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Short story

November 19, 2003
The Iranian

Samira had just finished reading the article in an Iranian magazine when she noticed the obituary. The name caught her attention. Bahram Mirani. She searched her memory because reading this obituary had a strange impact on her. For some reason she thought she knew this person but could not remember any details. Then she remembered the Bahram she knew but he had never told her his last name.

There must be hundreds of men named Bahram in the U.S., she thought but could not convince herself. She decided to find out if this was the Bahram that so long ago had broken her heart. What were the odds?

She found the contact number for the magazine and dialed the number. A man with a heavy accent answered and she politely introduced herself. I hope you do not think I am strange but I went to school with someone named Bahram in 1978 and am trying to find out if the obituary in your magazine is his, she told the man on the phone. I would greatly appreciate it if you ask the deceased's family whether I could contact them or not. She gave the man her home phone number. He said he would call her back by tomorrow afternoon.

Samira went into her hall closet and pulled out the box she kept her picture albums in. She found the album she wanted. The first page had her pictures on the day she had left Iran, August 31, 1978. Tears welled up and her heart filled with such deep sorrow.

How she had wished something would happen so she did not have to leave Iran. She had always had this strange feeling that if she left she would not be able to go back for a long time. She had graduated college in 1977 but did not want to go to America. After a year her dad had said that it was time for her to leave and not waste any more time.

She had cried every day, driving around and getting her affairs in order. The night before she left Iran, she did not sleep at all. The next day at Mehrabaad airport her brother and a few close friends were there to watch her leave. She had started to sob once the Royal Dutch KLM jet lifted from the ground and continued crying all the way until it landed in Amsterdam.

They had changed flight and again she had cried until they had reached their destination in the U.S. That night had been the most miserable night of her life. She had sobbed all night while her roommate Ferry slept comfortably because she was looking forward to being away from her parents and maybe even finding a boyfriend.

In the morning they had gone to the Days Inn restaurant and hearing some men speaking Farsi had made Samira so homesick that she had burst into tears.

She turned the pages of the album and started to remember all the people in the picture. The first week had been interesting trying to form friendships because everyone was saying that they should avoid other Iranians and speaking Farsi or they would never be eloquent in English. She had snapped at them and told them that were not true.

There was Faramarz, the ultimate cool in her eyes. He was from south of Tehran had a mustache, rolled the back of his shoes and walked around with a rosary in his hand. He had the thick accent of people usually referred to as "dash mashtie." He refused to look at girls. Samira had to earn his respect because she wanted to be his friend. Once she argued about the inaccuracy of someone's political comments and Faramarz was impressed enough to say, "Now you can be my sister because you are not just a girl. You have brains too."

Fereydoon with his big beer belly and crooked eyes had become pals with her quickly and often bickered with her because he called her "my sister from hell." Reza was the oldest one in the group. Tall, educated, handsome, and cultured, with a great sense of humor. He was 43 years old and very unhappily married and let everyone know it too. Mahmoud was the short, chubby, and obnoxious one that nobody cared for his bragging of picking up blonde dishwashers were he worked as a dishwasher as well.

There were many others but none of them meant anything to Samira until that day in October. She walked out of her English class and saw a man with short curly hair and Amber color eyes looking right at her. She had always loved Iranian amber and this man's eyes were that exact color. She had lowered her eyes and walked away, dying to know who he was. She had to find Fereydoon because he was the biggest gossip and knew everyone's business but she had to be careful.

In the evenings they usually gathered at someone's apartment and drank tea and had endless discussions about the volatile political climate in Iran, which sometimes were broken by Fereydoon's announcement that it was time for jokes.

That night they were to meet at Faramarz's apartment. As Samira and her roommate walked in and greeted everyone she saw the man with the Amber color eyes.

Faramarz introduced him as Bahram and proceeded to introduce Bahram's friend Sam, a short, 20-something year-old with black hair.

Samira talked with everyone but she could not look at Bahram or address him. In Iran she was the butt of her friends' jokes because she could go to total strangers and start talking to them, but if she found a man attractive she could not even look at him.

Fereydoon picked this up really quick and hit her with his elbow. He then whispered in her ear, "I know you like him because you have not said a word to him and you do not even look at him." She just told him to be quiet.

She was feeling very different now. Her life had found a purpose besides going to school. He was everywhere. In the class she often caught his eyes looking at her. When she argued her points, she noticed his smile. Then the preparation for the big picnic was discussed.

The group had decided to go to a local park and everyone was supposed to bring something. Samira was so excited she would be able to see Bahram and maybe find an excuse to talk to him.

She looked at the picture that reminded her of that fateful day. She was sitting under a tree to take this picture and as usual Fereydoon was clowning around and would not let her sit still. Everyone was shouting at him and telling him to go away. An American man had walked up and asked Samira where she was from. Once she had answered, he asked her if she had been told she looked like the Italian actress Gina Lulu Brigida. She had laughed and said no. Fereydoon had seized the moment and in his terrible English told the man "she is no Gina. She beats and beats," trying to show the man by his gestures what he meant. The man had laughed and said but she looks so sweet how could she beat on anyone?

Then to Samira's surprise Bahram had walked up and in perfect English said: "Sir that is just her shield. She is smart and she wants to be taken seriously for her intelligence and most men do not see the beautiful soul and the intelligence beyond the face." The man shook his head and said, "Well, good for her then."
Samira wanted to run and smother Bahram's face with kisses but everyone was present. Fereydoon started with his antics. "Okay, Gina, finish up taking your picture," and then he had stood next to her and took a picture as well.

Now she realized how funny he actually looked in the picture. The group had decided to play volleyball and Fereydoon had said that Samira could not be on anyone's team because she played rough. He knew she had played volleyball in high school and college and said, "she will be running like a maniac and slamming into everyone juts to catch the ball." Then he had said in her ear with his southern accent, "Voolak he likes you. For the life of me I can't see why but he thinks you are sweet, God help him." Bahram was sitting on the sidelines. She walked up to him and thanked him for all the nice things he had said which she did not deserve.

He had smiled and said, "I meant every word. By the way, I am proud of you for teaching Mahmoud a valuable lesson." She was puzzled and looked at him with a questioning look. He said, "Well, Mahmoud told everyone that you were dangerous because he had given you a ride from the store and you had hit his hand hard when he had simply touched your hand and you had slapped his face so hard he could not hear for a while all because he tired to give you a friendly kiss." Samira was embarrassed. "What did the boys think?" she asked him. "Well, Faramarz said that Mahmoud was lucky you hit him because he would have broken Mahmoud's neck for touching 'his sister'. Fereydoon had said: that is the girl from south. She is your pal but if you step out of line she will let you have it."

Samira felt gratitude towards Bahram but it was more than that. She had hoped he would ask something personal but he did not. He had asked her about general things.

Things had started to get really bad in Iran. The news was overwhelming. Watching the demonstrations was so hard for Samira because she wanted to be there with her people. But her dad had said no to her going back before she finished school.

Everyone was leaving. Some went back to Iran and a few to other states.

Samira and her two roommates Ferry and Virginia decided to have a party. Everyone was invited. The boys had drunk vodka and beers. Then Samira was asked to recite a poem. She read a poem by her favorite poetess, trying to avoid Bahram's gaze while saying:

Do you know what I want from life? To be you, head to toe you
If I have a thousand lifetimes to live, once again it will be with you, once again with you

By the time she had finished Reza, the oldest of the group, was crying. His handsome face was covered with tears. Samira went and sat next to him. Reza said, "You are all young and can have the life you want. I am stuck with an idiot whose life revolves around shopping and going to beauty salons and she gets only uglier in my eyes every day." He was very drunk. Samira had tried to calm him by saying, "Come on Reza, she loves you," and he had cut her off by saying, "Where were you when I was looking for a wife?"

Samira tried to cheer him up so she had said, "God must have liked you, that is why you did not meet the woman of your nightmares." Everyone laughed and Fereydoon quickly said, "Oh yes, not to mention that she could have poisoned you with her cooking if she had not killed you with her bad temper." Reza ad stopped crying and drank the tea Faramarz had offered him. Then Samira had placed an Arabic tape and started to belly dance. God, how young she looks in that picture with her long brown hair tossed in the air.

When the tape had stopped she had quickly looked in Bahram's direction and saw the smile on his face.
Bahram had surprised everyone by announcing that he waned to read a poem. Samira's hart filled with sorrow when she heard the beautiful poem by her favorite poet, Sohrabe Sepehri, which said:

If you come to visit me come quietly, be careful not to shatter the fragile porcelain of my loneliness
If you come to see me, I am beyond nothingness

She was puzzled. Was Bahram trying to give her a message? Was this the reason he never asked her any personal questions and never called her?

The party wrapped at 2:00 a.m. Bahram was the last one to say goodbye. He shook Samira's and held it for a few second, then said "You never cease to amaze me." She wanted him to tell her what he meant but he just smiled and then left. What did he mean? What kind of games was he playing?

She was still hopeful that she meant something to him. The rest of the week went by with everyone gathering in someone's apartment and trying to pass the time, hoping that things would get better at home. That Saturday she had been home by herself reading when the phone rang. It was Sam.

He was Bahram's best friend and roommate from their college days in Iran. He told Samira that he and Bahram would be stopping by because Bahram wanted to talk to her.

She wanted to be optimistic and get excited but there was something in Sam's voice that told her all was not well.

Shortly after she heard the bell ring. Bahram was at the door. She opened the door and he said hello and asked if he could come in.

He sat down and sounding very calm, said "I am leaving for Texas but need to explain some things to you."

She felt the earth had stopped. She felt ill.

He reached for her hands and keeping a tight grip he said, "I fell in love with you the moment you walked out of the class the first day I saw you. All my life I wanted to meet someone interested in poetry, literature, which has a passion for her people. Someone who defied the decadent rules. Most of the girls in my class were always complimentary to me but I never felt they understood the lonely soul inside my body.

" My admiration and love for you grew, watching you trying to cheer everyone and realizing that you share my passion for nature, literature, culture and everything Iranian."

She wanted to remain hopeful but somehow she felt this was not leading to anything good.

He said, "You probably wonder why the past few months I only looked at you when in my heart I longed so much to hold you, to feel the warmth of your skin next to mine and share every moment with you."

She looked into his eyes but did not utter a word. He seemed in pain.

"My dearest Samira, I am a drug addict."

She wanted to pull her hands out of his but she had no strength.

He continued. "It all started in college because I felt I did not belong. I have tried but I cannot quit. I love you and that is why I am leaving. You are full of life and so many dreams; I will only be in your way. You deserve the best and God, I want so much to be the best to deserve you, but I can't."

There was a knock on the door. Bahram said it was Sam and he had to go. She looked at his amber eyes and saw a broken lash resting under his right eye. She removed the lash with her fingers. He placed his hand over hers and sighed. He said, "God, this is like dying." She wanted to hold him and kiss him but she was lost.

He said, "I will be watching you and you are going to continue and make me proud of you. If I find the strength to quit I will return for you." He then looked at her as though to engrave her image in his mind and left.

The group picture seems from a lifetime ago. There is Bahram at end of the row, with his yellow shirt and curly short hair. The amber eyes have a distant look in them.

She closed the album and reflected. How she had cried evey night for a week but did not let anyone know. Everyone had left and she had stayed behind and years had gone by and now all those painful memories had surfaced. She had a sleepless night and the next day she was not her usual self with the signature smile and full of life. Everyone had questioned her at work and she had simply said I think an old friend is dead; I am waiting to find out.

She rushed home and grabbed her book and tried to distract herself. At 6:00 p.m., the phone rang and she grabbed it. It was the man from the magazine.

"I spoke to the deceased's sister and she said you can call her." He gave Samira the number.

What should she say? She gathered her courage and dialed the number. A woman with a deep voice answered. Samira said, "I am terribly sorry. Please accept my condolences and I sincerely apologize for bothering you in such difficult moments but I went to school with someone named Bahram. I just wanted to find out whether he is the deceased." The lady's voice became tender as she said, "I know who you are even though we have never met. Your memory and pictures have been part of Bahram's life and ours for the past 24 years."

Samira was really confused. Was the lady making fun of her?

"Mrs. Mirani, I am sorry but what do you mean?"

The lady answered very gently. "Your picture from the day you were nicknamed Gina has been next to Bahram's bed all these years." Samira's tears started to flood her face.

God no! Bahram was dead. She had never had a chance to say goodbye to him. This was not fair. She was angry but cried uncontrollably. The lady seemed amazingly calm.

She said, "Listen Samira, I know you are angry at Bahram but please don't be. He loved you until the day he died."

Samira wanted to cover her ears. Damn him! He could not have done that to her. He had had the last word in life; she should have had the last word before he died. But it was too late to tell him that.

She stopped crying and said, "I want to come and visit you if it is okay."

Mrs. Mirani said, "That is a great idea. If you let me know, I will send you the round trip ticket." Samira thanked her and said no to the offer for the ticket.

Let me see if I can take Friday off and I will come back home on Sunday.

Samira remembered that Bahram had left for Texas, the state she had hated before she even had set foot in the U.S. She always considered it the land where the gunslingers had changed their cowboy attires for suits and dresses but underneath it all they were still uncivilized. Now she had to go to the place she hated the most.

She remembered her mother had often said that one should never fear or hate anything because that very same thing will appear on their path. Her mother was right. Samira hated Texas and now her dear Bahram had died there and she had to go there.

She told Mrs. Mirani she would call her back tomorrow after she checked with her boss.

Samira seemed so withdrawn that everyone in her office felt sad. Her boss gave her the time off. She contacted her travel agent and scheduled a flight for early Friday morning.

On the plane she tried to occupy her mind by reading but she read the same page over and over but could not remember what she had read. She closed her book. The man next to her asked if she was okay and she said no. He had a thick Texan accent. He asked her general questions and she gave polite one-line answers so he could get the message. She then closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep.

She opened her eyes and heard the captain's announcement that they would be landing at Dallas Fort Worth airport in a few minutes and they were waiting for clearance to land.

Samira's heart began to beat violently. It dawned on her. In a few minutes she had to face Bahram's sister.

The plane landed and she headed out the gate. She had only brought carry-on luggage, so she did not have to go to the baggage claim.

People were waiting to greet their visitors. Samira looked into the sea of people and her heart nearly stopped. She thought she saw Bahram walking towards her. She froze in her tracks. She looked into those Amber color eyes and jolted out of her confusion when a feminine voice said, "You are here," and felt the lady's arms around her. She realized that it was Bahram's sister. They both burst into tears. Bita kept kissing Samira's face and sobbing a mumbling word that Samira finally understood her saying, "He should be here to greet you."

People where looking at them, and she finally addressed Bita and said, "Mrs. Mirani, let's go because people are looking at us."

The lady wiped her tears and said, "Please call me Bita. I have known about you and lived with your pictures and conversations about you for 24 years. "

As they walked out of the building and headed for the parking, Bita stopped and looked at Samira. She smiled and said, "You still look the same as he remembered you." Samira tried to cheer her up and said, "Yes of course I am 35 pounds meatier and my brown hair is store bought." Bita burst into laughter. "Oh God, Bahram used to say that you had the ability to make everyone laugh and you would laugh with them. He was right."

During the ride they spoke about some general subjects. Samira found out that Bita had been happily married for nearly 25 years and had no kids. She had worked as an architect with Bahram in a company, which he and her husband ran from her 4-bedroom house.

When she pulled in the driveway, a distinguished looking man greeted them. Bita introduced him as Payam, her husband. There was an eerie feeling in the air. When Samira entered the house right behind Bita, she felt a strong presence. The living room was decorated with beautiful Iranian artifacts and the floors were covered with exquisite Persian rugs. Bita asked Samira to sit down and relax while she made tea. Samira had so many questions that she felt her head bursting but she did not know where to begin.

She looked around. There were no pictures of Bahram anywhere. She found it odd. Bita brought a tray and placed a big cup in front of Samira and poured her tea to the rim. She then smiled and said, "Bahram talked about how you would lose your temper if the tea did not reach the rim." Samara was embarrassed but smiled. She was puzzled, so she asked, "How did he know that? I never told anyone about that." Bita shook her head and said there were many things about you that only he knew. Then she asked Samira if she was hungry. She answered no. Bita asked her if she wanted to see Bahram's room. Samira shook her head in agreement.

As she stepped in the large room and looked around she felt dizzy and held on to the wall. She gathered her thoughts and tried to compose herself but she could not. She started to shake. Bita realized what was going on and came to her rescue by holding her arm.

She was speechless. The walls were covered with her pictures. Some she did not know even existed. There were little hearts in various quantities drawn in red ink on some of the pictures. The nightstand had some books piled up; right on top was a book of poems by Sepehri. On the top of the books was the picture she had taken on that day in the park with her hair pulled back and the blue shirt, and the other picture was of her and Fereydoon which had his fingers right over her head in a peace sign.

She sat at the edge of the bed to catch her breath. She felt overwhelmed. The CD player caught her attention and she noticed her favorite album, which she listens to every day, was on the top of the CD player. She asked Bita if she could play music and Bita, standing near the bed, nodded. Samira put the CD in and the voice of the singer filled the room: "From the beginning of creation I was crazy, crazy about you, wondering in your neighborhood. In love and being a drunkard, I reached the status of legend. Tell me God, are you aware of what is in my heart?"

She looked at Bita and said, "I listen to this song everyday. How did he know? Where do all these pictures come from? What do those red hearts mean?"

Bita sat on the bed and said, "I need to tell you a lot of things you do not know."

"When Bahram moved to Texas he wanted to get rid of his addiction and come back for you. Since he had worked as an architect in Iran my husband and he formed a company and ran it from our house. I will show you the room they used as an office later.

"He made a great deal of money because he was good at what he did but he had his down moments and my husband Payam had to carry Bahram's load.

"He had hired a private investigator to simply follow you and give him updates. He had been out of rehab about a month and was working hard to gather his courage to come and see you and then the bomb dropped. You were engaged to be married. He sank into depression and drug use again. He continued to get information about you and was in a way relieved that your husband was very good to you and treated you well.

"Then he found out you were getting a divorce. He became hopeful again and checked himself in rehab and was looking forward to contacting you, but then he got your picture with a tall and handsome Iranian man. He was devastated. He said the man was a miserable match for you and he would cause you a lot of heartache. The pictures and information about you kept him in different moods. Then he got the picture of you with your stomach indicating that you were pregnant. He wanted to reach out to you but he said 'She is too stubborn and will think I want to play daddy to her child and will not accept me.' So he kept your memory alive by getting updated pictures of you and the child, whom he thought was very beautiful and smart, because he was now getting video recordings of you in the park and various places with the baby.

"He thought he had a chance in 1990 when the child was 4 years old and you seemed to be free and seemed that you wanted someone in your life. He quit and tried to stay drug free then you moved to another state and before he could reach you, you were married and he got the pictures of you walking with your husband. He said that was a bad match and you will be divorced in no time. You did not seem happy in those pictures. He continued his drug use but had his good moments when he could clearly talk about finally being with you and make up for the lost time. Then in 1993 you moved again and were divorced. He became hopeful again and he got pictures of you in a restaurant with an Iranian man with green eyes and brown hair, and shortly after with a tall and very handsome man.

"Bahram said you were just having dinner and they were not going to last. Then you were not seen with any man in 3 months and he thought he had to grab the chance and started the whole process of trying to kick the habit and seemed happy and determined this time. But in January of 1996 his dreams were shattered. A picture of you arrived showing you with a very tall and large Iranian man with gray hair and very handsome face. The investigator reported that the young man had his own business and was very decent and educated and he wanted to marry you. Bahram was devastated and sank into a deep depression. For the next two years you were only seen with this man a few times but Bahram had found out that you and this man were in touch. The last picture of him was taken in January 1998, leaving your apartment and apparently you had broken off the relationship.

"The pictures and videos kept coming but there were no longer any men so Bahram wanted so hard to try again. Then he began to feel sick.

"Bahram began to feel pain while breathing and we rushed him to the doctor. Many tests were done and the result stunned us. He had lung cancer. We wasted no time in getting the chemotherapy treatment started. He was optimistic but all those years of drug use had ravaged his body and made it weak."

Bita stopped and said, "I am sorry, do you mind if I get a glass of water? My mouth is very dry." She left the room and Samira looked around but did not dare look at her pictures covering the walls.

When she left the room, Samira looked around because there was a presence in the room. It felt as though someone was sitting next to her and watching her. She stood up to look around again. On the other side of the bed there were books piled up neatly. She walked to the books. She covered her mouth not to scream. The books were those she often read and loved. Samira picked up one of the books by her favorite, Foroghe Farokhzad, whom she had always believed had contributed so much to women's independence at a high cost of self sacrifice. She remembered that once she had passionately defended her and said that most Iranian were not sophisticated enough to realize and appreciate Foroghe's contribution to women's independence and the ability to express their feelings.

She thumbed through and noticed again that there were red hearts on some of the pages. Her eyes stopped on the poem she had recited at the last party held in her apartment. There was a big heart around the poem and little ones inside the big heat. Her tears fell but she was angry. The book weighed a ton in her hand so she placed it back in the pile and out of curiosity opened the drawer to the nightstand where the books were piled up.

Her hand froze and she had to take a deep breath.

This was impossible, how would he have known? There was a bottle of perfume she had loved in college and had been her signature. However, she had often said that she would not wear it again until she fell in love and wearing it will make her feel like a college student filled with dreams. She searched her memory to remember if she had told him that.

It all came to her mind. It was at the night of the party. Fereydoon had gone into her bedroom and came out complaining that she had too many perfume bottles and lipsticks and said, "One only needs a bottle of perfume so everyone will remember him or her by that fragrance." Samira had told him to shut up and looking at Bahram had said, "I will wear one perfume when I fall in love." Fereydoon had asked how much would that bottle cost. She had smiled and said about $100 for -- of ounce and it is only sold in one place. He had teased her and said "What is the name so I can buy it for my wife when I get married?" She had slapped him on the wrist and told him the name.

Bita came in and noticed Samira's frozen look. She touched Samira on the shoulder and said, "He used to put drops on his pillow and his sheets because he knew this was your favorite even though he had never smelled it on you."

She lead Samira back to where they were sitting before and said, "Well, the treatment made him sick and after a short time he decided to stop the treatment and spend whatever time he had left in peace. I asked him if I should contact you but he could not bear the thought of your disappointment at seeing his ravaged body and face. The week before he died he was really in a good mood. He asked me to hold his poetry book and read passages to him. He looked through your pictures and picked his favorites and gave names to them. The night he died my husband and I sat by his bed. He told us that you had always liked tragic love stories. Now, you had your very own."

Bita wiped her tears. She paused for a few minutes, watching Samira's reaction. She seemed lost for words. Then she continued.

"Do you know what those hearts mean?" Samira nodded her head. "Well, he loved you in certain colors and when you were smiling. Depending on how much he loved the picture he would draw hearts, each symbolize a million."

"He also knew some of your favorite singers from when he knew you in 1978. Samira jaan do you remember that you used to get some calls at night with nobody talking?"

Samira said, "Oh God, yes, of course I remember. Most nights I sat until late and read books and I remember getting calls but knew it was not a wrong number because the person on the other end would just hold on. I thought it was my ex-boyfriend trying to hear my voice."

Bita laughed and said, "Yes that was Bahram and he could hear this song in the background. Once you made him laugh so hard he nearly broke out in laughter."

Samira looked at her with curiosity. Bita continued, "One night when Bahram called and did not say anything you said very mischievously, 'I know who you are. You want to hear my voice but you should know I do not like people who lack courage. Speak to me I understand and won't hurt you!' He turned off the phone and rolled on the floor and said, 'I love it, and she has not lost her sense of humor!'"

Bita looked at the clock. It was almost noon. She told Samira to accompany her to the living room so they could eat. She told Samira to sit because she did not need her help.

As Bita brought the food out into the living room, the fragrance of Iranian food permeated the whole room. Bita had made the dilled rice with lima beans, which was Samira's favorite, and she had baked fish with it also.

Bita smiled and said, "Bahram thought you were very strange because every Iranian loves this dish with lamb but you would only eat it with fish."

Samira felt a deep sorrow. How did this man know so much about her without having been with her?

During the lunch they spoke about Samira's plans for her future and some of the projects she was working on.

Samira felt tired and Bita and her husband must have noticed it because Bita said, "My dear why don't you change and go rest a bit? We will talk later."

She went back into Bahram's room. She pushed the covers and went to lie down. She felt the presence again. He was there right next to her. She closed her eyes and her mind went back to that day in the park. He was standing there and looking right at her with his Amber color eyes. But this time he walked up to her and smiled. He placed his hand under her chin and then placed his face next to her. She was motionless. He then placed his arms around her. She felt so content nothing else in the world mattered. It was nearly five in the afternoon when she woke up. At first she did not realize where she was but the unfamiliar place reminded her that she was not home.

She walked out of the guest room and found Bita reading a magazine but it was evident that she was just looking through it to occupy her mind.

Samira said hello. Bita got up and said, "How are you feeling?"

"I am fine thank you," she said.

Bita went into the kitchen and brought a tray of tea and some peeled oranges. Samira was really baffled because she had never seen anyone do that but her own mother when she was a child and throughout her 23 years of life whenever she was home. She looked at Bita for a clue. She had a hard time looking into Bita's Amber color eyes.

Bita laughed and said, "Bahram used to do this because you used to eat an orange in the afternoon and he had noticed it and asked you why it was only in the afternoon. You had answered that your mother used to bring you tea and orange in the afternoon and the smell of orange filled your lungs as you drank your tea and there was a very nostalgic feeling that was hard to describe."

Samira wanted to cry so hard. She was angry at him for having abandoned her. Bita interrupted her thoughts. "Listen dear, I have a box of the letters Bahram had written to you but he wanted you to read his last letter first and decide whether you wanted the rest or not."

She handed Samira the letter and said, "My husband and I are going to give you some privacy to read the letter without our presence." Then she left the room.

Samira's hand began to shake. She gathered all her courage and opened the letter. It was in terrible handwriting. It was obvious that Bahram's hand must have not been steady when he had written it. She began to read:

My dearest Samira:

I wish I could write about how I feel in the language that you like best but my mind is not up to it. I am not feeling well and I feel that the end is very near and is only a matter of short time before I leave this miserable life of mine. I am looking forward to being released from this prison of pain and sorrow. I have one regret and a wish. If only I could see you once more to look into your eyes, to hear your talking while I try to sound out what you are saying since you talk so fast.

Do you know that I was in love with you before I even met you? I knew what you looked like and even pictured you as impatient as you always are.

I looked for you when I was in school but could not find you. All the beautiful girls who came up and talked to me were interested in complimenting me for my looks and how mysterious I looked. Only you would know that my lack of confidence and shyness kept me quiet. I started doing drugs out of loneliness because I wanted to find you so the sound of your laughter would fill my heart. I wanted you to walk with me in the moon light, by the stream in the little café on Kakh Avenue. Do you remember that day when you mentioned you had gone on a date there and loved the trees and the fact that there played films of your favorite Arab singer while his beloved Samia Jamal danced? I was there many times in hopes that my dream girl would walk in. But you never did.

My addiction was because of the longing in my heart to be understood and loved for me only and not for being a "catch".

Do you remember the day you walked out of the class and saw me? You stopped and looked at me but I was so overwhelmed I could not do anything. I had found you. All the way in America. I was filled with joy of finding you but at the same time I was filled with fear that you may belong to someone. I was dying to find out. You do not know how overjoyed I was when I was told that you were focused on getting your degree and going to Iran and changing so many things everyone said you did not have time for a man.

I was thrilled because I saw the look in your face. You would make time for me because I had waited for you for so long.

I loved everything about you. The fearlessness in you. The passionate way you argued about politics and your beliefs. Your sarcasm and the ability to make fun of yourself when nobody dared to. But I loved the softer side of you, too. When you cried at watching the demonstrations on TV. I loved the way you read poems but wished you read them to me only and not for everyone and at the gatherings.

I am tired now and do not feel well. I tried to be the courageous man you would have wanted me to be but I failed miserably. I always felt that I did not deserve you. That feeling was intensified when we were all out and American men smiled at you. Do you remember Jake our Polish professor? That evening when we were all at Iraj's house and he took his drink and toasted to your beautiful brown eyes? I walked out of the room and you did not even notice. I wanted to slap him because nobody but me should talk to you that way. But I did not have the courage or the heart.

My dearest Samira, I do not blame you for being angry but please believe me. I loved you all this time and if only you knew how I longed to hear your laughter and to just hold you in my arms and never let you go. I never betrayed you. My addiction was the "other woman" in my life. The evil one that kept me apart from you but I will never be far from you. I want to stop the pain and know that someday you will be mine.

I have done some things hoping that you would forgive me. Do you remember the day you spoke about your visit to the Sanitarium in Mashahd and how it had impacted you?

You told us about the horrible conditions as tears rolled down your beautiful face. Your voice became filled with anger when you recalled how the patients had gathered around you and one of them who was a female with very little hair and pockmarks had wanted to touch your hair.

Then one of the staff members had hit her on the hand. You had become outraged and yelled at the attendant and told her never to hit any of these people again. You told us that she had calmly told you "lady, these people are crazy." You had shouted at her and told her "you are the crazy and ignorant one because you do not understand these people, now leave me alone." You had told the patient to go ahead and touch your hair and when she told you that she loved the color of your lipstick you had opened your handbag and gave her your lipstick and the little mirror. You told us that the lady was as overjoyed as she put on lipstick and combed her hair. You had told her that she was even more beautiful than you and had meant it. She had run away with your mirror and lipstick.

Samira, I wanted so much to wipe the tears off your face and smotehre your face with kisses. You were so emotional that made us all teary eyed. All the boys talked in your absence about their amazement at the intensity of your emotions. I decided then that I would do anything to make you proud of me and I have.

I have asked that my life insurance proceeds be given to the facility with my uncle's overseeing the expenditure and to make sure that conditions at the facility improve.

I know you hate Texas so I have asked to be cremated and my ashes to be scattered on the shores of Caspian Sea in the city of Noshahr because you love that city and I want to be there when you arrive and sit by the shore to read your poetry book as you had done in your college days. I wish I had been there with you then.

Please find the compassion in your heart to forgive me no matter how hard it is. I know you and know that you despise people who lack courage. I did not lack courage but my love for you was so consuming that existence was hard for me. But know this, I loved you every moment of my life and I will die with your love only.

I die for you,


Samira threw the paper on the floor and buried her face in her hands. She sobbed for a long time. She was angry. Why her? So many people walk away from their addictions and never look back, why couldn't he have done the same? How could he claim that he loved her? Doesn't love "conquer all"? He loved drugs more. She hated him.

She walked into his bedroom and it dawned on her that there were no family pictures with Bahram anywhere. She looked at her picture on the wall she wanted to rip them all up and burn them.

She felt a presence in the room. She felt cold and ran out of the room and went into different area and finally found Bita and her husband in the office.

Bita looked at her sympathetically and said, "Are you all right?" Samira gathered her voice and said, "How come there is no picture of Bahram anywhere?" Bita's eyes filled with tears and she cleared her throat. "He would never take pictures in family gatherings and made us burn the few pictures with him in them. He did not want you to see the way he looked. He wanted you to remember him the way he was."

Samira looked at her and said, "I hope you do not mind but I do not want to read the rest of the letters. Please burn those and my pictures. I am sorry, but reading them will make me angry and resentful and I will never find the courage to forgive him."

Bita nodded her head and said, "I understand and he knew it too. That is why he wanted you to read his last letter first. We will not talk about him anymore."

Samira said, "Do you mind if I leave on Saturday instead of Sunday? I cannot stay here any longer. May I use your phone and see what can be done for me?" Bita smiled and said, "Of course, my dear. I really understand." She called the airline and was in no mood to argue with the lady who had a thick Texan accent. She just bought a one-way ticket for the flight leaving at noon on Saturday.

That night she could not sleep. She kept jumping up and feeling like someone was watching her.

The short trip to the airport seemed like eternity.

When they reached the airport, she thanked Bita and kissed her.

"I have one last question," Samira said. "There must have been a stronger reason to deter him from wanting to quit." Bita shook her head and said there was. "He feared that even if you accepted him you might have ended up being bored with him. He said you were always looking for the next challenge because you grew bored and he thought he was not exciting enough to keep you happy. That was his biggest downer."

Bita then changed the subject and said, "Please when you are ready, call me, because you are so dear to us. Remember that you were so precious to him and we want to be in contact with you because I personally like you even though we only spend a short time together."

Samira could not wait for the plane to take off. She sat by the window as she had always done when flying. When the plane took off, Samira looked into the sky as she always did, even as a child in times of trouble. She pictured the sky as a city with people that came to life in her imagination. She looked at the sky and saw Baharm. She looked at him and said, "You had the last word in life by choosing to leave me and you had the last word by choosing to die in the place I hate. Never again in my life a man will have the last word, never." He smiled. That is why he loved her.

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By Azam Nemati





Women Without Men
A Novella
By Shahrnush Parsipur
Translated by Kamran Talattof

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