(In the Memory of my Mother)
From the Persian book of short stories,
"Entertainment in Exile"
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Would you like to know my dearest wish? I wished, even if it was for a few hours, I could return to those years. Just to be with you. In that sunshine filled house, with its gardens brimming over with colourful flowers and its oval pond of azure blue tiles. To be once again enchanted by the music of the fountain, the play of light on the surface of the clear water, the goldfish dancing under the bubbles and the large fragrant pots of white jasmine and gardenia carefully arranged on the balcony. To see your elegant figure and those shiny brown curls that adorned your forehead.
Those were the years when Tehran, nestling at the foot of the proud Alborz Mountains, with its tree-lined avenues, streams and fragrant gardens, was my childhood dreamland. Do you remember the times, when we walked together on the footpaths and looked up to see that magical blue dome through the branches of trees? We used to visit my great uncle's house in the burning heat of Mordad1 and the route would take us passed Darvazeh Dolat2 and Picheh Shemiran3, where we felt the coolness of Tochal4; that fresh scented breeze, which seemed to have passed through many a paradisiacal garden. In those years, in summertime, you, Hamid, Tayyebeh Khanom5 and I, were often alone on Fridays. Father would leave at dawn to go hunting with one of his friends from the neighbourhood. You loved him unconditionally and he was an absolute dictator!
When Hamid and I started kindergarten, you told him you wanted to become a teacher; but he objected. In fact, it hurt his pride, and his excuse was that he was well able to provide for his family. Whenever our house needed redecoration, he was the one who hired the workers and his decision was final in all the changes. Every item in the house, the furnishings and even the kitchen utensils had to be bought according to his taste. Yet, you patiently endured his stubbornness and accepted all his unreasonable ways. It was your sunny smiles that brightened our days. Nevertheless, you could never come to terms with his habit of slinging a shotgun over his shoulder to go hunting. As far as we could see, this was the only occasion, when you would actually argue with him. In spite of your anger and tears, you had to resign yourself to the fact that our Fridays were to be spent on our own, while he was hunting with his friend. All you could do was to make him promise that as long as you lived, he would not bring the dead prey home. Then, father would spend the evenings after the hunt at his friend's house with others who had gathered specially for the occasion to enjoy the barbecued pheasant, partridge and deer. Many hours would pass and by the time he finally returned home, we were all sleep.
At the same time, do you remember that the next morning, while eating your homemade cake, he often looked at us with deep affection and shame? It was as if he was a child who had broken the most beautiful porcelain vase. He would stare at you remorsefully and say, " Honestly, I really don't enjoy it without you and the children!" In these moments, he would leave his autocratic throne and discard his robe of pride, showing us all that he could be kind and selfless.
How slowly the hours passed for Hamid and I, on those Fridays in summer! We waited patiently for the midday sun to drive its chariot across the sky, so that we could play by the pond and watch the goldfish dancing under the fountain. You always insisted to be present and watch over us and we used the opportunity to pester you for ice cream or spinning tops! Then, we would all hear the warm voice of our local ice cream man as he sang, "Ice creeeam! It's the new season's ice creeeam! Come and get your ice creeeam!" Every time he reached the word "ice cream", he sang in a lower tone, positive and decisive, yet, with a sweet mystery. From early spring to the beginning of winter, he walked through all the streets of our neighbourhood, pushing his small cart, and with a voice that could fill an entire starry sky, sang his ice cream song.
In the meantime, the whole house echoed with the sound of Hamid and I laughing and running happily into your arms. Having had our ice cream, we were calm and content for a couple of hours, because we knew that soon it would be time for the toy seller to make his rounds in our neighbourhood. He used to sell rooster shaped candies that were as sweet as grandma's toffees. Once the toy seller had gone, we became restless again and asked you to take us to Café Shahrdari, so that we could watch the puppet show and Shahr-e Farang6. Then, to keep us entertained, you would fill a large glass bowl with white jasmine, so that we could lace them together with a string and make bracelets and necklaces the way you had taught us. Hamid used to get upset and say in protest, " I am not a girl, I don't like this kind of thing!" You caressed him gently and asked him to make something for you. The jasmine kept us busy for a while; but, soon we got bored again; so, you sat between the two of us and told us stories of kings, fairies and magical lands.
When Tayyebeh Khanom had finished her cleaning and in her own words, turned the house into a sweet smelling bouquet, we would all retire to the kitchen. First, you made a large glass of rich aromatic tea for Tayyebeh Khanom, and then you carefully showed us how to help you make the most delicious dishes and cakes. That was how we passed those long hours, while waiting for the midday heat to subside. Then, I could finally wear my pretty pleated summer dress, with my white ankle socks and white shoes and you gently combed my hair, braiding it into two plaits, which you adorned with ribbons that were the same colour as my dress. Hamid, who is a year younger than I, would watch you quietly choked with innocent jealousy. It was as if in his eyes, you had captured the most precious and delicate butterflies and with your gentle hands placed them on my hair. You knew exactly how he felt and you winked at him with warmth saying, " What can I do my dear, you are not a girl! Now, go and get ready and wear your good clothes sweetheart."
When we were ready, you would get dressed yourself. Having gathered your shiny brown hair into a bun and fixed it with a large golden pin, you wore your light, cream coloured coat over your summer dress. Then, with your bronzed skin and hazel eyes, you were to me, the most beautiful mother that anyone could wish for. You then held Hamid's hand, making him so happy that he forgot all his jealousy, and with Tayyebeh Khanom, we all walked from Amiriyeh road, where our house was, to café Shahradi in Pahlavi road. Our path took us under the welcome shade of the plane trees, with a sparkling stream running through them. Having reached Shahrdari Café at Pahlavi crossroads, we would enter the gardens. There, with the other
children, we watched the puppet show with curiosity, and our childish laughter and the songs of the birds in the branches, mixed in a magical melody.
I have spent my long middle-aged years in this land of exile, with its low, often cloudy sky. Every few years, I leave my husband and two daughters and visit you for two to three weeks.
On my last visit, it was hard for me to recognise so many things at first glance. You my dearest, with your bent, fragile figure covered from head to toe in black, my city with those shapeless buildings, hidden under that polluted air, and its people with their expressions, sometimes hateful, and sometimes filled with the fear of death.
In a quiet moment, I asked you to tell me how father passed away. Over the last few years, I had missed him terribly. As if lost in a dream, staring at an unknown spot, you replied in a voice that carried the sorrow of the whole world with it, "It was only, a month ago. We were sitting together. The television had news of the war. Suddenly he stood up, went to the cupboard where he kept his shot guns and took them out to the garden. He cleaned every single one carefully. Then, with a sledgehammer he broke them all to pieces. He destroyed them and threw them in refuse bags. After that, he came back to the room, sat beside me, took my hands in his and kissed them."
You then paused and after a heavy silence continued, "Two days later, we heard the air raid sirens. My knees were giving way. I could not walk. He carried me down to the basement, and left to get my valerian drops from upstairs. He was only on the second step, when he suddenly sat down, lowered his head over his chest, and fell asleep for ever."
After that visit, I returned to this land of exile, and never saw you again. Hamid wrote in his letter that when father passed away, you could not endure his absence more than three months, and joined him. For many years I have carried the deep desire to see you again. Then, only an hour ago, I was looking out of my window on the second floor, with its view of the path through the park, lined with oak trees. I saw you! You were wearing a light, cream coloured coat. With the same fragile figure, you took careful steps, and now and then looked up, as if trying to find a patch of blue sky through the branches of the oak trees. Then, you sat down on a bench opposite my window. I could see the grey curly hair over your forehead. For a few seconds I was stunned. I could hear my heart leaping in my chest and the blood rushing through my body. Finally, I came to myself, and rushed to the park. Before I could reach you, I saw a young woman with long blond hair, walking towards you. A little rosy cheeked, blue-eyed girl of four or five was running happily behind her. When they arrived at the bench, you stood up and took the young woman's arm. Then, you all walked away.
Out of breath, tired and homesick, I sat on the exact spot where the old lady had sat. Remembering you, I felt the warmth of phoenix feathers and was carried once again to that sunshine filled house.
1- Mordad: The second Persian summer month.
2- Darvazeh Dolat: An area in the north of old Tehran.
3- Picheh Shemiran: An area in the north of old Tehran.
4- Tochal: One of the peaks of the Alborz Mountain range.
5- Tayyebeh Khanom: Name of the cleaning lady. "Tayyebeh" is a name, and "Khanom" means lady in Persian.
6- Shahr-e Farang: The literal translation of Shah-re Farang is "foreign city" and it is a lighted box containing small pictures, which one looks at through a hole fitted with a magnifying glass. It took this name, because the pictures shown were usually of faraway, European cities.
"Entertainment in Exile"
(Short stories in Persian)
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