The last rays of the sun stream through the stained glass windows surrounding the altar of a temple, illuminating the corner where an old woman sits beside me in silence. The light refuses to make room for the darkness and somehow reminds the occupants to capture the essence of its radiance in their prayers.
Both of us gaze at the shimmering beam and acknowledge its message with a faint smile. We have found momentary peace in that house of worship with our heads bowed and our lips moving in apparent prayer recited in English.
The reality is different though: The old woman is uttering an ancient Hebrew verse from the Torah; I pray in my ancient tongue to Ahura Mazda for guidance. At the sound of her Hebrew words, I stare at the old woman in disbelief:
“Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee; Before thou camest forth out of the womb, I consecrated thee.”
A drop of tear still clings to her long, black eye lashes and refuses to roll down her rosy cheeks. A few strands of her blond hair dance on her forehead, celebrating their release from captivity. She is biting her crimson lips to silence her own cries. She weeps with me.
The prison cell was dark when the tormentor had entered it. The light from a small lamp in the narrow hallway illuminated the surroundings momentarily when the door had been opened but could no longer penetrate through the darkness as he drew near. The captive figure lay in fetal position on the cold cement floor draped with a tattered blanket.
Before reaching the prey, the tormentor’s feet were jabbed by a sharp, metal object on the floor and forced to retreat to a safer distance. A slimy, wet but incredibly warm touch had brushed against her bare upper arms as he lowered himself to gaze into her face. A savage look, the touch of a predator, the eclipse of honor. The flesh trembles; the soul refuses to surrender but retreats inch by inch into darkness each time the body is ravaged.
“God has denied human male the power to defile a woman’s womb. The womb is cleansed by blood every lunar cycle,” speaks the old woman while fighting back her tears. “The arrogance of human male is quite comical when it comes to the reality of rape. A man defiles his own soul and rapes himself when he violates the sanctity of a woman’s womb. The gates of heaven are closed to defiled souls for eternity.”
“We live in a hollow cocoon of false honor throughout the Middle East. Women are conditioned to feel shamed when they are raped. We are violated by men and then blamed by other men for dishonoring our families. The victims are punished so that the family honor can be restored. If you ask me, men who commit the act of rape ought to be humiliated and dishonored. Their families ought to rise up to reclaim their soiled name. Castration of the perpetrator is a befitting punishment that cleanses a rapist’s disgrace and that of his family,” preaches the old woman. “Keep your head up, child! Shame walks with him…”
I wrestle with the urge to speak of Mehdi, a teenage prisoner of the Islamic Republic of Iran: What about Mehdi? What about the sanctity of his manhood?
The picturesque landscape of my dreams contains the feral roar of the masses, the unabated amber of rage, justice devoid of mercy, rivers of blood… The unspoken words form a knot in my throat, suffocating me, driving me further and further into darkness.