A Morning to Remember by Babak Norouzi

Blue sky, not a hint of cloud over or around Mount Damavand. The vista was the reason the family of three bought a house in the chic Farmaniyeh neighbourhood in Northern Tehran.

They rented out the first floor flat to other people, electing to live on the second. Aside from occasional oil and tire residue left on the pavement outside of the house brought by the mechanic head of the household bringing his work (broken cars) home, the first floor tenants were quiet and neighbourly. It was May 1975.

Amber and apricot rays of sunshine caressed the snow-covered summit. Peering at the view, the family’s five-year-old son was excited about the snow, not knowing how far away the summit was. A bevy of birds was silhouetted against the sky, celebrating the new dawn. Normally the boy would be beside himself at such a sight, gathering everyone around him and yelling ‘little birdy,’ but he knew better. It was hot; Tehran was about to embrace the summer. The water-based air conditioner growled as it was turned on. The steaming tea kettle, above a polished brass samovar, was fighting to be heard.

The little boy looked at his mother’s (Faridah’s) dress, a milky-white gauze miniskirt and a beige camisole. She hoped to entice morning joy. She wasn’t pretty, not at least in the traditional sense of the word. Taller than most women of her generation, she had a dark complexion, a strong, rather domineering jaw, and a nose that stuck out from miles away. She loved breakfast and the little boy loved watching her eat. She ate as if an army was after her, putting way too much in every bite with the pace of a sprinter.

A familiar creak, and the little boy reluctantly turned. A scrawny, gawky man wearing a tight white shirt tucked into a pair of jet-black trousers stalked out of the toilet. Poking at his neck, Abe wanted to alert his wife to his shaving nick, but she was gorging on strawberry jam and butter spread on a traditional Iranian flatbread like there was no tomorrow, bought fresh by her teenage brother. The brother was the only guest their home had seen in the past few weeks, even months. He was there to keep his elder sister company since the man of the house was about to leave for his monthly three-week business trip. This was the new deal: Abe had been allowed to work three weeks a month and have a week off, ever since the televised interview was aired in January.

Abe was one of the founding members of the communist guerrilla movement People’s Fadaean. Inspired by the Cuban revolution, the movement sought to overthrow the monarchy in Iran. As the news spread of a failed attempt to take over a police station in the rural Caspian region in 1971, an event marking the formation of this violent group and Abe’s association with it, his stature surpassed that of celebrities on the Tehran University campus. Leftist students grovelled to him; the few female students in the Engineering department threw themselves at him, not to mention their counterparts in the Fine Arts department. Men, not to be outdone, even offered to take his exams for him, since he had more important things to do. Soon, however, the infamous secret police, the SAVAK, got hold of him. Eleven arrests and countless beatings over a span of four years, and he finally gave in. He went on television denouncing his organisation. Thereafter, all his friends and much of his family abandoned him.

During the week that Abe was around, the playful nature of a household with a toddler morphed into an interrogation room: people only spoke in response to him. He plopped into his chartreuse vinyl chair, different from everyone else’s and the victim of crayon abuse when he was not around, trying in vain to get his wife’s attention. The father of a five-year-old started his trembling leg routine: his left leg trembled involuntarily for several minutes as he lost patience, cursing the world for subjugating him to such misery. Such odd behaviour was explained by his enduring years of torture. Terrified, the little boy crawled underneath the table. He had every right to do so, especially after the beating he had received for imitating Abe’s odd behaviour.

‘Oh, you poor thing, let me get that for you.’ His wife left her spread half eaten to remedy the nick with a minuscule piece of tissue from a box on the kitchen table, whilst kissing his lips, and not exactly a chaste kiss either. It revolted the little boy, but deep down he knew that he had been saved at the last minute from Abe’s bawl-out. Had she not noticed the cut within a second or two, God knows what would have happened.

The clock chimed, it was eight a.m. Even just a year ago, the radio would have been on Peking frequency, airing the latest news and analysis; but how things had changed. Abe was no longer a communist. In fact during the televised interview he had called himself ‘a born-again royalist’. It would have been an act of heresy for an Iranian royalist, an ally of the west, to listen to communist propaganda. The young boy had just learnt how to read the clock. He was about to go to school, a yuppie private school designed to educate the children of American expats living in Iran, more befitting a son of a bourgeois family. But Faridah had the final say on all matters concerning the child. She’d had to pull all sorts of strings to get him registered in that kindergarten. School had to wait till Abe left the house; the car picking him up would arrive in half an hour.

The little boy played with his action figures and cars, Batman, Bruce Lee, and the Batmobile, underneath the table. Just a week ago he had gone with his mother to watch the latest Bruce Lee picture. The picture was violent and perhaps not suitable for his age, but he loved every minute of it. Faridah had bought him the action figures in a speciality shop for American children living in Iran; she doted on him, trying to compensate for his father’s emotional absence.

Cigarettes were set alight almost simultaneously. Faridah opened the window overlooking the mountain as the air conditioner growled once more. Wisps of smoke swirled, combining with motes of dust before disappearing through the window. The beauty of the vista had escaped her for some time, and today was no different. Perhaps it was the grind of modern life, the hectic business of jostling work and family life. Instead, she played footsie with her husband’s trousers, tickling his shinbone, forgetting her son was underneath the table. But Abe would have none of it; his sex drive had petered out.

For the little boy it was always a violent battle of good versus evil, an epic war filled with trials and tribulations. Evil was always stronger, and vindictive, but good ultimately prevailed. The short duration of the battles caused the little boy to repeat the action time and again. Only a week ago Batman was the hero; now it was Bruce Lee. How fast villains and heroes changed!

The young uncle and mother cleaned the table as Abe immersed himself in his newspaper; the steam stabbed at the kettle. The doorbell rang: the car was early. The little boy curled his fingers and rubbed his nose, a trait indicative of his excitement. Scurrying downstairs, Abe passed the small vestibule and opened the door. A loud commotion ensued. Faridah’s worst nightmare was about to come to fruition. Or was it?

The little boy gazed at his distraught mother as she screamed, fearing the worst. A crazed tumult erupted from downstairs, followed by crump after crump, nine in total. She fell to the floor. The little boy was confused as to what to do. How should he feel? He finally opted to follow his teenage uncle downstairs; then there was pulling from the other side as the uncle struggled to open the door.

‘Stay inside so you don’t get hurt,’ an unfamiliar, gruff voice warned. ‘You were condemned to death by a jury of your peers, by the Revolutionary People’s Court, for treason against your fellow comrades, may you rot in hell.’

The speaker was regurgitating the ‘court’s’ ruling only after the execution. And then there was no more resistance on the other side of the door. No sign of tenants from the first floor, they must have been petrified inside. The uncle yelled nonsensical swear words at the executioner. A shiver ran through the little boy’s body. The small eyes of the little boy met the beady ones of his father’s murderer. A menacing stare, mimicking Bruce Lee. Even at his young age, he knew he had to feign toughness.

Not to be outdone, the murderer stared back at the small boy, cold, remorseless. An image of the murderer was chiselled into his young brain: the horseshoe moustache, the mutton chops, his thick monobrow – all were forever stored in the little boy’s memory. With not a drop of blood on his attire (a flannel shirt with bell-bottom jeans), the murderer calmly swung his AK-47 Kalashnikov off his shoulder and sauntered towards a gold, two-door Buick Riviera without a worry in his mind. Three other passengers, including a woman, were waiting for him. Although they had initially assisted the executioner in pacifying Abe, the actual murderer was only one person. The young uncle threw his slippers at the car as it swerved away and fled the scene.

The little boy stared into his father’s still-living face where it lay in a pool of blood; vermilion blood stained his white shirt, the blood pumping from every wound. A rush of bile in his throat, the pallid face of his father still terrified him, again he somehow knew he had to keep up appearances; he pushed the urge to vomit down. A stream of blood reaches a puddle of oil residue, on the farthest edge, pastel pinkish shades merging as if a painter experimenting, though not yet certain, which colour she wants. The little boy found solace in the amalgam of colours, if for a second or two. They say your life flashes before you in your dying moments. The piece of tissue was still attached to the nick as Abe struggled to tell his boy something; but the little boy was not interested. That’s what you got for being an abusive father.

Babak Norouzi was born weeks after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. He moved to Canada as a teenager where he studied in McGill University and later London School of Economics (LSE). He has been an enthusiastic reader much of his life. He started writing fiction in the form of a novel some five years ago. Although never published, his work was praised by literary agents. He currently lives in Tehran, Iran.

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