I was in the middle of writing a bit of a funny story that happened to me the other day when the phone rang. I knew it was bad news from the moment I heard the voice on the other side. I mean you don’t have to be a rocket scientist, as they say, to know that when people are crying, they are going to give you bad news.
When you’re away from home, anything to do with someone dying is a bit of a lonely affair. One day I get a phone call from one country by someone telling me that someone very close to me by blood, that I haven’t seen for twenty four years, has died in another part of the world that I’ve never even been to. I get sad and I go over the memories that I have of that person and in between I keep checking the time and doing the maths to see if it’s yet a good time to call Canada or Iran or France or Spain.
The first thing I remembered of him was a few of us kids being out in the garden one day and him saying, ‘I know how to make a cigar.’ It was the unfortunate Farsi name of cigar (cigar barg: leaf cigar) that had given him this idea I think. He sent us to go and get the driest leaves we could find from around the garden. Then he ripped out a double page from the middle of his old homework’s notebook (there were a few of us little kids in the garden that day you see and he was making the cigar long enough so everyone could have a drag) he poured the broken, dried leaf pieces in the middle of the paper, rolled it and then used a big piece of cellotape to stick it together. We all sat in a row in the back of the garden so no grownups would find us, coughing and passing this strange, smoking torch up and down the line.
I was six when they left Iran for good. For the first few years when his mum came back to visit, he would send me letters with her with a picture of a big candle on them. Underneath the candle he would write, ‘The flame of our friendship is still burning.’ and ‘The flame of my love for Iran is still burning.’
Next thing I know twenty four years have passed and I have eleven cousins instead of twelve.