A Rose For The Martyrs

The year was 2031. The uncontrollable population explosion had reached beyond the city limits of Tehran. Finding housing for a population that had reached nearly 30 million seemed unrealistic and had become a huge task for the government. The new mayor of Tehran had proposed a new recommendation, which had approved the authority of the city to explore any area of the city, inside or outside, to expand its housing plans. For this purpose, they had designated a remote area on the outskirts of Tehran for development.

The construction crew had arrived on the site about a week ago to start building a new apartment complex. The crews of planners, engineers and construction workers, along with all sorts of machinery and mechanical equipment had been assembled on the site for the past several days with a grand project of turning the remote field into a 200 apartment complex within a time span of 12 months. But after one whole week, no work had been done. For some peculiar reason, the ground seemed extraordinarily uncooperative and hard. They had not even succeeded to penetrate the ground one centimeter or punch one tiny hole in it.

Although the ground seemed normal, it was presenting a ferocious and resilient nature. Its thickness equated the hardest form of steel. It was hard, thick, impervious and impossible to penetrate. Although it seemed like the normal earth, it was relentless as if it was made of some kind of material that was unknown to the construction crew. Heavy equipment, bulldozers, and ground digging machines had failed to make a dent on the surface of the ground. Special crews, consisting of experts on soil and ground digging techniques, arrived at the scene.

They examined the soil and the area beneath it, but they failed to find any geological abnormalities or offer any explanations for such a phenomenon. Everyone seemed puzzled and amazed at the complexity of the soil. What might have caused this area of about 2000 by 1500 meters to be so stubborn and resilient, where a few hundred meters immediately outside of that area, the ground seemed much more cooperative and manageable? After several days of trying hard, the project manager and the workers abandoned the site and left it for further analysis.

Upon the departure of the managing crew and the workers, several security officers were assigned to secure the premises in the absence of the construction crews until the city and the engineering crew could decide how to pursue the project. The security team that was selected consisted of several Afghans, who were allocated the job of watching over the site at night and protecting the machines and equipment. After nearly fifty years, the social status of the Afghans in Iran had barely changed and most of Afghans were still not able to find better jobs than school maintenance, construction work or night security guards.

The first night of the operation there were three Afghans assigned to watch over the construction site; one who watched the gate, one on foot patrol, and one who would watch the office. It was around midnight that the silence of the outdoors was broken by the scream of one of the security officers. Mansour, who was patrolling the area on foot, was heard screaming near the northeastern part of the compound. The other two guards, Rahman and Jahan, ran towards that area. They found Mansour nearly unconscious and lying on the ground. He was situated in a fetal position, holding his head in his hands.

The other two men tried to calm him down, but Mansour seemed badly shaken up and frightened. Rahman and Jahan carried Mansour to the office and laid him down on the bed. He was pale and was sweating profusely. As Jahan was getting a glass of water, Rahman was bombarding Mansour with questions. Mansour, though, was not responding. The poor man seemed terribly scared and terrified, as he had just seen a ghost. That was the question that Rahman asked him, jokingly. Upon hearing the question, Mansour, once again, began screaming and trembling uncontrollably. The whole commotion scared Jahan and he accidentally dropped the glass of water.

Mansour had totally lost his composure and was visibly terrified to death. The other two guards looked at each other with the outmost surprise. Rahman, who was in charge of the security operation, laid his curious look on Jahan, “What might have happened?” he asked. Jahan shook his head and responded, “I don’t know, but he seems scared to his underwear.” Rahman squirted Mansour’s face with some water, grabbed both of his shoulders, and gently shook him, “Mansour, what happened? What did you see?” Mansour was still shaking and hardly mumbling some incomprehensible words. “Did you see a ghost?” Jahan asked, as he and Rahman broke into laughter.

Once more, upon hearing the word ghost, the poor man began shaking and screaming. The two men looked at each other with amazement and turned their heads in the direction of Mansour. Rahman ordered Jahan to get some sleeping pills from the medicine cabinet and hand it to Mansour. Perhaps that would calm his nerves. Jahan followed the order and passed him a couple of pills. Mansour took the pills. It did not take too long before he fell sleep. He mumbled and rambled for several more minutes but soon felt the effect of the pills and fell asleep and the other men went back to their posts.

It was around three o’clock in the morning when Rahman nearly jumped out of his chair due to the screaming of Mansour. He was having nightmares again and had begun screaming and shouting. Rahman held him in his arms and pressed him hard against his strong chest and shouted, “Quiet man, quiet. What is with you tonight? Talk to me, talk.” Mansour’s entire body was trembling. He embraced his friend and cried, “Rahman, it was a little girl, a little, tiny girl, all bloody and assaulted.”

“What girl? What are you talking about?”

Mansour continued crying, “It was this little girl. She could not be more than eight or nine. She was wearing a white dress and a scarf. Rahman, she was bleeding, bleeding profusely from her neck, chest, belly and from between her legs. She was riddled with bullets and I believe she had been raped too. Rahman, she was so little and pretty. Oh God, she was so young and little.”

Rahman tried to comfort his friend and colleague. The man did not make any sense. He was talking about a ghost who had appeared to him while he was checking the premises. By this time, Mansour seemed calmer. He was repeatedly recalling the experience of the night before. He was telling his friends that he had seen a young girl, who seemed to have been sexually assaulted and perhaps executed. The other men could not believe him. At this time and age, it was hard to believe in ghost stories. Shortly, after the sun rose and their shifts were over, each headed home, knowing that they had to return that night.

Before dusk of that day, all three men returned to work on the site. Mansour, though, calmer than in the morning, still seemed somewhat incoherent and disoriented. The other guys, though, tried not to mention the experience of the night before. This time around, Rahman, reversed the assignments of the areas of the two; Mansour was to be securing the gate and Jahan on foot patrol around the compound. Nearly half an hour into their shifts, Rahman and Jahan heard the cries of Mansour.

They ran to the area where Mansour was performing his duties and found him on the ground, in a state of hysteria with his entire body twitching and convulsing. The man was screaming and crying. They quickly transported him back into the office. They gave him a tranquilizer and did their best to sedate him. Mansour fell asleep shortly after. Mansour’s state of mind and his behavior had seriously concerned the two men, but they did not want to blow the whistle on him for the fear of him losing his job; a fact that Mansour quickly realized too.

When he woke up in the morning, he told the guys the story of seeing a man running around the compound while his entire body engulfed as he had been set on fire. But he mentioned that the irony was that he seemed to have been missing nails on his fingers and toes, as if they had been removed by force. Rahman and Jahan looked at him with suspicion and doubts, but Mansour swore that he was not envisioning nor imagining things. His colleagues asked him several questions; did he know him, had he ever met him before, or if he knew where he was heading.

But Mansour had no answers for those questions. All he remembered was that he had seen a man, burning in fire and running before disappearing in the dark. Rahman offered to take him off the shift and send him to see a psychologist, but he refused. He believed he had seen what he thought he had seen and he was not crazy.

The third night Mansour saw a group of male ghosts appearing before his eyes, all of whom had been shot in the head. Among them, he had noticed several men who had writings on their chests, hands and faces that were produced through the burning of cigarette butts. Mansour decided to keep this event to himself and not talk to the guys about it. After all, even though, they were his friends, they had a hard time believing his stories, and he was never able to prove to them that these events had actually happened.

He also did not intend to lose his job. But the occurrences of these appearances never ceased. Over a span of two weeks, Mansour, constantly, came upon different ghosts. Some of these ghosts were women and some were men. They ranged from seven or eight years old to well into their fifties or even sixties. They seemed to have been from all walks of life; peasants, educators, students, and from all classes of society.

One night he saw a group of ghosts wearing Yarmulkes and entangled in chains. He assumed they must have been Jewish. Another night he witnessed a group of young men and women holding a red flag, ornamented with the sickle and hammer, marching in front of him. One other night, a group of ghosts, wearing striped prison uniforms with the word “Bahaii” written on their chests passed by. All the ghosts had their ankles and wrists shackled, and all seemed to have been injured before their deaths. Heads were crushed or were missing eyes, limbs were cut off, or the bodies appeared torn apart.

All the deaths appeared to have been carried out by killing. They were mostly shot to death, but seemed badly beaten or tortured before their final fates. Many were missing fingernails, hands, feet and some even had been beheaded. He never conjured up enough courage to speak to them, nor was he certain whether they would respond. All the ghosts seemed quiet, but the effects of the pain and anguish that they had possibly endured during their lives were imminent.

One night, Mansour encountered the most painful incident of all. There were about nine young girls, who were marching before him. They all seemed young, ambitious, and innocent. They were strolling gingerly before his eyes, holding each other’s hands. They were in such a harmonious rhythm that nothing seemed strong enough to separate them from one another. They all seemed to be struggling to liberate themselves from the chains that were strapped around their necks, but it was hopeless. All the girls were displaying cuts and wounds on their faces and bodies.

Mansour shouted, “Who are you? What are your names?” One of the girls smiled and in silence pointed to a group of older people behind them as she was suggesting that he should ask them for their names. Perhaps they were their parents. They sure must have been for the way they were walking behind the girls and trying to reach them and touch them. Perhaps they could “identify” them. Mansour asked them for the girls’ names. They were all crying in silence, and then all just vanished.

Mansour did not talk about these incidents to his colleagues anymore as if they had become taboo. But the other two knew that Mansour was not fully relieved from these distractions. For Mansour, the appearances never stopped and every night he saw these figures, which would waltz before him and then disappear. Mansour suspected that this was a sacred cemetery of a sort, but he did not know who was buried there. He finally realized that for the sake of salvaging his sanity he had to quit that job. One day he told his superior about his decision and left the job, but not before, out of respect for the dead, placing a long stem rose on the site.

The operation had completely ceased after the first week and the workers had left. The team of engineers was scrambling to unearth the mystery of the stubborn ground. They had been referred to the Department of Transportation, the City and the Ministry of Information. After a month and much research, they finally came up with a recommendation. They had discovered that years ago, some time around the decades of 1970s and 1980s, this site had been a secret burial ground for thousands of political prisoners who had been executed and hurriedly buried at night.

After some debates, the city decided to abandon the project altogether and move to another site. The day that the crew was packing to leave the site, the project manager asked Rahman, who had seen over the security of the compound for weeks, to go for a walkover with him. Shortly into the inspection, the manager stumbled upon the ground where Mansour had placed the single rose. He asked Rahman about the flower. Rahman confessed that he remembered seeing Mansour place a flower there on the day that he was leaving. “How long ago was that?” the man asked. Rahman replied that it was almost a month ago.

The man shook his head and replied, “But look at it. It’s still fresh as if it was picked this morning. Look at the spots where all the thorns are supposed to have grown. You see, all the thorns seem to have fallen off and in their place there are new flowers blossoming.” The two men looked at each other with astonishment. There was a sense of sadness and melancholy hovering over the whole area.

The sun was vigorously shining on the rose.

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