is Mahmood khan's birthday. He wakes up on this humid
August morning, startled by birdsong echoing across the
garden outside and, for a long time, stares in confused
remembrance of a past long gone at the swelling orange
sun burning the faded floral wallpaper across from his
“It's my birthday," he finally
realizes. "I’m seventy-six today. Where did it go?”
painfully from a sore back, standing in his gray pajamas
by the window, he looks at the garden.
There's much to be done -- later, much later.
These days it's all backaches and wishes.
Outside in the sunrise, garden roses are already awake,
clematis climbs like a growing child, and all the border
marigolds are on fire. The vine in the yard of his house
in his hometown climbed all over the wall, too, and the
colorful pansies seemed like a carpet of velvet. He can still
remember the scent of the jasmine in the
afternoons after he watered the garden and washed the
brick pavement around the oval pond in the middle of
my birthday. Does anyone remember?
Fakhri did, when we lived back home. Strangely
enough she always remembered mine, though she was
against this kind of thing altogether.”
door dog barks. Out of nowhere a cat suddenly drops
under the apple tree, stalking anxious sparrows to the end of the garden without
success. Shadows shrink against
the garden fences and the last star melts into dawn.
There's heat in the breathless August day already.
khan, seventy-six, is sitting in his kitchen, silent,
the house holding its breath around him. His thick-veined
hands brush breadcrumbs from the plastic
tablecloth. He listens to the awakening of the new day
as the clock on the mantle ticks relentlessly.
walks to the mailbox in hopes of a post card or
letter from one of the kids. His tired eyes examine the
are no birthday cards to sigh over.
These days, kids don't have time for a father or
a mother; they are so busy with work, the fear of losing
their jobs, bills, and all the rest.
“It is understandable! But just a post card; is
that too much to ask?”
to the kitchen he slides a knife along each
envelope. "Better than nothing,” he thinks;
even if the electricity is overdue or the phone might be
disconnected if it is not paid in a few days. At least
his creditors keep in touch! No longer absorbed in his letter-opening routine,
he looks at the blinding sunlight on his glazed, brown teapot and then,
laying the bad news aside for later, pours more tea.
He sits and thinks about birthdays back then. Cakes and
naan-e khaamei, songs and celebrations, and his-long dead
wife who cared. Back when?
“Time flies,” he says.
talking to himself most days - who else will listen? He
walks up and down in the room a hundred times a day, every
day. He then rises tiredly and prepares to face the
“What to do today?” When he turns on the TV, the news assaults his soul. The
world is littered with dead children and pain, it has
gone mad with cruelty and nobody seems to notice.
Nothing but talking about violence and the rape of children.
The news is like a police report.
hates the media. "They love abusing the
innocent with their exciting updates and breaking bad
people and good deeds don't exist any more?
What is wrong with this country?
If I had the wisdom of today when I was leaving
my sacred land! If only I had the wisdom of today."
a hell I have gone through in these twenty two years, what a
didn't I stay to be killed, executed, tortured,
could not have been worse.
Twenty two years just waiting and waiting, hoping for a
change, believing the nonsense of this one and that one.
What a hell." Then he remembers Fakhri,
how she cried day and night out of fear that he might
be arrested and put to death. He would say “my dear, I haven’t done
anything. Why would they want to arrest me?
I will go willingly if they call me and defend
myself in a way that you will be proud.”
don’t understand; you don’t grasp the situation,
they will execute you before you have a chance to defend
you see what is happening to your friends?” Fakhri
would insist. “You
should go; you should, no matter what.”
could not understand why. He had worked so hard all his life, moving from one small
town to the next, raising three children in small rental houses
on a meager salary.
Only in the last few years had they been able to move to Tehran after years of
transient living and working in the worst climates.
It was then that he could finally afford to buy a
house and a decent car with a loan from the Construction
Bank. He deserved it all.
knows what a toll it had on my family and myself, going
to college in my spare time, studying like hell day and
night to get my degree, and working night shifts most
of the time to finish school.
I deserved every bit of the position I occupied
in the last few years.
It gave us the means of sending the kids abroad, but I
had worked so hard for it.”
all those years of living like a vagabond his only
support and happiness was Fakhri, the woman who brought
heaven to his life, the beautiful Fakhri -- how warm and
kind she was, what a good mother, daughter, sister,
friend and wife.”
turns off the TV. and plays a CD from Golpayegani: "Moyeh
sepido tooyeh ayneh didam, ahi boland az taheh del
keshidam." Tears come to his eyes.
Way beyond "gray hair;" he was, way
he dresses like every other day, as if he was going to
has done this forever, every day for the last twenty two
He intends to go for a walk -- cane and cap and
all, checking the front door and windows before stepping
out. All's secure. When the
nighttime house creaks with its own age, Mahmood khan
thinks of burglars and imagined violations, and trembles.
What a world!
He opens the front door and suddenly sees Fakhri.
"Happy birthday, Mahmood joon."
does not astonish him, he's been seeing Fakhri a lot
lately: she walked with him all the way to the pharmacy
yesterday, and when he sat down to rest, she stood
under the tree close to the bench, waiting in its shade.
didn't forget,” Fakhri said.
know, I know.”
you come to walk with me to the park?”
can't Fakhri, we can't. You're dead.'
sun slides down the street and settles on
Mahmood khan’s little house and Fakhri fades
like a startled shadow.
“Poor Fakhri,” Mahmood khan whispers sadly.
“My poor dead darling.”
decides to go grocery shopping instead; he needs a few
avoids the supermarket. It's too complicated. Grim
checkout people anxious to get home, bald-headed young
men with rings in their ears and aggression in their
eyes, and frantic housewives -- liberated women
with little freedom. The exhaustion of super markets is
too much for him: too much choice, too big, too modern,
too lonely and unfamiliar to him.
goes to smaller stores -- goes to Iranian stores mostly,
chats with familiar people, and gets milk, yogurt, and homemade breads.
Mr. Javadi is in the shop.
are you doing General?” he asks, looking past him at
the titles of the newspapers on the stand.
You would have handed me over to them without a thought if they
had promised to pay you back your confiscated estates in the
north”, Mahmood khan thought.
thank God. Yourself?”
I guess ok. Have you heard the news? The regime is
crumbling to its knees. This time they are
finished. Have you heard about the teachers’ uprising?
That was the best spot to hit. Soon there
will be strikes, schools will be closed, and parents will
right, it is the end, but whose end?” passes through Mahmood
is strangled with polite lies, and Iranians’ lives are
replete with lies, more lies, and wishful thinking.
walks home through the sweltering streets towards his
sanctuary. He sits in his armchair in the dull room
looking out on the road, and hears the clock chime
ten. The long day stretches ahead like a dreadful
eternity. The terror of ten a.m. Nothing to do. Outside,
young people hurry through the morning, sun on their
faces, time on their hands, believing that it will last
forever, happy and carefree, unaware of a broken soul, sitting
so lonely with so
many wishes that never came true.
“ I'm glad I'm not young anymore, can’t wait
despises this time of day. Already too hot for the
garden and nothing to fill the mind until he makes
something to eat at lunchtime. Light lunch for the long
afternoon lengthening drearily like an empty road
going nowhere. He tries to read but even with glasses
the words are a blur.
'Fakhri-e man,' he whispers and her name rings in
his head like a tolling bell.
jan-e man, Fakhri jan-e man, how kind you were.”
khan plays with her thoughts. His eyes close. He becomes
delirious with dreaming and hears distantly the noise
of Mehrabad airport. People all seem so confused and clueless
but he is only hoping he wouldn’t
see a familiar face.
Shaking inside in his disguise, he looks around
in fear. Far
away, on the other side of the airport, Sergeant Movahedi
sees and recognizes him but turns his head away.
He shakes like a willow in the tempest of an
early winter day.
the last few days before his escape, Fakhri had been
going from one shrine to the next.
Just the day before she had gone to Emamzadeh
Saaleh. She said most of the women there were the wives of those
whose lives were in danger.
An old Mullah was reciting prayers about one
of the Imams who had been imprisoned for years before
having been put to death.
Fakhri said she sat by the shrine and cried and
cried and would not leave, imploring and begging for her
The woman in charge of the shrine had come to her
and said: “My dear whatever you wished is granted. Agha will help you, I promise.”
Then she had
hugged and kissed her.
Fakhri, at that moment, had pledged to give her 2000
tomans and the Turkman rug from the hallway, if her wishes came true.
next day Fakhri did not accompany him to the airport.
She had kissed him on his face and hands and chest a
thousand times in the last few days, and she waved at him
until he could no longer be seen as the car took him
She did not cry; she even pretended to be happy,
and promised to join him as soon as she could.
it a coward of me to leave her like that?”
Mahmood khan had asked himself a million times.
days of his departure, Fakhri was arrested and jailed. She
did not know where he was; nothing could drag that from
her mouth. She
was executed a few years later in the massacre of 88.
They said that towards the end, she was so
disturbed that they
used her and her wailings to torture the rest. She was Forty Seven when she died.
in jail, Mahmood khan didn’t want to stay, he wanted
to go back to be with her, no matter what.
But he never dared.
a chicken I stayed to breathe this unfamiliar,
sickening air -- just like a chicken, begged this damn
country and that to give me asylum, practically
would stoop the lowest for a place far away from my own.
Why didn’t I escape to the mountains, to the
remotest part of my own country, and hide with my
wife and take care of her?
Why? But you don’t always do what is
you make mistakes all your life and realize them only
when you don’t have time to rectify.”
had taken him three years to find a country to live permanently.
Had it not been for his children who provided this
old tiny home and a meager monthly, with his income he
would not have been able to go on.
miserable I was that I forgot all my pride, worked
at the lowest wages, did anything just to survive.
Fire in my heart, hatred in my head, desperate
and hopeless most of the time; hopeful only on rare
occasions, when good news came about Fakhri”
might have a general clemency for all the prisoners”
his sister said when she called him the last time before
“Clemency for what? What did my darling wife do
to need clemency?; she was not politically active for
years. If I
could see her just one more time, oh God.”
this never happened. Fakhri was executed; for what, he
did not know. It didn't matter now.
took him a long time to get over Fakhri’s
than anything else, his conscience was killing him.
He had severe depression and other physical and
mental illnesses. It was years later, and only through
Jane, that he somehow came out of it. Jane, the kind woman who taught English at the college, and was his
teacher for a few months. But their marriage did not
Jane was fine. she was lovely and kind, but she could not
take Fakhri’s place.
Who could? The
mother of my children, my friend, my support, my
backbone -- all those are what Fakhri was to me.
No one else could give me the same love -- that
incredible warmth and strength, that passion and
could not forget her miraculous kindness. I couldn't.
So I had to let go of Jane. Jane and I parted and that
was my misfortune too. She tried so hard.”
should mix with our own people more. We don’t
understand these people, they are cold, they are not
like us” Mr. Dardashti told him once.
our people have changed, too. They are not the same kind
people that we used to know. Look what they are doing to
each other: backstabbing, jealousy, gossiping,
engaging in lawsuit after lawsuit.
Are they really the same people or the sons and
daughters of the same people? The world has changed dear;
we are not the same people either. “
was only after Jane's and my divorce that Fakhri came to see
me”, Mahmood khan utters aloud.
chime: Ding. Ding. Ding., and many more.......!
suddenly shivers and struggles to shake off the dream
and prevent himself from uttering her name as if she were
still alive. In haste he rushes to the window and the sun,
and rubbing his weary
He makes lunch.
Lavash and Feta cheese and tomatoes with a few
fresh dills. Then
he sits by the window -- half
out of life. On
the radio a woman sings, “those lovely days.”
sweet sorrow." Who said that?
he sits in the garden looking towards the sunset. There
is nothing else to see but blackbirds and sparrows,
nothing to hear but the noise of butterflies' wings.
Such a silence, no one around, he dozes the time
the clock in the parlor chimes twelve
heartbeats. It is a warm night, hot and humid.
Getting back to the house and climbing into his
empty bed, Mahmood khan turns off the sidelight and
watches the shadows huddled against the floral
wallpaper. A hot
August moon shines in the open window: soft as silence, quiet
as apple blossoms falling, gentle as Fakhri’s charming
smile. Fakhri with the same sad, glad smile is standing
there by his bed. Faithful Fakhri, waiting.
“Do you want me now?”
Fakhri jan -- yes!”
He says “I can come now, Fakhri, if you like.
I'm finally, properly dead.”
glad. I've been waiting for such a long time!'”
khan, rising, leaves his seventy-six years
of agonies between the clean sheets of his bed. Walking
through the moonlight with Fakhri in his arms, the pair
of them shooting like comets into Eternity while the
clock in the parlor stops. Forever and forever.
the phone rings and rings.
speaks into the answering machine “hey dad, happy
birthday, sorry to call you so late. We were out and I
totally forgot, so sorry.
Will call yea tomorrow; sweet dreams.”