She inserted the old key in the lock and turned it to the left, releasing the bolt and swinging the heavy wooden door open. Taking one step inside the warm, cozy apartment, the plastic grocery bags rolled off her red swollen fingers, settling on the floor. She took off her shoes still wet from the fresh snow off the streets. After closing the door and locking it, she moved towards the kitchen, carrying the groceries with her. Moving unconsciously, she filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove to boil for her tea, something she had done countless times in her life. A task she could do with no thought, even in her sleep. Come to think of it, she had spent the last 3 months living inside a haze. Every day seemed like a nightmare; one that she could not awake from. The first couple of weeks she was in shock, and the next few weeks she panicked. Now, she just lived her days in a cold and numb state, only interrupted by sudden waves of pain that twisted her body and drowned her face in tears.
The kettle was gently rattling with steam shooting out. A good 8 minutes had passed by and the water was boiling. All the while she had been standing in front of the stove, staring at nothing, lost in thoughts. The whistling sound of the kettle snapped her out of her daze and she moved, pouring herself tea in a small curvy and delicate glass with a red nalbeki under it. She took her glass and sat at the wooden kitchen table next to a tall window, staring out the 6th floor onto the streets of Paris. The view was grey, which is nothing new for Paris, but the fresh powder added a soft touch to the trees and the rooftops. It was a beautiful sight for any eyes; that is of course any eyes that could see. Zari’s eyes scanned her surroundings but not much would register. For the last 3 months all she could see was his face, his charming, elegant and beautiful face. She could not believe that he was gone and she could not help but wish that he would just walk through that door, just one more time. Dariush… Dariush…
She set the tea glass down and looked at the window again. She noticed the empty dish by the window-sill. Her daughter had taken the dish out the day before when she was visiting. She had set it by the window as a reminder to her mom to place the seeds in and grow the sabzeh in time for Eid. Seeing the empty dish, she rose up and went to the grocery bags. She removed the bag of lentils and cut it open letting the seeds spill onto the wet plate she was holding in the sink. Looking down at the plate full of lentils, all of a sudden she thought to herself, what am I doing? Preparing for Eid? For what? For who? What spring? What New Year? What is there to celebrate? She looked out the window again and the scene outside confirmed the one inside her heart. It was still winter. It was still cold and bitter and there was no spring in sight.
She let go of the plate, letting it fall in the sink and walked to her bedroom. Sitting on her bed, she pulled the covers over her head and let the tears fall. Eid was only a few weeks away, but her heart told her it was years away and she just could not imagine celebrating it, not without him. She closed her eyes and let the images rush before her. She saw him as a baby, her very first. She saw him as a young man, a hippy with long hair and a beard. She saw him, older, strikingly handsome, standing at her door with his long overcoat and warm eyes. She saw him in a hospital bed, short-tempered and in pain. She saw him lying inside the coffin, all skin and bones, with what cancer had left of him. But most of all she saw his smile, that contagious, mischievous smile, which lit up his eyes and lit up her world. He was her eldest child and her only son and for the last 20 years, he had been battling the demons of cancer and she had fought every step and every day alongside him.
Now the fight was done. Nature had won and they had lost. He fought until the last minute of the last day, praying for a cure, for a new discovery, for hope. Hope never came and he was taken away, leaving his mother burning with pain and without anyone to blame. Nature had been cruel. She should have gone before him. Instead she was alive. She was watching the city sparkle with decorations and lights, celebrating life, while she was mourning the one who had been her very reason to live. First it was Christmas, then New Year’s and now Eid. It seemed like another spiteful twist of nature. Her world had stopped, but the clock would not stop. The world kept on turning. The sun came out every morning, as though nothing had changed. The calendar pushed forward as it always had and now it was Eid again. It was a time when she would be cleaning her house, and taking out her pretty dishes, buying sweets and calling distant family and friends. Instead she hid under her covers, all alone in the darkness with her memories and her pain. Surely no one could expect her to ‘celebrate’.
She stayed under those covers for hours, until her tears ran dry and her small body collapsed into a deep sleep exhausted from the pain of arthritis and the bigger pain of a broken heart. When she woke again, her throat was dry and her eyes were swollen and heavy. She walked to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water. As she drank the water slowly, she noticed the snow had melted outside and the streets were shiny, reflecting the light of the lamp posts. It was 3am, but she felt alert. Night and day had lost their meaning for her and were often commingled into one. She walked back to her room and sat on her bed again.
Suddenly she sensed a shiver down her back and turned her glance towards the door. She could not believe her eyes. There he was, standing in the doorway, with his hair cut short, dressed impeccably as always and wearing his signature smile. She blinked a few times, thinking it was a dream and yet he stayed. She could not speak or move. She was simply mesmerized by his sight and it sent a calm sensation running through her body. He had come to visit her, the way he had done so many times before and she was so grateful. His image only remained for a brief moment, but it was enough for his mother to see and feel him and confirm that she had not been dreaming.
Zari spent the next several hours reading the Koran and feeling a peace that was new for her. She had never been a superstitious woman, nor did she believe in unexplained visions like the one she had just experienced. The bitter taste of reality was still in her mouth and she knew Dariush was gone. It did not matter to her how or why his vision came to her. The only thing that mattered was that her heart’s wish had been answered and she had seen her son again. He came to comfort her and seeing him did just that. It no longer mattered how it happened or why. It didn’t matter who would believe her or who would find it foolish. Almost 55 years ago, they had been one being, sharing one body and breathing one air. And now, a lifetime later, it seemed like she was searching for him in vain, because he was now once again a part of her. She realized that night that she carried her son inside her soul, like she had once carried him inside her womb.
The first rays of morning light came piercing through the windows. Time was relentless and it was time once again for the evening to slip away and the new day to settle in. It was useless to fight time, and as pitiless as it often appeared, time was sometimes our greatest ally. Zari lifted the covers off herself and rose out of bed. She quickly got dressed and ready and headed out to the streets. As though operating instinctively, she began a hurried walk. It had become her routine and her shoes had memorized this daily path, although they often complained of the distance, but it was useless. She pulled her scarf forward covering the front of her hair and tightened the knot. It was a fresh and cool morning and unusual as it were, there was no wind.
She finally arrived at her destination and swiftly walked through the rows of headstones, until she came to her son’s. She still could not believe this was his burial spot. She had come to this spot every single day for 3 months. She kept him company, she spoke with him, read to him and poured her heart out. That would never change. Today, however was different because unlike other days when she would feel empty on her walk to the cemetery, on this day she felt like she had a piece of her son with her. Dariush was no longer just under the grass at this one block of land. A part of him was also with her now. It seemed such a small and insignificant inspiration, but it gave her a peace that God only knows how desperately she needed. She kneeled at his headstone and ran her hands over the smooth stone which was wet and shiny from the overnight dew and melted snow. She had brought flowers with her, but noticed that there was already a fresh-cut bunch laying there.
She looked behind her across the street from the cemetery at the large stone building. It was a huge house with 5 bedrooms, home to a young French attorney and her 3 newborn babies. They were triplets, two boys and one girl and they would soon be about 6 months old and celebrating their first Eid. They were born a couple months early, which happened to be the last few months of their father’s life. Perhaps this was nature’s way to show some compassion, by granting them the chance to meet their father, before separating them forever. The children were Zari’s grandchildren. Dariush had 3 grown children from his first marriage, and these triplets were an unexpected surprise for the entire family. They were fragments of him which came into the world just as he was being taken away. They were also, the reason why he was fighting so hard to live just one more day, despite the pain, the fear and the exhaustion, so that he could have one more day with them, his babies.
Suddenly she stood up and started walking. She walked quickly, more so than usual. The sun was showing through the heavy clouds, not enough to warm up the day, but just enough to state its presence. She walked and walked, making lists in her head. There was so much she had to do. Eid was coming. It was only a few weeks away. Spring was coming and with it the promise of a few more rays of sun each day. After all, this was Paris and no one expected a completely warm Eid, but it was Eid nonetheless. This was the babies’ first Eid, and she had to be there for them. She had to make up for their father’s absence. Time was suddenly slipping by quickly and she was walking quicker than before to try to catch it. The same time she had cursed. The same time she blamed for taking her son’s life too soon, the same time she had blamed for not taking her away with him. The time that continued on its path, turning a deaf ear to her pain and cruelly carrying on. It was now telling her to hurry and join in the beginning of a new season, and the birth of a new year. It didn’t imply that winter would disappear, but that the hope of spring would make the last bits of snow and cold more tolerable. Nature’s malice was also its sweetest act of kindness. Steadiness, constancy and patience were the formula that would pull us back despite whatever force diverts us from our path.
She inserted the old key in the lock and turned it to the left releasing the bolt and swinging the heavy wooden door open. Taking one step inside the warm, cozy apartment, she took off her shoes. After closing the door and locking it, she moved towards the kitchen and filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove to boil for her tea as she had done countless times in her life. Looking down by the window, she saw the plate with the lentils sitting in the sink. Reaching in, she grabbed the dish and ran her fingers across the seeds, smoothing them out and feeling little bumps under her fingers. Unaware of her rejection, the lentils had followed their natural course and had started to spurt with the water from the sink. This would be her sabzeh and the other pieces of the Haft-Sin would follow. Along with them would be a remaining piece of winter and an empty space in her heart and at her table, but nothing that would keep the New Year from coming. For that she was grateful.