Nazanin Joon by Cajal Rutti

1979. I was only five years old while my left tiny hand was grappled by my older sister who had been told by her dying mother to take care of me because I was extra special. That was during the Iranian revolution. Large masses of Persians along with me and Mina, my sister, were rounded up by the Basij-e Mostaz’afin, literally “Mobilization of the Oppressed,” a police force created by Muslim clerics. Mina swiftly navigated through the agitated swarm with a vexed countenance, held my hand tightly. If it wasn’t for her grip that encompassed my little hand, I would have lost her in this black cloud of angry voices. “Nazanin Joon, you must keep up. We don’t have much time.” Mina said soothingly with an undertone of roughness. I looked up at her, seeing the sun peek over her head. I was blinded but I vibrated my head, answering her question. She pulled me ahead causing my head not to catch up with my body until a few seconds later. I tripped over the hard blacktop among the throng that seemed to scatter as the Basij came. As Mina stopped momentarily to brush me off, the red glared over her black hair. A Basij officer walked up and blocked the sun behind her, grabbing her shoulder. He demanded to know why she had not put on her veil yet. Mina said, defended herself in Farsi as translated, “Officer, you must allow some time for me to adjust. I did not learn of these rules until you barbarians bombarded the streets demanded us to change right away after so many years of the Reza Pahlavi Monarchy. Don’t you think that is a tad unfair?” The Basij officer replied, looking “I got orders. Put on your veil right now.” “I have not purchased a veil yet but I assure you that I will never wear a veil in your presence.” She buzzed in Farsi, angering the Basij officer. She picked me up into her arms as she faced the Basij with a brave masquerade, trying to cover up her fear. Not saying another word to the shock-faced Basij officer, walking away in haste. She did not get far before the Basij officer felt offended and brought the whole hive and surrounded Mina.
Shivers of dread encompassed each vertebra on my spine as they intimidated Mina. I hid behind Mina’s ethnic skirt as her eyebrows increasingly becoming more wound up, strengthening her bravado façade. She crossed her arms, trusting me to stick to her like spots on a Persian leopard cub. “What now?” she murmured to herself, although it was loud enough for the Basij to hear. The insulted officer responded in Farsi, “You are a woman and you shouldn’t be disrespecting an accomplished officer like me. In matter of fact you are too westernized for this Islamic Republic of Iran. You will have to come with me.” Mina darted back and forth, grabbing me, trying to find a hole in the forming blue hurricane of ignorantly eager uniforms tightening around her. Mina hunched over me protectively, telling me quickly that if anything happens to her to run as fast as I can and never look back. Exactly that had happened as an unpredictable nameless perpetrator from the angry horde grabbed one of the blue uniforms and led me to escape out of Mina’s skirt. I ran under people, swung around their legs until people started to disperse. I slowed down to a brisk walk, feeling that last jolt of adrenaline in my system. I kept walking as I wiped my teary eyes, wondering what I should do next. Memories of toddlers who were able to do the most difficult math proofs and were able to play like Mozart shot through my mind. Math proofs and Mozart-inspired music never made sense to me but I always could remember things. I walked into the busy airport, remembering which Terminal that my older sister Mina had gotten off from her arrival in America just two days ago. I also remembered the whole flight schedule for the upcoming month that my teacher had given me to test my ability to remember the information which led to the conclusion of me having Eidetic or Photographic memory. According to my perfect recall, I went into a complacent airplane that had its cargo door still open with the loading ramp. It made me feel safe. I snuggled in the cargo nets and went to sleep and woke up to two American policemen discovering me. I had remembered that Mina said to run and never look back. I tried to run but I got so tangled up in the cargo net that they caught me before I was able to escape their hold.
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I can tell you all the license plates in order in this big parking lot I am standing in right now. I can recite passages word for word. Hell, I can recite a whole book if you dare me. I don’t know why I can but I can never tell you. I suppose that could be due to my speech impediment. Even if I could enunciate carefully, I would still not tell you in fear of becoming a guinea pig in their governmental experiments. I worked as a night janitor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for five years since I was seventeen. Those professors always left their work on the blackboards in their classrooms. Sometimes those puzzles they left on the board fascinated me and I wanted to solve them but I always resisted. I have learned puzzles of these sorts are dangerous for the fact that they could expose me. The raggedy hum of the ceiling air conditioning appeased my fear. All I know is those puzzles are dangerous for me and I must never solve them. I can solve these irresistible proofs only in my head where it can be safe and put into my mental storage in case I needed it again. I would purposely go into each of these classrooms gawking at the blackboards while mopping, solving their puzzles. It was like stealing candy from a baby.
There were times when I wondered if my gifted memory was a curse or a blessing. I could hack into a bank and memorize credit card information and steal their money as I always have done with foolproof plan, never getting caught. I always wrote small cyber notes to the owners, telling them that I would pay them back one day somehow. There were times when I remembered things that were painful to remember. The thing about memory is that it is absolutely impossible to control what you can remember and that if you do not remain in control of your mind, they will pop up when you least expect it. I can hear the exact grisliness of that cruel man who took Mina and the velvety feel of her skirt being soaked by my tiny hands as I hear that monotonous hum in the air conditioning. Each practiced motion of the mop, I can smell the frozen air that burned my nostrils in that street when I was five years old and I can see the bold lettering of the language of Farsi, clear and crisp as day. The only way I could try to blur these memories is to solve these puzzle that occupied half of my mind as I mopped. I always tried not to remember that horrible day. There is one thing I have always wondered…what happened to my oldest sister who had protected me with her life. As far as I know she had been taken captive and who knows what she went through. I imagine they weren’t pleasant.
One lonely morning, I decided to go to a quaint café for a cup of coffee. Shimmers of silver on pigeons’ wings decorate the cloudy blue sky where the sun refuses to appear. I sit there on one of the couches, becoming familiar with the leathery smell. This grey-haired, tan-skinned lady show up asking me, “Are you Nazanin Kordgharachorloo?” “That depends on who is asking. Nazanin is dead and buried in Elm Cemetery,” I reply. “Oh that is a shame. I had great news for her. Who are you? How did you know Nazanin?” she inquires. “Never mind who I am. The question is who are you?” I spit back bitterly. “Oh, Excuse my manners. My name is Soraya Hassanpour. I am a social worker helping a client from Iran look for her sister. My eyebrow rises as my curiosity piques. “Are you sure you wouldn’t know where Nazanin is?” Soraya pushes. I remained calm, thinking if I should now tell her my true identity. I demanded identification and paperwork authenticating her profession as a social worker. She sits down eager to show me her file, as if she already knew it was me that she is looking for. I looked at this picture of my eldest sister who looks exactly as she looked when I was a toddler but she seemed more weathered and aged. I become glad that I got at least one part of my old life back.

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