A deep different me

By Atefa Qorbani

Circular, rectangular, square and shapeless stones, gray, black, pale pink, brown, and partly white cover the earthen dirt. The white walls of the mosque are speckled brown. The voices of children and girls bounce off the walls of the mosque. Vague, less perceptible sounds are played by the howling wind that breaks the silence of the alley. I move the stones with the tips of my toes sticking out of my sandles. The weather is warm and the quiet stones heat my toes. I pass through the mosque and come to Haji Sahib’s house. I look at the house and become silent like a stone. I want to throw out all my pain. But I have discrete thoughts and don’t know exactly where to start. In the middle of writing, reading a book, walking, talking, between being together, I suddenly stare at something in my mind. I laugh, tears rise to the edges of my eyes. Then I’m back to my normal state. My tears fade. I’m afraid someone will see my changes, I’m afraid others will know how sick I am, how crazy I am. I talk to myself all day, read poetry, sink into bad childhood memories, for example, I remember the day when Dad bought a new Qur’an for me and Narges, with great taste. As soon as I finished my lunch I hugged my small  blanket and the Qur’an and went to the mosque without Narges. On the way I said hello to the neighbor’s dog near the mosque, who I thought was a friend of mine, and he attacked me brutally and uncharacteristically. My Qur’an and the blanket fell from my hands in the middle of the alley and myself fell in the middle of Haji Sahib’s large yard. It was the only open gate around. I panicked. My heart palpitations and tremors had not allowed me to think about my father’s advice to stay away from Haji Sahib’s home and his sons. I looked out the doorway. I saw the dog sitting indifferently in his previous place, in front of his owner’s house, and there was no remorse nor torment of conscience in his eyes, and my beloved Qur’an was blowing sheets in the wind, like fallen leaves. Haji Sahib’s yard was large, and I was so small that for a few moments no one in the house knew I was there, not even a few women who were cooking bread in the yard. My father always told me to stay away from the house and Haji Sahib’s sons because they were not good boys. At night I had nightmares that I would escape from Haji Sahib’s son and take refuge in a dead-end alley, but Haji Sahib’s son always found me. I would wake up with a silent scream, wet with sweat.

Or, I saw that it was raining, it was dark. Haji Sahib’s son was chasing me. I hid behind the wall of our house. I wanted to raise my voice and call my father, but my voice would not be made. I woke up with a dry throat and sweaty feet. The fear of Haji Sahib’s sons has made me afraid of men. When I see a man on the sidewalk I change my way; when I’m alone in an empty alley and see a man, I run fast and run away. I’ve become accustomed to this and I call my fear of men a precaution. One day I was with my friend Freshta on the street. I sensed a man behind us, and quickly pulled myself away. Freshta was upset. She said he was a respectable man, your action was unsuitable. That day I became ashamed of my fear.

Or, I thought I had gotten better, I had overcome my fear. Everything was going well until one evening I was near home with several books in my hand, when a strong wind blew my scarf from my head into the air and the wind shook me off balance. A man stood in front of me. We were on the secluded road leading to my house. His long beard, his mandil, and the horrors he was making up in his head made him fearful, or perhaps frightening to me. I stood at a distance without moving, and he would not move. He looked at me and scared me more. I didn’t know what to do. This was the only way to get home, but I didn’t dare to pass by the man standing in front of me, staring at me, and sometimes grinning. I prayed for my father to come and save me, and I was so near to crying that it was a miracle my father came and saved me. The voices of children outside the mosque walls can be heard more clearly. Children laughing and talking loudly, holding their Qur’ans out the gate of the mosque. I am flung from my memories like a stone by the voices of children.

I stare at the stones, the square rectangular circular stones that sit quietly on the dirt and hot ground. I move the stones with my toes and my toes are hot. I go quiet like a stone. I pass in front of Haji Sahib’s house and I know that years have passed and Haji Sahib and his sons are no longer there, but the fear of this house is still with me, just like the fear of men who do not leave me.

16 August, 2023