March 30, 1999
Many of us have memories of Iran still trapped like wounded animals
in our heads. I find myself frequently looking back on my childhood in
the 70's and sense the bittersweet pleasure-pain of a love lost. This five-part
"short" is neither completely fictional nor exactly true. The
names are inaccurate and the locales are based on my increasingly failing
memory of Tehran in the old days. It is a story. Nothing more. Nothing
less. Take from it what you want.
"So, What do you wanna do today?", Malek asked as he leaned
over his bike, elbows resting on the tarnished chrome handlebars as he
slurped his Alaska pop sickle. "I dunno," Babak replied as he
wiped his chin of the dripping orange liquid.
Alaska was a sin they indulged in all summer long, even though they
had each been repeatedly scolded by their mothers who insisted they were
made with joob (gutter) water. "Hey, I know, let's go to the Tappeh
again!" Babak suggested. Malek, immediately filled in, "Hey!
Yeah, maybe Ali-Reza and his friends will be there again."
They were referring to the rolling hills of undeveloped land between
the Tehran neighborhoods of Abbas-Abad and Mirdamad. This huge tract of
land had been eagerly transformed by the local kids and their Yamaha YZ
dirt bikes into miles of trails and jumps and impossible hill climbs. Here
in the middle of Tehran you could catch an occasional turtle and sometimes
chase a fox or two. Wild dogs hung about as usual, but you didn't really
worry unless you were alone, and besides there was an abundance of rocks
to throw at them.
Ali-Reza was the local legend. A motorcross champion.
Rumor had it he was the son of an army general and had dropped out of high
school to race full-time. Ali-Reza had a Yamaha YZ 250 which was cool because
it had six speeds and was twice as powerful as the more typical 125's other
kids had. Ali-Reza would often give free rides to the kids who showed up
to watch him. Malek had gotten a ride once and he never forgot the thrill
of the sheer acceleration the bike had. He could still remember how his
feet had been bounced and dragged along the rocks and dirt. He almost fell
off the back as G-forces pushed him backwards off the edge of the seat.
Just as he had pulled himself back up, Ali-Reza popped an incredible wheelie
that seemed to go on forever.
Ali-Reza had four bikes in all, one was a Kawasaki KZ1000 which was
in contrast to the popular Honda 750 four street bikes prevalent in Tehran.
He had given Babak a ride home once after a disco party. They had come
screaming up Farah Pahlavi Parkway and Babak remembered how the wind had
burned his eyes causing them to tear and blur so much that he couldn't
see. All he remembered of the ride home was the strobe of light as they
passed the massive neon highway lamps... Flash!... Flash!... Flash!...
Malek was the 15-year-old son of one of the many
up-and-coming merchant brokers in Tehran's northern bazaar in Tajrish Square.
His Father had grown up in the world of deals, markups and shipments -
all part of the immense opportunity of the bazaar world. With the increasing
affluence of Iran's middle class and their need for durable goods and color
TVs, he had quickly become quite wealthy. Malek's family lived in a large
apartment near Zafar Street in Davoudieh, the neighborhood next to Babak's
more Western-looking neighborhood on Naft Street.
Babak had been over to Malek's house on numerous occasions and remembered
that the family's shoes were always lined up near the door just inside
the entrance hallway. There was always the smell of ghormeh-sabzi and esfand
wafting through the house, and there was little furniture in the living
room except for a huge powder blue, burgundy and gold appointed Kashan
carpet. At the head of the room on the far wall was a large framed-portrait
of Imam Hossein backed in black velvet with gold lettering. His eyes were
almost blue, the cheeks rosy and the lips deep red. The overall effect
was hauntingly beautiful.
The boys spent every day of the summer riding bikes around the neighborhood,
playing soccer and hanging out.
Malek had a Hungarian bike in gold metallic flake, with a three-speed
torsion shifter mounted right on the bar. He had bought it with his Noruz
money on Saadi Street. He kept the pressure in the tires a little on the
low side to make the ride more comfortable. He had meticulously wrapped
the bike in a transparent plastic webbing that was used for yard chairs
to protect the paint.
Babak was a half-breed, skinny 14-year-old. Half Iranian, Half French.
He looked American and no matter how many times he answered "Babak",
everyone still called him Bobby. His dad was a proud Azarbaijani who was
the first in his village to go to university in the U.S. where he had met
his mother. Babak's grandfather had been a large landowner whose land had
been confiscated during the Shah's land reform during "The White Revolution".
The Shah had attempted to reform the traditional feudal system by redistributing
the land among the peasants. Consequently all those affected bore a deep
grudge as the land that was in their families for centuries disappeared
with the stroke of a pen.
Babak's mother was French and had gone to the U.S. as an exchange student
in English where she had met Babak's father. They married and after Babak
was born, moved to Tehran when Babak's father graduated. In return for
a full scholarship, Babak's father, like many college students at the time,
had agreed to work for the National Iranian Oil Company.
Babak had a Raleigh Hot Pepper bike that was a bright metallic red.
It had been sent to him as a gift from the States by an uncle. It was the
latest design in bikes. The coolest thing about it was that it had a smaller
wheel in the front and a thicker, bigger wheel in the back. This gave it
an aggressive look like a hot rod.
"Okay then, let's play one more and then go." Malek said.
Referring to the street game of andakhtani (knock off). This was a popular
game played on bikes by the kids. The object was to maneuver your bike
as close to your opponent's as possible without actually making contact,
and trying to corner your foe, slowing him down, blocking his path, ultimately
forcing him put his foot down. Malek was a master at this game and Babak
had only beaten him a few times when he had let his guard down. Like young
deer matching speed, cunning and power, they circled each other shifting
gears furiously, applying just the right pedal power to try and outwit
the other. They played andakhtani endlessly.
End of part one. Go to part
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