I am very upset that I can’t find my new notebook and the 100 rupee inside it. I hope no one has stolen it from me. It has got to be somewhere in my room.
I was able to finally get through to my mother. Baba is in Tehran trying to get them forgive me so that I could come back. Knowing them, I doubt he will succeed. I am not even sure I want him to succeed. How could I go back to Mohsen? Doesn’t Maman know we are absolutely finished with each other?
Today I like to sort things out, put everything into proper perspective. That means I have to write about Ahmad. If I had the will I would not bother with it. If. But life does not revolve around ifs and buts and, what is more, I feel like I am at the mercy of my pen.
Several useless minutes later. Why do I have such a difficult time writing about my own feelings? Why has it always been so much easier for me to write about other people?
The whole morning I did voluntary work at the museum, part of it helping Mrs. Kazi to set up a bronze hand recovered by archaeologists recently near Lahore. Yesterday, professor Ismaeel Ehsani came by and was surprised to see me here. I am beginning not to like him, not just because he is too inquisitive but more so because I don’t trust his cold eyes. I should concentrate on someone else, like Shirin, before getting down to personal business.
Summer of 1357 (1978). What an eventful Summer it turned out to be after that languid start. Aside from a torrid heat, that Summer’s opening days had only one memorable thing about them as far as I remember. Shirin was getting married to a cousin of my brother-in-law from Kazerun who was an air force cadet, homafar. I was so happy for her. For sometime, I was getting worried that after her difficult break up with
Her cousin, which had driven him nuts, she may soon be labeled rancid, torshideh, and miss her chance of a decent husband.
I first met Rahim at a wedding party; he had just returned from six months training in England, and the word soon reached me that he was an eligible bachelor in search of a good wife. And what better wife than Shirin. She was pretty (although lacked height a little bit, but made up for it with her beautiful face and her big brown eyes and her soft skin whiter than mine), was decent from a good family and well-educated, just finishing her nursing training at Khayam Hospital. Wasting no time in playing match-maker, since I was afraid that she may return to that good-for-nothing Kemal — who studied Latin just because no one else did and he could do nothing with it, God what a weirdo — they met at my Farangis’s birthday party.
Oh my baby. I miss you so much. My heart is aching so badly now, am feeling like a terminally ill patient who can’t face up to her predicament and who has only one medicine to cure her, reuniting with her baby, and that is out of reach (not for too long I pray the God). I promise you to be strong my baby, not be drowned in the river of sorrow of separation from you.
I was so thrilled that every thing was progressing so smoothly for the lovely couple, save a couple of minor snags, such as a passing disagreement over the appropriate dowry, mehrieh, showing the stingy side of Rahim’s family who drew a line at 50,000 Tuman. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the affairs of the country, nor was it realistic to expect that the couple’s future plans, as well as every one else’s plans, could remain insulated from the revolution’s tidal wave.
Of course, before the onset of riots, strikes, and the cycles of violence that plagued much of Iran throughout 1978, very few of us, even Cyrus Khan at Akhtar, had anticipated such turn of events. I for one never thought that my melancholy city would ever allow the entrance of so much frenzy and chaos through its gates. History, to the extent that I was familiar with it, had fed my illusions. We had on so many occasions wisely shielded ourselves from danger. We had disarmed the invading forces of Mongols and Tamerland with our charm and wit, and we had dispensed with our prodigal sons, such as Muhammad Ali Bab, by exiling them to other parts of the country more receptive to their kinds. Better known as laid-back seducterers than fighters, we Shirazis had taught the rest of the country the precious lesson that our survival depends more on our wit and intelligence than our might and energy — for good reason: We had jeopardized ourselves whenever we had deviated from this precious lesson.
As I write these lines, my head races back to 1744 (or was it 1844?), to the horrifying images of a city razed to the ground, and the towers of skulls rising to the heaven, all this because one us, a self-centered governor, valli, by the name of Tagi Khan-e Shirazi was foolish enough to defy the empire-builder Nader Shah. I do not know how my great grandparents survived that genocide — which must have served a couple of generations of my townspeople as a sobering reminder of the wisdom of political moderation. That memory was sadly paled by the passage of time and, by the time my generation arrived, we were afflicted with a terrible amnesia. The times have surely changed, and if some among us dreamt of staying on the sidelines when the first rumblings of the whirlwind revolution occurred, they were up for a rude awakening.
In preparation for one of my pieces, which never saw the light of publishing, I had written: Perhaps Shiraz is proving true to its name (lion’s belly), which stems from the city’s blissful geography in the center of a well-watered and well-pastured valley constantly nourishing it with food gathered from all directions. Lazy like a contented beast, Shiraz had rarely ventured in the hassle of hunt for power; its delicious snorings had hardly been disrupted by the turmoil of the Constitutional Revolution at the turn of the century or by the chaos of WWII, when the country fell in the discriminating hands of the allied forces. A universe unto itself, Shiraz had been an abode of appeasement, at least since the time of Karim Khan in the late eighteenth century — barring the memory of a couple of earthquakes and, more recently, the episodic havoc wreaked by the surrounding tribes before and after WWI. There was, therefore, every expectation that the city would react differently, more wisely, when the thunderous clouds of revolution began gathering on Iran’s horizon. But the temptation to succumb to the seduction of these thunders had proved too great to resist.
The lazy lion has created so many restless offsprings yearning for a great scape from their doldrums. The undiscriminating cups have been devouring what they can from the breastplate full of war and revolution, unmindful of the awful digestion problem that would grip them for the rest of their lives; their revolt is a constant mockery of their nature… How strange that we did not see that those days one did not care where one was going, or even what one really wanted and followed blindly, hardening so much in the process, increasingly prepared and unamazed by the worst consequences, but one rally led to another and by leaps and bounds the revolution quickly formed itself and soon reached its apex, and it was this process some have dubbed, Barefooted People’s Movement, jonbesh-e pa berahneha.
Back to Shirin and Rahim. He was twenty eight years old, and was perfectly at ease with the idea of marrying and settling down with my friend, irrespective of his parents’ open preference for a younger bride and one without a prior history of engagement; their reservations had been balanced by their son’s impression of Shirin as a patient, saboor, and chaste. ba taghva, woman, not to mention her own income and the promise of expensive bridal gifts, jahizieh, which dampened their tendency to downgrade Shirin because of her average looks and her smallness.
Sad to say, Rahim and his family became increasingly concerned about her family’s ability to come up with the promised goods consisting of a prime property and all the necessary household amenities ranging from a full-size Kelvinator refrigerator to electric oven to a Singer sewing machine, etc., all brand new. Of all the things involved, the issue of property was the hottest one as it promised to be a major thorn in the future relationship between the two families. The story about it is that Shirin’s father had promised a sizeable chunk of land located in north Shiraz below the Television Hill, later qualifying that the delivery of this promise rested in the (notoriously slow) land court that dealt with the city’s new ordinance (of eminent domain). He had lied.
The truth, which I learnt much later, was that Mr. Salmasi had by early Summer actually received that land’s title and, yet, without disclosing to anyone, was contemplating to renege on his promise because he had decided, fully abruptly, to sell it and use the money to send his teen age son away from political dangers to the safety of amrika. Never happy with his decision, the concerned father had placed his priority with his son’s well-being over his daughter’s welfare, perhaps hoping self-servingly that Rahim and his family could be appeased with a clever delay game.
Initially Shirin had thought nothing of it, after getting a hint or two about this. Indulging in her idealization of her fiancè, she had perhaps thought that Rahim was (a little bit like Kemal) above materialistic concerns. It turned out to be a false illusion, for Rahim, in the midst of his infatuation with her, and their dreamy, romantic engagement, was at one and the same time accumulating within him the seeds of a powerful resentment, not just for what was shaping as a false promise but also for the stigma of her past engagement. His mother and three sisters had reinforced his resentments by telling him constantly that unless he acted forcefully now he was destined to be cheated in the most important transaction of his life. On several occasions, he had tried to confront Shirin about his concerns, but couldn’t, wasn’t sure why. His feelings veered from a self-reproach as a hypocrite to a calm self-assurance that he was a modern man unhooked from the traditional norms. Much as he tried, desperately, to keep the veneer of pure love, untapped and undisturbed by the meddling of the material world, Rahim was incapable of ignoring the realism of his parents’ concerns that transcended tradition. Waiting for the right time, he was gathering the inner strength to break the bubble of romantic love and firmly sound his mother’s demand for a full dowry without an item short. His mother’s words kept ringing in his head, “you must put your foot down before they nail you. And if you don’t have the courage to do it, I will.”
Rahim had gained some time with his family by the fake news that the land court had at last ruled on his father-in-law’s behalf and that the transfer of property in Shirin’s name was approaching. Hungry for stability in his personal life at a time of rising uncertainty and rapid disintegrations and polarizations, which were testing the fabric of his loyalty to the regime, Rahim was latching onto the joyous relationship as a scapegoat from the tensions in society which were causing small but growing cracks in his once solid loyalty to the Shah.
Trained and disciplined in the royal army, where he had pledged loyalty first to the King of Kings, shah-an shah, and then to the motherland, Rahim was immensely grateful to the Shah whom he saw solely responsible for all that he, the son of a humble employee of the water department, had come to possess. Indeed, who else was he thank to for his upward mobility, his training abroad, and so on? Or, for that matter, for the enviable progress of Iran — in health, education, industrialization, and military power? Was he to forget his father’s story that until twenty years ago there was no running water in the entire city and they had to resort, as they had for centuries, on unsanitary water purchased from water sellers in charge of the big watercontainer, ab anbar? Was he himself not witness to the fact that almost overnight the unpaved road between Shiraz and Kazerun had been replaced with an impressive asphalted highway?
Such questions must have crowded Rahim’s mind for some time, to be precise, from the moment he had heard of the urban riots, deaths, and destructions in Qom, Tabriz, Tehran, Meshed and, yes, even Shiraz. He was in England then, about to finish his training and returning home a proud son, letting his parents bask in the reward of having an honored son who was foreign-educated, farang rafteh. From his point of view, the people spreading anti-Shah sentiments were, if not duped by foreign powers, insane people who neglected the reality — that the Shah had not only prospered himself but had made the entire country prosperous, even the clergy class; how else could they afford to go on such lengthy strikes if they had not fattened their savings as a result of Shah’s plans that had modernized the economy, given voting rights to women, educated the population, and strengthened the nation so that the neighbors feared him. Whatever the lack of Shah’s proportion, which Rahim blamed squarely on his Majesty’s cronies, the vast majority of people stood by the monarch as a result of his enormous contributions, so thought Rahim innocently.
Much to his displeasure, the country’s situation had deteriorated beyond belief within a mere seven months (he had spent one month traveling in Europe upon finishing his training). So many of his friends, even in the army, had defected to the opposition; they filled his ears with horror stories about corruption, foreign influence, and the sins of imitating the West. Adding to his confusion was his nagging inability to determine whether or not marrying Shirin, whose father was an active duty traffic police officer, polic-e shahrbani, would turn out to be a wise move as he had initially thought. Quietly he was weighing the idea of postponing the wedding, this even after making all the arrangements, including the purchase of a honeymoon package for a week’s stay at a motel in the Caspian Sea resort city of Ramsar. Yet, not knowing how to break this to Shirin short of alienating her and thus losing his quest for stability, Rahim had finally decided to go ahead with the marriage, a conclusion he reached one night by simply confronting his true feeling for Shirin, the fact that he genuinely loved her and was already greatly attached to her. Unhappy with the dissensions within the cadets’ ranks, Rahim had transferred himself to the army, with some lobbying help by his soon-to-be father-in-law.
As for Shirin, she was experiencing her own doubts about the wisdom of getting married at a time when the whole population was mired in the cycles of death and mourning. There was not a day that went by that I did not pray for her and her entire extended family, hoping that none of them would fall victim to the growing violence or simply die of a natural cause (given her past experience of cancelling her wedding with Kemal due to a death in her family). Naturally I did my best to keep her in line about the scheduled wedding. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do about her growing concerns regarding her father and the disturbing insinuations against him, namely, that he was playing a direct role in the suppression of street demonstrations. It had not escaped her attention that as of late he was showing up from work in civilian clothes and drinking far more than the usual. One night Ostovar Salmasi had come home incensed by the graffiti on their door accusing him of being a traitor, khaen. A few hours of straight drinking and then he had ran up to the rooftop yelling and swearing at the neighbors who were chanting “God is Great” in defiance of martial law. By the time Shirin and her mother and her brother had succeeded in calming him down it was already too late. Shouts of “Death to Traitors” had filled the air by then and the whole family was now stigmatized as counterrevolutionary. Alireza, Shirin’s younger brother, bearing the brunt of this by being shunned by most of the kids in the neighborhood, had been very resentful of his father’s blind obliviousness to the changing tide of loyalties and his rigidness in enforcing the codes of law and order as best as he could. As for the father, more than the public scorn, what hurt him most was the sad discovery that his son was being lost before his very eyes to the anti-government troublemakers, and that a powerful alienation was replacing his father-son bonds. There is perhaps no greater sense of failure than a father’s feeling that he no longer serves as a role model for his children. Mr. Salmasi’s anguish skyrocketed the day he received a call from a fellow officer at another police station to come and pick up his son who had been arrested for writing subversive graffiti on the school walls.
Shortly thereafter, Ostovar Salmasi, now fully shamed before his colleagues, had arrived at the heavily guarded station on Saheb zaman Street, charging and fuming at his deviant son with his belt the moment he laid eyes on him (handcuffed to a bench at a corner), determined to teach him a lesson and also to keep face in front of the lieutenant (who might have been) observing him through the closed window of his office; he was careful not to hit Alireza in the face, for his mother would never forgive him if the boy was slightly scarred; irrespective, Alireza’s nose started to bleed instantly, which was somewhat expected in the light of his history of nose bleed since his childhood years. Still beating and kicking his son, the enraged father was secretly hoping that someone would respond to his son’s wailing for help and separate them. Unfortunately, those present, even the couple of apprehended peasants sitting at the opposite end, seemed too bemused to interfere; only after the delayed objection of “have mercy, you ‘re killing him” from someone had Ostovar Salmasi stopped himself. Only then the lieutenant had exited his office and approached them and given his colleague one timely advice: to send Alireza abroad as soon as possible. The son, seeing a bright light of discovery in his father’s eyes, had felt like kissing the man’s hand, for he was confident this was one advice his father was taking to heart. Poor kid had to wait at least a few more weeks until after his sister’s wedding.
Exactly a month before the due date, Shirin came to my house to try my wedding gown and compare it with Goly’s, which she had borrowed a month or so before and was now beginning to dislike it; her cousin Monir and her 8 years old daughter were with her. We went to work after a quick lunch consisting of cutlet and salad. As I had expected, Shirin much preferred my elegant and stylish gown the moment she fitted her slender body inside it and glared at herself in the mirror. Her only reservation, beside the need to hem the bottom a few centimeters, was that the chest was too tight and had to be loosened. Monir’s daughter made us laugh when she intervened and said that we should squeeze and shrink Shirin’s breasts instead. We decided to take the gown to the hat-maker who was preparing Shirin’s French-style braided hat (which she had picked up from an issue of zan-e ruz). I left Farangis with our new nanny from Darab and sat next to Monir inside her old B.M.W. which she drove with utmost pride and pleasure. I confess I felt very jealous for a few minutes, until I consoled myself with the thought that Mohsen’s residency was soon to be over and that he would soon open his own practice and fulfil his promise of buying me a car. A few minutes later at the Vesal intersection, chahar rah-e vesal, we ran into a small demonstration of fifty or so mostly youth, one of whom placed a small poster of Khomeini on the windshield and ordered Monir to sound her horn in sympathy; the smell of burning tires was bothering us. Scared and enraged, Monir drove away through a side street and let me and Shirin out after we decided to walk the rest of the way; she had to take her daughter home and feed her some food since she did not eat at my place. “I am so glad Alireza is leaving,” said Shirin out of blue as we were walking, then elaborated that her father and her brother had already left to Khoramshahr to get the American visa at their consulate there, added ruefully, “there goes half my bridal gift, jahizieh.” I was about to say something to sooth her pain when, suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my buttock — someone, obviously from the clique of males who had just passed by us at the sidewalk’s threshold, had pinched me, both of us; Shirin’s anguished face showed it.
Oh, how I wished I had the courage to turn around and pluck out their eyes; I kept the lid on my rage and did nothing. We quickened our steps in order to lessen the chance of another assault in that hectic sidewalk. Sensing the ill intent of two young men approaching us, Shirin held the corner of my veil and directed me inside a jewelry store where we browsed for a few minutes, both of us grinning nervously. Exiting the store with caution, we both laughed, this time purely joyously, by the view of our chasers running away from the avalanche of verbal attack by a veilless, bichadori, woman.
Our bad lack. The hat-maker was closed, we thought for lunch or prayer at first, but a vendor working nearby informed us that he had been closed for two days for whatever reason. Shirin fell to despair and lamented that she felt like some evil forces were hellbent to ruin her life. I reproached her by saying, “what’s the big deal. Why do you always make a mountain out of a mole? Let’s go and treat ourselves with some ice cream.” She answered by putting on a cheery smile. We proceeded toward the creamery and sat on a shaded bench facing the Iran-American Society, anjoman-e iran va amrika, after purchasing our ice cream, paludeh. I remember the wind had picked up momentum and I had to grab my veil tightly to keep it on my head; Shirin simply dispensed with her veil, which she had reluctantly consented to wear lately in deference to Rahim’s family. We were approached by a foreign reporter who asked us questions about the political situation through his Irani aid translating for him. “Ask him what he thinks of our city?” Shirin asked to dodge the question.
“He says it’s a beautiful city with poorly aligned streets of inadequate width.”
“Please excuse us. We are not political sir,” I retorted. They got the message and left us. Shirin was mysteriously silent I noticed; she had all of a sudden lost her appetite and was donating the cone to the sparrows surrounding us. “Let’s do something different today,” I said, “why don’t we go and see the new Alan Delon movie everyone is talking about these day?”
“Sure. Why not.”
She agreed and we proceeded toward Cinema Capri not too far away, now reminiscing about Women of Amazon and that memorable day we skipped the parade. After all those years, it was still odd for two females to go to cinema alone.
A little while later we were sitting in the theater totally engrossed in the movie’s unfolding drama, giggling and whispering comments in each other’s ears just like the school days. Our giggles were mostly defensive I must add, that is, were our way of reacting to the repeated sensual scenes. We were hardly the only females there; quite a few school girls, obviously skipping their classes, were attuned to the screen. Toward the movie’s end, when Delon had been shot dead by his lover, several of those girls burst into emotional tears and cries of “oh no Alan” rang in the air. Shirin and I decided to stay and get our money’s worth by watching the first fifteen twenty minutes we had missed. It was past three thirty, plenty of time to get back home and prepare the supper. We moved a few rows away both to see better and also to distance ourselves from the foul-mouthed males behind us. For a few minutes we killed time by talking about Mohsen and why he hated going to movies, especially Iranian movies. The lights then went off and the first preview had just started when all of a sudden we were jolted by the commotions from the street.
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Angry fists were banging on the exit door, windows were getting smashed, bricks and metal objects were being thrown inside the cinema’s lobby, all turning the tranquillity of our entertainment into a fearful nightmare. “My God. Let’s get out of here before they turn this into another Rex (1),” screamed Shirin, with an obvious expression of dismay on her face regarding the untimely interruption; we were both into the preview of Dr. Zhivago; she quickly withdrew her veil from inside her purse and put it on and we rushed toward the exit; ran back to pick up the gown we had left behind and then left the theater. We were practically the last people to leave. It turned out that the disruption had been caused by a band of religious zealots who had already moved onto their next targets, a bank and a Pepsi truck, after trashing that cinema’s exterior and ticket booth. The distraught manager, standing by the windowless doorway with a large pipe in his hands, instructed us to walk carefully through the litter and broken glasses. “Hooligans. Where is the police when we need them? You call this freedom,” he was fuming. I looked at Shirin and read in her face what she was thinking to respond, “what is the police supposed to do? If they prevent this they are accused of being counterrevolutionary. What do you expect?” We hurried inside the first taxi that materialized in front of us.
“Where are you going ladies?” Asked the rude driver who put a sarcastic tone on the last word just to guilt trip us for our sin of going to that theater; a lady and a young boy were sitting next to him. Thinking home I uttered, “Old Hang Street please.”
“Sorry. I am going to Saadi Hospital,” retorted the driver as he brought his car to a screeching halt. “That’s not a problem. Take us there as well,” I responded and then asked Shirin if she did not mind going there to visit Mohsen; she shrugged. Through the refractions of the yellowish afternoon sun piercing the back window I got one last peek at the life-size poster of my favorite actor, now defaced by paint, decorating the billboard above the theater’s entrance, wondered to myself if I would ever get to see that movie’s beginning part. “Serves them right. Enough corruption,” commented the driver as he studied my facial expression with a tinge of moral inquisition in his eyes. Perhaps he had detected that I was discreetly massaging my left breast throbbing at the nipple.
After exiting the taxi in front of the emergency ward of Saadi Hospital, we walked a few blocks toward the building of the Pahlavi Medical School, only to find its gate locked and chained and the whole area ominously deserted; a graffiti read: Welcome to Revolution’s Fortress. An immense fear attacked us both. Per Shirin’s suggestion we crossed the street to inquire from a few road workers digging the sidewalk and had not yet reached them when I heard a familiar voice calling me by my last name. It was Hassan Pejnam, one of Mohsen’s friends, calling me from his car, looking pale and anguished. “What is going on? Have
you seen Mohsen?” I asked him instantly, biting my lips nervously. He asked us to get in quickly and then, after we had driven some distance, let us know that every one had gone on a sympathy strike after hearing that several students at Tehran University had been shot and killed by the guards; the authorities had preemptively shut down the university, which was why everyone had assembled at the dormitories’ compound “where all the action has been all day.” He then explained in an agitated voice how he had narrowly escaped the storming soldiers who had descended upon the dormitories from all directions, beating up everyone, male and female, and arresting anyone who looked mildly suspicious. “It’s a war going on out there.” He had not yet finished his sentence when we heard the distant sound of gunfire, clearly from the direction of dormitories located on the opposite side of Kur river facing Nemazi Hospial; he said he had not seen Mohsen; lighted a cigarette and smoked ponderously for a moment and then asked if we needed ride home. “Let me first call and see if Mohsen is home or has called or something,” I replied. He then drove around looking for a public phone.
Mohsen had neither come home nor had called, the nanny informed me on the phone. I instructed her to give Farangis some dinner in case I was late, then hung up and returned to the car a more desperate woman, besieged Hassan to go to the dormitories. Reluctantly he agreed. Half way down, he made a quick turn around after noticing some of his friends in a car that cruised by from the dormitories’ direction. We reached them at the mouth of the windy entrance to Nemazi Hospital. There were five or six of them in the car, all red-eyed by tear gas and two of them bloodied head and face; the driver yelled impatiently, “this is my third shuttle to the hospital. Come follow me.” Then both cars sped inside; I was praying under my lips, holding onto Shirin’s hand, exhorting myself to be brave and not a coward, tried to distract myself for a moment by resurrecting the memory of the day Shirin had given me a private tour of that hospital so that I could write a report about it.
She had told me that those formless, long white buildings had been designed by an architect from New York named Whitling, obviously someone with a huge bias against any other color. “God bless Mr. Nemazi wanted nothing less than the best in the world for this hospital, doors from Finland, cutlery from Japan, equipment from Germany, sanitary ware from Paisely. Did you know that there are air-conditions in every room? There is a clinic for eye and ear under construction.”
The scene at Nemazi was unlike any other day. There were dozens of people scurrying around on the huge ever green lawn, almost all of them students, mostly wearing masks, who had clashed with the government forces; some were angrily shouting “death to Shah;” quite a few seemed too exhausted to play more than curious bystanders to the scene of ambluances and the wounded.
For a second, my eyes strayed to the circular smoke the building exhaled through its rooftop chimney, and then rolled on the defiant faces of the (mostly men) crowd, searching hopelessly for Mohsen. Two hospital guards at the main entrance were letting in only the injured; they recognized Shirin and allowed her and I (but not Hassan) inside — which was no less crowded with doctors, nurses and a couple of dozen wounded, some bearing their suffering bravely while others shrieked in pain. I was getting dizzy, for a moment wondered whether I was hallucinating through the scenes of a war movie. A massive lady who was the head nurse was busily ordering every one in her bossy voice what to do; she noticed Shirin and quickly summoned her to help with a young man resting against the wall in the corridor; he had been shot in the chest; I followed her a few steps behind. “My God. What is happening here?” Shirin asked another nurse rhetorically. The wounded student, unfazed by the small river of blood he was sitting in, replied feebly, “look at me. And they still claim to be using rubber bullet.” Shirin pleaded with him to save his energy by keeping quiet. For a moment I was standing still glaring at her quick hands administering to her patient; both my nipples were paining me now. “Khanoom. Why are you standing there? Do something?” The head nurse shouted at me from behind. “Sure,” I said, “just tell me what I should do?” She looked around the room for a second and then ordered me to go and bring some bandages and utensils from the surgery room on the second floor. “Hurry, run,” she yelled, “and get rid of that stupid veil.” I obeyed.
A minute later, as I was descending the staircase with hands full of the required items, I froze in my position by the hysteric shouts, “run, the soldiers are coming.” Somehow my eyes were getting distracted by the smallest details, this time at the sign that read: Expectoration Forbidden. Suddenly the door opened and a few frenzied students ran up past me. “Hide sister, hide,” one of them shouted in my face as he nearly bumped into me. Having dropped some of the stuff, I bent down to collect them when I heard Shirin’s nervous voice, “Zohreh. Leave them. Come with me.” I followed her to the third floor, to the linen room where she dressed me in a white uniform. “They are going to arrest every one who doesn’t work here or isn’t a patient,” she said as she changed her own clothes, then pinned her nursing tag to my chest and smilingly said, “I know this says Khayam Hospital. Just tell them you ‘re on loan here.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about me. Every one will vouch for me. But we shouldn’t be seen together. I go downstairs and you go.”
She thought for a moment and then, responding to more noise from the outside, peeked out through the shades, trembled, “oh my God. Come look.” Hesitantly I stepped forward, only to step back a second later shivering in terror, after witnessing the barbaric scene of soldiers jumping down from two army trucks and with their clubs chasing mercilessly after the students.
“You stay here, I will be back,” said Shirin confidently, “don’t worry. You ‘re safe.” At the door, she turned around and gave me a reassuring delightful sad smile. I looked down at my feet and was aghast by the blood stains on the tips of my shoes.
With utmost anxiety I waited for several minutes completely frozen in my position. Then I returned to the widow and looked outside. The chase was now over and the soldiers were loading up their trucks with the kids they had apprehended from outside and inside. A couple of doctors were besieging an officer to let the wounded go but to no avail. After listening impatiently to them for a minute or so, the officer suddenly slapped one of the doctors with his gloves and yelled at him to go inside or get arrested, this much I surmised by his angry bodily gestures. Suddenly the door behind me was kicked open and a mean-looking soldier in his late thirties stepped inside, with his machine gun pointed at me. “I’m a nurse,” I muttered in response to his crude order of “come here.” I was so terrified I couldn’t even move my legs. He studied my entire body for a moment and, after a fleeting pause, closed the door behind him with his boot and neared me, inspected my tag closely with the barrel of his machine gun, and then moved it up to my chest to my right nipple and massaged it for a moment. “Please no,” I begged him but he wouldn’t listen, with his Turkish accent threatened to kill me if I uttered another word, pushed me against the wall, put his left hand around my neck and with his other hand grabbed my thigh and then, after he had touched me and stuck his finger inside me, tore open my uniform and my brow and moved his cold hands on my breasts before ravaging them with beastly ferocity; another soldier’s voice calling him in the hallway stopped him. “Next time whore” he said tersely after straightening himself; the moment he exited the room I fainted.
Regaining consciousness quickly, I knelt on the floor ready to vomit, but nothing happened. Then with my concern for Shirin’s safety overtaking my sense of self, I stood and put on another uniform in a hurry and before leaving the room looked outside again — and that’s when I saw Shirin and another nurse being escorted into the officer’s jeep; she walked ever so proudly and defiantly. I screamed her name in horror banging on the damn non-opening windows like a mad woman, but to no avail; a minute or so later, they were gone, all of them. I felt like the ground gave way beneath me, fainted again.
I woke up on a hospital bed surrounded by a doctor and two nurses, including the head nurse, all of them grief-stricken. The soldier’s loathsome, repulsive onion breath was still infecting my body. “Shirin. Where did they take her?” I asked them instantly. They had no answer. I broke into a hysterical cry. “Don’t worry. I am sure they will release her once they know she is a nurse here. Don’t worry, just rest for a while,” the motherly-looking head nurse consoled me and then asked, “what is your name?”
The doctor mused over my response for a moment and then asked me, “you are not that rabble rouser reporter, are you?”
Animating a little grin on my lips I shook my head. “I thought you were much older,” he said, “do you still write for them?”
“That’s too bad. My wife loves your articles,” he said before leaving; it was already dark by then; one of the nurses attended to the male patient on the other side of the dividing curtain.
“He’s got a rubber bullet in the belly, but we had to do an appendectomy on him — to prove he is a normal patient,” said the head nurse calmly and tersely. I wanted to go home right away but couldn’t because the curfew hours had already started. It was past ten pm. I had to make a couple of phone calls; we went downstairs; to my surprise, everything was neat, orderly, and comfortable.
Mohsen answered the phone after the first ring; a few seconds of silence and then I just cried pitifully, unable to utter a word. The head nurse took the phone from my hand and briefly explained to him what had transpired in that hospital, finished by saying “just come and collect her in the morning. She will tell you everything herself. But she has been through a lot, needs to rest right now.” They gave me a couple of pills and returned me to the room, also gave me a sandwich and a cup of juice, as if I had any appetite. Holding my head inside the pillow, I cried softly for what seemed like hours, and then fell sleep.
It was still dark when I woke up again, sweating from a nightmare; huge green-suited robots were going through the whole building burning anything and everything remotely white. Amid greenness I woke up, went to bathroom and washed myself repeatedly, getting more emotional with each splash of cold water on my genital organ. Then I wiped my chest with a warm towel and washed my face and my still trembling hands with a lot of soap, repeatedly not knowing why. A strange heaviness had overtaken my entire body, as if I was no longer a woman but cold steel; looked myself in the mirror and saw nothing. Then I got out into the quiet hallway and in my fatigue leaned against a tall oxygen tank for several minutes glaring meaninglessly at a large painting; returned to my room and rested on the bed again, now thinking what I should and shouldn’t tell Mohsen, and whether or not I should blame myself for what had happened to Shirin, determined to kill myself if, God forbid, they would harm her in any way. Who would take care of my Farangis then? I was dosing off again when I heard the patient’s moaning in pain; I rang the nurse; no one showed up. After several minutes, I decided to play nurse to the patient two arms length away from me, stood up and pulled the curtain to the side and saw, in my total disbelief, Ahmad.
In the dim light I recognized him instantly, despite his new mustache, his shorter hair which showed a streak of grey here and there, his crumbled lips and his pain-filled, unshaved face; that face, original, thoughtful and strongly marked, still carried so much of the alertness, beauty and honesty of his boyhood. He was semi-conscious, smiled as he saw me through the corners of his blurry eyes, with difficulty raised his hand toward me and begged me, “please hold my hand khanoom. I am cold.” Spontaneously I stepped back, unwilling to let a second stranger touching my skin in one night, and unsure of whether or not he had recognized me; clearly he had not, for he gasped, “please nurse, just stay with me for a minute.” I obeyed, moved to his right and sat on a chair next to him, now grinding my teeth in anxiety. “Calm down, try to sleep,” I told him. He nodded with his thick eye brows and shut his eye lids.
The room was cold and I was shivering, I stared at his large and hairy hand for a long moment before I was able to bring myself to touch it and caress it with my hand and fingers. He responded by turning his hand slowly and wrapping my hand within his fingers for a few minutes until he was overcome by sleep; “thank you” he mumbled a few times before he did. I was dosing off too, on his hand.
“My God, my God, what are you doing to me?” I kept repeating in my head long after I had returned to my bed. The sky was getting clear by then. I felt like a sinner, and at the same time, like someone whose life-time prayer had finally been answered. I wanted, desperately, to get up and take another good look at him, to make sure that I was not mistaken about his identity, that he was indeed my lost and forgotten love, but in my exhaustion couldn’t.
A familiar voice, Mohsen’s, woke me up; I threw myself in his arms and cried. “Shirin is fine. They released her a couple of hours ago. And Farangis is in the car, let’s go,” he said. “Thank God. With who?” I asked. “With my mother,” he answered with a pause, given my less than cordial ties with my meddling mother-in-law. At that moment a nurse came inside and handed us my purse and my gown; after a quick inspection of Ahmad, who was still sleep, she left the room. “Who’s there?” Mohsen asked me, “another wretched of the earth?” I shrugged indifferently, asked him to leave the room so that I could change in private.
Putting my dress on in a hurry, I stepped behind the curtain and breathed deeply for a moment, praying to gather the strength to pull it back and look at him one final time, but Mohsen’s voice at the door froze me, “are you ready?” “Yes,” I answered despondently and then turned around, “just wondered how he is doing.” “I see.”
Stepping into the corridor, I felt like some one who had left behind something rather precious, her heart.
That day, gloomy and dark as I felt, nonetheless afforded me a normal and uneventful experience at home, cooking, washing, cleaning, gardening, sweeping, and basically having all the pleasures of an average daily chore. In the afternoon, I sent the nanny home and spent hours in the bathtub with my baby, playing and shampooing each other’s head; pretended my tears were caused by the shampoo in my eyes; suddenly I was feeling sick and miserable. After drying Farangis and busying her with television and some grapes in the living room, I opened the bathroom window and let the cold air rush in and plunder my wet body, this under a sudden conviction that only in sickness I could keep from Mohsen what had really happened.
I hate writing about those sick days in bed, the fever, the depression, the nervous break down, etc. Days after days, when the country was in the thick of revolution, I remained in bed the whole time, sleeping, dreaming (once or twice about Jaafar, smoking opium with him), hallucinating, glaring mindlessly at the ceiling and the walls, with little or not appetite and nothing to say. And I refused to see anyone, not even my favorite cousin Ali or my boss at Akhtar, and not even Shirin, who came to the house several times, more than once begging and crying outside my door to let her come in, but I didn’t, don’t know why. With the shades always down, I wanted my tears to be my only companions. After the first couple of days, Mohsen took Farangis to my mother, whom I also rejected adamantly. Mohsen, patient as usual, settled into his new role as my doctor, constantly warning me about my dangerous weight loss, etc. “Next time whore.” This rang in my head constantly, and rang and rang. One day, Maman entered with company, an older woman. At first I could not place her and I was about to rudely ask her to leave immediately when Maman introduced her: Moluk khanoom.
I was mesmerized. She bore the name and all the facial and physical features of the Zoroastrian lady who performed underground abortions, whose house I had once visited with Shirin and Goly many years ago and, yet strangely, she was now carrying a big Quran and pretending to be a religious healer. “I know you. I have seen you before,” I sounded from my bed, glaring into her still sad eyes.
“I know you too my daughter,” she replied with her kind voice, spread her brown praying rug next to me, sat down, opened her Quan and started reciting quietly; her prayer soothed me and I felt a new warmth crawling inside the room; Maman left the room and came back with a tray of tea. “Drink. I have grown this tea in my own garden,” Moluk said to me; I obeyed. The moment Maman was out the room, I asked the question that was bothering me, “tell me, are n’t you the same woman who…” She smiled and interrupted me, “I am who you think I am. Rest my daughter,” and then resumed praying. I closed my eyes and for the first time in a very long time fell into a peaceful sleep next to that impostor. “When you feel better, come to my cottage, kolbeh” she whispered in my ear, “have mercy on your child and your mother. May God have mercy on you.”
When I woke up I had my first full meal in many days; watched television for a couple of hours and listened to Khomeini’s taped messages inadvertently as I was looking for Darius’s tape. Mohsen immediately stopped it and, true to his leftist inclination, commented, “they won’t fool me.” Sounds of gun fire, cries of God is Great, and recurrent news of strikes, massacres, and more strikes, had by then become a daily staple of people’s conversations. Mohsen too, since he had nothing to do with school closed, was quietly increasing his activities with the leftist students; he sympathized with the Fadai geurrillas, something he did not desire to trumpet too much in our conservative neighborhood. We were getting tight with money again and my mother, always somehow sensing these things on her own, helped with a good sum. I asked her about Moluk that night, who she was, where she lived and so forth, and she replied that she knew very little about her — she had just met that “spiritual lady” at the local mosque a few days before. I was itching for the curfew hours to pass so that I could reunite with Farangis — I was questioning my performance as a mother and this had a lot to do with my recovery. Still, I had a terrible time going to sleep and remember reading Kemal’s aphorisms that night (under candlelight since due to strike-related power shortages, the lights were out). I have jotted down several of them in my old journal:
We must think about the things that do not immediately present themselves to us
No one recognizes herself as she should; quite often the mistakes have an upper hand
When it is day light, we can starve ourselves for a dream
The world is a rose garden, if you know how to smell it
Today, we live a life which is neither better nor worse than yesterday’s; it is simply different
Live with the unexpected, instead of grabbing them into your order of things; first seek a diplomatic dialogue
From within, no sacred truth is laden inside a golden bow ready to be served; we must drink truth some other way
Life is too deep to be long
It was not my intention to snap at that missed opportunity, since it was never around in the first place
We are all passengers in the same train, yet some of us disembark at nicer stations
The relationship between life and change is a constant one; between life and truth is a changing one; and between truth and justice is a live one
I ‘ve dreamed in my life dreams that I can never remember and yet they stay with me and I see through their invisible shades that they preoccupy me like fresh branches on an old tree
Whatever you are unhappy with has something to do with you
Death is a train stopping, a cargo unloading, a book you finish reading, a cup of tea you sip after saying good morning
When one can terminate his unhappiness and does not, that is usually a happy choice
Our greatest happiness consists, not in maximizing pleasure, but in minimizing pain
Words are like bees in a hive, capable of producing results. Their mixtures represent a sealed fate
Everything that we reject about our past deserves a second thought
A man grows a plant and then is envious of its height
The idea of perfection has been stolen from God; we must give it back to where it belongs
Stride not beyond the peaks of wisdom; jealous gods may throw you down
All the achievements in life mean nothing, if they come at the expense of living
I was blessed with the knowledge that I can write; the only prerequisite was that I laugh at my seriousness
It is not how we become happy but the price that our future pays for it that matters
That which we were might have been better than that which we are now, but never as fresh
We can never run from now to future; this is the matter of a walking marathon
To have repeated bad luck in life is often a good sign for the after-life
I believe it is the beginning of wisdom when you sit if you have to stand; oblige your will to learn to yell N0!
The night will follow whether or not a day will follow
A hero is he who discovers there is a she within him, and vice versa
Each night, and the dreams of it, have to be without the day’s discipline; otherwise, it is fair that we are punished with nightmares
Die into love’s life-giving arms.
O Love, stop murmuring. Dictate! For no lion enters your circus without discipline.
To ask love for its signature on a tavern’s tab, is the mistake of a novice host.
We cannot avoid love, so let us seek a safe haven in poetry.
Tonight I am invited at Mrs. Kazi’s house for dinner. I must remember to get her some flowers or something. Soheyla called from Australia an hour ago and wanted to know if she could do something for me. Pray I said, and she cried. I wrote a long poem last night and mailed it to my Baba this morning. He deserves to know that I deeply love and respect him, much as he has loved and respected me all his life. I can’t imagine how he must be hassling from one government bureau to another with his severe rheumatism trying to clear my name. Maybe they would have mercy on him, especially if they know he has lost a son to the cause.
Nothing to report today. Another message from Asghar that any day now I should be getting my own passport, a real one from someone in the Iranian consulate.
Lunch break at the museum. Mrs. kazi and her co-worker just left after their ten minute formal interview for the job. It’s all a formality. I am now a part-time wage-earner in Pakistan. What a turn of destiny.
I am finally bringing myself to read newspapers again; haven’t done that in a while. Any news from Iran, particularly about the cruel war depresses me and I just automatically block it out. Heard the other day that the Iraqis have bombarded the oil refinery outside Shiraz.
I hurt my back lifting a heavy box at work today. How stupid of me telling them I can handle it when I should have known it was too heavy for me. I can barely walk now.
Couldn’t last too long at the museum today. Mrs. kazi ordered me to go home after she noticed the pain in my face and how I was limping. I am hungry and there is nothing left in my small refrigerator. Maybe I should drop by the “ideology class” of Mojahedin kids (2) down the street just to get a bite of their food. That would be too much walking for me.
There was a celebration in the streets today. I don’t know what the occasion is. Maybe an election or something. Funny thing: I am so oblivious to my surroundings as if I live in Mars.
My back feels much better today. I hired one of the boys working here to help me carry the fruit I bought at the outdoor
fruit bazaar, through him haggled with every seller over the minutest discounts. “You are a hard bargainer lady,” one of them told me. Maybe I am.
Spent a few minutes in the hotel lobby with an Iranian girl who is with the Mojahedin dissidents. Her name is Maryam. She is a nice girl but can’t talk about anything other than politics. Just in case I get clemency by the government I should minimize my contacts with her types. It is so easy to be mixed up with the wrong crowd here and I must be very vigilant from now on about who I talk to. In two weeks, Mrs. kazi’s tenant is moving out and I can go and stay with her if I want to. Should I?
Around five in the morning. Another sleepless night. I hate it. I am glaring at my photo with Farangis as I write these lines. I wonder what is going on in her little world right now? Does she think her mother has abandoned her? She is so lucky
to have a decent father, even though her mother is the worst in the world.
I found my old notebook. I am so glad. Now I have to resume copying it in this one as much as possible. Looking at them, it is so hard to believe that I have gone through so much tumultuous experience in such a short time, as if God has put my life’s reel on a fast forward. But I am not alone in this and all of us thrown inside the express train of revolution have felt like this.
The truth is I still can’t make sense of the revolution, it happened at such a dizzying speed we all lost our heads, and hearts. I lost mine to Ahmad; that was inevitable.
He had already left the hospital by the time I brought myself to call and inquire about him. They had no record of him either. In desperation I confided in Shirin. She came back empty handed. I tried to forget about him, just as I had in the past, but couldn’t. The more I tried, the more he, the thought of him, grew on me and dominated me and my dreams. In one dream I was kissing his hand and letting him touch and caress my face. The next morning, feeling sinful, I decided to resort to faith and praying to salvage me from these destructive preoccupations, went to mosque a few times with or without Maman and Farangis, and cried intensely every time I did, mostly to alleviate my burning heart and my guilt conscience that in my heart of heart I was cheating my husband; I was also hoping to run into Moluk, but didn’t. One night, after hearing a political sermon— and those days all the sermons were openly political attracting huge crowds (who went out demonstrating in the streets afterward)— I made an innocent comment to a couple of sisters sitting next to me that it would be nice if they were not all male preachers. On the way out, one of them approached me and invited me to their religious circle to hear an “excellent” female preacher; she was a little surprised that I already knew the address, abdullah bak public bath. Preempting my question of why there, she smiled and said, “why not? We hit two birds with one stone, clean ourselves and strengthen our faith at the same time.”
So I showed up there a day or two later. It was packed with Muslim sisters, young and old, who occupied every bit of space in the hexagonal, domed room, even sitting on blankets around the pool in a rather festive mood. At a suitable spot observable from every corner, the preacher was in the middle of her sermon. She was none other than Moluk. At first I did not recognize her, since I was busy reading a flyer containing Khomeini’s message to women. It read,
“Islam pulled the women out of muddy lagoons and gave her distinction…Islam wants to preserve the honor and dignity of women…He (the Shah) says things which insult the high station of womanhood…He has made a misinterpretation…Islam wants women to perform all basic jobs just as men do, not that women should become something that some men desire — paint herself up and mix with men, mix with young people.”
I had mixed feelings about what I had read, had entered this hammam before and seen how those very religious women were doing their best beautify themselves and their delicate skins with powders and so on, which seemed so natural to them. But that day, they were all thinking of revolution. “The path of revolution is not strewn with flowers,” Moluk was telling her captivated audience, “evil is the end of those who do evil, Quran says. Honorable women, our leader has said that our duty is to invite people to God’s way and the straight path.” I jotted down in my notebook most of her speech. It was all a familiar territory to me, model Islamic women, Zainab, Fatimah, Nasibah, Baint ul Kaab, Hallimah, and Sumayyah bin Khaiyyat (the first woman martyred in Islam); I instantly thought of Mahjubeh and wished we had kept contact after school. “She must be having a hey day now,” I said to myself, “I wonder if she finished her degree at Melli University?” Moluk, with her tear-jerking voice, made every one wail as she recounted Sumayah’s story:
“My sisters. They tortured her husband and still this courageous woman was unrelenting. Abu Jahl thrust his spear into her chest.”
From this Moluk then quickly turned to the negative examples, Novah’s wife and Lot’s wife: “They were both under righteous servants but they acted treacherously towards them so they availed their might against God and it was said, ‘Enter both the fire with those who enter’.” She then told the crowd to follow the example of Hajar, the Ethiopian slave and second wife of Abraham who discovered the puritanical fountain of zamzam water in the deserts of Arabia, and also Pharoh’s wife “who received revelation from God despite having a sinful husband.Quran says, ‘So their Lord accepted their prayer; that I will not waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female’. Verily, God is Hearer, Seer’.” And then she became political: “O my sisters. The day of evildoers, taghut, has ended. A new dawn is upon us. Just remember what our leader has said: the secret of our cause is the unity of word, vahdat-e kalameh.”
I was so moved by her. Afterward, I went to her and talked to her. She was exhausted and yet was so full of life in the midst of her admirers; she gave me a warm, motherly hug and asked me about Maman and Farangis; promised to visit me soon.
On the way out, I approached one of the activists and volunteered to help; she asked for donations to help the striking workers. And when I insisted to do more, she invited me to their center behind shah-e cheragh, did so somewhat reluctantly perhaps because I looked less than a full convert to the cause. From that day onward, I was a full participant in the Islamic Revolution.
Mohsen was incensed by my sudden religiosity, did his best to convince me that I was making a big mistake by getting mixed up with “that dogmatic bunch” as he called them; to me they were brave and selfless women. We quarrelled about this only once or twice and he gave up before my vehement defense of my position — in retrospect I realize that it was mostly based on my inner desire to create an environment replete with piety, honesty and humanity for myself and my family. It was so spiritually rewarding, taking part in massive prayers, rallies after rallies, one bigger than another, raising money in the neighborhood for the strikers, helping with the first-aid group at a march, organizing a small contingency from the neighborhood at another march, and assisting the families of those around us who had “drunk the honey of martyrdom.” I remember we were so electrified by the news of mass rallies and resistance in other cities all around Iran; we all celebrated when hearing the news that some brave soldiers had killed several officers at an army cafeteria; a rumor was flying at the center that the Expected Imam had slashed the barrels of several tanks patrolling the streets, and that he was responsible for the downing of the low flying army helicopter that had crashed into a truck when tear gasing the demonstrators the other day.
About the center. It consisted of three small rooms in an old house that was formerly the headquarter of Islamic Charity Organization. Buzzing with activities, it was visited by dozens upon dozens of women every day, most of them working class women, although there were a few exceptions such as me. Their activities were quite diverse. They organized themselves into groups, one preparing the placards, another the food, another in charge of mobilization, another the donations, and so on and so forth. They prayed together, and when the holy month began, broke their fasts together on the nights they had meetings. One of the rooms was strictly devoted to teaching Quran and “Islamic ideology.” Its book shelves were decorated by several dozen books, by various ayatollahs such as Khomeini, Taleghani and Muttahari, Tabatabai, Mofid, Sabzevari, Qomy, etc. I borrowed Khomeini’s Discourse on Problems and returned it a few days later mostly unread, as I could not decipher its opaque content; when I entered the room, every one’s ear was glued to Khomeini’s voice on the transistor radio: “Our nation is damaged; from cowardice to courage, depression to determination; self-centeredness to concentration toward the Creator; and from dissension to wholesome unification. We believe and are not afraid. Surely God loves those who fight in His way in ranks as if they were a firm and compact wall.”
Moluk was the unnamed leader. They all deeply appreciated and respected her, even though due to health reasons she was mostly absent. In her was an inexhaustible reservoir of the treasures of wisdom and suffering. She hated vehemently and loved with equal intensity. What demonstration of hot temper, of snap judgment, and of unbridled faith must have been observed by those who knew her. She wanted to cast fire from heaven upon certain clergymen who refused to follow Khomeini.They saw her responsible for opening the eyes of so many women about Islam. She constantly reminded them that Islamic women had the right to become religious authority for themselves through education if they desired so. What she meant by “authority” or “instructor” was not confined to teaching values and precepts of Islam. She told us that our way of walking, talking, and overall conduct were a lesson for the students. Going around the room one day, she pointed out the explicit and implicit flaws in each student. My faults were in my eyes; she told me I should not glare into men’s eyes, opened her expensive Quran and read, “And say unto the believing woman that they cast down their gaze and guard their private parts and they display not their adornment save what is apparent of it.” She then read her favorite quotes: “Wavering between this and that and believing neither to those believers nor to those disbelievers and whom God causes to err, you will not find for him a way.” And “We have given you kausar.”
She had several different interpretation of the word kausar, said it meant blessing as well as benefits and unbounded grace and, more than that, it meant “women.” Moluk was not without competition, however, and another woman once questioned her about the last interpretation; her argument was that in that case that would mean God was addressing man only as “you.” Moluk defended herself admirably by saying that this verse, ayeh, when addressed to the Prophet, who was a male, naturally had a man in mind by the reference to “you.” That discussion happened in one of the socalled “classes” rarely attended by Moluk. We spent time in those classes not only to read and understand Quran and Islam, but also recited poetry, read speeches, discussed history, philosophy, divine commandments, hygiene, and even received some military instruction. Upon Moluk’s suggestion, I agreed to convert my dinning room into a meeting room for the women of my neighborhood in preparation for an upcoming march. Anticipating Mohsen’s objection, she reminded me to tell him the verse, “Every soul is held in pledge for what it earns…God has heard the women who debated with you about her husband and complained to God.” Of course it did not work on Mohsen and he stormed out of the house when he learnt of my intention. That was another low point in our deteriorating relationship. He resented that I was not cooking every day, that I was neglecting Farangis, that we had not touched each other for some time. For the moment, intercourse was not on my agenda.
Mohsen was not the only one I was alienating with my activities. Shirin declined my invitation when I called her on the phone at work. “God Zohreh. What are you becoming? Where is your brain?” She almost yelled at me. “Where is yours, getting married at a time like this?” I yelled back and hung up on her. That night I was so spirited about our deed that I even made a small speech to the delight of those present. “Gee. You’re a very good speaker Zahra khanoom,” one of the neighbors told me afterward. Speaking of my name: I was fully back to Zahra those days.
I am continuing my memories after a few days.
Around the height of revolution, when Shah had left the country and the whole country was anxiously awaiting Khomeini’s return, I saw Ahmad again, this time near the Gas Square where we had congregated for a mass rally. By then I was fully accepted by my sisters and cherished every moment of my supremely tireless activities, which now included brief reports in Akhtar regarding revolutionary developments. The few clips I have kept in my journal read:
“3 July: Shiraz physicians, nurses, and hospital employees went on a two day strike today protesting the military personnel’s mistreatment and arrest of several nurses and doctors at Nemazi Hospital two days ago. The strike was announced in advance to allow people an opportunity to make their contingency plans for hospital needs. Several physicians and nurses who had staged a sit-in at ayatollah Ashtiani’s house were arrested by the army soldiers, who have now placed the ayatollah under house arrest. But, ayatollah Ashtiani continues to encourage people to resist through his secret messages. Although unlike Isphahan and other cities, martial law has not been declared in Shiraz, still the military personnel can be seen everywhere and Governor Namjoo has banned the gathering of more than three people.
8 July: Hundreds of people demonstrated today against the Shiraz Art Festival, calling it a godless and colonialist occasion.
6 November: Bazaar was closed today as most bazaaris joined a large demonstration at the university protesting the recent killings. The pro-government hooligans took their revenge by torching a dozen shops inside and outside the bazaar.
9 November: Hundreds of air force cadets, homafar, staged a demonstration in their bases in sympathy with Ayatollah Khomeini.
15 December: At a rally yesterday, soldiers opened fire and killed scores of demonstrators. According to ayatollah Ashtiani’s spokesman, at least thirty martyrs have been counted so far. But there is no information about the wounded. According to a witness, the demonstrators went on a rampage of government buildings after the killings started.
17 December: Ayatollah Ashtiani was freed yesterday and hundreds of well-wishers visited his house. In his first statement, ayatollah Ashtiani ordered some of the striking oil workers to resume work in order to produce the oil necessary for people’s consumption in the city.”
Where I got the energy to do all those things remains a mystery to me. No doubt it was the electrifying impact of being part of a historical moment that would be remembered by generations, with my whole existence welded, melted, into a dynamic, organic whole that was the revolting population. More than one occasion, I saw bloodshed and violence perpetrated by soldiers on the demonstrators and, unlike in the past, the sight of blood did not disgust me or made me dizzy. Instead it made me stronger, more dedicated, and, definitely, more selfless. Questions of ‘who was I becoming’, ‘what was I becoming’, and ‘what were my real desires’ simply did not manifest themselves before me, until I met him again; I had yearned for that moment and most dreaded it and I didn’t even know it.
That day mother nature was most cooperative, vintage Shirazi warm weather, a perfect day to stroll in the city parks and languish on the grass under a tree having a picnic. It was not to be. Instead, we were marching, the whole city that is, thousand upon thousand of us, from all walks of life, upper class and lower class, educated and illiterate, religious and secular, man and woman, young and old, and very young.
For once I was marching with Mohsen shoulder to shoulder, with Farangis on his shoulder, flanked by so many other friends and relatives in a sea of marchers, chanting, “After Shah, It is America’s Turn,” “Freedom, Independence, Islamic Government,” “Long Live Khomeini,” “Khomeini Is Our Leader,” “Death to SAVAK,” etc.
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The throng was beyond belief. It roared like a volcano, breathed like a giant devouring all falsehood, crushing with its energy and impact the last vestiges of counterrevolutionary will to resistance. I was happy that Mohsen had at last started to believe in the revolution, at least he said he did in that “petty bourgeois ocean of utopia,” people’s revolution. And I was determined to resume my love and affection toward him (even resort to make-believe moans!).
After a little while, when the march had come to a halt and we were listening to a mullah’s fiery speech, I took Farangis to a nearby restaurant to use its toilet; it was closed. It was paining her and I had no choice but to knock on a door and ask its occupant to please let my little one use their restroom. It was located on the second floor. While waiting for Farangis to finish, my eyes strayed outside at the crowd, looked for and found Mohsen; he was checking out the books laid on a sidewalk table; suddenly I noticed that the vendor who was taking the money from Mohsen’s hand was none other than Ahmad — my heart trembled. The host kindly treated us with cold water, and then we exited to the street. The march had started moving again. Mohsen had purchased a book on state socialism; asked me what was wrong and why I looked pale all of a sudden. I said I was fine, but I wasn’t, I was already under the spell of Ahmad’s magnetism and nothing, not even my new devoutness, could not rescue me.
Asghar came yesterday with the great gift I have been waiting for all this time: An authentic Iranian passport. Tomorrow I am going to the British embassy to turn it in for a visa. They say it takes a week or two to get it (the French turned me down). I seriously hope so. I am so relieved. I also received my first letter from Baba. His efforts have not bore fruit and he is told that because I have insulted one of their leaders in my writing, there will be no clemency. He thinks I should patch up with Mohsen for the sake of Farangis, without bothering with the slight detail that he has forever renounced me because of my affair with Ahmad.
Three days later, after that rally that is, I met Ahmad for the second time. This time it was not coincidental and I had gone out of my way to the university campus to find him. The campus gates were open this time and hundreds of people were milling about, many of them assembled in small circles discussing and debating politics. You could always tell who is a Muslim and who is a leftist immediately by their looks and appearances. The leftists invariably wore green army jackets and had an air of rigidity about their bodily gestures. The Muslim male activists, on the other hand, were very distinguishable by their small beard and their shyness with respect to women. Maybe that is not a fair generalization, but this happened to be my impression at the time. Unsurprisingly, I found Ahmad selling his books at a corner; he was busy talking to a prospective buyer. After a long pause, I approached his table, at first just browsing at the books without looking at him at all, this as my way of giving him the benefit of recognizing me first; he did not. I walked to the next table lasting only a minute.
It was a late afternoon on a colder day, and I was debating what to do when I noticed another man behind his table; at a distance, Ahmad was climbing the stairs to a building; I followed him.
Voices could be heard from a room at the end of the dark hallway, I noticed as I stepped inside; Ahmad had disappeared. Taking cautious steps, I went near that room and listened to what was obviously a heated exchange — about theater. Two men were hotly debating the pros and cons of using veil in their play, neither of them was Ahmad. I was about to turn around and check out the upper floors when the door swung open and a woman, wearing heavy make-up, walked out; she looked flustered and was surprised by my presence there; several people were inside including Ahmad, with his back toward the door. Preempting her question, I asked, “excuse me, do you know where the toilet is located?” She told me to follow her. A moment later, I took advantage of her presence in the restroom and asked her if she was part of a play. “Yes,” she replied, “we ‘re rehearsing.”
“What’s the play?” I asked her.
“A Russian Play, by Maxim Gorky.”
“That’s great,” I commented and she replied, “not really. It’s a monumental headache.”
“Which play?” I asked her nonchalantly.
She took one good look at me and my black veil, raised her eye brow and asked, “You know Gorky?”
“Of course,” I said, “my favorite is his My University.”
“No, we ‘re doing the Mother,” she said. I chose not to correct her that My University was a novel and not a play. “That is a great play,” I said instead, hypocritically since I had never actually read the book that my brother Jaafar had forcibly deposited, along with dozen others, in my room years ago.
“Then you should come and see it. We ‘ll be playing it in a couple of weeks,” she said before she went out. For a mysterious reason I felt thrilled.
I went straight home and started looking for that book after spending some time in Farangis’s room. But I couldn’t find it. The next day, I borrowed it from the library and started devouring its content with insatiable eyes , kept asking myself “Why? Why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve?” — without any good answer. Mohsen was somewhat surprised, and delighted, to see me enter the house with that book in my arm. For once we had a common interest; I let him show off his intimate familiarity with Gorky’s writings including the Mother; according to him, Gorky’s creation of Pavel and his mother, the working class heroes of the play, proved he was a true blood Marxist. “You see no shades of grey in this play. The class lines are drawn in blood.” I had barely started a new book on Shariati and now had to put it aside and read the Russian.
Funny thing: the more I read it the more I identified with its characters, especially the mother. In my years as a charity volunteer as well as a reporter, I had been exposed to far too many instances of poverty and misery that were accumulating on the margins of society to remain oblivious. At the same time, through various sources such as Cyrus khan, I had come to learn enough about Stalinist atrocities that killed my interest in socialism. And for nearly four years now, I had forfeited my upstart career for the sake of my motherhood, thus becoming even less politically inclined, until the revolution erupted and in my haste to shield myself from my own weaknesses, I had resorted to religion. But was I really religious? Or non-religious? Or perhaps both at the same time? Back then, I was sure I know the answer. One thing reading Gorky helped me for sure was how to enrich my speaking ability as well as to anchor myself in a socialistic Islam.
I noticed this the day Moluk khanoom called me and asked me to deliver a speech she had written because she was too sick to do it herself. I felt honored and obliged her, wondered what the various implications of becoming the old preacher’s “lieutenant” were. It was at a private gathering. Sitting next to Moluk facing fifty or so female listeners, I studied her (typed) text a few times before reading it:
“Oh my sisters. The days of evildoers are now over. A new dawn is upon us. For so long we accepted their imported values of “progress,” “freedom,” and “modern.”
Fashionable clothing, beauty pageants, and other forms of exploitation, which served the status of women as show pieces; mindless bodies which complied with the demands of enemies of Islam.
Sisters remember that your smooth skin will one day be replaced with wrinkles. Find enduring values instead of worshipping charming faces and stylish clothing. Do not be content to accept the misguided image of women as a sexual commodity. We are now the architects of our own genuine civilization. The Prophet of Islam has said that , It is like a new God born to people. Everything for all — all for everything.
Sisters we must continue the revolution, just like Imam has said. Dear God. How good it is to know that there is a light to illuminate all people, and that the time will come when all will see to it and turn to it with their whole hearts.”
Moluk gave me a look riddled with suspicion, being the only one in the room who knew that the last couple of lines were not hers — they were Gorky’s! A trickle of delayed smile on her face, however, showed her self-satisfaction under a second thought that those were indeed her own words; later patted me on the shoulder and said, “God bless you. You did a good job. In you I am well pleased.” But I felt like an impostor and for a fleeting moment resented her and every one in the room, and then she gave me something else to read, her sonnets for Khomeini:
Our leader, who has lifted us
From this dreary flat where we were thrown,
And, in between unvarnished ringlets, blown
A life-breath, till the foreheads hopefully
Shine out again, as all the angels see
Before his saving bliss! Our own, our own,
Who came to us when all hope was gone,
And we who looked for only God, found him!
O Beloved Imam,
We found you; we are safe, and strong, and united
As one who stands beyond barren desert
Looks backward on the tedious journey he had
In the higher life, so we, with bosom-swell,
Make witness, here, between angel, freshteh, and monster, div
That faith, as strong as Love, retrieves as well.
I see your image on the moon through my tears at night
And yet today I see you smiling. How
Follow the Cause?
Amid the joyful chants and fistful rites
I hear your voice and vow,
Certain, unperplexed, since your art is in sight
And she, in her swooning ears, the muezzin’s amen.
The glory as we dreamt, and fainted when
Too vehement darkness dilated our ideal,
For our soul’s eyes? Will your light come again,
And now these tears come, falling hot and real.
O my Imam,
You come! All is said with only a word, Divine Spirit (3)
We sit beneath your look, as children do
In the noon-sun, with souls that tremble through
Their happy eyelids from an unaverred
Yet prodigal inward joy. Behold they erred
In their last doubt! And yet we keep near and close
Your dovelike help! and, when our fears rise,
With your divine sufficiencies serenely interpose
Brood down with your broad gaze
Those thoughts which tremble since bereft of roots
Like valley birds leaving desert to the skies.
Our future will not copy fair our past
With you we write new our future’s epigraph,
To the white throne of God we turned at last,
And there, saw you, not unallied
But with pilgrim’s staff who
Gave us green leaves with morning dews impearled.
And vibrant tail, within the mosque-gate
Your guardian gaze to commemorate,
For you and you, an image only so
framed out of faith, iman, and fit to shifts and breaks
That we all undergo.
Pardon, oh pardon, that our soul should make
Divisiveness of all that’s strong
And counterfeit of purity of iman
Our doubt and dread, recoiling with a blow,
You forced our vacillating brain to undergo
The purity of oneness.
Atheists, as soldiers struck down by swords
May cry, “Our strife ends here,” and sink to earth.
Struck by your possible hands holding
Faith’s great cup of wonder!
We feel the thrill day or night
With great sacrifice, link by link
Some prescience of you with the blossoms white
We see growing! Seculars are as dull
Who cannot fathom God’s presence within sight.
But of you, Imam, it shall be said
Like a sunbeam breaking the gloom
Round a sick and dreary room,
Lifted the curtained future encased by
Seal of oppression,
And dropped a new range
Of walls and floors for our civilization
And folded within the snug wings
Of his dove
Our dead souls too disheartened to know change
Pointing us to the onward path,
The patient guardian waiting for the moment
When we all conquer hope’s holy lane
For hope is faith, and grief behind
No Matter how many cups of martyrdom
Later that week, I spent a couple of days at my parents’ house, catching up with them and making up for my recent neglect. Those were the waning days of the old regime; the provisional government installed by the Shah was desperately trying to prevent the inevitable mastery of Khomeini and his clergy associates riding high on a mountain of popularity. My father, a closet Mossadeghist (4), was skeptical that we had seen the last of Shah.
“The Americans will protect him. He is their monarch. They won’t let their image be tarnished like this.”
“Don’t underestimate the will of people Baba. We have learnt from the mistakes of your generation.”
“I hope you ‘re right. We will soon find out — how long this Spring of Freedom will last.”
“I am sure for a very very long time,” I assured him, “as long as we keep our unity of word.”
“Unity and diversity don’t always go together my daughter, don’t forget that. There is usually a price involved.” My old man was wiser and could anticipate better — he had sold his store just as the threats had started against the uncooperative
merchants who opted to stay open instead of closing in sympathy strike.
“Are you happy with your husband?” He suddenly asked me as I was kissing him good bye, “I am your Baba, you can tell me.”
“What kind of a question is that?”
“I want to know if you still love him?”
“Of course I do. He is my husband and the father of my child.” He nodded meaningfully; as usual, he could see through me, and my white lies. I went home determined to live up to what I had just said, did everything to please my husband, except I couldn’t moan.
And I used Gorky again and again, Gorkyizing Moluk’s speeches just about every time she delegated her responsibility to me, and once at a rally.
That was a couple of months after the dawn of the Islamic government, after our historic victory, March 8th to be exact, the International Women’s Day. I was still relentless in my Islamic activities, focusing now on a special magazine for our sisters who badly needed such a magazine. It was all so new and so challenging to me, irrespective of how solidly I identified with its religious and ideological content. What mattered most to me was to find new avenues to empower my female species in Iran and
the banner magazine I was conceiving as a milestone in this direction. I convinced Moluk to give her blessing to this project, which instantly translated into several big donations to our noble cause. We had just finished editing the first issue and sent it to the printer when we were struck with the controversy regarding mandatory veils for women; an edict by the leader had incensed the urban middle class women most of whom found veils repugnant and backward. Although on a personal level I was squarely in favor of voluntary veil, my position at the magazine and in the community prohibited me to speak my mind and dissent from Khomeini’s position. Not only that, I was encouraged by some local religious dignitaries to write an article in defense of “Imam’s line.” Somehow I dodged that responsibility, which would have wrecked my relationship with Mohsen and Shirin and others beyond repair, and, yet, could not do so when it came to the crunch time at the rally.
It was in fact two rallies in one, one by the opponents of Khomeini’s edict and another by hizbollah counterdemonstrators who numbered less than half their rivals. Shadowing the anti-veil rally closely, what we lacked in numbers we made up with our noise, placards, honor and determination; still, we were feeling outnumbered.
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The other side’s rally took them from one government building to another, finally to the governor’s residence. They were chanting, ‘We Made Revolution For Freedom Not For Religious Dictatorship’. We tried to neutralize them with our own chants of ‘God is Great’ and ‘Khomeini Is Our Leader, Our Movement is Zainabi.” For the first time, I was developing second thoughts about my loyalties, wondering whether I should break rank and join the first rally. This was chewing my soul from the inside and I was looking for the first opportunity to skip them both and return home — Moluk’s voice stopped me. She wanted me to speak through the loud speaker on the back of a van; she and others would not take no for an answer. Reluctantly I climbed the van and grabbed the microphone handed to me by a brother; withdrew into a long pause, that must have made every one around me anxious, before opening my mouth,
“My dear veilless, bihejabi, sisters. Listen to me. I ‘m speaking to you as a sister to sister. Open your hearts and your ears to the message of Islam. We cannot succeed in our revolution and reach fulfillment without unity. Just compare your ranks with our ranks and see which one is filled with the families of martyrs, of the disinherited of the earth? You cannot ignore us or our request for honor and dignity. You cannot protect your rights alone. You must be patient. The Prophet of Islam (S.W.A.) has said that the condition of a society is determined by the condition and consciousness of its women. As women, we must not feel cowardice in front of deviated ideologies and value systems.
My veilless sisters. We now live in an Islamic government where all laws are sourced by Allah. We must now re-commit ourselves to Islamic values and work toward creating a Godly society throughout the world. Remember what Prophet’s daughter Hadhrat Fatimah said once: All those who have had a hard life, all the women who are torn by violence and need, all those who go forth to join the ones who perish in the path and give themselves up for the sake of Islam, with no thought of themselves, they point to happiness for all people, with no attempts to force any one. They say ‘Hard is the Path’ and they force no on to take it. There is no obligation in religion. But once a person has taken her stand alongside religion, never will she leave it, for she can see: this is the light, this is the road, and no other. God is our guardian. Come back to the bosom of Islam sisters, come back to the motherly arm of faith and do not reject it. Why orphaning yourself in the cold materialist, superficial world when you can expunge your cynicism and join the warm ranks of your optimist sisters here. Come to us, we need you, all of you.”
“Hail to our sister,” several sisters praised me afterward; there were tears of pride and acknowledgement in Moluk’s face. To my astonishment, a few women heeded my call and came to the warm embrace of our side, much to the jeer of the other side. One of them wanted to know who the speaker was, kissed and hugged me and congratulated me for my eye-opener, eloquent speech — “Sister your blood is pure,” she told me. It was a humbling experience. “She is destined for bigger responsibilities, no doubt,” Moluk was saying to others. For a moment, I was emancipated from all my doubts and hesitations, only for a moment, for I was afraid that someone might have caught my distortion, the fact that I had quoted Gorky in the name of Hadhrat Fatimah. Fortunately, no one did. Little did I know that within a few hours I will be engaged in another similar gambit, playing the reverse role of a “red” mother on stage in front of these very sisters.
Briefly, this is how it happened. After the rally, just as I was leaving I heard some sisters talking about an “anti-Islamic play” at the university, which they were planning to disrupt; naturally, they wanted me to participate. At first I excused myself and walked away for a couple of blocs before I turned around and rejoined them, much to their delight.
When we reached the campus, the sun was already setting down; the show was two hours away and we had to get in the ticket line.
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After a few minutes of idle talk, I walked away and quietly moved inside the building where Ahmad and his theater group were rehearsing. After some hesitation, I knocked on their door. Ahmad opened the door. I said a nervous hello, salam. A fleeting bright light in his eyes indicated to me he found me a somewhat familiar face, but one that he could n’t place much as he tried.
“I just wanted to warn you people that some people are planning to disrupt your play tonight.”
“Thank you. We know that, come in please.”
Several weary eyes turned toward me as I walked in. The director, Ibrahim, was adamant that the show must go on regardless; others, above all the actress I had met before, were less than convinced; she was in fact dead terrified. “They are animals. You should have seen how they attacked some women after the rally today,” she said, “what’s the big deal if we cancel tonight. I’m sure they won’t be around tomorrow. They’re all southies.”
“How can you be so sure?” Ibrahim retorted, “besides, the main issue is that we must stand up for our principles, which is the right to an uninterrupted play for our audience.” He then looked at me and asked rhetorically, “don’t you agree?”
“Of course,” I said, “but I am afraid you will have a hard time convincing those sisters out there. They are very set on what they are going to do?”
“And what exactly they are going to do, if you don’t mind me ask?”
“They say men and women touch and kiss each other in the play. So, they ‘re going to come in and wait until it happens.”
“But that’s absurd,” Ibrahim exploded, “has anyone bothered to tell these enlightened ladies that there is only one such scene and that happens to be between a mother and her son when he is being arrested?”
I shrugged. A moment of heavy silence followed. The actress suddenly picked up her jacket and proceeded toward the door with a calm “count me out. I ‘ve had enough for one day;” she left ignoring Ibrahim’s plea, which followed her all the way to the entrance door. He returned to the room like a defeated general. “Well, that does it I suppose,” he muttered. They began packing their stuff.
“Can I suggest something?” I uttered at the door, paused for a moment and then said, “how about if I play Sophia?” Like thunder they cast their cynical grins on me. I closed the door behind me and stepped inside, took one giant breath and then went and stood behind the front table pretending to be cooking, and then yawned and said, “So many people in the world, and all of them groaning in their own way.” Then I pointed at the imaginary audience in the empty section of the room and continued, “Look at them. None of them are human beings. They ‘re just hammers to stab people with. They’re never honest with their immediate feelings. They live to suffer in the name of a cause.” Then I lowered my voice and, after a pause to remember the other lines, continued, “they ‘ll do anything they ‘re ordered, without thinking and without asking why.” The moment of serious scrutiny had started.
“But how is this possible?! I don’t understand,” exclaimed Ibrahim. I told them that I had a good memory and loved Gorky. Then I was tested some more, this time in a dialogue with Pavel, played by Ahmad!
Stuttering at first, I ended up displaying a convincing role that amazed and mesmerized them all. Surely I was not about to let this unique opportunity to by pass me. They politely asked me to step outside for a moment in order to confer about this. My heart pounding massively, I ran to the toilet a nervous wreck, washed my face in the sink and yelled at myself, “are you out of your mind? Do you really want to commit suicide?”
But the urge, the power, the hunger for proximity to Ahmad, and to be able to kiss and touch him in front of the whole world, this mad notion was too enticing to my heart to let go.
They had a split decision. To my dismay, Ahmad had voted against me, and they were sticking to their principle of majority rule. Somehow, for a mysterious reason only known to me, Ahmad suddenly changed his mind and said, “hell. What do we have to lose. We must take risks sometimes and this seems to be the moment.” Ibrahim broke into a raucous laughter and said, “yes, the moment of madness, of total and complete madness.” I could not agree with him more; my only request was to disguise my face with as much make-up as possible, and to give my character an Iranian name. There was less than an hour and half left and I had so much to learn. It was decided that we must play it safe with a handshake, in place of hugs and kisses, in the critical scene. And then as we were gearing up to head toward the hall, came the big question: With or without veil? Since it was my prerogative, I chose to keep it on, a decision every one except one of them was perfectly comfortable with. “Mark this one down Kemal. This is the night to remember and write about,” Ibrahim said to his friend. “I hope so,” he replied.
“Look at them. An ominous-looking bunch, are n’t they?” Someone said; we were getting ready to go on stage, every one a bundle of nerves. I peeked through the curtain and saw them all, all my friends some of whom were starting to consider themselves as my disciple, such as Mrs. Rasouli the wife of local kebabmaker, Shahla, the daughter of local mullah, Mahvash, my immediate neighbor, Zari, the zealot of the zealots among us, and several others. They were probably mystified by my sudden disappearance, some of them wishing that I would still show up. And there I was standing, my hands, my legs, my chest and my whole body shivering, like a willow tree preparing for a storm, trembling such that it made all its roots shake. And my head was split into so many fragmented thoughts, to get out before it was too late, or to seize the moment and confront Ahmad about it all. “How is your wound?” I asked him nonchalantly before stepping on the stage, just as the lights were dimming, “and do you remember that night with the flashlight?.”
“You don’t remember?”
I walked on the stage, with no time to ask him how he knew my name, only delighted that it was a familiar name to him, and that I was more than a non-person to him. He followed me a few seconds later like someone who has been hit with a severe lightning.
We had a terrible start. I took my position behind what was supposed to be the kitchen table and hardly responded to him when he entered the “house” and greeted me, and when I did respond to his second greeting, it all seemed natural like I was semi-deaf. He approached me and, grinning, kissed me on the cheek with a look that bespoke of love and affection. “How is your ear today?” He asked me. A few minutes later, we played the scene of Pavel’s arrest. There was no holding back, not any more.
“Oh I love you,” I wailed as I threw myself in his arm startling him for a second, and then he held me and kissed my face and repeated, “I love you too— Moluk.” For a moment we froze in our position, and every one else, the two gendarmes on the stage, the crew behind the curtain and, above all, the entire audience, froze in their emotions, for here was love in its uttermost purity and simplicity, the true meaning of life and humanity. And then I cried and Ahmad too, as he was being pulled out of the stage, cried and many in the audience cried. “A mother always has enough tears for everything — for everything! If you have a mother, or a lover, she’s sure to know this.”
Go ahead my sisters, rise and resist, stop the evil act, for it is in your nature to revolt against your true nature. Rise so you can shine in your house of faith, so you can twilight in your heart of heart, go ahead.
But they were silent, for a few long seconds, enough time for the necessary transition to clear their throats, wipe their tears and summon the will of Allah to stop the perversion before their eyes. That did not matter to me. What mattered was their meaningful delay that could have lasted a century, the fact that it was a moment, however fleetingly, of self-reckoning, one that they could never ignore nor suppress, that would come to haunt them sooner or later, by making them look themselves in the mirror and wonder, “wasn’t my fleeting silence more than a compromise of my dogmas, wasn’t it a revelation, wasn’t I, or my double, on the stage that day?” I had triumphed in more than one way, the world was suddenly mine, if only for a moment — that was followed with the hellish chants and the final interruption >>> Chapter 16
(1) Refers to the arson at Rex Cinema which killed hundreds
(2) Refers to the Opposition geurrilla group, People’s Mojahedin
(3) Literally Khomeini’s first name, Ruhallah
(4) Refers to the Premier Mohamad Mosadegh who was overthrown in 1953