Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
At four in the afternoon, Shah of Iran, declared martial law and curfew in Tehran. That was the winter of 1979.
“Sister,” the gray pigeon said, in a hushed, shrill voice. “Who is this young boy, sleeping under this mulberry tree?”
He was a skinny boy, pretending to be asleep in the shadow.
The White pigeon returned: “haven’t you heard sweetie? This is Bahram. He is gonna be the next leader of the poor.”
But women’s quarrel scared away the pigeons. Haji’s wives were fighting… again…
His Young wife was hitting the old wife…again…
They were second and third. The first was Bahram’s mother who left the house after the second marriage.
Kokab, the second wife, was old, short and thick; whose hair was covered with a gray scarf like maids. While Leila, the third wife, with milky young skin and cascading hair, was tall and slender. She wore the newest lipstick in Tehran but she was still the third.
People had asked: “Why the second marriage Haji?” and Haji had answered: “Kokab is soft.” And then people asked: “why the third marriage Haji?” and he answered: “Well, Leila is soft.” With his full mustache and his wild beard.
When Haji came home that afternoon, wives were still shouting. He went in the room and took off his hand-knitted shawl, a souvenir from Bahram’s mother. Leila khanoom was inhaling the smoke of her cigarette playfully with Kokab, crying at her feet… again… as Haji was lecturing about the big change, the revolution.
Bahram heard them, but he didn’t care. The only thing he cared about was me. I was Bahram’s best friend, I’d sat in the same class in the same bench with him for six years and I was the only person who believed in talking pigeons. In that frozen afternoon of curfew Bahram left the Haji’s house to see me.
He went into the streets of Martial law. There wasn’t a single soul left in the silent, soldier-lined allies but he didn’t scare. He knew twists and turns of those dark tunnels as good as twists and turns of my body.
–Well, chicken, you have failed mathematics, right?
– Difficult exam.
– It’s difficult only for you chicken? How come everyone else could do it?
-hey, stop yelling. It’s just math.
Bahram and I had explored every corner of those allies together. In them, we’d told each other stories. In them, we’d learned why the fat woman of Thirtieth Street took all those men to her house. In them we’d found the old toymaker who always laughed behind his large mustache and his bushy hair.
-you have no good mark, you lazy chicken.
-It’s the teachers, they just don’t like me.
-let’s face it chicken, you are the most stupid child in the history of this family.
– I really don’t know why you are yelling like that.
Bahram was shivering from both fear and the biting cold. He stood under my window, first looked around in fear; and then called my name gently. Keyvan, Count Dracula.
And looked around again, he could see the soldiers’ phantoms; hear the vogue noise of their army boots on the soil. They had mushroomed everywhere with their loaded guns.
I was waiting for Bahram by the window all that afternoon. I’d sensed he would come. I am coming down Count of Monte Cristo.
I ran down the stairs and opened the wooden door of our house. It was a traditional house where hundreds of people were born and dead. It still exists and its door is still wooden. Come in count of Monte Cristo.
I took his hands.
You know why I am here Count Dracula, We should go.
He was hopping from one foot to another to keep warm when I just nodded deep in thought, like grownups when they think about money. I can’t Bahram.
I’ve come in the curfew Keyvan, You tell me no?
I can’t go anywhere you crazy dreamer, What about life? Education?… marriage?… what about My Father?
Times are changing Keyvan.
What kind of change? Men will wear skirts?
I was all dressed up, as always. Appearance was really important for me back then.
That was why the old toymaker, who always laughed behind his large mustache, told me once: “Hah, Finally someone who knows how to wear.”
It was our first meeting with the old man. We’d gone to find out whether this old man was really a half-human connected to Geniis or he was just a simple salesman who made small toys, years before the martial law when we were only children.
It was late in the afternoon. Lights of his toyshop were off, but its door was ajar.
Bahram volunteered. He crept to the door, and pushed it lightly. I was hiding behind a wall.
Toy shop was a tiny place with mountains of toys on toys. That was it. No steamy magic drink, no alchemy book, no man with horns and hooves, No spell book or wand. Bahram saw a dark figure standing by the door, a statue.
“What’s going on Bahram?” I was shouting like mad from the street.
Suddenly, Hands of the statue grabbed Bahram’s collar and pulled him into depth of the shop.
No sound. My knees were shaking. The door opened and Bahram was panting in a man’s hands; A man with thick mustache and Einstein hair.
“Don’t do anything stupid son of Adam, or I cast a spell on your friend and he’ll be a crow.” But his voice was warm, like cooing of pigeons. “I know you love your friend, you lazy child. I can see it in your eyes. Come here.”
I started to walk, heavily.
“Go into the shop.”
We went in. Then He turned on a pink lamp that colored everything in the dim box. The dingy place instantly turned into heaven. In that pink gentle light we could see all those toys shining in their happy bright colors.
And he said, no he yelled: “You thought I didn’t know you were coming, ha?” he always yelled like showmen. “I see; you don’t know about pigeons. They are my informants.”
Glass eyes of wooden, sweet soldiers with their little plastic guns and knives were watching us.
The toymaker’s intimate tone gave heart to Bahram to ask. “You keep pigeons?”
“Oh, no. They are famous.” The old man laughed. “When you are hopeless they come to you between sleep and waking and talk above your head about your happy ending.” Then he gazed at me. “Pigeons had mentioned you. They said I would see a sharp stylish boy, who knows what to wear and how to wear it. Yes, cloths, the main problem of this country.”
The university student slammed the door and came in, pale and panting. I’ve always had this eternal image of him, pale and panting.
His mustache almost covered all his mouth. Everybody had the mustache, Haji, Toymaker, The student, my father.
“Send them out.” He said sharply with a dirty look.
“Speak out. They are friends.” The old man said.
“Friends? Who are they?” He was involved in politics for sure because all the time he tried to look so tough with a pair of girlish hands.
“He is a kid who wears stylish clothes.” The toymaker said. “And this is the one who dared to come here to find out who I am.”
“And you are still crazy. Just hide these things father Geppetto; I’ll give the money later.”
He gave the old man a pile of papers, something was scribbled on them. The pink light in the shop was so annoying now.
The toymaker cleared his voice: “Money first. I’ve always helped you and your friends but I have to eat. ”
“I don’t have enough time now, we are preparing for a country-wide demonstration. I’ll pay you next week. It’s not a game you old wizard. This is real. This is happening.”
The Old wizard’s eyes were registering every detail. “And I am real too.”
Bahram jumped in. “He is right. I thought he was a statue but he was real.”
“O, fuck me.” The student said.
“Watch your tongue boy. There are children here.” The old man growled. “What are these papers anyway? Relax, you can talk. They are just innocent children.”
“Being innocent wouldn’t help when the wild interrogator puts out his cigarettes in your eyes.” The student said. His hair, like the old man’s, hadn’t seen a comb for months.
“What makes you to trust me then?” The old man asked.
“Statues don’t talk.” The student said.
“So tell me about these papers, ha?” The old man said with no pause.
“You just sell your paper-made men when the revolution is spreading in the city like…” he was searching for the word. “Like…” and he was searching. “Like…”
“Cancer.” The old man finished.
The student didn’t hear the word even though the old man said it loud and clear. “Send one of these clowns with me… You, little one, come here.” He was calling Bahram. “I give your money to him Father Geppeto. I really don’t have time to come back here.”
Bahram and the student went out. Two weeks later, the student got arrested.
The student’s apartment was a messy place, with slogans and pictures against the Shah, everywhere on its walls. Bahram sat on musty sheets of a lonely iron bed in a corner, as the student pulled a fistful of money from a broken shelf, Toymaker’s money.
“It’s time for change little one.” The student said.
“Changing your apartment?” Bahram said.
“No stupid, changing the world.”
“My people never change.”
“Don’t like them?”
“I live with two women, Leila Khanoom and Kokab who covers her hair with a gray scarf like maids. They are a dirty Haji’s wives, an old man, my dad. My real mother left us after Haji’s second marriage.”
Bahram saw the shine of the student’s eyes; they were not those soulless eyes in the toymaker’s shop. “Tell me more little one.”
“Leila khanoom with her snow-white, silky skin makes Kokab to crawl on her hands and knees.”
“Does she hit her?
“Yeah. Her golden bracelets jingle when she hits Kokab.”
“Ok. Enough, Go find the toymaker, give him the money.” The student said.
Bahram sensed a sudden change in the student. He got out immediately with money in his hand and closed the door. Now he could hear the rattling iron bed from inside the apartment, even the unzipping pants. Then the student’s voice: “Ohhhs … aaaaahs… Leila Khanoom, My dearest, I am even seeing lines of your body… your shaved tall legs… Look at Kokab’s scarf …ohh …” And a long loud sigh.
You never told me what you saw in the student’s apartment Bahram, Why you refusing to answer?
Let’s go Keyvan; I am afraid of this neighborhood.
Answer me. Did he talk about liberty? Did he show you their guns?
He just played with himself and talked about my stepmothers.
What do you mean count of Monte Cristo?
Are you coming or not? There are many things I want to tell you.
Two pigeons, they were on a tree, you know, Talking.
Ha, the pigeons that never bring bad news?
They said I am an unknown boss of some kind of group, a leader. They said I am a hero.
Well, maybe you are a hero.
I am not. Heroes smoke a lot and all women are in love with them. Like Humphrey Bogart. Let’s go Keyvan, my dear count Dracula.
But I couldn’t go with him. What about my father?
My father was a middle-aged, with a broad face. But some say it wasn’t that broad. He had icy eyes but some say there was kindness in his eyes. They were blue, but some say they were black. And I don’t remember because I hadn’t looked at his face for years. I almost spent most of my time with my mother. In the referendum of 1979, at the end of revolution, my father and all my friends voted for Islamic republic except Bahram who’d disappeared, but I simply wrote on the vote: “my mother.” And after that, did so in all elections.
Bahram with a sad look in his eyes was still begging me by the wooden door of our old house to run away with him. Then he went without goodbye. People had broken the curfew. He floated away. I called him. “Count of Monte Cristo.”
Now I am here in the age of forty, making my way through the narrow, crowded streets to our old house with its wooden door. I remember the house stone by stone. I remember my father narrowed his flaming eyes and shouted with a purple face: –You can’t even finish elementary school with these grades Chicken.
– I will work in a factory.
– I am ashamed of you.
-But you were always Karl Marx’s fan.
The Revolution square has changed now. It is lined with dancing lights of the bookstores and veiled women like Kokab are everywhere. The toymaker’s shop was here, right here. I can still see the Soldiers’ phantoms of martial law in the allies. They are walking with machineguns ready to open fire.
I see a mulberry tree in a lane and sit under it. I hear a shrill voice above my head. I can’t believe my ears.
“Dear sister, who is this sad man under this tree?” The white pigeon says.
“Its Keyvan sis, Bahram’s and Toymaker’s friend.” The gray one returns.
“That toymaker who handed all revolutionary students over to the police?” The white pigeon says.
“Yes dear.” The gray one returns.