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An Extract from the short story:

Anxieties from Across the Water

Pastel Bar

By: Pari Mansouri

From the book: "Another Sea, Another Shore"
Persian Stories of Migration

(Translated and edited by Shouleh Vatanabadi and Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami)

Copyright shall at all times remain vested in the Author. No part of the work shall be used, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the Author's express written consent.

It was early September. The morning mist, like outspread remnants of silk, came from the green fields with a gentle breeze, passed over the hills and faded away in the sky.
A middle-aged woman was sitting in an armchair beside a window that opened onto a small garden with low hedges linking a mild incline to the hills and fields. She was listening to nature's most magic symphony in the songs of robins, buntings, swallows, sparrows, and nightingales praising the rising sun, and in the ecstasy of that sacred tranquility, with the magic of a dream, she was stepping into the faraway years, the years of her youth. She had once directly encountered the field, the sky, and the silk of mist in those summers when she went with her parents to her aunt's house in Kelardasht1. And now for a few long moments she found herself once more, swift-footed and full of energy, in that lost paradise, which was like this quiet, peaceful village of Highworth near the town of Swindon. There, every morning the sun opened like a flower in the middle of the colourful silks of jugglers, and swarms of butterflies disappeared into the raspberry bushes. Grasshoppers in darting flight broke the crystal of the open air, and dragonflies with their quick leaps reflected with their small colourful wings the sunlight on the pool and the water lilies.
It had been a few days since she left hot, dusty Tehran with its heavy, polluted air and come to this corner of the world, to the house of her daughter Sadaf. Her son-in-law had been sent to the Far East by the company he was working for, and she was cherishing this sweet private time with Sadaf. It was a few years since the mother and daughter had seen each other. For the mother this felt like a few centuries. The first two days she was so excited and confused she couldn't even speak properly.
Instead of talking, she had just looked around. Maybe she thought that if she started talking she would wake from this wonderful dream. The daughter was quite excited, too. She had filled the whole sitting-room table with dishes of chocolates, cookies, and cakes, and yet every other moment she went to the kitchen to bring more sweets from the refrigerator and cupboards. The mother followed her around all the time, watching her every move, and the daughter urged her to go back to the room and sit down. She made tea for her, poured her coffee, sat down beside her and leaned her head against her mother's shoulder with a sigh of satisfaction. She asked her about her father and the family, and the mother told her more about her father—he's worn out, but even in this state he keeps working. The idea of taking a rest makes no sense to him. There is not a doctor in the world as dedicated. And she thought, He even forgets his wife and children! Otherwise, he would have agreed to come on this trip with me, after all my begging.
She never said these things to her daughter, though. She had not written to her daughter about her troubles. She didn't want to worry her. Her daughter had completed her studies; now she was working full time in a laboratory, but she wanted to spend all her time with her mother as long as she was there. It was not possible. It was only two months since she had started work. After lots of begging, the laboratory head had given her a week's vacation without pay, and the week had begun two days before her mothers arrival. Those two days were spent getting the house ready for the joyous occasion. The remaining days passed like a carefree dream. The five days during which she didn't have to wake up early, take a shower half asleep and get ready and rush through breakfast and go to work. Mother and daughter slept until ten, ten-thirty, and then ate a big breakfast, and then the daughter took her mother in her little car to show her the neighbourhood. She took her to the little market and showed her the few villages in the area; once they
went to the town of Swindon, about half an hour's drive from their house. That golden week had gone by like the wind.
When Sadaf woke up, she came out of her room very quietly, trying not to wake her mother, and when she saw her mother wide awake waiting for her at the breakfast table, surprised and embarrassed she said, "Mom, why did you wake up so early? The sun isn't even completely up yet. And you got everything ready. You shouldn't have. You should rest. Please, when I leave, go back to bed and don't do anything. There is fried chicken in the fridge for lunch. And for dinner we'll go to a restaurant. There is a beautiful Italian restaurant in our neighbourhood. I want to have dinner with you there. Promise me you won't do the housework."
And to reassure her daughter, the mother said, "All right, Sadaf dear, I promise. And please don't worry about me. I'll take good care of myself and won't do a thing!"
About an hour later the daughter, like the first day she went to school, upset about leaving the house now filled with the scent of childhood, kissed her mother and left.
And now the woman was alone in front of the green farms that went on to the horizon and the large trees that, with their waves of colours, dark and light green, turquoise, silver and dark red, were emerging from the morning fog. And since autumn was coming, sometimes among these colourful waves, scattered trees with red and golden leaves rose like flames, and she watched them joyfully; just as during these few days she had watched her daughter walking, sitting, getting up, the light in her black eyes, her dimples when she laughed. During these days the daughter talked most of the time; she talked about her worries during the Iran—Iraq War and her separation from her parents, then about her present life and tranquility, her husband Farrokh and their love, and she regretted that her parents hadn't seen him. The mother had concluded that, contrary to her husband's expectation that one day Sadaf and her husband
would return to Iran, her daughter and son-in-law were properly settled in England, and it would be wrong to endanger that. She thought, I should convince Javad to get our things together and move here so that we can spend our last days with our children.
Before the trip she had argued many times with her husband, "I just can't understand how you can be so indifferent. Sadaf got married, and you saw that I couldn't get the damned visa from England and be at their wedding. You didn't care. In no time she will have a kid, and once again I'll be here, useless, without seeing my grandchild. I don't want the same fate as my aunt. For years that poor woman cried because she wasn't with her children. Her room was full of photographs of her son and daughter; their pictures in their graduation gowns, pictures of their weddings, then pictures of her grandchildren. Do you remember, every time someone went to see her, she would take them to her bedroom first and pick up the photographs from the shelves one by one, and tears would flow and she would say, 'I know the pain of separation will kill me in the end.' And that's exactly what happened. She died surrounded by those photographs and never saw her children and grandchildren. It's every mother's natural right to see her children every once in a while, to touch them, to be present at the events of their lives, to see the births of her grandchildren. To be there for their first laugh, their first word, their first steps. How many years have I suffered. It's been ten years since Sadaf has gone and I've seen her only once; five years ago when I went to Italy to see Marjan. And my poor child had saved her money to come and see me and her sister. Back then it was impossible to get a visa for England, but now we can. If only you would agree, we could move there to live. I am miserable here."
And the husband, upset, would say, "There you go again, Mina! lYou have become like a broken record. You talk as if they weren't my children, as if I don't want to see them. Frankly, I'm
the one who should be tired of this life. I really have had enough of it. You just close your eyes and say, 'Let's move.' You don't think about anything. You don't see the situation. There are a million problems. You know my degree is not from a European or American university, and it won't be easy at all for me to find a job there. Besides, here is where I am needed. Here I have my own identity; I am a doctor. What would I do over there? Beg? Besides, suppose we could sell what we have and decide to go to England as you wish. And suppose they give us residency permits without difficulty. All right, what will you do about Marjan? Can she simply leave her school and come and live with us in England right next door to us? You know, you are driving me crazy. I just don't know what else I should do. Sadaf said she wanted to go to England to study, and I said fine. Marjan said, 'I want to study painting and I have to go to Italy;' I said fine. I worked day and night to pay for their schooling and their lives over there. What more do you want from me?"
Every time they reached this point she got angry and said, "Whatever we have done was our duty. Besides, it's been a year now since Sadaf got married and we haven't sent her anything. Thank God her husband is educated and has a good job. My dear child is working, too, and doesn't need us. We really should thank our children for being so good and for having brought honour to us. Sadaf finished her studies, and God willing, Marjan will be done in couple of years and will start working and won't need us anymore."
Then the husband usually changed the subject and said, "That's enough. You're making me tired. You talk as if I were responsible for you being separated from your kids. As if I am in charge of the British Embassy and all the embassies in the world and specially ordered them not to give you a visa. In the six years since Marjan has gone to Italy you have travelled there twice at least. Where have I gone? Of course I have been travelling, too, but where? During the eight years of war I travelled back and forth to the front, and I had a lot of fun! Besides, this past spring, if you hadn't caught that damned pneumonia everything was ready for you to travel to England. You know what? The problem is that you decided for no reason to go on early retirement. If you had been busy these past five years, you would have been occupied with work and wouldn't have bothered me without reason. But then again I'm sure you would have found something else to accuse me of. The same way you treated your employees... "
And the woman would grow even angrier. "Please, Javad, don't say that! Back then you didn't understand my concerns as a human being, and you don't understand them now either. When you, a doctor, don't understand these pains, what can we expect from others? Oh my God...
The couple continued to argue until the night before the woman's departure. But at the airport when they checked in the luggage, they realised that in about one hour they would be separated from each other. Then they went and sat down on chairs next to each other and the woman looked at her husband and said, "You don't know Javad, how much I wanted you to be with me so we could see Sadaf and Marjan together. I will miss you a lot. Don't you understand? You will be alone here. Please take care of yourself."
And the husband said, "You have to be careful while you are there. Don't worry about me. You will have time. Think about our life. Stop dreaming. Encourage Sadaf and Farrokh to come back. Farrokh's roots are here. It's true he has lost his parents, but he has lots of family here. Be strong and patient, and all our children will return."
And now the woman, surprisingly calm, was sitting on the chair in front of the window and following her dreams. Suddenly the phone rang. Who could it be? Farrokh or Javad? It can't be Farrokh. He called last night.
It was Sadaf, calling to make sure she was all right. Javad had
called twice in the past five days but she didn't know why she expected him to call. She looked at her watch: ten-thirty. In her mind she moved the time ahead three and a half hours and then realised that her expectation was unreasonable because during that time of day her husband would be quite busy in the hospital. She thought, What a wonderful dream. Now I am going to do the dishes and tidy up a bit. Then I'll do the laundry that Sadaf means to do when she's back. The poor child doesn't know what she's talking about. She says I shouldn't do a thing, just wait for her to come back from work and do everything. The idea! .......


1- Kelardasht: is a city in Northern Iran

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