SIXTEEN — PART I
Going under was a process. It began with tears brimming her eyes. She would then begin to feel her face flashing with heat. The wave of warmth flowed from her neck down to her body. Once the sound of floating liquid packed her ears, water would finally begin to stream in, filling whatever space she was inhabiting. She could be in a taxi, or a classroom. She could be in the toasty kitchen of her farm house in rural Ontario. Or she could be in the living room of father’s house, playing hopscotch on the carpet in the house with Leila. That’s when it happened for the first time. Standing in the space between the living room and the kitchen, watching the patio, she felt it in her eyes.
It was one of the busiest nights the house ever saw. Everyone in the narrow social circle of her young preschooler world was there at the party. Having guests during the nastiest time of war was a complicated event to organize. No one wanted to be stuck in traffic when an air siren went off. Iraq had just begun to bomb Tehran. Not just the military camps, but also hospitals, schools, and residential areas. Finally Tehraners got a whiff of life in Western cities of Iran that had been under Iraqi strike for years. They walked the streets of Tehran with the sound of red sirens in their ears and a taste of metal in their mouth. “Attention attention. This sound that you hear, is a sign of danger, announcing a red state. It means that there will be an airstrike soon. Leave your premises and get yourself to a shelter immediately.” Basements and building garages were considered to be safe shelters. If unable to seek shelter, doorways were the next best option for the frame protected the head from possible collapse of the ceiling. They were living a video game of hide and flee without a pause button. Yet somehow life went on, just a tad fouler than before. War for her was shabby-looking brown scotch tapes that crossed diametrically over every window of every house, every apartment, every building in the city, to prevent the glass from shattering. In case of a bomb strike. Everything was ugly in the eighties in Iran. Mother’s china table wear with fine red rose patterns was replaced with distasteful melamine plain plates and bowls that wouldn’t break easily. Colorful corduroy, velvet, and georgettes that they used to purchase from the bazar to be tailored later, all gave way to their government quota, a single cheap bolt with a Donald Duck pattern that became the tartan of the household. Mother made curtains, underwear, skirts and shorts out of them. Beauty doesn’t manifest in objects during wartime, but in fleeting moments of joy and survival. It was the sharing of food and music that made those parties so special. “You never know if we get another chance.” Mother used to say. And so they lived as such.
Prior to the siren going off, the house was being the perfect host. Orchestrating the calm before the storm. Like Shiva, it was glowing. It had one pair of open arms squeezing the guests with warmth, while another pair served food. A large bowl of Persimmon was placed on the coffee table. Smaller bowls of almonds, pistachio, winter cookies, and even non-local chocolate bars were dispersed in every side table of the living room. For children, Swiss chocolate bars were the true delicacy of the war times. The most recent album of the infamous Iranian singer, Parissa was playing. Parissa was elegant, simple, Oriental. The cover of her cassette had a photo of her standing in a garden. Wearing a sheer embroidered lace dress she looked like a magnolia flower. She had shiny black hair, thick lashes that were curled down, and a modest look in her eyes. Men were infatuated by her beauty, women by her solemnity. When her staple song played, everyone paused their socializing activities and sang along. Guests moved their lips whispering her melancholic love lyrics. Women shed a few soothing tears. Jawahir had an entourage of her old lady friends who could play rummy till eternity. Their untimely manicured nails and puffy hairdo were remnants of pre-war economy. Father was standing amongst a couple of other men between the kitchen and the living room, with one hand in his pocket. They all had one hand in their pockets, with nodding opinionating heads. He was gazing down as if listening carefully, lost in thought. But she knew that look. Father, the master of dissociation, the only person she knew who could sleep while standing in a crowd. Mother on the other hand had a porous presence. In the kitchen, she was exchanging mean jokes and intimate secrets with her friends as they were setting the table and preparing to serve supper. The orchestra of utensils and clicking china.
The parallel world of smaller species in the house including children and furry friends was running just as smoothly. Wild boys fought each other off in imaginary soldier attire with plastic swards while mean girls teamed up with their lookalikes. Misfits and oddballs would respectively find their own comrades and odd things with which to keep themselves busy. She and Leila were teamed up as per usual, cuddling two tabby kittens that they had made friends with in the front yard, under the magnolia tree. One was brown grey, the other apricot. They had brought them inside the house, letting them play on the mat in the entrance hall. She never understood why Leila made friends with her in the first place. Boys thought of her as one of their own. With her strong and slender bone structure she was a rival not a cheerleader. Girls were at once scared of but admired her. Her unparalleled beauty, her mean manners, and her sense of confidence made her a role model. Perhaps that’s why all the kids froze in disbelief when blood surged on her face that night. Part of growing out of childhood is to learn that there is no determinacy in the factual world around you. That reality does not exist outside of perception. Seeing Leila’s bloody face, weak and defeated, was one such moment.