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The Race
Short story

January 14, 2003
The Iranian

During the summer when he was eleven, Iraj Yassini would take his little sister out in the evenings in her stroller. He would take her around their apartment complex and she would sit and look at everything. Iraj liked taking his little sister out. He liked taking her out and being able to show everyone that this was his little sister. He would push her past the yard where the neighborhood kids would be playing and past the swimming pool where the teenagers would be talking and diving in.

A man understood why he was pushing his little sister in the evening. He was a fellow with a little sister. Some of the other boys had brothers who were close to their age and who they could play with any time, but it was still great to have a little sister, even if she was only three and she couldn't do much outside. It was nice just to show her that this was where they lived. It was nice to show her that this was where they lived and they were from another country and they had lived in other places and now they were here.

Next to the swimming pool there was an area where some of the older kids would gather, sometimes past dark, until they were called in. One evening Iraj came up with his little sister and he saw the boy named Terrence who lived on the other side of the complex and who was there with his own little sister in a stroller. Iraj had talked with him before and he liked him. He was a Black boy who was the same as Iraj, having just one little sister. They pushed their strollers close and they talked for a while and it was great just to be talking with their little sisters sitting there close. They felt like they knew something that nobody else did.

As it was getting dark, they pushed their sisters down the long sidewalk to the parking lot, and then without saying a word about it, they turned them around, already laughing at the quiet way their sisters sat and took everything in, and together they called out "Go!" and took off running, pushing heir little sisters down the sidewalk side-by-side. It was wonderful. It was the only thing they could do with a set of circumstance like that. Iraj felt like they were the greatest friends as they ran. He looked at the two little girls sitting calmly and they looked like they were great friends with each other as well.

It was a race, but it was the kind of race where they didn't care who won. Winning it was the least important part. It was the kind of race where they felt like they had won something from the beginning of it, and the race was just the way to celebrate winning it together. There was nothing else they could do about it. They couldn't play sports with their sisters or burn things with a magnifying glass or go exploring in the woods along the creek. But they could race them late in the evening as it was getting dark and it could be as good as anything else. It could be as good as if they were the same age and they could do anything together, and it was because the two little sisters seemed to take this in too, they seemed to take it in with an understanding that it was a good and adventuresome thing to do, and that even though they were only three and their brothers were eleven, that was only the way it happened to be right now, and for now it was a fine thing to be pushed along by their brothers as they ran and laughed behind them.

They came to the fence that went around the pool and when the two boys had caught their breath, they began walking back to their starting point. They set off running again, but this time Iraj heard his mother calling him halfway through. She came outside and yelled at Iraj in Farsi and at Terrence in English, telling them that it was very dangerous pushing the strollers fast like that. She told them that it would have been very bad if they had lost control of them when they were running.

That night Iraj lay in bed thinking of the race. He knew that it had been great, but he felt terrible that something bad could have happpened to his little sister. He thought of how good the sky had looked and how good the air had felt as they ran, and he felt like as beautiful as the evening had been, there was something sick and sad in it, because of the way that now it was night. It seemed like the race was smaller than the night, and it seemed like anything that happened during the day, no matter what it was, even when it had the wonderfulness of himself and his sister, would always be smaller than the night, and he didn't know what he was going to do about that. He didn't know what good it was when the night would always seem bigger like that.

As he lay in bed it was nearly as terrible to think of how something bad could happen to his little sister as it was if something had actually happened to her, and he hated the way that she was so small and fragile and couldn't take care of herself. He wished that nobody was ever so small and fragile in the world and he began to cry as he thought about it. And he thought of the race and how great it had been and he didn't know what had happened to that greatness, and he figured that it must have something to do with how he was still a kid and he still had a lot of foolishness and he didn't know what bad things could happen in the world.

Iraj got up out of bed and he went to his sister's room. She was sleeping. It was nice to see that she was alive. Even when she was sleeping, it was nice to see that she was alive. It made her seem far from something bad happening, even when it was night and the room was dark. That much of it was good to see at least. She was small and fragile, but it seemed like that wasn't the only thing she was.

He went back to his room and lay down. The night still seemed very big around him, but not in a way that felt impossible. He thought of the race and of how he and Terrence had only wanted to do something about the wonderfulness of having a little sister. It was the joy of the feeling of the one person that they knew from the very beginning, and they'd had to do something to see that that they both had it. He thought of her beginning and how it had been when she had first come to their house, and he began to cry again because all he could think about was how much he did not want to have anything to do with her ending, but how even so it was a real thing.

Its possibility was a real thing, and its possibility in the evening when they had been racing was a real thing. Its possibility itself was too much for him, because she had had such a fine beginning so far, for everybody, and its possibility itself was too much for him at night because everything that happened during the day seemed small and foolish compared to it, and even the happiest day he could think of seemed foolish somehow, and he cried in his bed until he felt tired from crying and fell asleep.

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