Her father disliked the whispering. He would get home exhausted late in the evening practically dying for his wife's cup of tea and the BBC Persian service. But the kids had slept through most of the morning and then played in the nearby playground the rest of the day, bursting with energy; energy that would have to be weaned off during the long hot summer nights.
Their neighborhood was one of the safest anywhere on the planet, but they had to be home by nightfall. When one tired, sleepy father wanted some peace and quiet, five bursting children demanded noise. Though her younger sisters were much quieter, they still liked to follow whatever the two of them were doing.
She wasn't sure what they did exactly. Helped her mother seed sour cherries for jam, or watched TV, played monopoly, or just talked. She lived in a fairly elite neighborhood, and yet their house lacked the modern gadgets homes seem to be filled with these days. Despite that, they seemed to be more occupied with themselves than any toy. All year long she would look forward to summer when her friend could come and stay. The whole three months. She never even wondered why these visits were only one-sided. She only vaguely remembered visiting her friend's home once. A small, archaic looking building that smelt of wood and cherry blossoms.
It would be around her father's bedtime that the whispering would start. They would be sent off to bed and so they'd have no choice but to quietly talk, though only for a short time. Then the giggles would start, the yelps and the pillow fights. And so it would go on until late into the night, with her mother knocking her door every hour begging for silence. As they grew up and television became a 24-hour leisure, they moved their late night discussions to the TV room. Everyone was happy then. Sadly, those years did not last very long.
She remembered those last years when the whole family was still together; the time when the girls had so radically changed into head garments and long sleeved shirts. Suddenly, as if overnight, all had turned into faithful believers in a new system and its rules and regimen. Gone were the skirts and flowing hair. Instead they all held in their young minds a strong sense of triumph and they never stopped for a moment to figure out why or what for.
None were feeling remotely triumphant any longer. But maybe her crime was that she kept up the regimen. Maybe it had to do with marrying a deeply religious man, or just habit. But somewhere along the line, when she was busy recording religious sermons on her old Sinatra tapes — years later, she regretted not having that sultry voice to listen to — or angrily fighting with her parents who seemed not able to understand the inner turmoil she was going through, she came to fully accept the head garments and the long sleeved shirts. As the years went by, that became less and less of a political statement and more of a personal choice, one that she was ridiculed for over and over by strangers in different countries and even her friends.
As she hung up the phone, the memories and thoughts seemed to surround her like a warm, heavy blanket. She could feel her mouth quivering. With her children right outside in the living room she had to try very hard to keep back her tears.
None of the ridicule mattered except when it came from family. As if they were somehow prosecuting her for all the years of war and chaos that they had gone through. Did they not remember that she was practically only a child at the time? That they themselves were all suddenly transformed into zealous followers of the new message? Overnight, they forgot the past and their comfortable lifestyles. And their enthusiasm for hearing an old man's message on the radio; they had long forgotten that. Instead, they felt nostalgic and bitter. So why was she still picked on because of a headscarf?
Having spoken to her old summer-time friend, she was as confused as ever. They had so much to catch up on. They had both experienced marriage, motherhood, and the hardships of starting a life all the way across the planet. They were both women who had seen and been through revolution, war, turmoil and endless more; things most people would not imagine seeing through out their whole lifetime. And yet, none of that seemed to matter. She was the same crazy loon who still wore a headscarf.
Did a small piece of cloth on her head really make a difference? She slowly laid her head back and closed her eyes feeling a small drop from her eyes fall on the pillow. Deep inside, she was desperately searching for that triumphant feeling of long ago. But it was no longer there. Instead, from within confined walls, she could feel her children growing restless of being left alone with guests. And so she got up to leave and nearly opened the door when she remembered she had forgotten something. She walked back across the room for it. And as she turned the door knob, she gave her scarf a second knot to make sure it stayed in place. It was slippery and soft. Chiffon. The same fabric her skirts used to be made of.