The next chapter in the memoir series Persianchyld. If you like what you read, I welcome you to visit my main blog at www.persianchyld.blogspot.com.
Even school days became routine, and I grew to depend on my sister’s warmth on the bench next to me less and less as the days grew shorter and colder and the cobblestones were more often wet with rain. I would wait all morning at my desk for lunchtime when the black-clad women would carry the heavy aluminum pot to rest on the table at the head of the room. As the littlest in the class, I sat in the front row, my feet dangling over the edge of my bench, and I was the first to smell the shriveled brown lime soaked with chunks of beef, kidney beans and greens. I learned to say “I like it” “more please” and “I want some stew” long before any other phrases out of my school reader.
On the school yard, the children admire my cousin for being related to us and in their confusion about whether to accept us as one of them, they alternated between throwing stones and treating us as royalty, pushing on each other to give dark-eyed stares and offering favors and sweets to Sohail for opportunities to play with us. I stood by, able to stand at my sister’s side with out clutching out her now, silent, as they rattled off questions at her.
“Beatles mishnahsee? rohk an’rohl??” a boy with tossled hair asked her with a sidelong glance at her long spindly legs. She would reply in short carefully crafted sentences, her grasp of the words she spoke paper thin and tenuous.
“How come your sister doesn’t look anything like you?” he threw back and her reply brought louder gasps as the children began to understand that she and I were related only through our father.
Where is your mother? How come you aren’t with her? How come you came to Iran? How come your sister has an Iranian name? What kind of a name is Lygeia? Are you ever going back to America? Do you like it here?
“These are my cousins. They are Americans,” my cousin Sohail would say puffing out his chest and giving a big smile showing the missing two front teeth he had recently lost. So many questions, and when my sister’s broken Farsi was not enough to explain my cousin would break in and fill in the gaps. As our handler, he would decide when we’d had enough questions for one day and would shoo them off to the nether reaches of the yard with their slap slap of plastic shoes fading off into the distance.
* * *
Shortly after my father arrived from the U.S. school days ended suddenly when Sissy’s cough became a fever, which became long days in bed with blankets piled high all around her. I crept through the shadowy rooms of my grandmother’s house, trying to stay quiet as a mouse as my sister slept, watching Grandmama pray, listening to the sound of dice thrown against the mohogany backgammon board and loudly echoing off the garden walls. Days were punctuated by visits from cousins and more doctors and more cousins. Even Christmas came and went with little fanfare. Pictures were snapped with my cousins sitting on either side of me, my new Barbie in my lap, our legs stretched out in front of us. The makeshift Christmas tree was a simple potted plant with a few colored balls hanging off its branches.
One morning, Sissy was taken from the house wrapped and weak and placed gingerly in the backseat of my uncle’s car. I felt her absence like hunger, forlorn, and I visited her each day, holding my Aunt Mehry’s hand during the long car ride to the hospital. The entire scene was a monochrome of grey, my feet planted on that bare sidewalk next to my kneeling aunt as she pointed up to a tall concrete building, a massive checkerboard of windows rising above me. At the 6th floor a tiny head poked out of a window, too far away to recognize anything familiar about the face or the hand or the window or the building.
“Where? I can’t see her. Can’t I go in with my Daddy and Mommy?”
“There, do you see? Negahkon, your sister is waving to you. Wave back so she can see you too.” I waved feebly in the direction that my aunt pointed.
“Can’t I go in and see her?
“No, joonam, she is too sick to come outside. And children are not allowed in.”
But she misses me.
I was so insistent, but I still left each day disappointed and inconsolable. The four walls of Grandpapa’s garden seemed suddenly silent and imposing. Without my sister to translate for me, I was unable to ask for a turn when my cousins played, and so I kept to myself mostly, crying easily when things didn’t go my way, barely holding it together.
Then one day, after weeks of the strange waving ritual, my sister returned to my grandmother’s house, walking feebly through the courtyard door and delivered straight to her waiting bed. She was able to tolerate short visits from me as I carried in cold drinks to soothe her scratchy throat. She grew stronger as spring approached and the cherry blossoms began to bloom in the courtyard. She found it harder and harder to find time away from me as I refused to let her leave my sight, worried that she’d disapear again and leave me alone in the garden walls.