Chapter Two: Mina
The time passed and I slept. The kind of sleep that comes with a sickness. Feverish, Timeless. I was back to Roodsar, the city of my childhood.
I’m at the beach.
The morning breeze carries the wet smell of the Caspian. I’m heading to my secret place at the border of the forest. I walk fast, Ramin following me through the sand and dying seaweed.
I’m twelve and he’s eleven, his face full of the signs of puberty. It’s the year his father is going to die. The year before the year he’s going to leave home. But it’s still summer, and we’re still children.
Ramin calls my name. “Roya,” he says. “Wait for me.”
I slow down and he joins me. “Have you ever listened to the sea?” he asks, the monotonous fluidity behind him. I nod and we listen to the breathless hum of the sea.
“That’s my tree,” I say, and we race toward the end of the beach. The green wood, waiting. The fog blinds our sight and rainy clouds hover over the forest. We look up at trees and their entangled branches, their trunks adorned with green lava, and their leaves whistling the dead tune of an early autumn. We touch their abrasive base and walk over their rotten roots. “I’m scared,” Ramin says, staring at the decaying algae under his nails.
I laugh. “Don’t be scared,” I say, and walk away. “I’ll always protect you,” I shout, running toward the endless silence of trees. Aghast at the tide of the Caspian rising and Ramin’s absence, I turn. But he’s gone and Kareem the smuggler is chasing me. “You’re not going to escape,” he says and his words open up a hole. Tumbling from the light, I sink and fall, plunging toward a voice like my father’s: “Ramin died a month ago.”
Ramin’s dead, I remember, and hit the ground, still alive. The sand fills up my mouth, and it tastes like the sea.
I woke on the floor, soaked in sweat. My back hurt and I remembered where I was. I didn’t know how long I had slept, but I wished I could have slept longer.
There were noises in the hallway.
I jumped up, listening to the commotion outside. Voices yelled in Turkish, and cursed in Persian. The door opened with a thump and a woman was pushed inside. “Assholes,” she shouted, tripping, but getting back on her feet at once. The door was shut and locked. “Go to hell,” she said, craning her neck to look through the small grill.
I remembered Kareem’s advice to stay away from strangers. But this girl, who looked almost my age and couldn’t stop squirming and twisting, turning and fidgeting, didn’t make me feel in danger. I took a step forward and she glanced back at me. “Are you alright?” I asked.
She shook her head with a scowl. “Of course not,” she said, and flung back her boyish hair, and looked at me from head to toe. “How could I be? I just got arrested,” she said and grabbed a chair. She dragged it closer and sat facing me.
Her stare made me uncomfortable. “Are you Iranian too?” I asked, and immediately realized the foolishness of my question, because her accent was just perfect, like any other Iranian. “Of course you are. What was I thinking,” I said, and laughed nervously. I couldn’t even recognize my own voice.
She looked around and shook her head. “Damn, I was so close to leaving Turkey for good,” she said, and dropped her weight onto the closest chair.
“Me too,” I said, and watched her leaning forward, resting her elbows on her thighs and cupping her face in her hands. She sighed so deeply that I forgot my own misery.
I told her my new name.
She looked up at me closely. “I knew an Afsaneh a long time ago,” she said and her glare lost its curiosity. “But she had red hair and blue eyes.”
Nothing was extraordinary about having brown hair and black eyes like mine, or about being Roya Boustan. Why didn’t Kareem let me keep my own name? “I didn’t grow up in Tehran,” I said.
The girl nodded as if it was obvious that I couldn’t be as sophisticated as a Tehran native. “My name is Mondana Andisheh,” she said. “But everyone calls me Mina.”
I never knew a Mina, I thought.
“I was going to apply for a refugee visa in France,” she said.
Political refugee? I wondered but didn’t dare to ask her. Dressed in an ordinary large black sweater with baggy blue jeans which couldn’t hide her extreme thinness, Mina looked like many of the leftists I knew at university, but her attitude had nothing to do with their stiffness and artificial anger.
Mina rose and walked around the room like she was walking in a museum. “Not bad for a jail,” she said, checking the hallway.
How could I disagree? I had never been in jail before. “It could be more comfortable,” I whispered shyly.
The landing of a plane made both of us quiet. Mina walked toward the leaking faucet and ran the water. “It’s getting warmer,” she said, and bent over the sink. She washed her hands and face. Her big brown eyes, outlined with long black eyelashes, reminded me of an old miniature.
I joined her and put my hand under the flow. It felt good.
Mina dried her face with the back of her sleeve. “They arrested me for my fake passport, fake visa, and fake proof of legal entry,” she said, walking to her seat.
I sat beside her. “Me too,” I said.
Footsteps echoed in the hallway. Mina grabbed my arm. “Quiet,” she whispered and we held our breath. The noise drew near, but soon it moved further away and we loosened up.
“What is going to happen to us?” I asked, knowing she wouldn’t know the answer.
Mina shrugged. “Who knows?” she said. “But Turkey is not Iran.” She talked with assurance, as if she knew something I didn’t. “They won’t keep us for years.”
Don’t trust anyone, Kareem had told me, still I wanted to trust Mina; she didn’t seem worried or even intimidated by this place, and most importantly I wasn’t going to be alone anymore.
She told me about her trips all around the world. “France is my favorite,” she said. “Before the revolution, my parents decided that I should study medicine at the American University in Istanbul,” she said, with a cunning smile. “But I changed their mind and went to Paris.” She shook her head, playing with her long sleeve. “Back then, I was such a naïve romantic. How about you?”
I was confused. “I don’t think I’m a romantic,” I said. “But this trip to London was supposed to be so great. My first trip out of country.”
Mina looked surprised. “Do you have a family or close friend in London, or someone who could help us with the legal stuff?”
I wondered whether I should tell her about Parviz khan, my father’s second, or maybe third, cousin. My only acquaintance in London. We had never met before but I knew he couldn’t afford living a lavish life and it was impossible for him to come to my rescue. “My only relative was supposed to hire me at his restaurant as the expert in Persian cooking.”
Mina hid her smile. “Are you?”
“Well,” I said and shook my head. It was the first time we both laughed since our arrest.
Mina yawned softly. “Last night, I couldn’t shut my eyes, and now I can’t keep them open,” she said and dragged a chair closer with the tip of her foot. “My new bed,” she said and leaned back against the wall, laying her legs on the seat in front of her. “You didn’t tell me why you left.”
Rising to grab a seat for my own bed, I caught Mina’s gaze following me with a sleepy blankness. “The war and everything else,” I said, averting her stare.
Mina nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, everything else,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “That could be worse than the war.” She yawned again. Her eyelids, falling.
What would have been worse than the war? I wondered, remembering the closet of my room, the first night of the bombings, and Ramin.
The sirens echoed in the distance, and a sudden wave of cold air filled the room. Shaking, I buttoned up my jacket, and curled on my chairs. I closed my eyes and listened to Mina’s breathing getting deeper and heavier.
Soon, between us, there was nothing but silence.