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Welcome home?
Where is home, really?

September 12, 2000
The Iranian

Look out the window. That must have been a beautiful tree there long ago. Grandfather would have greatly cherished it. Now tilt your head. You can still make out the road he would have walked on each and every day. The road which my father would have crossed coming home from school. It must have been a great house once. All that's left now are two walls. How they still stand is a mystery.

The only cruelty of war which I've learned to hate is the cries and screams of the people who know that all has come to an end. No one ever grieves for the homes in which those people spent their lives. The homes that sheltered them and kept them safe from all that's out there. And then suddenly, in an instant they fall to the ground taking everything with them.

I wish they could speak to me. They've seen more of the people I call family than any other. I wish they could tell me about my father's first step. I wish, more than anything, they could tell me about that plump, kind-looking man I've seen in those black-and-white photographs that are the oldest things I've ever owned. But they only stare back at me, not wanting to spill a word.

I wish to cry out to tell them they're being mean. I never got a chance to see how my relatives lived there. Now I'll never get a chance to hear about it either.

I walk around, stepping on dead leaves covering the ground all around me knowing that grandmother would have made sure to sweep them to a corner so they wouldn't get in the way. I look around and see a boy not older then me staring my way. I turn and walk away without thinking twice. But if I was the simple girl next door would I have done the same?

All my life I dreamed about seeing this place with my own two eyes. But now that I'm here I'm not sure if it was the right thing to do. Nothing is more terrifying than the palm trees I saw on the way. "Nakhl-e sar borideh" they call them. Exactly like a body with its head cut off. Seeing those sad trees, seeing the house that was deserted more than 30 years ago, makes me feel exactly the way I did on the last day of summer.

I remember Mike Rokyo's words. He was definitely right. "When I was a kid," he said, "the worst day was the last day of summer vacation. We were in the school yard playing softball and the sun was setting and it was getting dark. But I didn't want it to get dark. I didn't want the game to end. It was too good. Too much fun. I wanted the day to last forever so we could keep on playing."

I know exactly what he means. I wanted the day to go on and on. I wished I was tall enough to raise my hand and touch the sun. To hold it and keep it from going down. But the sun always did go down. And the world around me turned pitch black. A blackness no flashlight or candle could destroy. Now it feels as if I'm seeing that darkness once again.

I'm among my own people but it's amazing how different we've become. Their language, their actions, their every task is alien to me. But why? Don't I have the same blood running through my veins? Don't I have the same eyes? Does my light colored hair set us worlds apart? But then again, I saw that girl walking in front of me with hair as blond as my yellow crayon and she seemed to fit in perfectly.

"Welcome home," says my father's great aunt. "Welcome home". The words sound nice at first, but where is home, really? That apartment in Toronto? That house in Tehran? These two walls right here? Where do I really belong?

I smile at her and stare at those deep wrinkles and know that if she was living in New York or London Este Lauder would have never let so many of them appear. Then I listen to her stories about the past. I see her eyes glow unlike any diamond I've ever seen and I know this place means more to her than anything I could imagine. She tells me about the rainy night my father was born, or the day he bought his first bike. And I envy her so. I can begin to understand what has helped her bear all the troubles and stay behind all this time when hitting the road seemed like the most sensible thing to do.

She talks about the terrifying days when people around her were dying faster than autumn leaves. She tells about her next-door neighbors. All nine died in a bombing 15 years ago. She was lucky she was away that day. But when she went back all she saw was piles of rubble and broken windows. As I listen to her more and more I begin to have doubts. Does she really regret staying behind? I've never experienced anything like that and therefore I can't ever be sure.

Someone once told me that if you love something bad enough you'll stand by it no matter what. If that's true then there aren't many people out there who've been so in love with anything or anyone.

Finally it's time to leave. Am I glad, or do I wish to stay longer? I try to find answers. . . none come my way. That day I stepped into a different world. A world unlike any I've ever known. A world where memories of distant people and places linger, but summers always end.

Najmeh Fakhraie is 16-year-old student in Iran.

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