow when those heading for Mecca began to get ready. Akbar’s dad was one of those and Arezoo kept teasing him that he better not keep the souvenirs for himself. She began to call him “Pesar Hajji” or Son of Hajji, which made him laugh.
At this time she began to have strange dreams of snow and empty roads. She knew that meant something because her dreams always came through but this one she could not understand so she tried to distract herself.
That fateful day, the weather was dreary. It had snowed all night and everything was frozen. The afternoon class was packed with students but Akbar was missing.
For some reason this day Arezoo sat at the first bench near the door.
The professor had just begun talking when the sound of knock on the door stopped him. Akbar opened the door and apologized to the teacher. Holding the door knob he looked at Arezoo and said, beautiful lady I am going to pick up my dad from the airport in Tehran, what do you want me to brink back?
She felt unwell and tried hard to smile as she said, “nothing, just make sure you come back”. She wanted to say: please do not go but she refrained. He smiled and said I will. The door closed.
A hint of his cologne filled the air. When the class finished she and a few of her class mates went to the cafeteria to drink tea and discuss an upcoming party which they wanted Arezoo to go to but she often refused because she did not care for some of the students who attended them.
The howling wind and the snow had created a scene she normally liked because it made her feel as though she was in a classical horror film, which she loved, but she had an uneasy feeling. She went home. Her landlord asked her if she wanted to join them for dinner and she politely declined and said she was tired.
She went to her apartment and sat on her bed. Neither one of the big doors had curtains because she wanted to see the changes of seasons through the windows. She played music and tried to read but she could not remember the content. She decided to re-arrange her clothes instead to busy her mind. It was almost midnight when she turned off the lights. The nightmares occurred again. There was an unfamiliar place and everything was frozen. She woke up a few times and went back to sleep again.
In the morning as she walked the steps into the yard, she heard loud voices outside. She opened the door and walked out trying not to slip on the snow. A group of locals who had lived in this alley their entire lives were at the front of drycleaner. They simply said hello and nothing else. She did not think anything of it.
As she entered the school she saw some of the men she knew worked with Akbar but they seem unfriendly and she found it very odd.
At lunchtime she decide to drive by Akbar’s house and surprise his wife.
As she drove she saw some small posters on the wall, which she could not read. As she got closer she heard loud recitation of Koran coming from some loud speakers and thought perhaps that was in celebration of the many Hajjis who had returned.
She slowed down as she saw so many people dressed in black which was the color she had hated since childhood with somber faces coming out of the street she was about to turn.
She slammed her break and stopped. Her heart began to beat violently as she heard screams coming from the other sides of the wall where Akbar’s house was located.
She forgot everything and dashed into the house with sea of people crying and beating at their faces. Akbar’s beautiful face was everywhere on those huge posters.
The site of his wife would forever remain in Arezooz’s mind. The tear washed face with the torn pieces of clothes and her shrikes as she beat on her face and pulled her hair asking everyone to bring him back was unbearable.
Arezoo stepped forward and there was a silence for a few second as Sima recognized her and began to scream and say; Arezoo jaan please talk to Akbar and tell him to come home. When he called me form Tehran he said that he had bought me a red lipstick he had seen you wearing and I have died my hair brown because he said he liked that color.
These shameless people have brought someone’s body in a bag and are telling me it is Akbar’s.
Arezoo’s heart was filled with so much sorrow. Her tears flooded her face as she walked towards Sima and hugged her.
In desperate situations she could block the incident and once she would be alone the enormity of the situation would hit her.
This could not be happening. It was all a bad dream and she would wake up soon.
But she did not.
The funeral was that afternoon. She went home and for the first time in her life she wore all black. Something she had never done before. Her father hated black and would never let anyone wear it even when a family member died. She loved her dad for agreeing with her that black was such miserable color and was never forced t wear it even when she wanted to at her favorite uncle’s funeral.
She picked up three of her friends who also loved Akbar.
Two of her friends had the name Nasrin, and then Minoo and Mehran joined her. Arezoo’s car was the only one with a woman driver and all female passengers. There were hundreds of cars in processions. Neither one of her friends talked and left her to her sorrows.
When they finally made it to the burial site everyone began to weep.
Arezoo lost it and began to shout as her tears drowned her face.
“ This is all crown cannibal’s fault. If he would build safe roads and had bought snow plovers instead of spending money accumulating F14s people would not die on these roads everyday.”
A few people surrounded her and said she was upset. She screamed louder.
I am not upset. I am mad because lives are lost on these roads everyday.
We do not have any emergency phones on the roads and no nearby hospitals or helicopters to take the critically injured but we have money to donate to American museums and artists.
Her friends began to drag her into the car and the blue-eyed Nasrin got behind the wheel.
That night would become one of the hardest and most miserable nights of her life.
She could not comprehend the tragedy that had taken place.
She went to school the next day. One of the boys that she knew was working for Savak the secret organization, which spied on everyone, approached he. With malice in her voice, she said; I hope you told your bosses what I said yesterday so I would be called in for a friendly chat.
He seemed genuinely remorseful as he sad; you may not believe this but your words yesterday got to me and I realized that you were right.
I had always agreed with what you said and despite what you think, I normally did not report you and someone else did.
He came closer and said, the site of Akbar’s wife reminded me that everyday many women become widows because we do not have proper roads or medical technology. I have decided to leave the country when I finish in the spring.
Once they find out that I am not useful they would either kill me or let go of me as long as they know I would not revel my secrets.
I hope someday we meet under better circumstances and you would forgive me for dishonoring my fellow students. She looked at him carefully. He seemed sincere.
She smiled and said; I hope to live and see this country rid of this murderer and despite everyone’s beliefs I truly know in my heart that Iran will be rid of this family.
He smiled and said I hope so and walked away.
As she stepped out the school grounds she felt a sense of peace.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the snow under her boots crunched. An old man with a handsome face was coming in her direction.
As he came closer his scent filled her nostrils and it was the same as the one Akbar used to wear. She felt a deep sadness and tears flooded her face.
The old man smiled at her and said; beautiful lady, never be sad, those eyes should only smile.
Her jaw dropped in astonishment as she looked at him intently. He looked just like Akbar but older with wrinkles and gray hair.
Akbar was not dead because a beautiful soul like his belongs to people who loved him.
She smiled as she looked into those warm big brown eyes.
Akbar was present in spirit.
She never found the courage to face Akbar’s wife or children again.
Decades later as she thinks of her mortality, she wonders whether Sima ever recovered and those beautiful children probably now have their own kids.
She longs for spending a warm summer afternoon talking to the most loving couple she had ever known.