The night before
"Nowhere else would I see the color of Tehran's mornings"
By Gina B. Nahai
August 24, 1999
Excerpt from Gina B. Nahai's Moonlight
on the Avenue of Faith (p. 206). The novel spent twelve weeks on
the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list, including two weeks at #1.
It has been released in the U.S., England, Greece, Norway, and Italy, and
is being translated into six other languages. Also see
earlier excerpt in The Iranian.
The night before I was to leave, Sohrab gave me a bracelet-- a thin
gold band with my name engraved on one side, Roxanna's on the other. He
told me he and I would see each other soon. I knew he lied.
He put me to bed, then went into his study to read. An hour later I
got up and went into Roxanna's empty bed next door.
I lay on Roxanna's sheets, my head on her pillow, and prayed that she
would come to save me before Sohrab could send me away. At four o'clock,
when Sohrab called me, I was still awake and still waiting.
I washed my face with cold water, wet my hair and brushed it back. I
wore a new dress, new socks and shoes. Sohrab went downstairs with my bags.
I went into Roxanna's dressing room one last time.
She sat at her vanity, smiling at me with open arms. It was the day
the doors had come down in the house, the day Roxanna had held me and said
we would always see each other. I put my face on her shoulder and smelled
her hair. I touched her pale skin, the fabric of her powdery pink dress.
Behind her the table was cluttered wtih bits of makeup and fake jewelry,
half-empty tubes of lipstick and blue and green eyeshadow broken into powder
and gathered back into the case. A white leather handbag with a rounded
bamboo handle rested near the makeup. To the side of the vanity, the oak-wood
closet gaped open like a loose woman, the hinges creaking as the door swung
slightly forward and back. Inside it, Roxanna's clothes, all faded and
junked through the years of the robber ghosts, hung like bodies awaiting
a spirit. Sometimes in the summer, during the long siesta time when everyone
lay down with their eyes open and cursed the heat, I had put on those clothes
and wandered the house, pretending I was my mother.
I searched for a keepsake I could take to America. Looking around, I
realized that I shoudl have gathered Roxanna's belongings long ago, that
I should have locked everything away so no one could walk in on her memories
after I was gone. I saw the box where Roxanna had saved Mercedez's address,
quickly took the envelope, and shoved it into my dress pocket. Then I saw
the green tear jar Miriam had given her, remembered what Miriam had said
about Shusha drinking her own tears. I wanted to take the jar with me,
wondered if Sohrab would object, if Roxanna would come back to look for
it and become angry because it wasn't there. Sohrab was calling from downstairs.
I rushed out.
At the bottom of the stairs, Fraulein Claude stood with a shawl wrapped
around her shoulders.
"Be good," she told me dryly, not bothering to smile.
Teymur came out of his drawing room. His back was slightly bent. He
put his hand on my head and said a prayer.
"Go"--he kissed me for the first time ever--"and may
God take you away from all our lives."
Mashti opened the etched-glass doors and let in the cool night air.
Momentarily quiet, the dogs began to bark again from th eplace where they
had been tied to allow us safe passage to the car. Sohrab pulled my hand
to make me move.
He sat with me in the back of the car, one arm around me, his eyes avoiding
mine as if he knew he was committing a sin.
The car glided through dark streets. I listened to the sounds of the
tires scraping against the asphalt, of Mashti's shoes hitting the clutch
and the gas pedal, of Sohrab breathing next to me. As we drove north, the
sky began to lighten, slowly revealing the contours of the Alborz Mountains.
I rolled down the window and looked up. Nowhere else in the world would
I see the color of Tehran's mornings.
It was six o'clock when we arrived at the airport. A woman long red
nails checked my passport. Sohrab was pale, his hand dead cold. We waited.
A voice called the flight.
Sohrab walked me through customs, across the tarmac, up into the plane.
Handing me over to a stewardess, he showed me my seat and gave me a pillow
and a blanket. Then he held me. He held me for so long, I knew he was giving
me up for good.
When I looked up, he was walking away. Minutes later I found him in
the frame of my window, standing behind a railing at the edge of the runway.
I was not sure if he could see me on the plane, but he stood in the same
place for close to an hour, until we began to take off. When the plane
started to taxi, he waved blindly in my direction. I strained to see him,
to keep his image in my memory. I tried to believe that he loved me, that
I would manage without him, that I would not lose him entirely, as I had
Then I put my face to the window, in the place where he had been a moment
earlier, and cried all the way to America.
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