Parinaz and the Apple Tree
By Firoozeh Khatibi
Translated into English by Khashayar Mohammadi.
The bell rang for the lunch break, so I skipped down the stairs from the third floor. I stretched my short skirt further down when I passed by the principal’s office to avoid any trouble. The Smell of Qormeh Sabzi climbed up from the basement cafeteria and onto the staircase. All the kids who didn’t leave school for lunch began hurrying down. As soon as I descended the stairs of the main entrance, I found Parinaz, waiting for me by the giant metal gate, wearing a black leather jacket with a thick chain dangling under. While clearing the path from children, the school caretaker gave her a look. Parinaz was a Mathematics major and we played together on the volleyball team.
Parinaz’s younger sister, Ladan-who was in 9th grade, started tailing us too. As we were passing the Christmas trees leaning on the wall outside school, Parinaz took her French Gitanes cigarettes out of her brown leather bag, offering it to both of us. Then the three of us began puffing on cigarettes. We heard a few classmates whispering from behind, but when we got to the end of the street, they walked towards “College Inn” for some burgers. We took a back alley to the main street and entered the “Andre” sandwich shop.
The heat, the smell of garlicky cold cuts and dill pickles warmed our cold noses. Outside it was freezing and the windows of the Sandwich shop were sweating. The cacophony of the high school boys and the horde of customers meant our voice could not reach “Monsieur”. We had to wait and stare: at the dill pickles, pickled peppers, and an entire crowd yelling “A Sandwich please, Sir”. Finally when our cold cut sandwiches were in our hands with dill pickles sticking out of them, Parinaz gestured “Let’s go outside”. We were walking on Pahlavi Street, biting on our Sandwiches. Under the barren trees of midwinter, Parinaz suggested we go to our friends’ boutique right around the corner to listen to some music. When we crossed the intersection, we saw Kami, oblivious as always, crossing the street with his guitar case. My heart almost stopped beating. My feet felt cold. Whenever we passed this intersection, I dreamt of seeing him. Parinaz began laughing at my pale face and maliciously said, “I’ll call him right now!” I begged her not to, blushing. She called him “Kami! Wanna come to the boutique?” as she was laughing. Kami gestured to his watch to indicates he’s late and can’t come. I hid behind the news kiosk, counting my heartbeats. Parinaz yelled out my name and Ladan followed, keeling over laughing. Parinaz took my hand. I peeked at Kami getting farther and we started walking in the frozen streets again.
Shahram was standing by his boutique’s entrance, inspecting his new motorbike. When he saw us, he smiled and nodded. We entered the store and he came inside with us. Mehran-The singer from “Koolaak” Band was under the rack of corduroy trousers, rolling a Joint with Hashish. I took out my new record I had received from New York from my backpack and showed it to him. Saeed brushed his long hair away from his eyes and said, “Is it Bee Gees? Wow! I love them!”
Shahram snatched the record from my hands and put it on the record player behind a row of Ray-Bans. The singer’s voice filled the dimly lit store:
I started a joke which started the whole world crying
But I didn’t see that the joke was on me oh no
I started to cry which started the whole world laughing
I’m looking at the garden from Parinaz’s window. It’s a gigantic multiplex. Most days we come here on lunch break to listen to records. It’s a huge building in one of the streets behind Pahlavi Street with several rooms and a serpentine staircase.
On every level there’s a window that opens onto the front garden. Parinaz walks in front, leading me up the staircase with her long, toned legs. No one can beat her on the volleyball court. She’s the team champion and, as her pony tail flails to either side, she follows the ball, punching it into the opponents’ court with a clenched fist. From one side she’s a descendant of the Qajar dynasty, and from the other she’s a descendent of the Bakhtiari tribe. She’s brave, sometimes even a bit of a bully. She has even formed the school’s “female task force”.
I don’t enjoy being involved in arguments or trouble, but I like to be naughty. According to Parinaz we need to escape from the school caretaker at least once a week to go to the Ferdowsi Cinema, and spend the afternoon watching foreign films instead of studying jurisprudence and ethics. To join the group we must scare younger kids into giving us their pocket money; even bring some along to buy us sandwiches and Pepsi. We must close the classroom door on break time and smoke inside the classroom. We must carry brass knuckles and keep chains under our skirts. I like Parinaz’s devil may care attitude. She swims against the current and crosses every line. There’s a strange sense of liberty and self-reliance in her actions that enchants me.
In her room, Parinaz sits behind an antique, gilded desk, in front of her mirror. She takes out a golden tube of lipstick from its tiny drawer and paints her lips peach colored. Her large blue eyes sparkle in contrast to her walnut-brown hair. She turns on the record player and finds a single record among her LPs. The voice of Cat Stevens fills the room. Ladan says, “we’ll be late for school,” but we just laugh.
We smoke the last Gitanes together and listen to Cat Stevens on the couch.
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now
They will vanish away like your daddy’s best jeans
Denim Blue fading up to the sky
And though you want him to last forever
You know he never will
And the patches make the goodbye harder still
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
There’ll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven…
Ladan complains that we’re late for school. Parinaz says she’s not in the mood. Neither am I. Who wants to sit through social studies? I get up from the couch and sit on the cushions on the floor and, as Jim Morrison starts singing “you’re lost little girl,” Parinaz and I smoke an Ushnu cigarette that we’ve taken from the maid. When we finally descend from the staircase the crows on the tree branches have already begun to caw. The sky foretells another snowfall. I’m dizzy from all the smoking. The smell of Sholeh Zard has filled the street.
There has been a lot of snowfall today. When the lunch bell goes off we’re behind the school gate again, waiting for it to open. The caretaker gives us a look as we slide through the half-opened gate and run across the street. In front of the Cinema, Soheyla shows up with two of her classmates. Parinaz gets money from them and buys us all tickets. The film starts an hour later than we thought it did. Parinaz says since we’ve paid for the tickets we must stay and watch, but Soheyla and her classmates are scared and are exchanging looks with one another. Parinaz gestures with her hand and we follow her up the staircase and to the balcony where we can see silhouettes of the boys from Alborz high school. Sohayla waves at Ali and Shahab, and goes ahead with the other girls to sit right next to them. The first show is Bonnie and Clyde.
The film’s made quite a stir in the US. Faye Dunaway, the bank robber in a beret, tight clothes and a machine gun! We’ve forgotten school and are lost in the adventures of the protagonists. A few minutes before the ending, we see the Usher’s flashlight who is looking for school kids with our school caretaker . Parinaz puts on her brown beret and sinks into the seat. The flashlight stops right on my face. I close my eyes from fear, mixed with the pleasure of disobedience. The groundskeeper yells over the sound effects: “This is one of them” and tells me to get up and go. Parinaz is silently sitting, still watching the film. The caretaker doesn’t recognize her. I follow hism outside the theater where Soheyla stands, scowling. The other girls are crying.
After a few days of suspension, I open the iron gate to my house. Snow has covered the entire downward slope of Darband street. My boots slide on the early morning ice and my feet are freezing in my thin nylon socks. Underneath the overcast sky of early morning, I line up for the Shemiran shuttle in front of the Halim seller . In the shuttle I feel the heat on my face. My nose is defrosting in the heat. The trees are pristine white. I get off the shuttle and walk to College Street from a back alley. I slide past the school caretaker who is giving me an intense look. From afar I can spot Parinaz, standing under the schoolyard’s apple tree with her red scarf and wool cap covering her eyes. A few paces behind, the school principal is arguing with a beautiful tall brunette woman wearing a chic navy-blue coat. Their argument can sometimes be heard over all the noise. Parinaz looks at me and smiles mischievously. As I walk into the school building I can see her exiting the schoolyard with the woman and a middle-aged man in astral military uniform. The man gets into the back of a black Mercedes and gestures for Parinaz and her mother to get in as well. The car disappears behind the curves of the backstreet.
It’s been a few days. We have no news of her. Some say she’s been expelled. Ladan isn’t coming to school either. One day after I get off the Shemiran shuttle, I walk past their house. Their windows are closed and the lights are off. The rest of the winter appears rather gray. Sometimes I spot Kami crossing the street with his guitar case. One time I think about crossing the street and talking to him in Parinaz’s memory, but I can’t find the courage. I just watch him from afar, walking away with his head down. I choke up, maybe from his lack of attention, or maybe even from loneliness. Without Parinaz, our school is quiet and dull. A new girl replaces her on the volleyball team. In French class, we’re all supposed to bring a single record of a French song to translate the lyrics into Farsi. I don’t feel like it. Madame calls me up, so in Parinaz’s memory, I play “je t’aime” with all its erotic connotations. The kids laugh at me. Madame angrily removes the record from the record playe, and among the children’s piercing laughter, she tells me: “get out. You’re suspended till further notice”. I’m freezing in the corridor. I’ve left my jacket in the classroom.
That same afternoon at Shahram’s boutique, the kids are smoking and listening to music. Someone says Parinaz and Ladan have been sent to a Swiss boarding school. From the window, the trees appear a grey-ish purple on the cold Pahlavi boulevard. On the way home, I walk past Parinaz’s house one more time. Her lights are turned off, as if forever.
Khatibi is a Los Angeles-based writer, playwright, independent journalist, actor, director and radio host. She has worked as an art critic and cultural correspondent with news outlets such as VOA, Radio Free Europe and British Broadcasting Co. Born in Tehran, studied at the New School and the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York City. She is the director of the Parviz Khatibi Cultural Foundation, publishing works of the late author and has worked as a writer, director, actor and production designer on countless Iranian and non-Iranian productions.
Khatibi’s highly acclaimed and notable works include p- “Maah Dar Ayeneh”- a musical play about Ghamar ol Molouk Vaziri which opened at Wilshire Ebell Theatre in L. A., “Breach of Taboo: From Ghamar to Golshifteh”, a Monologue and Dance in collaboration with Anna Djanbazian for Internationl Women’s Day and “The Reign of Zamankhan Boroojerd”, a multimedia installation for the annual Iranian theatre and film festival in 2013. She is the co-founder of the Iranian Theatre Society of L.A. Her latest play about the historic “Lalehzar”, was staged at Skirball Cultural Center in June of 2019. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary publications including “jonge Zaman”, “Avaye Tabeid” and “The Persian Book Review”.
She is currently hosting a two hour weekly art & culture program on Radiohamrah, a Los Angeles based Iranian radio station on 94.7 FM HD3.