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The wrath of God
Short story

January 6, 2004
The Iranian

When I wake up, at almost 5 am, on this chilly Friday morning, five days into the winter, for some odd reason my first wish is that it be a peaceful day for all God's creatures.

I get up and quietly pass by the mattresses on the floor where father, mother, and Laleh are still asleep, and go into the sitting room. I pick up my hair brush, and comb my long hair in front of the small mirror on the wall. People often tell me, Leila, you take after your mother. But mother's so much more beautiful, although I have her slightly slanted eyes and her straight soft black hair.

I go outside through the kitchen. It is cold but I like the fresh air. I turn on the tap that opens into the little pool in the yard. I carefully wash my hands and then my face. It helps me wake up. I wet the back of my right elbow with my right hand, and the back of my right elbow with my left hand. I then rub my wet hand on the crown of my head, and bend over and wet my right and left feet, up to the ankle. I am now ready to say my morning prayers.

I go back into the house quietly, into the sitting room. I put on my scarf, put my prayer rug on the floor, and sit on it. As usual first I spend a few minutes chatting to God, in a language I can understand. I find it relaxing just to talk to him, while counting the beads on my rosary. I thank him for this life, for this beautiful world, for everything he has given us. I pray that my family be healthy and happy; that mother's stomach aches -- which she's had since Laleh was born -- be cured; that father's mood would get better -- he is often so grumpy. I pray that Laleh would have a happy life on this earth.

I pray to be able to enter university next year. It is so difficult these days. I pray that a good man -- and handsome if possible -- would come my way and take me everywhere I haven't been. I feel that blood runs to my face as I make this wish, and I blush. I imagine him in my mind. As always, he has laughing eyes, a beautiful smile, and refined hands. But -- also as usual -- he is bald. For some reason, in all these years, I have not been able, in my imagination, to grow hair on his head. He's always bald. It makes me laugh. But I have accepted this. Bald is fine too.

I pray that God extend his grace and compassion to all living beings. I feel guilty if I do not make this last wish. I do not want him to think I am selfish and only want things for myself. But perhaps he thinks I am selfish anyway. Surely he is omnipotent and can read my mind.

I stand up to start my proper prayers. It's almost 5.30. Just as I move my hands up on the sides of my head to say Allah-o Akbar, I hear this terrible noise. The house starts to shake violently. I scream. The ceiling and walls start to crumble. I run to the bedroom, but by the time I get there, the bedroom that father has built himself as an extension, with mud brick, falls to pieces.

I run back and try to leave the house though the kitchen. As I get to the door, precisely under the frame of the door, the whole house collapses. The door frame falls on its side and the door lands on it, just above my head, shielding against the falling bricks. I lose consciousness...

"Is there anybody down there..?" I hear a weak voice from outside, I am not sure how long later. Someone is trying to move the door, push the debris aside. Someone is trying to get inside. I manage to push my hand out, by the side of the door, through the rubble. Two men pull me out.

I don't know what's happening. Nothing is familiar. There are ruins, and dead and injured bodies everywhere. People are running around in frenzy. I am shocked and trembling. It seems to be early evening. A woman wipes the dust off my face and hands, and puts bandage on my head and bruised legs.

When I regain my senses, I remember it all. I start to weep uncontrollably. "My name is Leila, I am 17, all my family is under that rubble, please take them out." I cry out to the woman as she puts the bandage on my body. I know that is a hopeless plea. I, by my own eyes, saw them get buried under all that rubble.

The woman tries to calm me down. She hugs me and gives me some warm clothes to wear. She says I should thank God to be alive.

A truck takes a number of us to some flat place where they have set up some tents. But the tents have enough space only for older survivors and young children. They give us blankets and hot soup. Some people set fires to keep warm. I sleep in open air, in freezing temperature, but I do not feel the cold. I feel numb. I feel everything and nothing. I miss my family terribly. I cannot cry anymore. My eyes have completely dried out.

I hope my family is somewhere nice, but I don't know what to believe in anymore. I wish I were dead along with them. I cannot thank God for being alive. Why should I be left all alone in this world? In this miserable and insignificant world? Why?

I look above into the heavens. Who could do this? I shout in my mind. Who could bring all these people into this world, give them hope, life, and families, and then, with no warning, take away their lives and everything in a stroke? What have they done to deserve this? What kind of madness is this? How can I have faith in anything anymore?

I cannot sleep. All through the night, I do not speak to God. I do not utter a word. I want him to know how angry I am at him. That I do not understand his ways. I stare into the night sky. With little light around; the stars look so bright and beautiful, and so near in this desert town. I feel I could grab one. A bright shooting star travels across the sky. As it disappears in the eastern sky, it momentarily throws light on the ruins of this ancient city and the dead bodies of my people >>> Bam benefit concert, Palo Alto, Saturday, January 10

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