The Enemies Of Happiness
Tehran, Summer 1987
In the first years of war nothing looked like any of the images we’d seen in the movies. Tehran’s trees didn’t grow burnt leaves, or dead dangling legs. The mountains of the north, bordering the city, didn’t vanish behind fuming hurricanes of smoke. The black flock of planes didn’t drop bombs over the shelters where women and children screamed and hopeless men held their heads high to die with dignity or patriotism. An expanding mushroom cloud didn’t rise in the horizon to give us incurable diseases. Every minute, the injured sirens didn’t blast their annoying moaning in the background of our conversations. Hunger didn’t bloat our bellies and we weren’t totally deprived of water, gas, or electricity. The school bells didn’t go silent and Mrs. Principal, unfortunately, didn’t disappear. Our martyrs didn’t look heroic and their photos, displayed on tree trunks, on streetlamps, on crooked walls of abandoned gardens, and on all the windows of Daryani chain of grocery stores, didn’t look clear, as if the picture had been taken a long time ago when war was just a movie or the half a book title, and death still seemed like something unimaginable.
When we were thirteen, on a cold winter day, during the religion class, while Sheerin and I were making paper planes under the table, the new teacher gave us two options: writing ten different names of God or five common traits of the Shiite Twelvers. I raised my hand and asked Mrs. Maloof if I could write about seven definitions of happiness in the Quran. The teacher looked at me blankly, and the class went mute.
She approached me, her black chador revealing her long face, her thin mustache, her sad eyes and her colorless lips sewn together. “Happiness is not an Islamic concept,” she finally said tenderly. “The West has invented this idea to corrupt your mind.”
We lived among our worst enemies, the enemies of Happiness, still we felt lucky, because none of the buildings of our apartment Complex got demolished. Even the death of Mr. Jalali’s son in the frontiers didn’t seem overly alarming, since his wife still waited in different lines with us, her booklet of coupons in hand, squeezing it hard as if her life depended on it, and we didn’t take her loss seriously given that each time we said hello she replied with a soft nod and a fainting hi.