Finding the Right Key in the Dark

By: Tara Najdahmadi

Monday 22 September 2008

Translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi

I have gotten accustomed to driving fast late at night. With my mouth half open, I speed past the endless lines of yellow lights, on the empty highways. Broken hearts, smog, silence, and red and green lights, are of no significance. Returning home at night; returning from goodbye parties and from airports…from hugs, promises, jokes, useless words, forced smiles, last glances, the utterance of inaudible final sentences, and longing for other realities—a longing, many longings…

Tonight too, I arrived home. Searching for my bag and the papers and the personal mementos, on the floor of the car….turning off the lights…locking up the steering wheel…walking toward the door…in the silence of the dark night….finding the right key….the pink elevator….standing with my back to the mirror….entering the yellow light of the room and my useless attempt to utter a few words, to speak, only to fail…

Somayeh laughs and says: "if for nothing else, you finally came to get the signatures and in this way, I get to see?" I laugh. A small girl enters the room. She is the child of one of the distant relatives who has come to say goodbye on this last night. …the girl climbs all over us. She is the perfect example of a rowdy child, with bad timing and an inability to listen to elders! Somayeh asks about my day. Today was the opening of a painting exhibit at Bahman Cultural Center, formerly a slaughter house. I tell her that the location of my work and Hana’s was not good. The lighting was poor, the chains were old, and our work was hanging unevenly from the wall. I complain—the usual complaints. (The next day I find that after the opening ceremony our pieces were removed from the wall altogether). Somayeh’s mom enters and gives me a kiss and asks: "So, when will you finally go and get some peace? Are you following up on your plans to leave or not?" She drags the unruly child away with her.

There is silence. We try to make conversation. She returns my books. Gives me her new Manteau (Islamic overcoat), which she will no longer need and hands me the signed petitions for the Campaign. I give her the mementos I have bought as gifts for her to remember me by—small, light presents, which travel easily. I have bought them for my dear old friend, my schoolmate from days long gone—my comrade in all the crazy times and laughter of years past. She says: "Take care of yourself. Nothing changes quickly. I don’t think things will change in our lifetime!" I hug her and hold her tight. We try to say goodbye like logical and mature adults. I walk to the elevator backwards, so that I can see her until the minute we part…so that I can look at her for the last time.

These days, my best friends have all left Iran…

Somayeh left tonight.

Shadi left yesterday.

Hana has left….

Yalda has left.

Babak has left.

Shabnam will leave soon.

Sahar has left.

Pargol and Avid have left.

Alireza, Sam, Payam…

They have left so that they can experience working, studying, breathing, laughing, walking, eating, sleeping, dreaming, dressing, loving, and thinking in freer lands. So that they can walk in streets more secure than ours, which are filled with threats and fear, and so they can experience life in a land with a language other than their mother tongue. They have gone, so they can experience their otherness, their foreignness, among people who are happier, and more hopeful. So, that that they can live governed by laws which are more civilized and humane, but still they will remain bound by the invisible chains of loneliness and memories.

They have left behind their cities, their language, their work, their families, their friends, their streets and homes and closets and bookshelves, and the war torn land of their childhood…not completely of their own free will. ….These people who are the smartest, most capable, and lovable individuals I know….

It’s midnight. I return from Somayeh’s home. There is a lot of traffic for this time of night. Further along, lit by a hundred blinking lights, I see two young boys, who are offering sweets to passengers in the cars, in honor of a religious holiday. There are two heavyset men, who are offering lemonade. The cars are lined up, bumper to bumper, in unrelenting traffic, and the hands of drivers and passengers hang out of the car windows, in search of lemonade and sweets…


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