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The Last Thursday of the Century

“The dead body you have left unburied, unwept, unsepulchred; but the living body you have thrust below the earth, in a living tomb.” –Antigone


As winter nears its end, the sky acts like a lunatic, its behavior mirroring the chaos of Iranian lives preparing for Nowruz. When you think that spring has arrived, snow appears outside the window, causing confusion between Nowruz and Christmas. One can only hope that an evening thunderstorm doesn’t kill the newly planted violets. Perhaps the sky is reflecting on the past year; Saturday thinking about summer, Wednesday evoking the memories of autumn. Maybe it’s showing its sense of humor in preparation for the upcoming Nowruz. Either way, the old adage rings true: “The sky goes crazy before Nowruz,” making it difficult to predict what the afternoon will bring based on the morning.

Neda was shivering when she arrived at her parents’ home in Rasht. The melting snowflakes glistened on her black baby bangs. The morning had been sunny in Tehran, she had not expected it to be so cold in the North. Her mother, Homa, had locked the security door, and left the main one open. She peered inside the apartment. The neighborhood locksmith appeared in front of the living room mirror, examining the tight fit of a jade velvet coat around his shoulders.

“Forget the shouldersthe sleeves are too short anyway,” Neda thought. When he faced her, she recognized the jade velvet coat as Nima’s, her twin brother’s.

“I don’t have the key.” He shrugged. Then, taking his time, ignoring Neda, folded the coat and stuffed it in his backpack. “The bedroom door lock is ready,” he announced in a loud voice not addressed to her.

“Who made this mess? Why's Nima's suitcase lying here? He’s gonna be mad when he gets home.” This was Reza’s, her father’s voice, coming from the part of the living room she could not see.

Neda stuck her face between the cold iron bars to see inside the apartment better. “Looks like a jail cell,” she thought, “except the inside's all lit up, and the outside is dark.”

“Hey, can you call Mrs. Homa? I'm her daughter.” she asked the locksmith.

“She’s having a smoke on the terrace,” he replied without looking at her.

How slowly he pronounced every word! She dropped the suitcase she had been holding and noticed herself in the mirror. The snowflakes had melted and her wet hair was stuck to her forehead.

“Maman! Why do you need to lock this all the time?” She shouted.

Click, click, came the sound of her mother’s slippers. “Coming! Coming!” Homa, with her quick short steps, appeared in the living room. “I locked the door so your father wouldn’t leave.” Cigarette smoke followed her head like the train of a wedding dress. “Did the coat fit you well?” she asked the locksmith.

Homa’s fingers, trembling, were moving back and forth between the keys. The sound of keys jingling, the shaking of Homa’s hands, the cigarette smoke, the locksmith’s marijuana smell and the four hours of the bus ride curdled together over Neda’s head. She felt her breakfast rise in her throat.

The melting snowflakes on Neda’s shoulders and boots brought March skies to her parents’ home. At other times, Homa’s only contact with seasonal change was gazing at the cottonwood tree in the kitchen window. Sitting there to smoke a cigarette, she studied its branches and leaves. She watched as time passed, as the snow gathered in the arches between the branches, as the buds emerged. “The trees live in a circular time,” Homa thought, “but humans sink in time.” Reza was an example. For a month he had been waking up with nightmares and running to Homa. A new nuisance. Lately he didn’t even wake up anymore. He just floundered in his nightmares with his eyes open.

“Open this door, I need to go register for university.”

“What university? What are you? 20? Go back to sleep, you’re driving me insane, old man.”

Homa decided to give him sleeping pills. They would both take them, and she would lock her bedroom door. Then Reza could yell all he wanted, and she wouldn’t hear him. Eventually, he’d tire himself out, or a new nightmare would come along to replace the last, and in that space between illusions he’d drift off to sleep again.

Homa’s plan had been to call the locksmith before Neda arrived. Even so, she would not be able to conceal the bruises on her arms and the scars on her hands. When Neda asked, “Why do you need a lock for your bedroom?” calmly she would explain. “Your father robs me of sleep. He tries to get me to open the door to let him out. Look!” She would then show her arms to her. Homa would then ask if she knew of any remedy for Reza’s nighttime hallucinations, and Neda, on a determined quest to find the best treatment for her father, would not have time to get depressed.

“Don’t you know of any remedy for these nighttime hallucinations?” Homa asked, pulling down the sleeve of her floral dress. Neda fetched the medicine basket from on top of the microwave and poured its contents onto the countertop. Then, as if sorting through rice, her fingers sifted through the pills, shuffling them left and right. She returned the pile on the left to the basket. “From now on, only give him his brain pills. Heart, blood pressure, and whatever else—toss ’em out. They’ll make him live longer? For what? Toss these away.” Neda gestured toward the pills left on the countertop.

Homa averted her gaze, muttering to herself. “Crazy woman. I said I want him to sleep. I didn’t say I want him to die!” Homa’s eyes wandered toward the window. The cottonwood tree’s branches swayed gently in the breeze.

Neda persisted. “What if he hurts you this time? What if he shoves you and you hit the ground hard? What if, instead of your arm, he clamps down on your throat? What am I supposed to do then? He doesn’t understand anymore. Why can’t you accept that?”

“He won’t do me any real harm. No need for you to fret over us. We’ll sort it out,” Homa replied, searching for a cigarette in her dress pocket. She found one that was bent in the middle and placed it between her lips without straightening it. She got up to search for the oven lighter, and Neda took her seat.

“Listen Maman, if it were you, if you were in his place, would you want to endure this life for eleven years? Would you want to soil yourself and sit in your own shit? Would you want to wake up at three in the morning thinking you had to go to work, only to find the door locked? Let him die! Let him be at peace.”

Homa took back her seat. Her gaze was averted in anger. “You don’t need to worry about your father. All he does is eat and sleep. Three years, and he hasn’t noticed Nima’s absence. Happier than you and me, he is. If I were in his place? Let me tell you. If I were in his place, he would have dispatched me long ago. He wouldn’t have cared for me for a week!” She punctuated her answer with a puff of smoke, and with the next breath forgave Neda. “If I withhold those pills from his poor soul, and something happens to him, what happens if God seeks revenge against you? What if you fall sick? I can’t take that risk!” 

“Partly true,” Neda mused. “If it were you, Dad would have long abandoned you. Like Nima wouldn’t have cared for me, if it had been me instead of him… Which might have been better, for my own sake!”

Three springs earlier, a surgeon had sliced Nima’s pancreas in two, throwing one half into the garbage. Nima didn’t want to move to Neda’s place, so Neda drove to his apartment. Nima’s body now required frequent meals. He had to eat five or six times a day. His legs could barely support his weight. Neda then moved in as a substitute for the missing half of his pancreas. Two rounds of chemotherapy had left him feeble, making another round impossible. He seemed to be shrinking. Neda attributed it to his recent tendency to hunch over. Once, as they stood before the mirror, Nima made an effort to straighten his posture. He looked like a desiccated tree, stripped of foliage and branches pruned. A leafless olive tree. 

Nima said, “Once again, we’re the same height. Who would have thought?” He sank onto the couch, fingers gripping the flesh of his thigh. “Have I traded in my muscles for waves of nausea?” he asked with a smile.

“Your hair is still longer than mine,” Neda replied. Then she imitated scissors with her fingers and ran them through Nima's hair. “Go, get these curls cut. They make you look like a black sheep! Let’s have the same style again.”

 They were watching “Bashu, the Little Stranger” that day. Ten minutes into the film, when Bashu had just arrived in the North and was running through the rice paddies, Nima muttered, “Sorry,” and like an elderly jogger, he rushed to the bathroom. Neda paused the film and strained her ears. She heard a thud. She sprang up from her seat. Nima was hunched over, his hands touching the bathroom floor. He threw up. She had to give him some privacy. Was he safe? At first, the liquid was a vibrant orangethe color of the stew they had eaten. Then, crimson. “Pomegranate juice?” she thought, “What pomegranate juice? There was no pomegranate juice!” Then the smell of blood filled her nose. She ought not to have trembled. She ought not to have feared. “The blood is mixed with gastric acid and water. It’s not all blood,” she told Nima, but it felt as though it was all blood, as though it was every drop of his blood.

Nima sat with his back against the bathroom door. He closed his eyes. “You’ve got blood on your legs. Sorry.” 

“Silly, I get blood on my legs every month,” she replied.

“I’ve turned into a disgusting animal.”

“You’ve always been a disgusting animal, my dear. Should I call an ambulance or drive you there?”

“Neither. Please. I’m better now. I’ll be alright after a quick nap.”

“You can’t just take a nap! You might pass out!”

“Please! I’m sick of hospitals. Let me rest for half an hour. I told you I can’t eat, remember? You made me eat.”

“Alright, I won’t call any ambulance. We’ll go together. When we get there, you can rest all you want. I’ll bring something to read and will stay by your side.”

“Am I your hostage? Am I a child?” Nima's voice cracked.

Neda took a deep breath. “What should we do?”

“I want to sleep for one hour. Then I’ll wake up and then we can talk. I need the comfort of my own room. I really need some rest now.”

Neda sat beside her brother on the bed, gazing at a mercury glass thermometer held up to the ceiling lamp. Nima said, “I wish we could die like they do in movies, you know? Like Mozart, composing on his bed. Or like Farzaneh who fell off the mountain.”

Neda tossed the thermometer into the drawer and replied, “Oh! Don’t you worry over how to die! I’ll happily help you with that any time you want.”

Nima lowered his head onto the pillow. “I wish I hadn’t done the chemotherapy. I could have died like my ancestors. If you were in my shoes, would you have put yourself through all that suffering?”

“I don’t like seeing you suffer,” Neda replied. “I once came across this documentary on Susan Sontag, and at one point, they told her she had only six months left, but she ended up living another thirty years. I mean, there is no harm in taking care of yourself, and maybe another round of chemo would mean thirty more years. Don’t you want to stick around and see what comes next?”

What comes next is the spectacle of the living. Once you’re dead, you’re dead,” Nima replied. “I’m not saying that life is meaningless, nor am I talking highfalutin’ nonsense. I’m saying that sooner or later people should die. I’m not immortal. I don’t want my body to be held captive by doctors and nurses, confined within the walls of a hospital. I long to die in peace, nestled in my own bed. I don’t want to be surrounded by unfamiliar faces.”

Neda rested her head on her brother’s chest. Like the undulations of a tranquil sea, Nima’s chest rose and fell. His breath touched the skin on the back of her neck. He was alive. If only she could freeze time. Before his illness, she had always imagined herself in the prologue to life, as if warming up to step onto the field. Then, life had happenedbut not as she had expected. The future promised a peak of suffering beyond her youthful imagination. If only she could submerge herself in this moment and watch the future slip away. “I need a nap, Neda.” Nima’s tone was plaintive. Maybe he had heard the echo of her thoughtsthat sound of early mourning, the cry of that premature grief.

Neda closed the door so as not to wake him with the sounds of washing the bathroom. She turned on the shower, and the water swept the remains of peas, meat, rice, and blood down the drain. She sat down on the toilet. On the wall, between the blue flowers of the tiles, the blood stains had formed into the shape of pomegranate seeds. With each tile she wiped, she found another stain. Was it an inherent characteristic of blood that it could never be fully washed away? Always left a trace? Like ten years ago, during the 2009 protests, when they had run together through the streets of Tehran. One night, they’d sought refuge in a stranger’s backyard. After about fifteen minutes of hiding, they went to the door pretending to be residents, and saw young men standing handcuffed and blindfolded in a line, resting their foreheads against the wall. Blood was trickling down Amirabad Street. One armed man began kicking the handcuffed young men. Another in body armor smiled as he directed people to their homes. At dawn, from that backyard, they heard the sound of a machine washing Amirabad Street. For a year or two, though, the bloodstains remained. Each time she passed that intersection, the memory of those handcuffed and blindfolded young men with bloodied foreheads agonized her. Where were the people from that night now? The only person she knew was now vomiting blood, about to turn 32, but moving like a 90-year-old man. Wasn't youth supposed to be more enjoyable than this?

She gently lowered the door handle, not wanting to startle Nima awake. The door remained closed. She applied more pressure. She pushed against the door. She knocked on it. “Nima, wake up. It’s been an hour.” She knocked again. She placed her ear against the door. “Nima, stop worrying me. Get up and open this door.” She yelled. “I’m not in the mood for games!” She pounded her fist against the door. Had something happened to him? Why had he locked the door? Her hands began to tremble. Where was her phone? She ran to the kitchen. “My brother vomited blood. He’s locked in his room, not responding. Maybe he fainted. Please, please hurry and send help. He has pancreatic cancer. The door is locked from the inside. No, I don’t have the key. I already did, he’s not answering. Maybe he locked it on purpose. I’m not sure. He has been taking pancrelipase and a lot of painkillers and some other things. Can you please send someone immediately? I’m not sure, I think a lot, maybe around fifty or a hundred. Many.”

A thin man, whom Neda later identified as the ambulance driver, unlocked the door within two minutes. Nima was curled up behind it like a wounded animal. His mouth hung partially open. He clutched a piece of paper in his hand. A woman, a nurse or a doctor, briefly glanced at the paper and handed it to Neda, telling her to step back. Another young man led her into the living room and took her blood pressure. From the couch, she saw them take Nima out on a stretcher.

Nima didn’t die that day. For twelve days, he was hooked up to breathing tubes, waiting for the seventy doses of methadone to clear out of his blood. His eyes were taped shut so they wouldn’t dry out. Twice a day, Neda opened his eyes, gave him eye drops and retaped them shut. Are eyes still eyes when they no longer see? She massaged his hands and legs to prevent blood clots. She opened and closed each of his fingers and massaged his palms. In the melancholic atmosphere of the ICU, she heard the echo of his childhood voice: “All around the garden, like a ...” After twelve days, when he emerged from anesthesia, he was too weak to cough. He’d look at Neda, his eyes pleading with her to help him lift his head to cough. The pain of suctioning the mucus from his lungs made his face turn cherry red. Once, he reached for her hand, but they had tied his hands to the bed with a sheet to make sure he wouldn’t remove the IV. He moved his lips, emitting a faint sound like the whimpering of a sick animal. His lip movements resembled the trembling of lovers’ lips before their first kiss. What was he trying to say? Was he conscious? Could he remember what he had done? Neda remembered his reproach: “Am I your hostage?” Like solitary confinement, the ICU had fluorescent lamps that never ceased to glow. The dingy and somber colors, the uniforms, the lack of windows, the unfamiliar faces, the company of the half-deadDid a few extra months of life warrant such suffering inflicted on Nima's tender and dignified soul?

When Nima’s voice returned, Neda realized that the methadone and the ICU had transported him into a realm of metaphor and illusion. He believed his bed was an airplane seat. “Take my luggage. I want to land.” Sometimes he would partially open his eyes. “I want to wake up.” Neda first tried to lull him to sleep, as he needed rest, but he pleaded, “Please, wake me up.” She switched on all the lights and in a loud voice said, “Can you wake up now?” He fully opened his eyes, glanced around, and drifted back to sleep. When Neda played Mozart piano concertos, he pointed to her phone. “I want to go inside that music.” Neda read him poems he had once cherished. “Take me home,” he implored her. “Please take me home.”

They brought Nima home, and after a few days, while Neda was moisturizing his hands and Homa was combing his hair, he jerked his head as if in a hiccup, closed his eyes, and died. For years afterward, Neda wondered when it was that she had last seen Nima. Was it when she had lifted her head from his chest and left his room? Or when she was moisturizing his hands? At his burial? Or the last time she had a dream of him?

The burial felt like a theatrical spectacle. Nima appeared to have staged his own death. Neda and Homa held hands. Everyone was staring at Nima descending into the earth, and Nima was staring at the sky through the white shroud. When Nima touched the earth, Homa sighed, “My child is finally at peace.” The shovels tossing earth at him moved like waving hands saying goodbye. Reza didn’t know what was happening. They didn’t bring him to the funeral. Neda didn’t disclose Nima’s suicide to Homa. Nima’s farewell letter was written in the second person singular. “Thou hast done all thou couldst for me. Mine heart doth yearneth to endure no more suffering. I have made mine choice to slumber and awakeneth no more. I send thee one parting kiss, dear twin sister mine. Mwah. Mwah.” His sense of humor soothed her. When trying to lift each other’s mood, they often spoke in silly dialects.

“Sure, Dad wouldn’t have cared,” Neda nodded. “Nima wouldn’t have either. I’m the only one here you can count on, so do your best to keep me around.” She let out a giggle.

Homa responded, “You were talking so much, I almost forgot the rosewater. Go grab the bottle.” 

It was the last Thursday of the year, the day to make Halva, to take it to the cemetery, to share it with the living, to say the last word of the year with the deceased. It was the national day of mourning. It was the day of death, before the day of rebirth.

Neda uncapped the cold rosewater bottle and inhaled. The scent wafted into her nostrils, rose to her brain, and descended to her toes. She took the wooden spoon from Homa. Like ripples on a tranquil sea, the wheat flour moved from one side of the pan to the other. No, not ripples, frothy foam on the ocean’s surface. The flour went from white to pale brown, then to a sand brown. She had to be careful. It could go from the right brown to too brown in a few seconds.

Neda said, “I can’t stand seeing Dad like this.”

The previous night, Reza had knocked on Homa’s locked bedroom door at around three in the morning. Neda immediately rose to prevent Homa from waking up. Beads of sweat dripped from Reza’s forehead, trickling into his bushy white eyebrows.

“We have to bury these bones. They’re chasing me.” His hands quivered. Neda closed the door behind her.

“Shh, Dad, they can hear us,” she whispered.

Then, she knelt down in the hallway between the two rooms, near the silhouette of a sheep woven into the Gabbeh rug's design, and mimicked the motion of digging in the air.

“Give them to me. Quick. Quick,” she urged.

Reza handed her the invisible bones. Neda took them, and moving her hands in the air, she buried them beside the pink sheep on the Gabbeh. She opened his bedroom door, glanced in both directions and said, “The ones who were chasing you are not here anymore. Go to sleep before they arrive.” Like a toddler, Reza hurried to his bed, his diaper hanging behind him. Neda went back to bed. She had no more energy. They could change him tomorrow morning. He wouldn’t notice anyway.

Homa said, “Grab the pan from the oven! Quick, quick! It’s getting too dark! Where are you? Dreaming?” Saffron syrup landed on the Halva flour. A volcano erupted. “Withholding your father’s pills won’t solve the problem. Only God can save us. Only God can help us. Mix the paste. Mix it well.” 

“You remember Akhtar’s sister-in-law? They say she killed her husband with saffron,” Neda said, stirring the paste.

“Good for her! He was a jerk. He used to beat her. Your father is sick. He has nobody, but me.”

Neda then decorated the Halva, drawing white flowers with coconut powder on the corner of the plates. “That’s my worst nightmare. Turning into Dad. Hopefully, I’ll recognize it early enough, and end it before I get there.” Not like Nima, she added quietly to herself. No tragedy. No suffering. With an aura of beauty surrounding me. I could wear a new green dress, and hang myself from a tree in the forest. Or I could escape to the Caspian Sea and swim off into the horizon. With dignity intact ’til the very last breath. 

If Neda could go back in time, would she still “save” Nima, or would she let him, in his own words, “slumber and awakeneth no more”? She was too selfish not to “save” him. Her father’s situation was different from her brother’s. Reza walked among the living, but eleven years of dementia had distanced him from them. He had become an ambassador of Underworld. Perhaps that was why he could no longer remember the past. Like Orpheus, he was forbidden to look behind him. Reza was no longer Neda’s “father”. He had turned into a lost ghost, clinging to the needs of the living. At night, he wandered around the house eating whatever was within reach. Neda could just crush all the saffron, brew it, and put the cup on the kitchen table. Reza would drink it all, and the next morning it would be the end. Poor Reza, he had already faded into such oblivion that not many would bother attending his funeral.

For the new year, Homa took Reza to the bath. Neda emptied the trash can of diapers and lit a stick of incense in his room. “Come and get your father,” Homa called out from the bathroom. Neda held his hand so that he wouldn’t slip on the mat. She settled him in front of the TV and dressed him in a white shirt. Homa had shaved him, and now he looked more like his old self. Neda fully undressed to help wash Homa’s back. Her skin felt so soft, and Neda couldn’t resist kissing her shoulder. “Stop it! I’m ticklish,” Homa exclaimed, unable to contain her laughter. Later, gathered around the haft-sin table, the three of them sat together. Reza wore a black suit with a red tie, Homa a beige shirt with a brown skirt, and Neda a black guipure dress with pearl earrings. Nowruz of the year 1401 (2022) arrived at 19:03:26. Neda closed her eyes and listened to the most honest voice within her. I wish to sleep and never wake up again. As Homa was making phone calls, Neda approached the window, watching the flickering lights, the snippets of people’s happiness, the fleeting hopes of the desperate. Even Reza seemed cheerful; he returned their New Year’s kisses. Now, the sky beyond the window was so dark that Neda could see the reflection of her white hair on her temple in the glass.

At night, when she heard Homa’s snoring, Neda burst into tears. When had Nima first been absent during Nowruz? Was it in first grade or second grade? That year, too, Reza and Homa had found an excuse for a quarrel. Reza went to Nima and Neda’s room and told them they could either stay with their mother or go with him to Shiraz. “If you want to go to Shiraz, pack now, put your things in this bag and throw it in the alley. I’ll go down first, and then you follow me.” Had she known this, Homa surely wouldn’t have allowed them to go with him. Neda and Nima stuffed their New Year’s clothes into the black garbage bag. Neda placed her shiny pink party shoes on top. She was worried about the butterflies on the shoes getting crumpled. Nima said, “Maman, we’re taking out the trash.” Homa didn’t turn her head. She exhaled a puff of smoke. “No need to lie, go with your father.” The wind carried the smoke back into the house.

The Nowruz of the year 1374 (1995) occurred at 5:44:33 am. With the beeping of the alarm clock, Neda woke up at 5:30. She wanted to witness the Nowruz goldfish dance during the New Year moments. Her teacher had claimed that the goldfish dance at Nowruz. Nima’s teacher believed that their movements were influenced by people’s loud reactions to Nowruz. Reza believed that the goldfish remained indifferent to Nowruz, the New Year, or the human celebrations. Homa had no interest in the goldfish. Neda wanted to quietly observe the fish so that she could later tell Nima that yes, the goldfish do indeed dance during the New Year, and celebrate Nowruz just like the humans.

As soon as she woke up, she rushed into Homa’s bedroom. Homa did not answer her prodding. Neda turned on one light after another. She had heard that this was a good omen. “Maman, it’s already late! Only seven minutes left. Get up, you have to make a wish. If you stay in bed, you’ll stay in bed all year!” She pulled the purple quilt off her. Homa pulled it back over her face. Neda went to the living room. She turned on the TV and muted it. The mouths of two ugly bearded men in brown coats and mustard yellow shirts moved like the mouths of horses eating alfalfa. She settled near the fishbowl, watching the TV through the glass, keeping an eye on both the fish and the screen. The Nowruz of the year 1374 arrived exactly at 5:44:33, as promised. Neda stared so intently at the fish that she forgot to make a wish. The goldfish did not dance. They endlessly spun in circles, opening and closing their tiny mouths. Why had she not noticed that the bowl was too small for the goldfish?

That night, when Nima and Neda had stuffed their New Year’s clothes into the black garbage bag, and departed for Shiraz, Neda ended up coming back home. Two blocks into the journey, she screamed, “My undies! I forgot my undies!”

“Calm down, child!” Reza replied. “Underpants are everywhere. Borrow Nima’s for a few days. We’ll buy you new ones once the stores open.”

Neda couldn't hold back her tears. “I want to go back to my mother,” she sobbed.

Reza replied, “Your mother prefers to be on her own. You don’t need to go take care of her. You should learn to enjoy life at this age. You can’t take care of everyone. You’re not the mother of humanity, are you?” How well he had known them both. Neda was now almost the age Homa had been that yearthe mother she had once believed she could never resemble. She had strived to “learn to enjoy life,” as Reza had advised. Twenty-seven years later, Nima’s absence during Nowruz created a frustrating ache within her. How she longed for him to respond when she talked to him. The grief was no longer a horrendous tidal wave. It was a thin purplish somber mist that followed her every step.

The scenes outside the bus window continued to shift. There were more than two hours left before arriving in Tehran. The bus ride coupled with the menstrual pain was draining the life out of her body. Advil calmed her pain. The pain was no longer wailing. It was now a feeble whimper, lingering in her back. She sensed the first flow of blood trickling between her legs and the release of blood relaxed her muscles. The pain's troops were retreating from the battlefield. Her body's soldiers were succumbing to sleep. The bowl of pomegranate seeds tumbled onto a Persian rug. Looking down from above, she saw her blood staining Iran. The pomegranate seeds were rolling south. Her blood stained the Caspian Sea, Dorfak Peak, Damavand, Zagros, the desert, and reached the vast plains of Khuzestan before finally spotting the Persian Gulf.

Neda said, “I’m dead tired.”

Nima blew a pink bubble with his gum, and it popped. Then, he threw the gum out of the car's driver-side window and said, “Well, if you’d like, I could turn the car around. We could return to Homa’s womb, perhaps, be nice and cozy, there is no past over there. You know? Since I’ve died, time flows in the direction that want.” The expression on his face and the way he spoke were such that Neda thought she had never seen him so alive. 

She said, “You’re so pleasant, but this Kuhin Pass is dull. No matter which direction you go, it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. When you’re riding toward the Caspian Sea, you could doze off or space out, and eventually, the mountains turn green, and the air becomes gentle, and you can’t help but feel elated being on the beautiful side of the mountain. But this way, I know, I am heading toward smoke and drought and traffic and there won’t be trees like there used to be. That’s why I have no desire to wake up. How it is that you look so chill, I don’t know.”

“I couldn’t care less about anything really,” Nima shrugged. “Never did. No one ever burdened me with expectations early on.” Keeping his eyes on the road, he folded down the sun visor on her side. She noticed herself in the mirror. Instead of hair, cotton blossoms had sprouted on her head. She stared at her own image.

Nima’s lips curled up on one side. “You have so many cotton blossoms on your head that if you cut them, you could wipe away all the bloodstains.” Then, he lifted his hands from the steering wheel and turned his face to Neda. Neda could now see his facethe individual bits of stubble on his shiny olive skin. Time slowed down. Neda felt weightless. The car was flying slowly through the air. Nima leaned closer to her and placed his hand behind her back. She could feel the touch of his five fingers on her vertebrae.

Nima said, “We’ve arrived at Kuhin Pass. It’s raining by the Caspian Sea, but there’s a snowstorm here in the mountains and the road is icy. Every lazy ass driver who hasn’t chained his wheels will get stuck.” 

The flying car was now landing on the road. Nima tapped her on the shoulder. “Wake up, Neda! Enough dreaming. It’s time to wake up, sis.” 

The scenes outside the bus window were no longer shifting. The hunched old woman sitting next to her tapped her on the shoulder. She was wearing a white rustic headscarf. “Get up, girl. Get up, dear. You need to get off the bus. Everyone needs to get off the bus.” She said in the local dialect.

The bus was on the curve of the road and was sliding slowly. She got off, and the chilly breeze dispelled the drowsiness from her eyes. The police had blocked the road and crowded the passengers to the side. Some were scolding the reckless driver. A few were saying prayers for having escaped the accident. The empty bus slid on until it hit the road rails and came to a stop. Neda opened her palm to the sky. A few snowflakes landed and vanished within seconds. The hunched old woman patted her on the back. “Look there! What a sight!” She said, pointing to the moor, tilting her head in wonder.

Past the bus and past the road rails, unperturbed by the passengers’ tumult, the snow fell so softly, settling upon the now white and leafless olive trees, gathering in the arches between the branches, forming figures of cotton blossoms. Beyond the leafless olive trees, further than the newly formed cotton blossoms, stretched the moor, spotlessly white, reaching out to touch the faraway mountains.  




Parastoo Geranmayeh is a writer and translator who works in both Persian and English. Her short story “Green Intelligence” was a finalist for the Bahram Sadeghi Short Story Award in Iran. Her translation of the short story collection “Good Old Neon” into Persian was published by Saless Publication. Her forthcoming translation of “Fefu and Her Friends” into Persian is scheduled for release in 2024. She currently lives in Montréal and her favorite slogan is “Women, Life, Freedom.”

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