“Yesterday, I had your dream.”
He stretched out his long legs in front of him and his brown eyes were dark like coffee. He peeled an orange and passed its half to me, extending his hand for me to spit the pits into his cupped palm so he could throw them into the muddy river.
We were sitting along the riverbanks of the Zayand e Rood, our fifth resting place in less than an hour. The hot sun was starting to dip low in the sky and streams of Esfahanis had begun their evening promenades along the cobbled pavements planted thick with shrubbery.
We sat at a cautious distance from each other, the heft of an unconsulted guidebook between us and our gazes carefully fixed on the horizon. I pulled my scarf forward to hide the blonde streaks of my hair and avoided using my hands – the giveaway of a European background – when I spoke. A few moments to linger among the plantings of shemshod and mulberry bushes, and it would soon be time to move again.
“Yesterday, I had your dream.”
I smiled and relaxed a little when I heard him speak this way. Little by little my ears had grown attuned to them, these curiously possessive Farsi expressions. I heard them each time Iranians spoke to each other – the sounds of ‘eh’ and ‘esh’ that wove their nouns together. ‘Ferdosi Street? Its traffic is terrible!’ the taxi drivers would exclaim in between long drags on their cigarettes. ‘Tehran? Its people are rude and its city is so dirty!’ disapproving mothers told their children who longed for the excitement of the big city. Through their tireless spoken choreography of clipped pauses and rising pitches, I learned that for anything to be unclaimed in Iran was unnatural and strange. In 10 days I had learned to anticipate an Iranian grammar of order and belonging, where nouns only make sense when spoken in context of their ownership, where an English ‘a’ or ‘the’ was too casual, too abstract for the necessities of Persian speech.
I rested my hand briefly on the cobblestones that separated us – a signal for him to know that I was listening. All around us the parade of nightlife had begun to unfold. Girls in pastel lipstick giggled and locked arms, strolling in self-conscious circuits. Young men with gelled hair smoked cigarettes and compared features on their mobile phones. The thick foliage and recessed stone benches had made the river a popular area for students and young couples to meet. The religious police would soon begin scouring the riverbanks for signs of disobedience, threatening to telephone parents or jostle the worst offenders into the backs of their vans for a trip to the police station.
The stones’ rough, granite surfaces were still warm from the sun which had nearly set now, and the curved arches of the Si-o-seh bridge glowed with its necklace of crimson lights. Even in the growing darkness I could clearly picture his face, the determined, almost stubborn line of his dark eyebrows, the prickly accumulation of stubble on his cheeks and chin despite shaving with a pocket razor just this morning and the way his long fingers twisted the whiskers of his sideburns as he spoke.
“Yesterday I had your dream and I dreamt that you were my wife. That you loved me the most and we were peaceful together.”
I watched the lights of the bridge reflecting on the water below and heard the calls of the melon seed sellers. I heard his feet scuffling along the bare rock with impatience. I gathered my knees up to my chest but I said nothing.
We saw them coming at the same time. Men in olive coloured uniforms making their way along the pathways towards us. We gathered up our things and quickly headed into a brightly lit street, falling into step with each other but again walking several feet apart.
We had learned to keep them at bay through a routine of constant movement – coffee shops, small shaded parks, and quiet tea houses. A circuit of stolen moments, whispered conversations and snaked together hands before necessity and privacy would force us to move on.