Mo H Saidi
www.mhsaidi.com

The Marchers: A Novel

One of the best local Books of 2015. . .
Steve Bennett, Staff Writer, SA Express-News 20 December 2015

The Marchers: A Novel by Mo H Saidi


Word Design Press announces the publication of The Marchers: A Novel by Mo H Saidi. The Marchers describes life inside the crucible of the Iranian revolution from the 1970’s through the late 1990’s. Three idealistic Iranians seek freedom under the Shah, participate in the revolution, and experience new terror in the Islamic Republic. The novel is based on the firsthand knowledge of Iranian born author Dr. Mo H Saidi who immigrated to the U.S. in 1969, and made frequent visits back to Iran through the 1990’s. The book is available in hardcopy from major bookstores, at CreativeSpace.com, on Amazon.com, and as EBook from Kindle.

 

Saidi is a retired physician and award-winning author of three poetry books and a collection of short stories. The Marchers is his first novel. While practicing and teaching, Saidi earned a master’s degree in English and American Literature and Languages from Harvard University. From 2007 to 2015 Saidi was the founding editor of Voices de la Luna: A Quarterly Poetry and Arts Magazine.

 

Contact Information

Olivia Hernandez

Word Design Press

210-849-5580

Email: hernandezoly@gmail.com, or visit

www.mhsaidi.com

The Marchers: A Novel

Synopsis

In the winter of 1978 when Tehran is seething with discontent against the Shah's repressive government, Iranian-American surgeon Cyrus Sohrabi visits his ailing mother in Tehran and meets three students: Bahram, a secular socialist; Reza, a believer in Khomeini; Shirin, a liberated anti-clerical woman; they share a resolve to topple the Shah. Cyrus follows their fates on subsequent visits.

The lives of these students are set against that of their antagonist, the fanatic mullah Mirza Hassan, who had spent part of his childhood with Cyrus’s family. The students participate in key events of the revolution, while Mirza Hassan rides the upheaval from obscurity to success.

By 1989 Islamic fundamentalists have successfully annihilated their opponents from all sides of the political spectrum. The pro-Khomeini reformer, Reza, has died under torture in Evin Prison. Shirin and Bahram are married but live in hiding, moving just ahead of Mirza Hassan’s team. Cyrus is arrested by Revolutionary Guards but soon released.

Bahram flees across the mountains toward Turkey, pursued by Mirza Hassan. Cyrus helps Shirin leave the country and later joins Shirin’s quest to rescue her husband. Kurdish Pishmerg activists in Turkey guide them across the border into Iran. In the gunfight with Revolutionary Guards in the mountain pass, Mirza Hassan is killed, and Cyrus is shot in the leg. Bahram and Shirin drag Cyrus to safety. Wounded, Cyrus continues his trip home to Houston.

THE MARCHERS: A NOVEL

 

Mo H Saidi

 

WITH A FOREWORD BY ROBERT FLYNN

  

Publisher

 

Word Design Press

San Antonio, Texas

2014

____________________________________________________________________

The First Twenty Pages

____________________________________________________________________


 

FOREWORD

 

Ask most Americans what they know about Iran and they will say, “Evil Nation.” If you point out that it’s more complicated than that, they will accuse you of “Blame America First.” But that does not get to the point, either. To fully realize Dr. Saidi’s compelling story about the chaos in Iran, you need to know a bit about Iran and the complicated history of Iran and the US. First of all, Iranians are not Arabs. They are mostly Persians, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, a people with a long history, including an empire far larger than the Roman Empire. The name of the country where most Iranians live is derived from Aryan, what Hitler called ‘the pure white race.’ Their language belongs to the Indo-European world. Their culture influenced much of what we know as Judeo-Christian beliefs. Persia appears prominently in the Bible and in Greek history. Joined by the Medes, Medo-Persians created an empire in the 6th century BC that extended from Egypt to Northern India, including all of the Black Sea coast and most of Greece. The Medes and Persians joined forces with the Babylonians and Scythians to overthrow the greatest empire in the region, the Assyrian Empire, strengthening the Persian Empire and establishing the short-lived Neo-Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar, famous for forcibly relocating leading Jews to Babylonia following the destruction of Jerusalem.


A generation later, Cyrus the Great, called a Messiah in the Bible, allowed the Jews to return to Judea and even provided an armed escort along the 500 mile journey. Some Jews remained in Persia and formed the nucleus of a vibrant Jewish community there that flourished until the modern Islamic state. It was during this time that the Jews were exposed to the religious ideas of the Persian mystic poet and philosopher Zoroaster (actually, Zarathustra), introducing ideas such as a differentiated afterlife (heaven and hell) and the existence of a powerful, evil spiritual being (Satan), as well as strengthening the notion of absolute monotheism, In Greek history, the Persians were seen as a constant threat and the leading enemy. Much of classical Greek history and literature is about the wars between Greeks and Persians. While Persia repeatedly conquered large portions of the Greek mainland, it was the Macedonian Alexander the Great who finally defeated the Persian Empire in 321 BC. Wars between Rome and Persia opened the way for the Islamic conquest of Persia. In 1219, Genghis Khan invaded Persia and killed an estimated three-fourths of those living in the Iranian plateau. According to some, Iran did not return to its pre-Mongol population until the mid-20th Century.

Timur the Lame, best known as Tamerlane in the West, became the next conqueror, yet he adopted Persian culture and civic administration. One of the brothers in the Boston Marathon attack was named Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As far as I know, no media figure recognized the significance of the name. From the Middle Ages into the Renaissance envoys of the Persian Empire were accredited at leading European courts. Persia controlled the ancient silk route between China and Europe for more than a thousand years. In the 16th century, Shah Ismail forced the conversion of Persia from Sunni to Shi’a Islam in contrast to their Arab neighbors. In the centuries that followed with transoceanic trade flourishing, Persia became an economic backwater.


During the 19th century Persia lost much of its territory to Russia and Britain who were struggling over control of the gateway between Europe and Asia. In the 20th Century, Russia occupied northern Iran in 1911 while the British occupied much of western Iran until 1921. During World War II, Britain and Russia again occupied Persia until 1946. After the war, Truman sent aid to Iran to help Iran prevent Communists from taking over the country. In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected prime minister. A popular leader, Mosaddegh nationalized Iran’s petroleum industry because much of the profit from Iran’s oil went to foreign investors. Iran had the world’s largest gas reserves and the fourth largest petroleum reserves. Losing control of those resources was more than the US and Britain could bear. Eisenhower and the CIA undermined Mosaddegh’s government and placed the Shah on the throne. That was the first time the US had overthrown a foreign government during the Cold War. Eisenhower also gave Iran its first nuclear material and encouraged Iran to develop a nuclear energy program. Newly declassified government documents of the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow have been posted by the National Security Agency (http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/). The Shah became increasing tyrannical. Secret police arrested and tortured suspects to terrify opposition. Ayatollah Khomeini became an open critic of the Shah and was imprisoned for 18 months. After he criticized the US government he was sent into exile. This is the background for Dr. Saidi’s story.


Much of Dr. Saidi’s story occurs during the chaos of the Iranian Revolution. With rising opposition, the Shah fled the country, and Ayatollah Khomeini returned. In 1979, Iran officially became an Islamic Republic, meaning that religious law would rule the country and all non-Muslims would be second-class citizens. In late 1979, students seized the US Embassy and took US embassy personnel hostage. President Carter attempted to negotiate with Iran but refused to sell them weapons because it was a violation of domestic and international law after Iran had been declared a state supporter of terrorism. Reagan had no such hesitations; Israel shipped the weapons with many of the weapons going to Hezbollah. Saddam Hussein tried to take advantage of the chaos in Iran and in September 1980 the Iraqi army invaded Iran. By 1982 the Iranians had pushed Iraqi forces back into Iraq. Reagan began selling weapons to Iraq, including agents necessary for making weapons of mass destruction. The sales to Iran also continued with money from the sales going to promote revolution in Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega, democratically elected president of Nicaragua, who was the target of Reagan's terrorism, was voted out of office and has since been elected president again. Years later, the US would be found guilty of international terrorism by the World Court for terrorist acts against Nicaragua.  Cyrus, who has been living in America, fails to see any connection between US politics and Iranian chaos when he returns to Iran. His family has little interest in America or American politics, but it is the dead man at the table when they discuss the hated Shah, the bombing of government buildings, the marchers in the streets and their own future. As an outsider in his own home, Cyrus observes how his family, his friends and former colleagues are split apart by ideas, forces and plots they cannot see and against which they cannot defend themselves. When Cyrus regains freedom, we recognize the terror that Iran has become.

 

Robert Flynn

Professor Emeritus, Trinity University

Author of 10 Novels, including

Jade: Outlaw and Jade: The Law

 

Copyright © 2014 by Mo H Saidi

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the author, Mo H Saidi, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

 

 

Cover Design:

“Shahyad Square, Tehran, Iran”

Edited by Ramin Samandari

magical realism studio

 

 

Word Design Press

2207 Parhaven Dr.

Publisher

San Antonio, TX 78232

210-494-2982

www.WordDesignStudio.com

 

 

ISBN 978-1-893054-25-7

Printed in the United States of America

 

 Acknowledgements

 

Most of the chapters of The Marchers: A Novel have been serialized in Voices de la Luna: A Quarterly Poetry & Arts Magazine between September 2008 and  January 2014.

 

I am obliged to Brigitte B. Saidi and James R. Adair for their editorial prowess, integrity, and enthusiasm for fiction and poetry writers and to my publisher Valerie Bailey, for this novel would not have been completed and published without their assistance and guidance.

 

I am also grateful to James Brandenburg for his encouragement and his leadership role in advancing the cause of literature in San Antonio, and to Robert Flynn for his invaluable literary wisdom.

I am indebted to Dr. Abraham Verghese, professor and distinguished physician-writer, who provided valuable literary instruction during his Writers Workshop at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.


 

 

About the Author

 

Mo H Saidi was born in Iran, moved to the United States in 1969, and became a U.S. citizen in 1975. While teaching gynecological surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, he founded an OB/GYN group practice. He published over fifty scientific papers in American medical journals, as well as a well-regarded textbook, Female Sterilization: A Handbook for Women (Garland Publishing). Saidi’s first book of poetry, Art in the City, won the 2007 Eakin Memorial Book Publication Award of the Poetry Society of Texas. His second collection of poetry, The Color of Faith (2010) was published by St. Mary’s University’s Pecan Grove Press, while Word Design Studio brought out his collection of short fiction, The Garden of Milk and Wine, in 2012. He is the cofounder and Managing Editor of Voices de la Luna: A Quarterly Poetry & Arts Magazine. A member of The Authors Guild, he has published numerous essays, short fiction pieces, and poems in local, state, and national journals and anthologies. Saidi is married and has three adult children and three grandchildren.

 

 

Dedication

 

To Brigitte, my deepest love and friend and my reader,

for this book would not have been

completed without your love and total support.

 

 

To Tristan and Sofia and Aria who are the three bright lights

illuminating my world

to James and Kaveh and Suzanne who are the apples of my eye.

 

And to Sally Cooper

my book club muse.


  

Other Works by Mo H Saidi

 

Between A and Z: Poems

 

The Garden of Milk and Wine:

A Collection of Short Stories

 

The Color of Faith

 

Art in the City: A Book of Poetry

 

Female Sterilization: A Handbook for Women


 


Contents

 

BOOK ONE: The STORM

5                      Prologue: In That Bleak Winter

9                      Chapter One: Hassan Had Been Sobbing

13                    Chapter Two: It Was March of 1978

30                    Chapter Three: The Rumbling of a Garbage Truck in the Street

45                    Chapter Four: I’m Sending You to Najaf

46                    Chapter Five: Tehran's Tree-Studded Pahlavi Street

56                    Chapter Six: In the Afternoon, Cyrus Visited His Ill Mother

74                    Chapter Seven: It Was Late in the Night When Cyrus Returned

79                    Chapter Eight: Cyrus and Tooraj in Front

89                    Chapter Nine: Cyrus Arrived at Reza’s Right on Schedule

100                  Chapter Ten: The Weather in Teheran Remained Gloomy

113                  Chapter 11: After a Long Day of Teaching at the High School

129                  Chapter 12: The Evening of His Departure

140                  Chapter 13: Why Are You so Anxious to Leave Iran?

152                  Chapter 14: The Parking Lots at Airport Were Packed

163                  Chapter 15: In the Summer of 1978, Texas Suffered

177                  Chapter 16: For Prisoners the Darkness Was a Refuge

185                  Chapter 17: In the Winter, Events Took a Dramatic Turn

188                  Chapter 18: The Convulsive Event Quaked the World

 

Book Two: The Flood           

199                  Chapter 19: In the Office of the Local Revolutionary Guard

203                  Chapter 20: It Had Been a Long Day for Cyrus

214                  Chapter 21: Eleven Years Later in the Deep Darkness

223                  Chapter 22: Two:[BBS2]  This Stomach Ulcer Is Cancerous

234                  Chapter 23: Three[BBS3] : The Family Hastily Arranges [BBS4] the Funeral

238                  Chapter 24: Shortly Before Eight the Doorbell Rang

246                  Chapter 25: In the Late Night at Tehran Airport

278                  Chapter 26: In the Morning When the Phone Rang

292                  Chapter 27: When the Airplane Reached Cruising Altitude

319                  Chapter 28: In 1983, the Iran-Iraq War Had Reached Its Climax

327                  Chapter 29: Cyrus and Shirin Arrived at Frankfurt Airport

353                  Chapter 30: The Iraqis Were Advancing along a New Front

361                  Chapter 31: In Evin Prison

370                  Chapter 32: Bahram Was Bewildered When Freedom Arrived

380                  Chapter 33: Bahram Followed His Established Routine

397                  Chapter 34: Evin Prison Was Dark and Eerie

402                  Chapter 35: The Kurdish Farmer Woke up When the Wind Rattled

410:                 Chapter 36: In the Frankfurt Airport Café, Shirin Was Perplexed

414                  Chapter 37: At the Turkish Airlines Office

420                  Chapter 38: They Needed No Visa to Travel to Turkey

426                  Chapter 39: Cyrus and Shirin Followed the Kurds

434                  Chapter 40: Najib Held the Gun and Scanned the Pass 

444                  Chapter 41: In Orak, Eskandar Was Nervously Waiting

455                  Epilogue




_______________________________________________________________________________________



                                

On the day I die, don’t weep.

Death has nothing to do with going away.

The sun sets and the moon sets,

but they are not gone.

                                                                                    Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

 


 

BOOK ONE


The Storm

 

Prologue

In that Bleak Winter

In that bleak winter, a hazy veil of smog covered the vast and densely populated city of Tehran. While freezing temperatures persisted for weeks, the skies over the city were overcast and filled not with heavenly clouds saturated with desirable moisture that could deliver much needed rain or snow to cleanse the air, wash the walls, and rinse filth from the streets and alleys, but instead smog blocked the sun and cast a gloom over the metropolis. Like a thick shroud, this suffocating blanket hung over the city, swathed the broad valley from the slopes of the Elburz Mountains in the north to the town of Rey in the south, blinding the eyes and fogging the minds of thousands of desperate people. It was a season of discontent, a time of uneasiness, and a despicable era that foreshadowed ominous events. Moliminous clouds rained a toxic tincture that poisoned the plants and disheartened the people of Tehran. It was the winter of 1978, a year that changed the country and the world.

The smog originally arose from the exhaust of antiquated trucks, old buses, neglected cars, roaring military vehicles, and screaming combat jets. Day by day it fed on the diesel fumes from the factories and the plumes of smoke emitted incessantly by hundreds of tall chimneys at the brick kilns in the southern suburbs. As the mass of air mixed with smoke and moisture, it became stationary over the center of the city.

The waves of screeching calls from the minarets

heralded the dawn of devilish machination

jolted and awoke the masses from their

perpetually soporose state with the promise

of life after death in paradise.

The throngs of ash spewed from an angry volcano; the thick veil of gloom grew into a huge, dark mushroom that spread in the cardinal directions. This gray blanket invaded every subdivision and neighborhood, and like a biblical curse, it swelled and lay on the foothills of the mountain ranges that encircle Tehran on three sides: in the north the high peaks of the Elburz Mountains, in the east the hills that stretch towards the industrial city of Karaj, and in the west the foothills of majestic Mount Damavand, which was now totally obscured from view.

Reminiscent of a tropical storm that strengthens over the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, this virulent tempest grew insidiously and spread anxiety and desperation, sickness and fear among the people. Deadly curtains of haze blocked the much-needed sun from reaching the land and deprived all living creatures—human beings, animals, trees, and plants—of heat and light, eradicating any hope of a tranquil and peaceful life in the city.

During that gloomy winter which brought long months of bloody confrontation between haves and have-nots, between the old world and an agitated new generation, the city of Tehran was firmly divided into two Tehrans. One was in the center and the south of the city where the majority of poor and disenchanted people lived in meager hovels along narrow, crowded streets and alleys; where there was neither clean air nor bright sunshine; where young women had miscarriages due to excessive poisons in the air and children could not attend school because of the dangerously polluted atmosphere; where the government closed all universities, colleges and schools and advised people to stay inside their homes, away from the noxious air which permeated streets and public buildings like a gigantic dragon; where at night the confused people congregated in the mosques and listened to the tales of savagery and hopelessness, to the malicious verses uttered by mullahs; and where soldiers and policemen stayed in their barracks foolishly ignoring the surge of religious fanaticism in town.

The flustered people pleaded for rain

or snow and strong wind.

In the heart of darkness venomous snakes

crawled into the pulpits.

The other Tehran was located above the low-lying basin, beyond the reach of the smog, and along the gentle foothills of the mountains north of the city. Narrow roads wound up the hilltops to sprawling villas owned by fortunate individuals who lived high above the dark haze. Here sparkling skies stretched over posh neighborhoods; here people lived in houses with marble floors and white stone walls, surrounded by maple trees, mountain laurels, and fruit orchards; here pristine streams tumbled down from the mountains and meandered through picturesque gorges near the homes; here the members of this privileged minority breathed clean air, drank fresh spring water, and commuted in luxury cars between their well-protected offices in the northern suburbs and their mansions. They were the mighty, the wealthy, the high-ranking bureaucrats and military leaders who ran businesses and government agencies. Some were officers in the government security forces or importers of goods and appliances from western countries. Many of them had been educated in the best universities in Iran or in prestigious schools in Europe or the United States.

Further north above these lavish homes on the hillsides of the Elburz Mountain range, the houses were even more extravagant. Palaces housed top-ranking military and government leaders. Surrounded by well-tended rose gardens and fruit orchards, these two- and three-story, marble-walled homes of the elite included covered garages for imported luxury vehicles and living quarters for housekeepers, cooks, and private chauffeurs. Because of their perceived important responsibilities, these plump people, the arrogant elite, believed they must be well-protected from the city’s pollution and live at higher elevations, away from the common people.

These leaders planned to overcome the suffocating conditions and to control the polluting clouds by foolish measures, like using supersonic squadrons of jet fighters to tear apart the skies and create a big crack in the smog, a hole as big as or bigger than the ozone hole that occurs each Antarctic spring over the South Pole. They wanted to bring fresh air, new life, and clear skies to the city to alleviate the desolation of the population, calm their anger, sooth their frustration, and heal their wounds. They believed if their advisers and experts could expel the lethal haze from streets and squares, then the people would abandon the mosques and free themselves from the grip of the sinister mullahs.

After a long day at work, the well-paid, well-educated, and well-fed would drive to their luxurious homes where they would relax and enjoy a nap around heated swimming pools filled with crystal-clear spring water. In early evening, they sipped cocktails of imported beverages such as fine, aged, single-malt whisky or Russian vodka and nibbled on crackers covered with Persian caviar in preparation for their customary soirées. They assembled in each other’s expansive reception halls under sparkling crystal chandeliers and debated how to protect the political system and pacify the agitated people. They believed there was plenty of time to deal with the country’s problems, and they based their expectation to govern for the foreseeable future on the hopelessness and lethargy of the common people.

They slept in oblivion:

Sleep, dear.

Sleep, sweet harlot of the senses,

Delilah of the spirit.


 

 

Chapter One


Hassan Had Been Sobbing

Hassan had been sobbing since they left the doctor’s office. Hassan’s mother, the housekeeper in Cyrus’s home for more than ten years, had taken him to the medical office serving the families of Education Department employees. The physician had told them there was neither remedy nor hope for relief from the embarrassing scaly, warty blotches on Hassan’s scalp. As soon as they reached home, Hassan dropped his backpack in the narrow hall where it fell against the plastered wall. Instead of eating lunch and then returning to school, Hassan scampered up the narrow staircase and crawled into the dark and damp storage room under the roof. This was his private hideaway, its darkness embracing and sheltering him.

The idea of going to school and facing yet another barrage of taunts and ridicule from the other schoolboys terrified him. His stomach churned when he thought of the hated lady teacher who never included him in class discussions, never looked him in the face, and never asked him a question. Hassan loathed Cyrus, who during their tutoring sessions or chess games would often look at the warty blotches on his scalp with disdain, producing galling comments with an enigmatic, irritating smirk. As far as Hassan was concerned, the only reason he continued to accept Cyrus as a tutor was the quick game of chess that concluded each session. Hassan always hoped that this time he would beat Cyrus, even though he always lost.

The doctor’s comments wrung his heart and brought a bitter taste to his mouth. “The ringworm patches in your scalp have healed completely, but your hair will never grow and cover these blotches. The scars are going to be there forever, and you’d better learn to ignore them.”

Hassan’s mother was surprised when she discovered him cowering in the dark storage room. She had come to fetch onions, potatoes, and rice for dinner, opened the door wide, and saw his swollen and tear-streaked face. She sat next to him and softly, gently murmured, “Don’t pay attention to those mean kids at school.” Her words were like salt in his emotional wounds. Suddenly a wave of vile anger at everybody washed over him. He wished he would never have to go to school again. Tears flowed down his pale lips and curled over his chin. He did not move when his mother went downstairs.

A short while later his mother returned to his hideout, bringing a small tray with flat bread, a bowl of stew, some sprigs of basil, and leaves of Romaine lettuce.

“I’m not hungry,” he muttered and covered his head with his vest.

Hassan’s mother moved closer to him and said, “Eat your supper, please.”

Hassan didn’t respond but was calmer now. He liked the warmth of his mother’s body against his shoulder. He needed her affection and support but he suddenly thought of the fact that he had never seen his father in his life. That thought made him sad and he began to quietly cry.

As if his mother had read Hassan’s thoughts, she said, “It will be all right.” And then she added, “Please go and wash your face, and call me when you are ready to come down. Bibi Khanoom wants to see you in the living room. I know you are a smart boy, even smarter than Cyrus.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “I’m not. He always beats me in chess, even when he starts without a rook or without a knight.”

“That doesn’t mean much. After all, Cyrus has played chess for more years than you’ve been in this world!”

 “I still hate to lose to him. But someday I’ll get him, I promise you that!” He screwed his tear-stained face into a furious grimace.

 

“You don’t need to go to public school anymore,” Cyrus’s mother, Bibi Khanoom Fatemeh, told Hassan. “From now on, I want you to go to the madresseh instead. There you can wear a turban. No one will ever see your scarred head again, and God will be on your side.”

Hassan’s mother nodded, knelt down, bowed her head, and kissed Bibi Khanoom’s right hand, her eyes welling with warm tears. “My son will be a good talabeh, I promise.”

Bibi Khanoom raised her voice and addressed the boy again. “Listen to me, Hassan. I have talked to Ayatollah Ansari this afternoon about your attending his madresseh. He has sent you this white cap and scarf. It is a small turban. Place the cap on your head and roll the white scarf all around it. Here is a safety pin to secure the scarf. From now on, you are a talabeh with a white turban. You should be proud of this and should never remove it from your head except when you go to bed at night.”

Hassan was thrilled and could not take his eyes off the beautiful cap. He was convinced God had answered his prayers and delivered him from abject misery.

“Be sure to be ready in time tomorrow morning so you are punctual for your first day at the Ayatollah’s madresseh,” Bibi Khanoom admonished him.

“Yes, ma’am,” he whispered softly and bent over and kissed her hand. He was sobbing again, but this time with tears of relief and joy. He picked up the white scarf and cap and carefully tiptoed over the expensive Kashan carpets that covered the floor of the spacious room. His mother stopped him when Bibi Khanoom called after him.

“From tonight on you will introduce yourself to everyone as Mirza Hassan. Mirza is your new title until you become a mullah. Hopefully someday you will be selected as ayatollah. You should be proud of your new name and your turban.”

In the courtyard, they encountered Cyrus who had been looking for him. “Are you ready for tutoring, Hassan?”

Hassan ignored Cyrus, walked past him to the stairs, and climbed up hurriedly, his mother following right behind.

Cyrus stopped Hassan’s mother and asked, “What’s going on? Doesn’t he need his tutoring session?”

“Thank you, but no more tutoring for Mirza Hassan,” she retorted. “Mirza Hassan will be going to the Ayatollah Ansari’s madresseh.”

Cyrus nodded, “All right, so he is changing schools, but why are you calling him Mirza?”

“Your mother added this honorific to his name, since he will be a mullah soon.”

“That’s too bad—the kids at school will miss him.”

The woman barely controlled her anger but retorted in a mild voice, “You can be sure my son will never forget their insults, and he will never forgive them either.”

“Well, then, how about a game of chess?”

“Sorry, but my son will no longer serve as your practice partner in chess.”

Cyrus wanted to check for himself. He went upstairs to the storage room and yelled Hassan’s name. He was taken aback when Hassan appeared in a white robe, his head covered with a white turban.

“You must call me Mirza Hassan from now on,” Mirza Hassan said, standing as tall as he could manage. “Mullahs don’t play chess and don’t study math.”


Chapter Two


It Was March of 1978

It was March of 1978, and here in the plane, Cyrus could only see the distorted reflection of his face in the oval window. The plane jolted repeatedly as it was approaching the western suburbs of Tehran. The captain’s voice came from the speaker above Cyrus’s seat. It was during the last year of the Shah’s government in which Cyrus was traveling to Iran to visit his ill mother. She suffered from a severe and stubborn stomach ailment that had sapped her strength and caused her to lose weight. On this hastily arranged flight, he had traveled to Tehran without his family.

A scratchy voice from the speakers continued, “The airplane is approaching the capital. We are preparing to land. Please fasten your seatbelts.”

Before long, the plane descended rapidly, and soon Cyrus could see the string of bright lights dotting Karaj Highway along the western outskirts of Tehran and then the blue and yellow lights of the airport runways.

The thought of visiting his aging mother, once again seeing the house where he was born and grew up, made his heart flutter.

The courtyard with a lone oak tree next to the round pool, a fountain with blue ceramic tiles, the fat pigeons alighting on the edge of the fountain to drink, the blue metal door of the house next door….

He pulled out his wallet and looked at a photo of his mother taken some years earlier when she had been in good health and bursting with energy. A silky black veil covered her head and plump body from head to toe. It revealed only a bright face illuminated by a gentle smile and framed by a few tendrils of black hair. In her tiny pale hands she held a black leather-covered Koran. He remembered the early morning hours before a misty gray appeared in the square sky above their courtyard, when his mother would call the children to come to the family room for the breakfast arranged on a white sofreh (cloth), which she had spread over the center of the old wall-to-wall Kashan carpet. He recalled the small storage nook that he and his younger brother shared as their room until Cyrus was twelve. Their mother would enter their cubicle early every morning and gently awaken them. Despite the dim light, he would often notice his younger brother’s red face, embarrassed from yet another bed-wetting accident. Ignoring his ordeal, Mother would gently move him away and roll up his lahaf (flat mattress) and the linen sheet, which were both stained with urine.

He always loved the way his mother looked early in the morning, especially when she was whispering her Namaz. Her innocent face, like that of an angel, wrapped in a white veil, exuded her sweet demeanor. After completing her prayers, she would enter their rooms and call them again. In those cool morning hours, her tender and warm hands would touch his cheeks and forehead and tap softly to awaken him.

“Get up, my sweet son,” she would say. “Time to wash up, dress, and get ready for school.”

To feed the large family, his father, a fulltime government employee—a hard-working man who was an edacious eater (his usual snack: a wrap of fresh loaves of flat bread dipped in honey, sheep cheese, and purple basil)—worked long hours and held three jobs. He would leave the house early in the morning and return late at night after finishing his last job of the day, an evening job as bookkeeper for the Gulf Fishing Company. The biggest treats for Cyrus were the rare excursions with his father to the fishing boats in the wide river and their males-only suppers with the fishermen afterwards.

************

The garlicky smell of fried eggplant, sautéed mushrooms, fresh green onions, and roasted lamb greeted the guests as they entered the living room. Maryam’s spacious apartment extended over two stories, with a spacious living room, dining room, and well-equipped, modern kitchen on the first floor. She invited the guests to make themselves comfortable in the living room while she went to the kitchen to check on her live-in housekeeper. The servant’s yellow apron was stained with tomato juice, blueberries, and turmeric, and she was arranging a dish of bareh kebab, a grilled lamb dish. The delicious aroma of saffron and basil permeated the kitchen. Maryam looked over the display of beautifully arranged dished and nodded. She was pleased with the gourmet selections, which included several bowls of hot and cold Persian hors d’oeuvres, such as ghormeh sabzi, eggplant stew, two varieties of fluffy steamed rice, and platters of marinated vegetables. She smiled happily, patted the housekeeper’s shoulder in approval, and left the kitchen to join her guests.

“Take a peek in the kitchen, Cyrus. You’ll like what you see,” Maryam invited him.

In the living room, Habib had prepared mixed drinks with araq on the rocks and fresh orange juice and was offering them to his guests. As soon as politely possible he returned to Parviz, and they resumed their heated political conversation. Jamshid spread caviar on crackers and handed one to Cyrus to go with his drink. Cyrus took one bite; it was salty but delicious. Nevertheless he could hardly keep his eyes open. During his long journey from the U.S. to Iran he had not managed to take a solid nap.

“Dear Cyrus, don’t fall asleep on us,” Habib chuckled. The other guests laughed, too.

“Sorry, it was such a noisy flight, the cabin was crowded, the seats were tight, and now jet lag is starting to hit,” Cyrus apologized, somewhat embarrassed. He took two aspirin from his pocket and swallowed them with a sip of his drink, hoping to prevent the advent of a migraine. Worn out and tired, he had trouble following the conversation.

Tooraj had noticed Cyrus’s predicament. He pointed to the mixed drink in Cyrus’s hand. “That won’t help, Cyrus! What you need is Persian medicine. Let’s get you some tea.” Relieved, Cyrus abandoned his araq and asked for a cup of tea. His friend approved. “That’ll be much better for you.”

A few sips of hot tea from a delicate stekan soon conquered his sleepiness. He looked around the room and noticed Parviz sitting on a sofa next to a teenaged boy who listened submissively to Parviz’s comments and nodded in polite response. Then Cyrus remembered his mother’s illness. He walked over and waited for a break in their conversation.

“Why is Mother not here? Is she all right?” Cyrus asked Parviz.

Parviz dismissed his brother’s anxiety with a casual wave of his hand. “She is fine. It’s just too crowded here for her delicate condition. I thought it would be better for her to stay at my house tonight and rest.”

“Couldn’t she have eaten dinner with us?” Cyrus insisted.

“Mother needed a good night’s sleep,” Parviz explained. “She is going to have diagnostic surgery tomorrow.”

Cyrus was surprised. “That soon? What is going on?”

“Nothing to worry about. Your classmate Dr. Shaad will perform a gastroscopy on her in the morning.”

So she was having her gastric canal examined. Somehow there was more to this. Cyrus suspected Parviz was not giving him the whole story. He grumbled that she could have rested here just as well. Obviously, Cyrus needed more information. He turned to Maryam, who was fluffing up the flowers on the dining table.

“Please, tell me, Maryam, what’s going on. How is Mother doing?”

Maryam smiled, hoping to ease his concern. “No need to worry. Mom just has that old, constant nagging pain in her abdomen, and the doctor thinks he needs to make a detailed examination.”

“Why didn’t she see my friend sooner?” inquired Cyrus.

“Remember how she always had to have the last word in all crucial matters?” Maryam responded. “Well, the truth of the matter is that she has changed. She loves herbal medicines and took them for quite a while before she would consent to go and see a doctor. She does not take her health seriously. I finally convinced her to see Dr. Shaad last week, but she only agreed because he used to be a close friend of yours, Cyrus. She was so pleased when Dr. Shaad asked about you during their first meeting, and he made sure Mom was comfortable during the physical examination.”

 “Mani Shaad was always a charmer,” Cyrus remembered.

Parviz, who had been listening to their conversation, walked over and patted Cyrus’s shoulder. “Her appointment is at noon tomorrow. Mother wants you to take her to the hospital.”

“I’ll be happy to do it,” Cyrus said. Maryam went off to the kitchen.

“Come by early tomorrow morning. She will be all yours,” Parviz said. “She takes a short nap after her morning Namaz, and then she will be ready to see you.”

Cyrus was excited at the prospect of seeing their mother in the morning and promised, “I’ll come and be with her when she prays. She’ll like that.”

“That’s much too early,” grumbled Parviz. “It would be before sunrise.”

“Remember, I am an early riser these days.”

Parviz frowned. As a popular college teacher, Parviz had gained a lot of confidence and had settled into comfortable mid-life. With his short goatee, he cultivated the proverbial look of a professor. He was slim and relatively tall by Persian standards. The straight line of his thin, dark mustache was rarely bent by any expression, and he wore thick glasses. He was always soft-spoken but exuded an aura of arrogant confidence. He spoke in measured tones and often treated his family members like his pupils.

“OK. I’ll come after my morning jog,” Cyrus conceded.

Further argument was averted when Maryam announced dinner was ready and directed Cyrus to the head of the table. “You sit here!”

Habib sat at the other end. Jamshid, Tooraj, Parviz, and Maryam arranged themselves along either side of the table. The teenage boy sat beside Parviz. Another boy of about eighteen was sitting next to Habib.

“I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce these two students.” Maryam smiled at Cyrus. “That young man next to my husband is Bahram.” Bahram got up and bowed lightly to show respect to an honored guest. “The other student is Reza. They are both seniors in high school and are doing very well,” Maryam explained.

Parviz pointed to Reza. “This young man is my best student, and he’ll go far in life!”

Seeing the young students reminded Cyrus of their housekeeper’s son Hassan, who had left regular school and gone to study at a nearby madresseh. “Whatever happened to that so-called Mirza Hassan?” he asked Maryam, who always kept up with relatives and friends.

“Don’t you dare denigrate that man!” Maryam warned him. “He has become a big mullah with the Revolutionary Guards and can cause you a lot of trouble if you don’t watch out. One hears some gruesome stories about him. Allah be thanked, he has no business with us!”

Maryam left Cyrus ruminating for a moment, remembering his challenging childhood, the cold religious milieu enforced by his mother. Maryam turned away and directed the housekeeper to serve the soup. Its delicious warm aroma had little effect on the exhausted Cyrus. He could hardly enjoy anything now, and the sounds of the dinner conversation were washing over him like distant surf.

The discussions among the men were not about art, music, or even about Bibi Khanoom’s mysterious illness; it was all about politics. Habib, a politicoholic himself, was the loudest and had already entered into an argument with Tooraj and Reza over the wave of recent nighttime bomb-explosions in government buildings.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s part of a nationwide campaign. Persians are marching again,” Tooraj warned. “They marched to Babylon in 500 BC, they marched during the Constitutional Revolution in the early twentieth century, and they are marching now. Mark my words: these marches are not isolated events. Right now they only occur on weekends, but soon they will grow and happen every day.”

 “The Shah is going to crush all of them!” Habib shot back, his voice rising. “His forces will capture all those fanatic terrorists who plant bombs in public buildings.”

Maryam interrupted her husband, “Please, can’t you stop shouting?” Habib ignored Maryam and went on awhile.

************

The second course arrived. Maryam served Cyrus fragrant Shiraz salad before anybody else. Cyrus loved salads, any kind, as long as they were not covered with greasy dressing. Just lemon juice, salt, a few drops of olive oil, and a scant sprinkle of red pepper would usually do just fine. For a moment the delicious aromas revived him. He gobbled a few bites of vegetable rice with chunks of grilled chicken and approached the salad like a rabbit. But soon he slipped back into a languid state. He felt as if he were floating above the dinner table, hearing the babel of everybody’s political conversations from afar. The clatter of dishes and the rattle of spoons and forks became a distant and monotonous lullaby.

After serving the third course of lamb shanks and veal kabob with white rice, Maryam, who was aware of Cyrus’s struggle to stay awake, told him with compassion, “Before you fall asleep, please just take one more bite of the kabob.”

Parviz looked at Cyrus, who was drifting in and out of a hypnopompic condition and smirked, “You’re excused, Cyrus. Go. Retire to your room.”

 Habib and Tooraj were deep in an argument about the cause of the violent political events, while Parviz had appointed himself as moderator.

“We need a big storm!” asserted Parviz, “Big enough to sweep out these vile conditions and make room for a new structure in our country.”

“But a storm may bring disaster instead, another tyranny,” Habib exclaimed stridently, interrupting Cyrus’s drowsiness. “Beware of a chaos that only feeds despots.”

The humming of airplane engines was ringing louder and louder in Cyrus’s tired ears. Maryam shook his shoulders, pulled him up and guided him to the guest room on the second floor, where she left him with a set of towels and a fresh bar of lemon soap.

From far away came the sound of Habib’s voice telling everybody, “You windbags, stop complaining! The day will come when all of you will remember these prosperous times with regret.”

As soon as Maryam had closed the door, Cyrus changed and slid into the bed of cool, fresh sheets and a few seconds later was soundly asleep.

************

On the brief Iranian weekends lasting only a day on Fridays and sometimes an additional afternoon on Thursdays, Cyrus’s father would turn into a shopper, handyman, occasional angler, or a cook. Cyrus would join him some Friday afternoons, carrying tools while he repaired various bits and pieces around the house.

Sometimes Cyrus would be the lucky one, chosen from the five sons to accompany his father on an occasional fishing trip to the Persian Gulf. There on the banks of the swollen Karoon river, where it merged into the Persian Gulf, Cyrus would stare in awe at the heap of fish caught in the long trammels that the fishermen dropped into the murky waters, or he would hang around the bins filled with other fish they caught further out, in the flat waters of the Shat-el-Arab delta, with the many branches of their drift-seines, their floaters stretching long and far into the glittering mouth of the gulf.

Afterwards they ate late meals of freshly caught fish, stewed in a huge pot with spicy herbs, limes, onion, and chili pepper, and served over boiled rice. On the return trip home, he and his father sat next to the driver in the lead truck of a column bringing truckloads of Gulf fish to his hometown of Ahwaz. Depending on the size of their catch, the fishermen might drop one or two baskets of fish into the large icebox in the storage room of Cyrus’s home, and then the family would share their abundance with relatives, friends, and even a few select neighbors.

 

The plane jolting roughly over the runway broke Cyrus’s train of thought. The aircraft whirled, slightly scaring everyone, but swiftly settled back onto a straight path. A hearty round of applause rewarded the pilot.

The squeaking of wheels of the rough landing

jolted the anxious passengers, caused rapturous

response, a storm of applause for the safe landing.

A whooshing noise filled the cabin and then gradually diminished to a sedate, humming sound. Soon the plane slowed to a stop. Suddenly, the prospect of seeing his mother and revisiting his hometown made blood rush through his veins. Cyrus recalled the lines from a ghazal by Hafez that described the joy of coming home:

Bring all the wine that’s left!

When we’re dead and wandering in paradise

we won’t find a place more delightful

than this . . . .

 

The air in Tehran was stiff, smoggy, and cold. Cyrus followed the other passengers down the stairs onto the tarmac. Gray, bitter air hit his face. He heaved a deep sigh and climbed into the transfer bus packed with excited and restless visitors and returnees. The bus stopped in front of a characterless cement building with gray concrete walls. Under the watchful eyes of two armed soldiers guarding the entry, uniformed airport agents directed the passengers through a small doorway into a low-ceilinged hall, where the new arrivals joined two queues that meandered toward a row of security checkpoints. The damp air of the unventilated room was saturated with the smell of unwashed bodies. Lilting Farsi music resonated from loosely suspended speakers into the utilitarian space. Bare walls showed no traces of décor except for the large portraits of the Shah, Queen Farah, and Crown Prince Reza on the wall facing the queues.

This was indeed a different arrival gate. On his previous trip, all international passengers had been processed in a spacious building with marble floors, high ceilings, and walls decorated with elaborate scenes of Persian history from Firdausi’s Shahnameh. Many miniature paintings and ceramic tablets with the popular quatrains of Khayam had adorned the walls of that edifice. He asked the passenger in front of him about the haphazard look of the current setup. The man was about to answer but seeing some airport agents walk nearby he did not reply and turned away. Cyrus assumed this plain arrival building was some sort of interim building used during renovation of the main airport hall.

The line was moving slowly. The young man behind him tapped his shoulder and whispered in his ear, “The roof of the main building collapsed several months ago. Thank God, it happened in the early morning hours.”

Cyrus nodded. The young man was eager to tell him more about how the building had been walled up within a few days and no one could see anything from the outside. The young man raised his eyebrows with an air of skepticism. “The officials claim heavy snow from a severe winter storm caused the structure to collapse, but nobody believes them. That explanation is a farce. Everybody remembers the storm was relatively mild and not a single structure other than the international arrivals building came down that night. Not even a mud hut in the slums!”

When two airport agents approached, the young man became quiet and quickly returned to his former position.

The security officer behind the window asked for Cyrus’s passport. Cyrus slipped his Persian passport through a narrow opening while he kept his American passport secure in his breast pocket.

“Are you Cyrus Sohrabi?” the officer asked.

“Yes, sir, I am.”

The official leafed through the pages of the passport and paused several times to check visas issued by different countries. His face froze when he discovered a visa for Hungary. He bent over and inspected it closely. The date of the visa was almost five years ago. He opened a drawer and took out a folder, which had a list of countries that Iranian citizens were forbidden to visit. Hungary was one of them.

“I see you have visited a communist country,” the officer said.

“Yes, but I only went there for a medical meeting. Besides, it was a long time ago,” Cyrus explained. “Look at the date!”

“The date doesn’t matter, this needs to be investigated.”

“Please, sir, look at the next page!” Cyrus insisted. “The issue was thoroughly investigated during my last trip to Iran and completely clarified.”

The officer turned the page and saw two notes, one from the Passport Office and the other one from the Iranian Police Department. He grudgingly leafed through the rest of the pages.

Cyrus remembered the scenic drive along the Danube River five years earlier, when he and his family had visited Europe. In Rotterdam they had picked up the gigantic new Chevrolet Impala from customs, and then they had driven a slow, circuitous route to Budapest, where he had attended a medical meeting for three days. Along the way, they had toured historic monuments, castles, and museums. He had sent his wife and son back to Frankfurt to stay with his in-laws, while he continued to Iran for a visit. The Impala was for his brother-in-law, Habib, who wanted a big American car with leather seats, air-conditioning, and an automatic transmission.

Upon arrival, Cyrus had been summoned by the Savak, the Shah’s secret police, to explain his trip to Hungary. They wanted to know what he was doing in a communist country and why he was driving around Europe visiting old castles and universities. Cyrus had patiently explained to them that the time in Hungary was mainly to attend a medical meeting, but the family had added some excursions to historical sites to their schedule. The officials were skeptical and asked him to justify the visits to the historic places.

“We enjoy visiting castles, cathedrals, and museums, studying old architecture, and listening to the music of different countries. Actually, it’s because my wife is an edacious reader and polymath who is interested in many subjects, from Greek tragedies to old gables,” Cyrus had said.

“What in the world is a gable?”

“The section of the wall at the pitched roof.”

“What’s the big deal about a pitched roof?”

“I don’t know, but she enjoys photographing architectural details of historic buildings.”

The Savak agent suspected Cyrus was covering up something, and referred the matter to his superior. After the Savak had thoroughly investigated his marked-up maps and receipts, examined his certificate of attendance from the medical meeting and his stack of museum booklets and admission tickets, art books and music records, they had ultimately cleared him of clandestine political activity and affixed a note to that effect in Cyrus’s passport. But it had taken them quite awhile to come to this conclusion, and Cyrus had been worried the entire time. An involvement with the Savak was never a trivial matter.

An utter chaos in the abyss of frantic times

an old Empire in decline. The birthplace

the childhood home: Mother’s warm bosom

a soft kiss. A visit worth its risks.

While these memories raced through Cyrus’s mind, the security official stamped the passport and waved him through to the luggage area. Passengers were picking up their bags from a big pile of suitcases and carrying them to the customs checkpoint. He watched customs employees rifle through suitcases and peruse books and magazines, searching for political articles. Employees with special insignia pinned to their lapels and clipboards in their hands were estimating the value of all items purchased abroad so they could levy import taxes. A couple in fashionable European clothes in front of Cyrus stopped the queue for more than twenty minutes, arguing with the customs agent about his detailed valuations. Finally they settled on an amount, and Cyrus could step up to the desk.

“Welcome to Iran, Doctor,” the agent said. He had seen the title Dr. before Cyrus’s name on the airline ticket. “Please, go on!” He waved Cyrus through with a polite gesture, without examining the suitcases.

Cyrus returned the smile with a nod, “Motashakerram.

A porter took Cyrus’s luggage, and he followed. The noise of the waiting area, crowded with relatives and friends of arrivals, engulfed him. His sister Maryam was the first to catch sight of him. A wide smile illuminated her face as she hurried forward with a bouquet of flowers and hugged him. Cyrus immediately asked about their mother.

His older brother Parviz stepped forward and they embraced. “Mother is at my house. She is fine. You are welcome to stay with us, too.” Parviz said.

Maryam quickly interjected, “You’ll be more comfortable at my house, Cyrus. You can visit Mom anytime. From our house it’s just five minutes to Parviz’s home.”

Before Cyrus could reply, Parviz calmly decreed, “It’s up to Cyrus.”

Maryam appeared upset. She was the oldest sibling in the family and by tradition had the first right of refusal to host Cyrus. Noticing that Maryam’s face had grown tight and unhappy and that Parviz was annoyed, Cyrus announced he would let them decide who should host him in Tehran.

Fortunately, Parviz gave in quickly. “It’s all right. You stay at her place, Cyrus.”

Maryam immediately regained her earlier happy mood and thanked Parviz graciously. “After all, my house is your house, too,” she smiled at Parviz.

Behind them, squeezed among the throng of people in the small arrival hall, Maryam’s son Jamshid and Cyrus’s friend Tooraj, an agnostic Jew who loved poetry, were waiting for their turn to greet him. Cyrus turned to Tooraj, who had been his classmate and bosom friend during their seven long years at Tehran Medical School.

“You look happy, Tooraj. Life is treating you well!” Cyrus said.

Tooraj grinned, “You haven’t changed much either.”

They both chuckled, and their camaraderie was re-established in no time.

Jamshid, who was standing next to them disagreed. “Look up there, Cyrus has lost a lot of hair above his forehead.” Now everyone except Cyrus laughed.

“He makes fun of my pilgarlic look as well,” said Tooraj. “I think bald is beautiful.”

People who were trying to get in and out of the hall constantly jostled against Cyrus and his welcome party.

Maryam took Cyrus’s hand. “I can’t breathe here. My stupid asthma is acting up,” she gasped. “Let’s leave.” Maryam’s face had become bluish red, almost purple.

Cyrus grew worried about her labored breathing. “Maryam needs fresh air,” he decreed. The group quickly left the hall and moved toward the parking area.

 As Jamshid maneuvered the car through slow-moving traffic, Maryam became herself again. Always a gracious hostess, she told Cyrus, “I have prepared a light dinner for you.”

Cyrus knew her “light” dinners always meant several delicious courses. Sadly, he wasn’t hungry at all and cared little about food at the moment. He was tired and felt a migraine headache coming on. He could sense the taste of it, its aura. He looked out the car window, searching for familiar scenes along the road where streetlights illuminated sidewalks, buildings, walls, and trees.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Maryam persisted. “I have prepared some of your favorite Persian dishes!”

“I have been fed continually in the plane,” he said. “Three big meals during the last fifteen hours.” He felt almost nauseated but knew dinner was obligatory and relented. “Of course I’ll eat some of your good food.”

They circled Shah-Yad Square, where high-powered light beams illuminated an imposing white marble structure supported by four huge, slanted columns. The structure had been erected several years ago as a tribute to the Shah and his everlasting reign. Cyrus noted a faint resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

They took the main road to the northern part of Tehran, where most of Cyrus’s family and friends lived. An endless caravan of cars, buses, taxis, and motorcycles packed the road in both directions, completely ignoring the worn-out lane markings.

Cyrus opened the window, hoping to let in some fresh air, but Jamshid warned him, “You’ll get sick. Our air is badly polluted.”

Dark smoke spewing from the decrepit truck ahead of them filled the car. When Maryam began to cough, Cyrus reached for the handle and quickly rolled up the window. Maryam’s cough did not abate for quite awhile.

“I should have brought my medicine,” Maryam muttered, fighting for air. “My asthma is killing me these days. The pollution. The smog. The trucks.”

“Don’t forget about the tanks and armored military vehicles that patrol the streets, attacking the marchers,” Tooraj added. But no one reacted to his comment.

Although Maryam’s neighborhood was only eight miles from the airport, it took them more than an hour to get to their turnoff. Jamshid slowed when he passed a crowded intersection with a half-ruined building, its scorched walls blackened by fire.

 “This used to be our local post office,” Jamshid explained. “Two nights ago it burned down. And now armed soldiers are guarding the destroyed building shell. A case of closing the barn door after the cows have escaped.”

“They should have guarded it before the bomb attack,” said Tooraj.

“How did it burn down?” Cyrus asked.

“Nobody knows,” Jamshid shrugged his shoulders, “and nobody cares.”

Cyrus was surprised by this nonchalant attitude. “What’s going on in this city?”

Maryam closed the topic by declaring, “We don’t worry. These kinds of things are not our problem. It’s up to the Shah to deal with it!”

“It’s all politics,” Tooraj said. “One day, the whole city will shatter into pieces, aflame.”