Alone I walked through the alley again on a moonlit night My body, a pair of eyes seeking your sight. My soul, a cup brimming with your desire I was again the same old lover on fire. Deep in my soul, the rose of your memory gleamed The garden of a hundredfold memory beamed … Many a night has ever since spent in darkness of woe You never sought any news of your lorn lover to know. You will never again set foot in that alley though! Through that alley I walked once again but in sorrow — Excerpt from Fereydoon Moshiri's Koocheh (“Alley”), translated by Ismail Salami
Nousha sat across her friend Sami in one of the trendy cafés of North Tehran. Before meeting Sami, Nousha had been browsing the books at Shahreh Ketab (“Book City”), a new bookstore in North Tehran mimicking Barnes and Nobles or Indigo but with its own distinctive flavour of Iranian bookstores carrying posters of Iranian literary figures and copied CDs at modest prices. She lifted the books one by one and browsed the spines for titles that intrigued her. How she loved being around books — that literary world of fanciful characters where she could take refuge in her inner world.
Browsing the spines, she recognized Fereydoon Moshiri's Ba Tamameh Ashkhayam (“With All My Tears”). How she loved Moshiri's poetry. Funny, she thought, how she had lived abroad since her tender years but still managed to read and be moved by Moshiri's poetry. She thought Iranian poetry or poetic speech read like a poignant melody — specially, if it was read in that gruff Khosro Shakibayee voice.
She flipped the book open and there it was — her favourite Moshiri poem, Koocheh (“Alley). She recalled Milan Kundera's The Unbereable Lightness of Being. At the very moment when she had been reviewing her past in her mind's eye, she had flipped the book open to Koocheh (“alley”). How appropriate! Fortuitous! As her tears were about to take her over, she recoiled from her philosophical state to maintain proper form. She continued browsing the books: Forough, Hedayat, Moshiri, Sohrab — all translated to English. To her chagrin, she even discovered English poetry books written by Iranians. She browsed through Sarvenaz Heraner's Tears for Fears and was glad to find herself in the verses of someone else's poetry.
She had felt so lonely ever since her arrival. She had relished her time with her family but somehow had felt out of place. While she spoke the same language and had the facial features of an archetype Iranian girl — arched eyebrows and big brown eyes — she found it difficult to relate to Iranians who had never lived abroad.
A few days ago, she had visited a beauty shop in North Tehran to have her eyebrows shaped. Having sat in the waiting area in the company of her uppity Tehrooni compatriots, she had eves dropped on the desultory conversations of the girls who were having their faces threaded and hairs highlighted while feverishly admiring themselves in the mirror. She must have heard Zara and Mango at least twenty times. Nousha was impressed by their beauty. Their sense of fashion, on the other hand, she found smart, extremely trendy but at the same time ubiquitous — these girls looked like clones of one another. She also found their incessant obsession with materialism somehow annoying. She found herself unable to relate to the materialistic culture of North Tehran generally.
How Nousha had felt alienated in the West and had longed for passing by the old streets of her childhood. How she had carried the dream of walking in her old neighborhood on her shoulders and how heavily that had weighed. She had dreamed of meeting up with her past for so long and now that she had, somehow she was disappointed. If only she had left it as just that — a dream — then maybe she could have still sat in her room day dreaming about the streets she had once played in while letting the wonderful nostalgia take over her body as she lit a cigarette and laid her back to her bed.
She purchased a few posters and a few cheap CDs, a number of books and headed over to the trendy café next door. The café was located upstairs in a two-storey mall called “Arian” in North Tehran. It overlooked Mirdamad Street. Nousha loved sitting by the big windows sipping on her café glace admiring the beautiful vista of her childhood neighborhood. Intellectual conversations with her friend Sami over café glace and Kent cigarettes in Iran's coffee shops were enough for her forlorn to give way to excitement.
Her friend Sami who had lived in the West for over 18 years had recently moved to Iran to help with the BAM disaster and to look into job opportunities. How Nousha admired Sami! After completing dental school he had abdicated his dental crown (no pun intended) and had handed it over to his parents on a silver platter to follow bigger causes.
He had immediately left for Spain for a one month excursion which had turned into 6 months of contemplation. He returned absolutely convinced that he wanted to become a psychologist. After a few arduous years, he had finished his masters in psychology. And now fate had brought him back to Iran.
Sami beckoned to the waiter to bring over an ashtray. He lit a cigarette and took a sip of his cappuccino. He looked at Nousha and said, “I am so confused Noush, azinja moondeh azoonjan roondeh.”
“What do you mean Sami?”
“Do you ever get the feeling that we don't belong anywhere? When my parents sent me to the West I was a child of 12 years. With my dark features and strange name I became a hermit in a strange land trying to make sense of what had happened. Looking back, I don't know how I got through it. The other day my mom told me to be careful when I cross the street. It made me laugh and cry at the same time. Parents can be such a nuisance.”
“Well, after years of soul searching, I mustered enough courage to follow my own dream but I still felt a missing part. I was convinced that Iran would be the answer. I will always be a Sami Khoshbayanee with the strange last name in the West. I tried becoming Shawn Khosh for a while but people still asked me where I was from to which I replied half Spanish, half Middle-Eastern. I hated lying. I hated changing my name and I hated changing my identity to belong. So here I am. But now I wonder. Is this my place? I am worlds apart from the Iranians in Iran. I am constantly feigning a smile to jokes I do not find funny and cannot understand. Maybe our only panacea is to head out like Columbus and find a new land for all bi-cultural Iranians. Maybe then we won't be homeless.”
Listening to Sami, Nousha wanted to simultaneously laugh and cry. She could not believe how her how experiences resonated with those of Sami's.
Sami and Nousha conversed over another cup of café glace and a few more Kent cigarettes laughing and crying over their similar experiences in the West and in Iran.
After coffee, Nousha took Sami to the bookstore next door and told him she had found a haven in Iran where the two of them could fit in. She then said goodbye to Sami and headed back “home.” Walking back, Nousha recalled her favourite Moshiri poem, Koocheh (“alley”). She was the lover and Iran her beloved. She recalled her parting at the Mehrabad airport all those years ago. She had promised herself, at the time, that she would never betray Iran, that she would remain chaste, a faithful lover and that she would count the days until she would meet her beloved again. She had reviewed ever alley way in her mind's eye a million times. Her fire had been burning for all these years and when she had finally met up with her beloved, he had betrayed her. Her beloved had called truce with destiny and had slept with time. She no longer recognized his face. Maybe he no longer recognized hers. And so through that alley she walked once again but in sorrow.