Contrary to my expectations, my ten years old nephew who was not surprised to see the slinky I’d brought him as a souvenir from the Unite States said, “We have slinky too. Next time we go to the bazaar, I’ll show it to you amoo jaan or as you Americans say dear uncle. Whatever you find in America we have it right here in Iran.”
And he was right. To my surprise, the next day in the market he showed me many colorful versions of slinky sold at much lower prices than the US, all home grown and unauthorized reproductions of the genuine article.
“So you are saying you can find absolutely everything we have in America right here?” I callously asked him at the lunch table.
“Everything,” he boasted.
“In that case, tomorrow you will produce one tall blond woman in the market with an oversized butt,” I ruthlessly demanded. Now he was sitting in front of me with a gloomy face. I had scored one.
He was the nephew I had the most fun with on my first trip to Iran after seventeen years. I had never met him before.
After lunch I was supposed to visit one of my sisters who lived in the same city and not far form my brother’s house. The only issue was that my sister and brother had not talked to each other for a couple years.
Naeem, my nephew said, “Take me with you amoo jaan to aunt Soraya’s house.”
“I can’t,” I responded.
“Please dear uncle, take me with you. I promise to behave,” he insisted.
“I know you will but I really can’t take you with me.” I didn’t know how to say no him. I was not to connect the two families by taking him. It was a non-verbal agreement I’d made with my brother and his wife. “ Maybe another time,” I responded sadly.
“But why? Why can’t you take me?”
How could I tell him what his mom’s eyebrows gesture meant right after she heard her son’s request to go to my sister’s house with me.
So I lied. “First of all. It’s so hot outside and we have to walk at least fifteen minutes under the scorching sun to get there. It’s not good for your skin. Heat exhaustion is dangerous.”
“First of all amoo joon, unlike you Americans we are tough. We are not Orange Juice soosools (wimps). Besides, you don’t know your way around these alleys, you’ll get lost.”
“Your mother gave me the address and showed me the way.” I didn’t know how to say no.
“How does she know how to get there? She’s never been there. Mom and Dad never put a foot into the aunt Soraya’s new home. They don’t even mention her name or her husband’s name and if they see each other in the market, they cross the street not to face one another,” he argued.
“And how do you know the address then?”
“I go to their neighborhood and play with my cousins.”
“Do they know you go there and play with their kids?”
“Oh no. We just don’t tell our parents. As long as they don’t know, everything is fine,” he responded
My sister in law yelled from the kitchen, “Don’t bother your uncle son. It’s time for your afternoon nap.”
“Take me with you please, please.” Now his eyes were moistened with tears as he was losing hope.
“I’ll find the way.” I desperately replied.
“Dear uncle, you will get lost. I am sure of it. This is not America. Streets are all crooked and their names change every time someone from a neighborhood dies in the war. We have so many martyrs dear uncle. It’s a long war.”
“Don’t worry son, I still speak Farsi, I can ask if I get lost.”
“Ask? Ask who?” Now I was being cornered, I could feel it.
“People on the street, shop keepers or pedestrians.”
“Now that shows, how little you know about your city Amoo Joon. At one o’clock in the afternoon, you can’t find anyone in the streets. It’s so hot the asphalts get softened like the chewing gum in the mouth dear uncle. Every shop in bazaar is closed from 12 to 4 in the afternoon. Everyone sleeps after lunch under the air conditioner. So, whom do you ask for direction if you get lost my dear uncle?” he had a point.
Now I was on the spot and didn’t know how to respond. As much as I wanted to, I could not ask his mother to grant his permission. The two families were on talking terms for a long time. I could not get involved. I was just a foreigner guest who’d obviously lost his touch with the reality of his country after all these years.
Then Naeem continued, “Oh, dear uncle. You are an American, you don’t know anything.” And his mother heard this comment and screamed “Oh, I wish God himself scoops you off the face of the earth you shameless boy. I’m going to fill your mouth with red-hot Indian peppers so you never talk like that to your amoo. Wait until your dad gets home and hears this.”
Now he was in trouble too. Naeem silently rushed to his room to get his afternoon nap with tears in his eyes and I left the house with the address in my hand.
On the way to my sister’s house and as I was passing by the closed shops in the empty streets under the scorching sun, I was burning from the taste of red hot Indian peppers in my mouth.