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A walk in the park
Short story

September 9, 2004

Oh boy, they're speaking my language. They're speaking my language diving for the ball like that. The fellow playing in left ran and jumped over somebody's sweater and reached out as he landed and made the catch. It was just an easy and casual game in the park, but it was a beautiful play. The thing of it was that he had been going full speed, but he had still known to treat it like a two-part process, making sure he got the jump right first and then responding to where he knew the ball would be.

Sam Farshchi watched the game from the side and as he watched the catch, he knew that he had had, like the fellow, an American childhood. He felt it in the way he ran with him, and jumped and felt where the ball would be with him. Who else learned and practiced and dreamed of a catch like that, and remembered it as an adult playing a Saturday game of kickball with his friends? He was a white man, and Sam wondered how he looked at him given what they were doing in his part of the world, but they spoke the same language there on the grass.

What was going to happen if it was his country next, he thought. What was going to happen to a walk in the park? What was going to happen to a catch like that? He didn't want to lose his feeling for it just because the person doing the catching was American. He would be losing a lot of himself. He would be losing the part of him that understood the catch, and that had been just about the biggest part of him when he was a boy. The fellow in left could've grown up anywhere in America, and Sam knew that it had been a big part of him as a boy too.

He didn't know how the fellow looked at him. It was very pleasant in the park and it was a long way away from any fighting, but that stuff got into people. When their soldiers were fighting in another country, that stuff got into people, and it got into them whether they knew how much it was getting into them or not. You couldn't be doing the sort of thing they were doing without it getting into the people, in some way or another. Don't be fooled by how things look, he told himself. It's just a pleasant day in the park and it looks just like a day in the park would've looked back before the whole thing started, but don't go thinking that's the whole story.

If it was his country next, and he were walking through the park and coming across a scene like this, and if he were to meet the leftfielder, he would want to tell him: I'm from Iran, but I don't hate you. After that, they could look at him however they wanted. It was the truth though. He didn't hate them because he didn't know exactly what it was he would be hating. He sure as hell couldn't hate the leftfielder when he was making that catch. What was he supposed to do, go in and out of hate? Meet each man and ask him right off if he sided with such an invasion or not, and then hate or not hate him based on that?

That was going to be a lot of work. That would be a full-time job itself. And it wouldn't be the kind of job where you'd ever have a feeling of completion, of something like finishing a story. You'd always be in it. Maybe that was why some people said, okay, let me really be in it if I'm always going to be in it. Let me pick up a gun myself. He knew some people who would be saying that. That probably gave them a feeling of completion, either the killing or the dying. Boy, he thought, I would rather die than kill somebody.

It was going to be a serious thing. It was going to be a serious thing to walk through the park. It was funny though, it wasn't a seriousness that wouldn't be there if there was no war in Iran or anywhere in the Middle East. It wasn't like that would be the end of death. It was the same seriousness that he was going to have anyway, he was just going to have to be sharp about it. An American might have an awkward laugh or a funny smell, and you might start thinking about the war if you're not careful, and of how they were responsible for it. You'd have to remember that it's been with Americans that you learned who you were in the first place. It's been with Americans that you learned that you were a poet, and that everybody was, more or less.

That was the thing, if the worst came to the worst, there were always memories. He could remember how kickball had been the playground game back when he had first come to America and how he had figured out that all the good outfielders bunched up in leftfield because nearly everybody was right-footed and so he had kicked with his left foot, out to rightfield where it was practically empty, and that was the foot he still kicked with today. There were plenty of those kind of memories, and he could probably think of one for every situation that came along.

But the truth was he wanted to be able to be who he was based on today, based on the fact that he woke up this morning as an American and Iranian both. He didn't need memories of the sun and the grass in order to appreciate them, and so he shouldn't have to do it for anything else. He didn't want to lose today just because today might happen to be very hard. It might mean that he would have to cram an awful lot into today, but that was one thing he wasn't worried about, was whether or not today had enough room.

It didn't matter where your heart went in the course of a day, he thought, just let it go where it needed to go. Don't hold back for nothing. Don't hold back if this time the pictures in the paper are of your people. Feel it all the way through. Feel it all the way through and then worry about how you have to be later. The park will still be there, and the sun and the grass too. The white American men and women will be there, having fun in a way in which you have had fun. They might even ask you to join in. He wanted to be someone who would join in if asked. It was true that Americans were something different to him now, but they could still be what they had been before as well. He had put too much into that, and anyway, even a single day would have been too much to do otherwise.

It wasn't going to be easy, but at least there was a way it could be done. He was going to have to remember that he was made up of parts. The part of him that knew how to dive to catch a ball was American. And there was a part of him that wondered how those Americans looked at him. He didn't want to forget the catch and he didn't want to stop wondering either. He wanted to keep both parts. Well, he thought, I'm going to have to get good at being sad.

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By Siamak Vossoughi


Fiction & prose

Book of the day

Three volume box set of the Persian Book of Kings
Translated by Dick Davis

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