A Letter to Salehi
WHERE CAN I GO? MY MOTHER IS NOT WAITING FOR THIS ZAHRA ANYMORE. TAKE ME WITH YOU
Only the collar of your white shirt and the glistening edge of your sleeves were visible in the dark. It was absolute pitch darkness. The sound of dogs howling in the dark was echoing in that old Peykan car of yours. You put your hand on the gear knob and I put my hand on yours. You said, ‘Your hand is so hot! You’ve got a fever’.
The wind was blowing through gaps in the car and touching my body. I rubbed my legs together feeling cold. You were right. I had got a fever.
Hungry stray dogs were jumping around the car, opening their jaws behind the shields and snoring like wild wolves. You said: ‘Don’t worry, the doors are locked’.
Your body was so hot I could feel you sweating on my body. I didn’t realise when exactly you put your legs between mine. Now I had three legs in front of my car seat. The legs twisted around each other and soon they became four. You pressed your face against my cheek. Your breath smelled like Bahman cigarettes. You had promised me hundreds of time to shave, but you never did. Your stubble scratched my face, and then my ear and my neck. I had a close-up view of your curly hair and next to it a view of a stray dog barking wildly behind the windshield.
You put your hand underneath my long skirt and smoothly clutched it. Now my naked legs were touching your rough black cotton trousers. The sound of your belt’s buckle was drowned out by the barking. I was bathed in sweat. My knees were shaking, hitting each other and I could hear my bones rattle against each other. You opened my legs and held my hands tightly. You scratched my breasts and then moved your hand down to my belly and navel. Sweat was dripping down your nose and in my eyes. You grasped my hair and whispered in my ear with intoxicated eyes, ‘Don’t shout, please, just don’t shout’. I was biting my lips and your lips had become bloody with my blood. You put your hand there for me to clench down on and I pressed your hand with my teeth until you shouted. The car was shaking; the dogs howling even louder than before.
Torpid and exhausted, you lay on me as if we both were dead. Through my eyelashes, I saw a light. It was getting stronger and stronger. It became so bright and I told you, ‘Get up. There’s a car getting close to us’.
You leapt up and pulled up your pants so fast. Two men with guns in their hands got out of the car. They shot two bullets into the air so the dogs ran away. I pulled my skirt down hurriedly and cowered on the car seat.
One of those men knocked on the windshield and said: ‘Why are you shivering sister? Is there anything wrong?’
You got out of the car. I don’t know what you told them and what you showed them for them to leave us respectfully. You switched the car on and pressed down on the accelerator and we headed out on the road. Somewhere along the way, you took off your jacket and covered my shoulders. I had put my arms around me and was looking at the road. We reached the town and you parked the car in front of a taxi centre.
I’d gotten used to your voice. You’d been interrogating me for one year and I really liked to study your face precisely. I had gotten used to you, to your voice, to your repetitive questions, to your silence, to your tone, to your illusions. All the time I spent in that cell, I used to think only about you. What I could tell you to possess you.
You had wanted to send me for execution many times, but each time you forgave me. I was waiting for you everyday you know. Everyday. Don’t take it for granted. If someone would interrogate me in your place, I wouldn’t answer them and I would say, ‘I will only talk to him’. I had named you “him”.
I opened the car door.
‘By the way, what’s your name?’
‘You can call me Salehi’.
‘I’ll call you Saleh’.
You know all about my nightmares and my pain. You know how I would cry after being in the white room and how I would brutally write down my friends’ names, people’s names, relationships and secrets on a white sheet of paper, betraying them
I didn’t feel like getting out of the car, I just put one foot out on the ground, and started to look straight ahead. The cars were whizzing by hurriedly. A heavy rain began. You turned on your windscreen wipers. I got into the car again and closed the door. You drove a few meters backwards to take the car back into the dark.
‘Why don’t you get out?’ you said calmly.
‘Take me back to the place I was …’
You were shocked, turned backward to me and said, ‘Are you crazy!? You’re free! Go! Your mother is waiting for you’.
I grinned. My tears made my lips taste salty: ‘When can we meet again?’
I used to hear you everyday, for seven, five, three hours each day. You’re the only one who knows me this much, even better than myself. You’ve seen my fear, you know all about my nightmares and my pain. You know what I would say when I got hungry, how I would cry after being in the white room and how I would brutally write down my friends’ names, people’s names, relationships and secrets on a white sheet of paper, betraying them. You know what color I turn when I confess and how ugly I look when I put that blindfold on my eyes. You’ve seen how my lips delight and how my teeth sound while rubbing against each other. You know how my lips crack when I don’t eat. You know how my eyelashes got wet and how my feet just wouldn’t work when I wrote my friends’ names down on your paper. You know how I wet my pants. You know how I look when I get very slim. Where could I go?
Where can I go? My mother is not waiting for this Zahra any more. Take me back with you. Come with me or take me with you.
I saw my skirt; it was wet. I took my hand underneath my skirt; it was full of blood. I smelled my hands; they smelled like when my mother used to buy chickens with the credit notes she had and put them on the cabinets in the kitchen. I would take the chicken, put my hand into the chicken’s belly, hold them under the tap and wash them. Afterwards, my hands used to stink for a long time. My mother would cut a piece of lemon for me with that black knife and say, ‘Clean your hands with lemon juice; it will wash away the smell of meat’.
I asked you to get out of the car and buy me some lemons. Once more, you accepted a request of mine, got out and came back with a sack of lemons. You took out a knife from your pocket and cut into a lemon. I started to rub the lemon on my hands and fingers, and you laughed …
I washed my hands and fingers with lemon juice. Today, London’s rain reminds me of that powder-like rain in the north of Iran that used to land on our clothes like dew. Your son has aimed his mouth, open toward the sky, to fill it with water. Then he closes his mouth, swallows the rainwater and says, ‘Aaah, I was thirsty’, and he repeats this act over and over again.
I have named my son Saleh. He always asks me questions and I still confess.
‘Mum, what color is god? Where is he hiding? Where is his house? Mum, why have humans got different skin tones? Mum, which one’s stronger, heaven or earth? Mum, why don’t elephants fly? Why don’t angels live in cities? Mum, why do they put images of angels in churches, but not in mosques? Mum, why does the sun melt my ice-cream?’
And he just asked yesterday: ‘Why are ants weaker than dinosaurs?’
I confessed: ‘The dinosaurs are extinct my son, but the ants have lived on, now which are stronger?’
From My Mother’s Black Chador, a collection of Mania’s short stories published by Nogaam, an e-publishing organisation that works to publish and freely distribute the work of censored Iranian authors online. Click on the Soundcloud link below to listen to Mania Akbari’s interview with Fari Bradley of Six Pillars on Resonance 104.4 FM
Mania Akbari is an acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, actress, writer, and artist residing in London. Aside from starring in Abbas Kiarostami's Ten, her film Twenty Fingers received the Digital Cinema Award at the 2004 Venice Film Festival, and a retrospective of her films was screened at the British Film Institute in 2013