Then came my storytelling time. I told her that I was Iranian, which perhaps she had already figured out from my funny and unusual accent. My childhood home on Rooster Street was where I wanted to travel to. The name of our street was one of the many details I told her and she never mentioned in her narration. You might say, “Why does it matter what the name of your street was?” Well, details like these are actually very important, because, believe it or not, they have made me who I feel I am. Doesn’t this naming by the way, to call a street after roosters, sound absurd to you? I see you’re shaking your head in negation. Hey don’t deny it. I saw that the tip of your hair stirred a bit in confirmation. Even if the naming doesn’t sound odd, I hope at least, you’d get my point, that, without roosters and streets and absurdness of them all, I am a no one, I am not the Nilofar my friends and relatives know and connect to.
“Rooster” is one of those associations that connects me to major roads of my past, to the intersections from which different paths of association branch out. I can take any of these roads and soon be traveling to different spaces of my life and identity. It links me with many clusters of memories, to the street I was raised in, to my mother’s colleague Raana, to my playmates and a zoo we created together, to Americans, and to our yard which is itself associated with many other faces and stories.
Finally I got you there. Now you are curious, asking, “How is it that your yard is associated with roosters? That is a good question that opens up a whole story of its own. As I remember, one of our neighbors, (I do not remember which one), once bought a rooster—a large, full-figured, and colorful one. That was something strange, something nobody had done before. Because, for God’s sake, we lived in an urban environment, in a high-scale neighborhood in North Tehran, not in some village or in a dirty and crumpling South Tehran quarter with stinking ditches, where the poor people immigrating from small provinces or villages resided. Nevertheless one of our neighbors (still unknown which of the three) was enough of a village idiot to bring home a rooster, a living one (later, I will get to the story of a non-living one). One only could justify his act––I reasoned out as a child––as a person who had chickens and wanted to get organic eggs, as they call them today in Canada. But as far as I knew, none of our neighbors had chickens. That is why, perhaps, the rooster got bored and started hanging around in other neighbors’ houses and yards. The gaudy creature was a real bastard; he could fly up the walls. In fact every time I saw him, he was proudly striding on the wall separating our house from our neighbors. I am thinking now that the rooster might have belonged to one of our far away-neighbors at the end of the street, not to those adjoining our house. In this case, I would be doing injustice to our closer neighbors calling them village idiots. Nevertheless, no matter to which yard he belonged, the rooster did not stay in his territory and started invading others’. He marched on our wall, inspecting the yard like a surveillance officer. One time when I dashed from the basement to the yard, leaving some naughty things I was busy doing the whole afternoon, his presence scared the shit out of me. He was standing above me on the wall in the semi-dark air of the late evening, head raised, chest forward, and looking straight into me with his small and penetrating eyes. He gave me such a scary look, a look nobody had ever given me before. Not even my parents when later they discovered what I was up to in the basement.
And this was not the only way in which he harassed the neighborhood. The rooster crowed at very unusual hours of the day and for a very long time. Not in the morning or dawn, but exactly in the middle of the night when everyone was deeply asleep, and as a Farsi proverb said, was already dreaming about his seventh kingdom. And suddenly, Doo dooro doo doo doo; it was as if, suddenly, a high-powered loud-speaker went on, one of those speakers Sony or Panasonic makes. The noise woke up the entire neighborhood. It happened that even the people from houses at the end of our street knocked on our door, accusing us of disturbing the nocturnal quiet of Rooster Street by introducing a real rooster to the neighborhood. They threatened us that, if we ourselves did not do away with the rooster, they’d slaughter it for us and then they’d go to City Hall and demand a different name for the street. It was not easy to convince them that we were not the owner of this politically-incorrect (as Americans would say) creature, that bizarrely resembled an owl, in the sense that it stayed up the whole night.
Finally came the night that I would never forget all my life, when an army of neighborhood men in their sweatshirts and pajamas, including my father, were climbing the walls, chasing the rooster across yards, on the trees, here and there in the dark corners, balconies and basements, and even their bedrooms. The Rooster Street had never experienced such a commotion as it did that night. It seemed that the rooster was much more agile, defensive, and vigilant than our men, boys, and the women in their chadors covering their night gowns, who, carrying a broom, followed their men’s lead. Like a freedom fighter, the rooster fearlessly resisted all the attacks. Like one of those partisans who knew the rules of ambush and escape—it attacked people, slapped their faces with its wings, pierced their skin with its beak, scratched them with its claws, and, at the last minute, managed to escape the claws, brooms, and sticks that tried to nail him down. I stood behind the glass door of our living room, shaking with excitement and terror, ready to jump back and run away, in case the mighty creature jumped at me through the glass.
I both feared and admired the rooster, who, like a legendary figure, like a myth, vanished that night as if the whole thing had been a creation of Rooster Quarter’s imagination. I prayed for him to get away and survive, while at the same time, I prayed that he would stay away from our home. I had no interest in him freely entering and exiting our home; Nor had I the heart to see him get slaughtered. No gory scene, no rooster-kebab for me.
Of course I didn’t say anything about that night or that rooster to L. That was a story I did not yet want to share with my new classmates. One reason was that they probably could not distinguish between Iran and Afghanistan. The paradoxical image North Americans have in their mind was that Iran was a country like Afghanistan while Iranians were Arabs! As cockfighting was a popular sport in Afghanistan, they, hence, would think, we grew cocks in our backyard to later attack our neighbors’ cock in a weekend fight.
But I did tell L. many other things about my childhood home and me, about things which were more peaceful and colorful than that night of rooster-arrest. Yet L. didn’t say a thing about them, for example about the walls of my parent’s bedroom where I used to play. I am sure now you’re asking, “what about the walls?” L. asked the same question and I told her that the walls were painted in pink, which was strange, because pink is the color people usually use for their kids’ bedroom, not their own where they want to get romantic, hot, and intimate. Certainly I didn’t discredit my parents by disclosing to L my opinion on that issue. But I did tell her that every time I was in that room I had the feeling as if I could smell the pink. Yes, you heard me right, I said smell, I could smell the color. Strangely, I use my sense of smell to distinguish between things, between shades and colors, between places and between people I meet. So even until this very day, the smell of that pink is fresh in my nostrils. Nevertheless, she didn’t mention a single word about either the smell or the color. Oh, these Americans.
No, I am not nationalistic and I am not racist. But whether you agree with me or not, I am going to say Americans are forgetful. Look at Vietnam. It’s been only thirty years past that. And didn’t they forget about it so fast? Also about other places and people they messed up with? If, like me, they had a sense memory of things, even if it was a limited to smelling, perhaps they could do better and find a remedy to their forgetfulness. In this case they could understand that they were not better than everyone else in the world, for they knew their shit smelled too. It actually smelled terribly.
Oh, please do not crease your forehead. Listen, if I was racist, I would have called Americans ignorant, but instead I said, “forgetful,” alright? So please do not tell me that “this whole story of stealing my story” is a fabrication, that the whole thing is a false accusation. And please do not tell me that this is coming from my anti-American sentiments, simply because I don’t have such harsh feeling toward Americans anymore.
Yes I confess—I used to have such sentiments when I was still a child. At the time of revolution I was only nine years old, turning ten. I bet you’re asking, “What a kid under nine could possibly know about Americans?” My answer is, “everything.” Simply because they were in Iran, everywhere, in the swimming pool I used to go to, on the streets, even in government offices. This not only a mental image formed by something I have read in books or heard from someone. This is real, for I had encounters with Americans. My mother worked for the Ministry of Telecommunication, which, at the time, had the Bell Company as its major contractor. The name Bell at least should ring a bell in your mind. I visited my mother every day after school. I went to her office to have lunch with her. Then I stayed there until three o’clock when my mother finished work. We went back home together. A child in the office? That’s right. Believe it or not, in Iran, women working for the government raise their kids in the office. They even do most of their housework there including cleaning herbs for dinner and knitting their husbands and kids winter clothes. When there was not enough work or there was nobody around, my mum and her colleagues pulled out an incomplete knitting work from their bags to work on as they had tea and chatted with one another about the party they had thrown last night or the fight they had with their husbands. Every winter, my mother knitted a new scarf, pair of gloves, and pullover for me. I even had my own desk in her office—an unoccupied desk in the left corner by the windows where I did my homework or drawing. When I ran out of homework, I turned into a mail deliverer and I collaborated in the advancement of Ministry of Post and Telecommunication. I traveled among rooms and floors, and delivered letters for my mum and her colleagues from one office to another.
It was then when I encountered Americans. They were in other rooms, separated from Iranians. I did not go to their quarters but sometimes ran into them in the corridors. There were things that drove me mad about them. First was that they even had their own separate washrooms where I sneaked into from time to time. It smelled like paradise. Like jasmine flowers and was cleaner than the mirror at my home. The tiles and toilet seat shone under the fluorescent light and reflected my shadow. I loved to hang around there even when I didn’t have to pee. In Iranian toilets, I had to squat, which was not comfortable at all.
How long, do you think, one can stay in that position? For sure not long enough to be able to do her assignments as I did in the American washroom, sitting on the toilet seat and coloring my paint book. There was an abundance of toilet paper and good smelling soap. The toilet paper was pink, yellow, or white. I tucked as much toilet paper as I could into my school uniform to make paper flowers at home. I washed my hands at least three times each visit. Sometimes there was even music playing in the background. It was not fair, not fair at all. Why should American shit be worth more than Iranian shit? That was my question. Not like Hamlet’s silly question: to be or not to be. Still to this day, to me, the question of existence remains secondary to the question of justice and fairness.
My mother’s office was not the only place I ran into Americans. There were other places, for example, the swimming pool. There was a large recreation centre with three outside swimming pools and water slides for the people who worked for the Ministry of Communication and their families. It was a twenty minute walk from my home. During summer time, I was in the pool every day. My parents joined me on the weekends. It was still before the Revolution and men and women could go swimming together. Moreover, Americans and Iranians were there with one another, yet separated because it was easy to know who is who by their physical appearances. My oldest aunt worked for the same office as my mum did. She had signed up my two youngest uncles—the younger one only four years older than me and the older one six years my senior. Well, what do you expect, given that my grandma married when she was only nine and had her first child at thirteen?
I know, I know, you are again becoming impatient and asking, what on earth do all these have to do with Americans? The short answer is that the swimming pool was one of the other places I ran into Americans, where they displayed the most obscene behavior of all. Yes, I know I speak in a fundamentalist language. But the truth is that I felt that way at the time. As a child being raised in Iran, I felt outraged seeing a blond American woman in her bikini lying beside a man and almost making love to him. The man had his hand on the woman’s crotch and was playing with her pubic hair protruding out from under her shorts. He rolled the hair around his finger and pulled at it as the woman looked up at the sun. This was too much, especially from the point of view of a girl who had not once seen her dad playing with the hair growing on her mother’s head. Not only did I feel disgusted, but also unsafe, more endangered than those times when my youngest uncle covertly touched or pinched me, or the times when the older one got himself behind me and pushed me down as I was standing on the edge of the diving board, three meters high, debating with myself over jumping into the pool.
This kind of so-called immoral behavior exhibited by Americans in Iran became more pervasive every day, so the words went around. And at that time I completely bought these words based on what I experienced in the streets of North Tehran neighborhoods. For example another time when I was passing by a bridge close to my home I saw two of them deeply involved in a passionate mouth-to-mouth kiss. The bridge they were on was called Seyede Khandan, which means a laughing mullah—one related by blood to Prophet Mohammed. I bet you’re asking yourself, “How can something like this happen ––a religious man who is supposed to be serious and frown all the time is engaged in a never-ending laughter?” This is also my question which I have to leave aside for the moment. Not to mention that almost all the mullahs or religious men I have ever seen, including Mahmood Ahmadi Nejad, the current Iranian president, are extremely grim and sullen. Perhaps that relative of our Prophet, Mr. Laughing, have gone mad. Just like me when I saw the American couple standing in a corner, ignoring the Iranian passersby, kissing each other. I turned completely red, loudly talking to myself, saying, “What the hell are these foreigner thinking, to behave this way? They are after all in Iran, not in New York or Los Angles.” I was ready to go and kick their ass.
“What else?” you’re asking, “The things you’ve said so far,” you argue, “are not enough for justifying extreme anti-American sentiments.” But wait! You haven’t still heard my best story. I bet you’ll be boiling with the same sentiments, if I’d tell you the one I was just going to narrate. This story is more personal. The characters are my playmates the three daughters of my mum’s colleague Raana, Raana herself, my mother, me, and Mr. Bill the head of the Bell Company in Iran. In that story, just a few months before the revolution, Raana leaves her daughters behind and elopes with Yankee Mr. Bill. I was hurt for my playmates. But before telling you this story, let me go back to the scene where L. is listening to the story of my childhood home.
An excerpt from a non-fiction story titled: Hey L., Give Me Back My Story
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