I lie awake at night, listening to the sounds of the darkness surrounding me: The crickets sing their chorale no more; the first frost has silenced their nocturnal concerts. The coyotes howl in the distance as if ripping apart the flesh of a prey, and the neighborhood alley cats reply in dismay. The pillow is soaked with my tears; I can lie still no more. It is 2:26am again! I hear the door bell ring again; they have come for me again! I walk through the house to reach the front door and to peak through the blinds. From their guarding posts, the German Shepherd dogs perk up their ears but wag their tails to greet me. They have been sharing with me these restless jaunts for many years. I hear the door bell again!
The house is drowned in silence, otherwise. Not even the mouse is moving. The dogs are vigilant but quiet; they will not break ranks until I command them. They stand with me to die for me. I hear the door bell ring again!
The intercom broadcasts a jumbled gurgle of Persian words, the majority of which are incomprehensible. I catch one phrase clearly though: “Pasdaran!” Now the banging starts: their fists pounding on the metal door, my heart thumping in my chest. They have climbed over the wall. Flashes of gun fire illuminate the yard; the repetitive sounds of single bullets followed by a momentarily pause pierce through the air. I know what to do. The escape route is marked with the blood of comrades, with the tears of mothers, with the kindness of strangers… They all stood with me; they all died for me.
From the depths of this darkness, from down the tunnel of a black, narrow hallway, a little boy is shuffling towards me, dragging his favorite blankie behind. The distinct heavy breathing of a child while sucking his thumb reaches my ears long before his silhouette takes shape. I recognize him by sound not by sight. He is the last born.
“What’s the matter? Why aren’t you sleeping?” I ask, sweeping him into my arms.
“I heard the coyotes!” he murmurs groggily.
“Me too. Let’s get back to bed. Seeya can stay with you!” I suggest sweetly to comfort him.
Reassured, he reaches to touch his favorite guard dog before succumbing to sleep. On his shoulders, he carries the heavy burden of hope. And on his lips, I hear the traces of his last chant drowning the hollow howl of the beasts. He will be awake soon, facing the darkness, yearning the brightness of the stolen sun.
I walk through the house in search of lost sounds. The door bell rings no more! The night is full of shadows, full of dark memories, full of coyotes hunting the innocent. “Clear your head!” I command myself. My mind is besieged by the dark images of the past and present: I want to cry no more for the woman dragged by the Hijab police, for the child trembling at the foot of the waiting noose, for the dazed glare of a father offering a kidney for sale. I want to cry no more for the young lying beneath multitudes of grave stones, for the addicts roaming Tehran’s back alleys in search of used syringes, for the voices silenced, for the pens broken, for the brave slaughtered. I want to cry no more.
Taking pity on me, a friend suggests all sorts of solutions: “Close your eyes and remember the most peaceful moment of your life. Relive it again and again! Get rid of the scary images. Clear the clutter in your head! Go shopping! Treat yourself to something dashing…” So I begin my journey in search of mental clarity:
I picture a sea of rainbow-colored wood tulips on the foothills of Alburz; I chase the butterflies in the rain soaked orchards of Gillian. I find comfort in the rhythm of a ringing bell amongst a herd of roving sheep. I travel back in time to a sleepy town nestled in Iran’s northern forests only to snooze at the banks of a murmuring brook… until dawn, when the annoying Azan wakes me. The Muslim God is here to haunt me.
“Something not related to Iran,” the friend clarifies her suggestions. “Forget Iran for a little while!”
Then I go shopping in search of red shoes, a slim black dress, a blood soaked tulip to pin on my chest… I wake up the next day to fuss over my hair, to roam the town in a sexy dress, and to listen to my own footsteps on the cobblestone pavement. I enjoy the cat calls and the compliments but finally blush at the sight of my friend. I have stooped too low even for her taste.
“You are a lost cause. Go back to your old self!” she concludes at the end.
And I concur! The jumbled mess of images from Iran piled up in my head and the tangled web of emotions associated with them define me. My motherland defines me. Perhaps in this day and age, for us, Iranians, mental clarity is simply a sign of stupidity.
I have a date with the darkness tonight…