I had been looking forward to going to this wedding literally a lifetime. The beautiful little girls whose mother is like my own sister (literally) not only because she is from Khorramshahr but also because she is a true sister in every sense of the way, has all grown up and her big day was scheduled for May 28th.
The perfectionist mom had been working on all the details for the past year and a half.
I was a bit anxious because many of the guests had met me 19 years ago at another wedding my friend had coordinated (her brother’s). I wondered about the reaction of people and whether they would remember me.
I had a picture from the wedding in 1986 with the beautiful 6-year-old as one of the flower girls. We had taken a picture together since I had always been “Auntie Azm”. I was dying to see her reaction on her wedding day when I would give her that picture as “something old” for the wedding.
Most people in my office said I had not changed at all. Of course they were being nice because in that picture I am 35 pounds lighter even though I had just given birth!
For some reason my longing for Iran had become really unbearable these days and certain things that happened which added fuel to the fire.
I had read nearly 925 pages of a book by the famous Khuzestani writer, Ahmad Mahmoud, and the book, which is superb in every aspect of literature, had made me really homesick. A few people visiting the lunchroom when I was reading stated that they had never seen me so quiet and peaceful!
I had also found one of my old Aghasi CDs and all the old songs I had been looking for years and could not find where in that album. For the past two weeks, as I was driving, I would sing along and sometimes cry. Of course the tears were of joy because all the good memories came back
When I arrived at the beautiful Catholic Church on Saturday, I entered the wrong side and just went and sat inside. An American woman sat next to me and introduced herself and indicated that her son was the groom’s best friend.
I introduced myself as the bride’s only aunt (bride’s mom is the only girl).
In no time the church filled up and I could hear Farsi in the row behind me.
I turned around and one recognized me and said, “My god, Azam Khanoum salaam, you have not changed at all.” That was reassuring.
The orchestra began to play and the first person to appear was the bride’s grandmother.
My tears began to pour. This was the lady who owned “Shahnaz Kindergarten” where I was a student at the age of five and she had ended up kicking me out for continuing to misbehave.
The beautiful face and green eyes were the same but the body now fragile and she walked with a cane on one hand and holding on to her grandson Nima on the other. I had flashbacks of when she was on the playground 45 years ago.
Finally the beautiful bride walked in and I started to cry hard. More than 6 feet tall with those big brown eyes and gracious smile, she looked like a Persian Goddess.
The long Catholic ceremony in which so many sections of the bible were read, then all the prayers that were read (God forgive me but when the priest asked us to pray for the Benedict and Archbishop so an so, I said; “and for all the child molesters in the Catholic Church, Amen”.). Of course, the Catholics had to receive communion as well. I thanked God; I was not a Catholic because I would go straight to hell for being so bored.
Outside the church I ran into the bride’s other uncles and recognized all of them except the one I had attended his wedding 19 years ago. At that time he had blonde hair, blue eyes and only spoke English. Secretly I had despised him for being so cold and non-Iranian and told myself he deserved that “South African Bimbo”.
I asked one of the uncles; where is Hossein? A very handsome man with beautiful gray hair and gray blue eyes turned around and looked right into my eyes. I was flabbergasted as he spoke perfect Farsi in a very warm voice and said hello. I said; do you remember me?
Of course, he said. I remember you at my wedding and you have not changed. He told me thathe had an 18-year-old daughter and I said my son was now 19-years old. I felt really rotten for having thought so badly about him for so long and I could not get over the fact that he was such a handsome Iranian man from my part of the world.
I drove to the hotel for the Persian ceremony. An Iranian artist had done a great job in illustrating the ceremony in miniature drawing and there was a good description in the card about Persian “aghd”.
I loved the Persian display and all the non-Persian seemed to think so.
I had asked my Abadani friend Ali who is anti -religion to conduct the ceremony and the minute he appeared in his Judge like robe, I tried hard to speak with an Abdani accent to match his. Ali is very eloquent in both Farsi and English but his accent is that of a person who has lived in Abadan all his life.
He read a few lines and when the marriage was announced I heard the beautiful sound of “kel” which my son calls the “native Indian” sound.
There was my Kindergarten teacher and I went to give her a kiss. She told me something I never knew.
Hossein, the one with blue gray eyes said; you were so mischievous that the parents of other kids threaten to remove their children and you had to be thrown out!
His mother laughed and said; Azam’s house was near the school and I had to call her poor mother in every other day! I felt better as I realized after 45 years I had been given chances but I had not paid attention. I was amazed that she remembered our house too
I heard an older man’s voice with a distinct Khuzestani accent. I turned around and nearly screamed; Oh my God; Doctor K. He looked at me and said yes; do I know you?
I told him my last name and he remembered my dad’s name. I told him that he had been the family’s physician and I had been at his hospital where my girlfriend Shala had her appendix removed. He told me that he lives with his memories and they keep him company. I did not say that my last visit had been with my mom and my baby brother Mamad Reza who had chicken pox and when we brought him home from his office, he died in front of my eyes and that scene has never left my mind. I felt no resentment toward him even though my mother had always blamed him.
As I went to the table to get something to eat, I saw a lady in her 70s walking with a cane and in a commanding voice asking people to move.
I went up to her and said, “I know you.”
In her commanding voice, which was distinctly Abadani, she said, “Where are you from?”
I said, “Khorramshahr.”
She said, “I had nothing to do in Khorramshar.”
I did not give up and said, “I have an amazing memory and I know that I have seen you probably in Abadan. ”
She became impatient and called me “bolkom” which loosely translated means bloody stubborn, and said, “I was an assistant principal in Abadan.”
I jumped up and said, “I knew it! I came to Abadan for two friendly volleyball games and you were at the stadium.”
She looked at me closely for a few seconds.
I lowered my voice as I said, ” Mr. Bahrami was my coach. I was the one who blew a kiss at the crowd when my name was announced and caused chaos as the boys cheered.”
Her jaw dropped.
I quickly said, “The second time I was sent to the bench because I went up the ladder to grab the umpire’s neck to punch him for fouling us!”
She shook her head and said, “I can see that you are just as bad.”
I smiled and nodded my head in agreement. She smiled back.
I announced that I was going to change into the Khorramshari Cinderella and when I came back most people were seated in the ballroom.
I did not know any of the people at my table but they were very nice and said they had been in many events I had been one of the organizers and had always seen me on stage. They thought I was so different up close and personal. I did not bother to ask what that meant. Usually, it means that I am warm and more approachable in person!
After dinner, the Iranian DJ played music and my kindergarten teacher and the assistant principal said’ okay, dokhtar Abadani, go and show them how to dance.
I was dancing when the one with the blue gray eyes stood right in front of me and began to dance. I was so thrilled that my teacher was watching me and smiling that I did not bother to look at the one dancing in front of me.
When the song finished he caught me totally off-guard as he kissed my face on both sides. I was so surprised so continued to dance by myself. I had no idea why he had done that.
I went and sat next to my kindergarten teacher and we reminisced about Khorramshar. She had been there six months ago and told me about some of the changes. I told her that I wanted to retire there and she asked me to be more reasonable and act maturely. She was so sweet and kinds as she said; go for a visit first.
She then told me about some of the families I knew who are still there but for the most part people speak Arabic and are not natives.
I felt a sense of fulfillment as I counted my blessing and thought how fortunate for me to be able to have such a good memory and be nostalgic in a good way.
Many people had often told me that they love to watch me because I am like an unpredictable child who is always plotting to shock adults. In a way, I had thought they meant it as an insult perhaps to tell me I was still a juvenile.
However, recently, a retried executive from a world-renowned organization who managed hundreds of people and easily identifies people on a few minute conversations had moved here and I met her in one of the events I had helped coordinate.
Amazingly, every housewife in town calls her and invites her to the house. Men who are looking for influence and contacts in Washington also call me and ask for her number.
I was surprised when she told me that she really liked me and I am the only Iranian that does not bore her and she is proud of me for working so hard on behalf of so many projects without getting paid! She went so far to tell me that one could always learn something from me because I am so spontaneous.
She had invited me to her place a few times and when my schedule allowed I went. On the last visit she said, “Do you know that there is a child like innocence about you? You are curious about everything, have a sense of adventure and love to learn. You have a great sense of romance about everything you like and you truly get excited over little things. Your mind has remained uncorrupted and your emotions are clearly evident in your eyes. How lucky you are for having remained such a big idealist. I am so curious to see how you have managed to remain that way.”
When she finished I looked at her and smiled. I realized that these words were not meant to insult me but to give my behavior a stamp of approval.
As I finished talking to my kindergarten teacher, I realized those words about my idealistic nature were true. I had not turned frustrated or bitter despite being nearly a half a century old and away from my motherland for more than 26 years. I still get excited over little things. Tonight was proof of that. I felt I had hit the jackpot just because I had run into people who were part of my past.
I kissed my teacher goodbye and told her I had to go because on Sunday I had a lunch date and then had to go to dinner party given by an Iranian man who had asked to have my birthday party at his place. A few of my friends would be at this party as well.
It was midnight as I opened the door of the ballroom to exit; the blue gray eye man was standing and talking to another Iranian man, which from the moment I had laid my eyes on him, I did not like. No doubt he did not like me either and I did not care because he was not important.
I went up to him and said; where is everyone? I want to say good-bye. He peered at me with those gray blue eyes and said’ weren’t you going to say good-bye to me”?
Before, I could say anything; he kissed my face on both side and threw me off again. I did not dare to look into his eyes and tried to remain calm. I was certain he had done these unexpected acts to test me because I had noticed a few times that he was staring at me when I walked around the ballroom to speak to people. I wondered if he had read my writings and wanted to see how I would react when aught by unexpected.
As I walled toward the lobby, Mohsen whom I call my older brother came up and asked me why I was leaving. For a split second I was a teen-ager back in Mehr Hospital where my girlfriend was staying because her appendix had been removed. Mohsen who had just graduated medical school was there with his white doctor’s coat.
I chuckled and said, “I hope you have become a good doctor since you have practiced on unsuspecting patients!”
He laughed. I kissed his face and he kissed my hand. How lucky I was to have met this family 25 years ago in the US.
As I walked towards the parking, the clear sky, the ocean breeze and the palm trees transported me back to Khorramshar.
I marveled that how small is the world we live in and as my dad always told me your world is as big or as small as your imagination wants it to be and how you can handle it.
I was glad tonight my world and imagination were so small and I was amazed that instead of being bored or frightened at this discovery, I was very content.