Fiction | ‘Under a slice of the Bombay sky’ by Hema Nair | CWW

Nandini Barve was 36 years old in 1982. She worked for a transport company in their secretarial pool along with six other girls, two of whom were stenographers. The stenographers, who were younger and prettier, were chosen to go into the cabin of the bosses to take down their dictation. Nandini would then type them out on her Godrej typewriter, filling reams of paper. Some would get cyclostyled, some got filed away and yet others would be flown off to a distant city in a buff envelope with a transparent window. 

As soon as the 5 pm siren sounded, she put the paper in the appropriate tray and tucked the typewriter in for the night; in a pretty embroidered cover. She grabbed her bag, put in her lunch box which she had left to dry under her table and got up to leave. On her way out, she exchanged small talk and pleasantries with some of the other girls as they all joined the exodus moving out of the building. Nandini and Preeti found each other near the gate and fell into step with each other. They lived in the same neighborhood and kept each other company during the long commute home. Enroute they stopped at the local market for vegetables. Preeti prepped them during the train journey, while Nandini preferred to read. At home, she would not be faulted for chopping vegetables but if she whiled away time reading, that would be another matter. As the train pulled out of the station, Preeti pulled out her newspaper and a knife. The potatoes and brinjal were diced expertly and wrapped separately. Onions were not chopped there in deference to fellow commuters.

“The harami came late last night too,” Preeti said as she snapped the beans into bits in her vehemence, then looked up to see Nandini focused on her book. She nudged her.

“I said, he came home late last night too,” Preeti repeated.

Nandini sighed, put down her book.  “And did you ask him why?”

“What’s the use. He’ll just say he was working late and shout at me for something else.” Preeti tossed her head.

“Maybe he was,” Nandini ventured mildly.

“Ha! I could smell the sandalwood on him a mile away. Bhadwa saala.”

“Wasn’t it Navratna hair oil?” Nandini asked, puzzled.

Preeti gave her a look. “That was a year ago, Nandini. Don’t you remember? I took him to Siddhivinayak and made him swear on Dolly’s head. He had stopped seeing her then.”

Preeti looked down at the brinjal in her lap which was once whole, but now lay in pieces.

Thankfully Dolly’s head was still all right, Nandini thought. If her head was to explode at every instance of her father’s indiscretion, it would have been mighty inconvenient for Preeti. She stared out of the window at the hovels and advertisements ripping past. All the solutions for the problems of the world were on these walls. ‘Unable to grow a beard? We have the solution! 21 din me paisa double’. Bald patches, skin pigmentation, cheap housing, dance bars, sexual dysfunction and astrology. There were no answers for her, though.

The house was dark when she entered. She switched on the lights and lit the oil lamp in front of her Gods. The light streaming out of the house brought her daughter home like a fluttering little moth. She came up from behind and wrapped her arms around her mother. Nandini smiled, clasped her small hands with her own and turned around to look at her. Varsha, all of eight and the light of her life. Her husband and son would return home soon too and the day would wind down. After dinner, she found herself alone in the kitchen cleaning up. She relished these moments of solitude in the small, almost box like room and hummed to herself as she scrubbed and wiped. The rest of her family spread out over what remained of the flat. Four souls in 400 square feet of precious real estate in Bombay. The streetlight spread a warm glow on the world outside and she watching the moths clustered around the lamp, while her thoughts rambled aimlessly over the landscape of her life. She didn’t quite process that she was delaying the inevitable repose with her husband that was a ritual of the nights. Unlike Preeti’s husband, hers did not crave liaisons with assorted bottled fragrances. He only sought one scent. Chandrika soap – hers. When every steel surface shone and the floor was cleared of litter and grime, she ran out of excuses. She turned off the lights and tiptoed around her sleeping children in the small hall and made her way to the bedroom and her waiting husband.

Sunday was her favourite day. She woke up later than usual and drank her tea sitting down. Even though she was home all day and didn’t have to pack lunch, she preferred to cook lunch alongside breakfast, so as to be done with all the cooking in a couple of hours. Just like she would on a working day. On Sundays, it took longer, since she played the radio and was wont to sing along or swing to the beat sometimes, which seemed to delay her. The children were around somewhere, and her husband left to play cricket after breakfast. 

After cooking, she took the radio into the bathroom and hung it from a nail on the back of the door. She undressed and united her hair. A few strands fell over her breasts and tickled her dusky nipples. She looked at herself in the mirror and could only see her face and shoulders. Taking the mirror off the wall, she placed it on the wash basin supported by her bundled up clothes so it wouldn’t fall down. Now she could gaze at her body while she teased the strands of her hair. The tips of her nipples played hide and seek with those dark strands and her skin puckered into goosepimples. A shiver, like a low voltage electric current spread through her body. Her hands took on an urgency now – stroking, pinching, searching her body for that perfect burst of ecstasy. She eased down on the floor and poured water all over her body from the bucket. Hands moved faster across her body, now slick with moisture. Her fingers skimmed her lips, her breath fanning her fingers in short bursts of gasps and muted whimpers as she climaxed explosively around her hands.

It was evening when the children and their father came home. Nandini woke up from her weekend afternoon nap, and she was in the kitchen boiling chai and making bread pakora when they came. She dipped pieces of old bread in a curried batter of gram flour and deep fried them in oil. A clever combination of recycling and creativity that surprisingly transformed into a decadent taste. After a boisterous round of snatching the pieces of pakora and downing the chai, the children left for their neighbor’s house to watch TV. Her husband was sitting in the balcony, a small one, but it gave a slice of the Bombay sky. Nandini brought in his chai and a plate of pakoras and joined him there. Conversation was slow, as they sipped the chai. Dusk deepened and the air changed from blue to yellow. The streetlights came on. Her husband took the last pakora, broke it into two pieces and put one half into her mouth. Nandini looked at him and smiled as she chewed on it. She looked up at the sky and saw the few stars that could be seen through the haze of the Bombay skies.


Hema Nair took to writing fairly late in life. Her desire to study literature was thwarted by a predetermined career in medicine and better prospects. She is now a cardiac anesthesiologist and juggles her day job of taking children through heart surgery, with ungodly hours spent writing prose and poetry.

She has been published in The Hindu, and online magazines like Confluence, Madras Courier, Spark Magazine, Kitaab and The Good Men Project. She writes short fiction, essays, art review, book review and poetry. She lives in Bangalore, India.

Iranian Edition (Vol II) | Poetry by Roger Sedarat | Issue 40 (2021)

5 Poems
By Roger Sedarat


Bani Adam

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created by one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the calamity of others
You are unworthy to be called by the name of Human.

“Children of Adam,” Sa’di

In the days of hope we had poetry.
Lines of Sa’di inscribed
on the entrance of the United Nations
almost convinced us we belonged
to each other, children of Adam
with a president reciting this verse
to our siblings on their new year
and a foreign president who reciprocated
by rhapsodizing about the origins
of the younger, enterprising nation.
Enemies of the first called him “Muslim”
like it was bad, his message going back
to the Qur’an as source of universal love
just as enemies of the second called theirs “Western”
shaming him for aspiring to such values.
Despite differences we related to the idea
of the 13th century sufi mystic.
Sometimes we experienced it as love
though we couldn’t quite explain it,
which is why we needed poetry.


On the woman’s chador…

a picture of a woman
wearing a chador on the
woman’s chador a picture of a woman
wearing a chador on the woman’s chador…

I couldn’t stop looking at her face,
superficially obsessed with the picture
of a woman wearing a chador
on the woman’s chador…


Persian Carpets

Spread out on floors of a house
bought by my father’s Iranian-
American dream
which continues to unravel
the free market
metamorphosis
of his rags to riches myth
into a moth
gnawing on fibers
holes in the thread
faceless kings turned
to empty tea trays held
by servants kneeling
on nothingness
the great empires
pulled out
from under
mane-less lions
with withered spines
slouching back
toward their maker
in Shiraz.


Iranian Sanctions

“Censorship is the mother metaphor.”
–Borges

Awaiting parts, 30 grounded airplanes
turn into a simurgh.

Denied medicine, Bijan blooms
roses in his diseased blood.

Numbers from the SWIFT payment system
regress to nightingale eggs: OO

Mr. Molani’s metalwork melts
down to a few faceless coins.

Rotting threads of the unsold carpet
expose the lion’s rib cage.

So many rooftop satellites—
waves of the Caspian rolling toward the west.

Our mothers in chadors spread their arms,
a blizzard of bats transcending the Muslim ban.

Oil inevitably seeps through Chinese barrels,
blanketing Beijing in smog.

How’d the rich kid get an iPhone?
(The iPhone is simply an iPhone).


Persian Drunk

Well, I got the fever down in my pockets,
The Persian drunkard, he follows me.
–Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan made his muse a Persian drunk
Is that okay? Let’s ask the Persian drunk.

How come no Nobel for my country songs?
My baba was a far worse Persian drunk.

I saw the six white horses, sweet Marie,
When you put me in this prison, drunk.

You’ve tried the transplanted Australian wine.
Here’s real Shiraz. Now, that’s a Persian drunk.

Hafez did not go to the mosque for God.
He found divinity in Persian drunks.

Raised in America and really shy,
I find I bravely speak great Persian drunk.


Roger Sedarat is the author of four poetry collections: Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP’s 2007 Hollis Summers’ Prize, Ghazal Games (Ohio UP 2011), Foot Faults: Tennis Poems (David Robert Books), and Haji as Puppet: an Orientalist Burlesque, which won Word Works 2016 Tenth Gate Prize for a Mid-Career Poet. A recipient of the Willis Barnstone Prize in Translation, his rendering of classical and contemporary Persian verse have appeared in Poetry, Brooklyn Rail, and Michigan Quarterly Review.

His most recent academic book, Emerson in Iran: the American Appropriation of Persian Poetry, is the first full-length study of the American poet-philosopher’s engagement with the classical verse tradition of Iran. He teaches poetry and literary translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York.​

Iranian Edition (Vol II) | Fiction by Nahid Keshavarz | Issue 40 (2021)

Elizabeth Taylor is Frightened

By Nahid Keshavarz
Translator – Khashayar Mohammadi

She has dyed her sparse bangs black, obsessively combing them together. Her full, shapely lips-accentuated by the red lip & cheek rouge on her pale skin- makes her attractive in her seventies. Her plump body appears curvaceous under the loose, black robe. When she laughs two dimples appear on her cheeks and her eyes close. She laughs out loud from the bottom of her heart. I have known her for years. When she came for her paperwork twenty years ago, Her beauty showed. She was always energetic and full of life, as she entered her laughter-which she always had a reason to let out-filled the corridor. Whenever I saw her she reminded me of someone famous, someone I couldn’t quite place.

She was fluent in French but she adamantly tried to learn German as well; but since she didn’t have much time to learn the language, she began working right away. Her graciousness in customer service made her quite the celebrity. She conducted herself with a certain dignity and poise. She strictly followed hidden codes of conduct and appearance and always claimed that one should always be courteous. We’ve fallen off the horse, not off our heritage!* I had not heard of her for years, until she visited once again a few weeks ago.

“I don’t want to move houses, I can’t live in a smaller house, I’ll get depressed! Also what should I do with my belongings? They won’t all fit in a smaller house! Forget it if you think I’ll part with them! I’ve done it once in my life I won’t do it again!”

After her husband’s death last year she must relocate to a smaller house where the government will pay her rent. After a few hours of convincing her to move goes nowhere, we plan to meet at her house where I’ll help her look through her belongings and re-consider what she can keep. Its hard work to convince someone to part with what they love.

She lives on the ground floor of a 3 story building. She has a small garden where she has planted multicolored flowers and on a corner even some mint and basil, two white chairs with a round table covered with a colorful tablecloth and an ashtray on top. Next to it is a pack of cigarettes and a long cigarette stick.

Her two rooms are rather large and see much sunlight in warm, sunny April. The rooms are filled with furniture bought second-hand from antique stores, yet they all seem to go together well. She has tastefully arranged them next to each other. Her house appears quite French in style. Her tables are covered with embroidered lace and the paintings are mostly Parisienne landscapes. A colorful silk rug is centered in the room, around which the green silk chairs have paled throughout the years. The candlelight makes the house quite welcoming in daylight. The kind of house where one feels safe and sound, a place where no one’s in a hurry to leave.

“I must take this vase with me. I bought it from an antique shop on a trip to France, look at it!”

She grabs and caresses the vase. She closes the eyes as if to commit it to memory.

“I don’t want the glasses, I want the teacups and oh that chest must also stay, the drawers…”

She walks around the house pointing to her belongings. Her voice is full of conviction.

I say: “let’s sit. This way we won’t get anywhere”

I don’t know how to ask, but I want to know why its so hard for her to part with her belongings. Perhaps its out of spite, since I’ve volunteered to do something no one has asked me to do. Today the weather was so nice, I’d rather been outside walking around. Without thinking I blurt out:

“I know its hard to part with these belongings, but what bothers you most about doing so?”

She looks at me with tears filling her eyes and says:

“I’m frightened. I’m scared I’ll die after I get rid of them. I’m afraid of dying, very much so. I don’t believe in the afterlife or reincarnation. I wish I did. That way I wouldn’t believe I’ll be gone”

Suddenly she locks eyes with me and says: “aren’t you afraid?”

Her question stops me in my tracks. My stomach begins to churn. She doesn’t wait for an answer.

“I’m afraid to die in exile, that after death I won’t stay in anyone’s mind. I visited my husband’s grave after his death. Every single day for months. When I was there I wanted to leave and stay far away, to return to the world of the living. I’m not ready for death yet. I only went there out of a sense of duty but I know no one will visit me after my death. I don’t want my cadaver to return to Iran either. I’ve grown resentful towards Iran. I’ve spent the best years of my life far away from it, the best years of my youth when I wished to be there. Why should I return after death? I wanted to live there, not die there.”

I begin to think a new chapter has begun in the life of immigrants: the concept of death in exile. I extend my sleeves and make a fist under the cloth, an old habit from childhood. The thought of Death fills my mind.

“Most nights I have nightmares. I dream I’m dead but no one comes for me.”

She asked again: “aren’t you afraid of death?”

I don’t remember when she put a cigarette on her long cigarette stick, but she’s exhaling smoke in little rings, locking eyes with me, waiting for a response. I remember my own nightmares and say:

“of course, I think of death too. Everyone thinks about death sometimes. The fear of death follows one all life long. Each person finds their own way to cope”

She says quite authoritatively: “sure I know all that but aren’t you scared?”

I extend my sleeves further down and say: “yes I am also afraid.” But then continue to say, as if warding off fear:
“I believe death is similar in nature to the pre-natal state. One does not process it mentally, so there’s no reason to be afraid.”

She’s lounging on her antique furniture. Her head rests on a lace napkin ring crowning the top of the chair. She gets up all of a sudden, runs her hands through her hair, gives it a bit of structure, and snaps open an antique fan with a depiction of flamenco dancers. She fans herself and says:

“They say a human being can stare at neither the sun nor death. I believe its time to stare at it, death I mean, but I’m afraid. I always thought I’d live a thousand years, so I postponed everything I loved to do, postponed them all to don’t-know-when, didn’t take my sorrow seriously. My sorrows and more than anything my dreams. I covered them all. You know I read a lot. I love reading. One time I read this one book about an alcoholic woman; I don’t remember the name quite well, I must have read it forty years ago, but I remember a sentence that said ‘as a child whenever I fell down my mother said don’t cry now. Cry tomorrow’ I have also always postponed my tears to the next day, but the pain piled up in my heart. I’m afraid of dying, having never cried for them.”

I have a good feeling in her house. I feel a certain kinship, as if I’ve been here before. Not the space, but the feeling is familiar. Death lingers amidst the sense of intimacy. I ask:

“do you wish to continue living as you have for eternity?”

She asks: “Like this? Without any change?”

Before I answer, I think to myself if I’m ready, and as if I’m trying to cement it in my own mind I ask:
“like this. Without change.”

Her face changes, she grows distant. Her gaze lingers on the window across from us. We both remain silent for a while. She gets up and goes to the kitchen, and from the Samovar, she pours a single cup of tea which she places in front of me, but she is elsewhere. She repeats to herself “the same life? Without change?” then raises her voice, and without looking at me says:

“No I don’t. Of course I don’t. What kind of life was it till now that I want it to repeat itself. It was all dreams, gone with the wind. All withheld proclamations. All roleplaying, acting, forced laughter. No I don’t want to live like this. I haven’t lived, that’s why I’ve always wanted to live one day. To start living one given day. I have always been a traveler here. We’ve always claimed our roots were elsewhere. Our roots neither grew there nor here. I don’t know why death is so hard in exile. I always thought it was hard for a happy person to die, but it appears to be the opposite.”

I get up to close the window. Its raining hard outside. The candlelight is beginning to show. I find a reason to stay a while longer. I think I also don’t want to repeat the past.

I look towards her as she laughs out loud. Her eyes are sparkling. She gestures towards me and says: “ok its enough we talked a lot about death! I’ll think of something to do with this stuff, I still have time.”

She puts another cigarette on the cigarette stick and asks: “by the way, do you know Elizabeth Taylor?”

I finally realize how much she resembles Elizabeth Taylor.


Nahid Keshavarz is a graduate of journalism school in Tehran. She has been living in Koln, Germany for more than thirty years. For fourteen years she has been manager of Refugee and Immigrant affairs in city of Koln.

She has passed courses in psychoanalysis and works as a psychoanalyst part time. Nahid is an active writer and her articles have been published on various portals and websites. She has also published four novels, one of which has been translated into German. Her fifth book is a work in progress and is scheduled for publication soon.

Iranian Edition (Vol II) | Fiction by Alie Ataee | Issue 40 (2021)

Parisian Coffee

By Alie Ataee
Translated by Mohammad Sarvi

FIRST:
I’m a novelist and a café owner in Tehran, so I’ve met and I keep meeting a lot of people.

The second man arrived after the first man had already ordered chips, cheese and beer. He nervously said in a loud voice: “They’ve sentenced him to death. They’re going to hang him.”

While filling his glass with beer from a bottle, the first man said: “I told you there’s no way he could get away.”

The second man took a chair, sat down and said: “There’s nothing we can do.”

The first man pushed the chips and cheese plate toward the second man and said: “Obviously not. He committed murder. It’s not a joke.”

They got busy eating. I asked: “Do you need anything else?”

The second man just noticed my presence. He looked at me with surprise, like he didn’t expect me to be there. He responded: “What’s on today’s menu?”

“Would you like to see the menu?” I asked.

“Yes please. My friend wants to order,” he answered.

As I put down the menu on the table in front of him, I asked: “Who is going to be hanged?”

“Naghawi,” he answered, ”Do you know him?”

“No, I don’t,” I said.

“He shot his wife and daughter and neighbors in Nazi Abad,” he explained.

“Why?” I asked.

“Honor killing,” He responded.

Both men stared at each other. The first man kept on talking: “This kind of people still exists; people who would get suspicious of their daughter because of one simple phone call. And they would kill her mother too!”

“I understand,” I said.

But I didn’t understand. I left their table. The café experienced one of its sad days. Naghawi had killed his wife and daughter, and two strangers were talking about his death sentence while having a snack.

The drizzle turned into a heavy rain. I took a book from the shelf and sat in front of the yard. As I was about to open it, I remembered Maryam had told me about her uncle who had killed his daughter in Kermanshah, because he didn’t know what she was leading her life. I asked her what was she doing for living? And Maryam didn’t respond. She only said, let’s pray for her soul. Souma also said Sabiheh was killed, because it wasn’t clear whom she had been writing letters to I asked who was she writing to? Souma said no one had ever found out. g there facing the yard and reviewing these memories, I felt angry with the second man who had delivered th horrible news about Naghawi, so angry that when he asked me for napkins, I told him we don’t have any.

He ordered his cake and coffee fifteen minutes after the first man finished his. . Once the first man was done, he said: “Would you please bring me an apple tart, ma’am?”

I went to the kitchen and brought him the tart. The second man had eaten half of his cake and he was busy devouring the second half. He said while chewing: “Only if the weapon is found his crime is proven..”

The first man didn’t respond.

The second man kept talking: “He won’t say where it is because he has bought it from someone whose identity he’s hiding.”

The first man said: “It’s probably a G3 rifle. Massacres are usually done with G3.”

The second man stopped eating and said: “How do you know this? However, it doesn’t matter what kind of gun it was; a bullet kills anyway.”

The first man stuck his fork in the tart and said: “Because only a professional would be able to kill seven people.”
The second was done eating. He said: “He wasn’t a professional. If he were, he would have killed only her daughter, not a crowd!”

The first man said: “You’re being too naïve, someone who’s holding a G3 rifle wouldn’t just kill one person.”

The second man looked down at his cup of coffee, then pushed it to the other side of the table. Perhaps he didn’t like the cup. Then, he said: “You’re so confident as if you’ve ever held a G3 rifle.”

The first man Kept calm. “Of course I haven’t. There was no reason to have one. I Don’t’ have a daughter or even a wife.” laughed so hard I could see his gums. Some cake was stuck on his teeth, but he couldn’t see it.

The second man said: “Let me search the internet for G3 rifle to see how it looks like.”

“It’s the kind of rifle that Naghawi managed to obtain,” the first man said.

The second man took his tablet out of his handbag. While he was busy searching on the internet, he said: “We know Naghawi. How would he obtain a G3?”

The first man stared at the second man with surprise and finally stopped eating. He said: “Now you arrived at the same question the police did. We certainly don’t know how he obtained it.”

Scrolling through pages on his tablet, the second man said: “It’s so strange that Naghawi was such a capable person and we had no idea!”

The first man said: “Totally. It’s not easy to get such a rifle. He didn’t look like such a capable guy.”

Listening to them, I was imagining a G3 rifle, the incompetent Nagahwi, Maryam’s cousin, Sabiheh who wrote letters, and the messed up tart on the table…

The images were passing in my mind like a slideshow, but none of them made me bring the men their bill and say: “We’re closing early today.” َAfter a while, managing my coffee shop, I felt I didn’t feel like continuing anymore. The man I loved had left me and I was lonely. Also, after the day the two men visited my shop, I concluded that all other men were into weapons and bullets. That’s why I decided to leave Iran for good. Well, I thought an experienced café owner can run a coffee shop anywhere in the world.

SECOND:
As I said earlier, I was a café owner in Tehran. This makes me eligible to say that Caffe Vito is one of the most ridiculous coffee shops in Paris. Not that the seedy places in Paris are rare, but this café is really a special one. Two Italian men are the owners. Some waiters are Malaysian. The only type of coffee they serve is Arabic. Tunisians and Moroccans get a twenty percent discount.

A café owner is always curious about other cafés, so that he can compare them with his own. When you’re in a city famous for its cafés, you keep evaluating your coffee shop based on things other cafés do and don’t. For example, how the cakes and coffee taste in those places and how customers are being served. Café Vito is one of the places that I visit on a daily basis, perhaps because I want to keep reminding myself that any café in Tehran is better than Vito. One day I was there, it was one of those ordinary days that nothing really happens. It was an ordinary morning and I ordered one of their ordinary coffees, thinking I had to write a paragraph about Vito and how cheap it is. I had all the information in mind. All the items on the menu including different Arabic coffees which were actually the same and only the chocolate served with them was different. And, , the number of Moroccan customers who received a twenty percent discount. As I opened my laptop to write the report, the waiter put my coffee on the table and said: “I’m so glad you’ve been visiting us for several days. Mariam is also happy by your choice.”

I smiled and thought to myself, so this is how the story begins, Mariam, a woman whom I’ve never met, is glad that I’m back for another visit. Perhaps I was wrong about those two Italian men with big white teeth being the owners of this café. Mariam owns the place and her employees greet customers on her behalf. As I started typing, a waiter appeared with a form titled “Hello to Mariam” and said: “Please fill out this form and become a member of our customer club.”

The form requested information such as name, phone number, and number of times per day I visit the café. I couldn’t stop thinking about “Hello to Mariam”. I envisioned Mariam as a self-absorbed woman or a strong woman with devoted fans. I filled out the form and added a comment at the end: “Your coffee isn’t not at all. I keep coming here because the taste of your coffee reminds me that coffee tastes better in Iran.”

I tried my best to write a neat French sentence. I double-checked the spelling of each word. I wanted to make sure she knows my comment is thoughtful. I handed back the waiter the form. I was anticipating his return as he came back with two copies of a one-page comic story and placed them on the table without saying a word. He wasn’t smiling like before and he didn’t care to ask why I bothered visiting them if I didn’t like their coffee? Since he didn’t ask, I couldn’t tell him I had other reasons. I picked a copy and looked at it. It was a biography; the word “Mariam” on the top was emboldened.

Mariam is a Moroccan woman whose husband was from Tunisia. During the colonial times in Morocco, she saved up money by selling coffee to fund Moroccan and Tunisian migrants. Mariam spent the money for the migrants’ healthcare. Her husband died in Malaysia of an unknown illness. Later, she married an Italian man. The two Italian men at the café are her grandsons.

It ended with this sentence: “Mariam, a woman who hates borders and powers.”

The biography made me think if Mariam hated borders. Did she really dedicate her life to migrants? If yes, why the waiters are Malaysians and why do Moroccans and Tunisians get discounts and why only Arabic coffee is served. I start typing my article:

Suffering is transferable through genes. People suffering from homelessness give birth to homeless children. Even though some homeless think in the future they can own a place to live there forever, the faulty genes won’t let them. It doesn’t matter if they are born in Morocco, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Iran or Malaysia. It doesn’t matter if they belong to a colony or they are victims of a war. It doesn’t matter where their next generations are born. The chromosomes that contain homelessness are passed on. Homelessness passes through the borders and nests inside the heart of refugees forever. As a result, one day a refugee takes shelter in another refugee’s café, while none of them are the person they were supposed to be.

THIRD:
When I saw them, they were getting separated. The boy was sitting on a wooden bench near Seine and the girl was standing, listening to the boy. He said: “There’s no reason to be afraid. You just have to go to the airport and return to Tehran.”

The girl sat next to the boy and said nothing. The boy took a pipe out of his bag and lit it gently. The girl held her head down. The boy held his head to the sky, and breathed the smoke out. He continued: “so many people come and go, none of them worry like you do. It’s just a six-hour trip, like a trip from Tehran to Isfahan.”

The girl grabbed the boy’s hand by the wrist and said: “But we came here together.”

The boy reacted: “But this time we’re not going back together. Is it blasphemy?”

The girl quivered and said: “Then what?”

The boy snapped: “What do you mean?”

“Are we going to meet when you are back in Tehran?” the girl asked.

“Yes, but less. A lot less,” the boy answered.

“Did I do something wrong?” the girl asked.

The boy answered angrily: “You overestimated my patience.”

“I had a wonderful time with you. I felt so blessed with you.”

The boy pulled his hand out of hers and said: “You have to wait until you’re wanted. You have no patience. An impatient woman isn’t a suitable one to live with.”

The girl tilted her head and said: “Give me more time, I’ll change.”

The boy put some more tobacco in the pipe and said: “I gave you an opportunity to travel. I got you a visa so you could come here to spend time together.”

“Don’t you consider the circumstances?” the girl said. “It was my first time out of the country. I wasn’t used to bathrooms here. The food didn’t’ go well with my stomach.”

The boy leaned back and said: “These little things are in every life. As I said, you don’t have patience.”

The girl moved on the bench to talk to the boy face to face and said: “How do you rank me?”

The boy who obviously liked the question, answered: “You used to be zero. Now you’re below zero.”

The girl leaned back again, or perhaps she collapsed. I couldn’t see her anymore. I saw the boy’s legs as he walked away. I made up their story in my mind. The story of a boy who goes on a trip with a girl. They’ve planned to marry. The boy leaves the girl before the trip is over. I got up and went toward the girl. As she was fiddling with the bits of tobacco left on the bench, she didn’t notice me. I asked in Farsi: “May I sit here?”

She looked at me with a smile, glad that I spoke Farsi. We were sitting across each other. Her full face looked much prettier than her profile seen from a distance. She had a long thin face. Her hands were shaking and her face looked uncertain” like a woman who’s insecure about her beauty and she’s convinced nobody likes her.

“How long will you be staying in Paris?” I asked.

“I’m leaving for Tehran tonight,” she answered.

I tried to pretend I was happy and said with a fake excitement: “amazing! I wish you a nice trip!”

She didn’t respond. She paused for some seconds, then asked: “How many gates should I pass through before boarding the airplane?”

“Three, I think I answered, “There’s the same number of them as when you arrived.”

She nodded. I wasn’t t sure whether she had a bad feeling, knowing that I overheard their conversation t. But I told myself, even if it was a bad feeling, it couldn’t be worse than what she’d felt earlier.

Don’t worry,” I said, “Nothing bad is going to happen. There are signs everywhere and the flight information officer answers any question you might have.”

She was quiet and kept her head down. I continued: “Let him go. Your life will be better without him, trust me.”

She raised her head. Her eyes filled up with tears, and tears rolled down her cheeks. I kept talking: “You couldn’t keep him by force, but he wasn’t a good guy anyway. You’re better off without him.”

She asked with a low tone: “How do you know?”

“Because he left you in the middle of the midway in your relationship,” I answered,” He had days and months in Tehran to tell you he doesn’t think you’re no match for him, but he chose a situation like this to say it. Do you think a good guy would do that?”

She shook her head and said: “I can’t believe it.”

I lit a cigarette and looked at the tourist boats sailing along the Seine. People took selfies on the deck and a loud music was playing. The city was alive, and I was thinking about how she was not happy. I knew that it would take her a long time to believe that the boy had left her. It would take her a long time to leave her homeland forever, and it would take a long time until she would be willing to go back to the land of shootings and angry men and loveless women. That’s who we are. Don’t human beings have anything except themselves?


Alie Ataee is an Iranian-Afghan fiction writer and playwright. She has an MA in Dramatic Literature from the University of Tehran. Her stories speak to the themes of immigration and identity crisis. She has published two novels and more recently a collection of short fiction.

Her books have won several awards including the Mehregan Adam Award and the Vav Literary Award. Some of her short stories have been translated into English and French and published in a diverse set of literary journals like Guernica and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her new nonfiction about the war on Iran at Afghanistan borders is forthcoming.

Iranian Edition (Vol II) | Poetry by Saeed Yousef | Issue 40 (2021)

Four Poems
By Saeed Yousef


A Song of Gratitude

I can change my hats, I can change my boots
I can change my jobs and my ways and attitudes
there’s one thing I can’t change and that’s my roots.

I can change houses as easily as tents
I can change towns and countries and continents
and always find substitutes for everything.
It’s just for roots I can’t find no substitutes.

And now I find myself in this very rare mood
that I want to sing a song of gratitude
for my roots, for I see it’s just for them—
it’s just for them I can’t find no substitutes.


In the Kitchen

Bent over the frying pan
you are stirring with the long wooden spoon.
I am admiring the lines of your body
and this sizzling sound comes from my heart.

Grazing in the waving grass, my gaze
slips down the waist
taking accurate measures of each spot.

Everybody waiting, enjoying the scent
of spices and what’s being cooked,
and I have such great appetite for the cook.


Foreignness

– How are you here, far from home?
– How should I put it?
Like a train that has left its tracks, heading for the wilderness.

– What are you doing here, in foreign lands?
– How should I put it?
Each day I take my guitar and softly play a few false, foreign notes.

– How do you perceive a foreign land?
– How should I put it?
It’s something foreign to me, outside of me.

– How do you find yourself?
– A foreigner, doubtlessly a foreigner.


Twin

A forbidden kiss, wet with tears and rain,
after running under a spring cloudburst.
That’s how you are, my twin! Soul mate
of many years!
Souvenir from the years of impatience,
Growing with me along the line of times.

Lingering in my heart as some keepsake,
a star from the galaxy of friendship.
That’s how you are, my twin! Soul mate
of many years!
A forbidden kiss, wet with tears and rain,
after running under a spring cloudburst.


Saeed Yousef is a former professor of Persian language and literature at the University of Chicago (2002-2020). He began writing and publishing poems in mid-1960s. A political prisoner under the Shah (1971-74), he had to leave Iran after the revolution and went to Germany as a refugee. Yousef has published about 10 books of poems, several translations and books of literary criticism, as well as three books of Persian Grammar. 

Iranian Edition (Vol II) | Fiction by Ezzat Goushegir | Issue 40 (2021)

Elizabeth

Elizabeth entered Maral’s house, alone. Without Tom.

The party was on in full swing. Twenty ebullient college students were dancing and drinking away their boredom. The living room could easily have held more partiers, and there was a lot of room for the variety of drinks and foods—pizza as well as Persian, Arabic and Mexican food.

“Elizabeth, you made it!” said Maral. “Good to see you. So, where is your boyfriend?”

“My boyfriend?” asked Elizabeth, blushing.

“Yeah. Tom!”

“Oh… Tom is just a friend. A good friend.”

Elizabeth anticipated that everyone would ask her the same question. It didn’t matter to her. Tom was her soulmate. A man of substance. A student of modern philosophy.

Fouad had been watching Elizabeth since she entered the house, captivated by her straight, long blonde hair, soft pink lips, round breasts filling a thin bra as seen through her white blouse. He had been plotting all day to approach her at Maral’s party and possibly get her drunk to become at ease with him. His wife and children had traveled to another state for two months for summer vacation, and now Fouad was alone. A few strands of grey hair had crept into his coarse black hair, which he himself had trimmed before coming to the party.

Elizabeth looked around and felt a little uneasy… a little strange…, her pale white face flushed. Maral was her high school friend. An Iranian immigrant girl with long dark hair, twinkling expressive eyes, and enormous talent in languages, history and women studies. Elizabeth also knew Peggy and had seen Fouad here and there several times. Their short meetings were limited to ordinary greetings and clichéd conversations. The other faces were new to her. She may have seen them on campus, though. Elizabeth’s primary interests were poetry, books, and solitude, musing about the essence of things surrounding her. And, her occasional conversation with Tom over a cup of coffee.

Fouad had mischievously monitored Elizabeth since her arrival. He didn’t want to think about his age, a forty-two-year-old man among the cheerful guests in their twenties. He didn’t want his Arabness to make him feel a hundred times stranger and more outlandish. Self-consciously, he drank a few sips of Scotch.

At the bar, he poured some Scotch in another glass with some ice and walked towards Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth, how nice to see you again,” said Fouad. “Maral told me you would be here tonight.”

Fouad offered the glass to Elizabeth: “Scotch with ice?”

Elizabeth blushed and was embarrassed by the offer, but it was a party after all. Fouad quickly recognized her timidity and bashful smile.

“Uh, sure… I’m sorry, I forgot your name…”

“Oh… I’m Fouad. I teach in the Department of English Language and Literature. I see you sometimes at the department’s poetry events.”

Elizabeth took the glass.

Fouad, who was writing his doctoral dissertation on The Canterbury Tales gleefully began to talk about Chaucer. As usual, he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm which he assumed others shared as well. He soon turned the conversation to the Black Plague and delicately to the subject of Theater of the Absurd, Samuel Beckett and the problem of human communication in the new world. For a second, however, Fouad paused, looked at Elizabeth and her glass, before continuing to talk about the essence of isolation, anxiety and alienation.

Elizabeth sipped her drink nervously while listening to Fouad’s words. In fact, she swallowed her scotch without enjoying it.

The sound of ice cubes clicking against the glass interrupted Fouad’s words. He chuckled and stretched his hand to take the empty glass which also made Elizabeth laugh, thinking how fast she’d downed her drink. Fouad’s point of view in explaining the essence of the alienation and tension that humans go through living in an estranged world and their endless striving to find meaning had become inexplicably attractive to her. She relaxed a bit.

“I am going to refill the glass.” Fouad said and walked to the bar.

Elizabeth said nothing. She looked around. Now, she could hear the music, interspersed with occasional loud laughter. She noticed shining eyes in the streaks of candles and lampshades, arms holding arms and bodies entangled.

“What a different night!” she whispered.

Fouad returned with another full glass.

“I want to get you drunk tonight!” he said, handing another glass of Scotch to Elizabeth. Elizabeth took it. She was feeling a little warm.

“Am I really getting drunk?” she asked herself.

Unlike most other students, she didn’t usually go to cocktail parties to experience nights of fun. Typically, she would attend more private parties accompanied by Tom and a few others, and she usually had no more than two glasses of red wine. She often did not even finish the second glass.

Maral’s living room was bursting with people. The liquor was strong. She drank it quickly. She felt that she was completely conscious and alert, and nothing had changed in her, except that her anxiety and embarrassment had diminished. She felt alive, cheerful, and flourishing, happy that she had gone out for the night. Her mood had changed and her daily routine was completely forgotten. The sound of the music aroused passion, desire, and jollity in her. Now she focused on the melodies, the arrangement of the words spoken by the guests, which resembled a pearl necklace, and discovered each word’s new shape, sound and meaning. The music approached its ecstatic climax, when Peggy and John, Melissa and Peter started dancing. A gentle dance with a repetitive rhythm. A kind of shaking of the arms and legs like soft aerobic movements.

Fouad thought that as Elizabeth was now more at ease with him, he could excite her curiosity in her by sharing some of his family stories, ethnicity, and philosophy of life.

“I have two sons,” he said quickly and abruptly. “Did you know that?”

“No!” Elizabeth said, her eyes were fixed on the dancers, as her whole mind revolved around the lyrics and music.

“I miss my older son so badly!”

“How so?” asked Elizabeth. “Doesn’t your son live with you?”

“He does! But at the moment, he’s traveling with my wife and younger son to Rhode Island to visit my wife’s family. For summer vacation.”

“Oh…”

“My mother had always said that parents are slaves to their oldest child. And the children are enslaved by their parents… Now I know why she said that!”

“How come?” Elizabeth was puzzled. “A child is a child. Parents shouldn’t discriminate among them!”

Fouad paused for a moment. And exactly at the same time, Arabic music was played at a fast pace. Hani, a Palestinian student, raised the volume of the music, held his girlfriend Becky’s hand, and, with a passionate turn, drew her to the dance floor. The rhythm of Hani’s feet on the thin carpet of the room, the vibrating muscles of his thighs and arms, hot forehead, hair drenched in sweat, electrifying black eyes, long eyebrows, and wet lips, suddenly stopped Elizabeth in her tracks, enchanted, seduced, and mesmerized by his fiery movements.

Elizabeth’s body warmed up, palms covered with sweat. She thought: “It’s a pure erotic scene!”

Saturated with desire, she imagined herself slipping into this strange man’s arms, brown and sweaty, as he spinned Elizabeth around and they turned like a merry- go- round until they fell, kissing, touching and embracing wildly… bare skins… white and brown, entangled like two snakes… and it didn’t matter if Tom saw her naked on the thin carpet, in the arms of this strange man, reaching the peak of an unimaginable journey.

“Elizabeth?”

“Tom?”

No, it wasn’t Tom calling her. She heard her own voice. An inner voice. A dialogue that was not heard.

“Tom… you only kissed my lips once. Cold. very cold. Then it was all over. We just stayed friends. What attracts you? What’s your sexual orientation? You never explained to me what you are… a celibate? Anything else? You never go to bed with anyone.”

“What did you say?” asked Fouad.

“I didn’t say anything!”

“Oh!”

“This man… is he Lebanese, like you?”

“Hani? Oh, no… he is Palestinian. And I’m not Lebanese!”

“Oh.”

As Fouad tried to get closer to Elizabeth, she slipped away like a fish. Fouad’s eyes were wild. He stared at her face, gazing into her eyes, nose, lips, cheekbones… teeth.

“Is this a form of communication in the Middle East?” Elizabeth thought. Feeling shockingly disgusted, she stepped back further. 

Fouad pulled back, too. “You know, Elizabeth! I am an emotional man.”

“Sorry. I couldn’t hear you!” Elizabeth said in an irritated tone.

“Oh, sorry… I said I’m an emotional man! I grew up with my mother and sisters.”

“Right.”

“My father had three other wives and a flock of children!”

“Four women?”

“Yeah. My father couldn’t recognize me among all his other little children.”

Hani’s dance was over. Everyone cheered, whistled, gyrating to the rhythm of the next song. As the whistles faded, Hani sat down on a stool and wiped the sweat from his face with his white-and-black Palestinian linen scarf. Becky jumped into his arms and kissed his lips. They both went to the kitchen. Elizabeth could no longer see Hani from the living room.

This time Fouad, with his understanding of the feminist perspective, tried to arouse Elizabeth’s curiosity to the strange world of nomadic Arab women. He thought all female students were interested in the mysterious and exotic life of Middle Eastern women who lived far beyond their own sheltered lives. Elizabeth, however, was staring at the kitchen door, hoping to see a glimpse of Hani.

In the kitchen, half dark, with candles lit, Maral handed a few bottles of beer to Hani and Becky, as from time to time, like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, she nodded to her other guests. All around the room, eyes sparkled with joy. Satisfied, she then sipped her white wine.

Elizabeth looked at Fouad. A look which confused him. “Was it in appreciation for his sharing memories or was it something else?” he wondered.

“You know, my father didn’t know me at all,” said Fouad. “On my sixteenth birthday, for the first time, I dared to approach him while he was playing cards with his friends. I shouted: ‘Father!’ The game paused. I said: ‘I am independent now!’ ‘So what?’ He said indifferently, without raising his head or looking at me. I said again: ‘I am sixteen years old today. I am becoming independent!’ He said: ‘Well, go… go away’ and then continued playing cards.”

Astonished, Elizabeth looked at Fouad.

“I ran and ran all the way to our house, to the closet, and cried all day,” Fouad continued.

Staring at Fouad’s lips, Elizabeth placed the empty glass on the table. Fouad paused.

“What happened next?” asked Elizabeth.

“Then I went about my life. That was my only relationship with my father!”

Something shuddered in Elizabeth’s heart. She was touched. Yet, she wondered why she had been standing in this corner of the room all night, listening to Fouad as he talked while drinking, or explained what eggplant and okra were while shoveling Middle Eastern food into her mouth?

“I need to go to the bathroom,” she apologized.

Complex feelings swirled in her mind. Hani had captured her attention while she had been with Fouad. And she felt Tom looking at her from the distance.

In the bathroom, she looked at her face in the mirror, as though it were the first time seeing it. She became aware of her radiant blue eyes and the glow sparking from them like a rippling stream of electricity. Why did she never stare into her own eyes? She swallowed her saliva. It tasted of eggplant and okra and some unknown herbs or spices, food that was probably cooked by Fouad or maybe Hani. In her head, four women were eating together in a dusty little house in a desert, with a bunch of little skinny children buzzing around them like bees. Inconsistent, incongruous images she had seen in movies and magazines. Now one of these bees was standing in front of her.

She looked at her watch. It was one fifty in the morning. How the night had swept past in rapturous moments. It was as if, like Ulysses, Elizabeth had gone to a land of wonders , a journey into a world of dance and music and passion and laughter and eggplant and okra and raucous sounds. And she had flirted with Hani, a stranger, made love with him on a thin carpet, and had reached a climax she had never experienced. At the ecstatic moment of her climax, another man gently dropped grapes into her mouth with the rhythm of harp strings . And now, a woman in a man’s harem, like in the movies, so like the propaganda about Middle Eastern men, a man with maniacal eyes enters carrying a dagger in one hand, while with another hand squeezes the woman’s throat! Exactly like in the movies where with a severe blow, a woman’s head is cut off. Decapitation in one strike!

“You, stupid, naïve, white racist girl!! Why do you think like white colonialists who treated their slaves horribly? Portraying them with horrific images?” Elizabeth thought to herself.

When she opened the bathroom door, Hani was standing there. Elizabeth was flustered, not knowing quite what to say. Quickly, she overcame her embarrassment as her body was warm and her mood tumultuous. She felt an enchanting drunkenness that she desired to last forever. Becky’s hand was in Hani’s. Hani looked at Elizabeth pleasantly and said: “We didn’t want to leave the party without saying goodbye to you!”

Becky stroked Hani’s arm and said, smiling, “Bye, Libby! It’s good to meet you!” Elizabeth wondered in her mind, “Only my close friends and siblings call me Libby.”.

“Goodbye, Elizabeth.” Hani said as he kissed Elizabeth on her cheeks.

“Goodnight!” said Elizabeth. She added nothing else.

Elizabeth thought, “What captivating eyes! Pitch black, like an unknown night!”

She followed their shadows until they disappeared. As they left, Becky turned her head and stared into Elizabeth’s eyes. Elizabeth did not know how to interpret her gaze. She looked at her watch and suddenly came to her senses. Anxiously, in a Cinderella-like manner, she searched through her purse as Fouad joined her.

“It’s late, I need to call for a taxi.”

“I’ll take you home!” Fouad said quickly.

“Thank you. But…”

“Your house is not very far from here!”

Elizabeth wondered how he knew her home address. It was late, she had lost track of time, and with her fear of darkness, midnight predators and taxi drivers.

Fouad opened the car door for her. Elizabeth got in and sat down. The car smelled of pine wood car freshener, from a sponge deodorant dangling from the mirror. Fouad started the engine.

“Can you watch for red lights, please?” said Fouad.

“Why?” Perplexed, Elizabeth laughed.

“Oh, as you see I’m drunk. I don’t want to miss the red lights.”

“Sure!”

“You know, once I was driving drunk, the police stopped my car and asked for my ID card. I said, ‘My card is not with me!’ ‘I have to see who you are,’ he said. ‘It’s obvious! اَنا دیکُ مِن الهندی، جمیلُ شَکلی وُ القَدّی Ana Dicka menal Arabiah. Jamilol shaklo val ghaddi’!”

Fouad started laughing out loud. Elizabeth understood the meaning of neither his nor his laughter. But she looked at him gently and laughed out.

“Maral once read me a rhyming poem in Arabic that her older sister had to memorize for her Arabic class in high school. The poem began: ‘Ana Dicka Men Al-Hindi’. It means I am a rooster from India!!”

He cracked up. “Yeah, I’m a ‘cock.’ A ‘rooster’ but not from India!”

Whenever Elizabeth heard the word poetry, she would suddenly become curious, filled with freshness and vitality. It was as if every word, rhythm, image, tone, and idea brought her to a new world of creation, to a new language of poetry and poetic expression. Aspired to write poems in the style of Sylvia Plath and toss the world differently, she wanted to write and live like Sylvia Plath. Despite trying to become completely Sylvia Plath, she remained different, thanks to her in one major way: she lacked her courage.

“You know, poetry to me is purity,” Fouad’s voice changed. “Like a dewdrop on a morning flower!”

“What do you mean?” Asked Elizabeth.

“Poetry teaches us how to see… how to live… and… embraces our vulnerabilities!”

“Sure!”

“You know, I’m uncomfortable with some of my American colleagues’ superficial social interactions.”

“I do not understand what you mean!”

“You know, I always greet everyone with my Eastern habits, even if no one acknowledges my presence!”

“I still do not know what you’re trying to say!”

“One of my co-workers, a middle-aged man who teaches in the English department, always looks at me as if I don’t exist. I’m invisible to him. When I greet him, he turns his back as if he has not seen me at all! It hurts!”

“Yes, sure…”

“We have been introduced to each other several times. I greet him each time I see him in the Department. And he ignores me. He is a professor like me, so how could he say that he doesn’t know me?”

“I honestly don’t know. It takes all kinds.”

“But don’t you think those who ignore specific people are acting superior to certain groups of people?”

“Sure, I think so…”

“It’s called the characteristics of imperialists!”

“I’m sorry what?”

“The specificity of power… the imperialists’ traits!”

Elizabeth didn’t understand the meaning of “imperialism.” Suddenly she felt a sense of absolute freedom and liberation, even though her national pride was being crushed. She couldn’t find a reason for this sudden change. It was the first time she had been talking to a Middle Eastern man and getting a ride from him. In her small town of one thousand people, until the age of seventeen or eighteen, she had never seen a man with brown eyes or brown hair. In her church everyone had blue eyes and blonde hair. Now she was sitting in the car of a stranger with shiny black eyes and rough dark hair, who stood by her throughout the party and looked at her eagerly.

Elizabeth realized that Fouad’s tone turned softer and calmer with an attractive vibration in the utterance of each word.

Fouad talked constantly.

“You know, Elizabeth, I’m an emotional, passionate man. And I always get in trouble because of my feelings.” Fouad cleared his throat and swallowed his saliva. “You know, sometimes I cry.”

He held Elizabeth’s hands and kissed them softly. Elizabeth noticed that Fouad stopped at every red light.

“Is it okay if I touch your hands?” Fouad said softly.

Elizabeth said nothing.

“Won’t you get upset if I kiss your hands?”

Elizabeth laughed with a contradictory feeling.

“You already kissed my hand!”

As they approached Elizabeth’s house, Fouad turned onto a side street.

“You had to go straight!” Said Elizabeth.

“I wanted to make the journey longer! Is it okay?” Said Fouad.

“No!” Said Elizabeth.

She remembered Hani’s striking eyes. Tom’s calm staring too. She had bizarrely become curious. Fouad opened a pack of chewing gum and put one in his mouth. He didn’t offer one to Elizabeth. Maybe he had forgotten! After a moment of silence, he kissed Elizabeth’s fingers again. Elizabeth was cold like a piece of ice.

The car stopped at the door of Elizabeth’s house.

“May I come in and have a glass of water?” Asked Fouad.

“Sure… just for a glass of water!” Said Elizabeth.

“Are you throwing me out before I even come inside?” Fouad said with a giggle.

Elizabeth laughed too. She was somewhat annoyed by the meaninglessness of her own laughter and their absurd and naive conversation sitting in the car. She thought that this married man with two children was acting like a fifteen-year-old boy, a Peter Pan holding the door for her as she stepped out of the car. She curiously observed him. She took her key and opened the door. Fouad entered. He looked around. Elizabeth’s living room was small and simple, with a cream-colored sofa, a TV on a brown table, a dining table with two chairs and a small bookshelf.

“We better not speak loudly,” said Elizabeth. “I don’t want Mary to wake up.”

“Who is Mary?”

“My roommate.”

Elizabeth went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. Fouad was sitting on the sofa looking at the books. She handed him the glass. He took a sip of water.

“Can you please sit next to me?” asked Fouad.

Elizabeth sat down next to him. Fouad started stroking her hair.

“What soft hair!” He breathed into her hair.

“How fragrant! Like spring wildflowers in the wide, green plains.”

The curtains were open. Elizabeth got up and closed them, then returned to sit next to him. He touched her face and breathed deeply into her hair. “The smell of chamomile and wildflowers, the smell of spring daffodils.”

Fouad quickly embraced Elizabeth and said: “I love you Elizabeth, I really love you! With my whole heart.”

Elizabeth laughed and pulled herself away from him.

“You’re silly! Don’t say that!”

She stood up and turned off one of the two lamps.

“Sit next to me, Elizabeth!” said Fouad with a softer voice.

Elizabeth sat next to him.

“Is it ok with you if….” Fouad asked.

He closed in on Elizabeth and touched her soft skin tenderly. His palms were rough.

“Is it okay that… I am doing this?” He slid his fingers down. Glided them and stopped.

“If there was a problem, I wouldn’t allow you from the beginning…”

Elizabeth was helpless in her reactions and words. She was perplexed why she allowed a man who had been standing next to her all night, putting exotic food in her mouth, and pouring hard liquor in her glass, to be touching her body. Was it to satisfy her curiosity or a burning desire for intimacy? Or an illusionary dream for love?

She said to herself, “I am a twenty-four-year-old! How lonely I am! Once, four or five years ago, a young man who I went to a high school prom with clumsily told me ‘I love you’ but then our relationship ended when he went to Boston University to study chemical engineering.”

In Maral’s bathroom, staring at her face, she had discovered another Elizabeth for the first time. An Elizabeth with sparkling blue eyes, pinkish red lips with soft, delicate skin. With thin hair, blonde and shiny and soft… why should she be that lonely?

Fouad turned off the other lamp. A faint light shone through the curtains.

Fouad touched Elizabeth’s round, firm breasts, then moved his fingers down to her thighs and lingered there… young and strong thighs, formed from living in wide fields, in nature… thighs that became fit on her father’s farm, working in corn, soybean and pea fields, thighs that were shaped by running after playful calves and hardworking, robust horses.

Elizabeth remembered that before he had brought the second glass of Scotch to Elizabeth, Fouad had told her: “You are a very sensitive soul. A girl every man desires the most!” Elizabeth had laughed and thought that he would say the same thing to many women.

Fouad moved his fingers between her legs. Elizabeth cried: “No…”

“Why?” asked Fouad.

“I do not want to!”

“Why?”

Elizabeth said nothing.

“You are honest and sincere! A woman of truth,” said Fouad. “Your innocence has attracted me.”

Fouad’s coarse hair, rough hands, and the scent of his cheap cologne brought Elizabeth to strange, complex, and conflicting feelings. It was as if she had lived parts of these features, images, and smells, through reading the exotic stories or watching foreign movies. People and figures who seemed to have passed by her not so long ago when she once travelled to Chicago, and the wild men had ravished her with their savage eyes. It was as if she was forced, like a tortoise, to hide her whole body inside her own shell. When for the first time in her life, in Chicago, she saw real black skin, dark, curly hair, and thick lips, she said to herself: “No, no…I’m not dehumanizing shapes, colors, textures… No…”

“I love you Elizabeth!” said Fouad. “Believe me. It’s true. I fell in love with you from the moment I saw you!”

“Drop it! Please. Don’t talk,” said Elizabeth.

Fouad was in another world.

“I have a question for you,” said Elizabeth as she pulled herself away.

“Ask, please.”

“If your wife wants to sleep with another man as free and comfortable as you seem to be, what would be your reaction?”

Fouad’s fingers remained fixed on her thigh. He paused, startled and surprised.

“Of course! But, I… I don’t encourage her to do so!”

There was silence between them.

Elizabeth stared into his eyes in the semi-dark room. Fouad turned his eyes away and took another sip of water. After a moment of silence, he said: “I do not hate my wife. There is nothing left between us! Nothing to connect us. I think… she …”

Elisabeth was silent.

You know, I’ve been with many women.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Nothing. Just saying.”

“Ok.”

“I was even in a ménage à trois…”

“Sorry?”

“…in a bed with two women.”

“So what?”

“Nothing!”

“So?”

“Nothing. I’m confessing! The problem is, when you are a university professor, women throw themselves at you without you expecting them to!”

“Well, why are you telling me this?”

“Because I love you!”

“Don’t talk about ‘love’ anymore. I do not want you to talk about love at all!”

“Why?”

“Because!”

“Because why?”

“Love is important to me.”

“It’s important to me, too!”

“But what you say is not love!”

“So, what is it then?”

“If a man loves a woman, she will sense it instinctively through his eyes and gestures.”

“You are a complicated person!”

“Maybe…”

“You do not love me?”

“No!”

“Do you like me? Even a little?”

“It’s a different thing!”

“But I love you… very… very much.”

Fouad’s heart started beating. He kissed Elizabeth’s long neck feverishly. Her ears and her lips too. His breathing grew heavier and heavier. The scent of his cologne revolted Elizabeth and changed her mood. The scent took her to a small room with dirty, pale curtains in a deserted land where a woman sold her body to a man for a few dollars. She had seen the same scene in a theater, in the same city, in the theater department – a play by Eugene O’Neill? Anna Christie, perhaps? But why did she remember this scene at this particular moment, especially now?

Elizabeth’s body was getting colder by the minute. And Fouad’s body warmer.

“Touch me!” said Fouad.

Elizabeth was cold. She imagined herself lying on an old, dirty mattress, in the same small room in a poor neighborhood, with the smell of this cheap cologne surrounding her. Agitated and disturbed, she quickly withdrew from Fouad. Fouad closed in on her.

“Why don’t you touch me?” insisted Fouad.

Elizabeth felt deranged. She thought, “How horrible that a man would ask a woman in their first intimacy to satisfy his desires!”

“Enough! Stop it!” Elizabeth shouted.

Fouad was at the last moment, reaching his climax with Elisabeth’s repeating words “Stop it”, “Stop it”, “Stop it”!

Elizabeth quickly pulled away. She was irritated and distressed. Fouad fell on the floor. Elizabeth stood up, arranged her hair, face and clothes, and leaned on the wall.

“I think you were not ready!” said Fouad.

 Elizabeth said nothing.

“I did not want it to be like this!” said Fouad.

Elizabeth said nothing.

“Can I drink some more water?”

“You can go to the kitchen and fill your own glass.”

Fouad put on his clothes.

“I really did not want it to end like this!” said Fouad.

Fouad drank some more water. The sound of his swallowing was loud and irritating.

Elizabeth opened the door of her house. The sky was clear and lighter.

“Please don’t hate me, Elizabeth. I’ll do whatever you want me to, just don’t hate me!”

In the garage next door, there was the sound of a car turning on. Fouad looked down silently in shame, then left for home. Elizabeth closed the door. Upstairs, Mary, Elizabeth’s roommate, opened her bedroom and went to the bathroom. Elizabeth leaned against the wall. She was nauseous. Walked slowly on the steps towards the stairs. She wanted to vomit. But Mary was in the bathroom, and the door was closed.

Elizabeth closed her eyes. She pitied herself and Fouad.


Ezzat Goushegir has published six books in Farsi, including four collections of short stories, a collection of two plays, and a book of poetry. Her plays in English have been staged internationally, published, and received awards including “”Maryam’s Pregnancy” and “Behind the Curtain”, which won the Richard Maibaum and the Norman Felton awards respectively.

Her first play “Beginning of Bloom” was produced for Iranian National Television in 1976 and she has been writing both in English and Farsi since she immigrated to the U.S. Her plays have been translated into French, Arabic and Mandarin and produced by a variety of theater companies in the U.S., Europe, China and the Philippines. Among her many activities, she was a Fellow Writer in the Iowa City International Writing Program, a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Maryland, a co-director and dramaturge of a reading series at New Federal Theatre in New York. She is also a regular contributor to literary journals, and her writing has appeared in Persian publications around the world. Four volumes of her Memories in Diaspora will be published in 2022. 

She currently teaches at DePaul University (SCPS) in Chicago.

Iranian Edition (Vol II) | Fiction by Maria Saba | Issue 40 (2021)

Age-Old Ways

By Maria Saba

My parents were communists.  Not that they ever told me.  I found that out years after their execution by the Shah’s forces. 

I was at my grandmother’s house the night they ‘left on a long trip’, as Grandma said later.  When my parents came to take me home that final afternoon, I pretended to be asleep under a blanket, hoping they would wait for me to wake up because they couldn’t imagine leaving without me.  “She never naps in the afternoon,” I heard my mother say over the popping and crackling of esfand.  Kobra, my mother’s nanny, was burning esfand seeds in an incense burner which she circled around my mother while praying to ward away harm. 

“With all those people about your flat, how could my poor child find any peace and quiet to sleep?”  Grandma retorted.  I loved her.  She always took my side. 

My mother sighed.  I was about to give up the pretence and leave with them when my father said, “We can’t shut our door to the world so Mahta can take a nap.” 

 ‘The world’ was a group of comrades as they called themselves, who showed up at our apartment at all hours, drank tea and talked forever.  When the landlord, Mrs. Tahouri, complained about so many pairs of shoes outside the door, I hoped they would stop coming.  “It’s not a mosque.  It’s a residential flat,” she complained.  But the comrades brought their shoes inside and left them on rows of newspaper Mom had spread out.  Turning in my bed, I imagined cutting each shoe into hundreds of pieces. 

I knew it would be the same that evening.  Let them go to their friends, I mumbled from under the blanket.  

The esfand smoke threw Dad into a cough.  Grandma reminded Kobra that burning a little esfand was just as effective as a lot of it and opened the window.  

“I’ll bring Mahta by tomorrow,” Grandma said.  If Dad hadn’t been there, she probably would have told my mother she could never understand sacrificing their angel’s comfort for a group of strangers. 

 “Let me give her a kiss then,” my mother said.  My heart sank; they don’t miss me, I thought.  She lowered the blanket, caressed my hair, and hugged me gently.  The sweet scent of forsythia from her hair filled my head.  I yearned to clasp my arms around her, but she hadn’t insisted on taking me home because their ‘friends’ mattered more. 

She moved away.  “Should I take her things now?”

“No, I’ll bring everything,” Grandma said. 

Something tickled my hand.  Dad’s moustache.  He let go of my hand and kissed my forehead.  My eyes twitched, and my lips trembled as I rolled over to hide my tears.  

After I heard the clanking of the latch, I threw aside the blanket and sat up.  The smell of esfand lingered, or perhaps it had been imprinted in my senses.  Throughout my childhood I was so used to Kobra burning esfand and pleading with God, the Merciful and the Great, for the well-being of my family, who couldn’t be farther from religion, that I failed to detect any irony in her devout Muslim prayer for ‘Godless communists’.  Nor did I find it strange that Grandma supported Kobra’s rozeh or her several pilgrimages to Mashhad and one to Mecca.  I took this genial coexistence for granted until after the revolution, when these age-old ways were viewed as intolerable results of lack of conviction and weak faith. 

 

The next morning I got up late, surprised that neither Grandma nor Kobra had woken me up or called me to breakfast.  No sound came from the kitchen or the living room.  I found Grandma sitting in the hall by the phone.  Her body swayed while her hands scratched her knees.  Kobra entered with a tea tray.  Grandma lifted her head and coughed as if something was stuck in her throat.  “I’m going to your home to see…”  She opened her arms for me. 

I settled on her lap.  “I’m coming too.” 

She paused, searching for words.  “But then you can’t help Kobra decorate the cake.”

Kobra forced out a smile, which didn’t cheer up her sunken face.  “Miss Mahta, why don’t you help me?  I bake the cake…but decoration… you’re so good at it.” 

Grandma’s eyes went from one thing to another, never looking at me.  I clasped my arms around her.  “Don’t worry Grandma.  I’ll stay and help Kobra until you get back.”  I pressed my face against hers.  “Why are you crying, Grandma?  I promise to be good.”  She wiped her face.  “It’s dust.  I am sensitive to dust.  Kobra, don’t forget to dust everything.”  She added suddenly, “The pickle jars.  Start with those.”  Kobra nodded slowly. 

After breakfast, Kobra spent a long time praying for the children with her eyes closed, her hands turning the prayer beads.  One of her two henna-coloured braids had fallen out of her white scarf as she bobbed her head back and forth.  Kobra was hired as my mother’s nanny when my grandparents were visiting relatives in Bushehr.  She had become so attached to my then six-month-old mother and the whole family that she left her own to live with my grandparents in Tehran.  The last time she’d seen her family, they had urged her to stay and marry an old man with two wives and eight children.  She cut her ties with them but not with their traditions.  To our daily meals she added dishes from Bushehr, such as ghelyeh mahi or dal adas, and guests asked for them so often that sometimes Grandma held parties, at which only traditional dishes of Bushehr were served.  On these occasions, Kobra’s eyes glistened with pride as she thanked the guests for their kind remarks on her humble work, as she called it. 

At Grandma’s I often followed Kobra around the house, watching her prepare dishes or dust and clean.  Her meticulous handling of ordinary chores elevated every task to the level of ceremony, and I imitated everything.  Her hand glided the dusting cloth over the dining table, and I raised my heels to reach the table top and followed her path with my little piece of cloth.  Then she stood back, craned her head this way and that to catch any stains she might have missed, and I did the same.  She often paused and smiled at me, placed her palm on her chest, and with eyes toward the ceiling prayed for my health and salvation.  During one of Grandma’s parties, when Major Kalantar asked me what I wanted to become when I grew up, I answered, “I want to be Kobra.”  I didn’t understand why the guests burst into laughter, and my mother bit her lip.  Later I heard her say to Grandma, “I think she loves Kobra more than she loves me.” 

“Maybe because Kobra spends more time with her.”  Grandma said.  “Besides, I remember a time when you loved Kobra more than me.”

“Well, that was different.”  She added after a pause, “I’m worried about all the religious things Kobra does.”

“Next thing you know Mahta will be asking for prayer beads of her own,” Grandma said, and they both laughed as people do when they think of something sweet and endearing.  I had indeed thought about asking for a long string of green prayer beads like Kobra’s, which she had brought from a pilgrimage to Mashhad, but I changed my mind to prove them wrong. 

  After Kobra finished with her prayer for ‘the children’, we went into the basement.  She pushed a metal shelf loaded with pickle jars away from the wall and pulled out batches of paper tied with string.  “There are mites in these.  Let’s burn them.” 

“Grandma said to dust them,” I reminded her.

“It won’t do.  Worms will creep out and fill the house.  Let’s make a fire.”      

Kobra heaped the papers and went upstairs to fetch matches.  I sorted the batches of paper into rows. 

“What’s this Miss Mahta?”

Chahar shanbeh soori!”  I clapped my hands.  The last Tuesday of the year, we would make a row of fires in Grandma’s garden and jump over them.  The fire was to cleanse us of sickness and bring us health and strength in preparation for the forthcoming New Year.  Kobra pressed her hand on her chin and then her throat as if to swallow something.  “Are you going to cry, Kobra?” 

“No Miss, no.”  Kobra squatted on the tiles and placed a lit match on top of the first pile.  I jumped over it and sang.  “Zardi-e man az to.”  Kobra held her head between her hands.  “Those ones too.”  I pointed to the rest of the piles.  She looked up at me anxiously and shifted over to the next pile with another match.  I leapt over the second flame.  “Sorkhi-e to az man.”  Kobra moved beside the next batch and dropped the lit match.  And the next.  Then I stopped.   Something was happening.  Everyone knew about it but me.  Maybe my parents too.  But I knew there was no point asking.  “Divar moosh daareh, moosh ham goosh daareh,” was the oldest whisper in our house, in Grandma’s too, perhaps in every household in the city and the country.  I had learned not to ask, but to be wary of the familiar walls, which had mice, who had ears.  Whom did they report to and how did they convey the information they gathered?  These details kept me awake at night, and I imagined little grey mice pressing their ears to the walls.  Perhaps they had ears that could hear from one end of the street to the other, and then they travelled on cable cars in the underground tunnels to report in their squeaky voices to mice headquarters. 

I squatted beside Kobra and pressed my head against her arm.  Her knees humped up, and her eyes fixed on a spot on the floor. 

“Are you going to call rozehkhoon this week?”  I asked with the hope of cheering her up.  Her only activity beyond house chores was monthly rozeh ceremonies, if it could be called that.  Kobra and a neighbour woman, also from Bushehr, would sit in the garden on a rug under a row of mulberry trees, listening to an old mullah, who recited tales of martyred saints from his chair.  The women wrapped themselves tightly in their chadors in front of the mullah, who wore a black turban and a faded, black robe. 

Quietly riding my tricycle around them, I listened to the same stories, the mullah raising and lowering his voice while rubbing his forehead, tugging his beard or placing his hand behind his ears.  His way of telling the stories, his intonations and inflections shifting from melancholy to rage, captivated me.  When one story got to the part where Shemr’s arrow hit the saint’s goatskin water bag, depriving him of the last drops of water in the scorching desert of Karbala, the mullah’s sorrowful humming and chest beating always transfixed me.  I would stop my tricycle and watch the rise and fall of the heads and the shoulders under the black chadors as the women sobbed, my own throat knotted over the doom of the brave, holy saint.  About this time, my grandmother would call me to take a tray of dates, fruits, and tea to the mullah and his audience.  As taught, I would place the tray on the small table in front of him and say, “Please Sir, you need to wet your throat.”  He would smile through the lines and folds of his leathery skin and receive the offering after a “Sisters, with your permission.”    

The mention of rozeh brought a brief spark to Kobra’s eyes.  “He’s back in Bushehr now.” 

“The fire is out,” I said. 

“Let’s wash the floor.”   

I held the hose while Kobra wiped away the ashes with the straw broom.  We left the door and the windows open for the floor to dry and Kobra pushed the shelf back against the wall. 

The phone rang upstairs.  Kobra ran for it, and when I came up behind her she was saying.  “Yes, yes, oh dear God.”  Her knees wobbled, and she reached for a chair.  “Yes Ma’am.  Yes Ma’am. Now?  Yes Ma’am.  I will.”

“Let me talk to Grandma.”  I went up the chair and grabbed the phone from her.  Grandma’s voice was tired and distant. 

“Mahta, my dear…” 

I interrupted.  “Let me talk to my mom.” 

“Your mom can’t talk right now…  She’s out.”  Her voice quavered.  “I’ll come home soon.  Just be a good girl dear and help Kobra.  Bye, love.”  And she hung up.  

I turned to Kobra.  She looked so remote that I didn’t bother asking anything. 

“Let’s go Miss Mahta.”  She took my hand, but didn’t move for a while.

In the kitchen, Kobra placed the large flour container on the counter. 

“I don’t want any cake,” I said, but it was as if my voice didn’t reach her.  She hummed a sad melody as she poured oil in a pan and turned on the heat.  This wasn’t the way she made cake.

“We always start with egg and sugar,” I said.  One of her tears fell into the pan and sizzled.  She stifled the crackling oil by dumping a bowl of flour onto it.  The scent of sautéed flour churned my stomach.  Kobra had made halva when Grandpa died.  For a whole week, plates of halva and dates and trays of tea were passed around relatives from Sanandaj, wailing and sobbing in every corner of the house.  Men and women blew into hookahs and blew out smoke, which meandered through the room like white serpents. 

The sight of Grandpa’s face through a gap in his shroud as he was lowered into the grave flashed through my mind.  “I don’t want any halva!  Stop!”  

Kobra turned off the stove. 

“Stop singing,” I yelled, though I knew she wasn’t singing a song but murmuring an elegy I had heard at Grandpa’s funeral.  Kobra slunk onto a chair and wiped her face with the corner of her scarf.  Her head bowed so low that her chin rested on her chest. 

Kobra took out her prayer beads from her vest pocket.  Turning the beads, she prayed for their souls in the safety of heaven.  I imagined a dark, enormous wave crashing against our home and toppling it over, leaving nothing behind but pairs of old sneakers floating on top of newspapers and myself flying on the wings of the legendary simorgh like heroes of Shahnameh and taking away my parents to a safe place.

Kobra’s sobbing interrupted her prayers.  I burst into tears too.  She held me tight, pressing my face against her wet cheeks, and resumed her plea for the salvation of those who were no longer with us. 

 

Did Kobra know she was praying for Godless communists?  I was too young to perceive such subtleties and later, like many fifteen-year-olds with my know-it-all attitude and my so-called political activities, too self-absorbed to ask.  The answer nonetheless came to me when three years after the revolution, Kobra was ill with bronchitis.  Confined to bed, her round face had shrunk, and her dark rimmed eyes had lost their brightness.  Day after day Grandma and I cared for her.  One day, after helping her lean against the pillow while feeding her soup, she pushed the bowl away. 

“Pray for me, Miss Mahta,” she said, her gaze beseeching fixed on me.  I set the bowl next to her prayer beads on the side table and wiped the sweat from her forehead. 

Me?”  She knew I did not believe in God.  Like my parents, I was a communist.  

She nodded. 

“Wouldn’t it be better if someone who…?” 

 “Your heart is pure.  Just like your mom’s.”  She placed her hand on her chest, pointing to her heart.  “That’s what God sees.”

“I will.  I promise,” I said.  I would have done anything for her.

Her head rolled to one side and her tired gaze went to her prayer beads on the table.  I picked it up and turned the beads as I had seen her do many times.  Her eyes shone, and the corners of her lips moved in an effort to smile.  I recited the names of the prophet and the saints and turned the string of beads three or four times until she nodded.   

“Now try to eat a little more,” I said.  I picked up the bowl and continued feeding her.  She smiled and like an obedient child opened her mouth. 

 

A month later, in response to a call by the Muslim Students’ Association, I headed for a debate, which turned out to be a trap and led to my arrest.  This was just before the time when the revolutionary regime was distinguishing those who had been killed in their fight against the Shah as martyrs and not-quite-martyrs.  It didn’t occur to me then that my parents would soon fall into the latter category since martyrdom was for the religious, and specifically Muslims, just as I did not perceive that my classmates of three years could perceive me as the enemy, entice me and three of my friends to record proclamations of our goals for equality and freedom from religious laws and mandatory practices, and then hand in the tape to the pasdars lurking near the school.   

On that fall afternoon, I said good-bye to Grandma and Kobra, standing side by side, seeing me off with looks of fondness and anxiety.  Full of young optimism, I did not perceive these two women as the last pillars of a crumbling, old world, where tolerance and unconditional love soared above everything else.  I left them behind, leaping into a world that would grant no such protections.   


Maria Saba is an Ottawa-based writer, storyteller, and arts educator. Born and raised in Iran, she has published three books and over a hundred articles, interviews, and stories in four continents. Maria’s short story collection, “My First Friend”, was a semi-finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, and the title story, published in Scoundrel Time won the Editor’s Choice Award and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her novella, “The Secret of Names” was longlisted for the 2020 Disquiet Literary Prize.

Maria has served on various arts and literature juries and is the recipient of grants in English literature from Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and the City of Ottawa. She attended Banff Writing Studio and residencies at Al-Purdy A-Frame in Ameliasburgh and Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. She recently won the PEN Canada Scholarship and the Wallace Stegner Award in the arts. Currently Maria is working on her debut novel, “There You Are.”

Iranian Edition (Vol II) | Fiction by Arash Khoshsafa | Issue 40 (2021)

The  Reveille

by Arash Khoshsafa
Translated into English by the author

 

When Arman’s wife gave birth, I had just begun my military training. It was a harsh winter in the western region of the country, and everybody had been looking for an excuse to postpone their training to spring; when it was warmer, flowers bloomed and nature’s rebirth softened the agony of spending two whole months in military camp. Arman was no exception, and his excuse was marriage. He had already announced his marriage and just before dispatch, the final blow came in the form of his wife’s pregnancy. She was not supposed to give birth any time soon, but amazingly, she seemed to need emergency care in her second trimester.

Apart from growing up in the same neighborhood, Arman and I were classmates from elementary school all the way to high school graduation. We were inseparable for twelve years: spending daytime together at school and then devoted the rest of the day wandering round the neighborhood or goofing about in each other’s houses. Everything was going smoothly until he happened to fall in love with the carpenter’s daughter whose father had a tiny shop on our street. She sometimes went there to do her homework at her father’s colossal tables and studied amidst all the noise and wood shavings. The particular smell of wood that always filled the street made me pull Arman aside from time to time and tell him, “You idiot! You’re in love with the smell, not the girl.” He gave me a weird look meaning “You don’t know what real love is” and remained silent. And then, trying to turn my humor into an argument, I continued, “How come you’ve fallen for someone you’ve never seen properly?”

And I guess I was right. However, every time we reached that street he slowed down near the carpenter’s, pulled on my jacket to slow me down as well. Once we got to the shop, he stretched his neck to peer in and catch sight of the girl, even when she wasn’t there and all his efforts proved pointless. But when she was there, she had either her nose in her books or her luscious pitch-dark hair covered her face which was hardly visible in all that dust to begin with.

Our barracks belonged to Squadron A: a large field with two symmetrical, massive, metal sheds to its north and south sides, filled with lots of uncomfortable, creaking bunk-beds, themselves surrounded by angular, half-rusty, seaweed green wardrobes which smelled like urine. To the western side stood a long, narrow building with ridiculously short showers with plastic showerheads on one side, and on the other side a line of shitty toilets whose water was cut every other day. The east side of the area, which was actually the only entrance/exit for all of us, hosted three pay phones standing on a cement platform whose long queue of miserable, desperate soldiers rivaled the toilet’s.

The first time I got a chance to ring home, I had already spent ten days at the camp. I remember that day, after one hour and forty minutes of queuing in the faint winter sun with my cold payphone card in my left fist. I finally reached the icy, black, plastic handset. Dad had apparently made it to the bazaar for daily shopping, Minoo was at university and I could only talk to Mum. Before the normal greeting- which I had been expecting for ten bloody days-she interrupted by saying that Arman’s wife had given birth. I was just taken aback and became still for a moment. There was a long queue of despondent fresh soldiers behind me who wanted to make their phone calls before lunch and mandatory prayers. Some, like me, wanted to ring their own families and some were married with kids. However, I had sadly learned that only married soldiers’ families counted as “family”. The rest of us were robbed of our families and practically considered orphans. I couldn’t waste time. My eyes had grown larger in amazement.

“No way,” I said to Mum startlingly. “What is it then? Is it a boy or a girl?” I knew full well how he wanted to have a daughter.

“Not just one,” said Mum. The reception was bad and I could hardly hear a word, “there are three of them.” Triplets! “Now they’re all at his mother-in-law’s, but I guess they’ll come back home tomorrow.”

I had no idea what to say to Arman once I got a chance to talk to him. I wasn’t even sure enough whether to congratulate him or offer my condolences for his triplets.

I had nearly forgotten my own miserable condition in the camp and decided not to nag on the phone about anything personal. As for the whole queuing thing for payphones, I thought to myself I’d never undergo such a misery at twelve noon again. The best time to use the payphones was just before bathing time, right before the reveille. That way, you could possibly hit two birds with one stone: you could magically raise the chance of using a working phone – every third phone worked properly at any given time. sometimes you queued for ages and once you got to insert your card and celebrate the most stupid victory in the universe, there was no dialing tone and then you had no other way but to shamefully move to the other queue and wait for your next possible cloud nine moment – and you also didn’t need to worry about the long wait, desperate soldiers behind you who usually had this nerve-wracking habit of thrusting a hard corner of their phone cards into your waist or shoulder saying, “Shake a leg, bro.” or “Would you wrap up the conference, please?” That day, I decided to use the payphone only and only before daybreak.

My bed was the first one on the right; the top bunk was for me and the bottom one belonged to a weird, introverted microbiology graduate from Shiraz who I rarely talked to. Unfortunately, even though lights-out was at nine every night, I never fell asleep before one or two AM; it was either the noise of one hundred and seventy nine soldiers snoring like a banshee or the creaking metal gate opened and closed by the watchmen changing shifts every other hour. With every single creak I started to stare at the white ceiling above my head. It always took four or five watchmen to finish their shifts before I’d feel tired and could fall asleep, only until the next reveille. 

As planned, the next morning I woke up at half past four in the morning and reached the ground gropingly. Our bunk beds had no ladder, so I needed to make a tremendous effort pressing my lips against each other not to step on the Shirazi guy who seemed to suffer from severe depression and slept like a log. Having touched the ground safely, I soon reached for my uniform overcoat hanging outside my closet and wore it over my undershirt, searched for my slippers in the dark (I wasn’t even sure they were mine) and stepped in the freezing cold yard with my olive green long johns on. Nothing was there except the projected spotlight and the icy silence of the dark yard. Before heading for the payphones, my eyes caught the sight of the 4-6 a.m. shift attendant, a miserable short, plump soldier standing opposite the arsenal who was constantly blowing his hands. Quite unconsciously, I waved at him before moving head, while he didn’t like distancing his hands from his blowing mouth and just nodded hesitantly wondering who on earth could possibly get out of his warm bed at this hour for a stupid phone call.

I was only worried that others might have woken up sooner and taken the phones, but as I looked at the payphones and found them all available, I felt excitedly relieved and lunged toward the cement platform. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe! I took the one in the middle and inserted the card immediately and picked up the receiver. I enjoyed the soft dial tone in the yard’s silence and took my tiny notebook out of my overcoat front pocket. Once I dialed Arman’s mobile number, I tilted my head to have a secret look at the plump guard whom I think was still assessing the level of my stupidity.

A good night’s sleep is priceless in the military. From the very moment you opened up your eyes at 4:50 a.m., they made you work like an ox and crawl and creep in all that snow all day long; and with that hulk of a rifle on your back all the time, nearly every soldier hit the hay long before reveille. Night sleep was so valuable that some soldiers even bribed daytime guards to cover for their night shifts so that they could enjoy a 5 or 6-hour night sleep instead. No, the guard wasn’t even looking this way and had started to walk instead of warming his hands with his breath.

Arman answered his mobile after the sixth beep and said, “Hello?” in a surprisingly alert voice.

My eyes were fixed on the black digits of the small display with my credit constantly dropping. Unprepared and confused, I immediately replied, “Hey, Aramn! It’s me, Pendar from the barracks.” Hearing my own voice out loud, I soon realized where I was and tried to curb the excitement and manage my voice.

“What a surprise!” His voice didn’t sound surprised, it sounded more like whining. “What’s up, buddy?”

I was thrilled he didn’t start swearing at me for calling him at 4:30 a.m. However, I thought it would be more considerate to bring it up myself. “I’m sorry I woke you up, mate.” I realized I had grown unusually courteous for no obvious reason.

“Come on!” He sounded as though he had been expecting to talk to someone for a good while. “I have no time to sleep.” I really didn’t know why, but he was sure I already knew about their triplets. “One of them wakes up at midnight and the two others start wailing.” A short sigh. “No need to worry about it, mate. I wasn’t sleeping at all. Jila’s feeding them in the living room.”

I let him open his heart. Then I looked back to check on the guard at the gate, but there was no sign of him. I turned back in worry and spoke with a much lower voice this time, “Yeah, they told me about it.” But I had nearly missed his last few sentences. “I just rang Mum yesterday and she told me everything about it.” Then I realized I could see my breath in the cold even when I talked quietly. “Say, how about their names?” I noticed the sharp fall in my credit on the pale green display.

“Nothing yet.” He sighed again and now I felt he was sleepy and knackered. “Everything’s been so hectic that we haven’t had time to think about it, you know. What do you say?”

I muttered at his surprising reply for a short while; my eyes went wandering around and once they caught the sight of a keyed scratch on the other phone (most probably by a despairing soldier God knows when) which read “Miss you, Sara.” I just went for it and said instantly, “How about Sara?!”

“What about the rest of them? They’re three, remember?” He sounded so uncaring as if I was trying to find names for his new pets or so. “Two girls and a boy.”

Focusing on my newly-developed talent of choosing names for new-born babies and a simultaneous feeling of having to take a leak soon, I tried to ignore Arman’s unsurprised tone and took the plunge and spurted, “Sssepideh and Sssina.”

Then I heard the doors open from behind. A half-sleeping soldier in his long johns and overcoat with shambolic hair was groping towards the toilets without noticing me. Then I realized the prolonged, whistling tone on the line changed suddenly and fainted away. “Hello? Hello?” I tried more loudly this time. The same whistle came out along with a couple of broken, blurred “Alright!”

Every morning at about five, a large group of soldiers rushed out towards the toilets and showers like soldier ants, barely awake. They just grew in number minute by minute. Once I turned my head back, I saw I had no credit left; even the dialing tone was gone too. As I put down the receiver, I noticed the arsenal guard’s shift end was being rewarded by a friend’s handful of trail mix and chocolate.

Then I caught a glimpse of our barracks and all the nasty bluish fluorescent ceiling lights which were feebly turning on one by one, illuminating the sleepwalkers left behind; gathering all their might to survive one more day

Soon it would be reveille and the end of the dark silence again. 


Iranian-born, Arash Khoshsafa is an Iranian Ph.D. candidate in English literature at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. For his scholarly and research work, he focuses on literary criticism and American fiction, especially dirty realist writers such as Richard Ford. In the literary sphere, Arash translates fiction from English into Persian and vice versa. He has translated and published many novels and short stories in Iran and overseas. Besides, he writes fiction in Persian and English and hopes to gather and publish his stories as books in the near future. Arash currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Iranian Edition (Vol I & II) | Foreword by Dr. Nilofar Shidmehr | Issues 39, 40 (2021)

Foreword to The Bombay Review’s Iranian Edition Vol I & II, release(d) in March, 2021.

Dr. Nilofar Shidmehr
Chief Editor and Curator, 
The Bombay Review’s Iranian Edition (Vol I & II)

I am delighted to have been invited to curate and guest edit the two issues of The Bombay Review on Iran. In November 2020, when I reached out to twenty-five fellow authors in Iran and the diaspora to invite them to submit their writings, I didn’t expect this huge positive response, which humbles and thrills me at the same time. My colleagues’ generous contribution has enabled me to present readers with a rich and colourful tapestry of Iranian writings and art by a wide range of writers and poets from three generations, who live across the globe. What is striking about this display of literature and art, is the diversity and fluidity of its voices that makes it hard to identify the entire presentation as a signifier of a definite and fixed country called “Iran”.

These two issues of Iranian New Writing come out at a time of great crisis, distress, and uncertainty, when a bright future is more doubtful than ever. For almost two years, the world has been plagued by a virus that has caused much fear, distrust, social destruction and isolation. Lockdowns and social distancing have separated people from one another, interrupted community gatherings and collective presentations, and disrupted the rhythm of the everyday coming together of bodies in public places. With the collapse of liberal ideals of progress, freedom, and democracy, and deep distrust of governments to handle the crisis, we are witnessing the spread of chaos globally. In this situation, where humans are bound to their homes and fearful of one another, each concerned about their own survival, things like literature and arts that connect us and create social solidarity are essential to our collective survival and to our individual wellbeing.

These two issues of New Iranian Writing by The Bombay Review, published in the context of this perilous time, come from an effort to create connectivity among readers across the world, no matter where they might be located at this moment. Although these two editions focus on Iran, the cultural scope of the collected literary and artwork gathered here goes beyond the confines of any particular nation. I would like to suggest the metaphor of an “Iranian carpet” as a flying object to capture the many journeys along which readers are taken, where they have an opportunity to find the threads of their own cultures. Travelling on this “flying carpet” to many corners of the world, while readers are knotted to experiences presented by these contributing authors, translators, and artists, they also get a chance to make new knots so as to extend this magic carpet, and thus expand their flight.

When I migrated to Canada on Oct 30, 1997, along with my personal belongings, I also brought with me a small Iranian rug. During my first two weeks when I’d resided at the house of an old Iranian friend, it had remained in my luggage, unrolled. My friend’s house already included a few Persian carpets. I unrolled my Iranian rug only later when I moved to a room in New Westminster City which I rented from an elderly Chinese family that spoke no English. My attic room had already a beige carpet, over which I spread my Iranian rug. As new immigrant, in my first few months in Canada, I felt I had been stripped of everything that gave me an identity: my family, home, mother tongue, and job. Even my name sounded foreign in the new place, no longer providing me with an identity. Not used to the weather, food, and living among non-Iranians, I had a challenging time to find my place in the society. I remember December 1997 was very cold and I got a very bad flu which lasted for a few weeks. Staying in my room, I’d coughed days and nights, that made the family who lived downstairs worried. The only comforts I had during that hard time were the soup the old Chinese landlady cooked for me and the Persian carpet where I sat to eat, read, hum a song to myself, make long distance phone calls, cry, or study English. My Persian rug provided me with a space of belonging. Whenever I sat or lay on it, it carried me to different lived places where I felt at home.

Serving utilitarian, artistic, and symbolic purposes, the Iranian carpet is a special object for me and every Iranian in and outside Iran, and their descendants. As most Iranians grow up on Iranian rugs, their lives and worldviews are shaped by them. Like the interior of Iranian houses, the inside space of Iranian minds is also covered by virtual Iranian carpets.

Woven in many regions of Iran inhabited by heterogenous people from diverse ethnic groups, languages, cultures, and traditions, Iranian rug is diverse with regard to material, design, and color. For over 2500 years, carpets have been made by nomadic tribes, village and city people, and royal court designated artisans and manufacturers. Iranian rug, called “Ghaali,” “Zeeloo,” and “Gabbeh,” has thus been an essential part of the life of the pauper, and king, and the tribal people who move between places their entire lives. For this reason, it can be considered as a dynamic object that reflects Iran’s complex and changing geography and history, represents Iran’s multicultural people, and weaves together Iran’s minor and major trajectories of traditions.

A narrator of Iranian arts, cultures, and economies, that brings together several trends of Iranian subcultures, Iranian rug is thereby a nomadic symbol of Iran, not a nationalistic symbol of it. It stands for “Iran” as a fluid concept untraceable to a particular nation representing the unification of a certain people under a national flag. This “nomadic Iran” can travel to all corners of the world; it can be unrolled to cover exterior and interior of real and virtual various spaces, as well as psychic spaces of individuals or groups of people. In this sense, Iranian carpet creates real and virtual spaces of belonging.

Iranian rug is often the work of many weavers, not a single individual. Carpet making is often a collective endeavour and a time-consuming enterprise. Frequently, several persons work for months or even years to weave one large carpet. The weavers could be from many generations, from grandparents to grandchildren. They sit next to one another on a bench set in front of the loom, working together simultaneously. A group, working in the morning shift, then is replaced by a next group who works in a later shift. Up to three groups of weavers can work on production of a carpet. Passing wefts through warps and making knots and then beating down the wefts by comb-like instrument, the weavers themselves are woven together through their shared activity. A carpet is one object but made of many knots, while each single knot is different than another.

Similar to Iranian rug which reflects both individuality and collectivity of its makers, the two special Editions of The Bombay Review on Iran also showcase both singularity and collectivity of its authors, translators, and artists. While each piece of writing or artwork is unique, their collections create a tapestry that weaves together heterogenous spaces of belonging or non-belonging in multiple times and locations across the world.

Like their writings and artworks, the contributors come from diverse origins and their experiences span three generations. The majority live outside Iran, and across four continents and many cities, ranging from Kuala Lumpur, Malesia, to Cologne, Germany, to La Merced, Toluca, Mexico, to Kenmore, Queensland, Australia. They are refugees, exiles, immigrants, international students and citizens. One of the authors belongs to the Afghan community who have taken refuge in Iran for several decades. Among those with permanent resident status in countries other than Iran, some arrived at their second country as refugees and some as landed immigrants. Except for two writers who were children at the time of their arrival in Canada, the others were already adults. The mother tongue of one of these two is English and she doesn’t speak Persian or any other language spoken in Iran. Some of the diaspora authors identify as immigrant writers, some as writers-in-exile, and some as both or none. Some have lived in more than two countries in their lives and speak and/or write in more than two languages. The autobiographical diversity and fluidity of life trajectories is reflected in their prose and poetry and art so that this collection of their writings and artwork cannot be placed in one frame of reference and be considered as any kind of “Grand-Narrative” (Lyotard, 1979) of a unified nation called “Iran”.

But if Iran isn’t some presence which the pieces of writing, translation, and art in the New Iranian Writing Editions focus on, then what is it? I suggest it is a spectre, a ghost, in the sense introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1993), for “Iran” appears as the return of memories, impressions, and expressions of a past that tends to haunt the authors and artists presented here. In this sense, “Iran” is not the presence of an origin or identity to which the collected pieces refer to, or to which they could be traced. Instead, Iran becomes a suspended, floating non-origin. Iran, I’d propose, is a “flying-carpet” in making as it moves along and creates new transmigratory trajectories and new cartographic routes!

Below: About the contributors and their work

Disclaimer: This foreword serves for both the volumes of Iranian Edition, the second of which is scheduled for release later this spring.

In one of the essays (Vol II), Amir Ahmadi Arian, the acclaimed novelist, essayist, and academic, talks about ghost-sightings by people in the world during the COVID 19 pandemic, and also during the spread of other plagues or happenings of large-scale disasters in the past, such as the 1821 cholera epidemic in Persia. He argues that, whenever we humans have been faced by an unsettling phenomenon that we couldn’t capture as a whole, which is “everywhere and nowhere”, “present in all aspects of our lives”, some of us have conjured “a visible embodiment of [our] predicament” as something like a ghost.

Arian borrows the term “hyperobject” from the philosopher Timothy Morton (2013) to explain how the rational mind, habituated to cause-and-effect reasoning, cannot make sense of extreme and frightening predicaments and crisis such as global warming. Paralyzed by such tragedies and facing their “inability to contain them”, some envision other “hyperobjects”—ghost-like “stand-in” figures—to deal with their pain, anxiety, and frustration. That is why, even in our time, humans or “Bani Adam” (A term borrowed from the Persian poet Saadi Shirazi by two of the contributors), conjure ghosts to face devastations caused by the global spread of Corona Virus. The contributors in these two issues of The Bombay Review, seem to be also confronted by an unsettling problematic other than COVID 19. The name of that problematic or hyperobject is “Iran”.

Ghost seeing is common reaction in a world which is falling apart at the seams—a world where extremists of all sorts, including nationalist Hindus in India, are on the rise. The image of such a world is captured in the poem “Persian Carpets” by the acclaimed poet, scholar, and academic, Roger Sedarat. The poem opens with a dream dreamt by the father of the poem’s speaker: a dream in which the carpets “spreads out on floors” of his house are coming apart and, as the dream “unravels”, they disintegrate into “nothingness”. At the same time, we are taken back from the time of Darius, the third Persian King of the Achaemenid dynasty, when the Persian Empire reached its peak to today’s Persepolis in an Iran trying to achieve nuclear power. The Persepolis of today, however, is nothing than the ruins of it glorious past where “mane-less lions with withered spines” stand at the entrance of the royal palace.

The image of lions and their pose “slouching back toward their maker in Shiraz” in Sedarat’s poem alludes to “rough beast” in Yeats’ poem “Second Coming”. Yeats’ beast, however, doesn’t slouch back “toward their maker [Darius] in Shiraz” but “towards Bethlehem to be born”. As many literary scholars have pointed out, Yeats’ poem was a response to the violence of World War I, which had ended only one year before the composition of the poem in 1919. It was also a prophecy that the chaos of war had not diminished but was actually gaining more momentum, thereby it was going to bring about another large-scale disaster. “The Second Coming” was Yeats’ prophecy of World War II—his prophecy of an even darker and more horrific event yet to happen in the 20th century. In similar way, Sedart’s poem foresees a darker future for the world, as well as for both Iran and the US and a possible conflict between them. He foresees a second coming of the clash that happened during hostage crisis in 1979-1980. The poem is written at present time, the time when both Iran and the US (under Trump) dreamt of reviving the power they once had. While Iranian leaders dreamt of making Iran again into an Empire ruling over the Middle East and parts of North Africa, Trump dreamt of making “America Great Again”. The dream mentioned in the poem is thus a double dream: it is both an Iranian and an American dream. Respectively, the title of the poem “Persian Carpets” refers to more than one carpet. Such perverse dreams have only brought about more chaos and calamity to the world we live in –– a world where some create “hyperobjects” such as ghosts to confront the disasters they’re facing.

In a world like this, where millions of people have left their home countries because of various reasons such as war, political and religious persecution, famine, environmental and economical crisis, and social upheaval and instability, writers, poets, and artists respond to hyperobjects like displacement, alienation, and discrimination displacement in a different way than those who conjure ghosts. They write, compose poetry, and make art to combat the growing global tragedies of 21st century and the feelings of anger, depression, and grief they call forth.

The authors contributing to the New Iranian Writing Editions are no exception. Through their writings and arts, they also speak to tragedies happening in the world, which are not exclusive to Iran. For example, Maria Saba and Majid Naficy show the brutality of execution. Alie Ataee, Firoozeh Khatibi, and Golnoosh Nour disclose the violence of honor killing, and oppression of heterosexual and queer women. Azarin Sadegh, Mojgan Ghazirad, and Arash Khoshsafa invoke terrors of war and tyrannies of the obligatory military service. Peyman Esmaeili and Maria Saba expose repressions of and discriminations against ethnic minorities. Mohsen Emadi and Mehrnaz Bassiri express the pain of living in exile and the atrocities of migration, and Mehri Yalfani and Nahid Keshavarz Fallahi reveal the uncanniness of “unhomeliness” of the world (Bhabha, 1990) and the “pathos of belonging-non-belonging” (Shidmehr, 2014).

Besides demonstrating a wide range of predicaments such as living at the margins of society, being subject to bullying, and experiencing loss, the contributors also collectively create things like resistance, empathy, solidarity, and hope to battle them. Together, they weave the hyperobject of an “Iranian” carpet, that flies above real and fictional locations where readers meet memorable fictional characters such as “Kobra”, “Ms. Talebi”, and “Setareh” in the stories by Maria Saba, Mojgan Ghazirad, and Mehri Yalfani, who seem to be different characters in Bänoo Zan’s poem “The Story of My People”.

As this magical carpet moves through alleyways of the world, it hovers above landmarks such as “The Minaret” (a concrete poem by Khashayar Mohammadi) or takes readers to the dwellings of the characters created by our authors, as in Rosa Jamali’s poem “Knotweed”, where a mythical woman lives and raises a child for six thousand years. It drifts above an airport dreamt by the main character of Nasim Marashi’s novel I’ll Be Strong for You, which looks more like Tehran’s old international airport “Mehrabad than Imam Khomeini Airport”, and lands in the house of an immigrant Iranian woman in Chicago, hosting a party, in Ezzat Goushegir’s story “Elizabeth”, where an American woman and an Arab émigré meet.

The contributing artists have also an indispensable role in shaping up this magical carpet. They take us on a tour to real and imaginary places, as well as inside the labyrinth of Iranian collective psyche. Atieh Noori’s photographs capture abandoned buildings in and around Tehran. Moslem Khezri’s brilliant and powerful drawings masterfully capture confined spaces of classrooms and highlight moods, emotions, and interactions of male students in Sistan Baluchestan Province of Iran, and depict how they interact. Samad Ghorbanzadeh’s photomontage collection places us in dreamlike settings and reveals desires, needs, and aspirations kept in the collective unconscious of Iranian people, and humanity in large. This is where the borders between real and unreal becomes blurry. The other artists also make borders between historical times, concepts, and human beings porous through their use of various material, colors, textures, and patterns, and their employment of light and shadow. In doing so, they problematize binaries like private/public and modern/traditional, and complicate notions of Iranian identity and culture. Ebrin Bagheri and Parima S. Moghaddam highlight the theme of belonging/non-belonging in their evocative, exquisite paintings, collages, and jewellery art. While making references to public figures (Farah Diba Pahlavi- The former Queen of Iran and Queen Elizabeth I, and King Fath-Ali Ghajar) and to various pre-modern and modern traditions of Persian art and literature, they amalgamate Iranian and foreign elements from ancient and contemporary world cultures (e.g. Egyptian and East Indian cultures) to create intricate and detailed artwork. Similarly, Nooshin Zarnani complicates and mystifies the notion of personal identity by painting herself in different social roles such as a nurse and The Pageant of Persia. The paint quality seems so fresh as if it was newly done and some colors were running down the canvas. Her self-portraits reflect the image of different characters combined together in paralleled mirrors.

Amazing illustrations work by the other graphic artists and illustrators included in the Iranian Editions, Fereshteh Najafi, Ahlam Faez, and Saba Soleimani, have appeared inside or on the cover of published books, theatre pamphlets, and movie posters, and have been featured in national and international exhibitions. They combine European style illustration techniques with Persian miniature and calligraphy to give new identities to Middle Eastern subjects. Their artworks make their way inside Iranian houses and public venues as decorative objects. For example, Zahra Ashouri’s wall hangings, designed as fictional characters, adorn the walls of coffee shops. Or Sheida Mohammadi’s dolls attach to hair and body, or to favorite household objects.

By the end of their journey through a manifold of text and artwork where each singular piece is so powerful that it leaves long-lasting impression in mind, readers get a profound experience of an “Iran” scattered around the globe in all directions in space and time. This “Iran” is not a fixed geographical place on today’s world map, nor a fixed category of people who all speak Persian, are universally heterosexual, have specific cultural habits, observe certain traditions and customs, and share similar life experiences, sensibilities, and socio-political and cultural beliefs. And, this experience is not a touristy experience. Rather, it resembles the exhilarating experience of a Persian drunk reeling between various taverns and followed by another reeling Persian drunk—the kind of Drunkard who Roger Sedarat says Bob Dylan made his muse.

As the curator and guest editor of The New Iranian Writing Editions, I’m thrilled to have made such an experience of such an “Iran” possible!

Works Cited:

Bhabha, Homi K. (1990). Nation and Narration. New York, NY: Routledge Publishing.
Derrida, Jacques. (1994). Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York, NY: Routledge Publishing.
Lyotard, Jean-François. (1984). Postmodern Condition: A Report of Knowledge (First Edition). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Morton, Timothy. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Shidmehr, Nilofar. (2014). Poetic Inquiry: A Responsive Methodology in Research and Education (PhD Dissertation). Link: https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0165900

Iranian Edition (Vol I) | Poetry by Mehrnaz Bassiri | Issue 39 (2021)

A Piece of Shomal 

By Mehrnaz Bassiri

 

Shomal (north) of Tehran is the home 

to humid forests on the southern coast

of the Caspian Sea. The vast green carpet 

stretches to the shore.

 

Here, roosters are our morning calls

and stars our nightlight.

On the morning of our drive 

back to Tehran, I was an eight-year-old in sorrow —

 

The red flashing hand signaling the last 

remaining days of vacation,

hours of Atari games, freedom from

practicing math and memorizing textbooks.

 

I didn’t want to leave the green

luminescence of summertime.

I’d just befriended the calf

next door, she walked and ran alongside me,

followed me in the green pasture.

 

And I hadn’t spent satisfactory time with

the hens, roosters, mules, and lambs.

I searched for a keepsake 

to hold on to and found a snail

on a rotting fence.

 

Maybe, we could play together 

back at home. But Mom said

the weather in Tehran was too hot

and dry that my friend might die.

 

She told me to leave it where it belongs;

But I needed my companion, a piece of Shomal

in the city. How could I take her with me

in a way that she wouldn’t die?

 

I took a thread and made a loose

loop knot around the shell’s opening.

I waited. When she came out and entered the loop

her stick eyes reached out to the sky.

 

In a flick, I closed the knot 

and pulled the snail 

out of the shell. I gently laid 

her wet naked body on gravel

and walked away with her lovely spiral shell.


In 2011, Mehrnaz Bassiri made the riskiest and most rewarding decision of her professional life: she traded her career in biotech for educational development. She is now an educator, progress specialist, and the founder of MyGradeBooster. Mehrnaz is the recipient of Futurpreneur Canada’s “The Sky’s Your Limit Entrepreneur of the Year” award and she has been featured in TED, Thrive Global, Trello, and more.

Since becoming a successful business owner, Mehrnaz discovered her passion for writing and poetry. She recently published My Solitude, My Secluded Wilderness, a collection of poems that explore aloneness and healing from grief through solitude. Mehrnaz has a Masters of Science from the University of British Columbia and currently lives in North Vancouver, BC. Connect with Mehrnaz on Instagram @gritisanoun.