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Fiction

Recovered
Short story

Ali Ohadi
November 2, 2004
iranian.com

Drenched green fields; wet, gabled roofs over half darkened windows with half drawn curtains; cows munching here and there; the cloudy autumn sky, emerging now and then among the trees along the tracks, extending like a bright umbrella above the fields; stations, empty of bustle save, one or two waiting as exhausted shadows in the corners; filling up and vanishing from the window frame. Shahla was somehow quite pleased to be on the way back to Schultzstrasse.

Tomorrow morning there is hospital again and in the late afternoon she will be back in her little flat on the 7th floor, sitting in front of the window, drinking her warm coffee slowly, watching the green silence of the park down there along the Elbe and the drip drip of people with their dogs. Is there anything else?

Returning to the flat and the city where she had spent the last 10 years of her life, made her feel more spirited than usual. Shahla was searching for something. She took Shahram's letter out of her bag again.

From now (end of September) on we're speeding towards the shorter and darker days and then until April everything will be gray. The streets will swell with movement, pleasure and even a whisper of soul, until New Years, and then...! For the next three months people are buried in themselves, sullen and isolated again, until the short spring comes, days grow brighter and warmer and a smile breezes by...

"What a life!"

"... In the past year, that we've been out of touch with each other (it's what you wrote), there is nothing to speak of, nothing to see. Everything sleeps. Day and night are almost the same here. No matter! My calendar is the white hair on my pillow every morning. The things you write about the past seem like a dream. The years of achievement! Don't make me laugh. In children's playroom the world is one out of three hundred and sixty five dreams, but beyond this window there is no spring any more. There is no more time for us to wait for Mehdi, the Imam. No rider will appear down these furrows of snow ..."

The train drove slowly onto the boat. Pegah, with her new doll in hand, was standing there, ready to go on board.

Baby, please! Keep your energy for days like mine. There are the same people on deck, sitting in corners, pouring things into their stomachs and thinking their lives had changed.

Pegah with her doll in hand was still waiting there.

I wish there was someone else pushing me as gently to do things I don't feel like.

She stood up reluctantly and stroked Pegah's face and hair.

- "Be careful with that trust. It doesn't come back too easy, if you lose it."

- "What?"

- "Don't lose that doll. I'm not in the mood for tears and tantrums."

The deck was not crowded. She bought a hot chocolate for Pegah and a coffee for herself and sat in a corner by a window. The harbor was covered in a light fog. With the pressure of the boat engine, the water in the docks boiled, lathered and turned in on itself. Seagulls flew happily over the mass of fish, churned up to the water top, their clamouring tearing at the curtain of mist over the harbor.

" ... we ended at the land of birds. Do you remember the sparrows and pigeons in the yard of the Tehran palace coffee shop? Do you still ask, how is it possible only to eat, sleep and still remain so beautiful? Or have you found your answer among so many beautiful, exotic warblers?! We must close our eyes and join the birds. Back there, if you are not close to that guy Reza's Shrine (Mashad) or to his sister's, Masume (Qum), then you have to search every garden and rubbish can for a single loaf, (if you don't in your endeavors become bread yourself for another hungry soul). Here, birds eat cookies. They get an exemption from flight at around forty. Then they spend their days behind windows, sharing their coffee and cookies with their dog or cat for charity's sake, smiling at times while gazing out at the coming and going in the street. There are ninety-four of them, all framed in their windows on the opposite wall of my own. Their smile is terribly beautiful.."

A bitter smile came onto her lips. She took a pen and a small notebook from her bag.

What are you grumbling about? Are you resentful because you spent your youth childishly trying to break boundaries and remove borders? Or do you feel guilty because you rescued your body, unharmed, from the hands of Rostam, and hid behind the snow?

She thought of Pegah and jumped up from her seat, looking around the deck. Pegah was playing with other children. Her breathing returned to normal. A woman took her white notebook from the floor and gave it back saying something in Danish. Shahla thanked her in German and turned to the window.

I am not in the mood to talk in another language.

The sea was calm. The light autumn sunshine was stitching the water.

Shirin is growing up slowly.

- "I get lost. In spite of all his kindness, I can't forgive him for all his taking care of me, thinking, deciding instead of me, giving ideas instead ..."

- "Could everything be different?"

- "You know very well how different Ehsan was with other men... "

If I told her that all of them are the same shit, she'd get offended again. I said:

- "Didn't you want it that way, really?"

- "Me?!"

- "All of us..."

- "No way! You know very well how I always hated confinement. And I've always fought against it too."

It was on the tip of my tongue to say, you are lying, even to your twin sister. You gave up every thing to him, like a handicapped child. But instead I said:

- "We all say the same but in fact we loll in their stupid confidence, and enjoy it as well..."

She looked at me for a few seconds in disbelief.

- "You are very unfair! You know how Ehsan always regarded me..."

Yes, I remember at least twice, you were crying, lamenting all his involvements; you simply accepted them, like every other woman, carrying on, "because of my children!" And how you, once, yourself spent a short period of time filled with "love and revenge"! A smile lit up on Shahla's face. She could read my face.

- "Do you think I'm lying?"

- "No, no. I just remembered something."

I was surprised when she said:

- "What?"

- "Nothing, go on. It wasn't important."

I had to drop the subject. She had lost the thread of what she was saying. It had made her upset that I perhaps didn't believe her. She leaned back in the armchair.

- "The madness between Ehsan and I was a recurring theme among our friends..."

I looked directly in her eyes.

Yes dear Shirin, load me with all of your old desires and dreams as much as you need. I will keep quiet and listen. It's only a few days, after all, not a whole lifetime. But what about you? As long as you remain in that lion's coat, you're going to miss out on all the joy of being a cat. You need a secure fortress and a pair of strong hands around you, pushing at your bones with love and desire.

Our problem is all these glass windows, and doors without locks and those invisible eyes and ears which lie in wait to ambush behind our stupid minds. If I say I was thinking about your brief, wild love with that beautiful man, your colleague, you will deny it, find every excuse to become angry with me, destroying our few days together, until I kiss you and apologize, saying that you were right after all.

But I'm sure that now the chains are fallen, you are no longer refusing to let yourself think about a trip back to Iran, to test the air once more,... and taking Roozbeh with you as well! Idiot! How I always envied your strong headedness!

She shifted in her seat and looked around. The Danish woman was not there any more. Out there, as far as one could see, was water and more water, quiet and calm.

There would be no hope of survival, even if you were Hercules, it would swallow you as easy as if you were a mosquito. The cloud bank had moved right down to touch the waves.

What a burst of sunshine that was! I wish though that I'd given her a long hug that last day, kissed and told her how much I loved her...

She shook her head and turned her face from the water. Shahram's letter was in her hand.

"... that time we were sitting in a cafe, planning the world's future, is gone. 'Be careful how you fart - the ceiling has a crack in it!' That's life! All that fervent planning, only to be washed away moments later, and again and then again,... and then one day everything is over. You have to go, or you get taken away. But you still hope and hope until the very last moment that it will be all right, all right! I'll make it! Fuck this life (as you used to say). Or maybe you think the same as Shirin that, if only the storm had come a couple of days later, if Dad had sold the orchard a little bit later, if the dog was not barking at that moment, the soup would not have gotten cold and the bird would not have flown away!? ...."

- "Have you heard from Shahram recently?"

Shirin looked at me suspiciously:

- "No, why?"

- "His last letter to me didn't seem very happy."

- "He's ok."

From her quick, off hand reply, it seemed she was annoyed at him.

- "He has never been in despair like this before. I'm scared he's become an addict ..."

The color changed on Shirin face when I said that. She looked directly at me and my lips, doubtful. I said:

- "I'm not sure."

She became a bit relaxed:

- "Shahram is always grumbling and mumbling; he's so cynical."

She said this, to calm herself.

- "Shahram?! My goodness, have you forgotten? The whole world was too small for him. He was so heated and full of energy. He had the entire household resounding with his exploits..."

Shirin didn't want to be involved in this. Something unpleasant had must have happened between them. I asked inattentively:

- "Don't you keep in touch?"

She looked at me as if I knew everything yet prying it out of her anyway.

- "No, it's been months since he last wrote to me."

- "It seems like he doesn't really want to visit us either," I mumbled.

- Good, when he's around, he makes me nervous. He criticizes everything, teases me, curses at Dad, blames the poor old man for his own bad luck..."

Shirin was still talking. Shahla looked at the china vase on top of the television, close to her. A "happy mask" in dirty blue, protruded from the white porcelain. She took the vase and looked curiously at the other side, which was against the wall. It was a "sad mask" in the same pattern.

- "... he was the reason Dad got his heart attack!"

I looked at her; not believing Shirin would say such a thing. She insisted:

- "It's true. Because he's so damn stubborn."

Shahla put the vase calmly on the table in front of herself:

- "He just didn't like Dad deciding instead of him. That was it. He didn't want to be the crown prince ..."

- "You are repeating his words..."

- "Crown Prince... !"

- "No. It's not Shahram's words. That's the way it was! I think I was a bit angry."

- "The way it was! Dad..."

I couldn't take another round of her sarcasm.

- "Yes, the way it was! Dad wanted his son to study law, to become a real gentleman! I was to study medicine because nursing for him was a glorified form of service. He was pounding all of us, exactly what he was doing with his subordinates.

- "Things hurt me too sometimes, but..."

Shahla bared her teeth:

- "... for example selling the orchard...."

I couldn't take this old shit once more:

- "Oh don't bring that story up again! It was nothing compared to the other things he did."

- "But he was no real harm to Shahram...."

- "Please Shirin! Why do we have to escape the reality of it? Dad wanted everybody to be like him. Let's be honest for once. Our marriages were also exactly what he wanted. Love was a romantic fantasy we dreamt about as schoolgirls. That was why when he chose a piece of bone and threw it before us, we believed it was the prince on a white horse. I hated every single day of those eleven years I spent with Keyvan, I detested the whole thing."

For a moment Shahla didn't recognize her own words. She realized she was sitting on the edge of the armchair with her whole body lurched towards Shirin. She pulled back slowly, put one leg on top of the other and locked her hands on her knee, keeping her eyes on her hands so that Shirin would not notice the tears.

She was looking at me astonished. It was maybe unnecessary to let it all out so hastily. For one moment she thought she didn't know the woman sitting in front of her. She seemed about to ask, in disbelief, where my generous nature had gone, but instead she just kept staring at me.

Shahla controlled her outburst and looked out through the window. Her voice was less bitter:

- "I know what are you thinking, but no, I haven't lost my feelings. I don't hate Dad, but I do hate the pathetic false pride, honors and glories."

Shirin was still looking at me strangely, but benignly, like our mother. I thought maybe a shock would wake her up:

- "We meant absolutely nothing; we have never been, ever more than..."

But I was afraid of saying the rest out loud. She has been leaning on this for years. I didn't want to remove it all, from her broken/tired body.

Shahla looked at the vase on the table without saying anything for a while.

All Dad's fault. Keyvan's as well, who so adoringly wanted to follow in Dad's footsteps. They had dreams enough for their next fifty years. Emperors of paper palaces with plaster servants! That was why a little gust of wind peed down all those almighty majesties, and reduced them to nothing. Every single one of them has been thrown onto a rubbish tip in some corner of the world, and we've been following around after them ever since!

She took her cup of coffee, gulped and leaned back again in the armchair.

- "Our role was to guard the castles and the ramparts of thousands of years of masters."

She touched the warm cup with her palms.

- "... at the beginning I really hated myself for accepting everything like a lamb and coming out here with Keyvan. But now I think that was the one wise decision I made in my life. For a long time, even when I wanted to sign my own name, I expected someone to guide my hand... To hell with that life!... Leave me alone... I don't even want to think of it."

They were both wondering what to say. It was Shahla who broke the irritable silence again.

- "That's sweet."

Shirin looked at Shahla and the vase on the table. It took a while for her to get her self together. She almost mumbled:

- "That stupid piece? Ehsan liked it."

- "Why do you put the sad side to the wall?"

I looked at her ready to apologize if she was hurt.

"I hadn't thought about it…" she said first. Then she read my face change to mischievous disbelief. Her eyes hung on a vague area out of the window and a small noise came from her throat:

- "I don't like the other side."

- "Mum, can we take the rabbit out of the cage?"

Shirin looked impatiently at Roozbeh, who was standing at the door.

- "No my son, it's going to run away..."

- "No, we'll look after it, promise... "

- "You'll hurt the poor creature..."

- "No, we won't. Pegah wants to pet it, only one minute Mum, please ..."

- "Only a few minutes. Be careful."

Roozbeh was almost in the yard when he said, "all right Mum." Shirin was still looking at the doorstep where Roozbeh had been, with a sad shadow of an expression.

- "He is not saying anything about Ehsan but I understand that he keeps every thing in his heart, just like his father. They were very close to each other. He knows how to steal people's hearts."

I didn't understand why her eyes gleamed for a while, until she hadn't said about a trip to Iran.

- "...I may take the children to Iran for a month or so."

She possibly thought with her talking about Roozbeh and Iran, my mind would be drawn to somewhere else! To her old lover maybe! She looked directly into my eyes, saying:

- "Mum misses them very much. They miss her as well ..."

She paused for a while. She was not sure if I still remembered her old relationship or not.

I directed my gaze elsewhere. She seemed so fragile! No need to tell her that I remember every thing... that she always loved Roozbeh ... hes' a boy and a fruit of love! I think she said something like:

- "... Maryam has become a little distant..."

And she looked at me, as if needing sympathy.

When you were pregnant with Maryam, you had the name chosen already: Babak! You asked me to buy the book about "Babak and the Khoramdins" for you, to find out who Babak was and what he had done. Two hours after you had given birth, you opened your eyes, questioningly, anxiously... I said, it's a girl. You closed your eyes to not let me to read the disappointment.

But the wrinkles on your nose reminded me of the second day after that Nowrooz, when we were in ninth class. All our family and relatives were gathered in our big hall for lunch. Mir, the steward came in announcing that the cow had given birth. " To what?" aunty asked joyfully. When Mir answered, a female, then wrinkles appeared on her nose, her lips went up and we all heard her say, a bad omen!

Shirin saw the smile on my lips and she again thought I was laughing at her.

After the lunch, under the weeping willow by the river, you retorted angrily that you hoped to give birth to twelve daughters, one after another until the relatives' eyes popped out onto their cheeks! We were still schoolgirls, Miss Davis's pupils. Then when Ehsan appeared in your life, you donated your notebook of Miss Davis's aphorisms to me and left your grand plans of education and activities in our little maid's room. I have often thought, that had I not been left alone after you married, as we are again these days, I would never have accepted Keyvan as a husband.

She gazed at her sister's face in pity. Shirin's eyes were following the movements of the trees and birds out the window. She put her long finger's top on the edge of her coffee cup.

You are still so beautiful, but suddenly alone. That tree was the only glory of your life. You were happy and settled in its shadow for years, looking out on the world as a green vision, through the leaves and the long branches you drew around it. And now, suddenly naked and shadowless, under this all so sudden rain and hail, you believe you have been barred from your chances to know yourself and reach somewhere.

She noticed Shirin's make up, as she had on several occasions during the last few days.

Even at home you don't forget your makeup. You look like fractured porcelain. An aching for warmth; a naked love calling out from under that tired skin. What we've been deprived of, convinced us that it's all so sinful.

She gulped deeply, filling her lungs, letting out the burnt air in a sigh. I looked at her listless eyes. I'd seen this woman somewhere. She hadn't asked once about my life during the last 2 days.

- "How's your job? You wanted to transfer to another hospital, didn't you?"

- "No, it's not that easy. They shifted me to another department a couple of months ago. I'm not involved with elderly or handicapped patients any more. It was really tiring. I'm better now. It's difficult to get a job, you know, especially when you are not educated in Germany. I was lucky. This hospital is close to where I live and the people are nice."

- "What happened to that, about-to-become-a-doctor?!"

Shahla was expecting the question. Nevertheless, she felt the blood rushing to her face. She forced a smile.

- "Wolfgang, is that right?" Shirin asked.

Shahla, back in control, nodded.

- "What an odd ugly name!"

She thought she had annoyed me and apologized with a trite laugh.

Shahla smiled, trying to give the impression that she had nothing against talking about him.

- "He's around. I see him almost every day... at work."

She was still thinking that I'm annoyed and tried to comfort me. She wanted to show me that she is still confident of herself. Like she did in her school days, she changed her voice, and smiled:

- "Is he still asking? ..." she giggled mischievously.

I was happy that she is finally smiling and seemed a bit happy.

- "In a way," I answered. "He wanted to come with us... he may call at some point..."

With the same voice, and smiling, she continued:

- "Then, there must be progress!"

Her laugh was like a big man's laugh has suddenly fallen in front of some children.

- "... you little sneak, you didn't tell me. When is the wedding ceremony?"

That was too much. I said:

- "No, it hasn't gone that far... "

She paused for a while.

- "... I don't know. Pegah gets on really well with him, ... but somehow I'm not sure ..."

A pang of fear moved inside her; she wanted to show sympathy:

- "Sometimes I think loneliness, with all it's problems is much better."

An abrupt laugh drew two small wrinkles in the corners of Shahla's eyes.

- "No, it's not loneliness. I haven't felt loneliness since the divorce; it's been three years now."

I thought, I'm lying.

- "... yes, some evenings when Pegah goes to bed early and I don't feel like reading or watching TV, then I feel some kind of ... nostalgia. But when I think about all the disasters during those last 2 years - the hell that it was before we got divorced - then I feel quite content. No, that's actually not what makes me uncertain."

- "Is Pegah the problem?"

She wanted to find something in common.

- "That's the most important part of it. If they should fall out one day..."

She looked at me up and down, victoriously!

- "Then you advise me to jump into the situation, to not be afraid of living..."

- "Well," I said. "I come from the same area you come from, my dear sister. But..."

The worry of breaking her temporary happiness, stopped me from arguing. Shirin considered my silence as acceptance:

- "I think it's really hard to live with these people. One should be well armored. Every time I talk to one of them, I get confused and nervous... they fall heavily into your life... delving and pressing you to reveal everything..."

Shahla didn't hear her any more. She stared in amazement at Shirin's face.

Shahram is right. How you look like Mum, a cat in a lion's coat. I wish I could rest my head on your knee and have your kind fingers stroke my hair. When I'm far from you, I miss you so much. Stop being so hard with yourself, for God's sake! We are thirty-seven now.

As if looking in the mirror, she examined the corners of Shirin's eyes and forehead. The softness of skin and the wrinkle lines were quite familiar.

My dear sister, the strong one is always alone. For once come out and see that it's not shameful to be a cat.

As if I had spoken aloud, she said:

- "... Sometimes I think that for the last thirty-seven years I've been wrong. Poor children, trapped between us and them ..."

- "... People think a lion doesn't need to be caressed."

Shirin looked at me curiously:

- "What?"

Shahla shifted position in the chair. She seemed like she wanted to say something she had kept silent about for years:

- "Whatever the past was, it's over now."

- "Mum, come here a minute."

She half saw Pegah.

- "What is it now?"

- "Please come."

- "Where? Can't you let me be for a while?"

- "I want to show you something."

As Shahla was standing up and walking along the deck, Pegah was excitedly, babbling about many different things at once. The slide, the Lego, the playroom, full of elastic balls that children could roll on...

- "Be careful to not get lost. Anyway, I'm not in the mood today. Let's for once get home without any getting upset, ok?"

Last year, when they visited Denmark for Ehsan's funeral, Pegah got herself lost at the station, the moment they arrived. After a frantic two-day search, they found her together with Danish, a boy in a room in an old building. Oblivious to the disasters that her mother, aunt and others had been through in searching for her, she excitedly explained everything. About how Søren was stealing crisps and chocolates from supermarkets, how she had tidied up all the mess in his room, how many chewing gum packets she had collected, how many chocolates she had eaten, how much they had laughed in those days ...

- "Didn't you think your mother, others and I would be worried?"

- "Yes, swear to God I did, Aunt Shirin. But I was sure that Mum would find me."

Shahla looked at Pegah who was still talking, smiled, and patted her hair. Pegah pushed back her mother's hand, angrily.

- "Stop it mum; I'm talking to you."

- Sorry, I'm sorry."

Pegah's machine gun monologue started again. She bantered on about everywhere, everyone and everything, continuing as they settled back in their seats with the boat slowly nearing Puttgaarden's harbor. Shahla's mind was jumping in different directions with each moment. When the train began to move again, Pegah wriggled down into her seat and while cramming her doll to her chest, slowly fell asleep.

" ... Those years and stories belong to Sindbad of the Sea. Your fervent depiction of that town of long Fridays and sad sunsets, reads like Marco Polo's memoirs from the Silk Road. Memories and desires which one evening were buried under an avalanche. When you finally understand, you will have torn the sound barrier... and from the other side, there won't come any sound, nor will it be possible to send a message ..."

The drizzle was washing the windows again.

As you used to say, the world has become wider. We have been so far from each other, and so lonely. As we are getting older the sores get deeper. It seems there is nothing left of the Shahram I used to know. Or maybe you hide it from me?

A sad smile bloomed to the surface.

"Take Pegah with you and come over for a week or so. My two windows open to a big street with a many-storied building on the other side, blocking my connection to the world. A view of 94 windows the same size and same shape, like frames on a wall. Every day at very special times old men and women appear in their frames, their gaze fixed for a couple of hours or so, then fading quietly again. If it's raining, we sit in front of the window with our cups of coffee and talk about the years of stupidity, and laugh. You have no idea what a good cook I've become. You'd be smacking your lips!"

- "All last year you didn't visit us, not even once," I told Shirin.

- "You don't know how busy I am with the children and their school."

- "Even on the weekends?"

- "Two days? With two children? Hardly a life of leisure! I haven't really found myself yet either; I feel so dizzy and disturbed."

She's right. You can see her hands shake as she puts her cup back on the table.

For a second she thought Shirin's hand was going to knock the vase. She moved a little. She thought for a second that the vase was going to break, and then, it rolled over the table, fell on the floor and smashed. They looked at each other for a while, in shock. Shirin leaned back loosely in her armchair.

I was ashamed. It was my fault. If I had put the vase back in its place...

She stood up, sat close to Shirin, took her shoulder and held her tightly. For an instant it looked like one of the twins was leaning on a mirror.

- "It was my fault ..."

She moved her hair away from her face. Her eyes were full of tears.

- "Why are your eyes peeing the whole time?"

She broke into a laugh:

- "It's not because of the vase... The sound of breaking ... it's as if something fell and crushed me..."

Shahla hugged her tighter.

She put her head on my chest and busted into tears.

- "Damn it, who brought me out of my paper castle. I was a queen there! Here in this ruined mass of waste I'm nothing but one lonely piece of nothingness. I've even lost the power of imagination to rebuild it ... I'm so tired!"

"You have to sleep to relieve the pain of the memories. I have a crazy neighbor with no family or relatives, she has spent fifty-something years of her life, with only two friends. She says knowing three persons is too much. She can hardly remember her mother. Once, years back at her father's funeral, who had been lost for 20 years, she met some men and women who used to be her brothers and sisters. But there are also people who put labels on all their belongings, in order not to forget history and the essence of the calendar. An ass with an ID-card won't get lost in the stable!"

She remembered last year's telephone message from Shirin.

- "Hey Shahla, it's me. Ehsan had a heart attack last night and passed away... I'm alone, come here for a few days ... that is if you feel like it and have the time..."

Shahram wouldn't have anyone to send a message for him.

She was ashamed of the thought, and a drop of tear maybe, slipped on her chick, like rain drops slipping on the window glass. She felt a touch at her knee. Pegah was awake:

- "Aunt Shirin or Uncle Shahram?"

She gathered Pegah's small hands in her hand, looked admiringly at the intelligence flaring behind her eyes, bent and kissed her lips which were opened in a smile, and said:

- "Both!"

Pegah looked up at Shahla before closing her eyes in sleep again.

The countryside was still passing by the window. A sheep was grazing in a field; a man was chewing something, leaning on a fence, staring at a point on the other side of the tracks, his line of focus unmoved by the passing train.

" ... Don't ever marry with these non-circumcised Kaafars, even out of loneliness. The extent of their loyalty is as short as their belts..."

She pulled her eyes from the letter, clenching her teeth.

At least they won't flaunt their penis at every flirting dazzler or shift their crotch at each passing smile, while at the same time claiming they are deeply involved with you!

She was afraid she had shouted out loud and looked carefully around. The train was standing in Lübeck station. One hour later they would be in Hamburg. Wolfgang will be there, waiting for us, for sure.

I don't feel like speaking German. I wish I could be on my own in the house for twenty-four hours.

"Behind this window, as if sitting in a Jeep or a magnificent Mercedes and whisked off to nomansland, my hungry look takes in the passers-by, all of whom seem so lead such untroubled existences. They absent-mindedly bitted into a sandwich, looked at a shop window, smoked a cigarette or made a joke with their friends.

"Would it occur to any of these souls, passing below this window every day, that a martyr, a fighter of the masses, is languishing up here in this hole?!"

- "Hey Shahla, it's me. Ehsan had a heart attack last night and passed away... I'm alone, come here for a few days ... that is if you feel like it and have the time..."

The swell of emotion gave her little chance to talk.

Ashamed, she folded the letter, put it back in her bag and looked around. A few passengers were sleeping. The Danish couple in the seat behind had been talking non-stop since Copenhagen. She placed Pegah's jacket between her head and the window.

How lovely, she is when she sleeps - no expectation or anxiety.

" .... Shirin wrote me that she misses Dad shouting on those summer days after lunch, forcing us to sleep, so he could have the house quiet for his own afternoon nap... what a trashy memory!..."

She heard Dad's voice from the second floor:

- "Let him go to hell! I don't want to see him any more. He makes me so ashamed. Enough is enough. I never had a son. Every time I wanted to help him, he bit my fingers and made me regret it."

Mother was speaking in a low voice as usual.

- "Don't shout, the children aren't asleep yet."

- "Everything is your fault. I sent him to university; he went to technical college, because that's what he wanted. Could he find some job, anything, which makes us proud? I found a good position for him, and now after 10 days on the job, they arrest him in front of his colleagues..."

He shouted even louder.

- "Damn upstart! He can't even keep his trousers straight and now he wants to make a revolution. It's ridiculous..."

She slid a little further down in her seat, stretched her arms and legs, and closed her eyes.

I have lots of things to do. The curtains are filthy. Maybe I should just change them. The color is so gloomy too. But first the carpet in the sitting room? A light cream that matches the walls and furniture. Or maybe it's better to buy a flowery print for the curtains, in a sunlit color? I must take down that old fabric and the brown frames, off the walls, from on top of the television and shelves. The house looks like an antique shop. A big change is due in the bedroom too. First the doormats and then a light curtain from the window to the balcony... also the bed covers ... and a beautiful bedspread ...

She felt someone was listening to her thoughts and opened her eyes. Pegah was still sleeping. She looked warmly, at Pegah's long deep hair, covering part of her face, smiling contentedly again.

My beautiful child, I never took proper care of you. You are my Pegah - my dawn and I always got up too late!

The late afternoon sky began to close in, sadly.

Perhaps a trip to the sunshine...

She looked at Pegah again.

We'll go to Spain this Christmas on one of those cheap package tours. What do you think? I'm so tired of all this gray weather.

"So, you're visiting Copenhagen again? Has it really been a year since Ehsan, our optimistic comrade, passed away?! Once upon a time he thought that all the problem knots in the Empire could be opened by our tiny fingers alone! and now he's laying there beside Kirkegaard! He wrote to me that he wanted to go back, because here you have to reserve time in advance for love, laughing, mourning and dying.

"Kiss Shirin and tell her I really don't feel up to pre-programmed arrangements! Especially not that collection of dull faces without make-up, masquerading bereavement. It's really not necessary to travel such a long way to celebrate the birth of a death. It's been all around me for the last four years; making my little flat even more oppressive. It's lazier and more careless than me; not taking a bath for years, not brushing its teeth. But it's quite sweet in a way. It sleeps with me, dreams with me, walks and thinks with me, only it doesn't laugh ... never together, with me, anyway. It has a shop two streets away from my flat, even more clean and luxurious than Dad's office in the foreign ministry in Tehran. It's secretary is three and a half times more beautiful than Dad's Miss Vajdi. It has a long black Mercedes with white decorations inside and long windows with lit up glass. Sometimes you just long to experience the world through wide panoramic panes such as these. It shaves smoothly for work, puts on fragrance and dresses like a bridegroom: young, fresh and heartbreakingly seductive..."

The train stopped. For a split second she caught Wolfgang's eyes, among the crowd on the platform. Hamburg! Something collapsed slowly inwards.

- "Take your bag, Pegy. Be careful to not forget anything."

She took her bag and put on her raincoat. They were driven toward the exit door by the rush of people. She avoided looking out again, feeling faintly nauseous.

I wish I could stay here. I wish I was home by now.

She was impatient because the queue was so slow. She put her bag on the platform and helped Pegah get down. She began to occupy herself, bustling around the bag and Pegah for no real reason. Someone grabbed her arm. Her body flooded with heat. When her eyes finally met Wolfgang's deep blue eagerness, she leant in feverishly under his warm protection, and long kiss. It took a while before she remembered Pegah. She was placing her doll in her bag a few steps away when Wolfgang grabbed her and lifted her up in the air as they kissed each other eagerly.

All right, she didn't see.

It was wet but fresh outside. You could smell the rain from half an hour ago. She felt more at ease with Wolfgang walking in front of her together with Pegah. She swallowed in the air, looked around, secure and familiar but yet a bit nervous. She took in Wolfgang's profile from the back eyes resting on his neck and shoulders. Whilst they were placing the bags in the car trunk, she saw Pegah crawling onto the back seat and closing the back door behind her. They were not even out of the car park when a voice came:

- "Shahla, then Wolfgang can stay with us tonight, right?"

She became feverish and dizzy again under the weight of the question, not knowing how to react. She cheered herself up, relieved that Pegah hadn't asked in German.

Copenhagen, 1991

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