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Club Tomorrow's Hope
Short story

February 6, 2004
The Iranian

It was in my second week at the camp when I met Ali. He was standing in front of me in the queue, to collect his daily ration of food. He introduced me to Rasoul, who stood in front of him; also his roommate. They invited me for a cup of tea in their room.

Ali and Rasoul shared their room with Essy, the third, illusive, Iranian refugee that hardly ever stayed there. I became quite curious when Ali referred to Essy with the acronym D.E.P. "Essy D.E.P." they called him. Essy was staying in London with a girlfriend of his, and came to the camp once a month, only to collect his mail and sell his secondhand clothes to the refugees. He'd told the guys that he was going to get married to his girlfriend and together they're going to open up a language school in London. And that very soon he'd be out of the camp for good.

'What does D.E.P. mean?' I asked Ali.

'D for Doctor, E for Engineer and P for Pilot,' he replied promptly.

Here Rasoul, one of the oldest refugees in the camp, smiled facetiously and said, 'You'll meet him, he's due back any day now. He'd open your eyes to the endless possibility of human potential.'

'Those titles are what he claims to be,' Ali said, 'in fact we've only chosen the best three. He tells us he's got many more: he's a psychologist, martial arts instructor, interpreter, English teacher, novelist, and wrestler. And many more beside,' Ali said.

'How old is Essy anyway?' I asked with cynicism. Thinking no one is able to achieve so much unless he's at least couple of hundred years old.

'He tells us that he's in his mid 30s. It's hard to be sure about anything with Essy. He's never showed us any certificate about any of his qualifications that he boasts about.'

'Is this guy for real?' I asked, hoping to hear their dismissal of him.

'So far we haven't been able to prove him wrong. He's either the biggest liar or genuine.' Rasoul asserted.

'I've asked him on flight and navigation, since I was a co-pilot with the Iranian Royal Air Force, and man he knows it all. I can't contradict him, he's got the knowledge all right,' Ali said disappointedly, for not being able to discredit him.

'Wait till you meet him. He's very hard to describe. Trying to describe Essy is like trying to describe a Dada painting.' Rasoul said, conjuring up a mysterious picture of Essy.

I wasn't able to makeup my mind about Essy. My natural tendency was to write him off as a fake. Since my departure from Iran I've come across so many bullshit artists that I'd become very cautious in believing anybody, particularly the ones who persistently wanted you to believe them.

'Essy was the first Iranian refugee in the camp,' Ali said, 'When I arrived here he was in middle of a war with some other refugees. I remember the first time I saw him, this figure sprinted across the field into the dormitory. Moments later he came out squeezing the ear of a Pakistani refugee, walking him out, like a teacher does to a naughty pupil. He kicked him hard on his rear and told him not to enter his room when he's not there. Essy suspects most people of stealing. He doesn't trust any body with his possession. He'd changed rooms five times in the first six months. He then ended up with us. The only reason it's working out with us is because he's hardly ever here. Do you see that cupboard?'

Ali points to the cupboard in the corner of the room which has a massive padlock on it. 'That's his. Most probably there's nothing in it either. Once he accused us of tampering with the lock. He said he once worked for Savak so he knows when a lock has been tampered with.' Ali said, pouting his lips like a child.

'Thank God he doesn't hang around here. He's trouble,' Rasoul said, 'he caused so much strife with the Arabs that I regretted ever meeting him. You hang around Essy for more than five minutes you'll find yourself in middle of a crossfire.'

'It wasn't just his problem with the Arabs but with the police too'. Ali added.

How can a man who's list of 'qualifications' are as long as the silk road be such a bellicose character? Whoever this Essy guy was I wanted to meet him. I was quite confident in my judgment of people's characters and I knew I could work him out after a few minutes of close observation. For now, I wanted to gather as much information about him as possible, so that I'd be able to scrutinize him better when I met him, face to face.

'Tell me about his problems with the Arabs?' I asked like a sleuth on the case.

'Essy was firstly put in a room with a handsome Syrian refugee by the name of Faiz. By the way, please don't ever tell him I called him handsome, Essy will kill me', Ali continued, 'Faiz had a reputation as a Casanova. He was the only refugee who could chat up a girl from the town and bring her to the camp. Many of the single, young refugees respected him and wanted to learn from him. I've got to say he snubbed them all off and only hung around his fellow Arab friends. Anyhow, first they hit it off all right. But when the Syrian brought a girl in and asked Essy to leave the room, Essy got offended. He grabbed him by his ear and threw him out and kept the girl in the room with him. Faiz got so furious that he brought back a few friends of his to beat him up.'

Ali poured himself some more tea from the pot and put a cube sugar in his mouth. I wondered why he stopped at such a crucial point.

'Yeah, and what happened then?' I asked, impatiently.

'You tell him the rest Rasoul, you saw the whole thing.' Ali tapping Rasoul on the shoulder with his fingers.

'I was outside having a cigarette when suddenly I saw four bodies appearing out of nowhere in the dark, like bats in the night. I had no idea who was who. At first I heard some shouting and screaming. There was also a perpetual leisurely whistle at the same time. Then the figures thudded one after another and the noises got muffled and whining. Later I found out it was Essy who was whistling in order to humiliate his foes. Once they're all down Essy's voice said to them, 'I have to go gentlemen. I am entertaining a girl in my room.'

'Essy had a habit of humiliating his enemies, always with a parting shot.' Ali said.

'The story doesn't end there either.' Rasoul continued, 'Faiz who's reputation was severely damaged in front of his friends, although no other refugees except me saw the incident, vowed to teach Essy a lesson that he would never forget for the rest of his living days. Essy wasn't even ruffled by his threat. Instead he said, "no one has the right to ask me to leave my room." I hate to think what it'd be like living with him on daily bases. You've to watch your step with him all the time, not knowing what might upset him.' Rasoul said.

I asked about Faiz's vow for revenge. Ali picked up the thread from here.

'When Faiz's attempt failed one more time to crush Essy, he hired a ruffian from London to get even with him. Essy by this time had become aware of the plan. He even went to the police. But because of his past problems with them, they deliberately ignored him. They're probably quite happy to see him beaten up too.' Ali filled his mug up with more tea and said, 'Tell him Rasoul you saw the whole thing.'

'I was having a cigarette out in the open-this time it wasn't dark by the way, it was about four in the afternoon-when I saw a stranger walking with Faiz toward Essy's window. The man had blond, curly hair and looked very stocky. His muscle-bound arms and thighs looked intimidating, like a heavy weightlifter's. When Faiz turned to him murmuring something pointing to Essy's window I knew instantly something sinister was going on. I said to myself, could this be the man who's finally going to beat Essy up and teach him the lesson of his life? Faiz stood back watching with gloating eyes. Curly walked to Essy's window banging on his window with his clenched fist, and shouted, "Come out you chicken shit, I've come to piss on you. Come on out of your dirty little hole, you miserable little fly." Essy's curtains were drawn, but they had intelligence that Essy was in. Within minutes I noticed other refugees had lined up next to me like spectators to watch the fight. Essy all of a sudden appeared from the other side of the building facing the curly from behind. As soon as he turned around Essy pounced in front of him, punching him left and right. It happened so quickly that it took not just him, but even all of us by surprise. The curly took the punches and smiled back at him instead, as if Essy just feather dusted his face for him. Then, Essy did something really strange. He turned around and slowly began to walk away from him. I thought he was chickening out. But everything about him is so unpredictable. The curly scurried after him thinking it was time to grab him and finish him off. It was the second before his hands reached him that Essy turned around with a roundhouse kick and hit him on his forehead. This time the curly couldn't laugh it off. For a few seconds he went blank. And that's when Essy quickly put his arms pass the curly's armpits and joined his hands in the nape of his neck.'

Rasoul paused for a second here. 'It was a nelson hold all right. He then pushed him near the pine tree and banged his head several times on its bark as hard as he could. As soon as he let go of him the man flopped on the ground like a corpse. Then he sat on his chest. To everybody's surprise he began a form of interview with his half conscious opponent. "Are you from north London? I think the accent is?" He asked him politely, as if he was interviewing him for a job. "Have you ever read a book by me called 'The Art of Fighting in the Bitchy World'?" he asked him, "I'll give you a signed copy if you'd like'."

It was here that all the refugees watching began to cheer and applaud. No one liked a stranger walking into the camp and bashing a refugee, even if it was Essy. Essy upheld our integrity.' Rasoul heaved a sigh of relief.

I was just drawing my conclusions out of all these anecdotal evidence that the door unexpectedly opened and a handsome figure appeared in front of us.

'You don't expect me to knock on my own door do you?' He said with cheeky smile.

It was him, Essy D.E.P. the legend, with a sack of secondhand clothes over his shoulder.

'You guys have been telling tales about me again. I can see it in your sassy, little eyes. God why can't I ever trust my own country men.' He told us more as answer than a question.

Essy walked into the room and opened his sack and spread the merchandise over the bed and told us that we've the first pick of the crops.

'Who's the kid?' He asked Ali and Rasoul.

'He's a new refugee.' Ali answered.

He browsed at me as if I was going to be auctioned off by him one day.

'There's so much that you're going to learn. Welcome to the real world, the mean world kid. It's the title of my book. By the way, what size are you? I got great cotton socks and underwear. Have a look for yourself. You guys get to pick first and I'll give you a discount. You see, we Iranians should look after each other. Nationalist zeal is seeping out of our asses. We need to change nappy everyday. We only make some mistakes every now and then, only minor mistakes, like giving our country away to the lovers of imam. Cyrus, sleep tight for we have shit all over your land. But I'm serious, I'm proving my love for my countrymen, 50% discounts on everything, but you only have fifteen minutes to pick what you want.'

It was hard to interject while Essy talked. He jumped from one subject to another. And very much dominated the stage. Rasoul and Ali began rummaging through his secondhand clothing, which he most probably had picked up from some Salvation Army depot in London.

'You don't want anything kid?' he asked me with his shrill voice that projected itself everywhere omnipotently.

'No thanks. I got everything I need'. I replied.

'Where're you from? Let me guess. Downtown Tehran. Mokhtari or Molavi. I know the accent.'

I was dumbfounded with his pinpoint accuracy, only after the utterance of so few words.

'Molavi', I replied.

'You might not know, because you're too young, but Molavi once was the paragon for valor. Most of those brave men left the country in 70s to U.S. and Europe. One day I'd like to write a book about them. My grandparents are from Molavi. They've told me all about them.'

Essy had his eyes on Rasoul and Ali as he spoke to me, thinking they might steal a few of his secondhand rags.

'You've got five minutes left, otherwise the discount will be lowered,' he told them sternly.

After an urgent knock, the door to the room opened and a young African man entered. He turned to Essy and told him that the police are here looking for him. Essy went straight to the window and peered out.

'How did they know I'm here? I know why, there're too many stool pigeons in this place.' He tried not to appear nervous. He went to his cupboard and unlocked the padlock, pulling out a black leather handbag. He thanked the African man and told him that he'd see him later on.

'Hey kid, come with me.' He asked of me demandingly.

'Who me?' I asked.

'Yes you.'

'Where to?'

'Come on I'll tell you later. You can trust me.'

Haven't I heard that word before, trust? I wanted to say why should I trust you, for I've just met you? Essy with all his domineering presence couldn't convince me to go with him at first. But there was a subtle element of pleading detectable in his tone of voice, despite his imperative vocabulary. It was also my own curiosity about who Essy really was that made me nod my head in agreement. Now, it was my chance to find out more about him, when he's in need and somewhat desperate. The fact that he chose me, out of us three was another motivating factor. Why me?

'I'll be back guys. Look after my clothing. Don't get any funny idea, I've counted them all.' Essy told them.

I walked with Essy out of the room. We descended the stairs to the ground floor and from there Essy led me to the back of the building through the garbage room. We sneaked pass the police car, parked outside the camp, and wandered into town.

'I know why they're after me. I've filed a lawsuit against them. They attacked me in my room and my left eardrum got ruptured in the scuffle. I don't want to confront them again. I promised Janet not to get myself into another fight. I promised her. They want me to stay in the camp. I'm not going to stay here. They want to force me to stay here. They don't know I'm getting married next month and I'll be gone for good.'

Why was he telling me all this I don't know. But Essy all of a sudden was a different person to what he was short while ago in the room, trying to wheedle money out of us.

'I'm a law abiding citizen, but I'm not going to follow the rule which forces me to stay in the camp. You'll go crazy here. I met my future wife in London. Now you tell me how'd I've met her if I'd remained here? Impossible. Only another month to go before our papers go through. Another lousy month. I promised her not to get myself into any more trouble. If I don't see them I won't hurt them. I don't want to sabotage my future for bunch of rednecks.'

It was getting dark and we're meandering the streets like two old friends touching base after a long separation. The small town was getting ready for its perfunctory Friday night bash. It was also the night most refugees stayed in to avoid the violent, drunkard behavior of English men that beat them and exclude from their social gatherings.

'As long as they don't find me they can't hurt me.' Essy tells me. 'I know why they're here, because I got too many enemies who spy on me. They report to the police my every move. Half the camp lives and work in London, how come they don't clamp down on them? Hey let's go to the pub, drinks on me.' Essy told me capriciously.

We entered the first pub we happen to pass and took our seats half way between the entrance and the poker machines. The barman looked at us with an unwelcoming gaze as he washed the beer glasses.

'I don't think we should've come here. Refugees aren't welcomed in public places like this. Particularly on busy nights.' I told Essy, expressing my uneasiness, thinking that I might have ventured out too far.

'You call yourself a man from Molavi, shame on you. When I lived here, I went everywhere and did everything that I wanted to do. As long as you're with me no one dares to offend us in any way. If only you'd have been told about the heroic deeds of Molavi men you'd have acted differently.' Essy told me, making me feeling both guilty and proud. But I was relieved that he called me a man and not kid any more.

Essy was unclassifiable. He was impervious to the outside world. There was no trace of self-pity in his outré mannerism. His mind was impossible to read. There was an exciting aura about him though. I admired his courage, but not his hardheadedness. Now that we're sitting together face to face, only a small round table separating us, I began my closer observation of him.

I noticed some gray hair that had regained their true hue from the previous dye on his temples. He looked like someone in his 40s rather than early 30s. His jugular veins protruded whenever he talked about something that he felt angry or passionate about. He'd a svelte body. His face was cleaned shaven with no detectable scars on it. His dark, small eyes, like his shrill voice, looked untamed and evasive at the same time. His philtrum deep and straight, ending on his full lip giving him a masculine and sexy look.

'I trust you,' he told me again. 'I want you keep all my personal stuff in case something happened to me. I don't want the police to look into them. You hang on to them for me.' His voice for the first time was friendlier and his body language more relaxed.

Was there more to the police pursuit? Something he's done in London perhaps? Was he hiding something more than his gray hair from he? How can I ever trust someone whom I've just met? It goes against all the rules. It's stupid. What was in his black leather handbag that he wanted me to keep guard of? What if there was drugs in it?

'Take my advice, don't stay in the camp. Go to London and make friends and stay there. In London you could be anybody. It's a huge city. Very cosmopolitan. You can meet a girl there. Don't waste your time in the camp. You're different than Ali and Rasoul. These guys live in the camp as if it's their final destination. They've had their lives. But you, you're young, just at the beginning of your journey in life. All the great guys from Molavi left and made it big. And you're going to make it too.'

His avuncular kindness was beginning to get to me. Why was he showing concerns about me anyway? Was it just because I was from Molavi where his grandparents where from? His hortatory speech about Molavi was also making me think about where I was from and why my parents never told me about where I grew up. Dad only told me, how disgusting Molavi had become, meaning it was once good.

* * *

Essy's voice was echoing loudly in the pub. He couldn't or didn't want to lower his voice. The three people who were sitting at the next table, moved further up to another table, not wanting to hear foreigners intrude on their conversation. The barman with an unfriendly, somewhat hostile stare, finally accosted us. He was a medium built, in his late 20s, very tall with sparkling, self-assured eyes.

'We want you to leave.' He told us blatantly, 'foreigners are not welcomed here.'

'Who's we?' Essy asked him.

'Me and the staff.' He replied.

'Who're the staff. Ask them to come out and show their faces. I'd like to meet them.'

'Listen forget the staff. I want you to leave. I'm the manager' The man told him firmly.

'So it's you,' he looked at him accusingly, pausing for some few seconds. 'Okay, here is a proposal for you. As long as we're having a drink I want you to stay outside and not come in.' Essy told him. 'By the way before you do that I want you to get a few beers for us, please'. He stressed deliberately on the last word, facing me while talking to him.

The barman looked for some seconds puzzled not knowing how to react to Essy's so called proposal. He could no longer affect the same confidence he once exhibited in his eyes. There was more anger in them. I wasn't sure what was going to happen. Essy wasn't the bluffing type. That much I knew about him. But he didn't leave the barman much option; leave his own bar? I somehow couldn't imagine him staying outside waiting for us to finish our drinks. It was a ludicrous and provocative proposal.

As Essy started to talk to me, ignoring him standing right next to our table, the barman reached for Essy's arm, hoping to lead him out of the bar by force if he had to. Essy slipped his hand out of his grip and grabbed his wrist and twisted his arm around his back really hard. With his other arm he performed half nelson and pushed him easily toward the entrance and kicked him out.

So many things went through my mind, within those brief moments that Essy walked back from the door to sit down. Why on earth I came along with him? What was going to happen next? What the barman was going to do now? But Essy spoke to me as if nothing had happened.

'I never use more than a few simple techniques on these pathetic racist bastards. They're not worth it. At Club Tomorrow's Hope, that's where I learned everything. One day I'll show you a few tricks. You have to be tough man in this mean world, the title of my next book.'

Essy straightened his navy wool and vinyl donkey jacket. Buttoned the top of his cotton plaid shirt and began a tap with the heavy heal of his leather boots on the pub's wooden floor, accompanied with a triumphant whistle.

I glanced outside to see what the barman was up to, but couldn't see him. A few people who were drinking in the pub were staring at us in the most peculiar way. Some left. The other female bartender looked agitated and distressed not knowing what to do. She was going back and forth into the kitchen talking to somebody. Essy went up to the bar and asked for couple of beers. She quickly poured it out of the tap, avoiding any eye to eye contact with him.

'No one can ask me to leave for racist reasons, no one. ' Essy said to me.

I looked out the window, seeing a police car just pulling in. Essy who's already seen them, pushed the black leather handbag toward me.

'Look after this for me? When they're finished with me I'll collect it from you. You're my witness; he first tried to grab me if they asked you. I'll have one more lousy month to go before leaving this petty little town for good. I'm going to startup my own language school in London. I'll show them who I'm. And what I'm capable of. My roots are from Molavi. I'll make the world my stamping ground, not just this little island. I'll show them.' Essy was pepping himself up.

I picked up the handbag and sipped my beer. Three policemen entered and as soon as they saw Essy, remained by the doorway. They most likely recognized him and were getting ready for any nasty outcome. Essy told me he wouldn't do anything crazy, because he'd promised Janet not to get into any more trouble. Essy stood up and walked toward them. After a few minutes of dialogue Essy walked out with them, getting into their car. The barman walked back in and resumed his position behind the bar. He gave me a dirty look as I finished my beer and walked out.

It was a pleasant spring evening, with a fresh sea breeze blowing on my flushed, warm skin. The English youth were out and about, interacting merrily with one another. I felt the weight of the black leather handbag in my hand. I'd lost all my inquisitiveness to open it up and check on its content. I had a feeling that I knew Essy, intimately. Instead, I reflected back on that combination of half nelson and the twist of the arm. It was a unique, effective technique. I called it the Essy Hold..................... Say goodbye to spam!


Farid Parsa left Iran in 1981 and lived in Europe for three years. He immigrated to Sydney in June 1984, where he has lived eversince. He has studied mass communication, theology and Theatre at tertiary level. He is currently employed as senior staff with the State Library of NSW, Sydney.

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