A streak of black for depression, blue for nostalgic memories of home, red for love, I put above all else, yellow for the hatred of injustice, green for the life I chose to not end, white for the peace I desperately seek. Here is a portrait painted with words.
It was time. After much encouragement and practice with my beloved husband Payam, I finally picked up the phone. I drew a deep breath to steady myself and dialed the number to my girlhood best friend in Iran.
One beep, two beeps, three beeps, four beeps…
“Why is she not answering?!”
Both relieved and annoyed, I knew that calling anywhere in the Middle East usually took a few attempts before one finally got through.
I tried again.
After two beeps, she picked up. “Hello.”
I was speechless.
“Hello? Hello?” My friend Delara’s familiar cracked voice came from my iPhone speaker.
I sat on the cold floor of our studio flat in London, gazing out through the window onto the wooden fence.
Frozen, heart racing, unable to speak.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
“Yes… Hi… It’s me… Raha.”
After twenty-three years, I was finally speaking to my childhood best friend, whom I had tried so hard to wipe from my memory.
After the initial shock and an avalanche of emotions, we were able to catch up.
She asked me how things were, and I told her that I was going to therapy, but I didn’t say what for. I told her that I was also taking a short biography writing course.
Payam helped me with the translation a few times; my Farsi had grown rusty without use. When I told her the name of the course in Farsi, she couldn’t believe it.
“Do you remember trying to convince me to write our life stories just before you left Iran? You even started yours in a notebook. I still have it.”
“The wounded birds…don’t you remember?”
I had no idea what she was referring to.
She continued, “You had written poems in the beginning of the notebook. ‘If you listen closely, you can hear the shrieks in the silence of the mountains’… Remember now?”
As soon as she said that, I remembered the notebook and the poems… and the consuming pain I was trying to exorcise out by writing.
“I don’t know why I haven’t called for twenty-three years.”
It was a lie. I knew exactly why I had not called her; I just couldn’t tell her the truth because I was afraid of the impact it would have on her.
After what felt like a long pause, she said, “I feel the same way. I think I just wanted to hold on to the good memories. For some reason that I haven’t worked out yet, I think I was afraid of what would happen if we spoke. It was just too difficult. Maybe, because when you left for Pakistan everything happened so quickly and we didn’t even say goodbye properly. I heard through the grapevine that after Pakistan you were in Australia, and now married that famous guy everyone is obsessed with and moved to London. Is that true? How did you even meet him?”
“Oh, it’s a long story.” I said.
“You know, I left our tiny old town too, left university, got married, had a baby and moved to North of Iran, near the Caspian Sea.” she said.
Every time I think about ‘The Caspian Sea,’ a breaking wave of anxiety sweeps me off my feet into panic. But this time, I gasped for air in an attempt to keep my anxiety in check.
I asked if she had moved north into her grandparents’ house, which also happened to be one of my father’s hideouts from the authorities, and where our families had spent one summer together just before I was smuggled out of Iran into Pakistan.
“Yes, for a while, but recently we moved a few houses down the road from them, not long after this beautiful boy was born,” she said in a peaceful voice, “I’m actually looking out onto our garden as I am speaking to you.”
“Wait… so does that mean you still see your grandparents and… umm… and your uncle?” I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t say his name.
“Yes, they are all here – at my grandparents’ same old house.” she said.
My heart stopped. That house was where her uncle sexually abused us both, when we were nine—twenty-three years ago.
“Can you tell from my voice that I am freezing here in London?” I asked, quickly changing the subject. I just couldn’t bring it up.
I promised to call her again. It has been one year, one month and a few days since that day.
To be continued…
By Tellurian Writes
Photo by Rui Barros (CC0 1.0)