I’d been expecting Vahid’s phone call that he would be coming to Esfahan but when it came I was suddenly nervous. I tried to imagine the restrictions we would be under and all the things we couldn’t openly do. Imam square, our meeting place, was the size of fifteen American football fields and as I passed through the stone pillars of the western entry gate it thronged with idling taxis, school children in baby blue hejab uniforms and the robed, turbaned clergymen Iranians called ‘cabbage heads’ flanked by sinister-looking bodyguards. By the fountain young men – hopeful of an emigration romance – watched out for German tourists, waiting to tell them that they had beautiful eyes.
I saw Vahid before he saw me – he was sitting on a stone bench, his brown eyes tired and his clothes wrinkled from the eight hour bus journey from Yazd. At first I felt a stab of guilt for encouraging him to come find me again, for tampering with his innocent and planned-out life. I looked down to see a worn army duffel bag and the canvas circle of a folded Iranian tent that lay at his feet. He’d said he had an uncle in Esfahan but he’d come prepared to sleep in a nearby park – among the sea of red tents, of travellers without money for a hotel, of families who barbecued chickens and boiled kettles on open gas flames. Only then did I realise my responsibility for him – we were in this new city: together, alone.
“Hi Jenny”, he said softly, looking in the opposite direction when I sat down beside him. “Are you fine?” He ran his fingers quickly along my hand to let me know that he was happy to see me and we blushed and exchanged bit-down smiles, discreetly pressing our ankles together. I took him back to my guesthouse where I introduced him as my cousin, tucked his tent under my bed and brought him soap and a towel to wash his face. Then I made up a tray for him and we sat to eat lunch together.
We didn’t kiss or touch each other, but quietly dipped our spoons into the same bowl and tore pieces of bread. It was enough to sit beside him, to share a meal together, and to know that in the quiet moments waited the tenderness and longing that wanted release.