A Tourist in Iran

“I love the beards,” said the man at the internet cafe to the Tourist, stroking his chin ironically. “They are very good for people like me.”

“Why’s that?” asked the Tourist.

“You must have a drink. Come inside. You want a coke? Please, I insist.” He beckoned the Tourist up the stairs to the door of his cafe.

“Yes, sure. Thanks. Sorry, what’s your name?”

“I am called Roozbeh. You can call me Rooz.”

Inside the cafe the Tourist took a bottle of coke and sipped on it. The two of them sat beside a desk at one end of the internet cafe. Roozbeh fiddled purposefully with his mobile phone as he stuck a straw in his bottle, as though to imply he was taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to the Tourist.

“So why are the Ayatollahs good for you?” asked the Tourist.

Roozbeh smiled, his eyes glinting. “The beards are good for me because I love fucking. Life is all about fucking. Money and fucking. And money helps you get fucking, haha.”

He looked at the Tourist as though expecting him to be impressed by this. The Tourist offered no reaction, interested to hear more.

“Yes, I fuck women, I fuck girls, I fuck small boys. Yes, I try everyone. It is easier if you have money. I have fucked everything it is possible to fuck. But you know…” He drew the Tourist into his conspiratorial smile. “The funny thing is that no one can talk about it. I can even fuck three women at once because they can’t talk about it to anyone else. Those stupid old men with beards have forbidden it. It is very good for someone like me.”

The Tourist sipped his drink, again said nothing to this. “Tell me, where did you learn your English? At school?”

“Not here. I did some business in Pakistan. Ah, there I had some girls. But it is not so easy to fuck there as here.” He rapidly touched a series of buttons on his phone as though sending a text message.

“What business did you do there?”

“Truthfully I mostly studied there. This is why I now have money and can fuck who I want.” Roozbeh looked up from his phone. “I can make lots of money. It is easy. This is a shitty country now – even petrol is expensive these days – but soon it will be a great country again. You are most welcome here.”

“Thank you.”

They finished the cokes and Roozbeh led the Tourist outside. As they were saying goodbye, the Tourist felt a presence at his left shoulder. He turned to see a teenage girl standing on the pavement smiling at him.

“Hello,” she said. “How is your visit to our town going?”

“Hi, I’m Rooz.” This in English, for the Tourist’s benefit.

“I am Farideh.”

The Tourist moved slightly, instinctively wanting to place himself between Roozbeh and Farideh. He had met her the day before when looking for a place to change money. She had been friendly and helpful, spoke good English learnt at school, had even shown him round one of the town’s famous traditional mansions.

They had talked as they had walked around, she eager to hear about life in London, he interested in life for an eighteen-year-old in Iran. She had talked mostly of men. How she hated the men she knew. How men waited in the alleyways around her house and groped women as they walked past and no one would do anything about it. How the men went crazy because they weren’t allowed to mix with women.

“Do you have a girlfriend at home?” she had asked.

“Yes I do.”

“She is so lucky. You are a nice man, I can tell.”

“Thank you.”

They were stood above a narrow water channel running to a rectangular pool in one of the courtyards of the mansion. Farideh dipped the toe of her leather shoe into the water as she spoke. “You must buy a present for your girlfriend before you leave the town.”

“You’re right. I’ll make sure to do that.”

“You love her?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Love is very important.” She absently shook a few droplets of water from her shoe. “I will not marry unless I fall in love. I won’t marry anyone from here. They are all stupid and all they want is sex and money.”

The Tourist looked into her shining eyes and saw that she was in love with the idea of love. It was the dream that carried her through the indignities of her daily existence in this small town.

“How old are you Farideh?” said Roozbeh.

“So what are you doing today?” said the Tourist, cutting across Roozbeh, eager to distract Farideh from talking to him. Roozbeh was not a good person for her to know.

“I am just walking. There’s nothing to do in this town. It is very boring.”

Roozbeh laughed. “This is true. Not so much to do.”

A car pulled up at the kerb a few yards down the road. Farideh looked round and rolled her eyes.

“My father. Please excuse me, I must go.”

“Goodbye,” said the Tourist. “Maybe see you again.”

Roozbeh said something to Farideh in Farsi and she laughed as she opened the car door.


As they pulled away the scolding began.

“Why do you go out by yourself so much?” said Farideh’s father. “It’s not decent. Particularly talking to Western tourists. Don’t you care about your reputation? I tell you that I care – even if you don’t.”

Farideh tuned out and began to dream a favourite dream of moving to Tehran. She was hoping to study there but what she mostly dreamt of was secret parties where she could throw off her headscarf, wear what she wanted – even short skirts if she felt like it. And the men would all worship her. She would drive them crazy. But she would not allow any man to touch her, not unless he was in love with her, and then only the smallest kiss, at least until they were engaged. Perhaps he would be another student. Or better, a famous artist….

“Farideh are you listening to me?”

“Yes yes. You know that was Roozbeh. Farbod’s son.”

Farideh knew how to distract her father. Farbod headed one of the richest families in town.

“So that was Roozbeh? He has that internet cafe? Now there’s nothing wrong with associating with people like that. You must be more selective.”

“I heard at school that his father made him work in the internet cafe instead of the family business as a punishment. But no one knows what he did.”

Her father waved his hand in wonder. “A family that punishes by providing a good source of income is a good family to know. Really, I don’t want to see you talking to Westerners again. This is a small town….”

Farideh tuned out.


The following day Farideh found herself in the car with her father again, this time in blessed silence. They pulled up at the icecream parlour opposite Roozbeh’s internet cafe.

Come back here when you’ve done your shopping,” said Farideh’s father as they got out. “I’m only going to have an icecream with the mullah then I’ll give you a lift home. I don’t like you wandering around by yourself.”

Yes father. I’m just going to say hello to Roozbeh before I go shopping.”

He nodded. “Please greet the mullah first Farideh. You ignored him last time you saw him. It was very rude.”

She greeted the grave man sat at one of the shining steel tables outside the icecream parlour, then turned, crossed the road and climbed the stairs to the internet cafe on the first floor.

Roozbeh was seated at the desk of his empty cafe. They greeted each other.

“And what have I done to deserve the honour of such a beautiful young girl in my humble cafe?”

Farideh shrugged.

“I saw you through the window greeting the mullah,” said Roozbeh, rolling his eyes. “He is very conservative. Or at least appears so. But it is good to appear conservative don’t you think?”

“Not really.” Farideh gazed around her. It wasn’t such a great internet cafe. It probably wasn’t making much money. It would be more popular if it looked nicer. Whatever Roozbeh was being punished for, it seemed to mean the witholding of family funds.

“But I said ‘appear conservative’, not ‘be conservative’.” He laughed as though he had told a great joke. “A big difference. You and I know that conservatism is nonsense in this modern world. Would you like to come into my office for a coke? I have some in the fridge.”

Roozbeh waved towards a room at the back of the shop. The door was open and Farideh could see a huge red sofa against the far world. She hesitated, unsure whether to walk in before or after Roozbeh. He was watching her carefully.

“Come come, is it ‘improper’ to enter a man’s office? I thought we were both beyond that.”

Farideh nodded. “Don’t worry, I don’t care about going into a room with a man.”

She walked into the office; it contained nothing but the huge red sofa and a glass-doored fridge. Roozbeh followed her, casually kicked the wedge from under the door as he passed. It swung gently shut behind them.


The Tourist, smoking a qalyan a few doors down from the ice cream parlour, looked at his watch. Farideh had been in Roozbeh’s cafe twenty minutes now.

He had waved when Farideh had arrived but she hadn’t seen him, half-hidden as he was by a potted palm beside his table. He had felt uncertain about approaching the girl with her father around so had simply watched, unhappily, as she had entered Roozbeh’s cafe. Though it was none of his doing he felt responsible for Roozbeh and Farideh having met.

Perhaps she was using the internet. It was the reasonable explanation. But he was sure she had mentioned having it at home. What could she be doing?

When the qalyan was exhausted he paid up. After some hesitation he crossed the road and climbed the stairs to Roozbeh’s cafe. He would just put his mind at rest. It was none of his business – but on the other hand he probably knew Roozbeh better than most people in this town right now. The man was surely not so open about his exploits with his fellow citizens.

In the internet cafe he looked around for Farideh. There was no sign of her. The room was empty save for a small boy wearing headphones playing an online game in one corner. At the back of the shop was a closed door that the Tourist was sure had been open when he had visited. But the presence of the boy prevented him moving towards the door to listen for occupants. He stood in the cafe doorway for a moment, a sinking feeling in his stomach.

There was no need to assume the worst, he told himself. A corridor ran into the building beside the entrance to the shop, probably leading to some back exit that Farideh had left through on her way to somewhere. No, there was no need to assume the worst.

He turned and slowly walked back down the stairs to the street, still feeling troubled. Seeing Farideh’s father sitting with another man in the icecream parlour his worries for Farideh filled him and overcame his nervousness. He walked over to the two men.

“Hello, sorry to disturb you. I met your daughter yesterday….”

Farideh’s father replied with a stream of Farsi. The Tourist stood there helplessly.

“Sorry, I don’t speak….”

Farideh’s father looked at the Tourist, a bemused expression on his face.”

“I speak some English,” said a voice at his shoulder. “You need some help?”

The Tourist turned to see a waiter with a friendly smile on his face. He started to speak, hesitated, started again, stopped. What could he say? Now it came to it he could find no way of explaining his suspicions of Roozbeh without making accusations he could not back up. And really, what intervention did not risk making the situation worse for Farideh? He stood there in confusion for a moment.

“No thanks,” he said to the waiter finally. “I’m okay. Don’t worry.” He turned and walked abruptly from the shop, his face burning with embarassment, his heart filled with a hollow feeling of helplessness.


“Strange man!” said Farideh’s father as he watched the Tourist walk away down the street.

“He’s been in town a few days,” said the mullah. “I heard Farideh was seen talking to him yesterday. You must be careful. These Westerners have no honour.”

Farideh’s father waved his spoon in despair. “She is a very difficult girl to control Hami.”

“You are too soft with her. And you should be careful with letting her use the internet – she knows good English and she might get some very strange ideas from there.”

Farideh’s father chuckled slightly as he wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Yes Hami, but that is Roozbeh’s internet cafe. He is from a good family. Perhaps they will get talking. Who knows? She wants to fall in love of course. Such nonsense.” He shook his head in tolerant amusement. “It is all very well, but it is no basis for marriage.”

The mullah nodded solemnly. “Really though, our young people should be protected from all that dangerous material on the internet. The things I’ve heard! People are weak you know. That is what the Ayatollahs understand. That is why they made this country as it is – for the weakness of people. People need upright men who will guard their morals, and women need men to guard their honour.”

“Oh I agree Hami. That is the problem with these Westerners and their ideas about women. They have no honour. They do not understand that a woman’s honour must be guarded, that they are so precious that they are worth protecting.”

The mullah nodded in agreement as he took another spoonful of ice cream. “You and I, we know.”

Unlike most contributors to this site I am not Iranian (and therefore apologise for any culturally inaccurate details in the story) but Farideh and Roozbeh are real, though their names are not. I met them while travelling as a tourist in Iran. Everything they say to the Tourist of the story they said to me in real life, and I met them both in the same town. To write the story I had only to imagine them meeting. Perhaps they already have. It isn’t a very large town.

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