Every evening Vahid is tasked with taking me back to my hotel. Unlike the morning journey that I make alone, the return is a series of rushed walks through crowded meydans and scuffles between shared taxis.
I don’t enjoy travelling with him. He is brusque and impatient, shoving me first to one side and then another to shield me from the nighttime traffic.
As we walk Vahid points out girls to me and asks if I think they are beautiful. “Iranian girls are the most beautiful in the world,” he declares. “When I marry I will choose only the most beautiful girl. It is very important!” As he speaks I can see his father’s baldness advancing across his scalp.
He led me to a large outdoor garden and insisted that we stop for tea. It was full of Iranian families and their children laughing, taking photos and ordering tea and wrinkly black dates.
We sat at opposite ends of a large wooden love seat covered in pillows and everyone turned to stare at us.
In Yazd the sight of an unmarried couple, especially one involving a foreigner, even a couple as clearly disinterested in each other as we were, was enough to be cause for gossip.
“You are my cousin, ok? If anyone asks,” said Vahid. “Sure, ok”, I nodded, a little shocked that we needed a cover story for something as innocent as drinking tea in broad daylight. “Your mother’s sister and my father’s brother are married and live in the US,” Vahid continued. “Got it”, I said.
Our tea arrived and as we sat, not speaking much, the sense of being scrutinised by the families all around us was starting to unnerve me. Vahid seemed unconcerned and possibly even a little pleased by the attention. He turned to me finally and asked “Are you a virgin?”
My jaw dropped. “No, of course not!”, I said, horrified. I probably should have felt insulted or angry by this strange intrusion into my private life, but instead this sudden flash of humanness had caught me off guard. Vahid looked bizarrely vulnerable and boyish. I could tell that he didn’t talk to girls much, especially about sex.
Conscious of the families all around us I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Something would have had to have gone very wrong in my life for me to still be a virgin.”
“I will stay a virgin until I get married,” he said looking a little self-righteous. “Really?” I asked. “And when do you plan to get married?” “Not until I am at least thirty. Girls just distract men from their ambitions so I want to get married late.”
I imagined scenes of Vahid and his future wife, a pair of thirty-year-old virgins fumbling clumsily on their wedding night. I wasn’t sure which was harder to imagine, staying a virgin until thirty or Vahid managing to connect emotionally with any girl enough to get her to sleep with him. Let alone marry him.
“But what if you die tomorrow?” I persisted. “Won’t you feel like you have missed out on something?” Vahid looked at me, clearly shocked, and said nothing. I felt a little hit of victory.
I smiled as he stared into the distance looking pensive and perplexed. We sat for a while longer and then he turned abruptly. “We should go, it’s getting late.”