A voice in the crowd
Arash heard the closing whistle of the rocket, his insides
telling him that it was close
By Babak Morvarid
March 28, 2000
Arash pulled against the pull of the gathering and stepped into his
room. He closed the door as he turned on the lights and stood there silently.
He had lived here perhaps even before he could separate it from other places,
but mostly, it was an ordinary room. The ceiling was higher than most and
the window had a nice view of the trees over the short wall where the cats
walked. His bed was there, and the desk that he rarely used -- unless the
house was full, as now. The posters were of far away things and places,
of motorcycle races and soccer heroes and so on. There was a poster of
a movie he loved. The letters were in English and he could read them better
than his friends could. It was a boy's room.
Arash moved toward the desk and sat on the chair. He opened the dreaded
book and looked inside. He had done this many times before and the results
had always pleased everyone. But tonight, it was a struggle. "Shoot!"
he said, knowing it sounded strange to talk to himself. Do it, he thought.
He looked again and began reading.
As he was about to read, the power went out. This happened often in
Tehran, especially when there was an Iraqi air raid. The planes would come
and the alarm would sound. Then the lights went out, the alarm sounding
loud and louder.
In the beginning no one knew what to do. They used to run to the basement.
They were told to go there and put tapes on the windows, especially tall
ones, to prevent injury from shattering glass. They were told not to use
flashlights and stop if they were driving on the roads and take cover.
It was best to cover their heads with their hands while kneeling. Well,
that was in the beginning. People became comfortable in these matters,
as in all others. Everyone slowly stopped going to their basements and
only became annoyed at the power outages. They had flashlights and kerosene
lanterns to turn on. They taped the windows only to avoid a clean up.
Arash's neighbor's father used to become very nervous in the beginning.
"Give me a Valium, doctor!" he would ask Arash's dad, sweating
and shaking in the hand holding a cigarette. "It would be better for
it to hit us," he would say. "Yes sir. Otherwise, this way, I
will lose my mind!" He made everyone nervous.
But that was in the beginning. The same man, began to love counting
the bombs as they hit the ground, shaking it with their explosions. He
became obsessed. He would silence everyone so he would not lose count of
the total. Then he would listen to the fire of the anti-aircraft guns moving,
fanning the sky, crisp and deadly. "The sounds are different,"
he would say with confidence. "You see the difference? Can you hear
the difference?" he would ask us. "Sure, the difference is clear,"
he would answer himself. He liked to catch the government report in a lie
as to the total number of bombs.
One month, the attacks had become more frequent, up to one a day in
some weeks. The planes weren't coming. There was no anti-aircraft fire.
They were sending rockets now.
On that sunny day the snow was shinning off the ground with a glare.
It had been snowing. It was the first sunny winter's day in a long time.
The clouds were visible, moving in slowly past the mountains to the north.
But for now, it was beautiful and on a Friday, the people were outdoors,
enjoying it. Arash was home with his family when the alarm sounded for
less than a minute and then stopped. There was a silence and then a long
whistling noise getting louder and louder. The rockets would hiss on their
way down, ending their long voyage to Tehran. Then the ground would shake.
Standing on his rooftop, Arash's neighbor's dad would see the dust clouds
of the explosion, as it rose from the destroyed homes. This made the counting
easier in the daytime. The attack continued as the Iraqis had fired many
rockets, knowing the weather condition was perfect.
Arash heard the closing whistle of the rocket, his insides telling him
that it was close. The hiss became a roar and then it hit. The house shook
hard. The noise in the kitchen was of the falling china through the shelves.
A large tall glass window fell down, carrying the crisscross shaped duck
tape to the ground, some of it hanging on the tape. His mother screamed
into the living room and hugged Arash and his sister, sitting next to him.
His dad came and hugged them all. "It's okay," he said slowly.
"We're all here. It's okay." Scared of losing his family, Arash
could hear the slow sobbing of his sister. Please God, he thought. If we
are to die, let us all die together. They sat there on the floor of the
living room, shattered glass all around, hugging each other.
The door rang and the doctor quickly answered it. "I'll be right
back," he said and left. He came back in looking at them. "Who
was it?" his wife asked. "The neighbor, Haji."
"What the hell did he want? Are they okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, they're okay. He's crazy," he smiled, as if remembering
something shocking. "Nothing. He's crazy, that's all."
"He wanted to go see where the rocket had hit. It was close, so
he wants to see it. They're all going, he says. He thought we wanted to
go too, so he came after us to go. He's... never mind, really."
"Go with him, take Arash," she said.
"Yeah, we'll wait. You two go. Show him."
They stared at each other. "Maybe someone will need help. You're
a doctor. Go." She's right, Arash thought. "Okay, we'll be right
back," said the doctor.
Arash grabbed his father's hand, once he offered it. He looked up: his
father was not looking down, but straight ahead. They walked alone, not
with the neighbors. They could see the smoke rising and the smell of its
impact. It was a distorted musky smell. They walked together in rhythm,
hating themselves for wanting to see.
The impact was there. The rocket was ten meters in length and had not
exploded at first contact with the street. It had dragged on the ground
for several meters, fifty perhaps, before exploding. It created a large
crater. "It must've hit something and then exploded," Arash's
dad said slowly. People were standing around. What had it hit?, Arash thought.
He turned and saw the trees and the blood dripping from the leaves onto
the branches and onto the fresh snow on the road. There was mutilated flesh
on the branches. Opposite the tree was a cylindrical cement tube, used
for building the sewers or perhaps for underground cables. Inside of it
were the silent bodies, all in a mix. Opposite the tube was a wall, covered
in fresh unclotted blood and small pieces of human flesh.
"They were hiding inside the cylinder," someone was yelling.
"They were in there for safety, for shelter, when the rocket exploded
on the other side of it. It shot them out onto the wall, the rocket did!"
Inside the cement cylinder, the bodies were embracing each other in a final
moment before death. Arash's father pulled on his son's arm, brought him
close to his and put the other arm across his face. It was too late; they
were all dead; they didn't need a doctor.
Now, sitting in his room with the book unread, in the dark of the power
outage, he recognized it. The voice in the crowd was the neighbor's.