The boy who invaded my life
By Reza Ordoubadian
November 24, 2003
I am not easily given to superstition, but the communication I
received from Cy was extraordinary. I had long forgotten about
him and his sister although the memory of the narrowing passage
had kept haunting me--and, my readers--for many years:
I had a driven urge to discover the causes of the event, bordering
on obsession, although, in my mind, nothing physical is subject
to any laws but physical, and the event did not make much sense,
notwithstanding the narration of the old man, which was sincere
and complete, yet a tale of unreasoned happenings.
I had never
met Cy, nor did I have any occasion to talk to him: he disappeared
some twenty-five years ago; even the old man-servant, who narrated
the earlier part of "The
Boy Who Invaded My Life" did
not know where Cy had gone. Since he was a young boy of sixteen
at the time of the first story, by my calculations he must be in
his late thirties. And now, this enigmatic e-mail!
The message sounded urgent. He wrote, "I read your rather
inaccurate account of my encounters with Raheem and Father's
passing, neither of whom I despise or envy." Of course, the
words that Cy was denying were not mine, but his man-servant's,
who swore they were Cy's exact words, or very close to his.
I am sure the servant had added his own words and perceptions to
the story and that he had embellished the events, like a religious
tract pretending to be history--and was not; yet, there was
enough sense of authenticity and authority in it that I could glean
the gist of a narrative based on the story.
To my mind, I was a
simple messenger, their words and my translation. I wrote and told
him so, but he fired back another e-mail, "I will tell you
the true story, but I reserve the right to read what you write
before you publish it; I really don't trust you; I really
don't trust anyone." This was quiet satisfactory, and
I hoped to exchange e-mails and letters until he finished with
his story. I was especially keen to know why and how the passage
way in his house simply narrowed until no one could pass through
it, like the eye of a camera. I wrote him a single word, "Agreed."
"Meet me face to face, then!" he replied.
There was no way that I would agree to go back to the Middle
East or even to Europe just to meet with Cy, especially not now,
several nasty revolutions brewing in the area. I wrote, "Impossible!
I won't come to you?"
To which he replied and surprised me, "I live in Chicago
now, but I will travel--any place."
That was our deal except that I wanted to meet him in his own hunting
grounds, now Chicago. I felt I could get a better measure of the
man--the boy I never knew--if I met him where he lived.
We met at a neutral ground, a bar/coffee shop off Lakeshore near
the Medical Center. The place was almost dark even in the middle
of a sunny day: a narrow, long, L-shaped room with only one entrance,
dim light laboring through its two window-panes, enough to find
your way to a table; otherwise, electric mock-candles cast a weak
glow on each table, hardly enough to read the menu.
I still wonder
why Cy chose such a place for our meeting, but I can see now that
the place was quite appropriate for our meeting: considering Cy's
state of mind and natural inclinations, it was a kind of recreation
in Chicago of the atmosphere of the story. I could not see his
face clearly, especially behind the thick, black beard and Stalin
mustaches and a pair of dark glasses that totally covered his upper
face. But, I recognized him right away. He was sitting in a booth,
smoking a cigarette and sipping coffee; I had lived long enough
with his ghost that I instinctively went to him: apprehensive,
suspicious, and excited, my hands shaking and a tremor in my voice.
He did not look up or say a word; with his right hand that held
a string of large, amber worry-beads, he motioned me to sit down. "I'm
drinking coffee and cognac; what will you have?" he said
briskly with his throaty voice.
"The same, without the cognac!"
Then we settled for a long, excruciating moment of silence; in
that hushed stillness the noise in the coffee shop ceased to exist,
my focused consciousness exaggerating every motion of the boy-man;
there were three of us: Man-Cy, I, and the memory of the thought
of Boy-Cy twenty-five years earlier, the ghost that had haunted
me and my readers for so long; when he broke the silence, he talked
nonstop until he was finished. The conversation was in English,
freeing me from the arduous task of translation although he used
many Persian sentences in need of translation. There are simply
certain deep emotions that cannot be expressed in any other tongue
than the one we are born into. He talked, I taped his entire
conversation, which took eight cassettes, at times his whole body
narrate the impossible.
After the funeral and the dramatic escape from the mob, Sister
and I returned home, confused, without any plans for the future.
The future seemed both precarious and exciting; to be sixteen and
the master of your own life was far more than I could have imagined
or hoped for. Father--don't misunderstand me, I had
a special kind of liking for him--was not there any more to
give orders, and Raheem, he disappeared because we knew there was
no room for him in our lives. I would have told him so if he had
showed his face.
The day after the funeral, Sister and I came in from the front
door and proceeded through the passage behind the stair case and
were inside the living quarters of the house, nothing unusual:
it was not until two days later that we noticed the narrowing of
the passage, at first, ever so imperceptibly, then rather quickly
the passage closed, preventing any traffic, like a funnel through
which matter can travel only in one direction--a birth canal
or an exit chute; we were forced to use the back door, the door
made of solid oak, a humble but secure door, neglected for over
seventy-five years, set far from the house, almost a journey to
reach it through the back yard that went on forever, like a tedious
argument of the revolutionaries outside our home. We did not see
Raheem, hoping for his permanent absence.
"I thought he helped you!" I told Cy.
"Don't interrupt," he said sharply. "I'll
come to that."
The servants left one by one because the discipline in the house
had disappeared after Father's death and the outside world
vaguely offered them a better life; when I tried to bring back
the old order, they would not stand for it. The only one who remained
loyal was the man who had brought me up. He stayed and became our
cook, house keeper, and gardener.
But, he, too, had to leave at
the end for bad health and simply old age; but of course, he has
already told his story to you. There we were, Sister and myself;
we learned fast, though, and using the back door, we were able
to leave the house, from time to time, to shop for groceries and
sneak and mix with the throngs of people moving in the streets
in waves that scared us, but that was the only way we could get
a pulse of ourselves and the political monotony. Come to think
of it! We had a need to be out, to be able to see other human beings,
to know that we were not alone, forgotten and "disappeared" from
the face of this world. It is tough to know you are alive, but
realize that you do not exist inside your skin!
extending far, becoming further as the autumn closed and winter
set in and Father's rose garden burned
in the ice of winter, much colder than I have ever remembered.
It almost seems there was a connection between distances and
the narrowing of the passage, distances and the suspended time,
and the burning, icy weather.
The same distances were not the same
distance any more: from the back door to the nearest bakery, where
we had always shopped, took twice as long to traverse, a curious
affair, but we really did not notice it at all because we were
too busy being cautious and always wrapped ourselves in old clothes
to escape any prying eyes that would mark us as remnants from the
old order, "The Old Plague," as they chanted in the
streets, sending a chill to the very core of our beings.
to a point that Sister and I decided to go shopping individually,
Sis, wearing a black wrap, and I, a simple coat and a buttoned-down
shirt--no tie. Otherwise, a member of the Army of God could
have spotted us with fatal consequences. It was so hard to blend
in and become one of the many, so hard to lose identity outside
in the street and become one of the masses who were told to be
and think in a prescribed way without deviation, but with much
imported devotion to the cause. I still do not understand why
they did not simply storm the house and take over: all the other
for blocks had been taken over as residences for The Oppressed
Folks Association. Then I wondered if we were the invisible ones
inside our forgotten home.
One day, Sis returned from shopping for food, but I did not hear
her come in. She must have been very quiet, I thought, which scared
me: anyone could have opened the door and come in from the back
gate, exposing our haven. I needed a gun, I resolved, but I had
never fired a gun in my life: owning guns during the Monarch's
reign was considered dangerous to human health and a capital crime,
as was reading certain books that I would not have read anyhow.
A few days after the final victory of the Army Of God, my old man-servant
brought me a package, well wrapped inside a chocolate box. "Here,
take it," he said and extended his right hand towards me.
Chocolate, I thought, chocolates I did not want and he knew it,
yet I thought in his perversion of the times he is mocking me with
a box of imported chocolates. In the old days I would have scolded
him mercilessly, but the times had changed. "Thank you so
very much," I said.
"Very thoughtful of you to bring
this box of chocolates--leave it on the table!"
"Take it," he insisted firmly.
His hand was shaking because of old age or because of holding
the box out to me for such a long time. I took the box and put
the coffee table.
"Open it, Master Cyrus," he said sternly, exasperated
I opened the box to find chocolate, but inside was a small hand
gun. He must have seen the surprise in my eyes. "I know...I
know! It's necessary now...you must...."
I eyed the gun and took it in my hand; the cold steel burned
my fingers, and I dropped it. "Careful...," he said. "Don't
rush. This is in case...!"
The words weighed on my soul, the implications were grave, and
I understood them even as young as I was. Would I dare to use it?
As if I had training, I took the gun and pointed it at the wall
but did not pull the trigger....
"You may need it if you're attacked, especially if Sister
is in danger."
"I tell you," I said with renewed energy and the anger
of a sixteen year old child-man, "I'll killed every one
of the bastards who dare to come to the house."
"No! You won't have the time. Besides, it would be useless
and others will hear the shot and more will come in; this gun is
not for them."
The old man was going senile and losing his grip on life. "Then,
why do I need a gun?"
"You'll know when the time comes...!"
I supposed it was the time, so I took the gun from under the sofa
cushion and clicked the safety catch, as my man servant had showed
me, and pointed at the door: whoever entered would get all four
shots. My servant could find only four bullets, my total security
and protection. The noise came from the front of the house, which
was even more ominous.
I heard Sis shouting, "Cy...come, come
Gun in hand, I cautiously opened the door ajar; decidedly Sis
was coming from the front of the house, which delighted me both
being relieved of using the gun--that kind of noise offends
me--and seeing her come from the wrong direction.
I came through...I came through," she was shouting. "I
came through the passage!"
Sis has a way of overstating, if not lying. Without another word,
I moved past her and went towards the passages. The backside was
as dark as ever, and from my vision, the two slits had not changed,
only a faint light-like penciling in metaphorically yellow slivers,
two points that repelled and attracted at the same time, promising
but denying both passage and vision, mocking the caged in the darkness
by showing that light is possible, even if providential. I had
had enough of her jokes; I returned, passed her without acknowledging
her presence. She looked at me with dismay and shouted, "Are
I had to dismiss her with a motion of my hand, and I went to
hide in Father's room that was mine. I heard her screech as she
ran to the room. "It was open, I swear it was open...I
came through it, like we used to."
I focused my eyes sternly at her, as Father used to with me,
and said, "Stupidity has no limits...," exact words
" I know what I know.... It's open from the other side.
Only our side is sealed. Go look for yourself!"
Not at that time, not again; I had more pressing affairs to tend
because the house was getting darker and colder. The sun was a
pail, saffron color, struggling to shine, but often you saw it
as shattered rays without much energy or heat. Inside the house
was slowly becoming darker and light-less, a heavy atmosphere lingering,
as if trapped inside a thick mist in an ancient ocean. My old servant
once started to say, "This happened once before..." but
did not complete his statement, and I was getting tired of his
senile outbursts and asides, so I did not push the point.
For heat we had plenty of wood; large oak and ash trees, planted
by my ancestors, covered our vast estate. Most of the morning hours
my servant and I cut wood and split them into burning length. Although
Father had in recent years imported a hot-water radiator system
from Germany to heat the entire house, it used oil, a commodity
to which we had little access, even in a country floating on oil.
I did not think we could take the chance of purchasing oil from
the government monopoly and risk being detected; besides, we were
the invisible residents of the city, where we were all but forgotten,
a metaphorical single grain of sand lost in a vast desert of sameness.
Outside the house, we were marked and had identities, dangerous
but rewarding to be recognized as human beings, unattainable as
we entered the walled silence, as if of a grave. It was really
my servant's idea to burn wood; I had no memory of ever burning
wood. He said, "Why don't we get the old wood heaters?"
"What wood heaters?"
"We have them in the storage!"
And, from the storage we retrieved them as he talked. He wisely
advised we only put three heaters up: in Sister's bed room,
in mine and in his because it would have been impossible to supply
wood for many more.
I remember the day I became totally aware of the desperate situation.
It was my turn to buy supplies. In the cold, dim light of late
morning I walked to the back door, opened it with great effort,
and walked into the warm sun in the narrow alley that led eventually
to the boulevard that fronted our house. It was increasingly
an effort to walk in the garden, but I managed to cross it and
at the boulevard, where I could walk and breathe freely--for
a price, of course, that I knew was set on my head by the Army
Of God; I stopped for a moment to look at the front of the house.
The sun reflected from it like darts of fire, so beautiful and
threatening. I had a heavy coat on and a hat of lamb skin, and
I felt hot inside, burning.
The stares of the people who paraded
in waves in the street were unbearable: all clad in variously
yellowed white shirts that buttoned to the neck, men in black
covered from head to toe in black, not a single spot on their
faces visible, but their cruel, merciless eyes that glowed under
dark cover like fanned charcoal of the kebab makers, who lined
both sides of the once pristine boulevard. In old days they would
not have dared to cross the boundaries of discretion and come
up so far north from their humble places in the south of the
near the railroad station and the red-light district, euphemistically
they called "The City of Delights!"
Soon a small group was gathering around me, eyeing and whispering.
Suddenly I heard the voice of authority, a boy not much older
than myself, a rifle slung on his shoulder up-side-down--the
pointing to the ground--a vague anger shooting from his dark
eyes, so sadly serious at such a young age.
"What are you
I froze; his words had no meaning because everyone in the neighborhood
knew where I lived, but he was not from the neighborhood; no
one I could see belonged to
the neighborhood. The blaming voice came again, "Are you with us...?"
I stammered to get a word out, to tell him and the crowd that
I lived in the house across the boulevard and that we have lived
on the spot for generations,
patriots in wars and prominent people among prominent folk; I had a right
to be where I was, but before the sound came from my mouth, I heard
voice, a calm voice of equal authority to the rifle-toting boy. "I know him...!"
Heads turned to the voice, and my heart sank; an enemy or a an
angel, flashed through my head. "Well! He's Cyrus...he lives with us!"
The answer was a total lie, and he knew it, but the effect was
wonderful, simply wonderful, for the crowd lingered for a moment
to weigh the meaning
words, then parted, and Raheem walked towards me, not with a smile, but
with a light
that was reassuring and friendly. Immediately, I had a million questions
to ask him; I wanted to ask him who he was?
The crowd must have known
dispersed and the rifle toting boy simply disappeared from the face of
the earth. "Difficult
times," Raheen said sternly. "Difficult times; you shouldn't
be out by yourself! What happened to the old man?"
My first impulse was to hug him, in spite of our previous relationship
that was strained and hostile; he knew my intentions; he shook his
head and pointed
his finger to his lips. I stopped. "You shouldn't shop by yourself," he
whispered. "Get the old man do it for you; he blends in, and you stick
out like a sore thumb!
It's my turn...." I whispered back, my eyes cast to the ground,
tears momentarily staying to save face and my dignity. Was it the shame of how
I had treated him or the shock of the moment that made me so humble? I don't
know. I still wonder how the crowd simply disappeared when he uttered his few
words. Raheem came along, and I bought our provisions from a few stores; he had
to loan me some new money because the old banknotes had been rendered valueless
that week: the ex-monarch's picture was etched on the old currency, and
the government had replaced it with new banknotes that bore imprints from sacred
places. "Don't show your old money to anyone," he admonished. "Not
worth anything, anyhow!"
He would not let me carry the provisions; he lifted two basket-full
of food, one by each hand, and led me to the house, not to the
passages...." I tried to remind him. "What of it...?" he
answered vaguely. Obviously, he did not need to unlock the door; he just pushed
it open, and we entered the entrance, that lovely hall that I once used to play
in when I was a child, a place I had not seen in months. Nothing had changed;
the reflection of the beautiful late-winter sun lit it like a hall of banquets.
I was so happy to be in front of the house that I did not notice when Raheem
disappeared; obviously he lived there.
I moved forward and went to the left side
of the passage. It was available, and I passed through it to the
back of the house. The backside was dark, though, and from my vision,
the two slits had not
changed, only a faint light-like penciling in metaphorically yellow
slivers, two points that repelled and attracted at the same time,
promising but denying
both passage and understanding, mocking the imprisoned in the darkness
by showing that light is possible, even if providential.
Cold and dank, the house was a cage of ice; I gave the baskets
to the old man and went to Father's room. Sis was sitting at my
open, but without vision. "I'm here," I announced. "Got
"What are you doing? Dreaming?"
She ignored me at first, slowly the glaze over her eyes lifted,
and she beamed. "Did
you find everything? Any one of interest?"
"Anything interesting happened? No trouble?"
"No, nothing; just bought what we needed, but the shop-keeper advised me
the old money with the new!"
Perhaps she already knew it; she just smiled and left the
room. I heard her shout as she moved towards the front of
the house, "I wonder what has happened
During the next two weeks, my servant and I looked for her
all over the house, but no trace of her; she had disappeared--as
note or explanation.
Cy stopped to rest and ordered another coffee and cognac.
I had my share of caffeine and excused myself to go out and
chill that wrapped Cy like an ice cloak. >>> See
All rights are reserved by the author
Reza Ordoubadian holds a Ph.D. degree in English and linguistics.
He has held a professorship at Middle Tennessee State University
and Visiting Professorship at Umea University (Sweden). He has
published numerous pieces of fiction and poetry as well as scholarly
articles and books on both sides of the ocean. He was the editor
of SECOL Review for 18 years.
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