World is on a better perspective from your Father’s shoulder

I sat on a big rock. We were hiking for about an hour.

“My feet ache, I won’t walk another step.” My sister was only one year younger than me and she always climbed father’s shoulders, instead of walking.

“Last year you told me I was old enough to walk by myself. She is the same age now. Why doesn’t she walk?” My eyes filled up with tears against my will.

Father put my sister down and sat before me so that I could climb his shoulder off the stone.

World was shinier here. Leaves touched my face and I showed my tongue to my sister who was walking down there. Looking up, she stumbled over a muddy area and cried for her dirty sticky shoes.

She was my best playmate however. Many afternoons, my sister and I descended the stairs to the basement, our favorite play area. We preferred damp dusty basement to the sunny spacious yard of our complex. Mother did not oppose as long as we tidied up everything we dug up. For us, the basement was a wonderland, full of extraordinary toys: unusable cloths, books, shelves, as well as our childhood cribs. It looked like a typical basement, save that the items were not old enough to be stored down there. Most of them were clean and almost new but could not be used after all the changes the Iranian revolution brought to people’s lives in 1979.

A portrait of Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution, leaned on the wall. Turning it to the back would reveal a gorgeous blond with a blue dress. “Can I take it upstairs and hang it in my room?” I would ask. Her blond curls reached her naked shoulders, where the dress had slid off to show a mysterious cleavage. God, I wished I would color my hair and look like her some day. “Not now dear,” my mother said as she turned it back to Khomeini portrait.

My parents were newly-wed and expecting their first child (me) when the Iranian revolution occurred. They drove their brand new Toyota Carina to share their uncalmable excitement with all the smiling people in streets and parks. The glamorous future shined in font of them and their child who would breath in an air of freedom. The whole city was like a big feast. Every one offered sweets and waited for your car to pass first.

My parents’ daughter and infinite hopes were still toddlers when every thing started to travel in the wrong way. The happy city that was invaded by Iraqi planes looked terrified now. People skipped the line in long lines of Kerosene and bread. They pulled along extra big plastic containers of kerosene to store in their basements. “They do not think of people who are in need of kerosene. Every one seems to have forgotten about morals,” Mother would say.

Seventy-three days after the revolution, I was born. The revolution had influenced people’s lives so vastly that it had become a time origin for people to remember their life milestones. Marriages, childbirths, and graduations were either before or after the revolution. Religious party had won the election and the rules changed over night. People’s lives did not evolve immediately, though. The change crawled into their life within years.

Father suggested that Mother could add a little scarf and black stockings to her outfit when they went to visit his family. It made her happy to please him, so she did. After all, it was nothing in comparison to his sisters, who wrapped themselves in black Chadors and attended all public Friday prayers. A year and a half passed before hijab was obligatory for all women in public places.

As I grew up, a world of unknown jargon flowed around me. A few years after the revolution, the new government found the communists a threat to its young and stumbling columns. Mother’s uncle was prisoned in a peril of execution. His wife wept in silence as she whispered to Mother in the kitchen. Mother’s cousins ran away to Europe or disappeared in far villages. I was so young to understand what they were talking about, but I tried my best to memorize the bizarre words. I’ll know them some day, I would tell myself. The red. Saddam. Cold water. The Big Master. Hammer and sickle. I did not know what they stood for, but I could smell a profound fear.

With exaggerated eye rolls, a guest handed a black plastic bag to Mother as soon as he came in. Mother put it under the kitchen table. In a rare moment, when no body was in the kitchen, I opened the tight knot with much difficulty to find nothing but two bottles of a red drink with a strong smell. I tasted it. It was the most unpleasant thing I had ever experienced on my tongue. Why was this illegal? Why did people bother themselves to drink it in such terror and inconvenience?

Father was not a hard-liner, essentially. He accompanied the guests in drinking, playing cards, backgammon, and chess (all forbidden and haraam) and laughed at their jokes about the mullahs and hell and heaven. But even his young daughters knew that there was a gap between him and everybody else in the room. What was that? Not having grown up among them? Having a mother whose heart would stop instantly if she knew he drank? I think his family background did not let him enter some aspect of their lives, even if he wanted to. From children’s room, we heard him laugh at dirty jokes, but he would never initiate one. He did drink but never smuggled drinks into parties.

I remember a holiday, when we were about to spend the weekend in the summerhouse of Mother’ uncle. When they packed all the food and dishes, Mother’s uncle smiled and put his black plastic bag in our Toyota’s trunk. “The Police would never suspect you,” he reasoned.

Sometimes we drove three hours to visit our paternal grandmother. She lived in a village on foots of mountains. The only water tap under the cherry tree had very cold water even in summer. An early morning, it was still dark when I heard my oldest uncle calling out Father to say his prayers. I knew it was obligatory to wash your hands, feet, and face before saying prayers. Still I was stunned when he got up and went to the yard to wash up with the icy water. I got up in the darkness to watch the odd scene of Father saying his prayers in loud Arabic words. For weeks after that Father laughed with us when we imitated his Arabic accent, but the scene moved something inside me: there was some one whom he obeyed with no question.

I loved him. Many afternoons he spent playing with us in our yard while other fathers were at long missions away or had more important things to do. He helped us with our homework and read us old Persian literature before sleep and explained every ancient word while on TV shows, I saw fathers asking their children what grade they were studying at school. He never got angry or shouted. His big dark hands checked my fever and combed my hair.

I admired him. He seemed to know the answer to every question. “Go upstairs and bring me the volume 5 of the encyclopedia,” we pulled the heavy volume, if he was not sure. He knew all old Persian stories by heart and painted our dreams every night

I was afraid of him. Nothing made him angry except the big forbidden topic: the opposite sex. A male cousin sitting too intimate to us, a French kiss on an illegally borrowed VHS tape from auntie’s house while we were watching, a telephone number tucked in my pocket by a schoolboy or a chest-showing collar, all could infuriate him. (cause the best father in the world to have the most frightening look ever seen.) He never went further to shout or punish us. The look was scary enough to replace every other punishment.

More than once in a while, we sat turning the pages of old photo albums. Our favorite album was the wedding album, but Mother preferred the earlier photos, or “her girl-time” photos, as she called them. Like many Iranian women of her age, losing virginity was a clear life point that divided her life to two different periods: being a girl and being a woman. “Look at this photo! I am a girl here. We went to university in jeans and t-shirts! Can you believe it?” she pointed to a slim girl hidden among thirty other boys and girls. She seemed more surprised than us. We were born with the fact that we lived in a world different from our parent’s. Our school uniform was a dark buttoned blue dress and a scarf, sewed to neck. Ten-year-old mom pulled her hair above her head in a long ponytail. Her white well-ironed crochet collar matched well with white stockings and the dark blue uniform she had on was much shorter than ours.  

Though Afrooz and I were growing up inside what grownups called limitations, we presumed it natural and could not imagine any other possible way of life. Finding signs of pre-revolution life, which was a great envy to them, was just an amusing game for us. We spotted rusted useless parkometers in the streets, dusty billiard tables in hotels, vending machines in stores, and empty pools in back yards. No one used them anymore; they simply belonged to a golden, privileged, yet unknown era: “before the revolution”. If we visited the king’s palace in weekends, while our parents’ expression was as amusing as the golden statues and huge luster lamps. Less than a decade ago, they could not imagine passing these huge gates and now they were in the king’s bedroom.

The basement was our favorite place to play, our wonderland. We knew we could find some ancient weird items that belonged to olden days. A huge wooden wardrobe rest in a corner, in which my parents restored the cloths they could not use anymore. Father’s neatly folded ties and patterned tweed coats lay beside her short backless dresses. Wide ties were not fashionable anymore, but we had them anyway.

Every thing my parents recalled from their twenty-ish young life was vague to me. All we could see in TV was Tom & Jerry and old Japanese children who took long journeys to find their mothers, while my mother talked about ???, which did not go further than dusty stickers or comic books forgotten in some stores. and I thought the basement was the key to discover this ambiguous world they always talked about. Basement was a symbol of a world that both existed and could not exist.

 

About a decade after the revolution, he had stopped wearing ties in formal gatherings and she had started putting chador when we visited grandma. We drove three hours to grandma’s village, located in south of Tehran. If she did not wear chador, women of the village, stared at her and men avoided greeting and looking at her. Driving back home, she squeezed the chador back in the trunk with a deep breath. “Ah, finally my home,” she would say at home, flatting the messy hair pile formed atop her head after hours of struggling her scarf not slid off her head. She hated long shapeless uniforms that concealed her young slim body. Opaque black stockings cruelly covered her white delicate ankles, and made an appearance of two black sticks, unfairly indistinguishable from shapeless hairy feet of her sister in laws.

Despite her silent battle, redlines changed in her mind, too. In the basement, my sister would discover an extremely tight green shirt: “Look! She wore this and now does not let me put on my small pink skirt!” There were always new things to be discovered we in the basement. The cloths, we would try on, the letters we read, the forgotten pack of unused handkerchiefs we took upstairs to use at school. Once we found a short dark red dress, we had seen Mother’s photos in. We wished it was pink so that we could wear it in playing “Grease”, but red was good enough. We fought over who plays “Sandy”. I exchanged the role for a beautiful post card of a river that I could show to my classmates the next day.

I tied a tie around my neck and put on a tweed coat: I was Danny. I looked in the mirrored door of the wardrobe and tried to stand upright like a photo of my father, in which every one said he looked like a singer of the time.

While dancing, my awkward knot loosened and my father’s tie fell on the floor. I crouch to pick it up and I discovered a pink box under the old wooden bench. We pulled its dusty handles closer: it was an old suitcase. Checked pink suitcase? It was just like one of those treasure chests in Gulliver series.

We opened the suitcase to discover that it all belonged to Father. Old letters from his friends and family, a deck of cards with photos of naked women printed on the back, a book with a difficult name and a love poem on the first page, and a pocket with a few photos inside. The photos showed him with his female classmates, most wearing short skirts and high heels. He was standing away from them, but his presence at the same place with them was still bewildering. We had seen Mother’s photo with male classmates but never thought that females could exist among father’s classmates too. And had he been sitting there while other players held the photos of naked women in a fan across from their faces? How did he bear to stay in the same room with a female classmate whose shorts barely covered her thighs?

Sitting in the basement, we sat on the old wooden bed as our feet dangled in the air. I was worried that any moment a mouse or a cockroach would touch my feet. There was something assuring in that suitcase. There I could see the days that my parents were different. The days that even Father could break the most evident rules. The days they would stand beside each other and look forward to camera and to a shining future. The pink suitcase smelled of hope.

Basement was a marvelous place where Father could keep ties and photos of naked girls and Mother’s waist size was still 34. Only if it was not all buried under that huge building. Alas.