They had driven a few hours through the rocky mountain terrain, which snaked its way upwards through tunnels, bending and winding around endless dusty corners. The red hot moulds had absorbed the heat of the scorching sun all day and effused a dry earthy scent, a barren scent almost as barren as the scenery around them. And then it came without warning, the unexpected change in scenery, a thick green lushness covered the mountains almost suddenly and the temperature dropped. The magical forest unfolded over the mountains for as long as they could see and touched the clear blue sky. A cool breeze caressed her flushed cheek and blew her raven hair. Mariam inhaled deeply. This was the moment she had dreamt of all these years. The familiar scent of the wet forest, musky wood and distant rice fields filled her nostrils. How she had longed that scent to be bottled up and sold in department stores across the world. She turned to her lover to share her treasured secret “Babe joon didi… this is the smell I was telling you about.”
The road had flattened out, the wild forest was replaced by tamer greenery and women and children dressed in colorful traditional garments and straw hats bent in rice paddies. Mariam glimpsed bits and pieces of the blue sea beyond the fields and greenery until the green gave in to the blue of the sea and gradually the sun grew gloriously into a flaming orange half circle and disappeared into the soft blue waves.
Night had fallen as they got to the gates of the beloved stone villa that had belonged to Mariam’s family for generations. There it stood in all its forgotten glory, a massive three storey building overlooking the sea, surrounded by acres and acres of emptiness and palm trees. The old house keeper opened the large iron gates, stared suspiciously at them, but the jeep’s flash lights blinded him. He came across and peered into the driver’s window, as his wife and three children looked on in the distance. His brown face was ragged and weary, but Mariam immediately recognized the twinkle in his green eyes. “Mash Mamad don’t you recognize me?… It’s me, Mariam”. At this point, the old man’s face broke into a wide smile. “Bale khanoum, we were told you were coming… we haven had visitors here for years and the last time I saw you were just a little girl.” Hardly a little girl Mariam thought to herself. I must have been 18. The old man called onto his wife, who rushed to the gate and upon recognizing Mariam, pulled her into a warm embrace, screaming with excitement praising God for her safe arrival. Nayereh khanoum looked just as Mariam remembered her ten years ago, a plump, joyful woman with a flowery silk headscarf that kept slipping down to her neck, and a loud merry laugh which revealed two gold teeth.
As they drove to the villa, Masht Mamad said that had he known they were coming, he would have sacrificed a sheep under their feet — in old Islamic tradition — to welcome the newly weds. Mariam smiled thinking of her cousin’s wedding, many years ago, when she had fainted at the sight of the bleeding animal at the gate of her aunt’s garden. “These traditions are your routes and blood and will always be a part of your life” her mother had said to her firmly. They had reached the door to the garden. Masht Mamad wished them goodnight, and his wife winked at Mariam and pressed her hand with an all knowing smile.
As they walked into the garden, the heavy fragrance of Jasmine and Razeghi hung in the air. The old wooden door creaked as Mariam opened it. Her heart skipped a beat as she walked into the villa and her thoughts were flooded with memories of her past, the many summers she had spent here. She recalled those carefree days she had spend with her cousins at the seashore until their skins had turned into a deep brown, the colour of good, expensive saddle bags, only to be dragged in by her grand mother who shouted at her daughters “In dokhtaratoon rangeh zoghal shodan, digeh ki mitoneh inaro shohar bedeh”… And then, they used to stay up all night playing hokm… Years later, when they were grown up, they would share a drag on a forbidden cigarette and a glass of vodka lime from her parent’s liquor cabinet, which was fanatically guarded by Mashti. But even Mash Mamad slipped every once in a while.
They would walk on the beach in their latest summer dresses and bright lipsticks flirting with the boys from the neighboring villas and promising a rendez-vouz at night. More often than not, they were guarded by Nayereh Khanoum during the night and failed to escape her watchful eyes. Mariam recalled the summer when she had met Ali on the beach. Ali would climb up the wall into their grounds, stand under the orange tree which faced Mariam’s French window and read love poems to her. Sometimes Mariam fell asleep, and her cousin Neda would stand at the window and wave and blow kisses to Ali. In the distance Ali couldn’t tell them from each other. In his desperate attempt to prove his adolescent love, his voice would grow louder and more passionate. Then the girls would collapse into a fit of laughter, waking the entire household. Poor Ali would panic and jump across the wall, before Mashti came out after him with his broom, swearing profanities at him in his native dialect.
The living room with the stone fire place seemed empty now. The smell of old wood and salty humidity filled the emptiness with a sense of years of abandonment. Only Mariam’s memories lingered on.
They lay on a rug on the beach and started a fire, huddling close to each other. The night air was chilly. As she took a sip of the whisky, which immediately warmed her insides, she tilted her head backwards and held her breath. Thousands of stars lit up the sky. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the crashing waves and the crickets. When she opened her eyes, she was looking into her lover’s eyes. She felt the familiar urge and longing and abandoned herself to his hungry kiss, a kiss that said I share your past and your future … They made passionate love until dawn. The sun was slowly rising over the horizon. As Mariam huddled behind her lover she leaned forward, kissed his earlobe softly and whispered into his ear “I’ve always wanted to honeymoon in Shomal”.