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Here's not looking at you, kid
Short story

By Azam Nemati
June 28, 2001
The Iranian

Nassim viewed herself in the mirror. She liked the person looking back at her. She closed her eyes and felt a sensation tingling her entire body. Noruz was only a few days away. The first day of spring, the awakening of earth and the beginning of the Iranian new year 1355 (1976). She stepped out of her room and into the narrow walkway that lead to the stairs she had to use to get to the courtyard. The air felt light and fragrant. She imagined that in a few days she will be in Khorramshar, the city by the glorious Persian Gulf, with its rows of majestic palm trees under the warm sun.

The bed of fragrant flowers along the palm trees and the perfect weather this time of the year, made it a haven for the people to escape to. Reservations had been made months in advance because everyone wanted to celebrate Noruz in Khorramshahr. At night, walking by the Karoon River, watching the beautiful moon and smelling jasmine in the air, made one feel a sense of fulfillment and utter contentment -- like a journey into one thousand and one night stories. It was no wonder natives were always referred to as warm and passionate.

Nassim was excited. Spring time had been her favorite time of the year since she was a child. She was going home for spring break as a sophomore in college. She was attending school in a town where snow covered the streets and the sky was gray. For the past month she has been getting visions of a tall god-like man with golden blond hair and deep blue eyes and a heartwarming smile. Ever since she could remember, any vision that came to her soon became reality. Perhaps it was the power of her imagination that made these images become self-fulfilling prophecies. She thought maybe the excitement of spring and reading about all those exotic characters in the books she read constantly, had created that image.

She went to the train station and ignored the "no tickets" sign and managed to talk the train station manager in selling her a ticket. She loved trains. There was something so seductive and mysterious about trains whistling at night and making the journey through mountains and valleys she loved so much.

This time of the year the train will be filled with strangers and students enjoying their spring break from different colleges throughout Iran. She had always loved meeting new people and then never see them again. As usual her cabin was filled with students. They addressed the recent unrest in some of the colleges and were impressed to find out Nassim was one the two female student leaders they had heard about. There was a unanimous feeling that the political atmosphere was about to change. Political discussion went on all night long. As the beautiful sun began to rise, the strangers began to get off at various stations along the way.

About 8:00 a.m. she went to the restaurant cabin to have breakfast by the window as the train powered ahead. She then went back to her cabin where she was finally alone. She began to read a book while periodically looking at the vast desert through the window.

She felt a presence on her left side. She lifted her head and looked through the glass door which separated the hallway from her cabin. There was a man was standing. No, not a man, a god. He was tall with golden blond hair and deep blue eyes, brushing his shoulders. Looking into his eyes and noticing his warm smile made her heart race. She was motionless for a few moments and thought her mind was playing tricks on her. She looked down but could not resist looking up again. Her eyes met his and she felt totally paralyzed. He gently knocked on the glass and motioned her to open the door. She was mesmerized but managed to slide the glass door open. She tried very hard to gather her strength and stay calm and show no emotions. He walked in and stood a few inches away from her. His beautiful eyes, the color of a calm ocean looking right into hers, while the sun made flickers of gold on his hair. She just smiled and inhaled light whiff of his cologne. She could feel the warmth of his body so close to her, and it made her feel like a prey in the powerful hands of a hunter.

He finally spoke and his masculine yet gentle voice filled her ears "I was walking in the hallway and saw a mass of beautiful brown hair poured over a book. I wanted to see the face that was drowned in the pages." He paused and then went on to say, "You lifted your head and I saw those beautiful brown eyes and the warm smile. Who are you? Are you a college student? Where are you going?" She managed to utter, "My name is Nassim. I am a literature major, and I will be getting off at the last station in Khorramshahr." His laughter filled the cabin. "I like your name, Nassim... breeze. You are like a breeze in a stifling day and I just bet you love poetry, don't you?" She nodded in agreement. "My name is Homayoon and I will be getting off in Ahvaz two hours before your journey ends. He sat down facing her in the opposite seat and said, "Read me a passage from the book."

For the first time in her life, she felt like she was under the blazing sun while a cool breeze brushed her face. She managed to read a few lines while trying to contain her heartbeat. He was like a magnet that drew her without any effort. He reached for her hands, removed the book and placed it next to her. She felt feverish and her whole body was on fire. He asked her to step into the hallway and look out the window while the train sped away. She stood by his side and stuck her head out the window for a few seconds. He did the same. The gush of wind whipped his face with the strands of her hair. They both laughed and looked into each other's eyes. He reached for her hand and brought them to his lips and gently kissed the tip of her fingers. She felt her fingers were burning. He smiled and said, "I will be reaching my destination soon but, I love for us to meet again. Perhaps, I can read some poems to you."

She told him she was driving back to Ahvaz to see her childhood friend Farideh, who had just become engaged. She told him the name of the man Farideh was engaged to. He burst into laughter and said it was destiny! "I know him. He is my friend!" I will go to his place and wait for you so all four of us can go out together. He then brushed her hair to the side and held her face in his hands and whispered "You are my Shahrzad and you are going to tell me all the stories you have read." He then kissed her forehead and stepped back. She watched as he turned around to go to his cabin.

The train reached Ahvaz and he stepped off the train. He turned back several times and looked at her as he was walking towards the exit . She wanted to run after him and hold him and never let go. She wanted time to stand still, but he disappeared from her sight. The next two hours she was in turmoil. She could not read and kept pacing the cabin and remembering what had just happened.

Finally the train reached its final destination. Her driver was waiting. She got behind her red Chrysler and drove home. On the way, the driver, who really was like a member of the family, asked her what she was up to. He addressed her by her nickname "Sarkesh Khanoom", Lady Rebel. She was often called that because she had been a mischievous child who pulled pranks in her childhood and never listened to anyone. She was still the same. She smiled at him and said she was up to nothing good of course! They both laughed.

She dropped him at his place of work and then drove to her family house. She greeted her mom and the rest of the household . Then, she impatiently ate her lunch. She wanted to go to nearby Abadan, the city of black gold which prided itself in having the second largest refinery in the world. She drove over the bridge, and as she reached Alfi Square, her lungs were filled with the smell of petroleum -- it meant she was home. She loved the smell. She went to the famous Kuwaiti Bazaar and bought some new cloths to wear and greet her prince who would be meeting her in Ahvaz the next day. The thought filled her heart with a secret joy. She could not sleep that night. Her mother came to her room (as she had done so many times in the past when she was growing up) and asked her why she was restless. She did not want to tell her mother about this one. Her mother knew that despite Nassim's carefree and tough exterior, she had a heart filled with idealistic views of life. Nassim did not want to worry her and feared if she mentioned Homayoon's name outloud, somehow demons would take him away.

The next day she woke up early and felt the beautiful sunshine coming through her window. She wanted to hold and kiss the chirping nightingales. She got ready and said good bye to her mother and left. She drove while the little cassette player in her car played one of her favorite songs "Fardaa toe Miaayee" (Tomorrow you will come). She drove fast and furious and reached Ahvaz in the early afternoon. Her friend Farideh was waiting for her. They hugged and kissed each other and sat down to eat. They talked about their lives and what was happening. Farideh had a mischievous smile which bothered Nassim. She finally said: "You have captured the heart of our town's prince. I bet you don't know that every woman wants him." Nassim's heart sank. The thought had not crossed her mind at all. She smiled any and said, "But I am the princess as well and all the men want me too." Farideh chuckled and gently squeezed her cheek. "Nassim, you are a princess and a handful." They both laughed. They reminisced about their days in high school, all the pranks Nassim had pulled on the teachers, and about the time she was almost suspended for arguing with one of the teachers. They talked about the boys they had liked and wondered what had become of them. Farideh mentioned that they all thought Nassim was living a carefree and exciting life in college because she had her own apartment and car and could travel and do anything her heart desired. "Even as a child you were different and always made us look for adventures and got us in trouble," Farideh said. Nassim laughed and said she was behaving herself now.

Farideh's fiance arrived and he said Homayoon would arrive at 6. Nassim's heart overflowed with joy. Finally her wrist watch showed 5:50 and her heart began to beat violently. When the doorbell rang she wanted to run and open it but was stopped by Farideh. The maid opened the door and there stood the towering prince in a grey blue suit that made the blue of his eyes more intense. He greeted Farideh and her fiance and then stood right in front of Nassim. Their culture did not allow for the display of affection by two people not married or engaged. But he took Nassim's hands in his and brought them to his lips. "Hello my beautiful angel. I have been dying since yesterday to see you." He went on and recited a poem, "Gofteh boodam cho biyaaee ghame del baa toe begoyam / cheh begoyam ke gham az del beravad choon to beiaaee." (I had vowed to tell you about the sorrows of my separation from you, but I have nothing to say because my sorrows vanished when you arrived.) Nassim wanted to cry.

While holding her hands they went to the living room. He asked about her plans for the future. She told him that she was planning to go abroad for her masters degree once she graduated. "Are you going to include me in your future?" He asked playfully. Then he just touched her face and said, "Perhaps in that beautiful head there is no room for a man yet." This shocked her. But in a way it was true. It seemed that she never had time for men, especially when she thought about the future. She wanted to get a graduate degree abroad then come home and be one of the leaders for the movement fighting to improve the lives of women in Iran. Settling down with a man would hinder her dreams. "We must see what destiny awaits us," she smiled. .

They drove to Seh Dokhtaroon square. The evenings in Ahvaz are quite legendary. The beautiful Karoon River and the magnificent bridge are sights to see and marvel at. They walked around holding hands. They even took a Polaroid picture to capture the moment. They spent sometime there and then headed to Doroshkeh, a local upscale nightclub. He sat next to her and put his arm around her and with the other hand held her left hand. He kept kissing her hair and her hand calling her "maahe man" (my moon). All the tables had a candle on them. In the dim light, his body was close to her. He kissed her hair, neck and hand, setting her entire being on fire. She could not see anything but his blazing blue eyes and could not feel anything but the shock wave his kisses sent through her body. Farideh and her fiance went for a dance and left Nassim and Homayoon alone. They were finally alone. He gently kissed her on the lips and looked in her eyes. She was motionless and looked down. He realized she was shy and so he just kept his face next to hers. She wanted time to stand still and freeze that moment. But Farideh came back to the table and said she was tired.

On the way home Homayoon and Nassim sat in the back. He just held her and showered her face, her lips and her shoulders with gentle kisses. They dropped Homayoon off. "Goodnight my angel. I will count the moments until I see you tomorrow," he said. That night she was restless again. There was this warm sensation as she remembered his kisses.

The next day, right after lunch, they picked Homayoon up and stopped by the house of one the rich local politicians. The short and arrogant Faramarz opened the door and greeted them. Nassim's heart sank. She knew what this was about. Farideh and her fiance did not think Homayoon was worthy of Nassim because his father was a simple oil company clerk in Ahvaz. Faramarz was from a well to do family. This was the way of their culture. Class meant everything but never to her. She loved people for who they were and hated class distinction. She had often said that when she grew up she would marry a gardener's son because she loved Persian gardens.

She could not stand the sight of Faramarz and behaved very cold and distant toward him. Nassim's rude behavior made his twisted mind desire her even more. She wanted to leave. Reluctantly Farideh and her fiance agreed. She drove herself to Homayoon's house and rang the bell. He was totally surprised to see her. He sat next to her and she drove by the river, parked her car and tried to avoid his gaze. She told him she had to leave. He asked if he could see her in Khorramshahr. Afraid that her family would reject him, she came up with a quick plan. They will meet in two days by the beautiful square next to the river, by the spring flowers at 3:00 p.m. He kissed her hand. "Until we meet again, my angel," he said and walked away. She drove home with a heavy heart. The real world without him was not beautiful anymore. That night the new year arrived. The next two days she visited family members but was counting every second. In a few hours she will be reunited with her beloved prince. She drove to the square a bit early and parked her car. Three hours went by, but he did not come. She was devastated. Was there a car accident? Did something happen to his family? Questions flooded her mind.

Every day she searched for him in the crowd. Life was so sad and devoid of excitement. The 13th day of Noruz had come and new year celebrations were over. And so was spring break. She had to go back to school. The next day she departed with broken spirits. The driver took her to the train station and she boarded the train. She stood by the window staring into the air. When the train began to reach Ahvaz, her heart started to race. Finally, they were in Ahvaz and then the train stopped at the station. As Nassim looked into the crowd, there he was standing on the platform looking right at her. She would recognize those blue eyes anywhere. He kept looking at her but no smile or sign of recognition.

She could not move. She wished it was a bad dream. Tears welled up and she wanted to cry and shout his name at the same time. She fought hard to keep the tears back and told herself, he will come close and tell her what had happened. But he stood there staring at her. She wanted to scream but found no voice and kept swallowing her tears. The train started to leave. She had experienced this pain in her heart years ago when her baby brother Reza died of pneumonia right in front of her eyes. The sense of loss, the pain was unbearable. In the state of melancholy, she kept looking at him until he was no longer in sight. For the next two weeks she was walking around in total oblivion. The world was dark and depressing. She did not talk to her friends and avoided social gatherings. Every one was worried about her but she assured them that she would be fine. She cried herself to sleep every night. But she had been a stubborn person from a young age and she was going to forget him and move on. She graduated in 1977 and in 1978 left her homeland for the United States. Like so many others, she ended up staying there after the 1979 revolution.

In the spring of 1983 she went back to Iran for a visit. Khorramshahr was practically destroyed in the ongoing war with Iraq. Civilians were not allowed to visit the war torn city that had been recaptured again from the Iraqi soldiers only recently. Farideh, who was divorced now, lived in another town as a war refugee. Nassim decided to visit her old friend. Farideh told her that there was a guilt that had plagued her for so long and she needed to get rid of it by telling Nassim what happened with Homayoon. Nassim's heart skipped a beat. "The day you left Ahvaz," Farideh said, "we called Homayoon and told him that you loved life too much and you had too many ambitions that will prevent you form settling down. We also told him that you loved the excitement of new things in your life but got bored easily. In no time you would get bored with him just like the clothes and other accessories you constantly bought and then once you had them you became bored and gave them away because you could not stand them anymore. We wanted to save both of you from making a mistake and heartache."

Nassim was speechless. She could not believe her dear friend had committed such a despicable act. She wanted to weep. Was it true? She was mad at Homayoon too. How could some remarks affect his mind about her? Why did he let these remarks change their destiny? Why didn't he confront Nassim and find out how she felt on his own? It was so unfair. She just covered her face and wept for what seemed an eternity. But it was too late. The tears will not bring him back or give them another chance in life. She wondered then, could this be the fate she had wished for when she was five-years old? She remembered the remarks she had made after watching "Casablanca" with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart: "This is the kind of love story I want to have when I grow up." Everyone in the room became quiet. Five-year-old Nassim added, "A few days of paradise and no chance of becoming familiar and bored." One of the household staff called her the evil child. She had loved tragic love stories throughout her life. There was something magical about trying to imagine what could have been if the ending of these stories were different. Nassim was always attracted to men she could not have for one reason or another.

Now, twenty five years later, whenever a man with golden blond hair and piercing blue eyes looks at her, she just smiles and thinks about Homayoon and what could happen if they ever meet again.

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