The summers are hot and long in the outskirts of Tehran. The day starts early and the heat catches intensity as it rolls on. By the middle of it, as in an opera, its intensity can be felt in a crescendo. The streets, narrow and twisty, with high walls made of brick, or dirt mixed with hey, with drying streams, are empty and slow. The walls try but fail to lay a long enough shadow for those who walk besides them. Whenever there is a shadow, kids sit, playing marbles. The old men also sit there, perhaps leaning against a tree, a refuge from the sun, watching those few that walk by. The walls are there, as always. They make the street and push it rolling down towards the middle of the village. They also stretch the dirt pathways separated by the stream. The roads narrow and stretch the twisted road down the hill where the village ends.
On that side is the asphalt road. It has no name, because it has changed names several times. Before the revolution it was... well, that was a long time ago. It doesn't matter now. The war came and as in all wars, men died. Some died because they were stupid, others because they had to. But once dead, they were all buried the same. The name changed every time someone new from the road died. Boys became soldiers, soldiers must die, and so the names marked it.
The road was safe from the summer heat. On both sides, it had a covering of chestnut trees, one side being a chestnut garden. The garden belonged to a lady who lived there. No one saw her much, but you knew she was there. Her wall was on the other side of two rows of trees that separated themselves from the wall by a stream from an aqueduct. The water was always cool and it rolled on, parallel to the trees and the street. It was covered, mostly, but you could hear it and see its crispness over the uncovered parts. The street went west to east. The houses faced south, the chestnut garden and the stream. Towards the east, the road met the village and became narrower and turned into a dirt road. The village pushed south and around the garden, like the half-moon shape of a fish in a fisherman's net. Its center was bellow the hill where all roads merged. There, there were stores of dried goods, a butchery, and a stone-oven bakery. The shopkeepers were good men. They were tough in all ways but their manners. In that they were gracious.
As the sun came lower to the west, streets and all would begin to boil. Around six in the afternoon, people would open their front doors and walk onto the asphalt road. They would greet and comment cautiously, so as not to be perceived rude or political. They can do that inside their homes. Outside, they would bow and greet. The customs are set, and thankfully, everyone is well-groomed in them.
Arash liked to go to the bakery at the village circle. But he liked it only now. Now, when the cool breeze of the afternoon sun began to turn into night. Not before or after, only the middle part.
Arash turned away from the house, took the two tomans of coin money and walked out into the now cooling narrow street. The kids were still there, playing football with small metal goals and a two-layered plastic ball, one of them cut open to fit the other inside of it. Closing the metal door, he greeted his friends and turned right. To the end of the chestnut trees and then to the left and now he was moving downhill. He knew the way well and he could see the black marburry trees in the house to the right and the long dirt wall on the left. Follow the stream, he thought. It always goes downhill.
The stream turned left into a path that hugged it in its belly. Which was here first? Arash thought. The stream or the street? The street and its walls look older. But the water is always rolling on its belly, carving it, shaping it, separating one side from the other. Well, just follow it now, he thought. It goes downhill to the center and the bakery.
The walls were narrow and the doors to the houses were at the end of pathways through the walls. The small covered pathways cut low into the wall and were just high enough to see the doors. The doors were wooden, always painted the same color as the windows of the houses. The colors were bright colors of red, green, and yellow. The height of the walls was not always the same. But the grounded parts were slanted as they moved down the hill, along with the stream, towards the bakery. Turning, following, and always dipping, Arash came to the center of the village and to the right and into the crowded hot bakery.
The bakery had three workers, all three looking very much alike. They had white aprons on with a white cloth over their heads so as to keep the hair from the dough. It didn't matter if it did, but they wore them anyway. To the back was the oven, made of brick and its fire visible through the hole where the dough entered and bread came out. Two of the men made the bread. One would pound and spread the dough and the other would slap it onto the pebbly stone walls of the oven. The shape of the dough before entering the oven was pointed at the top and inwardly curved at the bottom, extended along its length as a hyperbolic curve.
The third baker was the one who greeted the customers with a toothy smile, over a thick mustache. They all had mustaches, whitened by flour. "Salaam-aleikom," he said to Arash. "Salaam," said Arash. "I want two, please." "Chashm, aziz," said the baker, "Yes, of course."
All the while he was making the dough and that's how you knew he was the usta, the breadmaker, and the others were shagerds, his assistants. "Thank you usta," Arash said. "You're welcome my son." He smiled and yelled out the order.
When the bread was ready, the one in charge of the oven would pick his long spike off the hook on the wall and reach into the oven and take it out. The bread was hot to the touch and the pebbles from the oven, hotter. With his hands, dirty but tempered with heat, the assistant would take the bread from the tip of the spike and throw it on the table in front. The table and the floor was full of pebbles of varying temperature from the day's baking. The customers would flick off the pebbles stuck to their breads with their coins. Then they paid and left, saying goodbye. Arash too, waited his turn and one bread came. While flicking off the pebbles, the other bread came and he did the same to that one. He put one bread over the other and bent them to break them in the middle. He paid and walking out, said goodbye.
He turned left and broke off a piece of bread. Steam rose from where the piece had been. Arash tasted its sweetness as it turned in his mouth, hot and fresh. He looked up the road and felt it on his legs, now steep and rising. Turning and climbing with the road, he hop-stepped from one side of the stream to the other. Then, at the half-light, it came. It came, rising from down below, up through the village from the mosque. He could feel it on his back and his ears rose and it entered him. It felt warm. It was evening now and the sound from the mosque was marking the end of the day. The chant in Arabic silenced the road . Climbing the road against the flow of the stream, Arash felt the comfort of being alone without being lonely. It had all melted in his soul, the walls and the doorways, the bread and the stream and the call from down the road. He was home and he would know it years later when he wasn't.
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