The Silent Growth of Trees (Chapter Three)

saturday morning

Chapter Three: Mr. Farsi

December 28, 1982

There was a loud bang.

“Wake up,” a voice told me. It was Father saying, “you’re going to be late,” or maybe it was Mother, afraid that I might miss school, or maybe it was Kareem telling me to open my eyes, to move my butt, to get on the flight on time. I pressed my eyes tighter. Someone was banging on the door. Someone else was shaking my shoulder. Was it Father? Mother used to caress my forehead, and Kareem just pinched or twisted my arm.

I opened my eyes. The ceiling didn’t resemble my room and I remembered where I was. Mina’s face hovered over me. “Get up now,” she said.  I was sleeping on the floor. My back was numbed by the cold, and I couldn’t feel my toes. I hauled myself up. Everyone else was already standing. The key turned and the door opened, and I got up instantly.

Nobody came in.

We looked at each other, until a shy silhouette slipped inside the room, a small man with an unremarkable face. He didn’t look like a prisoner or a guard. He wore eyeglasses that made his eyes bigger than they really were, and held a thick folder in hand. His moustache belonged to the era between the world wars. The man could have stood still for hours, and we’d have easily forgotten about his existence. “Please take a seat,” he said.

Mina glanced at me with surprise. Unprecedented respect, I thought, still I didn’t sit, nor did anyone else.

The man took a quick glimpse around the room. “My name is Mahmood Farsi,” he said, without an accent, like an Iranian. “I’m a translator, and I work for the police.”

“We don’t need you,” Colonel Najafi said.

Mina stepped forward. “I speak Turkish,” she said.

“I understand,” Farsi said, and blushed like a girl. “I meant I will translate for those who need my services. You’re going to see a judge soon, one by one.” The little man opened his folder and struggled to find a particular paper among others.

“Do you mean that our arrest has been officially approved?”  Mina asked, while Farsi pulled out the paper he was looking for.

He closed the folder. “I’m so sorry, Miss Andisheh,” he said. “I don’t know anything about your individual cases. I’m just a translator and nothing more.” He glanced first at the document in his hand, and then at me. “Miss Farmand, you’re going to be the first one to see the judge.”

My heart sank. “Why me?” I said, but he didn’t answer. I should have turned pale or shaky, because everyone looked at me with sympathy. Mina gave me a hug, whispering in my ear. “He looks harmless. But don’t sign anything.”

Mr. Farsi stepped back and showed me the door. “Please follow me,” he said.

I felt vertiginous. I didn’t want to leave Mina’s warm grip. The door opened wide. The same short, heavy guard who had brought me in waited outside. I turned and waved goodbye.

Mr. Farsi locked the door and we followed the guard. Even though I’d only stayed in that room for a day, it was long enough to make me scared of leaving it. I wished I could go back to Mina so she could protect both of us.

We took a narrow stairway and walked down a long corridor which connected our building to another one. Small windows paralleled our path, but their dark glass, or their closed shutters hid the world outside, and I kept asking myself why they hadn’t handcuffed me. What kind of prisoner had I become?

The guard led us to an empty office, a large room with view, a wooden desk and a few chairs similar to all the offices I had been in before. Mr. Farsi asked me to sit and sat on a bench across from me. On the desk, next to my black dossier, the framed picture of a pretty girl with a missing front tooth smiled at us. It eased my fear. Could this office become my last interrogation room? What if the judge was a kind, understanding man? The cold view of the busy airport with its landing and soaring planes and the gusts of winter moving the stormy clouds, reminded me of my obscure future and for the first time I forgot Ramin’s death, as if it belonged to another life. Was I already becoming too detached from him?

Heavy footsteps approached. Mr. Farsi rose instantly and exchanged a few words with the officer, who sat behind the desk, opened my folder, and began reading with a blank face. Farsi sat beside me.

“Is he the judge?” I whispered.

Farsi shook his head and leaned forward. “Don’t stare at him,” he said nervously.

I lowered my gaze and looked at the mosaics on the floor. A small gilim – handmade with orange triangles and green squares – was placed under the officer’s desk. It wasn’t long ago when I lived in a similar room with a similar window, a similar carpet, but with a full bookshelf and an empty closet.

I waited.

After closing the folder, the man looked up at us. Mr. Farsi rushed to him. The officer spoke calmly and Mr. Farsi listened nervously. While he talked, no plane took off. None landed. I felt cold and Farsi turned toward me. “You are here to answer to Inspector Turgey,” he said, sounding unlike himself, perhaps imitating the officer’s tone. Maybe it was part of his job to mirror the voice of whoever he translated, but he couldn’t hide his anxiety. “Before going to see the judge, please answer to his questions and sign these papers,” he said.

“Why should I?” I asked, following Mina’s advice.

Farsi elbowed me. “Just do it,” he said. “It’s just a formality.”

“At least ask him what my crime is,” I said.

The officer grumbled impatiently and Farsi looked at me with begging eyes.

They were going to ignore me, and I felt like screaming. “What’s my crime?” I shouted. “I’ve done nothing,” I yelled and stomped my foot. I didn’t recognize myself.

Turgey pounded on his desk, tossed the papers, and rushed toward me, while Farsi rose and stepped away.

I didn’t move.

Turgey’s large shadow hovered over me. I looked up at his calm face and he looked down at my lips and our eyes met long enough so I could remember this moment forever. Then he grabbed my shoulder, pulled me up, raised his arm, and slapped my face. He mumbled something in Turkish and the blood of my whole body ran to my face, while Mr. Farsi stood immobile, watching in silence, without making even a simple gasp.

Stunned that I hadn’t covered my cheek or screamed, I looked at Mr. Farsi, the man who was supposed to be on my side, and I thought that no one had ever hit me with so much triviality, so much boredom.

“No question, please,” Mr. Farsi whispered with a thick accent I hadn’t noticed. His face was pale and he was shrinking before my eyes.

I gave up. I couldn’t be like Mina, I thought, and let go of my illusion of being a rebel. I came back to the real world and signed those papers, feeling sorry and pathetic for Mr. Farsi and myself.  Farsi wiped his forehead with relief and Turgey stared viciously at the papers in his hand.

I told everything, whatever I knew, and Turgey wrote whatever Mr. Farsi translated. After all, I had never really cared about Kareem. Loyalty had no place in the small world of small bandits.

Long after my last answer, Turgey was still filling in the empty forms with a vague smile on his plump lips, like a sign of triumph. His. A sign of failure. Mine.

I glanced at the sky, at the white snow falling on a gray airport, at the smoke rising from the rooftops and I listened to the sound of airplanes departing. I imagined a world where I could be part of its banality. I tried to forget the possibility of dying in jail or being deported to Iran. For a moment, I dreamed of being normal. Being reborn in ordinary times. Somebody with nothing to fear, nothing to hope, nothing to hide, no one to betray. Someone with no remorse.

We left the room and sat on the cold bench in the hallway.

“He slapped me,” I said. “Didn’t you notice?” I was raising my voice, but Mr. Farsi put his hand on my mouth to silence me.

“Stop whining,” he said. “It’s life. Get used to it.” He avoided looking at my eyes as I tried to seize his gaze in vain. Not only he had shrunk to my size, but he was becoming transparent, falling through the gaps of life anywhere he went.

I wanted to tell him that his life as a shadow wasn’t one I could get used to, but I didn’t. He wasn’t much different from Kareem, I thought.

“Now, wait here for the judge,” Mr. Farsi said, in a lonely tone.

I sighed deeply, silently, disgusted.

“Just call him Hakim Beyfendi,” Farsi continued in his regular voice, shy and imperceptible. He fixed his tie nervously and rubbed his hands. “Don’t worry and do whatever they ask you to do.”

I shrugged contemptuously. I looked at his small frame, his tiny eyes, his thick gray moustache, his thin hair and rough hands. I had never seen him laughing and wondered if I should follow this simple man’s orders? Should I have become the shadow of another shadow?

A plane took off and a timid light poured into the hallway. I raised my hand, moving my wrist in the air and the shadow of my hand followed the dance of my fingers.

Nobody was ever going to tell me how to live my life.

Relieved, I smiled as if I had discovered the elixir of happiness, and I repeated to myself: “I won’t be a shadow. My life is going to be different. Not like him. No. Never. Never like him.”

Mr. Farsi called the guard. “I’ll be back soon,” he said, and left.

The guard handcuffed my wrist to the bench. We sat knee to knee for a very long time, wondering, waiting, going through different shades of a winter day. His clothes, his body, his hair, his mouth stank. Like mine.

When Mr. Farsi came back, the smell of fried meat and fresh garlic lifted in the air. “A sandwich,” he said and opened the small bag in his hand, glancing at the guard. “But you should share it with him.”

I wished I didn’t have to.

Farsi asked to guard to unlock me, and we devoured the food.

“Do I have a chance with this judge?” I asked. “Do you know him personally?”

Mr. Farsi hesitated. “Don’t raise your hopes,” he said. “It’s just a procedure. Just a normal routine.”

A procedure didn’t sound threatening and a judge was supposed to represent justice. Turkey was a free country, after all, I thought.

(To be continued)

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About lifeacrossthesun

Writer/ 2011 PEN USA Emerging Voices fellow
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