The day I arrived in Paris from Iran, my older sister sent me to buy cucumbers. She told me that I needed to learn to be independent and mature. I was 23 years old. I had never before bought cucumbers.
In Iran, I never shopped in grocery stores. Being the youngest daughter still living at home, I was spoiled. I never cleaned my room. I never helped my mother with any chores. I never bought anything for my father. My father was a retired mathematics teacher. He wasn't old in years , but the day he learned he had to retire, a few months after the Revolution, he suddenly became old. He stayed at home and grew bored. I was doing the same thing at that time–nothing! I was accepted to attend the university, but universities were closed. There were too many protests and buildings on fire and cadavers lining the streets, to let my parents feel safe allowing me to leave the house.
So I stayed in my room. My father was outside marching, making small talk and listening to other people's miseries. After a while, since he could not bear doing nothing, and when inflation became too high, he took a job that had nothing to do with teaching. One day, when he wasn't home, my mother sent me to buy apples. So for the first time I walked to our neighborhood grocery store. It was a dirty, smelly little store, with a slippery, wet flour and shelves of rotting fruits and empty vegetable boxes. The shop owner wouldn't allow me to touch the fruit before selecting. He gave me a bag of some kind of fruit that my mother later threw away. That was the only time she sent me to grocery store.
When the war with Iraq started in 1980, my father had to stop his new job and once again stayed at home. Everything had become rare and expensive, and each family received a certain number of coupons to buy basic needs. My father would wake up at 4 in the morning to line up to buy milk with his milk coupon and bread with his bread coupon. We had coupons for everything. Then, like most of the other retired men, he would spend all day waiting in lines, sometimes without even knowing what he was waiting to purchase. During this time he bought all kinds of “things” in order to later sell or exchange them.
Buying meat was different. In the evenings we would hear the phone ring, only once. My father would rush outside. When I looked out I would see a dark car in the front of our house, its headlights turned off. I would watch my father negotiating with the driver for a long time. Then the driver would step out of his car, open the trunk and hand my father a bag of meat. My mother would wait in the kitchen to wash it and to cut it into small pieces and place it cautiously in our big, tall freezer. This package was supposed to last a month or so. It was war time, and borders were closed.
One day my father took me in his car for an important talk. He told me that he was going to do whatever it took to help me leave the country; he wanted me to go to France or anywhere else I could get an education. He promised me all his savings. For three years I waited for permission to leave Iran; I was too afraid to escape disguised in a sheep skin by the human smugglers sneaking people out through Turkey or Pakistan.
The day I left Iran in 1983, I was too happy and too tired after waiting in long lines of security checking to remember to hug my father for the last time, the way I'd imagined and fantasized that hug one million times. I didn't cry, and I didn't look back to wave at him until he disappeared in the crowded airport. I forgot. I knew he would be standing still, crying, watching the emptying flow of passengers for a long time after I was already gone.
On that day, in Paris, when my sister asked me to go to the supermarket all by myself, I couldn't refuse. This was all I had dreamed about. This was why I had left Iran: to become independent.
I reached the big supermarket and I was stunned by its brightness and the sweet smell of breads and pastries and the perfume of fruits and delicious French cuisine. I got lost in the infinite aisles filled with meats and milk. I couldn't find the cucumbers. Everything looked so different. Nothing was the same as the stores of Iran.
Everywhere I went I saw long lines of shelves filled with tons of food and I didn't see any lines of tired, old people standing and waiting. Children were playing and pleading to get candies and mothers happily were filling up huge shopping cards with the things I had never seen before. Fathers were going carelessly through their long list of supply and cashiers were smiling at their clients. A few young boys were helping customers with filling up the plastic bags and carrying the heavy bags for the older ones. The background sound of a joyful pop music was mixing with the sound of chuckles of young teenager girls flirting with the bag boys. Life was something colorful filled with unfamiliar ordinary images. I was devastated. I was breathless.
Finally I found the fruit and vegetable section. I bought the biggest cucumbers I had ever seen. I hurried home and handed them to my sister. She took the cucumbers from me and shook her head. She began to laugh and said: “These aren't cucumbers. They are zucchinis!”
And I didn't dare to laugh and I became a huge lonely drop of tear and thousands of images of the past started to fade away by its sour wetness.
First posted on www.MadAsHellClub.net.