The New Me

By Sana Nassari

It was as if my son shot me in the head. I don’t know how it happened that after all these silent years, I confessed. My wife who loved me to the moon and back, at first seemed frozen. Then I saw the wobbly reflection of the light in her tearful eyes.

I was leaning on the fence by the Arvand river and cheerfully watching my kids, my sweet kids jumping up and down when that conversation started. What happened to me, the one who has sedulously kept silent all these years? I, the one who even when the telly showed a documentary about my best friend and interviewed his mum whose face was wet with tears, had not broken his silence and on the same day’s afternoon went and bought a dressing table for my teenage daughter. Even when I saw the bloodied face of my friend on one of the mirrors in the shop I kept silent and, despite the dizziness I felt, I went a few steps further to lean on a great pillar surrounded by bed frames, wardrobes, and chests of drawers. I kept silent and my beloved daughter chose the same dressing table in which mirror I saw my friend’s aura. I paid at the cash desk and carried the mirror to the car, feeling as if I am carrying my friend’s coffin.

I thought every problem would be solved in the course of time. But that didn’t happen. I let it get crowded around us: four kids, each roughly two years far apart. I cut off all unnecessary relationships and kept myself busy raising the kids. I said I am busy with anyone who called and I am booked to anywhere I was invited. I left everything behind. That one day was a detachable part of my life, like a part of my body. What a good metaphor! A limb. Part of your body is left on a land mine, although it once used to be a part of you, or even used to be you, now you don’t want to stick this bloody, lame, dead arm or leg to yourself. Even if you want to, it is impossible. You have no choice but to leave it and run away from it and from your old self to get to know your new self. Get used to the one who lost part of its entity.

I got used to the new me. I got used to my wife, my bundles of love and our enviable family life. But now, instead of watching the sunset, what they asked for a few hours ago, they all were staring at me like at an amputated limb.

Why I didn’t keep silent? Why didn’t I use the tactic that I have used for so many years against any curiosity? Why did I answer this time? Yes, we used to stay in the same spot for a few months. There is a narrow dirt road that could be seen with binoculars through the dense thicket of the reed field. Why did I explain the exceptional optical power of our spotting scope that made us feel that every situation was under control?

Nothing was under my control. It was as if I, too, was hearing the story for the first time and that was why I couldn’t help myself, couldn’t make myself not say that there was a little old Iraqi man who used to pedal the long dirt path from an unknown place to his humble cottage every morning. He always had loaves of bread in his bicycle’s basket. He had to fold up the lap of his long robe and tie it so it wouldn’t get stuck in the chain. It was the new soldier who had a real bee in his bonnet about him. Isn’t this man a spy? Where is he cycling from these early mornings? Why did he get up so early when it is still dark so that we never see him leaving the place? Why does he not have a tandoor while all peasants bake their own nans? Where are our soldiers who went to their region to collect some information? It’s been a week, and yet there is no news. It was the fourth year of the war and we did not know that the same amount of time was yet to come in our so-called “holy defence.” I was the most talented sniper in our battalion. Inerrant. I lit my cigarette. Looked through the most accurate lenses ever. “But what if he is innocent?” my best friend asked. The old man was there. Parking his rattletrap bike by the door. “Eh? Do you buy it that he is a poor all alone man who cannot leave because of his water buffalos? Trading his own life for two cows? What are you? Fool?” the new guy answered. The old man undid the tie of his long robe. His back was to me. I shot his neck. I thought I can give it a try. I did it neither for the sake of our missing soldiers, nor for the holy defence. I did it just because I could. The dust rose.

My daughter remained opened-mouthed, unable to blink or swallow her saliva. My second kid and first son whose beautiful face was peppered with zits was staring at me through the thick lenses of his glasses. His eyes seemed to pop out. I turned to the left. My third kid was looking at her mum whose hijab was sliding down onto her shoulder. I did not tell them that when the dust settled, the door of the cottage was open. The old man was down on the ground and an old woman with both her hands out was groping, searching for him. She was blind. I could hear the banging of the blood in a certain vein on my left temple. Then the continuous crackle came. I opened my eyes and saw the bloody face of my friend, dead and still, staring at me blamingly.

Every one was blurring in the thickening mist of silence. Only my fourth kid, the little son, was nervously giggling, recalling his daily games. He brought both his index and middle fingers together while folding the rest. He said: Pew! Pew! His gun noise banged inside my head. “Did the blood come out, dad? The real blood?” he asked excitingly.

5 November, 2022