Sunday, June 25, 2006

You might want to go and get yourself a cup of tea for this one because this is looooong even by my standards. Have a look. Yes scroll down.

See? It just goes on and on and on. Don’t worry though there is an intermission.
Yes I know; I’m not exactly helping by adding to the top of it as well. Agh, I can’t help it can I? Ok, I’m gonna shut up. Zipping it up. That’s it now I’m not gonna say another word. The mouth is now closed. Me no talky.

One last thing before I go though. Does anyone know a cure for verbal diarrhoea?



I think I was about nine or ten. It was one of those times that Iraqis had started bombing Tehran again and so our schools had closed down. During the bombings my grandparents’ tiny one bedroom house by the Caspian always became Shelter Central and the doors were open for any friends or relatives who wanted to escape Tehran. There were two double beds and two sofas in the living room and everyone else just slept on the floor.
Usually you would get a good mixture of people coming; kids, their parents and some older people too so everyone would have a good time and get to hang out with people their own age.
This particular time however, apart from me and my mum and dad, for some reason only the very old had turned up. And when I say old I mean proper old like most of them were older than my own grandparents even.
At first I didn’t really mind it. My mum and dad and I stayed in the little annex and every night after the others had gone to bed, we would have a great laugh in there chatting and listening to my dad read to us from some of the stuff he was writing at the time.
I also enjoyed being Babajoon’s (my granddad) self-appointed assistant and following him around the garden along with the two local black dogs, Kaapo and Haalo and when I got bored of that, I went off on my own and did what I had always done (and still do) best which is to stare into space and escape into a fantasy world in my head.
But after a few days I started to miss hanging out with people my own age. Plus my birthday was close and, not that I had anything against this lot, but I much preferred spending it with people who when started a sentence with ‘During the war…’ actually meant the Iran Iraq war and not Word War 2 or Jangeh Kaazeroon or Mamasani!
After dinner as everyone would gather around the radio trying to tune it into BBC World Service, I would kneel on the sofa with my nose pressed against the window and my hands cupped around my face, quietly singing to myself a spell my mum had taught me for when you want someone to come to you.
Alessoon-o valessoon
Abracadabra
Shadi-ro zood beressoon
Bring Shadi to me fast
Ageh neshsteh paash kon
If she’s sitting, make her stand up
Ageh vaysadeh raash kon
If she’s standing, make her walk

And then Alesson-o valesson
Nader-o zood beressoon
Ageh…

When we’d left Tehran, my aunt and uncle had said that they would come and join us in the north in a few days along with my two cousins, Shadi and Nader. Now a few days had passed and they had not arrived and we didn’t have a phone there to contact them.
Every morning I would walk to the top of the massive garden and I would poke my head out through the bars on the yellow metal gate and watch the cars going past while trying to get my cousins to come to me with the power of my mind.
This was something my cousins and I had done together many times when we were in the north and wanted someone else to come over. The three of us would get onto the gate and while swinging it back and forth would try to make contact with that person through the power of our minds! There was great fun to be had there even if the person did not show up at the end. Unfortunately doing it on my own just wasn’t the same. I couldn’t even get the gate swinging.

The night before my birthday I prayed like I’d never prayed before. I knew that was my last chance for them being there for my birthday because my aunt and uncle always left Tehran in the evening which meant they got to the north in the middle of the night so I knew if I woke up the next day and they were not there, they weren’t going to be there for my birthday.

The next day as soon as I opened my eyes, I jumped out of bed and flew to the window. I couldn’t see their car in front of the house so sliding my feet into my trainers with their backs pressed down, I ran out into the garden and did a lap of the outside of the house just to make sure they had not parked somewhere round the back so they could surprise me.
But their car was nowhere to be seen and to add insult to injury, all my running around the house had made the oldies (who were up at the crack of dawn) come to the window and now instead of going back to my bed and feeling sorry for myself and giving god an earful for not answering my prayers, I had to stand there and watch a bunch of wrinkly old smiling heads, poking out of the top of flowery frocks and shirts; buttoned up to the top, sing me happy birthday from behind the window, as I stood on the lawn in my pyjamas.
Oh I would give anything to see that now but at the time it was torture. I would have left but that would have been very rude, so I stood their just long enough for them to finish their song and ran off just as they started clapping at the end of it and pretended not to have heard their cries of, ‘Birthday girl, come and have breakfast with us.’

My mum was getting dressed and my dad was still in bed, hands behind head. ‘Happy birthday’ they said as I walked into the annex. ‘They didn’t come.’ I said sulkily, ‘I’m going to be all alone on my birthday.’ and sat on the edge of the bed, cheeks in hands. ‘Don’t lose all hope.’ Said my mum, ‘They might still make it.’ Letting out a big sigh I said, ‘No they won’t.’ and looked down at my feet. ‘Well they might break tradition just this once and leave in the morning so they can be here this afternoon.’ she said and while putting her hair in a ponytail she continued enthusiastically, ‘And even if they don’t come, we can still have a good time together, can’t we?’ All I wanted to do was to mope around all day and feel sorry for myself but you could tell she wasn’t going to allow to me do that. ‘Come on chop-chop,’ She said, ‘we have loads to do today.’ My dad smiled and winked at me.

This might be a good time to go and get yourself another cup of tea or a glass of water or something because as you can see this story is never-ending and I don’t want you to be all dehydrated and shrivelled by the time you finish reading it.

As a special birthday treat, I was going to be taken to town. On a normal day I would have jumped at the chance and would have dived headfirst in the car barefoot even, in case while I spent time looking for my shoes, they drove off without me, but that day, since I was determined to have a bad time, when I was told , ‘Guess what! We’re going to Noshahr.’ I just shrugged and continued to stare at the gate.

Most of the oldies stayed behind. Only me, my dad, my mum, Mamanjoon and one of Mamanjoon’s friends went to Noshahr. They all tried very hard all the way there to get me excited about my birthday but that just annoyed me because all I wanted was for them to be quiet so I could concentrate on sending brainwaves to Shadi and Nader and my aunt and uncle.
In Noshahr my dad went off to do the food shopping, Mamanjoon and her friend went somewhere else and Mum and I went to the Bazaar.

‘Cheer up’ Said Mum smiling, ‘come on, let’s go and get some ice cream.’ We bought runny ice cream that tasted like rosewater with bits of red, tasteless jelly swimming around it.
‘Now that…’ said my mum after her first spoonful. I finished her sentence for her, ‘…is disgusting.’
‘Yes that too,’ she said, ‘but I was gonna say, ‘…something worth getting upset about.’ We laughed and drank our ice creams, spitting the bits of jelly back into the cups.
On the opposite side from the ice cream place, there was a shop that sold cheapo, plastic stuff; colanders, Aaftabehs, ugly plastic dolls, salad bowls, laundry baskets and a load of other colourful plastic products. I spotted these little pink flasks with blue lids and blue straps hanging in the corner and imagined Nader and I, in our expedition gear, ready to embark on another adventure in the garden along with Kaapo and Haalo, armed with our sticks and sporting one of those flasks each. What an image! If Indiana Jones were to see what I was seeing at that moment, he would hang his head in shame.




‘Maman’ I said eagerly, pulling at her arm, ‘can we get some of those.’
‘Where? What?’ she asked looking around excitedly. She had been pointing at this and that all day to try and get me something for my birthday but I had turned my nose up at every single thing.
The flasks were cheap and nasty and stank of plastic. We bought three.
I knew Shadi wasn’t going to use hers much on account of her being two years older than I and preferring to spend her spare time reading romantic novels and Daee jon Napelone or scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen floors with bleach (instead of going on exploration missions around the garden, or fighting pirates and Iraqis) and there always being plenty of water in the living room where she read her books and in the hallway where she stood guard so she could tell people off if they tried to walk into the kitchen or the bathroom with dirty feet. But we got one for her too anyway.

Coming back, I was in a much better mood and kept thinking maybe they’d arrived. But they hadn’t. I spent the rest of the day hanging from the gate and watching the traffic.
When the sun went down, having lost all hope of my cousins ever coming and feeling a bit hungry, I went back to the house.
I was dreading going inside knowing that they were all going to make a huge fuss over me and keep calling me Birthday Girl and all the old ladies will be like ‘Oh my darling, how old are you today?’ and then ‘Oh what a lovely age. Cherish these childhood years my dear because in a blink of an eye, you will be old and broken like us. Now come and give me a big kiss.’ and then like a little bumble bee going from flower to flower, I’ll have to go from old lady to old lady. Only instead of drinking nectar, I’ll be breathing in head-spinning perfumes and instead of gathering pollen, I’ll be collecting different colour lipsticks on my face which no doubt someone will try to violently remove with a handkerchief a bit later.
The old men will be a lot better. Although they will no doubt ask me (for the umpteenth time) what year I’m in and then when I tell them, they will turn to the person next to them and ask, ‘What would that be in the old system?’ and when the person next to them says that they don’t know because the new system is too complicated for them, they both go on to tell me how much simpler things were back when they were my age and how the only toys they had were sticks that they pretended to be horses, ‘not like your generation with your Barbi and Kents and Donkey King games and Mickey Moze.’

‘Sorry your birthday was so bad’ said my mum as we sat on my bed. It was late and everyone else had gone to bed but I didn’t want to go to sleep just yet because I still wasn’t done feeling sorry for myself. ‘It’s ok’ I said, trying very hard not to cry, ‘It wasn’t that bad.’
‘I keep thinking of something to do for you to cheer you up but I can’t think of anything apart from ‘Hava Jeer Jeer' but I guess you’re a bit too old for that now.’ The name sounded familiar but I couldn’t remember what it was. ‘Do you not remember it?’ she said, ‘I used to that with you when you were little.’ I shrugged. ‘Well I get on my back. You lie on the sole of my feet with your chest and give me your hands. Then I throw you up and down by bending my knees and straightening them and sing, ‘Hava jeer jeer…’’ The song was longer than this but I can’t remember the rest. ‘I think I’ll pass.’ I said. ‘Is there anything else that you would like me to do?’ I shook my head. ‘Then I suppose we better go to bed, it’s getting late.’ As soon as she said that, I felt even more depressed; for some reason I didn’t want this day to end.
‘Maybe’ I said, ‘we could could give Hava Jeer Jeer a try.’
‘Really?’ said my mum excitedly, ‘Great!’

Hava Jeer Jeer was uncomfortable to say the least. Every time she pushed me up, my ribs dug into my insides and made me cough. I wanted to stop as soon as we started but that meant going to bed and I didn’t want to do that. Also seeing my mum’s happy face as she threw me up and down while laughing and singing the song (a little out of breath) I suddenly realised what a hard day she must have had seeing how unhappy I was and not being able to do anything about it. So for her sake at least, I decided to enjoy those last few minutes of my birthday and started to laugh and sing the song with her.
As we sang and coughed and laughed and wheezed and tried to catch a breath, a light shone through from under the curtains. ‘They’re here’ I screamed.

When Shadi and Nader saw me running towards them, they started running and waving too. We collided underneath the magnolia tree where I threw myself in their arms while crying out, ‘I’ve just had the shitiest birthday.’ And then, ‘I got us flasks.’

14 comments:

Sima said...

It's long alright! But sweet nevertheless :-).
BTW, Does this mean that it's your birthday today?

Tess Durbeyfield said...

It's amazing how much you remember from war time. I don't!

jarvenpa said...

Oh, sweet story, and well worth reading (but then I tell long stories as well). My children loved it when their father would do what you and your mom call--well, what was it you called it?--when the child gets on the feet of the lying-down grownup and gets lifted high. They also loved to climb up on his back and fall down. He's a tolerant papa.
I'm glad for you that on that bad birthday everything did turn out well at last! (and..is it your birthday, indeed, now??)

Shirin said...

No it’s not my birthday Sima, which probably means that I suffer from not only verbal diarrhoea, but also Alzheimer’s disease ;-)

Tess Durbeyfield, Well I’m thirty one now and so old enough to remember things from back then. You’re probably a lot younger. Or is it that you are too old to remember all that having been around since the Victorian era ;-) There’s only so much hardship one can remember before one’s brain refuses to take in any more bad memories and with all your sufferings at the hands of that Alec d’Urberville and that whole thing with your husband, I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself for not remembering the war.

Jarvenpa, I used to love it when grownups would hold my hands and let me climb up their legs and then do a back-flip. That was so much fun. If I want to try that now, I’ll have find a giant ;-) It’s not my birthday by the way; I’m just getting a little confused in my old age!

Leyli said...

Hi Shirin,
Just wanted to ask you about Kamyar's blog: There seems to be a problem getting to his homepage, I left a comment on his 31 May, the only page I can get to instead of homepage.

As always, your story was so sweet and brought me so many memories....
ciao

Tess Durbeyfield said...

Thanks for the humorous answer. I'm 27 and all I remember are vague memories from the bombings and soldiers that I drew and painted their guns red and green , but don't think my childhood was deeply affected by the war. I guess I should thank Alec and Angel for doing this to my brain.

graceonline said...

Thank you so much for this story, Shirin. No matter where we are as children, even in war, we can be so self-focused that our birthday--the way want it--matters more than anything. And that is, perhaps, one of the great graces of childhood.

I remember bouncing my own children on my feet as you describe your mother doing. It was the best fun! But what touches me is your sensitivity to your mother, and your love for her, giving something back for her efforts to redeem the day. You are a daughter to cherish.

Negar said...

my dad used to do Hava Jeer Jeer with me...except that he called it something else. it was so much fun. I used to love being up in the air. it made me think my dad was the strongest man in the world, which is funny considering how skinny he has always been. anyways as I grew up my mom told him to stop doing that since I was too heavy :(
your post is lengthy alright but it flows so well, I couldn't believe that I had reached the end already. good job!

Shirin said...

You probably know by now about Kamyar’s blog Leyli :-( It’s very sad. He has lost all his photos and comments from 31st of May onwards, due to some server craziness. Can’t trust these bloody things, can you :-(

Tess, Do you still have any of those pictures that you drew? I’d love to see them :-) I have most of my drawings still from the revolution and war. Some of them are truly disturbing (one is on here http://www.shirinadl.co.uk/stor_war.htm )
Which part of the world do you live in now, if you don’t mind my asking?

Thank you Graceonline. That is so sweet. I still feel sad sometimes when I think about my mum and how hard she tried that day so I would have good time. She did succeed at the end though that’s for sure :-)

Thanks Negar :-) I’m glad you got to the end before you felt bored. My stories are just getting longer and longer. I really need to cool it I think or before I know it, I’ll be posting a book on here!

Tess Durbeyfield said...

Thanks for the link.it was a really funny story, specially when you felt sorry you weren't as good as a British to be bombed properly. I don't have any of those picture but your drawing was great. Is it a revoloution scene?because the date on the top of the page isn't within the war time.
and I have been studying in Tokyo for 2.5 years now, trying to become a Biologist!

Anonymous said...
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Shadgol aka "Shadi" said...

Oh, I remember that day so well.Actually I remember my bit.I.e. being fed up in the car travelling late as usual, feeling carsick under hot noon sun, on the spring shaped chaaloos way. All the time thinking how unfare it was for us to be separated. Also it wasn't our usual crowd, I think khaleh Touran was there as well. It was surreal. And I rememebr your face so well when we arrived. I kept thinking about you having had your birthdfay spent with all the elderly in our house as well as the neighbours! Is that the year Janet khanom gave you very precious looking dolls, or am I confusing it with someone and something else??I have to go, have to wake up at five and do last minute studying:( This was my first semi rotated face), I'm very proud.

Anonymous said...

What I liked about this post was the offer of tea. So gracious. So nice to sip the tea and be told a story.
Could you please pass the sugar?
Justagirl

Shirin said...

Yes Tess, that is a revolution scene :-) What is really funny about that picture is that I remember drawing it and the yellow bird like creature was supposed to be the dead man’s soul flying to heaven or wherever. but then I suddenly decided to draw some blood coming out of that too which means even the soul is dead! Comes to think of it, it sounds more disturbing than funny actually. No but it’s funny really because at the time I was totally obsessed with dead people from all the newspaper front pages with the pictures the newly-executed scattered over them every day.
So Tokyo hey? Lucky you, you must have Sushi everyday. I’d love to go there one day.

Shadi, I can’t remember if that was the year with the dolls or not. I think they all gave me t-shirts that year with pictures of Mickey Moze and that lot on it. All were bought by Mamanjoon from a shop in Noshahr bazaar that we went past. Happy days :-)

By all means Justagirl. It’s a shame I was three days late in passing the sugar to you though. Your tea must be cold by now. Never mind; I’ll pour you another. Do you take yours with a few drops of lemon or a spot of milk?