I could have been killed on that day if I hadn't dropped my book. I hadn't thought about the fact that it was an extraordinary moment until I glanced at my morning newspaper. There I saw a picture of an Iraqi home with a big hole in the middle of its living room wall; a sad man, avoiding the camera, stood to the right of that hole. He was hiding a photo against his chest. Until I saw that picture, it never occurred to me that a particular day in my life, so many years ago, wasn't just an ordinary event.
My memory of the moment is blurry. I remember almost nothing from the moments before it happened and definitely nothing from that same day afterward. I do remember it was a cold winter day in 1980; I still lived in Iran. We lived on the third floor of an apartment building. The war with Iraq had started earlier that year. All universities were closed so all I did — all I had the right to do — was to stay in my room and read books. I liked philosophy.
That day I heard gunshots coming from outside, so I stopped reading and ran toward the family room. It was the only place in our house with a grand window with a view of Tehran's amazing mountains surrounding the northern borders of the city. It was a bright sunny day, and the mountains were blanketed with snow. My mother was in the kitchen. I looked outside and saw nothing special. The street was crowded as usual. People were not even running. Everybody had heard so many explosions and had seen so much blood in the streets, death was no longer scary.
My best friend had just left Iran. Before her parents forced her to leave, she and I had decided we would kill ourselves on the same night. Day and night we talked about suicide, but we couldn't agree on specifics. And then one night she tried it all by herself; she swallowed a bunch of pills, and I felt betrayed. But my friend's attempt failed, and the next morning her mother asked me to convince her that life was worth living. I didn't have the courage to tell her mother the truth — that life, the way it was, wasn't worth living.
I was naïve; I am sure now that my friend's mother already knew everything. When, one month later, she left Iran, I started missing my best friend. I had no one else to tell her about all my amazing plans for killing myself in a way that would astonish everyone in my life — it was going to be unforgettable.
But she left, so I put my plans on hold.
Then came that particular morning when I heard the gunshots and ran into our living room. I kept my book in hand and strained to see what was happening and why people were not running. Then, all of a sudden, my book slid through my fingers and fell to the ground. I bent down to pick it up when suddenly I heard an explosion unlike any I had heard before. It was so close it seemed to cram the room.
Our living room filled up with dust. I threw myself to the ground. It wasn't the first time that I had to plunge to avoid death.
And then I wondered: Was I dead this time?
My mother screamed.
I raised my head and saw the window with a hole in it at the height my head would have been if I hadn't reached down to retrieve my fallen book. And there was another hole on the wall — a much bigger hole — still smoking.
At that moment I realized I'd lost the chance of dying a spectacular death, a death much better than all my imaginary plans. I knew I had missed this opportunity to be, for once, the center of attention, to exist in a moment when death becomes something rare, something visible, something that everyone remembers forever, something as unusual as a picture in the morning newspaper that can actually shock and spawn indefinitely the kind of rage that does not go away, even after turning the page.
The hole in the wall of our family room stayed untouched for a long time until, slowly, we all forgot about its existence.