was busy playing on the family farm when I heard the sounds. A boom,
shots firing, fear and Parisa’s mother screaming out her name.
Sounds that are never heard in the village of Boustaan. I could hear
fear, chaos and the need to escape in the sounds around me. The loud
noise of bullets firing sounded like pop-corn bursting in the fire.
They sped past the terrified villagers and once in a while someone
would fall to the ground. I saw a bullet rip through a woman’s
stomach the impact knocking her to the ground groaning. Blood was
pouring slowly out of the wound and shining bright red in the warm
afternoon sunlight. The woman was a wonderful mother and a great role
model in the village. She was renowned for her hospitality, cheerful
nature, and strong faith. She lived her entire life as a Bedouin
woman in a tent with her family. That was the last afternoon in the
summer of 1980 and the first day of the war.
the airplanes appeared in the sky, my father roared out “bouyeh”*
as if a fire had been lit in his mouth. My mother was trying to take
my sister, Maryam, who could not take her eyes off the sky, inside
the house. In that moment of fear and bewilderment; my mother, unlike
my father, fluttered like a candle flame. She grabbed the scarf,
which was the colour of faded bricks, between her teeth so her hair
could not be seen. A voice crying and screaming filled the air; it
was Parisa, our neighbour. Suddenly in all that mayhem a loud
whistling sound, like a jet taking off, drew near and finally there
was a tremendous explosion that knocked everything everywhere. Our
reed house, where we sheltered crashed down over our heads. Then
another frightening whistle sounded and with a swift and destructive
descent, landed a little further away, this was followed by yet
another whistle and then I didn’t hear anything else.
was woken by the voices and whimpers of my mother and Maryam and the
smoke and smell of the burnt and destroyed village that now laid
around me. I got up with difficulty, covered in blood and stumbled
towards the sound of my mother moaning and groaning. From far away I
could see Parisa’s mother running towards me, crying,
splattered with blood and carrying Parisa in her arms. My mother lay
there fallen on top of my brother and Maryam, soaked in blood and
wailing. I let out a loud scream of horror after noticing pieces of
people’s corpses lying around me amidst the ruins and took
cover in Parisa’s mother’s arms.
village elders made a decision: to send the women and children out of
the village, while they would stay and defend their home.
the darkness of that same night, following the Karkheh River I left
the village with my brother, my sisters, our mother, grandmother,
Parisa’s family and all the women and children who had survived
the day. Parisa was on her mother’s shoulder staring back with
her big, brown eyes, I kept my own eyes on the ground, with pursed
lips and a bandaged head, careful not to slip. My mother was holding
Maryam’s hand and pulling her along with hunched shoulders, as
if she was protecting herself from the winter cold. Looking back
towards home from afar we could see the flames of our burning village
silhouetted against the night sky. This was the last we saw of our
village. After that we never returned to Boustaan.
two nights and two days of walking and starvation, we were
transferred to the city of Ahvaz with the help of the army. Father
was happy to have moved us to relative safety, but the war slowly
crept through all the southern cities of Iran and displaced millions
of people. The sound of the war and the shadow of death did not leave
us for eight years.
years after the start of the war, Parisa’s father was killed
and his wife suffered severe trauma. I remember those ill-fated days
well, when pain was running like a river through Parisa’s
mother’s body and soul, and with all its brutality, like the
ravaging desert wind aged her face day by day. At the same time, the
pain caused a peculiar sense of restlessness and frustration that
took root in Parisa’s spirit and little by little haunted her.
In the years that followed, whenever Parisa remembered her father, a
mixed feeling of weakness, despair and the need to cry would claw at
her and she would always say: “Dad should still be alive
though her mother had many suitors she never remarried and tended to
the raising of her three children. During that time, whenever I saw
her, her face reminded me of a silent sea.
years after the end of the war and on the eve of the anniversary of
the Iranian government accepting the United Nations Security Council
resolution 598 to cease fire, I married Parisa.
was beautiful and unique, and lived like a free bird, unrestricted by
the rules of others; she followed her instinct and took a romantic
approach to life. She would always kiss me before leaving the house
and straighten my shirt collar. She would stare into my eyes and
jokingly say: “I love you for the time being.” It was as
if this sentence was her catchphrase and in response, I would say:
“I’m crazy over you for ever.” She always looked
tidy, even if she was cooking. Even in plain Arabic clothes she
looked like a model. Her big eyes resembled her fathers and she kept
a photo of him in her room with a thin, black ribbon diagonally
across the top right corner.
mild, feminine scent was so seductive to me that even if she gave me
the dirtiest look, once I was in her arms, I became like a
nineteen-year-old boy who for one night had been deceived by the
beautiful hotel receptionist. Then I would forget everything and in
that moment I could think only of how I could kiss that look away.
She didn’t say much, but despite the sorrow inside her from her
father’s death, she had her own mischief. When she made morning
coffee she would sweeten mine according to how many times I called
her “golam”* or “azizam”.* Her smile was like a
window full of light. She never was repetitive for me, and I felt
like I had all the women in the world. In marital bickering she was
very sensitive, innocent and would go silent. If she ever complained,
I would be so pleased that I would say something to stir her even
more and watch her innocent face, then I would open my arms for her
to run into my embrace.
months had passed since our wedding when her only brother was
arrested and imprisoned for political activism. He was trying to
reclaim the family land which was held by the government after the
war. This was another blow to her already lean and thin body and she
became closer to me and more dependent on me. Throughout her
brother’s incarceration rather than anger her face showed a
kind of distress, like a woman who was forever burdened by the
laundry. I felt that soon something was going to change in her life
dramatically, but I couldn’t imagine what it might be. I had no
way of guessing. Around the same time, I had become very busy at work
and had less time for her than before.
night it seemed as if she was frustrated or she wanted to speak with
me. I was going over the presentation I had to give the next day. I
was in my room. She knocked and asked if she could come in. She
wouldn’t usually disturb me when I was working. She stood in
the doorway with her head to one side and a small smile bowing her
was wondering if you could take the day off work tomorrow?”
looked up from my papers: “Please leave this for later.”
few cold words were what she heard in response to her question.
that moment I saw something in her face that is impossible to
explain. She looked like a painting, the colour drained from her
frozen face. In a kinder but firm tone I said:
have a very important business meeting tomorrow and there’s no
way I can take the day off.”
also emphasized that I would be receiving a big promotion soon and
that I had to be at the office the entire week. I knew she had the
right to make such a request but I expected her to understand my
situation and wait for the right opportunity to present itself for a
serious discussion. I remember that day she had gone to the beauty
salon. Her make-up was subtle and her eye’s looked tired.
left the room and I heard her brewing tea. Thirty minutes past before
I left my room. She was standing by the window gazing out. She was
frowning and without a word from me, heavy hearted, she said: “I’m
thought it was probably just a passing mood swing. To escape the
depressive atmosphere, I took a glass of water to drink from the jug
in the fridge. My back was towards her. With some uncertainty I said:
I do is for our future.”
wish I wasn’t a part of your life so I wouldn’t get in
she said this I got upset. I moved back a bit and thoughtlessly
retorted with a sneer:
hope you’re gone by the morning.”
were the words that came out of my mouth.
force of her feelings rose in her throat, her lips trembled but no
words came out of her mouth. She was stunned. The light in her eyes
immediately went out. I couldn’t tell if she was crying or not.
She stood there, looking out of the window for a long time, taking
deep breaths. Then she turned towards me again and stared at me.
Looking at those innocent eyes was really difficult at that moment in
time. I opened my arms for her to run into but instead she ran into
the bedroom and closed the door. Her reaction made my whole body
shiver. It had been my responsibility to choose the right words. I
was drowned in my work and so saturated in her love that perhaps I
had begun to take it for granted. Before her no woman had ever been
so attentive to me.
had become a bitter night. The house fell into a deep silence. I felt
my words, like arrows, had pierced her heart. It was not a pleasant
feeling. And so I decided it was best not to pursue the matter any
went to her father’s picture to calm myself. I knelt and
prayed. Her father’s eyes were cold. My head started spinning,
like the dizziness you sometimes feel when you stand up too quickly.
I turned around and moved away from the picture. Half an hour later I
put on my pyjamas and went to sleep by her side. Every night she
would sleep in my arms, even when she was angry at me. I do not know
why but that night her whole body was wet with sweat and she had
become numb. Her expression was cold and her eyes devoid of feeling.
I moved her long hair from across her face and held her in my arms.
She put her head on my chest, sighed and we both slept.
I woke up in the morning she was not beside me. Like a puppy yearning
for the warmth of its mother’s body, I went looking for her. I
saw her next to her father’s picture. I said hello, but her
reply was dismal. Disappointed, I took a shower and went to the
office without breakfast.
two in the afternoon I had tried to call her at least twenty times,
but there was no answer. Before the meeting I went to the café
in the office building and ordered a coffee. I sat there and sent her
a few messages. Worried, I stalled for time sipping my coffee slowly,
with cold anticipation, but still she didn’t reply. Would there
be no end to her silence?
knew the rules of this game. I had to give her some time. As soon as
the meeting ended I went home without delay. I unlocked the door and
went in. With a kind tone, elongating her name I called out Parisaaa
lay beside her father’s picture, along the shaft of light that
shone from the window. As if the light was kinder to her.
years have passed since that night and in that time I have not had a
proper night’s sleep, not even once. I am calm but my heart is
still troubled. During these years hundreds of questions have
disturbed and occupied my mind, hundreds of questions that I have not
been able to find answers for.
have asked myself a thousand times. Is it possible to kill a person
with just one stupid sentence? What are the chances of someone’s
heart stopping from hearing a few harsh words?
slept forever, she had a heart attack, and the cause was never clear.
Her death was a secret that ate at me from the inside out and had no
cure. Throughout this time I have not yet met a woman with such
delicate feelings and nor do I want to ever again.
I can remember her well at parties and
celebrations, when she shone and
stole the looks of all the men: men who wished she was theirs, and I
would just stand by her side with a smile, indifferent to her beauty.
I fled Iran and became a refugee I had sold our house, moved to
another city, and never fell in love again. About two years after I
arrived in Australia my mother sent some of my old books for me
containing Parisa’s memory. One night while I was putting the
books on the shelf, I came across an envelope filled with dried
roses. I opened it and discovered the result of her pregnancy test,
which was positive. The date of the letter was twelve days before her
death. The whole world came crashing down around me for the second
time. I guess her mother had requested the legal practitioner not to
tell me to save me from even more devastation at the time of her
loss of two loved ones destroyed me completely.
imagined that night she had asked me to take the day off work so
that she could spend a special day with me and congratulate me on
becoming a father. Not only was I an incompetent man, I was also the
worst father on earth. After that, I always felt ashamed of myself
for not accepting her request. Sometimes I wish I could go back in
time and be the father she had expected. Like her father who never
let the war take her.
Wednesday nights I go out and have dinner in a café in her
memory. In my past I was caught up in the talons and terror of war
and now I am in the grip of exile and memory. Today, I’m
sitting in a faraway café in York. I have opened her little
music box which I have kept as a keepsake. I do not hear the song
“Gole Sangam”, but instead I hear an odd sound from
outside the window.
sound of a scream, the sound of gunfire, the sound of a child crying,
the sound of a woman wailing…
each sound, my eyes dart around the room. I have the feeling of
someone who is trying to figure out a magician’s tricks. In my
state of confusion, words have frozen in my mouth. I stand up and
listen to the sounds. Slowly and in short steps, I distance myself
from the window. Frightened, I walk around the backyard of the café
building. I search everywhere. I do not find anything. I stand still
again and slowly close my eyes. I’m trying to find the path to
the sounds. I hear the voice of an eight-year-old child from the
voice seems to travel through a mysterious mist. As if the child has
been locked up in some distant place and is calling out to me. Like
the damned my eyes flick open and I step backwards. Wave-like echo’s
ringing in my ears, making me dizzy. These auditory hallucinations
lead me to the painful and unpleasant realities of the past which are
only a hairs breadth from my present reality. The weight of the world
lies on my shoulders, my feet are leaden I don’t know if it is
I who walk or somebody else in my place. I go to the street and start
walking with a racing heart. The sound possesses me. I search all the
streets over and again.
behind no window, no child can be seen.
~ my son
~ my flower
now lives in Tasmania, where my author friend Karen met him at a local
marker. She says he makes and sells Persian goodies, mainly using
dates, rose water, almonds and that sort of thing. He is a
refugee from Iran, who left his whole family behind. Karen and
her friends have encouraged him to write of his experiences, and he
told her recently that he has actually won a couple of small writing
prizes in the past year or two.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher